Last Christmas in Perú

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.

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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.

 

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Playing Super Smash Bros. Melee

 

 

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Group photo!

 

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!

 

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Beachfront at Huanchaco

 

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Christmas dinner…we made it work (Turkey, potato chips, & guacamole)

 

 

 

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We had dinner at a nice Italian restaurant to finish up the vacation

My last Christmas in Perú was a great one. Hope you enjoyed seeing how I spent it.

 

Until next time,

MGB

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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

 

Lake Hopping

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.

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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.

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Combi ride up the mountains pre-hike
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View of Laguna Parón before we began to walk around.
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Had to take this one just for Mom.
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Taking a brief break in the hike.
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Looking back towards the entrance of Laguna Parón.
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A little stick bug we found.
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Cheesin’ in front of the nevado.  Unfortunately, no one wanted to go further along the lake.
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This tree is a Queñual, a typical tree of Parque Huascarán. I love them.
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A marker honoring two former Peace Corps Volunteers involved in the founding of Parque Huascarán.
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A final panoramic of the lake.

Perú is gorgeous (at least Áncash) and I’m so lucky to be living here for 2 years.

Feel free to come visit!

Until later,

MGB

Star Wars Fever

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.

 

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Image from: tinyurl.com/j9jc2w6

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.

Best,

MGB

The Hills Are Alive…

with the sound of happy MAC aspirantes (trainees).

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.

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My seat on our Cruz del Sur bus, complete with my own personal touchscreen.

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.

Snow-capped peak at the top of the mountain range.
Snow-capped peak at the top of the mountain range.

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.

Fellow Trainee Peter and I with our class of 3rd Graders.
Fellow Trainee Peter and I with our class of 3rd Graders.

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).

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Luis and I with our second tree, Captain America.

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.

Mi trompo
Mi trompo

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).

The aftermath of Jon falling in the lake.
The aftermath of Jon falling in the lake.

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.

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Pre-final presentation selfie in Jauja.

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)!

MGB

Safe and Sound

In case you didn’t know, I arrived safely to Peru.  Departure day started bright and early with a 7am check out from the hotel; with our matching Peace Corps t-shirts and mounds of luggage, we definitely overwhelmed the lobby.

Peace Corps takes over the lobby
Peace Corps takes over the lobby

When we finally arrived at Reagan Airport in DC to begin our travels, we had a chance encounter with the current director of the Peace Corps, Carrie Hessler-Radelet.  It was definitely a star-struck moment for me, and I think many other of the volunteers.

Carrole shaking hands with the Peace Corps director, Carrie Hessler-Radelet
Carrole shaking hands with the Peace Corps director, Carrie Hessler-Radelet.

Finally, around 12:30pm we were off, and after hours of travel, malfunctioning video screens on our Houston-Lima flight, and a final “American” meal of pizza and Panda Express, we finally landed in Peru around 11:30pm Thursday evening (May 7th).  After disembarking the plane, we found two Peace Corps Peru staff members with signs who took us through immigration via the Diplomat line (I guess they pulled a few strings) and helped us to locate our luggage.  For a few of us, the elite “Grupo 60”, it seems that there was some confusion with processing our immigration papers; while we should have received a stamp for 160 days, we only were given 60.  The lucky 25 or so of us that were members of Grupo 60 had to wait about 30 minutes in the baggage area while a PC staff member went to get the forms corrected.

Finally, after lots of waiting and anticipation, we were able to pass through customs and go out to meet the other volunteers.  As I cross the threshold of the door to join the other volunteers, I suddenly saw a bunch of people cheering and waving signs, and I think to myself, “Oh wow, I wonder who they are so excited about?”.  About half a second later, I realized they were all Peace Corps staff and volunteers who had come to welcome us to the country.  I was floored; what an incredible way to be greeted in a country that will be my home for the next 2 years.  I hope that I will be able to greet new trainees when I am further along in my Peace Corps experience. 

Once everyone had emerged, we began our 1.5 hr bus ride to the retreat center; please note that it was already about 1am by the time we got to the busses.  Needless to say, everyone was exhausted after a full day of traveling, and looking forward to a full night’s sleep.  Unfortunately, we didn’t get to bed until 3:30am and retreat activities started bright and early at 8am, so a full night’s sleep wasn’t in the cards.  At this point, the significance of landing in Peru and arriving at the training center hasn’t set in, but I’m sure the reality of it all will slowly begin to sink in as training begins.

MGB