Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Alfajores Galore (and other Peruvian Desserts)

            The desserts of Peru have been an incredible part of my cultural immersion. Before coming to Peru, I did not realize the extent of Peruvian desserts that existed. I have to eat gluten-free, but made quite a few “gluten cheats” over the course of the month so I could try various desserts. However, there were also many opportunities for me to make natural substitutes to items to make them gluten-free.
            My all time favorite dessert in Peru was the alfajor.  An alfajor consists of two or more sugar cookies cookies layered on top of each other with a dulce de leche-like filling topped with powdered sugar. It can come in a traditional wheat form or a cornmeal form. I preferred the corn meal form because It did not contain gluten. The combination of the cookie and the filling was indescribable. At times it was almost too rich but paired with coffee or tea, it was delicious. I saw many alfajores over the course of the month, but San Antonio in Lima by far had the best.
            Ice cream and gelato were also quite popular in Peru. Many of the flavors were based on native fruits like maracuyá, but more typical types like chocolate and coffee could be found as well. My favorite ice cream was a pineapple flavor in Ollantaytambo. 
            Crepes were also widely popular and could be found at many restaurants we visited. La Bohème was a favorite French crepery with sweet and savory crepes. I also enjoyed Café del Museo’s crepes. Luckily for me, Peruvians have both flour crepes and crepes made of quinoa flour that don’t contain gluten. The quinoa flour is a bit heavier and darker and is better suited with a savory crepe, but is still a good substitute for sweet.
            Chocolate was a big hit at the Choco del Museo in Cusco. Not only did we learn about chocolate but we made it too. I really liked the milk chocolate paired with quinoa puffs and coca. They also had more traditional flavors like chocolate with marshmallows or oreos as well. I am bringing home a lot of different flavors for my family to try, both Peruvian flavors and more traditional.
            Other pastries such as small cakes, cheesecakes, churros, chocolate croissants, and tarts were also popular finds. Milkshakes were also surprisingly popular amongst other more authentically Peruvian juices and smoothies. Cookies (besides alfajores) were not as popular as in the United States. The only kinds I ever saw were simple tea cookies that usually came when I ordered a tea or coffee.

            All in all, I really enjoyed exploring the desserts in Peru. I had not thought desserts would be such a big part of my experience, but I’m not complaining! The flavors were so much richer than many desserts in the Untied States, but at the same time felt fresher and lighter. I hope to find some alfajores in the US!

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Marveling at the Night Sky

One of the most pleasant surprises of this trip has been the night skies.  Obviously, there was too much light pollution and/or cloud cover in Cuzco and Lima to see an appreciable amount of stars.  However, the skies in Pisac and Ollantaytambo were incredible.  Small towns in the US also let you see the stars, but these nights of stargazing were even more special because we’re in the Southern Hemisphere, and all the stars are different.  The stars make you think of space, and from there, it’s easy to get into some interesting discussions.  In both these small towns, though, the lifestyle was very simple and repetitive.  After one day each in Pisac and Ollantaytambo, we felt like we had seen all we had to see, and were on the verge of boredom.  The only places where we had seen a fantastic night sky were places where we would never want to live.  I’ll most likely be in urban areas for the entire summer, and then it’s back to Vanderbilt.  I hardly ever get the chance to see hundreds of stars like I did here.  But maybe a full night sky is so special for me only because it is so rare.  I have to think that, if I were able to see stars every night, after a while they would cease to be amazing.

PDA (the P is for Peruvian)

There’s so much more PDA in Peru than in public places in the United States.  Just about every park we’ve been to, there have been numerous couples doing what we think they should be doing in private.  And even when there is PDA at home, it’s much more tame than this (I won’t go into detail, but we’ve seen a lot of couples doing much more than any couple would ever dare to do in public at home).   Obviously, we’ve all been made very uncomfortable every time.  If you asked any one of us, our gut response would likely be that all this PDA is objectively wrong.  But another key observation I’ve made is that, every time we’ve objected to PDA, no one else has seemed to have a problem with it.  This tells me that Peru might have a much more relaxed view of PDA than does the United States.  So maybe it’s not objectively wrong.  Maybe people in the US are just much less tolerant of PDA than people in Peru.

Driving Space - Or Lack Thereof?

Yesterday, we glided over deep, dark water in a boat and flew over sand in a buggy. All the while, we stayed in the same country of Peru. I must say, this country is a bit confusing. We saw wild sea lions and penguins and later the same day slid down massive sand dunes. The day before, we were sitting in traffic in Lima.
Although the sea and desert offer expansive panoramic views with little to no people, city life is extremely different, especially Lima. The streets are narrow, and the cars are very friendly with each other even if the drivers of them aren't. In other words, we're stuck together like sardines. Here, "we" includes pedestrians, motorcyclists, and the occasional stray animal. The lane lines tend to be optional, especially for the motorcyclists; they prefer to weave in and out between cars and trucks whenever they find most appropriate for them, even if it's disadvantageous for the other people on the road.
            The horns here are used extremely well. When a taxi sees someone on the side of the street, the driver honks. When a car is going fast, the driver honks. When a car is going slow, the driver honks. There’s just a lot of honking in general. Although I was a bit confused at first, I think there may be some advantage to it. If the driver is speeding down the street and someone is trying to turn onto the same street from a side road, then the driver attempting to get onto the street will know that there is someone carelessly zooming down the street from the sound of his horn. There is also the friendly honk, which usually consists of two short beeps. The angry honks are loud, long, and, well, angry. The parking situation is a bit confusing as well. It is not unusual for a car to pull off randomly on the side of the road, drop someone off, then expect to be let back onto the road promptly. This also includes our massive tour bus!
            Overall, there is implied a sense of order that one can only understand by growing up here and learning to drive here too. This includes knowing that you don’t have to stop at stop signs, even though they use the politer verb conjugation. (The conjugation for means “you,” but this “you” is informal; you can use the conjugation during conversation with one of your friends. Interestingly enough, they use the usted conjugation for stop signs, which denotes a more formal relationship. They still don’t stop, though.)
            It is important to note that I have never felt unsafe while driving in Lima. Yes, it is chaotic, but there is a true method to the madness here. You know that one driver in the States that is reckless yet still technically follows about 80% of the rules of the road? Lima is full of those people, only Peruvian.

Streets, Courtyards, Plazas, and Architecture

            The use of space in Cusco was extremely efficient. The roads are very narrow, most only one way. Many roads are so narrow that only pedestrians are allowed. By making the streets so small, the blocks are then small too, leaving more room for more buildings.
            The buildings themselves are also very efficient. Most have large balconies and terraces, allowing for more outdoor space with magnificent views of the Andes and plazas. I often liked sitting on these at coffee shops to get the best observations of life below. I think one of the best uses of space of the buildings are the courtyards. Most buildings have these courtyards that allow for more storefronts, restaurants, places to sit, and balconies. Many of these courtyards are beautifully decorated with tiles, fountains, and plants. These courtyards aren’t something you see very often in US cities or towns where instead the buildings are full, complete, large structures.       
            The only true open spaces in Cusco were the plazas. Of course there is the main plaza with the Cusco’s cathedral and main fountain, but there are several other smaller ones too, usually with a church and various shops and restaurants. These are good meeting places with many benches and sitting areas.
            Cusco’s use of space is similar to other small towns where we stopped in the valleys of the Andes, but very different compared to Lima of course. Lima is much more urban with multi-lane streets, tall buildings, and pedestrian sidewalks. It feels much more like an American small city, whereas Cusco felt more small-town European. However, both in Cusco, Lima, and other small towns, the Spanish architectural influence showed through.  Because I have been to Spain, I know the classic architecture found there. Colorful and stone buildings with flowered tiles and broad arches are typical, and you see this in the architecture in Peru. Especially in the classic plazas in Lima you could see the tremendous Spanish influence contrasting with the more modern, urban structures.

            Although I enjoyed Lima for its urban nature, I really enjoyed exploring Cusco’s small streets and courtyards the most. You never know what you would find in the tiniest back corner shop or café. It made every walking exploration an adventure.

Massages! Massages!

            After a long day of walking, the cheap massage offers in Peru are no longer a hackling burden in the streets, but a tempting proposition. However, if you choose to give into the desire, there are certain places toward which you should direct your business, especially in Lima. The place my group went to was called Masajes en Braille and was titled so for a reason. Unlike other massage salons in the United States, the masseuses here were all 100% blind.
In general, Lima has a certain level of respect for their handicapped population. From an abundance of accessibility ramps to schools for the blind, the city makes sure to provide for those who need it. As a result, there is a popular business involving blind massages. Recruiting from local schools for the blind, these businesses provide handicapped individuals with professional opportunities that put their skills to use. As a result of having no sight, these people have a heightened awareness of their other senses including touch. This enhanced sensory ability lends to a very unique massage experience.
For example, the woman I had was able to really sense where I was tense and spend time working on those areas. Furthermore, she would locate my vertebrae and massage the muscles that radiated from them which allowed her to focus on individual muscles instead of guesstimating my musculature. According to my friends, they had similar experiences in which the masseuses were able to tell which shoulder was carrying a bag all day and which arm was used in sports. Once determining that these were the tensest areas, they then proceeded to work on them. Also, for people who are uncomfortable with massages because they don’t want others to see their bodies, this is the perfect solution.
Overall, I think that massage parlors with blind masseuses is an amazing idea that not only gives opportunity to the blind population, but lends to some very personalized massages! I highly recommend this experience to anyone passing through Lima and hope to see the business model expand to other countries in the near future. 

Perceptions of Disability

         Being a special education major, I have tried to notice and ask questions about perceptions of disability here in Peru. At first I really did not see that many individuals with disabilities in public. I asked Profe about this and he told me that it was only until recently that families started bringing their children with disabilities out of their houses in public. It could be because of lack of knowledge? Needless to say it wasn't until Pisac that I saw several children all with Downs syndrome coincidently. Then after returning to Cusco I saw a woman and her son with a physical disability on church steps, something Profe also commented was a common custom for begging. Overall at that point in the trip I was surprised by the lack of individuals with disabilities I saw and have many questions such as: Do they go to school? Where are their services? Are the educational opportunities to learn more bout disabilities?
            In Lima, I noticed more individuals with disabilities in public. I noticed many individuals with physical disabilities in wheelchairs and individuals who were blind, however not many with intellectual disability. The greatest testament to positive disability inclusivity I saw on this whole trip occurred in Lima, and that was at the Masajes de Braille. Massages de Braille is a massage place that only employs masseuses who are blind. I think this is an incredible positive employment opportunity and a great testament to truly capitalizing on skillset. To be a masseuse, sight is not necessary, all that is necessary is the sense of touch, which is probably enhanced sensory-wise given that these masseuses lack their sense of sight. We all went to get massages at this location and it was a really interesting experience. The masseuses used technology like talking clocks to help them. They really dug deep as the felt parts of my back that needed some help. They worked from my shoulders down to my legs. It almost felt like I was at a chiropractor because they were really good at cracking and shifting my back into place. After all the hiking we recently had been doing at Machu Picchu, this was a much needed readjustment of my whole body. They did an incredible job. All this to say, this was a really interesting employment concept that worked. I’m honestly surprised no one has brought this back to the States yet.

            All in all I would definitely need to get more insight into perceptions and treatment of individuals with disabilities here. It seemed better in Lima where there might be more opportunities and education in contrast to Cusco, which is a less urban, more touristy area. I would be interested to delve deeper into special education in the schools here and what services are provided. Unfortunately I don’t have too much more time here to do that but I might do some investigative research on my own based on my observations thus far.