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.
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.
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. Plus...an inspiring sexual health presentation by our awesome Peace Corps doctor.
The title to this post refers to two cards I pulled up when recently getting my Tarot reading by a fellow PCV. Needless to say, getting The Devil was a little unnerving. However, the card came up in the slot for "the past," and was followed by the hyper positive, all evil erasing card, The Star in slot for "the present." Whew. Of course, we all have our inner demons and destructive behaviors that hold us back and bring us down, which is what The Devil card represents. The advice most generally given is to acknowledge this reality and come to peace with it. Try to ignore it and is gets a hold on you, give into it completely and you turn into Charlie Sheen.
Sometimes it just feels easier to throw in the towel in the face of frustration and disappointment. I relate this now to my ongoing work in the community. Things rarely turn out as you'd hope. You plan activities, invite people, and only a couple turn up, or the school last minute changes the hour of your activity, or it rains, etc, etc. But here you are, for TWO years, what can you do? You keep trying, you experiment, and try to move forward. In the last leg of this experience I look back to some of my "failed projects," and realize they weren't failures at all. I had thought of them as such because they didn't go as far as I had wanted, or we didn't do all my planned activities. But bottom line, we did something. I did work with teen girls on self-esteem and pregnancy prevention. My literacy group made visible progress, from being shy kids afraid to speak out to kids reading stories and performing puppet shows for their peers.
In the day to day as well, when we can acknowledge what it is that holds us back and make even the smallest steps to balance it out we can make change. Even if it's small, it counts.
The usually blue skies over the cordillera blanca are not so blue these days. Ancash is Quechua for the color blue, a fitting name to a place with snow capped peaks and blue blue sky. The mountains, however can't ever be completely hidden, and they share their splendor through the fog and rain. It's true that winter, whether in the northern hemisphere or southern (here the rainy season is considered "winter" although it really is summer) is a time for reflection. More time indoors, cold weather, and the use of fuzzy socks get you thinking. There's a lot of pain and suffering in the world right now. What can we say to ourselves in order to stay grounded and positive? It's a tough question.
I think that we have an opportunity to look at ourselves in these tough times and really ask, what are we here for? What are we meant to contribute. With so much uncertainty I would say that it is not time to short change ourselves or mute our true calling. Inside each of us we have an intuitive voice that knows whether or not we are putting our energy in the right place, time to listen! For a young person this is a good time to figure out what makes me really happy. Better to start early than go through all that mid-life crisis chaos.
So, step by step, time to put aside what I "should" do, what's expected, and take some breaths to find that which makes me say, "yeah, this is me."
Ok, so I probably won't be posting every day, but I'll shoot for "more often." This morning it is sunny and hot, already at 8:30am. This will be a difficult transition to deal with whenever I head back to the Northwest, or any northern country for that matter. I was sad to realize that I missed the showing of the 2012 Oscars, although the other unfortunate truth is that I had hardly heard of any of the films and actors nominated. While parts of Peru are certainly and open vein to all things global and new, that channel becomes increasingly narrow out in the mountains. Plus, as in the US, you have to be paying attention. Maybe I can watch it on Youtube...
I have, however just discovered the Huffington Post website. It's a god send! Great news in a very attractive format, at least for my eyes. With this I can follow the last fighting between Romney and Santorum, Michelle Obama's Oscar dress, and fun commentaries on all interesting subjects.
As far as work, today is a "jovenes hunting" day, meaning I'll be hitting the streets to get the interest of the young people in joining a health promoters group. Plus I get a visit from my friend Beth and her pup Gulliver.
My new objective with this blog is to do a daily post (since I now have internet at my site), the goal being a short stream of consciousness, on whatever subject:
Cannot wait for February to be over. The shortest month has appeared to take the longest. Things are slow in the community, as summer vacation comes to an end. This last week we've had ceaseless rain. Rose for this month: going to the beach only 3 hours away, who new!