2 years in Perú

Today, May 7th, 2017, marks 2 years since officially landing on Peruvian soil (I think our plane touched down at like 10-11pm). While I haven’t officially reached 2 years in my site of Caraz, Áncash (gotta wait until July 25th, 2017), to commemorate this occasion enjoy some of my favorite photos of scenery that I have taken in my beautiful department of Áncash.

Enjoy the photos!

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Mount Huascarán as seen from Huaráz
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The valley visible from the cliffside behind my house
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The soccer stadium where my municipal department’s office is located
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The Cordillera Blanca as seen from Huata (Cordillera Negra)
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One of many beautiful sunsets I have seen from my house
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A panorama of Cuncash, Santa Cruz.
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Río Santa- for once not looking as contaminated as it actually is
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More sunsets from my backyard
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The entrance to the Quebrada Llaca (Llaca Ravine) outside of Huaráz
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Inside the Quebrada Llaca
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Laguna Llaca (Llaca lake) – the lake is formed from glacial melt and rainfall
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A dry field behind my house- reminds me of the savannah
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My host-siblings with a fiery sky in the background
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Laguna Parón (Lake Parón) – this lake provides most of the water to my town
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Snow capped mountains on the way to Punta Olímpica (Olympic Point), where you can cross the Cordillera Blanca to the “dark side”
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Yuracmarca, Áncash. My host-mom’s home turf, this region is only 1.5 hours north of me, but is basically a desert.
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A panorama of Yuracmarca, Áncash
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Laguna Querococha on the way to the ruins of Chavín de Huantar
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The archeological site, Chavín de Huantar
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Colorful, natural springs inside Parque Nacional Huascarán (Huascaran National Park) on the way to the Pastoruri Glacier
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At the Pastoruri Glacier, looking at other travelers
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The Pastoruri Glacier- once famous for its skiing, it is famous for its melting due to climate change
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Laguna Llanganuco- the reddish trees are called Queñuales
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A waterfall on the way to Laguna 69
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What we thought was Laguna 69; the real laguna 69 is way up there below the snow
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The real Laguna 69 – the water wasn’t too cold
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Laguna Parón once more. The mountain in the back is called Pirámide (Pyramid)
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Wilkacocha – a lake near Huaráz on the Cordillera Negra
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Caraz – my home for the last 2 years
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Another beautiful sunset from a site near Huaráz
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Mount Huascarán as seen from the town square of Mancos
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The Callejón de Huaylas as seen from a hike up to Huascarán
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Sunset during a hike up to the base of Mount Huascarán
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Sunset in the other direction
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First glimpse of Mount Huascarán in the morning. We eventually reached the “snow” line
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A contemplative selfie on the way back down the mountain
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Quebrada Quilcayhuanca
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Fellow Volunteer Kevin hiking in Quebrada Quilcayhuanca
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Laguna Tullpacocha at the conclusion of our hike into the Quebrada Quilcayhuanca
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Some cool clouds as seen from my backyard
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Laguna Churup- one of the most beautiful lakes I have visited
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The Campiña de Yanahuara – the place I’ve called home for the last 2 years
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From an excursion with three of my former students
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An abandoned church in the hills near my house
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A beautiful, moony night at my house
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The start of a sunset during the rainy season
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Fresh snow on the mountain after a heavy rainfall elsewhere
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One last sunset
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Mount Huascarán once more
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The municipal soccer stadium & Mount Huandoy, the famous snow-capped peak of Caraz

I live in a very beautiful region of the world and I am extremely grateful for the wonderful experiences I have enjoyed during my Peace Corps service. Here’s to one more year!

Until next time,

MGB

 

Earth Day 2017

Each year on April 22, we celebrate Earth Day. Why do we have a day to celebrate the Earth? Well, because the Earth is our only home (for the moment), and we need a yearly reminder that we should care for and protect this beautiful planet on which we live.

As an environmental Volunteer here in Perú, the different environmental holidays that occur throughout the year provide perfect opportunities to plan environmental activities or presentations with my host-country counterparts. One group with whom I have been working since last July is the Club Verde (Green Club), which consists of a bunch of young people from Caraz who are interested in improving the environment in and around the city. While they started as just a group of students from the local University, they are now a more formalized entity (Asociación Club Verde –Caraz) and I have been working with them on the implementation of their plans and ideas for this year.

As a group, they decided they wanted to implement some sort of activity for Earth Day, but after 2 meetings we had about a million ideas, but no one, concrete idea to execute. However, in the days leading up to Earth Day, they finally decided on two different activities.

The first was to plant flowers in one of the less-cared-for parks of Caraz during the morning of Earth Day. I mean, it’s Earth Day, so you are pretty much obligated to plant something, right? Here are some pictures of the process! Also, check out the Club Verde on Facebook!

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The flowers to be planted

 Planting the flowers

 

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The flowers became a tad wilted, but that is completely normal

The second activity was a screening of two environmentally themed movies, one for kids and one for “young adults”. My site-mate, who is a Youth Volunteer, had started a Sábados de Cine (Saturday Movie Nights) with her youth group, and so she let us take over the process for the weekend. For the kids, we decided to show The Lorax, which was a big hit and has a great message. Deforestation is an enormous problem in Perú, and so I hope that those in attendance were able to take something away from the movie. For the young adults, we decided to screen The Day After Tomorrow, a movie that rather dramatically shows the potential consequences of climate change in our world.

While the day was exhausting, it was great to be able to celebrate Earth Day through a diverse array of activities. In addition to my activities with the Asociación Club Verde – Caraz, I also worked with the UGEL (local branch of the ministry of education) to distribute about 200 trees to different schools in the province to be planted. We are also currently working to organize the production of more trees for a huge reforestation campaign in November.

Well, I hope this past April 22 you all took some time to appreciate this wonderful planet we call home. If you didn’t, there is still time to do something to help our planet, like plant a tree!

Until next time,

MGB

Carnaval Huaylino 2017

As I stated in my Carnaval post from last year, Carnaval is a huge celebration, likened to Mardi Gras, which celebrates the beginning of the Lenten season.

Once again, I was involved in the Carnaval festivities in Caraz this year! In addition to dancing in the big Carnaval parade, I also got to help out with the Shumaq Shipash competition, which is essentially a beauty pageant-type contest. For the contest, my role was simple; dress up in a suit and escort the contestants to the judge’s table. I was basically eye-candy, most likely have been selected due to being the resident “gringo”. Regardless, the contest and the parade were great fun, just as Carnaval always is. Rather than bore you all with another long Carnaval post, just enjoy some photos from this year’s festivities below!

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Decorating my municipal office’s tablada so we can dance with style in the parade.
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The wawas (bread babies) all got dressed up and labeled with names of workers in my office. Fortunately, I was spared.
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Transferring the tablada via moto-car up to the start of the parade! It weighs a TON.
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Some of the other groups waiting for the parade to start!
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The ladies of limpieza with our Municipal Office banner. A must-have for all Peruvian parades!
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Enjoying the parade, this time without my rented Peruvian sombrero.
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Some of my co-workers in traditional Sierra attire from the region. We go all out for Carnaval!
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This neighborhood went all out with their multi-sided tablada.

And that’s all she wrote for Carnaval Huaylino 2017. If my municipality makes a summary video like they did last year, I will be sure to add it to this post.

Until next time,

MGB

Christmas Nacimientos

So as I mentioned in my post, Christmas in Caraz, from last year, Christmas is a very popular here in Perú, notably due to the fact the majority of the population is Catholic. Now, one of the Christmas traditions I noticed this year, but failed to appreciate last year, is the abundance of nacimientos, or Nativities.

For me, a Nativity scene typically consists of a wooden frame (resembling a small barn), with an assortment of people, straw, and animals underneath. You know, the typical image of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus depicted around the holiday season in the U.S. Well, here in Perú, nativity scenes (nacimientos) are done a bit differently, and in fact don’t much resemble the nativity scenes of which I am familiar.

You see, at least here in the sierra of Áncash, nativity scenes are usually created using a mixture of colored paper (usually brown, green, or grey), rocks, native plants from high up in the mountains, little figurines, sand, and whatever else seems to be available. The paper is usually used to create some sort of landscape (mountains, deserts, etc.) over which the rocks, plants, and figurines are placed to create a pretty scene. In some location of the nacimiento will usually go the typical manger with an image of Mary, Joseph, and on Christmas day, baby Jesus. These nacimientos can be tiny enough to fit on a small table, or large enough to fill up an entire corner of a room. Regardless of the size, the important factor is that almost EVERY public institution makes nacimientos: the schools, the hospitals, the UGELs, the market, etc.

Now for about a month or so, my office  in the Provincial Municipality has been planning to do a Christmas exposition of recycled products/furniture/art in the Plaza de Armas (Town Square) to get the community of Caraz thinking more about trash and how it can be repurposed. While the exposition hasn’t begun yet, one component has already been completed: a nacimiento made of traditional and recycled materials. Over the past 1.5 weeks, my office has been hard at work creating a fairly LARGE nativity scene in one of the gardens of the town square. Naturally, being partnered with the Municipality, I was also involved in the creation of the Nativity scene.

Check out some pictures of the entire process below!

It all started on Tuesday, December 6th when I walked into my office to see my desk surrounded by plants from the puna (high mountain plains).

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All the plants safely transported to the Plaza de Armas
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Moving stones for Day 1 of creating the nacimiento
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Start of the future stone path & arrangement of recycled tires/cylinders
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Decorating with the plants from the Puna
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Work completed by the end of Day 1. Unfortunately, it was raining the whole time.
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Cleaning water bottles & filling them up with H2O for the Plastic Bottle Christmas Tree!
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Work completed by the end of Day 2

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The final 3 photos show the finished product, bottle-tree and all!

I had a great time helping out my office in the municipality, and I think the final product turned out great! I am quite sad though that they uprooted so many plants from the puna just to make a nacimiento that will last a little over a month; perhaps they will return the plants, but I am doubtful. We’ll have to have a talk when I return from vacation about why taking the plants isn’t really that great for protecting the environment, but poco a poco.

Well, I hope you enjoyed some brief insight into another interesting Peruvian holiday tradition.

Until next time,

MGB

 

Trash Talking: Recycled Costumes

As I mentioned in my first Trash Talking post a few weeks ago, one of Perú’s biggest challenges at the moment is trash management. While the biggest barrier to advancements in trash management here in Perú is probably lack of infrastructure and technical experience, another important one is a general lack of environmental awareness. Simply put, many people just don’t know the consequences of pollution or how to properly manage this waste. Consequently, a LOT of my work revolves around sensibilizando la gente sobre los residuos sólidos (raising awareness about solid waste) via various means; charlas (presentations), conversaciones informales (informal conversations), programas de radio (radio programs), y eventos (events).

Oftentimes, teaching about trash management and raising awareness can be extremely fun, as is the case with the event I am highlighting today. A few weeks ago, I participated in a super fun event that I coordinated with the Provincial Municipality and the Environmental Youth Group (Club Verde) with which I work; a recycled costume contest.

You see, we wanted to engage the creativity of the schools in the city and at the same time celebrate trash management, and this is what was born. We invited all of the schools of Caraz to participate in the event, and had four categories: pre-school, primary school, secondary school, and post-secondary education. The rules were simple; design a Halloween costume using only recycled materials (wrappers, newspaper, plastic bottles, old trash bags, old wire, etc.). Each school was allowed 2 participants, and in total we had over 10 schools participate with over 40 students showing up in their “recycled” costume.

Like most Peruvian events, we started off with a parade around the town square to show off all of the hard work by the students!

 

Afterwards, we headed into the Coliseo Cerrado for the actual contest. Here are some photos of the amazing competitors, photos courtesy of one of my counterparts, the Municipalidad Provincial de Huaylas.

I’m hoping that this event was just the first installment of something that will continue and evolve año tras año (year after year).

Until next time,

MGB

Peace Corps Pumpkin

When I lived in the United States, summer and winter were my favorite seasons. I loved summer because of the generally nice weather, and the fact that it usually aligned with vacation time, beach trips, and lots of sports. I loved winter because I loved the snow, and I loved liked the idea of wrapping myself up in warm clothes and sitting by a fire.

Living here in Perú, while we have summer and winter (rainy & dry seasons), they aren’t the same as back home. But having lived over one year here in Caraz, I’ve realized something; Summer and Winter aren’t really my favorite seasons, fall is. They say you never know what you got ‘til its gone, and the same goes for me as I truly didn’t appreciate how much I loved fall until I missed out on 2 Falls here in Perú. I miss the warm yet chilly Fall weather and I miss the beautiful fall colors from the changing leaves in my forest-filled Pennsylvania. While I can’t get my fix of changing leaves here in Perú where everything stays mostly green, I can get my fix of one of the great fixtures of Fall, Halloween.

Halloween is a recent arrival to Perú, and therefore not as well established as it is in the United States. Still, it is slowly becoming more popular. For instance, this year in the local market I saw plenty plastic jack-o-lanterns for trick-or-treating as well as many stores decorated with fake cobwebs,  and on Halloween day I even saw a lot of children dressed in costume going around with their parents to Truco-o-Dulce in Caraz.  So while Halloween is definitely not part of the cultural heritage of Perú, it is definitely becoming a new cultural practice. The emergence of Halloween has probably been spurred onward by cultural overflow from the United States and in small part by Peace Corps Volunteers sharing some Halloween traditions with their host communities.

Last year, I did nothing in my site to celebrate Halloween. I went to a Halloween party organized by other Volunteers, but I neglected to do any kind of celebration with my host-family. This year was different, this year I wanted to make more of an effort to share the holiday with my host-family. Things started off by watching some Halloween movies with my host-siblings; I was happy to find that the Disney Channel here in Perú ALSO shows Halloween movies every night for the month of October. We had a good time watching Hocus Pocus, one of the ALL TIME Halloween classics.

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In the following days, I hatched a plan with my host-siblings to make a Jack-O-Lantern. Unfortunately, pumpkins aren’t exactly available here in Caraz (although seeing photos from other Volunteers they seem to be available in other locations in Peru…), so we had to make do with what was available. The closest things we have to pumpkins here in Caraz are zapallos, which are essentially bigger, green pumpkins. After searching and searching with my host-siblings, we finally found a complete one (almost all of the zapallos were missing large pieces to show they were ripe) and I bought it for S/. 27 (about $8). We took it home, and a few days later when I had some free time, I taught my host-siblings how to carve it up.

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The Great Green Pumpkin

My host-siblings had a great time learning how to carve a pumpkin, despite being disgusted by the slimy interior. While I did most of the knife-work, they were responsible for the gutting; got to be safe.

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We decided to go for the traditional Jack-O-Lantern design of triangle shaped eyes & ears and a jagged mouth. I think it turned out well.

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Now, in case you had forgotten, I currently live in Perú. While back in the U.S., we are entering the winter season, here in Perú we are approaching summer/rainy season, which means it isn’t exactly cold. Consequently, our big Jack-O-Lantern didn’t stand a chance, and only lasted about 2.5 days before my host-mom fed it to the pigs. It never even got to see the light of Halloween, but oh well, it was fun, and I was able to successfully share one of the more fun U.S. cultural experiences.

So I know Halloween was over a month ago, but unfortunately internet issues and a vacation made it challenging to post this much sooner.

Until next time,

MGB

A Castle made of Fireworks

Last week in Yuracoto, my local school estaba de fiesta (was in party mode). You see, the school’s  patron saint is la Virgen de Carmen, also known as the Virgin Mary, and apparently her day of celebration is the 16th of July. As I mentioned in one of my other posts, anniversaries are a BIG DEAL here in Perú, and so naturally the entire week of the 11th leading up to July 16th was filled with different religious and non-religious activities in the school.

One of said activities that I attended was the víspera, which literally means the “day before”. In this case, víspera means the night before the main day of celebration, or the evening of the 14th of July. So what happens at a víspera? Well first people from the community slowly trickled into the school, sitting and chatting while a student group performed a traditional dance from Áncash. Then, the altar containing the image of the saint was brought out, and everyone gather for a brief mass. A women, one of the madrinas (literally god-mother, but in this case sponsor) for the event, read from the Bible, led everyone in prayer, gave a brief sermon, and then led everyone in some Catholic hymns.

At the conclusion of the brief mass, speakers were rolled out and I, being the only one with a laptop, was put in charge of the music. I managed to play some Marc Anthony before students restricted me to just cumbia and huayno.

After a while, as it grew later in the evening and as the student groups continued to dance, we grew closer to one of the main attractions of the evening, the lighting of the firework castle. You see, I thought we had fireworks figured out pretty well in the U.S., but after attending a few events with fireworks here in Perú, I think they have us outclassed at least in terms of ingenuity. It is pretty standard here in Perú that for really big celebrations or anniversaries, you buy some fireworks. But Peruvian fireworks are not the tiny ones we buy for our homes around 4th of July, nor are they the giant fireworks displays we see way up in the sky. Here in Perú, they make structures out of bamboo, attach fireworks to them, and then set them off.

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A “palm tree” firework with its spinning parts.

Of the standard Peruvian firework regime, my favorite would have to be the Toro Loco (Crazy Bull), which is essentially a small bamboo frame reminiscent of a bull’s head to which many fireworks are attached. You then grab the Toro Loco, hold it over your head, and light up its fireworks as you run around at your fellow community members, shooting out sparks and smoke. Safe? Absolutely not. Fun? Absolutely.

So while this fiesta was unfortunately missing a Toro Loco, what it did have was a Castillo, or Castle, of which 1/6th was mine; the castle cost s/. 300, and I donated the missing s/. 50 to pay for it.

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The Castillo right after being lit.

Around 10:45pm (the víspera started at 7pm), we finally lit up the castillo and I managed to get everything on camera. Check out the video below and enjoy your first (probably) experience with Peruvian fireworks!

 

Until next time,

MGB