Saturday, May 31, 2014

Legends, Deserts, and Mermaids... Oh my!

On our very last road trip, we spent the day in Huacachina, aka The Peruvian desert. Yeah, I didn’t know Peru had a desert either, but it definitely does. According to legend, there was a naked woman grooming herself while looking in a handheld mirror. In the reflection behind her, she caught a glimpse of a man spying on her. Why she was wearing her birthday suit out in the open and then got upset when someone saw her, I don’t know, but she did. She was so startled that she dropped the mirror and threw the towel to provide some cover. Now up until this point, the story sounds completely plausible… just wait. The mirror that fell became a little lake and the towel that she threw became the sand mountains which surround the lake. Oh, and she became a mermaid... riiiiiigghhttt. Peruvians sure do have some great stories, truthful or not. It’s still a pretty cool place to visit and sandboarding is an experience unlike any other.

The Chakana, or Andean Cross

In our trip to Quenqo, an Incan ruin, we encountered a man selling Andean crosses on necklaces. Our guide took the liberty of explaining the meaning behind the symbology of the Chakana, as it is called in Quechua. This cross has four points and in between each one, three steps. The three steps represent many things sacred to the Andean people. Once thing they represent are the three realms of existence: Hanan Pacha, the realm of the sky ruled by the condor, Kay Pacha, the earthly realm represented by the puma, and Uqhu Pacha, the underworld represented by the serpent. The center of the cross mirrors the umbilicus as the center of the body,  its name in Quechua is qosqo, which when mispronounced by the Spaniards became Cusco—the center of the Incan Empire. This symbol is found all over Peru in many forms in every gift shop and marketplace.

From Alpaca to Textiles: the Woolen Journey

On one of our weekend excursions to Pisac and various sites along the way, we learned about the process of traditional textile making. We saw the materials in every stage of the process, including the wool in its rawest form: still on the alpacas. Once the wool is collected and cleaned, it is then stretched and put on special spool which immediately collects the handspun wool thread. It is then dyed using a wide variety of natural coloring agents including various plants and even parasites. The intensity of the color can be altered using lime juice and depending on the length of time spent soaking in the dye. I was really impressed with the wide range of beautiful colors that they were able to produce from all natural products. 

Friday, May 30, 2014

The Inca Bridge

While visiting Machu Picchu, a small group of us decided to explore the trail to the Inca Bridge. This little excursion entailed walking along a rather narrow trail on the edge of a mountain, often with nothing but some foliage separating us from imminent death off the face of a cliff. Good thing we’re daredevils. We even had to sign in and out at a checkpoint to ensure that, indeed, everyone who embarked on the trail made the return trip. I guess not everyone makes it back. All the risk was undoubtedly worth it; the views were breathtaking and awe-inspiring, and knowing that I walked the same path as the ancient Incas before me was quite exhilarating. It was enough to make me forget about my fear of heights.

Perurail: A Real-Life Choo Choo

Traveling around Peru was definitely a great experience. We walked through the cities, traveled by bus, but by far the most interesting travel experience for me was riding the train to get to Machu Picchu. Personally, I had never been on a passenger train that wasn’t a part of public transit so riding a train from one city to another was a pretty cool way to travel. The Perurail train route from Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu winds through the mountainous terrain and traces the path of the raging waters of the Urumbama River, so the view from the train is spectacular.


The three salsa classes I took while in Cusco definitely made me question how useful all those ballet classes I’ve taken actually are. On the first day, our quirky instructor dove right into the first basic step and immediately I was a little anxious. The funniest part though was definitely that there weren’t enough men and the tiniest woman possible had to act as a man while dancing, while Liza, Katelin, Valencia and I all towered over her. Over the next couple of classes we learned a series of turns and moves that unfortunately I cannot spell any of the names of. I had to get over my inability to be led and over the dizziness that occurred every time our instructor yelled “dame” and the women were basically spun, while simultaneously trying to move in a circle. Also, be careful because any physical activity done at this altitude will have you gasping for air at some point! I loved taking more traditional Latin dances while in Peru and to whoever is going on this trip next year I definitely recommend taking advantage of this opportunity.

Los extranjeros

During most of the trip so far, despite getting weird stares from locals, I haven’t felt very foreign, only American. There was one day though that I felt extremely foreign and exotic. We had just gotten off the Turibus in the main plaza in Lima and after watching a long, but really exciting changing of the guards we walked towards the main cathedral and museum. Inside the cathedral Casey and I got lost and separated from the group inside the tombs. On our way there we got whistled and laughed at by a bunch of elementary school boys, and unfortunately we had to pass them more than once. Once outside the cathedral, these same students approached us and asked for a photo, all while miming because they didn’t believe we could understand Spanish. At first I thought they wanted me to take a photo of them, but instead they wanted a photo with us. That was the moment I realized to them that we really were exotic and foreign, and we weren’t just being stared at because we were the annoying American tourists. 

Alpaca Ladies

One of the most shocking things about Cusco were the Alpaca ladies. The alpaca ladies were quechua women, dressed up in traditional quechua clothing and carrying an alpaca. They would lure people with their tiny alpacas and then throw the alpaca into an unsuspecting tourist’s arms. At first the tourist would be delighted by the alpaca, or at least until they were forced to pay for an alpaca picture that they did not ask for. Following the encounter, every time the alpaca ladies would see the tourist again they would chase her down the street, attempting to toss their alpaca at them. Overall, not too great of an experience.

Beautiful Things

When we went to the little boardwalk market in Paracas, we encountered a small jewelry tent. Although it seemed like many of the other stores we have seen, the man working there was making some of the most beautiful things I have ever seen in my entire life. He was creating incredible jewelry out of spoons and forks, and bending wires into unfathomably beautiful creations. Casey and Sarah both bought really spectacular gifts for their parents at his stand and I bought an amazing ring for my friend. And on top of everything, his jewelry was really cheap. If I had known he existed I would’ve saved all my money to waste at his stand.

This is the man:

The Amazing Churro

The amazing churro was the best churro I have ever had. Firstly, it was a steal. Where else can you find a churro of such quality for a mere one sole? Secondly it was delicious in all the right ways. It was crispy and sugary on the outside, but bready and delightful on the inside. But the most important thing about the churro was the secret ingredient, the creamy filling! We are still not sure was it was, but it was the finishing touch to an already masterful creation of the churro. When you bit into the dessert, the crispy outside, the bready layer and the creamy middle combined to make heaven in our mouth. The man selling them deserves some kind of award.

Also unfortunately, I do not have a picture. So here is a picture of a very ordinary churro.

Monastery of San Francisco

We also went to the Monastery of San Francisco. It was a really beautiful church in downtown Lima. It was located on a plaza with a gorgeous fountain and many interesting buildings. There was a marching band dressed in the Peruvian national colors playing music outside as well. The church itself was amazing, especially the garden. The garden was completely enclosed by the church and had plants and a fountain inside. The art in the church was unusual, or rather unlike the European art that I am accustomed to. For instance, in the depiction of the Last Supper, Jesus and the apostils were sitting around a round table, which is unusual. A lot of gold and gold paint was used in creating the interior of this monastery as well.  One of the most awesome things were the catacombs, but Desmond describes them more in detail!


A couple of times our class went to Temple. Temple was a fun dance floor in Cusco where we met a lot of interesting people from all over the world. A couple of our friends made very personal connections and we definitely got to practice our Spanish. Overall it was a really great and educational experience.

One of the new friends made:

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Costa del Mar

Since I can’t swim I’m not huge on watery excursions…but this one was pretty cool. We got to see sea lions, penguins, and even a few dolphins showed themselves.

Followed by a tasty seafood pasta with squid, octopus, prawns, fish, and shellfish. 


Chocolate is one my favorite foods in the world, and in el Museo de Chocolate in Cusco, we got to become a part of the Andean chocolate making process. We started by tasting cocoa beans that had been fermenting-an initial taste akin to bananas and wine following a bitter after taste not at all reminiscent of a Hershey’s bar. We proceeded to toast the beans to help release the chocolate flavor. Then we peeled off their outer shells which we used to make a type of chocolate tea. We took the toasted beans and ground them up into cocoa powder and used this to make various ancient drinks, including Mexican hot chocolate. Yummm… the best part was getting the final familiar chocolatey product and actually making our chocolates. We added various ingredients and molded our candies and in one hour we were eating chocolate that we had made ourselves!