Monday, March 29, 2010

The Long and Winding Road

So things may have broken down a little here. Yolanda, the tour guide in Puno picked me up at the hotel at 9:10 and delivered me to the bus terminal, where my overnight bus to Cusco was waiting. Unfortuantely, it was not a “bus cama” or bed bus. This was finer than the best of our Greyhound buses, but still crowded and not entirely comfortable. I managed to sleep fairly well, however, even after they started the movie 'UNDERWORLD: Rise of the Laicas.' The good thing was that the movie only lasted about 15 minutes before the picture went out and so they turned it off. The bus left the terminal at about 9:45 and I woke up at 10:30, 12:00, 1:00, 2:00, and 4:00. The road between Puno and Cusco is quite bumpy and has enough twists and turns in it to keep anyone off balance for the entire journey. The lady next to me didn't sleep at all on the trip. We arrived at the Cusco bus terminal at 4:30, and here I sit, listening to the agents at the many bus counters call out their destinations to the weary travelers as they sit and try to sleep until their bus departs for wherever they are headed. I have heard, “Arequipa Arequipa Arequipa, bus cama Carhuamayo a Arequipa” about 500 times in the last half hour. I'm thining I might go buy a ticket just to get the girl to shut up.
The only problem with this last step of the journey is the many layovers I have. I don't fly out of Cusco until 1:25 this afternoon, so that means that even if I have to be at the airport two hours early, I don't have to be there for 6.5 more hours. I do think I will catch a cab out of this bus terminal over to the airport at about 6 this morning just to be moving and hopefully find a more quiet corner to sit and read in the airport. I suppose I could go into town again, but nothing really opens for another 3-4 hours, so I'm stuck either way. I'm also at the absolute end of the cash I brought, so additional cab fares would only further strain an already tight budget. The long layover is not a problem for me, but I have to be very careful to eliminate this kind of down time when I bring students back with me next time.
The noise got to be too much. As the minutes passed, more pregoneros began crying their company's destinations, an elderly man wandered among the benches selling hot chocolate and bread, an elderly lady wandered through offering soup and sandwiches, and as dawn approached, it got cooler. I finished a chapter in my book, grabbed my stuff, and decided to make my way to the airport. Five soles is about $2, but for a three minute cab ride to the airport, it is too much. It is, however, the first amount every cab driver quoted me when I asked. I offered the first guy 2 soles, he countered with 5 again, I came up to three, and he waved his hand at me and walked away. No big deal. There are fifteen other cabs in line, and I can easily get any one of them to take me, even if it means coming up to four soles. I ended up hiring a cab for 4 soles, but now I am in the airport, sitting on a cuschioned chair in the departure waiting area. It's only 6:30, and my flight doesn't leave for seven more hours, but I am most definitely more comfortable here than at the bus station. I may even snooze for a little bit.
I'm freezing my butt off! It's overcast in Cusco, and although I am inside, I cannot get warm. I think a lot of my problem stems from my sunburn, which is drawing heat out of my body through my face. I am wearing a cap and have my hood on, but my hands are ice cold (also a result of washing them with cold water- there is no warm water in public facilities anywhere in Peru.) It's 11:00 and I decided that I could check my luggage at 10:30 (3 hours before the flight is to depart) and lighten my load a little. As I arrived at the Star Peru check in desk, there were four American college kids in front of me having a collective nervous breakdown about their earlier flight being cancelled and them being pushed back to the same flight I am on. They were beyond reasoning, and all four of them are determined to find the worst in everything, so I chose to ignore them once they were checked in. This is just a part of international travel, especially travel to a third-world country: things don't always work out as you plan. Schedules are loose guidelines rather than hard and fast rules. For instance, my flight this afternoon was originally scheduled for 2pm, three days ago I was told it would depart at 1:25, this morning, it's 1:15. In all actuality, it may be closer to 2 by the time we get off the ground, but so what.
I wish I had the inclination to go out and see Cusco once again, but unless you are going to a museum or archaeological site or shopping for handicrafts, wandering around Cusco is pointless. I have plenty of reading to do, so there's really no reason for me to succumb to my short attention span and wander.
I looked at my watch and saw that it was 12:05, at which point I began to rejoice that my return journey to my family was now nearing the 24-hour mark. My flight to Lima should begin boarding at 12:45, so I went ahead and went through security. I should be meeting Alfredo in Lima and I'll spend a couple of hours with him, but I am one step closer to home, and although I will miss Peru, my mind is focused on one thing only: holding my family.
It's now 7:38pm and Alfredo just left me at the airport. My flight doesn't leave for another 4.5 hours, and the ticket/check-in desk doesn't even open until 3 hours before the flight, so I am sitting and typing. Alfredo and I went to a cebicheria (same as a cevicheria) and had cebiche (ceviche). Alfredo was waiting for me as I got off the plane from Cusco, and after a few minutes of tracking down my backpack (which had been sent to Lima on an ealier flight and was waiting for me at the ticket desk,) we walked out of the airport and went in search of a cab. The cabs inside the airport parking lot start at 30 soles and go up from there. We walked out to the main road (about 500 yards) and caught a cab for 7 soles. How's that for bargain shopping? I wouldn't advise doing it alone, or at night, but it was 3pm and so we had no trouble at all. We spent the last three hours at the restaurant talking and making plans for possible collaborative efforts on study abroad and teaching endeavors. We walked for a little bit to let our food settle, and then caught my last cab ride in Peru (for this trip, anyway.) Like all Lima cab rides, this one didn't disappoint. Speeding, honking, cutting off buses and trucks, jackrabbit starts and panic stops were all part of the 15 minute ride to the airport, and all for only 6 soles! I'm going to try and drive like that in Florence. I should be back with my family in about 17 hours, and I can't wait. Oh yeah, I did just brush my teeth, but I haven't showered since yesterday morning in Puno. Since then I have been on the floating islands, visited Sillustani, slept in these clothes on an overnight bus ride, sat for two hours in a bus station, six hours in an airport, another hour on a plane, and you get the picture. I will be pretty ripe when I get to Nashville. It should be the ultimate test of love if CJ can even stand to be near me when I get there.
9:55pm and I am through security screening safely. I'm not sure how fond I am of paying an airport tax separately from the ticket. In the U.S., all the taxes are included in the price of the ticket. Here, you get to pay a separate airport tax. My flight to Cusco from Lima was S./20, the flight back from Cusco to Lima was S./10, the flight from Lima to the U.S. is $31! Ooops. I thought maybe S./30, never $31. This is something that needs to be carefully planned for when traveling with a large group of students. 20 people, $31 each is $620 in airport taxes alone. Now, if students are like me and cannot say no to every child peddling handicrafts, they may find themselves without $31 at the end of the trip to pay their airport tax. This means I have to budget all that money in and hold on to it for the duration of the trip, then dispense it just as everyone goes through security. Oh well, that's why I did this trip, to eliminate as many surprises as possible. I'd hate to have that little monster rear its ugly head and ruin an otherwise successful trip.
My flight should start boarding in about an hour.
I just had to apologize to a young lady working at an airport kiosk for the behaviour (note spelling) of some rather obnoxious blokes. (Again, note vocabulary.) These guys were shouting obscenities in the Queen's English as they were walking down the hallway. I made sure the young lady knew that the jerks weren't North American. Of course, the Manhattanite biker chick who walked down the hall next to them wasn't any better with her language, and well, she IS North American. Groseros, malcriados. Don't people realize that they look like idiots when they behave like that, in ANY language?
14 more hours and I should be back in Nashville. I can't wait. I do hope there are some good movies on the flight. Maybe if there aren't I'll actually sleep, but who knows?
10:20am EDT. It's cold and overcast in Atlanta. I am weary of so much travel. I got through customs and immigration without a hitch after the flight landed, got back through security, and went to the gate where the next flight for Nashville was leaving from. Then I realized it was two hours before the flight I was scheduled to be on. I asked if I could get on that flight, but even if I wanted to pay the $50 upgrade fee, I couldn't do it because I had to stay with my checked bag. I went to the next concourse, where I have now visited three different gates trying to find the one where my flight actually departs from. I think I have found it, and mercifully, Atlanta is an hour ahead of Nashville and Lima time, so I will be boarding on this flight in 30 minutes, and landing in Nashville in about an hour and 45 minutes. The end is in sight. In the last 48 hours I have traveled by bus, car, boat, train, and airplane. I'm tired.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Living Off The Grid

Morning broke with a heavy rainstorm. I was not thrilled about going out to a floating island village in rain and hail. The streets ran like rivers right outside the hotel, and I haven't been all that impressed with Puno city as it is. I think my inner curmudgeon was beginning to come out after twelve days of traveling without my favorite travel companion (and anyone else for that matter.) I am not built for the life of a hermit. Perhaps that's why I have been writing this blog while I travel, if I know someone's reading, I don't feel that alone or disconnected from my usual life.
Fortunately, the sun broke through the clouds right after we got on the boat. In more than one way, the uros are about as far away from Lima as you can get. Lake Titicaca lies on the border between Peru and Bolivia, the people speak Aymara, which is geographically two languages away from Spanish (Quechua lies between them) and historically two civilizations removed. The Qolla people spoke Aymara before they were conquered (or assimilated) by the Incas, who spoke Quechua before they were conquered by the Spaniards.
When we arrived at the island we were to visit today, the women stood on the shore (if you can call it that) and greeted us in Aymara with, "Kamisaraki!" and were supposed to respond, "Waliki!" Yeah, that's confusing. (I apologize to all of my SP101 students who have never spoken Spanish before my class. I forget how awkward it feels to try and communicate in a language you know NOTHING about.) The island we visited is home to six families and a total of about 22 people. Everyone has a very specific role in the community, and the president of the island serves for a term of 6 months. If he does well, then the people will reelect him to serve again. I gather that he can continue in this capacity indefinitely as long as things are going well for the community. Jose, the president of this particular island, wants to start an uros tour company. He was very enthusiastic about having me bring my students to his island for a day. We would dress in traditional clothing and actually learn and perform traditional labors, including hunting, fishing, harvesting the totora reeds, cooking and eating. (Any students who are considering taking this trip with me next year should feel free to chime in with their opinion on this.) I don't think I'm up to actually spending a night on the uros, but I'd entertain the idea if there was enough interest. If there's one thing I have learned (again) today, it's that I live a pretty posh and simple life. My bed, despite usually being invaded by one or more children, is warm and soft, my house is comfortable (and as big as the entire island where six families live.) I enjoy a wealth of luxuries that are unimaginable to so many of the people I met today. Warning to my kids- if you don't appreciate what you have, I swear I will move you to the Peruvian Altiplano for a year and make you live like the people here.
For whatever reason, the pictures are not loading again, so I will have to wait until Saturday or Sunday to put pictures up on this post and yesterday's.

I am waiting for my bus to Cusco, and from there I foresee more or less the unwinding of everything I have done on this trip: bus ride from Puno to Cusco, Cusco flight to Lima, Lima flight to Atlanta, Atlanta to Nashville, then drive back home. I checked out of my hotel at 8:30 this morning and have an overnight bus ride tonight and a redeye flight tomorrow night, so I am in full travel mode until Saturday night. I'm sure I'll type additional posts along the way, but internet access will be hard to find (the free kind anyway,) so I may not post again until Saturday.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Spend a day on the bus

Today marked the beginning of the final stage of my trip. I met the chauffeur this morning at 6:45 and after a minor mix-up (he tried to take me to the airport instead of the bus station,) I boarded a bus for Puno.
Puno is on the western edge of Lake Titicaca, waaaaay up in the Peruvian altiplano. Puno is 10835 meters above sea level, 500 meters higher than Cusco. We crossed the border between the district of Cusco and Puno, the highest point on our journey.
I was kind of disappointed when I got on the bus this morning and had to pay an extra S./ 21 for entrance into the different archaeological sites along the route. I fully expected everything to be paid for on this trip, and it apparently wasn't. Then on arriving in Puno, the travel agent who met me at the bus stop asked for a voucher that showed I had paid for the trip to the uros and Sillustani. I asked my agent in Cusco last night if I needed anything like that and she said Yolanda would have it. I'm going to have a minor fit if I have to pay for tomorrow's excursions again...
Okay, so now that that's off my chest, this may possibly be the last post I write in Peru. The craziness of the trip is coming to a climax now, with tomorrow full of activities on Lake Titicaca and then the burial towers at Sillustani, an overnight bus trip back to Cusco, (arrival at 5am) then a flight back to Lima departing at 1:30. I'll have the afternoon in Lima and then a red eye flight back to the States.
Sorry for the boring reading. I'll try and update this post as time and energy allow.
Today was quite interesting, especially our stop in Raqchi. If I can get photos to upload, it will be a much better post.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Just a last little post before signing off

For anyone interested, I have gone back through a few of the previous posts and added photos. I'm especially fond of the fried cuy photo. Go find it if you like.

I also really like this photo.
Everything here has Inca in its name. Two of the people from the recruiting firm UNA works with here have Inca in their name. There's an IncaFarm (pharmacy) and tons of other Inca something or other businesses.
I think I'll change my name to Incafanger while I'm in Peru, just so I can fit in.

Maybe I'll Just Post Pictures Today

Don't really feel like writing today. I visited four museums (all of which prohibit photo taking) and saw a couple of other Cusco landmarks. Depending on how long it takes to upload each photo, I'll just fill this post with some of my favorite shots.

Seeing little kids makes me miss my own terribly. These two cornered me in the artisan fair asking for money. They were equally happy to just see how they looked in the photo. They ran away shortly after this.

Cusco's 12-angle rock. These rock walls are not just thrown together, they were carefully cut and fitted into their place. Archaeologists have determined that rocks with intricate fittings have special purposes, although we still don't know what most of them are.

This is a picture of a small drawing, part of an 8-piece series currently on display at the Q'orikancha art gallery.

I heard these guys chirping across the yard from the wool spinning and dyeing workshop. The habitat is really cute, the cuyes are also really cute. Then they become dinner...

At Pisac, you can find the terraces built for farming. At the top of the hill is the largest pre-Columbian burial site in the Americas. The ruins for the town are also at the top of the hill on both sides.
The holes in the hillside are all graves. Archaeologists have found the remains of over 5000 people buried in this hillside, all of them in the fetal position. The Incas believed that the way we were before we were born is the same way we should leave our bodies. Our guide told us that the Incas did believe in an afterlife, which adds a different perspective to their practice of human sacrifice. It was one thing to be sacrificed to accompany the king into the afterlife, but what does it mean to be offered in sacrifice to one of the gods? Is it an honor that people willingly accepted? Most often, the priests were able to offer plants and animal sacrifices to the gods, but in years of extreme drought or torrential rains, it was customary to offer a human sacrifice. I guess that's why the rains washed out the road and rails to Machupicchu, nobody offered a human sacrifice to stop them.
They did, however, offer a black llama this year.
Tomorrow I head out to Puno. I check out of the hostel at 6:45 am. Better get to bed early tonight.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Cusco, the Navel of the World

Cusco claims to be the oldest city in the Americas, with the first inhabitants settling there approximately 1000 b.C. Located in the center of Tawantinsuyo, at the junction of the four Inca states, the Q'orikancha temple is the official center of the Incan empire. Serendipitously, I had a free day in Cusco today and it just happens to be the fall equinox. At the far corner of Q'orikancha is a narrow passageway leading to what used to be the most sacred place, the altar of the Inti, or sun. When the Spaniards came in to conquer, they razed most of the Incan sacred places and built their own sacred places on top of them. Most of the astronomical features painstakingly carved into the immense rock walls were broken away or covered by roofs. In the narrow passageway leading to the altar of the Inti, however, there are still a few protuberances that align on the solstices and equinoxes. 12:00 noon today, the shadows line up.

At 11:00, the sun was high enough to get over the cathedral and shine on the wall.

At a few minutes to 12, the shadows began to align. Then the sun went behind the clouds and ruined the rest of the show. I stood around for 20 more minutes hoping the sun would burn through the clouds, but to no avail. Oh well. Maybe another time...

What's going on here?

This photo needs a caption. Best submission wins a prize!!!

Thoughts on Culture

Alfredo told me last week that there exists a tremendous amount of racism in Peru, the Spanish decendants toward the indigenous people. If the indigenous people are the descendents of one of the most advanced civilizations in the 15th and 16th centuries, wouldn't the Peruvian people be proud of such a claim? Alfredo's answer when I asked that question was, “but they are a conquered people, they are fallen from greatness.” On a very superficial level, I can see the argument, but it only goes as far as you are unwilling to learn about the indigenous people of Peru. For example, we visited Chinchero today. Chinchero makes and sells wool knits, and the artisans there are the only people who still use pre-Columbian methods for preparing, washing, dying, spinning, and knitting their wool. For the past two nights, we have dined at restaurants that have Andean music shows including music and dance. The costumes are beautiful, but only worn now for cultural presentations such as these dances. So how much of the culture is actually represented by these dances and costumes if nobody uses them anymore? What about the people who dress their children in the traditional outfits and sit them on the street corners for tourists to take pictures of? How about those children who dress in traditional clothing and sell handicrafts? Is this a true representation of the Peruvian or Andean culture? Where do we decide the line is between imitating culture and actually creating or expressing it? Is the group that plays only traditional Andean music more culturally representative than the group that covers Beatles songs with Andean instruments? How about Uchpa? I teach Latin American Culture and Civilization, Cross-cultural Interaction, and Culture through Cinema classes, and all of a sudden I am starting to think that I might not understand culture. My only answer lies in the questions I asked earlier. Culture is always changing, whether for better or for worse, it is always changing. So if this is the case, what does my own culture look like?

Enough about that. Today was a long day, with a trip down into the Valle Sagrado (Sacred Valley),

over to Pisac,

Calca, Ollantaytambo,

and Chinchero. Dropping all the way down to 2850 meters above sea level eased the “soroche” or high altitude sickness all day. My headache went away completely, I ran up and down several trails trying to get to the ruin sites I wanted to in the short time alloted. I got winded a couple of times, but nothing like yesterday. I hope it's a combination of acclimatization and the lower elevation and not just the lower elevation. If I sleep well enough tonight and wake up without the “soroche,” I may try a very short run around the plaza in the morning.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

I'm in Cusco and it's Incredible!

Cusco is amazing. At 3300 meters above sea level (that's over 11,000 feet,) it seems to me to be the perfect place for endurance athletes to come and train. There are winding roads up and down mountains all over this area. Of course, the potholes could actually swallow a cyclist and his or her bicycle, but if I ever decide to become a competitive athlete, I am going to use Cusco as my high altitude training base. I will be here for 7 days, so I am hoping that the red blood cell production kicks into overdrive this week and I am actually naturally doped for the CF 4k run the week after I return.
My flight left late from Lima, but it's only an hour in the air from Lima to Cusco, although crossing the Andes mountains actually makes the trip 22 hours by bus. The airline I flew was Star Peru, and it was very comfortable and accomodating. When I disembarked, I went to the baggage claim, grabbed my backpack and headed for the door where I expected someone from the tour agency to be waiting for me. I walked all around the airport and didn't see anyone, tried to call the phone numbers I had for the company and got nothing, then went to talk to a cab driver. A lovely young lady from the government-sponsored information desk came to my rescue and offered to make some calls from her office. She ran into the same dead-ends that I did with the numbers I tried, but managed to locate the cell number of the agent I did all of my planning and booking with. As it turns out, she was in the airport and had been for three hours. She mistakenly assumed I was coming in on the earlier flight. Once we met, we jumped in her car and she took me to the hostel where I got checked in and settled the rest of my account with her. It's hard to hand over that much cash at any time, but it's nice to not have it sitting in my room or my wallet.
My first day of tours began at 1:50, and as I jumped in the van that came to pick me up, I found a couple of colleagues from the conference. We had no idea we would be on the same tour, but serendipitously it turned out that way. I spent the next four hours in a group of 10 people being herded around Cusco and its immediate surroundings by a young guide whose very third word was “please.” His English is fine enough for this kind of tour, especially when the tourists don't speak Spanish, but after a week of training my ear to only hear Spanish, I spent the first 2 hours asking, “what did he say?” If I had my druthers, I would stretch today's tour into a full day rather than a half day event. The cathedrals and ruins are so amazing, I wanted desperately to see everything and soak it all in, but it was not to be.
After our return from the trip, we were to meet the others from our group in the plaza for dinner. After taking a turn around the plaza, we sat down on a bench until one of them came and found us. We then went to a very nice restaurant where they had a concert planned, with Andean Music and folk dancing. This music is so passionate and moving that I actually had goosebumps on my arms and tears welling up in my eyes. The dancers were great and at one point I was invited to dance with them.
What a blast! Except, the rapid pace of the dance had my heart beating 150 beats per minute and my head throbbing from lack of oxygen. High altitude effects have begun. I have carried a rather steady headache since about 3:00 this afternoon. It's time to go to sleep and see if lying down and resting might help a little.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Peru Halftime Report

It's Saturday morning and exactly one week ago I was sitting in the Nashville airport waiting for my flight to Atlanta, then on to Lima. It's 8:30 am and I am sitting in the Lima airport waiting for my flight to Cusco. It's been a crazy week and a lot of great stuff has happened. Yesterday morning I woke from a dream in Spanish. It's been a while since I have dreamt in Spanish and I miss it.
I gave my presentation yesterday afternoon, and it's hard to be one of the last presenters in a conference. Most people are burnt out on papers and just want to get out and play. Others give their papers at the beginning of the conference and don't even stick around for the end of it. My session was right after lunch. All four of the presenters were there at the appointed start time, but nobody else. We waited eight minutes for anyone to appear, and then began, with the first presenter speaking only to us. One person showed up halfway through her paper, and then the people I had recruited to come listen to my presentation began trickling in. Hint: if you are going to attend a conference like this, it is usually wise to network by attending several other sessions and making friends with those presenters. Let them know you were interested in their work (even if you weren't) and they'll usually return the favor by attending your session, if only for your paper. People are also tired enough that Q&A or discussion is extremely limited by that point. Nobody had any questions for any of our presenters, so our session ended ten minutes early.
Last night was the last official night of the conference and we had the optional “cena de despedida” billed as a traditional Peruvian meal. I have been here nearly a week, and I have been eating traditional Peruvian food the entire time, so I was rather disappointed that I paid 3 times more than what the meal was worth. The one benefit was that I got to socialize with other colleagues. I met several people who teach at different universities in Utah, and we actually know some of the same people. It's quite fun to build networks and see my degrees of separation get smaller and smaller. Most likely, within another year or so, I will be encountering several of the colleagues from this conference at other conferences. It reminds me of David Lodge's novel, Small World.
After dinner, we were on our own to get back to the hotel, and a couple of the colleagues that I met at dinner wanted to get out and see something of Lima. (They arrived Thursday night, and has spent the entire day in the conference.) Having stayed in Miraflores for the first part of the week, I felt familiar and confident enough to recommend a couple of different options. All of my suggestions were shot down, and we ended up going back to El Barranco, the “area bohemia” where I had the privilege of seeing Uchpa in concert. After getting out of the cab, we went right instead of left, and ended up at the ocean. Our path was blocked by a stretch of solitary, dark walkway in which we could see the outlines of a couple of young men lurking. We outnumbered them 5 to 2, but three of our party were women, so it just wasn't worth the risk. We never got closer than 75 feet, and stayed well within the lit portion of the walkway.
After a week in Lima, I feel fairly comfortable with the geography of Miraflores, and have a vague idea of the location of a few of the more significant landmarks in Lima: the airport, Catholic University, El Barranco, the LDS Temple, and a couple of artisan fairs. I am most disappointed that I never made it to the centro, but time just didn't allow. I'll post this afternoon's adventure in another post later tonight. Now I have to get on the plane for Cusco.

Friday, March 19, 2010

There simply aren't words

This is when a picture is definitely worth a thousand words. I only wish I had grabbed my camera as I left the hotel room tonight. Alfredo and I decided to meet at the HAITI cafe in Miraflores at 9:00 and grab a bite to eat. I wanted to get back to the artisan fair before I head to Cusco, and HAITI is only a block away, so I went an hour early and did a little shopping. I almost bought a charango and zampona, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it. I'll research them a little more in the next couple of days and maybe pick one up in Cusco or send Alfredo back to get the one I looked at in Miraflores. But that's all beside the point.
We caught a bus down to what Alfredo called the Bohemian Area. When he was younger, all the people who frequented the area were drunks. Now evvery door leads into a club, a bar, a pub, or combination of all three and some other things. We wandered into a couple of the pubs looking for some of Alfredo's old friends. After ten years, there were still a couple of guys who recognized him. One of these friends told us about a concert they were having in the same pub tonight. I only caught part of what he was saying because music was blaring all around us, but Alfredo got pretty excited about it, so he grabbed a drink and we went to the next door to sit down for the concert. Time: 10:15 pm. Concert start time: 11:00 pm.
We went upstairs and sat down. Alfredo asked for a plate of anticucho (beef heart shishkebob) and then asked when they expected the music to start. The waiter said, “about midnight...” Current time: 10:30. At this point I am beginning to think I am getting too old for this kind of fun. By 11:05, the house was full, but no music. At 11:15 people began whistling to signal their desire to get the concert underway. At 11:30, someone walked out onstage and introduced a young man who entertained us with some acoustic blues guitar. He sang in English, but his pronunciation was poor enough to lead me to question if he actually memorized the words he was singing or just the sounds the words make. (It makes a difference, believe it or not.) Alfredo looked over at me and admitted he didn't like the music. At this point, I was beginning to feel a lot more tired and not really excited about hanging around for who knows how many more hours for a concert that I knew nothing about. Actually, I had this much to go on: this group is a fusion of blues and Andean music.

What image is that supposed to evoke?

So, by 12:05 the concert actually began and Oh. My. Stars. Nothing could have prepared me for what I saw next. Try and imagine this. Aerosmith, Steven Tyler dressed in semi-traditional Inca costume. Next to him, a 4'0” man dressed in shiny white traditional Inca costume. Onstage, a full drum set, two guitarists, a bassist, and the front man, Peru's Steven Tyler waving a Peruvian flag. Next to come on stage, a 50-something and a 20-something man in traditional Andean cholo garb carrying horns that play pretty much like bugles. Throw in a 60-something cholo violinist and a guy with a quena and zampona, and you've pretty much got the picture.
What does it sound like, though? How do you fuse Grunge, Rock, Blues, and Andean Music? There aren't enough words. Actually, there are, they are just all Quechua. The only word that truly describes it is: UCHPA.
The front man spent most of the night playing air guitar while the real guitarists rocked out.

Yeah, I just don't have the words.

On a side note, throughout the evening I vacillated between thinking I was way too old for this kind of thing, and enjoying myself tremendously. Alfredo joked that my students might find me "cool" if I were to take them to this kind of concert on a study abroad experience. Any opinions?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

For lack of a better title: Stage Two

Advance warning: I won't post most of the accompanying pictures to this entry until tomorrow, I think.

Well, I did it. Bruce is such a gracious host that he sought out a restaurant well off the beaten path that served, you guessed it: cuy. Imagine this, the waiter places a plate in front of you with a deep fried guinea pig with a side of fried potatoes and red onions. My opinion on cuy? It's not worth the hassle it takes to debone the stupid thing and eat it. The meat is stringy and I'm not sure if it was a result of the deep frying or if it occurs naturally, but it was greasy. The meat is not bad, but has a chewy texture at times and a very soft and slimy texture at others. Apparently I didn't eat all of my cuy, but I gave it a valient effort and did my very best. I probably won't do it again anytime in the near future, mostly because cuy is not as common in Lima or Cusco as it is in other parts of Peru. I am told that Arequipa is fond of cuy. Maybe when I am there sometime I'll have it again.

I left the hostel and moved to the five-star Melia Lima. It's definitely a huge step up from the hostel, but the only place I can get wifi is in the lobby, so I don't have the freedom of sitting on my bed and working without paying $12 a day, which is way too much, so I will content myself with sitting in the lobby for a while each evening.

The conference began tonight with a welcome dinner. Before dinner we had a group of musicians entertain us with criolla music and a dance troupe perform several traditional dances from around Peru. I didn't take my camera to dinner so I will have to ask one of the other conference goers to email me the photos they took.
I have reached the point in my travels where Spanish is flowing quite naturally once again. I expected it after about four days and I haven't had any surprises. In fact, after dinner, an elderly gentleman approached me and started speaking to me in English and it took me several seconds before I actually understood what he was saying. I answered him in Spanish, but he insisted on continuing in English, so I tried to switch to English. It was very difficult to do, so I am quite pleased. I am beginning to think that one to two weeks every year in a Spanish-speaking country would do wonders for my Spanish. I will ask my students to look for any differences in my accent when I return to class after Spring Break.
On another note, I visited the Catholic University today and was surprised and shocked at what I found. The university is at least as big as UNA if not bigger, which is surprising to me because most Latin American universities don't have a large footprint like our American universities do (at least not the ones I am familiar with.) Campus is also closed to outsiders. There's a wall around the entire complex and security guards that check ID for everyone who comes through the gate. As an invited professor, I had to sign in with ID and Alfredo had to also provide his information. We visited the office of international programs and spoke with the assistant director about the possibility of establishing a reciprocal agreement (Magellan Exchange style) between our two universities. It's incredibly promising and would provide an excellent opportunity for any students wanting to study anything UNA offers (with the exception of nursing.)
Tomorrow promises to be a pretty big day, so I'll make this post significantly shorter than the rest, and besides, I don't want to sit in the lobby all night when there's a California King-size bed waiting for me.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Today I'll be a Tourist

For the first time since arriving, I found myself without any fixed plans for the day. There were a couple of options open to me: sit in the hostel and read and grade, waiting for Alfredo to call, or get out and do something. The obvious choice is the second one, so I fought off the desire to be a lazy couch potato and get out and do what I came to do.
After a before-school Skype call to CJ and the kids, I got up and went for a run. I ran 2-3 miles intermittently, ended up down at the Larcomar mall, and worked my way back up to the hostel to get cleaned up and get moving.
I decided to go to the Peru Museum of Gold, located on the first floor of Larcomar. For S./25 (about $9) you get an audio tour of the Museum of Gold. I took pictures of all the gold artifacts there, but this one is my favorite.
In an effort to see just how many people actually read this blog, I am offering a contest giveaway. I will give away a keychain replica of this artifact to five people who leave comments on this post. The first person who can give me the correct name for this artifact will automatically win a keychain, and I will draw four additional winners randomly from those who post comments. This contest will end on March 27, at which point I will draw the winners and notify them by email. Good luck.
Here are a few other artifacts on display at the Museo de Oro. Really cool. This crown is over 700 years old and still has most of its brilliance. All the color is natural and has not been retouched or restored.

This burial mask is enormous, about 20 inches across. If you look closely, you can see holes where additional adornments were attached, and in some places you can see remnants of the paint that the Incas put on the mask to decorate it. For the Incas, the gold didn't matter as much as the colors, and it was the later people who dug up the mask that removed all the paint to reveal the gold underneath. Even so, it's incredibly impressive.
Priceless artifacts. Absolutely amazing.

After the Museo de Oro, I headed back up to the Parque Kennedy, where I caught the Mirabus for an hour-long tour of the Miraflores District on the open top of a double-decker bus.
When I wasn't getting whipped in the face by assorted tree branches, I got an excellent view of some pretty cool stuff. Like Huaca Pucllana, a 1500 year old adobe pyramid on the edge of Miraflores.
It's hard to believe, but the coastal city doesn't get a lot of rain, so much of the original architecture was adobe. This site is only open Wednesday through Monday, so I am going to try and get there tomorrow or Thursday during the conference lunch break.

When the tour ended, I stopped by the indoor artisan fair. I wandered for about an hour and saw a ton of great stuff. I will have to go back later this week and buy some souvenirs for the kids. It's going to take some serious self control not to go overboard and spend spend spend.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Keeping it Real, or Did I Just Get Thrown Under the Bus?

After a pretty slow morning, Bruce and his boss, Maria Esther picked me up at the hostel and took me to Rustica for lunch. The buffet has a ton of delicious food, but I noticed that most food is either exceptionally sweet or exceptionally salty. We had chicha morada, Peru's equivalent to grape juice, but it's made with purple corn. It's exceptionally sweet, but Bruce and Maria Esther insist that it's not. Of course, the Minuta soup was overly salty, so everything kind of balanced out. The funniest thing happened when two men dressed in absurd drag appeared outside the terrace window (did I mention the restaurant is right on the ocean?) selling Boogie Ice Gum. Again, I was a little late on the draw and didn't get a closeup photo of them, but this is what I could get.
These guys were wearing dresses, wigs, and makeup. They had balloons for breasts and buttocks, and were hilarious. It seems a hard way to make a sale, especially since we only bought one pack of Boogie Ice for 2 soles.
This evening's plans included attending a meeting at the private school where Bruce works. Bruce is UNA's recruiting agent in Lima, and is genuinely a nice guy. Maria Esther is the director of the school, and she is also very nice. Traffic slowed us down tremendously, and we arrived at the school at 6:45 for a meeting that began at 6:00. Ooops.
Bruce explained that the plan was to have the parents' meeting, show them the UNA recruiting DVD, and then talk about it. Right. I should have seen this one coming a mile away. Nobody actually tried the DVD to make sure it worked on their system. Windows Media Player doesn't read DVDs. Twenty minutes of technical difficulties were filled by yours truly because Bruce thought it would be a good idea to invite "our good friend Scott" to stand and tell everyone all about UNA. Ummm, yeah, I didn't come prepared to talk about how much UNA costs, the ins and outs of the ESL program, and so on. I am very accustomed to speaking in front of large and small groups of people, but I don't really enjoy having to shoot straight from the hip. After it was all over, everyone looked at me and said the equivalent of, "that went well..." OK. Sure.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Ceviche and Spontaneous Concerts in the Park

My late night last night and lack of planning ahead of time left me without the means to find and attend church services today. I spent the morning finishing unpacking, spent a couple of hours reading in the scriptures, meditating and praying, then met up with Alfredo.
Alfredo Elejalde is a friend from Vanderbilt. He and I started our graduate studies together back in 2001. After he left Vandy, he went to Washington D.C. and then to another college in Virginia. A year and a half ago, he returned to Lima, and he starts teaching at the Catholic University in Lima tomorrow. I am going to go meet his department and colleagues on Tuesday and begin talks about semester-long study abroad programs.
I realize that a blog is much more exciting if it has pictures. Not even I want to read the previous post, it's long, disparate, and boring to everyone including myself. So today's blog will highlight the adventure and provide photographic evidence that I am actually doing what I say I am doing.
Alfredo arrived at about 1:15 and we began walking around Miraflores. We wanted to have lunch first, especially since I only had a granola bar for breakfast, so we decided on ceviche. Lima is a coastal city, so the seafood is fresh, having been caught the same day. To Alfredo's surprise, his favorite cevicheria has a branch right in Miraflores, so we found it and waited about 30 minutes for a table. We had mussels as an appetizer and then the signature ceviche plate as a main course. Being an Idaho boy, I never really lived where I could get fresh seafood, so ceviche is a fairly new experience for me. I have eaten it before, but in much smaller quantities. This is what was set in front of us.
Buried under that semi-spicy sauce is a mountain of fresh seafood: calamari, octopus, fish, etc. on a bed of red onion. Ceviche is served mostly raw, "cooked" by the acid in lemon or lime juice. Peruvian lemons are juicy but incredibly tart limes. Beside the ceviche on the right are plantain chips and on the left is a sweet potato. In all, this was very delicious and incredibly filling. It's probably best that CJ is not with me on this trip with all the onions I consumed for lunch...

After lunch, we continued our walk through Miraflores and arrived at John F. Kennedy park.
This park is about three blocks long and one block wide. Obviously, there's a playground on one of the blocks. The center block is home to the daily artisan fair, which opens at 5 p.m. It's a relatively confined space, a circle about 75 feet in diameter, surrounded by a 4 foot cement wall.
In the third block, there's a sunken circle/amphitheater where hundreds of people were gathered and waiting for an exposition of some sort. Apparently, the municipality sponsors musicians every Sunday afternoon. The show starts at 4pm, and at 4pm, this was the scene:
There were about a hundred people waiting for the show to start, but no sign of a musician or entertainer whatsoever. I thought I'd be funny and make a comment about "Waiting for Godot," but only Alfredo caught the reference, and even he didn't find it all that amusing. We decided to continue on to the end of the park where painters were displaying their works. We saw some great things, and I ended up buying a green necklace for CJ from a street vendor. He initially offered me my choice of several necklaces for only $S./20 (20 soles is about 7 dollars.) The necklaces were pretty, but I am still not thinking in the frame of "divide everything by 3 to get the US price" mode, and even so, 20 soles was a bit much. The guy tried to win Alfredo to his side, asking his opinion and getting him to encourage me to buy it. Alfredo smiled and told me (in English) "pay half," so I began to bargain with him. It went something like this:
Me: I'll give it some thought and we'll come back around later.
Him: I'll sell it to you for 15 soles right now.
Me: I'm not sure I am ready to pay 15 soles. Let me think about it and come back later.
Him: 12 soles is a great price. You'll pay 5 times that in a jewelry store. (Looking to Alfredo) Isn't that right?
Alfredo: Yes, that's true.
Me: No thanks, I still have time to look around before I decide.
Him: 10 soles.
Me: Okay, I'll buy it for 10 soles. Thanks a bunch.
For those who haven't done this before, pay attention to the way this unfolded. I never once offered a lower price to the guy. Too many Americans (and I am guilty of this as well) think that bargaining means lowballing. I knew what I was willing to pay before I even began to express interest in buying, and when I showed him I was a potential buyer, I let him do all the work. He knows exactly what his best price is, and I let him work himself down to the price I was willing to pay. In the end, we both were happy with the transaction, and that's how it should always work.
Alfredo asked if I wanted to try lucuma ice cream, and I was still quite full from lunch, but he had purposely worked us to a cafe called HAITI where they have very delicious ice cream, so I agreed and we headed over there.
We spent an hour in the cafe, chatting about different things, mostly our experiences at Vandy, and brainstorming possible study abroad scenarios. This is the full purpose for my extra time here, so I am keeping it close to the surface at all times.
When we left the cafe, we began walking back up the other side of the park, and I looked over and noticed that the size of the crowd at the amphitheater had grown significantly, so I suggested we go see the show. As we walked to the crosswalk, we passed a couple of young men playing charango and flutes outside another cafe. The din of the crowd was so loud that we heard no music coming from the amphitheater as we approached, but to my surprise, there was still no performance, no entertainer, no show whatsoever. Yet people continued to congregate. There was an elderly gentleman with a handheld transistor radio offering to turn it up so everyone could dance, but it generated no excitement among the crowd, so I turned to Alfredo and suggested we go back across the street and invite the two young men playing outside the cafe to come and entertain the people. Alfredo agreed this was a good idea, so we did. The musicians took a little convincing, claiming that as they were only two, they couldn't fill that venue with sound, but I told them that there were three hundred people sitting there already listening to nothing, so if they couldn't hear them playing, it wouldn't matter, at least they'd have something to look at.
El Condor Pasa
There was a sweet little old lady who began to dance immediately, and she hit it off quite well with a 20-something young man who was videoing the spectacular. The little lady was hilarious, doing some dance moves that one normally only sees in music videos. She began flirting with this young man, and before long the two of them were dancing together, with four or five other couples also dancing right there in the middle of everything.
After the spontaneous concert, we gave the musicians a couple of soles each and went back through the park. By this time, the feria was open and we perused without buying. We initially thought the feria was only on Sundays, but were told that it's every day after 5, so I didn't feel any unnecessary pressure to buy anything, knowing I have until Friday to decide if I want to buy anything there.
On a side note, the park is home to feral cats that aren't entirely feral. The people of the neighborhood take care of the cats, feed them, take them to the vet, spay and neuter them, and return them to the park. It's an interesting sight to see cats just laying in the grass in the middle of a crowded park, but it's more interesting to look up in the trees and see conures. Entire flocks of parrots reside in the trees above the park. Neat.
Our next stop was the coast. Miraflores sits on top of a hill some 200 feet above sea level, with a pretty steep slope descending to the ocean. The road and beach at the ocean are all reclaimed, and the beach below where we went was a beginning surfers' beach. There were a couple of dozen surfers still in the water riding 2-3 foot waves.
The sun set while we gazed down at the ocean, then we walked south and came upon a modern-day temple built to the god of commercialism, a mall, Larcomar, cut out of the hillside and looking out over the ocean. As far as malls are concerned, it's beautifully situated, but, it's a mall. It was chaotic and loud, crowded and overall unappealing to me.
We sat and chatted some more about study abroad options, then began the trek back to the hostel, where I was able to successfully contact my family and talk to them for a few minutes. It's now late and I am extremely tired. I'll correct the hyperlinks to the video when it's finished uploading to YouTube.

For lack of a better title: Day One

I hate to be so prosaic, but I am exhausted right now from a full day of traveling, so this post will be Day One.
The following was written piecemeal as I had time and inclination to write on Saturday, March 13.

I sit in the Nashville airport, 1.5 hours before my scheduled flight to Atlanta. Nashville does not offer free wi-fi access, and I am currently feeling too cheap to pay $8 for access for only an hour, so I am writing this unconnected. The netbook I am using hasn't really been tested in battle, but the initial tests I have put it through have produced positive results, so I am cautiously optimistic.
As I checked in, the kiosk informed me that the flight to Atlanta is oversold and they will buy my ticket and bump me if I am willing, which I am, especially since the only thing waiting for me in Atlanta is a seven hour layover. If I get bumped, I might actually pay for the internet access.
The last time I flew, I donated my favorite pocketknife to TSA because I inadvertently left it in my pocket when I went to Huntsville. My sister dropped me off at the airport and took off immediately, so I had no other option but to hand it over to the TSA authority. One week later, the underwear bomber made his attempt on a plane over Detroit. So I lost a 2-inch blade pocketknife in the name of security, but this idiot is able to carry explosive chemicals onto a plane and light himself on fire. Go figure.
My aggressive travel plans for the next two weeks led me to the conclusion that I would travel more efficiently with a large internal frame backpack rather than a suitcase. I've never actually traveled like this before, so it's a brand new adventure for me.

I chose to stay in hostels so I could get a firsthand experience and know exactly what type of facilities my students will be staying in when I actually conduct the study abroad trip next year. I will have a fairly luxurious four days at the Sol Melia while at the conference, but the purpose of the rest of the trip is to determine exactly how economical I can make this trip. I booked a single room for myself at more than twice the rate for a bed in the dorm rooms at the hostel, but I am still only paying $34 a night. Hostels are generally less secure in the sense that they don't have the privacy a large hotel offers. This being the case, I wanted something more transportable than a clunky suitcase.
I voluntarily bumped myself from the earlier flight out of Nashville and earned a $300 travel voucher and $7 for breakfast at the Nashville airport. I got on the 11:47 flight and am now sitting in the Atlanta airport, still too cheap to buy internet access, waiting to board my flight to Lima. There's quite a crowd gathered already, consisting of at least one youth missionary group. There's a young lady sitting directly across from me (not affiliated with the missionary group) speaking about obscene things to a friend on her cell phone. It's fascinating to me to see that some people are so wrapped up in their own existence that they forget that they are sitting in the middle of a room full of people, at least a dozen of whom can hear every word they say. Directly behind the young lady in question, the youth group is kneeling in prayer and has been for about ten minutes, each praying in turn. (Update: half of their group was stranded at a different airport and under threat of missing the connection to Lima. They arrived 10 minutes before we began boarding, so their prayers were answered.)
As I was walking to the gate here, I saw a tragicomic scene. Unfortunately, by the time I thought it was photoworthy and got the camera out and ready, it was over. I'll have to describe it.
There are smoking rooms at intervals in the different concourses in many airports, and Atlanta is no different. Bill Engvall actually has a comedy bit about the smokers aquarium, so I can't pass by one anymore without thinking of those, and this scene happened at the smokers aquarium. I walked past, not focusing on anything in particular, but as I scanned the walkway, I saw a toddler sitting in an umbrella stroller, and (I can only presume his mother) standing beside him, smoking. He was looking lovingly up at her, and she was quite engaged with him, motioning toward him as if to tickle him with the non-cigaretted hand. From my brief glimpse as I walked by, it looked like a doting, loving mother and her child. Then I realized it. He was sitting on the outside of the glass. Mom had parked him just away from the door, against the glass, and gone into the smokers aquarium to have her cigarette. I wanted to take a picture, but I just wasn't fast enough. When I got back to the scene, Mom had already finished and was releasing the brake of the umbrella stroller as she headed down the concourse in the direction opposite to the one I was traveling. My feelings are mixed on this one. At least mom respects her child enough to not subject him to the secondhand smoke, but at the same time, her own addiction was so strong that she had to arrange this little setup before she sould continue on her trip.
I am beginning to hear more Spanish spoken, and have spoken Spanish to one or two people already. My goal is to speak exclusively in Spanish while I am in Lima. I have been looking forward to this opportunity for a few years now, as my personal discipline won't allow me to speak Spanish 100% of the time with friends and colleagues. My affective filter is thickening, and I need this next two weeks to just be immersed in Spanish and brush up once again. Sadly, I realize that I have not been in a Spanish speaking country since May 2003. I have been to Brazil twice since then. I'm going to have to make these trips more regularly.
Thanks to my friend SD, I have something to read over the next two weeks. It is Richard Bushman's Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling. I have read the first two chapters and it is a good biography. I'll write more thoughts as I progress through the work.
I left my iPhone with CJ (intentionally), and plan on using Skype as the primary means of communicating with my family over the next two weeks. AT&T's international calling plan is a farce, and since I am visiting four different cities in the next two weeks, I don't feel like I want to risk breaking or losing my iPhone. I only mention it now because if I had brought it with me, I would have already called CJ and the kids a half dozen times since my departure this morning.

I arrived safely in Lima after a 6 hour flight. The in-flight entertainment was enough to keep me occupied the entire time. I napped for about an hour, read for a while, and watched three movies: The Invention of Lying, Where the Wild Things Are, and The Men Who Stare at Goats. I wasn't overly impressed with any of them, but Where the Wild Things Are has flashes of brilliance. I may have to show my children the movie and see if they pick up on the allegory.

My backpack, which I gate checked, was not returned to me at the gate, but sent down to baggage claim. It was the last one out onto the belt, so I was more than a little nervous for a few minutes. After the usual chaos of immigration and customs, (hand over your declaration form, push a button and wait: if red, you are searched, if green, you proceed,) I stepped through and was looking for my promised contacts, one taxi driver and one UNA recruiting agent. I saw the taxi driver holding a paper that said "Scott Infscager" and then another sign reading "UNA (I'm Bruce)." After meeting Bruce and his wife, introducing myself to the LDS mission president and his wife, who were waiting to receive a senior missionary couple, and then tracking down my cabbie, I enjoyed the frenetic 30-minute drive through Lima to the hostel. I checked in at 1:45am, found my room, and sequestered myself for the night.
I will be meeting Alfredo for lunch, and Bruce promised to call me at some point on Sunday to see that I am alive and well.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

This impresses me on a couple of different levels

I have been to Corcovado a couple of times and am always impressed at the immensity of the Cristo Redentor statue. The view of Rio de Janeiro is spectacular from the top of Corcovado, and no visit to Rio is complete without the trip up...even if it does cost an arm and a leg to get up there.

I have also worked on a restoration crew and used masonry grinders and pressure washers to clean a building while standing on top of 40-foot scaffolding. I am not afraid of heights, but I think this would terrify me.
I wonder if the mountain is closed to tourists while this little project is underway. I also wonder how long such a project will take.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

A New Project

It's embarrassing to look at how long it has been since I have posted here. In my defense, there have been a lot of things happening, and one of the things that has NOT been happening is training for marathons or triathlons or anything physical for that matter.
But I don't have time to dwell on that right now. I have decided to take advantage of this little blog space to create a travelogue of my upcoming trip to Lima, Peru.
Here's the situation:
I have been accepted to present at the IX Congreso Internacional de Literatura Hispanica (CILH) in Lima. My most excellent department at UNA has generously offered to finance this professional development opportunity for me, and it almost coincides with spring break, so I am taking advantage and making this a 2-week trip. I am not going exclusively for fun, as I will have responsibilities at the conference from the 17-20, but I want to use the rest of my time in Peru to lay the foundation for a study abroad experience that I may offer to my students in the next academic year or two.
My primary objective is to present my work at the CILH conference. (This should also lead to a publication if all goes well.) My secondary objective is to establish professional relationships with appropriate travel companies as well as universities in Peru that will allow me to create 1) a two-week study abroad experience in Peru focused on Peruvian culture as it balances its pre-Columbian and colonial Spanish heritage, and 2) an arrangement with a quality institution of higher education for UNA students to study in Peru for a full semester or academic year.
The goals for the two-week program are:
1- offer a broad range of culturally, linguistically, and academically significant experiences
2- develop a program that will be inviting to a broader number of students than those already listed as FL majors and minors
3- keep the cost below $1750 per participant
I intend to use this blog as a forum in which I can chronicle my intelligence gathering mission, with all of its successes and setbacks. A few of my students seem interested in actually reading a blog about this trip, so I will humor them, as well as anyone else who may stumble upon this site.
My journey will begin on Saturday, March 13.