Category Archives: travel

humans of peru

Taking a cue from Humans of New York, I thought I’d elaborate on my Peru trip in the form of portraits and mini-stories.

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Being in the desert with open windows meant that every inch of every surface was covered in dirt. We had a cleaning woman, Queta, come in daily to clean: “dust maintenance” someone called it. Everyone I met who had been at the house for long enough spoke of Queta like she was an oracle, or a best friend, or a surrogate mother, grandmother, aunt, sister. It made me incredibly sad that she and I couldn’t communicate, so I took her picture instead.

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The first time I met Mauricio, he threw a football at my head. I caught it and threw it back. An American football is an unwieldy item to throw without someone showing you how, so I ran over to him before he could throw it back and guided his fingers to the laces, made the motion to throw it overhead. I ran back to my spot and caught a perfect spiral straight to my chest. I gave a thumbs up and threw the ball back.

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Juan wouldn’t speak to me, which was fine, because I couldn’t understand what he would have been saying anyway. The great thing about three year olds is that they find ways to communicate without using words because sometimes they can’t think of the right ones. I handed him some paper and a big bucket of crayons. He stared at me blankly. I handed him a blue crayon and pointed to the paper. He started coloring meticulously, scribbling all over the page, like it was his sworn duty to color every inch of it. Like I had given him a mission. Eventually the crayon caught on the paper wrapper and he handed it back to me. I ripped some of the paper off and handed it back. “Brilliant!” the look on his face said. He squatted down and started using his stubby little fingers to pry the rest of the paper off the crayon. When he finished, he handed it back to me, beaming. I looked at my watch. We still had two hours to kill. I picked out another crayon, peeled a bit of the paper off to get it started, and handed it back. He ripped all the paper off again. This went on with about six more crayons, until he started taking crayons and exasperatedly peeling off the paper, as though he were divinely obligated to do so. It was the entire purpose of his being and it burdened him the way factory workers are burdened with manual labor in order to support their families. Finally, our time was up, and I handed him back to his mother. It was like punching his time card. He was finally off the clock.

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Most people ignore all the stray dogs in the area. They’re not like dogs in America: they’re more calm, less spoiled. There was a mangy-looking dog around the classroom, who was just looking for a bit of love and maybe some food. He wasn’t bothering anyone. However, this woman, whose name I don’t know, dressed completely in traditional Andean attire, threw rocks at the dog, all the while shouting Spanish curses at it. She didn’t throw them to hit the dog, just aimed them so that they would land near it and it would scurry away. It didn’t work, though. The dog kept coming back.

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For me, this little girl is a perfect symbol of Huaycan. Maybe at first glance, she looks dirty, and poor, and maybe we assume that we should give her charity because of that. In actuality, she’s dirty because she’s been out playing all day with her friends. She may be poor, like the rest of the community, but despite that, no one seems to want for anything.

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Jefferson was the quintessential Bad Boy of his class. Because of the language barrier, I would point to my eyes and then point to him to show him that I was keeping an eye on him. So he started doing it back to me, repeatedly, and laughing hysterically, as though my watching him had any bearing on his classroom behavior at all. Despite all this, he was one of my favorite students.

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These guys were just rocking out in Barranco. When they saw I had pulled out my camera, they started serenading me.

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Peru: day 14

So I did it. I survived my first day of international solo travel. It was a very strange day.

Last night I said goodbye to my favorite shantytown of Huaycan by climbing a mountain, then promptly shoveling my face with food for the rest of the evening. Notable edibles included: choufa, Peru’s version of Chinese fried rice; two churros; a fruit salad which had fruit AND yogurt AND ice cream AND cereal; and two Pisco Sours, the Peruvian drink of choice. It was sad to say goodbye to my favorite shantytown, especially because at night it looks like the city in Blade Runner with less rain and more dust.

This morning I said goodbye to the other volunteers and to LLI and hit the road to Barranco.

After a long hot shower and a long nap, I set out to wander the city with a map and my camera. I stopped at a restaurant that was noted on my map because they had a Peruvian buffet and I chowed down. Nobody in the restaurant spoke English so communication was difficult, but I managed to get their wifi password and look up some cool stuff to do in the area.

I walked a block down to a photography exhibit by Mario Testino which was a series of photographs of traditional Andean attire. It was an amazing exhibit.

On my way back, I wanted to hit up the electricity museum but it was closed. I asked the security guard what the hours were and he shook my hand and wouldn’t let go. After an awkward two minute long handshake, I pulled my hand away and thanked him for whatever information he had given me that I couldn’t understand.

I decided to walk along the beach for a bit, and on my way I met a guy named Jeremy who excitedly stopped me and asked me where I was from. We had a little chat and he asked me to come listen to him play trumpet at this club we were conveniently a block away from. After he hugged me and kissed my face about three times each I finally managed to convince him I was due back elsewhere but would hopefully run into him later to listen to him play the trumpet.

I’m not sure if people are exceptionally friendly here or if these are circumstances I should be cautious of. Obviously today I played the cautious card, but learning the difference between opportunities and scams is something I’ll have to work on. I know in this place specifically, gringas are a bit of a commodity, so I’ll chalk it all up to that.

After a loooong walk, I made it back to my hostel without getting lost once. I had a lot riding on how today was going to go, and I’m glad it ended up the way it did. It was an excellent day.

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Peru: day 13

Tonight is my last night with LLI and my last night in Huaycan. Tomorrow I’m taking a taxi to my hostel in Barranco, where I’m going to relax for a few days before heading home on Friday. I was planning to go to Machu Picchu but I couldn’t swing it with the amount of time I have and money I brought (not enough of either). Hopefully I’ll pick up some Spanish and come back to South America someday.

I had a fun time these last few days. I finished teaching my classes and my adult class all gave me hugs and well wishes goodbye even though I only taught them for two weeks. One of them even wanted a picture taken with me.

The other volunteers have been going out for snacks every night and hitting up our favorite places. We determine our favorite places by whether or not the people who run them are nice to us. They receive our unrelenting devotion (and bottomless sweet tooth) with simple politeness. My favorite place is this bakery that has this hazelnut cake with coffee icing. There’s also the cookies I tried that had pop rocks in them. It was fun to figure out whether they were pop rocks or if I was having an allergic reaction. Every edible thing I’ve had here has been amazing. I’m actually a little sad to be going back to burnt coffee and turkey sandwiches.

Yesterday we took the kids on a field trip to a yogurt farm. It was a lot of fun and the yogurt was delicious. I took a ton of pictures, which I’ll post later. I was confused as to how a yogurt farm could be in the middle of a desert, but it was kind of an oasis. Also the cows ate bananas instead of grass.

I had a great time volunteering and I’m going to miss this place a lot. Hopefully I’ll be able to write once I get to Barranco tomorrow!

(I had to write this hastily which is why it’s so poorly written. I promise better writing when I get home.)

Peru: day 11

I’ve actually run out of interesting things to say. The good news is that I’ve taken a lot of pictures, and I’ll probably also have a series of memoirs (hopefully), and if not maybe I’ll do a write-up of details I missed while blogging (what Huaycan is like, cultural differences, journal excerpts, etc).

I realized today that people are going to ask me, “So how was your trip?” And I’ll be expected to say something like, “It was fun!” But it hasn’t been fun. I mean it has, obviously, but not the whole time and that wasn’t why I came here. I’m 23 years old. I do nothing but work and have fun. I came here to experience something beyond that, to learn and get perspective.

I learned what it is to be a minority, to be stared at and scrutinized everywhere. I’ve learned about myself and how I react when when confronted with unknown and stressful situations. I’ve learned a tiny bit of Spanish, not much, but more than I came here with. I’ve learned how to wing it even better than I could before. I learned to be away from the constant contact of my social life and how to not take pictures of everything (because I couldn’t). I learned I probably shouldn’t be an ESL teacher (not because I haven’t enjoyed it, I really have, but for many other reasons that I’ll detail the aforementioned write-up). I learned how to adapt.

Best of all, I think I learned what I want to do next with my life and that’s a very exciting thing for me. The fear of, “What comes next? What if it’s nothing. Is this it?” permeated my winter doldrums. Now I have a renewed faith in the world and in life itself. It doesn’t have to be boring, and I can do whatever the hell I want. And what I want is to see every inch of land on this planet until I decide I want something else.

My point is that I think my answer to, “So how was your trip?” is going to be, “I got what I came for.”

Peru: day 9

I went from having a significant amount of free time to having none really fast. I have an hour to kill at the moment though so I thought I’d update on the shenanigans of the last few days.

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I had a ton of downtime on Monday but the day was kind of boring and not worth writing about. I hand washed my laundry which was a horrible failure for the most part. I have the soapy water part down but not the getting things clean part. The washing machine makes it look so easy!

Day 6

Because our teaching program is for after school/work and weekends, our weekends are on Wednesdays and Thursdays. On weekends, everyone treks to Lima (two hours via combi) for a weekend of money spending, good food, and general awesomeness.

On Tuesday, after a full day of teaching, we got dressed up and headed to Lima for salsa. Thankfully, I was not required to salsa because it seems awfully complicated and people get sweaty while doing it. And there’s a lot of foot-stepping-on which I’m not fond of. But I was happy holding drinks and jackets for everyone else and watching in awe as these amazing, attractive Peruvian dancers salsa-ed.

It was very Casablanca. (And by that I’m referring to the temperature in the club, the music, and the romantic-ish atmosphere.)

We stayed in a hostel called the Lima Wari which I will discuss in more detail at the end of my trip. I’m staying my last few days in town there next week.

Day 7

After a decent hostel breakfast and a cold shower (there was hot water, I just couldn’t figure out how to work the damn thing), we visited a little cafe for lattes. The rest of the day was spent shopping. In the evening, all us ladies got gussied up (I did only to the best of my ability, which still means I looked like a potato with a crooked line of lipstick on it) and went to this amazing fancy burger joint.

I’d tell you about the rest of my evening, but it was so strange that I’m typing out my first of a series of memoirs of my trip to post when I can accurately punctuate the Spanish parts of it.

Day 8

The damp atmosphere of Lima attacked my sinuses so I decided breathing was more important and took allergy medication. Allergy meds and I don’t get along. I learned that while abroad, they turn me into a grumpy, tired, irate mess. So I’m just going to forget yesterday even happened.

Day 9 (today!)

More teaching. More dirt. More combis. More yummy food. More reading. More thinking. It’s all good.

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Peru: day 4

I had one of the craziest nights of my life last night.

After I posted yesterday, most of the housemates trekked out for an excursion to Miraflores, a trendy little town in Lima. The ride there consisted of three combis over two hours.

Once we got there we pregamed at this hostel and met up with some friends of one of the volunteers. I wasn’t up for drinking, but I did order a Pisco Sour, the famous drink of Peru that has who-knows-what in it. So then I ended up shooting pool for several hours with a very charming Peruvian man at said hostel.

We packed ourselves into a taxi and went to a club on the beach. Considering the only club I’ve been to is my city’s local drag bar, I was surprised by how there was less moshing and more dancing. Less dubstep and more house. Less drag queens and more, you know, not drag queens.

And damn can Peruvians dance.

Everyone got pretty smashed (except me) and danced and danced and danced (even me, but not well). We even got into the club and VIP lounge for free because our charming Peruvian man knew everybody and we were also a troupe of female gringos.

Exhausted, at 2:30 half of us called it quits and rode a taxi home.

The best part of the night? The whole evening, drinks, taxis, combis, everything came to a total of about $17. If you know Spanish and want to backpack through a continent, you could last a year with five grand or less in South America.

Of course, I had to wake up super early today to teach a class in one of our furthest classrooms. I co-taught art all day though and it was super fun watching the kids be so creative.

4. A 3 year old boy ran into the classroom with a towel on his back like a cape going, “Whoosh!”

This evening I taught an adult English class which was also fun because they’re more motivated to learn.

5. Making all the students in my adult class go, “Arrrrrrgh!” to help them learn the American ‘R’ sound.

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Peru: day 2

I’m finally here. And happy. The happy took a bit to get to.

As always, I find airports fascinating places for people watching, so the trip here was fun and enlightening. I finished Kerouac’s On the Road during my 8 hour flight which really helped put me in the right mental state for this trip.

I had no idea that airlines treat you nicer when you fly internationally. We got free TV and movies, two meals, and pretty much nonstop drink service. They also let us fill out the customs forms on the plane.

The worst part about the trip was that the airline broke my luggage. I’ll see what I can do about getting it replaced and keep you updated so that you’ll know how said airline handles such situations.

The house manager picked me up at the airport and we drove about an hour to get to the community of Huaycan. The traffic here is intense to say the least. Everybody honks all the time and fender benders are a frequent occurrence.

The house I’m staying at is a bright blue three story building of which LLI inhabits the top two floors. I’m in a room with two other volunteers (out of 11 who are staying here right now) and I have the top bunk which I’m not thrilled about but it’s fine.

Everything is covered in a thick layer of dust.

There is hot water but it only lasts a few minutes and you have to let it charge for 15 before you even get in the shower. I’m okay with cold showers though.

I walked around the town today and cannot adequately describe it without large hand gestures and a lot of “y’know?”s. There are stray dogs everywhere and dust and mountains and traffic and parades and bodegas and little shops and it’s just nuts.

It wasn’t until I had orientation that the cloud of fear and anxiety finally lifted and I felt really excited and happy to be here.

And the food. Dear lord the food. They have a woman who makes lunch and dinner every day and it’s authentic Peruvian cuisine and I just can’t even handle how delicious it is. Breakfast every morning is fresh bread and jam. Lunch is the big meal and dinner is more of a large snack.

I have my first class in a couple hours and I have to take public transportation to get there so I’m sure that’ll be an experience in itself.

Will try to write tomorrow.

Sorry for any typos and the lack of artistry in my writing. Tablet typing is lame.

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