Posted by: John | November 17, 2009

Bye and thanks for reading our blog!!

Hi everyone!  For those of you who still check out our site, we just wanted to say thanks for reading our blog while we were away in Peru.  It was frustrating at first putting it together, but knowing that you were all reading it made it feel like it was worth going through the trouble.  And then we really started enjoying blogging ourselves!

On this trip we were able to experience a lot – helping others, meeting great people, living with a host family and getting to know their culture, and seeing some really incredible sites.  We’re definitely glad we put the blog together and were able to share our experience with you.

We thought we’d just end our blog with some of our favourite moments and favourite photos.  Enjoy!  And again, thanks so much for reading!

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Posted by: Cecilia | November 16, 2009

Days 29 to 31: Lima

After some teary goodbyes with Gloria, Pepe and Aurora, we made our way to Peru’s capital, Lima. We were pleasantly surprised by the city, as many tourists and Cusconians we met said they didn’t particularly like Lima because they found it crowded (population is approximate 8 million) & polluted.

Lima is along Pacific and the neighbourhood of Miraflores (where our hotel was situated) reminded me (Cecilia) of L.A. Miraflores had freeways along the coast, lined with palm trees, condos atop the cliffs & fancy restaurants with magnificent views of the Pacific Ocean. Its look & ambiance was similar to L.A., except with polluted beaches and less homes on the coast. We saw surfers, windsurfers, beach goers and even children playing on soccer on fields that were on the beach.

We had the intention of doing many activities including a cooking class, watching a national volleyball game & even sandboarding at sand dunes nearby. However, we ended up being distracted by the food and sights of Lima. (Actually we couldn’t find a one-day cooking course nor were there any volleyball games on during our time in Lima)

Sights

We took a double-decker bus tour of Lima on our second day. You’re thinking “How touristy” right? We agree. It was a very touristy thing to do (all we needed were fanny packs, zinc oxide on our noses and cameras around our necks). However, we were told that downtown Lima was very dangerous and we were really tired from our travels so really wanted to take it easy. We thoroughly enjoyed the tour that took us around many areas of Lima (Financial district, China town) as well as several plazas  & squares. We also stopped at Convento de San Francisco which is a 17th century church that holds priceless colonial treasures, including a Franciscan library containing over 25,000 rare books. There were also catacombs which served as mass graves for over 25,000 bodies. We were able to walk through narrow underground passage ways and see some of the piles of bones that remain there. It was very creepy and Indian Jones-like, but definitely a neat experience.

We also spent a lot of time walking around Miraflores and its many parks, including Parque Kennedy, which had many food vendors and gardens. We  were very surprised to see the Miraflores streets lined with several casinos. Within a 10 minute walk to the beach, we counted 7 casinos!

Our last afternoon was spent at Locamar, an outdoor 3 storey mall built along the cliffs with amazing views of the beach. The shops weren’t of interest to us and the majority of our time was spent at restaurants viewing the Pacific Ocean & sunset. We spent over 2 hours enjoying Cusquena beer, apple pie,  chocolate cake, oh yeah and each other’s company. We reminisced of our travels and I just felt so happy and relaxed. It was an amazing ending to our wonderful trip.

Food

The food in Lima is wonderful. Not only we were able to eat many Peruvian dishes (such as papas a la huancaina, i.e. potatoes covered in a spicy cheese sauce), but also try a variety of seafood dishes.  We also spent over 2 hours at a grocery store near our hotel. The fruits were especially exotic and cheap. Our favourite spot, however, was by far, Pasquale’s Sandwich shop, a bistro opened by a famous Peruvian chef, Gaston Acurio. We ended up going there for 2 of our 3 dinners in Lima. It was absolutely delicious,. Check out the “Interesting Food” tab for photos.

Friends

We met up with several friends during our 2 and a half days in Lima. As Cecilia put it, “Man, we are really popular, here in Lima too. Zing.” We met up for dinner with Carrie, Kim & Wayne (who are from our Inca Trail hiking group). We told stories of our travels over delicious vegetarian pizzas.  On our second day in Lima, we joined Wayne & Kim on the double decker bus tour of the city.  On our last day, we met up with Cecilia’s colleague’s sister, Julia, who took us to a local seafood restaurant, where we dined on delicious ceviche, shrimp risotto and a delicious seafood soup. (Check out the “Interesting Food” tab for details) Julia also took us for a drive along to coast to show off Lima’s numerous beaches.

Posted by: Cecilia | November 11, 2009

Una fiesta Halloween a Oropesa

Our last day of volunteering just so happened to fall on the day before Halloween. We were lucky enough to help throw a Halloween party on complete with pinatas, food, music and dancing. The children especially loved the pinatas we brought in and were smiling all day. We apologize to the parents because we’re sure their kids were on sugar highs when they got home.

It was an amazing way for us to end our volunteer experience. Both of us said it was one of the trip’s highlighting moments.

Posted by: John | November 6, 2009

We’re back from Machu Picchu!!

The Inca Trail and Machu Picchu was an AWESOME trip to say the least!  Great sites, great people, great weather, and sore muscles.  Overall we had an amazing time.  Being the nerd that I am, I was able to write about everything we did in a journal I brought on the trip, but don’t want to bore you with the details so here’s a breakdown.

General Itinerary:

  • Day 1: Wake up at 4:30am to meet our tour group and take a bus to Ollantaytambo.  Embarked on the Inca Trail and hiked for about 7 hours (breaks included), passing a few ruins on the way
  • Day 2 a.k.a hell day: We were up for about 5am to trek for about 10 hours (breaks included).  We passed dead woman’s pass which is a combination of steep uphill and downhill terrain
  • Day 3:  Half day of trekking, followed by food, showers, and a massage (at least for me!)
  • Day 4: Got up at 4:30am to walk to Machu Picchu, catch the sun rise, and beat the crowd

Service and Food:

Our guides, Virgilio & Oscar, were great – really knowledgeable, and always willing to go out of their way to make sure we were comfortable and happy.  The porters were amazing to say the least – I couldn’t believe how much they were carrying (easily 50+ lbs on their back).  I’m pretty small, but some of these porters are tiny!  They’re strong, and really, really fast, passing us on several occasions.  They carried our food (including fragile things like eggs), equipment, and belongings – all on flip flops!  It was quite incredible.

The service and food was amazing.  Every time we got to a pit stop, there were buckets of hot water and soap waiting for us so we could clean ourselves.  When it rained, we didn’t have to even think about our bags – they’d already be covered with tarp.  When we got to lunch on Day 2 after climbing and descending from Dead Woman´s Pass, the porters lined up and cheered for us – I couldn´t believe it.  If anything, I thought it should have been the other way around.

And the food – incredible.  Normally there were 5+ courses, and dessert on top of that.  We were really impressed.

The only bug was on the last day when we got off the train and there was no bus waiting for us to get back to Cuzco.  We had to get our own taxi.  It was unfortunate the trip ended that way, but I can’t forget how great everything else was – above and beyond expectations.  I really can’t complain.

People – Fellow trekkers:

Everyone on the tour was really awesome, and I’m not just saying that because they may be reading this – lol.  But honestly I’ve personally been on trips where the people haven’t been so pleasant, and it could really make or break a trip in my opinion. We were almost like family – we even pee’d together the last day! (as weird as that sounds!).  We definitely bonded well I thought, and Ces and I definitely felt privileged to meet everyone.

Level of difficulty:

Days 1, 3 and 4 weren’t that bad I thought – they were long, but not too bad.  Although I was sore by day 3, and thank goodness for that massage after!  Day 2 and dead woman’s pass was by far the most difficult, though.  I remember when our guides took us to see some llamas in this meadow, and then looking up the mountain and seeing porters on this trail thinking, “Oh wow – they’re way up there.  They must be taking a different path.  Poor porters.”  Nope – not a different path!  We had to take it too.  When I saw where we were heading, I remember when my brother and Ivy showed me a picture of the same path (they had done the Inca Trail the year before) and thinking, “Oh – that’s not that hard.”  Um – pretty hard!  Ces and I had to bust out our iPods – we meant business (I rocked out to Linkin Park, and Ces, Boyz II Men…hahah…just kidding Ces – Boyz II Men was only for a minute).

Ces’ retort: “It was on SHUFFLE!!”

Level of crustiness:

I’m not gonna lie – we were pretty crusty.  We brought in baby wipes as our form of showering/bathing, and let’s just say after wiping ourselves down after each day, those baby wipes were pretty brown.  In the mornings, Ces would wake up and comb her hair and even that sounded crusty (it made a really crunchy sound – I don’t know why!).  We wore the same clothes daily, after sweating in them.  Thank God for showers on the 3rd day!

Ces’ retort: “It’s my brush, it just makes a lot of noise. Ask Karl.”

I was really worried about the bathroom situation before we left, expecting the worst.  The bathrooms weren’t as gross as I had expected, although I often contemplated whether or not the brown stuff on the floor was dirt or something else if you know what I mean.  But I figured if you gotta go, you gotta go!  By the way, it’s pretty hard holding a squat position (no toilet seats normally) after walking all day, legs shaking n’ all!

Sites:

The sites were gorgeous – the pictures speak for themselves.  Well, not really, since the camera doesn’t really capture how beautiful it actually is.  On the way to Machu Picchu, we passed various types of ecosystems – jungles (seemingly), meadows, swamps, and of course mountains.  We also passed several ruins, including military lookouts, experimental agricultural grounds, and resting places.

We were in awe with how the Inca’s and other natives could build such impressive structures about 600 years ago, not to mention a 40km+ trail all paved with rocks.  It reminded me of scenes from the cartoon Avatar, if you’ve ever watched it!

We definitely appreciated the architecture, but also the history.  Virgilio explained that the Inca Trail was a royal path for the Incas between Cuzco and Machu Picchu.  He also explained to us the various functions of the ruins along the trail, including for military, educational, and religious reasons.  For instance, they would create holes in stone to create water mirrors which they could use to study the constellations and use as a calendar.  They certainly seemed advanced for their time.

Of course, Machu Picchu was amazing to see.  As we had climbed a set of rock stairways, we made a left turn and entered through the sun gate where we could see Machu Picchu for the first time.  It felt amazing after walking for almost 4 days – it almost felt like we were discovering it for the first time, and as well, there was a sense of accomplishment, different than it would have been if we saw it by travelling by train.

I really enjoyed how there’s so much mystery behind Machu Picchu.  All of it seems a bit like a fairytale: it seemed abandoned but no one really knows why for certain (harsh weather? Spanish invasion? disease?); fortune tellers and witchcraft would help guide the decisions of royalty; it may have been used as a sanctuary and/or astronomical observatory; it may have been ruled by women priestesses.  I thought that was really neat.

The weather:

God must have been watching over us because the weather was amazing for us.  And specifically, the timing of good versus bad weather was unreal.  Almost every time we would be walking, it would be perfect weather, and every time we got to a resting place, it would start to rain.  The only day it rained for us while trekking was on day 3, but I personally enjoyed how foggy it was.  It seemed mysterious and it gave us a different look at our surroundings.  When we got to Machu Picchu, it was clear; and when we left, it started to pour.  We certainly felt lucky.

Overall:

Awesome, awesome trip!!!  We’re here in Cuzco for today saying farewell to our students, teachers & friends, and then will be in Lima for 2 and a half days.  Almost back to Canada – see you all soon!

Some footage from Machu Picchu

Posted by: John | October 31, 2009

Making a Difference

This has been our last week volunteering with the kids, and I´ve learned a tonne.  Because of the language barrier, I have found it really, really difficult not being able to make as much of an impact as I want to and know I´m capable of.  But I´ve learned that you can say a lot without words, and that the positive energy you give to others can definitely make a difference.

The other day, Gloria was telling us how poverty is a gigantic problem in Peru.  Cecilia and I noticed, on our bus to Oropesa, that there were many mothers with children and we wondered why. Apparently birth control is a huge problem here.  Most men don´t want their wives to have any form of birth control for fear that they will have relations with other men.  Hence, these married couples have many, many children even through they are financially incapable of taking care of the children they bare.  And so the children are the ones that suffer.

Living in poverty is extremely saddening, and so many husbands/fathers are alcoholics (they can obtain alcohol very cheaply). Consequently many men are abusive husbands and fathers.

When Gloria was telling us this story, I thought about how this story applies to so many kids in my class.  In fact, there was this one time when my professor came into class with a horse ship, and said, ¨Behave!¨ I was sort of afraid where she was going with it, but then she asked the class, ¨Who gets hit by this at home?¨At least a third of the class put up their hands, but I knew there were more who were abused. Then she said, ¨These whips are for horses. They´re not for children.¨Then she put the whip in her drawer.  Needless to say I was happy where the conversation went.

From the first day I was there, I could tell which kids were crying for attention – causing trouble with other kids, disobeying orders, fighting.  There was this one kid, Max, who was especially naughty.  I knew his name right away because he was so naughty, but I knew there had to be a reason. As the days went on, I learned that his father was extremely abusive.  I also noticed that he was an outcast from the rest of the class.

So I wanted to spend more time with children like Max – playing with them, doing their homework with them, and teaching them where I could. I figured if they get beaten at home, school should be a plce where they can get some relief from being crapped on.  Then I knew – if I could make a difference with even one kid, for one month, for a couple of hours a day – then me being there was worth it.

As much trouble as it was dealing with the language barrier, dealing with the smelly bus ride, having crazy children running and screaming everywhere, and having kids soil on themsevles and then touching me afterwards, I will definitely miss the kids and the experience.  But I´m happy knowing I´ve made some sort of difference.

Off to Machu Picchu!!

We´re off to Machu Picchu for 4 days and 3 nights starting tomorrow (Sunday, November 1st). We´re definitely excited, and can´t believe how fast it has come up! We´ll then be back in Cuzco for one day, then to Lima for 3 days, and then back to Canada!!  We´re not sure if we´ll be able to blog anymore (we might when we get back from Machu Picchu), so if we don´t, we´ll see you when we get back!  We hope you´ve enjoyed our blog!

Posted by: John | October 31, 2009

Observations on Cusco

Weather

Since Peru is close to the equator, the sun rises early and sets early.  We notice that the sun is fully up at 6:15 a.m. and fully set at 6:15 p.m. For Cee, the bright and early sunshine doesn’t impact her sleep as she’s able to sleep through anything. For John, however, the bright sun is a nuisance and immediately wakes him up, along with the barking dogs and random whistles from the security guards in the neighbourhood.

The day can start out very warm (around 25 °C), but the early sunsets means it gets chilly very early (around 12°C). This means that we generally have to pack extra layers in our bags.  I suppose it’s warmer than Toronto, so we really shouldn’t complain.

Altitude

Cusco has an elevation of 11,000 feet which means there is significantly less oxygen in the air we breathe here.  Fortunately, we didn’t suffer any altitude related ailments. We know several friends who’ve experienced it when they travelled to Cusco and met several volunteers who have had very serious altitude related headaches and nausea (including our new housemate).  We did notice shortness of breath when we went for runs outside.  At least, it will be good training for our bodies when we hike Machu Picchu!

Neighbourhood

Our host family resides in the Magesterio neighbourhood of Cusco. Per discussions with our classmates, it is the “Santa Monica” of Cusco. The homes are significantly larger, gated, and guarded with private security. We definitely noticed the people are from the higher social-economic class. They are well spoken and dress professionally relative to other Cusconains.  Pepe and Gloria have two cars, when many locals don’t even drive, and Pepe is a statistics and economy professor which explains why they live in Magesterio. They can also afford to send their 3 kids to private school in Cusco and university in Lima.

People

The locals look much older than they are. We believe it’s due to sun damage, harsh living conditions and poor diet. Another reason is that locals have children at very young ages (i.e. in their teens) and have deal with more stress. Gloria told us she used to have a cleaning lady who had to leave Cusco to take care of her daughter and grandchild. The kicker is that she was only 35 years old! Yes, a 35 year old grandmother. We couldn’t believe it!

The people are also more aggressive than Torontoians. They can be very pushy on the bus, streets and markets. It is definitely a culture shock for us.

Transportation

Taxis and buses are dirt cheap in Cusco. Taxis costs about 3-4 soles (approx. $2.50 CAD) for any trip within downtown Cusco and buses are only 1 sol.   However, both taxi & bus drivers are very aggressive. They honk at us “gringos” (i.e. foreigners) every time we are stopped at a side walk to solicit sales. It gets very aggravating. Just last week, we literally just got out of our cab on our way to school and as soon as we shut the taxi door, another taxi pulls up to ask, honking to inquire if we need a ride.  Yesterday we counted over 20 honks at us in a 6 minute span.

We commute by local bus to Oropesa every day.  It’s a 40 minute ride and it isn’t also very pleasant. First, the buses are more like minivans and get crammed with people.  To add, the smell can be quite disgusting.

Funny moment:

Ces: “John and I usually commute together to Oropesa, but there were a few times when John was sick and I commuted myself. On those occasions, I noted 3 women breastfeeding on the bus. I know it´s a beautiful moment between mother and child, however, the buses are very dirty and crammed with people.  Another time, I sat next to a mother and child on the bus, and she just causally lifted her top to feed her baby. Again, I was the one to observe it. I just find it really funny because I always see it and NEVER John!”

We encountered a recurring theme today. A theme that was a bit offensive, but overall was hilarious. The theme was “Let’s called John & Cecilia chinos” day (i.e. Chino a term of endearment for Chinese people which applies to both of us, though John isn’t even Chinese) It first started when the kids sang their usual warm-up songs in the morning. After singing some “Head & Shoulders”, the children started singing a song called “Chino Cappucino”. We didn’t understand what the Spanish lyrics meant, but we did know they were singing about Chinese people as they were pulling their eyes across their face to make them more slanted. We couldn’t help but laugh!! We know they live in a world with limited diversity, and their exposure to Asians & non-Peruvian people is very limited. Therefore, we can accept their ignorance on Asian cultures. We managed to capture their song in a video.

The theme was evident again when we went for Chinese food at a Chifa (Chinese restaurant where the food is prepared like Manchu wok). We were enjoying our meal with Gloria & Diego, when a Peruvian musician/guitarist came up behind Cecilia and started playing on his guitar. His song sounded like Chinese chimes. We, again, couldn’t help but laugh. Similar to the children, the musician doesn’t deal with many Asian people, so it’s reasonable that he is quite uninformed of our Asian cultures. Living in a diverse city like Toronto really is quite the contrast to Cusco.

Funny moment:

  • John: We went to get some cake at this place by our house the other day, and there was this cute old couple having some dessert.  They started having some polite conversation with us, asking us how long we were in Peru for, if we like the country, and where we were from.  They asked us,  ¨Are you from Japan?¨ And Ces was like, ¨No, I´m Chinese.¨ And they were like, ¨Oh, Chino.¨  Then I said, ¨I´m actually Filipino.¨  And they were like, ¨Oh, Chino.¨  Totally a King of the Hill moment: ¨Are you Chinese or Japanese?¨  ¨Actually I´m Laotian. (insert blank stare)¨ ¨So are you Chinese or Japanese?¨  LOL.

The kids singing Chino Cappuchino to us. We should´ve been offended but weren´t.

Friday:

Last Friday, we decided to make our way to Plaza de Armas after Spanish classes. Guess who we saw? Yup…Pedro a.k.a. “Paige” for short. When he saw us he started wagging his tail. Of course we felt inclined to feed him so Ces got him some crackers, and then some kids helped us to feed him. He kept on following us after, so we threw a pack of crackers at him half opened, and then ran into the crowd.

Funny moment:

  • Earlier that day, we were at the computer lab at school and our friend was showing us her facebook page. Suddenly we saw a picture and said, “Hey, that’s Perdo!” And she was like “Um no, that’s George. George followed us home one day and stayed outside our house the whole night, so we gave him some food the next day.” So Pedro a.k.a. Paige and apparently a.k.a. George is somewhat of a dog-tourist-user (if there’s such a word),but we love ‘im anyway!

Saturday:

This Saturday we decided to tour Cuzco (believe it or not, as long as we’ve been here we haven’t really travelled around). Some of the things we saw were backpackers lane, San Blas, and the Catedral (well, Cecilia anyway). The most interesting thing we saw was the Sun Temple, which apparently was the Inca’s designated ‘navel or centre of the world’, where they had created architecture to worship their gods. However, after the Spaniards invaded, they tore down much of the ruins, and built a church on top of it. So most of the Inca ruins are destroyed, but is interesting to see the 2 different architectures merged.

We also took the time to purchase more supplies for the kids.

Later that night we got prepped up for Maximo´s halloween party! Five of us got dressed up in ´nerd´outfits. We made some glasses out of cardboard and construction paper, bought some nerdy ties, made our own suspenders, and went to the party in style! Drinks we free, so we had some then walked to a club called InkaTeam in the Plaza de Armas. We were quite obnoxious and people on the streets thought we were sort of crazy. Luckily, it was Oktoberfest here as well, so we didn´t seem too out of our minds parading down the street. It was a fun night!

Sunday:

We were able to catch a soccer game on Sunday! When we got to the stadium, everyone on the street was trying to sell tickets to us. We didn´t know what was legitimate, so we asked one of the workers. He took us to a small square hole in the wall (yes, I said a small square hole in the wall) which turned out to be the box office!

The crowd wasn´t that large because apparently one of the teams wasn´t that great, and also it was early in the morning (11am). Nonetheless, we enjoyed it very much! There were little kids selling food to the crowd, a random dog in the stands (of course), and we had a great view…all for 5 bucks. It took us like more than half of the game to figure out which team was which because the scoreboard didn´t have the proper team names on it, and they were both wearing the same colours. We got it eventually!

On Sunday afternoon, Gloria´s friend Aurora (who we have come to know well now) invited us to her place for lunch and to play chinese checkers. Afterwards, they took us to town called Sallya (close to our project in Oropesa) for some pork and chicharon – it was ok but kind of oily. I (John) saw one of my kids from school there! (which is pretty random). He totally ignored me, though, even though he´s usually one of the first to come hug me every morning when I get to Oropesa. I think I was embarassing him in front of his friends…hahah. Needless to say, on Monday when I saw him he hugged me like I were his best friend…lol.

Posted by: John | October 27, 2009

Lesson Plans

Cecilia:  Our students are very bright for their age. The kids in my class are five years old and have been learning how to count, add, subtract, use greater than and less than & write in cursive. I was really impressed with their progress as I remember learning those subjects in the 2nd grade.

Milusska thinks of creative ways to teach her lesson plans. For example, for her counting lesson, our class went to the town’s plaza steps and we taught them how to count, using the step as a respective number and marking them with chalk. For greater than, less than exercises, our class went to a wooded area and collected acorns. We then tested the students on which piles were “greater than” and “less than” each other. Today we went to an internet café and the children observed how computers work, as none of them own a computer at home. When we got back to the classroom, we taught the kids different parts of the computer and what functions they serve.

The children are very bright and have so much potential. I get saddened when I think of their futures and how limited their opportunities are. They will not get to further their education at a university, rather they will likely sell goods in the market or work in the farm with their parents. They won’t get the opportunity to travel very far from Cusco nor learn about different cultures. I believe the children in Canada are very fortunate and really should be grateful for their opportunities. After this experience, I really am more grateful for what I have back home and all the opportunities I have been given. 

Funny moment

Cecilia: “I prepare the children’s homework in their notebooks. Last week, the children had to practice writing their numbers and the exercise involved counting the number of ‘ rubber stamps’, then writing the number. There are a variety of rubber stamps in the classroom; everything from apples to cola bottles. I grabbed a rubber stamp thinking it was a rocket ship & proceeded to stamp their books. After finishing one book, I took a closer glance at the stamp and realized what appeared to be a ‘rocket ship’ was in fact a ‘bishop’. Yes, a ‘bishop’ as in a holy man of the Church. I immediately started to laugh. Only in a Catholic nation like Peru do rubber stamp bishops exist”.

Posted by: John | October 25, 2009

Finally uploaded some videos!!

We´ve finally been able to upload some videos to the video tab (well, actually all credit goes to ces).  We have one of us practicing Spanish, we have some of our kids, and we also have one of Pedro following us to ¨Sexy woman¨!!

Enjoy the videos and have a good week everyone!

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