miércoles, 9 de febrero de 2011

Parting with Peru

It was not quite so easily to leave Peru, literally and figuratively. My mom and I had both of our flights set for Wednesday, February 3rd. Except we forgot to think about one thing: the time. We got it into our heads that we would be flying out Wednesday night, after midnight. However, the flights were at 12:20 and 12:40 a.m. (Tuesday night). Instead of heading off to the airport, I was having a last get-to-gether with my English students and my mom was resting because she had come down with a stomach bug. As soon as we realized it, our flights were long gone!

Another tale to add to my adventures and fiascos in Peru. Since we had already missed our flights, we decided to stay another week in Lima. Everything works out for a reason because I got to take more time to say my goodbyes and leave tiny recuerdos for people. So, though it was frustrating, it turned out well. It seems that Peru is not making it so easy for me to leave it, to go back to Seattle. Right now, I am sitting in the Reno airport, having to wait 6 more hours for the next flight to Seattle because my plane had technical problems

I thought I would be ready to go back to the states. But on my very last day, I realized that I would never be totally prepared to say goodbyes. My mom and I went to the market where I had given a little gift and note; we said goodbye, took pictures and even received little things from them, chocolates, granola and cookies. The generous hearts continue to amaze me. We said our goodbyes to all the Sisters in Las Delicias because it was Angelica's welcome to the community party (and our day leaving). Magda says they will always remember this day, the 8th of February. It was a sweet, albeit bitter, last hour with the Sisters. Later, reading the letters that some of my English students had written me, remembering all the beautiful moments, I suddenly got really sad; thinking especially about all the incredible friends that I would leave behind, the carino and amistad that emanates from the community. It's something really special that I will dearly miss. I thought about how much more I could give and get out of one more year serving as a volunteer. But, one year is long already and I know my future has something else in mind for me.

I can't believe how incredibly lucky I was to find the wonderful community that I did in Tupac. I would go back in a heartbeat if I had the opportunity to visit again. I am truly honored to have served as a volunteer for a year in Peru. And thank you all so much for making it possible; for all your support, prayers and good thoughts that were always with me. Knowing all the support that I had from all of my family and friends who were following my service, really kept me motivated and positive.

martes, 25 de enero de 2011

More photos from Ecuador

In Zabalo:


In Quito and AroundThere


martes, 18 de enero de 2011

Adventures in the Cities and Jungles of Ecuador

Been back for a week or so in Lima and, I have to admit, its nice being back to the familiarity and comforts of the house in Tupac. It's always funny how you appreciate things so much more when you're away from it for awhile.

Ecuador was fun; we had our share of laughs and grimaces, incredible encounters with creatures, lost-in-translation and ridiculous moments and all the rest in between.

The whole trip seemed like we were always moving, going somewhere in car, train, taxi, boat. Felipe, a friend from college who is from Ecuador, came to pick us up at the airport. We made a short stop to his house in Quito, where we left some of our things. Then, we headed off to Papallacta, a place known for its thermal hot springs. Quito is the highest capital city in South America, 9,186 feet and Papallacta is even higher, at around 10,826 feet. We didn't end up getting there until it was dark, but were able to grab some dinner (the quimbolitos, a kind of type of sweet humita was yummy) and enjoy the hot springs all to ourselves (they said it was under construction so they even waived the fee for using it!) The water was lukewarm but then discovered another one that was enclosed and nice and toasty! What a nice way to relax after the drive. Unfortunately, my mom was feeling the altitude and so she only managed to eat soup in bed and go to sleep.

The next morning, we were off to Lago Agrio. This long drive was possible the worst I have ever been on; going up and down mountains and around dozens of curves. All of us girls in the car ended up really sick and lost our breakfasts! Imagine our relief when we finally got to the town. There, we bought our supplies to get prepared for the jungle: rain boots (that were probably the most valuable things we bought), ponchos for the rain and bug spray (other things we soon found out we couldn't have survived without.) We were all set and ready for the jungle! After staying a night in Dureno, which was only a 30-minute boat ride from Lago, we headed out to Zabalo, a six-hour boat ride on the Napo River.

My mom and I were "jungle girls" for a full week in Zabalo. The jungle turned out to be totally different from what my mom expected (I suppose I went in myself not knowing what to expect). Instead of sleeping outside, among all the nature, we got to stay with Felipe's family in their big, wooden cabin. There were faucets with running water that was collected from the rain, a stove in the kitchen and beds with mosquito nets. Talk about roughing it. Haha. Unfortunately, we'd be roughing it in other aspects. The morning that we had headed out to Zabalo, we were completely unprepared in terms of dealing with the bugs. We had got unarmed, without the lotion or spray bug repellent. As we took a "bathroom break" on one of the sandy islands, we literally got attacked by tons of gnats! I have never known about gnats before; but I can tell you they are the most vicious black bugs! In the perhaps 10 minutes we were on the island, I must've received at least 30 bites, and my moms double that (since she was even worse off and wore a dress!) As we got back in the boat and were preparing to leave, Felipe told us how there were plenty of gnats on this island and how you could tell their bites because they left a little blood spot mark in the center... Hmmm, good to know. But it was a bit too late. Haha. They had already made lunch out of us, and, we soon found out, would make many many more meals out of us.

By the time we got to Zabalo it was dinner. Amelia, Felipe's mom, served us up a hearty soup, consisting of rice, bananas (plantains, I think) and tapir (a type of boar kind of meat that tastes similar to). It was pretty tasty. And yes, while I was in Ecuador, or at least Zabalo, I did forgo my vegetarian-ness and tried a few different meats. I figured that 1. It would be hard on them if I didn't eat any (I think even more so in Peru, Ecuadorians don't understand why anyone would be vegetarian) 2. The way they survived out there was hunting/fishing for their food and it couldn't hurt me to try it out for a week. 3. They weren't being inhumane to the animals. So in all my time there I tried Paka (a large rodent type meat) and Tapir. We also ended up eating a lot of fish that they caught from the river. We even ate Piranha!! My mom liked to joke how "We are eating the piranha instead of it eating us. Haha.)

Since the next day was Christmas Eve, we set out with the family to do some/hunting and fishing to catch something to prepare for the Christmas potluck. They kept their eyes out for large turtles and caiman since it is legal on that day to hunt them for Christmas. Many times when they go on hunting trips for the day, they start out with a nice, hearty breakfast (something like rice, lentils, fried fish and fried bananas). Then they go out all day hunting/fishing and only bring along the banana drink. The popular drink there was one made from bananas which they boiled, mashed and then mixed with water. This drink was supposed to keep you hydrated since bananas have a lot of potassium. Somehow, this manages to sustain them until they come back at night. Unfortunately, my mom and I were not accustomed to this and so we a few of our own snacks on board.

As we were riding on the Zabalo River, we ended up seeing a caiman (a type of alligator-type thing that took us a whole 10 minutes to actually make out since it blended in so well to the dirt), a tarantula (hiding in its nest), and even an anaconda (which they told us we were really lucky to see because they hadn't seen it in a long time!) It gave me a fright when I was taking a video of it because Felipe's brother, Joshua, started splashing it with water to make it move or do something. It started slithering into the water right near the boat, about two feet from where I was taking the video. I jumped back so fast I almost fell out of the boat! Que susto! We saw man vibrantly colored butterflies and birds, some with beautiful songs and some with some awful squeaks. I found out that I was among friends when I heard about these birds that are purely vegetarians. Then, we saw a toucan, which my mom and I were both admiring, only to hear a "boom" and see a shape falling down through the trees. I guess they said toucans make good meals as well. Later, my mom told me how she was so devastated to see this lovely bird, with all its bright colors, shot and killed. At the end of the day, we came back with a load of fish and some small game.

The next day, we got to see how the Cofan community celebrated Christmas there. The morning started out with games such as finding the bean under the can, flyers up and egg toss (which lasted quite long, with many a time an egg falling on the ground without cracking one bit... Haha). For lunch there was the potluck; where every family had brought a dish to contribute (My mom and I ended up making banana bread). The long, wooden tables were covered end to end with metal pots. Felipe's dad, Randy, being chief, then began to go around to each pot, lift it up and explain what it was; arousing much laughter with his jokes and commentary. When he was finished explaining, everyone just kind of shoves their plate to the server (the person who made that pot of food) and you serve them. It's a bit chaotic but fun. Since I was serving the banana bread, my mom ended up only getting us three dishes to try (the most normal, she says): yucca, rice and beans and tapir.

After, there were piñatas games which turned out to be crazy. Even the adults went insane with rushing for the candy! Fun times! Later, they handed out bags of treats to each family (collected from different donations) and even to the visitors! There were soccer and "Ecua-Volley" games in the afternoon. Felipe explained to me how it was Ecuador's take on volleyball, rougher and more intense, with three players on each side, and (I think) with less rules. It was fun watching but, still getting attacked by the gnats, we decided to head home. It was definitely a unique Christmas and I really enjoyed just getting to see and spend time with the community. I thought it was great that the Christmas there wasn't anything about material gifts and consumption. In fact, the only gifts we received were those goody bags from the community. What a nice change!

Most of the rest of the week was spent on hunting/fishing trips, a caminata walk with Tio Mauricio (where we learned about lots of different medicinal plants of the jungle and saw him make a backpack out of reeds), playing with little Jeremiah, hanging out in the cabin, taking baths in the river (with currents so strong you had to be careful not to be swept away) and collecting fruits from the trees. It was fun but we were ready to go back to the city (where there'd be no more problems with bugs).

After a couple nights back in Quito, Amelia wanted to take us to Banos. We spent the night there, a place known for its thermal springs. We decided to go to the springs the next morning; enjoy the medicinal properties of the water. Just after we had taken our showers and were getting ready to dip into the springs, one of the guards stopped us, saying how my mom couldn't go in with all those things on her legs. I argued, saying they were only bug bites (originally they had asked her, and since we said it was really only bug bites from the jungle, they said that was fine). But the guard insisted she could not go in with the other customers. He was adamant, saying she could have her own "private" one downstairs if she liked. Sheesh, these bug bites must've looked pretty bad, poor mom!

Having learned a thing or two in my year in Peru, I said we would just leave instead, but would want a refund, of course. Going back down, they said they do not do refunds and pointed to the sign that stated it. It was the principle of the matter and so I kept insisting, saying everyone said originally it was okay for her to go in. Luck have it, they returned our money and it ended up being a beautiful, sunny day to spend around town.

We're not sure if it was an allergic reaction from the bug bites or what, but my mom's knee suddenly got inflamed a couple days back into Quito, after we had done some tourist sites there such as Mitad del Mundo.

She decided to rest in the house in Quito while we went up to the family's farm a few hours away. It was nice. We parked the car and made the 1 1/2 hike to the cabin, where it ensued to rain all weekend. Lucky for me, I only sunk in mud twice, where it came up to my knees (but at least I had my rain boots!) I still haven't mastered maneuvering walking up and down hills in the muck. I mostly "hung" at the farm, playing with Jeremiah. The guys mostly go there to do work on the farm and fix things up. There was a lovely room with an open fire which was nice because it was cold there! The day we left, in the wet morning, we went out to milk cows which I was not so successful at. I'm not cut out to be a farm girl either, I guess! Then we headed back to the city in the evening.

Ecuador treated us quite well, save for the hundreds of mosquito bites. My mom had quickly noted that it has a very different feel than Peru. It's really great how every place has its own unique things to offer. Now we have a couple more weeks to discover more unique things about Peru!

jueves, 11 de noviembre de 2010

Cooking Classes

For the past month, I have been going to my Cocina and Reposteria class at Fe y Alegria. The school is offering different types of classes for eight-weeks, such as classes for jewelry making, learning how to use computers, guitar, speech therapy, knitting and crocheting, art and my class, cooking and desserts. I missed the very first class, so the second week where I attended, I only observed being as though I didn’t have a group who had brought the ingredients for the dishes. An ex-alum of Fe y Alegria is teaching the class. She is 17 and studying to be a cocinera at an institute in Lima. For the first class we made Frito Novoandino en Salsa de Maracuya (in this case, Fried Chicken in Passion Fruit Sauce). It turned out yummy (though I can only vouch for the passion fruit sauce). We also made Pollo a la Griega con Cebollitas Griegas (Greek Chicken with Greek Baby Onions). Hmmm… Again, I can vouch for the onions. Yummy! I soon realized that probably the only non-meat dishes we will be making will be the desserts in this class. Haha. Peruvians love their meat; especially chicken. Pollerias in Lima are probably like Starbucks in Seattle; on every corner.
The third class, taught by Efrair, who runs the kiosk at the school, taught us how to make a Pye de Manzana (apple pie) and Tequenos (fried wontons filled with cheese or hot dog) with an avocado salsa. The Tequenos were nice and light, the perfect appetizer when you’re short on time. The pie was delicious. I finally found a great recipe for pie crust! The trick must be to knead the dough, and knead it some more. Everyone was laughing at me because I was the one elected to knead the dough (my fingernails being the shortest) and I kept being like “Really? With my hands?” especially after they threw an egg into the batter. Even was I was a little kid, I would cry when my hands would get dirty and want to wash them right away. But, soon enough, I started to enjoy the feeling of delving my hands into the gooey-ness.

The next class, we made the Causa Tricolor which is a popular dish in Peru. It is basically a mashed potato sandwich, the filling can be tuna fish, onions, tomatoes, peas, carrots, avocado, red peppers or any other combination you’d like. Since this one is tricolor we used the juice of spinach, beets and yellow potatoes to make beautiful colors of green, pink and yellow, all different layers and filled with avocado, mayonnaise and shredded chicken (I substituted chicken for tuna fish when I prepared later). It is a very attractive plate but takes a long time because you have to separately blend the spinach and beet in the blender and then extract the juices with a colander. On this day, we also made the famous Arroz Con Leche, a popular dessert that’s more or less like a rice pudding. Both were delicioso!

My taller is giving me a different taste of Peru, in more ways than one. Las salsas are riquisimas here; papa a la huancaina (potato, cheese, milk and aji amarillo), salsa verde (spinach, basil, cheese, and milk). In this class, we are learning foods that are a little more untraditional, a bit more specialty. The passion fruit sauce was a lovely surprise- a mix of citrusy sour and sweet tingle on your taste buds.

In the classes, everyone takes a small spoonful, tasting. When we make desserts, the cans of condensed milk are cleaned with spoons, with fingers. Mixing bowls are licked clean. It’s like kids in the kitchen when mom or dad cooks a cake or cookies and leaves quite a bit of batter in the bowl just for you. When their kids stroll in after their tallers they get passed a taste of the goodies. It’s part of what makes these neighborhoods special, the feeling of community.

Since I’ve met some of the mothers in this class, they invited me to play volleyball with them last Friday. They are greatly amused by the way I play and how I always seem to let the ball bounce once before I hit it back. Many times, I see them in the school or walking with their kids back to their houses and we strike up conversations. My favorite thing is seeing the parents with their kids; especially seeing the parents who are really involved in their child’s life, always talking with the teacher about how they did or reviewing their notebooks and seeing what they did in their classes. And it gives me even greater joy to see one of my students with both of their parents, going off to do something together on the weekend, even just going on walks together in the market.

In the places that we serve, there are a lot of single mothers, women who have gone through so much and yet are still resilient. Many of these women are in the parish, the ones who are the pillars of this community, visiting the sick, offering Healing Touch therapies twice a week in the library, and giving so much compassion and help to those who need it. I am continually impressed by the generous hearts of people who have so little themselves. This is what makes my service here stand out so much to me; to see the whole community working together to give a helping hand whenever one is in need, be it a pollada to raise funds for someone or simply paying a visit to one's house.

domingo, 19 de septiembre de 2010

The Un-Official Art Teacher

I have no trouble falling asleep here; especially these past couple of weeks. Recently, I end my days exhausted from teaching classes, preparing materials, correcting spelling and grammar, and giving grades. Plus the little things that help make this house run; answering the door for questions about the parish, feeding the dogs, going to the market for groceries, being in charge of the finances, Being a teacher is hard!

For each class, it has taken me around an hour or so to look at their art and edit their stories; part of which is from some of their illegible handwriting and spelling. Then another few hours to prepare the materials for all of the classes and think of a project that we will do for the next week. At least it is giving me a glimpse of what life as a teacher is like, which is one of the reasons why I came to Peru. I am still not exactly sure what I would like to do as a career when I get back to the U.S. But I am finding that I really love working with students and the being in a 'learning environment.'

It definitely comes with its rewards. These past couple of weeks, I have been making origami with them. The first week we made tiger heads. I had them glue it on a piece of paper and then draw the tiger’s body and scenery and, later, write a story to go along with it. Some of the drawings turn out really great but the stories are what I love the best! Some of the students are definitely aspiring young writers in the making. Though almost 90% of them start out with “Habia una vez…” There was a time… But then some of them amaze you and come up with the most creative stories with terrific endings. One of the stories was about how a tiger was about to eat a rat, but the rat said he would help the tiger someday if he didn’t eat him. The tiger laughed saying, how can you help me. Right after, a hunter came, caught the tiger and tied him up. So, the rat, keeping his promise, gnawed through the rope and set the tiger free. There are some really profound morals in some of the stories, and others where the tiger is hungry so he finds food and eats it and is happy.

My idea for art classes so far is that we can make origami art, each week doing something a bit more complicated. They would glue it on a piece of paper and write a story, each week making a new origami art and story. That way, by the end of the year, they will be the authors of their own books, full of beautiful origami and stories that they can read with their families. Since some of the teachers wanted to do plants or flowers since they were studying that in their class, the second week, we made origami flowers from bright construction paper.

One of my biggest goals right now is trying to show all the students that they are artists and can create beautiful work, give them more confidence in their own abilities, both in crafts and drawing. There are a good handful of them who, right away, say they can’t draw badly, have their friends do their drawings, covering up their work with their hands the entire class time or shoving their work below the pile when they turn it in. Goal number two: getting the ones who only write one line to write more, and like it!

As time goes on, I am getting the hang of teaching art classes. Perhaps I have yet to discover, if at all, what kind of teacher I’d like to be; art, English, elementary school, high school...

martes, 7 de septiembre de 2010

A Week of Celebrating Sheila

First up was Sheila's first birthday party which we threw on Monday, August 30th. Sheila was so excited that she barely slept the night before. This celebration was so that her sister-in-law and her kids could attend since it was a national holiday of Santa Rosa. Unfortunately, five minutes before 1:00, when everyone was supposed to arrive, we received the phone call that they couldn't make it because they were sick. It was especially sad because early that day, Sheila kept telling Magda and I, "They aren't going to come. I know no one's going to come to my party." Rejections and let downs.

Luckily, Magda made frantic calls to some of the women from Pastoral and, being the caring and generous women they are, they came for the birthday lunch. Instead, we turned it into a celebration of Santa Rosa so Sheila wouldn’t feel so bad. It worked. The day turned out lovely. We ate lots, danced a little and laughed a lot.

On Thursday, we had Sheila’s real birthday party, starting with a lunch with the Sisters from the house in Las Delicias. For lunch, there was Aji de gallina, one of Sheila’s favorite dishes. At the end of the lunch, we brought out Sheila’s presents and birthday cake, and Sheila had us do the tradition of passing the candle from one person to the next until it came back to her. We chatted and then danced. Sheila absolutely loves music and loves to dance (especially Huayno, a traditional dance of people from the mountains). She can out-dance everyone with her Huayno, moving her feet to the music so fast it’s exhausting both to do and to watch. Haha.

Before long, her “aunts” and friends from the parish started arriving to join in the celebration. No one left without dancing a bit. “No cake for you if you don’t dance,” Sheila said, laughing. Most of her “aunts” and “grandmas” are actually just paisanos that lived in the same village as Sheila’s family and knew her parents; people who have long since moved to Lima, fleeing from the Sendero Luminoso, or rebel terrorist group that began in the 1980s and were largely concentrated in Ayacucho.

Many of these “tias” took Sheila in off and on over the years. But Sheila never stayed with them; she was always restless and wandering…

To our delight, more than 20 people came to join in the celebration of Sheila’s life. It was nice for her to see just how special she is. This was her very first time actually celebrating her birthday; she’s never had any parties, cakes or presents on her birthday. One of the favorite things for us was seeing Sheila acting like an adult, joining in conversations and insisting her guests eat more by serving trays of food. It was a full day of celebration; from a 1 o’clock lunch to 9 at night when the last guests left after more dancing and cleaning up.
But the celebration didn’t stop there. A couple days later, Saturday, was Sheila’s baptism. Many of her aunts came, as well as a few friends from the parish. The Baptism was really beautiful and Sheila was glowing with happiness. For the past couple of months, she has kept nagging Magda about her baptism. Since she can’t read and has a hard time learning by teacher-style lectures, Magda talked to her about Jesus and bought her a nice DVD on the life of Jesus so she could prepare for baptism. Father Jose, from the church here in Tupac, welcomed Sheila to get baptized along with the others. Finally, her wish had come true.

The baptism had a nice human touch thanks to Father Jose who preaches at the church here in Tupac. He is originally from Ireland connects well with the people here with his down-to-earth nature. Everyone attending the service kept commenting on how funny Father Jose was, using his hands to pour water onto the young people during the baptism. After Sheila got baptized with water, lit her candle, got affirmations declared by her godmother, and got anointed with oil, she was officially baptized.
Afterwards, everyone came back to our house to eat, drink and chat. The best part was that all of Sheila’s aunts could come together and see the difference in Sheila; and remember how they have a bit of responsibility in caring for her. Though she’s had a really tough life, Sheila is so lucky in the fact that she found such a generous, lovely, affectionate person like Sister Magda for a “ma”; Magda gives unconditional love, something Sheila’s never had in her life.

Finally, on Sunday, since her kids never made it to her birthday, we went to visit them in Callao, a nearly 2-hour trek with 2 kombis (small van type bus), 1 carro (small bus) and a moto (motorcycle type vehicle with a small carriage in the back) to get there. That part of Lima is a shanty town, none of the houses having running water and other amenities. It is a town surrounded by fields of vegetables.

I really enjoyed meeting her sister-in-law and her kids and especially Sheila’s kids, a boy who’s nine and a girl who’s six! They ran up right away to greet us with kisses and big smiles. At first, Jose played with his presents of stuffed animals and snuggled up close to Magda. After seeing his sister playing with it, Jose attached himself to my camera and took dozens of photos of anything and everything, while Micheli played with the musical ballerina Sheila gave her (a present from her own birthday) and sat on everyone’s laps, giving us hugs and whispering secrets to us. It was a really precious couple of hours. Marta, the sister-in-law, was really nice and hospital and sent us off with bellies full of lomo saltado with rice and a gift of leeks (which I made into a yummy leek-potato soup!)

The thing that impresses me the most is the love that Sheila has for her kids, always thinking about them; how she needs to save her money to give to them, about how their well-being is. She has a mother’s generous heart when it comes to her kids, wanting to give them even more than she can, offering her bracelet to her daughter that was a gift, thrusting a few soles into Marta’s hand for her kids. Right before we set off to their house, Sheila insisted and was set on buying a canister of milk powder full of vitamins to take to her kids. Her kids are one thing that keep her going. She’s even generous enough to give another woman, even if it is her sister-in-law, the title of “mother” to her kids. She accepts that they have two mothers now. The time that she’s had to reflect since she has been separated from her kids has given her time to think about the type of mother she wants to be. Right now, it seems that Sheila is also changing the person she is becoming. We can only hope that she keeps blossoming even more into the affectionate, humorous, compassionate person that she is.

domingo, 8 de agosto de 2010

Second Up: Huaraz, Peru

Two days back in Lima and then it was off to Huaraz with Nikhil who came to visit. It was refreshing to be back in the mountains, surrounded by greenery and fresh air again. We stayed at this lovely place called Lazy Dog Inn that is not only eco-conscious with its organic gardens, recycling and eucalyptus fireplaces but socially conscious, supporting a local school.

The Inn embraced you in its warm colors of reds, oranges and yellows; complimented by dark wooding and art and décor from all over the world. During the evenings in the main lodge, there was always a fire burning, guests lounging on plush sofas and sipping tea or wine. Nikhil and I usually breakfasted last out of everyone (though we kept trying to go earlier. Haha). Their jugos out of maracuya were my absolute favorite! And the homemade creamy soups! Yummy! Dinners were always great- more of a North American take than Peruvian- pasta with tomato or creamy mushroom sauce, fajitas, veggie and mashed potato soufflés- always with a salad from all their organic veggies; topped off with some yummy desserts like good old fashioned chocolate chip cookies and custards creams. With the cozy accommodations and excellent food, I felt truly pampered.

There were many lazy dogs around, two great big furry ones always dozing in the sun outside. There were also a handful of handsome horses, available to guests who wanted to book horseback riding. We decided to pass on horseback riding, but set out, planning to do three hikes in three days, pumped up from the beautiful settings and fresh air.
The first day in Huaraz (after resting a bit from our overnight 8-hour bus ride) Nikhil and I went for a short walk from the inn. We followed alongside a tiny creek that led us past herds of sheep, pigs cows and even bulls (that a woman was kind enough to keep a good distance from us!) Tiny houses lined the dirt path; we saw the people in their traditional dress of wide skirts and hats, colorful and varied. We asked directions from one senora, her two little girls playing outside. She was nice, engaging us in conversation as we stopped for directions. When she gestured to my camera, I asked her, “Would you like a picture?” She grinned and replied saucily, “Pay me first.” That made me laugh. They are sure used to tourists, even in this land that seemed to be far off the beaten path, most of the people there being farmers and herders.
On that first day, as soon as I reached the room to put my things down, my body realized it was pretty high up in altitude; my head began to feel light, sounds blurred together and I felt altogether mariada. As Nikhil and I went on that gentle walk, I struggled for air and felt my legs go weak. Altitude and I were definitely not best friends the first couple of days.

Needless to say, we set out for a hike the next day that Diana, owner of the inn, suggested to “acclimate” to the altitude. With our skills as city dwellers, we got lost trying to find the hike and ended up bushwalking in a deep ravine. After we climbed up the mountain, across a marshy field that soaked our shoes, and up another large hill, we found the right trail of the hike. However, as it was threatening to atardecer in the next hour or two, we decided to simply enjoy the view from atop of some rocks. We ran into a couple staying at the lodge making their way up.
The next day, we set out to tackle the Llanganuco Lake hike again, this time starting out right. First hour, going pretty strong; second hour, okay- but feeling the altitude and continuous upward slope of the mountain path- we decided to make good time and tried to walk a faster pace and take “shortcuts” – meaning crossing up rocky, steep paths. Whew! We finally got to the entrance of the National Huascaran Park entrance, just a few minutes before th family who was also staying at the lodge arrived in their SUV. We had a 15-minute break, waiting for the park ranger to collect fees and give us passes.

Back on the trail- and the trail only kept heading up and up- finally hitting a rocky road we followed until the meadows. I think I would have been perfectly content settling for just the meadows after already hiking three or four hours, gaining more altitude each minute. But Nikhil’s enthusiasm pushed us on.

The meadows were gorgeous, with a small river running all along, small waterfalls, flowers of reds and yellows just peaking out of the earth, large boulders scattered around and the sun beaming on us. As we continued on the hike, we ran into the family, having left their car at the bridge in the meadows, on their way to the same lake. We joined forces and pushed on, making our way up; on dirt roads, scrambling up mountainsides and crossing low waters. Finally, we made it to the lake. What a view! The lake was a gorgeous gem of blue on the mountaintop. I could finally smile and be enjoy this postcard picture from possibly the hardest hike I have ever done (altitude can really mess with you. Haha.) Later, our group decided to continue on to the glacier, further up. Tired but content, we forged on, over rocks and boulders. On our way there, the kids played with the tops of the lake that had frozen over, sheets of frosted crystals. After 45- minutes or so, we saw the glacier, an icy background of the lake. Exhausted, I decide3d to stay in the place we lunched, while Nikhil hiked onward to get to the glacier. It was the first time he’s seen a glacier! Later, he told me it might have been the hardest part of the hike. Lucky I decided not to do that part! My body was so tired, I curled on the rock as tight as I could (it had gotten cold up there later in the day) and closed my eyes, resting.

As we headed back, I got my second wind from lunch and the rest; I walked rapidly down the mountain, energized. Downhill felt like a breeze, especially since we had gratefully accepted the offer of the of the family to drive back to the lodge with them. So, as we walked to lower altitudes (the lake was probably about 3,500 meters), regaining our more normal breathing patterns, we got to enjo9y strolling through the meadows again; the boys kicking the soccer ball around and everyone trying to avoid stepping on cow pies and horse piles. In half an hour, we were back at the lodge, where soft beds and hot showers awaited, as well as a delicious dinner. Not a bad way to end the day.