The Food of Peru

I love food. I love to cook food, eat food, try new foods, and I basically think about food all day long. 

Peru has been a wonderful food experience in so many ways. 

The fruit of Peru… Wow. It’s hard to put into words, the papayas are HUGE and so delicious. The bananas are sweater and creamier, the mangos have the strongest mango taste, like no mango in the US, and the avocados. Wow. I don’t know where to start. I love avocados, but the avocados here (palto in Spanish) are the best I have ever had. I could eat these avocados at every meal. They are perfectly ripe every single time, no blemishes, no brown spots, never hard or too squishy. They are creamy and if I could smuggle a box of these I would throw out all my clothing to make space for them. 

The best thing here is the fresh juices. No sugar added. All fresh pure ripe fruit. Across the street from my host stay is a juice joint that sells you a huge container (like to go Chinese soup size) of fresh juiced fruit and veggies of your choice for 5 soles. That’s less than $2. When I discovered this place my life changed. I have had so much fresh juice I don’t know how I will go back to paying $10 for a small smoothie.

One of my favorite restaurants here is Green Point in San Blas. It’s a vegan restaurant with a daily menu of salad bar, fresh squeezed juice, soup, a main and a dessert for 12 soles. It packed with vegetables and quinoa and flavor and each day that menu changes and each time I go I am in food heaven. If you ever go to Cusco, Peru I recommend dropping everything and running to this restaurant for the best vegan food of your life.

The food at my home stay. The food here was a bit different than the vegan food I mentioned. This food was a warm, delicious carb loaded experience. At one point I had pasta, potato, sweet potato and bread at one meal. Wow. Looking back I think this food might have helped me sleep each night because my body was so busy digesting!! With that said I cleaned my plate every time and often doubled up on the pan dulce! I had spaghetti, tacos, baked chicken, rice, potatoes, soups, fruit, lots of breads, Peruvian Chinese food (comida Chifa in Peru) and lots of guacamole! 

I probably ate 15 empanadas in the last two weeks. They are so fast and so delicious I can’t stop ordering them when on the go. One empanada is 3 soles. That’s about $1. Yeah… I will miss Peruvian prices for sure. 

A popular Peruvian dish is lomo saltado. It’s delicious. Steak, tomatoes, potatoes and onions sauted with a side of rice… Yummmmmm. I also tried alpaca saltado. The alpaca was great! Tasted a lot like steak.

Volunteering at. Buen Pastor

I just finished my last day volunteering at a local orphanage called Buen Pastor teaching English to a small group of 16 year old girls. I had an amazing experience for so many reasons. The girls were so kind and happy to have us their. We also taught an adult class twice a week to the women who work and run the orphanage. I learned so much about teaching English as a foreign language, working with teenage girls, working with adults and about the Peruvian culture. 

Peru time is a real thing… Each day we would arrive and collect the girls from their activities, and they would still take another 15-30 minutes to get to class. That might be part Peruvian time part teenage time, but it was the same with the adults, often one would be there when class starts and the other trickle in through the next half an hour or so. By the end we learned to begin with the students that were there, they deserved the whole time. 

Working with teenagers is a whole different ball park than young kids. They are quicker to understand and respond but one day your strongest student will come with an attitude, or sleep on the table in class or reply “no” when you ask her a question!

             Side note: I’m sorry mom for being a teenager. I’m sure I must have had an attitude and been rude and unthankful for no darn reason some days. I love you for putting up with me!

We were told in training not to speak Spanish in our class. They wanted us to provide an English immersion experience for the students. This was very hard for me to conform to. I speak Spanish and when a student would have a hard time understanding a concept of word all I wanted to do was tell them the translation in Spanish!! But the thinking is if they can come to it their own it builds their learning and may be a memorable moment rather than just feeding them answers. Arg!!!

My teaching partner (Christine from Canada) and I decided it would be best if we incorporated lots of activities and games because we were providing after school English lessons to these girls who some days showed how tired of learning they already were (by sleeping on the table…). We had fun playing card games to practice counting, pictograms to review vocab, I spy to practice colors and shapes, and so much more!

Our girls loved to play volleyball, and we played a few times with them on their court. It was so much fun to get outside the classroom and play! We laughed and ran around and became a team. The girls hold a very special place in my heart.

At the orphanage the girls make ceramics from scratch! They begin in one room by throwing pots, bowls, plates, vases, mugs and more then it is fired there in a homemade kiln and painted and glazed in another room. The skill and talent in the painting is like nothing I have ever seen. These girls are true artists! On our final day we brought some friends from Maximo to Buen Pastor to see and buy some ceramics to take home to their families. They were all blown away by the beautiful creations and made many purchases. I was so delighted to help bring these funds to Buen Pastor and to show the girls how amazing their work is. 

When the girls are 18 they will leave the orphanage and find a job and housing of their own. Having English lessons and learning different skills (cooking, pottery, sewing, painting, weaving, etc.) will help them be successful in their lives. Because of this I won’t be posting any photos of the girls faces so that when they make a lives for themselves it won’t be based on the orphanage but rather who they are and what they have to offer the world. I wish them all the most succes and happiness possible. In two weeks they have become very special to me, I imagine if I spent months or years working here I wouldn’t be able to leave!  

                         

The weekend in Lake Titicaca

What an amazing weekend exploring Lago Titicaca! Some friends that I made at Maximo Nivel and I went to Lake Titicaca for a two day excursion! 

Lake Titicaca is the largest fresh water lake in South America. It has Peru on the west and Bolivia on the east, with many islands throughout. For our trip we traveled by bus Friday night to Puno where we got on a boat with about 20 other people and went to Los Uros, the floating islands as well as Isla Amanti and Isla Tequile.

Los Uros are man made islands from totoras (reeds that grow in the lake). The people living on the Uros are descendent so of one of the oldest tribes of the Americas. They collect the large bunch of roots from the totoras after the rainy season and tie them together to make the base of the islands. Then they lay layers and layers of dried totoras on top. They use the totora reed to make their houses, fuel their fires, aid their ailments and keep their island afloat. They must tie their island to sticks stuck into the lake floor or else they would float away, hence the name given as the floating islands!

We had such a great time learning about the history and exploring the lake. We stayed Saturday night with a host family on Isla Amanti. They made us traditional food, quinoa soup, sliced veggies from their garden, the local mint tea and fried cheese (which I didn’t eat but heard was skweeky good!). We hiked to the top of this island to Pachamama, a sacred sight for Mother Earth to connect with the sun god. That hike took us to 4,250 km above sea level. The highest have ever been. It was a hard hike but the feeling at the top when we could see all of the lake at sunset was amazing.

The following day we got onto a rocky boat and headed for Isla Telqile. On this island we walked to the top, learned about the people of the island and ate trucha (trout) from Lago Titicaca. It was so fresh and delicious and the view from the top didn’t hurt.

What a wonderful way to spend a free weekend in Peru.  

                                  

     

Day three and four in Peru

Hi guys! Yesterday was really long and I didn’t get a chance to blog but here I am!! Ready to share! 

Yesterday I began at 8am with a crash course on ESL teaching, basically their TEFL month long course packed into one hour…. Yeah… I took lots of notes. But honestly I think the Center (my previous job at FSACC) has prepared me well for this type of teaching. I am creating my own English lesson plans for people who speak Spanish as their first language in school that caters to low income families. Bring it on Peru! 

I am continuing my Spanish classes and we are focusing on congegations. It’s going well but it is definitely hard, private classes are much more intensive. I’m hoping after two weeks of class I will be speaking much more grammatically correct and fluently! Living with the host family helps a lot!

Yesterday afternoon I began my volunteer project at Buen Pastor. It is an orphanage for girls age 5 to 18. It is a very beautiful site with gardens that the girls tend to growing corn, beans, flowers… At the orphanage they teach the girls how to sew, weave, paint and make pottery. These girls have no family or money when they leave at 18yrs old, so they will have mastered a trade to use to make money in Cuzco. Many of these girls come from very tumultuous backgrounds; abuse, abandonment, the streets and some removed from Casinos where they were selling themselves to make money. Even with all of that background they are still kids and teenagers. They love to learn, play, and hang out while listening to music. 

I am teaching a class of four 16yr old girl with one other volunteer. Her name is Christine and she is from Canada. In my class is Maria, she is so sweet and so smart, she will try to answer every question even if it isn’t directed to her! Great student! There is Alexandra, she is very calm and kind, she always try’s her hardest and when we play games she breaks out of her shell and laughs and plays! We have Rudy who is quieter and loves to say everything in Spanish before English, and she loves to be in class! Our fourth student is Senobia, she is very quiet and guarded. My goal is to get her to be confident in her self, she knows the answers but doesn’t trust herself enough. Don’t worry I will be working on that. They are all so friendly and so grateful to have us. We are having so much fun getting to know each other!

On Wednesdays and Fridays we are also teaching a short class to the adults who work at the Buen Pastor orphanage. Today we had 5 women. To be honest I was pretty nervous to be teaching adults. I feel so comfortable with kids and even teens, but adults, that is new and very different! The “Mama” of the orphanage, kind of like the director, is very serious and pretty intimidating. We met her yesterday and was told to ask for permission to enter her office before going in. When she entered our English class my stress level went up! Oh no, is this a test, is it ok that I am wearing earrings? Will she say anything or just observe? Can I correct her? 

We all had so much fun! They were laughing and teasing each other, asking questions, giving answers, and the “Mama” was so into the class! She was working on her pronunciation and spelling! We talked about what they knew and what they wanted to learn about. We want to keep our lessons relevant to their lives, using numbers, letters, colors, greetings, body parts, food and more! 

I think my project is going to be so much! The only hard part for me is that I can only speak in English in class to provide them with an English immersion type of experience. All I want to do is is explain something in Spanish when they are struggling to understand!  tomorrow we are going early to see the ceramics they make and play volley ball with them!


Here is a little view into the food so far!

Jugo de mango y empanada de lomo saltado 

 

  

Dia Número Dos. 

Day two in Cuzco went quickly. I woke up to the city sounds (cars honking, dogs barking, people talking…) and had a great breakfast of fresh fruit, granola, bread and tè de coca. My host’s niece, Stephanie showed me how to take the bus to the Maximo offices. The tiny buses are packed with people and my bus is called Batman. Ha I can definitely remember that! Stephanie told me to keep my backpack on the front when on a busy bus and showed me where to get off. Having her go with me on the first ride eased my nerves a lot. 

At Maximo I had my first private Spanish lesson. It was pretty hard, one on one lesson really puts you on the spot! I think I will be able to improve a lot with two weeks of these classes. I was given a book and homework on congegations, I hope my host family will help! I was supposed to have a crash course on teaching English as a foreign language this afternoon but got the times wrong and had to reschedule for tomorrow at 8am. It will be alone with the program director! Pressure is on! Tomorrow I will also have my first visit to the site where I will be working. It’s a local orphanage for girls and I will be teaching English. I will let you all know more details on that after tomorrow. 

I walked around for a while to see the people and buildings of Cuzco then found the bus to come back to my host house. That bus was PACKED! Shoulder to shoulder, with my pack held tightly on my front I made it back safely and even got off at the right stop. Someone at the bus door is yelling out the stops and you have to yell “bajar” back so that they stop. I know my stop for home is Majesterios and for class is Rosarios. I repeated it the whole ride so I wouldn’t forget! 

Peruvian women in traditional wear pose for money holding baby alpacas?   

The Qoricancha entrance, Incan temple  

A mural  

Qoricancha  

View from the Maximo office.  

Day 1 in Cuzco

Day one down! 

What a day. I began at 6pm last night, it is now 5:40pm and I am finally settled and relaxing. 

I flew from Houston to Bogota, we descended into Colombia through a lightning storm. That is quite a site at 3,000 ft! I arrived around midnight and got 2hrs of sleep on a row of chairs, constantly rotating like a roll-roti chicken so each side didn’t go numb! At 4am I flew to Lima. I slept the whole flight, I had an exit row, window seat with no one next to me, four hours “sleep” that I desperately needed. I spent 2hrs in the bustling Lima airport, got a coffee, people watched and checked in at home. A short 1hr flight to Cuzco where I met a Maximo rep outside waving a bright yellow smiley face flag and off I went into the city, down the busy streets to the Maximo Nivel office. 

I spent a few hours at their office with a tour, orientation, project description, and setting up my daily Spanish classes. I was given a Spanish exam to determine my level and I swear I read each question ten times. I was so brain dead from all the traveling, and info overload. Luckily I had the chance to show my skills in the one on one interview and was assigned to private 1hr Spanish lessons each day! 

My host family is a bus or taxi ride away from the office in a popular neighborhood. My host mom is Sonia Pareja. She has three daughters, all in Lima in college, except one is here visiting to help her father. Her name is Lisa, she is very sweet and I can hear Sonia and her giggling in the background. 🙂 

I will be having dinner and breakfast with them each day and they are being very considerate of my non dairy diet! Tonight we had chicken, sliced potatoes with tomatoes and a sweet potatoe. I was warned by Maximo that the host family meals are going to be carb heavy. Ok. Bring it on! I guess I will be walking to work!

A few things that didn’t go so smoothly:

  • My first flight was delayed 3hrs
  • There is no toilet seat on their toilet…
  • I got myself locked in my own room at my host family. Seriously. They had to unscrew the door handle to get me out. The handle detached from the locking mechanism and we all had a good laugh.
  • It’s all about bottled water. The tap water here will take me down, I need to be very on top of that.
  • I was warned of children distracting you so other children could pick pocket you. No! Not the children!!
  • And if you go to the wrong laundry mat they might steal your clothes… Not cool. 

On a better note:

  • Everyone at Maximo is so friendly. 
  • They have salsa dancing lessons, game night, cooking lessons… 
  • I’m so tired I think I will sleep great tonight
  • And so far no altitude sickness!

Tomorrow I have my first Spanish lesson, a few hours break to walk around Plaza de las Armas and a crash course in TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language). My project begins Tuesday! 

I can’t wait to jump right in! 

  

Maximo Nivel common room with access to wifi, computers, coffee, tea, and small snacks for sale.   

My room at my host families casa. Nice big window!

 

Packing For 3 Weeks in Peru

As I prepare for my 3 weeks in Peru, the most important thing is to have the right items packed. 

I have scoured the Internet for tips on packing for the climate, the culture, Machu Picchu, and my volunteer work. 

It will be raining the first week, and less likely to rain the following two weeks. I need a few light items for my trek, two simple outfits that are comfortable and good walking shoes. For my volunteer work I need to be conservative and comfortable as I will be working with kids.

So along with the basics of shirts, shorts, pants, toiletries… I made sure to pack: 

  • My rain coat shell, it’s lighter than my regular rain jacket. 
  • A fleece for my trek
  • My own super absorbent towel
  • Supporting insoles for my walking shoes
  • A lock to use at hostels to secure my things
  • Copy of my passport to carry on me and leave actual passport locked at home base
  • Extra items: ear plugs, Advil, melatonin (for sleeping), gum for the airplane, bar shampoo (from LUSH cosmetics), headphones, and tums.

I can’t believe I almost covered my whole bed and fit it all into one carryon size luggage!

I thought about using a hikers backpack on this trip but in reality I will be with a host family for the first two weeks and then locking my items in a locker at a hostel in Cuzco while I do my trek up to Machu Picchu. So a large pack might actually be more cumbersome than helpful. I’m sure when I return there will be a few items I could have done without, there usually is. But three weeks in one bag is a success!  

It’s 

  

   

Prayer Flags

My prayer flags are finished!

As a way to honor the many friends and family who donated to my fundraising campaign to pay for my trip to Peru I made prayer flags with each of their names as well as some honorary names of those who have passed.

I have created a small string on rainbow flags with symbols that reflect important things in my life.

Life- I’m happy to be alive

San Francisco Giants- represents home

Smile- shows how important happiness is

Earth- I care for the planet, and the people on it

Peace- I wish peace upon those in my life as well as for myself

Love- at the heart of it all is love, that’s what drives me.

All of my donors, big and small have their names on these flags and they will be in my pack every day to remind me how many people at home care and support me and my endeavors. I am so grateful to have these people in my life to inspire me. I will take these flags to the top of Machu Picchu to salute them all.

Good to know…

So I thought I should share with all of you some things I have learned as I go along preparing for my trip.

First of all I am so excited that I will be heading to my first day of work and class a week from today!

Six months ago I decided I had to take a trip this year where I was able to do volunteer work, take Spanish lessons and explore a new culture and landscape. It’s finally here! Holy guacamole, it’s finally here.

Anyways… what I wanted to share is what I have found while working with different programs here in the US and in Latin America that are helping me and many others make trips like this.

I initially connected with InterExchange which is a program located here in the US that connects people with opportunities abroad. The provide aupair, volunteer, internship and other work experiences for people looking to travel to another country. Although their prices are lower than other group travel companies they are able to connect you with programs that need you on the ground in other places.

They connected me with Maximo Nivel in Peru. As I researched Maximo Nivel I realized that they are the ones providing the Spanish lessons, the host family, the volunteer project and so on. And through them it would actually be a few hundred less to do the same exact program…

Hmmm. Am I getting swindled???

I think not. I see InterExchange as a “travel agent” for finding volunteer work. Yes I am paying them on top of my the real cost for travel but they have been very helpful all along. They have walked me through the steps, what I need, where I should go, insurance, student ID card… helped my plan over the past few months and were the reason I was able to find Maximo Nivel!

Side note: Maximo Nivel is kind of awesome looking! I will let you all know after I work with them but they have programs in Peru, Costa Rica and Guatemala where you can take Spanish lessons, join a volunteer project of your choice, and they even offer adventure tour weeks in the area! So cool!

http://www.maximonivel.com/index.php

Back to my struggles. haha. So yes I could have saved money going through Maximo Nivel, I hope I can pass that info along to someone else trying to find the right program. But no, I’m not mad that I went through InterExchange, they had their part in this experience as well and I am grateful for that.

You live and you learn huh.

Taking Risks

The other day in my yoga class my teacher set our intentions for the class on taking risks.

In each yoga practice you set an intention for yourself of any kind. That intention will drive you to a new level throughout your practice and hopefully carry off your mat and through your day. You can set an intention of love, or kindness, strength, or stability, maybe opening up your chest or keeping legs straight and thigh engaged. Whatever is particular to your practice, what will help you have a great class.

On this day our teacher suggested we all set our intentions as taking risks. Maybe that risk was going deeper into a pose but often the risk in yoga is when you are in a pose and your muscles are trembling and your brain tells you “I’m done, time to change”, don’t. Stay another two breaths right there. See how that changes the mind set, take that risk of staying longer in the unknown.

Taking that risk throughout the yoga class was definitely a challenge. Every single time I wanted to get out and told myself to stay it was a challenge. But in moments like that you slow down, focus on your breath and learn to take the risk of being in the unknown, and the uncomfortable.

This class really stuck with me, for days I have been figuring out how to connect the practice of taking risks to my life. I believe that I am taking a huge risk next week by traveling to a foreign country, alone, to work in a Spanish speaking school, and live with a Peruvian family who I will meet the day I arrive. The risk I am taking is entirely within myself. Can I trust myself that I will be ok, will be fine, or better will be happy there.

I believe that I have to take risks in order to grow. If I don’t push myself beyond the point of comfortability I will never learn who I truly am. I have come to realize I need to be tested in order to be stronger. I will stress, have nerves and possibly dread it but it’s a battle within myself that I always come back to.

We can take small risks everyday, we can take a big risk once every blue moon but in order to make change and grow we must take those opportunities to go outside of our comfort zone and be challenged. Those moments will help us be our real selves. Often it scares us but once that moment passes you realize it really wasn’t that tough and you are strong enough to handle it. We are all strong enough. I am strong enough.