EMAIL 10: January 4, 2006
Peruvian Adventures & Feliz Ano Novo from Copacabana Brazil!
So, no? I have not fallen off the face of the Earth? I have actually had the best two months of my life in Peru and currently Brazil. I do apologize for not sharing those experiences with you while they were happening.
In Peru, I had the chance to spend 12 days with my mom traveling to all of the key sites, but we did not have the chance to see them all. Peru offers so much for tourists, students, and backpackers. It was a great way to spend my Thanksgiving holiday and time with my mom, who many of you know is my best friend. We had a great time - much of which was spent laughing, taking loads of photos, and sharing this special fellowship experience with her.
Many people asked me why did I decide to visit Peru? Selfishly, my initial response before coming was Machupicchu. I knew this fellowship would give me the once in a lifetime opportunity to visit the preserved, secret Inca Empire, one of the world's notable man-made wonders. However, after exploring diverse areas of Peru, this country has a lot more to offer in addition to Machupicchu. I could not be more pleased with my decision to visit Peru as my first destination in South America.
My mom and I not only saw incredible places, but we had many comical and classic moments together. (This is no surprise to many). This was the first "tour-guided" trip that we had experienced, which as you can imagine was interesting to meet and observe people from around the world who also came to explore Peru.
It is true that the key word to associate with Peru is Inca, but there are many other things to describe Peruvian culture including: alpaca, microclimates, Fujiomori, government corruption, the Spanish conquest, smiling faces and happy people, diverse foods, guinea pig, finger puppets and poverty, sand dunes, Lake Titicaca, indigenous persons and languages, elaborate dress, Catholicism and traditionalism, Pacific Ocean, Andes Mountains, the jungle, archaeological sites, and many others.
I met my mom in the Lima Airport. I flew in from San Salvador, and she flew in from Jacksonville. The following morning started our jam packed 12 day excursion of Peru. We visited the historical sites of Lima in the central square. We visited the cathedral which is home to the Francisco Pizarro's tomb. The Cathedral is made completely of wood inside. It is absolutely incredible. For this reason, there are no candles. Pizarro discovered and conquered Peru. The Spanish conquest became a common theme during our travels. Tour guides rarely spoke about the current or recent past political state of Peru, but almost all of them were sure to mention how the Spanish affected their culture and heritage. Our first tour guide in Lima emphatically described how the Spanish took life away from Incas.
However, the cathedral was not the highlight of the Lima city tour. We visited the Monastery of San Francisco which is famous for its tile work, ornate cloisters, and its catacombs. The catacombs were incredible. I have never seen so many bones in my life! It was clearly not a place to bring small children. All of the bones were separated and categorized (mainly by archaeologists) depending on if it was a skull, femur, etc. Even more bizarre was the fact that most of the bones were within an arm's reach. The catacombs were used for the poor Peruvians, as our guide said, "Don't you see why I want to be cremated."
Lima was not nearly as impressive as the rest of our planned activities. On the second day, we went to Nasca to see for ourselves the Nasca Lines which are mind-blowing just like Manchupicchu. On the long 6 hour van ride, it was incredible to see the various microclimates of Peru. Only a short distance outside of Lima, the topography changes to vast deserts and The best way to view the Nasca Lines are from the air because of their size and detail. The lines were cut into the stony desert ground by Pre-Incas. Many believe that the Pre Incas used the lines to represent some sort of astronomical calendar. The lines were discovered by Maria Reiche, a German woman, who spent 50 years of her late life studying the lines. What makes the lines even more incredible is the fact that they do not only create parallel or geometric figures, but complex designs including a whale, astronaut, dog, monkey, spider, humming bird, and others. There are 13 designs in total. The design of the bird itself has a wing span of 100 meters! It was incredible to fly over the lines - although 50 min in a tiny plane flying over the mountains was more than enough.
Cusco and Manchupicchu
There are not words to describe the next few days of our trip. Everything about Cusco, Manchupicchu, and the Sacred Valley is incredible. The first thing you notice is the change of altitude. Lima is only 331 feet above sea level where as Cusco is 10912 feet above sea level. Cusco is notable because of its architecture and Spanish influences. Luckily, neither of were overly affected by the altitude! The Spanish built the first Catholic Church in Cusco, however they never discovered the hidden Inca ruins of Manchupicchu. Manchupicchu not discovered by the world until 1911 by Hiram Bingham from Yale. However, I say "to the world" because many there were indigenous families living at the ruins upon discovery. Manchupicchu was more breathtaking that I had imagined. It is also important to recognize that unlike other ruins, it was not used as a protective fortress. It was used by priests who used various temples. Just like the Nasca Lines, only the pictures justify its greatness. (After arriving to Rio de Janeiro and the hostel, I realized I was the ONLY person who went to Peru and did not do the Inca Trail - everyone laughed at the fact that I took the train with my mom and that we did not due the 4 day hike - looks like I'll have to return to Peru!)
Puno, Uros, and Taquille
Although Manchupicchu was absolutely mind-blowing, I really enjoyed my visit to the floating islands of Uros and Lake Titicaca . They literally float! The pictures will demonstrate what I mean. I cannot imagine how people live their daily lives on these islands which are made of layers of straw which is also used as a food source and to construct their homes. Most of their livelihood comes from fishing and tourism, but there are only a dozen of the small islands which permit tourists. Another interesting fact is that these floating islands do not practice Catholiciscm. Over 70% of locals practice Christianity and missionaries come every year. For food, they eat a variety of fish including one which aids in sleeping and something that resembles a chicken. They describe it as a water chicken - still a bit confused. Taquille was also intriguing because of the local dress and customs. It is a very reserved community where the women dress in all black, rarely speak, or make eye contact. The men hold all of the power and there dress is very significant. There hat alone determines if they are single, married, or a member of local government.
This is only a brief look into our trip to Peru - it was full of laughs and memories which I am so glad I was able to share with my mom. It also provided me with some insight into Peruvian culture and how diverse it really is.
After my mom returned to Florida, I spent the next 2.5 weeks or so living with a family in Lima. However, my experience living with this family was quite different from my previous host families and my previous 2 weeks traveling around Peru. I stayed with an amazing family whose son attended Owen, Vanderbilt's School of Management and Business. Thanks to Vandy's alumni development office, I was able to contact their son and his family in Lima. They were kind enough to let me stay with them. From the beginning, I knew I was going have a great time, but a different experience. Patty and Pepe and their son, Ignacio, all spoke fluent English and lived in a beautiful apartment in a lovely area of Lima, called Surco. They were extremely kind and welcoming! I truly felt like I was at home with my own family. (The only downside was that my Spanish weakened as we tended to speak in English). They treated me to fabulous dinners in Lima, which was their main goal because my mom and me said we did not eat well in Lima itself. (When my mom and I met them, it was revealed that we spent 2 dinners eating at the restaurant equivalent of Denny's which was across the street from our hostel!) Well, they succeeded. I think I ate better in Lima than anywhere else - including the best, Chifa, or Chinese food in my life! There is a strong Asian influence throughout Peru. We also had the chance to visit the beaches outside of Lima on the weekends.
It is obvious that I enjoyed my 2 weeks in Lima and I did have chance to meet with a few women's organizations, a rural development group, indigenous advocacy group, and visit the site of Patty's daughter's NGO, my experience in Lima only underscored the divide between the wealthy and lower classes of several Latin American countries. It was an interesting perspective to witness and live first hand. I never took public transportation in Lima, only a private, secure taxi. I lived with a live in maid, ate marvelously, and visited beautiful beach communities, which were surrounded by small dwellings made out of cardboard, plastic, or a thatch like material.
My month in Peru over Thanksgiving made me thankful for what I was brought up with and for the chance to see the role of the indigenous people in Peru. Racisicm is present and within Lima, indigenous identity is frowned down upon. Lima controls politics which will play a key role in next year's upcoming elections, which many people fear there is not a strong candidate. And the people in Lima have the control to decrease Peru's poverty and identity crisis between those in the upper and lower classes.
Welcome to Brazil! FELIZ NATAL Y FELIZ ANO NOVO
Drastically switching gears, I am currently in Brazil where I have been here since November 21st. It was difficult to leave Peru because of how close I felt to the family, but I am so glad I had the opportunity to come to Brazil. However, I am not doing Brazil justice by only visiting San Paulo and Rio de Janeiro for the holiday season. In San Paulo, I am staying with a family of a friend of mine from Vanderbilt who studied abroad there for 1 year. The family and their daughter who speaks fluent English (her parents do not) are an absolute joy! Their parents feel guilty about the language barrier even though I have been able to fair amount from my Spanish.
I cannot believe how similar and different the two languages are. I can read most of the basic Portuguese and understand it, but I cannot speak or pronounce it. I attempt to communicate in Spanish.
I decided to spend Christmas and my New Year's in Rio de Janeiro from the 23rd until this evening, the 4th. (I return to San Paulo until the 10th).
Rio de Janeiro is amazing and loads of fun to put it simply. I have spent the last 12 days living in a youth hostel, Mellow Yellow, where I have met so many amazing people from around the world mainly from the UK and Australia. I am definitely the token American for many. There have been 5 people from the States that were here during some part of my visit, but it is 100% evident that most Americans do not travel like the rest of the world. Everyone who I met had so many amazing stories from their travels and it was a different kind of learning experience for me. Thus far, it might have been the most important learning experience I have had in the last 4 months, or 1/3 of my fellowship year.
Over the last 4 months, I have struggled with the balance between travel and culture experiences and working. I have had a difficult time not feeling guilty about purely traveling and seeing different parts of a country because in the States we view that as a "vacation" and not exactly a learning experience. I have felt guilty about not working 9-5 and not having a more tangible by product to show for my experiences other than a few emails and loads of pictures.
However, after meeting so many new life long friends who have dedicated the last 3,6, 9, 12 months to traveling around the world with only a backpack, I have come to appreciate the meaning of traveling. It truly is a powerful tool for personal growth. It allows you too see a different part of you, of others, and other parts of the world. Not many jobs, resumes, or test scores can reflect that type of growth or experience. No one I met felt guilty about taking a year after high school, college, law school, or their jobs to travel. We all shared stories, pictures, books, and even a drink or two and had the chance to just talk about where we've been or where we will go! I have not had the chance to do that before on such a personal but educational level. I have learned a new language - British English. There were many times where I had no idea what people were talking about and it looks like my mom's family and Nana (who are English) did not teach me all of the slang. I have learned how valuable it is to be a dual citizen and how appreciated you are by others as an American who is traveling. They think it is wonderful and unique!
Most importantly, I have learned that what I am doing this year is valued, enriching, and a true development tool and although not everyone gets what I am doing: it is not a year long vacation - but a year of self discovery and the discovery of others! I met a group of lawyers who were traveling, a physiotherapist, and even an plumber from Scottland - and who is to say his job as a plumber is less valuable than someone making plenty of money after college when he had the chance to save money and see multiple countries and events.
I have already accomplished new things in Rio that I have not been the best at doing in the past. I know that I am a people person and get along with most, but I am also very shy when it comes to new people in a room like a classroom or random gathering. Well, go to a hostel around the holidays and you automatically overcome that fear! Even though I missed my family, I had the best holiday season of my life. The hostel tried to make us feel at home with blasting holiday music and a Christmas dinner and a action packed New Year's Eve package. The only downside was that it did rain all day on Christmas and it has been cloudy since New Year's Day.
I also visited the famous Jesus Christ statue, Sugar Loaf mountain, the Macarena Stadium, went on a favela tour, went to a favela night club featured in City of God, and participated in Rio's famous New Year's Eve at Copacabana beach! The movie, City of God, really does portray many aspects of Rio de Janiero including the violence, drugs, favelas, and picturesque scenery. There are 752 favelas in Rio de Janiero, the most in the world until recently-2 nd to Caracas, Venezuela. We visited Rocinha, Rio's largest favela on a tour. I had reservations about going on a favela tour at first, but it turned out to be quite educational and 50% of the proceeds go to a local school that we visited. Violence is low within the favela itself because the drug lords and his pseudo army do not want military or police attention. On the streets, you saw the look out boys on the entrance ways and certain corners, saw the drug dealers, saw graffiti representing the two main gangs, and saw black flags hanging in memory of the drug lord who was killed last month. You also heard the blasting of fireworks which signify that a police car has entered the favela as a cue to the drug lords, etc. Obviously, I do not have too many pictures of the favelas on the main road for the previous listed reasons, but ironically I felt quite safe. There are only 200 favelas left that have not been converted into communities. Communities are areas that have received postal addresses, road names, and funding for education and other amenities.
New Year's Eve, or Reveillon, in Rio was nothing short of mind blowing. They say there was a record number of people ranging from 1-3 million people with at least 1 people on Copacabana beach alone. They also set off a record number of fireworks this year with 23 tons of explosives! Other key traditions of new years in Rio include: everyone wears white, you throw in a yellow or white flower for peace, you make a wish to the sea goddess, iemanja, and you stand in the water for 7 waves after midnight all for protection from the sea goddess. It really was a chance of a lifetime to make this pseudo pilgrimage to Rio for the New Year, as it is recognized as one of the best activities to do in the world. (It is too bad I am missing the Thai New Year.) Ironically, it started to pour just after the fireworks around 1 am - everyone in the rain wearing white.
I wish you all the very best in 2006!! I hope that I have the safe good fortune and protection as I have had in the past four months. I hope to send all of the pictures for Peru and Brazil once I find a computer with access to PDFs. I have attached 3 photos from New Year's Eve that a friend took from a hotel room to give you an idea of how busy it really was.
I am looking forward to Buenos Aires on the 10th - the expectations are high from what everyone has said about Argentina!
Cheers from Rio,