Thursday, January 29, 2015

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Today we had an unexpected day off. Poor Claudia was not feeling up to teaching that day, so instead of having Friday off as planned, we had Tuesday off. So, not to be left sitting around, Sarah, and I planned to climb up to Sacsayhuaman.  Drew also joined us on the short trek. Sacsayhuaman sits about 1 mile from the center of Cusco, so it's definitely walkable. BUT... the elevation rises as well.  The two youngsters were very patient with me as I stopped to rest periodically on the way up.

The view from the top is spectacular.  You can see Plaza de Armas which is the main square of Cusco and all of the various areas spread around it.  Sacsayhuaman was an Incan religious complex with fortified exterior walls that helped to defend Cusco.  The remnants of these walls boast huge stones that have been meticulously cut and fitted without the use of mortar. Much of the complex was ransacked by the Spanish to build the colonial buildings and the Cathedral of Cusco.

We spent quite a bit of time roaming around the grounds and were delighted to see a flock of alpaca grazing there as well. These creatures are very tame and we enjoyed getting close to them.

We also walked over to the "Cristo Blanco" or White Christ  monument that sits on an adjacent hill overlooking Cusco.  This is said to have been a parting gift to the City of Cusco from a group of Christian Palestinians who sought refuge here in 1945. It is an impressive sight!

Check out the pictures on Flickr!  Sorry I haven't edited them too much yet....

Monday, January 26, 2015

Monday, January 26 2015

Wow, I can't believe it's been a week since I've written.  So much has happened. Classes for my TEFL certification were kicked off on the 19th and it's been busy every since. We have classes from 9-4 on Tuesday through Thursday. Monday's we teach mini-lessons to actual English learners to volunteer to attend our sessions. I did my first one today and taught "how to make a simple origami box'.  The instructions may be simple to you and me, but if you don't speak English it is very confusing. I am glad to have the first one behind me. BUT....more importantly is the trip I took with Andrea Thurau to Puno and Lake Titicaca.  Check out the pictures on my flickr page to the right...

Lake Titicaca
OMG it was quite an experience. We left on Thursday night at 10:30 PM on an 8-hour bus ride to Puno.  We arrived there around 6 AM on Friday. We were brought to a hotel, Joya de Titikaka, to rest for a bit and have breakfast before going to the boat for our first stop on the floating islands of Uros.  There are something like 62+ different floating islands.  The islands are made from totora  reeds and are anchored in the shallow area of the lake among the reeds. Walking on the islands felt like you were walking on a squishy sponge and the reeds were damp from the water seeping upwards from below.  They have to continuously add more reeds to the island since the ones underwater eventually rot. 

After leaving the Uros islands, we continued for about 2 hours to the island of Amantani.  This is where we were spending the night in a home stay.  As we got out of the boat someone from each of the hosting families met us at the boat and we followed them to their homes.  These people are of Quechuan ancestry and speak both Quechua and Spanish.  Our hostess was named Norma and she had 2 young girls, Noelia (9) and Natalie (5).  The accommodations were very rustic. The house is built around a central courtyard.  The bathroom and kitchen are on the bottom level and the bedrooms are upstairs.  Our bedroom was comfortable enough, but had one bare lightbulb hanging from the ceiling.  There were no outlets or any other amenities in the room. The kitchen had a dirt floor, no fixed cupboards or appliances.  There was a two burner gas stove on which Norma cooked the food. There were many calendars from different businesses hanging on the walls, and one of those old sticky flycatchers spiraling down from the ceiling.  There was no running water in the kitchen or bathroom, but there was a spigot in the courtyard.  The toilet was a toilet bowl base with no seat and no running water. There was a pail of water with a pitcher that you scooped out to "flush" the toilet. This same pail of water was all there was to wash your soap either.  I'm talking basic - one step above an outhouse!

After lunch of quinoa soup and fried cheese (YUM!), Norma brought us to meet the rest of our tour group to climb to the top of Pachitata - Father Earth.  At the top of the mountain are Pre-Incan ruins of a temple to Pachitata.  The climb was tough since we were at about 4,000 meters (~13,100 ft).  The view from the top was spectacular.  Alejandro, our guide told us to collect 3 pebbles on our walk up the hill.  Once we got to the top, we had to walk around the ruins 2 times and then make a wish on each stone and place it into the crevices of the ancient wall. From the top you can see Peru on one side and Bolivia on the other.  You can also see snow capped mountains in the distance.  Its just a beautiful sight!  We stayed on top to watch the sunset, but unfortunately cloud came in to obscure some of it.  Silly me had forgotten to bring my regular glass, so I had to be led down the final section of the trail to the house. Unfortunately for me, I was also feeling a bit of altitude sickness and once I got back to our home stay, all I could do was drink a cup of tea and fall into bed. 

On Saturday, we had breakfast with the family and then left the island for an hour boat ride over to Taquile island. The wind was whipping up some waves and many folks, including me felt a bit nauseous.  Alejandro gave me a cotton ball soaked with alcohol to smell.  This helped to relieve the nausea, thank goodness.

When we arrived at Taquile, many of us in the tour group were feeling a bit fragile, but there was no time to rest.  We had to hike up the hill to the Town Square which sits at the top of the island.  It took me 90 minutes to make the climb with a few stops to rest, look at the view, check out the cows and sheep, etc. We were in no hurry. Taquile is a much more pretty and green island than Amantani, which is mostly brown.  There is farming on both islands, but the Taquile farms seemed to be more healthy. 

Once the group all got to the Town Square, Alejandro brought us to a restaurant where he explained the traditional dress of the Taquile people.  After the talk, we had a wonderful lunch of pan-fried trout, fried potatoes, beets and rice.  The Peruvians seem to serve white rice for almost every meal! The trout was the best I've ever had!  After lunch we headed across the mountain top to descend on the other side.  On the final descent, there are 540 steps to go down to reach the lake and the dock where the boat was. I'm not taking regular, evenly spaced steps. I'm talking about rocks placed along the slope to lead you downward. There were a few "landings" along the way, but not many.  Once we reached the lake we had a three hour boat ride back to Puno.  We were dropped off at the same hotel and were given the room for the rest of the day so we could shower and rest before our overnight bus ride back to Cusco.

A little about the was a really comfy bus with seats that reclined almost all the way.  Both Andrea and I settled into the seats to sleep for the trip back to Cusco. When I got back to the apartment I realized that my iPad had been stolen while I slept on the bus. Silly me, I had placed my backpack under my seat which made it easy for the people behind me to get to it and steal the iPad.  I'm disappointed for sure, but it would have been a lot worse to lose money, credit cards, passport, etc. The people who stole it won't be so happy to realize it's the first edition of the iPad. I hope they don't get any money for it!  Luckily I had set up the "where is my iPad" program and sent a signal for it to be erased. Then I promptly changed all of my passwords to prevent them from getting into any information from my iPad. Lesson learned:  keep your backpack on your lap or between your feet at all times. Dang that stung a bit!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Yesterday, I spent the afternoon in the Basilica Cathedral.  I paid my S/.25 (read that as 25 Soles) and went in and found a guide speaking English and melded into the group.  At the second stop, the thunder started and the rain came down in torrents.  And no, it wasn't because I was in a church. It seems to storm at least once a day here.  I was very glad that I was inside at that point.

The cathedral was as beautiful as the ones I've seen in England, Spain and France.  The altars we highly decorated in gold and silver and the Choir was carved cedar wood for the seats and wall adornments. The artists found a way in all the carvings and paintings to depict a little of their culture into each piece, probably unknown to the Spaniards.  It seems that artists all over the world are a little rebellious in subtle ways. The cathedral itself has pawns along the roof line, as the king enjoyed the game of chess and asked the artist to include something to pay tribute to the game.

Today, I went back to the Plaza de Armas and watched the people for a while then met up with Sarah for lunch and a walk over to the San Pedro market.  What an experience that was!  The market had a little bit of everything: food stalls with small stools and tiny tables to eat at; loads of woven and leather goods; uncooked foods of all types including vegetables, fruits, meats and cheese.  Now, I would never buy meats or cheese at this kind of place since it's sitting out of refrigeration all day long, but it's certainly does entice all your senses - good and bad!

After the market, we walked around the San Pedro area and then eventually back to the apartment for some much needed refreshment of watermelon that we'd bought the other day at the market next to my house. It was so yummy!

Tomorrow I start my TEFL course. We've heard the first week is not too bad, but then watch out. I'm looking forward to meeting everyone and starting to learn more about teaching. I feel this is something I'm meant to do.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Today I could have slept in, but I awoke before 7. Tuesdays and Saturdays are the big days at the market and since I have a fruit and veggie market next door to my house, I decided I would go take advantage of it.  But, first things was time for me to do a bit of cleaning and take out the garbage. It certainly didn't take me long since my apartment is so small.

So let me try to describe the market.  It consists of a number of dirt alleys lined on each side with small storage stalls. Each stall seems to be for one particular farmer and type of produce.  I saw many, many stalls of potatoes, probably of different kinds.  Did you know that the potato originated here in Peru?  There are over 3500 different varieties and many ways to prepare them.  They told us we would never be able to try them all while we were here.

There seems to be a retail and a wholesale portion of the market, though I'm not sure. The retail section is closest to my house and each of the vendors has a variety of fruits and vegetables that they are selling. Today I bought carrot, onions, garlic, and limes to go with the chicken and shrimp I bought the other day. I'm planning a stir fry tonight. I was also lucky to be able to pick up some water there so I didn't have to carry it far.   In the rest of the market, each vendor has only one or two items that they are selling and they were in big bags, like what another vendor might buy.

This afternoon, I'm going to walk around to see more of the historic center. So far, this is the part of the city that I feel the most comfortable in. Artisan shops, the Cathedral, the main square. More about what I find later?

Friday, January 16, 2015

Today I finished my Spanish class. It was fun and I learned a lot during the class.  I’m continuing with meeting my tandem partner so I will still be able to practice in a controlled environment. Of course, there is always daily life that requires speaking the language. I’m gaining some confidence with speaking, although verbs are still tough for me.

Hilario Mendivil Museum
This afternoon we went on a Museum tour. We visited the Hilario Mendivil Museum. Mendivil was one of the most important artisans of the twentieth century. He and his family make sculptures of virgins, saints, and angels represented with long necks in reference to the alpaca and the culture of Peru.

We also visited the Museo Maximo Laura.  Maximo Laura specializes in hand-woven Andean tapestries of very brightly colored yarns. He uses the yarn almost as a painter does, weaving multiple colors at once, line by line. It was amazing to watch one of the apprentices weaving and to see all of the beautiful tapestries in the museum.

The neighborhood where these museums are located is called San Blas and it is noted for the high concentration of artists in the city. As you walk around the neighborhood, the streets are narrow cobblestones often with stairs for sidewalks to make it easier to climb the hills. Needless to say, I had a bit of a time getting up to San Blas Plaza.  Coming down wasn’t as bad, but still had to be careful of the irregularities in the streets.

The last museum we visited on our tour was the Coca Museum.  I learned a lot about coca leaves and how they were used in ceremonies throughout the Incan empire.  It was only when the European’s got hold of it that it became misused and abused.  Did you know that it takes approximately 32 kilos of leaves to make 1 kilo of cocaine?  And in order to make it, they add in gasoline, acetone and a bunch of other nasty chemicals? Yuck!  I did get to try chewing on coca leaves. No I didn’t get a buzz, and it was quite nasty tasting. 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

I signed up for the Tandem program with the school which means you meet with another student at the school who is learning English and you talk with one another for practice.  My Tandem partner is Jose Carlos.  He’s a Civil Engineer who wants to learn English for his career. He’s been doing a lot of work for road construction and buildings, but he really enjoys doing hydro-electric projects which his country really could take advantage of.  We’ve been meeting every day and this will probably continue throughout my stay here.

Yesterday Sarah and I went to the one and only mall in the city called Plaza Real.  It’s on the outskirts of the city. There are a number of stores in the mall and it looks very similar to any other big city mall – large anchor stores, smaller boutique stores, a food court and a movie theater (the only one in the city).  In addition, there is a large home improvement store and a huge supermarket where you can buy food, some clothing items, some household items and I even saw a mattress!

I was looking for things I couldn’t find in my more local “supermercado” like plastic wrap to store food, matches to light the stove (yup, it’s that kind of stove), and something other than canned tuna fish for protein.  The meat counter was very interesting and I was able to get a couple of photos before they told me that photos weren’t allowed.  Can you guess what is in these packages?

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Cusco – My City!

January 14, 2015

I am finally here and able to post. At least I hope it works this time. I've written other posts, but they somehow get lost in the saving and posting of them.  Connectivity is an ongoing problem for me.

The first couple of days for me were rough. I was not able to sleep and the altitude was affecting me a little bit. I haven't had to take the medicine, but I have to take it slowly.  I have walked a lot around the city.  I live off of a street called Avenida Agustin Gamarra in the section called Huancaro.  My apartment is small, but has the essentials I need.  The kitchen has a 2-burner gas stove and a refrigerator and sink.  There is no hot water in the apartment except in the shower. The shower is a "suicide" shower, meaning that electricity is connected to the showerhead to heat the water as it comes out. The faucet handle is wrapped in electrical tape.  I'm not sure if that is because it was broken or if it's to insulate you against shock when operating the shower!

Each morning I walk 20 minutes to get to school. I am currently taking Spanish class from 9-11 each morning. Then I meet in the afternoon with someone to practice speaking with for an hour.  The rest of the time is free to see the city sites.

Yesterday, I got better acquainted with a classmate of mine, Sarah.  She helped me to get a local cell phone so it will be easier to communicate with my classmates, the school and my cousin in Lima. It's a simple phone so if I text, I'm back to counting instead of spelling!

Sarah and I went to a great restaurant yesterday that was recommended called Yola. We both had the Lomo Salteada, which are beef tenderloin pieces cooked with wine, onions, and tomatoes and served over French fries.  It was a fabulous dish and reminded me of the Spanish Carne en Salsa.  There are many great restaurants in the city, so I hope that we get to try a lot of them.

Every Tuesday night at school is Salsa lessons.  They start with the basic steps and then move on to putting it to music and then with partners.  It was great fun, but I could not keep up with the speed after they went through the basic steps and were bringing it up to speed.  It is a very popular event and the room was very crowded.