Amy in Peru: An Odyssey

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Last post...

Okay so this is reeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeally late coming.......

So I left Peru in July..... surprise.... :)

For those of you who don't already know, I am now off to Johannesburg, South Africa, and have set up a new blog for that. I will do better updating there... i promise.... :)

Check out:

Thanks to all for checking in, and keep in touch!

Monday, June 11, 2007

Leah and Amy in Cuzco and Puno

So, as mentioned previously, Leah came to see me at the end of May, and we had a FABULOUS trip! Well I did anyway... :) Here is a brief account of our travels, with pics.

Leah arrived on saturday morning in Lima, so I took the overnight bus down from Huancavelica and met her at the airport. We left right from there to Cuzco, and once there, we immediately got ourselves organized for the trip to Machu Picchu the next day through a local tour company. We spent the rest of the day hanging around Cuzco, and then got up the next day bright and early to take the train to Aguas Calientes, where we stayed the night in order to go to Machu Picchu at sunrise the next morning.
The train ride was really nice--- we paid a bit extra to take the 'vistadome' train, which made it a lot easier to enjoy the views during the trip to Aguas Calientes. Once we got there, we were met by our hotel and took a bit of time to relax and freshen up before poking around the town. We had some problems with our arrangements, and ended up changing hotels that night--- i love cussing people out in spanish. :) That night, we went to an AMAZING restaurant (Indio Feliz, if anyone is interested) and I regained my love of food, after many many months of living in bland Huancavelica. It was sublime.

The next morning, we got up and got the earliest bus (5:30am) up to Machu Picchu. It was quite cloudy and misty when we first got there. We got a guided tour around, and so as the morning progressed the clouds cleared, by the time the tour was over after a few hours, the sky was clear and we enjoyed trekking around and getting some great shots.

We then got a bus back down to Aguas Calientes, and hung out for a while, craft shopping, etc... before catching the train back to Cuzco. We had some issues again that night getting a hotel in Cuzco (BAD tour agency), but we ended up with a nice place in the end, and slept with an Inca wall in our room. Fun fun!

The next morning, we got up early and went to a much more reputable tour company to make the remainder of our arrangements for Puno. Hit a museum in Cuzco and puttered around a bit, and then we flew to Puno that afternoon (well actually to Juliaca, and then you have to drive 45 mins to Puno), and stayed at a great hotel in the center of town. On the drive to Puno, we made arrangements with a tour guy to take a day-long boat tour the next day, and an afternoon trip to Sillustani the next day. We then settled into our hotel, leah gloated over not being at all affected by the altitude, and we had a nice supper and wandered around a bit.
The next morning, we got up early again and got onto a boat to tour through Lake Titicaca, hitting the Uros (Floating) Islands and Taquile Island. The Uros islands are actually man-made, floating reed islands. A bit of a tourist trap, but it was still neat, and felt like walking on a water bed. We then took three hours to get to Taquile, which was beautiful. We had lunch there and then enjoyed a scenic ride back to Puno, appreciating a fabulous sunset over Lake Titicaca on the way back. It was a really nice day trip and I would definately recommend it to anyone going to the area!
Next morning, we got up and explored around Puno ourselves. Went to visit the Yavari, a boat built in the 1800s, donated by England, that took 6 years to come from the coast to Lake Titicaca. It is in a state of restoration, but was neat to see. Also took a bit of time to check out some tourist marets (a waste of time) and we also took a ride in a plastic swan peddle boat (not at ALL a waste of time-- i loved it!) We then met up with our guide to take a tour out to Sillustanti, an old burial site outside the city which houses some pretty impressive tombs. We also got a chance to visit a family home on the way back, and Leah communed with some llamas.

The next morning, our last in Puno, we explored a little more of the city, went to a museum and got to watch a parade through the centre of town celebrating primary education. WAs pretty cute. We then got our plane back to Lima, and went for a ncie dinner and saw a movie in Miraflores. Leah's flight left super early, so I bid her farewell around 4am, and then after sleeping a bit, got myself ready for my bus trip back to Huancavelica, after enjoying a very interesting and enjoyable week!!

My time in Peru is almost up--- will post again when things are a little more firmed up. Hope all is well with everyone, and you enjoy the pics!

Monday, May 14, 2007

Visitors, Glaciers and Bricks

The end of April saw a visit from a woman from Canada who had read one of the articles i had written and wanted to check out the Project and Huancavelica. Was great to have a visitor (my first and only!), and it was especially cool since we discovered over the course of her visit that she is the mother of a bookcrossing friend in Halifax! How random is that? Bookcrossing blows my mind sometimes! Here are some pics of her visit.

The beginning of May, I needed to get out, so i went to Huancayo for the weekend, and took Saturday to hike the Huaytapallana Glacier. Seriously, I didn't have a sense of how crazy it was going to be, but it was an amazing experience.

Met up with the group at 6:30am and we drove about an hour or so out of the city and to the base camp of the glacier hike. The initial first climb was brutal--- remember this is a hike at 5000 meters above sea level---- holy no oxygen!! We got to the top after a few hours and saw the galcier and i thought "Oh isn't that pretty. Well! Good hike!" Turns out we actually hike TO the glacier. So a few hours later we were there. Then I thought "Great! Now we head back!" And it was downhill for a while, and we passed by some beautiful lagunas--- the silence and peace was so eerily calming. I don't know when i have been SO far from anywhere, and in a place that so few people in the world have bothered to go (this hike was not ion any tour book).

After a nice hike down through the lagunas, the path took a turn, and the last two or three hours was almost straight up again. My karate training definately came in handy--- small goals is the only thing that got me back to base camp. After 6-7 hours of hiking at such a high altitude, i really didn't have much left in me. Goals included 'the next rock', 'that tuft of grass', 'until i can't breathe anymore', etc.... :)

But while it was difficult, it was also amazing---- the views were epic, the solitude was spiritually nourishing and the accomplishment was damn pride-giving! :)

The next weekend (the 13th of May) was Mother's day, which is a HUGE deal here in Huancavelica. And the family downstairs invited me to participate in their festivities, which included making pachamanca. Usually it is made underground, but we made it downstairs with an improvised brick oven! It was a lof of fun, and here are some pics of the family.

So that is what has been going on here more or less. Leah gets here on saturday morning (the 19th) and we will be flying to Cuzco for the week. Will post when we are back! Can't wait!! :)

Hope all is well with everyone!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Travellin'... FINALLY!!!

Apologies to those who do check my blog regularly. I have received a few ‘reminders’, so here is my post, complete with pics! Hooray!

PS: The reason I have not posted of late is:

1) I have been traveling
2) Work has been busy
3) I am on facebook and put pictures there. If you don’t have one already, get a profile and add me as a friend and you can check out all my pics! (

Trip #1: Lima HO!

The end of March mercifully found me off to Lima for a workshop organized by CUSO. It was on SAS, but frankly I was much more interested in not wearing hats and mittens. A great time, as we stayed at this beautiful retreat with a TON of local and exotic plants. It was beautiful. Here are some pics.

Trip #2: Semana Santa Escape

While I was in Lima, a new cooperant arrived and I spent a bit of time with her showing her around, etc… We got along well and since she had nothing to do for Semana Santa (Easter for all those non-spanish-catholics out there), and after 1 day home was itching to leave again, we made plans and went to Pisco, Ica, Huacachina and Nazca, on the coast south of Lima.

The adventure began as I left Tuesday night on the 12 hour overnight bus to Lima. All was going fine and as usual—wasn’t sleeping really, snoring guy in the seat next to me, the occasional cockroach. But at around 2am, we ran into what looked like a rock slide on the highway. So some guys got out of the bus to help take the rocks off so the bus could pass. But then we noticed everyone else there was throwing rocks ON to the highway. Turns out the miners were protesting and blocking the highway to Lima on one of the busiest travel weeks of the year. Sigh! So this protest blocked us for a VERY long time, and the 12 hour bus ride turned into 18…. Ick.

Made it to Lima in the nick of time, and had about 1 hour to get Jessica (the girl I was traveling with) and get our bus to our first destination, Pisco, which perhaps not surprisingly is the birthplace of the national liquor, Pisco. Here is a pic of me enjoying one the night we arrived (along with a creepy guy in the background… sigh)

The next day we took a tour of the Islas de Ballestas and the National Reserve of Paracas. The Islas were AMAZING!! Here are some pics: Covered in bird poop, or guano for those sensitive souls out there, the islands are harvested every seven years and the guano is a big money maker--- great fertilizer apparently. I pity the person who has to do that job though--- holy stink!

We then got on the bus and went to see the Reserve, which was basically a big and beautiful desert. It was such a contrast from Huancavelica, and really very beautiful in its own right. We enjoyed a nice lunch on the beach with a roving UK traveller, saw lots of pelicans and generally had a nice, warm and beautiful day!

The next morning we got up early and got a car (which we shared with a very nice British couple) and got tour of some pisco wineries on our way to ICA and Hucachina. The first one was quite nice and we got many free samples. A little gross as it was brutally hot, but whatever. It was free pisco. The second one we went to, out tour guide was a total ass--- I will not go into details about what he tried to call me--- so we left in a huffed hurry. I told him off properly though. I love it when people think the little gringa can’t understand Spanish and then I take their heads off… ZING!

After this rather unpleasant experience, and a quick jaunt to a chocolate factory (tejas are the chocolate of choice here--- basically football shaped chocolates with fillings like prune and fig and raisin--- not bad), we all piled into the car and went to Huacachina, which was once a genuine oasis and is now an artificial one maintained for the tourists, in the middle of the desert outside Ica. Frankly, although it is basically for tourists, I loved it. Really relaxed, laid back, and beautiful.

We got there, got something to eat and then got strapped into some dune buggies for some duning and sand boarding. It was AWESOME!! I am not a big extreme sport kind of person. But I have to say I THOROUGHLY enjoyed going down a giant sand dune on my stomach on one of these waxed up sand boards--- I have some wicked bruises (still!) but it was incredible, and as we went at the end of the day we got to see the sun set over the dunes. Beautiful.

After the dunes, we said bye to the British couple and Jess and I got on a bus to Nazca, so we could get up early and grab a plane to see the Nazca lines. It was a bit out of our way, but we figured we were close enough, it would have been a shame not to see them. So after getting woken up SUPER early by a roof full of roosters on the roof of the house beside the hostal (sigh!), we went to the airport place to wait for our flight. 3 hours later (blarg!) we finally got to go up, and again--- amazing! Here are some pics:

(there is a while in there is you look hard....)There was not a whole lot to do in the area, and we wanted to make some headway that day so the next would not be such a long trip back to Lima, so we actually took a bus back to Ica and got a car to Huacachina and stayed overnight there. It was lovely and relaxing and a great way to end our short vacation. Went out for pizza (sweeeeeeeeeeeet….) and had a relaxing breakfast the next morning before getting the bus back to Lima.

I had a bit of time in Lima before heading back to the mountains, so got to get a few things to bring back with me (mmm... blue cheese), though i almost missed my bus as the taxi driver taking me to the bus station ran out of gas.... sigh! Got back to Huancavelica without too much hassle, it was a cold as I remembered, and i am already planning my next exit.

Namely, Leah is coming to visit me in the middle of May!!! HOOORAY!! So i will be taking a week off and we are going to go to Cuzco and Macchu Picchu. I can't wait, and am really looking forward to it!

Also, for those who do not already know, I have officially cut my contract here from 2 years to one, so will be leaving in July/August 2007. Long long story. Let me know if you want to hear about it.

As for work that doesn't suck my soul, I have been giving workshops every wednesday night with a big group of teenagers on themes of peace, the environment, human rights, etc... Then we will be accompanying them as they give presentations about the info they have learned in their schools and communities. I am also giving english classes twice a week, and am putting together a bunch of conflict resolution workshops for teachers, and another set for another NGO for a water dispute in the campo. So things are busy and I feel like when i do leave I will have done a little bit of something. Hopefully.
Anyway, will post again soon, and keep your eyes out for the "Leah comes to Peru" posting at the end of May. Hope all is well with all of you, and keep in touch!

Sunday, March 18, 2007

My Great Escape

Switching gears and returning to things more cheerful and upbeat.

So last weekend, after two gruelling months in Huancaevlica WITHOUT LEAVING ONCE (oh my god, never again), I ran away to Huancayo, which i have mentioned before and is the closest city to Huancavelica--- about 4 hours away more or less.

Despite almost missing the train (people think it is hilarious to misdirect the gringa on her way to the train station--- i am getting very tired of that game...), we left at 1pm on Friday, grabbing a seat on the autovagon (cost: 15 soles or about 5 dollars). The autovagon gets us there in 4 hours, the train can take upwards of 8--- it was an easy choice. The autovagon is kind of like a bus on the train tracks--- seating is a bit weird but quite comfortable all things considered, and you stop at a few stations along the way to buy food, etc...

The train ride was great--- the sun actually broke through and gots some nice pics, enjoyed the wind, played some cards, bought some chicharrones in Izcuchaca (there is a lady there who is famous for them--- friend pieces of pork--- comes with some choclo, or that big-kernal starchy corn). A truely relaxing and lovely start to the weekend. (Picture is of David eating chicharrones with hoover and percy, two friends he works with)


wait for it.....

The highlight of my trip was when we got to Huancayo and got checked into the hotel and I had a.....


Seriously. I cannot express in words how unbelieveably fabulous that was. Seriously. After two months of freezing my butt off with my dog-pee shower, I felt like I was about to pass out from pure pleasure. After this experience, I am revisiting my understanding of the levels to which I subscribe to hedonism. I'm not necessarily saying that I would consider selling my first born for a good, hot shower, but if anyone is in the market, I'm willing to negotiate....

The rest of the trip was fine. Got back Sunday night.

Okay--- just kidding. While the shower (and the 4 that came later--- I couldn't stop myself) was the highlight of the trip for me on a sensory level, I did do some other interesting things.

Friday night, after my trip to shower heaven, we met up with Jimmy, a nice guy working in Huancayo on the same program as David (my gringo friend in Huancavelica), had a good visit, made some preliminary plans for the next day and went out for chifa--- or chinese food. There are TONS of chifa restaurants in Peru--- but the food isn't great, in my opinion. Not at all authentic chinese--- lots of fried stuff really. But oh well--- it wasn't chicken!! :) Was also weird to be in a place with so many people and cars and stores and all of that stuff. I felt a bit green and lost and disoriented, to be honest, but then reminded myself I have lived in Vienna and Amsterdam and got over it. :)

Saturday we got up early and then got tickets to go on a day-long tour of the archeological sites of the area, for 20 soles--- or about 6-7 bucks. Pretty great deal! We hiked up to some ruins but the view really stole the show from that height. Went to a pretty crappy museum, and a pretty but realtively boring laguna. At least we got to go on a boat and see some blue-billed ducks.... i think that made up for it... :) Drove through the countryside, stopped at a bunch of little spots that were quite pretty. Went to one ruin in particular that was really magical--- just an enclosed garden really, but we arrived at the end of the day and the light was amazing and the ground smelled fabulous from the sun having warmed it all day, and there were these drooping, almost languid trees which were 450 years old and quite spectacular. Got back to Huancayo around 6pm with cameras full of pictures and bushed, went to rest a bit (I took another shower...), and then we all met up that night in David's room for pizza (kinda--- peruvian pizza) and a few drinks and generally hanging out. Was quite relaxing and a nice break from being a tourist and foreigner.

Sunday I was feeling pretty pooky--- turns out it was the beginning of yet another intestinal infection--- sigh--- so things were pretty laid back for me. Went out for breakfast, hung out and visited a bit. I walked around trying to find a place to get my hair cut but came up with nothign unfortunately. After saying goodbye to the rest of our posse, David and I grabbed a car around 2pm (the autovagon doesn't run on sundays) and were back in Huancavelica by 6 or so. Really was such a nice break, and plan on doing more of the same in the next few months.

Was knocked on my back with stomach troubles last week, so no news beyond that from last week. My stomach is getting better thanks to the ever-fabulous cipro anitbiotic; however, as I was already immuno-compromised have also picked up a lovely cold complete with snotty nose and cough. Sometimes I think that while i really want to be able to be versatile in where i work and live, the reality is that I am too much of a gimp to live like this long term...

Upcoming plans include a dinner party i am hosting at my place on Friday, apparently complete with the mayor of Huancavelica. Not sure how he got invited.... uhhhhh.... Next week (26th onward) I am in Lima for a workshop with CUSO which I am really looking forward to. Okay, so i am looking forward to being in Lima more than the workshop itself, but whatever. You are welcome to judge me. That is how I feel. :)

Hope all is well with everyone, and keep in touch!

Sunday, March 04, 2007


I have been making an effort to keep things light on my blog, and trying to write postings that are interesting and reflect a particular view of Huancavelica that appeals to the anthropologist or traveler in all of us. But in doing so, I have left out some of the real life difficulties that people live with and what it can actually be like to exist here for the vast majority of the population (myself not included).

So try to give some balance to the picture I have been painting thus far, here are some stats on the Department (State) of Huancavelica:

452,000….. population of the Department of Huancavelica
72%….. percentage of that pop. that lives in rural areas
83.7%….. percentage of the pop. that live in extreme poverty
58.2….. life expectancy of people living in Huancavelica
53.4%….. percentage of kids that are chronically malnourished

These are just the bare bone facts (published by Aprodeh, a human rights org that works in the country), but these numbers paint a pretty desperate picture at best. It is the case that Huancavelica is the poorest department of Peru, and was one of the hardest hit during the 20 years of political violence from 1980 to 2000. Beyond these basic pieces of information, I wanted to give some personal accounts--- the following are just subjective observations, so take them with a grain of salt.

I have walked through towns completely abandoned because of the violence, either because everyone was killed or people fled for safer regions, and flourishing, established communities were destroyed. The levels of mistrust and depression among the population are sometimes palpable, not only towards foreigners but towards each other. During the era of political violence, neighbours took up arms against each other, parents against children, brothers against cousins. Beyond the violence, the level of poverty is staggering and often breathtaking, the department is almost completely forgotten by the national government, the local governments are impotent and mired in red tape and political mismanagement, the judiciary is a farce, and while there are so many pretty words spoken about how NGOs and others are trying to help, in my experience, when you get to the nitty gritty of those words, very little is actually done to make a significant and meaningful impact in this region.

And what is the result of all of this? What kind of context does this create? Scarily high rates of alcohol abuse, domestic violence and depression, and a population who often seems rarely able to see a future beyond the oppressive stats.

You might ask why I have chosen to talk about all of this up right now? Because in the late afternoon of Monday, February 26, 2007, my good friend’s 13 year old son, Julio Adolfo, committed suicide. While I can’t begin to understand the pain, tragedy and mind-blowing reality of what drives a child to take their own life, I imagine that some of the facts above helped to create the desperate context that compelled this intelligent, quiet and thoughtful young boy to take his own life.

I could go on to be culturally descriptive and give an account of the mourning process here, the funeral, the cemetery, etc… but those details seem trite in this circumstance. Pain is pain, and tragedy is tragedy. There is no relevant cultural observation that makes any sense when talking about something so visceral, human and deeply painful.

While Huancavelica is beautiful and fascinating, it is also difficult and tragic. So out of respect for this child who was swallowed up by the tragedy of this place, I wanted to share some of those things that might have driven him to kill himself. I hope that it does some good and opens even one pair of eyes, so this kid’s life was not lost in vain.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Huancavelica Smells: A Tour

It has been another relatively run-of-the-mill week with nothing too interesting to post, so I thought I would give you all a tour of Huancavelica… but instead of posting a bunch of boring pictures, I thought I would take you on an olfactory journey of epic proportions. So come with me as we explore Huancavelica…. smell-o-vision style!

The day often begins on an olfactory level with the shower, where if I am not careful plugging up my shower drain after washing, one gets smacked in the face with the rank smell of stale sewer gas. I am not sure what happened with the piping in my building, but there you have it. After getting dressed, I squirt a whole lot of my Peruvian perfume (called “Day”: powdery and soft) and enjoy the smell of gas being lit as I prepare a kettle to make a cup of tea. Mmmm…. Propane….. Seriously. I love a gas stove.

On my walk to work is when my nose really gets a workout. As a side note, pervading any olfactory sensation while walking through Huancavelica, first off, is the smell of earthy dirt. There is always lots of dust or mud (depending on the season—rainy or dry) so there is always a backdrop of earthiness in any smell one encounters in the street.

As I start off, turning the corner from the alley into the plaza, one is hit with a raging strong smell of acrid, bitter pee--- I am not sure why, but someone LOVES peeing on the wall beside my building. Continuing down the hill towards the center of town, passing the small river, one often gests the distinctive, tinny whiff of blood as you pass the llama slaughterhouse. Although a visual cue, I will share that the very stinky, garbage filled river is often red--- makes me think of bible plagues and whatnot--- from the runoff of the slaughterhouse. Very nice. J

As I pass into the center of town and the plaza, I pass by the orange juice stalls, and get a whiff of their beautiful fresh citrus smell. A nice contrast to the stale, dirty water that often collects in the 6-inch drain ditches between the street and the sidewalk (when there is a sidewalk). As one continues their walk, one also encounters all make and model of dog poo--- fresh and dried, runny and compact. They have it all. And they all stink. A lot. As I arrive at the office, one has to greet everyone present with a kiss on the cheek, thus filling my nose with the strong smell of aftershave or perfume of my coworkers, which is nice after the relatively stinky walk to work.

On my way home from work, as the evening begins to set in, one is immediately hit with the smell of food cooking, mostly being fried (food in the mountains of peru is not very healthy, I have to say). Chicharrones, which are pieces of fried pork, are always being cooked on the street by little ladies and their propane tanks. One also gets greasy whiffs of piccarones (fried dough in a sweet syrup) and the ever-present rotisserie chicken and fried potatoes. In contrast, while one is passing the food stalls, one also passes the llama skin stores, where you get a very strong nose-full of stinky, dusty, rotting llama skins. Yuck.

As I pass people in the street, I am also greeted with the distinctive smell of chewed cocoa leaves--- people chew them as a stimulant, and they reek. A slightly bitter but bright smell, green and pungent. Not entirely unpleasant actually. And really common, especially at night.
I finally make my way back to my plaza, pass the crazy acrid pee wall, and as I walk upstairs to my apartment, I pass the smell of fresh paint and plaster, as they continue to finish the other floors in my building (mine is the only one finished). I enter my apartment, take a whiff of the pomanders I have hanging in my kitchen (oranges studded with cloves--- wonderful natural air freshener), and smell that puff of propane as I turn on the stove to make myself a warm cup of tea.