Selling a Cow to Buy a Computer

My housekeeper, Maria, asked me about a month ago if I could bring back a laptop from the US for her nephew. He is hoping to study engineering next year and the family thought it would be beneficial if he got a computer. While he could buy a laptop here, apparently the prices are much better in the US. Generally Matt and I decline to bring back electronic items for people because we don’t want the responsibility or the potential to have to pay import taxes on it when we return to Peru. And because I am usually using a kitchen scale to stuff the last permissible 6 ounces into my luggage. But given that Maria’s family is not wealthy and would not have access to other people traveling to the US, I agreed to help her out.

Magnificent Maria

Magnificent Maria

I asked Maria what computer her nephew wanted. He didn’t know and she suggested that I just pick one out for him – they trust me. Are they kidding? I know nothing about computers except that I pitch a fit when ours doesn’t work properly and whine to Matt until he solves my problem. I suggested that her nephew talk to friends, someone at the university – basically anyone but me. I did contact my nephew, a US college student, to enlist his aid. He came up with a couple of low cost options and I presented them to Maria along with website addresses for her nephew to review them. (Now I know you are thinking, “but Kerry, her nephew doesn’t have a computer, you idiot.” Rest assured that there are internet cafes, and I am using the word cafe very loosely, all over our town.) And I heard nothing more about it.

Now Peruvians tend to bring up important matters at the last minute. I let the computer issue rest for awhile because I really didn’t want to be responsible for bringing one back with us. But I adore Maria and I knew she felt awkward asking the favor in the first place, so last week I asked if her nephew had decided on a computer. The response? “Well, it depends on whether they can sell a cow.” What?! The long and the short of it was that her brother needed to sell a cow to get the money for the computer. He took the cow to the market but the prices were just too low. The family suspects the low prices are because everyone is saving their money to buy turkeys for Christmas, so beef is not in demand. He tried again this past weekend, but the prices were still too low and he couldn’t take the loss on the cow. So Maria’s nephew won’t be getting a computer this Christmas.

I am reminded that in 2014 Peru is still a developing country where the farm ladies in the market wear traditional garb and yet chat on cell phones and where someone might need to sell a cow to buy a computer.




Ding, Dong the Ño is Dead – Cajamarca Carnival Part 1

Cajamarquinos know how to party! Cajamarca is the Carnival Capital of Peru and the official Cajamarca “Programa Carnaval” has events beginning on January 23 and ending on March 9. To the uninitiated (us) it was a little hard to figure out what is Carnival related and why, but here are the main events that we experienced.

Water, Water everywhere.  This phenomenon actually began before January 23 when my friend Mistina and I were on a walk and got sprayed with water from a passing vehicle.  She bore the brunt of the attack and looked at her soggy clothes with a shocked expression . “What was that?  Is this water?” We decided to assume the best, that it was water, but were confused by the experience. We had never encountered any anti-American animus but wondered whether something had happened while we were on Christmas break that would lead to random, anonymous aggression. A couple days later I was walking my usual bike path route when WHOOSH!  A bucket of water was thrown at me. Thankfully, the aim was off so I was merely splashed with the aftereffects. I turned and yelled at the passing vehicle (maybe even made a nasty gesture, it was instinct, I swear) and the guys in the truck bed were busting a gut. Matt did some investigation at work and learned that water antics are a part of Carnival and start sometime in January. So attacks with water balloons, super soakers, buckets and hoses are all in good fun, condoned and to be expected. Despite this, we didn’t have too many other experiences with random acts of water until the parades this past weekend. Matt inadvertently stumbled into a water fight in our neighborhood last week, but as some of the participants were his students they respectfully gave him a pass. The same thing happened this weekend as we were walking from one of the parades.

Ño Carnavalón.  This guy shows up everywhere and can best be described as the Life of the Party (or, in this case, Carnival). For awhile I understood him to be a demon but I am not sure that is the case although he was dressed like a devil when he got married to the Doña Carnavalón in Baños a couple of weekends ago and he generally looks pretty scary. Saturday’s parade was the Ingreso de Ño Carnavalón (Arrival of the Carnival Ño), the event that really gets the party started. Sunday and Monday’s parades featured the Ño (or various versions of him), last night was his wake (yep, he died. Probably from too much partying) and today was his cremation in Baños. RIP until next year Ño Carnivalón, and maybe we can finally get a full night’s sleep! Last night the music started in Baños at 11:30 pm and this morning on Matt’s 5:30 am walk to work he passed three guys, one holding up his friend, who was holding a beer, and the third playing a snare drum. The party never stops!

The Ño and Doña Arrive

The Ño and Doña Arrive

Ño and Doña

Doña and Ño

Ño cremation

Ño cremation

The Paint Parade.  “Stay home,” we were warned, “It’s dirty. People are out of control.” Saturday’s parade, while technically called the Ingreso de Ño Carnavalón, is locally known as the paint parade. Apart from the truck carrying Ño and Doña, the rest of the parade is comprised of gangs of people, who sing, dance, drink and throw paint at everyone and everything. People, cars, houses, the police – nothing is sacred. We were invited to our friend Maribel’s house, which is conveniently located on the parade route, for breakfast and to enjoy the parade.  And by “enjoy” I mean lob water balloons and, when those ran out, buckets of water at the parade participants from the roof of her building!

Not that we were safe. First, I will never engage in bomb making as I managed to soak myself (and Matt) by overfilling balloons. Kiera, Maribel’s niece, was worse and changed her clothes 2 times before we even began (of course, she is only 8). Then the neighbors decided to wage water war on us (and they were slightly higher up and had better throwing arms) and finally, this truck was in the parade to retaliate against roof watchers like us.

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After the parade passed we had a nice, traditional lunch of fried trout, corn and rice and then decided to join the fray. I was a little nervous given all the warnings, but wasn’t going to be the party pooper. So 8 of us packed into a sedan cab (9 counting the driver) and buzzed off to the fun.  And was it fun!  Being conspicuously paint free, we were quickly accosted and painted. People literally surrounded us and slapped, threw, dabbed or dumped paint on us. And then they offered us shots! We were invited to tag along with one group and at every turn they would herd us along with them. It was hilarious – singing (the same endless tune with different verses, which Matt and I faked knowing as people urged us to sing), dancing, drinking (okay, I declined the shots for the most part as I think the bottles had as much paint as alcohol in them). Eventually we ran into some friends of Maribel’s and we ditched our first gang and joined our second one. We ended up in front of someone’s house and the carousing continued, including the homeowners bringing out chicha de jora, a traditional corn beer, cañazo, distilled sugar cane, and a pan of rice and sausage. Apparently these street parties are common as we saw many of them.  Of course, now that we were part of the parade, we were doused with water, which was karmic payback, no doubt!  After a couple of hours, the crowd was getting drunk, it started raining and we decided to call it a day on a high note. The paint parade got two thumbs up from Matt and me and was our favorite parade of Carnival.  To get a complete feel for the event, check out Matt’s blog where he posted videos of the day.

Clean Up

Clean Up

Another Sunday, Another Beautiful Walk in the Country

Matt, Mistina and I set off for Llacanora on Sunday afternoon with the goal of finding the waterfalls near the town.  Matt and I had previously embarked on this trip but were sidetracked by the cave art of Callac Puma.  A worthy diversion, but this time we wanted to reach the waterfalls.  Mistina, a teacher from Nebraska, was game to join us and was tasked with keeping us on track to our final destination.  What a great time!  It was about a 5 mile walk on picturesque country roads from our house to the small town of Llacanora.  Once in Llacanora, we saw a sign for the waterfalls, but the directions subsequently became unclear so we kept asking everyone we saw, which included a guy walking down the street, an old lady minding a store, a lady who was actually there to go to the falls for the first time and didn’t know where to go either (we told her once we found out) and a couple of guys getting drunk sitting outside a shop (on our return trip, one guy was passed out and the other had inexplicably removed his shirt). You follow the the road above Llacanora and eventually turn left down an unmarked dirt path.  It’s about another kilometer to the first falls.  We never figured out what is referenced by the 1000 meters on the sign – perhaps the turn off.

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Once on the path, we knew we were on the right track as we passed “tourist restaurants” and knick-knack stores.  Eventually, it became even more obvious due to the amount of other people enjoying a day in the countryside. The paths were well traveled and generally easy to navigate.  We arrived at Hembra Falls and were impressed.

Hembra Falls

Hembra Falls

We kept climbing upward and eventually arrived at the even more spectacular Macho Falls, which are about 30 meters high.  Due to their size, we couldn’t get a photo of the entire falls with our i-phones.

On our way back, we decided to walk on the other side of the river.  We arrived at this aqueduct, which we either needed to cross or go back down and around  to cross the river.  Mistina mustered up her courage and went across.

Brave MistinaI took one step and chickened out.  A man standing below starting shouting up words of encouragement and succeeded in shaming me into crossing.  I started across in a most undignified fashion as my coach yelled specific instructions (in Spanish) to me.  I froze at the wire I had to step over, a maneuver that required me to actually stand up a little.

Pathetic Kerry with Cheerleader

Pathetic Kerry with Cheerleader

Under the direction of my drill sargent, I made it across and then Matt came skipping over.  Okay, maybe he wasn’t skipping, but he certainly had no fear – note that he is walking on the edges of the aqueduct and not with his feet in the middle!

Fearless Matt

Fearless Matt

Matt Crossing

Matt Crossing

We left Llacanora, but not before watching two little kids zoom down a steep hill on a skateboard.  The younger one clearly wanted us as an audience and gave a little wave as they set off and then again upon arriving at the bottom.  Super cute. We headed back on the road to Baños and stopped at one of the restaurants along the way.  These “campestre” or countryside restaurants are very popular and usually open only on the the weekends.  They generally have large grounds with play areas for kids, huge tables set up under multiple pavilions and a nice, family feel.  We chose one that in a valley that had about 50 cars in the parking lot and cheerful music and felt we made the right choice when Matt and Mistina saw several of their students with their families.  We only had one glitch when the waiter tried to seat us in a table off in a alcove.  I think he meant it kindly, but nobody puts these gringos in the corner and we asked to sit with the rest of the clientele, a request that was granted.  Unfortunately, they were out of about half of the items on the menu as we arrived around 3:00, but Misitina had fried trout, Matt had grilled beef and I had a delicious stewed kid (as in baby goat, people!) dish.  We ended our meal with picarones, fried squash/sweet potato doughnuts, and as we had already walked about 7 miles, walked back up to the road and caught a cab home!

Kiddie table

Kiddie table

The Chief Cries in Cajamarca

Remember the crying Indian Chief in the Public Service Advertisement in the 70s for the Keep America Beautiful campaign?  He paddled his canoe through a garbage-strewn river, passed industries spewing pollution, landed on a highway watching cars choke out fumes and, ultimately, had garbage thrown thrown at his feet.   That guy is bawling here in Cajamarca.

For a culture that worships Pachamama, or Mother Earth, the lack of respect for the land is puzzling.  It is shocking to see trash everywhere and people littering without an apparent care.  When we went to the Baños bash, we had to walk a few blocks to find any trash containers; everyone else was simply throwing the used food containers on the ground.  Shortly after arriving here, I saw a tiny child throw a plastic cup and spoon on the ground after finishing a jello treat.  The first time I was stunned and assumed the mother didn’t notice.  Now I realize that the mother taught the child to throw her trash on the ground.  The odd part is that our garbage is picked up 7 days a week.  There are also street cleaners – people, not machines – that go out every day to tidy the streets.  But there is simply no way to keep up with the constant stream of trash.

It isn’t just the litter, either.  The concept of using less plastic or disposable items doesn’t exist here.   Even if I bring my tote bag to the grocery store, the clerks still want to put my groceries in plastic bags first.  All of the street food is served in plastic or styrofoam and there are countless street vendors. When we arrived, Baños had no recycling program.  It was painful to throw out plastic bottles and other recyclables, but we were told that while we could bring them to school theoretically to be recycled, there isn’t really any such program in the area. Baños now gives us a recycling bag every week or so and we use it, but it is likely the recyclables also end up in a landfill.  Actually, the plastic bottles are collected from our trash by farm ladies, so at least there is some grass roots recycling.  Unfortunately, these ladies often tear apart the trash bags and leave the rest of the trash scattered on the sidewalk and street after they take what they want.  So even before the recycling bags, we would try to leave the plastic in separate bags to reduce the mess.

Water fares no better than land.  We have rivers that run from the mountains into Baños, but instead of being fresh, glistening springs, they are also choked with pollution.  Bags of trash are dumped in the rivers.  People wash themselves, clothes and cars in the rivers, the latter by actually driving their cars into the water.   While I recognize that some of these people are very poor and may need to wash themselves or their clothes in the river, the same cannot apply to their vehicles.  It is simply acceptable here, as evidenced by excavation companies pulling their dump trucks in the river to rinse off the excavated rocks.

I am adjusting to aspects of my life in Peru, but I don’t think the prevalent trash ever will be one of them.

Packers Party in Peru

What a weekend: Torch Festival, More Baños Bash, House Party, School APAFA (PTO) Fundraiser and Packers Party!  Good thing I am leaving for the States today for the wedding of our dear friends, Angela and Craig, so I can relax.  Those of you who know me know how likely that is. 🙂

Matt already blogged on the first half of our weekend, so if you haven’t read it yet, check out his post and pictures here:

It is true what they say about Latin time.  Saturday night we went to a birthday party at a teacher’s house, which was a lot of fun, but we needed to leave to go to the school fundraiser.  The party started at 8:00 and we knew we would be the first ones there when we arrived at 8:40.  But I also knew the American hostess is always ready early so we would be welcome.  We left the birthday party at 11:15 pm, shortly after many guests had just arrived.  In the States, Matt would usually be asleep by 11:15 even if we were at a party, so the fact that we got to another one after that time was pretty impressive for us.

TicketWe didn’t know what to expect from the fundraiser and it was unlike any in the States.  It was held in a large pavillion and as we walked up to the gate, the security from Matt’s school greeted us and allowed us into the courtyard.   (There is a lot of private security in Peru.  Many businesses and even private homes have security guards.  People do not leave their homes unattended; Olga stays at our house if we are out of town.) In the courtyard there was a small food stand where anticuchos (skewed beef hearts, which are a typical street food) were cooking over a fire. ¨That’s odd,” I remarked, “who is eating out here?  The staff?”  We entered the chilly pavilion where the band was in full swing and the dance floor was rocking (or salsa-ing).  We stopped at the bar and discovered that our options were beer, soda or bottles of booze.  We each had a beer and settled in at a table with Matt’s boss and his wife to check out the scene.  It was very nice, but noticeably different.  First, people dance here.  Even the men.  While there are still groups of women dancing, I have never seen so many men dance and people dance like they know what they are doing.  Also, Peruvians like to party: last year the party lasted until 4:00 am and the organizers were shooting for 6:00 am this year.  And all these people have kids! Then, there is the Loca Hora, where they hand out balloons, masks and noisemakers and people go crazy.  Apparently that happens around 2:00 am, but we left before then.  Finally, we found out the anticuchos in the courtyard were the available food, and you went outside to buy them.  Earlier in the evening they also had papas rellenas, but those were gone by the time we arrived. So while there was food, drink and music, like in the States, everything was just a hair different that made it distinctly a Peruvian Party.

Baños has been utter chaos this week with the festival.  It is as though we live in West Allis during the Wisconsin State Fair but can’t make any money parking cars on our lawn.  Bands, fireworks, parades and crowds last into the wee hours.  On Saturday we arrived home just in time to watch the 12:45 a.m. firework display from the corner of our house.

On Sunday, in preparation for the Packers Party,  I had my first high altitude baking disasters.  Yes, plural.  For my first attempt, I made high altitude adjustments and the orange loaf cake was tasty, but flat.  It puffed up on the sides and then collapsed.  So for the second cake, I skipped the high altitude adjustments and had a cake explosion. I managed to salvage the cake, but post-explosion it became a very flat, chocolate bundt cake and some super flat brownies.  So my research continues into baking at 8700 feet!

As we were finishing up our final preparations for the Peruvian Packers Party, a crowd began to gather in front of our house.  Suspecting that the locals were not trying to horn in on American football, we headed to our balcony and discovered a procession in honor of Saint Mary of the Nativity.  The procession was confusing.  First, there were Atahualpa and his crew.  Given that Pisarro, with the blessing from the Pope, wiped out the Incan empire by first slaughtering Atahualpa after double crossing him when the Incans paid his agreed upon ransom of silver and gold, we weren’t sure why he would be hanging around in a Catholic procession.

Then there were these guys, whose significance remains a mystery.  Even more mysterious is why they began to build the worst human pyramid ever.

Finally there was the mini me of Santa Maria before the real deal.  All very confusing to us, but we had a great view and enjoyed the action.

Santa Maria close up

Santa Maria close up

The Packer Party was a great success, despite the final score.  Matt explained the rules to our Peruvian guests while I explained what chili and cheddar cheese and beer dip were.  The food was well received, but we are not sure whether we converted any soccer fans to football!

The Baños festival wound down last night at 3:30 am!  No fireworks, but the band played on.  Many vendors remain in the square but life seems to be reverting to normal.

Back to the Baños Bash

The party has continued all week here in Baños, and every day we are surprised by the latest happenings.  More vendors arrive daily although the newcomers have brought cheap clothes, jewelry,  kitchenware, shoes, hardware etc. as opposed to the nice craft goods the initial vendors have.  The town has been unbelievably crowded and tonight some of the main streets are closed.  The party is currently rocking, and the music will likely last until at least 2:00 am.  We went for about an hour earlier tonight after a function at Matt’s school, and the band was a lot of fun.  The crowd is drunk – very similar to a Wisconsin church festival – and several people offered us beers as we are a novelty.  This guy also was trying to get Matt to trade hats (he didn’t) while his drunk friend insisted on dancing with me.  They drove 6 hours for the festival.  I didn’t ask, but I suspect they will be sleeping in the square tonight.

photo (2)Matt and his new friend.  And hat.

At some point this weekend there will be fireworks, which are launched from these rickety structures.  Actually, many of them aren’t launched, rather they will wildly spin on the structure.  It is really cool to see although a bit mind boggling to have fireworks set off in the middle of town.  The first time we saw one of these structures, we thought a float was being built.   It is unclear when the fireworks are, but I am sure we will hear them. 🙂

 Earlier in the week, I came upon a scene that appeared to be a product expo of some kind.  New tents suddenly appeared on the perimeter of the square and contained booths with what appeared to be regional products, including cuy, flowers, corn, potatoes, beans, textiles, and honey.  There were crowds of people taking photos and some booths were giving out literature (not to me as I clearly wasn’t the target audience).  Nothing was being sold at that time although later that evening I saw one or two of the textile booths selling their wares.  I couldn’t stay long as I had to get to my volunteer gig, so I didn’t exactly figure out what was going on.  Most impressive were the different varieties of potatoes and corn.

It is very difficult to find good pots here as they are either small or flimsy, so I went native with this one from the fair.  For $16 the price can’t be beat so I didn’t even have the heart to barter.  I made chili in it today for the Green Bay Packers party we are throwing on Sunday – tasty!

Traditional pot

Traditional pot

I finally had my churros.  A few nights ago, Renzo’s Pizza, one of the vanishing restaurants that Matt has wanted to try, was open for the first time since we moved here, so we went there for dinner.  It was horrible – the crust was okay and toppings were fine, but the sauce was some awful brown sauce.  We couldn’t identify the taste, but it was bad.  I really miss Lalli’s Pizza in Wauwatosa!  So as a consolation we stopped at the fair for churros.  They were delicious.

The fair lasts through Sunday, so I am sure we will check it out again this weekend.  Who knows what we will find!

Throwing Culinary Caution to the Wind

Sunday afternoon Matt and I returned to Baños after spending the afternoon in Cajamarca and discovered a festival in our town square.  We checked it out and deduced that it had something to do with sugarcane.

Like most things here, it was unclear whether the festival was winding down or starting up: some shops were closing while others were being built out of pails of cement, wood poles and tarps.  Today we learned that the festival had just begun and will last all week.  Apparently it draws the farm folks and is looked down upon as a lowbrow event, but we thought it was a hoot.

Our Wisconsin roots run deep and as soon as we saw all the fried fair foods, we decided to heck with intestinal distress, let’s eat!  Our first selection was a fried elephant ear type item with some sugarcane syrup (when asked if I wanted it sweet I answered with a big yes – I was going all in).  Matt then decided to have some sugarcane juice.  Well, I saw how those glasses were being cleaned and decided I was not partaking of that treat!

Instead I bought a package of cut sugarcane, which you chew to and then spit out the stalk.  Delicious, if not very ladylike!  We passed on buying the huge stalks of sugarcane as we do not own a machete.  We also passed on the sugarcane syrup.  While it was very tasty on our elephant ear, we now realize why the farm ladies root through our garbage for our plastic bottles.  Perhaps we can bring our own bottle to be filled…

Sugarcane Syrup

These ladies were very friendly and I bought my cut sugarcane from them.

Back to the fried yumminess.  Matt ordered a papa rellena but wisely passed on the salad that accompanied it.  I had one bite and had to order

Papa Rellena

Papa Rellena

my own and even asked for the ají sauce to go with it.  I am becoming quite a fan of the pepper sauce.  A papa rellena is mashed potatoes that are filled with savory items (in this instance chicken, peas, corn and egg), seasoned with cumin and other spices, shaped into an oblong and fried.

We then bought some bread and cookies from this woman.

Baked Goodies

Baked Goodies

We ended it all with another package of cookies.  Those weren’t very good so we threw them out.  We came home about 7:00 but the fair lasted until at least 2:00 am, or at least that is the last time I woke up from the music.  Neither of us suffered ill effects from our unhygienic gluttony and we didn’t get around to having the cotton candy Matt wanted or the churros I wanted, so we may just have to tempt fate and go back to the fair this week.

Tasty Treats

Tasty Treats

An Unexpected Adventure

The beauty about living in Peru is that we have plenty of time to see and explore to our hearts’ content.  As a result, we can deviate from our plans knowing that there will be another time to see or do what we originally intended.  It is a wonderful feeling and on Friday we put it into action with a fantastic result.

It was the Saint Rose of Lima holiday, which doesn’t mean a whole lot to us except that Matt didn’t have school (and no volunteering for me).  We wanted to get outside and enjoy the day and after some deliberation decided to walk about 3 ½ miles to a small town in the mountains, Llacanora.  There are also some waterfalls near Llacanora and we thought it would be fun to take a leisurely walk there, eat lunch somewhere and walk back.

We set off and were not disappointed.  10 minutes from our house we were on a road in the mountains.  The views were spectacular and the air was fresh.

About 2 ½ miles into the trip we saw this sign:

The Adventure Begins

The Adventure Begins

“Pictures, that sounds interesting,” we thought and decided that a 450 foot hike up the mountain was probably worth it.  There was a decent path and we quickly came upon a house where a hip-looking guy was climbing a rope spider web, which seemed quite out of place.  We greeted one another and then because the path looked unclear, we asked him if we were headed the right way.  He confirmed that we were and urged us to forge ahead and said there were beautiful views.  He and the woman in the yard were laughing, not in a mean way but in the “silly Americans” way, so we continued on.

We realized that we didn’t know what we were looking for, so I did a quick google search and learned there are caves and ancient rock art on the site.  We hiked about and eventually saw some fantastic rock art that apparently dates back to between 8,000-5,000 BC.

The paths were hit and miss, but it wasn’t as difficult as the climbing at Cumbemayo.  After an hour or so of hiking we decided to head home so we would have time for lunch before our appointment with a new plumber.  (No surprise.  He didn’t show up.) But we will definitely return to this incredible site again, prepared with a picnic lunch and a full day at our disposal to explore the larger caves, which we never found.

Idiot Art

Idiot Art

Once home I did some research on Callacpuma or Puma Orco (Puma Hill), but didn’t find a whole lot.  It is a designated archeological site and there is concern over damage being done to the pictures and people adding their own “rock art” to the site.  Callacpuma isn’t referenced in any of our guidebooks and doesn’t seem to be much of a tourist attraction, which makes us even happier that we found it.  The rock art extends over 3 square kilometers, so we have plenty more to explore.  I also researched whether pumas still live in the area as at one point we heard a noise that sounded like a big cat roar and I joked about mountain lions, not realizing the name of the site we were visiting.  This morning we had breakfast with Maribel and she told us the the place is considered sacred ground and most people go in March when it is believed the spirits don’t mind you are there.  She also said there aren’t any wild animals left in the area.  Perhaps we heard a Puma Spirit!

Q&A Part 1

Many of my faithful readers (okay, friends) have asked questions about our day-to-day lives.   This post will answer that burning question on everyone’s mind: “Matt works, Olga cleans your house, what do you do all day?”

Good question, and Matt is probably reading to find out the same thing!  During the week, I get out of bed around 8:00.  Note “get out of bed” not “wake up.”  Given that one of my reasons for not having children is that I couldn’t stomach the idea of sleepless nights, it is pretty ironic that we have yet to sleep through a night here.  Honestly.  First, our street is the route for heavy vehicles and they rumble by all night long.  While that in and of itself is loud, there is a speed bump in front of our house  that these semis bounce over, adding to the noise.  Sometimes the semis don’t slow down for the speed bump (they always ignore the stop sign) and the vibration of the truck coupled with the banging of the load sets off the car alarm of the red Toyota two doors down.  (This also happens all day long.)    Trucks = average of 3 nightly sleep interruptions.

Then there are the dogs.  They bark all night.  Sometimes it is the dogs across the street barking because a truck woke them up, sometimes it is street dogs fighting or taunting the dogs across the street and sometimes, who the heck knows, they are dogs.  Dogs barking = 3.  Not to be outdone by the canines, are our neighbors the roosters.  It is complete fiction that roosters crow at dawn.  They crow ALL NIGHT LONG!  Roosters = 1.  Next we have bands/music.  At 10:40 last night a band started playing and marching down  the street.  I’m not sure the occasion, but my cabbie earlier this week told me that bands are hired for birthdays.  Perhaps this person was born at 10:40 pm.  Bands/Music = 1.  We also have fireworks and the military.  It is not unusual for the military exercises to start as early as 5:00 am, though I am not sure how safe it is to have gun training in the pitch dark.  Yesterday, in an opposite direction from the band, there were fireworks (more like M80s) going off all night. Random loud booms = 1.  Finally, we have a guy that pounds on a neighbor’s door every morning around 4:30.  Booty call, drunk stumbling home, worker rousing a friend – no clue but it is &%$? annoying!  Door banger = 1.  The beauty is that no one EVER yells at anyone to be quiet.  Apparently Peruvians sleep like the dead.  We don’t and our average nightly tally of being awoken is 10!

After I get up, I putter around a bit, assess whether Olga has arrived so I can determine how guilty to feel over lollygagging in bed and then go on my walk, which is usually between 1-1 1/2 hours, depending on whether I run an errand or two on the way home.  Once home I do my PT exercises and additional workout exercises for a half hour to an hour, shower, dress and eat breakfast, all while dodging Olga.  Olga and I usually have some stilted conversation at some point in the morning,  which counts as a Spanish lesson, and the next thing I know it is almost noon.

For the past three weeks, I have been volunteering at Matt’s school on Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons.  I leave the house at 12:10 to catch a cab (another Spanish lesson!) and begin at 12:45.  Each day I assist in 3 different elementary classrooms for 45 minutes each and end my day reading for 15 minutes to a class of first graders.  I then hang outside with Matt while he says goodbye to the students and parents and subsequently amuse myself until we leave around 4:30.   While I have always admired my friends in the education field, my admiration has increased dramatically.  Well, not for those that lack classroom management skills.  For those my admiration has plummeted.  I know it has been a really long time since I was in grade school, but I swear we had to sit in our desks during class, not wander around to our cubbies or get drinks of water.  Okay, I also have to admit that on more than one occasion, in high school no less, I had a teacher drag my desk and me to the corner because I wouldn’t quit talking, so maybe these students behave just fine!

Wowing the 1st Graders

Wowing the 1st Graders!

Although I enjoy volunteering and the children are darling, I do not think elementary education will be my next career.  Not only do I find it exhausting being “on” for that long (and I am only there a 1/2 day), but practicing law is very goal oriented and I am accustomed to deadlines, projects, and endings.  And winning.  Learning never ends and I find it frustrating that at the end of a class you can’t measure what has been accomplished and that projects continue ad infinitum.  Matt notes that a child progresses over the course of a year, but I am not known for patience.   While I will continue to volunteer, I plan to scale back to two afternoons a week so I have more time to focus on writing and studying Spanish.

Of course, I might get fired from volunteering  as I accidentally wrote a naughty word on the board.  The teacher had me lead a discussion on the lessons learned from the class’s popcorn and chicha morada sale and I got confused as the students were spelling the word “chicha” for me and wrote chichi instead.  The class went crazy and I knew enough to quickly erase it.  Yes, I wrote the equivalent of “boobies” on the board.  Although in Spain this slang would have been much worse (think female genitalia).  And what about the restaurant chain Chi-Chis?  Apparently they were way ahead of Hooters!

FYI, chicha morada is a fermented, non-alcoholic drink made with purple corn, pineapple rinds and spices.  I’m not a big fan as it is cloyingly sweet.

David Gets My Vote For Smartest Student!

David Gets My Vote For Smartest Student!

On Tuesday and Thursday afternoons I usually run some errands, sit outside and study my Spanish, work on this blog and other correspondence, and research random things.  Most exciting random thing to date was finding the NFL Game Pass, which will allow us to watch Green Bay Packers games!

Go Green Bay!

While none of that sounds too difficult, everything here takes longer than it does at home.  For example, our plumbing issues continue and about once a week the plumber shows up and we engage in difficult conversation (Spanish lesson!) for about 15 minutes before he leaves, promising to return to fix the things that are broken.  Last week Tuesday we were discussing a leaky kitchen pipe for the third time and he said he needed a de-clogging product.  By some small miracle, I actually understood him and had some, so I retrieved it for him, fully expecting him to dump it in the sink.  Nope, he took a towel and swabbed some on the outside of the pipe.  As you can imagine, this did not fix the leaky pipe and he has not returned to date despite saying he would be back last week Thursday or Friday to fix the other faulty items.  In the States, we would simply call another plumber, but as this is our absentee landlord’s plumber, we are uncertain of the protocol, and she has not responded to us.  So here we sit with a leaky kitchen pipe that stinks up the cabinet and leads me to fear bugs, a broken toilet, a non functioning cold water pump (the same one spewing water in a prior post) and a broken shower head.  ARGGG.

Then there is grocery shopping.  We shop at Metro, which is a Target-esque “little bit of everything” store but smaller, in the El Quinde mall in Cajamarca; the Castope grocery store in Baños, which is tiny compared to a US grocery store; the other Castope near our house, which is the size of a very small gas station convenience store; the Central Market in Cajamarca;  the market in Baños; and sometimes a fruit or vegetable stand on the street.  Why so many stores?  Because none of them has everything we need at any given time.  Castope doesn’t have any decent fish (although yesterday it also didn’t have any chicken) and sometimes no lettuce; we can only find fresh nuts at the Central Market; produce is hit or miss, even at the grocery stores, so sometimes you need to go several places; for two weeks no store had Matt’s favorite soda, Inca Cola Zero; the list goes on.  You cannot assume that because you found an item at one store that you will ever find it there again.    Add the fact that trips to Cajamarca require cab rides and we can only buy what we can carry, and shopping takes a long time.   Not infrequently I go to Castope multiple times a day just to get everything I want (because I know it might not be there tomorrow).  While I try to do most of the shopping while Matt is at work, we usually run some errands after work at least once a week on a day I am volunteering and on the weekends.

Our evenings are pretty boring.  It gets pitch dark by 6:30 pm, which puts us in hibernation mode.  So unless we are invited somewhere or running errands, we are usually home by dark, eat dinner and then work on the computer or watch tv for the evening.  We have yet to find a bar in Baños and vanishing restaurants are the norm. For a week I thought I was losing my mind as I passed this sign, which had me very excited!

Disappearing Bar

The first night at 6:10, Matt and I walked to the place and . . . I couldn’t find it.  We walked around a few blocks while I insisted that I had seen this nice bar (I didn’t have the photo at the time).  The next afternoon, I again attempted to find it with no success.  On the third day it miraculously appeared and I took the photo for proof.  That night, Matt and I again set off, but no bar.  We subsequently did see the door open one weekend afternoon, but  there was no one inside.   I did some internet sleuthing and believe this bar is actually in Cajamarca, so I am not sure why the sign is in a place in Baños.   Many restaurants have no signage and irregular hours so unless you know where you are going and when a place is open, you wander about feeling like a fool!  We found one place that looked very nice and asked the woman who was cleaning when it was open.  9 to 5, Friday through Sunday.  I repeated it twice to make sure we understood and indeed, those are the hours.  So we eat and drink at home for the most part.

Weekends have had no set pattern.  We were in Lima last weekend (stay tuned for that post) and Matt is off this Friday so we plan to do a long walk or excursion at least one of the days and likely will run some errands.  A gardener from school is coming over to cut our grass (we think by hand with a clippers) and trim our bougainvillea (which requires him to climb out our second story window and perch on the porch roof) at 2:00 on Saturday so we will need to be home all afternoon while he is here.  And who knows – maybe the plumber will show up!

Dog 2, Kerry 1 (sort of)


I am afraid of dogs.  I know, we had Ky and my family and friends have dogs and I am not afraid of them, but the sad truth is:  I am afraid of dogs.  And I now live in a place where stray dogs are everywhere and no leash laws exist for the dogs that do have homes.  As anyone who walked with me in Wisconsin knows, I was ruthless in chastising dog owners whose dogs were running wild because invariably the owner was carrying a leash, but just didn’t think that his or her darling needed to be restrained.  No such luck here so I need to adjust my thinking.

At first, it wasn’t so bad because Matt and I were together and I could casually maneuver to put him between me and those canine teeth.  Matt likes dogs, so he either didn’t notice or didn’t care.  There were times where I would make us cross the street if the dog looked particularly scary to me, generally meaning it was big or had German shepherd or pitbull looks.  I know, I know, Ky was a German Shepherd mix, but fear is not rationale (don’t get me started on clowns).  Within a couple of weeks, I could recognize the dogs in the neighborhood: two black labs by the hardware store, the pitbull mix that trots around the neighborhood and is often by the little green space a few blocks away, the fluffy, little, curly-haired, mixed-breed siblings, the list goes on.  These dogs pretty much ignore us and I managed to walk around them with only minor heart palpitations.

So I was feeling pretty good about my dog issues when Matt started school and I was on my own.  I went for my walks and practiced yoga breathing and silent “nice doggie” mantras.  At times, I likely looked drunk or incredibly confused as I would crisscross the street to avoid scary looking dogs.  But I thought I had progressed well in conquering my phobia.

Scary blue-eyed dog

Then I set off on the best walk in the area, on the bike path to Otuzco.  Matt and I had walked this route the prior weekend and I loved it.  The paved path runs along a river and the road has little traffic.  If it weren’t for all of the garbage in the river, the scenery would be breathtaking with the mountains, river and farms.  It still is very picturesque and it is nice to walk without worrying about sudden holes or the amount of diesel in the air.  The dog population didn’t appear greater in this area, so I had none beyond my usual worries as I walked along.

Dog and trash

Dog and Trash

My goal was the bridge, which is about a 4-mile, round trip walk.  On the way out I noticed a few excavating sites on the opposite side of the road and didn’t give them much thought.  On the way back, a truck was backing out of one such site and a worker and a scrawny dog were on the path in front of me.  I watched the truck, walked past the worker and dog, and YIP YIP YIP! SNARL SNARL! SNAP!  The little shit bit me!  Okay, it wasn’t really a bite, no skin was broken, but it was a nip that meant business.  I screamed and looked at the guy who impassively stared at me and said nothing.  Needless to say I scurried away, looking over my shoulder in fear of pursuit.  I then decided that arming myself was necessary.  Not sure how much that will help as I have no aim and can fit rocks slightly larger than pebbles in my hands.  Score: Dog 1.


My confidence was shot, and I stuck to the diesel clogged Atahualpa path the rest of the week.  But I vowed that I had to try the bike path at least once a week to conquer my tormentor.  The additional downside was that I again feared every dog I saw, even the ones in my neighborhood who I had learned to … tolerate, and I set off on walks with my ammo.

So the next week I again set off down the bike path.  I got a great aerobic workout because my heart was beating so fast the entire time that I thought I was going to puke.  About 100 feet away from the site I was clutching my rocks, doing deep breathing and peaceful visualization when the dog raced to the top of a rock pile the edge of the site and started growling and barking at me.  A worker yelled at the dog, but I was done and did a quick about face and hurried away.  Score: Dog 2.

Week three I again faced the bike path.  Same routine: rocks, deep breathing, positive vibes.  I made a point to greet anyone I passed thinking that perhaps they would come to my aid in the event of an attack.  About 200 feet from the site of doom I saw two women walking toward me.  Heck, they looked just like me but Peruvian: my height, capris, sneakers, and baseball caps.  I watched with interest how the mangy cur would react to them and …nothing.   Emboldened (unless the dog was prejudiced and didn’t like Americans) I strode toward the site, looking out of the corner of my eye.  No dog!  The workers were there so I nodded and waved to one and carried on my way to the bridge.  Of course, I had to walk back past the site and again, no dog.  Score: Kerry 1 by forfeit.

So it is now week 4 and I have yet to get in my bike path walk.  I have time… and rocks!

Note:  Before my animal lover friends take me to task for the rocks, know that I don’t wish the dogs ill and don’t really want to throw rocks at them. But if my choice is throw rocks or get bit, I’m gonna throw the rocks.  And don’t tell me you would do differently.