Living in Huanchaco

One of the many sunsets!

Hello! It´s almost sunset here in Huanchaco and I´m definitely not going to miss it.

Today´s post will be a mixture of updates of my project, travels and, moments I´d like to share with you. It’s been of a whirl wind these past few weeks but it´s definitely been great and eye-opening.

Side note, I think I am finally getting used to the Peruvian bus system and my journey to Huanchaco is definitely my most interesting one yet. I left Huaraz for Trujillo with Transportes Linea around 9:30pm but unlike my previous trips, I didn’t have an English speaking travel buddy. The bus ride was okay but I would say the entertainment on the bus is one I am probably not going to forget. Why? Well since I can’t sleep on buses, I was forced to watch Pitch Perfect 1&2 in SPANISH… It was painful- the acting I mean.

At the monastery overlooking the town

Anyway, Huanchaco is a small fishing/surf town part of the La Libertad region in the Trujillo province. The village has a pleasant and seemingly endless beach with water temperatures varying between 13 and 21 degrees. I´ve been living at Frogs Chillhouse a small hostel just by the beach that has become my home instead of a temporary residence. I live in close proximity to pretty much everything, especially the market which is equipped daily with fresh fruits and vegetables. The awesome staffs at Frogs provide free bikes so I’ve definitely become used to my morning rides to the market to get fruits and bread for breakfast. Since the town is very small, I´ve also explored a lot and I´m settling in quicker than I imagined. Within two days after I arrived, I became familiar with the grid and also figured out the best spots to relax and journal as well as places for quick bites and freshly made helados. Speaking of food, Huanchaco is the best place to try sea food since the fish is always fresh the local fisherman- I definitely loved trying Cebiche, the local favorite for the first time. Additionally, I have been cooking for myself and it’s been great combining African style recipes with Peruvian ingredients.

Food with friends at the market after swim lessons

I don’t plan on doing much tourist activities here but the locals have informed me that About 15 minutes from the town are two really cool attractions, the Chan Ruins and Huaca de La Luna y el Sol. These ruins belonged to Chimu and Moche civilizations that inhabited the area long before the Spanish arrived. I might check them out but as of right now, I am pretty much happy with getting to know the inner workings of the community and some of the travelers I am getting acquainted with. On an interesting side note, most of my new friends were baffled by my inability to swim (I don’t blame them) and they took it upon themselves to teach me how to swim. So yesterday, along with 5 other people from the hostel, I had my first swimming lesson and it was honestly exciting and full of adrenaline. I just have to keep on practicing and work on my floating skills but I did pretty well for an amateur.

Caballitos de totora used for fishing

In terms of project related news, I found out about a local NGO (Otra Cosa) that contributed to local development by connecting volunteers with local community projects. Due to their requirements, I wasn’t able to work along with them. They required a 2 month dedication as well as an advanced level of Spanish which put me in a tough position. Nevertheless, I managed to learn a lot about some of their Health related projects and the locals who are key players in the organization. With the aid of volunteers and the Huanchaquito Health Office, the NGO aims to reach out to a larger population and keep more contact with community through health outreach work and public health campaigns. I used the information I learned about the organization to conduct my own community health situation analysis and it was quite exciting and productive way to spend my time in Huanchaco.

I have decided to stay in Huanchaco for a while because I definitely like the low key vide and the chill ambiance of the fishing village. I am also genuinely enjoying my time here which definitely makes it my favorite place in Peru so far. In a way I am also afraid that if I get too comfortable here, I might not want to leave but I know I will be able to realize when it’s time to move on. But until then, I’m going to make the most of my time here.

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The Chinese Food (Chifa) Story… Am I actually getting homesick?

I`ve been in Peru for about a while now and honestly, I couldn’t tell if I was experiencing culture shock in Peru or not. But this week, I think I definitely felt culture shock due to a little homesickness that led to a hilarious encounter at the local store (traveling alone isn`t easy). Earlier this evening, I found myself craving some takeout food that would satisfy my need for NYC Chinese food.

Eager to satisfy this crazing, I went for around the Plaza de Armas in Huaraz while in search of Chinese food. Luckily enough, Chinese food or chaufa is actually a big thing in Peru so it wasn’t long before I found a nice little restaurant. After struggling through the Spanish menu, the waitress decided to lend me a hand by giving me the special English menu. I rejoiced and decided to keep it simple by selecting chicken and friend rice – para llevar. I got home and eagerly opened my takeout to a surprise, I didn’t get the food I wanted and more confusingly, I was given plain fried rice with a single packet of MAYONAISE- WTF.

At this point, I think I was about to loose it because I know everyone in NYC is used to getting Chinese food with ketchup or duck sauce. Frustrated, I decided to eat the food like it was but after a couple of bites, I decided to go to the supermarket and get ketchup. At the store, I politely asked “Perdon, tu tienes Ketchup”, only to be met with confused smiles and looks the screamed “what’s this negrito talking about” (Also I have no idea how I feel about locals calling me negrito).  Anyway, I decided to go ahead and search the store and after an endless search, I found my beloved ketchup hidden in the corner of a shelf.

Happily, I grabbed a hand full of packets, returned to the cashier and shout “mira, ketchup”. She laughed hysterically and replied “ooohhh kepchu”. I’m seriously not kidding, between the Chinese food and this ketchup dilemma, I had had enough. I just joined her in laughing (fake nervous laugh) and went back to my hostel with my ketchup, or should I say kepchu for now on?

I have no idea if I was just frustrated, homesick or experiencing a little culture shock. Either way, it was an interesting experience and I now know that my survival Spanish is not just going to cut it anymore. Anyway, tomorrow I am leaving Huaraz and heading to Huanchaco which is a small fishing town 8hrs north of Huaraz. As always, I am eager for what awaits me.

My day hike to Laguna 69

IMG_2438Living in Huaraz surrounded by beautiful snow-capped mountains, it’s hard not to imagine yourself on one of the summits or visiting one of the many turquoise colored lagoons. Since I am having a bit of downtime from doing my project, I decided to join the many tourists and locals on the one day hike to Laguna 69, the most popular of the lagoons in Ancash. Brief history lesson, the Laguna is oddly- but interestingly- named Laguna 69 because the locals couldn’t find a traditional name for it so they settled on its inventory number, 69.

Stationed about approximately 4,600 meters above sea level, Laguna 69 is a breathtaking turquoise lake that is literally hugged by snowy peaks of the Cordillera Blanca mountain range. It is a steep hike/trek demanding an ascent beginning at 3,800 meters, but the actual challenge is coping with the high altitude- as you know from my last post, I was struggling with altitude sickness. Well, I like a good challenge so even though I hadn’t fully recovered, I decided to get this once in a lifetime event over with. Actually, the day before the hike, decided to go spontaneously accompany some three of my hostel mates on a short (no it wasn’t short!) hike to Laguna Wilcacocha (3725m) to see the sunset. It was a good hike despite the fact that I occasionally felt my heart and lungs were doomed to fail any second. Nevertheless, I eventually made it and as you can see below, the views were rewarding.

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Anyway, I told myself that if I survived the Wilcacocha hike, I can definitely make it (barely!) to Laguna 69. It costs about 40 soles ($13) to join the hike along with a seasoned tour/mountain guide. I prepared for the hike by drinking tea made with coca leaves, packing fruits, granola bars, and most importantly WATER!! I had to leave the hostel at 6am on an organized tour bus among 14 others eager to see the famous lagoon. Since it took us about 3hours to get to the Parque Nacional Huascarán, Yanguy where the hike begins, definite caught up on some sleep and drank tons of water. The van made its way through a few Andean towns where traditional ways of life such as subsistence farming was still very visible. We stopped for a quick breakfast in one of the Andean villages where I grabbed another cup of coca tea as the nervousness was beginning to set in.

At about 10am, we finally entered the boundaries of the park, where there are several lakes, waterfalls and streams that would make you believe that you just crossed into another world. The nearby peaks were lined with massive, grey rock faces, as if slick mud had covered them, hardening and producing a slight shimmer in the morning light. It took us about 3hours of climbing to get to the lake (well it took me an additional 30mins) after mounting several hills and crossing valleys that literally makes it feels like a journey to middle earth. The lake itself was beautiful and magnificent, the same bright teal/turquoise as many of the others in the area. It was nestled into the base of Mount Chacraraju and fed by waterfalls running off the glaciers above. It was too cold to take a dip- although some people were crazy enough to do it in the lake- but I made sure to wash my hands in it (it was cold!).

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Unfortunately, I didn’t stay up there for long since the guide was sort of rushing us. The descent took about 2hrs and honestly felt longer than the climb, it was at this point when my never ending migraine, body aches I never knew existed and tiredness decided to set in. Thanks to encouragement from my hiking buddy, Matt from England, I finally made it to the bus – thank goodness I wasn’t the last person to make it. After another long drive which felt like forever since I was completely out of energy, I arrived at my hostel at 9pm and passed out 15mins later.

With all of its many natural appeals, hiking to Laguna 69 was amazing although and absolutely worth it but it is not to be taken lightly. Will I do this again? Probably not – well not in Peru, I might in another country. I definitely recommend it but make sure to get acclimated to the altitude because those migraines are no joke.

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Update from Huaraz…

I find myself out of breath writing this post as I am about 10,013ft above sea level. The altitude has definitely affected me as I find myself panting while walking through the narrow and busy streets – like I’m not that out of shape, or am I?. I’ve been drinking tons of water, eating food high in carbs and getting some rest to aid my acclimatization. Anyway, Huaraz is an agriculturally important town in north-central Peru that is nestled within Cordillera Blanca and Cordillera Blanca, two massive mountain ranges that are part of the Andes. Huaraz is a fairly small town central to several Andean communities and also overrun with tourists and hard-core mountain climbers. Despite its beauty and bustling activities, poverty is a very visible issue in the lives of many of the locals. It definitely saddens me as my touristy eyes may see the areas as very photogenic but the lives and daily realities of the people aren’t as photogenic…

Traveling to the town took me about 8hours by bus as the town is about 420km north of Lima. I’ve been staying at a very affordable hostel (Alpez Huaraz) which is in a very quiet neighborhood with beautiful views of the mountains. The staff is okay even though some of them always seem to be urging and encouraging people at the hostel to drink and go to parties- I politely declined and they seem to respect my decision so far. The only issue I have of the place is the messy roommates I have. I know I am not OCD but I definitely do have a tolerance level, which has been shattered by the messiness of these people. Definitely not going into details- too much- but for now, I’m going to manage and definitely leave my options open in terms of finding new accommodations.

My journey here was really smooth as I opted to take Cruz del Sur, the company recommended by the Pariwana staff. The bus ride was just amazing as you are greeted with beautiful agricultural towns, farms, hills and mountain ranges. During the bus ride, I was honestly saddened by the fact that I wasn’t sure if my words would be able to paint as vivid of a scenery I saw throughout the journey. I was also fortunate enough to sit next to an Argentinian, Marcos whose English was way better than my Spanish. He helped me navigate the security checks and in turn, I pretty much answered the many questions he had about America concerning race, class, opportunities and economic issues. We’ve remained in contact since arriving in Huaraz and he connected me to a psychologist friend of his who’s in also in town but stationed near the Amazonas where she helps a community center that serves as temporary shelter for students from Amazonian communities who have to commute hours to attend school outside of the “jungle”.

Being productive here has honestly gotten to a better start than imagined. As I stated in pervious post, I came to Huaraz because there are several community oriented programs that can serve as a good lead into my project. In following that, I visited a local NGO (Instituto de la montaña) as recommended by a contact I met from Peace corps Peru. The institute is the Peruvian counterpart of the American organization, the Mountain Institute which is funded by U.S in efforts to combat climate change issues. Although the person I was supposed to meet at the institute is out of town for a few days, I met Sam, one the volunteers at the institute who gave a great insight into the work of the organization. In short the organization serves as an intermediary between the government, local leaders and all the players involved in dealing with climate change issues concerning accessibility to water in the area. This is primary because runoff water from glaciers serve as the main water source for the town. However due to climate issues and capitalist ventures of the government, many of the neighboring communities lack access to the water which is rigidly controlled by several forces. In a way, companies have strongholds over water in a similar nature as Con-Edison has a monopoly over NYC’s electricity.

IMG_2399Although the institute is not as health related as I wanted, it was certainly great to learn about their conservation programs and level of community engagement in the Andes. I plan to keep in contact with them as Sam was able to find me some American contacts in the area who are working on their public health dissertations as well as Spanish tutor. Additionally, the institute seems to be open to volunteer positions available, which would be a good way for me to remain productive since the definition of public health can be expanded to include climate change issues. For the next coming days, I plan to track down some more local NGOs and make use of the connections I have established. I also plan to go a few day tours of the Incan ruins and the many Lagunas, hopefully, I would have acclimated to the altitude by then.

Hiccups and New Insights (Lima thus far…)

Malecón de la Reserva

 I was looking forward to an 8hr flight to Peru from JFK but the reality is that, it turned into a 13hr hour journey by the time I arrived in Lima. With a partially wet backpack (Thanks! Fort Lauderdale), I arrived at the airport, breezed through immigration with ease. I decided to take a taxi despite multiple suggestions that I sleep at the airport and wait till the morning because of the ridiculous fare hikes for foreigners at night. My taxi driver was actually pretty cool, we indulged in multiple conversations as we made our way to Miraflores around 12:30 a.m. I must have won him over as he opted to charge me 50soles instead of 75soles, well technically the fare should have been 40soles max but it was night time. Since my arrival, I’ve been staying at Pariwana Backpackers in central Miraflores. The hostel is decent, with a very helpful staff and rooms full of European travelers. They offer very affordable Peruvian food and free breakfast as well… sounds like I’m writing a yelp review but my stay at the backpackers has been great as I’ve had time to explore and plan out my journey.

Lomo Saltado

I’ve officially been in Peru (Lima) for a week now and Miraflores is more westernized (touristy) than I honestly expected. There are multiple American chain restaurants and department stores scattered all around (there’s a KFC on every corner) the numerous avenues. Nevertheless, there are some unique discoveries that I wasn’t really expecting. For instance, I woke up on Sunday to locals engaging in the weekly rhythmic Reggaeton workout session in the streets. Also, I learned that the local park (Kennedy Park) is home to tons of Cats who are ever willing to play with passing locals and tourists. The food is great, freshly made and very tasty (I’m yet to try Ceviche) – I’ve honestly been eating more of the vegetarian options (everyone knows I tend to avoid vegetarian food). Additionally, I have so far opted to explore on my own instead of hoping on a tour bus to explore the city and I am glad I chose that option. Lima has lots of Amazing 18th century cathedrals and colorful Spanish colonial architectures. I actually ended up playing tour guide to some old friends from high school who very kind enough to visit me in Miraflores.

Museo del Convento de San Francisco de Asis de Lima

Orienting myself in this environment has been pretty great as I’ve been able to decompress, make some connections before moving on to other parts of Peru. I’ve gotten a lot of funny reactions from people when I tell them my name – my favorite ones being “Nana es el nombre para las niñas (-_-)” and “Él no puede ser afroperuana , ¿puede ?”. Nevertheless, the locals and foreigners alike have been very nice and helpful despite my limited Spanish fluency. I met a local photographer who very kind enough to indulge me in the history of most of the districts in Lima as well as where to find health-related NGOs since most of them are outside of Lima. In terms of my project, I had established an arrangement with a community health NGO prior to my arrival but we ran into some timing issues and communication mishaps. Honestly I am glad to have had this learning moment because being committed to an organization would limit me from fully exploring and completing aspects of my project. As of right now, I have restructured my approach and the ways through which I want to learn about grassroots efforts. This has allowed me to establish new connections who have been very great in helping me locate areas and NGOs that would be useful to my project. I plan to leave Lima this weekend and head north to Huaraz, Ancash where there are several communities and locally initiated NGOs dealing with education, health and climate issues.