Peru: Week Two Update

30 05 2009
Papa Relleno Plate

Papa Relleno Plate



Q'endo, an Incan Ruin

Q'endo, an Incan Ruin

Week two has been great. Fortunately, I have remained quite healthy. A girl in my house was hospitalized for three days because she had e. coli and giardia. Another person in my Spanish class was hospitalized due to giardia and salmonella. Needless to say, I’m happy to be feeling fine.

Below are some observations and highlights from this week.

Spanish Class and Talking with Peruvians

I am continuing loving my Spanish classes. They are so helpful and inexpensive, and before I know it, it has already  been two hours and the class is over. We have our first test on Monday!

I’ve been making friends with some of the Peruvian students at Maximo Nivel. It’s been nice talking to them in Spanish, and one of them told me I had a good accent. I find myself understanding more and more each day. So exciting!


Construction work has been fun, but I am going to talk to someone soon about switching to a different project. I  prefer to have more face-to-face interaction. I have heard very good things about a child daycare center about 40 minutes outside of Cusco, and I want to volunteer there.

The children come from families who cannot take care of them but do not want to give them up for adoption. From what I  hear, these kids are very underprivileged (little to no food and sanitation at home). I’d love to see how I can help and even maybe hold a fundraiser if possible.

New Food

My project leader at work, Marco, took me and a couple other volunteers to a hole-in-the-wall restaurant for a quick bite to eat before my Spanish class. I asked him to take me somewhere that was fast and cheap. He didn’t disappoint.

We sat down and he ordered four papas rellenos. Basically, a papa relleno is a deep fried stuffed potato. Inside the potato was a hard-boiled egg and veggies. The plate came with a side of Peruvian fried rice, cucumbers, tomatoes and spicy sauce and mayonnaise. Definitely not the healthiest lunch, but it was tasty, and it was under $1!

Nightlife and Taxis

As I adjust to the altitude, drinking isn’t so hard on my head. As long as I intake lots of water when I drink alcohol, I’m fine.

I went to the artsy neighborhood of San Blas last night, where I listened to live music at a hipster bar. It was fantastic, and the mojitos were only $2!

Everywhere I go, taxis beep at me. Since I’m a “gringo,” they assume I need a taxi. Sometimes they even stop and roll down the window and ask me if I need one. It can get a bit obnoxious. The drivers also think they can overcharge because they think I don’t know any better. However, I know how much a taxi ride costs, so when they hassle me, I just get out.

Music and Colors

I love the music here. There’s salsa, samba, reggaeton and mainstream music. People are always playing music, whether it be on the radio, in a house, in a bar or restaurant or on the street. I wish I could somehow update my ipod with all the new music I’m hearing!

I’ve also been noticing the colors on some of the houses. I really like the bright, bold colors because they make everything seem so alive. Today I saw a house where the door was painted green and the rest was blue and yellow.  My future dream house will have colors.

Incan Sites Near Cusco

Today, I did a lot of walking. I walked to some old Incan ruins right outside of the city. I was so amazed by the huge old boulders stacked on top of each other and the zigzagged walls at Saqsaywaman (Satisfied Falcon in English). Many tourists call it “sexy woman,” which I find very funny. Make sure to take a look at my pics.

River Rafting

I’m going river rafting tomorrow with four other volunteers! I’m sure it’ll be a blast.

Chao for now! Call me on skype!

El Valle Sagrado (The Sacred Valley)

25 05 2009

I took my first trip out of Cusco to the Sacred Valley on Sunday. Once out of the city, I felt like I was in a completely different world. The landscape was beautiful, and it didn´t smell like car exhaust!

The Sacred Valley is only a short distance outside of Cusco, and it has several incredible ancient Incan ruins.

Not only was the architecture amazing (They used four different techniques for building), but what really amazed me was how they were able to build their fortresses on such steep mountains.

At the end of the day, women dressed in traditional garb demonstrated how the natives make clothes out of Alpaca. They use seeds and natural elements to dye the clothing. I bought a really warm reversible beanie.

Finally, we visited an old church built in the 1600s. It was full of old paintings and ornate decorations. All in all, it was a long but  great day. I slept very well last night!

Incan ruins!

Incan ruins!

Children in traditional clothing

Children in traditional clothing

Peru – Week One In Review

25 05 2009

This is going to be a long post, but I´m dividing it into sections, so hopefully it´s easier to read. I have so much to say, but I´m sure I´m forgetting to include some things as well.

My pictures take forever to upload. They´re uploading as I write this, so just visit my pictures tab to take a look at the new ones. Hopefully they´ll be done within a couple hours after I post this.

Cusco in General

After being here for about week, the words that come to mind right now are simplistic, authentic, inexpensive, real, poor and dirty. The streets either smell like dog urine or car exhaust. Usually the car exhaust overpowers anything that might smell remotely good.  Clearly, there are no emissions standards here.

There are lots of street vendors selling food ranging from candy to cooked eggs to knitted hats. Pollerias (chicken restaurants) seem to be very common here. I have yet to try one, but I am sure I will.

I was struck by how much poverty there is here. I had no idea it would be this bad. For example, a few volunteers who live in my house work at a clinic for mentally and physically disabled children. The diapers get changed once a day, and there is only one sponge to clean the children after they soil themselves. The thought of using the same sponge for all of the children literally makes me want to puke.

Cusco itself is quite dirty, but 0nce you get out of the city, the countryside is beautiful. Fortunately, it´s easy to take day trips.

The Climate

It´s cold and dry here. I struggle to get out of bed each morning because it´s cold in our house! Thankfully, I brought my thermals. Once I start walking outside, it´s not so bad. It´s nice in the sun but cold in the shade, a little bit like San Francisco without the rain and more sun.

You can really feel the effects of the altitude here. I get winded just going up thirty steps. My friends who are runners tried running and didn´t get very far before they had to stop.


Peru is so cheap!!! There are street vendors and markets with authentic Peruvian items everywhere. I bought some really cool earrings and a warm reversible Alpaca hat for low prices. It´s also fun to bargain.

As for trendy clothes, Cusco has trendy stores too. You can´t bargain there, but they´re still cheaper than in the U.S.

Construction Work

I´m working with several other volunteers to help build a battered women´s shelter. The guy in charge is Marco, who is very dedicated and speaks very little English. Marco has a radio at the worksite, so we all listen to music when we work.

We´re painting, plastering, lifting and cleaning with VERY antiquated equipment. The other day, I stood on an unstable scaffolding six feet in the air to do final touches on the wall (Pictures to come soon!). It was pretty scary at first because all I was standing on was a 10-inch piece of wood!

My pants got incredibly dirty. Surprisingly, the lavanderia (laundry place) was able to get out most of the paint stains. Did I mention they washed, ironed and folded my laundry for $1.25?

Food and Drinks

I feel like I´ve won the volunteering lottery with my food situation. We have cooks who make us delicious meals three times a day.  Lunch and dinner almost always has some sort of rice, patatoes or noodles. Our cook, Rodolfo,  used to cook for a prestigious restuarant near Machu Picchu.

I´ve been talking to him and the rest of the staff every day to help improve my Spanish. They were so excited to see my pics of friends and family, especially Eliza!

I did happen to venture out to a restaurant overlooking the main plaza, and I tried some ceviche and a Pisco Sour. Both were delicious. I still have mixed feelings about trying cuy (guinea pig). I saw some live ones in a pen yesterday, and they´re just so cute that it´s hard to imagine eating them!

The altitude really affects me when I drink. I only had three drinks a couple days ago, and I had a splitting headache the next day. It´s very important to stay hydrated here. I honestly don´t think I´m going to be drinking very much alcohol here.

Stores here sell lots of the same food as in the U.S. The ¨supermarket¨even sells macaroni and cheese. I can´t seem to find any healthy snacks except fruit.

Living Quarters

The family house feels a little bit like a mix between a hostel, university dorms and home all mixed into one. We had people over a few days ago, and three of them said that it reminded them of a house that would be on the MTV show ¨The Real World.¨

The water gets turned off usually sometime between 9 and 10 every night, so if we want to take a shower, we´re out of luck. Since the water is off at night, the toilets don´t flush. Let´s just say I came home to some really nasty toilets the other night.

The People

For the most part, the people here are very friendly. My tandem exchange partner helped me buy my cell phone because the vendors were talking really fast, and I didn´t understand them.

I find Peruvian women more attractive than Peruvian men. Most people are darker-skinned and short. Actually, I feel taller than most people.

We have to be careful everywhere because there are pickpocketters and people who bug you incessantly to buy their products, including small children.

Night Life

The night life is really fun here. The clubs and bars are open until about 5am. There´s salsa dancing in many places, which I am determined to learn. Some Peruvians were trying to teach me the other night. Maximo Nivel offers free salsa lessons every Saturday.

There are also typical tourist bars where tourists will often get free drinks. Those are fun too. They play good dance music, but foreigners mainly frequent these bars.

One bar has an English trivia night twice a week. I think I may go this week or next week because people from the program seem to really enjoy it.

Health and Sanitation

More than half the people in my house have gotten sick already, mostly with stomach/digestion issues and altitude-related problems. For many, the ¨Gringo¨stomach does not do well up here. I haven´t had any problems yet.

I am a little sick right now with a sore throat and congestion. I´ve been around a ton of sick volunteers, so I guess I had it coming. My fellow house mates have been super nice and have been offering me different remedies they brought. One remedy was liquid oregano– Wow, that stuff is potent! It´s probably one of the nastiest liquids I´ve put in my mouth, but I started to feel better after taking a few drops.

Side Trips

My first side trip was the Sacred Valley. I´ll elaborate more on this in my next post. Basically, I saw a bunch of incredible Incan ruins.

My next side trip will be Lake Titicaca in two weeks perhaps. I´ve only heard great things about this trip, and you can go for a really cheap price.

I´ll probably go to the jungle at some point too. Of couse, Machu Picchu is on the list.

Other cool day trips are river rafting, mountain biking, hiking and horseback riding.

Stay tuned for my next post on the Sacred Valley and the pics!

Painting up high!

Painting up high!

Plaza de Armas at night

Plaza de Armas at night

New Peruvian Phone Number

20 05 2009

I think I finally worked out my cell phone problem, I hope! It was a struggle buying a cell phone and going to the calling card place. My new phone number is +51 (or 051) 084 984 038588. I still may have trouble calling U.S. phone numbers, but you can call this number on Skype!

I´m usually free after 2pm PST. Hasta luego!

Peru: The First Couple of Days

18 05 2009
View from Plaza de Armas, the Main Square

View from Plaza de Armas, the Main Square

The Family House

The Family House

There´s lots going on right now, but I´ll start from the beginning.

The Flights

The flight from LAX to Lima was great. I sat next to a Peruvian man named Jorge who lives in California and was going back to visit his family. His English wasn´t very good, so I got to practice my Spanish a little bit before my arrival. We exchanged emails at the end of the flight. In front of me was another volunteer named Becky in my program who was going to Cusco as well.

After going through customs, Becky and I got some food at 1am and waited around/tried to sleep until our next flight left at 5:30am. During our wait, we met more volunteers. Turns out that our flight got cancelled due to major fog in the Lima airport. (By the way, the Lima airport is a lot nicer than I expected.) We were put on another flight, but we couldn´t leave until the fog cleared up several hours later. Let´s just say that I was really tired after over 24 hours of traveling.

The Arrival

After arriving in Cusco, I couldn´t find one of my bags in baggage claim. It finally showed up right before I was about to file a claim with the airline. Several volunteers lost their luggage, including my roommate. So happy it wasn´t me!

The Maximo Nivel staff picked us up from the airport and drove us to our homes. I´m living in a ¨family house,¨which means I live with about 10 to 11 volunteers. There are several bathrooms and several bedrooms, and it´s pretty nice since it´s newly renovated. Unfortunately, I am living in a triple, so I have two roommates. Apparently, I could have paid extra to live in a single, but I had no idea about that before. I can´t change anymore because everything is booked. Nonetheless, everyone is friendly and the beds are comfy.

There are housekeepers and cooks in the house, so I get very good food every day. Last night, they cooked a great meal of chicken and sauce with rice. On the side was a salad with beets and potatoes. Since everyone speaks English in the house except the cooks and housekeepers, I´m going to make an effort to talk to them to improve my Spanish.

Volunteer Work and Speaking Spanish

Our orientation was today, and I got placed in the construction program. I start tomorrow at 8:30am. I won´t do construction the whole time because I want to split my time doing different projects, perhaps teaching English or working in an orphanage. Maximo Nivel offers an intense TEFL program, where I would pay extra to get certified in teaching English. I am thinking about doing this, but it´s pricey.

After orientation, I took a Spanish placement test because I decided to sign up for Spanish classes. I was placed in the intermediate class, and I had my first lesson today. It was great! It´s with two other volunteers and the teacher, and we spoke Spanish the whole time. I have this class every week day for two hours. I also signed up to do a ¨tandem exchange¨where I talk in Spanish to someone and he/she talks to me in English. This starts tomorrow and wil be every day.

Going Out

I may go out tonight with some other volunteers. The night life is supposed to be very fun. People can wear whatever they want– some people wear jeans and a t-shirt and other get a little more dressy. Stay tuned!

P.S. Excuse any typos. This computer is set in Spanish, so it doesn´t auto correct. Took me forever to upload pics! Oh, and my Peruvian phone number is 084 984 037033. I think 084 might be the Cusco code, but I´m not sure. The country code might be 51. Try and call me from skype! It´s hard to call out using my cell phone.

My Sister’s Wardrobe Just Doubled

15 05 2009
Ready to go!

Ready to go!

My twin sister Eliza’s wardrobe just doubled. How? I’m leaving behind a ton of clothes. I spent three days packing (and re-packing) until I whittled down my belongings to one suitcase, one large carry-on backpack and one small backpack. And guess what? There’s room to spare! Considering I overpack for every trip, this is quite a feat.

What’s hard about packing for my South American adventure is that I’m going to experience all different kinds of weather– rainy, sunny, cold, hot and humid. Thus, I have packed only the essentials (plus a few extra pieces of clothing). 

This is my last post before I leave. My flight is scheduled to depart on Saturday, May 16 at 1:50 PM. I’ll arrive in Lima around 1 AM (11 PM California time), where I will go through customs and stay up all night until my flight to Cusco departs at 5:30 AM (3:30 AM California time). If my flights are on time, I will arrive in Cusco around 6:45 AM (4:45 AM California time). I may have to order some coffee during the tail end of the flight!

The past three weeks back home in Southern California were just what I needed to gear myself up for what lies ahead. I’d like to thank everyone who has supported me in my decision to travel. It feels great knowing that people are behind me. A few shades darker from soaking in the sun, I’m happy to have spent my time with family and friends. What a great send-off! Enjoy the clothes, Eliza!

Facts About Peru and Cusco

15 05 2009

Below are a few random facts about Peru and the city of Cusco:

  1. The Peruvian currency is the Sole. One U.S. dollar is equal to about three Peruvian Soles. 
  2. The time in Peru is two hours ahead of California time. 
  3. My program (IVHQ) partners with a local NGO called Maximo Nivel. The organization assists local Peruvian communities to develop through the establishment of programs nationwide that benefit the most number of people.
  4. Lonely Planet fact: Cusco was once the foremost city of the Inca empire and is now the undisputed archaeological capital of the Americas, as well as the continent’s oldest continuously inhabited city.
  5. Temperatures in Cusco will be mild, with the lows in the 30s and the highs in the 60s. May-October is the dry season. 
  6. The altitude in Cusco is at 11,000 feet. People often get altitude sickness when they come here. Mate de coca (coca -leaf tea) is said to help curb the syptoms of altitude sickness. No, you do not get high from it. I have altitude sickness pills on hand in case I get sick. 
  7. I’ll be in Peru for three of their holidays:
  • June 29: St. Peter’s and St. Paul’s Day
  • July 28-29: Independence Day Celebrations
  • August 30: St. Rosa of Lima Day
Map of Peru (Taken from Lonely Planet)

Map of Peru (taken from Lonely Planet)

“Cinco de Crispo”

8 05 2009

What do unusually warm temperatures, dry conditions and ocean breezes mean? Answer: Great beach weather. What else? The perfect recipe for fires. As I spent my Cinco (and seis) de Mayo  in Santa Barbara, it quickly became “Cinco de Crispo,” an appropriate term coined by my Santa Barbarian friend.

The fire seemed tame while I hopped from beach to beach in the unusually warm weather. Then, the winds picked up, and the once under-control blaze became out of hand in a matter of minutes.  With erratic winds gusting up to 60-65 miles per hour and temperatures reaching the high 90s, custom-built homes burned and people evacuated. Governor Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency. 

The fire is still burning, and some citizens of beautiful Santa Barbara are probably getting little sleep. However, one point that rings true is that people come together in times of crisis. If there’s one positive outcome from the fire, it’s the fact that people are supporting each other. I hope that those affected by the fire are okay, and I wish them all the best in the recovery process.

Farewell San Francisco

4 05 2009


Alamo Square

Alamo Square

I moved out of San Francisco ten days ago. Living in the city was a great experience, and I’m hoping to be back one day. I met some amazing people, maneuvered my way around on public transportation and learned a great deal about myself and the city. I had been to SF several times before I moved there, but visiting is much different than actually living there. What I love most about San Francisco is its beauty and diversity. 


The hills provide great views of both the city and the bay. And I love how there are so many distinct neighborhoods, each one with a completely different feel. 

Although I will not miss the weather, I will certainly miss my friends, walks in Golden Gate Park, Dolores Park, hanging out on rooftops, the beautiful beaches, admiring the Pacific Heights mansions, the sunny days when everyone is outside, the street parades, the nightlife, and yes, even the sound of the Muni buses saying “Please hold on.”