Monday, May 10, 2010

Arekeepin it Real

The days of constant heat and no air conditioning are officially over. When I woke up the other day with a sore throat and feeling all-around yucky, I knew winter was officially here. It all changed overnight. I can’t believe that one day I was looking at all my unworn jeans and sweaters cursing the space they took up in my luggage, and the next day feeling as if I needed to buy a few more. The upside is that I am not constantly sweating and the mosquitoes have appeared to die down.
Along with the weather changing, a lot of events have come and gone without my recording one of them on my blog. So here I go, I will try to recollect the most important of them all…

I went to Arequipa for Semana Santa or Holy Week for all you English speakers out there. As most people know Latin American countries are majority Catholic, meaning everyone is Catholic even if they don’t really go to church (thank you Spanish conquest). So for Easter holiday they celebrate for an entire week, rather than one day like most Americans. Luckily Peace Corps Peru gives us volunteers 4 days of free vacation, meaning we don’t have to use our allotted 2-day-per-month vacation days. So I, along with some other volunteers decided to meet up in Arequipa city, the second largest city in Peru. This has been by far my best trip taken in Peru. Arequipa is a large city known as the “white city” because all of the buildings were constructed of a white volcanic stone. Ok… actually I found out that it got its name “the white city” because during the Spanish conquisition wealthy Spanish families settled in Arequipa and since their skin was a lot whiter than the local Peruvian’s skin color the city became known for its “white” inhabitants. I guess now a day’s they say that it’s the “white city” because of the buildings… who knows.

Anyways, I spent the first two days in Arequipa city where I ate some REALLY good food (I was overdue for some non-Peruvian dishes) and toured the Santa Catalina Monastery. It was one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. Construction on the Monastery was started in the 1500’s by the Spaniards, and continued into (I think) the 1700 or 1800’s. Behind these large white, stone walls exists winding roads and the darkly lit rooms where nuns have been living for over 400 years. When the Spaniards finished the initial construction of the monastery the wealthy families would send their second born daughter to live there from the age of 12 for the rest of her life. The nuns were never allowed to leave the monastery and had little contact from the outside world. If they ever chose to renounce their title as a nun it reflected poorly on her family name and usually would be disowned by her parents and siblings. I found this place to be in amazing condition and it was beautiful inside. The colors were so inspiring, I definitely want my future house to have colors like this on the inside…

After Arequipa city, I went into the Colca Canyon. I rode a bus from Arequipa city to Chivay, a beautiful town located in the hills of Arequipa. I stayed one night in Chivay and it was Cold! I wore the warmest clothes to bed and slept under 3 heavy wool blankets. It still wasn’t enough. The weather in Chivay was so different from my site. The air was dry and cold. I could tell because my skin got so dry during the trip and that next morning I woke up my nose felt like it was going to crack and bleed… It was all worth it though because that morning I went to the natural hot-springs located in Chivay. I spent a good two hours soaking in that water and sipping on a Pisco Sour. It was heaven. After the hot springs I headed further into the Canyon to John´s site Yanque. John is a good friend and fellow volunteer. His site is very rural and quaint. The people of this town literally lived off the land (talk about subsistance living...). I was able to converse with John´s host family and learn a little more about the town. We also went on a mini hike to some local Incan ruins.
By the time that finished it was after 6pm and dark out. The town was officially shut down. I returned to the home stay, where I would spend the night. It would be another cold night. However, I was tired and ready for sleep. I woke up at 4am the next morning to head even deeper into the canyon. Why 4am? Well, there is this lookout where you can see deep into the canyon and if you go early enough you can see the Condors flying through it. The catch is that you can only leave from Yanque to see it if you jump on the bus that passes through at 4am. And you literally have to waive it down and jump on. All the other people on this bus at this hour are local farmers headed to work. They are very traditional people that carry their baby’s tied on their backs, and speak a dialect of the native language Quechua. When I finally made it to the lookout point at 6am it was just in time to watch the sun rise. Imagine it, the deepest canyon in the world and a clear cold morning as the sun rises over the Andean mountain peaks… Needless to say, it was an unforgettable moment in my life, and the best Easter morning ever. Although it was freezing out, and I was tired as heck, it was well worth it. I stayed for about an hour and a half, and left on the next bus that passed through. I have to admit, I didn’t see the condors, but I felt like I got what I had come for…
I headed back out of the canyon to Arequipa city to catch my 12 hour bus back to site. All the while not knowing what surprise awaited me. I arrived to the bus terminal in Arequipa around 4pm, and went to the counter to check in for my departing bus at 6pm. The man behind the counter looked at me and said, “senorita, there are no buses leaving for Lima today” “how can that be?” I asked, “I have a ticket to Lima”. “Well there just aren’t any busses leaving to Lima” he told me again in a matter-of-fact kind of manner. I sat there for a second and thought to myself ok, he obviously isn’t going to give up information easily, so I persisted… 10 minutes later he finally divulges to me that there is a strike going on further up the Pan-American Highway, so no busses are leaving for Lima because they can’t get through (gee was that soo hard to say?). He gives me a phone number and tells me to call tomorrow to see if the road has opened up. Fast forward 4 days later, after numerous calls to said telephone number and Peace Corps Peru headquarters, I was 500 soles poorer but I finally got on an outgoing bus to Lima. Although the bus ride was 18 hours instead of 12, and I missed a week of scheduled meetings and classes, I was happy to be home.

Since then I have been trying to get back into some old projects and start some new ones. I am facilitating the initiation of a small sewing project. The
mothers of some school children have taken interest in staring a Co-op where they make and sell school uniforms at bargain price. They only work a few hourse a week and make their childrens uniforms instead of buying them.
I also have been helping out a small artisan group made up of high school kids. The income goes to the students and their school. We are starting from zero though because last year they only sold 4 items...

Alright I must cut this short because I´m about to be late to my English class... Until next time...!

Here´s our Mother´s Day Lunch celebration. Nothing like eating outside with the chickens and flies on a cold day :)