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!
Last weekend, I organized a trip among some other Ancash Volunteers to Laguna Parón, a huge glacial lake about 1.5 hours from my site. This lake is quite important to my site because it provides all of our drinking water. However, this lake is also famous internationally because it is home to the mountain of the Paramount Pictures Logo.
The mountain from the logo is called Artesonraju, and unfortunately, due to cloudy weather and some trail closures, we were unable to get a glimpse of the famous peak. However, at least now I can respond “Sí” (yes) whenever I am asked “¿Conoces Laguna Parón?” (Have you been to Laguna Parón) in site.
Below, you can find a photo series documenting the beautiful trek.
Perú is gorgeous (at least Áncash) and I’m so lucky to be living here for 2 years.
So I’m a big nerd/geek, whatever you want to call it. I enjoy reading fantasy series, still play Pokémon, have seen the Lord of the Rings multiple times, see every Marvel movie as they come out, and avidly enjoy Doctor Who. Like most people who share these interests, I had been eagerly anticipating the arrival of the new Star Wars movie for over a year. But unlike most Star Wars fans, I am currently in Perú in the Peace Corps, which presents some challenges when wanting to go see the latest movies, especially if you want to see them in English.
The department of Áncash, where I am serving, is chock-full of snow-capped mountains (for now), but unfortunately a little short on movie theaters. Our regional capital, Huaráz, despite having a wide selection of international foods, does not have a movie theater. I still cannot fathom why a city so large does not have a movie theater and I hope that someone will construct one there during my 2 years of service. So, in talking with other Volunteers, I discovered that the nearest movie theater in Áncash was in the coastal city of Chimbote.
So, on the evening of December 18th, I traveled from Caraz with a friend from Huaráz and a friend from Caraz to Chimbote on the bus line the Yungay Express. We arrived in Chimbote at 2:30am, and immediately grabbed a taxi to my friend’s house, since we would be staying with his family who currently live there. Now, if I had to describe Chimbote in one word, the word I would choose is fish. Lying on the coast, Chimbote has a huge fishing industry, a fact hard to miss given the overwhelming fish odor that permeates the city for the greater portion of the day. On top of that, Chimbote is really HOT, which only makes the smell even worse.
After we grabbed some ZZZs, my friend gave us a tour around the city, taking us to the few “touristy” sites. After whiling away the morning on the streets of Chimbote, we returned to my friend’s house for a hearty meal before setting out to accomplish the principal mission of the trip: see Star Wars: The Force Awakens. We grabbed a cab to the mall, identified the movie theater and then purchased our tickets, for Star Wars: El Despertar de la Fuerza. If you didn’t notice, the Star Wars title is in Spanish, because I saw the new Star Wars movie in Spanish. When I saw the Star Wars Crawl appear in Spanish on the screen, I couldn’t help but burst out laughing in the theater.
I was sincerely hoping that I would hit a stroke of luck and find a showing in English, but deep down I think I always knew that if I managed to see Star Wars, it was going to be in Spanish. Despite not being able to hear the iconic voices of Han Solo and Leia Organa throughout the movie, I thought the film was fantastic. This Star Wars movie, for me at least, managed to capture the magic of the original trilogy, and throughout the entire movie I was just overwhelmed with wave after wave of nostalgia. It was incredible, despite it being in Spanish, and I wanted to watch it again and again. I’m hoping to catch it in English sometime in the near future, but for now my Star Wars fix has been adequately met, and I’m already making plans with other Volunteers to see the next installment (this time in English) in 2017.
If you somehow haven’t managed to see the movie yet, I recommend that you get yourself to a movie theater ASAP.
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.
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.
So unless you speak Quechua, you probably didn’t catch the significance of my title. In Quechua, Anqa = blue, and adding “sh” to the ends of words adds the meaning “they say” or “se dice”, so Ancash (or Anqash) literally means “they say it’s blue” in Quechua.
So why kick this post off with a Quechua lesson? Because Ancash in the departmento (state) of Perú in which I’ll be living for the next 2 years, and they speak Quechua in Ancash. Specifically, as noted in my previous post, I’ll be living just outside the city of Caraz, in the Callejón de Huaylas.
So this past week was Site Visit week for all of the trainees of Peace Corps Perú 25, which means that we all got to spend a week at our future sites, to which we will be moving after we officially swear in as Peace Corps Volunteers in just 2 weeks.
For the Ancash volunteers, we got on a bus in Lima at 11pm on Saturday, July 4th, and arrived in the incredible city of Huaráz, which is the capital of Ancash, at about 6:30am on Sunday. Upon arrival, we were greeted by 3 amazing Ancash Volunteers who took us to the Peace Corps approved hostel in the city.
After dropping off our stuff, we headed out to an amazing breakfast place called Café California, which is owned by an American from California, which means that they had US BREAKFAST FOOD!!!!! I had my first pancakes in over 2 months and they were delicious. In general, Ancash receives a lot of international tourists who come for the gorgeous hikes and mountaineering, which means there are a lot of expats, which means there are a lot of great international food places.
After breakfast, we headed out on a scavenger hunt throughout the city which involved finding some locations that would be useful to us as volunteers, whether to nourish our stomachs or actually provide support in some other capacity. One of the stops was the Huaráz market, to which I returned later to prepare a canasta (basket) as a gift to my new host family, who I would be meeting on Tuesday morning.
The rest of the day was spent exploring the city on our own, and chilling in our hostel which has free wifi and HOT SHOWERS! It is the best.
Monday was an important day, because it was Socio day, or the first interaction we would have with our future host-country counterparts. I had two socios come, Edwin, a CTA (science-technology-environment) teacher in the school down the road from my new home, and Miguel, the jefe de Ecología y Medio Ambiente de la Municipalidad de Caraz (boss of ecology and environment in the Caraz municipality). They both were great, and we spent the majority of the morning going over Peace Corps policies, the role of a volunteer in the community, and other such things.
Tuesday was the more important day, in my opinion, because that was the day we met our new host families, the people who would be housing us, feeding us, and forming our new Peruvian family for the next 2 years of our lives. My host-parents are named Edwin and Elli, and we hit it off right from the get-go. They are both incredibly nice, and not only do they speak Spanish, but they also speak Quechua, so I will have lots of time to practice all the Quechua I have been learning when I’m permanently in site. Edwin makes and sells bricks, used to drive transportation trucks, and is the president of our neighborhood of about 450 families (I quickly learned that he seems to know everyone, and he is even good friends with the mayor of the town). Elli works around the house cooking, tending the chakra (farm/fields), and also sells fruits once a week in the large market in Caraz. Based on my observations throughout the week, they seem to have a great relationship and divide the household labor fairly evenly, which isn’t always a common sight in Peru.
After we finished family orientation, we hopped on a colectivo (van) and began the ~1.5 hour journey from Huaráz to Caraz. The journey was incredibly scenic, with giant snowcapped mountains to my right, and imposing mountains to my left. When we arrived in Caraz, and eventually to my house, I knew I was in the right spot. The climate is perfect (warm during the day, not too cold at night, and the water from the faucet is naturally warm). When we got to my new house, I met the rest of the family which consists of a 9 year-old sister named Cielo, and a 4 year-old brother also named Edwin, who we just call Junior. I was also happily surprised to discover that my host-dad had four children from a previous marriage who ranged from 21 to 28 years of age: more friends!
The rest of Tuesday was spent settling into my freshly painted room, meeting our 6+ dogs and various farm animals, and enjoying some wonderful food as I got to know my new family. I hit it off with Cielo and Junior right away, and from the first meeting I knew that we were going to have a fun 2 years together.
On Wednesday, the work began. The purpose of the site visit wasn’t only to meet our new host-family, but also to start to get to know our community, which means doing lots of presentations. My Wednesday morning kicked off with a visit to the Caraz Municipality, where I thought I was just going to be introduced one-by-one to some of the important directors. Boy was I wrong! When I arrived, I was guided into a room full of municipality workers, and given a seat at the table in the front of the room. After a few minutes, a vey formal presentation began, during which I was asked to give a speech about Peace Corps, my role as a volunteer, and what I hoped to accomplish. It was a tad overwhelming, and the whole thing was filmed/photographed, so there very well might be an article published about me sometime soon in Caraz. However, I think it went over very well and the workers seemed to resonate with my words.
After that, the rest of the week ran rather smoothly. I visited 3 local schools, of which 2 seemed very receptive to working with me on environmental education. I also quickly realized that everyone, and I mean everyone, wants me to teach English. The schools, the municipality, my host-dad, etc. I am happy to help out with English classes when I can, and to work with the English teachers to improve their pronunciation, but I made it very clear that I was not a teacher, and that my environmental goals take priority.
In addition to visiting schools, I visited the Health Post in my community of Yuracoto, where I met the doctor in charge and offered my support for any work they might do in the schools, such as with sex ed, promoting self-esteem, or environmental education. I also met the director of the UGEL, which is an organization responsible for overseeing the schools in each community within Perú.
Some other highlights of the week were:
Sharing meals with my host family.
Eating Manjar Blanco, an incredibly delicious milk-based cream spread.
Watching Ben-10 with my host-brother and Combate with my whole family.
Feeding our chickens and ducks.
Eating ice cream and a snow-cone equivalent in town.
Visiting the municipality’s vivero (tree nursery) at which I hope to plant lots of trees (hopefully with students).
Visiting the municipality’s “zoo” which has ostriches, a monkey, and some farm animals.
Seeing my office space in the Office of Services to the City which happens to be in the town’s soccer stadium.
Seeing the stars and the Milky Way every night.
Learning some new Quechua words from my host-parents.
Visiting some ruins within Caraz and seeing some ways to spruce them up a bit.
Picking up my host-sister from school and meeting her friends, who kept asking me how to say certain things in English.
Finding a great potential new socia who is an English teacher in my host-sister’s school, and who already has a TON of ideas about how to make the school much more environmentally conscious. Plus, she has a son who runs a tourism-by-bike business in Caraz, which I want to check out.
Finding toad eggs & tadpoles in my backyard, and teaching my 4 year-old host-brother about the life cycle of a toad. I’m hoping we can raise some in the house when I get back, and possibly use them for a school project.
Overall, Caraz is absolutely beautiful and I’m really looking forward to my tranquil lifestyle on the outskirts of town. I really have a wonderful set-up in my site, because there are SO many opportunities for work, both in the city and in the surrounding rural areas. The municipality needs a lot of support in promoting their environmental programs, the schools need a lot of support, and there is a lot to be done to promote environmental advocacy and eco-tourism. I’m really excited to get back to my site in two weeks, so I can finally get started with my work. There is still a lot to learn about my site, and still a lot of preparations to complete before getting started, but I know now that I’m ready for this, and that this is what I’m supposed to be doing.
P.S. I expect lots of people to come visit me, because Ancash is gorgeous.
This past Wednesday was a huge day in Peace Corps world, well at least in the world of Peace Corps Perú 25 trainees.This past Wednesday was the day we received our site assignments, or in other words, the location in which we would be living and working for the next 2 years of our lives.This day has been long awaited by everyone in my training group, and I must say that it was definitely the happiest and most energetic day of training thus far.
We kicked off the morning with a little stalling for time from the training staff, since all of the regional coordinators (they will be our first line of staff support at site) were running a little late.However, the stalling was appreciated because we watched this hilarious video about Peruvians bringing their culture to Perú, Nebraska, and the hilarity that ensues.
Now, on to the good stuff.So around 8:40, all of the regional coordinators arrived and we finally were able to get started, of course going alphabetically by departamento name.First up was Amazonas, followed by Ancash (where I knew I was going), then Cajamarca, Junín/Lima, La Libertad, Lambayeque, and Piura.
If you can’t tell from the photo of my Anca$h crew, I was super happy.After the excitement of finding out who was going to Ancash with me, I managed to calm down and glance through the dossier of my future site, which is…..
Caraz is the capital city of the province of Huaylas (think county), and is located in what is known as the Callejon de Huaylas, or the Huaylas Valley, which is a valley formed between the two mountain ranges that divide Ancash: the Cordillera Negra to the west, and the Cordillera Blanca, to the east.Ancash is an incredibly beautiful departamento and well renowned for it’s snow capped peaks, glacial lakes, and absolutely incredible hiking and trekking.Also, Ancash is coincidentally the first province to ever host Peace Corps Volunteers in Perú, way back in 1962.But, I’ll talk more about Ancash in a future blog post.
My site, Caraz, is known as Caraz Dulzura by most Ancashinos (people of Ancash) because it is well renowned for its sweets and ice-cream (music to my ears!).The city has about 28,000 people, with about half living within the city itself and the other half in the surrounding rural areas.The weather is fairly mild compared to other Ancash sierra sites because it lies in a valley, and is only at ~2200 meters of altitude, but there is still a strong rainy season that lasts from about November to April.
In terms of my job, I will primarily be working with the Municipality in Caraz to help implement a solid waste management program that they just recently started.They have a location designated for a landfill, but still need to improve the facility as well as launch a city-wide trash separation campaign to educate people about how to separate their trash (recyclables, organics, waste, etc.).The municipality even has it’s own radio and tv channel, so I hope to eventually hit the air (in Quechua and Spanish) to teach people how to segregate trash.In addition to working with the municipality, it seems likely I will be working with some of the local schools in areas of environmental education, tree planting, and maybe even teaching some English.With my site, it seems like the possibilities are endless right now, but I’m sure I’ll have a much better idea of what I want to do, and what I can do, once I move out there in a few weeks and get started.
Now, while my work will center around Caraz, I will actually be living in a smaller community about 15 minutes away by bike with a host family.While I haven’t met my family yet (I will in about 2 weeks), I do know that I have a mom, dad, little sister (9), and little brother (4).I was really excited to find out that I would have little siblings because I brought Play Doh and bubbles with me from the states, but haven’t had anyone to give them to yet.I’m hoping that my host family will speak both Quechua and Spanish so that I can continue to practice both in site, but I guess I’ll have to wait a few more weeks to find out!
If you have any questions about my site, leave them in the comments below and I’ll do my best to answer them based on the information I have!
Look out for blog posts in the future about my site/Ancash once I actually arrive, and until then.
P.S. I hope you guys caught the Peace/Peace Corps pun.
So this past week, all of the trainees went off to various parts of Perú for Field Based Training. All of the MAC volunteers, myself included, left the overcast and dusty skies of Chaclacayo to head to the fresh, clear skies of the city of Jauja, in the province of Junín.
We left early Monday morning on the swankiest bus I have ever been on, to start our ~7 hour journey to Jauja.
There is only one road from Lima to Jauja, and it is a steep, windy one that curves its way up one side of a mountain range and then down the other. At its summit, the road is the highest in all of Perú, meaning altitude sickness is a definitive concern, but also that you get a close-up of some gorgeous snow-capped peaks.
Fortunately, the altitude didn’t give me any problems during the journey (or for the rest of the week, for that matter), and we arrived safely and without incident around 3pm. Upon arrival we checked into our hostel, and then I went out to grab a snack with some volunteers; we got a giant avocado and 7 pieces of bread to share for the equivalent of $0.66.
The next day was when the fun began, because we kicked off the day by going to a nearby school to teach a 30 minute class about some environmental theme. I had a fantastic group of third graders to whom I taught the life cycle of a frog. They were surprisingly attentive, and got me very excited to work in the schools when I eventually get to my site.
After class, I played soccer with a bunch of the kids during their recreo (recess) and showed them how my waterproof camera worked (they were pretty amazed). After classes, we headed over to a PCV’s house for a delicious lunch, after which we met up with his local Club Ambiental (environmental club) to go plant some TREES! I paired up with an awesome kid named Luis (who happened to be the PCV’s host-cousin), and we planted 3 trees up on the hill. We were a killer tree planting team, and we named each of our trees after different Avengers (Hulk, Captain America, y Iron Man).
After tree planting, we headed back to Jauja where we went out on the street for dinner. A few of us found a great pizza place where I shared a delicious Napolitana Pizza with another trainee.
We started off the next day exploring the local Feria, which is basically a giant market that happens every Wednesday and Sunday. I talked with a few vendors and some kids to learn a bit more about Jauja, bought some fruit, and also bought a trompo, which is basically a wooden top that all the kids play with.
Later in the morning, we headed to the pueblo of Sincos to listen to a presentation about compost and then help another PCV with a compost/vivero (tree nursery) project in a local school. Our group worked to make a box for the compost as well as to prepare two camas (beds) for the future trees. It was hard work, tearing out grass and picking the soil, but it was super fun to be doing some manual labor. After we finished, we lunched at the volunteers house before heading out to the town of Tunanmarca to visit a small museum and some pre-Incan ruins.
Getting to the ruins involved a short bus ride up a small hill, and then a short hike up to the entrance. In order to enter the ruins, our guide had to perform a really cool ceremony where he asked permission from Mama Patsa y Tayta Inti (Mother Earth and Father Sun, in Quechua) to enter the ruins. After the ceremony, we all had to deposit a stone that we brought up the mountain with us in a small pile.
The ruins themselves were gorgeous, and the view from the hilltop was incredible. It was amazing to walk around and touch the stone houses that had been built stone by stone several thousand years earlier.
The ruins were truly incredible, and you could feel nothing but peace walking through them, with beautiful scenery all around. My time up there, among the history, will be something to cherish.
The next morning we all headed out to a nearby town called Concepción, to visit their “Relleno Sanitario”, aka a landfill. One of Perú’s biggest challenges is solid waste management, and so it was nice to visit one of the few sanitary landfills in all of Perú, that will hopefully eventually serve as a model for other towns and cities across the nation. The landfill serves about 25,000 people in the area, and is remarkable in that they separate organic and inorganic materials. Organic materials are used to make compost on the premises which is either sold to local farmers or used to fertilize the áreas verdes (green areas) of the town, while inorganic materials are either recycled or buried.
After we finished touring the landfill, we returned to Jauja where we had lunch together with some other MAC volunteers from Jauja. One of the volunteers was actually from Lancaster, so it was cool chatting him a bit about Pennsylvania stuff. I actually sat next to his socio (in-country partner) Oscar, who was a guardaparque (park guard) with SERNANP (think USFW) in the Reserva Nacional de Junín. I talked with him in-depth about my research experience with invasive species in college, and then talked with him at length about SERNANP’s efforts with the Lake Junín Giant Frog, which is in-danger of extinction. I had heard about the frog when I first found out I was going to Perú, so it was amazing to be able to talk with someone who worked directly with them. I’m hoping I’ll be able to make my way over to the reserve at some point during service to help out with the project a bit.
After lunch, and a brief presentation by Oscar about all of their projects in the Junín National Reserve, we headed to a nearby Lake to do some bird watching (there were flamingos, irises, and many other avifauna). While everyone else was walking around looking at birds, I hung out on the shore to talk with the PCV from PA about his work with the Lake Junín Giant Frog, since I still had a ton of questions. While this was going on, a few trainees and facilitators decided to cross a small land-bridge across a portion of the lake. Not everyone made it across safely, as the lake claimed 3 victims (you can see the aftermath of one fall in the picture below).
When everyone had safely reunited, we took our first group photo with all of the MAC staff (we look pretty good). And before heading out, being the good little environmental guardian that I am, I picked up a few plastic bottles that were lying around on the ground.
For my last night in Jauja, I ate lots and lots and lots of food and sweets, since it would be a while since I would find them so cheap. On our last morning in Jauja, we went to the municipality for a presentation on solid waste management by the Director of the Environment for Jauja. It was really interesting, since they were implementing their first ever recycling program that very Monday, and so the information he shared could be really helpful for starting up recycling efforts in site.
All in all, FBT in Jauja was absolutely incredible, and it was very nice to get away for a few days and see a different part of Perú. After this short trip, I’m extremely excited to get to my site in a few months time and get started (we find out our sites this coming Wednesday morning!). The return journey was fun, and filled with lots of word games since our touchscreens were not functioning. I was sad to leave Jauja only to return to little old Chaclacayo, but we were gifted with a surpise snow squall on the drive home that made everything cooler (literally and figuratively).
Until later this week (when I’ll be updating with a post about my PCV site)!