Sunset over the Pacific

What. A. Week. Practically every evening last week ended the same way. The other girls went to their rooms/to bed at 9:15PM. I tried to stay up to get things done (like my journal or blog posts) and was falling asleep on my computer within half an hour. I would think, “Okay, I’m just going to write one more sentence and then I’ll go to bed,” and then I’d blink and fail to re-open my eyes for at least a full minute. I’d wake up to nonsense sentences typed on my computer, delete them, and start the cycle over again until finally realizing it was hopeless and going to bed.

We had a mission team of 8 people visiting from a church in Illinois. I knew that I was going to have an exhausting week, but I don’t think I realized just how tiring the combination of extra long workdays and spending each day out and about, rather than on my computer in the office, would be. For the week, all building project-related tasks were put on hold, and our attention was entirely focused on the team.

The group with water splashing in front of us
The team (and us) near the Boqueron in Pucusana (pic by David Espinoza)
Birds' eye view of our neighborhood from a nearby mountain
Looking out over our neighborhood. We went for a walk with the team so that they could get some context, and we prayed over our community – for the people, the leaders, the local church, etc.

My mornings started with 7:15AM breakfast prep. Aside from the fact that it means I have to start my day earlier, I don’t mind being in charge of breakfast. It’s not like it’s very mentally taxing. I take out cereal and other breakfast items. I cut a bunch of rolls. I scramble mass quantities of eggs. Not hard. It’s even kind of fun.

Breakfast is at 8, and the team is in charge of clean up at 8:30 (cooking is even better when you don’t have to clean up too!). Community worship is still at 9AM, and after that (usually), we split everyone up and send them off to their service projects for the day. I was responsible for a few painting projects, and it was fun to lead and have a chance to get to know the people on the team.

Selfie with the team
Van selfie on our way to church!
My electrical buddy putting the finishing touches on our outlet
Working on installing an outlet for a ceiling mounted projector

I also got to spend some time helping one of the men from the team who has experience doing electrical work. I was super excited because I’ve been wanting to learn more practical, hands-on electrical, and I got to work with him to install some lights, fans, and an outlet. I also felt useful because the electrical system in Peru is very different from that in the States, and I at least understand how things are supposed to function here. The extra challenge is that things at Esperanza de Ana (and I’m sure in plenty of other buildings across the country) weren’t necessarily wired the way that they’re supposed to be, so every job took like 4x as long as it should because we had to decode the wires first. What a mess. So awesome though!! I finished up installing some lights and a ceiling fan yesterday (since we ran into so many problems that we didn’t get it done last week), and when I turned the building power back on and the lights worked as they should and the fan didn’t blow up, it was such a satisfying moment. It’s awesome to feel fully capable of doing something that has intimidated me for so long (simply because electricity is kind of scary). Maybe I’ll add “electrician” to my list of possible future careers. Orrr maybe I’ll just keep it as a useful side hobby.

The office where we installed new lighting and a ceiling fan
The finished product!

Work on service projects goes from about 10AM – 2PM, lunch is  2:30, and then it’s back to work after recess from 3:30PM – 5:30PM until it’s time to clean up. We have a team leader meeting at 6 to talk about the day’s progress and plan for the next day’s work. Dinner is at 7, and there’s some time afterwards to play games until 8PM when the kids go to bed and we’re finally released to personal time.

It ends up being like a 13-hour day which maybe doesn’t sound so bad, but apparently my body would argue because by about 9PM every night, I was fighting to stay awake.

Massive group picture
The team, the staff, and the kids! What a group! (pic by David Espinoza)

Team weeks also have some bonus fun activities. We went to Pucusana, a nearby beach town, for lunch and a boat ride on the first day the team was here. We saw sea lions, penguins, starfish, a bunch of birds whose names I don’t remember (except for one, the blue-footed boobie, because seeing one is apparently a very exciting), some pelicans (which were almost disconcertingly large), and probably more that I don’t remember. It’s always fun to do something a little different!

The marina from our boat
Pelicans sitting on the roof of a dock
Pelicans on the roof!
A big, concrete building on the coast in the shape of a boat
Houseboat! Except I think it used to be a restaurant. Restaurantboat! (It’s empty now… maybe it’s for sale! If you’ve ever wanted to live on a houseboat, here’s a rock-solid option).
Penguins on bird poop-covered rocks
Penguins! Excuse the pixelation on these pictures. Phone camera zoom strikes again!
Blue-footed boobies standing on the rocks
The blue-footed boobies! You get a gold star if you can spot them (there are two standing next to each other).
Sea lion lounging on the rocks
Sea lion! That position does not look comfortable…
A flock of birds flying out across the water
I don’t think nature photography is my thing… you really have to be ready at any second. I barely snapped a picture of these birds flying away before they were gone, but it would have been way cooler like 5 seconds earlier.
Chocolate ice cream cone
Chilca Day ended with ice cream, so of course I thought it was a good day!

We also spent Thursday morning on an adventure. It was “Chilca Day”. The team goes into Chilca and tries to buy various things that EA needs, armed with nothing but shopping lists (in English), envelopes of money, and whatever language skills they have (anyone with even elementary Spanish is excluded from participation). Julie splits the team into groups, and each group has to wander the streets of Chilca and attempt to find all of the things on the list. This is the only instance where my Spanish skills are considered “too good”, and I’m not allowed to participate. That’s fine with me. I like getting to walk around with a group and experiencing it from a distance, without actually having to stress about where to go or what to say. I’ve done enough of that over the last few years.

My team in a hair products shop
Two of the other members of my shopping team, plus a shopkeeper. If everyone looks confused, it’s because they are. (pic by David Espinoza)
Chilca's Plaza de Armas with its gazebo and the cathedral
The Plaza de Armas in Chilca where we waited for the rest of the team after finishing our shopping day (because we won, obviously).

As exhausting as the week was, I really enjoyed having the team here. It’s fun to have new people around and a different rhythm to the days. It snapped me out of the feeling of monotony that I was slowly sinking into, where each day feels like the last and the weeks simultaneously drag and fly by. I’m also happy to go back to the old rhythm this week… the one that doesn’t have me falling asleep on the couch every night. I have a little tickle in my throat that’s starting to worry me, but hopefully if I take care to go to bed early and drink a lot of water over the next few days, I’ll be able to hold off whatever sickness is trying to catch me. Fingers crossed!

Selfie in Lima's Plaza de Armas
Group selfie during our day in Lima!
Sunset over the Pacific
Saturday’s sunset

I’ve been loving our little weekend adventures! For the last few Saturdays, we’ve been sleeping in, taking some free time in the morning, and then going somewhere and doing something together in the afternoon/evening. It’s the perfect combination of relaxation and adventure so you don’t feel like the whole day was wasted.

Yesterday morning was especially good for me because I finally put my foot down and forced myself to finish the planning for my trip to Machu Picchu. I had been mulling over the train times and other options for days at that point and just needed to decide. My biggest choice was whether I wanted to do an organized trek with a company or just go on my own, and I ultimately decided that it would be better on my own because I’ll be able to go at my pace and do all of the things I want without worrying about a group. After I decided that, I had to pick train times, and that’s complicated because you have to get to the train station in a town that’s about an hour away from Cuzco. I was originally thinking that I would hike Machu Picchu and take a train back that same night, but then I was worried about having to figure out transport back to Cuzco in the dark and by myself. All that worrying finally led me to the conclusion that I should just stay over two nights in the town by Machu Picchu because if the thought of doing it in a day was stressing me out that much, it probably wasn’t right.

In summary, I got my train tickets and Machu Picchu tickets and hostel booking all finished, and I feel a million times more relaxed as a result. Why didn’t I just do it earlier? That’s always the question after you procrastinate something, and somehow, I still haven’t learned my lesson. The answer is, yeah, I probably should have. Now it’s finished though, so we can put that behind us!

See the streetlights? See the street?

Our afternoon adventure was a trip to Pucusana, the same fishing village that we went to when the team was here. The car was being used, so we took public transportation there instead. There is a very similar system here to what they have in Ghana with tro tros. Here they’re called combis (cohm-bee) and the fare collector is a cobrador, rather than a “mate” like in Ghana. Conceptually though, they’re completely the same. Super packed and super cheap. We got a ride to Pucusana for 1 sol (1 USD = about 3.25 soles). It’s usually maybe a 10-15 minute ride, but we hit some traffic because there was a “huaico” (mudslide) last week, and the street is still underwater.

Yeah, there’s a street somewhere under there…

This is the second time in the last few weeks that there’s been a huaico there, and we learned that the problem started because of some bad decisions. There’s a river bed that had been dry “for a while” (I know no specifics), so recently, the land there was developed. Good idea, right? Except there’s been more rain than usual in the highlands this year, and all of that water needs to go somewhere. Instead of just flowing down the river as it would have in the past, it’s been flooding the new developments and overflowing because there’s no path for it to follow anymore. Who knows what is going to be done about it, but it seems clear that something has to change. It’s all politics though, so it could take forever.

Looking towards Pucusana from the top of the hill

Anyway, we eventually made it into town and hiked up a hill to watch the sunset over the ocean. I love the mountains here… the sunset made the sky glow orange in all directions, and the mountains behind Pucusana looked like something from another planet. It was surreal.


Mars mountains

We stuck around for dinner and got a pizza at an Italian restaurant nearby. Weekends are a wonderful break from the rice, rice, and rice that we eat every day during the week. Out of the nine meals that we have prepared for us each week, I’d say at least 7-8 involve rice. I love carbs, and that’s a lot even for me. So yeah, the pizza was a nice change of pace! For dessert, we got picarones (pee-cah-ROH-nays), Peruvian doughnuts made from sweet potato and squash and coated in a syrup that Debbie and Julie said was made with figs (figs are a big deal around here), but who knows. I was definitely a fan of the picarones (it was like eating fried air… yes, I know that doesn’t make sense), but I could have done without the sauce. Maple syrup probably would have been really good on them, or just a sprinkling of powdered sugar. Either way, I would do it again.

My picarones

It was a short adventure but more than worth the trip. We took a combi back to the highway and then went the rest of the way on a moto. The motos are like if you chopped the back wheel off of a motorcycle, connected the front part to a carriage, and stuck a tarp over it. You end up with three-wheeled “taxis” with space for a driver on the motorcycle part and about three full-sized passengers on the bench seat behind them (though three is just the maximum number for a comfortable ride… it seems like ‘as many as you can cram inside’ is the maximum number allowed).

This isn’t a great picture, but you can see some motos on the street

Today was the usual church, grocery shopping, cleaning, and working on my to-do list. Big changes are ahead tomorrow! School starts and with it come the afterschool and overnight programs. Goodbye quiet, kid-less nights. See you next weekend.

Secret beach! El Boquerón. I love the view of the buildings in the background.

Despite losing a Sunday of personal time because of the team’s arrival, today was a great day! Since the team is here, there’s a whole plan of things to do and see to give them a picture of Peru and its culture. They’re all things that I haven’t done yet either, so I’m totally fine with being responsible for a couple more things over the next few days if that means I get to do all of this stuff with them!

Here’s a view looking towards the direction of the ocean. You can’t see through the tunnel from this angle, but it’s a little bit out of frame to the right.

My responsibilities over the next week include making breakfast each day (putting out cereal and milk, making coffee, cutting bread, and scrambling an incredible number of eggs), so I headed to the kitchen around 8:15 to get it ready for 9AM. I can now say that I have scrambled 35 eggs at once! Life skills, right? After breakfast, we had a little community worship where Jim and Tony talked about how they ended up here and Jim gave a mini-sermon. Then, Debbie walked everyone around the property and explained what the ministry does (which yes, I know I still have to write a post about more of the details of that… I’ll do it soon! It’s good that I waited though because I’m still learning more and more about how things work every day).
The coolest part of the day was going into Pucusana for lunch! Pucusana is a fishing village that’s only about a 10 minute drive (if that) from where we live. We had lunch at a restaurant right next to this place where there’s a tunnel through a hill that lets ocean water pass into a little beach area. I liked watching the waves come out of the tunnel, wash over the rocks, and fill the pool that creates what feels like a secret beach (besides the fact that it’s clearly not a secret, but that’s a minor detail).

The cancha (to the left) and lomo saltado (to the right)

For lunch, I had lomo saltado. It’s another typical Peruvian dish and is a beef stir fry served with rice and french fries. The stir fry included beef, onions, tomatoes, and maybe some kind of pepper? I’m not the best at identifying foods, but I think that’s right. They also put out cancha as an appetizer. It’s a popular snack food here and is supposedly similar to corn nuts, but I can’t confirm because I don’t think I’ve ever had corn nuts. It’s definitely not exactly the same though because the corn here is different from the corn at home. It’s called “maiz chulpe” and has massive kernels… like nickel sized probably. The texture of cancha is baffling to me (my mouth can’t figure it out), but I think Debbie nailed it today when she said it’s like inside out popcorn. For the seasoning, I think it usually just is cooked in oil and has salt on it.
Debbie, me, and Julie pre-boat ride

Our post-lunch activity was a boat ride around Pucusana Island. There’s not much happening on the island, people-wise, but there are a bunch of animals hanging out there. We saw sea lions, penguins (!!!), starfish, some birds that I should remember but don’t, and a few other things. We also saw a lot of yachts and rich person vacation houses. There was one that had part of the house next to the bottom of a cliff, another part at the top of the cliff, and an elevator connecting the two. There are also a few beaches which were completely packed. I’m really glad that I got to go on the boat ride. It was interesting getting to see everything from the water!

Sea lions napping in the sun

How cool!!!
On the right side, you can see the house I was talking about with the elevator!
More houses in the hills.
This person has some serious landscaping… A speck of green in a sea of brown, brown, brown. It looks like it got plucked out of somewhere else and plopped down here.
Boat gas station!

When we got back, I spent some time attempting to build a practice robot for our class (let’s just say it’s still a work in progress) before Julie and I had to get dinner ready. We made pasta salad for the team, and I was totally lost. “Pasta salad” isn’t even in my vocabulary. Why would you take the perfection that is pasta and sully its reputation by associating it with something like salad?? Sorry, side rant. Anyway, like I said, pasta salad = not really my thing, but I think it turned out fine (thanks to Julie and her exceptional dicing skills). At least all I have to make for the rest of the week is more scrambled eggs! That’s something I can handle.