Saturday, March 27, 2010

Homeward Bound

Tomorrow, I´m boarding a plane to Lima, then another plane to Atlanta, and finally, on Monday morning, another plane to Indianapolis. I have had such an incredible experience here, and I´m reluctant to leave -- but it´s time to get back to "real" life.

To get myself ready to come home, I´ve been making a list of the things I miss:
  • Blueberries (and fresh fruit in general).
  • Leafy, green salad.
  • Being able to come and go as I please, without worrying whether I´m disturbing my host family.
  • My giant, comfortable bed with the feather duvet and puffy pillows.
  • A normal, non-bucket-in-the-ceiling shower.
  • Driving.
  • Going to the movies.

Of course, I can´t wait to see everyone again, and I´m sure I´ll be doing a "tour" of get-togethers to catch up with everyone.

On the other hand, I don´t want to fall into my old routine. "Peru Ashley" is quite a fabulous person, and I hope to retain as much of her as possible.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Welcome to the Jungle

This weekend, while everyone else went to Bolivia to renew their visas, I went on a whirlwind trip to the jungle. I boarded a plane in Cuzco on Friday morning, and an hour later I was in Puerto Maldonado, a boom-and-bust town in the Amazon basin.

After another hour in a bus and about three hours in a boat, I arrived at the Explorer´s Inn, the only hotel in the Tambopata preserve. It was pretty rustic -- there was no electricity in my room, but I did have a mosquito net and a cold-water-only shower.

Despite those hardships (which don´t bother me much now, anyway), I had a fabulous time. On Friday evening, we hopped in the boat to search for caimans, a South American alligator. We saw many, including an entire family of caiman babies, nestled among the plants on the riverbank. I also saw a beautiful sunset that evening, and I discovered that the lodge is literally crawling with tarantulas as big as my head. Fortunately, they move slowly, and they don´t go into the guests´rooms. Much.

On Saturday, I got up insanely early for an 11-kilometer hike through the rainforest. We saw lots of insects and plants, including different kinds of palm trees, but not many animals. (I did see a few monkeys from a distance.) The hike was interesting for about five hours, but by the sixth hour I was pretty tired of slogging through ankle-deep mud. (Oh, that´s why you don´t go to the rainforest during rainy season.)
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On Saturday afternoon, it was too hot to do anything except lie in bed and moan (even for our favorite Namibian hippo). There were only six guests at the lodge, so we reconvened at dinner, eating our meal at a communal table and sharing stories about our travels in Peru. It was quite cozy.

The next day, I hopped back on the boat and headed for the airport. It was a relief to be back home in Pisac, but it was lonely, too; the rest of the group didn´t arrive until early Monday morning from Bolivia.

Except for the week when Michael came to visit, it was the first time that Henry, Christine, Sara and I had spent 24 hours apart since early January. It was like losing a limb -- so of course I´m dreading our longer-term separation when I return home this Sunday.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

You Know How I Hate Children ...

After two lovely weeks of vacation, I've started a new project: teaching English in a secondary school in Qoya, about ten minutes from Pisac. The school's "English teacher" only speaks about ten words of English, so I'm running the show (which, of course, is how I like it). The facility is very basic -- no computers or science labs here -- but it's functional and clean.

The real challenge is that I have to teach in Spanish. I make lots of mistakes, such as telling the students to work with birds (pajaros) instead of partners (parejas). Mostly, however, we do manage to communicate.

Working in a Peruvian school has really helped me to understand this country. Even in a good, relatively urban school like mine, the level of education is far below what we'd expect in the United States. Everything is piecemeal and disorganized -- classes begin and end whenever the director remembers to ring the bell, and the teachers don't know which classes they're teaching until that morning. The students have uniforms, but many don't bother to wear them; overall, the level of discipline seems pretty low. Yesterday, I had to break up a headlock contest at the back of the room, but the "real" teacher didn't even seem to notice.

I have to admit, I'm counting down my remaining days of teaching. I would happily stay in Peru forever, but you couldn't pay me to continue doing this job.

As usual, though, even when things are miserable, I'm still having a wonderful time. I've introduced Henry, Christine and Sara to the wonders of canasta, and they're all hooked. I now have to carry my double deck of cards with me wherever I go (which is mostly to Ulrike's anyway).

This coming weekend is my last full weekend in Peru, and I'm spending it in the jungle -- a side trip to Puerto Maldonado and the Tambopata preserve. Hopefully I'll soon be posting pictures of monkeys and parrots. Today I started taking anti-malaria pills, the major side effect of which is strange, vivid dreams. I'm looking forward to seeing what my brain invents.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Holiday Week

As soon as Michael left last week, I was off on my next adventure, traveling around southern Peru with Henry, Christine and Sara. The week went so quickly -- a blur of overnight buses, sand and sun.

Our first stop: Nazca. We did the usual tourist thing, boarding a tiny plane for a short flight over the Nazca Lines. The real thrill, however, was sandboarding in the Peruvian desert. We rode a dune buggy to the peaks, where our guide, Eduardo, taught us the basics of sandboarding. Standing up required more coordination than I possess, but I rocked at sliding down on my belly! I can´t even describe the thrill of shooting headfirst down a mountain of sand.

Next on the agenda: a few days at the beach. We chose Camana, a small beach town on the road between Nazca and Arequipa, and crossed our fingers that the tsunami warnings would come to nothing. We spent two lazy days on the beach -- delighted to be the only gringos in sight -- before catching a bus to our final stop, Arequipa.

Arequipa is one of the largest and wealthiest towns in Peru. Constructed of white volcanic stone, it also has some of the nation´s prettiest architecture. (That´s the Plaza de Armas at left.) It was a great place to wander.

We also visited the Museo Santuarios Andinos, a museum focused on the Incas´ritual sacrifices in the nearby mountains. In addition to numerous burial artifacts, the museum has the bodies of several sacrificed children, whose deaths were meant to ensure good harvests, fertility and other blessings.

Our final stop in Arequipa was the Monasterio de Santa Catalina, formerly a cloistered convent for well-to-do nuns. Rather than living in simple, dormitory-style rooms, the nuns here lived in their own little houses, complete with servants and kitchens. The convent, which takes up a full city block and has its own streets and courtyards, feels more like a Spanish village than a religious community. The colors, such as cobalt blue and brick red, were especially striking. We spent several hours just wandering here, choosing the set of rooms we each liked best.

In all, it was an incredible week. We had some delicious meals (and a few really bad ones), we saw more than a few breath-taking landscapes, and at one point I even drank a screwdriver while wearing a sombrero ... in public. Yep, it was that kind of week.