The Travel World

After my mountain biking struggles, part of me just wanted to call it a night at about 6PM. The other part of me was saying, “Lara, you only have one more day here. Make the most of it!” My Machu Picchu hiking friend and I made plans to meet up for dinner, and afterwards, we were going to hang out with one of my friends from the tour I went on my first day and one of her other Machu Picchu hiking friends.

With this trip, I finally understand the whole solo travel thing. I kind of did it in London, but I was meeting up with old friends throughout my time there. In Cusco, I didn’t know anyone. I had no prior connections to work with. I was forced to choose between making new friends and just not talking to anyone for the entire week. Talking to strangers and making friends in those settings is hard for me, but I did it. And you know what? It wasn’t so bad. More than that, I met some really cool and fun people.

The travel world is weird. It’s filled with people from all different life situations and stages. First (in my non-exhaustive list), there are the families. In general, that travel world runs completely separately from the other traveler world. Families interact with other families, and that’s it. Next, there are the friend pairs and friend groups. Some of these are short-term travelers (aka normal work vacationers), some are doing longer trips during a school break, and a few rare long-term travel pairs. Usually though, the long-term travelers are going solo because chances are slim that two people have life breaks that coincide.

That brings us to the third group. The solo travelers. This group was a complete mystery to me before this year. I didn’t realize that some people do actually go on solo short-term vacations. Like they have a job, they take vacation, and they go somewhere by themselves. I think that’s incredibly brave. Also, how cool? You don’t have to put all of this pressure on finding someone to travel with. You find somewhere you want to visit, and you just go. Then, there are the solo long-termers. This group is the biggest mystery. Do they have jobs? How are they supporting all of this travel they’re doing? I can’t judge them though. Out of all the groups, I guess this is the one I most fit into. That’s something I NEVER would have predicted. I would never have pegged myself as a “solo travel kind of person”. Whatever that means.

My travel friends!

Before, I didn’t understand how people did it, but after a night of hanging out with my travel friends, into and back out of my life in the blink of an eye, it makes sense. Solo traveling doesn’t mean you’re alone. It means that you’re given a unique opportunity to connect with other people from around the world. Now, I have friends in so many different countries!

You can learn a lot about yourself from people who are just passing through your life. Many of the people I’ve met are incredibly insightful. They’re only going to be around for a short time, so they’re more open and sometimes tell you things about yourself that you didn’t realize before. Some seem to know you better than the people who have been in your life for years.

That night, with three people who I had known for at most 3 days and at least 5 minutes, I had the feeling of hanging out with old friends. I know it doesn’t always happen that way, but the fact that it EVER does is incredible. We had three hours together, and then that was it. We’ll never all be together again. Likely, even just two of us will never be together again. But for those three hours, we connected. We laughed together, imparted wisdom, and when it was time to go, we said goodbye and good luck. There’s something beautiful about touching someone’s life for just a second and having that second be one that they remember and carry with them when they go back out into the world.

Tambomachay, Puka Pukara, Qenko, and Saqsayhuaman

After visiting Qorikancha, my adventure really began. I wanted to see the four major ruins outside of the city. They’re all within about 16 km of the city center (road distance, not direct distance), so it’s not crazy far but definitely enough to not want to walk it both ways (plus it’s uphill). I heard through the grapevine that it’s possible to take a bus there, even though the ruins aren’t an official stop. (I don’t even know why they bother having official stops because you can usually get off wherever you want.)

I considered this my first true Spanish test, and I was determined to pass. The girl at the desk in my hostel said I should just rent a cab for the day, but why should I when there’s another perfectly good way of getting there? Plus I would feel rushed if I knew a cab was waiting for me, and I like to take my sweet time wandering around.

I found my way to what looked like a bus stop after a taxi man tried to convince me to hire him and I told him I was fine taking the bus. I tried to look like I knew what I was doing, but apparently the bus stop isn’t at the little hut with a bench and is actually like 50 feet away. Silly me. The taxi man sassily filled me in while trying to use that as proof that I should really just take a cab. Thankfully, after about 8 minutes of waiting at the random piece of sidewalk he pointed me to, a woman asked me if I was going to Pisac (the bus I needed to get to the first ruin), I nodded, and she directed me onto a bus that didn’t say Pisac anywhere on it. How is anyone supposed to figure these things out??

Well, luckily for me, it all worked out. I told the driver as I got on that I wanted to get off at Tambomachay and headed to the front of the bus when we got close. He let me off right in front, and I only had to pay 2 soles (about 60 cents)!

Tambomachay

Let me start off by saying that when it comes to Incan ruins, everything is pure speculation. 95% of the time, no one knows for certain what something is, why it’s there, what it was used for, etc. For example, Tambomachay. All that’s certain is that there are aqueducts and canals that feed water into a pile of rocks that looks like a fountain. Maybe it’s an ancient bath, maybe it’s a water temple. The name is Quechua and means “resting place”.

Cool trees on the way up to the fountains

The fountains. You can see water still running in the bottom left of the picture

The full extent of the ruins

The ruins were fine, but I was more interested in the scenery. I’m a fan of taking random paths and seeing where they lead. There was one that went up behind the fountain, and I followed it up into some terraced gardens and around the mountain (hill?) to a secret view of the valley. I say secret because I didn’t see another person ANYWHERE, and at a tourist-filled site, that’s an extra special treat. For a few moments, it was just me, peaceful green-ness, and a herd of alpacas grazing in the far distance.

My secret valley

Looking towards Puka Pukara

Once I managed to drag myself away from the view, I headed across the street to ruin #2…

Puka Pukara

Puka Pukara is in the upper right

One guess is that this was a military base, but maybe it was a hunting lodge, guard post, and stop for travelers. The name means “red fort” because the stones look red in some lighting. It’s another “the ruins are kind of cool but the thing that makes the stop worth it is the view” situation. Some people had guides who I assume told them more information than that, but like I said, it’s probably 95% made up. I’m more than happy to just embrace the mystery and be impressed by the Incas’ site selection skills. They sure know how to pick a site with a view.

View from the “fort”

There’s an almost 5 km walk between Puka Pukara and the next ruin, and I was not interested in walking if it could be avoided. Lucky me, a colectivo (mini-bus) was driving by right as I left the site, and I flagged it down and hopped in for a 1 sol ride to…
Qenqo (ken-koh)

Qenqo means “labyrinth”, and they think (“they” being whoever it is that comes up with these theories) that it was a religious something. It’s a huge rock with passageways and channels carved into it.  I wish I could have gotten a bird’s eye view because it’s way more interesting from the top.

Qenqo is that giant rock in the upper right with the rounded top

One of the passageways through the rock

Qenqo from the outside

I used my same “follow whatever random path you see” strategy and ended up on a huge rock overlooking the town of Qenqo. I could also see Cusco in the distance, and no matter how many times I do, I still am amazed by the view. This and my other detour were probably my two favorite parts of the day. Hooray for exploration!

View from my favorite perch

The town of Qenqo

I walked from Qenqo to the next ruin, passing through “Qenqo Chico” (small Qenqo), which I didn’t even know existed. This was my third favorite part of the day… another unplanned detour. There’s another overlook of the city and plenty of big rocks to sit on. I stopped for a minute to eat a snack and soak in the view.

Qenqo Chico

How cool are these rocks?!

Saqsayhuaman

Saqsayhuaman from a distance

The pronunciation guide for this ruin is that it sounds a bit like “sexy woman” (sack-sai-WHA-man). It means “satisfied falcon” and was a big military fort. It was one of the last Incan strongholds during the Spanish invasions. After the Spaniards conquered the fort, they took many of the stones build houses for themselves. The biggest stones are still left.

There are alpacas grazing all over the place

View from Saqsayhuaman

A wall. Check out that awesome Inca stonework

Fun fact: there’s a big zig-zag wall on the fort because the ninth Inca ruler saw Cusco as having the shape of a puma with the zig-zag walls as its teeth. Also, there’s a rock slide there. As in, smooth rock that can function as a slide… and people are allowed to slide down it. I think it’s hilarious. I also apparently have very good slide pants because I flew down with literally no way of slowing myself. My hands did nothing and my sneakers were worthless.

Good view of the zig zag wall

Rock slide!

After wandering Saqsayhuaman for a couple hours, I was wiped and ready to get back to my hostel. I walked down the path to Cusco (which they say that you can walk up to the ruins if you want… only if you’re crazy, in my opinion) and felt like I teleported into the middle of a forest. The walk was beautiful, but if I was going up, my thoughts would have been focused on not passing out.

The path back to Cusco

By the time I reached the bottom, my head was pounding. I’m not sure if it was an altitude-related problem or just a dehydration problem, but I downed some electrolytes and painkillers and flopped on my bed until I felt functional again. Altitude sickness can be a big problem for people going to Cusco from lower altitudes. Cusco is at 11,152 feet of elevation. For comparison’s sake, Denver is at 5,690 feet. People all react to the altitude differently and can range from no symptoms to headaches, dizziness, and vomiting. I thought I was superhuman because I felt fine on my first day. I guess this means there’s a chance that I am only human.

Qorikancha

My plan for Cusco day #2 was ambitious, to say the least. I always make a massive list of things that I’m going to do and then manage to get through MAYBE half of them. I don’t like to rush though. I take as much time as I feel like I need to get a good sense of the place I’m visiting, and if that means I go to less things, so be it.

I was behind schedule from the very beginning, leaving around 9:30AM instead of the 8AM I had planned for. I’ve decided that sticking to morning departure times is the hardest discipline of solo travel. I don’t think I’ve managed to do so successfully yet. If you’re with someone else, at least there’s some motivation to get a move on.

Here’s a bonus… Some Inca skulls. Notice their elongated shape. This resulted from a long process of head binding and shaping that started very young, before the skull was fully developed. It was an indicator of class/social standing.

Anyway, I wanted to visit the ruins outside of Cusco. There are four different ruin areas that are all within like 10 km of the city, but there’s not a well-advertised easy way to get to them. My guidebook mentioned that you could take a bus to the farthest one and then walk back, but that’s still a ton of walking. I decided to give that a try, with the hope that I’d be able to flag down a bus on my way back as well. When I asked at the front desk, the girl seemed skeptical about my plan. That’s fine. I was determined to prove her wrong.

Qorikancha

On my way to the bus stop, I detoured at Qorikancha (kohr-ee-KAHN-cha), a former Inca temple that was converted into a colonial church and convent. Oh yeah, a note about all of these names… they’re all Quechua names, which in my opinion means that they’re even harder to pronounce than Spanish names, plus there are far too many letters. There are also about 500 different spellings that you’ll find, depending on the intended audience of whatever you’re looking at.

A view of the grounds that used to be filled with golden animals and golden corn. Yes, corn stalks

In the old days, the entire temple was covered in gold! There were hundreds of gold sheets covering the walls, and those were all taken and melted down during the Spanish conquests. The temple includes rooms dedicated to the moon, stars, thunder, and rainbows. They had straw roofs originally, so those are obviously gone, but the whole area has been enclosed to make it a building within a building.

The rainbow and thunder temples

The stonework here was amazing as well. Forget the 12-sided stone outside the religious art museum, here there’s a 14-angled stone! It wraps around a couple corners, into a double door jamb, and out on the other side as part of the wall. I should have taken a picture, but honestly it’s impossible to capture in 2-dimensions. Just remember, we have this gigantic stone that’s been cut every which way and then it fits in PERFECTLY with all of the other stones. How did they do it???

Check out those joints!!! No mortar!

The building is a weird mix of architectural styles, with the Inca foundation, the church add-on, and the glass-walled, metal-roofed enclosure over the temple area. There’s also a beautiful garden outside that is, predictably, terraced. The Incas were experts in terracing because so much of their land was in the mountains which means very little level ground for farming. There are terraces EVERYWHERE. The gardens have been kept beautifully, complete with grass so green it might not be real, flowers everywhere, and a bird etched into the grass.

The interior courtyard. I. Love. Interior. Courtyards.

A view of some of the terracing


Bird!


The view isn’t so bad either…


This just screams “secret garden” to me. How pretty!


From the second floor, looking into the courtyard


It’s cool how they put the walkways in, and you can see the metal roof addition too


Inside the church


Okay, that’s all for part 1 of day 2… I’m currently in the town at the base of the mountain where Machu Picchu is located, and I’m going there tomorrow! I’ve obviously planned far too much to accomplish in one day, which means I need to get some good sleep tonight. Luckily, my hostel is right next to a raging river that results in some aggressive all-natural white noise. It sounds like a combination of pouring rain, an air conditioning system running, and wind that might blow the building over.
To be continued!

Bienvenidos a Cuzco!

I know I’ve been silent over the last few days, but no need to worry! I didn’t fall off a cliff or anything. The problem is with the way that I do “vacation”. If I’m somewhere new and am only going to be there for a short time, I jam in as much as possible. It doesn’t matter if I completely wear myself out… I can recover once I’m home, but I can only see these things while I’m here. As you might imagine, that has resulted in two days of run, run, running and then collapse, collapse, collapsing into bed at night.

Last time we talked, it was Thursday night, and I was attempting to stay awake in the Lima airport. I… mostly succeeded. By the time my flight started boarding, I was trying to force my eyes to stay open. I only realized that I fell asleep when I opened my eyes from a “blink” and my kindle was on my lap instead of in my hand. And then that happened about five times.

I don’t even know what happened once we got on the plane because I was asleep the instant I sat down until about 1 minute before landing. I think the flight ended up being longer than scheduled, but for once that was a blessing because it gave me more time to sleep. Total night’s sleep for Thursday-Friday = 2 hours of plane sleep.

You can see Lima to the north on the coast. You can drive from Lima to Cusco, but it takes about a day!

I had some time to collect myself once I got to my hostel, but I knew that I had to keep moving if I wanted to stay awake until a reasonable hour (goal: 7PM). I headed out with the plan of doing a self-guided walking tour to get my bearings. That lasted about 3 blocks until I was persuaded into an inexpensive group tour that was covering a bunch of the places I wanted to go anyway. I figured that it couldn’t hurt to have someone else leading me around for a few hours.

The interior courtyard of the religious museum

Oh yeah… another thing. The tour was in Spanish. Luckily, the guide spoke clearly, and since he knew I wasn’t fluent, he translated some words into English when it was clear that I didn’t know them. I’m generally not a tour person, but the people on the tour were a lot of fun. There were a couple Chileans, a guy from Mexico, one from El Salvador, and a few others. I felt like I was in a cool Spanish-speaking club, and they welcomed me with open arms and extra-slow speaking so that I could understand better.
The whole thing was a whirlwind, so I don’t even know that I can remember everything we did. We went to a religious art museum first which was probably the lowlight of the trip, besides the building itself which was originally “the palace of the sixth inca, Roca” (literally the sixth ruler of the Incas). There were a lot of paintings of the Virgin Mary shaped like a mountain because mountains were important to the indigenous people, so it was like a fusion of Christianity and things that the local people were already familiar with. At least I think that’s what the guide said. Keep in mind that you can maybe only 70% trust any of the information I got from this tour.

Check out those 12 sides! Actually super cool though if you think about trying to fit all of those stones together so precisely

Outside of the museum, there’s a famous 12-sided stone. One of the big things that the Incas are famous for is building structures with huge stones that are perfectly fitted together and have no mortar between them. There are plenty of stories of earthquakes that destroyed tons of buildings in Cusco, but the Incan buildings remained standing because of how the stones are fitted together and the fact that there’s some resistance to horizontal forces, plus they can shift around and just settle back into place afterwards because they’re so perfectly shaped.

Doesn’t it look like something out of a storybook?

The places we visited during the rest of the tour are irrelevant because the view is all I remember. We drove to a church that’s perched up above Cusco and then kept driving past some ruins until we reached Cristo Blanco, a huge Jesus statue that overlooks the city. For the entire drive, we were winding around and around, up and up and getting incredible views of the city and the ruins and the mountains along the way.

Me at the church overlook

We also stopped at an alpaca store where they sell everything from fake hamsters covered in alpaca fur to scarves and rugs. The lady taught us about the differences in how synthetic alpaca, grown up alpaca, and baby alpaca fur feel, so now I’m practically an expert in alpaca-wares. Baby alpaca is the softest and hence the most expensive. Shopkeepers beware… I can’t be fooled into thinking that grown-up alpaca sweater dress is baby alpaca. Ha!

Mystical!

Cristo Blanco was our last stop. I’m beginning to think that every big South American city has a giant, white statue of Jesus overlooking the city, and he’s doing approximately the same pose. This observation is based on 1.) Cristo Blanco in Cusco, 2.) Cristo del Pacífico in Lima, and 3.) Cristo Redentor in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. BUT if there are three, there must be more. I will now add to my bucket list a goal to visit as many giant Jesus statues as possible.

Speaks for itself

The view from Cristo Blanco

Cristo Blanco, Cusco edition

The courtyard at the Inca museum. I am all about interior courtyards.

After the tour, I forced myself to go to one museum on my list (an Inca museum… interesting, but probably not the best choice for keeping myself awake) before allowing myself to return to the hostel, take a hot shower, and collapse into bed at 7PM. The end, Cusco day 1.

Goodbyes and Airport Musings

I don’t know that I’m ever going to get used to this feeling. The feeling of “where did the time go?” and “I feel like I just got here, but now it’s time for me to leave”. How does time always feel like it’s moving quickly or moving slowly? That should be one thing that we can always count on – time moving at the same speed. And yet, how many times in life have you thought, “ah, time is moving exactly as it should”? Probably zero times.

Current state: icicle

This is The Year of the Airports, so it’s fitting that I’m sitting in the Lima airport right now, 8 hours before my flight to Cuzco. Eight hours that will, almost definitely, move slowly. Plenty of time for some airport people-watching (one of my favorite things because I just imagine that everyone is going to or coming from someplace awesome, and how fun is that?!), snack-eating, potentially freezing to death because I’m sitting under an air conditioning vent, and trip-planning the last few details for my day tomorrow. I’m not completely sure how I’m going to make it through the day without falling asleep, but that’s just part of travel, right?
I can’t complain because 1.) I made these plans so there’s no one to blame but myself and 2.) I’m on vacation so complaining is illegal. Realistically, in a couple hours I’ll be too sleepy to complain anyway. Here’s my schedule for the next 24ish hours:

Now: sit at the airport and amuse myself for 4 more hours until I (maybe?) can check in for my flight

2AM: check in and hopefully find a nice place to sleep near the gate

4:50AM: flight departs, hopefully with me on it and not asleep by the gate

6:10AM: flight lands in Cuzco, hopefully after a glorious 1 hour and 20 minutes of plane sleep

The rest of the day: drop stuff at hostel, go on a culture-filled, caffeine-powered sleepwalk through the streets of Cuzco.

When I feel like collapsing (ideally after at least 6PM): go to hostel, check in, be that super cool person who goes to bed at 7PM on a Friday night. Hibernate for 12 hours minimum.

Aside from the inevitable, impending physical exhaustion, I’m feeling a bit mentally drained. Today was great, but it was also filled with goodbyes. Be proud of me though! I didn’t cry at all! Well, except for that one time but it was just a little bit and not really in front of anyone.

After this game, Julie told me that I’m too competitive hahahaha

I woke up and packed/organized until I only had 10 minutes until for worship, so I quickly got ready and walk-jogged there. Afterwards, I had to shower (since I didn’t have time before), and Debbie came in when I was conditioning my hair saying something about the lights in the cafeteria not working and “it’s not urgent but kind of is so you can finish showering but hurry”. Okay… weird.
I got out and got dressed, and the two of us walked back to the cafeteria and into a surprise farewell party! I’ll be honest; I wasn’t COMPLETELY surprised. Debbie’s story was sketchy at best. I didn’t, however, expect a party! The fact that the kids are off from school this week made it possible, and I’m glad because it was so much fun!

Limbo skills

First, we played this game where everyone has a balloon tied to each ankle, and you have to stomp on everyone else’s balloons while protecting your own. No big deal, but I won. Shh ignore the fact that the majority of my opponents were under the age of 12. Really that makes it more impressive because they have better endurance. Next, there was some limbo (I didn’t win…), musical chairs (Debbie won… she’s very strategic), and a cup-stacking game where the kids had to make a cup tower and then carry it across the room. The finale was a race to run to a chair, sit on/pop a balloon, run back, and repeat two more times. Debbie and I were in all-out sprints in the cafeteria. The first round ended in a tie, so we had to do a tie breaker where I edged her out. I’m not convinced that she didn’t let me win since it was my party, but we’ll ignore that.

The balloon display and cards!

The party ended with the presentation of some awesome thank you cards and hugs from each of the kids. It was really sweet. As much as I joke (/am totally serious) about not being a “kid person”, sometimes kids are pretty cool. The rest of the time though…
The afternoon was filled with wrap-up meetings and semi-successful attempts to fit all of my snacks in my bags. Before I knew it, it was 8PM and time to leave (Jim has a flight out tonight too, so I got to hitch a ride to the airport with him). I was happy to be able to mostly sneak out and avoid a million goodbyes. Julie, Debbie, and Tony were all there to see us off.

Cup stack carrying

Saying goodbye was weird but not as dramatic as the goodbyes in Ghana. There, I knew with almost complete certainty that I wasn’t going to see most of those people ever again. Here, I feel like I was just saying a “bye for now” to some friends. I don’t know when or where, but I truly believe that I’ll see them all again. True or not (though I hope it is!), it makes for a much easier goodbye.
Now, I have a week of sightseeing, and I’m super excited! I’m spending some time in Cuzco and am going to Machu Picchu. It’s going to be awesome! I’m just 6 hours away from take-off now. Time to attempt a relocation to a warmer spot, ideally with a nearby outlet.

My snack situation is still solid. I’ve already eaten an apple and some Oreos. Next up, peanut butter sandwich at midnight, maybe some “red fruit” mentos at 1AM, and probably some crackers at 2. Scheduling snacks is the best way to stay awake… I used to do the same thing in college to get through late work nights. Okay, now get some sleep (so I can live vicariously through you), and I’ll see you in Cuzco!

More Weather and Water Shortages

The weather situation here has just gotten worse since the last time I wrote about it. It’s even getting a small nod in the international news, and when that happens for a weather-related event, you know it’s a big deal. Still, they’ve just been tiny shout outs: “MUDSLIDES IN PERU KILL ##, LEAVE ###,### HOMELESS” followed by a three sentence article. HERE and HERE are two of the more substantive ones I’ve seen.

See that brown spot in the ocean? That’s where one of the rivers comes out. The rivers are dumping all sorts of mud and waste and trash into the ocean.

The problems are stemming from the highlands in the northern part of Peru. They’re getting a lot of rain, and all of the water runoff is more than the usual rivers can handle. A bunch of rivers that haven’t seen water in years are getting flooded, and due to some poor planning, their paths are now blocked by roads and houses. Well, I guess they’re not really “blocked”… more like there are roads and houses in the way, but the water doesn’t care and has been just plowing through and causing all sorts of destruction. There’s a ridiculous amount of personal property damage, not to mention the infrastructure damage. At least one major bridge has collapsed which isn’t exactly encouraging.
It’s ironic, but due to the flooding, there are water shortages all over Lima. The water in different parts of the city has been turned off most of the time over the last week because they’re having issues with the water treatment system. People have been buying out all of the water at the grocery stores, and when they did manage to turn some water back on, they had to turn it off again because people were stockpiling and the system couldn’t handle it. There have been scattered power outages too, but as far as I know, water is the biggest problem.

Here’s the previously bone-dry Chilca River. It’s definitely not dry anymore. This is one of the rivers that is running around our water well and making it so we can’t get running water right now. We went to check this out on Friday. You can see a wave coming down the river to the right of the middle of the picture. Those waves just kept on rolling down, as if the water wasn’t running fast enough. The big damp-looking dirt area above that little island was also covered with water just days earlier, but our neighborhood rented a backhoe that has been digging a trench for the river to run down in the hopes that it won’t keep spreading out.

The schools in Lima are closed all week, which includes the schools that our kids go to. We heard that some schools tried to stay open last week after the problems started and got fined for it! The after-school program is suspended until school starts again, but the overnight program is still running. The kids who stay over are just hanging out here all day, playing outside and watching movies and doing activities. It’s kind of like summer school all over again. A few extra kids are staying over this week too, from some families who are really in a tough place or whose parents need to go to work and have no one to stay home.
We’re technically in the Lima province, but we’re way outside of the city. Things are slightly better here, but the people who live around us without running water are struggling too. Usually, there are water trucks that drive around the neighborhoods at somewhat scheduled times, and people who need their water tanks filled flag down the truck and buy water. With the increased demand for water trucks, the water service isn’t nearly as consistent, leaving people with no clue of how long they’ll have to wait for another one to come. We’re lucky here. We have huge water tanks, so we have a much more significant supply than other people. Still, we need to be super careful. The kids’ shower and laundry schedules have been adjusted, and we’re doing everything possible to cut back and conserve.

Things are okay now, but it’s unnerving having such an unknown future. They’re estimating that these flash flooding and mudslide problems will keep cropping up over at least the next two weeks. A lot can happen in two weeks!

I’m leaving here on Thursday to do my week of touristing, and at least at the moment, it sounds like everything is okay in Cusco and around Machu Picchu. They’re more in the southern part of the country, out of the affected zone. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that things stay that way! Or better yet that something changes with the weather and these problems stop altogether.

Princess Day

What a crazy week! I’ve been trying to get as much of the electrical stuff finished as possible, but I’m running out of time, and there’s so much to do! Then yesterday, I gave a presentation to a few of the staff about electricity in general, the electrical system here, and lighting design basics. It was fun getting to share my knowledge and knowing that everyone was actually interested in learning about the things I presented. Debbie translated and did an amazing job. Knowing how to speak Spanish and knowing how to speak construction Spanish are two very different things!

At the beginning of this whole adventure, I thought that it would be nice to have a break from lighting and electrical work. I was adamant that I wanted to do something different. I’ll admit that I have enjoyed growing in other areas, but these last few weeks of electrical work have been much more enjoyable than I would have guessed. It’s nice to know that I do enjoy the field that I spent seven years training/working in because there have definitely been times where I’ve second-guessed my choice. These last couple weeks have pushed me to learn and do new things with my knowledge. I get to walk around and investigate and measure and make real decisions, and I don’t spend all day sitting at a desk. It’s so satisfying to make my brain work on a higher level!

It kind of looks like actual Emma Watson is in this picture.

Today was the beginning of Lara’s Last Weekend of Fun, Peru edition. What could be better than a princess day to start things off? Tony, Debbie, Julie, and I went to see Beauty and the Beast, and it was so good!! We had to go into Lima to find a theatre with Spanish subtitles and English audio rather than a dubbed version, and it was so worth the effort.

Piñata time!

Part two of Princess Day was a 4-year-old’s princess-themed birthday party. During the week when the team was here, we had a translator to help out with things. She is super cool, and we got to spend a lot of time together that week. The birthday party was for her daughter, so it was triply fun because I got to experience a Peruvian birthday party, pretend I was a princess, AND see our friend again!

Purple is definitely her favorite color, and Sofia the First is kind of a big deal.

The party was, as you might imagine, somewhat insane. I’m all hyped up on sugar right now because I basically just ate candy for 3 hours. The party consisted of some games for the kids, lots of sugary snacks, dancing, princess dresses, and a piñata. In other words, it had everything required to be considered a fabulous success. It was funny seeing the kids go from being kind of shy and quiet at the beginning to wild and crazy after they got some sugar pumped into them. Sugar never fails.
In conclusion, life is great, sugar is magical, and every day should be Princess Day.

Weather Chaos

There have been some crazy weather-related things happening here recently. You may recall that I mentioned some “huaicos” (mudslides) a couple weeks ago when we went into Pucusana for dinner. I said that there’s been a lot of rain in the highlands, and as a result, the water levels in the rivers are much higher than they usually are at this time of year. The problem with Pucusana is that the “dried up” river bed that used to serve as an escape path was developed, so the water can’t drain that way anymore. Also, when it re-filled with water, it did damage to the buildings that were built in the river bed, as you might expect. Since the water can’t drain, it overflowed over the road that leads into Pucusana, and I’m not even sure if it’s all cleaned up yet, two weeks later.

A couple of Pucusana throwbacks.. Yes, there is a street underneath that water.

Good thing those light posts are there to show us where the street is supposed to be…

Now, things are getting even crazier. Yesterday, the Chilca River overflowed, flooded parts of Chilca, and ran over the Pan-American! That’s the biggest highway here, and it’s more than just a Peruvian highway. It’s so long that it runs from Canada, through the USA, Mexico, and Central America, to South America where it runs mostly down the western coast to Chile and has a branch that runs into Argentina. There’s an impassable gap between Central and South America, but it’s still an amazing roadway. The point is, this isn’t just some little, 4 lane road. It’s a big deal! And the river flowed over and blocked it! They managed to re-route traffic around the flooding, but the fact that it even happened is blowing everyone’s minds. This isn’t normal.
To make things even more ridiculous, there were MORE huaicos today, north of us. That’s moving into Lima, so now we’re not even talking about the little town of Chilca. This is the capital city! To give you an idea of the craziness of today, we had three people on staff who went up to Lima today, all to do different things. The first person to head home made it with no trouble. The second person, leaving not long after the first, got past the location of huaico #1 before it hit but got stuck behind huaico #2. The third person got completely stuck in Lima, trapped behind both huaicos.

The guy who was stuck in the middle had to just sit in traffic until they figured things out. He said things were a bit chaotic, as one would guess. There are dead animals in the water, and he has videos of people working to save pigs that got stuck. Everyone is so thrown off that I’m not even sure that anyone knows what to do to fix it all.

We’re located in the desert, and since I’ve been here, it has rained probably more than 10 times, and with actual raindrops. The first time it happened, everyone told me that it NEVER rains during the summer, and when it does, it’s more of a mist. Well, it looks like that’s not the case this year. So just think… if we’re getting all of this “never happens” rain, the highlands must be getting dumped on.

To make things even more dramatic, we haven’t been getting water over the last couple weeks. Normally, the water in the town is only turned on at very specific times. They email out a schedule of when there will be water, and we have to turn on our water pump at the scheduled times so that our water tanks get filled as much as possible before it shuts off again. Recently, the water has been off with no word about the schedule, and today we found out that it’s because the well has gotten flooded by the river waters. I don’t know how it all works exactly, but with the way that it’s currently set up, the water can’t be turned back on until the flood goes down. There’s a way to update the well so this won’t happen again, but in order to do the work, the ground has to be dry. So they’re estimating that the water won’t come back on for a few months! We can get water delivered by a water truck, but it definitely makes you think… where’s the water truck getting its water? And what if the same thing happens there that happened to our neighborhood well? Craziness.

Current Emotional State: Complicated

This is my second-to-last weekend at Esperanza de Ana, and today I’m really feeling the weight of that reality. I finally feel like I’m hitting my groove here. I’m part of the team. I have a sense of purpose and play a role in making things run smoothly. I’m getting to know the local staff better, and I’m comfortable with all of them. My Spanish has improved immensely, and I want to invest the time and effort required to take it to the next level. I’m at the point where I feel at home, and now I have to find a way to pull myself away without falling apart.

This is the park we went to. It’s green! And there’s grass! Living in the desert is so depressing, and it’s a nice change to see some vibrant plant life!

I know that I’m the one who planned things this way. I know that I have no one to blame but myself, but that doesn’t change anything or make the transition any easier. I have to keep on my game though. I’ll have my week of solo traveling to sort things out in my head, but after that, it’s back to the US and off to India in the blink of an eye.

This park was no joke… They even had horses! Like probably 15 horses, at least.


You might be wondering what brought on these emotions. I’ve found that reality starts to hit you when people start making plans beyond the time that you’ll be around. Yesterday, we met up with a group of girls from church. The church is doing a “season of small groups” from March-May, and the groups are based on location and common interests. It’s a way to make a big community smaller and give people an actual opportunity to connect. It reminds me of college… it’s a big place with a lot of different people, and where do you even start? You finally start feeling more comfortable once you join a club or two and have a setting where you can narrow down the overwhelming group to a more manageable number of people.

Is a park even really a park without some dinosaurs?


Anyway, Debbie found this group of women who are doing a camping group! Debbie, Julie, Vanessa, and I went to the first meeting at a park in the south of Lima, in Villa el Salvador. There are four other girls in the group, and from first impressions, they’re really cool. We went around the circle and talked a bit about ourselves, and guess what? I spoke Spanish! And not just a few words. And mostly in past tense! When it was my turn, I tried to get them to skip me, but they all said I should just do my best. I talked VERY slowly and one sentence at a time, but they were all so nice about it and looked at me like I was saying things that made sense and not just spouting nonsense. I think I did okay!!

So many trees, and so much shade! I actually felt a little chilled for possibly the first time since I’ve been here.

When they found out that I’m only around for a few more weeks, they started planning a meeting for next weekend where we’ll eat all of the Peruvian foods that I haven’t tried yet. They were all so excited, and it made me simultaneously happy and sad – happy to have met such great people, and sad that I’m only going to know them for a short time. They also started planning some weekend camping trips that sound awesome. I’m glad that Julie and Debbie have this new community and some fresh faces in their lives, but of course there’s a part of me that wishes I could stick around and see things through.

I know you can’t really see in the picture, but just trust me when I say that there are monkeys on that island. Yes, real live monkeys. No, we’re not at a zoo. It’s just a park. And by “just a park” I mean “a bizarre collection of animals, dinosaur replicas, green space, and recreational areas”.

I know that I’m going to hit this point in every one of my trips, but knowing that doesn’t make it any easier when it happens. I just need to enjoy the time I have left, take advantage of every opportunity, and not allow myself to start pushing people away to try to protect myself. I did that a bit at the end of my time in Ghana… I could feel it happening and fought to stop it, but it’s hard to oppose your brain’s self-defense mechanisms.
So I’m conflicted between 1) pretending (in my head) that I’m not leaving and getting hit with an emotional shock when I do and 2) accepting that I’m leaving and fighting through the things my brain and emotions will try to do to distance myself.

Welcome to my brain. It’s a mess in here.

More Electrical Work

Thank goodness it’s Friday because I’m ready for a break! All of the thinking I’ve done this week has taken a toll on me. I know that sounds pathetic, and it’s not like my time here has been mindless. It’s just a different kind of thinking, and one that generally leads to me sitting in a chair for extended periods of time. Yes, it’s kind of like I’m back in an office job. It’s okay though… it might be a weird adjustment back to what feels like a former life, but I’m enjoying the challenge and the brain workout.

My home away from home

Yesterday I actually did spend the entire day at my desk. I did a little more background research and checked out the building plans that they have. The plans aren’t terrible, but after looking at them, I had the feeling that they might not be completely right. That’s how, today, I found myself surveying Building A (I still have to do buildings B and C). I did the easy part this morning. I went through and checked to make sure that the outlets and light fixtures shown on the drawings were actually installed. That part was extra fun because I put my computer in tablet mode, opened the PDFs of the plans, and used my stylus to draw on them. I felt super cool, and I got to use pretty colors. That’s all that’s required to make it a good day… having an excuse to draw with pretty colors.
The brain frying part of the day started after lunch when I looked more closely at the plans and realized that they contradict themselves. The information about what is connected to what is completely wrong. Ugh. That makes this a much bigger job than anticipated, and to do it right, it would take longer than the time I have left. I’ll just have to do my best.

Debbie using three frying pans to make three pancakes at a time.

Now I’m sure you’re bored out of your mind… sorry. The problem is that this is my life right now, so I can’t just make up something more exciting. Probably the most exciting parts of the last two days were dinner yesterday and dinner today. Apparently Thursday nights are pizza and movie nights for the kids! Delia made a bunch of pizzas, and Julie and I helped hand them out and then hid in the kitchen and chowed on the leftovers. Tonight, we made pancakes and slathered them in peanut butter and Nutella. It’s been a healthy couple of days because cheese has calcium, sauce is a vegetable, I needed some carbs to get me through our run this morning, peanut butter has protein, and chocolate is good for your brain. And I skipped dessert BOTH nights!