Gastronomical Exchange: Gingerbread House

As I mentioned in my recent post, when I returned to Peru after my brief vacation in the U.S., I made sure to bring back a LOT of goodies. Notably, I brought lots of candy and my cremas (Ketchup, BBQ sauce, & Ranch), but I also brought some gifts & knick-knacks for my host-family.

One of these presents was a Gingerbread House kit. Now, I’ve made a few Gingerbread houses in my day, but for my host-siblings this was their first one ever. At first, they weren’t too sure how to put it all together, but once I arranged the basic frame and cemented it in place with the icing, they took it from there.

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A few minutes later, I returned to find this beauty sitting on our kitchen table.

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I think they did a pretty good job for their first ever Gingerbread house.

Unfortunately, in the days following its creation, the house was slowly devoured, never to be put to use by a little Gingerbread family.

Until next time,

MGB

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Martes de Música: Rock Peruano

This week, I am once again late because this past Tuesday I was away all day visiting a school in another district of my province. Considering this trend, I might have to eventually change the name of this series to Miércoles de Música.

While most of the music I’ve been promoting so far has been traditional music, influenced by the diverse culture of Perú, this week we are highlighting a different musical genre of which I am sure many of you are quite familiar: rock music.

Rock music is very popular in many parts of Perú, and in fact when I arrived to live with my first host family in Lima, they were enormous fans of many famous rock groups like the Rolling Stones or AC/DC. So, it is only natural that a few rock groups eventually emerged in Perú to develop Perú’s very own rock music heritage.

Today, per recommendation of my host uncle, I am highlighting the Peruvian rock group, Mar de Copas, which formed in Lima back in 1992. They have released a few albums throughout the years, but today I am highlighting one of their earlier songs, Mujer de Noche (Night Woman, or Woman of the Night), at my host-uncle’s request. It’s quite catchy, and reminds me of another rock song in English, but I can’t quite put my finger on it.

So without further ado, Mujer de Noche by Mar de Copas.

I hope you enjoyed the music.

Until next time,

MGB

Foto Friday: El Hombre Araña

My apologies for this being 1 day late, but I was on a little vacation with some friends visiting from the US and could not update my blog. A post on my vacation and consequent visit to one of the Wonders of the World will be forthcoming.

Anyways, this week’s Foto Friday features a very special individual, widely renowned for his humor, wit, intelligence, acrobatics, and arachnid qualities. If you didn’t guess it, this week’s foto Friday is about the Amazing Spiderman.

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Junior in his Spider-Man costume.

Ok, so maybe not the real Amazing Spiderman, but the closest thing to him that I’ve got is my host-brother, Junior. Junior is a 5 year old with a lot of energy, sass, and spunk, and a huge, I mean enormous, interest in superheroes. His favorite superhero, in case you didn’t guess, is Spiderman or as they say in Spanish, El Hombre Araña. A few weeks ago in March when my friend visited from the US, I had him bring a few things along for my host-family. Since my host-brother junior and my sister Sarah have a shared passion for the web-slinger, Sarah got a few Spiderman things for Junior, including his awesome Spiderman outfit he is wearing in the photo.

Now, I must be clear. My host-brother wore this outfit nearly exclusively for about 3 days straight after receiving it. He wore it to bed, he wore it to breakfast, and he even hid it in his backpack so he could put it on in secret when we worked in the market one Sunday. While he doesn’t wear the Spiderman outfit as much anymore, he still pulls it out on occasion and anytime I have to leave for vacation or training, he asks me to bring him back some Telarañas (spiderwebs). I still have yet to find some place that can sell me reliable spider-webbing, but I’m sure it is only a matter of time before my host-brother is back to busting up crime in the campo with his costume and spider-powers.

Ok, so many he won’t be stopping any crimes, but he will be having a good time at the very least. So why did I share this photo? Because an important part of the Peace Corps experience is the host-family living situation. Your host-family can become another family for the Volunteer, a family that supports the Volunteer through the ups and downs of service, a family that makes you tea when you are sick, a family that helps you navigate the complex cultural norms in your new life abroad. In my case, Junior brings me a lot of joy with his crazy antics, and helps keep me positive throughout this whole experience.

Until next time,

MGB

Christmas in Caraz

Ok, so Christmas was a long time ago, but better late than never, right?

Perú is a very religious country, with the predominant religion being Catholicism. An estimated 85% of Perú’s citizens self-identify as Catholic, and Catholicism is even directly mentioned in the Peruvian Constitution as having been an important component to the country’s development. Consequently, Christmas, or Navidad as it is known here, is quite a big deal, although not in the overtly commercialized sense that it is celebrated in the US.

Christmastime here in Caraz is characterized by lots of masses and religious celebrations, family time, and the ever so popular  Chocolatada. So, what is a chocolatada? Well, my best translation would be a “Hot Chocolate Party”, but in reality those words fail to summarize the occasions.

Essentially a chocolatada in an event where people from the community come to drink “hot chocolate”, eat Panetón (essentially fruit-cake, but not the bad brick-like monstrosity we have in the States), and socialize, all while enjoying some kind of strange Holiday-themed show which tends to involve people in Santa Claus costumes dancing and engaging kids in strange contests. If you are a student, mother, municipality worker, essentially anyone really, you will probably attend anywhere from 3-4 chocolatadas between November and Christmas Day. I think I ended up attending around 6 this past year, not regretting having attended a single one.

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The chocolatada entertainment

Apart from the Chocolatadas, many people receive Christmas baskets from their employers or from government programs such as Vaso de Leche. Since I work with the municipality, I got a HUGE basket full of random things like sugar and milk, that I ended up just donating to my host-family, because what am I going to do with a few kilos of sugar?

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My Christmas canasta (basket), complete with Panetón (the bread thing)

But, chocolatadas are only one aspect of Christmas festivities here in Perú. While decorating houses with trees and lights in the fashion we do in the States is not the norm, my Municipality did adorn our wonderful plaza with some lights and Christmas figurines which definitely reminded me of home. But personally, the best part of the Christmas season for me is the celebration with my host-family. Here in Áncash and most of Perú, Christmas is celebrated differently than in the US. While for most Christmas-celebrating US citizens, the primary day of activities is Dec. 25th, in Perú most of the celebrating is actually done on Christmas Eve, Dec. 24th.

So how did I celebrate Christmas Eve? Well, I worked with my family in the chacra in the morning, helped to feed our animals, and then just kind of hung around the house. Around late afternoon, the festivities began to pick up with relatives coming over to the house to chat and drink, and my host-mom and aunt starting to prepare chicharrón de chancho from the meat of our Christmas pig. Meanwhile, I was upstairs talking to some relatives about American music, how we celebrate Christmas in the USA, and politely refusing beer offered to me every 15 minutes or so. Around 11:00pm however, we all gathered in the kitchen to eat our chicharrón de chanco with choclo (basically corn-on-the-cob).

Not surprisingly,  people started to get tired after the meal. While my host-mom/dad/brother decided to go to sleep, my host-sister and I stayed up for a while because the tradition here is to stay awake until midnight and then do the gift exchange. The gift exchange had to wait until Christmas morning (because of sleeping), but I’m glad I stayed awake because as soon as 12:00am arrived, the neighborhood came to life with the sounds of fireworks bursting and cracking in the night. It was so different from how I would celebrate in the US, but it was wonderful, and I definitely think Christmas Eve fireworks should become a thing back home.

Christmas Day itself was quite tame, with the gift exchange happening late in the morning. I got some candy and a motorcycle clock from my host-family, and gave them various tiny gifts.

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Unwrapping presents. He got a laser gun.

The best part, was receiving a phone call from my family in the US, and being able to talk not only with my mom, dad, and sisters, but also my grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles. The rest of the day was quite calm, but as night approached, my host-dad revealed a surprise; chispitas! (sparklers). My host-siblings had never used them before, so I had to show them the ropes. While my brother was afraid at first, after about 5 minutes he was sold, and began pretending he was Harry Potter casting spells. He subsequently told me dad, “tienes que comprar estos todos los días”, or “you have to buy these every day”. While Christmas in Caraz was different, it was nice, and I enjoyed experiencing a shared holiday in a new manner.

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Pretending to be Harry Potter.

Oh, and a few weeks later, Christmas presents arrived from my friends and family, so that was a great late Christmas surprise.

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The haul from my family in the U.S.

While Christmas in Perú was definitely different from Christmas in the U.S., I had a great time and am glad to have been able to experience the holiday from a different perspective.

MGB

Officially a Volunteer

So Friday was a big day for me and all my fellow Peace Corps Perú 25 trainees.  Friday was swearing-in day, the day we took our official oaths of service and became fully-fledged Peace Corps Volunteers.  It was certainly an emotional day for me and all of the other trainees.

We started off with a few short wrap-up activities in the training center before gathering all of our belongings, packing them into some combis, and shipping off to Lima to the Peace Corps Office.  When we arrived in Lima, we had some time to say hi to some staff and grab a bite to eat before we hopped on a different bus to head to the U.S. Ambassador to Perú’s house.  For lunch, my good friends Jamie, Wes, Morgan, and I grabbed food at Subway; after 3+ months, a meatball sub with pickles and onions never tasted so good.

On the bus ride over to the Ambassador’s house, the emotions were slowly, but steadily rising.  When we finally arrived, we popped inside and assumed on seats on stage as the audience began to fill with Peace Corps staff, NGO workers, current Peace Corps volunteers, and of course members of our amazing host families.  Before the ceremony began, I was able to hop on over to the bathroom, and I must say that it was the nicest bathroom I have ever seen in Perú.

Once the ceremony began, the anticipation among the volunteers was tangible as we drew closer and closer to the big moment.  The ceremony kicked off with the singing of the Peruvian National Anthem and the Star Spangled Banner, and I’m ashamed to say we all messed up our National Anthem, mostly because we didn’t realize there was no introductory music, and it just started right away.

During the ceremony, we heard speeches from our incredible Training Manager, Enrique Liñan, a representative of the training host families, the US Ambassador, Bryan Nichols, and the Peace Corps Perú Country Director, Parmer Heacox.  They shared words of wisdom, and advice, and after the speeches we were officially sworn in by the Ambassador and Parmer, who later gave us our official Peace Corps Volunteer certificates.

After all of this, the big moment came, the moment in which I, the President of Perú 25, had to give a speech to my friends and now fellow volunteers, and all those in attendance.  My speech is below, but it’s in Spanish, so sorry to all of my English-only followers.

Swearing-In Day Speech

While my speech marked the end of the Swearing-In ceremony, it also marked the beginning of the tears.  The following 45 minutes or so were wonderful and emotional.  I hugged my host-mother several times, took lots of photos, received lots of compliments on my speech from staff/fellow volunteers, chatted with a volunteer who served in Perú way back in 1965, and enjoyed lots of snacks (water, chocolate chip cookies, taquitos, ceviches, causa, etc.).  It was hard to say goodbye to my host-mom, and though I didn’t tear up as much as some of my fellow volunteers, it was still an emotional experience nonetheless.

The bus ride back to the Peace Corps office was heavy, but we did our best to enjoy the time together.  We had some great games of “Would you rather…” and “Would you marry someone who is perfect in every way except…”, I shared my Swedish Fish, and I enjoyed some final face-to-face conversation with my boy Jamie.  When we got to the Peace Corps office, there were more tears, lots of hugs, lots of photos, and lots of goodbyes.  I’m going to miss my training group so much, and I wish I had had more time to say goodbye, but I’m looking forward to visiting them, especially my Amazonas amigos, over the next 2 years.

From the Peace Corps office, I headed to my hostel with few other Volunteers who also weren’t leaving that night, and then went out with two volunteers from Ancash who were in for the week.  We went to an amazing burrito place in Miraflores (Lima) called Burrito Bar, Barranco Beer Company, and then Wong (a Target-like store), where my fellow Ancashino Kevin and I bought some stuff we would need at site.  Within Wong, I found something amazing: Turkey Hill Ice cream.  I have absolutely no idea how or why there is Turkey Hill Ice cream in Perú, but all I can say is I bought myself a quart of Cookies n’ Cream and it was absolutely the same as what I know from the States.

All in all, swearing in was an emotional day, and I’m definitely going to miss my friends (who I hope will call me frequently), but I’m also very excited to get to my site and begin to work in my community.

Since I haven’t quite figured out the wifi situation in my site yet, it might be a while before my next post.  Also, I’ll eventually update this post with some photos once I get them from other volunteers and Peace Corps staff.

MGB

Ancash: they say it’s blue.

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.

Café California
Café California

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.

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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.

The view from the roof of our Hostel.  Mt. Huascarán is the tallest mountain in Perú.
The view from the roof of our hostel. Mt. Huascarán is the tallest mountain in Perú.

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!

My host-brother, Edwin, in our backyard.
My host-brother, Edwin, in our backyard.

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.

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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.

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View from my room; bricks, mountains, and all.

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.

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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.

-Mark

P.S. I expect lots of people to come visit me, because Ancash is gorgeous.

4th of July, Peruvian Style

So a little over a week ago was a very special day in the United States, a day that is usually filled with friends, family, grilling, hazardous fireworks, and an overabundance of Red, White, and Blue clothing.  One of the sacrifices of serving in the Peace Corps, is that you miss out on all the hometown fun of celebrating Independence Day, or as we all just call it, the 4th of July.  However, as part of our Peace Corps training in cultural integration and exchange, each neighborhood of volunteers had to organize a 4th of July celebration to share with their host families.

Each group of volunteers was tasked with creating a typical American dish or two, preparing some traditional 4th of July decorations, and some games.  However, the responsibility wasn’t all on us, as our host mothers were also tasked with preparing some traditional Peruvian foods and organizing some Peruvian games (which turned out to be very similar to games we have in the US).

Thanks to fellow Volunteer Diana García for providing all of the following photos.

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Diana’s house all decked-out for our 4th of July Celebration

The volunteers in my neighborhood of Moron decided we wanted to go ALL OUT for 4th of July, so of course we decided to GRILL!  We prepared several American dishes to share with our host families.  Our menu included:

  • Hotdogs with ketchup, mustard, caramelized onions, and buns
  • Cheese quesadillas with homemade Guacamole (palta, tomatoes, peppers, onions, cilantro)
  • Kebobs of bell peppers, sausage, onions, tomatoes, and pineapple
  • Dirt (pudding dessert) or as we called it, Compost!

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Not to be outdone, our host mothers prepared a hoard of food that could probably have fed a small army.  They prepared:

  • Three causas (think uncooked potato salad lasagna)
  • Chicha morada (a delicious drink made from purple corn and fruit)
  • A jello/flan combination dessert (flan on the bottom, jello on top)
  • Arroz con leche (rice pudding) and mazamorra (jam)

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Then, after we had finally finished off most of the food and were rather stuffed, another neighbor showed up with a very delicious cake.

In between stuffing our faces with all of the amazing food, we had a mini olympics of games, which I had the honor to kick off by singing the National Anthem.  I had to sing the National Anthem solo not because the other 5 volunteers didn’t want to sing, but because the other 5 volunteers in my neighborhood didn’t know all the words….for shame!

So, what do you think of when you think of Peruvian party games?  If you thought tug-of-war, three-legged races, sack races, and a lime-on-a-spoon relay race, then you were right!  It turns out that Peruvian party games were so similar to ones we have in the US, that there really weren’t any new games us Americans could contribute haha.

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Tug-of-War

After several bouts of relay races and some 3 v. 3 soccer games, we ended the evening with some cultural exchange of dances.  Our families taught us some Huayno as we listened to traditional Peruvian music, and then we showed them how to do the Cotton Eye Joe and the Wobble, among other dances.

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Teaching the Wobble

The second goal of Peace Corps is to help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served, and I think our 4th of July celebration accomplished just that.  All in all, it was a very long (8am-6pm) and incredibly fun day, and I think I speak for all of us when I say we had an amazing time sharing part of our US culture with our host families.  I’m looking forward to celebrating 4th of July (and other US Holidays) with my host-family in Ancash and continuing to share my US culture, as I learn more about my new Peruvian home.

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Post-party posing

-Mark

P.S. The best part of the day however was watching Perú take down Paraguay in the Copa América at the end of the day to nab the #3 spot of the tournament.  They played great all throughout the tournament, and actually won the awards for best team of the tournament as well as best goalkeeper.  Here’s to hoping for a great run for them in the upcoming Summer Olympics in Brazil!