In which I spend a lot of time on buses

(Fun fact: I wrote most of this post ages ago, saved it as a draft to finish later, and then forgot about it)

 

So, my dear readers, I never told you what happened after I left Bolivia.  We pick up the story on the border town of San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.  Now, a little background: Chile does not require any complicated visa procedures, but if Americans enter the country by air, they have to pay a reciprocity fee of $140.  I did not want to pay that fee, which is why I went to the not insignificant trouble of traveling around by bus.

Anyway, I was in San Pedro de Atacama, an extremely picturesque town in the middle of the Atacama desert.  But I was only there for 24 hours and I was really trying not to spend money so I didn’t do any of the activities that San Pedro is famous for (mostly mountain biking and sandboarding, I believe) but instead hung around reading and eating, etc.  Which could actually be the subtitle to my trip: “Julia reading and eating in various places.”  ANYWAY.  My time in San Pedro, brief though it may have been, was quite relaxing and let me tell you, the warm shower that I took as soon as I checked into my hostel felt unbelievably good.  (probably because I hadn’t showered since leaving La Paz 4 days ago)

The following day, however, I boarded a bus bound to Santiago.  Now, if your sense of geography is as good as mine, you probably assume that, being in the same country, these places can’t be that far away.  And, like me, you would be wrong.  Chile is a long and skinny country, and the trip from San Pedro to Santiago took approximately 23 hours.  That’s right, 23 hours!  And that’s not even halfway down the country, I don’t think.  That was just about the longest bus ride I’d been on at the time, but I passed it pleasantly enough with a movie or two, my journal, and Clash of Kings.  (I considered it practice for the still longer bus ride in my future)

I spent three days in Santiago, which is only a little more time than I spent on buses, but they were three very good days so Santiago > buses.  Shocking, I know.  In all seriousness though, I really liked Santiago.  It seemed like an exciting city, and it certainly had a lot more going on than Cusco (although Cusco has other charms, such as mountains, stones with many angles, lots of things with “Inka” in the title, and theoretical sandwiches).

In Santiago, I mostly just walked around.  I walked around downtown, through their central park, through their artsy too-chique-to-be-boho neighborhood…  I quite liked the aforementioned neighborhood, Bella Vista, because, among other things, it was home toLa Chascona, one of Pablo Neruda’s houses.  He built the house for his then-mistress, but gave it to his then-wife after breaking up with the now-ex-mistress.  Oh, Pablo.  You’re lucky you write such beautiful love poems.

Anyway, turns out he was also obsessed with ships and all things nautical.  Now, I’d read a fair amount of his poetry but didn’t really know anything about the man himself before visiting La Chascona, so this was all news to me.  But the house was pretty crazy, to the point where I wondered if any of his girlfriends/wives ever sat him down and said, “Hey, Pablo, enough with the ships already!  Isn’t this house supposed to be for me anyway?”

There was a small courtyard-type space beside the lower level of the house (there are three or four separate parts of the house) that apparently would have been flooded in his day, so that he could look out his dining room window and feel like he was out on the ocean.  Funny guy, that Pablo.  We weren’t allowed to take photographs inside the house, but here’s one I scrounged up from good ol’ Google.

And here’s one I took myself, in the garden.

His eyes were everywhere.

The streets around La Chascona were also notable in that they were covered with crazy graffiti.

Exhibit A:

Exhibit B:

"Do not disturb."

Et cetera.

I didn’t spend all my time with my BFF Pablo though.  I also went to a street market (where I purchased a used copy of ‘Sensatez y Sentimientos,’ bonus points if you know what I’m talking about), walked around quite a lot, went to the top of a small mountain/large hill with a wonderful view of the smog, ate some food, drank some drinks.  Etc.

The small mountain/large hill also happened to be part of a park system called “Parque Metropolitano de Santiago” which has a rather unfortunate acronym.

Thanks, Santiago!  Real cool.

After an exceedingly pleasant three days in Chile’s capital, I set out on my journey back to Peru.  The first part of this journey was a bus ride from Santiago to Arica, a town near the Chile/Peru border.  Remember that less than a week previously, I had taken a 23-hour bus ride.  Well, this one was thirty hours.

Yup.

(It was actually quite pleasant though, as I paid extra for the super-nice seats and I slept and read books and watched some terrible movies)

In Arica, I took a ‘colectivo’ to the border station, then on to Tacna, the nearest town on the Peruvian side.  The colectivo process was a little unnerving, as it involved giving your passport to a stranger and then getting in his car, so pretty much exactly what you don’t want to do under most circumstances.  But hey, it’s cool.  Once I got to Tacna, I had the privilege of waiting around in the bus station for a few hours before my next bus (only 6 hours) to Arequipa (also in Peru, as I was done with my border-hopping for the time being).  There were maybe eight passengers on that bus, so I had a row to myself and was determined to at least catch a nap.  Unfortunately, I was sort of drawn in to a movie about the Rock as a tooth fairy.  Temporary insanity.

But enough about buses!  I’d been to Arequipa before, but very briefly, and as Peru’s second largest (after Lima) and second most popular (after Cusco) city, it merits a little more exploration.  Also, it’s close to the beach.  So I passed a pleasant couple of days wandering around Arequipa and trying to take in the sights without spending money (I did spend 20 soles to get into a museum, but I got to see a mummy so I think that’s 20 soles well spent).  And I did, of course, go to a lovely little town on the beach, where I got to frolic in the waves and then lie on my towel reading a book, an activity which I consider to be one of life’s greatest pleasures.

All things must end, however, and as I was short on money/time/clean clothes, I soon boarded yet another bus, this one finally taking me home to Cusco.

Having previously moved out of my apartment, I spent my last few days in South America mooching off my Peruvian family.  I slept in their spare bed, ate their (delicious) food, availed myself of their movie collection, and attended a very confusing soccer game (or should I say games?) in which Cienciano (our team) lost to Garcilaso…and then played (and lost) again.  I was very confused.

After a few days of hanging out in my dear Qosqo, I got on a plane and yadda yadda yadda you can fill in the rest.

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In which I get 6 more stamps in my passport

As I mentioned in my previous post, I had some time between the end of my job and my flight back to the US–time I spent wandering around South America, specifically Bolivia and Chile.  I got 6 new stamps in my passport.

The story begins, as so many do, with a bus.  My bus ride from Cusco to La Paz, which did not go entirely according to my expectations.  Let’s just say my opinion of TourPeru (a bus company I had previously held in high esteem) took a bit of a hit.  Anyhoo, the bus ride was alright, just a bit longer and weirder than expected.  At one point, we got off the bus and it was ferried across on a big wooden raft-type-thing.  We followed on smaller boats.  But I did eventually arrive in La Paz, Bolivia, the world’s highest capital.

There I set about the somewhat perplexing business of arranging a tour of the Salar de Uyuni.  I say perplexing because the first travel agent I spoke to told me in no uncertain terms that it was a bad idea to go during the rainy season.  Why?  Because you could book a bus ticket and a tour but you would most likely miss your tour due to rain and possible flooding on the road.  Yikes.  That was very alarming, but the second travel agent I spoke to shared none of these qualms.  It was with slight trepidation, then, that I booked my bus and tour.

The bus ride (from La Paz to the town of Uyuni) was also quite alarming!  A large portion of the road was unpaved, and we reached this section at some point in the middle of the night.  For the next several hours, well…any unsecured bags in the overhead compartment were flying around.  The compartments themselves rather looked like they were going to fly off the wall themselves.  I actually put on my seatbelt.  But the only way I can accurately describe it is bone-rattling.  Not just a little bone-rattling, but make-your-teeth-fall-out, oh-god-oh-god-we’re-all-gonna-die kind of bone-rattling.

If you catch my drift.

But we reached Uyuni only a few hours late, and our tour had kindly waited for us (I use the plural form because I met another gringa on the bus who had the same tour as me).  The tour itself consisted of 6 passengers (myself, the other American, two German women, and a Chilean couple) and Rodrigo the taciturn tour guide riding around in a car and visiting various breathtaking landscapes for three days.

The first stop was this train graveyard outside Uyuni.

So, you know, dead trains.  With wacky graffiti.  Fun times.

After the trains, we got to the highlight of the first day–and the most famous attraction on this tour–the titular salar.

For this part, well…I was going to be lazy and just show you pictures since it’s a words-cannot-describe kind of deal, but then I figured that didn’t bode too well for me or my future as a writer if I admitted that I couldn’t adequately describe some things, namely the salt desert.  So I’ll give it a shot.

You are standing on salt.  Maybe you’re in a dry spot but much of the salar is covered in water during this season, so it’s more likely that you’re barefoot, with your pants rolled up to your knees and your shoes and socks in one hand.  Salt is not the most comfortable surface to have on the tender soles of your feet, but still you’re there, barefoot in the salt.  The shallow layer of water creates a reflective effect so that it looks like you are walking in clouds, and everywhere you look it’s white and blue, sky and clouds, so you can’t tell where the salar ends and the sky begins and it just stretches on as far as the eye can see, with no horizon.

There.  How’s that?  Now, have a picture (or three).

And look, there's me!

Eventually we left the salt desert and headed out into a non-salt desert.  This region is home to something called the Desierto de Dali (Dali Desert, in case you couldn’t figure that one out).  There seems to be some question as to exactly why it’s called that, but the general idea is that it just looks like some really surreal thing that could have come out of Salvador Dali’s brain.  So the next two days were spent exploring this desert full of truly bizarre sights.

For example:

A field of crazy rock formations.

I can’t tell you why or how this exists because Rodrigo the taciturn tour guide had surprisingly little to say on the subject.  Or any subject.  Perhaps this is due to volcanic activity?  That is my best guess.

Completely separate and actually quite far from the field of crazy rocks, we encountered this spectacle:

The famed 'arbol de piedra' (rock tree)

The desert was also full of surprisingly rich and beautiful lagoons.

A pair of flamingoes in a lagoon in front of a great big mountain.

There were also flamingoes in the salt desert and no, I don’t know why.  Do they eat salt?  I have no idea.

We also saw the Laguna Honda (that’s a silent ‘h’ so not a car company) which translates as ‘deep lagoon,’ and Rodrigo the taciturn tour guide told us that it was the second deepest lagoon in the region.  The first deepest being the Laguna Verde.  So as Demetri Martin would say, they must have named the Laguna Honda before the Laguna Verde.

The most impressive one, however, was undoubtedly the Laguna Colorada.  Why is it called that?  I will show you.

It’s red!  Really, truly red. Or orange in certain lights.

It’s also full of flamingoes.  Thousands of them.  By the way, that solid grey background?  Is a wall of clouds.  And I believe the white in the distance is hail that was still on the ground.

Why was there hail?  Well, the desert climate was quite dramatic too.  Since it was, you know, a desert it was pretty hot when the sun was out.  But since it was something like 10,000 feet above sea level, it was also, well…volatile?  One afternoon saw us driving through two brief but intense hailstorms that left the sandy terrain blanketed in white.

And when the sun wasn’t out, the temperature dropped quite low.  On the third and final day of the tour, we roused ourselves at an ungodly hour and went to see some geysers before sunrise.  I would post a picture here, but my camera’s not very good and it was still quite dark, so they’re mostly a blurry mess.  Anyway, geysers.  Pretty cool, but it was also freezing.  I was wearing, like, all my clothes.  Well, not really all of them.  But three layers plus a hat and gloves.  And then, after the sun came up, we went to a laguna that somehow produces hot water (I know, right?) and were expected to take off our clothes in the freezing cold air and jump in the hot springs.

To be clear, I did have a bathing suit, but there was no bathroom or indeed any privacy at all, so I engaged in some complicated middle school locker room sort of thing in which I endeavored to change into my bathing suit while standing outside in front of a large number of strangers without completely exposing myself.  And oh yeah, did I mention that it was super freaking cold?  So as soon as we had our bathing suits on, we were all just running to the hot springs.  Which turned out to be heavenly.  Divine.  A million times better than the so-called hot springs at Aguas Calientes in Machu Picchu.

Then we all had to put our clothes back on, which turned out to be more difficult than the previous feat, and go eat breakfast and get back on the road.  After stopping at one more lagoon, I was off to the Bolivia-Chile border.  (And then, you know, Chile)

Oh, here’s a thing: whenever they gave us breakfast on our various stops on this tour, they almost always neglected to give us plates and/or utensils.  So, like, you have a stack of pancakes and a box of cereal but no plates or bowls or forks, etc.  An interesting choice, I thought.

Anyway, this post is getting longish so you’ll just have to wait (with bated breath) for the Chile portion of my travels.

 

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In which I find symbolism in peanut butter

I haven’t updated in a while.  Whoops!  I was busy.  But I am here now, and I want to tell you about some things.  First of all, peanut butter.

Background: Peanut butter is, for me, one of those things that you don’t really think about, or appreciate, or even partake of very often when you have ready access to it.  But when you don’t…when you don’t…look, let’s just say, stealing someone’s peanut butter around here is a terrible, terrible thing to do.  They do have peanut butter in Cusco, but it’s different.  Not as good.  More like mashed up peanuts.  So American-style peanut butter is a precious commodity.  When my parents sent me a big ol’ jar of creamy peanut butter (always creamy) I seriously just inhaled it for awhile.  Sometimes I still do.

But now, if I inhale it rather than eating it, it’s because I have very little left.  Which I have taken to viewing as symbolic of the little time I have left in Cusco.  I have enough left for maybe a few apple slices, but certainly not enough for a sandwich.  But I can’t eat those last few precious spoonfuls.  Because as long as I still have that, I still have, at the least, the promise of peanut butter.  Ergo I have resolved to save it until the bitter(sweet) end.

And yes, I am returning to the states, most of you probably know that though.  In fact, I am leaving in a month and a day (well gosh).  Before that, I intend to travel for approximately 2 weeks, and no I don’t know where I’m going, so don’t ask.

The thought of my imminent departure is a strange one.  I know that I’ll be sad to leave, but I’m also itching for some of the things I can’t get here.  Mostly food.  And hot showers. (my shower is broken arghhh)

Cold showers were cool (get it?) in El Salvador because El Salvador is freaking hot.  But Cusco is chilly and damp and it rains all day every day and sometimes you just can’t get warm and oh yeah did I mention I got bronchitis at the same time that my shower broke?  And my landlady had the audacity to say I was sick because I walk around my apartment without shoes on.  IF YOU’RE SO CONCERNED ABOUT MY BODY TEMPERATURE WHY DON’T YOU GET ME SOME HOT WATER???

Anyhoo, the bronchitis episode was quite interesting.  And a bit eye-opening about how easy it is to get serious drugs in this city.

It went like this.  I’d been sick for about 4 or 5 days–hacking my lungs out and struggling through my classes because I was barely able to talk–when one of my students who is a doctor said he thought I had bronchitis and asked if he could bring me some medicine.  Like I would possibly say no to free medicine when my DayQuil obviously wasn’t doing the trick?  So he basically diagnosed me in the middle of class and then gave me three over-the-counter medications.  Which helped, but I felt like they were only treating the symptoms and not the cause, you know?  So I turned to my Spanish teacher, Ana Maria, whose boyfriend is a doctor.

“Ana Maria,” I said (except in Spanish), “I think I have bronchitis and need antibiotics.  Could your boyfriend give me a consultation?”

“Oh,” she said, “I’ll call him right now!”  So in the middle of Spanish class, she put me on the phone with this guy who asked me some questions in rapid Spanish.  One of the questions he had to repeat three times until I eventually just said “no” even though I still didn’t understand because oh well, I had a 50/50 percent chance of being right.  (Unless it wasn’t a yes/no question, but I’m 99% sure it was)  Then he rattled off a long list of medications and instructions which Ana Maria copied onto a piece of paper that also had her random notes on it, so then I had this hot mess of instructions to take to the pharmacy.

But yes indeed, I walked into a pharmacy later that day, showed the guy the barely legible instructions, and he did not even blink an eye.  Like, you guys, I went and bought antibiotics and prednisone–prednisone–without a prescription.  Yay?

Along with the various medications, the doctor-boyfriend also told me to sleep with a hat on because I could get sick through my ears or something.  Everyone was so concerned about my body temperature and nobody would fix my shower.

Anyway, I’m much better now, and today was my last day on the antibiotics, so yay for me.  This concludes the bronchitis section of the story.

 

Carnival!  Is today.  I don’t entirely understand the historical context of this celebration, but on this day people cut down a tree (symbolically, not really–Peru is already deforested enough), dance, and “play with water.”  Seriously, multiple students told me that the principal activity of Carnival is “playing with water” and I wasn’t entirely sure what they meant by this.  Especially since there are some kids in my neighborhood who throw water balloons at passersby all the time, so I didn’t see how this would be different.  Oh, but it was!

I had a vague idea of going to Pisac, one of the towns outside Cusco, for the day, but then I slept too late.  So instead of going to Pisac, I just went to the Plaza de Armas to watch the festivities…which were pretty cool!  There were elaborate float-type things, music, and tons of dancers.  Also everyone was wearing ponchos (the rain kind, not the Andean kind) because, as my students warned me, everyone was playing with water.  Meaning water balloons and water pistols.  (It was also raining because it’s February in Cusco, but that’s beside the point)  AND spraying each other with this white foam stuff.  I’m not sure what it is, but it looks and feels a bit like shaving cream.

Alas, I missed the part earlier in the day where the Mayor was there and anyone who didn’t like him could pelt him with water balloons.  I was too busy sleeping.

 

So that was my day today.  Pretty cool.  And now, I have a collection of random oddities I’d like to discuss:

1. This ketchup packet that I bought the other day says, “sabor sorprendente en tus comidas” (surprising flavor on your food!) which I suppose means surprisingly good flavor, but I can’t help wondering…what’s the surprise?  What will it taste like?  Something other than ketchup?  Like, “SURPRISE!  You thought this was ketchup, but it’s actually barbecue sauce!”  (True story: Hannah and I went to the KFC here once and discovered that the ketchup packets were full of barbecue sauce.)

2. I have written about combis before, but today as I was in the combi on my way back from the plaza, I started thinking about this one weird quirk.  If you’re sitting in the front (there are two seats next to the driver), you have to wear a seatbelt.  It’s the law.  But think about it…if a combi crashed, maybe the two people in the front would be okay but the 20+ people shoved into the back wouldn’t fare too well, I shouldn’t think.  It’s such a half-hearted attempt at safety that I can’t help but find it amusing.

3. I bought a DVD from Molino a couple weeks ago (La Piel Que Habito–the latest Almodóvar film) and foolishly didn’t check it because I trusted the guy I got it from.  But when I went to watch it, I discovered that it was in Russian.  Fortunately, I managed to turn off the Russian dubbing and watch it in the original Spanish, but man, I just assumed that a Spanish-language movie in a Spanish-speaking country would have been, you know, in Spanish.  But apparently Russian DVDs are really easy to bootleg or something because they’re all over the place.

4. One of the blankets on my bed is not bed-shaped.  It appears to have been made by a person who had never seen a bed before.  It’s like 3 feet wide and 20 feet long.

5. There’s a bakery near my apartment where I sometimes go to get coffee or an empanada.  But I have never seen another customer in there, and it may be because they never seem to have much in the way of food.  Like, one day I went in and asked if they had any sandwiches.  The girl said yes, they did.  So I said great, could I have a sandwich mixto?

“Well, we don’t have any bread today,” she said.

To which I replied, “So…you don’t have any sandwiches.”

That’s Cusco for you.  YES WE HAVE SANDWICHES.  OH WAIT DID YOU MEAN ACTUALLY AND NOT JUST THEORETICALLY BECAUSE SORRY WE ONLY HAVE THEORETICAL SANDWICHES.

 

Never change, Cusco.  Never change.

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In which I celebrate the fake birthday of Jesus Christ and the rollover of the calendar

Holidays in Cusco…are batshit insane.  In my experience, anyway.

Let’s rewind…all the way back to Christmas Eve.  I spent the holiday weekend, contrary to my normal life, being something of a social butterfly (though I don’t like that expression) and jumping from social engagement to social engagement.  And eating copious amounts of food prepared by people other than myself.

I got up rather late on the 24th, being somewhat, well, tired, from the previous night, as I had attended a birthday party in a previously unknown area of Cusco (seriously, I spent most of the cab ride there asking if we were still in Cusco and did anyone else know the city was this big).  But anyway, Saturday I eventually got up and headed downtown to A) pick up the stuff I had left at work on Friday, B) get some food as I had none in the apartment, and C) check out the annual Christmas market in the Plaza de Armas, which was pretty spectacular.  There’s a picture in my last post.

Having achieved A, B, and C, I headed back to my place for a bit and then went to a dinner/party thingy with some other teachers from work, where I generally took up space and was very unhelpful in the kitchen.  And then sat on the couch and watched a handicapped version of Thor (it had subtitles and a narrator to be both blind and deaf friendly*) which was altogether more entertaining than the actual film.  Then I ate delicious food (I still dream of those sweet potatoes) and hung around for a bit until it was time to go to my second dinner (like the hobbits, I eat second breakfast most days, so second dinner wasn’t that much of a stretch).

Now, let me explain.  I’d been invited to sup with a Peruvian family I know (the family of my former landlady).  Here, it is tradition to wait until midnight, then open presents, then eat Christmas dinner.  So the first dinner was quite essential, otherwise I would not have made it to my second (Peruvian-style) dinner.  There was a lot of waiting and being very tired and hungry and yearning for the clock to reach midnight (and then, yearning for the too adorable little girls to finally finish opening their plethora of presents so that we might eat).

Still, the whole affair was highly enjoyable and I was super gratified to have been invited. (analyze the grammar in that sentence!)**

Sunday was another late morning (or early afternoon, depending on your perspective) given the whole didn’t-start-eating-until-1-in-the-morning thing, and I headed pretty much straightaway to another gathering at another pair of profes’ place.  This particular gathering involved White Elephant aka that thing that ended in tears on The Office.  It ended much better in our version!  Also there was fudge and mashed potatoes and apple crisp and somehow we ended up watching Home Alone too.  (Not to be confused with Home Alone 2)

And from there, I went to dinner with my Peruvian family, which consisted of yummy leftovers and actual Peruvian-brand ginger ale, which was a revelation to me.

Eventually, I returned home and collapsed in a food coma and did not prepare for my classes the next day.

Fast forward now to New Year’s Eve!  Which is a real party.  They have all these traditions/superstitions, which I shall try to catalogue as best I can:

  • yellow underwear – prosperity
  • red underwear – love
  • green underwear – wealth
  • white underwear – marriage
  • yellow “hawaianas” – I’m not sure what the significance is
  • 10,000 whatever in fake currency of your choice – keep it in your wallet (for a year? I’m not sure) and you will get real money
  • eat twelve grapes (green ones?) exactly at midnight and make twelve wishes
  • run around the plaza 3 (?) times at midnight.  I don’t know why. Maybe it’s just cleverly devised to make drunk people run.

Aaaand I’m sure there are more that I’ve forgotten/never knew.  But basically, everyone congregates in the Plaza de Armas and there are people running and drinking and dancing and setting off fireworks in the middle of the crowd.  (In other words, my sister’s worst nightmare)

I met up with a teacher friend downtown and we went to a restaurant/bar with a balcony to eat some food and drink some alcoholic beverages before things started getting really crazy.  Things were already crazy though, and it was only, like, eight o’clock.  For example: I almost got robbed on the combi on my way into the center of town.  I was holding my purse very close to my body but the combi was very crowded and this guy got the button undone and was working on the zipper when I caught him and pulled my purse away.  I wore it inside my jacket for the remainder of the evening, I do believe.

Anyway, I met up with my friend and we ate, drank, and made with the merry.  We also played foosball (she won—I blame the alcohol) because we stumbled across a mini-carnival thing full of foosball tables in one of the plazas.

Shortly before midnight, we purchased a bag of grapes (purple—we didn’t know they had to be green!) and got situated in the Plaza de Armas to wait for the countdown and all.  Then we ate our grapes and made our wishes—well, I ate six grapes and made six wishes because seriously, it’s hard to eat twelve grapes exactly at midnight when you’re supposed to be running laps!

We did run around the plaza.  Only one and a half times.  It was quite difficult, as the crowd kept getting stalled, and also somewhat terrifying as if you fell in that mass of drunk people, you would most definitely have been trampled and suffered serious injury at the very least.  Fortunately, I did not fall then.

Unfortunately, I did fall later, after it started raining and we left the plaza in search of…something…possibly a bathroom.  The streets and sidewalks of Cusco are littered with holes, and sure enough, I stepped in one.  It hurt like hell and yes it still hurts over a week later.

That sort of put a damper on the evening, as walking became incredibly painful.  I still did walk quite a bit though, at least ten blocks back to my friend’s place so we could use her bathroom.  Also look at her TV.  I don’t have one, so now I find myself drawn to them.  Plus Liar Liar was on.

And that is how I celebrated the holidays in Cusco!  All in all, a good time was had—even if my leg does still hurt.

 

*The narrator was Kenneth Branagh, saying brilliant things like “Thor walked down the street,” or “Thor grinned broadly at Jane,” or “Thor flew upwards in a whirlwind he created by swinging his hammer around very fast.”

**One of the many fascinating side-effects of teaching English as a foreign language is that I have become ridiculously aware of my own grammar.  It’s a logical result of having to adjust your speech every day to accommodate the different levels of your students.  Also my curriculum told me that “many” can only be used in questions and negative sentences, but I don’t know if that’s true and I can’t stop using it in positive sentences anyway.

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In which this is not a real update

because I am busy this weekend (Navidad and all), but I will tell you about my trip to Ecuador (you can drink the water!) and Christmas in Cusco at a later date.

 

In the meantime, have some pictures:

That is a giant manger (complete with llama) on the grassy part of Qoricancha, ancient temple to Inti (the sun).  If that’s not the epitome of syncretism, I don’t know what is.

This is the annual Christmas Eve market in the Plaza de Armas that basically puts all other markets to shame.  People slept in the Plaza last night.  I didn’t know about it, and just stumbled upon it late last night.  You can imagine my surprise when I found the square full of sleeping people.

So today I checked out the market.  I acquired some sweet new earrings, but the best item I saw was a t-shirt that said “NO!  No quiero un masaje!”  The temptation was very strong, but I resisted.

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In which I tell many lies

I haven’t written in awhile, as I’ve been fairly preoccupied with work, grad school applications, and the sudden need to find a new apartment (found one!).  But now it’s the weekend and I have some time, and many things I could write about.

I could tell you about the weekend trip to the jungle town of Quillabamba, which was equal parts wonderful and awful (I have never thrown up so violently in my life, and that is all I will say on the matter).  I could tell you about last weekend when Hannah and I went to the big market in Pisac and we asked this one lady where to find the mug vendor and in true small-town fashion, took us to said vendor’s house.

I could tell you about my new work schedule which is all kinds of awesome.  I could tell you about my favorite class from last month (jk — I don’t have favorites, of course) that gave me a “cholita” doll after their final exam.  I could tell you about National Evacuation Day, which had really terrible timing.

But I’m lazy and mostly I want to tell you about my habit of lying to men I meet in discotecas.  I’ve lied about my name, my age, my nationality…most recently, I was dancing with this guy and I told him I was French and that I was only in Peru for two days (flying out on the morrow).  I also told him I was 21, which was just silly of me because why tell such a boring lie about my age?  It would have been more interesting to say I was 17 or something and see if A) he believed me, and B) he backed off or not.

This dude apparently didn’t get the memo about me leaving Cusco the next day though, because he repeatedly asked me if I would be his girlfriend and if I loved him.  All before telling me his name.  And then he went to look for his friend and I told him I would wait for him.  Another lie!  I left as soon as he was out of sight.

I don’t know why I told him I was French though–I really need to stick with languages I can pull off.  One night, I told some guy that I was from France and he responded…in French.  I’m fairly certain he was only counting, but I really can’t be sure since I know, like, parlez vous Francais and a couple words from “Foux du Fafa.”

Later that night, I told someone I was Italian, as I at least know a few numbers in that language, but I couldn’t understand the someone in question’s reply.  It may have been Italian, or it may have just been that we were in a club and conversation is just about impossible with all the music.

After that incident, the next time I felt the urge to pretend I was European, I told an extremely drunk man (whose English vocabulary was limited to “Fuck yeah!” and “I want to fuck!”) that I was from Belgium because there was no way this dude knew any Belgian.  I’m not even positive that’s a language.  What language do they speak in Belgium?

Well, I just looked it up on wikipedia and Belgian is totally not a language.  Apparently they speak Dutch, French, and German.  Okay.  Obviously, I am not all that good at this fake identity thing.  Maybe by the time I leave Cusco, I’ll have found the perfect lie.  It’s always good to have a goal.

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In which I did not go to the cemetery on Day of the Dead

For a number of reasons:

1) I got the date wrong.  I was SO SURE that Day of the Dead was Nov 1st and Day of the Living was Nov 2nd.  Apparently not.

2) I would have felt awkward going alone or with other foreigners, as it’s not really our place, you know?  Voyeurs that we are.

3) I would have felt awkward asking my old host family, since it’s not really any less voyeuristic to go and take pictures while people visit the graves of their deceased loved ones.  Also I know that they don’t like to go on Day of the Dead because it’s really crowded.

4) I did go to the cemetery with my host family years ago, when I was a student living with them, and yes I did feel like a voyeur, but I was also profoundly bothered by something I named “the commercialization of death.”

Allow me to explain.

In Cusco, there aren’t graveyards in the conventional sense (and by “conventional” I mean grass with graves and tombstones and all that), at least as far as I am aware.  People are interred above ground, in these sort of “niches”.  So instead of a tombstone or a grave to visit and decorate on Dia de los Muertos, you have a little niche in a wall of other niches, inside a church full of other walls of other niches.  With me so far?  Here’s where it gets complicated.

You have to pay for the niches–I believe you can buy them or rent them (if you can’t afford to outright purchase them).  I have no sources to corroborate any of this, and it is all just my memory of what my host mom told me two years ago.  But anyway.  So you rent a space for your lost family member.  Now, you probably also want to get a glass covering over the niche so that people don’t steal the stuff you put there (because they will).  This costs money as well.  But it’s still only glass, and people can break glass (and yes, I did see niches that had been broken into that day two years ago) so you really want to buy a metal casing thingy to go in front of the glass cover so that people can’t break into it and still the mementos you’ve left for your beloved whoever.

All of this costs significant amounts of money, leading to the memorials to the impoverished being continually desecrated.

And we’re not done yet.

Because you have to pay rent for the space itself, if you miss a payment the church people, owners or whatever, can remove your loved one’s coffin from the tomb.  And dump them out back.  In this scrappy little hill.  Of unmarked graves.

I don’t know if that hill is even there anymore, because I remember seeing construction vehicles on that day two years ago and I thought holy fuck are they really going to bulldoze a field full of dead bodies and I can’t tell you if they really did or not because I have no idea.  Like I said, no sources.  This is all from memory.  But I just cannot fathom the absolute helplessness people must feel when their mother or father or husband or wife is thrown out like so much garbage because they can’t afford the rates in the cemetery.

So that’s one of the reasons I didn’t go to the cemetery on Day of the Dead.  Because I knew I wouldn’t be able to think about anything but the commercialization of death (and, okay, maybe a little about how I coveted the miniature foodstuffs and Cusqueña bottles they sell to decorate the niches).

This concludes my serious post for the month.  Maybe the year.

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