My first Christmas in Perú was spent with my host family. My second Christmas was spent back with my family in the U.S. My last Christmas here in Perú was spent here in Huaráz and at the beach!
From my group, Perú 25, only 3 of us remain. And so, we all decided to meet up to spend a few days at the beach, have some great seafood, and catch the latest chapter of the Star Wars Saga. However, before heading out to meet my friends on the playa, I had some Christmas obligations to take care of here in Huaráz.
My counterpart for my 3rd year as PCVL is SERNANP – Parque Nacional Huascarán (essentially the Peruvian National Park office for Huascarán National Park). As an office, we had a Chocolatada (literally a “Hot Chocolate Party”, but essentially a Christmas party) where we sang Christmas songs, drank hot chocolate with Panetón, and partook in several Christmas games which included dressing up two of the Ingenieros of the park as Sierra women. It was a good time all around.
Within our office, my main socia is the Environmental Education specialist, and we work with an environmental youth group composed of local university students (Los Hinchas de la Conservación) who help spread Huascarán National Park’s message. We meet almost weekly with the Hinchas to hold classes, learn about different aspects of the park, and to practice our various techniques/methods to spread our messages of environmental stewardship. However, we also do fun stuff.
In talking with my socia one day, I suggested that we should hold a Christmas party with a White Elephant Gift Exchange. It took a little while to explain how a White Elephant Gift exchange works, but once she understood, she was sold. And so, on December 23rd we held our Christmas party. It was a roaring success, and the Hinchas loved the concept of a White Elephant Gift exchange. We played by my special rules where people could bring nice gifts or gag gifts, all gifts must be wrapped, and gifts could only be opened at the end of the exchange. At the beginning of the party, everyone chose a number to determine the gift selection order. It took some convincing, but I eventually convinced some Hinchas to steal gifts from their friends rather than just picking out of the gift pile. Stealing always makes a white elephant more fun. We had lots of food, danced, sang huayno, and played some Super Smash Brothers Melée.
Our Christmas Tree
Playing musical chairs
Selecting a gift during the White Elephant
Opening our gifts
After a day of great fun, that evening I hopped on my bus and on Christmas Eve, I met my friends at the beach. We had lots of ideas of places we could go and things we could see, but we settled on just taking lots of time to relax (and go see the new Star Wars movie, of course!). Enjoy some pics of my Christmas beach adventure in Huanchaco!
Even the crabs had Christmas brunch
A former sea lion
Sunset at the beach
My last Christmas in Perú was a great one. Hope you enjoyed seeing how I spent it.
November 1st of each year is a national holiday here in Peru. The holiday is known as All Saint’s Day (Día de Todos los Santos) and was established to celebrate all Catholic Saint’s known and unknown. During my two years working in Yuracoto/Caraz, I never really saw any traditions or customs associated with the holiday other than the fact that the schools, municipalities, and other businesses closed down. However, this year I had the opportunity to take part in some traditional customs by traveling to the town of Huashao to visit the host-family of a former Peace Corps Perú Volunteer who is back in Áncash completing her Ph.D. research.
And so, yesterday morning, at 9 A.M., the 3 of us hopped on a combi from Huaráz to Yungay, and then took a colectivo (car) from Yungay up to the beautiful town of Huashao at the foot of the beautiful Mount Huascarán, the tallest snow-capped mountain in Perú. Once we arrived, we were quickly introduced to everyone, kids, adults, and dogs alike. Being a fairly rural zone, the family all spoke Spanish as well as Quechua, the indigenous language of the Sierra of Áncash. It was nice to be able to use the little Quechua I know to greet the family and make some funny comments. Anyways, after all of the introductions, we got to work. You see, for many families in Áncash, a typical celebration for el Día de Todos los Santos is to gather as a family (extended and all) and make lots of bread! In fact, this host-family ONLY makes bread on November 1st and not at any other time of the year.
When we arrived at the house, the process was already underway, but there were still plenty of opportunities to observe, help, and of course eat lots of the delicious bread. In fact, as soon as we arrived, we were gifted some freshly baked cachanga, a type of flatbread popular here in the mountains. While the oven was located outside, most of the dough preparation was being performed inside the kitchen. And when I say we were making bread, it wasn’t just a few pieces of bread, it was hundreds of pieces of bread.
But, we were not just going to bake and eat bread all day (even though I personally would have been fine with that since bread is delicious). We also took advantage of the oven to make some delicious Pollo al Horno (oven-roasted chicken) for a large, familial lunch. And might I say, the chicken was absolutely delicious.
After lunch, we decided to walk over to a small grassy area to play with the all the kids (if we had stayed seated at the house, I think we all would have fallen into food comas). At the park, I played some soccer and then broke out my frisbee, which was a huge hit with everyone. We played for about 1.5 hours before heading back to the house to rejoin the bread-making extravaganza. Now, upon returning, we decided it was time to make our own special bread; pizza. We had bought all the ingredients and prepared the dough in advance, and so, surrounded curious host-family members (mostly kids), we got to work on the pizza. My job was quite simple; shred the cheese. We opted for a mix of Mozzarella cheese and queso fresco, the typical cheese sold in wheels all over the Sierra of Áncash. In terms of toppings, we went with salami and chorizo.
We expected the pizzas to take about 10 minutes to cook, however, the oven ended up being really hot (we thought possibly around 600F), and so the pizzas cooked in about 3 minutes. The edges of the crust got quite burnt and had to be removed, but the rest of the pizza remained uncharred. Unfortunately, I forgot to take a photo of the cooked pizzas, but I can assure you they were Top Chef-worthy, especially since all 3 pizzas were eaten in a matter of 15 minutes by everyone in attendance.
After the pizzas were enjoyed by all, we moved onto the last bread-making chapter for the day: the creation of muñecas and wawas. For many religious holidays in Perú, such as Día de Todos los Santos or Carnaval, it is customary to mold bread into different forms: a woman, a child, a llama, etc. I like to think of it as bread art or bread sculptures. Anyways, everyone was given a ball of dough and set to the task of creating their bread art. The host-family went the traditional route, creating some beautiful and elaborate sierra women holding their babies.
I, however, decided to branch out a bit from the norm and decided to first create a cobra, and then a lizard. Those who know me well, shouldn’t be too surprised.
The black dough is used for added decoration and is made by rubbing dough in the blacked bottoms of pots & pans. I think my cobra turned out quite well considering it was my first foray into bread art. My friends and one of the host-kids also went down the creative route, creating an Inti/Killa (sun & moon), an osito (bear), and a culebra (snake).
Shortly after our bread-creations emerged from the oven, it was, unfortunately, time to leave. We thanked everyone for the hospitality, gathered up our creations as well as the fresh bread we had each been gifted, gave our goodbyes, and then hopped in a car to make our way back down the mountain. Overall, I had an absolutely incredible time visiting Huashao and I was so, so, so glad to be able to partake in such a fun custom. Since I’ll be around Perú until next August todavía, I’m hoping I will get another opportunity to make some more bread and partake in lots more traditions before I leave.Before we left, I managed to take one last photo with my bread creations in front of Mount Huascarán.
On a typical Sunday morning last May in Caraz (way back in 2016), I was walking through the market where my host-mom sells fruits, when the urge to walk down to the Plaza de Armas (Town Square) suddenly came upon me. After following the small stream of people heading down to the Plaza, I stumbled upon a really neat event organized to celebrate Corpus Christi, a Catholic holiday celebrated throughout Perú (more info here). The event in question was artistic in nature, and involved the creation of massive “rugs” made out of wet, dyed sawdust. Check out my post from last May to see how the first year went.
While last year´s event was a surprise, this year I was prepared. I knew about the event in advance, and had even coordinated with some students from my local school to help out with their alfombra (rug). However, due to various circumstances once again I did not get the chance to make a rug, instead assuming my regular role of documentarian. But, I like taking photos, and Peruvian jóvenes (young people) tend to like having photos taken of them, so it all works out in the end.
What follows are an abundance of photos of the different rugs created for the celebration of Corpus Cristi. The rugs are largely made of dyed sawdust, but some also include other organic materials such as leaves, flowers, branches, etc. Generally, the rugs depict different religious symbols (crosses, Jesus, doves, flowers, etc.) and/or Biblical verses that the student first sketch out with chalk, and then fill in with the sawdust. Of course, the rugs also display the name of the school that created it; school pride is a big deal in Caraz.
The rugs are created all along the town square, essentially forming a beautiful, continuous sawdust walkway upon which the members of the Catholic procession can walk. But enough talking, enjoy the gorgeous photos and let me know which is your favorite alfombra!
Once the students finish their alfombras, which usually takes anywhere from 3-5 hours, it only takes about 1 hour before they fulfill their purpose: to be walked upon by the religious procession.
As the procession ends, my good friends in Limpieza Pública (public cleaning) get the fun task of sweeping away each and every rug.
I love the alfombras because they are ephemeral. A flash of beauty, which is then trampled on, destroyed, brushed away, and ultimately forgotten. In many ways, the alfombras remind me of the mandalas of the Tibetan monks.
While once again I missed out on the alfombra party, I´m hoping that there is still hope for me since I´ll be sticking around Perú for a 3rd year with the Peace Corps.
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!
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!
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!
Planting the flowers
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!
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!
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.
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).
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.
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!
The kids with all their costumes
My boss and one of the public cleaning workers
Pre-schoolers with some killer costumes
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.
Students from Yuracoto, one of the schools I work in.
Robot and Megazord from Cullashpampa.
Dresses crocheted from plastic bags from Easy Way
The two witches from I.E. Nueva Victoria
Lucifer and a witch from the CETPRO
All of the participants.
Students from Yuracoto and the CETPRO.
My students from Cullashpampa.
The winners from Pre-School: little red riding hood and the big bad wolf.
Two high school students from Yuracoto in costumes made of plastic bags
Two pre-school students from Cullashpampa
I’m hoping that this event was just the first installment of something that will continue and evolve año tras año (year after year).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!