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Saturday, June 18, 2011

Cusco, Peru, South America April 29th – May 29th, 2011

Cusco, Peru, South America
April 29th – May 29th, 2011

My intention for Cusco was to write several blogs. One within the first few days of being in Cusco for first impressions, one in the middle to see how things were progressing, and a final one wrapping up my experiences and impressions.  My hope was that I could compare my experiences from start to finish. Now, as I finally write this, at least a week after leaving Cusco (and as I’m publishing at least two weeks after), I find that all my memories are jumbled and grown fuzzy by newer experiences. Such is life.  So, I will talk about what I want to talk about regarding Cusco, which will take a few blogs, but they won’t follow a particularly strict time-line.

We pulled into Cusco on a Friday afternoon after 20 hours on a bus from Lima. The ride, so new to me at the time, was typical of Peru. Winding, small mountain roads, heights that give one vertigo and moments of wondering if you were going to make it out alive, all punctuated with fabulous scenery and shantytowns. Now, I take these bus rides with the same eagerness and excitement I approach roller coasters.

My first thought in Cusco was how dusty the place was. Cusco is dusty, no lie. At the bus station we were picked up by Gleni, FairPlay Peru’s assistant, and taken to FairPlay’s headquarters. At FairPlay we met John, co-founder of FairPlay (with his wife Fanny).

John is an interesting man. My first impression was not the most favorable as I was nervous and excited while he seemed uncaring. As I learned in my weeks with John what I took as reticence was actually extreme laidbackness and, his best quality, flexibility.  John rarely judged, took punches rolling, and was extremely kind. Behind this calm exterior burned a passion for what he was doing. John is one of the few human beings I have met who genuinely wants to help others, without thinking too much about how others view him or requiring accolades. John told us that when he went into Non-Profit work a friend confided in him three rules.

1.  Be passionate. You have to have the fire to see you through the projects.
2.  Have a part of the project that will actually make some profit; think about business.
3.  Don’t ever, ever expect gratitude. No matter what you do, you will never get thanked.

I think John took those rules to heart. As a result he took the influx and outflow of volunteers, strange behaviors of those he was helping, and general craziness with an emotion that at first I couldn’t identity. Later I found it was grace. He was a 20 times a day coffee drinking, hard smoking, fanatical meat eater, loving father, and forgiving boss who was no push-over and had big dreams that were slowly, achingly being created in reality.  Stupidly I never took a picture of him. Here are pictures taken from the website of Fanny, manager and co-founder of FairPlay Peru and John’s amazing wife, and John himself.

Fanny: She mostly runs the spanish school side of FairPlay Peru
John: He mostly runs the non-profit side of FairPlay Peru

Please check out FairPlay Peru here: http://www.fairplay-peru.org/

While exploring Cusco, in the Los Nogalles area where we were to live, it was obvious that Cusco was poor. Buildings were left unfinished and the constant dust was a nuisance. Stray dogs, ten to a street, slept in the dirt, their fur matted, trotting in and out of the few restaurants and local shops.

And yet, Cusco had charm. Los Nogalles was surrounded by mountains and the natural greenery softened the ugly concrete of the buildings and gave the place life. The people were nice and went about their daily business. Los Nogalles may have felt poor (and was poor) by American standards but the people never acted like it was. The culture of poverty wasn’t strong here, or seemingly in Cusco in general (from what I saw).

      That weekend we explored downtown Cusco. Here is where the most money is sunk, tourist money, and it shows. The main plaza is dominated on two sides by large Cathedrals and the other two sides are lined with shops, restaurants, and clubs. Spreading out from the main plaza was a network of additional plaza’s and streets packed with tourist shops, mountaineering stores, tour places, and restaurants.

            Come Monday we would start our first day at Helping Hands and my first Spanish lessons. The next blog will be about Helping Hands.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Fifth day! – Lima - April 29th, 2011

Fifth day! – Lima

            Today was our travel day. We were to take a bus from Lima to Cusco, which would take 20 hours. The bus left in the late afternoon, so we spent the morning at the Museum of Anthropology and Archeology. It was a decent museum but nothing can compare to the first museum we went to, the LARCO Museum.

Some of the Incan people would put boards on the heads as they grew to flatter and elongate their skulls. It was the plastic surgery of its day.

Even the ancient people thought owls rocked

            Eventually we went over to the Cruz de Sur bus station. It was a bit like an airport, where you checked-in, went to check your bags which got it’s own receipt and was recorded in their computer, then walked through security, before climbing into the bus. It was a pretty organized operation and I was impressed. Especially since America’s bus system is essentially crap. I hate Greyhound.

            The bus itself was great. We got big reclining padded seats with footrests. We also got little pillows and thick blankets. They played movies and served dinner and breakfast. It was as nice as a 20-hour bus ride could get if it weren’t for…
the baby!
            Why are you taking a baby on a 20-hour bus journey!!! It was fine during the day but cried throughout the night. Apparently it was sick and we had to deal with its cries for hours. It was awful. I considered babycide.
            Luckily Ansell and I managed to get through the bus ride without killing anyone and gratefully disembarked in Cusco.

Looking down on Los Nogalles the area we stayed in Cusco

Thus ends my account of Lima. Next post I will talk about Cusco, which is far different from Lima, and our experience with FairPlay Peru and Helping Hands.

Fourth day! - Lima - April 28th, 2011

Fourth day! - Lima

            Ansell and I revisited downtown to see some things we had missed the first time around. When we arrived we saw that the Presidential Palace’s Book Fair was open and we looked around. 

There wasn’t much of interest though and we were off to the San Francisco Cathedral to see the famous cathedral.
            The Cathedral itself was also famous for it’s pigeons, which numbered in the hundreds. Every so often they would all rise up and make several laps around the courtyard before settling again.
            It is also famous for it’s catacomb graveyard. We weren’t able to take pictures, but the catacombs were very large. Some of the bones were arranged in interesting patterns and other graves were nothing more than a deep pit filled with bones.

            As we headed back to the main plaza we noticed a huge amount of military. There were rows of military in dress around the plaza, along with those dressed in riot gear. We found out that the President of Mexico was visiting, hence the pomp and circumstance. I took a video of the mini-parade and the President of Mexico’s car (since you couldn’t see the actual President). I will post it on Facebook eventually.

            After the parade Ansell and I took a bus into the other side of Lima and up the mountain. The other side of Lima is much poorer and very run down. The bus ride up the mountain was pretty scary as the road was narrow and winding with sheer drops. I eventually had to hide my face in Ansell’s sweater until we arrived at the top. The views were spectacular.

The white things are actually a huge graveyard

            We also had a view of the little ghetto town in the mountain. Such little crude shanties speak to the extreme poverty Peru suffers, which is kept far away from the city center.

            The end of our day was spent visiting Fountain Park. A park filled with different fountains and water shows. It was very cool! Along with the regular fountains, there were fountains that we could walk through and play in.

There was also a huge fountain, which did water shows complete with colors and music. I hope to post a video of that too on Facebook.

            After a nice dinner overlooking the beach near our hostel we headed to bed. It was a very full day that ended in very wet feet. :D

Third day! - Lima - April 27th, 2011

Third day! - Lima

            Ansell and I packed up our things and moved out of Hitchhiker’s Hostel. It was pretty nice and the staff were helpful, especially for the low price, but we wanted to try out the music/hippy district of Barranco further down in Lima.
            We checked into the Backpacker’s Hostel, which is absolutely charming. I really love this place and it’s use of colors. The views and the area surrounding are much better than our previous Hostel and sill only $15 a night.

            Part of the day was spent looking into the National Museum, which was not at all what was promised. The National Museum is supposed to be really good but instead it was really disappointing. I don’t know if it was due to the renovations or what but it didn’t have much. It also didn’t have any English translations, which is not smart for a National Museum that is mostly run for tourists. However, it was free so it could have been worse. 

            The other part of the day was spent exploring our new area. It is so beautiful and charming! It has lots of interesting restaurants and amazing views of the ocean.

A musician serenaded Ansell and I with love songs as we looked out over the ocean, which was great…until the guitarist asked for 20 soles (about $6.50)! It was kind of funny though.

Second day! - Lima - April 26th, 2011

Second day! - Lima

Our second day in Lima (April 25th) I had “travelers sickness”, which involved a lot of exploring the inside of bathrooms. So, we relaxed in the morning before heading to Lima’s historic plaza. The plaza has lots of historic buildings, which was fun to walk around and look at. Peru loves its traditional balconies and colors. The buildings are all colorful which I think is nice. So much better than the drab colors that most American houses are painted in.

We also looked through Lima’s Cathedral and collection of religious art. Ansell was annoyed most of the time while we looked at the religious art since it’s a fairly racist representation of Jesus, etc. It also has a lot of examples of how the invading Christians hijacked local customs and incorporated them into the Christian religion to make it easier for the natives to convert.

The Cathedral also had the tomb of Francisco Pizarro, who invaded Cusco and killed/enslaved the Incan empire that exsisted there. By most accounts he was a bit of a bastard.

Finally, we saw the President’s “Palace.” Apparently a book fair was going on but since nobody was allowed in or out I’m not really sure how successful it was.  O.o

Lima – Peru, South America

Ansell and I have been in Lima, the capital city of Peru, for a few days now (this was obviously written a while ago, specifically our first real day in Lima was Sunday, April 24th) and they have been packed.

First Day! - Lima

We stayed at Hitchhiker’s Hostel in the area of Miraflores in Lima for the first three nights. We got a private room with bathroom for only $15 a night!

Our first main day in Lima (April 24th) we walked to the local park, which happened to be “Love Park”, overlooking the beach. It was stunning.

After our stroll we took a trip over to the LARCO Museum, which was a converted 15th century mansion. It was absolutely beautiful. We had an amazing lunch in the museum garden restaurant.

The lunch finished with a spectacular dessert made from a local fruit, luzuma.

Then we looked through the pre-Incan and Incan artifacts. The history was very interesting and Ansell completely geeked out over the artifacts.

They also had an erotic gallery, which was mostly funny. They even had pottery for people with STD’s and an animal section!