Among the Andes

In Peace Corps Perú, we have a policy in place known as 3 days/2 nights in which Volunteers can take a few days reprieve from their service to distress and recoup their mental health. Generally, Volunteers use this time to head to their regional capitals, hang out with fellow Volunteers, speak some English, and eat some tasty food (pancakes and pizza anyone?). For my first two months, I didn’t take advantage of this policy, mostly because I really enjoy my site and was too busy to find time to get away. However, last week my go-go-go lifestyle finally caught up with me, and I decided to head into Huaráz (my regional capital) for the weekend to take a break and do something I have been longing to do since I arrived in Perú; go on a hike in the Andes!

I am incredibly lucky to be a Peace Corps Perú Volunteer in the Department of Ancash because we are never in want of beautiful scenery and treks, mainly because of the famous Parque Huascarán, which is Perú’s largest national park. Oddly enough, a Peace Corps Volunteer named Curry Slaymaker was integral in the creation of the park in the 1970s when he returned to Perú after completing his 2 year Peace Corps service.   He helped to create the first delineations of the borders of the National Park, and later became the first Director of the park. Needless to say, Parque Huascarán, located in the famous Cordillera Blanca of Perú, is incredibly gorgeous, with astounding mountain vegetation, glacial lakes, and of course, the world famous nevados (snow capped peaks).

One Sunday morning, 4 other Volunteers and I started our trek into the Andes to reach Laguna Llaca, one of the many glacial lakes in Parque Huascarán. It took around 4.5 hours to get to the lake, and about 2 hours to get back out to the main road, and the entire hike was incredible. Rather than drone on with further embellishments, I’ll just let the following pictures portray the absolute beauty of my brief Andean expedition.

The "entrance" to Parque Huascarán.  Note the altitude.
The “entrance” to Parque Huascarán. Note the altitude.
The path into the Andes.  These "valleys" are called quebradas.
The path into the Andes. These “valleys” are called quebradas.
You can see the nevado in the background.  That was our target.
You can see the nevado in the background. That was our target.
Mid-hike photo shoot.
Mid-hike photo shoot.
The water here was known as Yurac Yaku, which means white water in Quechua.
The water here was known as Yurac Yaku, which means white water in Quechua.
This is a Queñual tree, found all over Parque Huascarán.
This is a Queñual tree, found all over Parque Huascarán.
Pondering the glacial lake and the immense nevado.
Pondering the glacial lake and the immense nevado.
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Still smiling despite the exhausting hike up. Altitude can be a challenge.
Group photo during the descent.  We somehow forgot to take a group photo at the lake...
Group photo during the descent. We somehow forgot to take a group photo at the lake…

Overall, my first experience in Parque Huascarán was amazing, and I’m looking forward to hiking even more in the next 2 years.  Hopefully, my next hike won’t end with us getting drenched by a rainstorm like this one.

MGB

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Peanut Butter and Perú

One of the goals of Peace Corps (Goal 2) is to improve the understanding of the U.S. on the part of the host country, in this case Perú. In laymans terms, help Peruvians understand U.S. culture. Therefore, what better way to share U.S. culture than by sharing one of our greatest creations, the glorious spread known as Peanut Butter. When I left for Perú, I of course packed clothes, shoes, books, etc, but more importantly I made sure to back a good old jar of Jif Peanut Butter. A few weeks ago, after talking about Peanut Butter with one of my Peruvian friends here in Caraz, I decided it was finally time to crack open my personal Ark of the Covenant, so to speak, and share the glory that is Peanut Butter with my colleagues in the municipality.

Arc of the Covenant Toy
I guess they will make toys of anything. Image from: http://www.mwctoys.com/images/review_12ark_large.jpg

Perú has peanuts (maní), and Perú has butter, but for some reason, Perú doesn’t have much peanut butter. Desserts here either contain chocolate, a milk-based cream called manjar, fruit, or a nasty pez-like icing, but as of yet, I have been completely unable to find any sort of dessert containing Peanut Butter, let alone Peanut Butter and Chocolate in any sort of combination (alright, technically the chocolate bars called Princesa are peanut butter/chocolate, but they have nothing on Reese’s). Consequently, I knew that they were in for a treat.

My stash of Jif, which was spread onto apples and crackers galore, was a hit among the entire office, leaving smiles all around. If the only legacy I leave behind after I complete my service is that of making my colleagues love Peanut Butter, I will deem my service an overwhelming success (I’m only partially joking).

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In the midst of the Great Peanut Butter Cultural Exchange.

With time, I’m hoping to actually make some Peanut Butter with some Peruvians and of course share other American Classics like S’mores.

Feel free to send me Peanut Butter Cups,

Mark G-B

What has Mark been up to in Perú?

So it has been quite some time since my last blog post, so I figured a general recap of my work over the last 2 months was long overdue, but unfortunately I’ll only be recapping what I did in September, because otherwise this post would be incredibly long.

Sports:

I have been playing a lot of soccer and volleyball as of late, and most specifically with the Vaso de Leche group from my neighborhood. Vaso de Leche is a Perú-wide organization in which mothers of children under the age of 6 can receive free milk and Quaker from the Peruvian Government. Vaso de Leche is incredibly important because it helps to ensure that growing children recieve proper nutrition. In order to foster camaraderie among the various Vaso de Leche groups in my provincia (think county), the Municipality of Caraz organized a huge 3-part soccer/volleyball tournament. Being the local gringo, I was of course selected to help train my neighborhoods Vaso de Leche group, and so for quite a few weeks I was playing volleyball/soccer quite regularly with a group of 10-20 moms.

Playing soccer with the moms of Inca Huaín
Playing soccer with the moms of Inca Huaín

Despite all of our training, we didn’t rank in either Volleyball nor Soccer, so we’ll just have to train harder for next year.

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The moms of Inca Huaín on the soccer pitch.

English Classes

As a way to get to know people in my host community of Inca Huaín/Yuracoto, I started English classes in my house each Saturday afternoon. While the first one or two lessons resulted in about 10-11 students, over the weeks the number of devoted students has dwindled to just 4. With these four students, all girls, we have learned Greetings/goodbyes, colors, animales, numbers, and just this weekend, fruits. These girls, including my host-sister, are really excited to learn, and their enthusiasm has really helped to keep me motivated. In fact, one of my proudest moments as a Peace Corps Volunteer came from a moment in which my 4 students took on the role of teachers, sharing their newfound English knowledge with some other children who showed up at my house with their parents for some sort of political event.

I got to practice my drawing skills when we learned about animals in English.
I got to practice my drawing skills when we learned about animals in English.

Apart from the English lessons in my house, I have taught English a few times in the local school where we have covered Greetings/goodbyes and a personal favorite, parts of the body, which of course includes Head-Shoulders-Knees-Toes. The kids really enjoy learning songs which is perfect for me since I love to sing songs. During one of the English classes, I gave the students some free time to ask me questions which of course led to questions about my family, my pets, my travels, where I live, etc. The diagram of our conversation can be seen in the image below.

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Fishing:

 One Sunday, I went fishing in the Río Santa with my host-dad and two local kids. Although I never got the opportunity to cast the net, I did help collect the fish out of the nets and of course, document the entire experience.   The experience was quite fun, and I enjoyed seeing some new scenery (and finding some toads).

One of my neighbors casting the net.
One of my neighbors casting the net.

With all of the fish we caught, we had a lovely fish fry for dinner, and breakfast, and lunch, and dinner again, and breakfast once more, and maybe another lunch.

Trash Management Education:

One of the biggest environmental problems in Perú at the moment is trash management, and consequently, a lot of my work with the Municipality of Caraz has focused on this theme. Coincidentally, trash management is also the third goal of my Peace Corps Program, Community Based Environmental Management. Therefore, I have given some charlas (presentations) to local schools/students about how to conserve/protect the environment and how to properly manage trash. In these presentations, I talked about Climate Change, Environmental Contamination, the 3Rs (Reducir, Reutilizar, Reciclar), and how to properly segregate (organics, inorganics, reciclables, dangerous, etc.) and store trash for proper disposition. These two presentations were my first big presentations for students here in Perú, and I’m really looking forward to continue working with schools during the next 2 years.

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Community Clean-ups

During two Saturdays in September, the Municipality organized two community clean-ups, focusing on a different barrio (neighborhood) within Caraz each weekend. The clean ups started bright and early at 6am each morning, and continued until about 11-11:30am, involving mostly just workers from the municipality (although more community members participated in the second event). We cleaned up everything from trash to food waste, and construction waste to the pounds and pounds of dust that abide in Caraz due to the unfinished roads in the upper sections of the city. I successfully managed to break the broom given to me for the clean-up, which happened to be the third broom I have broken in less than 2 months. Oh, and I was also interviewed during the first clean-up event and the footage was shown on the Municipality’s TV cannel.

Faena de Limpieza (Clean-up)
Faena de Limpieza (Clean-up)

Peace Parade

September 21st was the International Day of Peace, and so to celebrate, my Municipality put together a big parade, which is the #1 way to celebrate any event in Perú. I got an awesome white shirt, got to hold a sign for my Gerencia of the Municipality, and was also on TV again (although only in passing this time). How fitting that a Peace Corps Volunteer got to march in a Peace parade?

Doves being released to celebrate the Day of Peace.
Doves being released to celebrate the Day of Peace.

As you can probably see, I have been very, very busy the last few months.  I have learned a lot, started working on a lot of different projects, and this has only been the briefest of glimpses into my activities thus far.  As some of my projects develop further, I will be detailing them up here on my blog.

Un abrazo,

Mark G-B