Sunday, February 28, 2010

Peru Day 22: More goodbyes and church choirs filling the air

I got up early -- around 6:30 -- to find a phone and call home. My mother emailed me while I was out in the Andes and told me that my father had a stroke and was now in the hospital. I didn't get this news until yesterday and needed a little time to process it.

My father and I have never been close, so while this news was disturbing it wasn't as upsetting as I thought it could be. I continue to draw on the energy of Cusco for the strength I need to leave all this behind and return to a world that now seems so distant to me.

It's only been three weeks. I keep telling myself that. It feels like I've been here for years.

There were no Internet/phone places open yet, so I parked myself in the main square and called my mother on my (very expensive) iphone. My father's stable. He'll be placed in a home. No need to worry. Call tomorrow when you're back in DC. OK.

The square is so peaceful this early in the morning. The stray dogs are meandering around, shops are starting to wake up and the church doors are wide open. There's a men's choir singing and their music is flooding the plaza.

I made my way back to the hotel, woke Mike and we had breakfast on the top floor of the hotel in their breakfast room. This hotel is cute, close to the square and has a lot of character. What it doesn't have is a lot of guests right now and that makes the staff kid of forgetful that you're still there. The front door needs to be opened and closed by a button behind the desk. If no one is there, you ain't getting out (or in, for that matter). Kind of annoying.

After breakfast, Mike and I finished packing and headed out for some last minute gifts and a trip to Molino to see if he could find some North Face items on the cheap. I was also meeting a friend there for a last goodbye and then back to the hotel to get our things and make our way to the airport.

Goodbyes here are bittersweet. Some of the friends I've made here live in Cusco, so I hope to see them again when I return. Others are volunteers from other countries and my best chance of seeing them again is on Facebook.

As this is my last day, it's also my last post (at least my day-by-day accounts -- I've got a Peruvian food post coming up). The reality I've been so used to for the past few weeks is over and a new reality begins again on Monday. New semester (I can't wait), new clients (and, of course, my regulars, too!), and a new outlook. I love my life and I love my work, but this trip has affected me in ways I never thought imaginable. I found love, energy, friendship, amazing food, independence and family here and I'm not going to lose it.

I cried a little as the plane took off, but I take solace in knowing that I will return. Soon.

Peru Day 21: My Andes for a horse!

Oh thank God. While we were eating breakfast (and I was internally freaking out about the morning climb), one of our porters came bouncing down (another very steep) hill with a little boy and a horse! I had a horse!

The climb up to the final camp was entirely uphill and HOT. My knee was throbbing, but the jarring from my leg hitting the horse was a far better alternative than limping up the last 10 kilometers.

Thanks to this trusty caballo, we reached our final camp early (about
10:30) had lunch (around 12) and settled in to wait for the bus to take us back to civilization. And we waited.

The bus didn't come until 2. Apparently, the driver encountered a landslide that delayed him for two hours (we saw it on the way back -- unreal). The porters kindly set up a tent for us to have siesta and avoid the sun, but we were eager to get back and get to a shower. It didn't matter though; the ride back to Cusco was about 6 hours -- so we were forces to rest whether we liked it or not.

We got back around 8, showered (sooo nice) and met up with my friend at an Irish pub. We didn't stay long as it was getting late and I had plans to say goodbye to Cusco that night.

I dropped Mike off at an Internet cafe and told him I'd meet him back at the hotel in a couple hours. I took my time walking around the square and the various side streets just soaking in my last evening here. I wanted to do this alone -- this city became a second home to me -- and it didn't feel right to just get in a taxi tomorrow and head to the airport.

So I said goodbye. I'll still have tomorrow morning, but I'm glad I was able to savor one last enchanting night.

Peru Day 20: Choquequirao and a blown-out knee

We awoke to an amazing view from our tent (they're all pretty amazing) and a filling breakfast of eggs, fried bananas and hot chocolate and then set out to visit Choquequirao. The climb up to the site was (like all trekking here) a bit steep and for some reason I had difficulty breathing. This hasn't been a problem yet, but it was just the beginning of what was going to be an arduous day.

Choquequirao is amazing. We practically had the place to ourselves (there were a couple of other small groups but no one bothered anyone else). Diego guided us through the site, telling us about the significance of this building or that open plaza. We headed up to the sacrificial area and I spent a good 40 minutes just walking the area and soaking in the experience. It was a great place to meditate.

Mike journeyed down to another part of the site with Diego and Raul and I stayed behind to be alone for as much time as I could get. It was amazing. We were in the clouds and as the wind picked up the clouds just rolled past. It gave a mystical feel to the place and I just didn't want to leave.

Sadly, we had to start making our way down, so after lunch (quinoa, fried chicken and lomo saltado -- a favorite Peruvian dish of mine), we began our descent. I wish I could say it was easy, but about an hour into the trip the (lateral collateral) ligament in my right knee gave out. I've never felt this kind of pain before and really didn't know how I was going to get down. There are no roads -- just a simple (slightly treacherous) trail and me, Mike, Raul and Diego. And, if you can believe it, Raul and Diego took turns carrying me down the mountain!

The camp was right next to the sam raging river we crossed the day before, only much farther downstream. I love the sound of rushing water but watching it tumble and roar past you is a little unnerving.
The bridge crossing was shaky -- it's a kind of suspension bridge -- and my balance was already off from the knee injury.

It took 2 hours longer than it should have but we got to camp just before nightfall -- a good thing as the trail would've been virtually impossible in the dark. I hobbled into camp and almost burst into tears. The pain was excruciating and the shock of what happened was still in my system.

Dinner was short and bittersweet (pasta with 2 kinds of sauces) and I limped off to bed soon after. The fear of one more 1/2 day of trekking with a bum knee was not going to let me sleep well tonight.

Peru Day 19: Everything hurts and Lucilla to the rescue

OK, today was no joke. We awoke to cold misty rain and warm water to wash. Breakfast was delicious -- porridge, pancakes with (yay!) Manjar, coffee and Milo. And then we set out.

After the first hour downhill to the bridge over a raging river, the rest of the day WAS ENTIRELY UPHILL. And I'm not talking about the highest grade on the treadmill. I'm talking about twice that steep at least half the time. Ugh. My body is not cut out for that.

After the first two hours of this (in the rain), we encountered a man (in sandals) bringing his horse down from our lunch spot -- a climb I was anticipating would take me at least another 3 hours. We hired him and his horse for 30 soles (about $10) and I rode on the back of Lucilla, my savior, for the next 1.5 hours, to our lunch.

And amazingly, Mike and our guides kept up (for the most part) with the horse. I can't believe how slow I am. The horse even beat the porters.

I completely underestimated how affected I was by being wet. When we started the climb earlier in the day, I removed everything on top except for my sports tank. It was soaked through by the time we met Lucilla and I got very cold very quickly when I wasn't expelling any energy.

When we arrived at our lunch spot, another small cluster of homes where the locals welcome us, our porters and cook went to work cooking for us. Mike and I huddled by a small fire in one of the homes and I fell asleep with head on his lap. I awoke to a lot of squeeking and looked around to see at least 10 guinea pigs scurrying around the house. I have two things to say about that: These cute little squeekers were not pets and I'm glad they weren't on our lunch menu.

I still had on my wet clothes and woke up shivering. While we were sitting at the lunch table with our guides I finally realized what the problem was so I peeled off everything wet, put on some dry clothes and finally started to warm up.

Lunch was amazing again. Middle eastern rice, beef, potatoes, cream of asparagus soup. Before the meal I shared the pictures I took of Peru before the trek with Raul and Diego, (who share every meal with us) and then we dove into the food. Siesta was not really an option today since the weather was colder and wetter, but we chilled for a bit before heading out for the final push.

The last two hours of the day were a combination of up and downhill. Still incredibly steep, still exhausting. I am clearly NOT a trekker.

I haven't really spent any time talking about the scenery. That's because it's beyond anything I've ever experienced in my life. We are thousands of feet high -- in the clouds most of the time -- and on these tiny paths that hug the Andes. I am in the Andes. It's unbelievable and pictures and words don't do any of this justice (but I'll still post some when I get home).

Our camp for the night was extremely picturesque. We were essentially on an overhang in the clouds -- extremely high up but still snuggled between a cluster of mountains. Choquequirao was another 50 meters above us and we would visit the site in the morning. Happy hour was popcorn and wonton-wrapped cheese (hard to explain but delicious). Dinner was chicken, beet salad and other good stuff (chocolate pudding for dessert!)

We crashed soon after -- another good night's sleep in our cozy tent.

Peru Day 18: The trek begins...

I should've known better than to stay out late the night before, but the festivities were too much fun to leave. We had to be ready for pick up at 5 am, which meant we were up at 4:30 to shower, get dressed and finish packing. Ugh. I've always thought of myself as a morning person but not this morning.

Diego and crew picked us up on time and we drove for about 3 hours way up into the mountains to start our trek. I slept most of the way on Mike's lap and when I awoke we were in Cachora, the village at the start of our climb. After a simple breakfast of bread, coffee, Milo (our favorite beverage when travelling), and fruit, we set out with Diego and Raul, our assistant guide. It was pretty muddy for the first couple of hours and the sun was out. The trek that day was about 40% uphill and 60% downhill and we covered about 12-13 miles. Downhill is DIFFICULT. Everything hurts. I got blisters in places I never knew I could get blisters.

We arrived for lunch an hour later than expected (I'm apparently a VERY slow trekker) but we were greeted with warm water and soap to wash and then a full-on gourmet lunch. Avocado salad to start followed by soup and garlic bread and then a main course of rice and stuffed trout (stuffed with spinach, cheese and -- wait for it -- hotdog). Peruvians love their hotdogs, which, in this case, was a shame because it was totally unnecessary. The fish was amazing on its own. Our chef and porters are unbelievable.

The rest of the day was downhill -- really hard on the body. I kept thinking about everyone I know who's had either hip or knee replacements and I cringe at the thought of them attempting this.

This trek is actually more difficult than the Inca Trail but we're looking forward to the reward. Choquequirao means "the golden cradle" and the city was used the same way Machu Picchu was (as a financial, spiritual, administrative center for the Incas). Machu Picchu just got all the attention because Hiram Bingham made such a fuss and the Peruvian government capitalized on the tourism possibilities. Peruvians anticipate that Choquequirao will become as important a tourist site as MP if access to it is made easier (there's talk of a cable car). But for now, it's only accesible by foot or horse. And it's not an easy trek.

We camped at Chichisca, a grassy spot with some permanent structures (even a bathroom!) and maintained by a small family with noisy kids. Our crew set up camp and got down to work making dinner. Happy hour was popcorn (my favorite) and dinner consisted of pasta, beef stew, vegetable soup and bananas foster (I know!). So good.

We discussed the possibilty of finding me a horse to ride for some of the next day, as most of the next day would be entirely uphill and I am SLOW. What can I say? I'm a fas walker on FLAT ground, but this is just not one of my strengths. Unfortunately, no extra horses could be found. Bummer.

We crashed by 8:30 and I slept soundly through the night in our comfy tent (Thermarest mattresses are a MUST).

Peru Day 17: Cramming Cusco into one day and yet another TUNA

Mike arrived early this morning and after we both slept for a few more hours, I got him out of bed and tried to show him Cusco in about 6 hours (the amount of time I figured we had before he'd fall flat on his face back into bed).

While there is no time difference between DC and Cusco, the altitude (and 24 hours of travel time you need to get here) can make you very tired. Mike needed his rest for the trekking we were doing this week and I didn't want to push my luck.

I took him to Mercado San Pedro for juice and my favorite food stand for arroz con huevo y plantana (white rice, a fried egg, papas fritas and plantains -- and this time I got a hot dog on top). It was nice having someone to share that with, as I always leave more in the bowl than what I eat.

We walked around the main square for a while and then I took Mike to Molino where we picked up a few supplies for our trek (sweet potato chips, toothpaste, etc.). Back to the hotel for a nap and then off to the Llama Path, our trekking company, for a debriefing.

We met Diego, our lead guide, and he mapped out our trek. It seemed LONG but doable. The trip length is about 35 km and most of it is either uphill or downhill. The Andes are not flat. I took a deep breath and put my faith in his skills.

Mike was about to fall over, so after I took him to eat some yummy falafel, we walked back to our hotel, packed our bags for the 5 am departure time the next day (oy!) and I put Mike to bed. Then I headed out!

I was meeting up with my friend at his friend's bar and since my friend seems to run on Peruvian time, I was still early even though I was 10 minutes late. The bar is tiny, and his friend remembered me from a previous visit so I settled in to wait. There was a couple quietly talking in one corner and a table full of rowdy musicians playing guitars and singing in the other corner.

But these were no ordinary musicians. According to my friend (who showed up a half hour late), they were part of a travelling singing group called Tuna (which doesn't stand for anything). The group there was from Spain and they were decked out in full Conquistador-style regalia (think tights, capes, poofy sleeves, etc). There were about 8 of them and more kept started to trickle in. When there were about 11 musicians, one came up to me, kissed my hand, told me I was very beautiful and asked if they could sing a song for me. I knew my face was red (and my friend was giggling behind the bar), but how could I refuse such an offer? So, 11 Spaniards in full Tuna regalia serenaded me. That was a first.

Over the next 1/2 hour another 20 Tunas came in, both from Spain and Peru. My friend was busy serving them but came back to my stool complaining that he had a headache. I sat him down and spent a few minutes working on his neck and back. This of course piqued the attention of a few of the musicians and I recieved some requests for massage. Sooooo I went to work. I massaged about 4 of the musicians over the course of the evening and, as a result, now have invitations to visit Naples, Italy, and various cities across Spain. I wonder if I can invite Mike....

To say that the evening was special is like saying the sky is blue.
All of my evenings here in Cusco are special. My friend and I were grinning ear to ear the whole night, thinking how fortunate we were to be at that place on that evening. He calls those "lucky strikes." I call them beautiful.

He walked me back to the hotel in the rain. Into bed by 11:30 and up again at 4 am for the start of our trek!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Peru Day 16: Una Masaje

OK, I finally got a massage here. But it was later in the day, so you'll just have to wait to read about (or I guess you could just scroll down).

Today was one of those do-whatever-you-want kind of days. I spent a ridiculous amount of time at an Internet cafe, shopped for gifts and enjoyed a late lunch at Mercado San Pedro. I ordered the lomo saltado at one of the food stands, a dish with beef, papas fritas (french fries), rice, tomatoes and an egg on top. It's served in a bowl and is YUMMY. I just wish I could finish it!

I slowly walked back to my hotel for a little nap but the beauty of the square and the desire to people watch lured me to a shady bench for a while. I realized that I needed to start soaking all of this in as much as possible becausr I've only got a few more days left in Cusco.

I eventually did make it back to my hotel, dropped off my packages and picked up my laundry at the lavanderia (I love this: for about $3.50, I can drop off an entire bag of dirty othes and pick them up clean and folded at the end of the day. It makes packing for a trip like this very easy -- even though I still overpacked). I made plans with a friend to meet him later in the evening and headed out to find a massage.

As I mentioned earlier, the therapists are out in full force and they hawk their services almost like sex. I know these are legitimate therapists (for the most part), but I've found it increasingly more difficult to give in and get one because of how they advertise.

I stopped to talk to the second woman who approached me and asked her how long she went to school for massage. She said six months. I knew I should have walked away then and there but then her young daughter ran across the street to hug her and give me a flyer and I knew that this 25 sole massage (about $8) was going to be a lot of money for her. So, I agreed and off we went.

The massage room was all the way in the back of a bunch of souvenir shops, down a dark corridor and up some stairs. The room was spacious and dimly lighted. She changed the music to something more relaxing and showed me where I could change. I didn't feel uncomfortable but I can't say I was relaxed either. I was hoping her touch would change that.

Sadly, it didn't. While she wasn't bad, her technique was amateur at best and her pace was too fast to really effect any change. She left the room twice during the session -- once to clip her nails and once to bring in some hot stones (again, not used effectively) -- and her daughter interrupted us once as well.

The work reminded me of a first semester massage student at the end of the term. She didn't know a lot but had a general idea of what to do. She really didn't understand the importance of sinking through the layers of tissue nor how to vary her pace. It was like she had been stuck giving the same massage over and over again for the past 2 years without ever changing her techniques to suit the client's needs.

Wow, I just realized that I gave her work far more credit than it deserved by comparing her to my Level 1 students.

When the session was over I just couldn't resist myself. I got dressed, called her back in and showed her a few techniques. She used her thumbs A LOT so I showed her a few other body parts (elbow, forearm, etc.) she could start using to save her thumbs. I tried to explain that she'll be out of a job if her thumbs give out and she doesn't have any alternative "tools," but I don't know if she understood me. What I do know is that she seemed to really enjoy the five minutes she had on the table while I demonstrated these things. Sadly, I'm guessing that regular massage isn't a part of her self-care regimen.

I met up with a friend for a drink at Indigo and we hung out and watched the Olympics for a while. Speed skating was the night's event -- not as boring as I thought it would be.

I made my way back to the hotel by about 10:30. It was rainy and chilly out, similar to earlier in the morning, but such a contrast to the sunny warmth of the middle of the day. The weather here is so unpredictable this time of year but I caught on early in this trip and take a variety of layers with me wherever I go. I kind of forgot them that night though, so I was a little damp when I got back to the hotel.

Mike arrives early tomorow morning. We don't have much time here in Cusco together, but hopefully I'll have enough time to how him what makes this city so special. After he takes a nap.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Peru Day 15: Machu Picchu is out, Choquekiro is in

I received an email from my trekking company explaining that Machu Picchu is now closed for the next 6 weeks and there is no possibility of getting up there until the end of March. This sucks for Cusco, as their economy is primarily based on tourism. I took it as a sign that I will just have to return to Cusco sooner rather than later. No problem there.

They offered us a couple of other trekking options, one of them being a 4 day/3 night trek to Choquekiro. Both Jorgan and Laura said this is a must-see (and underrated only because of Machu Picchu). So I emailed back my company and we're all set to trek Choquekiro starting Monday.

I spent about half of my last day at the clinic in the kitchen helping prep lunch. They were serving fried fish (not frozen from a bag), rice (of course) and soup. The cook's assistants were back and since I was initially the only volunteer in the kitchen I became the topic of conversation. My country of origin, whether I had children (and why didn't I???) and how long I'm staying in Cusco is pretty much the general range of questions I get asked. They seemed satisfied enough with my answers (except for the lack of children) and we got on with our work. The cook brought out a can of local cheese and some boiled corn and we snacked on "choclo con queso" while we worked. Man, I love that shit.

Friday was full of visitors at the clinic, so my services weren't needed at feeding time. That worked out well, as I helped prep a little more for dinner and then met up with Yesemnia (the student teacher) and we took a taxi to Molino.

But before we left, I ran up to the bathroom (not the most conveniently located bano for the clinic) and I happened to read the sign on the back of the door. It read: "Por favor, no orinar en el piso. Gracias." Really?? You actually need a sign in one of the cleanest places in Cusco telling people not to pee on the floor?? Hmmm. Maybe that's why the clinic's so clean...

Going to Molino with a local is soooo much better than on your own. I've been with Jorgan twice and now this time with Yesemnia. We shopped around, checking the prices of all the blenders, how well they worked and their guarantees. Yesmenia wasn't messing around and we got a good deal on a good machine (about 133 soles, which is about $45) and a few other kitchen items, particularly vegetable peelers. I spent about $60 total and supplied the kitchen with some good stuff. The cook was extremely appreciative, as am I for all that she does for the clinic.

I had my last lunch at Laura's (minestrone soup and a chicken and potato dish) and packed my things and headed to my hotel. Goodbyes with Laura were bittersweet. I was ready to move on, but I really enjoyed living with her. I hope to see her again the next time I visit Cusco.

I was eager to unload my stuff at the hotel before heading to class and was glad I did. The rain had been heavy on and off most of the morning and the afternoon was no different. I caught a window in the bad weather and dumped everything in my new room and headed to class. I'm glad I told Mike to pack lightly -- I'm going to need room in his bag.

Our last class was sad. I new it was the end this time and it depressed me a little more than I expected. Since by now you know that I really don't like learning in a classroom (even though I teach in one!), we headed to a cafe I like off the main square and stayed there for about 3 hours. I have to admit, this was probably one of the first times in the past week where the English conversation outweighed the Spanish. Jorgan and I talked like old friends, discussing when I'm going to visit again (since I have to come back for Machu Picchu) and how to stay in touch (e-mail, for obvious and cheap reasons).

We headed over to Karem's house for a goodbye dinner she invited me to earlier in the week and served us something stuffed with meat, rolled up and fried. She never explained what it was, but it was good. I couldn't finish it (fried food doesn't appeal to me that much) but still liked what I ate of it. I guess that's my fault: She asked me earlier in the week what I would like her to make and I said I'd be happy with anything. I really need to emphasize the "no fried food" thing, but eating fried foods in Cusco is as popular as Inka Cola or white rice. The group at her house had never been formally introduced to me, but Jorgan told me who they were the last time he dropped me at Karem's house, so while it was nice to know who I was eating with, they all spoke in rapid-fire Spanish that was not always easy to follow. But, I have to admit, I understood more than I think they realize. Interesting...

Jorgan left early, and I stayed for about another 1/2 hour. I introduced them to "The Evolution of Dance" on YouTube and we compared our tastes in music. Let's just say they don't match.

Cabbed back to the hotel and crashed. Talked to Mike, who is ready to jump on that plane and get the hell out of snowy DC. Can't wait to see him on Sunday.

Peru Day 14: Hookah bars and becoming the kitchen help

Wednesday was a little stressful in the kitchen at the clinic, as the cook's 2 helpers weren't there. So a few of us stepped away from the kids a little early and jumped in to help en la cocina. Now you know I loved this. Cooking on a massive scale is not something I'm used to, so this was a totally new experience for me. We peeled, chopped, stirred and poured. The fruits and vegetables are all local (possibly some are grown on the premises?) and every last unrotten bit is used.

When most of the food was ready, we lined up the trays assembly-style and got everything out the door only a little later than normal. Excellente!

Now I bet you can guess where I spent the majority of my last 2 days at the clinic...

On Thursday, I asked the cook to tell me what items she needed most for the kitchen. She showed me the run-down blender and the one rusty vegetable peeler, plus a dozen other items that were either in need of a brother or sister or just simply needed to be trashed. I made a plan with a student teacher here in Peru to go to Molino on Friday and get these things.

Lunch on Thursday was awesome. Cream of mushroom soup and a pasta dish with beef and fried bananas. Yes, it sounds a little odd, but it's a damn good combination. I finished the plate (much to Laura's surprise).

Thursday night I met up with some friends from the clinic and we went to a bar/restaurant called Indigo. They serve Thai food and curries (I really don't recommend them -- stick to the papas fritas) and other bar food. This was my second time here and I really like it. The music is enjoyable -- oldies, newies, etc.-- and all singable. Happy hour specials appeal to the rest of the group and I hoard the Hookah. Various games stack the back wall and Scrabble is the popular one. Normally I kick ass at this game, but unfortunately when I play with people from other countries, they throw out words in Spanish, German, Italian, etc. It's the United Nations of Scrabble and you need translation books instead of a dictionary. I didn't win. Crap.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Peru Day 13: Llamas at the clinic and the misleading lure of live music

We usually take the kids for walks around the clinic grounds, but I have to admit that I don't take them as far as they usually want to go. There are a lot of kids who want walks but I can only take one or two of them at a time. Today there were more volunteers than usual, so the walks were longer. I followed another volunteer with some kids along a path around the back of one of buildings and, low and behold, there were THREE LLAMAS back there! I was as excited as the kids. The llamas were tied up but were able to get pretty close to us. And naturally, these kids have no fear. Hands out, ready to pet those stinky sniffing noses, I pulled my kids away before the animals took a finger with the grass they were being offered. Still pretty cool -- and completely unexpected.

I also had success with one of the girls during lunch. Flor does not like to eat. She just wants to drink juice. For the past couple of days I was unable to get her to eat with me and one of the nurses had to step in and feed her. Today I went for the bribe approach --two bites of food got her one sip of juice. Success! I can't believe it took me three days to figure that out.

Spanish class was frustrating. Past tense is my weak spot and it seemed like Jorgan was correcting me more than I was speaking. Not fun, but necessary (I guess).

I ran into Elmer as I was heading to a cafe after class and he walked me halfway and promised to return in a couple of hours after his gig was over. I told him to meet me at The Muse, an overpriced but comfortable spot to hang out, read and write. There was a group of older American tourists hanging out there and I was surprised by how discomforting it was to hear American English -- I'm starting to think a little in Spanish and after almost two weeks here I hardly think of myself as a tourist. Sure, I look different than most of the people around me, but I always thought I did at home, too. I feel at home here.

If I hadn't been waiting for Elmer, I would have left as soon as the advertised "live music" started. Don't be lured by the promise of live music -- I'm the person who cringes when a singer or an instrument is flat or sharp -- and let's just say that my face looked disfigured by the time Elmer showed up. The words "mangled" and "Hotel California" should never be in the same sentence together.

When he arrived, we hung out at the cafe a little longer and then walked down to the square where a took a taxi home. I think he was a little disappointed that I didn't want to stay out longer, but I have my eyes set on the prize: Mike arrives in Peru on Sunday!    

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Peru Day 12: More Molino (this time to buy), more food, more massage 

My energy was vastly different today. I had shaken whatever was hanging over me yesterday and redirected my focus and purpose towards my intention for being here (which, frustratingly, keeps changing). I already know I'm a different person than when I arrived less than two weeks ago, but my foundation -- whatever it is I've been building on my entire life -- is still solid.

The kids sensed a change, too. They couldn't get enough of me. I had someone on my lap practically every minute I was at the clinic. When I was saying my goodbyes for the day, 3 girls separately put their arms around my neck and hugged me so hard they wouldn't let go. I didn't want to let go either.

Lunch was another fabulous meal. We started with a barley soup (that had pumpkin, spinach and potato in it), a side of choco con queso (corn with cheese) and a main dish of potato, green bean and egg scramble -- it tasted like Sunday breakfast. Oh, and purple corn juice. mmmmm.

Just to give you an idea of the size of this corn --- i'm not kidding you --- the kernels are actually the size of my finger. You take a kernel, pop it in your mouth (or you can peel it first like Laura but I don't have the patience for that) and then take a little bite of cheese. Who'd have thought this combination could be so good?

There's also a street version of this where the corn is on the cob. It looks like a slightly messy endeavour if you're inexperienced, but I may have to try it. There's also a version where the corn is roasted and is almost like inside-out popcorn -- throw a few kernels into your mouth with a bit of cheese and well, you know, heaven.

I went back to Molino with Jorgan today -- this time to buy. I bought about 6-7 CDs (many if them 2 discs) for about $6 total. I also found individually sized tubes of Manjar for about $1.75/bag (of about 20). I bought 2 bags. And I'm not sharing.

Jorgan's stomach was hurting, so I put some peppermint oil in his water bottle to help his digestive system work through the crap he ate the night before (anticucho -- the meat and potato on a stick, popcorn, and ceviche). And while it helped, I probably countered the effects of the oil by eating a bowl of chincharron right in front of him. But it was sooooo worth it.

Chincharron is another typical Peruvian dish sold at snack stalls (and maybe restaurants?). It's a smallish plate with onion and mint in one corner, corn (the big kernels) in another, a few pieces of fried pork belly (a delicacy in the U.S.) in another and topped with a couple of pieces of potato. You can smother it in a spicy sauce (mine wasn't that spicy) and dig in. I still couldn't eat the entire plate of food and Jorgan seriously lamented this since his stomach wouldn't allow him to finish it off.

After Molino, we taxied back to the main square. Jorgan's stomach pain was causing
him to limp a little and I didn't want a long walk to exacerbate his discomfort. We found a bench where I made him lay down and much to the curiosity of the soccer-playing kids and tourists, I did some massage work on his colon for about 1/2 hour (for all you Level 2 students out there at PMTI, you'll be learning this incredibly valuable technique this semester). Without going into detail, let's just say it worked. Massage can do just about anything -- that's all I'm saying. 

I tried watching Lost again but it was a repeat of the season opener. Again. WTF? Grrrrr....

Fortunately there was an episode of Nurse Jackie that I hadn't seen yet so I settled in for some good TV (at least a 1/2 hour's worth) and fell into bed.      

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Peru Day 11: La Energia

Just when I thought the water fights of yesterday were in the past, the nurses thought it would be a good idea to let the kids take part in Carnivale, too, so the water balloons were out in full force today. Fortunately, the kids don't have very good aim, so no one was getting very wet. Whew.

Lunch today was soup with spinach followed by lentils w/beef and rice. I actually ate almost all the rice (and the rest of the meal) and when I mentioned this proudly to Laura she smiled and told me she had given me a smaller serving than hers. Bummer.

I also decided to continue with Spanish class, as Jorgan's services as a teacher, guide -- and now a good friend -- have become indispensable. So we met up again and continued our lessons outside the classroom.

There are so many hidden places in Cusco -- at least off the beaten tourist track. I would never have known they existed if it weren't for my Spanish classes. Waterfalls in the city, beautiful vistas, quiet squares... Cusco is amazing.

Something else Cusco has is energy. And I don't mean the frenetic pace of a city (it has that, too), but I mean the spiritual energy that is hard to explain but easy (at least for me) to feel. The problem is that I don't know how to control it well. I'm relatively new to this awareness, and being in such a spiritual place can really mess with me at times. For example, when I'm a little depressed here, I'm not just a little depressed -- I can't eat, I don't sleep well, my imagination runs wild, and I can't speak or understand Spanish. And the worst part is that the kids at the clinic pick up on it BIG TIME.

This happened today -- this morning -- and it sucked. I couldn't eat much at breakfast, my walk to the clinic was slower than usual, and the kids wanted nothing to do with me. I was aware of it, but I didn't know how to change it. 

But slowly, as the morning wore on, I brought my awareness to these feelings and tried to change them. It took all day (and a call home to my energy worker), but I was able to get the energy flowing better. Good. 

Karem asked if I would come to her house and give her a massage. Since I haven't been massaging much the way I'm used to, I was happy to oblige. Jorgan dropped me off after class and I had dinner with Karem, her friend Angel, her sister and her sister's boyfriend (and Karem's puppy, Blanca!)

After dinner, I worked on Karem while her sister and Angel observed -- kind of like school! I explained what I was doing and the importance of sinking through the layers of muscles. When I didn't know the word, Karem would chime in -- but as we got deeper into the work, she started getting massage head and had as much difficulty coming up with the words in Spanish as I did!

Angel walked me back to my house (he lives around the corner) and I crashed as soon as I hit my bed. The energy of the day finally depleted me. 

Monday, February 15, 2010

Peru Day 10: Carnivale in Cusco

Sunday was Carnivale, otherwise known in Peru as Soak-Everyone-You-See-With-As-Much-Water-As-Possible Day. The main square is a soakfest. Teenagers hanging out of the back of trucks, cars, vans, llamas (just kidding about the last one) drive around the plaza lobbing water balloons and buckets of water at passersby. Tourists are not as amused by this as the locals are. I have to agree with my compadres on this one, having suffered at the hand of supersoaker.

On the way to my favorite Internet cafe, I was halted by a rather messy water fight (they also like to use this foam stuff in a spray can). I stood at the end of the alley contemplating whether or not to risk additional soaking when a couple of musicians struck up a conversation with me. The drummer, Elmer, was going to another Internet cafe and invited me along. While there, I called my mom (Hi, Mom!) and surfed the net for a while. Elmer and I finished about the same time and he invited me for juice at the Mercado San Pedro. So I went.

Sadly (for the local kids), the rain hit the city HARD that afternoon. I was sheltered in the market and we decided to extend drinks to a meal at one of the stands. He ordered for both of us and what I got was an omelette on top of a bowl of white rice (surprise), tomatoes, avocadoes, papas fritas (French fries) and plantains. Add a little spicy sauce to that and you're golden. Gotta take Mike there.

Elmer walked me to a cab and asked me to come hear him play one night. We'll see...

For the limited activity, it was an exhausting day.  

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Peru Day 9: The Sacred Valley (but breakfast first)

Before heading to the Sacred Valley I had breakfast at my house. A typical Peruvian breakfast is much lighter than an American one -- pan (bread) something to spread on it and coffee or tea. Peru supposedly makes some of the best coffee in the Western Hemisphere, but I have yet to find anyone who sells it other than at mercado San Pedro, but even there it's only sold by the bagful, not the cup. 

Coffee in Peru is otherwise disappointing. Instant is the caffeine of choice, and it's getting harder and harder to swallow. But there is something that helps: Manjar. It's the light of my little Peruian world and I can't get enough of it. It's kind of like dulce de leche in spreadable caramelly goodness. Put a little of that on your pan and you can drink all the instant coffee Peru throws at ya.

On to the Sacred Valley...   
There are too few words to describe how infinitely small you feel when you're walking inside a town in valley of towering mountains. I traveled to Pisaq today, as well as a few other towns. We took the long route there as the bridge in Pisaq is still out after the raging Urubamba River severely damaged it a few weeks ago. It took about 2 hours to get there while the normal route is about 30 minutes. Why anyone would want to take the regular route is beyond me. "Spectacular" doesn't even begin to describe the views. The roads hug the mountains and the buses wind up, down and around each valley so that one moment you feel like you're on top of the world and the next minute you're just a speck of sand. 

Waterfalls popped out of the mountains like faucets and the different colors of green are astounding. I wish I had pictures to share but I spent most of the drive with my mouth hanging open in awe.

We spent the day in Pisaq, shopping at the stalls and eating empanadas. There's a famous empanada place in Pisaq (with a little guinea pig house so you can pick your own live one and have it cooked right in front of you) and we lounged there for almost 2 hours, drinking cafe con leche and watching the empanadas come out of the massive wood-burning oven in the wall.

I bought a piece of amethyst and a pair of silver earrings at one of the market stalls. The energy coming from these stones is stronger than I've felt anywhere before. I could barely touch done of them. The bus ride back (from the other side of the damaged but still walkable bridge) took about 30 minutes. We hung out in the center of Cusco at a hookah bar for a few hours before parting ways. The rain held off until I got in my taxi and headed home.

A note about the mudslides Cusco and the surrounding areas that suffered last month: Cusco is slowly pulling itself up by the bootstraps. Blue tarps abound over houses on the hills around the center of town and some of the towns in the Sacred Valley are also dealing with their share of cleanup and repair. The work will get done, as the country's livelihood depends on tourism, and I wouldn't hesitate for a minute to recommend coming here even now. 

I'll be checking on my Machu Picchu plans with my travel company some time this week and will let you know the status. Everyone around here has a different story about whether the site is open, if there are other routes to take besides the Inca Trail, etc. And here's what I currently know: there are definitely other routes. The trail is closed every February for maintenance, so I wasn't even considering it when I planned the trip. As far as I know, our route (the Lares trek) is still wide open. The problem is getting back down from MP, as some of the train tracks are still damaged. There are other ways down though, primarily buses and cars. It will be a longer ride, but who cares when you're traveling through this amazing country???

I'll report back when I know more later this week.     

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Peru Day 8: Massage is coming into play

When I originally looked for a volunteer abroad opportunity, I wanted to incorporate massage into it as much as possible. I knew this would not be easy because so many people really do not know how important massge is as THERAPY. 

For example, if you walk anywhere around the main square, you'll be offered massages at every corner. These seem legit enough and when I spoke to one of the girls who approached me she told me she went to school for MT (massage therapy) for 2 years. I plan to get one before I leave to report about it.

Unfortunately, because they're "peddling" this service on the street, it cheapens their work. And it cheapens my work. 

Jorgan didn't really understand what I did anymore than what he knew from the offers he's received in the square. So when he told me he was a guitarist, I pressed around on his upper back and chest (areas I knew would be tender based on how you hold a guitar) and he was shocked by how uncomfortable it was. So I simply began working on his hands. I spent about 5 minutes on each one, stretching the tissue and working the joints and when I was done, he spent the next few minutes looking at his hands in a little bit of awe. His description: "They feel so much lighter." I get that a lot.

The kids at the clinic are also starting to respond to my abilities, which is kind of interesting since I never really advertised my skills to them. One girl, Yesemnia, called me over to her bed at naptime and asked me to rub her head and her face. She calmed down quickly (they're all a bit hyper right before naptime) and asked me to rub her lower back. Yesemnia is not mentally handicapped, but she is physically. She can't walk without assistance, so she spends most of her time in chairs (I think she has a wheelchair but I've never seen her in it). Her lower back was tighter than any back I've ever felt, and it cramps up easily. The deeper I worked the greater relief she felt. I have a feeling her nap that day was a little more restful than it normally is.

Many of the kids have hand problems, ranging from mild cramps and pains to cerebral palsy. A couple of the girls asked me to work on their hands today (some of my favorite work) and they both expressed a kind of relief I hadn't seen before at the clinic. It was a good day of work.

Lunch at home was cream of asparagus soup and pasta with tuna, a dish my mother made frequently when I was a kid (a little differently here, of course). Because I devoured the soup, I was unable to eat much of the pasta dish, which was a real shame. I sometimes worry that Laura thinks I don't like her food sometimes, which is ABSOLUTELY NOT TRUE, it's just that I'm a small meal kind of girl these days, so if she'd leave some leftovers in the fridge, I'd happily munch on them in an hour or two! (PS: that's NOT a hint for anyone to call her and tell her to do that, ok?)

My last Spanish "class" with Jorgan was today and we spent a lot if time sitting and talking (in Spanish) at a little square next to Hotel Monasterio, probably the most expensive hotel in Cusco. The square is very quiet and beautiful and the perfect setting for a last class. The weather was exceptional -- sunny and breezy, about 70 degrees, and a variety of clouds in the sky. We were on a bench in the shade (no more sunburns for me, thank you very much) and Jorgan asked me to describe the cloud formations in Spanish. I know more words in Spanish than I thought. Pretty cool.        

Dinner at home was a Peruvian speicialty, papas de huancayna. It's a potato cut in half and smothered in what clearly is a not-too-healthy sauce because it's so damn good. Laura said the sauce was made of mayonnaise, butter and a few other words that I missed. Mmmmmm....

The days have been longer than I expected, so it was early to bed for me. 

Tomorrow is Saturday, so I'm headed to the Sacred Valley with a friend, her brother and another friend, who is also a guide. Sweet!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Peru Day 7: Lessons learned

When I woke up this morning I found electrical tape wrapped around the shower faucet and my curtains hemmed so that the burn marks weren't visible. This was a little bothersome, as the only place I mentioned these things were in the blog. They were not complaints, merely observations. But to know that my words are being read by someone and then action is taken regarding what I've said is disconcerting. Laura doesn't speak or read English fluently so I decided to talk to her about it as best I could. She was told to make those changes, and I was afraid it might make our living situation awkward. It didn't though and we hugged it out. Laura is awesome.

Now when it comes to telling it like it is in this blog... yeah, ok. I'll still do that.

Here are a few observations I've made here in Cusco that I pass along to any future visitors:

1. Just because the tourist stalls sell those colorful pants that look like pajamas doesn't mean you have to buy them. And wear them in public.

2. It rains here in Cusco this time of year. You knew that when you planned your trip, so why didn't you pack a rain jacket? You look a little silly in those overpriced, every-color-of-the-rainbow garbage bags they sell every time there's a crash of thunder.

3. Many of the restaurants and cafes right off the main square are really good. Locals use the Plaza de Armas, too, and they also need to eat.

4. If you look like a tourist you will be harassed by every hawker within 3 blocks of the main square. If you don't look like a tourist, you will still be harassed. And many of them don't take "no" for an answer (at least not the first time).

5. Inca ruins abound in Cusco. Get yourself a good guidebook or, better yet, a good guide (ask me for one).

6. The sun is friggin hot here and you WILL get burned. Sure I'm pasty white, so burning is what I do, but everyone I've met has forgotten to protect some part of their body at least once while here and they have the peeling skin or blisters to prove it. Even some of the locals carry sunblock.

7. Most of the taxis are gypsy cabs but there are a good number of legit cabs, too. If you want to play it safe, take a taxi that has the phone number on the top of roof. If you want to be a little more adventurous, take one of the others. For what it's worth, my amorous taxi driver was in a legit cab, so you never know what you're gonna get. 

Oh, and never pay more than 2.5 soles for a ride during the day anywhere in Cusco. It might go up to 3 or 3.5 soles after 9 or 10 pm, but that's still damn cheap.

8. The national flag of Cusco is the gay pride flag only in reverse. Just an FYI.

I'm also beginning to understand why the people here wear jackets and long-sleeve shirts even when it's 75 degrees out. That's because in a few hours the cold and rain roll in and we tourists are left shivering in our flip flops and tank tops.

Maybe a bright red garbage bag poncho isn't such a bad idea...

At the clinic today I offered my services in the kitchen for clean up after lunch. I dumped leftover food from the trays into the garbage, dried a few cups and bowls and was then asked to help prep for dinner. It was so nice working in a kitchen again even if all I did was peel cucumbers. I miss cooking!

For Spanish class, Jorgan took me to Molino -- the one-stop shopping for everything you could possibly need (or not). Pirating is big here -- you can buy movies that were released just last week for 2 soles (about 75 cents), the entire Windows operating system for about $4, or a nice outfit for church. And then you can finish it all off with a lovely meal of meat on a stick (with a potato at the end) -- it's awesome. It's next to the Huatanay River, one of the dirtiest rivers in Peru (according to Jorgan). I've smelled some dirty rivers around the world (you can smell a river in India a mile away).

I didn't buy anything, but may have to return next week. This is my only week of Spanish class (I've decided that 2 weeks is a bit much for "school") so I'll part ways with Jorgan tomorrow (but might make him show me more of Cusco one day next week).

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Peru Day 6: New friends, new foods

It's a beautiful day here, and I'm sorry to be rubbing it in to all of my snowbound amigos en Estados Unidos. It's about 70 degrees, the sun is out, and my SPF 90 sunblock is on. Simple breakfast of bread and a sinful caramel de leche spread that I can't get enough of (and Laura knows this so she puts it out at every breakfast.)

Being at the clinic gets better and better each day. There are a couple of kids I can't get enough of (Jonathan, Fior, Yesmenia) but I'm in love with all of them. I brought the packs of crayons that I purchased before coming to Peru (the staff was very appreciative) and throughout the morning I kept noticing things that the clinic desperately needs. So few of the kids are wearing clothes that fit them (it's all too big), most of their shoelaces are stripped, their toothbrushes are worn down and there aren't enough blankets to go around. It's a disturbing sight, especially since many families I know at home have more toys in their single house than this clinic has for all of its kids.

I am doing some massage on a few of the kids. Many of them are mentally ok but have physical issues (most can't walk without help). One girl asks for me to rub her lower back before naptime -- it's extremely tight and it seems like she feels relief (at least a little) after I work on it.

Lunch today was great. Soup, steak and (of course!) rice. When I told Laura I wanted to take pictures of the food since I've received a few requests, she made our lunch plates all pretty. We had a good laugh.

The weather changed again so quickly and right as I made it to class the skies opened and the rains came a-pouring down. Many of the rooftops are metal in the alleyways (where my school is) and the sound is deafening. 

The rain cleared quickly and Jorgan and I went out in Cusco again. Our conversations are getting better in Spanish, but I find myself getting lazy (for example, I pointed to a bench and called it el bencho). Whatever.

We got a little street food -- I really can't remember what it's called but it's meat on a stick with a potato at the end (I guess rice doesn't stay on the stick too well). We also got some tamales -- both sweet and savory. Mmmmm...

The interesting thing about all this good stuff is how close it is to the main square (or even in the square). I always feel like when I travel (at least in Europe) you have to dig deep to find those "special" places. In Cusco, they're right there, out in the open. The locals spend as much time in the main square as the tourists. Good restaurants are only a block or two away. It's kind of neat. 

Just as Jorgan and I were parting ways, I ran into some volunteers from the clinic who invited me out. Some of them have been in Cusco for a few weeks, others (like me) just a few days (I can't believe it's been less than a week -- I feel like I live here). Interesting people. We found a quiet bar (based on Jorgan's suggestion) and talked for about 4 hours. We all parted ways, looking forward to seeing each other the next day at the clinic.

Got home late and am off to bed. Good night.       

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Peru Day 5: The taxi driver thinks I'm muy bonita

This morning I got eggs for breakfast! I was grateful to have them, and I'm ashamed to say I sheepishly asked for ketchup. I know, I know. It's one of my few vices: ketchup on my eggs, excessive amounts of chocolate, and regular massages (ok, the last one really isn't a vice). Laura didn't mind -- especially since I gave her quite the questioning look when she put mayonnaise on her pasta last night.

The clinic was active today. I bounced between rooms, playing with all the kids. The boys room seemed less visited than the infants and girls areas so I spent more time con los niños. I grew attached to a couple of them right away -- particularly Jonathan (pronounced Yo-nathan). I spend a lot of time just touching them -- rubbing their heads or hands, tickling them or giving besos (kisses). Some are needier than others but that's just like the real world, no?

Lunch at the clinic is a messy process. Feeding the kids takes over an hour and as I just said, it's a little messy. I'm not a fan of mess. I'm working through it. Did I mention that lunch is messy?

After lunch is my favorite time at the clinic (so far). It's when we help get all the kids washed up and put them down for a nap. I go from bed to bed rubbing heads and giving kisses. As we leave each of them we say "Hasta mañana." I'm already dreading the day I can't say that. 

I walked home for lunch -- again, the biggest meal of the day. Started with soup, salad of crazy delicious tomatoes, avocadoes and lettuce. The dressing is simple lemon juice with salt. Lots of salt. The main dish was meatballs with a brown sauce and potatoes. It's too much food for me, but I manage somehow ;)

I headed off to "class" early by taxi. This was my first solo taxi ride today and let's just say that the driver took a liking to me. Our conversation went something like this:

Driver (in Spanish): Are you going to meet your husband?

Me (in broken Spanish):
No, my husband is in the United States.

Driver: You are very beautiful. Do you like your husband?

Me: Yes, I like him very much.

Driver: No other? You are very beautiful. You are very beautiful. Life is short.

Me: Ok, here is good. Thank you. Adios.

And then he blew me kisses as I got out. Ok.

I told Jorgan (correct spelling this time) about the conversation and he nearly fell over laughing. Thanks, Jorgan. At least the taxi driver thinks I'm muy bonita -- even with my sunburned face.

Spanish class today was out and about in Cusco. Ok, let's be honest: I'm not really interested in sitting in a classroom for 4 hours a day. And I don't think Jorgan is either (although he would because that's his job). So I think my $140/ week is getting me a friend/tour guide/Spanish tutor, in that order.

He took me to an overlook that was truly amazing and we hung out there for about 2 hours. We talked in Spanish and English, listened to music on my iPhone and laughed over his book, "How to Talk Dirty in Spanish." I now know words I never thought I needed to know in Spanish. Mierda!

We walked to another overlook, still coversing in Spanish and English (the Spanish is growing) and started to talk about la energia de la ciudad. This is a truly spiritual city and you can almost feel it vibrate. His uncle passed on early this morning and he told me that he gave a lot of thought to the conversation we'd had yesterday about life and death, parents, and being an adult when sometimes you just want to be a kid again. He wasn't sad to lose his uncle as death is a part of life, and he feels that his place is to support his mother (who, by the way, has the same birthday as me). Sounds familiar.

We walked home together and parted ways near my house. 

Dinner tonight was cream of rice soup and a new fruit called tuna! Lots of seeds that you just crunch through and a mild sweet flavor. It wasn't my favorite but I'll try anything once. Well, not anything. I'm still deciding on cuy.

"Lost" is a week behind here, so I'm watching the rerun. It's still good. 

Hasta mañana.   

Monday, February 8, 2010

Peru Day 4: Who knew falling in love would involve so much drool?

Well, if I thought Saturday's sun was bad I was sorely mistaken. Sunday's sun was worse. And I was unprepared. Mi cara es muy roja. And I've got the picture to prove it.

Karem picked me up at 9:30 and we walked over to the clinic -- about a 5-minute walk. She presented me as the volunteer who is also a therapist, so if there's any therapy needed, I'm their girl. But in the meantime I could just go and play with the kids. So that's what I did.

There are about 30-40 kids ranging from 2 years old to 13 (most are around 4-6) and they have a wide range of disabilities. So wide that in an ideal world they wouldn't be clumped together like this. But these kids are the lucky ones. The nursing staff is competent and caring and there were a good number of us volunteers (5 or 6 of us) helping out and spreading the love. I was the only American, but I'm getting used to that.

Right before lunch I found myself drawn to a little boy of about 3 years strapped to a wheelchair and crying. A quiet cry. His head was hot, so I blew on it a little and rubbed his head and hands. He quieted a little but not much. I couldn't bring myself to leave him so I became his lunch buddy and carefully fed him for the next 45 minutes. The time flew by. Drool abounded. He didn't eat as much as the other kids at our table (who were also being individually fed), but he ate more than I thought he would. And did I meantion he drooled a lot? Mi amo.

I left him with a nurse after lunch so she could wash him and get him ready for his nap. I went in search of others to help get ready for naptime and didn't have to go far. Teeth brushing is a big deal here (they all need new toothbrushes) and so everyone takes their turn. I went into the girls' bedroom and went from bed to bed quietly playing and connecting with the girls.

One girl asked me to come over ("Amiga! Amiga!") and took my hand and put it on her cheek. She motioned for me to rub her face and head and so I did. I was in love. Again.

We volunteers parted ways with los ninos y ninas, whispering "Hasta mañana" as we crept out. 

I walked back home to a yummy lunch of chicken, potatoes and, of course, a side of rice. I think if I were to go into a bar here and order a beer it would come with a side of white rice. My stomach bloats at the thought.

But truthfully, home-cooked meals are such a luxury when traveling. Laura even makes the juice we drink at each meal! Today's juice was made from purple corn that's boiled with cinnamon and a little lemon. Purple corn juice is damn good.

I took a little nap and then taxied to my first Spanish class (taxis cost about 75 cents all over town). For $140/week, my Spanish "class" is a private instructor for 4 hours a day. We'll do some book stuff and other days we'll go out around town and I'll learn through osmosis. I'm not as big of  a book dork as my students and clients think I am, so the "outside classroom" technique is probably best for me.

Jorgen (I'll correct the spelling tomorrow if I'm wrong) (my instructor) and I connected immediately. We spent about 2 hours in lessons and 2+ hours talking about our lives (mostly in English but the Spanish is starting to kick in). I talked a little about massage and he told me about his dreams to be a full-time musician and tontrael to Ireland. We both understand the power of Universal Energy. Time flew. I have a decent knack for connecting with people but when the connection is special, you just know it. This was that. 

We walked home together because he lives nearby and parted with hugs. Incredible.

Dinner was pasta with meat and jello for dessert. We talked about eating guinea pigs and caterpillars and sushi. Ahh.

It was a magical day. I hope you all have days like this.

Peru Day 3: Baby Jesus and the Black Eyed Peas

It's Sunday, and this is a very Catholic country. I came downstairs to find this (see below) on the coffee table. There's also a cross over my bed and a few religious "scenes" scattered throughout the house. Ok. I'm cool with that.

So I'd like to use today to thank the higher powers for my lavender oil. Sure, that might sound a bit silly, but walking around Cusco even in the cloudiness of the season you'll get some serious sun. As my host Laura said this morning at breakfast, "El sol en Cusco es mas fuerte." No shit. While I was getting ready for bed last night, I happened to look in the mirror and what looked back was one of the reddest faces I've seen since my trip to Africa. I just hadn't realized how much exposure I got yesterday (I'm sure my husband is tssking at me right now). Pale skin + high elevation + cloudy skies = sunburn for Marissa.

So I put the all-purpose, most-amazing lavender oil on my face before going to bed. When I woke up, nearly half the sunburn was gone and the heat from it was entirely gone. Fantastic. Maybe I'll buy some overpriced sunscreen today.

During breakfast one of Laura's friends stopped by to pick her up for church. While Laura was getting ready, I had the most fluent conversation with her friend in Spanish since I got here. I'm rarely at a loss for words, but trying to make conversation with people you don't know in a language you barely speak is un poquito challenging. So I talked about massage. Here, I'm a therapista de masaje and everyone I've met (after they ask me what I do) finds that muy interesante.

Can someone tell me how to say tight muscles and weak joints in Spanish? How about "medial border of the scapula"?

Laura and her friend took the large statue with them to church and Ali and I made our way to La Plaza de Armas after breakfast.

Armed with my backpack today, I filled it with a small clothing store, as the weather here is just a tiny bit unpredictable. Rain jacket is a must, and so is and underlayer ir two. We hiked to the main square. The walk is incrementally uphill and on day 1 it was the only time I felt the altitude (a little out of breath). Today was much easier and I'm pleased to say that Cusco's perch on top if the mountains has had no effect on me. Take that, altitude!

There was a little pomp and circumstance going on in the plaza. Men and women in uniform were marching in front of a bandstand of dignitaries while a rather loud band played on. I love a good parade.

Ali an I parted ways after that and now I'm pretty much on my own. I climbed up to the top of the city (whew!), got some great shots and made my way down slowly. 

I found a stoop in front of the discreetly advertised McDonalds because I can supposedly get free wifi. So far, no such luck. There was a small group of backpacking adolescents sitting near me and one of them was unsuccessfully plucking at a guitar. The only few chords he could strum were "Tonight's Gonna Be a Good Night" by the Black Eyed Peas. So NOT my favorite song (ridiculously unoriginal, boring melody, etc.). I asked them if they could play something else and I think they responded with a few words I didn't learn in high school Spanish. I guess that's what headphones are for, eh?

I was scheduled for a city tour around 2pm and had a couple of hours to kill. So I wandered in and out of shops, sat in the plaza and soaked up the sun (you should see my face now!)

I met up with my tour and befriended the only other two English-speaking people (two girls from Australia). The tour was amazing. We visited Incan sites in and around Cusco, most of which were in some way destroyed or built over by the Spaniards. The Incans had a way of building their temples and other buildings so that all they ever needed was stone and a little sand. Until I can post pictures from my camera, the best way I can describe their design is "very heavy Legos."

Apparently Cusco has had some massive earthquakes, the most recent being in the 1950s, and while many of the Spanish (Conquistadores) buildings crumbled, the Incan sites remained intact. Their building methods were waaaay ahead of their time (maybe it was all of the sacrificing).

I'll link to pictures when I get back home for those of you craving a history lesson (I know who you are).

I walked back home after the tour -- it took about 30 minutes and it was dark by then. I'll admit it was a little disconcerting walking alone at night, in an unfamiliar country and standing out like a pasty-white, sunburned thumb, but I think I'll get used to it.

Dinner was simple soup and fruit. I found a few English speaking channels on Laura's TV (including HBO and Showtime!) and settled in for a rerun of Lost. 

I start at the clinic at 10 am tomorrow. So excited!      

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Peru Day 2: Spaghetti Tortillas, Anyone?

Last night's sleep was restful, thanks to my sound machine. My bedroom faces the street and since there are no evident traffic laws here, the car horns play a kind of urban symphony. Unfortunately, Brahams isn't in their repertoire, so the "waterfall" option on my machine serves me well. Now if only I could do something about the draft....

Breakfast was simple: pan (bread), butter, some meat and preserves of a fruit I don't know. Instant coffee and another fresh juice as well. 

I met up with Karem and her sister, Ruby, and she took me to mercado San Pedro, the large food market near Plaza de Armas (the main square). The market was extraordinary -- so many different fruits and vegetables, aisles of grains, meats, cheeses and flowers. There were also a few cafeteria-style, pull-up-a-stool and eat what we're serving aisles, including those dedicated to fruit juices (made fresh), soups and other larger meals. Lots and lots of pictures.

Back home for a large lunch of soup, chicken stuffed with jamon y queso, salad and potatoes. Full, Ali and I settled in for an hour of Friends episodes before heading out for a long afternoon of walking around Cusco.

Our house is about a 30-minute walk from the touristy section of town. And, pleasantly, since it's the rainy season here, it's also NOT the tourist season. The walk to Plaza de Armas (the main square) is pretty straightforward -- lots of diesel-fueled cars puffing along, horns honking, masses of people. Food stalls scatter the sidewalks and stray dogs abound, including ones that look similar to Sam and Stella (I seriously contemplated letting this one follow me back to Laura's and asking her to take him in).

We strolled around the plaza and the various side streets, popping in and out of all the shops. The beauty of the souvenirs here is that many of them are handmade. I resisted all but a few items (which I can't divulge here since some of the recipients will probably read this) and purchased my ticket for a city tour tomorrow.

The Plaza de Armas really feels like a square on top of a mountain. This is one of those places where you feel as high up as you really are. Already I can tell that this city is special and I'm excited to see more.

We walked back to our house and rested for an hour before dinner which, as the title says, was spaghetti tortillas (with a side of rice). The tortillas were thicker and smaller and the spaghetti was cut up inside. Not my favorite dish so far, but enjoyable nonetheless when smothered in spicy ketchup. The side of red Jello was a bonus!

It's raining here tonight, so I've turned down Ali's invitation to join her for her last night out. While I'm not suffering from any altitude sickness, I do feel more tired. Hopefully that will wear off soon.