Amy in Peru: An Odyssey

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Welcome Back!

An update is long overdue, so I will do my best to condense what has been a pretty full month of January (edited to note: I failed miserably in my attempt to condense what’s been going on of late--- this is REALLY long). Enjoy the pics, and feel free to skip whichever sections begin to sound boring.

Return of the Gringa

The flight back to Peru itself was relatively uneventful… aside from my bag being lost… urk. So I unintentionally spent a few days in Lima (without clean clothes or toiletries… not a good combo given the hot and humid weather in Lima right now… can anyone say ‘ripe’?) I finally got my bag a few days later and headed up as far as Huancayo on the bus, deciding to stay a night there to help acclimatize to the altitude again. On the bus, I met a very nice retired couple from Vancouver with almost no Spanish skills, so I hung out with them a bit and got them oriented (while at the same time not seeming to mind the altitude change at all--- no headaches or seasickness or anything. Surprising, given my previous altitude experiences, but fabulous nonetheless!). With my newfound altitude tolerance, I decided to head up to Huancavelica the next day, and got back to my apartment in the early afternoon after a bumpy but relatively quick car ride.

Huancavelica highs and lows

After almost having a heart attack trying to walk up my five flights of stairs with my ridiculously big knapsack (turns out I might not have been as altitude-ready as I thought… holy freg. I have never been that close to having my heart burst through my chest wall), and working with the family downstairs for an hour to figure out why I didn’t have any water in my apartment and get it running again, I felt pretty good about being back and enjoyed getting settled in. Had a blast unpacking the stuff I brought with me--- in addition to stuff for other people here, most of my own luxury items included spices (I can’t stop sniffing my cardamom!) and warmth-giving items (lots of great new socks, layering sweaters, etc… my current fave though is my heating pad (and adaptor so I can actually use it)--- what a TREAT on a cold night!).

Ran into a little snag on the day before work was supposed to start while stocking up on veggies and various sundries in the Sunday market. It was super-busy in the market itself as Huancavelica was celebrating the festival of los Negritos (see pics) and there were TONS of people visiting from neighbouring towns and villages. I was watching my stuff as best as I could, but someone swiped a few things out of my bag, unfortunately including my keys. Sigh! I rushed back to my apt, and luckily my ever-fabulous family downstairs (the Orroyos, for future reference) had a spare set. I wandered around town looking for a place to get copies and eventually found a guy on the street who filed copies by hand (the best you can do on a Sunday afternoon). After bringing them back three times, I eventually got a set that worked--- whew.

In the midst of all of this personal key drama, the festival of los Negritos was in full swing, and I had to dodge parades of people in blackface (never going to be used to this tradition, despite seeing the same thing in Holland), about four VERY loud traveling bands circulating around the city, not to mention all of the homemade fireworks, vendors, visitors and the inordinate amount of drunk people for 1pm on a Sunday. Check out the pics--- very popular festival, full of color and music. Lots of fun, and activities were on for most of the week.

Back into the Swing?

I showed up for work on Monday, as was agreed. Unfortunately, my officemates failed to send me any kind of information to let me know that they would not be in Huancavelica until Tuesday and I spent pretty much the whole day wandering from the office to the Educentro to my home and back again…. Not a good start to our fresh new beginning as we all try to make this placement work. Needless to say I had some things to say the next day when they showed up, and we had a few frank conversations which was good. Will continue to stay relatively far away from the work topic in my blog for now, as I still find it fairly uncertain and frustrating. However, I am starting to work up some plans for the project I am supposed to be here for and am interested and excited about what could be done. I am still unsure whether any of the long term planning I am doing right now will come to fruition, but at least I am occupied and engaged for the most part, and a few of the other things I am working on— like editing and writing articles for our upcoming magazine publications—will definitely be of use to someone.

Holy Fiestas Batman!

Pretty much all of last week was a mass of festivities in Huancavelica---- bands and fireworks and church masses and dinners and drinking and dancing--- it was crazy! My participation really started on Wednesday night, when I was invited to a catholic mass at the Plaza Bolognesi on behalf of some of the NGO community here, celebrating the baby Jesus. I have not been to many catholic services, but I don’t think it is common to be kissing the feet of a plastic baby dripping with adornments? Either way, it was interesting, and the baby accompanied us to dinner afterwards, watching me and about 15 others eat our dinner, and then enjoy a few pisco sours and dance around. Was actually a lot of fun despite being watched like a hawk by a replica son of God--- I swear its eyes were following me. J This particular baby celebration apparently happens every year, so a document was circulated within the group and we all had to promise to do something for the service/celebration next year--- I only got roped into bringing flowers, so I got off pretty easy I think. No making tiny baby crowns or paying for the dinner…

Thursday I came home from work and was sitting around relaxing, trying to ignore the blaring music from the plaza below (another party brewing, this time for San Sebastien, the patron saint of my neighbourhood of Yananaco, which supposedly was starting on the weekend… I guess people were getting warmed up??) All of a sudden, I had a very loud knock at the door, and Maria pulled me out of my door in my pyjama pants (I managed to grab my coat and my boots) and we ran downstairs--- one of the roaming bands had set up downstairs to thank the Orroyos for their contributions to the upcoming festivities, and the band had brought their traveling posse of about 40 dancing semi-drunk Huancavelicanos. It was PACKED! So what else does one do when surrounded by a whole bunch of beer, partying people, and a 20 piece brass band? One dances. A lot. And drinks beer. And gets stared at as the only gringa who has ever participated in this, ever. And gets proposed to. Sigh. Then after about an hour, as quickly as it started, everyone decided it was time to move on and the place emptied out--- the band and its posse moving on to invade another house to play more music, drink more beer and continue to dance their tooshies off. A big surprise on an otherwise quiet Thursday night, and I was definitely appreciative to have been included.

After being woken at 5am on Friday morning by giant fireworks being lit off in the plaza next to me--- I almost swallowed my tongue I was so startled--- the festivities really started picking up, and by the evening, the usually empty plaza in front of my place was CRAWLING with people. As I surveyed the chaos, I noticed a bunch of high towers being put up in the middle of the street. Turns out that these towers are made of some sort of inflammable wood (looks like bamboo or really big toothpicks), and the towers become giant towers of fireworks!! Yikes!! So me and few others got bundled up and went up to the roof for a birds eye view of the action---- amazing!!! Apparently families spend lots and lots of money on these things to contribute to the festivities, and it all gets very competitive. I have no idea how people afford it, or why they afford it for that matter as the fireworks only last about 15 minutes, but I guess people find the money when it comes to honoring saints.

Saturday turned to more solemn celebrating, and I went to the mass and procession for San Sebastien with the Orroyos. There were super ornate decorations all over the church and on the statue itself for the mass, and then two statues were carried by a contingency of struggling men into the Plaza de Armas. I took my leave of the festivities in the afternoon, and in my attempt to get away from fiestas, I ran into a gringo looking very lost and confused in the middle of the road. He didn’t speak any Spanish (a death sentence in Huancavelica if you want to get anywhere or do anything without help), and that morning had narrowly missed being beaten to a pulp by a bunch of drunk partiers (at 10 in the morning…. Ah yes. Nothing like a good 7 bottles of beer to start the day… seriously. Alcoholism is a HUGE problem here--- and no more evident than during these crazy fiesta times. Not very safe if you stick out at all and are not careful)

Sunday I was feeling all fiesta-ed out (who can keep up the energy of celebrating like this for days at a time--- not me), so I went to the market (and didn’t get robbed---- yea!), and generally puttered around a bit. Despite my fiesta-strike, the incessant music continued to blare from the plaza below my apartment, and events continued to happen there, including the erecting of 6 giant trees in the middle of the road, covered in gifts, which were going to be chopped down by some dignitaries. Apparently this is kinda like the Huancavelican equivalent of a piñata, except that when the tree has been chopped and comes crashing down, it can kill you…. Hmmmm…. Anyway, apparently no one died, so that is good. David and I got together that night and we decided to make a big giant batch of tortillas. It was pretty weird in one way, but also pretty fregging delicious. You can’t get anything like that here (just those floury buns really), and we both had a craving. It was a lot of fun actually--- next week we are thinking of pickling some ginger to eventually use to make sushi (I brought some nori back with me from Canada--- how surreal would it be to eat sushi in Huancavelica??? It’s off the scale, man!! Off the scale!!!)

Conclusion (for those who have bothered to read this far)

So that is the end of the recap to end all recaps. I can’t imagine many people have actually made it to the end of this tome. But a lot of what-I-would-consider-interesting things have been going on lately, so thought I would share a few details for those who share my interest. Hope you have not been made permanently cross-eyed from staring at your computer screen for so long. Keep in touch (again, especially those who have made it to the end--- you are TROOPERS, my friends) and have a great week!


  • Good to see you're back online! Be careful with the stolen keys, if they are really bad they will follow you home and enter at will! I hope the work situation get sorted out...

    By Anonymous jennifer, at 10:25 PM  

  • read it all, loved it all! LG

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:12 AM  

  • Its about time, Captain Slacker. The key thing would be freaking me out. I would get the locks changed or something.... but then again I am paranoid. ;) Sounds like its been an excited time in town though. The fireworks sound exciting.

    By Blogger Lesley, at 10:36 AM  

  • ah, the joys of a heating pad on a cold night.

    Glad to hear so much is going on, keeping you busy. Fireworks are always fun. It is super cold here, loads of sea smoke floating across the bay.

    enjoy yourself!


    By Blogger reahpeah, at 12:38 PM  

  • Hi Amy, Leah gave me your blog address and I am so glad she did...hope it's OK with you. What an amazing adventure you are having! I am in awe of your bravery in throwing yourself into such a totally foreign environment. It certainly makes for great reading. The pictures are an added bonus. I greatly miss both you and Leah at meetups, but it is exciting to watch the two of you catapulting yourselves into the big, wide world. So keep up the good work, in the world and on the blog. I look forward to hearing what comes next. vicki

    By Anonymous vicki, at 5:34 AM  

  • Totally read it all! :-)
    I guess I'll keep that hot water bottle for myself...and I'm with Lesley - new locks for me!!
    Take care and Glad to hear from you! :-)

    By Anonymous Lee, at 12:03 PM  

  • Wow! You are having some amazing experiences! I love reading your blog entries -- you are such a great writer!

    Stay warm and get those locks changed, eh?

    By Anonymous Keri, at 1:04 PM  

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