2 months down

A few quick updates:

1. Good news: there is zumba here! I can dance again! Bad news: it’s at 7 am.

2. More good news: I found bacon. Bad news: it’s not satisfying.

3. I am an independent woman once again. I moved out of my homestay on Saturday and into the house of two Awamaki staff members, where I will stay for the next month or so. It was terribly sad leaving my green bedroom and terrace, and even more depressing leaving Deni and Victor. When I was saying goodbye to them, Victor said to me, “But who will I make jokes with? And who will eat all the eggs?” As much as I miss them, I’m happy to have my own apartment and be able to make my own food (although it was a little bit of a shock when I realized I had to feed myself for the first time in 7 weeks). Now I’m living in Pilco Wasi, about two blocks from the Awamaki office, and have successfully fed myself for five successive days. Our house is affectionately called Casa Wasi House (aka the word house in Spanish, Quechua, and English.)

4. Drank chicha for the first time this week. Liked it. So far no rumblies in my tumbly.

5. Apparently it is a tradition here to sneak into the ruins at the full moon, so a few of us snuck in on Saturday night and again on Monday (Monday was the actual full moon). It was incredibly beautiful and surreal; I have never seen a brighter moon. We hiked up to the temple of the sun and lied on top of the wall of the six monoliths (see pic below):


this is a pic from when Victor gave me and Nicki a tour of the ruins during the daytime – the wall of the six monoliths is this wall of six giant stones that makes up the temple of the sun. Normally it’s roped off, but we climbed on top of it Monday night, stared at the moon and stars, and contemplated the mysteries of life. (Okay, I made up that last part, but it was beautiful and humbling and I loved every second of it).

6. A beautiful rainbow over Pinkuylluna!

rainbow over pinky



La vida en Ollanta

Yachay Wasi

Next week will be our last week at Yachay, because the summer school term is ending, but here is a recap of our days there so far…



Gabriel and Laia, twinsies!


Roger and I play with the animalitos


Weeding the garden. I agreed to this task before realizing that I couldn’t tell the difference between real plants and weeds and ended up destroying a flowerbed.


Samir, my favorite! Especially when he scrunches up his face to smile 🙂

rojer y samir

Samir and Roger, the cutest

roger in wig


Roger tries on wigs


English class!

our classroom

our classroom

teaching english

Me teaching our C class – with Jesus, Giovana, Dario, and Daniel

john teaching english

John with the Espinoza Tinta sisters


Having a dog in Ollanta is a strange thing. People tend to let their dogs come and go as they please and don’t put much stock in grooming them, so there is really very little difference between the street dogs and dogs that actually have a home. The street dogs are usually harmless, and if they ever do show a little bit of aggression you’re supposed to throw a rock at them and they’ll back off. (Seriously. I even found a book in the office from 1980 that said the same thing.)


This is Jack. he is the happiest, sweetest, and smartest dog in Ollanta. He doesn’t really have a home, but floats around and hangs out at the Awamaki office with his GF, Misky (Krissa’s dog). Unlike most of the Ollanta dogs he’s pretty clean and we all love him, and we’re pretty sure that he’s the reincarnated soul of a dead Incan warrior.





Rosie and Jack about to make out

My pup!

choco soda


This is the pup I found/stole for 5 hours, Laqha aka Choco Soda (choco soda are crackers covered in chocolate that John eats all the time.) How could you not love that beautiful little black face??

choco and rob

Choco and Rob take a nap


photos, finally!!!!


so as it turns out, the reason i haven’t been able to upload photos is because they’re too large –  it is not due to our internet, which moves slower than most farm equipment. but tonight rob showed me how to compress them, so I can finally show you guys all the things I’ve been doing for the last six weeks! so here we go!Image


our welcome cake! 


me trying to get tan at the office


my green bedroom!! it’s simple but clean. the bare walls make me feel like i am a buddhist monk in a dorm. 


my terrace!


the patitos (ducklings) that live at my house


my eating house, in old town


the cuys that live at my house


in the same room as the cuys…. what i am assuming is a sacrifice to the gods of the andes. yes those are skulls. and yes those are petrified llama fetuses. 



the view of chaupi calle from my eating house


calle rumi ñahui, with the awamaki office on the left, and mountains beyond!


the other side of the awamaki office… the red bag on that pole means that chicha is sold there (chicha is fermented corn beer that’s made here… i haven’t tried it yet because i’ve heard it’s hell on your stomach) 


you can only see half of it, but that is a giant pile of pig carcasses in kelsey’s kitchen, which her host mom was cooking in their giant oven for a wedding a few weeks ago. 


this is the market, where you can buy everything from fruit to toilet paper to various animal parts. pretty much all you can buy in ollanta you get at the market. 


fruits at the market. here you can find both the largest and smallest avocados i have ever seen!


tiny avocados! 


cactus fruits! oddly enough tuna (the fish) is called atún, and these are called tuna. makes no sense to me. 


view of the plaza de armas


other side of the plaza


and, for my grand finale……


view of ollanta and the mountain beyond, with the inca fortress. maravilloso!


more to come tomorrow!!!!




Cusco, Floods, Rice, and a Puppy

Just when I was starting to settle into a routine here, the weather decided to shake things up a bit. Last weekend started out pretty normal, and ended up a complete fiasco. On Friday we went for a five-hour hike to Pumamarca, a complex of Incan Ruins on top of a nearby mountain in the shape of a puma (pictures forthcoming!). It was a pretty standard hike except for the fact that since it’s been so rainy this month, part of the trail was completely washed out and we basically had to walk in a stream for half an hour, and cross over some other rivers of questionable safety.

Then on Saturday a few of us went to Cusco to hang out, explore the city, buy a few things you can’t get in Ollanta (ie, most things you need in daily life), and go dancing. We had a great time dancing at the discoteca and then at a salsa bar, and then made our way back to Ollanta on Sunday morning. But just in that 24-hour period of our absence, a lot of things happened – heavy rains caused massive flooding of the Patacancha river upstream of Ollanta, devasting a few Quechua communities, some houses along the river here in town, and completely knocking out our power and running water. The river probably rose at least ten feet, bringing a surge of mud and rocks and water into town. A huge portion of the street and riverwalk were completely washed out (some parts very close to my house on Av Ferrocarril), and I heard that our water pipes were completely filled with mud and had to be replaced (aka: we have had no water for five days). It’s been nuts. There has been flooding all over the place, apparently Arequipa is basically one giant river now – but it’s hard to find information, everything here pretty much travels by word of mouth, so there’s been a lot of confusion this week. They brought in trucks of water from Cusco for people to cook with, but no one can shower, so we’ve all just been stewing in our filth waiting for the water to come back on. A few parts of the city got water back this morning, but most are still without. Yesterday I couldn’t take it anymore so Lindsey and I went to Cusco in search of a shower (I hadn’t showered since right after our hike on Friday), and luckily found a hostal that would let us shower for five soles. It was glorrrrious. Then Laura, Awamaki’s programs coordinator, asked us to pick up some rice and cooking oil so that we can carry it up to Patacancha, which got way more damage than Ollanta. Sorry, let me clarify: she asked us to pick up 200 KILOS of rice and additional cooking oil. That’s a lot of freaking rice. Luckily Rob, another Awamaki staff member, was there and helped us out, so we ended up coming back to town with about 350 pounds worth of rice, sugar, oil, and other supplies, after a very scary, heavy car ride.

We’re planning on bringing up the supplies to Patacancha pretty soon, and also helping out with the recovery effort, but everything is still in planning stages right now. I still don’t have water at my house, but the shower in Cusco will hold me over for a few more days. On a side note I found an adorable starving puppy in the street on Monday and took her back to the office with me, but my host dad informed me that she does in fact have a home and I cannot steal her, so I had to set her free. But if she finds me again I’m totally taking her back to the States with me. I already named her Laqha, which means darkness in Quechua, because she is a tiny black ball of cuteness. (pics of her coming soon too!)

Hikes and Treks! (Part 1)


 Mt Pinkuylluna is home to the ruins of the Incan granaries – storehouses where the Incans housed excess crops for storage. Building the storehouses into the side of the mountain kept the crops safe from floods on the valley floor and from any prospective raiders. Winds at the higher altitude probably helped keep the crops dry and prolonged their shelf life. The hike is pretty short – you can reach the main storehouses from old town in about a half hour, but it’s incredibly steep and at some points you can barely discern the path from the surrounding rock. How the Incas carried crops up there I’ll never know. 


the view of pinkyulluna from intiwatana


on our way up…




La Forteleza y Intiwatana 

The Incas seemed to like two things: trapezoids and terracing things. All the doors and windows (they’re not actually windows, but more like alcoves built into the wall for offerings to the gods) are trapezoids, and even the layout of the original city was a trapezoid, with the main plaza situated at the wider, lower end. As for terracing, it seems that the Incas terraced pretty much any slope they could find, which is a lot when you’re in the middle of the mountains. The largest set of terraced fields are adjacent to the temple and fortress, right outside of town. You normally have to pay to get in to see these ruins, but there is a way you can sneak in to the site by trekking through some cornfields and crossing a smallish stream or two. VIctor, my host dad, snuck me and Nicki in to the ruins this way and basically gave us a private tour, because he seems to know everything about this place and how things were in the time of the Incas. He told us how terracing the mountainside actually allowed the Incas to take advantage of the different altitudes and grow different crops at each level. We walked up the stone steps adjacent to the terraces to the main fortress, which also housed a temple, ceremonial baths, and residences. Here is the wall of the six monoliths (six gigantic stones the Incas somehow sanded to a perfect smoothness), which made up the Temple of the Sun, and also slightly lower down is the Temple of the Moon. 


view of ollanta, the fortress, and terraced fields from pinkyulluna


me and victor at the base of the ruins


view of the terraced fields from the fortress


Higher up the mountain, above the fortress and temples, are the Intiwatana ruins. Intiwatana means “sun fastener,” and it is assumed that these structures were at once an astronomical observatory and altar for sacrifices, but it looks suspiciously like a place to hold prisoners. 


me and nicki at intiwatana

From here you can see how the building of Ollantaytambo at this location was no accident – it was strategically positioned at the place where the Patacancha River empties into the Urubamba River, at the crux of these two river valleys, giving its residents access to and control of the mountains to the north (and the jungle beyond), Machu Picchu to the west, and to the rest of the Sacred Valley and Cusco to the south and east. 


view of ollanta from intiwatana – straight ahead is the urubamba valley (sacred valley) and to the left is the patacancha valley. 

next: salineras!


Updates and daily life

My Spanish skills seem to be improving, but there definitely still are times when no one can understand me. This happened the other day when I took Nicki, John, and Rosie back to my homestay and showed them where the cuys live (the guinea pigs). Afterwards I asked Victor if the cuys are afraid of people, because when I tried to pick one up, they all ran away from me making this strange high-pitched warbling noise. But all he said was that the cuys right now are very small, and when they get big and fat it’s time to eat them. Guess I’ll have to come back to that one later.


Fiesta de Bautizo

Saturday night Victor and Deni took me to a party for a baptism – actually, three baptisms in one. It is a tradition in Peru that for a child’s baptism, they get their hair cut for the first time, and then they have a big party and people come and give a gift of money, and in return you get a lot of food and beer. Pretty much all of Deni’s family in Ollanta was there, including Mama Raquel (mi abuelita), who, by the way, was punishing more beer than I was. After a while people started dancing to Huayno, this traditional Andean music. I danced with Deni’s younger brother, and it was actually really fun except for the fact that he is much shorter than me (Peruvians are a very tiny people), and the whole time Deni’s brother in law kept bringing fresh beers for everyone even when we didn’t need them. This morning Mama Raquel came over for breakfast and wasn’t even the slightest bit hungover – I think she is my idol. I may have told her I want to put her in my pocket and take her back to the States with me. Oops. 


Work and Play 

 Here is a rundown of my daily work schedule. Monday and Wednesday mornings John and I go to Yachay Wasi from 9 am until 12:30 or so, playing with the kids and mostly admiring their cuteness. Then we have lunch and head back to the office to lesson plan until our first english class at 6. Then we teach class from 6 to 9 and pretty much pass out right after. Tuesday and Thursday mornings we have our third english class from 10 – 11:30 am, then we lesson plan like crazy again for our computer class at 6, which grew so large that we had to split it in two. Then there are the weekly education meetings and volunteer workshops and a full staff meeting. So needless to say, it’s freakin nuts. We used to go to Yachay Wasi on Friday mornings too, but now we use Fridays for lesson planning, so that the rest of the week isn’t so crazy. On the weekends all of us volunteers will go on hikes and treks, work shifts at the Awamaki store, and hang out at one of the cafes in town to use their internet. We usually go out for drinks on Friday and/or Saturday nights, to the one bar in town, Quechua Bar. In actuality there are 3 bars, but two of them are closed at the moment, so Quechua Bar it is. Mostly we just sit around and drink beer slash mojitos, but we also get to play with the gatitos! (The owners of Quechua bar have a cat, and about two weeks ago, she gave birth to four adorable little kittens, and they are nice enough to let us hold the kitties for a bit while we drink our beer.) Side Note to any future travellers: hangovers increase exponentially in severity the higher up in altitude you go. Beware. 

Soon to come: pics of the hikes and treks around town! 


Mi abuelita

I met my host grandmother the other day, aka my host mom’s mom. She is without a doubt the smallest and cutest person I have ever seen. She wears the typical outfit of old Andean women (minus the bright colors) – knee-length skirt, several layers of sweaters / ponchos, hair in two long black braids, and sun hat. Talking seems to be a huge effort for her and she looks about a thousand years old, but I guess popping out a dozen or so children in between doing hard physical labor will do that to you. The only part of her that seems young is her hair – it’s still incredibly thick and shiny and she doesn’t have a single gray. Last night she stopped by to talk to my host mom and stayed to watch the novela with us (more on that in a minute). She fell asleep after about 5 minutes, and it was the cutest thing ever. I am dying to take her picture, but the last thing on this earth I want to do is offend this woman, so it will have to wait, but the world deserves to see her cuteness, so I’ll try soon. Deni (my host mom) tells me that her grandmother is alive too, and I cannot even IMAGINE how much cuter she will be.


Things with which I have become slightly obsessed

  1. Corazón Valiente (the telenovela my host family watches). I’m totally sucked in, despite the fact that I can only understand about one word in ten.
  2.  Combate, this game show where they have contestants go through crazy obstacle courses and insane challenges / dance-offs. One time the contestants had to play the telephone game while wearing scuba masks. It’s pretty freakin awesome.
  3. Sublime – this candy bar that the Awamaki staff told us about. It’s just chocolate and peanuts (aka a Mr. Goodbar), but I eat two of them pretty much every day.  


La comida

Food here is… interesting. That’s really all I can say about it. One the one hand, everything is fresh and local, and nothing is stored for a very long time, which is great. Most people don’t have refrigerators, and if they do, they don’t refrigerate most things that you or I would. I think part of the reason is that the people here don’t like to eat or drink things that are cold. They don’t drink cold water, only mate (herbal tea), and even beer is served at room temp. Since the water isn’t safe to drink straight from the tap and it’s so chilly at night, most people here agree that putting cold things into your body is guaranteed to make you sick in some form or another. My host family, however, has both a fridge and a freezer, so I think they must be pretty rich in Peruvian terms.


Now, I can eat pretty much anything, but when I am on my own, I pretty much stick to the basic food groups, which I have outlined below:


  1. Cheese
  2. Sandwiches (with cheese)
  3. Breakfast food
  4. Avocados
  5. Bacon
  6. Pierogies (filled with cheese)
  7. Butter
  8. Various fruits and vegetables (usually eaten with cheese)


Clearly I have a very sensible diet. Also, you can see that the common denominator here is cheese. Ironically, the cheese here is amaaaaazing (Libby and Joey – think quesillo from Mexico), but unfortunately my host family doesn’t eat too much of it. As for the rest of my food groups, they have been replaced by starch – most of my meals now consist of rice, potatoes, or corn, or any combination of those three. I do get to eat egg sandwiches pretty often for breakfast, but other than that, I am SOL. Except for the fruit – fruit here is fantastic. Every Tuesday, the fruit truck arrives from Quillabamba (the closest jungle town), bringing fresh oranges, limes, bananas, mangoes, papayas, and plenty more (see below!). On these days my host mom will squeeze me fresh orange juice, and it is absolutely out of this world. The bread is also delicious – every day or two, they will send me to the oven to buy fresh bread. I say oven because that’s really all it is – not a house, not a store, just a door a little ways down from our house with the word horno carved into the molding above it. Through the door there is a giant oven, a man with a long paddle to shovel the tiny loaves in and out, and a girl who takes care of the money. I give her two soles (about 80 cents), and she gives me a bag full of the tiny round loaves. I’d like to get a picture of this place too, but I have a feeling that that would not bode well for my bread-buying capabilities in the future.


the fruit truck from quillabamba!