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La Chocolatada

December 18, 2008

Yesterday I got to experience firsthand the Peruvian Christmas tradition La Chocolatada.  All day in the office I heard plans for La Chocolatada in spurts and bursts from Maribel, the excessively busy, yet always pleasant executive director of my branch.

“Are you coming to La Chocolatada, Jenny?  It starts at three.”

I nodded vigorously, but before I had a chance to ask what I was getting into, fifty borrowers crowded through the office door.  It was time for a loan disbursal.  Later, I hear, a couple of loan officers talking:

“They’ll pick us up in the truck in front of the hospital before the Chocolatada… We’ll eat early so we can go help out.”

Hmmm.  The hospital?  But the Chocolatada sounded so pleasant… it was about chocolate, wasn’t it?

And then sitting at my desk, someone finally speaks to me: “Here’s your Santa Claus hat, Jenny, to wear at La Chocolatada.”

Around noon I mustered the courage to ask where we were going.

“To the Chocolatada,” The loan officer replied simply.  “The other Manuela Ramos program in town ReproSalud is having their Chocolatada today and we’re going to help out.”

“Are they going to give us chocolate?”

Chuckles… “Yes, they’ll give you chocolate.  But ReproSalud is a children’s program- the other office of Manuela Ramos operates it out of another location in town.”

This is the first I’d heard of another Manuela Ramos branch in Pucallpa, even though I know they have several programs nationally.  I’m surprised I only found out that there was a whole new set of Manuela Ramos folks in town; except, these people are herding hundreds of children around and wearing t-shirts with funny caricatures of condoms.  At least that’s what they were doing when we arrived at the famed Chocolatada.

I know you’re curious to know what it is too, but let me back up for a moment and discuss the journey there.  We were all to meet up with our ride to the event at the Amazonas Hospital in Yarinacocha, the next town down the road.

The office has been so busy recently and I’ve been so unwilling to disturb the promotoras as they scurry around that I hadn’t asked anymore about our afternoon plans and only knew the vaguest information about it.  I half expected we would be entering the hospital to do some sort of volunteering once we were there.

But after dismounting our mototaxis in front of the hospital, everyone just stood around sipping sodas we bought from a stand outside the hospital and waited around for about twenty minutes.

“Here comes the truck! Wave it down so they can see us.”

Maribel, the executive director, wasn’t kidding when she said a truck was coming to get us. There were a dozen of us and I was expecting a minivan or small bus to come scoop us.  But the vehicle we were to ride in was actually an extended cab, 4X4, All-(South)American pick up truck.

The cab was already full, but some promotoras started packing in anyway and before I know what’s what there’s no room left and they’re climbing into the back.  I’m hesitating – the last one on the truck, in fact – and for my hesitance I’m rewarded with the “seat” on the truck bed’s backdoor.  I know there’s a name for this folding down part of a truck, but I don’t know what it’s called.  For now let’s just say I was seated on the “rim” of the truck bed with my arm thrown around the spare tire.

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And so we bounced and jangled and giggled our way to the meeting.  There were nine of us in the truck bed, most standing but some – like me – seated on the rim.  Arms and heads sprouted out of vehicle from all sides.  I thought half-heartedly, as I do sometimes when I’m turning a corner on a motorcycle without a helmet, “This is it, huh? This is how I end.”

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But half an hour later we were pulling up to an abandoned field which was actually no longer abandoned but teaming with children.  This was La Chocolatada.  As soon as we arrived we saw that a huge circle of children was surrounding a clown putting on contests between the kids.

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Manuela Ramos people were shooing and herding kids here and there and – what’s this! – there was a MAN with a Manuela Ramos t-shirt!  I suppose it makes sense in the end, to have male counselors instructing the boys of the program on sexual health, and healthy behaviours, but I was taken aback.  I’ve been working with women only for months.  I can count the men I’ve seen in the office on one hand and that’s for both offices and in all cases they were either vendors or husbands or insurance agents.

We approach a tent to stand under and watch the dancing contests that are going.  Here I finally ask what this whole thing is about.  It turns out La Chocolatada is basically a Hot Chocolate Party for kids during Christmas time.  The kids will all gather together to receive three presents: a toy, a cup of hot chocolate, and a huge piece of paneton- or Christmas bread.  But in order to receive this present, the children must put on a “show.”

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The show part involves a clown and the skinniest Santa Claus I’ve ever seen leading the children through games and contests where the winners are chosen by audience applause.  The kids in attendance ranged from infants only a few days old, resting on their mothers shoulders to gangly teenagers who probably are in need of some good reproductive health advice.  What was particularly strange about the dance contest that I was watching was that the “dance” that apparently everyone knew but me, rewards the girl with the best booty-shaking moves.

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I never thought of myself as a Norteamerica Puritan, but watching those little nine year old girls gyrate and shake their skinny little butts while everyone is just standing there smiling, admiring… I found myself blinking excessively and looking around nervously… Wasn’t this a reproductive health program?  Why are these little kids performing in a booty-bouncing contest?… But whatever, everyone was enjoying themselves and no one was confused but me.

Midway through the show, the credit program Manuela Ramos folks and I went to the gift-giving station set up in front of a neighbor’s house.  I should mention here that we were definitely in an asentamiento humano – or literally “human settlement”.  The homes dot the dusty landscape every half acre or so: they have thatched roofs and either wooden or metal siding.  This land has only been settled for about five years or so.  The children are mostly from this and surrounding settlement and while some of them have nice new sneakers and dresses, many of the children’s clothing is ragged and more than a few are barefoot.

The neighbor that is volunteering her home for our event also lives in a thatch and corrugated metal house.  She has set up a cooking station in her front yard to prepare the hot chocolate.  Above a smoldering charcoal fire, she has set two gigantic pots side by side on a short metal grill.  She stirs the steaming milk mixture with a three foot long wooden paddle.

All of a sudden we hear screams and cheers and five hundred children are stampeding toward us.  The ReproSalud counselors form a protective barrier and start barking, “Stand back!”, “Slow down!”, and eventually “Smallest people to the front”.  They even bring out a bucket of water to dampen the earth and settle the dust the kids are raising.

The loan officers station themselves at the hot chocolate pots, at the toy table and at the paneton table.  Paneton by the way is the Peruvian version of bread pudding – more bread than pudding, a loaf is ten inches tall, circular and filled with raisins and those unrealistic candied “fruits”.  During La Chocolatada, paneton slices the size of bricks are lathered with butter and handed out.

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And so the procession begins.  The kids come up with their cups in hand, receive their chocolate, pass to the paneton table and finally to the toy table.  Mothers are carrying their infants through the lines first, then big sisters carrying toddler siblings, and then finally four and five year olds who can only sort of make their way through a line alone.

There is a ton of directing, shouting, wandering and retracing, pushing, pulling, you name it.  The Westerner in me is thinking of ten different ways I might have organized this line better: spacing apart the stations… partnering big kids with little kids… providing plates so a four year old isn’t trying to hold a toy car, a cup full of liquid and a piece of buttered bread the size of a toaster in his tiny paws all at the same time…  But fortunately/unfortunately, I was given the task of sitting on a stool and holding everyone’s purses and that’s exactly what I did.

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The chocolate was served for hours and I felt bad for the loan officers that were breaking their backs with the bending and scooping, bending and scooping.  The line seemed endless and after an hour I realized why.  Children from the neighborhood who had nothing to do with the program had snuck into line, hoping to mix in with the ReproSalud kids.  Ahaaa, so this is why each camper had a ticket that they had to turn in to receive their bread and toy.

But even with the ticket system, we ran out of toys before everyone got one and the paneton gave out soon too.  Those big pots of hot chocolate were still going though and no one needed a ticket to get in on it.  I was seated directly behind the chocolate station and recognized kids coming back from thirds and fourths and I know the servers did too.  But it didn’t matter, there’s enough chocolate for everyone at La Chocolatada.

Finally, at dusk, the two vats were scraped clean and I wish I’d taken out my camera in time to get a shot of the little toddlers crowding around the pots’ rims to peek down at the, yes, empty, bottom.

It was time to head home.  My butt was asleep and I was ready to go.  Don’t get me wrong, I cherished having somewhere to sit when everyone else had to stand, but I’m not used to stools and chairs that rest just six inches off the ground.  Maybe it’s something common to Peru, or maybe South America, or maybe many parts of the world, but those tiny stools cramp me up good!  Why not build it with taller legs, eh?

The sun is setting and we’re leaving for home.  There was no truck this time, just plain old mototaxis – “Phew!”, I thought.

It struck me that a few weeks ago I was just as wary of those motorized rickshaws as I was of this afternoon’s truck bed.  And in a fit of masochistic nostalgia I wonder – if I was staying – what would I think of truck beds in another month?  Maybe I will get a chance some day to come back and find out.

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It’s 99 degrees and I’m a naughty blogger.

December 17, 2008

Le sigh…

I’ve been bad. I wanted so much to blog frequently and keep my pages up to date… But without even looking at my management dashboard I know I’ve been dwindling.  I don’t know what’s wrong with me?!

Was it my first case of traveler’s melancholy last week? Was that once I got off the one-a-day horse it was just downhill from there?  Is it just inevitable that every travel blogger is destined to recede from the internet, letting slide all contact with family, friends and the former world?

Ugh. Who cares.  I’m just a little disappointed that it’s my last full week here in Peru and my last five days working with my beloved Manuela Ramos and I have so little bloggery to show for it.

Ah well, there’s nothing left to do but update anyway.  So then -what’s up with me?

Well, the meetings over the past few weeks have been good as always, although now instead of staying through the whole process, I tend to dip in, introduce myself, do my interviews and disappear while the socias argue over tardiness penalties.  I’ve gotten to do more traveling and seeking out of socias in their own neighborhoods and homes than when I first arrived.  This I love – even though it also scares me.

It’s particularly intimidating and exhilirating when a socia tells me that she sells in the Bella Vista market.  This place is a sprawling, crawling, multi-colored behemoth where you can find rows of hair salons, stinky fresh fish stalls, huge bloody pig heads for sale, marmosets and cuys locked in cages, and dozens of old men rambling the aisles selling boxes of matches.  And that isn’t even the half of it.  Grains, fruits condiments, electrical goods.  The whole place is swarming with flies and mototaxis.  I’m surprised I didn’t give up on eating chicken the first time I visited this market.  The birds are laid out on old cardboard boxes in the open air the whole day long.  Sometimes a young child will swirl a towel over the whole arrangement to keep of the flies, but that happens just every so often.  Most times the flies are just feasting and pooping.

At least though, the chicken are always on tables.  The fishmongers work from tarps they’ve laid down in the street, sometimes not six inches from piles of refuse.  I’ve been fortunate never to have been sick (knock on wood); but I also like that, hey, at least I know where my food is coming from.  No one is injecting food coloring in my tomatoes – if they’re that red, they’re ripe!

Aside from occasional trips to the market to find socias, I’m also mototaxing out to the peri-urban areas – the taxi drivers always find it strange that I, a gringa, would want to come out to this questionable neighborhood in search of a random house.  But once they know I work with Manuela Ramos they completely understand.  One taxi driver told me that he is always taking loan officers to the most far flung places in town.  More than several times my drivers have had to ask the way at every other house.  Directions are become obsolete when we arrive at the outskirts of the asentamientos humanos (“human settlements”).  Both the house and the lot has an assigned number but most times either neither or labeled or both are present and it’s up to you to guess which is which.  I find a person’s name is more useful than their address in these cases.

I think it’s so fun – a cool adventure – to go combing the neighborhoods for these women and their businesses.  The goats block the path and the doggies chase the taxi and the kids all stare me down and every man on the block shouts “Morena! Morena! Morena! Morena!” until I pass out of site.  But I do have one steadfast rule: I will not, under any circumstances, make an appointment for after 4:30 pm.  The darkness is not my friend and I avoid it like the plague when I’m out here in the barrios.  So far this method has worked for me, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.

One socia arrived at a midday meeting crying the other day and clutching her arm.  Apparently a man on a motorcycle ripped her purse out of her hands as she was walking along the road towards our meeting.

Overall, though I have been very fortunate and have been untouched by crime.  (Pray for me that that continues to be the case for my last seven days here in Peru!)

I have had my brushes with danger though.  Today for instance I crowded into the back of a pickup with nine other people on our way to attend an end of year event. I was in the rear seated on the pickup bed’s back door and clutching the spare tire for dear life as we bumped and bounced over the dirt roads.  It was fun for the first twenty minutes and then just plain old painful for the last ten – if only I’d chosen the sports bra today 😦

I also had my first and only mototaxi accident a couple of weeks ago.  It was a simple rearending and I was lucky that I lingered to ask my driver a question instead of leaping out of the mototaxi at the moment that we were hit.  The moto that hit us ended up driving up the back of the passenger car and breaking his side view mirrors off on the backseat, the hood and well… me.  I was lucky and escaped with a sore shoulder.  In the first moments, I thought, this is it! I’m for sure injured and dygin! But a few seconds later I was crying and as much as the hypochondriac in my tried to muster, I admitted to myself that I was pretty much unscathed.

Safety is a matter of luck here, I’ve decided.  It’s been weeks and I’m now accustomed to seeing a motorcycle with a toddler riding on his dad’s lap up-front and the mom holding and infant in the back.  I think seeing children standing in the front seat of a car surprises me more because I’m expecting a car seat.  But what in the world would you strap onto a motorcycle or a mototaxi to keep a kid safe?

Today I saw another family’s brush with fate and they, thankfully, were also lucky.  The mototaxi was filled with one small child, a mother with an infant and her friend.  The driver was joyriding (off roading?) in a soccer field when he ran headlong into a bench in high grasses.  The whole contraption stopped short, flipping over, and dumping out its contents on the ground.  We were terrified that no one would get up from that nasty spill.  But we immediately heard the baby wailing and the mother poked her head up out of the side bars of the car and looked around bewildered.  Within seconds, men had lifted the mototaxi upright and freed the friend and child from underneath.  Everyone was walking away scratching their heads and… is that laughter?  Wow.

I can’t believe it.  But, oh well.  This is what you do when helmets don’t exist.  I’ve asked about them before and people shrug saying it’s just too hot here to consider jamming one over your head.  So I’m tooling around town now daily on the back of a motorcycle and hoping and praying that I come home in one piece.  I’ll miss the sun and the fruit juice, but I’ll be welcoming back seat belts and air bags next week, for sure.

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Excursion on Lake Yarinacocha

December 10, 2008

I finally went on my first boat excursion! Ever since I came to Pucallpa I’ve heard about the beautiful Yarinacocha lake and the Shipibo tribespeople who populate the area.  I’d been itching to finally see the lake and take a boat tour and last Sunday I got my chance.

Lori and I – a Kiva fellow in town for a couple of weeks working for another organization – took a mototaxi down to the waterfront in the nearby city of Yarinacocha.  From here dozens of peki peki boats are docked along the lake waiting to take passengers to nearby lakeside towns.

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The day started out cloudy which – trust me – is a blessing.  We started to putter out onto the lake with Miguel “Pituco” on his boat also named Pituco meaning “that annoying guy who doesn’t have any money but huffs around like he’s got tons of it.”  I love that word and asked Miguel if there is a Peruvian word for the annoying hippie kid who acts like he has no money but actually has gobs of it… There wasn’t one as far as he knew.

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I got to drive the peki peki for a little while which had us meandering back and forth across the lake in a wildly wasteful zig zag.  We’re paying by the hour so I give up soon enough to get this show on the road!  We have some wildlife to see!  Here we are looking for iguanas and sloths in the trees lining the riverbanks.  It’s impossible to spot an iguana as far as I’m concerned.  Miguel had to cut the motor and double back with the oar just so he could point out their forms in the branches.  They’re huge, but without “jungle eyes” like Miguel, there’s no way I can spot them on my own.  We were super lucky though and got one awesome glance at a sloth.  Miguel whistles him awake and he slowly slowly sloooowly lifts his head and swings it around to look at us. i want to hug his happy smiling face – he’s so cute!

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We also saw alot of different birds and some dolphins! (albeit from afar).  The lake is a gorgeous storybook setting:  wide expanse of peacefully lapping waters, birds swooping and diving for fish, eagles soaring hundreds of feet over head and lush green trees bordering the lake for miles.  It was especially nice when Miguel cut the outboard motor and we could relax to the the sounds of the jungle.

After about an hour we made our first stop at the village of Santa Clara.  We docked and what to me looked only like a grassy opening in the brush, but what Miguel called the Santa Clara port.  We were the only “ship” to “dock” there this afternoon.  From here Miguel lead us up the embankment and straight into the jungle.

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Here is Miguel leading us through shoulder high grasses.  Thank goodness I was in pants, Lori ended up getting hundreds bug bites on her legs.  So through the grasses we crashed, striking through the meadow in the full sun and heat of the day.  To say I was sweating is an understatement.

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We also spent a smaller portion of the walk traversing these rickety footbridges where the plain was flooded.  The Shipibos built all this so that they can transport their daily catches of fish inland from the lake.

We came across a woman doing just that when we were returning.  These fish look super scary: like smaller catfish with sharp fins and longer whiskers.

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Finally, we popped out on a dirt road lined with banana trees and ran smack into a young man carrying a machete and a barefoot woman.  Their young bull, a juvenile seven months old, was following along behind them without a leash or any physical touch.  Miguel – who has lived on the lake his whole life doing boat tours and who has also run for mayor – knows everyone in these parts, including this family.  He introduces us and asks them if we can stop by for a visit.

The man agrees and we follow along behind them just a few minutes walk up the road to their family complex.  There are four or five thatch shelters spaced out in a cleared area just a couple of acres in size.  The man and the bull (he knows his place too) moved off to the middle building to go hang in the hammocks with another couple of men.  We were led to a second building off to the side to meet the rest of the women and children.

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Here we are seated in the shelter that seemed to me to be the living room.  At least, this is where the grandma, sister and the kiddies were seated relaxing when we arrived.  The structure is totally open to the elements which here include torrential rains, floods and blistering heat.  But inside under the thatch, I feel great.  The roofs are elevated at least fifteen feet from the platform and all the hot air rises to the ceiling.

Once we arrive, we are offered seats and the two younger women spread cloths on the floor and begin to lay out all of the bead work and embroidery they have been working on for the past few months.  I wonder if Miguel brings every tourist group here and when I ask him he shakes his head emphatically,  no.  He says he alternates towns he visits so as not to overwhelm the people and outstay his welcome.  He hasn’t been to this hamlet in two months.

The ladies tell us they go into town seldom and only then to sell their wares and stock up on supplies.  Even though the boat ride is just an hour and a half to the town of Yarina, the families live secluded for weeks or months at a time here in Santa Clara.  The embroidery work is gorgeous and Lori and I are both in love with it.  Grandma is sitting off to the side working on a larger piece that she started a month ago and will take her another month to complete.  In the end, she will charge the buyer $30 for her efforts.

Lori and I browse through the different necklaces, purses and knick knacks they offer.  Of course it feel obligatory that we buy something during our visit, but there is also a lot that we like and genuinely want.  We make some purchases and continue to chat for a while about the embroidery work and the beautiful skirts the women wear.

Someone (not Lori or me, we’d never have the audacity!) suggested we try some skirts on and before we knew it, Grandma was stripping down to nakedness to hand off her clothing for a dressup session.  The other women pulled modern clothes off shelves and changed their outfits so that we could try on their blouses and skirts.  The children seemed to think it was quite funny – I agreed 🙂 .

A photo shoot commenced and Miguel had us modeling inside the building, outside in front, with just the children, with just the women, seated, standing… everything we could do pretty much.

And, here’s our best shot (props to anyone who can guess the TV reference).

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Lori and I managed to get behind the camera ourselves and take family potraits of all of the members together – digital cameras are an instant hit everywhere I’ve visited in Peru.  We had a lot of fun and by the end it wasn’t just the children who were giggling.

When it came time to go, the women of the house presented Lori and I with several of the bracelets and necklaces that we’d been pouring over before.  I was definitely touched and the cynical me admitted that perhaps the enjoyment of each other’s company was mutual.  I had – when we first arrived unannounced – felt like we were encroaching on their quiet afternoon.  But Miguel says that among the Shipibos, “when gifts are given they are from the heart.”

So we said our goodbyes and promised them we’d get their family portrait printed and sent back to them with Miguel on his next trip out.  “Send candy too!” they added as we waved goodbye.  Miguel says they love chocolate and he has a trick to keep it from melting.  I love both of these ideas.

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And as if the trip couldn’t get any better, we launch out onto the lake just as the sun starts to set.  The birds are in full flight, taking advantage of the buzzing insects and bubbling fishies of the late afternoon.  And we’re puttering back at a snail’s pace enjoying the last of our afternoon.

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Monkey Caca

December 7, 2008

I just got pooped on by a monkey. That’s what you get for trying to take pictures with wild animals in your arms. It’s okay though, the guide said the monkey poop was “pura fruta”.

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Paul does Peru… Part I

December 4, 2008

Woohoooo! Paul and I just had an awesome visit full of twists and turns and surprises… Well I guess the only real surprises were that the Nazca lines – which were supposed to be the highlight – were the definittive lowlight. And then the Islas Ballestas, the redheaded stepchlid on the itinerary were absolutely amazing.

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Swarming with thousands of birds, the islands are just a half hour speed boat ride west of the Peruvian desert coast.  Our guide was funnier than he realized: we’d putter around a rocky outcropping and he would would announce brightly, “And here are some baby penguins to keep the Peruvian boobies company!”.

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Now I’ve seen sea lions before: lazing around at the San Francisco docks.  But when our motorboat puttered up within yards of hundreds of beached beasts, I was spellbound.  “Look they are mating!”  “Look that one shows us that she is a girl!”  our guide announces, beaming.  The sea lions are fat and curious.  A dozen of them dive into the waves and swim a little closer to check us out.  They pop their heads out of the water like little swimming prairie dogs and eye us inquisitively. “Are you fish?” they ask.

The Islas Ballestas is nicknamed the poor man’s Galapagos Islands, but don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s not as cool as the famous wildlife sanctuary.  Granted, I’ve never been to GI but Islas Ballestas is not to be dismissed.  It gets two thumbs up for the powerfully overwhelming guano stink, the endless swirling swarms of birds overhead, the dangerously romantic rock outcroppings and the close up encounters you get with the penguins, sea lions, boobies, terns and pelicans.

We also took a hired car into the Paracas National Park.  I’ve never been in a desert like this before.  It looks like the Sahara to me: miles and miles of sand and dunes, and you would never want to be caught out here if the wind kicks up.

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Actually, when we were leaving the next day for Nazca, we drove through a sandstorm and it looked like how I picture Iraq to be.  The highway was almost invisible for all the sand.  Thank God we were in a bus and not walking to Nazca! hehe

Paul and I had an awesome afternoon  exploring the desert coast.  We would be driving for miles through up and over the dunes or across flat “fields” or cracked earth and sand and all of a sudden we would crest a dune and the sea and cliffs would come into view.

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What made the trip even more special was the fact that we were virtually alone.  We saw a couple of other hired taxis crisscrossing the desert while we were there, but we pretty much had every cliff top and beach to ourselves.  Peaceful, gorgeous afternoon.  We were so lucky to experience it!

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Adventures with Ebele and Jen

November 18, 2008

Phewf, so much to catch up on after a whirlwind week! My sweet, sweet friends Ebele and Jen arrived Sunday night at my hostel and I got my first taste of good old home, sweet home. The ladies were fresh off the bus from Lima which they valiantly had jumped on within hours of landing.

We took it easy the first night and started off next morning at the largest pre-Incan ruin in the country: Chan Chan. It’s just ten minutes down the road from Trujillo; but, it is immense. Tens of thousands of inhabitants used to worship, work and play here. I don’t know too much about the site because we decided to pass up the guided tour…. The better to stage fun action shots with…

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We also posted up with these wooden figurines.

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Granted, we didn’t learn too much since we were relying on our tour book only. But we had a grand, old time all in all.

That afternoon, I took the girls to the mall where we ate some pretty crappola Papa John’s (beware! It’s NOT the same!) and then headed out to work to meet some more socias. Jen and Ebele got lost in the meantime and I ended up tracking them down at an internet café across town. How, you ask? You can thank Gchat for that one.

We grabbed some dessert, some snack for our upcoming trip and some dinner (eating is going to big with this crowd! Or at least with anyone who’s with me J ).

Lastly, we packed up our bags and headed out to the bus station for a night bus up the coast to Máncora.

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Ahhhh, here we are in paradise. Máncora is a small, but popular surfing town in the north near Ecuador. I had no idea how much of a surfing culture Perú has, but it is a live and well all up and down the coast and especially here in Máncora. The sun shines everyday and the heat is on, so it’s a go to spot for anyone craving beach (US!).

We stayed at the Hotel Sunset, a serene, comfortable and clean spot just 2 miles south of the city center. We mototaxied there when we arrived in town to freshen up and get ready to get our surf on!

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Here we are at Robbie Muñoz’ Surf Rider shop. Our teacher is a Ventura, CA born and raised pro-surfer. We were so excited and ready to get in the water. He drove us in this ole beater to a deserted beach 20 minutes south of Máncora to a town called Los Organitos.

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This town doesn’t get a lot of tourists and that means that we have the beach pretty much all to ourselves. We park our car behind some fancy beach chalets (which for future reference sleep 10 and rent for $100 per night, ahem ahem ahem – bachelorette party!).

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Here we are posting up like surfer girls before the lesson. Robbie started us off with a “quick run” – when he told us what was happening I was like, ummm – did I sign up for this? Of course it didn’t faze Jen or Ebele at all and off we all went plus a Swiss girl named Karen to jog up and down the beach a little. Afterwards, we got some lessons paddling, jumping up, and standing. It seems easy enough.

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In fact, it wasn’t too bad with Robbie in the water launching us into the waves. Here’s me paddling out and Jen and Ebele getting up.

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The hard part in surfing apparently is the actual catching the wave part. We spent the better part of our lesson struggling to catch just one, just ONE wave! Actually… I lie, because at this point the waves started getting way too big for us to handle. We were seriously struggling just to get onto our boards at some points. Ebele swears she had a brush with death and Robbie says at one point he looked up and said we looked like dolls getting tossed in a washing machine. I, for one, was just laughing hysterically every time I could get up for air.

We called it quits after a little while and all went to eat some lunch. Robbie turned out to be a super chill and nice (no surprise here?) guy and we ended up making plans to have dinner at one of his favorite spots. We also decided we had so much fun that day that we scheduled another surfing outing for the next day.

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On the way home we saw this crazy looking dog which is supposedly a typically Peruvian breed. He looks like an albino hyena to me – an evil character out of a Disney movie or something.

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We made it back to our hotel in time for a gorgeous sunset – eat your heart out suckers! Yes, it was as gorgeous as it looks and we watched the whole thing. I was in luck because it was also a full moon that night.

Dinner was some yummy ceviche, patacones and chaufa or Chinese/Peruvian fried rice. Afterwards we tried our luck at a couple bars in town.

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But we turned in after a few rounds and a few songs – are we old ladies now? I keed I keed.

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Next morning we had a lovely poolside breakfast and just took our time relaxing and savoring the day. Our midday we mototaxied into town to meet up with Robbie for another surfing lesson.

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I had big dreams of getting up on my own and paddling my heart out to catch my dream wave. It’s hard work, man! After several missed attempts, I saw my wave coming and I went for it. “You caught it?!” you say?… No. I wish. Instead I got hives. Can you believe that crap?! I wiped out and swallowed a bunch of water and my body said, that’s it, I don’t know what the hell you’re trying to do acting like a fish swimming around and eating mouthfuls of water, but it tastes like shrimp and I’m going to swell up your face and your eyes, so there! Daaaaaaang.

But thankfully I have gracious, not-easily-astonished friends and Jen sat me on the beach and made sure I got my Benadryl. So the other girls are still valiantly hunting waves and I’m sunning on the beach and willing away a face full of hives. Again, thankfully, Benadryl is a miracle medicine and I didn’t have to wait long to look like a normal human being again. If any of you saw me that fateful Saint Patrick’s day when I turned into a hive-monster, don’t worry, it was nothing like that. Phewf!

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Goodbye Robbie, our awesome instructor. Hello night bus L. We were not ready to head back; I know all of us could have stood at least a couple more days in beautiful Peruvian beach paradise.

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But, Trujillo isn’t so bad: you can buy pastries out the back of a car! Ebele and Jen left the next day, again in night bus back to Lima where they plan to catch flight to Cuzco to begin a four day hike up to Machu Pichu.

It was so wonderful having them here – I’ve been such loner, which don’t get me wrong, I definitely like. But even if it was just a few days with friends, made all the difference in wrapping up my Trujillo experience. In showing them where and how I live it was kinda like graduation, funnily enough. I only wish we could’ve stayed together longer…

Thanks so much for visiting, girlies! Xoxoxo

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The Weekend in Review

November 9, 2008

Woohoo- I’m going out with a bang!  Karaoke, guinea pigs, salsa and mototaxis – I’m trying to pack it all in before Ebele and Jen arrive and I round out my last few days on the Peruvian coast.

 

On Friday night I met up with my teacher buddies and we went to a local bar where bands play “Spanish Rock” on the weekends.  I think the singer in the striped shirt looked kind of like Rob Wrobel.  What do you think?

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Saturday, I met up with the women of Manuela Ramos around noon to have lunch. They’d spent the morning doing a promotional caravan in the neighborhood markets of La Esperanza – an outer suburb (and sometimes slum) of Trujillo.  Because it’s my last week coming up, they were kind enough to take me out on the town both for lunch and dinner/drinks/karaoke/dancing!

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Well, here it is my first cuy.  The skin reminds me of a pork rind on a Christmas ham and the meat reminds me of chicken thigh: dark and juicy but too light to be meat.  That’s it’s little foot sticking out there.  He’s deep fried and he tastes pretty good.  I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get psyched out sometimes while I was chowing down.  It seems silly though, because it was good! Just remembering those little cutey pies at Señora Elda’s house in the sierras… It made me hesitate… and burp.

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Fresia ordered a side of cuy head.  Which to me looks like more like a hippo than a guinea pig… Hey, if pigs and hippos are related, does that mean guineas pigs are too?  Check out the ears – they made me giggle.

 

Lunch was really nice and it was good to finally spend some more social time with the promotoras (loan officers) and directors.  I wish I had taken the initiative to do something like that sooner.  It’s a pity I’ll be leaving them all in a week to go to Pucallpa.  But my lesson is learned – no more being shy!

 

I spent the rest of the afternoon traipsing around taking pictures of underwear and street taffy.

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I also paid another visit to El Cortijo trying to track down the members of the Nuevo Peru bank.  I don’t know why I thought it was deserted before because this time it was teeming with children, street vendors and pit bulls.

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One of the girls in the foreground is the daughter of one of the women who I’m looking for to interview.  The momma is a no show so it means another trip back this Monday.

 

But no time to worry, it’s on to the night! I must wear my love for karaoke on my sleeve, because the promotoras have known I’ve wanted to go since the first day I arrived.  We made plans to meet up for dinner and then a little singy-singy that night.

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Here we are at the office getting ready to get our party on.  Everyone in Perú asks me how tall I am and because of the incessant questioning I have looked up my metric height: 1.67m.  In the picture above I’m head and shoulders above the promotoras and that’s pretty much the case everywhere I go.  I’m really more on par with the men than the women and even then I have a lot of the guys beat.  Not bad for 5’6”, no?

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Dinner was another food adventure: beef heart kebabs, otherwise known as anticuchos.  They’re yummy, just like any other beef kebab except way, way chewier.

 

After dinner we walked over to a …. Casino?!?!  Yes, the karaoke lounge is in a small casino just off the Plaza de las Armas.  It’s like a tiny version of a Las Vegas casino complete with one lounge and one dance hall in addition two gaming floors.  The whole thing is the size of a flagship Gap store.

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Here we are having fun at the karaoke lounge.  This was I think my first time not in a private karaoke room. I’m not sure if it was the extra audience or not enough drinking beforehand but I handily butchered CRAZY by Aerosmith to start the night off.  Okay, I pulled it together halfway through, but I was totally unprepared when my song came on and ended up surprising myself with a my own sour start. Ha!

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I should have gone with my normal Four Non-Blondes but nobody knew that song and they were begging either for Crazy or November Rain.  I don’t even know who sings November Rain (I know, I’m an embarrassment) so of course I went Aerosmith.  So the end was not at all terrible, but the beginning was- wow – I wish you could have seen (and not heard?) it.

 

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I’m harping on it so much because it was my only chance to sing.  That’s the downside to these open lounges, the whole bar has to sing before it’s your turn again.  We were tired out after two rounds.

 

So three pitchers of sangria and two hours of karaoke later we headed up to the discoteque to shake our groove thang!  The band was awesome and, unfortunately, had a shortage of anniversaries and birthdays to dedicate songs to.  So “Welcome, Jenny frrrrom Amerrricaaaaa” was too frequently the cause to call the dancers to the floor.  It’s too bad my camera batteries ran out because we had a great time cutting the rug.  One of the loan officers tells me (blush blush!) I dance better than some Peruvians.  Hot diggety dog!

 

We were dancing for another couple of hours and getting completely tired out.  One of the loan officers, Flor, completely ghosted without telling anyone she was leaving and, oh how it made me think of my sweet, sweet California home! Ha ha ha ha!

 

We called a taxi from inside the club even though there are tons waiting outside.  Good tidbit for any travelers to Trujillo: get a cab driver recommendation for late night pick ups and drop offs.  There are taxistas out there who will rob you right in the backseat of the car on your way home!  Yikes.  I’m thankful that one of the loan officers’ neighbors is here to come pick us up and take us all safely, one by one to our homes.

So that´s the weekend so far.  Ebele and Jen come tonight and I cant´t wiat for the adventures we´re going to make together.  Stay tuned for scenes from our upcoming trip to surfing mecca Máncora.