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Saturday, May 19, 2012

All Good Things Must Come to an End

Back in the end of April, many of our group began packing up and flying for Nebraska. After three UNK students had made it back home safely, it began to hit me that this great adventure and exciting chapter in my life was coming to an end. I was looking forward to seeing my family and friends back home, but along with that feeling was an unexpected emotion of sadness at the thought of leaving behind Peru and all my new friends.

The plan was to fly to Brazil and see Hugo, who had stayed with my family as a foreign exchange student five years ago. After two weeks there, I would fly home.

As time went by, the date for me to fly to Brazil drew closer and closer. Before I knew it, most of the Nebraska group was gone and it was time for me to start packing. I finished packing about a couple of hours before tit was time to make the drive to the airport. I picked up my belongings, left my room for the last time, and carried all of my stuff downstairs. All of my host family had come over to the house to see me off. We said our goodbyes and talked about keeping in touch and future plans to see each other again, whether it be in the U.S. or in Peru. I remember the first time I met them all and how much harder it was to communicate back in January. The grandmother whom I lived with and our maid took my departure harder than I expected. As we hugged they began to cry. My emotions had been easy to keep under control up until that point, but I found hard to swallow the baseball of tears that was growing in my throat. It very well could have been the last time that I would ever see the two elderly women that had taken such good care of me. But my time there was over, and it was time for me to get going. As we drove to the airport, one last trip through the horrible Lima traffic, I saw many of the landmarks that helped me navigate the city. We got to the airport. I said my last goodbye to Toño outside of security. It wasn't so hard. We could easily keep in touch easily with the internet, and we both felt confident that we would see each other again sometime. After all, I was going to see a friend in Brazil with whom I had a similar relationship five years earlier. We hugged goodbye, I went through the security door, got on a plane, and left Peru.

 The program was an amazing experience for me. I am really glad that I chose to do it. It wasn't all good and easy, but the good parts outweighed the bad. My host family was better than I could ever have hoped. I got a good understanding of a new culture. My Spanish saw an immense amount of improvement. The UPC international office and professors were exceptionally helpful and kind. I made many Peruvian friends whom I hope to keep contact with  for the rest of my life. I grew close and made some lifelong friends with the other UNK students. I had amazing trips to Inca ruins and wild Amazon jungles. This trip was one of the best experiences that I have ever had and I would recommend it to anyone. I will always look back with fond memories of Peru.

¡Hasta Luego Perú!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Amazon Adventure

Classes for the semester finished up last week, so we all had a little over a week of free time here in Peru. Earlier this week six of my friends and I went to an isolated city in the northeast part of Peru named Iquitos. It has a population of over 400,000 people, but is inaccessible by road. So on Monday we boarded our plane and took off for the rainforest.

We had actually made very few plans for the trip before we flew there. We had looked at a few hostels online and a few river tour options, but we decided just to wait until we got there before we booked anything. We had been warned that some online hostels don't actually exist and they just steal your credit card information. The trip at the beginning was a shot in the dark more or less, but we hit the bullseye.

Emily with her rolling luggage. Hilarious.

When we got out of the airport we were swarmed by taxi drivers. We ended up going with one driver who had two cars for us. This man was the nicest driver I have had in Peru. As a matter of fact, the people of Iquitos as a whole were extremely kind. As we made our way to central plaza of the city, our driver explained to us that most tourists just go strait to the jungle. There isn't really much to see in the city. It is a very poor place, but at the same time it held a happy atmosphere. Our driver took us to a few jungle tour places. Within two hours of arriving in Iquitos and after a couple short presentations on what they had to offer, we decided to go to a lodge about an hour downstream. We grabbed our bags and left right away.

Iquitos is currently experiencing high floods. The Amazon River there is the highest that it has been in forty years. To get to the dock we had to walk along 100 yards of floating planks. Once at the dock, we boarded a little boat and headed down the river.

To get to the lodge our boat driver had to wind his way through many trees and it was impressive to watch him work. The lodge was nice. Everything had palm roofs and mosquito screens. All the meals were included and didn't taste bad at all. There was running water, beds, hammocks and from 6:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. we had electricity.

The first afternoon we got back into the boat and headed to a place where there were a lot of monkeys and parrots. The monkeys and parrots aren't technically pets or in captivity, but they are very used to people. When we first got there, we struggled to get some good views of them and take some pictures. However, when we got to the trees our guide broke out some bananas, and the monkeys were in our boat, climbing over everything and everyone looking for food. They were extremely cute. A man brought us a parrot and a snake as well. Most of us held the boa and bird.

Nicki freaking out.

As the sun went down we chilled on the boat and watched a beautiful sunset. Before it got dark we went back to the lodge and ate supper. That night we went out with our rubber boots, flashlights and bug spray, and explored the jungle in the dark. The trees were enormous and the vegetation was overwhelming. Our guide led us with his machete and we saw tons of different bugs, frogs, and even a little snake. The army ants were impressive to watch. The spiders were very interesting and we even saw a couple of tarantulas. The night hike was a blast.

Little snake at night. She's less freaked out.            
Mean looking poisonous Demon Spider
Tarantula at the lodge.

The second day we went out to see some indigenous jungle people of the Yahua tribe. The little camp they had set up was as far as they let tourists go into their territory. These people seemed much more indigenous to me than the people I met in La Merced. The women didn't wear any tops, the children were naked, and the men wore grass skirts and feather hats. They spoke very little Spanish. After introducing themselves and telling their story, first in Yahua then in broken Spanish, they showed us their blowguns. These were actually very accurate and the could stick a wooden needle over an eighth of an inch into a wooden doll. They let us all take a few shots with the guns. They were so accurate that even we were able to hit the doll dead center from over twenty feet away. After that we danced a few dances and the we bought some things that they had made themselves. With that money they can buy things such as soap and medicine. It was an enjoyable and interesting part of the trip.

 After lunch we went out in the boat and looked for more wildlife. We spotted a few iguanas and birds. We even saw a famous pink dolphin of the amazon. The dolphin swam around the boat at a distance and would pop up every once in a while to breath.

That night we went into the jungle with our flashlights again. After that we lounged around in the hammocks, listened to the rain, and played cards.

The third and final day we went fishing for piranha. We went to a spot where they are known to swim. We baited our little hooks and put them in the water. We immediately felt something biting at our bait, but when we pulled up the hook was stripped clean without any piranha. We fished for about an hour and only accomplished feeding the piranha. It was a little disappointing because whatever we caught we were going to take back and cook. I really wanted to eat some piranha. Even though we returned empty handed, it was still fun.

After lunch we went to a place where alligators, piranha, and giant catfish are held in reservoirs. When we threw the food into the piranha pond the water would exploded in their feeding frenzy. The alligators in the amazon are smaller than in Florida, but still fun to see none the less. Some giant catfish swam in a pond with enormous lily pads more than 5 feet in diameter. The fish themselves were huge, six feet long and 180 lbs. of solid meat. The wildlife in the Amazon is amazing.        

After that we returned to Iquitos, got a hotel, and walked around the tourist part of town. After seeing some shops and a good meal, we were all tired and headed for bed. The next morning everyone else headed out early, but I stayed in town because I had a later flight back to Lima. So I walked down a street that followed the river. I found a little floating bar and enjoyed an Inca Cola and a Pisco sour on the Amazon. That afternoon I caught a taxi to the airport and flew back to Lima. This may have been the best trip that I have taken in my time here. Iquitos and Cuzco are neck for the tittle of best trip. At any rate, my time in the jungle was amazing and I will never forget it.

Sunday, April 15, 2012


One part about this trip that I have loved and am sure to miss is the ocean. Going to the beach has been one of my favorite activities.

The beaches in Lima aren't the best for relaxing days at the beach. There isn't a lot of sand; it's mostly rocks. To get to nice sandy beaches we have to go a little ways down south of Lima. This is usually a simple task of walking to the freeway and getting on a bus to take us there. In fact, one time a Peruvian friend of ours flagged down an empty city bus and we paid it off to take the whole group to a beach. This was illegal but evidently is not that uncommon. I've gotten familiar with the ride to a few different beeches such as Puerto Fiel, Punta Roca, and Punta Hermosa.

The bus we paid off.

Once we get to the beach we do a variety of things like swimming in the waves, lounging about taking in the sun, or volleyball. We've also had some nice games of ultimate frisbee in the sand. On three separate occasions we started a little campfire with both Peruvian and American friends. We just spent all night making smores and talking. When we got tired we just laid under the stars and slept right there with the ocean coming up and down less than fifty yards away. Even though we would wake up sandy and sore, these were some of my best times here in Perú. I really enjoyed getting to know everyone else in the group.

The sunsets are great.
I have gotten a couple of opportunities to try my hand at surfing. The waves here are fantastic, and Lima is ranked in the top ten places to surf in the world. There are little places that rent surfboards and wet suits less than half an our from my home. It's a pretty sweet gig. I just pay them about 8 dollars and they let me use their gear until I'm tired. Which is about two hours. Paddling over waves and keeping balance on a board is tough work. I have gotten my butt kicked a few times by some waves. Every once in a while a big one came along and swallowed me up. When you get taken under by a wave, you get tossed around and don't know which way is up. My strategy was to just hold my breath, close my eyes and kick. Once the wave passed I had to hurry up and get on my board before the next one came. I am by no means an expert surfer now, but I can get waves to pick me up on my board. Starting on my stomach, this feels a lot like sledding back home. The waves get going pretty fast. I have only successfully stood up once, but I plan on going one more time before I leave, so hopefully the third time I will do better.

Toño and I in our wetsuits for surfing.

Jose not quite thinking throug the whole hand stand thing.
The ocean has been one of the best parts of the trip. The sand, waves, and sunsets have been beautiful. I know that I will miss it when I get back to Nebraska.

With a little imagination (well, lots of imagination) you can see the word "Peru."

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

La Merced

A couple of weeks ago, I got the chance to travel with my host brother to the city of La Merced in the Chanchamayo province of Peru. This city is the beginning of the Amazon rainforest and was an awesome experience.

The trip started with me taking a bus to the city of Huancayo on a Wednesday at 11:45 p.m. My host brother was already in Huancayo so I had to make the trip solo. I packed my bags, flagged down a taxi and arrived at the bus station on time. The bus ride went smoothly. It was dark and I could hardly see anything but I could feel us taking sharp turns up mountainsides, climbing higher and higher. At the highest point of the ride we were above 15,000 feet in elevation. However, I was able to sleep through it and didn't feel any elevation sickness. I arrived in Huancayo safely around 7:00 a.m. on Thursday. I spent the day seeing places around Huancayo with my host family.

The next day my host brother, his girlfriend, and I took off for La Merced in the family pickup. The drive through the mountains was insane. For starters, the sights were unbelievable. We went from one grassy valley to another, winding up and down mountains. In nearly every direction we could see huge snow capped mountains. For a while we drove on a high plateau where the grass didn't get very tall. After living in a city in the middle of a dessert for over two months, the fields of short grass reminded me of home. Up there herds of sheep would graze freely. There were no fences. Instead, people would would sit and shepherd them; no vehicle, house, or corrals in sight. They just lead their herds around the plateau.

Along with the many sights, were the crazy twisting roads and my host brother sped through them like a formula one racer. Every time we went around a tight corner he would take the inside lane whether it was his or not. The tires would begin to squeal as we whipped around the turn. I sat with my seat belt fastened, squeezing the handle above the door, praying that there wasn't an on coming car. In the event that there was an oncoming car he would slam the breaks and get over just before we collided. I asked him to slow down a few times but he told me not to worry and that he had done this before. This was of little comfort to me. I can't wait to be on American roads. Anyway, as we went further we started to see more and more vegetation. When got out of the mountains and started to follow the Chanchamayo river. There was green everywhere. We had made it to the beginnings of the jungle.

All of the winding roads reminded me of an article and a discussion we had in our Indigenous cultures class. A big challenge for Peru is to be able to distribute goods and develop the country outside of the coast and Lima. The harsh landscapes of the Andes mountains and Amazon jungle make it a near impossible task to set up a good infrastructure. As the crow flies Huancayo to La Merced is maybe 80 miles or so. However, it took us about three hours to drive there.  

We arrived at La Merced and got a pretty nice hotel for a reasonable price. We went out to eat in the main square of the city. The food was really good. The best part was the exotic fruit juices that we ordered to drink. We walked around the city for a little while. There were many shops with handcrafts and nicknacks. The bugs are enormous in the jungle and there were many framed giant butterflies and tarantulas in the shops. As night came around we found and hired a guide to ride around with us and show us all there was to see in the area.

After a night of pounding rain we rose early to meet up with three more friends and begin our tour. We first stopped at an old suspension bridge that was first built about a hundred years ago. It has been remodeled a lot since then but is still in the same place. It was long and narrow, but was strong enough for cars to drive across. We walked to the other side of the river to a cliff and the guide told us the significance of the bridge for the first non-native explorers of the forest. There was a spot cliff face next to the bridge where one could climb the vines and get a good view of the river. When we climbed down and started walking back to our car, a man with a boa constrictor let us take a picture holding his pet. The snake was shiny and I expected it to be slimy, but it felt dry and scaly.

Our next stop was an Indigenous village of the Ashaninka people. The people wore simple clothes and no shoes. The village wasn't too isolated and we were able to drive there. The people there embraced the role of tourist attractions. I think all of them spoke Spanish but when they talked to each other it was their native tongue. They dressed us up and painted our faces. I felt a little awkward but I went along with it. The chief came and told us some of his peoples story. He had his face painted and had some bright colored parrot feathers on his headdress. Then they started playing flutes and drums and dancing with us. I felt really awkward at this point, but it was over soon enough. After that we decided to do the zip line that they had set up at the village. We got all the gear and trekked up the hill to the start of the zip line cable. One by one we clamped in and soared down the line over the village. It was exhilarating! The line and the break at the bottom that consisted of bungee straps staked into the ground probably weren't up to U.S. safety codes, but we risked it and everybody made it just fine.
Riding the Zip Line

After the village we drove to some trails that led to some beautiful waterfalls. When we completed the short hike to a waterfall we were able to take a dip in the pool that it created. The amount of water that came crashing down was impressive and captivating. We walked down a different trail to another even bigger waterfall. Our guide told us that waterfalls like this are all over the forest. It's amazing how much water comes running down into the rivers in that area, but after driving through the mountains and hearing the rain all night it was easy to understand where it all comes from.

Once we were done seeing the waterfalls we made our way back to La Merced and visited a big coffee/fruit company there. They gave out free samples of their fruit and coffee, both of which tasted amazing. The rain forest climate is a perfect place to raise coffee and once I had a sample I had to buy some. So I got three bags.

After the day of tours we ate and relaxed in our hotel. Our friends that we had met up with wanted to go home that evening, but a landslide had actually covered about a hundred yards of the only road out of the city. This was another example of the difficulty Peru has of developing a good infrastructure. So since we couldn't go home, we decided to go out to a night club. The club we went to was actually really cool. It had two levels of people dancing. The lighting and the DJ made a very enjoyable atmosphere. In true Peruvian fashion we stayed out until the early morning before going and crashing in the hotel.

The next day the road had been cleared and we were free to go home. The trip back was no less exhilarating than the trip there. Toño still drove like a mad man and I still held on for dear life. The two days I spent in La Merced were a lot of fun and it was very nice to see a new part of Perú.   


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Bumpy Parts

I've been in Peru for over eleven weeks now and it has been an absolutely awesome experience. I could not have asked for a better host family or University. However, I would be lying if I told you that it has all gone perfectly. Part of this trip has been learning to adjust and take care of myself in a place that is unlike anywhere that I had ever been to before. Some of the differences that I have found are undesirable for me even after adjustment to them.


First and foremost, the way people drive in this country is awful. I think I may have touched on this subject in an earlier entry, but believe me, it deserves to be said again. There is no respect for speed limits. People get from A to B as fast as possible. To avoid the danger of cars flying through residential areas at 50mph, there are speed bumps everywhere. This results in drivers flooring it and then braking hard just before the bump. As soon as they go over it, they floor it again until the next bump.

The concept of maintaining one's lane is unheard for Peruvians. If they want to turn they will just cut across traffic and join the unorganized conglomerate of vehicles waiting for the first opportunity to squeeze through oncoming cars.

There is also no respect for pedestrians. If you find yourself in Lima be careful crossing any street. Look both ways at least twice and don't expect anyone to slow down for you to cross. Instead of breaking they will just honk at you in an effort to make you get out of the way faster. I have often been tempted to give the old one fingered wave many times, but have managed to just blow off their honks and yells.

You would be better off calling a priest than an ambulance. They do not get over for any type of emergency vehicles. On the contrary, they will cut them off just like they do any other car.

I am from a small town. But from the time I have spent in American big cities, I can assure you that the traffic in Lima is on a different level from anything you'll find in the U.S.

As you can imagine, all this horrible driving results in accidents (however, I must say that I thought there would be more). In the city where they can't drive too fast and I have only witnessed a couple of accidents. But on the freeway I have seen many more. Insurance companies and tow trucks are stationed about every 10 miles or so to help clean up. One night we passed three accidents; two of which multiple cars were totaled. Traffic was backed up for miles, so many cars/trucks/buses decided to cruise on the small paved shoulder speeding past parked cars at speeds of 45mph at least.

Of course it is unfair to say that all Peruvians drive like mad men. There are exceptions, but the grand majority of Peruvians I've seen act like it's NASCAR. When I return, I will enjoy being back on roads where I can trust other drivers.


Another thing that I have had to adjust to is being more careful not to get robbed. Being white and foreign I am an easy target for a lot of thieves. My first month here I stupidly left my bag alone at the beach for 15 minutes, during which someone kindly took my camera off my hands. Although I have not been held up or attacked, a few of my fellow Nebraskans were involved in a mugging. No one was hurt, but that hardly makes the situation less frightening.

Not only are Americans targeted for good old fashioned robbery, we also have to deal with stores and taxis trying to rip us off. Most little shops don't mark prices, and taxis don't have meters. So we always need to know how much we should pay for something before we buy it. We also always need to check to make sure we are given real bills. One member of the group has been given fake money and had it thrown in his face when he tried to spend it. I have learned to be careful, but having to constantly be on guard gets old quickly and I look forward to carrying my wallet in my rear, unzipped pocket back in Nebraska.


Poverty is a major problem in Peru, and over the past months we have grown accustomed to seeing it. Whenever I go out I walk past people trying to sell things on push carts. Whenever we're stopped in traffic people will come up to the window to show you their merchandise or to just simply beg. We all live in a nice residential part of town, but we often drive through poor neighborhoods with people searching through trash for things to recycle or maybe even to eat. Stray dogs run around everywhere, even in rich neighborhoods. I have seen dead animals lying on the side of the street on multiple occasions. On trips outside of Lima we see entire little towns with huts built out of scrap wood or panels of straw woven together. The residents are migrants from the mountains or had their homes destroyed in an earthquake back in 2007. These people survive on less than a dollar a day.

I realize there are people in extreme poverty in the states, but it's not on the same scale as what I've seen here. At first I felt sorry for them and a little guilty for not helping out. But now I have seen poverty so much I've become almost numb to it, which may be the saddest part of all.

Johnny Law

Perhaps the scariest part in my experiences here is the corruption of Peru's national police. I have been pulled over twice while riding with new Peruvian friends, and both times the police were just looking to be paid off in cash. The first time they pulled us over because they saw us leave a bar. The driver had hardly anything to drink and blew way under the limit, but the officers demanded that we pay them off so we wouldn't get into trouble. I was confused and couldn't understand all of what they were saying, but the cops even tried to come up with some bogus traffic violation to pin on us. After all the cops I had seen cut people off and run lights it sounded absurd to me. They didn't even want that much money, maybe twenty dollars, but I refused to pay. We told them to write us a ticket, but instead they ended up just letting us go. I was pretty upset and started asking friends what that was exactly. They told me that it happens all the time and that the corruption runs deep. Evidently the police don't get paid much so the higher ups will pool the bribe money and split it up between everyone.

The police also lack in numbers. There was a recent protest which blocked off a the only highway along the coast. This stopped buses for miles and actually stranded a couple of Nebraskans outside of Lima. It took the police two days to clear the protestors and burning tires from the highway. If something were to happen where I needed police help, I wouldn't have confidence in their ability or integrity.     

I hope this blog doesn't come off as me just complaining. I am simply describing my experiences. In part, I do this so future students of this program will know what to expect. With all this being said, my semester here has been great. Looking back now I am glad that I chose to come here and would make the same choice again. Negative aspects of a country are essential to the experiences this program wishes to give students. I've had bad days and missed my friends and family like crazy. I got sad and was ready to hop on the next plane home, but I stuck it out and I'm better off for it. Learning to adjust and roll with the punches are great life skills. I am pretty well adapted now and hope to learn from and enjoy all of my last few weeks here, even the bumpy parts.          

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Cuzco and Machu Picchu

Last week I made my first trip outside of Lima with my fellow UNK students since we arrived in Perú eight weeks ago. The destination was Cusco and the world famous ruins of Machu Picchu. I had been looking forward to this trip ever since I decided to study abroad and was very excited to go.

My flight left at 8:00a.m. last Thursday, so my host brother and I got up before dawn to make the trip to the airport. I made it through security with no problems and my flight took off on schedule. The flight was very enjoyable. I had a window seat and a fantastic view. As we took off, I was able to look down on Lima and recognize many landmarks of the city. One landmark in particular was the "hill" that stands close to UPC campus. Before visiting the Andes I had thought this huge mound of earth to be more of a mountain than a hill. But as we flew over Lima I saw the real Andes mountains rising up into the clouds, making the hill next to campus look like a prairie dog mound. When the plane got above the clouds, snow capped mountains more than 18,000 feet in the air began appearing in the distance. It was a very impressive sight.

Coca Tea
The flight lasted an hour and a half, and when we landed I stepped of the plane and felt cool air for the first time in two months. It was actually quite refreshing. February is the rainy season for Cusco but we lucked out, and only had minor showers during the days we were there. The elevation at Cusco is 11,200 feet and I felt the difference in the air immediately, but I had taken some elevation sickness pill beforehand and they must have worked because felt fine the whole trip. From the airport our travel guide took us to our hotel. The we were served some coca tea (plant from which cocaine is made) which is supposed to help with the elevation adjustment as well. We spent the morning acclimating in the hotel.

During the afternoon we toured around the city of Cusco, which was the capital of the Incan Empire and a key point of Spanish conquest. The first stop was the Temple of Coricancha (Temple of Gold in quechua) with a Spanish convent built on top. This theme of Inca foundations with Spanish buildings on top was common throughout the trip. In the temple/convent we saw many paintings and some great examples of Inca/Colonial Spanish architecture. The Incan temples were built from only the best stones cut exactly to fit together without mortar like a puzzle. Instead of mortar, pegs and holes were formed in the stones to hold them together. The Incan structures, though hundreds of years older, are in better shape than the Spanish buildings on top of them. In fact, 25 years ago when a strong earthquake hit Cusco, many Spanish structures fell while the Incan ones stood strong.

Convent. You can see original Incan wall on the left side. It was drizzling.

Cathedral. Poor photo but its the only one I got.
The other tourist sight we went to on our first day was the Cathedral in the Plaza de Armas. We were not allowed to take our cameras in but believe me when I say the sights were unbelievable. There were wooden gold leaf shrines that went from the floor to the ceiling 60 feet above. The domed ceilings in the main hall reached even higher. Many beautiful paintings hung on every wall. An alter of solid silver that must have weighed thousands of pounds sat on the floor towards the back of the main hall. The size of the cathedral, with its columns, shrines, and alters of precious metals, was simple breathtaking.

On the second day, we rose early and made our first stop at Sacsayhuaman. This archeological sight may have been the most impressive part of the trip for me. These ruins were built with the same method as the temple but on a much larger scale. Some stones are more than 15 feet tall and 8 feet wide, yet they are all cut to fit perfectly without mortar. How the Incas built this place is unknown. Most experts say it was done with ramps, rolling logs, and some major man power. However, some people swear it must have been aliens. Sacsayhuaman sits at an elevation of 12,200 feet and has a wonderful view of the city of Cusco.

Cusco viewed from Sacsayhuaman
Dried fish, beef jerky, and corn. Supposedly they eat that.
After Sacsayhuaman we journeyed down the Sacred Valley of the Incas and the Urubamba river. At the end of the valley we arrived at the small village of Ollantaytambo. Many indigenous people live in this town and on our tour we were able to see one little neighborhood that appeared to be straight out of the 15th century. This village reminded me a lot of the readings and discussions that we've had in my Indigenous politics class with the different language, clothing, food, houses, etc. These things brought to life everything we had talked about; these communities still existing and how much they differ from Lima and other big cities.

The third day we went to Machu Picchu. We left our hotel at 4:00a.m. and made the bus ride back to Ollantaytambo. From there we got on a train and headed for Aguascalientes. We followed the Urubamba river wich turned very rough after Ollantaytambo. I've been to the Rockies and have even white water rafted. But those "rapids" are nothing compared to what I saw on the train ride. Millions of gallons of water raged against rocks the size of houses. Seeing the water crash its way down the valley gave me butterflies in my stomach and dropped my jaw to the floor.

Me with my hometown newspaper.
We arrived at Aguascalientes and I was expecting to be able to see the ruins from there. However, one has to climb or take a bus up another thousand feet before he gets to Machu Picchu. So we got on a bus and finally arrived at our destination. The views were unbelievable. The terraces had been cut out of the mountain and started a hundreds of feet down and worked their way up to the top. Llamas were wondering freely all through the ruins. Just chilling and grazing the terraces.The important buildings, such as the temple of the sun, were built using the same method of cutting the stones exactly to fit. The peak of Wayna Picchu also has buildings and we could see tourists climbing the trail to the tippy top. After a good tour we were free to wander as we pleased. However, we couldn't climb Wayna Picchu because there is a limit and we didn't get the required ticket. However, we did make it up to Intipunku which is at the top of the Inca Trail leading out of the valley and back to Cusco. The hike took about an hour but it was a great view and actually sits higher than Wayna Picchu.
Intipunku victory pose. Main ruins are far behind us next to my head. I was excited.
 The fourth day we checked out of the hotel and took a flight back to Lima. The trip was a great experience and it was really good to get out and see more of Perú beyond Lima.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Points of Interest in the City of Lima

I've been in Lima for over six weeks now and during that time I have done a fair amount of exploring in the city. There is ample public transportation and it is very cheap. I can ride a bus for an hour and pay no more than $2. I can also take a taxi just about anywhere in Lima for around $10 and if I'm in a group it cuts the cost even more. My Spanish speaking ability has seen some definite improvement and I now feel confident enough to negotiate with cab drivers without a native speaker having to come with me.

There are also these wonderful little cereal boxes on wheels called combis. Their routes are like those of buses and the same price, but combis are tiny and perhaps a little bit faster than buses. When you ride in one of these you're crammed in with a bunch of strangers and the way people drive around here you feel as if you're in a speeding roller coaster. They are a different experience and though I wouldn't want to ride in a combi everyday, they are fun to take every once in a while.
Back half of a combi.
The bus system here in Lima is not like the ones in the states. There is no set schedule and you have to read words printed on the bus and talk to the toll collector to make sure it's the one you want. There are so many buses and combis driving around that you do need to be careful which one you get on so you don't end up unknowingly going in the wrong direction. The grand majority of people here in Perú are smaller than Americans. Therefore, all the seats in the buses, combis, and taxis are made for short people. Being 6'5", I have to scrunch my legs in wherever I can. But it's not as bad as it sounds, and since I am young and skinny I can usually find a comfortable position.

Palace in background.
With this public transportation we have been able to go around many different parts of this huge city. One of the first places we got to know is the gigantic Plaza de Armas in central Lima. The plaza is surrounded by the Presidential Palace, the Lima Cathedral, and some other large colonial age buildings. The night we went there Lima was celebrating it's anniversary as a city. There was a huge stage set up in the middle with music and dancing. There were many cheering people there which gave the event the sense of a big rock concert. In the streets on the edge of the plaza there were all sorts of people in costumes, women dancing in dresses, and men riding horses. The people, music, and buildings created an atmosphere that was unique and enjoyable.
Lima Cathedral
Parque de Amor

Another part of Lima that I have gotten familiar with is Miraflores. This district of Lima is on the coast and has quite a bit of historical value. The literature class I'm in took a tour of the district and we saw and learned some interesting things. Along the cliff above the coast in Miraflores there are many parks with statues and flowers. The most outstanding park was the Parque de Amor (Park of Love). There are many colorful ceramic walls and fountain with a statue of couple on top of it. In the ceramics on the walls are names of famous Peruvian couples and simple phrases of love.

Miraflores Lighthouse

Miraflores Coast

Another part of the Miraflores tour was the archeological sight of the "Huaca Pucllana." This Huaca is the site of temples, squares, and homes of pre-colonial peoples. When the Spanish first arrived in Lima, they believed that they were just simply hills and didn't realize what they were until later when people tried to dig into them to build. The temples and houses are all constructed out of mud bricks and since it rarely truly rains in Lima (maybe once a year), the buildings have lasted hundreds of years. On the tours we learned of how these people lived and heard stories of religious ceremonies with human sacrifice.

Human Sacrifice Replica

Partly Restored Huaca Temple

For shopping Lima offers malls and centers very similar to those one would find in the states. However there are also shopping places that are very different. The biggest of these center is called Gamarra. This place is absolutely enormous with about 17,000 different little shops that sell everything from clothes to electronics and more. If you go deep enough into one of the stores you can actually find people making the clothes. Brand names like Nike, Billabong, Rolex, and Ray Ban are sold, but I highly suspect they are fakes. This really doesn't matter to me though because they look exactly the same and are about one third of the price. Speaking of prices, nothing is marked and you need to be prepared to do a little bargaining. As a foreigner I expected to pay a little more than what they would sell to a local, but even the prices I got were far below anything that I would pay in the states. The atmosphere was a little sketchy and I we stayed in groups of at least three because pick pockets and muggers are know to roam around Gamarra. We made it through the day fine and were able to make a few purchases without any incidents. It was a fun way to buy in my opinion.

Just this past week the group took a tour of the Fortress Real Felipe in the Callao district of Lima. This fortress is located right by the port of Lima and has been a major part of the history of post-colonial Lima. When we first arrived the shear size of the fortress was very impressive. It was constructed in the 18th century and the entire place is surrounded by a moat and a 20 foot wall with cannons spaced about every 10 yards. The side facing the sea has two great towers on each end. The tour of the fortress was very interesting and we were told of battles against the English pirates and also with the Spaniards after Perú's independence. The tour was a great way to spend a morning and to learn a little more about Lima and Perú.

Exploring the city has been fun and has really helped me enjoy my time down here. I hope to continue learning and exploring as the semester continues.