lunes, 11 de febrero de 2013

Rio de Janeiro

Rio.  Hot, steamy, crowds and costumes.  Carnaval is in the air, on the streets,-you hear and smell and see and it all makes for a sensory spectacle.  The cariocas (locals) are open and friendly, expressing with their words and movement at all times.  Carnaval is the biggest party going on right now-there are blocos of musical troups parading through the streets of all Rio´s neighborhoods.  All you have to do is join.  The costumes are inventive; sparkly and colorful-you see Superman, Snow White, fairies (of both sexes), the Flintstones, top hats, wigs, and masks, all walking down the same street.  You eat  pao con ceixo, and get frozen acai served up for an energy boost.
The beaches are teeming and the ocean is speckled with bodies riding the waves.  The sand is beatifully coral in color and gleams in the sun.  In the distance you see the famous view of the Sugar Loaf and the favela creeping up the hillside.  It´s beautiful and intense, friendly and agressive, hot weather in a cool place.
There´s nothing quite like it.

jueves, 7 de febrero de 2013

Iguazu/çu Falls: Brazil vs. Argentina

Yup, still here in Foz de Iguaçu, Brasil-in a few short hours we´ll be hoping on a 16 hour bus back to Sao Paolo, ouch.  On the 4th we went to Iguaçu Falls on the Brazilian side.  We paid (a bit too much) to go onto a pontoon boat that took us up the Iguaçu River for a close and wet look at the falls.  It was spectacular from this vantage point, and that was only the beginning.  After getting drenched and hoping our zip-lock bag holding our cameras didn´t leak, we began the walking course of views along the Brazilian edge of the Falls.  It is huge.  You see smaller waterfalls with giant neighbors, most dropping at least 250 feet, the roar is constant as you explore this area.  The finale, at the end of the path is a cat walk that juts out into the river and brings you right to the edge with views over to Argentina and the famous Garganta del Diablo (Devil´s Throat) drop, which is the highest at 269 ft (check the wiki link for an even better description. 
Two days later I went alone to the Argentinian side of the falls (my friend would have had to pay the entrance visa, just for one day in the country, I luckily have my German passport).  The views here were different, and also spectacular.  On the Argentinian side you are able to walk around the park further distances to see the various views of the falls.  There are more possible angles here, and the grand finale, the Devil´s Throat view point is phenomenal.   Here you are slightly above the drop point and can see up close the immense amount of water rushing over the edge.  At first it gave me slight vertigo to have this view, and I felt a bit light headed as I peered over the guard rail.  At this spot you are getting quite wet from the spray. 
I always find it worthwhile to visit these natural wonders of the world, but it must be said that at the height of summer vacation (in S.A) there were throngs of people taking photos, kids screeching and the like.  It can take away from the natural beauty of the place you are visiting.  This feeling of crowds, heat and sun were more pronounced on the Argentinian side, despite the fact there were more paths to walk on-the Brazilian side was a bit more tranquil.  On both however, there were people trying to feed the local (but wild) Quatis- which resemble racoons-and can be equally as vicious.  Although you are surrounded by natural beauty you are also surrounded by fast food stops and gimmicky and expensive extra attractions.  The paths you walk on are paved and fenced.  That is the price of making a natural place an attraction-but yes, we want to see it, and hopefully it works to create appreciation of such natural wonders.
Next up: Sao Paolo and Rio de Janeiro-two of the Cidades Maravilhosas (Marvelous Cities) famous in Brazil.  We will experience Carnival which officially begins on the 8th, and all the fun and color that has to offer.  Stay tuned!

domingo, 3 de febrero de 2013

8 Months Later...Brazil

First, an apology for abandoning this blog.  It happens.  I hope to revisit some of my experiences in Peru in the future, to wrap up my experience with the Peace Corps and write about some of my travels before leaving the country.  At this time, however, I am in Brazil and want to stick with the present.
Currently, I am in the city of Foz do Iguaçu, the gateway to Iguaçu Falls which it shares with Argentina.  It is hot (summer here in the southern hemisphere) and tropical.  Lush and green.  I am traveling with Shay, a good friend from home (Eugene, Oregon), and so far our travels have gone smoothly.
My first impressions of Brazil have been many.  The people are as varied and diverse as I had heard, with many European immigrants, and a mix of African and indigenous roots.  The people have been overall friendly and helpful despite our botched attempts to speak Portuguese.  Ah Portuguese, I just don´t speak it.  My Spanish has been useful to be sure, but much I don´t understand, and just can´t say.  I hope to learn more in this next month. 
Our first stop was Curitiba, a city known for it´s excellent recycling and sanitation systems, efficient public transport, and green spaces.  It lived up to all this as it appeared clean, easy to get around, and cosmopolitan.  We saw some interesting sights, such as the Botanical Gardens and the Oscar Niemeyer museum, which holds the largest collection of Brazlian art.
Brazil is huge, the 5th largest economy in the world, and it shows.  In just a few days we have already taken one 6 hour bus, and a 10 hour overnight to get to Foz, and we have only crossed one state line.  Especially when it comes to buses I can´t help but to compare Brazil to Peru.  At this moment I can say that while they compare in comfort (good seats that recline, leg space, etc), Peru could learn from the peace and quiet on a Brazilian bus.  No annoying movies featuring Van Damme or Stalone blasting while you try to sleep, not too hot, or too cold, and no meals at 11pm, that you don´t want anyway. 
The Brazil we have thus seen is leaning towards overdeveloped with it´s deluxe mini-malls and gourmet coffee.  The prices show too-it´s not cheap by any standards.  But it definitely has it´s own flavor.  The curvy language and curvy ladies, the flavorful foods and tropical fruits, and beautiful music which is becoming the soundtrack to our adventure.  We are definitely in Latin America (or whatever you decide Brazil is, Latin? Portuguese?) Perhaps, to borrow from the film title, it is its own `Sexy Beast.` 

miércoles, 23 de mayo de 2012

Arequipa and Bolivia

Salar de Uyuni

Arequipa City

Colca Canyon, Arequipa

Church in Arequipa

One of the Lagunas Coloradas in the Altiplano of Bolivia

Ciudad de Piedras (Rock Forest), Bolivia

jueves, 26 de abril de 2012

Without Title

There are many new happenings to report.  I have been neglectful as of late...however for good reason.  I went to (what felt like) the end of the earth and back.  It's called the Altiplano of Bolivia which borders Chile and Argentina.  In order to get there I first took a night bus from Huaraz to Lima (7 hours).  Then, the following evening took an another overnighter to Arequipa in the south of Peru (18 hours).  Here, we watched the Semana Santa festivities and went on an amazing hike into the Colca Canyon, observing Condors in their natural habitat as well as Alpaca.  From Arequipa we took another night bus to Puno on Lake Titicaca (the Peruvian side).  Here, we descended into Bolivia, first with a bus that took us over the border to the funny named border town of Copacabana, a quick ferry across the lake, and another bus that took us to our destination of La Paz.  La Paz is the highest capital city in the world at 3,800 meters.  It is a very interesting place surrounded by mountains, but with a charm to it that is very unique.  It's a large bustling city, sky scrapers and all, but surprisingly gentle.
From here, the real adventure began through the Altiplano of Bolivia.  We decided to visit the salt flats in the south of the country.  To get here we took yet another overnight bus to Uyuni.  The ride is 12 hours normally, but due to the rains we got there in 15.  On arrival we were met by a lovely woman who runs a tour operation with her husband.  He was waiting with a Toyota Landcruiser Jeep to take us on an epic 980 kilometer excursion through breathtaking scenery at some amazing altitudes.  Our first stop were the salt flats of Uyuni, which truly is a wonder.  The expanse is over 10,000 sq. kilometers, and is estimated to contain over 10 billion tons of salt.  Underneath the flats is a lake of brine which contains over 50% of the worlds lithium and is high in magnesium and potassium.  In addition to the geological significance, and the big business of mineral extraction, this place is optimal for funny photos that play with perspective due to the surreal landscape and severe flatness.
From here we visited several fresh water lakes, witnessing Pink Flamingos and other bird species, surrounded by snow capped mountains and volcanoes.  We stopped at a few rock forests which were formed when lava from volcanic explosions came into contact with glacial ice, forming spectacular spiraling formations.  On our last day, tired, but still in awe we passed some geysers at over 5,000 meters and got to relax in some thermal baths with about 50 other tourists.  Yes, this is a route hot on the gringo trail, however, I felt the experience was one of a kind.  Our guide Christobal, an expert in the local geology, and a very good cook, was full of information and made us feel comfortable the whole way through.
I have never been in such an environment.  Most of it is well above 4,000 meters and there is not a tree, let alone a plant in site.  The sun is hot but the air frigid with sometimes strong winds.  At our second camp we arrived to snow as a sunset pink lake sprawled out before us, pink flamingos feeding on the algae, mountains in the distance.
I think I'll stop there.

Next up, photos:)

P.S.  Oh yeah, then I went all the way back to Peru.

martes, 20 de marzo de 2012

Born to Run

I kicked my own ass today. I needed to go run after a series of frustrating events. So I went out on a road that has large potholes/mud holes and a portion that is a steep hill. I ran down it, and up it, and down it, and up it...three times. Every time I was in the last 50 yards of that hill my lungs felt like they were going to explode (once again, we are at 12,000 ft). It really hurt, but it was also a release, and deep down I knew that these hill runs are slowly contributing to me becoming a bad-ass.
So what's so frustrating out here? The authorities don't respect me as a professional, for example, I don't get invited to participate in important community meetings, where other institutions are present, although I am representing an international agency. When I must frequently coordinate with a particular teacher at the school (all the high school teachers, and the director are men), I am immediately "linked up" with him, and the rumors begin. While the parents and kids are generally warm and friendly, there is little to no consistency in trying to sustain an ongoing activity. The culture here is reserved and the people will usually smile and say yes no matter what-they say what you want to hear-ok, I get this, but it also means that even when you really try to get out there, and invite people, most don't ever show. This is so much a part of our lives as PCV's that almost every one of us has some crazy story about bribing people to come, or telling them to show up three hours early, because then they may actually get there on time ("la hora Peruana" rules).
So these are my complaints. There have been accomplishments, yes, and the effort is always worth it. Just thank God that much of our work revolves around casual community life, chats, and playing with kids, because dealing with authorities get you some lip service of support and some sexual harassment at best, and trying to organize groups of people is just about one of the toughest things to take on-especially when the cultural divide is so wide. I commend Obama; and they say that being President is the toughest job you'll ever love.

domingo, 11 de marzo de 2012

More Recent-ish Pics

Making chocho (nutritious bean-type thing) during Quechua class

That's me, putting a condom on a banana (in front of 40 teenagers)

"Party combi" (aka our local transportation)

This is what a Peruvian pre-school graduation looks like (check out the miniature gowns and suits!)

Our latest success: Camp ALMA Verde, a camp lead and organized by volunteers in Ancash for teenage girls. This year we focused on environmental issues which included a fabulous creative finale fashion show using only recycled materials. inspiring sexual health presentation by our awesome Peace Corps doctor.