Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Cusco, Machu Picchu, Copacabana y La Paz

Hola a todos:
I apologize for the lack of posts lately, but am excited to report that I survived the first portion of my trip, and am now ankle-deep in my study abroad experience. I am writing from my host family household, where I will stay for the next 4 months while studying social movements, human rights, research methods, and Spanish in Argentina. This post will cover the final leg of my solo adventure, and I will try to post a week-in-review every Sunday from this point on.

Cusco was one of my favorite stops, and I am eager to return. In fact, what I thought would be 4 nights in Cusco turned into a week and a half. I owe this to the incredible environment I stumbled upon at Hostel Caja Magica. This hostel doubles as headquarters for a nonprofit organization which helps educate and care for young children coming from impoverished families. They hire volunteers from all over the world to work with these children, and have helped to better the lives of many young minds. I hope to return to Cusco to be a part of this effort, as well as to visit some of the incredible ruins and natural wonders available in the surrounding area. On my journey from Ayacucho to Cusco, two different, yet both very catholic, men tried to get me going on the Jesus train, and I arrived at 4:30am and got dropped off in front of the wrong hostel in an overpriced cab, peed in a storm drain, and finally made it to the right hostel to find that they do not open the door until 7am. In other words: I was not thriving. However, when a lovely soul let me in at 6am to a cozy common room with A1 wifi, I perked up. The following week and a half was brilliant, including a trip to Rainbow Mountain, drinking my body weight in chicha (corn beer that costs a mere 15 cents per pint), singing, dancing, and hanging out with the hostel's pet llama, Juanito. The best thing about Cusco however, was the emphasis on mother earth, also referred to as panchamama. Inca culture is centered around mother earth, and although the Plaza de Armas and colonial architecture screams "Spaniard," Incan spirituality is as alive and vibrant as ever. It is a beautiful culture, and was an honor to learn about.

At my hostel, I met another backpacker from the U.S, and together we ventured to Machu Picchu. This can be done by train or by a combination of bus and foot. The cheapest option yielded the most opportunity for adventure (shit to hit the fan,) but we went with it. The 6 hour bus ride from Cusco to Hydroelectrica was beautiful but nauseating. One of my biggest accomplishments to date is not vomiting upon arrival. From there, we hiked along the railroad track for 2 1/2 hours with the rest of the cheapskates, and spent the night in Agua Calientes, formerly known as Machu Picchu Pueblo. The next morning, we woke up at 4am and hiked to the ruin. To say that photos do not do it justice is a massive understatement. It was humbling to see the vastness of the ruin, and the mysterious energy it holds, To this day, nobody is absolutely certain of what each room and element of Machu Picchu was used as by those that built it. That, coupled with our wispy blanket of fog just made the experience more rich, and we even got the classic tourist picture overlooking the entire city. Although we had an altercation with our tour guide and never received the full-on guided tour, we spent the entire day there and listened in on segments of many tour groups while trying to appear casual. It worked pretty well, and we got to explore beyond the tour groups and manage our time in the parts we liked better. Overall, a win.

The day I left Agua Calientes was a bit of a stressful one. We hiked back to Hydroelectrica, took our bus back to Cusco (no puke on the return trip too!!!) and arrived around 9pm. I then sprinted to Caja Magica, grabbed my stuff, withdrew a bunch of cash, took a taxi to the bus station, bought a bus ticket, got slightly lost in the bus lot, and found my 10pm bus to Copacabana with minutes to spare. This also felt like a win, until I got woken up at 6:30am and dropped off in the middle of nowhere while the rest of my busload continued on to La Paz. Dazed, confused, and wearing two very different smart wool socks, I tried to figure out where I was because it definitely wasn't Copacabana. I had yet to deal with boarder control, so I knew I was in Peru, and soon a woman united me with two other lost-looking backpackers and put us all on a bus to the Bolivian boarder. Once there, the three of us hunted for a migration office, checked out of Peru, crossed the boarder under a lovely looking archway, and found the migration office on the other side. They are French, and passed through with ease. I, on the other hand, had to copy every single piece of paper related to my trip, take two color passport-style photos, fill out additional immigration paperwork, and pay a fee in order to get a Bolivian visa, which then had to go through the standard boarder crossing process. Luckily, the visa lasts 10 years, but it is something that only U.S. citizens have to do. Our boarder crossing process is way more challenging for non-citizens, and it definitely put that in perspective. At the same time, I now have an absolutely disgusting picture of my 7am post-bus self in my passport and in the Bolivian immigration system for the next 10 years. Sweet.

The French ladies I found were heading to Isla Del Sol, one of the most famous islands in Lake Titicaca, to meet up with some friends, so I decided to join them because I didn't have a hostel booked. We took a cab  from the boarder to the boat launch, and got some food and relaxed for a few hours until the boat came to take us out to the island. They're absolutely lovely, and we were very thankful to have found each other in these circumstances. The island was breathtaking, and we enjoyed some of the best views I've ever seen in my life. We hiked to the top of the mountain to watch the sunset, ate incredible seafood, and drank a ton of awful wine. It tasted like straight up Franzia. Bolivia is not famous for their wine. We picked up a lovely English traveler at our hostel, and the following day, we all went to La Paz together. That bus ride was almost as awful as the one to Hydroelectrica, but this one had some belligerent locals on it who were fun to talk to but also very loud and obnoxious when we were trying to nap. We arrived at an awesome party hostel in La Paz, and had a wonderful night, meeting some really cool people. This was also the Friday night of Carnival, and the festive energy of the city was palpable. Tons of foam, tons of costumes, and tons of color. My flight to Argentina left the following day, so I had to say goodbye to these lovely new friends, but I have kept in touch with a few, and hope to see them soon during their next travels.

As my time traveling came to a close, I felt incredibly grateful for the network of support and love I have both in Washington and California. This network has spread to many other parts of the world, and I am so fortunate to have met the people that I have on this journey. I haven't told my roommates this yet, but I have offered our couch in SF to many random people. Sorry, Sophia and Holly. Love you guys. I am excited to fully dive into my studies, and to re-introduce structure and scheduling into my life. Sending tons of love back home as always. <3

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Ayacucho

Que tal mis amores,
I hope that whomever is reading this, and wherever you are, that you´re having a wonderful day. I am currently super sunburnt, yet centered and happy - writing from my hostel in Cusco, Peru. This post will reflect on Ayacucho. This proved to be the most eye-opening stop, and I am very thankful for my time there, despite my ignorance and poor attitude upon arrival.

Ayacucho is a city in the middle of the Peruvian Andes, halfway between Lima and Cusco. I first heard of it at 2am at the Peruvian boarder, when I found an informational brochure while waiting in line to enter the country. The town looked beautiful, and there were llamas on the cover, so my sleep-deprived mind decided to add it to the itinerary. During the first two days, I regretted that decision. The city itself was quite large, which I was not expecting, and exploring it was a bit lackluster compared to the excitement of the other places I previously visited. There were very few tourists, which was made it challenging to get enough people on board for a natural excursion. The city was also under quite a bit of construction, which made my first night a sleepless one. I was fortunate enough to evade altitude sickness, but I got very homesick because I didn`t meet any other travelers. It was challenging, especially because the wifi service at the hostel was very poor, so I didn`t have good contact with home. In summary, after two nights I was in a bad mood and considered leaving a few days early to see Cusco sooner.

That morning, things began to change. I had a mood-booster dance party and decided to try again, and to engage in a more constructive activity than just wandering the city aimlessly. So, I looked in my guide book for a bit of historical context or advice on Ayacucho, and was stunned by what I found. It was the hardest hit town by Sendero Luminoso, or Shining Path, which was a maoist insurgency that swept through the outskirts of Lima in the 80s and 90s. I learned about this group within the context of the Cold War and different social movements in Latin America at the time, but completely forgot that Ayacucho accounted for most of the movement`s deaths and forced disappearances, most of whom were young men. With this information, the things that previously confused me about Ayacucho began to make sense. There were tons of hostels but very few tourists. The town center hosted a beautiful Plaza de Armas and a rich colonial history, but a majority of the buildings were new brick constructions with little effort to modernize. It is very close to Lima, yet still pushed to the margains of the Andes. Finally, when just wandering the streets, you see way more older women in traditional dress than older men. It all made sense. The city is thriving, yet is still working to rebuild and re-establish itself, while bearing the scars of armed conflict.

The guidebook mentioned a museum dedicated to the relationship between Sendero Luminoso and Ayacucho, so I went over there to learn more. My cab driver took me across town for free, because he was so excited that I wanted to see the museum. It was small, but incredibly humbling and surreal. It hosted portrait photos and brief biographies of many who had died or disappeared, as well as many of their personal belongings. It also had a torture cell replication and buried body replication, like those found in harsly built mass-graves. These things were challenging to see, but gave important and personal context to the historical period. In addition to the challenging artifacts, the stories and portraits of those who lost family members during the conflict gave me hope. Even today, many are fighting for justice, answers, and government accountability in an organization started by women in 1983, la Asociacion Nacional de Familiares de Secuestrados, Detenidos y Desaparecido del Peru (ANFASEP). They built the museum, a memorial park outside of the museum, a safe and sacred burial site for the bodies of their loved ones, originally thrown into mass graves by the insurgency. The story of these women were incredible, and their hard work has ensured that this event will never be forgotten in Ayacucho.

During my remaining time there, I met many incredible native people, relied very heavily on Spanish, ate a lot of delicious and inexpensive food, and embraced my inner history nerd. I look forward to returning, and am very thankful for my time here. From here on, I will spend 5 more nights in Cusco, and will post about my experience here when that time comes to an end. Wishing everyone a happy Valentine`s Day, full of love both for yourself and for those around you.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Lima

Buenos tardes,

Lima, the "city of kings" was nothing short of impressive. I spent 5 days and 4 nights there, and had an incredible time. I arrived in the early morning, after taking two overnight buses from Guayaquil and getting a Peruvian stamp on my passport. This left me with two softball-sized ankles, but I was excited regardless to see this city that I had heard SO many wonderful things about. I washed my mildew-scented clothes, showered, power napped, then began to meet the other people staying in my hostel. I met two super rad Auzzies, one of which had been on a city tour earlier that day, and she orchestrated a group from that tour and a group from our hostel to go to a laser fountain show. I went along with it, and after a super sweaty bus ride to the national stadium, we arrived at the water park. It was touristy as hell but we loved it. A huge show with pictures projected onto the spray ensued, and after the show we proceeded through the park until we found a path lined with bars. Apparently, we chose to hit the town on "national pisco sour weekend," which we were immediately roped into. Pisco is to Peruvians what vodka is to Russians, and the locals loved watching the gringos throw back. We danced, ate some amazing street food, and then went to central Miraflores, (the neighborhood our hostel was in,) and danced the night away to ACTUAL dancing music! What a concept! None of the bump and grind bs in the clubs at home. It was refreshing to say the least.

The following day, I chose to take it on the easier side. I managed to stave off a hangover, but wanted a me-day regardless. I journaled, blogged, napped, and went for a little walk around Miraflores. I continued the treat-yo-self mentality, and went out to dinner with the Auzzies at a nicer restaurant, which was delicious and the sunset backdrop complimented it perfectly. Super boujie, I know, but I'm ok with it.

Day 3 was a day full of personal adventure. I wandered along the street that boardered the ocean until it gave into a tangled highway system. Then, I walked along the beach until boom. I had entered Barrancos. This colorful neighborhood had the feel of a beach town, but all of the infrastructure and things you would expect to find in a big city. This is a completely different neighborhood than Miraflores, which is a bit on the nicer side, and feels more like a financial district full of trophy wives than anything else. I had an amazing lunch in Barrancos for dirt cheap, explored the vast collection of murals, and took a 30 cent bus back home. When I got back, I met a few Peruvian guys who used to work at my hostel, and played jenga with them for a while. They were so cool and very patient with my broken spanish, as are many of the local people I have met so far. I hung out with them and a few of their friends who were equally kind and hospitable, and we talked about everything from Peruvian cuss words to American politics. Great night overall.

After a second me-day, which I figured was affordable in a big city, I met a few girls from Greece in my hostel and we went to the historical district and back to Barrancos. We met a guy from southern Lima, and a girl from Muckleteo (PNW BABY, YEAH!) who joined us, and ended up serving as tour guides. It was a rad day overall, and I plan on meeting up with my lovely Greek goddesses when I get to Cusco.

Lima was both a relaxing and exciting place, but I am excited to get out of the big city environment for a while. I am currently in Ayacucho, which is smack dab between Lima and Cusco, and will blog about it upon leaving.

Hope you all are having an awesome day, and I can't wait to see you all soon! <3


Sunday, February 5, 2017

La costa ecuatoriana

¡Hola!
Oh man. The past 2 weeks have scorched by literally and figuratively, and I think by the time I get home my face will have morphed into one huge freckle. Since my last post, I have made many stops: Puerto López, Montañita, and Guayaquil in Ecuador, and am currently in Lima, Peru. I will keep this post Ecuadorian, but I will say that, yes, standing in line for hours to cross the Peruvian  boarder at 2am on an overnight bus is an absolute dream come true and is the ultimate tourist attraction for anyone looking to further some misery.

I'll start with Puerto López. This is by far one of the most gorgeous places I've ever been, and I very much look forward to returning. The bus trip to get there was a bit of a drag, and I burned the hell out of my leg on a motorcycle tailpipe, but it was well worth it. The small beach town is nestled in the center of el Parque Nacional Machallila, which hosts an incredible variety of protected lands to explore. I began my exploration at Isla de La Plata, which is commonly known as the "poor man's (or person's???) Galapagos." It did not disappoint. While I did not discover any new theories on natural selection or see 4 different colors of sand in the same place, I also didn't spend thousands of dollars, and for that, I am super happy. I did, however, get to live out my dream of seeing a blue-footed boobie and massive sea turtle up close. I also had the chance to snorkel in the shallow reefs near the island, where I saw tons of coral and many types of colorful fish. The following day, I took a bus with some hostel-mates to La Playa de los Frailes, which is a gorgeous protected beach that hosts some of the most fascinating tide pool systems I've ever seen. We scaled some rocks and scraped some knees but it was an absolutely incredible day overall. Later that day, I got to reunite with a former Camp Sealth coworker in all of her turtle conservation glory, and look ridiculously awkward in a salsa dancing class. My salsa has since improved, but I still uphold the stereotype of the white tourist with two left feet. I met many incredible people at this point in my trip, which made it all the better. I ended up joining a sweet young couple from Córdoba, Argentina on the next stage of their backpacking adventure in Montañita, in a hostel recommended by a fellow U.S. backpacker, and ran into the women at my hostel from New Zealand and Germany who came to Montañita several days after we did.

Montañita was not originally on my itinerary, but I'm very glad I went. It lives up to it's raging reputation, which was not kind to my shoestring budget, but was an absolute blast. Here, I met people from all corners of the world coming together to live a nocturnally for a weekend. In a way, it united everyone under a blanket of booze and created a welcoming and celebratory energy. It was a super touristy pit stop, I'm not going to lie, but sometimes it's fun to own your tourist side and have some fun. Here, I met even more incredible people, some of whom I hope to have in my life for a long time.

After Montañita, I went to Guayaquil, Ecuador. I planned on staying here for a simple pit stop to Peru, but the atmosphere of the hostel I randomly picked kept me there another night. I arrived to a grey-looking city dumping buckets of rain, and fell flat on my ass right outside of the main bus terminal. American Idiot may or may not have been playing in the background. I was miserable, had been on a bus for hours, and all of my stuff was wet, but I felt immediately welcomed and happy among the wonderful family gathered there. During my first day, I left the hostel in the morning with a team of 5 Dutch people, (all traveling separately?? Crazy coincidence,) and the group slowly broke apart until it was just me and a 65 year old pot farmer from Amsterdam named Dirk. I thought this guy was super strange when I first met him, but we ended up going on a massive adventure through the rain-soaked city and having a wonderful time. He began backpacking when he was my age, and has traveled and lived all over the world. He went to school for philosophy, and has a fascinating take on life, which was incredible to soak in. During this trip, I also spent a ton of time with the woman who owns the hostel, and she wants me to come back and work for her at some point in the near future.

In a nutshell, Ecuador was absolutely brilliant, and I can't wait to go back. The wildlife was incredible, the food was incredible, and the fact that I didn't have to lose money during a foreign currency exchange was incredible. Despite all of this, the best part was the people. Each Ecuadorian I met was unbelievably helpful, kind, patient, and thorough. They made this experience what it was, and I hope to take some of their energy with me on the next stage of my travel, and my life.

Sending all of my love to friends, family, acquaintances, and strangers back home. Looking forward to seeing everyone soon, and hearing about your adventures!

Ps. This blog site doesn't allow me to post photos from my phone, so I put a link for my Facebook album of photos below if you'd like to check them out. ❤Click here for Photos

Monday, January 23, 2017

Otovalo y Quito

¡Hola a todos!

The past few days have been a whirlwind both here in Ecuador as well as at home. Since my last post, I have spent one night in Otovalo, and two in the historical district of Quito. My Latin American Perspectives professor from last semester first told me about Otovalo, as it is a town that exemplifies the blend of indigenous culture and modernity. Otovalo is famous for its mercentile nature, which has existed since pre-colonial times. Many Otovalans still dress in native clothing and speak the native language of the region, while also expanding their trade on a global scale. On a local scale, the weekly Saturday market takes over the entire city, rain or shine. When I arrived Friday afternoon, I wandered about for a bit to get the general layout of the town. Flanked by lush green hills, it radiated charm while also having the modern edge and tourist attractions of a larger city. It was raining pretty heavily, so not many people were out, and I turned in early. Saturday, however, each main and side street was packed with food, textiles, trinkets, tourists, and local families. Even the outskirts of the city bustled, as a weekly livestock market takes place at the same time. The rain persisted, but it had no effect on the crowds. While exploring the market, I saw an unfamiliar fruit at one of the stands, and asked the vendor if I could try it. She punctured the fruit and exposed a spongey interior with sauce-like seeds. I took a bite of the whole thing and she laughed, then explained to me that you only eat the inside. I was confused as to how to make that happen, so I used my fingers to try and pry out the seeds. She laughed again, and showed me how to properly eat it, then let me have it for free. I can't help but think she did so because of my white stupidity, but she was very sweet and endearing. Regardless, I tried a "tree tomato" for the first time, and it was pretty damn good.

Upon arriving in Quito that same day, I explored a bit in the rain and found many incredible buildings, side streets, and monuments. The neighborhood was more crowded than Otovalo, but the historic nature made it feel like a small town regardless. I'm currently staying in a hostel with several men from Punjab, and several from Basque, all of whom are extremely kind and have made me food on multiple occasions, which is the ultimate key to my happiness. I feel more independent here than I have in a very long time, and am happy, despite cultural differences and the constant smell of BO.

While I am very happy here, being away from the US during this critical point in our history makes me sad and angry. Regardless, I am unbelievably proud of everyone who spoke their truth at national and international womens marches the day after Trump's inauguration, and who continue to do so in the days that followed. In Ecuador, the election season is hitting it's climax, with today being the final day of voting. While hanging out at a park near my room yesterday, I saw a brilliant political demonstration with music, dancing, and paper-mache characature heads of their desired presidential and vice presidential candidates. Many young people attended, and many families watched and danced along with them. It was awesome to say the least, and made me feel hopeful and excited to see what is to come.

My first major stop was incredible overall, and I am very excited to see what else is in store for me here. Sending everyone in the U.S. tons of love and support❤❤❤

Thursday, January 19, 2017

"Es un día muy especial"

¡Buenos días de Tababela, Ecuador!

I am currently seated in a hostel several miles from the Mariscal Sucre airport, I have showered (finally), and I am ready to start documenting. The last flight I was on, from Fort Lauderdale to Ecuador, was an incredible glimpse into the culture I've entered. 90% of those on the flight were native Spanish speakers, and many came in families. Everything was going smoothly until about an hour from Quito, when the flight attendant asked if anyone on board was a nurse or doctor. Looking up, I saw a circle of women using magazines to furiously fan whoever was in the middle. To say I felt like a clueless American tourist at this time would be  an understatement. Those around me left their seats despite turbulence to bring whatever they thought would be helpful to the circle, and after several minutes the circle disappeared and all was calm once more. Once the plane landed, everyone around me began to applaud. I have never seen a cabin of U.S. passengers applaud upon landing. The sense of gratitude and community was palpable, and in that moment I knew that this is exactly where I need to be. Despite feeling clumsy, nervous, and out of place, I feel excited and, and I know that my ignorance and "American tourist" feeling will morph as I am exposed to a culture where my personal way of life is not dominant.

In the spirit of gratitude, I would like to public ally thank my family and friends for their overwhelming support, as I would not be here without it. The hostel I'm staying in has a lovely garden, with a sign saying "es un día muy especial." To me, this could not feel more relevant. Today is a special day, as are all of the days we are living as our most authentic selves and exploring the world around us. Thank you, and I wish you all a very special day!