Posted by: eeb | June 19, 2010

The Countdown to Inti Raymi

Yesterday Beth, Helen, Lindsey, Kim and I were walking to one of the markets in town to buy some Peruvian goodies. After we walked through the Plaza de Armas, we turned and ran right into a parade! There were hundreds of kids dressed in ornate costumes dancing up the street!

parading up Avenida del Sol

As soon as we saw this, we immediately whipped out our cameras and started taking tons of pictures! Group after group danced by us. Most of the groups had children dancing, with adults playing drums and wooden flutes.

aren't their costumes spectacular?

We later found out that this parade is part of the eight-day celebration that ends with the climax of all Incan holidays: Inti Raymi. Better known as the Festival of the Sun, Inti Raymi is the ancient Inca’s celebration of the winter solstice. It takes place at Sacsayhuaman, which are Incan ruins just a mile or so away from the heart of Cusco. Inti Raymi will take place next Thursday (June 24), so the celebrations leading up to it have just begun!

resting during the parade

We originally walked by the parade around 2 PM and when we walked back around 5 it was still going on! The parade was marching up one of the main streets, Avenida del Sol, and then making its final turn into the Plaza de Armas. Beth and I watched outside for a long time, and were mostly surrounded by local Peruvians, which was a lot of fun.

mid-dance

After watching for awhile, we decided to eat dinner at one of the restaurants with a balcony that overlooks the Plaza. When we finished around 7 the parade was still going, and we talked to some of our friends this morning who said the final group didn’t dance until midnight!

one of the many groups performing their dance

The parade was amazing to watch…lots of color, culture, and a little bit of chaos. The locals lined the streets, set off fireworks, and cheered. It was so fun to just stumble upon it! After seeing all of the effort that must have gone into this celebration, I cannot wait to see what Inti Raymi will be like!

having fun in the parade

the kids loved having their picture taken!

Beth and me watching the parade with some local Peruvians

the parade reaching the Plaza de Armas at dusk

I’ll post again after I get back from Lake Titicaca…I leave tonight and get back early Tuesday morning! Enjoy your weekends : )

P.S. If you haven’t read about the trip to the Amazon, keep scrolling down!

Posted by: eeb | June 16, 2010

An Amazonian Adventure.

This past weekend our group voyaged to Puerto Maldonado, which is in the Amazon Jungle! We flew there–it’s only about a 45 minute plane ride–Friday morning, and stayed at the Anaconda Lodge for two nights, and arrived back in Cusco Sunday afternoon. It was a quick trip, but we really packed a lot in!

Beth and me in the Amazon Jungle!

This trip was also a huge change from Cusco. As soon as we stepped off of the plane, we were blasted with the heat and humidity of the Amazon, and we all started to shed the many layers we wear in cool, dry Cusco. A van from our lodge picked us up at the airport, and we rode the short distance to our jungle retreat. The Anaconda Lodge was awesome! It is run by a couple–he is Swiss, she is Thai. We stayed in bungalows, which are just like I imagined would be in the jungle–mosquito nets around the beds, and all. The lodge is also famous for monkeys (not snakes), which swung between the trees and scampered along vines. At meal times we feasted on authentic, homemade Thai food–pad Thai, coconut curry chicken–which was absolutely delicious (Dad, you would have loved it!).

our bungalow

On Friday we hung around the lodge. We read, walked around, and cooled off in the pool. We got to feed monkeys, and after dinner, we went on a tarantula walk. Here are some pics:

a monkey at our jungle lodge

tarantula and its nest, seen on a late-night spider walk

We got up early Saturday morning for our day in the jungle. We drove to harbor of Rio Madre de Dios, one of the two rivers that converge at Puerto Maldonado, and then we rode on traditional boats to the part of the jungle where we would begin our expedition. The river was so foggy, but as we floated along, the fog began to lift and we were able to see more and more of our surroundings.

foggy Rio Madre de Dios and a traditional boat

We started off with a hike, and our guide, Pepe, pointed out a lot of the unique flora and fauna. My favorite was the “walking palm” which is a tree whose trunk is split up into many little trunks at the base; these allow the tree to “walk” around to find sunlight. We also saw a “torture tree” and if you tap on its trunk fire ants come scrambling out.

if you are lost in the Amazon, be sure to knock on the roots of this tree, you will be heard up to 3 kilometers away

We continued our walk until we got to a “canal” where there were canoe-like boats waiting for us. Once in, we went out onto Sandoval Lake. We saw a cayman, which is similar to a crocodile:

see the cayman's eyes peering out of the water?

We continued our boat-ride around the lake. By now it was about 11 AM and the Amazon sun was beginning to cook us. Being a pale girl, I kept slathering SPF 85 on all sun-exposed skin, but the heat began to overwhelm us. We stopped at a shady area to get out of the sun and cool off. We had lunch (rice and chicken in banana leaves, prepared for us by our Thai host), chatted with our guides, and took some pictures.

the girls of bungalow #3: Helen, Beth, me, Lindsey, and Kim

Sandoval Lake

Then it was back out onto Sandoval Lake to see more local species of animals and plants. We saw bats, otters, birds, turtles, and more. It was so cool to see the native habitat, and to see animals that are similar to ones I’ve seen in America, but with some variations.

bats!

otters!

After more hiking, boating, and a little driving, we were back at our lodge. We were beat! We showered, ate, played Catch Phrase (so fun!), and headed to bed early. As hot as it was during the day, at night it cooled off into the 60′s and was PERFECT sleeping weather. In the morning we boarded our planes and came back to Cusco.

most of us Spiders (minus 7 who were in another boat)

I loved the Amazon–the plants and animals were so cool (I thought of you the entire time, Uncle Brent!), our lodge was amazing, and it was fun to experience a different part of Peru. But I was certainly glad to come back to Cusco!

Here’s what’s coming up: This week will be lots of reading and I’m planning on starting to study for our final next week. Also, we have been hit with World Cup Fever here in Cusco, and are going to one of our favorite restaurants that shows ALL of the games. This weekend is our last trip, and will be to Lake Titicaca! We leave Saturday night, and will be back Tuesday morning. I will be home two weeks from yesterday, which is both exciting and sad. I’m loving my time in Peru, but I’m also eager to see family and friends (and to eat dairy, which I don’t get much of, but miss!).

Hopefully I will post again before our trip this weekend, so check back for more perusings!

Posted by: eeb | June 9, 2010

Corpus Christi Festivities

The internet at our hostel went out this weekend, which was good for productivity but bad for communication. I studied, studied, studied all weekend, and then took my final on Sunday afternoon. But before we all went into study-mode, we celebrated Corpus Christi on Thursday. On this holiday, statues of saints from the region come to parade around Cusco’s main square, Plaza de Armas. I think this holiday has been celebrated for centuries in Peru, but Cusco currently has the largest celebration.

Corpus Christi festivities--saints, nuns, soldiers

So, from what I can gather, 15 statues of saints from the Cusco region come to Cusco’s oldest and largest cathedral the night before the celebration. They spend the night in Le Catedral and then the morning of Corpus Christi, they prepare to be paraded through the plaza.

one of the saints to be paraded around the square

It’s such a colorful ceremony! It began with mass being held out in the square, and then they started the parade. And we had a great view! A group of about 10 of us went to a cafe that looks out over the church and the plaza. We got there right as it opened, so we got seats on the balcony. We ordered food and took pictures all morning!

silver dome float leading the parade

All throughout mass more and more people began to crowd into the plaza and lined the streets. The parade began with some kind of silver dome being led around the square. Official-looking men carried burning ashes and sprinkled flower petals before the float passed through the street. After the dome made a full spin around the square, the saints followed. Supposedly, after the parade, the saints return to the cathedral and spend one more night there while community leaders feast and discuss local events. After that, the saints return to their home churches until next year’s celebrations!

Plaza de Armas, full of Corpus Christi celebrators

It was really amazing to be able to see a famous cultural event. I loved seeing all of the people. There were tons of local Peruvians, young and old, but also lots of tourists from all over the world. Of course, none of us think of ourselves as tourists anymore :)

And here’s a quick update on what I’ve been up to since then. Now that we’ve finished our U.S. Health Care course, we have started our Global Health, Infectious Disease, and Human Rights course. I’m loving it so far! And this weekend, we are headed to the Amazon Jungle! I am going to take tons of pictures, and will have a post for you when I get back!

Posted by: eeb | June 4, 2010

weekend adventures

This post is long overdue, but I keep thinking I’ll have plenty of time to write after class, in the evening, tomorrow, etc. But here it is!

While everyone in the States celebrated Memorial Day, we enjoyed our own 3-day weekend here in Peru. We didn’t have class on Friday, so a group of us went horseback riding near the Sacsayhuaman ruins (which I read about in my DK Guidebook—thanks Jeanne and Joe!), which are Incan ruins about a mile away from the city of Cusco. Cusco was originally designed to be in the shape of a puma, with the city as the puma’s body and Sacsayhuaman as its head and teeth. We rode for about 45 minutes or so, and then got to walk around the area near the ruins for a little bit while the horses grazed. Although I’m glad to be staying in the city, it was a nice change of pace to be in the country–so much open space!

rocks, and a view

me, Beth, and Elizabeth

On Saturday, a group of about 12 of us set out for white-water rafting. It was a blast! We drove about 2 hours away from Cusco, and then rafted down the Urabamba River. On our way out to the starting point, our Peruvian guide asked us all where we were all from, and when I told him I am from West Virginia he said he spent two weeks rafting in West Virginia and it was the best and craziest rafting of his life—all roads really do lead to WV! Rafting was fun, and our guide, Ernesto, kept us all laughing with his English. Every time we approached a rapid he would yell to us, “Security your feet!” We rafted for about 2 hours through Peruvian countryside, and got out of our rafts along the side of the river and the rafting company had lunch ready for us. We had arroz con pollo, and fresh cucumbers, tomatoes, and avocados. It was absolutely delicious, and was the perfect way to end our day trip.

me, SJ, Beth, Emily, and our guide, Ernesto

Sunday was yet another busy day—we went to a Peruvian soccer match! I honestly am not sure who played and the match wasn’t especially thrilling because it ended with no score but it was a fun atmosphere. All of the fans were screaming, even the little kids. The home team must have had at least 20 shots on goal in the second half, but a little boy behind us kept screaming “¡Tu puedes!” which means, “you can!”

partido de futbol

So far this week I have been reading for class, studying for our final, which is this weekend, and going to the orphanage. Yesterday was Corpus Christi, which is a huge Catholic holiday, and in Cusco they celebrate by marching saints around the Plaza de Armas. I’ll post about it this weekend when I need a study break!

Posted by: eeb | May 28, 2010

the orphanage

playing outside

Last week was aimed at getting all of us Spiders adjusted to the city of Cusco, Peruvian culture, the altitude, and our first class. This week was Phase 2 of our adjustment, part of which was for us to get aquatinted with El Arca Orphanage, the orphanage where we can volunteer in the afternoons after class.

An American family runs the orphanage, and, along with raising their own eight or nine children, have taken in about 40 Peruvian children, mostly from the Cusco area. What is so heartbreaking about this situation is that many of these children do have parents, but because of their economic situations, believe that El Arca is capable of providing a better home for them.

The orphanage is on the outskirts of Cusco, and we take combis to get there. Combis are a  unique transportation experience, to say the least, and I will do my best to describe them. Combis are basically huge minivans that cost about 25 cents each way, and drive into and out of the heart of Cusco, picking people up and dropping them off along their route. There are two workers in each combi: the Driver, and the Yeller (the unofficial but not inaccurate name I have given them). The Yeller stands by the window and door of the van and yells the upcoming stops to us passengers inside the combis, and if we would like to get out, we yell “¡baja!” back. As the Driver approaches a stop, the Yeller yells the upcoming stops to anyone standing outside. If people want to come in, the Yeller ushers them inside, squeezing them into seats, and then yells again, this time shouting, “¡vamos!” to the Driver, who begins to drive away as the Yeller closes the combi door. After being squeezed like sardines for about 40 minutes, it is our group’s turn to yell “¡baja!” and we jump off of the combi and head to the orphanage.

The kids at the orphanage are so much fun. They were not at all shy, and once they found out we were there to play with them, they jumped all over us. Some of us brought coloring and art supplies, and we set up a huge art station, full of construction paper, markers, stickers, stencils, and paints. The kids loved it; I bet we had over 20 kids drawing and painting. Spanish is the primary language for all of the children, but some of them know a little English, too. Talking to all of the children about all of the objects they were drawing definitely helped my Spanish vocabulary! The orphanage also has a huge yard, and we played soccer, jumped around on the trampoline, and played on the swing-set with some of the kids. When we had to leave they kept asking us when we were coming back, and fortunately (for us too, it was so much fun!) we will have students going back every day for the next four weeks.

I don’t have any pictures of the children from the orphanage yet, but in general, Peruvian children are so cute! They have huge brown eyes and sweet little smiles. Here are some pictures I’ve snapped so far:

juice box tot

chasing birds in the square

peeking

Posted by: eeb | May 23, 2010

MACHU PICCHU!

I just returned from a two-day excursion to Machu Picchu, one of the Seven Wonders of the World! From pictures, it has always looked like it deserved this honor, but after being there, I can truly understand it. Machu Picchu is magnificent and unbelievable.

panoramic view of Machu Picchu

Our trip started Friday morning at 6:00 AM. We took a van through Peru’s Sacred Valley to the town of Ollantaytambo, where there are some Incan ruins. We then took another van to Chilka, where the Incan Trail, a 4-day hike into Machu Picchu, begins. Finally, we took a train to the town of Machu Picchu. The view from the train was incredible–we even had windows in the ceiling so we could see the mountains towering above us.

train station at Chilka, where the Incan Trail begins

view from the train ride to Machu Picchu (see the ruins on the hillside?!)

We arrived in the town of Machu Picchu shortly after 1:00 in the afternoon, and checked into our hostel and walked around the town. It is clear the town lives for tourists, as it was just street after street of restaurants, hostels, and convenience shops. Dr. Mayes took us to a French-Peruvian restaurant called India Feliz, where we had a great meal! We were finished with dinner by 4:45, though, and then went back to the hostel to relax and get to bed early (I really think I was asleep by 7:00!).

The reason I went to bed so early was because we had to get up at 3:45 Saturday morning! Our hostel gave us tea and bread, and we were out the door by 4:15 to go wait in line for the buses. The buses weren’t scheduled to leave until 5:30, but already there was a large line! Once 5:30 finally came, we all boarded the buses for the steep drive up to MACHU PICCHU. The buses zig-zagged up the mountain side, which provided us with breathtaking but terrifying views of the valley below.

treacherous road leading to Machu Picchu

We got to Machu Picchu just after sunrise, right around 6:00. We showed our tickets and we were in! Machu Picchu is unlike anything I have ever seen before–it was absolutely stunning. With the morning fog, the ruins even felt mystical. We walked in complete awe, snapping pictures, and ooh-ing and ahh-ing.

MACHU PICCHU (and Waynapicchu Mountain)

We even saw llamas!

llamas, or alpacas? oh, and Machu Picchu

Right after 7:00 we sprinted through Machu Picchu to Wayapicchu Mountain, the mountain that towers over Machu Picchu. Only the first 400 people who enter Machu Picchu are allowed up the mountain, but because we got there so early, we had no problem getting signed in. The mountain took about 45 minutes to climb…45 minutes of Incan-built stairs straight up the mountain. Each time I stopped to look at the view I thought it wouldn’t be able to get any better, but it always did. The view from the top was spectacular! I don’t even think I can describe it, but hopefully these pictures will!

a group of us about to start our trek up Waynapicchu

me at the top of Wayapicchu surrounded by mountains

view of Machu Picchu from Waynapicchu

Beth and me having a laugh attack at the top of Waynapicchu

By the time we got back down Waynapicchu, we still had about an hour to explore Machu Picchu. I was so taken by how Machu Picchu is built into the hillside, almost as an extension of its surroundings. The construction is amazing, too, as each stone fits perfectly with the others around it. I couldn’t help but think about how it was built and what it was like when the Incans lived there (we watched a documentary on Machu Picchu before we left and some historians believe sacrifices were performed there, while others believe it served as the Incan’s “vacation” home). There are so many rooms, windows, and buildings, and I wish I knew what they were all used for!

the spectacular Machu Picchu

see how it is built right into the mountainside?

Around 9:45 it was time to board the buses and begin our trip back to Cusco. The trip to Machu Picchu has been my favorite Peruvian experience so far, and I think it will be challenging to top!

We only had about 4 hours there, but the time we spent at Machu Picchu was incredible!

jumping for joy

Posted by: eeb | May 17, 2010

a day of firsts!

¡Hola! We have done so much since my last post! We’ve been doing lots of walking around, eating, and learning about Peru; it’s an amazing place with such a rich culture. I want to take pictures of everything–and I have a few to share with you today.

First, here’s are a few “firsts” I had today.

1. I went on my first run in Peru!

2. We had our first class!

3. I bought my first alpaca sweater!

Beth and I, and another girl named SJ went on a short run around 8 this morning. Cusco is so hilly! The altitude was very strong for about the first 5 or 10 minutes (although we were going uphill…), but then our breathing became more normal. It was so good to run again! Running uphill was worth it, too, because the view at the top, which we reached right at halfway, was spectacular. We could see the whole city! While we were running we received a lot of strange looks from the Peruvians–running is not very common–but others cheered for us: “¡bueno senoritas!”.

a view of Cusco

Our first class was great; our professor is so engaging. We began our U.S. Healthcare Policy course today, and the discussions were so interesting it didn’t even feel like class! We discussed three books today: Complications, which is written by a surgeon, and discusses problems and imperfections in surgery; Vaccinated, which chronicles the history of many of today’s mandatory vaccines; and The Healing of America, which provided an overview of health care systems in other countries. We’ve just scratched the surface—we have a lot to learn in three weeks!

a girl sleeping in the market

Finally, we made a trip to some of the mercados, or markets, in Cusco. The markets are packed with little stalls, each of which is stacked with Peruvian goods: alpaca sweaters, Peru soccer jerseys, blankets, hats, scarves, mittens, headbands, and trinkets. There is so much to look at, and the vendors are very eager to sell their goods to you. As soon as you ask how much something costs (“¿quanto soles?”), they begin their marketing pitch, showing you different colors of sweaters, holding them up for you to try on, and holding up a mirror for you to see how it looks. Hopefully, they will continue to drop their price throughout the pitch. I got a red alpaca sweater with a blue pattern on the sleeves and collar for only 32 soles, which is just over $11 (the exchange rate is 2.8 soles to $1). I also got a headband for 5 soles ($1.75).

Beth and me with our new sweaters!

Now we are going to grab dinner and work on our readings for tomorrow. Also, we just found out today that we are most likely going to Machu Picchu for the weekend!

Here are a couple of pictures I will leave you with until my next post (sorry there aren’t many but they take forever to upload)!

a view from the walk to the markets

sweet old couple

Posted by: eeb | May 15, 2010

and the adventure begins…

¡Hola a todos!
¡Estoy en Cusco! I found out our hotel has wireless internet (yipee!) so I can write to you from the comfort of my hostel room, which is really nice by the way (pictures to come later).

I got into the Cusco airport around 10:30 local time (Cusco is an hour behind EST). I flew in with 4 other students from Richmond, and it was nice to be able to travel as a group. One of our group members was our RA for the trip and he speaks fluent Spanish, which came in handy at the Lima Customs. The plane ride from Lima to Cusco was spectacular, and started to make me realize that I am on a different continent. Here are a few pictures:

clouds and a river

The view from the plane was amazing! We saw mountains, rivers, snow, and clouds. The mountains were so high they peaked through the clouds. We didn’t see any roads or cars until we were about to land in Cusco, we only saw mountain after mountain.

Our professor, Dr. Mayes, picked us up at the airport and we drove in a van to our hostel. Driving in Cusco is a crazy experience; cars zoom all over the street, drivers constantly honk their horns, and everyone seems to think they have the right-of-way. The drive was only about 10 or 15 minutes, and once we got to our hotel we met up with 5 other students who had arrived earlier in the day. They were starving, so we dropped our stuff in their rooms and walked into town for lunch.

This was when I started to feel the effects of the altitude. Although Cusco is in a valley, it is still at about 11,500 feet. The 10 minute walk into the main square left me a little short of breath! The other thing that was breathtaking was Cusco’s main square, Plaza de Armas. It is stunning! There are old churches, green lawns, and mountains closing it in. We ate lunch at a cafe called Trotomundo’s, which is in the second story of a building that looks out over the Plaza. Here are some pictures:

Plaza de Armas...isn't it amazing?!

mountains surrounding the city

Lunch was my first experience with Peruvian food. I tried to keep it simple by ordering a sandwich with cheese, egg, and avocado and then a side of yogurt and fruit. The sandwich was pretty good; the highlight was definitely the avocado. I think I had close to an entire avocado on my sandwich! It was perfectly ripe and green, and the flavor was so much stronger than home. I want to just get an entire avocado and eat it by the spoonful. Then came the yogurt, which Beth and I both ordered. Let’s just say we are never ordering yogurt again. It looked like a huge bowl of soup, and it tasted like sour Greek yogurt. From the time it came to the table to the time they took it away, Beth and I could not stop cracking up at our ordering mistake.

yogurt delight (read: yogurt disaster)

After lunch we went back to the hostel and took a nap (I napped for 5 hours, which is unheard of for me). Then it was time for dinner. We went to Jack’s, which is Dr. Mayes’ favorite restaurant. I had French toast, which was delicious! Jack’s was a fun restaurant and everyone’s food looked delicious; I know it will be a favorite for me!

We walked back after dinner, unpacked and went to bed! It was a long day, but already, Cusco is an unforgettable place!

Posted by: eeb | May 14, 2010

PERU!

I’m in Peru! We arrived in Lima around 4:30 after a smooth flight. Travels have been pretty easy so far, especially because Beth, my roommate, teammate and travel buddy, and I met up with a few other people from our group.

I slept most of the flight from Miami to Lima and arrived in a daze. After going through customs I realized that no, I do not remember a lot of the Spanish I took last year–although 4 in the morning is probably not the best time to try to conjugate verbs :) But I’m here, my passport is stamped, and now we are waiting for our 8:45 am flight to Cusco. I’m going to try to get a little more sleep, but I will write when I get to Cusco (if I can survive the altitude…)!

Posted by: eeb | May 12, 2010

Hello World!

Welcome to my blog! I’ll be using this site to document my study abroad trip to Peru, and so I can share my adventure with you! The triab has begun–I’m in the Miami airport now and will arrive in Cusco on tomorrow morning. Hopefully I’ll be able to write then, but until then, adios!

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