Saturday, June 27, 2015

Lake Titicaca Part 2: Amantaní

After a two hour boat ride, we made it from Puno to the island of Amantaní. Stepping off the boat was almost like walking onto a movie set. Here we are on this tiny island in the middle of a lake bordering Peru and Bolivia--the same lake that was once thought to be the cradle of the world and the origin of Andean civilization. The island is terraced with old stones, and the sounds of bleating lambs and the lapping of water against the shore pepper the air.

My room
As privileged guests of the island, the people prepared us a traditional feast of chicken and potatoes cooked in the ground with smoked sage. This feast, called "pachamanca," is usually only prepared for big holidays, so it was a special opportunity to try it. Many of the islanders still live somewhat traditionally. They eat together, preserve their native Quechua language, dress traditionally (for the most part), and even keep their old gods (Wirakocha, Pachamama and Pachatata, for example). The island felt different. There was a sense of calm that other places don't have. 

The evening of the day we arrived, we hiked up the tallest mountain of the island, Pachamama, so we could see the sunset over the whole island. Because of the altitude and the cold (it's higher than Cusco), the hike was not quite leisurely. It was somewhat of a struggle for most people, but it was worth the views that I soaked in every chance I could get. 
On the way up Pachamama Mtn.
View of Pachatata Mtn.
When I finally made it to the top, there was a lone donkey walking around an enclosure. He looked so sweet with his deep, sad eyes and his little saddle. I went up to him to pet him and sing to him. I called him "Mansito." Manso is Spanish for docile, and -ito is the diminutive ending that people use frequently as a term of endearment. 

I sat at the top of the mountain away from the rest of the group and watched the sunset in quiet. It was beautiful to see the way the sun played off the ancient waters. Soon after, it was dark enough to see the stars. As a note about the stars, since I am in the Southern Hemisphere, the night sky is different. It is also easier to see stars here because of the altitude, dry air, and less light pollution. On this island, the stars were brighter than I have ever seen them. They were numerous, and I was even able to see the milky way across the sky. I thought of Ryan, my astronomer, and wished he had been there to see it. It's a memory I won't forget. 

That night, we got to see a first hair cut ceremony for  one of the little boys of the island. The first hair cut is a rite of passage, and guests each cut a piece of hair and give money to the child. The hair is then offered to Pachamama. After the hair cutting ceremony was a small celebration across the island with live music and outrageous dancing that consisted of my professor eagerly grabbing hands, forming a chain, and snaking as fast as we could around the room to the beat of the music. 

Leaving the island the next day, we said "Sulpayki," Quechua for "thank you," and gave the islanders a cheek kiss on the way back onto the boat. From there, we headed to the island of Taquile...

Friday, June 26, 2015

I'm Done with Classes!

It has been an intense five weeks of classes, and they are finally over. This week was by far the hardest. Earlier this week, I had small medical scare. It turns out I only have a parasite for which I'm taking antibiotics. On top of that mess, I completed two essays: one 7-page and one 3-page. Did I mention they were both in Spanish? I also just finished my final exam and final presentation this evening. I didn't think I could do all this work in one week, but I proved myself wrong. I still have my fingers crossed for the grades, though.

Anyway, what this means is that I can finally update my blog! I plan on finishing the Puno posts and then posting about my Amazon Rain forest excursion, to name a couple of things. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Lago Titicaca Part 1: The Floating Island

Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world. It's waters, nestled in the mountains that divide Peru and Bolivia, are clear and cold. From Puno, it was a thirty minute boat ride to get to the floating island. It was believed (and probably still is by a few) that Viracocha, the creator god, created the land as a valley for his chosen people to live in peace. However, they could not venture past the valley. Of course, as the story goes, the people did venture past the valley to try to expand their wisdom to the level of Viracocha's. After this, Viracocha was so grief stricken that he cried for forty days and forty nights, filling the valley with the waters of Lake Titicaca. You can see that biblical influence crept in over the years, especially since priests and monks were probably the ones transcribing this oral tradition. 

Stepping onto the floating island, the faux ground moved under my feet. It was a small island with a place to raise fish, little huts, a chicken coop, and boats. Supposedly, the people originally started building floating islands because of the Spanish Conquest. It was said that the people fled into the reeds on the lake, but when the water rose, they had to construct the islands. The islands are built from huge pieces of reed root, and they are anchored together and covered with layers of reed. The people have been living like this ever since the Spanish. They can go to the peninsula for supplies if they need them, but they are a self sufficient community for the most part. 

chicken coop

As we were about to leave the island, a small black cat appeared. I saw it step off a boat. I'm not sure if it's a regular on the island or just visiting like the rest of us. It was very friendly, but it took me by surprise to see it. 

Mountains of Bolivia in the distance
After the floating islands, it was another two hours until the small island of Amantaní where we were staying for the night. My next post will be about Amantaní. 

Machu Picchu

I just realized that this post is over a week late! This will be a short post since the views are self explanatory and I still have to post about Lake Titicaca. 

When we went up to Machu Picchu, we took the first day to settle in to our luxury hotel rooms (with hot showers!). We explored the forest and trekked to some freezing waterfalls on the first day, but the second day was when we took the bus to the archaeological site. We had passes to hike up Wayna Picchu, the large mountain. It was challenging. One student fell and ripped a hole in his pants because parts were basically rock climbing. Finishing it without incident made me so happy. I used to be the girl with bad asthma who wasn't even able to run a mile. Now I'm climbing mountains. 

With each step, the view kept getting better and better. In the picture below, you can see how tiny Machu Picchu looks in the background. You can also see it's in the shape of the condor if you turn your head and squint. 

When we hiked back down to explore Machu Picchu, I couldn't help but think what it must have been like to live in this place. Despite the amount of tourists, it was incredibly peaceful and green. The meticulousness that the Incans had building this site was undeniable. Nowadays, it takes so little time to assemble a house or build a building. Structures come and go in our society, but Incans built their structures to last. That kind of planning speaks to the mentality of the people.

I have an interesting story that I'll probably share in a different post, but when we returned to Machu Picchu Pueblo, I made a monkey friend. You can see the little monkey sitting on my shoulder. 
Tiny monkey on my back!
By the way, as a side note,  if any of you are planning on going to Machu Picchu, I would not recommend staying in Machu Picchu Pueblo. The prices of everything are three times as high as usual, and every time you walk on the street, people are shoving menus in your face or asking multiple times if you want a massage.

Monday, June 15, 2015

En que momento se jodió el Perú?

In my Culture for Language Learners class, my professor brought up a famous quote from Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa in his book, Conversation in the Cathedral: "En que momento se jodió el Perú?" The English translation of the novel reads, "At what precise moment had Peru f*cked itself up?"

In this class, we acknowledge the noncanonical culture throughout Central and South America. We look at the underbelly of society and the problems that go unspoken or unsolved. After having been living in the community of Cusco for about a month, I am going to acknowledge some of the problems in this post.

We all hear about corruption in Latin America, and while the corruption here is not an immediate threat, its effects are still observable.

For example, one of the first things one can't help but notice upon arrival is the presence of unfinished buildings and houses. Cement shells with rebars sticking out and houses missing roofs are everywhere in Peru, not just Cusco. The fact that so many houses go unfinished cannot be blamed on laziness. I have heard that it is the fault of the banks here in Peru, although I can't state specifically the root of the problem.

The education system here is also concerning. Almost every child attends a private school. I have not once even seen a public school here. I heard that public education (not including university) is deplorable.

Of course, there are also stories of police letting people who know high government officials get away with small crimes.There is also [this] case which has been on the news lately. However, many of the problems exist because it is normal for Peruvians to try and game the system. Many people here will rent houses under the table so as not to pay taxes, for example. It is also normal to leech electricity and wifi.

When on the street (and definitely not on a personal basis), people seem to demonstrate a lack of consideration for others. Many people drop their trash wherever they please, run red lights, almost hit pedestrians, refuse to acknowledge others on the street (unless they're catcalling, which happens frequently), pickpocket, ignore those in need, etc. People in Cusco also have a weird habit of slowly walking in groups that take up the entire sidewalk and refuse to move, even bumping into you, when they clearly see you coming.

Additionally, people are always looking to get money from foreigners. On my first day here, after arriving sweaty and dehydrated and tired on a delayed flight, a man pretended to be from my program, took my bags from me (when I told him not to and tried to get them back), and hurried to the ISA bus. When we got to the bus, he repeatedly asked for a tip, which confusingly sounded like "teep, teep." After having given him more money than I meant to (There are 5 sol coins), I finally got on the bus.

For all the reasons listed above, I don't think I can give a satisfactory answer to Vargas Llosa's question about a precise moment in which Peru f*cked itself up. Perhaps it started due to problems from colonization. Maybe it's because of higher level government corruption. It might even be due to the citizens' lack of consideration for others and their environment. More probable though is a combination of many things.

Although the roads are a free-for-all and remind me of real-life Mariokart, and although many of the buildings are unfinished, things seem to work here. A virtue that comes from Peru's brokenness is flexibility. Since the roads don't have lines, and stop signs and stop lights are mere suggestions, drivers have to coordinate with other drivers around them to work like a living organism. Even though the buildings are patched up or partially unfinished, they still work well enough.

Yes, I suppose one could look at all the statistics and say that Peru is broken, but the statistics don't tell of the people's hospitality, generosity, curiosity, and an unwillingness  to say "no" to others. Statistics don't show the true face of Peru; experience does.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Friday, June 5, 2015

Corpus Christi

This is Corpus Christi.
"I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” -John 6:51

John Chapter 6 is the chapter in which the pinnacle of our Catholic faith, the Eucharist (Holy Communion), is laid out. As Catholics, we believe the words of Jesus when he repeatedly states that His flesh is true food and His blood is true drink that we must consume to have life in us. John 6:66--the only point in the Bible in which disciples left Jesus for doctrinal reasons. Corpus Christi means the Body of Christ, and this is the holiday for the Eucharist, in which Christ comes down from heaven like manna to transform the bread and wine in to His body and blood so that we may live.

Like any good Catholic celebration, the holiday took place over two days with a big feast. The first day was la Entrada de los Santos- the Entrance of the Saints. The faithful carried large statues of patron saints from each neighborhood (15) in preparation for Corpus Christi the next day. There was singing and dancing and feasting this day.

The second day consisted of Mass in the Plaza de Armas. People coming to take part in the Mass and then to follow the procession of the consecrated host around the square filled the Plaza. I saw more religious, priests, monks, nuns, sisters, and seminarians,  in one place than I have in my whole life. They were following directly behind the consecrated host with plumes of incense, the ringing of church bells, and murmurs of prayers in Spanish and Quechua filling the air.

I walked quietly home from the Plaza de Armas, soaking up all the energy and beauty around me. Chiruichu was waiting for me. It's a traditional dish unique to Cusco eaten every year on Corpus Christi. It consists of Guinea Pig, sausage, dried meat, fish eggs, chicken, cheese, seaweed, toasted corn, and tortilla (basically Peruvian cornbread). It's meant to be eaten cold and with your hands, getting a little bit of everything in each bite. Afterwards, the family and I went up to the roof to chew on fresh sugar cane for dessert.

I'll try to have a video with more pictures posted soon, but the internet's spotty and I'm leaving for Machu Picchu tomorrow.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Valle Sagrado

In the time that I haven't been posting on this blog, I've been doing so many things! I'm an explorer by day and student by night these days. Now that I have some time to rest, I think it's time I post about my Sacred Valley trip this past weekend. 


We left out in the morning on a bus bound for Awanakancha llama farm, Pisaq, Urubamba, Ollantaytambo, and finally Chinchero before heading back to Cusco for the night. 

We drove for about an hour on winding roads through little villages made out of clay bricks before we reached Awanakancha, our first destination. On the ride, I remember thinking what it would be like to live and work in one of these villages. When we drove by a little Spanish church perched high on the hill, I thought of what it must be like to hike up the grassy hill to listen to Mass every Sunday in the church that must smell rich like the Earth. 

Alas, Awanakancha was hidden like a pearl in a clam shell from behind one of the hills. We stopped here with insufficient time--the downfall of group trips. Before I knew it, and before I really got to befriend any of the camelids (I speak camelidae, you know).

My favorite. 

On the bus to Pisaq it was! This was where huge mountains started sprouting from the ground before our very eyes. It was like a giant's burial ground with all the mounds touching the sky. We drove up more winding roads with no seatbelts on until we approached the Pisaq archeological site. Again, we had just enough time to climb up one of the trails before having to descend and board the bus again. 

After pisaq, we drove to Urumamba to enjoy a "traditional" Peruvian buffet. I'm using scare quotes because buffets are for tourists. Nevertheless, it was good! I had a Cusqueña (Cusco beer) with my meal, and I sipped it down by the river like any good Southerner. 

The back of Tunapa Restaurant
Soon after one of the study abroad chaperones told me to hurry and get on the bus while I was clearly walking to the bus (and I wasn't even the last one in), we left for Ollantaytambo.

Ollantaytambo's another famous archeological site. It would have been the site of a large temple for the sun god, but it went unfinished. There are huge terraces with ruins of storage facilities. When the Incan subjects payed their taxes, they'd pay using food instead of money. This food went into the storage facilitied on the sides of the mountains where it would freeze dry and keep for years. 

It seemed like I had a lot more time at Ollantaytambo to go off on my own and explore. I felt like I was in a dream among all the stones and terraces. I imagined what it must have taken to build it and how the Spanish might have reacted when happening upon this site. The Incans where better architects than any of the Spanish. I came down from the mountain, literally and figuratively, and then waited to board for Chinchero.

The sun was getting lower and lower in the sky as we drove through countryside to the small village of Chinchero to see how Alpaca knits were made. 

It was cold, so we all huddled together clutching to the clay mugs filled with steaming coca mate that they served us. We watched the demonstration and then descended upon the little market to buy hand knit goods. Then, the day became cloaked in night, and we boarded the buses again to reach Cusco, eat some dinner, and go to sleep.