Tag: plaza

Vacaciones

I spent my Christmas and New Year’s Huancaino-style with my Peruvian family and the rest of my vacation days travelling across the country from the beaches on the coast to jungle of the rainforest.

First stop before Christmas – Lima. As winter and the rainy season began in Huancayo (and the rest of the sierra), it was nice to escape to the summer that was starting in Lima and the coast of Peru. I managed to fit in all things tourist-y in Peru’s capital in a week:

  1. We suntanned, climbed rock formations, hunted lizards, and jumped into the waves at a serene beach a few hours away from the big city – “The Sleeping Lion” they call it because of the shape of the rock castle that borders the sand.
  2. We shopped in downtown Lima, walking up and down the famous street “Jirón de La Unión” that reaches from the main plaza to the government’s palace, drinking cremoladas (slushies you can’t find in Huancayo) and purchasing all the manta bags in sight – I think I have a collection of over 7 purses now, haha! On the last day we were in Lima, we even caught the beginning of Peru’s yearly telethon at the government’s palace with all the country’s famous celebrities performing to raise money for needy children at Christmastime.
  3. I was denied at some hostels because I forgot my passport and they wouldn’t accept my BC driver’s license. =P
  4. I finally had some really good snacks and meals – soft cinnamon buns with extra melting cream, real chunky cookies, Tony Roma’s ribs, and sushi (all also non-existent in Huancayo – been feeling deprived =P).
  5. We visited Parque de Las Leyendas (Park of Legends), which was like a themed zoo. There were native animals from all corners of Peru and some not from here (my favourites were the sea lions =D).
  6. We also visited La Casa de Papá Noel (Santa Claus’ house) at the Parque de La Reserva where there are light and water shows in the evenings. Actually, it was more like we saw Santa Claus’ house from the outside because the line-up was 3 hours long.

Christmastime was very family-oriented and although the holidays make me sentimental and a little homesick, my Peruvian family made me feel so at home here in Huancayo. My Peruvian mommy cooked a special dinner of pork chop and chorizo then we opened presents at midnight of Christmas Eve – all the presents were set up in a circle and we rolled the dice to choose which present would be opened next.

On Christmas day, we were off to the rainforest to the towns of La Merced and Pichanaki. Most days we visited different swimming pools, chicken-fighting, trying to teach myself how to dive headfirst (a failure), and playing water polo. There was one afternoon we visited a pair of famous waterfalls – Bayoz and Velo de Novia (bride’s veil) – swimming underneath the falls themselves. On the way back to Huancayo, we visited some other tourist sites in the sierra including Huagapo (apparently, one of the deepest caves in the world). We didn’t walk in very far because I had sandals on, but what we did walk into was in complete darkness. Our guide used his flashlight so we could find our way, all of us holding hands, and so that we could see the bats and all the stalagmites and stalactites that have naturally formed themselves into interesting shapes (like a seated horse and a roaring lion).

New Year’s Eve was a fiasco. A whole bunch of relatives came over for a huge dinner and nonstop dancing (mostly huayno – music native to the sierra). The theme is all yellow, which is supposed to bring good luck – yellow “2009” glasses, yellow “Feliz Año” hats, yellow clothes, yellow underwear. Come midnight, there are a series of rituals that I wouldn’t have remembered if they weren’t all telling me what to do – yellow confetti is thrown, we greet each person at the party with a hug and “Feliz Año,” we put lentils in our wallets for prosperity, we eat 12 grapes and make a wish on each one of them, then of course – more dancing. I went to bed at the late hour of 1:30am and when I woke up at 9:30am that morning, the music was still pounding downstairs and people were still dancing!

Note re: living fungal parasite. So they were mites that caused the little bug bites all over my body every evening – I just had to use an anti-scabies cream then wash my sheets and all was well. As for the rash – I had a biopsy and from the lab results it was diagnosed as chronic discoid lupus (which, to me, actually sounds sorta cool). I’m waiting for the pictures of the lab results so that I can bring them to Canada and get a second opinion. The cream he prescribed for lupus didn’t make the rash any better and he’s suggesting a corticoid injection, which I would rather have done in Canada. =P

First Taste

You will not believe where I am and what I am currently doing. I am sitting in what I like to call my dream suite. I am on the sixth floor of what used to be a glamorous hotel, now converted into a less glamorous hostel yet still classic and filled with character. I am in the middle of downtown Santiago, Chile. But it seems like Europe and now I have a real taste of the way Europe has been described to me. The city as I’ve experienced it so far is incessantly busy, filled with pedestrians, lights, and action.

El Departamento de Ensueño
Santiago was a beautiful city and it all started in this suite.
I stand at my balcony, looking down into the grand Plaza de Armas and I see the sidewalk cafés where I can relax and watch the people traffic go by. I see an assembly of goths in their self-designated section of downtown, men playing chess in the gazebo, a crowd gathering around a street entertainer, and everyone else milling about. I still hear the random “chinita”, but also loud music, the deep and hollow bongs of the grandfather clock, and the chileño accent that i have such a difficult time understanding because they drop a lot of their S’s!

Oh, the chilenos… I have never seen so many different kinds of unique faces and of those, so many that have so much character, that spike the curiosity, that can tell a story with a single expression. If i had to base it on the people I’ve been observing – on these first impressions – I wouldn’t be able to describe to you a typical chileno. I can’t even begin to.

But really, I could and would prefer to stay here in my hostel for the rest of the long weekend and beyond. It’s like a honeymoon deluxe, beautifully decorated, lots of glass = lots of light, plants/greens for freshness, high ceilings, antique furniture, classic books on the shelf, a fully-functioning yet quaint kitchen. A lady comes in to lay out a buffet on the dining table every morning for breakfast just for the three of us (Mike, Maria, and I). When we arrived, there was toast, a variety of marmelades, various flavours of tea for every mood imaginable, eggs, fruits, milk.

Then there’s the private balcony that has the most amazing view of downtown Santiago – far enough up on the sixth floor to get the big picture, but close enough to the earth to be able to distinguish inidviduals chatting, kissing, hugging, waving, being. I could stand there on the balcony all day and just daydream. In fact, I could just be here in this hostel all day, curled up by one of the electric heaters and reading a classic. Or dragging an electric heater over to the computer and writing blog entries. Or taking a long, relaxing, and more importantly hot shower (the first time in months), staring up at the sky through the glass opening above.

I am so glad that I decided to travel.

Culture Shock

A good friend e-mailed and asked: ” What has been the biggest culture shock that you have experienced so far?” and I had to think about that one…

Plaza Constitución
The grand ark in the main plaza of Huancayo.
I have to admit that I first tried to address “culture shock” in terms of trauma and anxiety – and I’ve had my share of struggles! – but really, the biggest “shock” in moving here has been very positive. I would say I’ve been most pleasantly surprised by the wealth of culture and history here. Being in the Central Andes gives me access to the Inca civilization at its core (e.g., one of the main streets through the city was once part of the Inca trail), but I also love the diversity here from Peru’s rich history before and after the Incas and from the country’s geography – the Andes seem to be like a mixing pot as the sierra is flanked by the coast to the west of Peru and the Amazon rainforest to the east. Many of the people here in Huancayo, for example, consider themselves mestizo (of mixed descent). Not to mention all the people who look like gringos (foreigners) to me, but are actually Peruvians descended from the Spanish, and all the Chinese and Japanese looking-people who have also lived here for generations. In fact, Rik, the director of my NGO, is in the Amazon right now visiting a rural community whose members all have blonde hair because their ancestors came from Germany centuries ago!

I’m ashamed to say that if I had done more research on Peru and South America, this culture shock would probably have been much less potent. At the same time, because I’m jumping with a near-blank slate, I’ve noticed that my eyes are open a lot wider, my attitude is fresher, and I’ve been able to connect more with so many people who are excited to teach me about their country (the Huancainos are so friendly!)

The Plaza Constitución is only a couple blocks away from the apartment and I love sitting there, in the centre of the city, seeing people come and go, imagining their stories. And I think of how lucky I am to be here and how my own story is unfolding.

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