Year 3 Begins

So it has been a while since I last updated my blog (about 3 months), and in that time a lot has changed. After finishing up my service in Caraz at the end of July and then spending a week or so getting adjusted to my new role in Huaráz as PCVL, I got to go back to the United States for the month of August for vacation.

I had a great time being home and took advantage of the time to see a lot of family/friends, to go hiking, to eat lots of food (I gained a lot of weight), to go to the beach, to catch up on some movies I had missed while in Perú, and to go see the solar eclipse.

 

 

Overall, I had a fantastic time, but on September 1st, the time came to get myself to the airport and get on a plane back to Perú. Honestly, it was harder to leave this time than it was at last Christmas, but once my plane landed and I was surrounded by Peruvian Spanish once more, I felt at ease. I spent a day in Lima eating some tasty ceviche before catching a night bus on the 2nd to Huaráz.

Being back in Áncash was wonderful. The clean mountain air. The beautiful snow-capped mountains. The beautiful Sierra clothing. Coming back to Áncash after a month in the U.S. was quite refreshing, and I quickly remembered all of the reasons that I decided to stick around with the Peace Corps for an extra year. When I arrived at Huaráz, I went to chill at our Peace Corps hostel to drop some things off and relax before heading up to my apartment complex in the afternoon. When I got there and talked with the owner, she said my apartment was still occupied (turns out the person wasn’t leaving til October 1st, not September 1st like I had been told originally), so that I would stay in one of her older daughter’s old rooms for the month. Not what I was expecting, but if I have learned anything in the Peace Corps, it is how to be flexible. And so, while inconvenient (less privacy, no place to cook), I’ve been through more stressful and awkward things when working in Yuracoto/Caraz, so it was no big deal.

So after moving my stuff in, I treated myself to a nice dinner and then prepared for the upcoming week. On Monday and Tuesday, the Regional Department of Education of Áncash was hosting an Environmental Education Congress for teachers, students, and science/technology/environment teaching specialists from all over the Áncash region. The Environmental Education Congress is one of the many activities included in the  National Plan for Environmental Education sponsored by both the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of the Environment that must be implemented in each region (state) of Perú. While the implementation of the Congress fell under the purview of the Regional Department of Education, the planning involved various institutions, including SERNANP (the Peruvian National Parks organization), who is my partner organization for my 3rd year of work with the Peace Corps. Consequently, I was involved in some of the planning of the Congress and was asked to give a presentation during the Congress about my work with composting/vermiculture with the schools of Caraz & Yuracoto.

So, on Monday, September 4th I gave a presentation about the benefits of composting to about 50 people representing teachers, students, etc. from various schools all across Áncash. The presentation went over well, and the entire first day of the Congress was a huge success.

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The mesa de honor at the start of the Congress

Day 2 went swimmingly as well, and I ended up giving another unexpected presentation at the end of the day about the environmental plan I co-developed and co-implemented with the teachers at Micelino Sandoval Torres in Caraz. The coordinator of the school’s environmental committee was originally going to give the presentation, but unfortunately, she had to leave early. For the first year of implementation and coordination, I think the inaugural Environmental Education Congress was a big success. There were a lot of interesting presentations, from both different environmental experts as well schools, and I hope that the event inspires the teachers and students who attended to continue implementing new environmental projects in their schools and homes.

So, all in all, my return to Perú and Huaráz started on a high note! In the next few days/weeks, I’ll be updating you all on how the rest of my last 1.5 months have gone and what I’ve been up to.

Until next time,

MGB

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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

 

Peace Corps Perú, round 3

Well, it’s official. For a while I have been considering staying a 3rd year in Perú, and after submitting an application and having a successful interview last Friday, that dream has become a reality.

Once I complete my regular Peace Corps service in Caraz at the end of July, I will be assuming a new role as Peace Corps Volunteer Leader (PCVL) here in Áncash. What this means is that I will be living in a new city (Huaráz), working with a new counterpart (TBD), and assuming some new responsibilities regarding Volunteer support (helping my fellow Volunteers have successful services) and site development (working with my regional coordinator to find new sites for future Peace Corps Volunteers). To my friends and family reading this, don’t worry; I get a month of vacation after completing my normal service, so expect to see me sometime in August!

I’m very excited, but for the moment I am just trying to focus on finishing my service strong here in Caraz. Expect an update at a future point in time when I am all situated in my new role.

To celebrate the new position, I decided to reward myself with some lizard catching out behind my house. With the help of a professor from the U.S. (Dr. Edgar Lehr of the Illinois Wesleyan University), the lizards have been identified as Stenocercus chrysopygus. Check out the photos of the lizards I noosed below!

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A male specimen
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Note the orange mites in the neck flap
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He’s got a bright yellow belly
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Size comparison (I forgot to bring a ruler)

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Another male, but this one with a regenerated tail
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A female specimen
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Giving me some side-eye

I had a great time catching the lizards, and am looking forward to catching more almost as much as I am looking forward to starting my 3rd year here in Perú.

Until next time,

MGB

P.S. No lizards were harmed in the making of this blog post.

Martes de Música: Shaqsha

For today’s Martes de Música, we are covering a traditional dance of Áncash, the Shaqsha. But Mark, this is Martes de Música, not Martes de Baile, why are you talking about a dance on a post about music? Well, anonymous reader, that is because the Shaqsha is not just a mere dance, but also a way for creating percussion music.

You see, not any person can just go out and dance the shaqsha like it were breakdancing, the tango, or even salsa. In order to dance the shaqsha, you need to have the proper accessories. Below, you can take a look at a fairly standard attire for shaqsha dancers.

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The first item of note is the crown, which is believed to have been used to poke fun at the royal Spanish family who once controlled Perú. The shirt and kilt-like clothes are also intended as parodies, mimicking the clothing worn by the early Spanish Conquistadores. In the hands of some of the dancers, you will also note whips, which could be a reference to the farming lifestyles of the past.

However, the most important accessory to the shaqsha is what you see around the legs of each of the dancers in the photo above; the shaqapas. What you are seeing is more or less a ton of small dried seed pods tied together with string which is then fastened around the legs and occasionally the arms of each dancer. The shaqapas are integral to the shaqsha, because as the dancer moves, the seed pods and the seeds inside shake, creating a vibrant and entrancing sound, a sound which is generally interpreted as “shac shac”, hence the name of the dance. So you see, the Shaqsha is as much as a dance as it is a musical style, with the shaking of the seeds creating a beautiful sound.

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The dance itself is incredibly energetic, involving lots of hopping, jumping, screaming, and foot pounding. Honestly, it looks absolutely exhausting, and I can’t imagine how shaqsha dancers manage to keep up their energy in the intense sierra sun. The dance is generally performed during religious festivals here in Áncash, with the shaqsha groups being accompanied by a small group of musicians playing wooden flutes and drums. The photos above are from a religious festival celebrating the Virgin Mary held at my local school in Yuracoto, I.E. Estenio Torres Ramos.

Shaqsha is my absolute favorite dance here in Perú, and I’m hoping to eventually try it out with the help of some of my students in Yuracoto. With one year left in my service, I feel like I should be able to squeeze in a little time for a practice or two (or five). So to finish out this post, I leave you with a video of some Shaqsha performed in Yuracoto last week so you can fully appreciate this entrancing dance and enjoy the melodious sounds of the shaqapas.

 

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

A Friend Comes to Visit

Last March, I was lucky enough to have a friend from the U.S. come visit me here in Perú. We spent about 1 week together, hanging out in my site, Caraz, and getting to know some other sites and scenes here in Áncash. So, in order to get a different perspective about Perú, here is a guest blog post from my friend Nish about his time here in Áncash. Since Nish is incredibly busy with Medical School, I made the Guest Blog easy on him by writing up a few interview questions to answer. I hope you all enjoy!

1)   What’s your name and what’s your current job? 

Nish Pandya and  Medical Student at the Sidney Kimmel Medical College.

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Budding Doctor Nish, overlooking the Río Santa behind my house.

2)   How do you know the PCV?

(I’m guessing this means Peace Corps Volunteer). Despite graduating from rival high schools, Mark and I both met as freshmen at Penn State University. We were both heavily involved in a service organization and were roommates during our senior year. 

3)   What did you know about Perú before your visit?

My greatest exposure to Peru before the visit must have been from watching The Emperors’s New Groove. Through high school Spanish courses we had learned countries and capitals, so I could locate it on a map but not much else.

4)   What did you learn about Perú from your visit?

Mark had mentioned this, but life really did seem to move a step slower in Peru. As a “Northeasterner” at heart, it was a stark difference that stood out. The views and natural beauty of the Ancash region I had the opportunity to see made me wonder if stock photos for “awesome sights” are taken in Peru.

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Nish at Laguna Querococha on our way to the Chavín Arqueological Site

5) What was your favorite dish you tried?

Whenever I travel, my goal is to try something I probably will not have the chance to eat again. This made me excited to try guinea pig for the first time.

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Trying cuy (guinea pig) for the first time

6)   What do you think of the PCV’s work in his site?

It didn’t surprise me after having known Mark for 5 years, but Mark seemed to have a positive and friendly relationship with so many people he came across at his site. He was continually running into people he knew and it really helped me see how much Mark had tried to become part of the community. I enjoyed listening to the many plans Mark was continually balancing and trying to execute, which really showed the impact he wanted to make with a multi-pronged approach. 

7)   What is your favorite memory from the trip?

Another Peace Corps Volunteer gave us an oral history of the avalanche at Yungay while walking through the area it affected. Hearing that story at its site was a really memorable part of my trip.

8)   What did you know about Peace Corps before your visit? What did you learn about Peace Corps from your visit?

The camaraderie between the Peace Corps Volunteers was really wonderful to see. In theory, each volunteer has a different background but shares the desire to make a positive impact on the people and community they live with. Seeing the power of a shared goal bring people together was powerful to see.

9)   What is your favorite breakfast cereal?

Honey Bunches of Oats

10)  If you could be any Pokémon, which would you be and why?

I would be Farfetch’d because few people would believe I was a Pokemon.

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Farfetch’d, the Wild Duck Pokémon (http://vignette1.wikia.nocookie.net/es.pokemon/images/b/b5/Farfetch’d.png/revision/latest?cb=20080908162845)

11)  Is there anything else you would like to share?

Nah i’m good.

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I hope you enjoyed hearing a friend’s perspective on his time in Perú. Look out for another guest blog post in the next few weeks about a few more friends who came to visit in May.

Until next time,

MGB

 

Foto Friday: Pastoruri Glacier & Climate Change

If you didn’t know, Perú is ranked #3 in terms of countries most at-risk for the effects of climate change. Even only having lived here for a little over a year, the evidence of Climate Change is quite apparent; the once consistent dry and rainy seasons are now changing significantly from year to year. On top of this, an abundance of anecdotal evidence from rural communities as well as verified scientific data, shows that in many parts of Áncash and all of Perú, temperatures are more extreme than before, and weather patterns are different. In Perú, the most notable evidence of climate change would have to be the melting of glaciers along Perú’s Cordillera Blanca, which is a part of the Andes Chain.

During Holy Week in March, I had the chance to visit some touristy locations in Áncash with a few other Volunteers. The first place we visited was the Pastoruri Glacier, perhaps the most prominent example of the effects of Climate Change here in Áncash. Believe it or not, the Pastoruri Glacier used to be a skiing destination here in Perú, but as you can see in the photo below, there isn’t much left to ski on. To give you an idea of how big the glacier used to be, most of the black areas in the photo below used to be covered in ice and snow.

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Pastoruri Glacier in Huascarán National Park, Áncash, Perú

The Pastoruri Glacier is such a prime example of the effects of climate change, that they even established a Climate Change Route at the visitor’s center and along the walk to the Glacier in order to educate visitors about the effects of Climate Change in Perú.

As an environmental Volunteer, it is disheartening looking up at the various snow-capped mountains in Áncash, knowing that in 20, 30, 50 years, they might have all disappeared or at least become shadows of their former selves, as has Pastoruri. Climate Change is a global concern, but I think we, as humans, often think it is such a large, overwhelming problem, that there is nothing we can do on an individual level to contribute to the solution.

However, there is one simple way in which communities all across the world can “fight” Climate Change; plant a tree. Most scientists agree that Climate Change is occurring due to the increase of CO2 (once trapped underground as fossil fuels) and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. So how does planting a tree help? Well, trees absorb CO2 in order to grow, and therefore serve as Carbon Sinks, taking CO2 out of the atmosphere and instead “trapping” it in their woody bodies. Plus, when we plant trees, we get all of the other benefits such as increased Oxygen production, soil conservation, shade, water conservation, water purification, etc.

So maybe it is too late for Pastoruri, and maybe it is too late for the rest of the glaciers here in Perú, but I hope that we as a global society can do something to curb the speed of Climate Change, whether that be by planting trees or switching over to renewable energies.

Until next time,

MGB

P.S. Get out there and plant some trees; fighting climate change one tree at a time.