Saturday, May 21, 2011

Childhood dreams DO come TRUE!

After a few weeks of travelling in Peru, we breifly stopped in the not-so interesting town of Chiclayo. Chiclayo has a nice plaza but is a little dumpy overall, and probably not the safest city ever. However, despite these downfalls, Chiclayo has officially made my childhood dreams come true.

Apparently, Chiclayo is known all over Peru for having a "Mercado de Brujos" or "Witch`s Market". We had visited some black markets in Cusco, but I have to admit, they let me down a little bit. Ever since I was young, I have had this image of black markets being out in the middle of no where, covered and only lit by candles, a thick fog of inscense clouding the air, and then absolutely filled with gypsies, witches, snakes, potions brewing, and all sorts of dark magic lurking in every corner. Unfortunately, Cusco`s market only had pirated movies, cheap clothes, and knock of Nike shoes. What a dissapointment. There wasn`t even palm readings!

But Chiclayo didn`t fail me, no sir. After wandering around the general market, we saw a hole in the wall with all sorts of plants and herbs overflowing out the door. Intriguing! We ducked in and, tourist that I am, I couldn`t hide the huge grin on my face. Victoria said I was "giddy" the entire time (and she was right).

While there were no potions actually brewing right there, there were bottles and viles filled with tonics for anything you could ask for. Strength, health, power, libido, money, love-- it was all attainable right there, out of a bottle! All of the "potions" had tasty ingredients of blood, random animal parts, and herbs I`ve never even heard of. We talked to one of the women and she was instructing us to take on of these types of potions THREE times a DAY (breakfast, lunch, AND dinner)! Um, no thank you. We politely declined and moved on to another stall.

We were completely surrounded by wonderment. There were lucky beads, love amulets, special candles, feathers, monkeys and other stuffed animals, dramatic jewlrey, snake skins, dried herbs, shells, and even voodoo dolls. Freaky! And of course, there was TONS of San Pedro and other drugs around. San Pedro is a hallucinogenic drug from a cactus and was taken by Peru`s ancient Shamans to seek answers. The drug shaped Peru`s history and even today, San Pedro remains really popular along with it`s brother drug called Ayahuasca (which comes from a vine). While I was waayyyy to intimidated to buy much of anything (don`t worry Mom, Hugs not Drugs), Victoria and I ended up buying some Cat Nail Cream (we didn`t want anything that we had to swallow or ingest). The cream is supposed to help with muscle aches, rheumatism, tendonitis, and other ailments so we thought we`d try it out on our sore spots. I`ll let you know how it goes, we may become the next Cat Nail Cream advocates!

After wandering around, wide-eyed, mouth agape, we headed back to the normal part of the market.  We stopped breifly to buy some apples for our 10 hour bus ride that evening, and that`s when another miraculous thing happened. We saw Washington Apples! All the way, on the otherside of the world, next to the Witch`s market, we found some good ol' delicious Wenatchee apples! What a happy coincidence! It really WAS a paranormal day, making my imagination race like a child`s. And whether you believe in it or not, I like to think that there still is some magic left in this world, you just gotta go and find it.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


So after Cusco, our next volunteer project was at Eco-truly Park (about an hour outside of Lima, near a little beach town named Chancay). We were going there to work on the organic farm and do whatever else the park needed. When we heard about the place, we expected it to be chalked full of hippies and vegabonds. However, as it turns out, it was quite the opposite end of the spectrum. Instead, Eco-truly park centers around a community of Hare Krishnas. I had only known of the Hare Krishnas as the ones chasing people down in the airports, so it was interesting to spend 2 weeks there to learn a little more about the religion and the lifestyle they practice (I will explain more about that later).

So driving down the coast, solely surrounded by dunes on the east, we instantly recognized the Park by these strange dollop buildings called "trulys" (Hence the name). The trulys are tall, egg-shaped buildings, adorned with mandalas and paintings that remind you of India. The funny adobe buildings function because it never rains here and the shape keeps it cool on the inside and is also antisizematic. The little oasis looked like it was straight out of a fairytale. Though, in all reality, the buildings are constructed out of mud and cow dung. Yes, we slept in poo for 2 weeks. (Don`t worry, it didn`t smell).

Our days at Eco-truly started off with yoga every morning. Though my mind was super hyped to start doing daily yoga, I have to admit, my body was not. It cracked and creeked its way down to floor as I desperately reached to try to touch my toes. Thanks for those flexible Dappen genes Dad! The first few days, my body was suprisingly sore from bending in all sorts of ways that I was not used to. But.... eventually... after doing yoga every morning for 2 weeks, I saw some definite progress (though it may just have been because on our last day I was placed next to a new guy who had never done yoga and his life and, poor thing, looked like an awkward new born pony when he attempted any of the poses). Anyways, for now, I have officially mastered the downward-facing dog, the crow, the headstand, the tree pose, and multiple others whose names I can`t recall. We also would do this hilarious pose called "The Happy Baby" pose. You lay on your back and bring your knees to your chest. You grab your feet with your hands and extend your legs. Rocking back and forth you look  like a mindless baby waiting for it´s diaper to be changed. I cannot do this pose without laughing. Still.

After yoga we would have breakfast (which varied from veggie burgers to rice or to granola on a good day) and then we would be assigned our daily chores. Chores consisted of helping out in the industrial sized kitchen, helping out around the premises doing miscellaneous tasks, helping out on the farm, or everyone´s favorite: BATHROOM DUTY. Dung dung dunggggg. Since Eco-truly works toward being environmentally friendly and produce as little waste as possible, the toilets are no ordinary "thrones". The toilets are called "Dry-toilets," and consist of a seat placed on a giant plastic bucket. You do your business and then cover up the nasty with saw-dust. The sawdust dries it out and cancels out all odors (well most of the odors). The people on bathroom duty get to drag the buckets out to the giant compost pile and dump out all the waste, being careful to avoid any backsplash. You clean out all the little brown bits from the buckets and then sprint back to sanitize your entire arm with disinfectant. It´s really not that bad and you do what you gotta do. It´s also pretty cool that they are able to use something that no one else wants and after about 6 months, turn it into some valuable soil to help fertilize the dry sandy dirt they have here.

Chores would end when the lunch bell rang. Everyone would come running and you line up in front of these HUGE pots to receive your  hefty portion of food. The main utensil here is the spoon because Hare Krishnas don´t eat meat or eggs and they say that everything you should eat, you can eat with a spoon. I`ve actually really come to admire this philosophy and after that, and watching numerous, horrifying documentaries, I am seriously considering dropping meat (though I am still going to eat eggs). Well at least red meat. Victoria and I have been trying this method on the rest of our travels but finding it extremely hard in Peru where every dish centers around a meat or fish. When I get back, and have more control over my diet, I think I will try to minimize my meat intake or cut it out all together if I`m feeling strong.

After lunch, we would have free time to relax and then we would have some type of workshop. The workshops ranged from philosophy, to art, to therapies, to dance classes. That was probably my favorite part of the day because I learned so much. The philosophy was really more a religion class, but a great time to get some personal questions answered about the confusing points on their religion. For art, we got to paint our own mandalas. Victoria`s turned out great, incorporating all the elements. Mine was sad and uninspired so while Victoria took hers home as a glorious momento, I ended up ditching mine there. Maybe to inspire some brilliant meditation or to end up in the compost where the rest of the S$%& ends up.

No matter, any tensions we possibly could have had were released when we did SOUND THERAPY one day. I had never heard of this before, but I guess this technique is becoming more and more popular. All the volunteers laid in a circle, with our heads toward the center, eyes closed. In the middle, was Druva, the man conducting the therapy, with all these strange and exotic instruments. The inicio was very slow and calm. Then, the music builds and builds and builds and you don`t even know where the music is coming from or how he transitions between all these instruments. I mean out of nowhere, he started playing a didgeridoo! I felt like I was in a dream, it was a whole new kind of symphony. If you ever get a chance to do this, I would definitely not pass up the opportunity! We didn`t even really realize Druva had stopped playing the instruments. For about half an hour after it was over, we all just lay there in perfect comfort and relaxation, not wanting to move a muscle. Unfortunately, duty calls.

One of the volunteers who was with us was named Malaika. She was an amazing, vibrant lady who was Australian/Canadian but had lived in Africa for quite awhile. Andddd, if you live in Africa, you can`t help but to pick up the lively style of dance they do at all their gatherings and festivals. So we got lucky, and though we only travelled to Peru, we got to pick up a little bit of African culture when she gave a class on West African dance. My lack of black-booty was a little inhibiting but it didn`t stop me from having a blast! All the moves are based on moves from their everyday lives. So we spread the seed, cut the grass, picked the fruits and put them in our basket, fished, we even got to shun the men. Haha! I loved learning a little bit about the beauty in their simple but powerful dance moves and I appreciated it that much more when I learned how white I was! I can`t MOVE like that! I guess I`ll just have to go to Africa next to figure it out firsthand!

As far as the Hare Krishnas, that was also another world that I knew so little about. The religion Vaishnavism is similar to Hinduism but they believe that the god Krishna is the Supreme. They worship Krishna devoutly and wake up every morning at 4 am to go to temple and worship. They go to temple again in the evening. Temple is a very fun event that consists of lots of singing and dancing as well as some lecture. Furthermore, they cook for Krishna 5 times a day and say their mantras over and over (they must say it a certain amount of time) to show their devotion. They are very commited people and work on living their lives for Krishna. Though I have in no way converted, I really appreciated it because they were all very open and friendly. They never pushed their religion on me in anyway and they accept that people worship different gods and different things. They are very open-minded and realize that worshipping any God basically gets you to the same place. I really like the idea of reincarnation because they don`t condemn you to hell for not believing and they say that everyone is just on their own path, their own journey.

When it gets down to the details, there are some things I have a hard time swallowing. There is a lot of mythology type stories and mystical happenings that are hard for me to grasp. But in end, it`s hard to argue with them because they are just working for what every religion`s foundation promotes. They say, that no matter what, disreguarding any details, that if you plant love, you will receive it. Karma baby!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Navigating la Navidad (Part 2)

Next stop: Nazca.
Yes, the infamous, enigmatic Nazca lines. Ok, so here`s a little history for those who are interested. Basically, spread across an arid 500km rock-strewn plain, lies over 800 straight lines, 300 geometric figures and over 70 animal designs. But as to how they got there or why is one of the world`s greatest archeological mysteries! It`s pretty difficult to see the lines from ground level, but viewed from above you can see how they form a network of enormous figures and channels. They are HUGE! Many of the lines run for several kilometers across the desert. To me, the animals are most intriguing. There`s all types: a monkey, hummingbird, spider, frog, lizard, and many more. There`s even this little figure that looks like an astronaut man! Maybe Elton John was involved in creating these lines???

While the lines have been counted and identified, they remain myseterious and have many theories behind their construction. A popular theory is that they were an astronomical calender, another is that they were used for agricultural purposes, some think the lines were used to worship the gods, others think that they were important walkways, linking important sites together. People have come from all over to try to reason the lines and with them have come some pretty wild theories. One that tickles my fancy is that scientists suppose the Nazca people knew how to construct hot air balloons, and that they would go on "joy rides" and observe the lines from the air! Haha! The other theory I enjoy, that I want to discuss with my Aunt Ann, is the one that the lines were constructed as alien landing sites!

Victoria believes that the lines marked mummies and treasures buried beneathe them. An intriguing theory!! I think we just found the plot for Dan Brown`s next novel! Anyways, we passed on doing the flight over the lines because we had heard horror stories of plane crashes, hijackings, and major motion sickness. Instead we opted for the cheaper version which consists of climbing a three story observation tower. Pretty dinky but it gave us a good few of a few designs. Nothing spectacular but definitely interesting (and kind of frustrating that they don`t have any concrete answers).

After poking around Nazca a little more, we caught the 10 hour bus to Arequipa where we were to reconvene with the `rents for Christmas Eve. Unfortunately, when we met up, Mom wasn`t feeling too well (Peru can be pretty harsh on the digestive system) but it was a happy reuninon nonetheless! Christmas was very relaxing. We went down to the main plaza and we watched some traditional parades and dances and enjoyed the pigeons in the park. We also snacked on some Panèton (Peruvian fruitcake)! It`s funny because in the US, fruitcake is such a joke, but they go NUTS for it down here! It`s EVERYWHERE and you can`t escape its wrath!

The day after Christmas, we toured the Monasterio de Santa Cantalini. I was kind of churched out by this point, but this place BLEW my MIND! Back in the day, the monatery held a whole society of nuns. But this was no Sound of Music, this place was absolutely atrocious. I have to say I was kind of horrified the entire time (I think I was taking the whole thing a little more personally because back in the 1500s, it was obligatory for the second daughter to become a nun). Basically, if I had lived in Arequipa at this time, I would have been ripped away from my family at the ripe age of 12 and sentenced to a life of praying and solitude. I wouldn`t have been allowed any communication with the outside world for 4 years. After my 4 years of being a "novice" was over, I would be allowed to talk to my family through a dark screen that didn`t allow a clear view or any physical contact. Say goodbye to hugs and kisses. I wouldn`t be allowed to talk to anyone besides the preist, except for two hours out of the day. My daily schedule would consist of praying or listening to sermons. Many of the nuns fasted often and had to pay penance to their dear lord (penance meaning beating their chests with rocks or wearing vests of barbed wire under their clothes). The girls really had no escape because if they refused to be a nun, they were cast out, shunned, and sentenced themselves and their whole families to eternal damnation. Yeah, pretty disturbing. Today, a group of nuns live secluded in the monastery, but now the rules aren`t as strict and they get to choose that lifestyle. Not like I would have anyways, but after that tour there is NO way I would ever go into nunnery.

To contrast the sanctitude of the monastery, we went to a Peruvian bullfight afterwards. Now don`t be alarmed, Peruvian bullfights aren`t as bloodthirsty as the ones in Spain. In Peru, it involves putting two bulls against each other (supposedly for the favors of a female cow) until one of the bulls realizes he`s beaten and runs away before any real damage is done. It was an interesting cultural experience, but definitely not my sport of choice. It honestly seemed like the equivalent to an American baseball game because it was fairly slow going and was more of a social event and an excuse to eat junk food and drink lots of beer.

After watching cows all afternoon, we realized we were craving some major steak! We went to a fancy steakhouse called ZigZags and got ourselves some nice juicy meat! We even tried alpaca and austrich. It was all delicious and was the perfect end to a good day.

We toured around Arequipa some more. Poked our heads in some churches and even saw "Juanita, the Ice Princess". Juanita is a mummy they found in the Andean mountains that gave anthropologists heaps of information on the Incan culture because she had been perfectly preserved in ice for all these years.

Overloaded with info, we decided to get some air in our lungs and some movement in our muscles and we headed out to the Colca Canyon. The Colca Canyon is more than twice as deep as the US`s Grand Canyon at an impressive 4,160m. It is the world`s second deepest canyon and only loses to its neighbor canyon by a few meters. We signed up for a trek that would take us down to the bottom of the canyon and back out in two days. The landscapes were spectacular and reminded me of a weird combination of Middle Earth and the landscape from King Kong. We hiked all day to the bottom of the canyon and stayed in this random, but beautiful, oasis at the bottom. We were all feeling a little sore from all the pounding of the down hills and I was very impressed with my mother who climbed down like it was nothing. I think I felt older than she did! I hope I can do that when I`m her age! The next morning, we woke up early and climbed a few thousand meters to get out. You know, just a few thou. It was quite the feat and we all felt proud when we reached the top! Colca: check. Next stop: Kilimanjaro :)

The high of conquering the canyon was soon followed by the bitter taste of having to say goodbye to Mom and Dad. They unfortunately had lives and jobs they had to get back to and had to leave Victoria and I as a duo once more. We said a somewhat tearful goodbye, and as they caught a plane to the US, we caught a bus to Puno.

Puno as a town, isn`t all that interesting to me (no offense Puñens!) but the real attraction is Lake Titticaca. I mean the name itself is a total crack up, how could you go wrong?? It is supposedly the lake at the highest altitude in the world. Also, according to Ican mythology, it is where the world was created when their god emerged from the Lake. Well phew! I was able to make at least one pilgrammage before I die.

Lake Titticaca held one of the weirdest lifestyles I have EVER witnessed. The people who live there, live across the lake on FLOATING islands. We joined the masses of tourists (which weirded me out a little) on a boat tour and saw how the people there weave grasses and reeds together to create these super thick floating islands. Who the heck would ever thing to live on a bunch of reeds in the middle of the lake?? Well, as a defensive mechanism from preIncan days, these people escaped to their own little private islands. This must be where all those crazies in Dubai got the idea! It`s a pretty funny lifestyle. If they need to get to another "neighborhood," or the "bathroom," they have to go by paddle boat, or pull it over by rope. Most of the islands are anchored down though, as to not float off to Bolivia. The people there have been majorly influenced by loads eager tourists (the positives and negatives of tourism can be argued here) but at least many of the islands stay secluded, away from the direct tourist path.

Our boat tour also took us to an actual land island where we got to experience the community of Taquile. This was another interesting culture because here, they live in a style of communism. The people here live off the land, pretty simply, but are actually able to function in the communistic system without any corruption. They only have three concrete rules: Don`t be lazy, don`t lie, and don`t steal. Seems pretty reasonable no? They also have some other intresting traditions. For example, a couple must be together for at least three years before marriage. And then, when the couple wants to wed, the town decides whether the couple is suitable for each other. Divorce is also strictly prohibited, and divorceès are forced to leave the island. Survivor status! I enjoyed seeing the people there and how much culture they had. We saw some really beautiful traditional song and dances. The people also all wear traditional clothing and the color of their hats have very specific meanings (single, married, or even job descriptions). Everyone in Taquile seemed pretty content with life and I admired the superb simplicity of it all.

We headed back to the mainland to celebrate New Year`s Eve. Victoria and I were just by ourselves but we went out to this restaurant and got to experience the whole shebang. It was a whole fancy meal combined with a show. They seem to have a lot more traditions in Peru than we do in the states for this day. First of all, everyone and everything is decked out in yellow because it is the color of good luck. They also have all these different acts you can perform if you`re wishing for things for the new year (aka. run around the block with a suitcase if you want to travel or take a bath with rose petals at 12 if you want love). Vicki and I didn`t have the chance to do either but we ate 12 grapes for 12 wishes and were then blessed with cocoa leaves. At 12 everyone toasted and got up and starting dancing. We continued to dance the night away-- a good way to start of the new year :)

2011 is going to be awesome!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Navigating la Navidad (Part one)

Well hello there!
It`s been awhile. I guess I am officially the worst blog-keeper ever considering it`s been over three months now.... but here I am, once again, apologizing profusely, and hoping you will forgive me and read my following posts summarizing the past few months. I know the faithyou had will probably never be able to be restored, but here it goes if you`re interested....

Sooo... after departing from the jungle of Puerto Maldonado, we were dumped back into the jungle of civilaztion-- the capital of Peru: Lima. In a city with a population of approximately 9 mil, we were waaaay over our heads. I literally had my nose squased up against the foggy cab window the whole hour drive from the airport to our hotel. The jumble of billboards, restaurants, high rises, cars, roads, and the sheer amount of people was quite a contrast from the vegetation and the animals of the jungle. Lima was completely awesome though. Between the culture, the company, and the spectacular ocean cliffs, we couldn`t go wrong.  We absorbed quite a bit about Peruvian culture in Lima because we jammed in as many churches, museums and archeological sites as we possibly could! We saw history museums, art museums, and a museum that had pots documenting everything from their lives (including a whole gallery of erotic and penis pots haha!). It`s really fascinating being in a country that has so much history and culture. They have hundreds of typical dances, songs, foods, festivals, and traditions that go back hundreds of years. I have to admit, I`m a little jealous of the unity that this brings to the country.

The greatness of Lima was amplified by the company we were with. We got to meet up with multiple friends from Taricaya (Yannick, Sheyla, and James randomly), Rodrigo Laguna and some of his family, Chelan Pauly (who is in Lima on Rotary exchange), and even my parents!! I know all teenagers think at one point that they just want to break free and never come home... but.... after boarding the plane to Peru, I definitely haven`t had such dramatic views. Oh was I ever so happy to see my parents again! I guess I wasn`t as rebelious and vegabond-y as I thought I would be because I had definitely been missing them! I was also very grateful to have my family around for the holidays.

Unfortunately, after Lima, we had to split off from my parents for a few days. They were going to go through Cusco and do the whole Machu Picchu deal while they could ( I hear it`s a can`t miss) but Vicki and I were going to be in Cusco later so it didn`t make sense for us to visit MP so early. So while my parents made their way clockwise over to Cusco and Puno, Victoria and I went counterclockwise and headed down the south coast.

Travelling down the south coast, we spent many, bumpy, uncomfortable hours in a bus. Though, I don`t regret these rides in any way. The drives were spectacular (and somewhat terrifying as we flew around corners where the road was inches from an edge of a cliff) and driving it all gave us a much better view of Peru`s landscapes. From the metropolis of Lima, the land fades into an arid desert covered in slums that sprawls for miles. The poverty level was incredible here and I still have no idea how these people can survive in the middle of these sand dunes without arable land or a close-by water source. They live in tiny little cement cubes that are just big enough to lie down in. Life is pretty dismal here-- a reality that many tourists don`t see. It`s hard to truly understand their pain without having lived it. Malnutrition, disease, dehydration, alcoholism, sexism, and uneducation are unfortunately all issues they deal with everyday. They fight so hard just to survive.

On a more positive note, it was interesting to see how diverse Peru is for such a small country. Within a few hours of driving, we saw the flourishing city of Lima, the slums, a barren desert, jagged coastlines with cliffs that dropped straight into the ocean, beautiful beaches, and then even fields, vineyards and random oasises.

After passing through Pisco, a town that is still dealing with the devestation of a large earthquake from 2007, we ended up in Paracas. Paracas is a dinky little town that consists of a plaza and then extends outwards for about three blocks with restuarants and hostels and tourist agencies. What gives this quaint town its appeal is that it is situated right on the beach. The sand literally overflows on to some of the streets. It was very casual and laid back and everyone was walking around in sandals or barefoot and enjoying the warm ocean air. After dumping our stuff off in the cheapest hostel we could find (less than 5 US dollars a night), we shedded our sweatshirts for suits and beelined it for the sandy playa. AHHH! Now this was a vacation!

The next day, we joined a boat tour out to the Islas Ballestas. I was instantly satisfied because as soon as we took off, our boat was surrounded by breaching dolphins. Though I`m not as obssessed with dolphins as I used to be (I no longer have my dolphin comforter, sheets, towel set, wallpaper, or collector`s items), they still make me sooo happy and giddy! They must be my spirit animal. Anyways, after a short ride, the tour took us out to the rock formations (the Islas Ballestas), or better known as, "the poor man`s Galapagos." And Oh man! It definitely lived up to it`s name. Every INCH of these giant rocks were covered in either some type of bird or seal. I`ve never seen so many birds in my life! Nor had I ever seen a penguin before!! Not only were the rocks covered with creatures, but so was the sky! I was thankful that I had not seen the movie The Birds, otherwise I think I may have been a little horrified! Though I still had to be vigilint--it was kind of like a war zone there. I felt like I had a big target on my head and I was just waiting to be ambushed from any angle. After an elderly couple got a big white dump on their shoulder, I put my baseball cap on for protection. I ended up getting a little squirt on my arm, but I hear that it`s considered good luck, so I took the situation as the glass half full (and not with poo). So the islands were truly amazing. I have no idea how all those birds can possibly live in such close proximity. It was pretty cute to look up and see these giant pelicans waddling up next to seagulls, who are squaking at some commorants, who are huddled up to some other random type of bird! Somehow, they manage to live in a sort of chaotic peace, and together their calls harmonize into a loud, exuberant chorus, welcoming you to the islands.
*If you are a bird-watcher fanatic, I would put Paracas on the top of your to-see list.

From Paracas, we went inland toward Ica/Huacachina. We passed up the city of Ica and headed straight for Huacachina-- the oasis. Concealed by miles and miles of giant sand dunes, Huacachina looks like a paradise set from a Hollywood movie. It consists of a small lagoon (no bigger than a football field) that rises out of nowhere, sourrounded by palm trees, flowers, and cacti. The lagoon is also surrounded by a row of hotels and restaurants, but it is still very calm and the buildings don`t interrupt the beauty of the place. I actually kind of felt like I had landed somewhere in the Middle East-- Saudia Arabia maybe. Where was my burqa??

The sand dunes were Ah.Mazing. It`s more sand than you could ever possibly imagine. The dunes are no mole hills- they are LEGIT mountains that take over an hour to climb up. And once you get to the top of one, you can see how expansive the dunes are. They spread as far as you can see in every direction and don`t end until they hit the Pacific (miles away). I couldn`t help thinking of the book Dune. Desert planet. Arrakis. I found myself shuffling my feet as to not disturb the giant worms!!

Walking up a dune is no easy task. It`s a calf and butt burner for sure and with every step you take up, you slide backwards halfway. I decided that when I have my own house I`m going to toss out the eliptical and the treadmill to make room for my own personal sand dune. Not only are they good for exercise, the dunes are also a blast! We would jump and sprint down them and we even got to go on a sand buggy tour. Now a buggy tour sounds equivalent to a ride on a golf cart right? Well I have to say, I underestimated the power of the buggy. This tour was a full out rollercoaster ride! I was holding on for dear life as our driver would go raging  up a dune and, without any hesitation, send us flying down the at an incredible velocity. He was a really talented driver and as we were heading for a sand cliff at over 50km an hour, he would turn in the nick of time and go speeding off in the opposite direction. What a maniac! And what an awesome adrenaline rush!
(Warning: this tour is not for those with motion sickness, fear of heights, heart problems, or my mother).

The buggy tour was even better because it was coupled with sandboarding. After taking us up and over a bunch of dunes, we would arrive at a summit with an untouched slope. We were ready to "SHRED the NAR." No one in our group actually knew how to board, so we all went down penguin style (laying on the boards on our bellies)-- I guess I should call it sandsledding. But this was totally sufficient and these dunes were way steeper than any snow hill I`ve ever experience! The sand causes a little more friction than snow does, but we were FLYING!! I was sooo happy that even though I couldn`t go skiing or sledding this winter I could get my fix in with sandsledding! Woohoo!

We went up and over, and down and around TONS of dunes, stopping at slopes increasingly steeper for sledding. Then, right before the sun  was about to dip behind the soft sand, the driver took us to our last slope. No, this was not a slope, this was practically vertical. Double Black Diamond status. But it was balls to the wall and we went blazin raisin down that hill without out pausing or looking back! Let`s just say that was probably one of the best 2 hours of my life.

I will never forget that day. Not only because of the fond memories, but also because I think will continue to find sand ingrained in awkward places until the day I die....

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Goodbye Taricaya

So I´ve been in Peru approximately 3 months now and my time at Taricaya is coming to a close. What a bittersweet feeling! Taricaya has become a home and all the other volunteers my family. It would easy to stay here for over a year! But we joke that we know we´ve been in Peru too long because we´re starting to crave rice for all three meals of the day (yes that includes breakfast), we get super excited over fútbol matches, and we like drinking our brown creek-water over any brand of bottled water.

In the end, I really couldn´t have asked for a better experience! I only hope that all the lessons I´ve learned here will stick with me throughout the rest of my life. I never want to lose the wild jungle part of me!! Muwahahahah :)

So, bitter as it is to leave, Victoria and I have a SWEET six months ahead of us! We leave Taricaya on the 14th and we fly to Lima. We hope to meet up with Chelan, Rodrigo, and maybe even a couple staff members from Taricaya who will be there on holiday. We will also get to see good ol´ Andy and Jan there! Woohoo! From Lima, Vicki and I will split apart from the ´rents for a week or so and work our way down the southern coast of Peru. We hope to see Pisco, Ica, Huachachina, Nazca and whatever else tickles are fancy. Whilst Vicki and I become beachcombers, the parents will head to Machu Picchu and Lake Titticaca. Then, on Christmas Eve, we will meet back up in Arequipa and be together for a week or so there! We hope to venture down into the depths of Colqua Canyon (a canyon twice as deep as Arizona´s Grand Canyon). From there, we will have to part once more from the arms of our loving elders and Vicki and I will head back up to Cusco all by our lonesomes. But have no fear!, in Cusco, Vicki and I will unite with all the children that we will be passing on our EXTENSIVE amounts of knowledge to!

So basically, if I don´t update my blog or respond to any other forms of communication for the next month or so, do not FRET! I am safe and will let you all know about our travels in due course :) Have a very merry Christmas and enjoy the snow and all the fun holiday traditions for me!

P.S. Shout out to Tjos Hansen: Thank you Tjos for taking time out of your travel schedule to come see us crazies in the jungle! It was amazing and we LOVED having you here! Hope you got home safe and are enjoying skiing your brains out!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

El Día de Accion de Gracias

 Thanksgiving is here and I have so much to be thankful for that I would be a complete imbecile to take them for granted.

1. LIFE!! Ok ok ok... I know this answer is going to make you want to gag, but I have a story that will make you appreciate my answer as well. So as you know, the jungle can be a treacherous place, but I hadn´t experienced that feeling first hand until a couple of weeks ago when a few friends and I were walking in the jungle. It was dark out so we all had our torches and we were sticking strictly to the path. As we´re walking, Vicki jolts back and her scream pierces the tranquility of the forest. We freeze, and in the light of her headlamp, is a coiled up Fer-de-lance snake, poised to strike. The Fer-de-lance is a venomous pitviper that is extremely dangerous and causes more human fatalities than any other reptile (according to Wikipedia hahah). In our region of the jungle, it is the third most poisonous snake after the Coral snake and the Bushmaster. Our friend Simon had already unknowingly passed over the snake and was on the other side. Stuck on the otherside. In a frantic panic, me and another girl sprinted back to camp to call for help. We were able to get Fernando and he quickly came and killed the snake in one blow to save Simon (No problem for jungle masters like Fernando).
Though the snake didn´t bite anyone that night, we had a close call. That was one aggravated snake and one small bite could have done anything from causing memory loss, or paralysis, to a fatality. We are incredibly lucky that Vicki was vigilent that night! It´s a scaryyyy world out there! I must remain on my toes!

2. Bug repellant and AfterBite: Without these two vital chemicals, I would be one sorry scarred up girl. The other night, I went on a walk wearing leggings with shorts overtop. Two layers of protection is apparently tissue thin to the mosquito´s penetrating probiscous! I woke up the next morning and my bum was SOLID mosquito bites. Rocky mountain range status on my BEHIND!! I´ve been slathering on the AfterBite every chance I get and sneaking in little scratches when I think no one is looking ;)

3. Mosquito Net: While the bugs feast on me all they want while I´m on their turf, there is NO way they are penetrating my sacred bed bubble. I am so thankful for this marvelous piece of fabric that allows me to sleep in peace!

4. Siestas: I have definitely adopted this genious bit of South American culture. Almost every day I take a short nap after lunch to give me that extra energy boost to get me through the rest of the day. While some say this practice is only for lazy fools, I believe it is quite advanced to recognize the needs of the human body. We naturally get sleepy during this part of the afternoon and to structure your life around this energy-dip allows you to be more productive when you are awake.

5. Simple Pleasures: Being down here has made me much more appreciative of the little things. A letter from a friend, spotting wildlife, swimming in the river, tea or hot chocolate, having ice cream and other delicious foods when I come into town, identifying a bird by its call, making chocolate cakes, making a new friend, clean laundry, watching monkeys swing from branches, smuggling snacks back to Taricaya, wellies and raincoats, toast, my opaque waterbottle that allows me not to see all the dirt particles swimming in my water, candlelight, learning a word in another language, crazy dancing, and even just laughing!

6. NOT having mirrors: While Vicki and I have a small mirror in our bedroom, it is easy to avoid and I am thankful that there are few reflective surfaces down here. I´m sure glad I don´t have to look at my grimy, dirt smeared face! Haha! But it is just not important to look a certain way in the jungle and it is very refreshing to not be judged on appearance.

7. Victoria Monreal: Vicki is an amazing girl and I am SOO incredibly thankful that she was crazy enough to agree to come on this trip with me. She makes me laugh and can always amplify the awesomeness of an experience. She is up for anything and we have so much fun together! Sometimes we just start laughing for no apparent reason and can´t stop until our cheeks literally hurt! She is also one of the most caring people I know and I feel blessed to have someone who always has my back. Whether keeping me safe against eager Peruvians, pickpocketers, spiders, jaguars, or myself, she is always there :) We make a good team and I am sooo thankful to have a travel partner who is like my other half. I love you Victoria!

8. Friends/Family: Whether I have just met you or you are keeping up with me long-distance, I love you all! I am very affected by the people around me and I feel so gracious to be surrounded by such outstanding citizens!! I could never be a hermit or Chris McCandless (from Into the Wild) because the warmth and happiness people bring to my life is unmeasurable! Thank you for putting up with my craziness!! Bahaha!

9. Andy, Jan, and Allison: I love you!! I am a lucky girl to have been raised in such a loving family. Especially being down here, I feel so grateful to have had a family that has been stable enough to give me everything I need and more. I have been granted with opportunities that I know most of the world does not get to enjoy. I admire my Dad for working so hard and never letting it show. He is one of the happiest, goofiest people I know and I am astounded that he has shaped his life around what he loves. I hope I can be like that. My Mom is so kind and I thank her for all the knowledge, advice, home cooked meals, care packages, and everything else she has provided/sacrificed for me over the years. I only hope that I can give her as much recognition as she deserves! And Allison. My beautiful older sister who is always so wise and composed. She is so warm-hearted and I love that as well as the sarcastic, witty, devil side she has to her (don´t deny it Allison ;))! I hope you know how much I love you all and how much I miss you!

10. Thanksgiving Feasts: No matter where you are in the world, a thanksgiving dinner IS possible!! A few days before Thanksgiving, the three Americans (me, Vicki, and Zack) got together and discussed our options. It was simply not possible to let Thanksgiving fly by unappreciated- that would be totally against EVERYTHING the holiday stands for!! But we were a little apprehensive. We would be using foreign cooking appliances, substitue ingredients, we would have about 35 anxious mouths to feed (most of which was there first thanksgiving so they were expecting something grand!), and none of us had ever done it before, let alone cooked for that many people. It was a big endeavour but we decided to take it on. In the spirit of THANKSGIVING!

So, the day before, we went into the market and rounded up the goods. The ingredients we purchased were somewhat sketchy but we hoped that they would get the job done. And then, contrary to popular belief, we found the impossible: A GRAND TURKEY!! Whoohoo! It would be a real Thanksgiving feast.
We started that night on the pies so we would have enough oven space for the turkey the next day. And low and behold, with about half of the normal ingredients from the recipie, and some weird sort of gourd, we made PUMPKIN PIE!! Starting early the next day, we did the rest. And we did it with gusto! The whole ordeal! We made an apple crisp, apple cider, mashed potatoes, stuffing, salad, jello, popcorn (which apparently the Indians invented), bread rolls (well we bought the rolls), and of course turkey and gravy! We were nervous the whole day, but when it came time to eat, everyone was blown by how amazing it all tasted and quickly went for seconds! Even the turkey turned out perfectly tender! Not to toot my own horn or anything, but I must say three inexperienced Americans did pretty frickin awesome!! I haven´t been that full since last Thanksgiving I believe :)

It was a dinner of a lifetime. We had everyone say something they were thankful for and it was so touching that I literally had to holdback tears (my mother cursed me with weak tear ducts I think haha). Everyone was so appreciative as well (especially the cooks who got the night off) and told us we made their first Thanksgiving unforgettable!

In the end, I´m grateful I was able to bring a little piece of home to Peru and I must thank my lucky stars for helping me pull it off!

Thank you!!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Treacherous Happenings

The jungle is a very volatile place to live, and sometimes I forget that. But other times, I feel lucky to escape unscathed....

Vicki and I had spent a nice, quiet weekend at Taricaya, free of stress and drama. We relaxed all day, got some reading done, and ate way too much food for how inactive we were. After a splendid evening, we strolled back to our bungalow to get ready for bed. Vicki brushed her teeth, and I went to grab my towel to wash my face. And that´s when things took a turn for the worse. There, cleverly tucked behind the folds of my towel, was a snarling, purely EVIL, spider. With GLOWING EYES!! And this wasn´t just ANY spider. This was the Mother of All Spiders. She was eerily translucent, spindly, and about the size of my hand. She was so big, I swore I could see the purple filigree of her veins pulsing through rancid limbs.

And this over-grown, over-disgusting creature was in OUR room. While we were trying to sleep! The nerve! So much for sweet dreams. We´ve gotten used to most spiders, but there was NO way in the world we could sleep in peace knowing that the eight-legged devil was creeping over us.

I pathetically whined to Vicki to come see the horror that was our life. She came out and we were both frozen there, not knowing how to deal with this THING. After ten minutes or so of pannicking, we decided to arm ourselves for battle. As if cotton could sheild us, we covered our bodies in pants, long-sleeve shirts, gloves, and shoes.
We strategized our plan of attack. The least amount of commotion was ideal because we knew that the second the giant started scurrying, there would be total chaos and all would be lost!! We had to be quick and efficient in our movements. Ninja status. We desperately searched around, for ideas, for lethal weapons, for a god, we needed SOMETHING! I know we´re supposed to be doing conservation here, but screw it, that THING had to go. It was either me or him. We also wanted to be good bungalow-mates and not just sweep it into our neighbors room. That´s just asking for bad karma. The arachnid had to be obliterated! (for the sake of the people)!

So it was decided. Murder. A foolhardy scheme to bring the spider to it´s impending doom. Vicki had killed the last irksome insect, so we both knew it was my turn. I had to face my fear, slay the DRAGON!!! Weapon of choice: Vicki´s old tennis shoe (By the way, thank you Vicki for gallantly volunteering those shoes. You brave SOLE hehe). Armed with blugeroon in hand, we positioned ourselves. Vicki on standby with another weapon to get a second hit in if needed. I took a few moments to steady my shaking hand and catch my breath. I lined up, and as I swung, I let out a manic war cry, "PREPARE TO DIEEEEEE!!!"

I swear time stopped for an instant. Had my clobbering job WORKED?!?!?! Was the spider still at LARGE (haha)?? But sure enough, to my relief, I had hit the spider "dead" on and it´s massive corpse collapsed to the floor in an ugly heap. Vicki quickly sweeped out the twitching carnage for the vultures and the maggots to finish. That´s right, don´t mess with us. Resistance is futile.

SIGGHHHH. Just recounting this story gives me the heebie-jeebies. Especially because after the first enormous spider, we found three others that looked similar to it but smaller. We fear that the spider layed eggs in our bungalow in a final act of revenge and that we will now have 8 billion 8-legged freaks running around, haunting us.

If I come out of the jungle insane, you can blame the spider.