Amy in Peru: An Odyssey

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.