Peruvian Elections Update

I previously posted about the election process in Peru. http://kerryedwyer.com/2014/10/05/election-day-in-peru/ The elections were held on Sunday, October 5 while we were in Cusco. We had hired a driver for the day and in the late afternoon he asked us if we minded if he stopped at his polling place so he could vote. Of course, we said it was no problem (in particular given that both Carl and I were on the Wisconsin State Elections Board at one time). He made it just in the nick of time and was relieved that he didn’t have to pay the 150 soles ($54) fine.

A friend of mine in Cajamarca took the following pictures from the polling site. The first is the outside of the municipal ballot that is signed by the “table head” at the polling place, the second is the regional ballot, and the third is her national id, with a sticker that shows she voted and her ink-stained finger. Due to the high level of illiteracy, the ballot has the candidate photo and party symbol, in addition to his or her name. Ballots can be marked with a + or X over the selected candidate’s picture or party symbol.

In Cajamarca, the Regional President incumbent won with 49.9 % of the vote despite being incarcerated on corruption charges since June. He is anti-mining, which gives him a strong majority among the farmers and country folk in the Cajamarca region. His supporters believe that the corruption charges were trumped up in order to cause him to lose the election so the Conga mine project could move forward without his opposition. Others see the vote as a stall to progress and jobs for the area.

I honestly have no opinion on the election or the candidates. As a guest in Peru, I do not understand enough of its history or all of the issues to hold an opinion (odd for me, I know).

Hiking to Machu Picchu Part II – The Trek Begins

5:20 am on Monday morning and Matt, Carl, Mark and I are cramming a few bites of breakfast into our mouths when Edwin and Jimmy, our guides for the trek, arrive at our hotel to pick us up. This is it – no turning back. We grab our backpacks and duffel bags provided to us by Peru Treks and get on the bus. I’m a bit nervous as the duffel bag weighs a precious pound – does that mean I only got to pack 4.5 pounds and not 5.5 pounds? I asked at the trek office on Saturday but didn’t get a clear response, so now I am anxious that I will be forced to leave some of my clothes on the trailhead or, more likely, get Matt to carry them.

As we wind through Cusco, we stop to pick up our fellow trekkers. Each time I size them up: do they look older, fitter, fun? In the end, we have a great group, even if the 4 of us are the oldest on the hike and 20+ years older than many of the others. The only two other Americans on the hike, Dusty and Jenny, are from WI and UW grads, so there is an instant bond with them. The fact that Dusty is a doctor gives me a sense of security and even though he jokes that he can prescribe drugs and refer to specialists, I am confident that he could perform CPR or splint a broken leg in a pinch! Happily, we never have to call on his skills. There are 5 Australians: Erin and Mark, a couple in their 30s; Katie and Tim, friends who have just finished University and are traveling for a few months; and Ian, who has been traveling for 2 years and celebrates his 25th birthday on the trail. Two other youngsters are Kirk from New Zealand and Crazy Henry from Manchester, England. Crazy Henry is so named because he smokes and drinks like a fiend yet can effortlessly scamper up mountains. I am convinced he could have hiked the entire trail in a day with no problem. Diego, who is probably about my age, is from Colombia but lives in the US and speaks perfect English, and is the nicest uncle as he brought his teenage niece, Isabella, on the hike. Isabella also speaks great English and is a sweetheart. After a stop at a designated shop/restaurant in Ollantaytambo, we reach Km 82 and chaos ensues. Our duffel bags are dumped out for us to jam our sleeping bags and mats into them and then have them weighed, we are mobbed by local folks trying to sell us all kinds of things, the sun is hot…overwhelming. After years of the trail being a free-for-all, the government now limits the number of trekkers to 500 starting per day. This number includes all of the porters and guides, so about 200-220 tourists can start the trail each day. We are not trekking during peak season, and I later estimate that about 110 other tourists began the trek with us, but it seems like at least half of them are dropped off at Km 82 at the same time we are. Good news – my duffel bag makes the weigh in, so I am good to go.

The Gang

The Gang

Day 1 is known as the easy day of hike and while it isn’t terribly hard, it is still hiking in the Andes with plenty of ups and downs.We begin hiking at about 10:45. The views are great and we pass some Incan ruins, which we are instructed to call remains as they were not destroyed by man but rather left to the elements. It is cloudy at times, but it never rains. We walk loosely as a group and stop frequently, which actually makes it harder because I never get into a rhythm and the frequent, long breaks make me stiffen up each time. But I understand that the guides are seeing how we do with the altitude and also assessing our hiking abilities for the coming days. We pass farms and houses; it is much like the hikes Matt and I do in the countryside around Cajamarca. At the rest stops there are ladies selling snacks, beverages and coca leaves. Coca leaves are common in Peru and trekkers are advised to chew them to combat altitude sickness and get an energy boost while hiking. I think they taste terrible, and the alkaline substance (made of ash or lye) you add to activate the chemicals in the leaves is awful, but I do chew them during some of the more challenging parts of the hike. I don’t know whether they actually help or have a placebo effect, but the guides and porters swear by them. Having frequent bottled water available is great as I can carry 1 – 1 1/2 liters at a time instead of filling up my camelback to 2 1/2 liters. We stop for lunch at a site with many of the other groups and the porters set up a tent, have buckets of water for us to wash our hands and camp chairs for us to sit on. Our lunch starts with a hot soup (a staple for all lunches and dinners) and is followed by a lot of starches, vegetables and some fried fish. Very civilized.

After lunch, we walk for about an hour and have another break and then finally we make the final push to our camp at 10,137 feet. We climb up past several farms until we reach our barnyard site. I arrive in the middle of the pack at around 4:30. We sleep on animal dung that night, which at the time it seems unpleasant, but when we sleep on rock the second night, the poop site seems nice by comparison! We relax at camp, have dinner and then turn in around 8:00; sunset is around 5:30, so it is already pitch black. Matt and I both sleep well – the only night on the hike that we do. Due to our group’s hiking skills (in fact, the porter with my and Matt’s bags arrives a good 30-40 minutes after I do) we get an extra half hour to sleep in on Tuesday – our wake up call is at 5:30 when the porters shake our tents and bring us coca tea. It is a cloudy morning and we have the dreaded challenging day ahead of us. By 6:30 we are packed up and on the trail.

Day 2 is different than Day 1 – we are allowed to walk at our own pace with a few meeting points along the way, including a morning snack before the big push to the summit. For the first time, I learn the proper way to hike mountains – go slowly and try to keep your breathing and heart rate stable as opposed to climbing in a burst of energy and then resting to recover. This makes perfect sense, and Carl, who has climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, climbed in this manner the prior day. We are also cautioned to give way to the porters and always keep to the mountain side to avoid being whacked by the porter’s pack and pushed off the mountainside. The porters are amazing – I’m not sure any are taller than I am (5’3″) and they carry huge loads, as Mark can attest. We step aside often for the porters and then try to watch to see how they manage with broken down tennis shoes or sandals. Humbling, to say the least. I also try to see where they walk as they often pick out the best part on the trail – the lowest steps, less slippery spots etc. Each trek company outfits their porters in a specific color; ours wear yellow.

Next Up: The Summit and the Longest Day

If you missed my prior post Hiking to Machu Picchu Part I – Preparation, read it here http://kerryedwyer.com/2014/10/15/hiking-to-machu-picchu-part-i-preparation/

Hiking to Machu Picchu Part I – Preparation

Machu Picchu is the most famous Incan site and the mainstay of Peruvian tourism. Built around 1450, it was abandoned in the mid-1500s and was never discovered by the conquering Spanish. Theories abound as to the purpose of Machu Picchu, with the current, most popular one being that the Inca emperor Pachacutec wanted to build his own magnificent capital city instead of ruling from Cusco, the traditional capital of the Incas. Machu Picchu is situated in the Sacred Valley 50 miles (80 kilometers) northwest of Cusco. As one of the 7 New Wonders of the World, it was on our must-see list.

Little lower and the clouds lifted

Little lower and the clouds lifted

Our initial decision was how to get there. The most accessible way to see Machu Picchu is to take a train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes and then take the 20 minute ride on the tourist bus to the site. Once there, it is easy to spend a day wandering around the city. The more adventuresome can climb Hauyna Picchu, 1,180 feet above Machu Picchu and a one-hour climb, to get a spectacular view of the entire site and see additional ruins, ascend Machu Picchu Mountain or hike up to the sun gate. So even if one takes the “easy” way to Machu Picchu, there is still plenty of hiking to do on the site itself. But Matt was having none of “easy” and was set on hiking the Inca Trail. Once our friend Carl and his brother Mark decided to join Matt on the trek, I couldn’t wimp out. We chose the most popular 4-day, 3-night hike and after reviewing Trip Advisor and the like selected Peru Treks as our trek company. For $599 a person, Peru Treks outfitted us with tents, sleeping bags and mats, purchased our permits, secured our campsites and provided us with meals and guides for the trek, in addition to a crew of porters who carried all of the gear. Our cost included $60 for the service of a personal porter who in addition to carrying our sleeping mat and bag could carry another 5.5 pounds of personal items for us. Peru Treks sends you back to Cusco via an 1 1/2 hour train ride followed by a 2 hour bus ride. This sounded horrible to me so we opted to book the Peru Rail Vistadome train ourselves and take a 3 1/2 hour train ride and 20 minute cab ride instead. It was the right call as the train was far more comfortable than the bus, and the cost difference was only $45.

Train along the river

4 days later, we would be on that train!

With the planning details out of the way, training and packing became my next concerns. Everything I read indicated that while the hiking is difficult, the hardest part for most people is the altitude. We were taking the orange route, which begins at Kilometer 82.

Trek map

Trek map

Here is a breakdown of the hike:

Day 1: 7.5 miles (12 km), begin at 8,528 feet (2,600 m) and ascend to 10,137 feet (3,100) for a 1,609-foot (500 m) elevation gain. Touted as the “easy” day of the hike, it wasn’t exactly easy, but not terribly difficult compared to the next two days.

Day 2: 7.5 miles (12 km), begin at 10,137 (3,100 m) and ascend to 13,776 feet (4,215 m) for an elevation gain of 3,639 feet (1,115 m) before a steep descent back to 11,480 feet (3,500 m). This second day is the reputed killer day of the hike. When I was in Lima 2 weeks before the hike, I ran into some folks who had recently completed the hike and they told me horror stories of hiking 11 hours and tears all around. I am happy to report that our group hiked it about 6-7 hours (including snack and lunch breaks) and there were no tears that I am aware of.

Day 3:  9.3 miles (15 km), begin at 11,480 feet (3,500 m), hike up to 12,916 feet (3,950 m) for an elevation gain of 1,436 feet (450 m) before the descent of 3,000 stone steps that is referred to as the “gringo killer” and then additional up and down hiking until the end at 8,829 feet (2,700 m). I found this day to be the hardest. Possibly because I was tired from lack of sleep the prior night and the hard hiking the prior day, but just as likely the fact that when we camped the second night we had a view of the climb that we would immediately begin on Day 3. I think seeing the ascent (and the top of the photo is not the top of the pass, there were about 3 more false passes before one arrived at the pass) demoralized me. But no tears or 11 hour days!

Night 2 Campsite - note the trail up the mountain

Night 2 Campsite – note the demoralizing trail up the mountain

Day 4: The end is in sight! 3.1 miles (5 km), this is where the trail really feels like a cattle call. We were up around 3:00 in order to break camp early and then rush 15 minutes to stand in line at 4:30 am waiting for the trail to open at 5:30. Once open, it was a mad dash to the sun gate to see the view of Machu Picchu, and then a trek down the mountain to the site.

Matt and I live at around 8,800 feet above sea level, so that gave us a good start on training for the hike. I continued with my walks 4-days a week and Matt with his daily walks to work, and then Matt and I would hike on the weekends. Usually Matt kindly carries my water and jacket for me as I despise carrying a backpack (and it is one of the things that I was advised against doing after my spinal fusion surgery so I routinely invoke the prohibition when I don’t want to carry anything but then chose to think that it refers to heavy backpacks and not a few pounds when I wanted to do this hike), but I even started carrying my own pack to get me accustomed to it. Our last joint training hike was our second trek to Cumbe Mayo, which is also on the Inca trail, is about 7 1/2 miles and is fairly steep with a 3,000 foot elevation gain, so I was feeling as prepared as possible for the hiking part of the trek.

Then there was packing. For some inexplicable reason, after years of traveling for work and pleasure, I am the world’s worst packer. And this time I was limited to 5.5 POUNDS!!! I read blogs on what to pack and a friend’s friend who had done the hike gave me some good advice. After much paring down, I was hoping that this would be 5.5 pounds:

Not 6 Pounds

Not 5.5 Pounds

It wasn’t. Further paring down and I ended up with :

  • 1 pair hiking pants
  • 1 super lightweight, insect repellent zip up jacket
  • 3 pairs of hiking socks
  • Fleece pants, long sleeved cotton top and 1 pair of short sport socks to sleep in
  • 1 sports bra
  • 5 pair of underwear
  • 3 short sleeve workout shirts
  • Hat/gloves
  • Necessary mini-toiletries (no fancy soaps or lotions, here!)
Actual 5.5 pounds

Actual 5.5 pounds

This left me carrying:
  • Lightweight (.8 pound) tennis shoes, tied to my pack until Carl pointed out that they were unlikely to weigh our bag on killer Day 2 and I put them in my porter bag instead, along with the notebook/pen, flashlight, scarf and extra wet wipes for the rest of the hike
  • Poncho
  • Rain Jacket
  • Scarf
  • Lightweight fleece
  • Sunglasses
  • Glasses
  • Insect repellent, sunscreen, first aid supplies, contacts, hand sanitizer
  • Head lamp and mini flashlight
  • iPhone
  • Wet wipes, toilet paper, Kleenex
  • Notebook and pen
  • Bandana
  • WATER. And water is HEAVY!! 2 liters weighs 4.4 pounds. It always felt so good when I was hiking with only a half liter or so of water left.
So when all was said and done, I carried about 10 pounds. In the end, I packed darn good – with the exception of one pair of underwear, the flashlight and the notepad/pen, I used everything I brought. Matt only had an extra pair of socks and underwear, so he packed well too.
Oh, and these stowaways made it into my pack too!
Next Up: The Trek Begins!

Hanging Out in Lima

In addition to eating and buying cheese, we have seen some of the sights in Lima. Matt and I usually make sure to take a walk along the Miraflores boardwalk, which is perched on the cliff above the ocean. Lima is typically shrouded in fog; we have yet to have a clear day there and I am not sure they exist! On one of our first visits to Lima, we had lunch at La Rosa Nautica  – a restaurant that juts out into the sea and gives you a great view of the surfers. While it is a bit overpriced, the ambiance is amazing and the food very good and fresh, if not imaginative.

My favorite part of the walk is the Parque del Amor (Love Park) that has fantastic mosaics and a great statue, El Beso (The Kiss).

On one visit, Matt and I also went to the Plaza de Armas, which has many grand old buildings and a fountain that dates to the 1600s. We got there just in time to see the changing of the guards, which had all the pomp and circumstance that one would expect. Next was a tour of San Francisco Church, which included a great library and incredibly creepy catacombs. Part of the creepiness was that the bones had been sorted by type and then neatly arranged in patterns. So, for example, the skulls were all in a round design. Unfortunately, pictures aren’t allowed inside the Church or grounds.

Plaza de Armas

Plaza de Armas

On my most recent visit to Lima with Sarah and Mistina, I finally visited the Magic Water Circuit at the Parque de la Reserva. If you enjoy watching the Bellagio fountain in Las Vegas, this is the place for you! There are 13 fountains that incorporate lights, music, laser and images to create a truly magical experience. Some of the fountains are interactive with the water streaming or, in some cases, dancing over you. Truly spectacular. The fountains also have charming names, including The Fountain of Traditions, The River of Wishes and The Fountain of Harmony. The park grounds themselves also looked incredible: a train; gardens in delightful shapes, including a butterfly or Christmas tree; a tea pot and cup topiary; a true-to-size, upside-down house (for which we never received an explanation); and a life-size retalbo, or Peruvian shadow box. We arrived at night to enjoy the fountains so we couldn’t enjoy the other features very much, but a return visit at dusk is on my list. While none of the fountains are are large as the Bellagio fountain, the experience is unique and not to be missed.

I’m a convert to Lima. My first impressions of the city didn’t leave me too excited, but after this last visit, I see that it has far more to offer than I thought.

Election Day in Peru

Today regional and municipal elections are being held across Peru. Peru has 24 departments, or regions, and one constitutional province, Callao. 24 Regional Presidents will be elected (Lima does not have one as it is the site of the national government) and many mayors and other local officials. Cajamarca has seen intense campaigning for several months due to competing beliefs about allowing a new gold mine in the region. This mine has been in the works for several years and was the subject of violent clashes between local farmers and the government in 2011 and 2012 and has been on hold since that time. Cajamarca has the largest producing gold mine in the world but is the poorest region in Peru. This fact and the environmental and social issues associated with the mine make for a difficult situation. Gregorio Santos Guerrero (“Goyo”) (Mas party) is the current Regional President of Cajamarca and the favorite to win. He has been in prison on corruption charges since June. He is a vocal opponent of the mine and can be elected despite his incarceration. If Goyo wins, the Regional Vice-President for the Mas party will assume the Regional President role until Goyo gets released.

Goyo

Goyo

Campaign signs are everywhere. Due to the lack of literacy in Peru, the campaign signs often focus more on the symbol of the party than they do on the candidates themselves. I have identified 19 parties with a candidate in the Cajamarca elections: A, K, T, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, Tree, Bull, Sombrero, Mother and Child, House, MÁS, Faucet, Star, Flower and Wheat. I tried to research what party went with what symbol but could find information for very few on them on the internet.

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It is fascinating to see the signs competing for space on a single building. I always felt irritation when a neighbor had a modest yard sign of the party I opposed. There is little modest about these signs and I wonder what they do for neighbor relations.

When the signs first started appearing, we were confused: were parties running on platforms against trees, sombreros or mothers and children? Was there massive anti-campaigning with dirty tactics?

Matt asked a co-worker who explained that the signs are telling voters which symbol to mark. Oh. Then the signs started showing up saying “Marca Así” (“Mark Like This”) or having a disembodied hand with a pen, and it became more apparent.

There also are cars and trucks driving around with signs and flags supporting parties. Sometimes these vehicles are blasting political propaganda from loudspeakers. We also had several political rallies in the Plaza de Armas and the fairgrounds in Baños. Active campaigning is not allowed 48 hours prior to an election, so things became much quieter then.

I came across this on a walk.

Non-supporter

Non-supporter

Apparently, someone at this house changed his or her mind.

Fun Peruvian Voting Facts:

#1 Voting is obligatory in Peru for citizens between the ages of 18 and 70. A voter who fails to vote is assessed a fine depending on the economic level of his or her local community. The fine can range from 20-150 soles ($7.20-$54) and must be paid before the person can engage in other civic activities (get a license, pay municipal utilities etc.). Voting percentages are much higher than in the US – in the mid-to-high 80 percentiles.

#2 Voters vote in their municipality, but not necessarily near their home. My Spanish teacher and her husband vote at two separate locations despite living together.

#3 Voters must present their IDs, which are obligatory for Peruvian citizens to carry at all times. The voter’s name is found in the poll book and then the voter receives a ballot which he or she marks, folds, and places in the ballot box (these are ultimately hand counted). The voter returns to the table, signs and places a fingerprint next to his or her name in the poll book, dips his or her finger in ink to show voting occurred and then receives his or her ID.

#4 Voters are assigned at random to be uncompensated poll workers (miembros de mesa). The fine for failing to appear to work is higher than the fine for failing to vote. If no one who is assigned to work the table appears, the first voters in line will be conscripted into duty. For this reason, many people arrive a little later in the day to vote or mill around the area to make sure the polling place is manned before getting in line.

#5 Every polling place has a member of the army or local police force on duty. This is to ensure order and no ballot tampering. Apparently Shining Path used to disrupt elections as part of its terrorist techniques and for other parties, stealing ballots was the easy way to steal an election.

#6 Peru is dry – no alcohol sales – for 48 hours before the election and the day of the election (always a Sunday). Talk about ruining a weekend!

It is odd to be in the midst of such relentless campaigning and to have no opinion or voice in the election. It will be interesting to see the outcome of this election and the repercussions in Cajamarca as a result.

 

Foodie Weekend in Lima

I took a break from the Machu Picchu training hikes and spent the weekend in Lima with my friends Sarah and Mistina to celebrate Sarah’s birthday. While I have been to Lima several times, it was never for straight enjoyment; rather, it was always an extra day tacked onto a trip related to getting our immigration paperwork completed. The school puts us up in a hotel in San Isidro, which is one of the nicest districts in Lima, but pretty sleepy. So this time we were doing Lima right: we stayed in the hopping district of Miraflores, solicited restaurant suggestions from our Peruvian friends in Cajamarca who are from or have lived in Lima and signed up for a food tour. In other words, food was the focus of this weekend, including the important stop at Wong supermarket so we could stock up on imported cheese. I limited myself to 8 1/2 pounds this time…

Cheese! Of course, a third of  my purchases has already been eaten in the past week.

Cheese! There was more, but we already ate it this past week.

Friday night and we had one goal: Indian food (called Hindú food here). I did my research and discovered that there were two Indian restaurants in all of Lima and they were a block away from each other. We got to the hotel about 8:00, dumped our bags at the hotel and set off to Mantra. We were not disappointed: the service was good, the food was decent (although not the least bit spicy) and the chai was excellent. Was it as good as the feast Archana’s mom made for me when I was in Chicago in August? No, but it was fresh and flavorful and hit the spot.

On Saturday we were picked up at 9:45 by Lima Gourmet Company (http://www.limagourmetcompany.com/) and began our culinary adventure. I admit that I had some reservations about the tour: we all have lived in Peru for over a year so why would we go on a tour designed for tourists? Plus, I already knew how to make a mean pisco sour! Then, when the 15-person van pulled up with a bunch of tourists, all 3 of us had reservations. But we were wrong: the group was friendly, our guide, Sylvia, was great and the tour was fantastic fun.

The first two stops focused on non-alcoholic beverages in Barranco, a gentrified neighborhood adjacent to Miraflores. Peruvian coffee was the focus at the magnificent Tostaduría Bisetti, a coffee roaster and cafe with a great vibe and cute enclosed back garden. They buy organic, Peruvian beans and hand select each bean for roasting. I’m not a coffee drinker and was planning on passing my coffee off to Sarah or Mistina, but non-coffee drinkers were offered tea instead. What a delight! My tea came in the coolest tea infuser ever: you place it over the cup and the pressure releases the tea into the cup with no tea leaves or spices mucking up your beverage. Sheer genius.

The next beverage stop was at the darling La Bodedga Verde where we had a lucuma smoothie. The Bodega has a huge, 100 year old lucuma tree on its outdoor patio. I had heard of the Peruvian fruit before but had never tasted it. Typically, it is dried and used as flavoring in desserts and ice cream. The smoothie had hints of almond and vanilla and was delicious.

Although the lucuma smoothie was filling, our eating had just begun. Next stop was the San Isidro market, the most upscale in the city. It was glorious: clean, fresh, gorgeous displays…very different than our hard-working Cajamarca markets. We started at a fruit stand where Sylvia introduced many of the amazing Peruvian fruits and provided us with ample samples of some. With the exception of lucuma, I had tried all of them before, but it was still a treat. Incidentally, Sylvia is so vivacious and energetic that is is hard to get a picture of her when she is still!

We walked over to the fishmonger and got a demonstration on how to pick fresh seafood. Unfortunately, we did not stay to taste any. The only downside of the tour was that we were not given any time to purchase anything at the market. I assume that given the price of the tour, they likely didn’t want us to feel pressured to buy, but I think most people on our tour would have enjoyed purchasing a piece or two of fruit.

 

We left the market and headed to Embarcadero 41 for our pisco sour and ceviche lessons. There are multiple locations for this restaurant, but whichever one we were at was well appointed and had a very friendly staff. We bellied up to the bar and started with 3 mini shots of pisco – non-aromatic, aromatic and fruit infused. I was wimpy and didn’t finish any of my shots. Then the bartender showed us how to make a pisco sour. The recipe is easy: 3 parts pisco, 1 part simple syrup, 1 part lime, 1 egg white and a dash of Angostura bitters. While I had made these before, I learned that the secret was to add the ice at the end, after vigorously shaking all the ingredients but the bitters and then to pour out some of the drink into the glasses and shake yet again to get a good froth on the egg whites. I forwent my turn behind the bar, but enjoyed the drink someone else made for me. Need I mention that the group got much more chatty and friendlier after our drinks!

Then we moved on to making ceviche. The sous chef did a great job because we sat down to a beautiful display of ingredients. The head chef led us step-by-step through the process and we were encouraged to make our ceviche to our liking. At the end, we were given the chef’s version to taste. Both Sarah and I agreed that we liked our own dishes better! One guy in our group did not like fish so he was provided with mushrooms instead. He said the end result was good and his wife was excited to have a vegetarian option to make for her friends. My plate is boring because I don’t like sweet potato, raw onions or giant, starchy corn that were to be used as the accompaniments. Plus, our eating wasn’t completed and I couldn’t even finish my ceviche!

But our fun was not finished! We headed back to Miraflores where we went to the swanky restaurant at the Huaca Pucllana ruins. We had another cocktail and looked at the ruins, which date to 500 AD and were where women were sacrificed to appease the goddess of the sea during El Niño. Once seated, we had 4 appetizers: green humitas (similar to tamales) with criolla sauce, grilled octopus with yuca, beef heart anticuchos (heart sliced thinly, skewered and grilled) with fried corn and potatoes, and deep fried cuy (guinea pig) pieces over fried plantains. It was the 3rd time I have tried cuy and I can say that while I can eat it to be polite, I will not order it again. After our appetizers, we had 4 small desserts to share with a partner. I think this set up was a bit weird for a tour as not everyone was with a friend, but as Sarah and I shared, it didn’t matter to me. The desserts were: suspiro de limeño (Lima’s signature dessert, which didn’t do much for me or Sarah), a dessert with manjar blanco, cookies and some pudding-like filling that was so sweet even I couldn’t finish, another dessert that Sarah warned me had coffee in it so it was all hers and rice pudding (my favorite of the four).

The tour was over around 3:30, but our eating was not done for the day! After a walk to the crafts market for some shopping and around Kennedy Park, we relaxed at the hotel for about an hour and then headed to the water fountain park (blog post coming soon). At around 10:00 we hit Ámaz, a restaurant that focuses on food and drinks from the Amazon region of Peru. Two of our friends had recommended it, as had Sylvia. The decor and music were jungle inspired and our friend Rodrigo, an artist, told us to look for his “erotic jaguar” in the bar. We found it, but my picture does not show off the erotic feature; use your imagination and you are likely right! We each ordered a different cocktail and then shared several dishes.  They food was really flavorful and very different. We started with an abreboca (mouth opener) of a little, chewy, cheesy roll and a crunchy, fried cracker-like treat, then moved on to an amazing salad with grilled prawns and fruits, a crazy gigantic mushroom that had a flan-like filling cooked within it and was served in a huge leaf, delicious causa (mashed potatoes) served with prawns and a great sauce, and a lovely fish dish. We also had cachapas (fresh corn pancakes) and smashed, fried plantains, but neither of those were my favorite. Our food was so plentiful that we had to skip dessert! While the service was sporadic, when we left we asked for directions to our hotel as we were only a few blocks away but disorientated because we had come from the park. The staff was very nice and one guy walked us to the street and then ran about a half block trying to figure out where we needed to go. That just doesn’t happen in the US!

We arrived to the hotel after midnight and called it a night. Sarah concluded that it was her best birthday ever!

Reading in a Second Language: A New Empathy for Slow Readers

I am a voracious reader. I have never understood how someone doesn’t get the same thrill from reading that I do. Reading transports you to a different world and introduces you to different people, albeit not usually real ones in my case as I much prefer fiction to non-fiction. I was in a book club for years (and still am an absentee member who greatly appreciates that my club will arrange meetings around my infrequent visits) and more than once my friends and I would comment that we missed the characters when we finished a book that we liked. When I was eating my breakfast as a kid, I would read the cereal box if nothing else was handy. In short, I can’t imagine a world without reading.

Some are old friends, some I was given - who says no to books in English when you live in Peru?

Some are old friends, some I was given – who says no to books in English when you live in Peru?

I am also lucky to be a fast reader. In my case, this skill is inherent and learned: in a “gifted and talented” summer school class when I was in middle school, we learned to speed read, among other things. I don’t recall any of the other things but speed reading aided me considerably while I was an undergraduate English major and, later, a law student. I am a hopeless procrastinator, so being a fast reader was even more necessary to my success. And it assisted my legal career as well – I could quickly read or skim many cases or regulations to locate what I needed. In retrospect this skill probably did not help my billable hour requirements…

So in my ongoing effort to learn Spanish, months ago I bought this:

My first novel in Spanish - don't judge

My first novel in Spanish.

Before you judge my reading choice, hear me out. First, I have been trying to find “To Kill a Mockingbird” in Spanish (“Matar un Ruiseñor”) for months. (See this post about my quest in Argentina: http://kerryedwyer.com/2014/01/27/our-highbrowlowbrow-day/.) It is my favorite book, wonderfully written and I know the text well, but despite stopping at every bookstore I pass in South America, I can’t find it. So instead of starting with an amazing classic, I went to the opposite end of the spectrum. I thought a light, chick-lit read would be perfect because I could get fast gratification when I zipped through it, the language would be easy and repetitive, and it would include always-useful slang. I resolved to read the book carefully – not just for the general gist, which would be relatively easy – but to actually understand the grammar and the words. Months later (okay, several vacations interrupted my task) and I am only on page 250 in a book that in English would take me two days to read.

It’s discouraging. I have come to hate this book. I don’t think I would have loved it had I read it in English, but I would have whipped through it, found it mildly amusing and moved on. Now I find it tedious because I am reading so slowly and never gain any momentum. While I have learned some words and improved my recognition of verb tenses, I probably learn more from the primary readers that I borrowed from the school library and the 3rd grade reader I use with my Spanish tutor.

So now I get it: reading isn’t always fun. Book selection is far more important when you are reading at a slower pace because you are investing more of your time in a book. Continuous stopping and starting ruins the flow of reading, so you need to connect more with the book in order to remember what you read several days prior. I can’t imagine reading as much as I read in English if it took me ten times as long to finish a book. I would simply lose interest unless the book was really great. And this book isn’t.

Pure stubbornness is the only reason I will see this project through to the end.

Watertown Senior High School’s Survival Hike: Training for the Inca Trail

As is clear from my prior posts, Matt and I take full advantage of our life in the mountains and hike most weekends. But the truth is that I like walking far more than I like climbing up and down mountains. That said, when Matt, our friend Carl and Carl’s brother Mark decided they were tackling the 4-day Inca Trail hike to Machu Picchu, I decided that I would regret not hiking more than I may end up regretting hiking the trail. We shall see if that proves to be true come early October.

The last time I did an overnight hiking/camping trip was in 1984. Yes, 30 YEARS ago. Watertown (WI) Senior High School had this bizarre right of passage reserved for a select group of decent students: Survival Hike. Led by biology teachers Carlos Alvarez and Dan Herbst (I think another teacher, Tim Gifford was also along for the ride my year), Survival Hike occurred the summer after sophomore year and involved 5 days of trekking up to 20 miles per day in Northern Wisconsin with the “treat” of white water canoeing on the 6th day. The catch, apart from the fact that we carried our own gear, bushwhacked trails, were eaten alive by mosquitos and camped every night: no food. Actually, in the early years food was allowed. First, groups were given $20 to buy provisions for the week. By the time my sister, Mick, went on the hike, provisions totaling a few hundred calories were provided and included a dog biscuit and chocolate. Six years later, we were given nothing – we only ate what we foraged or caught. A few years later, the hike was discontinued.

To this day, I have no idea why our parents allowed Mick or me to participate in Survival Hike. We were not an outdoorsy family and never camped. My mom considered it part of her martyrdom that our vacations were at a cottage with an outhouse. I was not athletic and didn’t own any gear; my mom borrowed a pair of hiking boots that were a size too big for me from a friend’s daughter and I have no idea where my pack came from. Apart from some city walking (we had actually moved to Wauwatosa during my sophomore year but I was given a special exemption to go on the hike, probably because my dad played baseball with Mr. Herbst), I didn’t train at all and never carried a pack.

But I survived. Oh, I whined and probably cried, and threw up when the only thing we found to eat for the entire trip were unripe apples and raspberries (to this day I despise raspberries) on the first day, got about 50 mosquito bites and several blisters, hiked in the rain (I hate wet grass), and lost 15 pounds in 6 days, but I did it. I still don’t exactly understand why I did it, but I have some great memories from the trek: like when two of the guys had to share my friend Katie and my tent because they lost their tent poles and then one of the guys slept walked during a thunderstorm and knocked our tent down. You can imagine the ensuing teenage-girl hysteria. Or when some other kids were getting sent home due to health issues and Mr. Alvarez gave me the option to leave (I really was whining that much) and I made the decision to stay. I like to think that I stopped whining quite so much after that point, but that may be wishful thinking. Or the fact that a guy from Mick’s year, who cried and blamed her when their canoe tipped in the rapids, came along on my year (I think he was doing a bit for NPR) and acted all cool, college-guy when I knew the truth – he just wanted redemption. Plus, it was in the days where your parents signed some waiver and then you got to do totally dangerous, unhealthy things AT YOUR OWN RISK and they didn’t check up on you during the week. And it was long before cell phones so you were in the moment doing what you were doing (hiking! starving!) and not taking pictures and posting every two minutes or calling your parents (or your sister to tell her that cry-baby guy was on your trip although that would have been fun). In fact, I don’t have a single picture from the trip although I am sure someone took a few that I would love/cringe to see.

So with that questionable history, I am signed up for the 4-day Inca Trail hike to Machu Picchu. Compared to Survival Hike, it should be a piece of cake: no bushwhacking, porters to carry the heavy gear, good meals made by the camp cook, decent hiking boots, 26.5 miles over the course of 4 days and no white-water canoeing. But the reality is that the altitude is a killer for many people, the hike is very steep both in ascents and descents, and I am 30 years older. This time, though, I am training and Matt and I have stepped up our weekend hikes to add more altitude. I am even carrying my daypack despite the fact that Matt is usually my porter on our hikes. So maybe my whining will be kept to a minimum on this hike although be warned Matt, Carl and Mark – I am not promising anything.

Local Art

Matt’s former secretary, Elvira, is a lovely woman and a talented one too. Last year she was learning traditional weaving at a school in Cajamarca. The school’s main purpose is to provide training to young people in an effort to provide opportunities for these students who otherwise would likely continue to live in poverty. The girls in the skirts come from traditional farming families. The school’s additional purpose is to promote traditional weaving techniques. Elvira invited us to come on a day when the students were learning to dye wool using both natural ingredients and dyes. The instructor was delighted that we wanted to observe and mentioned that she thought our presence and interest would also reinforce to the students that these skills are valuable and interesting.

This batch was made using twigs from a type of pine tree. Notice the final product with all of the debris – I would not want the task of picking all the particles off the wool!

The green and hot pink colors came from synthetic dyes. The pink and purple batches used a type of crushed beetles.

Elvira’s current artistic endeavor is jewelry making. She takes classes at Koriwasi the Center of Technological Innovation in Jewelry that is funded by the Yanacocha mine in conjunction with the Peruvian Ministry of Commerce and Tourism. Its purpose is to teach jewelry making so individuals can set up small businesses and also to produce high quality jewelry for sale both in Peru and in international markets. Elvira invited me for a tour and as my prior manufacturing clients know, I love shop tours and this one far exceeded my expectations. Sarah joined me and we were treated wonderfully with many of the instructors taking time to explain (often in English!) the various stages of the process to us. We first saw the manual work room where the jeweler would create the object.

Next stop was the kiln, where the silver is melted and a copper amalgam added to strengthen the silver, which is otherwise too soft. Jewelry from Koriwasi is certified 950 silver, meaning it is 95% silver. Sterling silver is 92.5% silver.

Just as we were beginning to think this was a low tech process, we got to the design room. They have several computers and use three specialized softwares (Type 3, 3Design and Rhinoceros). But the coolest part was seeing the 3D printer that prints a mold in wax. A small item takes almost an entire day to lay down the layers of wax to create the mold. They also have 2 other computers that create a mold the opposite way – wax is cut away to create the item. We learned that there are literally millions of dollars invested in the equipment of the school. Very impressive.

We then went to the casting room. I have always had a hard time understanding the casting process despite countless museum visits, including several to the amazing Rodin Museum. So for me it was fantastic to have the process explained to us and to be able to see many of the steps in the process. As I understand it, the process is as follows (any errors are my own and not due to the patient instructors and Elvira who explained everything very carefully to us and answered my many questions).

1. Start with a metal master model of the piece.

2. Press into rubber molding material to create a mold of the model.

3. Very carefully remove the model, leaving the mold intact.

4. inject wax into the mold to create the pattern.

Wax Patterns

Wax Patterns

 

5. Attach the wax patterns to a trunk to create a tree.

6. The tree then gets placed into a cylinder and is covered in a plaster mixture,  leaving the base of the trunk uncovered. Once the mixture has hardened, the cylinder is heated. The wax melts and runs out of the mold, leaving a hollow mold in the plaster.

7. Molton metal (silver in our case) is poured into the trunk opening in the plaster, filling the void. Once cooled, the plaster is washed away. Violá – metal trees!

8. The jewelry is then cut away from the base and finished.

Finishing Room

Finishing Room

One of the most interesting things is that even for items that are “mass” produced, it is still a labor intensive, hand detailed process. Very impressive. Our only disappointment was that the store was rather empty because many pieces had been taken to an out of town show!

One Year Ex-Pat Anniversary

One year ago today Matt and I and 17 suitcases/boxes arrived in Peru for our new life of international living.

 

While our new life has had its challenges, what has surprised us is how easy it has been to make the adjustment. We have both improved our Spanish and can navigate the basics in Peru with relative ease (sometimes even on the phone!), we have grown accustomed to livestock in the road and stray dogs everywhere, our opinion of acceptable cleanliness has been necessarily modified, and we have learned to live without some of our favorite foods and luxuries. While we miss our family and friends, with the internet and wifi phone it has been so easy to keep in touch that almost seems as though we aren’t missing out on anything. A far cry from when I lived in Italy 25 years ago and my only method of communication with anyone stateside apart from my parents (whom I was allowed to call for about 10 minutes every 2-3 weeks) was writing letters.

It has been wonderful to immerse ourselves in local culture by hiking in the mountains near our house, traveling within Peru, enjoying the food (with the possible exception of cuy) and celebrating local customs and traditions. We have made good friends – both Peruvians and other expats. Spending almost a month in Buenos Aries and taking a wine trip to Chile and Argentina were both spectacular. In short, we have made the most of this past year.

So Cheers! to our 1st Anniversary of our new ex-pat life. We wish for many more great international years to come.

World Travelers

World Travelers