Tag Archives: peru

Volunteering: Aldea Yanapay Comissary Project

My last article about volunteering with the Aldea Yanapy school project brought up some controversy with the organization itself, and had to be edited quite a bit.  I’m going to try and keep this one less controversial, but I still pledge honesty. And sorry, no pictures this time.  This project did not allow photographs.

For one week of my time while volunteering with the Cusco organization Aldea Yanapay, I was working with the commissary project.  Though the school’s primary mission, and the vast majority of its volunteers are working with the school, the commissary was started later in Yuri (the director’s) career.  The project is only open to people who have a good grasp on the Spanish language, which is why I had to wait a few weeks for my Spanish to improve before I could work there.  At any given time it there are about 6 volunteers working in two groups (a morning and then evening group) 6 days a week.

The project itself takes place in a s, which seemed to me to be a police station for domestic crimes.  The building itself was in a bit of a dicier part of town, about a 20 minute walk from the school.  I worked the morning shift, and would meet up with my team around 9am.  We’d walk over together, quietly chatting.  Walking there often felt like calm before the storm, because with this project you could never quite be sure what you would expect.

Though the commissary was a place for families to come who were victems of domestic violence or crimes, there was also a holding room there.  This was the room where we worked.  It was on the second floor, a locked door with hanging pictures and colorings drawn by children hanging on the outside.  As we would approach the door, little eyes and fingers would poke through the hole below the doorknob to examine us.  Eventually the “tech”, a guard assigned to help us that day, would open the door and our day would begin.

Inside the room were children ranging in age from about 7 to 17 or 18.  I had heard from other volunteers that sometimes there were only 4 or 5 children there, and other days there were up to 40.  The entire week I worked there was a pretty regular group of 15 or 20 kids.  There were three types of kids who were being held there.  Some were kids who had been convicted or accused of crimes, mostly burglary, drug charges or prostitution.  Others were kids that had been abandoned.  One of the other volunteers told me there was one little girl there before I got there who had been dropped off by her mother, who was going on vacation.  The rest of the kids were street kids who had been picked up by the police, or else had run away from home and either refused to give out or did not know the address of their parents.  All of these kids were kept together in one room, circled by ramshackle bunk beds with one window with bars on it.   There was a separate room with less bunk beds where the girls slept at night, but during the day all of the kids were kept in one room.

There was some debate among the volunteers as to whether or not this place could be referred to as a prison.  It was not an official prison, and both the director of the program, Yuri, and the guards at the location called it as “la comisería”.  But the children were not permitted to leave, had to do some menial work such as sweeping and laundry.  So I will leave it up to you to decide.  However, the circumstances inside the room were dire.  There were a few chairs, many of which were broken or crumbling, two tables, and a small closet where Yuri had stocked some art supplies.  The volunteers had a key to this room, and we were also able to lock our personal items in there since there were some cases of theft with previous volunteers.

When we arrived, just like at the school, many of the younger kids would run up to us and hug and kiss us.  Though the kids were labeled “trouble makers”, I found them to be just as polite and kinda (perhaps even kinder) than some of the kids at the Aldea Yanapay school.  Though I must admit, they could be sneaky, like all kids.  The reason more Spanish is required to work at the commissary is because the kids can be somewhat manipulative, though I never really experienced that.

Before the week began, during Yuri’s weekly meetings, the team I was working with got together to plan out some activities to do during that week.  Without the volunteers, the kids at the commissary wouldn’t have much to do.  There was a checkers-board and some broken markers and scraps of paper, but this is not enough to keep 15 sometimes wily kids busy.  So we planned out to have them do origami, make masks for carnival, etc.  The kids obviously had done stuff like this before, and some of them complained, but by the time we got into it most of the children there wanted to join in the activities.

I liked working in the mornings because three days a week we got to go to “patio”.  This was the kids only opportunity to go outside.  After arriving in the morning we would line up, taking 2 basketballs, a jump rope and a soccer ball.   The kids would all hold on to a rope, and then would be led outside by the “tech” to the patio, a large, walled in concrete soccer/basketball court.  It wasn’t much, but even concrete and sky seems like a lot when you spend most of your life inside.

Outside we would play games, and some of the kids would just run around in circles, happy to have more space in which to operate.  These days were joyous and heartbreaking at once, because after only 3 hours, we would have to move back inside.

Anyway, that was how it worked for a week.  I’m not going to offer much opinion on the program, except to say that if you find yourself in Cusco and have good Spanish skills, I recommend it.  It was true volunteering, helping out children who are in real need of contact, love and support.  You will feel rewarded.

And I’m Proud To Be An American

Where at least I’m kind of free.  At least my refills are free.

Yes, I have reluctantly landed back on American Soil.  I have been here, in Los Angeles, for about 48 hours now, and I’m not too happy about it.  My final month in South America was wild and fun filled.  Most of it was spent in Buenos Aires, what many call the Paris of the south but what I found to be much more akin to New York City.  This isn’t going to be a full article on my time there, since I still have yet to organize and upload pictures.  When I do write my piece on it, I will have a large number of complaints to file, but overall I thoroughly enjoyed my time there.  I adored the nightlife, which begins at 2am, and though I don’t think I could do it for more than the month that I did, I experienced some of the most fun clubs, interesting cocktails, and inexhaustible crowds I’ve ever seen.  I also am proud to say that my pen pal of 6 years, Lucho, who I had never met, was able to come from his small city north of BA to visit me, and I adored him.  I don’t think I have ever before met someone with whom I have felt such a strong connection in such a small amount of time.  Unfortunately I had to leave him behind, but I hope our friendship grows.  But more on that mess later.

For now, I’m focusing all of my efforts on getting out of Los Angeles and back to the haven of the east coast.  Fortunately I have been able to book a cheap ticket to Boston for this coming Monday.  I plan on spending some time with the wonderful friends I have there, and then heading back to my home in Maine where I will crawl into my bed and weep quietly for a while and eat lots of American food and watch Battlestar Gallactica on my computer, before rising again to reasses and move on.  Odds are that I will be spending a month or so in Maine recooping before picking up and moving to Ohio to live with my sister and her boyfriend Luke in Columbus.  I just can’t stop moving, which may be beginning to manifest itself as a problem.

When I left Buenos Aires, the hot weather was quietly slipping into a subtle fall.  Now I’m here in LA and winter is blooming into spring.  How fitting it has been, to spend this transitional time of my life in such shifting times of year.  I can’t believe it was only 6 months ago since I went into the sleep study.  Now that money is gone and I feel like a different person.  I’m terribly sad to have to end my adventure in those mind boggling places with those complexly wonderful people I met.  At times like these, I think most travelers feel worn and confused, and it’s difficult to see into the nebulous space in front of me.  I have to enter it, just like I entered Peru, with fear and worry, but try to grapple for some faith that whatever comes next will be ok, and probably wonderful.

For now, I’m thankful more than anything for friends.  For Laura, Diana and Kyle who became so close to me in such a short time as we adventured together, and now for Brandon, Kady and Krystyna who are sheltering me in this City of Angelish things to protect me from completely losing my mind.

And as for the blog?  It’s going to be doing some transitioning as well.  In the nearish future I’m hoping to take some classes on web design and blogging, to get this baby up to full speed.  Soon I’ll be buying a domain name and moving all this to a bigger and more organized space.  Keep an eye out.  For now, I hope you keep reading as I catch up on the stuff I’ve left out:  the rest of the sleep study, more creative writing, more on volunteering in Peru, Buenos Aires, Patagonia, Lima, travel tips, and my upcoming attempt to insert myself into the gay rights movement that I have neglected for so long.  Stay tuned, tell your friends, give me a thumbs up on stumble, and for christ’s sake leave a comment if the mood strikes you!

Tripping on San Pedro at the Temple of the Moon

NOTE: This is a factual blog post about an intense but wonderful drug experience I had three days ago. If you feel this may be upsetting for you (mom) please either don´t read it or try to hold your tongue.

Echinopsis Pachanoi, commonly referred to as San Pedro, is the oldest cactus on our planet. It dates back 20,000 years and has been used by many civilizations, including the Incans here in Cusco. It was banned by the FDA in the US in 1970, but is perfectly legal here in Peru. Many tourists will come and pay a lot of money (sometimes several hundred dollars) to have a Shaman help them with the experience of San Pedro. What these people don´t know is that you can do San Pedro all by yourself, safely and cheaply, without a Shaman trying to put restrictions on your experience. And that is precisely what Laura, Nebraska and I did. What follows is a picture heavy (since the trip was so visual) post about the wonderful and bizarre experience we had on San Pedro, from start to finish.

In order to prepare, we fasted for about 12 hours. Some websites suggested fasting for longer, but we all love eating too much to quit for very long. San Pedro is for sale at the San Pedro Market (how convenient). We read several websites about the best ways to take the drug, and had resolved to buy the actual cactus itself and cook it, since that was what we were told was most effective, and we thought that the cactus was the only thing for sale. After asking several vendors in the market where we could find San Pedro, we stumbled upon apparently the only booth that sells the stuff. Here´s a picture of the booth and the girl, about 17 years old I would guess, who sold us the goods.

The Booth

The Booth

The girl had everything. Full cacti, pre-mixed beverages that only required heating up, and she even offered us an Yauasca cigarette, which is a much more intense drug that I´ve heard should only be used with a Shaman. Though we had heard that the tastiest way to consume SP was to use actual whole cactus, we couldn´t resist the dried up San Pedro powder she offered. While all other forms of preperation took several hours, all we had to do was put the powder in hot water like tea and drink up. Then, she claimed, about a half an hour later we would begin to trip, and it would last for 4 hours.

One Dosage

One Dosage

Each bag of powder, enough for 1 person, cost 5 soles, which is currently $1.58. So for $4.72 the three of us were able to have the most intense and fun trip that we´ve had. I´ve only done mushrooms, but my two companions have done more, and still said this trumped it. But, before the fun starts, you have to work a little bit.

San Pedro is notorious for tasting awful. We knew that it would probably be a little harder to drink the stuff like tea, so we bought some lemons and honey to help us get it down.

Our tea cups, honey, limes and San Pedro waiting for water to boil.

Limes, Honey and San Pedro waiting for water to boil.

We began to ingest it, and the taste was WAY WORSE than expected. The horrible bitterness stuck to the back of your throat like glue. The concoction itself looked like green phlegm, and the worst part was, in order to get the proper dosage we each had to drink four mugs of it.

Goopy

Goopy

It took about an hour and 15 minutes before we were all done. Laura puked halfway through her ingestion, which is not all that surprising, most people vomit at some point (we all did as you´ll read).

Laura no likey.

Laura no likey.

Step 1

Step 1

Step 2

Step 2

Step 3.  Repeat.

Step 3. Repeat.

Since the woman at the booth said it would only take a half an hour to set in, we were all feeling a little strange (and Nebraska and I slightly queasy since we had yet to purge) and decided to get outside as fast as possible. We had read that San Pedro is like mushrooms in that nature, and sunlight in particular are exquisite while high.

Unfortunately it was a kind of rainy day, which disappointed me at first. We all agreed to take a taxi to La Templa De La Luna, an old Incan temple (to the moon) that is free because it is not as intricate as the other ruins nearby. However, the Temple of the Moon is a giant rock in a valley with cliffs on either side, forests surrounding it, an expansive view of the valleys and fields of flowers on either side, and all of the steps, animals and caverns made by the Incans were carved into the side of a massive, natural boulder. Sounds pretty ideal.

On the cab ride up the cab driver insisted on telling me over and over that it was raining, and asking was I sure I wanted to go to the temple of the moon. The last thing I wanted to do at that time was talk in a language other than my first, but I was polite enough, and in retrospect I think the conversation helped me stop myself from vomiting in the cab. It was an overcast day the entire time, and though sunlight was supposed to be exquisite, the massive, fast moving clouds, cool droplets of rain, shifting breeze and most importantly loud and vibrating thunderstorm that happened that day made up for the lack of sun.

All of us were feeling pretty strange by the time we got there, but I thought it only felt like being on a little bit of pot and slightly tipsy. I was able to walk, but it felt strange to do so. Laura and I hiked around a bit while Nebraska resolved to stay on top of the temple. Shortly after we set down the temple and into one of the ravines carved into the bottom, I burped and tasted San Pedro. Almost immediately I started vomiting.

I have never puked like this before. It wasn´t painful, though it was unpleasant to taste. However, it felt like something was coming out of me from somewhere other than my stomach. It´s tough to describe, but I have read of other accounts of strange vomiting. While both Laura and Nebraska´s vomit was clear, my was a hateful, dark green. Shamans say that when this kind of thing comes out of you, it means you are letting out something that has been wounding you or keeping you down. Let´s hope they´re right.

After I finished vomiting the real trip set in. What followed was 8 hours (not 4 like the girl claimed) of the most lucid, beautiful and moving drug experience I have had to date. I hesitate to compare it to mushrooms, but the appreciation and awe I had for nature was similar to how I feel when I have taken magic shrooms, except much more calming and powerful. It also had little to no paranoia, and also held some other sort of calming, lucid quality that mushrooms lack. The trip also turned out to be multifaceted, and was constantly changing. I experienced everything from extreme happiness, personal insight, a serious feeling of connection to Pachamama (mother earth), vibrations through my body, and towards the end of the trip, visualized various figures and dances in smoke from a stick of incense. It was fun, but I do have to say that every so often a wave of nausea would rise up, I would think I was going to vomit again, but then it would disappear. I´m going to post pictures that I took while tripping, to show you what kind of a place I was in.

We began at the top of a cliff overlooking the temple.

We began at the top of a cliff overlooking the temple.

Jason contemplating Peru.

Jason contemplating Peru.

We all wanted to get as high as possible, so we climbed this baby.

We all wanted to get as high as possible, so we climbed this baby.

Next we made our way to this ledge.  Temple of the moon in the background.

Next we made our way to this ledge. Temple of the moon in the background.

Next we made our way to one of Cusco´s many magical (and sadly man made) Eucalyptus forests.

Next we made our way to one of Cusco´s many magical (and sadly man made) Eucalyptus forests.

It wasn´t long before we were all laying down...

It wasn´t long before we were all laying down...

on this spoungy moss....

on this spoungy moss....

and stared at these treetops as they danced for us.

and stared at these treetops as they danced for us.

Starving, we decided to descend into the city slowly to find food.  We came upon this little tienda built into the side of the monutain, and stopped for some water.

Starving, we decided to descend into the city slowly to find food. We came upon this little tienda built into the side of the monutain, and stopped for some water.

This was a trip.

This was a trip.

We ended up staying for a few coca-colas, which are delightfully more fizzy at this altitude. Though the man running the tienda seemed a little cold at first, he eventually came out to talk to us. I hope we didn´t sound too much like idiots; oddly my Spanish seemed to be coming out easier. The first thing the guy did is come out and point at the rock that made up the wall behind where I was sitting. Then he explained in Spanish that the rock behind me used to be a sacrificial altar for the Incans. It was carved there because the rock where the tienda now stood used to resemble the crown of a head. Weird.

Sacrafice

Sacrafice

Blue Nebraska was tripping me out.

Blue Nebraska was tripping me out.

The man behind the counter also eventually pulled out a bottle of clear liquid, which we later determined was fermented sugar cane, and offered us each some. We accepted once he told us it was good for headaches and stomachaches. We all were pretty hungry and still slightly woozy from the SP. It tasted like very strong wine, and I swear I could feel every little drop of it warming my throat and stomach. It was glorious.

We made our way down into the city, which was overwhelming. I have a friend down here who did San Pedro before going to a crowded bar, and that sounds terrible to me. San Pedro is a drug meant to be done in the most naturally beautiful place you can get your hands on.

We finally made it to an Indian restaurant, and though we were all able to put away a lot of food, it did almost nothing to end the trip. We made our way home, lit some incense and watched shapes appear in the blue smoke. By that time we were all ready for the trip to end, and luckily Laura made the discovery that a hot shower cut the feelings of San Pedro severely. After we all were showered, we took a moment to collect ourselves and then we left to get me my first tattoo.

I made the decision while in the Eucalyptus forest that I wanted to get the mountains that run behind cusco tatooed between my shoulder. I have been wanting a tattoo for a while, and always telling myself that there is nothing I like enough to get permanently put on my skin. But then I came to the conclusion that I could say that forever, and that I ought to jump at the first pretty idea I had that didn´t seem like a fad. Unless a mountain kills my family, I think I´ll always have respect for the Andes of Cusco, especially after they showed me such wonderful things that day.

Preparing

Preparing

Be a man.

Be a man.

tot

It´ll look even better when it´s not bruised.

And that´s my interpretation of San Pedro. I recommend it to people who have some experience tripping, and who don´t mind suffering a bit to get to the high. I probably won´t ever do SP again, but I am extremely happy I did.

Things are coming to a close here in Peru. I leave Monday for a new adventure in Buenos Aires! Stay tuned.

Volunteering: Aldea Yanapay School

8 days left in Cusco and Peru before Laura and I wend our way down to Buenos Aires for 2 weeks of culture, steak and partying. So I suppose it´s time I write about perhaps the most central reason for my coming down here in the first place, which was to try my hand at international volunteering.

After months of searching online for organizations, and only finding groups that wanted me to pay $2,000 or more to come volunteer, I came upon this handy list of cheap or free volunteer organizations in South America. The organization I chose, Aldea Yanapay, seemed like the perfect set up. You can read over the website if you want to hear Yuri´s (the director) idea of what Aldea Yanapay is, but not surprisingly I found that the organization was run a little differently than what is written on its homepage. I have learned, having met many volunteers and explored several organizations since I´ve been in Peru, that it is safest to expect a certain amount of discontinuity with the way volunteer organizations profess themselves to be and the way they are actually run. Like most things that call themselves an organization, there is a lack of organization. Sometimes at Aldea things felt a little hectic, or like if you weren´t able to take charge by yourself with minimal instruction from the supervisors, you weren´t going to get anything done. However, as I said, I don´t think this is a problem specific to Aldea Yanapay, but rather a symptom common among many volunteer organizations in Peru.

I also found myself to be at some personal odds with the director the program, but regardless of my personal opinions, when you get down to it, Yuri is doing a lot of wonderful things for a lot of needy children. On top of this, Yuri was on vacation for the majority of my time here, so I don´t know him that well.

There are two organizations that I worked with, both which are funded by the Aldea Yanapay restaurant and hostel. The first was the Aldea Yanapay school, which is an after-school program for children between the ages of 5 and 13. It runs from 3pm until 7pm. The first two hours the kids are split between art, homework help, reading, games or computers. I spent my first few weeks teaching computers. Mostly the kids would just have time to have fun on the internet, playing games and such. Most of the kids don´t have computers at home, and some had to learn how to use a mouse. So needless to say, many of them were very excited to have the opportunity to play.

Ana y Vladi, siblings and adorable.

Ana y Vladi, siblings and adorable.

Sheila playing barbie games despite my protests.

Sheila playing barbie games despite my protests.

Adair, one of the more challenging chicos.

Adair, one of the more challenging chicos.

After the first two hours were over, we would all gather together in the school courtyard and listen to Yuri or Jessica, the director of the school part of the program, talk about basic rules. Then around 5:30 English classes would begin. Each class would have its own theme, such as body parts or fairy tales, and the volunteers would try and teach a few key words, depending on the age group of his or her class. Each friday there would be a show where each class would put on a little skit, dance or something more hectic abstract for their classmates and teachers.

The school itself is small, but brightly colored and neat. Supplies are lacking somewhat, most of the markers are dried out and there is only scrap paper to draw on. But most of the kids are happy despite. One of the most amazing parts of working at the school is how affectionate the students are. As soon as you walk into the school, kids leap into your arms with a loud “HOLA PROFE!” and kiss you on the cheek, which is customary greeting in Peru. If they see you in the streets during off hours, they do the same thing. I had the sense that some of the children don´t get much physical affection at home, so it feels good to hug and kiss and hold them. Here are some photos of the school space:

Looking through the door into the school.

Looking through the door into the school.

The school for the younger kids.

The school for the younger kids.

A classroom.

A classroom.

Tres hijas waiting in the courtyard for school to begin.

Tres hijas waiting in the courtyard for school to begin.

The school area for older kids, in the same building as the other one.  More classroom here.

The school area for older kids, in the same building as the other one. More classroom here.

Yuri and Jessica, directors.

Yuri and Jessica, directors.

Yuri with a seasoned volunteer, Raquel from Spain.

Yuri with a seasoned volunteer, Raquel from Spain.

My first three weeks at Aldea were still during Peru´s summer break, so there were fewer kids than normal, about 20. The older and younger kids had classes together for the first two hours, and then were split into 5 different groups for English classes. I worked with the two youngest groups, and though I enjoyed them immensely, I found much of my time was spent trying to corral, calm and quiet them.

After taking some time off and working at the other program run by Aldea Yanapay at a police commisary with children who were being held (which I will write about later), I returned to the school for my final week of volunteering, last week. School was back in session, and the number of students at the school had almost doubled. Since my Spanish had improved and I had been around for a while, I was promoted in a sense. I was moved to the older school, where I ran the games class by myself and formed my own lesson plans for English classes. This is when I really started to fall in love with Aldea Yanapay. I loved having conversation with the 9-13 year olds, listening to their smart and funny ideas. They were also so affectionate, and it felt good to see how much they admired me. When it came to my last day, all of my students were begging me not to leave. It may sound cocky, but it brought tears to my eyes. Some of my older students:

Renoldo, my maine man.  He hardly ever left my side.

Renoldo, my main man. He hardly ever left my side.

This little guy does not know how to play chess.

This little guy does not know how to play chess.

Everybody have fun!  About half of the kids I was managing that day.

Everybody have fun! About half of the kids I was managing that day.

Joe was very timid, and spent most of his time watching me and the other kids play.  He tugged at my heartstrings enough to get me daydreaming about adoption.

Joe was very timid, and spent most of his time watching me and the other kids play. He tugged at my heartstrings enough to get me daydreaming about adoption.

Twister es muy popular.

Twister es muy popular.

My lovely clase on our last day together.

My lovely clase on our last day together.

That pretty much sums up the school. Next I´ll write about the more challenging, both mentally, physically and emotionally, week I spent volunteering at the commisarry. Chao for now!

Hiking At You

Me and my most trusted traveling companion (and roommate in my new apartment) Laura have begun hiking at mountains on days when we have nothing to do.  Since the sun has been shining more now that rainy season is coming to a close, and Laura and I are both taking a week off from volunteering, we have had more opportunities to hike than before.

Hiking in Cusco, at least the way we do it, is a very different experience.  Everywhere you look in this city giant mountains are standing in the distance, and so it would seem that there are many trails and paths through woods and along mountain ridges.  But you´d be wrong.  On most of these mountains, pueblitos go nearly to the top, and then when the mountain faces become too steep to build upon, there is nothing but vegetation.  While there are stairs or roads (or dirt alleys or stones shoved into the ground) that lead up through the villages, if you want to reach the tops of any mountains you have to be willing to go without a set trail.  This can mean anything from encountering wild packs of angry dogs to sliding down rock edges into trash filled ravines. 

I´m going to try and use pictures and descriptions, like I do, to try and give some sort of an idea about what these hikes have been like.

First, a more conventional hike.  On one of the smaller mountains, in a place called Saqsaywaman, one of those big white, european looking Jesuses stands with his arms outstretched towards Cusco proper.  Typically it costs tourists a fee to enter, but I was lucky enough to have my friend Miguel show me a way to the statue without having to pay.  It involved walking into the artsy section of Cusco, San Blas, and taking about 3million stairs up to the road that led to Cristo Blanco.

The millions of steps were worth the views.

The millions of steps were worth the views.

Finally, after stopping several times to let my sea level lungs gather themselves, we reached the top of the steps and walked down a quiet road until we reached him.

I love you this much, Cusco.

I love you this much, Cusco.

And this is what Jesus is looking over.

My city.

My city.

I thought it was kind of funny that Jesus had his back turned on some real natural beauty.

Jesus hates trees and fields.

Jesus hates trees and fields.

And here is my guide and amigo Miguel.  He is also the one who often has me help him out at a local bar on busy nights.

What a friend I have Miguel.  He walks with me and talks with me.

What a friend I have Miguel. He walks with me and talks with me.

Three crosses stand by Jesus as well.

Three crosses stand by Jesus as well.

And now for an explanation of one of the more difficult hikes I went on.  Only a few days before this post, having a beautiful day and minimal hangovers, Laura and I, along with a lovely Canadian named April and a boy we call Nebraska from, you guessed it, Nebraska decided to hike.  Instead of taking a typical tourist route like I did with Miguel, we simply picked a mountain peak and headed towards it with the goal in mind of walking until we were on top of it.  Previously Laura and I had done this with the Viva El Peru mountain pictured below, and we ended up sitting on the bottom of the “s” in Cusco and taking in the city.

Look way in the background for the Viva El Peru.  This is one of the views we had along the way to our new mountain peak.

Look way in the background for the Viva El Peru. This is one of the views we had along the way to our new mountain peak.

That hike was fairly easy, the hardest part was trying to find a direct path through the city since that mountain is on the opposite side of Cusco from where we live.  This time, we picked the only mountain top that was high enough to be seen from inside the courtyard of our new apartment complex.  We knew it was going to be higher, but we didn´t know what obstacles would stand in our way before we got there.  That´s the thing about mountains, they stoic peaks look like they should slope down gently until they meet level ground.  But this is rarely the case.

First we began our trek through the city, encountering once again many steps and scary dogs. 

Mossy stairs.

Mossy stairs.

More city walking.

More city walking.

 As is often the case, in order to reach the mountain we wanted to mount, we had to cross over several other large hills, or bases of mountains to get there.  Unfortunately for us, we came to a point along a path on one of these pre-mountains that ended in a deep, angry looking ravine.  Though most of us thought it was insurmountable, fearless Laura said she thought it would be fine to slide down the rocky slope into the ravine, then walk through the crevase until we were on the other side.  We were all nervous about it, but from the top of the ravine we could see a road that ran along the base of the mountain we wanted, and saw inviting looking steps running almost all the way up to the peak.  Not to be defeated, Laura decided to sit down and slide into the ravine first, to prove we could do it.

Laura´s controled slide.

Laura´s controled slide.

Unfortunately, we didn´t anticipate how quickly the rocks could give out into a mini landslide.  Laura´s controled slide quickly became uncontroled, and lucky for her the drop off into the ravine at the bottom of the slope was only a few feet.

Laura´s dust cloud, and if you look closely you can see the woman herself enshrouded.

Laura´s dust cloud, and if you look closely you can see the woman herself enshrouded.

And the slide wasn´t without consequences, or benefits if you´re one of those people who enjoys scars for their story telling purposes.

Gross.

Gross.

The rest of us found our way down alternate paths into the ravine, and mostly arrived unscathed.  Though there was some grabage accumulated in the small creek that ran through the ravine, there were no rodents or other frightening creatures to speak of.  We did come, eventually, to a small waterfall, and it took some meneuvering to hop down it one by one. 

Finally, we made it out and could see the road close by.  We followed a slight path down the other side of the mountain that held the ravine, only to find ourselves trapped in an enclosed piece of private property.  Two garden hands were outside, and understandably laughed at the four dirty (one bleeding) gringos that came seemingly out of nowhere into the backyard they were maintaining.  But a friendly woman inside the house unlocked the gate for us with a smile, and we were on our way.  We walked along the shoulder of the road until we reached the steps, about twice as many as I had walked up to get to Cristo Blanco.  Here are some views seen as we ascended.

Enormous and low clouds are garunteed since the rainy season has ended.

Enormous and low clouds are garunteed since the rainy season has ended.

vistaonsteps

casita

We reached the top of the stairs breathless but happy.  It was incredible that there were so many houses, and lots of children on bikes, living quiet lives at the top of this great peak.  We speculated that the children, after school each day, had to trek up those stairs to their homes.  I wonder how often people descend into the city, seeing that there are small stores on the mountainside. 

Fellow hikers at the top of the steps.  From the left:  Canadian April, Michigander Laura, Nebraska

Fellow hikers at the top of the steps. From the left: Canadian April, Michigander Laura, Nebraska

Though we were all breathing like asthmatics (myself in particular), we weren´t going to stop at the top of the stairs with still a peak ahead of us.  We foraged our own path through a small forest only to find that someone was growing crops on top of the mountain.

Wheat can be a beautiful thing.

Wheat can be a beautiful thing.

From the wheat field we saw yet another quiet cross on a ledge, and decided to walk to it and see if there was a view.  Well…

One of my favorite pictures I´ve taken in Peru.

One of my favorite pictures I´ve taken in Peru.

Much higher up than Cristo Blanco.

Much higher up than Cristo Blanco.

A large moon came out early to see us on our hike.

A large moon came out early to see us on our hike.

Satisfaction.

Satisfaction.

Coming up on this bloggy, the new apartment and information on the actual reason I came down here, volunteering.

Carnival in Caóya

And now I´m going to talk write about Carnival.

Carnival is, hands down, the most needed foreign holiday for the USA.  It lasts for weeks at a time, flowing haltingly in typical Peruvian fashion, culminating today and last Sunday in small towns around Cusco.  The theme of  Carnival in Peru is water, and it is a time for everyone, all ages, to get anyone you encounter in the street completely wet. I took a bus with two friends, Corey and Kirsten, to a small town called Caóya to celebrate, and mojado madness ensued. 

The bus ride was inexpilicably beautiful, and only cost about one dollar for the entire 45 minute journey.  Several times we passed through sections of the sacred valley, where low laying, colorful fields filled the space between incredibly dark green mountains.  As we drove along, children on the side of the streets with buckets of water or baloons would hurl them at the car windows as we rode past.

   The bus dropped us off at the end of a long avenue that was packed with people running, screaming and throwing water in many different ways.  Buckets were blunt and popular, but some of the middle aged ladies prefered the little water guns, and young children in balconies loved using water baloons.  Perhaps the most effective were the large water cannons.  I noticed that boys aim for girls and girls aim for boys, which was lucky for me since boys seemed to be much more prevelant.  However, within moments of stepping onto the street, we were all completely soaked.

Corey got the wettest the earliest.

Corey got the wettest the earliest.

What you see in Corey´s hand is also a theme of Carnival.  I believe it´s just called spray, and it is somewhat similar to silly string.  The difference is, instead of shooting out some toxic, sticky, staining goo, it simply sprays out soap.  It isn´t strong soap, so it eventually disolves, and it was nice because my clothes needed a wash.

Me spraying nothing.

Me spraying nothing.

Symbolic?

Symbolic?

For a while the three of us ran around the square at the end of the avenue, chasing and being chased by various Peruvians.  Eventually we found a safe place to stay underneath an awning, and we were able to watch the traditional dances going on in the square.

dancesquare

After the dances we all were a bit hungry, and had been hankering for some choclo con queso since they had been selling it on the bus ride.  We were walking to a restaurant when a shirtless man, quite inebriated, chased us down with a bucket of water.  After he had soaked us, he invited us back to his house for choclo.  I was initially wary, but Corey said sure. 

    We followed him through a field towards a valley, and then into his home.  It appeared to be some sort of artists´colony, complete with a pregnant woman cooking.  The shirtless man, Oscar, was a drum maker, and he showed us the room where he constructs the drums.  It smelled like popcorn and spoiled milk. 

    They sat us down, and served us some scary looking choclo which we ate hesitantly, all praying that it wouldn´t make us sick.  Oscar and his other friends started dancing and dancing, drinking and drinking,  smoked us up (or out or down depending on where you´re from).  As they were borrachando, they decided that they needed to dance with the girls, closer and closer, until we pulled out and left.  But not before getting sprayed by a little boy that lived there, and seeing about 20 guinea pigs living in harmony on the kitchen floor.  Here are fotos.

The colony.

The colony.

The abandoned houses behind the artists´colony where I wish they had lived.

The abandoned houses behind the artists´colony where I wish they had lived.

Incredible aim for someone who is still mastering walking.

Incredible aim for someone who is still mastering walking.

I was told not to put this on the internet.

I was told not to put this on the internet.

Cui

Cui

Once we had finally extracted ourselves from the house, we were able to focus on the scenery around us.  Here it is.

Piggles

Piggles

 

scenery

Accidently touched one of thos cacti.

Accidently touched one of thos cacti.

We took a cab home since all of the buses were packed with people, so much that there was hardly any place to stand.  We came back to find all of the people still at the hostel completly soaked, as a gang of children had come in when the door was open and attacked everyone.  It was rough, because everyone was defenseless since there was no water in the faucets in Cusco that day, all the children had used it up.  Just another one of those things that happen here in Peru, that would make many US Americans freak out, but Peruanas take in in stride.

Picture Post: The Hostel- Part III

Since I´m moving out of here soon, I just wanted to show off the last two parts of the hostel, my favorite parts.  If you don´t know why I´m moving out, read the post I wrote just before this one. 

First, Yanapay, the hostel dog.

Por Favor, quiero algo de su pan con miel, Guillermito.  Por favor.

Por Favor, quiero algo de su pan con miel, Guillermito. Por favor.

 

Autumn is that you?

Autumn is that you?

 

As an interlude, one of the millions of Tiendas in Cusco that have no names.  You can buy almost anything, but nothing can be sold cold.  Not even milk.  This is the one closest to the hostel, and the one I most frequent:

Tienda

Tienda

 

And now the best part.

The view directly outside my room.

The view directly outside my room.

Montañas from the balcony

Montañas from the balcony

The cusqueñan flag is a rainbow...

The cusqueñan flag is a rainbow...

You can´t get used to the mountains.

You can´t get used to the mountains.

One last time outside my room.

One last time outside my room.

 

Up next, my insane weekend of Carnival.