Heading to Cuba

Just arrived in Boulder about 2 hours ago. In about 4 hours, I am leaving for Cuba! I’m almost done packing and will hopefully get a little sleep before I head out. The trip is with my church here in Boulder and should be pretty cool. Updates are unlikely, but I’ll post about it after I get back into the U.S. on January 8th. Cheers

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Buenos Aires

The last few days in Chile were unfortunately pretty uneventful. A museum or two with mildly interesting exhibits and a couple of over-charged meals (actually over-charged – more than the menu price!). I also ate or drank something during a meal we cooked that left my bowels a tad looser than I normally would desire. The one amazing thing we were able to see was a sunset from San Cristobal, a statue placed high above the city that is accessed via ”funicular” just a block from our hostel. Definitely worth the $3 round-trip ticket.

Joel and Ted's Excellent Adventure

Joel and Ted's Excellent Adventure

 

We are currently in Buenos Aires and have been since Tuesday evening. Spanish speakers here actually say the ”s” at the end of words, as opposed to Chileans, but any double ”l” words like ”tortilla” or ”lleno” sound more like ”sheno” or ”jeno”. My language skills in general have definitely improved overall in the last 7 weeks, but I honestly do not use Spanish very often. If I do, it is usually for a quick question. Everyone speaks English at airports, bus stations, hostels, and even many small shops, and they usually go straight to it before I open my mouth. Apparently I look American.

Tonight was a half-hearted and failed attempt to find a club consisting of a long cab ride to an expensive place that Ted and I weren’t keen on. We stood in front of the entrance for 10 minutes before deciding that our friends probably already paid and entered, so we decided to just come back to the hostel. There were lots of funny things to laugh at along the way, so we still had a good time. One of my friends from CU has a brother that works for a pub crawl company here in Buenos Aires, so we are going to try that out next week (the pub crawl I did in Rome last summer was amazing, so I have high hopes for this one too). Tomorrow night we leave for Iguazu Falls, a 17 hours bus ride to one of the biggest waterfalls in the world. The water level is lower than normal, but it should still be amazing. Well, time to get some sleep! Almost 4 am…

Welcome to Valpo!

As I type this post, I am sitting in a coffee shop on the hills of Valparaiso, Chile. We arrived yesterday after spending our first 3 days in Santiago. Those first days consisted of museum hopping, site-seeing, and tasting the Chilean wines we have heard so much about. Our hostel, La Chimba, sat in the middle of the Barrio Bellavista, a neighborhood tagged by bohemian artists who also probably attend the nearby colleges. It is filled with bars, restaurants, and clubs because most of the people who hang around this area are college aged. Because we were there for slow weekdays, not much was going on at night and we were unable to experience any real nightlife. We are going back to the city tomorrow for the last three days in Chile, so hopefully we will be able to see a lot more.

The differences between Peru and Chile are very stark. Chile is a much wealthier country, something that is obvious just by comparing the public transportation. Nicer buses, bigger/centralized downtown, and a subway. Another big difference I noticed was the skin tone of Chileans. Peruvians are much darker than Chileans, a fact that certainly fuels some of the prejudice in the country. The two countries really don’t get along, and even the mom at my homestay has a strong dislike for Chile. Something to do with fishing rights or borders or something stupid – the problem is really more pride than anything else.

Anyway, we are in Valparaiso right now, a great coastal town with lots of character. Big hills with colorful homes, beautiful views, thrown in with the commercial buildings from the shipping industry. Walking around is really the best thing to do here because the city is so unique.

Another weird thing is the money. One dollar is a little over 500 pesos, so at any given time I carry about 5000 or more pesos. A little strange because a meal can cost a few thousand pesos and still be less than 10 bucks.

Leaving Peru

Skies of blue, clouds of white

Skies of blue, clouds of white

The first leg of my journey is hours from completion. Peru down, Chile and Argentina to go. I packed my things in all of 10 minutes, with most of that time spent folding clothes. Sleep is unlikely to occur until the flight at 7:30 am because I leave for the airport in less than 2 hours. Here’s a wrap up of the last few weeks of my experience in Peru.

Work at Hogar de Cristo has been great. Most days there were spent working on the garden and hanging out with the special-needs orphans. I have had little interaction with the mentally disabled in my life, and the time spent at Hogar has given me the opportunity to do this. With school being on break, we also got to spend more time with the children and teenagers that live at Hogar. Soccer, in particular, has been our favorite activity. The sport has proven this summer to be a bridge between me and people who don’t speak my language and live in a very different situation. From the homeless in Gaza to the orphans and children of Peruvian slums, football (soccer) has connected me to people with whom I normally would share nothing in common. I’ve realized that if I intend on living in any other country or working with the poorer half of the world, I need to familiarize myself with the sport of the masses. And maybe pick up a move or two.

I was able to get away for a weekend to Huancayo, a city nestled in the Central Andes just 7 hours from Lima. Another volunteer, Jeff, accompanied me on this excursion that took us from the bustling streets of this commercial town to the beautiful surrounding hillsides. It was nice to get out of Lima for a bit to explore another part of the country. We met some great people from all over the world and  really enjoyed the trip.

Overlooking the city

Overlooking the city

Torre Torre - Huancayo

Torre Torre - Huancayo

Tending my flock

Tending my flock

View from bus, leaving the Andes

View from bus, leaving the Andes

If there is one thing I have learned from all the traveling this summer, it is that the people you meet are just as much part of the experience as the place itself. Peru has lots of amazing things to see, and I was lucky enough to experience many of them. But all of the people I have met have really made this trip what it is. Volunteers, orphans, the children in Pachacutec, the host family, Peruvians at clubs, world travelers at hostels – hard to describe the value in meeting all these different people. This country has treated me well, and I am hoping Chile will do the same!

Halfway There

4 weeks ago I arrived in Lima.   Here is the overall assessment thus far.

The volunteer aspect is certainly much different than I expected, but not necessarily better or worse. Initially I assumed I would be at the same place everyday working and playing with kids in the orphanage.  The orphanage, Hogar de Cristo, has its three communities (kids, elderly, and disabled), all of which are essentially orphans. They either have no families, were abandoned by them (often the case with the extremely disabled), or their family lives elsewhere and never visits them. My goal was to bring some type of joy to the people of the orphanage, and in the end I guess age or mental capabilities don’t matter, everyone needs to be loved. As of now there are two concrete projects at Hogar: preparing/planting a garden and redoing the gameroom for the kids. Members of the disabled community often help with the garden and kids sometimes join in on the painting .

Three days are spent at Hogar, and the other two are at a kindergarten in Pachacutec. This town is an hour bus ride from Lima and houses some of the poorer people in Lima. It was basically a big beach on a hill, but the government let people move there some years ago and it is now covered with shacks. Helping the teachers can at times be frustrating because their isn’t much organization in the classroom, but we get to interact with the kids and play around before they leave.

Another unexpected part of the experience was the amount of time actually working. I was prepared to be someplace all day and return home in late afternoon. Each day, however, we arrive between 9 and 10 am and usually leave around 1pm to eat lunch at home by 2pm. On top of the short hours was the initial quarantine, along with bus strikes/protests (4 days of strikes, 2 of which I was too sick to work anyway) that left us unable to travel to either of the volunteer locations. It was probably a mistake to assume  certain things about an experience like this, so I instead shifted my outlook to just enjoying the work that I am able to do.

There is a turnover about every 2 weeks of new volunteers, with most staying from 1 to 2 months, though some shorter. I have met some great people, mostly college-aged, and we all hangout in the evening and go out in Lima on the weekends.  Recently, we went to a park with some fountains in Central Lima. It was basically an hour and a half of taking awesome pictures.

Don't Touch the Water!  Man will blow whistle

Don't Touch the Water! Man will blow whistle

Notice the wetness of my shirt

Notice the wetness of my shirt

Handstand

Handstand

Last Thursday me and a few others went with Chelsea, another volunteer, to the airport. We bought some beers to calm her nerves (the formality of airports stresses her out), and I thought McDonald’s would really complete my American meal.

Big Mac n' beer

Big Mac n' beer

I spilled about half my coke onto my crotch, just to complete the classy-ness of it all.

P.S. – Check out how cute this old lady is from Hogar de Cristo!

She doesn't speak much, but laughs plenty.

She doesn't speak much, but laughs plenty.

Central Lima

Three weeks after I came to Peru, I finally got to the historic center of the city. Some friends and I took a taxi to the Plaza De Armas, the main square of Lima.

Plaza De Armas

Plaza De Armas

We walked from the Plaza to a church a few blocks away to see some catacombs. No pictures were allowed, but it was definitely worth the 85 cents or so I paid to get in. The catacombs were used from the 16th to 19th century – the only cemetary in Lima during that time. Home to 25,000 Peruvian/Spanish corpses, the catacombs lie directly under a Catholic church so that the souls would be, in the words of the tour guide, “close to Jesus”. One interesting aspect of the church, as with other Spanish architecture, is the Arabic influence that is present in parts of the structure (due to the rule/presence in Spain in the Middle Ages).

On a completely unrelated note, my good friend Jeff Meigs is in Israel with a group of students on a trip very much related to my Gaza trip. Check out his blog here – already lots of good info and pics.

On another unrelated note, here was my buddy from last Friday!

Miguel

Miguel