Wednesday, March 27, 2013


Have you ever felt so blessed that you just cannot stop smiling? This week I have had so many of those moments; I have un sinfín (an endless amount; literally “without end”) to be grateful for.
As I view relationships to be at the core of humanity, I give thanks for the many beautiful conversations I’ve had with some very special people this week—Americans, Peruvians, Internationals, friends and family. God has blessed me with some amazing people in my life.
Moreover, I was able to get all of the classes I wanted despite the disorganized system. We arrived at the school at 6:20am to get a favorable spot in line for the first-come first-serve matriculation process. After an hour of waiting, we received a number. And after another 2 hours of waiting, we were herded into waiting rooms where we waited at least another hour. With everyone stressed about the possibility of there not being enough space in the classes they wanted to register for, the anxiety increased when the organizers essentially nullified the number system by calling people to register based upon faculty (or specialty school) instead of by their number. I was lucky that my classes still had space by the time I arrived at the front of the line, but many others were not as fortunate. Breathing easily now, I can smile at that gift.
Another happiness was this weekend! Time was well spent with our Peruvian architect friends, eating dinner with them and laughing until our faces hurt. Also, Friday night was “El Clásico,” the rival game between Peru and its arch-nemesis Chile, which every Peruvian told me that we were going to lose because that always happens. Nonetheless, the country was glued to the game, rooting for not only for its team to win a soccer match, but also hoping for the glory of defeating its most hated rival. And to everyone’s surprise and great happiness, Peru won! What a celebration!
The next evening I went to a fiesta thrown by our Mexican friends for many of us international students. They grilled and prepared Mexican food for us, taught us their party traditions, and introduced us to their style of dancing. To keep the fun going, we went to a discoteca by the beach to dance through the night. Since I and many others had only planned on going to the cook-out, we were dressed very casually in comparison to the long line of Peruvians in their nice suits, dresses, and high heels waiting outside the club. I thought there was no way they would let us in because discotecas here often require a minimum level of dressiness. But one of the people in our group had a connection at the club, so we said his name, bypassed the line completely, and went into the club way underdressed. It felt like something in a movie. And then we danced! ¡Hola salsa! Swirling lights, swirling songs, swirling bodies. So much fun!
After the weekend fun, I have been trying to finally get more settled now that I have a fixed class schedule. Part of the fun of being at a different university is seeking out a niche, that corner of campus where you can think and read and study without distraction, that little place you make your home during the day. I still haven’t found my definite niche yet, but I have some ideas. Here are some photos of campus, a well-groomed oasis amid a noisy city.

The main entrance, as seen from inside the university

"El tontondromo" is this pathway. It's name is based on "tonto" ("stupid") because it is the main path where people walk when they aren't in class, so they're passing time not doing anything, not using their brains.

The chapel on campus

The view from the top of my faculty; partly campus, partly Lima, mountains in the background.

The courtyard of my main facutly, "Letras y Ciencias Humanas"

Un "Bambi"

This building is the"Tinkuy," which means "to get together" in Quechua.
A possible niche...

"The poetry of the earth is never dead." ~John Keats
A beautiful sunset for students to admire

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Starting Off

First off, as promised, here are some pictures of us at Machu Picchu…on such a rainy day. Very attractive ponchos!

After four days of hiking, we were elated to finally be at MP!

This week we finally started classes, and it feels so good to be in school again. The international students have the fortune to use this first week as a trial period of sorts, in which we can select an array of classes that interest us, and we can try them out without having to be registered yet. I have tried out 8 classes, but I will end up enrolling in only three—Phonology, Syntax, and Peruvian Social Reality. The professors for those three are all great teachers, interesting, and engaging. So excited to be here!
Last week was welcome week, and what a warm welcome it was. Under the bright Lima sun, about 200 international students gathered on the PUCP campus, all abuzz with the excitement of our initiation into our host university. Deer, here affectionately referred to as “Bambis,” roam the lawns of their own accord, squirrels dash about the tree branches, and birds hop about scavenging for food. You would think it were some far-off rural setting rather than a university almost in the heart of Lima, a city of about 8 million people.

All of the international students and compañeros PUCP at orientationTaken from the compañeros PUCP Facebook page
During orientation, I met an endless number of new friends from all over the world. Really from all over—Brazil, Mexico, Japan, Finland, Germany, Spain, Poland, America, Sweden, and of course Peru. As we chat in Spanish and get to know each other’s stories, I cannot help but feel blessed because this cultural exchange is something that will reach far beyond the people participating in it. We will eventually return to our native countries or other nations around the world, carrying this story with us. This story—this story that will shape us as the wind and the water mold the rocky cliffs of the Peruvian coast, evidence of its ephemeral presence etched into our very beings. Those who meet us will receive some grains of the knowledge we have come to understand by living in Peru. And so the cycle continues as we participate in this 21st century phenomenon of globalization.

Both of these were taken in Parque Kennedy in Miraflores
To further my cultural knowledge, I am trying to see as much of Lima as possible. Last weekend, I visited the districts of Miraflores, Barranco, and the city center of Lima. I will leave Miraflores and Barranco for another week; this week, the city center. Although I had already visited central Lima with my mother, this time I went to different areas. With a group of several international students and “compañeros PUCP” (they are native Peruvian students who are our welcome buddies), I took a tour of the Iglesia de San Francisco, which is a church, convent, and catacombs. The church had many beautiful murals and incredible intricate wood-work designs on the ceiling held up by pressure alone, no glue or nails. Of course, the crowning moment of the tour came with the spooky venture down into the basement full of bones piled on top of each other for everyone to ogle. However, the part that gave me chills was this deep brick circle, almost like a well, that had skulls and bones circled in a pattern at its bottom as well as skull hanging on the sides of the walls. It seemed more like a burial grounds for an indigenous society rather than the crypt of a Spanish-created church.

Iglesia de San Francisco de Assis
After rising from the underground, we traipsed through China-town, surrounded on all sides by swarms of people. Almost everyone had something to sell from balloons to bubbles to indigenous handicrafts to fruit to ice cream, they had it all. We lunched in a Chifa, which is what the Peruvians call Chinese food restaurants. Our final attraction of the day was the Museum of the Holy Inquisition, which is housed in a building that used to be for the Congress and is now across the street from the current legislature building. As interesting as it was, this museum was not my favorite, for it displayed wax people in examples of the torture used for the inquisition, something I do not particularly enjoy seeing.

Chinatown in central Lima
But in the end, the day was salvaged by a trip to a bakery and the trial of a Peruvian dessert. My sweet tooth gives me the Spanish title of “dulcera.” Speaking of desserts, I should mention that we have been taking advantage of the final days of summer here and greatly enjoying much of Lima’s delicious ice cream. Food is a huge part of the cultural experience, and I intend to take full advantage of it. As we go into the weekend, to all “buen provecho” with food and all your experiences!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Inca Trail

Finally I’m in Peru!!!!! The European journey has given way to the South American adventure at last, and oh man what an adventure it has been.
My mother and I started our travels in Lima on the first day of March, slightly jetlagged from the plane the night before but ecstatic to be in the warmth of a sunny Lima. Our first stop was the city center, La Plaza de Armas, a large square presided over by the government palace and the Lima cathedral. Purely by coincidence, we arrived just in time to watch the bombastic ceremonial changing of the guards in front of the government palace, which occurs every day around noon. Later, we toured the Lima Cathedral, guided by a man so passionate and animated, it felt like he was a character in a play every time he spoke.

In the Lima Cathedral
The next day we traded the beaches of Lima for the mountains of Cuzco. In the Andean town, everything felt fresh and clear under the Incan sky. Breathing the crisp air was a welcome change from the humidity of Peru’s capital. However, the altitude certainly affected us. At 3,400 m (11,200 ft) our legs felt shaky and weak, but after two relatively restful days of light touring and many cups of coca tea, we had acclimatized. A very good thing because the third day in Cuzco was the start of our Incan Trail hike.

One of the main cathedrals in Cuzco
The mountain in the distance says "Viva Peru"
We started off in a valley, a river to our left, alpacas in the distance, and mountains all around. Our group was guided by Armando, a Cuzco native, fluent in Quechua, Spanish, and English. To my surprise, the hikers were very diverse. We were eight: a couple from Sydney, Australia; a couple from Canada; a couple with one from Costa Rica, the other from France both living in Pennsylvania; and my mom and I. And off we went, trekking up the gently undulating hills the first day. The path itself was rarely only dirt. Rather, it consisted of large stones laid down by hand, but it was never completely smooth because the stones weren’t connected. Thus, even on flat land, we had to watch where we were walking. The first night, we camped on a relatively secluded hillside, mountains all around.

The very beginning of the trail

The view from our tent when we woke up after the first night
                What a good practice was the first day! Because the second day was up, up, up, uP, UP UPUPUP! We climbed for at least 2 and a half hours up to the 4,200 meters (13,780 ft) peak called Dead Woman’s Pass, so named for the profile of the mountain and its resemblance to a woman lying in a coffin. As soon as I got the peak, it started raining. And then hailing. I quickly dawned a poncho, grabbed my poles, and started the 2 hour trek down following the Australian couple in our group. After those two exhausting, slippery hours descending, we finally arrived at the campsite, drenched to the core. My socks from that day never dried until we got back to Lima!

An overview of the elevation over the four days

                That night was the most beautiful, though. We were fortunate that the clouds cleared up, and when it got dark, we saw more stars than I have ever seen in my life, even when camping in the country in America. Our guide told us we were looking at the milky way. Aptly named—the stars seem to be suspended in a lightly glowing web of milk. It was breathtaking.

3rd day--Inca ruins

The third and longest day was not too difficult in terms of trekking, which we would conquer in two hour stretches. Some Inca ruins were on the route, as well. That whole day, we were hugging the mountain as we hiked, and eventually the mountainside turned into a rainforest, which they call a cloud forest because, well, it’s in the clouds. It smelled fresh and earthy. Birds’ calls resounded through the dense trees. Toads rumbled when the rains were about to start. Exotic flowers sprouted above, below, beside us. It was as though I could hear the heartbeat of the earth.

Incan ruins bottom right; waterfall down the mountain to the left

On the left mountain, you can see the terraces

                On the last part of the third day hike, we made our route a bit longer in order to see some terraces constructed by the Incans on the mountainside. There were at least 60 enormous steppes, each with its own unique temperature, which allowed the ancient civilization to grow specific crops on each different terrace. And from there, we had an incredible view of the mountains in the distance and the Urubamba River (a tributary of the Amazon) below. Stunning.

                The fourth morning, the day we had been waiting for because of the promise of Machu Picchu, decided to be a disagreeable day. We had to wake up at 3:30, pack everything, and then wait at a check point until 5:30. From there we were to take the 2 hour hike and arrive at Machu Picchu, take a tour of the site, and then return to Cuzco by train in the afternoon. When we awoke, it was pouring down rain. From that moment until the end of our hike, we endured a drenching, taking every precaution to not slip off the side of the mountain. I can imagine that the hike would have yielded amazing views, but the clouds wouldn’t let us see past a few meters beyond ourselves.

                Finally we arrived at Machu Picchu, tired and wet. After a few hours, the rain let up a bit, so we went on a tour of the ruins. Continually being excavated, the site was a place of great religious significance to the Incas with many temples and sacred areas. However, nobody is sure what it was exactly for. A university, a religious site only, a village of special significance? The questions remain. The certainty, though, is that the Incans were incredible architects, as they built these edifices that have withstood centuries of earthquakes, landslides, and great rains. They have their amazing drainage system and their system of constructing rooms sometimes with 32 angles or more to thank for that. In the end, even though the day wasn’t as magnificent as we had hoped, it was still an amazing site that we were blessed to have been able to visit. Because we used my mom's camera only at MP, I don't have the photos with me now. I'll try to get them and post many soon, though.
                A special thanks to Dave and Laura for the wonderful gift of the guidebook! It was very useful in Cuzco and Lima, and hopefully I’ll get the chance to use it in some future travels this semester, as well.
                The next day, we returned to Lima from Cuzco, and after another day my mother left. Now I’m in my home in Lima, living with Chela and Carlos, an incredibly sweet and helpful retired couple. I also am blessed to have an awesome housemate, Elizabeth, who is a religious studies and Spanish major at IU. With her, I have been trying to figure out the ways of the city for the past few days.
                Today was the first day of orientation at PUCP (Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Peru), but in the interest of not boring people to death, I’ll save that for next week’s post. Ciao, ciao!