Monday, April 29, 2013

X is for Xenofobia

The neat thing about travelling is that you get to be the foreigner- you get to experience being a minority (if, like me, you are not a minority where you live).

My experience with being white down there is that a great majority of people assume that you are rich and highly educated. That's how I scored a teaching job at 18 with no higher education. It's a dangerous kind of ignorance- I mean I could have said almost anything and I would have been believed. So many people have a picture of "1st world" countries as perfection even as you tell them about all the problems there are. I didn't experience any real hostility until the strike.

The gold mine was in trouble with the locals for contaminating their water, practically stealing their land and outsourcing jobs. So, they shut down the city for 10 days. Seriously. No way to leave. No planes, no busses out and nothing coming in. The price of chicken quadrupled and we all stored up with as much food as possible (we didn't know how long it was going to last). There were demonstations and people yelling "out with the foreigners." So, I tried to stay inside. Even though I had nothing to do with the mine, I wasn't taking any chance with angry protesters. So nothing happened to me. However, it was a bit scary. I watched hordes of people pass by my apartment. There was a lot of mistreatment by the police- bombs and teargas was used even when the protests were quite peaceful. Such is the way of the world.

W is for Whisky

So there aren't that many useful words that start with W in Spanish.

I don't have a lot to say about whisky, except that it's a lot cheaper down there. Also, one time I drank it with an American in a bar and that was nice, because I got to speak English fluently to somebody. At least, it was all good until he asked me to hook him up with some cocaine. Apparantly I look like the kind of person who might be able to hook people up with that stuff? I told him I didn't have any friends who sold it, to the best of my knowledge. At this point he lost interest in our conversation. But I still had the whisky he'd bought for me, so that was okay.

So, W kind of sucks.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

V is for Vaca

Vaca means cow.

Peruvian lady wearing traditional hat

So, we walked to a farm one day, as you do, and there were about 200 dairy cows. The farmers cracked their whip and called out a name, and the cow came running from the massive group on the field and ran into it's corresponding space in the cowshed. I was really impressed and I thought that it deserved it's own post. I couldn't even tell the difference between the cows, so for the farmers to take the time to name them and learn their characteristics so as to be able to name them and later have them recognize their names and come running is pretty spectacular. This was my favourite- meet Perlita! :)

Yay cow farmers!

U is for Unsha

I don't think that Unsha can be translated because I don't think it exists in other parts of the world.

An Unsha is a celebration in which a tree has been cut down and put in the MIDDLE OF THE ROAD. It is decorated with absolutely anything you can find- an old bottle, some t-shirts, forks, whatever. Friends are then invited and the merry making begins. People dance around the Unsha and inebriate themselves in the street while listening to loud music until 4-5 a.m.

Reasons this would never happen in Canada

1: A noise complaint would be made resulting in the police coming to shut everybody up.

2: Everybody would be in trouble for drinking outside in the street.

3: Parents would be in trouble for letting their kids get drunk outside.

4: Obstruction of traffic- they'd be on you like the wind for blocking off an entire road without any kind of permission or legitimate excuse for doing so

5: Your neighbours would probably file a complaint and try to get you to a) move or b) kicked out of a rental in the case that you don't own the house

During Unsha season- which is after Carnaval (see my post for the letter C) - you are likely to see unshas popping up all over the place. The whole neighborhood is invited. Ample alcohol is supplied or on sale if you are not friendly with the people there, but if you don't know the people who live in the area you should bring a crate of booze yourself- it's only polite and you will make instant friends. You can even go unsha hopping if you like! The Unsha I went to had food too- they must have made soup for more than 150 people! There's also a bit of pride in it- to see who can throw the best Unsha. So, if you're in that part of the world, go crash an Unsha! :)

T is for Toro

Toro means bull.

Before I lived in that part of the world I was totally ignorant about bull fighting. One day, a friend invited me to go and watch bull fighting. I accepted because I thought it was some cool cultural thing- I mean I'd heard of it but I didn't really know what it was. Well! I was about to find out.

After waiting in line for more than an hour we found our seats and the show began. There were entire orchestas playing tunes and it felt like a circus was going to begin. And then they brought in the bulls. And they brought in the matadors. And they proceeded to TORTURE the poor animal. Everytime they stabbed or hurt the poor thing the crowd cheered. It made me feel sick. There were thousands of people there and they were enjoying this. It was so sad. In the end they murdered the bull, which I am sure was the nicest thing they could have done. It was the most amazing show of cruelty and I couldn't look at the friend the same way afterwards (I left early because it was so disturbing). The problem is, when you try to talk to people about this you are met with condescending responses "It's a part of our culture- you can't understand because you're not from here" "Don't be ignorant" and the such. I am happy to say that there are some groups of people trying to make a change- demonstrations are being held all over the continent- but they are still a minority. It made me think of what it would have been like to watch the gladiators in Ancient Greece.

This was one of the saddest experiences I had in South America.

S is for Seguridad

Seguridad means saftey, or security

The province I live in requires children up to the age of 18 to wear bicycle helmets starting May 1st. When I talked to my friends South of the equator about this, I was met with disbelief. In many places there people don't even wear seatbelts. If you get in a taxi they usually don't have seatbelts in the back- only in the front. Apparently the law only requires driver and shotgun rider to wear them- so the driver will lay the seatbelt across his or her (usually his) lap so that it looks like they are wearing it. They leave the blessed thing about ONE INCH away from being clicked in. Seriously. JUST CLICK IT IN! I was always the one who told my friends to put on their seatbelts when travelling in private cars and I was always met with derision. Just my northern safety minded brain taking control. I was always the one who checked the boot of the taxi before we got in to make sure we didn't get jumped. And, I was the one checking for potential muggers all the time. So, I thank our society- we are constantly told that we have to do this or that or else 100 terrible things might happen to us. I really noticed it there, because nobody else seemed to be worried about these things.

R is for Robar

Robar means to rob, or steal.

One day, I was walking leisurely home from a staff meeting at 11 a.m. when a stupid teenaged boy tried to steal my purse. Now, they always tell you- if someone tries to rob you just let them take your purse and run, and I swear that was my plan. But in the moment when I was supposed to apply said piece of advice my instinct was to scream and pull my purse towards myself. I guess my scream must have scared him away because he went running off- it was pretty loud. I don't think I could pull it off unless I were genuinely panicked. Anyway, I ran off in tears to try and find a friend to calm me down. Everybody told me I was lucky as the guy was obviously an amateur- a real thug would have just cut off my purse with a knife or knocked me out. So that was reassuring. I hope this never happens to you. Now I don't carry a purse with me. It allows me to walk with less fear. Which makes for a happier world for all of those people who have to listen to my rants.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Q is for Queso

Queso means cheese

I was always a self-proclaimed cheese lover. I ate it like it was going out of existance. I dressed up like a piece of cheese for Halloween and won the school dressing up contest (the downside was that I couldn't sit down all day- I hadn't considered the practicality of the costume)!

So, imagine my surprise when I traveled and found a kind of cheese I disliked. My boyfriend was nuts about the local cheese- called "fresh cheese"- literally just made. I prefer mature cheese myself, but I also usually like mild cheese. This cheese was so mild that I couldn't stomach it. And the smell! Ah!

It was the end of my cheese worshipping era.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

P is for Postre and Pisco Sour

Postre means dessert.

I never cease to be surprised at the sweet, cheap baked treats available. Living across from a bakery I could buy 10 fresh bread rolls for 50 cents. A slice of cake for the same price. No wonder I started to gain weight! Here are some pictures of delicious treats

This is higo. I don't love it, but some people do!


I cannot do this blog without mentioning Pisco sour. You have not been to Peru until you've tried it. Delicioussssss! It's forbidden to dislike it. And don't forget, Pisco is Peruvian (not Chilean)!

It doesn't usually have a massive straw like that!

O is for Orar

Orar means to pray.

It's really quite hard to escape the fact that if you want to interact with other people in many places in South America, you'll end up at church with them, or at the very least observing a grace with them before you eat. People are very religious in the south, and if you want to make friends it doesn't help if you go around shouting that believing in God and believing in Santa are equally as ridiculous. You probably just won't have any friends and that will be lonely- unless you are living in a metropolis that is.

I actually had American Jehovah's witnesses KNOCK AT MY DOOR in two different locations when I lived in S.America. Seriously! Now, I'm one of those people who hates asking people for things. I never ask people to lend me money, for example. Let me go off on a will never see me selling Mary Kay because I'd never want to oblige my friends to buy stuff. I just went to one of their parties last night because I felt badly for a friend who was selling the stuff- here's how it went. My sister and I were the only people there. We tried hand stuff. They put make up on my sister (I don't like having products on my face). Then they pulled us over to a little corner separately to discuss products that would be good for us. They tell you their story about why they are selling the product. Then you are given an order form and some snacks. I mean, how do you say- well that was fun but I'm just going to go now (after you've been invited into their home, applied free product, shown an inspiring video about their charitable foundation and fed and watered for the last 1.5 hours- especially if you are the only guests)? I am never going to another one of those things again. Might I add that the product is super expensive. So, as you can see, I hate pushing products and I hate when people push me to buy stuff. I was the girl guide who offered to stay behind and count money, or clean, or basically do anything so as not to have to sell overpriced trans fat infested cookies to my neighbours and friends. Anyway, back to my story. We had these people on a mission who speak English knock at our door. I hadn't spoken English for a while so of course I let them in to have a good old conversation which ended up with me having to pray with them and me being invited to visit their church even after expressing dislike for their religion. I'm too polite for my own good.

Of course, I never went. But I did have a chance to see their church some time later and I hate it. I hate it because it's the most modern, cleanest, richest looking building around. I hate it because it has high gates all around it to lock people out. I hate it because while in the centre of a city where many people are very impoverished, it looks incredibly rich. I hate it because they spend their money bringing people from America on "missions" to push their product (religion) on people who don't need or want it. They could be using their money to help people in the community instead. That would actually be a bigger seller. I'm more likely to believe in the goodness of somebody who builds a well than someone who comes to my door to preach to me. And, I hate that the Americans who came probably went back home and everyone praised them for "saving" so many people by showing them the way to their God when actually they didn't do anything tangible for anybody. They didn't offer anybody jobs or teach anybody how to read.

I love learning things, and religions are very interesting. But, don't go and tell people what to believe in and call it a mission. Also, even if I were interested in following the religion, the fact that I'd have to go around bothering people to sell it like them is a major deterrant for somebody like me.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Ñ is for Ñato

Since I'm doing the Spanish alphabet, I have one extra letter to deal with! Extra good times for me!

Ñato is a term used to describe a guy with a big nose.

Almost everybody has a nickname, and it's often based on physical appearance. If you have big ears, you'll be called "orejon" (big ears). If you're fat, you'll be called it. If you have big eyes, a big butt, whatever, that could become your nickname. People are very vocal about things in Peru. I was often told I'd lost / gained weight which was strange for me at first, but you get used to it. You'd think this would lead to an increased amount of people having eating disorders, but I found it to be the opposite. Nobody really seems to care that you have a big nose or that you are fat, it's just stated - hey fatty- and that's that- I've been called fat a few times and I am of average build. Nobody here would ever call me overweight so I was a bit shocked the first time I heard it. It's kind of a joke, but often it's a true joke, and most people don't take it to heart. Imagine that!

N is for Nunca

Nunca means never. Never trust the media. Always look at things objectively and find out for yourself.

Nunca be afraid to take a chance. When I was 18 and I told people I was going to travel to Peru alone the reactions I got ranged between "omg please don't die," "You're gonna get kidnapped" and long speeches from people telling me how much they loved me as if they'd never see me again. I didn't say I was going to travel to the war torn parts of the middle east but I might as well have. The media has many people so afraid to travel to anywhere that isn't the carribbean or Europe that it's ridiculous. Anyway, I can assure you that South America is not that dangerous. I mean, you could get killed anywhere. Obviously, some places are more dangerous than others and you have to use common sense (if that even still exists). But, there are many developing countries that are quite modern. You can live in a way that's quite similar to your developed country lifestyle, if you can believe it!

I also got asked some depressing questions like; "Do they have cell phones down there?" Yes, dear. "So, is that in Africa?" Yes, yes, it's in Africa...*doh* "Are you gonna live in a mud hut then?" Negative. "You better practice carrying water on your head" I'll keep that in mind, thanks. So, perhaps the media needs some stories about how developing countries really are to ease the worries of these people. Thank goodness for those few people who assured me I'd have a great time. I love you!

The sad thing I found was that many people down there had the opposite ignorance about the developed world. I often got comments like "wow, everything is perfect in your country, I wanna live there." "Bet you aren't used to waiting in traffic, hey?" "You're lucky there aren't any gangs in Canada." "Everyone in Canada is rich so there's no problems there." Come on media, use your influence to show people the realities of the world! Nunca believe what you hear about a place until you've gone there to see for youself. And by that-to people who've been to a resort in Cancun and think they know everything about Mexico- I mean really visit a place. Not just go to the "safe" area made for tourists.

And, as insensitive as it may be to say, the media have also failed us in their coverage of the Boston Marathon bombings. It's all that's on the news. Yes, it's terrible. Yes, I feel awful for that adorable little boy my facebook friends make me look at everytime I sign in but it's because I am constantly told his story. It's in my face. I'm made to feel terrible. If a foreign terrorist group is behind this I dread to think of what the U.S. will do next- how many people will their government kill in their search for "revenge?" And, thanks to the media making everybody so angry about what happened and so affected by the death of this little boy they never knew, many people will want that revenge. They will welcome "justice" no matter how expensive or costly it could be to other innocent people (whose deaths they may never hear about thanks to their excellent media). It would be better for the world if an American is behind this because then the justice would be contained to the U.S. with life in jail or the death sentence in some states. Thanks, media for manipulating us. What about the thousands of victims to U.S. military attacks in the middle east? What about the millions of people across the world dieing of hunger every day? We are so insensitived to everything that isn't constantly shoved in our face. Do we really need the life story of a deceased child to feel something for another person? Yes. I think we do, because people die every few seconds, often of things that could be prevented if people actually cared about things that aren't happening in front of their eyes. It's the fact that being an American citizen makes you more important than being a citizen of Somalia, for example, that has people in a state. (What! How could something like that happen here, in America?) Well, I don't think that where you live should determine your value as a human being, and I do not like the coverage this event has been getting because it downplays everything else that is awful and terrible. I bet whoever did this is loving the attention they are getting, too.

Also, Friends is not coming back on air.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

M is for Machismo

Being female and white in South America opens you up to a range of what I refer to as "attacks" by overly self confident men. Which, I know, happens everywhere and I know goes both ways. But, being in tradionally male-dominated societies it's much more frequent than anything I have experienced living in different parts of the world (where this kind of attention is generally left for bars and not a norm while walking down the street). Actually, being female is enough, but while comparing with my friends I discovered that being white amplifies the number of "attacks". So, today, I thought I'd share the top 10 "attacks" I have experienced.

#10 (on a facebook photo) "Your sister is more beautiful than you. When (will) you carry me (to) your country?" As you can imagine, that friendship didn't last very long.

#9 (when walking with another white girl) Hey, *insert vulgar Spanish language here* let us welcome you to our country the real way. How creepy is that? I mean, who would accept a proposition like this?

#8 Hey, are you married? How old are you? I very good man. Maybe we marry make baby and we very happy. Or, maybe I keep walking and try to pretend I didn't hear you say that

#7 Marry me, I wanna go to your country. Extra points for not even trying to sugarcoat it.

#6 After being made to wait for an hour in the rain (see my previous post- llegar tarde). Well, you shouldn't have been early, should you? What you don't have brains? Let's get to the good part fast. If I condoned violence, you'd have seen the good part coming in my open hand.

#5 You're so hot. You'd do better to leave your boyfriend and come with me (said in passing while he had another woman on his other arm). I hope the rage in my eyes ate your soul as I tried to protect my boyfriend's pride by not making a scene.

#4 Do you like cooking? No. I need a woman who cleans and cooks for me. okay... (let me stress, just waiting outside my workplace here, replying to this idiot because it's etched into me that ignoring people is rude- thanks mum). Do you clean and stuff? Not for my BOYFRIEND, no. Probably he never gonna marry you- you dont know (how to) be (a) good woman. Imagine the lecture on gender equaliy that launched...

#3 I heard in your country almost everybody is lesbians- for me it's good if you want be with my girlfriend if can I watch. WHAT?!

#2 It's my dream to be with a white woman. Yep. And It's now my dream to go back to a time before I heard anybody say that to me, back when I still thought there was hope for the world...

#1- My personal favourite and not infrequent- Hey, I'm looking for a woman exactly like you- beautiful, intelligent (and- sometimes expressed orally and sometimes simply obvious- foreign). I need you to be my girlfriend OR the MUCH WORSE I choose you as my girlfriend. Really, and why would I want to go out with you? Do you really believe that you are so desirable that you get to choose whoever you want, and this person will just want you?

What's the worst comment you've had directed at you, whether by a man or a woman?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

L is for Llegar tarde

Llegar tarde means to arrive late.

My naive 18 year old self was about to start her first teaching assignment down south, and had to meet her new boss at 3 p.m. at place of employment. She decided to arrive 20 minutes early for good character, which put her at the locked doors at 2:40 p.m. to sit on the steps and wait. And wait. And wait. By the time 3:05 came around she was already getting antsy. What could have happened? Surely one doesn't arrive late to a job related meeting, even if she is the boss? At this point, she pulls out her notebook to check the time of the meeting. She checks with the store next door to see if her phone has the correct time on it. She asks passers-by for the time in case there has been a time change she wasn't aware of. At 3:15 she repeats the process. By the time 3:30 rolls around she assumes her new boss has had a family emergency and will be unable to make it. She phones home to see if there are any messages. Negative. She checks the time in her notebook. She checks the time in the store on the other side. She repeats every 10 minutes until 4:00. By this time, she assumes her boss has had a serious accident- perhaps been attacked by a pterodactyl- and in such a state that she cannot pick up her telephone. She starts grieving for her boss and sending good vibes to her for a speedy recovery.

Apparently they worked, because at 4:15 my boss arrived. "Oh, hello. Have you been waiting long?" My brain starts to argue with itself- is it a trick question? If I say no, she'll assume I was late, but I don't want to say yes because that might be rude and if I just shrug my shoulders and make a non-commital grunt she might think I lack brains...luckily during this inner argument the boss had gone on to open the door and wave me through while talking of something else. We had our meeting, during which I asked what time I should be at work. She said, "well the office doesn't open until 4, so don't be here before then." But...what? Why? Uh. And from that day on, this girl learned that being 15 minutes late for any kind of meeting is to be early. So, relax when you go south of the equator, otherwise you'll find yourself doing a whole lot of waiting.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

K is for...umm....Ketchup?!

So, there aren't a lot of well used words that begin with K in Spanish, but they say ketchup too.

Before I started traveling, I really wasn't a huge fan of it. Growing up, it was absent from my household. It was only when, while living with a host family, I was served meals like baked potatoes, rice, throughly cooked fish and yucca that I realised everything on my plate was white. And it was very carby. It is really hard to eat that much dry food. So, ketchup became my best friend. I mixed it into everything. My host family thought it must be a thing where I'm from, which I let them believe rather than telling them I found the food super bland and dry.

There are a variety of flavourful foods, but as a day to day thing, I found that the only way they added flavour to anything was either a) to drench it in lemon or b) serve copious amounts of aji (hot chilli sauce). Either way, all you can taste is lemons or chile, so you might as well snack on those foods directly, don't you think?!

J is for Juego

Juego (hwaygo) is Spanish for game.

I went to two football (soccer) games in South America a few years ago. They were very different. The first was in a small city. It was pretty standard but there weren't any assigned seats, so it was a bit of a free for all. My friends showed me which side of the arena I was supposed to support. One side was a bit dilapidated though, so most people were on the same side or at the ends. I can honestly say it was the worst game I've ever had to watch. It included three misses at empty goals. They fumbled passes, grouped together, and generally made me think I could've played without making it any worse! The highlight was when a fight broke out which ALL of the players decided to get involved in. I then learned why the side of the pitch had been lined with police officers. They all jumped in and started pulling people apart and it was like, woahhhh what just happened? I didn't even see how it started. My friends said that I should prepare to run, because if the crowd got into it to, it would get nasty. However, the police managed to get it under control and the game continued. People were eating a candy which you chew for about a minute and then spit out. Not sure exactly what it was, but it was sweet, and the whole place was really dirty since everybody was spitting it out again, so that's a bit disgusting.

The second game was in Lima. I went to watch two popular teams place at a much larger arena. They played much more professionally. When we got into the arena men and women had to get into separate lines to be checked by male and female officers respectively. All of my male friends got through no problem, even though I'm sure one of them was drunk. However, my extremely naive 19 year old face obviously looked like a threat to everybody as I got pulled aside and throughly padded down and asked what my purpose was in attending the event (seriously...worse than customs). I told her I just wanted to watch the game which was obviously a very sketchy answer as she demanded that I open my bag. She took EVERYTHING out of it while my friends watched amusedly from across the way and people in the queue probably thought I was a terrorist or something as nobody else was receiving this special treatment. She even opened my wallet and pulled out all of my cards to examine them- she spent the most time looking at my air miles card- fascinating as it is. Evidently she was satisfied as I got waved through to my hilarious friends who thought it was so funny. We weren't sitting in the "barra brava" as my friends seemed to think I wouldn't make it. I did see why they thought that though, because they were very rowdy and super addicted to the game and I might have been crushed. My friends said that if it were a qualifying game it would be dangerous to wear a shirt supporting either side when leaving the arena as barra brava fans liked to engage in fights with opposite teams. Must be like England in the 70s. The atmosphere at the game was amazing, people singing and dancing- there were entire orchestras!

Going to a qualifying game still remains on my bucket list. I want to experience the atmosphere (not the fights so much though)!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

I is for Injusto

Injusto means unfair.

This blog wouldn't be complete without a short rant about the problem of the class system. In the Peruvian city where I lived, social class can make or break you. I honestly believe it's so bad that people don't realise that what they say is hurtful. A nice, charitable rich woman once asked me to re-think dating the guy I was with. It would be better if I had stayed with my ex, since he came from a "better" family- if one gets cheated on or lied to, they should just accept it. She asked me why I wasn't concerned about his "standing," and she did so as a mother might warn her child not to run down the middle of a road. This would have disgusted me had it not been a comment that I'd heard many times before. These are respected people with a certain amount of pull in the community, and they still believe that they are better than other people due to birth and money. They'd rather have their children marry rich- even to those who have never lifted a finger in their lives and don't know the value of money, rather than somebody who has made their way to a decent job through work and personal merit. The rich families have maids who do everything for them. They will complain about their maids to their guests (in this case, me) in front of them and act like they are doing them a huge favour through employment. Now, they may be helping them out by employing them, but the wages are awful. Another lady once told me I should get somebody to clean my house for me instead of wasting time on it myself- I'd only have to pay them a dollar a day. My conscience wouldn't allow me to, and if I wanted somebody else to do my chores for me, I'd pay them at least the minimum wage wherever I lived.

The issue is that sometimes maids end up bringing up the children of these people. Often, the men work prestigious and time consuming jobs while the women live a life of leisure- supposedly taking care of life at home. Often, the wife does the cooking, but for a lot of other things they use their maid. Maids would often bring children to class. When I wanted to talk to a parent, I'd get sent the maid. When we talked about helping around the house, a 9 year old student told me that was "maid's work." It was exasperating- couldn't parents see the harm they were doing their children? Other times, students talked about their maids more fondly than their mothers- who were often absent- I say fondly, but also in a tone that told you that they were aware that their own social standing was higher than that of their maids.

For the sake of time, I won't rant any longer. I do want you know, though, that not everybody is like this. There is a new emerging middle class. There are rich women who work hard against the system they were born into. For the most part though, it's really frustrating for an "outsider" like me. Probably too hard for my humble mind to understand, actually.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

H is for Hacer Amigos

Hacer amigos means to make friends. I think that your ability to make friends easily really enhances your travel experiences. I consider myself a friendly person, but I'm nothing compared to my boyfriend. Within 5 minutes of arrival at a place, he's had us invited to a local party. We step off of a bus in a metropolis, and he just happens to know the cook at the street restaurant we just happen to go to. I'm browsing for souvenirs and he's made friends with the vendor and been invited to his or her house for drinks later. I have no idea how he does it. I only get invited to go to parties by creepy men who tell me it's their life ambition to be with a white girl. Well, lucky me. Think I'll pass.

Seriously though, wherever you travel to, try to make friends with the local people. It'll really make for a great experience, and you'll get to experience the culture for what it really is. If you're no good at it, I recommend finding a friendly travel mate.

I don't have a lot of time to blog today, so I'll recommend a fellow A-Zer instead. You should check out It's a pretty great travel blog which has inspired me to travel far and wide. :)

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

G is for Genial

Genial- pronounced "heny-al" means awesome, or brilliant. When I lived in Northern Peru, I really wanted to travel south to Machu Picchu, but didn't have the funds to do so. It was at least a 2 day bus ride from where I lived, and Northern roads in Peru leave a lot to be desired. I generally spent bus rides up-chucking (much to the dismay of fellow passengers) no matter how much gravol I ingested.

I was constantly ensured that a trip down south and back would cost at least 1500 American dollars per person. Maybe 3 grand doesn't sound like a lot to you, but it takes a while to make that sort of money down there and we were a bit daunted by the number. However, not being the kind of people to back down from a challenge, we decided to give it a go once we'd saved up a grand.

The problem is, a lot of people try to reach a destination the conventional way, or in relative luxuary. We were able to arrive in one piece by taking cheap, local busses all the way to Cusco. I recommened traveling with someone you love as they make great pillows. The best thing about traveling at night is that you can (try to) sleep on the bus, and then you don't incur the cost of a hostal. Once we arrived at the bus terminal in Cusco, we immediately found accomodation for $5 / night. There was no hot water though, and Cusco was freezing. One really wants a shower after traveling for days in a bus. I'm sure the receptionist thought somebody was being murdered, but at least I kind of had a shower- you know the sort- dip your feet in first, scream and retract, one shoulder in- scream- retract, bend over backwards so that you are washing your hair without water actually touching the rest of your become regular gymnast in there. The second night we switched to another hostal but it stank like feces, it was actually hard to sleep beacuse it stank so bad. Nothing was dieing in our room, believe me, the first thing I do is check for bodies under the bed. Dramatic, I know. Thanks, Hollywood.

So, I can assure you, there are lots of hostals where you can stay for less that $10 a night. They aren't beautiful, but hey, you get what you pay for. We weren't anywhere near the tourist part of the city. If you want to stay there, you're going to be paying the same as you would in the U.S. or Canada. I'm sure we stayed where locals would stay, which suits me just fine! Didn't see another tourist in the whole establishment! :) We even left our bags there while we went off on our excursion to Macchu Picchu. Nobody stole them. Tipped the receptionist a few bucks upon return. Everyone was happy!

We found a local combi (that's like a van) to take us to Urubamba, and from there we found a bus to Ollantaytambo. On the bus we made friends with the only other person who wasn't a local- an Argentinean guy (hereafter N). Every Argentinean we have ever met has been awesome, seriously, they are the nicest people- always off on a backpacking adventure around South America and with a thousand interesting tales. He told us he was planning on walking from the village at K.M. 82- something we weren't aware was possible. We'd been planning on seeing if we could catch the train from Ollantaytambo, where we had heard it was a lot cheaper than if one tried to go from Cusco. (Upon arrival we found out it would only be cheaper for my Peruvian boyfriend, as foreign people weren't allowed to take local trains, so we'd have to travel seperately. Yeah, no thanks). I was a tad skeptical because it would be a 30 k.m. hike from kilometre 82 to Macchu Picchu pueblo and it was already 2p.m.- we'd be hiking in the dark. I asked N if he had a flashlight, to which he replied no. I wondered how he planned hiking down the train track in the dark. Luckily I had the light on my camara and boyfriend and I both had lanterns on our cells. We decided to go with him, and stocked up on fruit and carbs at the local market before taking a local combi to the village. The guy in the combi laughed at us, and said we'd never make it- it was too late in the day.

Here comes the train!

The first 3 hours of walking were, quite simply, genial. The views were breathtaking. The fact that we saved more than $200 by not taking the train was also pretty great, even though I'm quite sure it's frowned upon to walk down the tracks to arrive to the town. However, we do contribute to the local economy by always buying local food and staying at local hostals rather than foreign chains so I didn't feel too bad about it (also, I later found out that the train company is owned by Chile, so the money isn't staying in Peru anyway). We were able to go at our own pace and stop to take photos whenever we wanted to. It was so serene. We were the only ones out there. The local cow trail path took us above the train tracks, so we were safe.

It wasn't until it got dark that we decided to go down to the tracks so as not to get lost. The tracks are quite hard to walk on as there are lots of rocks. At first I lead the group, but then I asked one of the guys to lead, being that I couldn't see too well and I knew I was slowing them down while trying to get my footing- did I mention that the train tracks go all over the mountains, so some parts are a tad dangerous. The problem was, once I was at the back I was responsible for listening for trains. One I got a bit late and we had to jump off quickly and push ourselves as close to the mountain as possible. The train was no more than a foot away. It was kind of a surreal moment though- peaceful and scary at the same time. The men decided I'd be less of a liability in the middle, and that was good because I didn't lag behind and I just had to watch the feet of the guy in front of me. It was really tiring, but the sky was beautiful. There were a million stars, and fireflies danced around us. Nature sang and it was so calming. It took us 8 and a half hours to arrive at the village, and we were totally knackered. However, we were like best friends for having shared the experience and I don't regret a minute of it, even when I had to peel off my socks and saw the state of my feet. Even when I couldn't sleep because every muscle in my body ached. The experience was even better than seeing Machu Picchu the next day/ The whole trip for less than $400-- that's how struggling students travel!

Genial! We made it! :)

Monday, April 8, 2013

F is for Farmacia and Fast Food

As I'm sure you figured out, farmacia means pharmacy.

When we travel, it's not unusual that one of us gets sick. On this particular trip, my boyfriend succumbed to the heat. Upon arrival at our usual cheap, basic and somewhat seedy hostal he took to the bed at 9 at night and declared himself semi-dead. When it comes to sickness, he's actually more dramatic than I am. So, it was left to me to get some food and medicine.

I went down the narrow, rickety staircases to ask an incredibly helpful desk attendant where I could find food. "Food, at this time of night?" he asked me. Did I mention it was 9 p.m.? "Um, yeah, I'm hungry." He gave me a disapproving look (because, you know, I chose to be hungry and I hadn't just been on a bus for the last 24 hours). "Well, I'm sure you could find a KFC somewhere, that's about all you'll get." He shook his head in disdain at my incredible stupidity and averted his attention back to his computer to let me know that the conversation was over. You should know that for the most part, people in this part of the world are obsessed with chicken. They "go out for chicken" like we might grab a pizza or something, except that they eat chicken all the time. I'm not a huge fan of fast food myself and I was pretty sure that KFC would not help my close to dead boyfriend get better.

Not to be discouraged, I set off for a walk around the city. To my dismay, the desk attendant was right. EVERYTHING was closed. When you walk down city streets in South America at night, all you see is metal bars and metal grates and padlocked doors. Actually, walking around in the dark in a strange city by yourself, especially if you're a woman, is not a great idea. But, I decided not to wander too far and it seemed like a tranquil part of the city, and as I think I mentioned it was only 9! What the desk attendant didn't mention to me was that there were cockroaches. Not little cockroaches, like size of my palm big cockroaches everywhere . Some of them were squashed dead but most of them were just scuttling about- like hundreds- or at least one on each sidewalk square block thing. UGH. I was not able to take a picture because I was terrified to take my eyes off of the ground, lest one of them should take my lack of vigilance as an opportunity to crawl up my legs (because, cockroaches pay attention to the vigilance of pedestrians). I abandoned my efforts after about five minutes and did the cockraoch jumping dance all the way back to the hostal. I'm sure that, had anyone been watching me out of their window, they would have had quite a laugh. Still, I couldn't get over how early everything closed. Previous to the trip, I read in someone's travel blog that this city was like the New York of South America...were we in the same place??

In the hostal, I bought some crackers and chips and stuff from the receptionist and went up to our room. Luckily my boyfriend was sleeping, so I didn't have to break to him the fact that I hadn't found him any drugs until the morning. The next day, I went in search of a pharmacy. I was relieved to see that the cockroaches were gone- I didn't see them again until it got dark out. I was able to find a pharmacy called SANA SANA which gave my boyfriend quite a laugh. SANA SANA is like saying "get well, get well" which is a silly name, really. It's something mums might say to their offsping. There's also a song- "sana, sana, colita de rana..."

Image from

To my dismay, the drugs I got for him seemed to make him worse. His health detoriated throughout the trip, and we ended up heading home earlier than expected to seek medical care. Turned out to be a fungal infection caused by eating lobster and not helped by the bad medication the pharmacy gave to me. I suppose that's to be expected from a place called SANA SANA (and, you know, me trusting them).

Sunday, April 7, 2013

E is for Evitar an Estafa

Anyone know what that means? Evitar means to evade something- in this case to prevent something bad from happening. Since I'm connecting everything in this blog to my travels in South America, I'll elaborate by eliciting another story for everybody. Estafa means rip-off.

My boyfriend's mother was hit by a car and on the road to recovery (which, in itself, is an A-Z worthy, very long story) and we were told that what she needed was a wheelchair. Do you know how expensive one of those things is down there? More than either of us had made in the last six months, anyway. We were advised to go and check out the black market (did you know that this can also be a physical place?) for one. It wasn't our first time visiting this market, where you can buy everything from stolen cell phones to counterfeit knickers.

We were snouting around looking for a wheelchair, and people showed us what they had to offer. They were still too expensive for us. We continued walking down the jam packed streets until the SKETCHIEST looking man I have EVER seen beckoned us. "Hey, you, come here," he called from the shadows. We approached the man (you're probably thinking- what idiots- but don't worry, this is not turning into a hollywood horror flick).

"I heard you people are looking for a wheelchair" he said.

"Yeah, we are..."

"Electic or standard?"


"Okay, I have one for you. What hosptial's the person at?"

This seemed like an odd question. Anyway, my boyfriend answered, "Limatambo"

At this point, the man brightened. "oh, good, yeah, okay. So, not much chance of them going to the public hospital then."

"Well, it's hard to say, I mean if something goes wrong and someone calls an ambulance, we can't guarantee she won't be taken there"

"Yeah, hmm, well, your call. I can have you a chair by tomorrow."

By this time my boyfriend's suspician was mounting. I was half hiding behind him anyway, being that I'm rather dramatic and was scanning the crowd for people likely to jump us, kidnap me or you know, kill us and steal the money they may have thought we had. "O.k., well, how much?"

"It's gonna cost you 200, but you're gonna have to give me half now"

"We'll think about it and get back to you tomorrow"

"Well, hurry up. I'll be watching for you."

So, that wasn't creepy at all. We melded back into the crowd. I asked my boyfriend why we didn't go for it, being that we were poor and needed the chair. He asked me if I really wanted his mother to be wheeling around in a chair stolen from the national hospital...and that's if the man even kept his word and didn't just run off with the hundred, which was more than likely. We decided not to return to the black market for a while, to give the man time to forget about us. I guess we really avoided the estafa, and I gained another experience! :)

This photo is not of a black market. It's a regular market, but it at least gives you some idea. One doesn't whip out their camara in the middle of a black market unless they want to buy it again later.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

D is for Dormir

If you speak French, you might be able to guess at the meaning of this word. Dormir means sleep. So, I decided that today I would tell you about the two weirdest places I have slept for the whole night.

1) One day my boyfriend, his best mate and I decided that we wanted to visit a different city at the last minute, and we couldn't get a bus ticket. Our friend decided to call in a favour with an acquaintance and scored us a spot on a less than reputable bus company. This entailed us waiting in the shadows until the coast was clear and slipping into the cab of the bus without a) security or b) disgruntled passengers seeing us. They charged us only 5 bucks a head for a trip that's usually worth 15. There was a long space about three feet wide and a foot high behind the drivers seat which I assume is for bags. My boyfriend and I squished into it and our other friend squatted behind the driver's seat. I can honestly say that it was the most comfortable bus ride ever- I fell asleep right away and it was easy being that I was lying down and it was dark and warm. Of course, if there had been an accident we'd have been dead meat, but what's life without a bit of risk right? I didn't even get travel sick, which was a miracle.

2) Another time, we decided to visit a rural place with a different group of friends. It was a bank holiday weekend and we figured we could stay in a hostal, but everything- I mean everything- was full. The friends said we could stay at their uncle's country house. Upon arrival, we quickly discovered that all 10 of us could not fit into their modest country house. This is the only bedroom.

Therefore, the non related people were left to either stay up all night or sleep in the truck. So that's where five of us quasi-slept together. In the cab of this truck.

Bet you've never had such an excellent night's sleep. It was freezing, cramped and very dark.

So, where have you spent the night?

Friday, April 5, 2013

C is for Carnaval

No translation needed for this one!

If you haven't been to Carnaval, you can't quite grasp the concept of it. I'm not talking about Rio or New Orleans. I've never been to those, so I can't tell you about them. I'm talking about a small city in South America which claims to have the king of all Carnavals (along with every other city).

Imagine this girl's surprise when, while walking innocently to work, she gets attacked by a horde of crazy adolescents with water balloons

Being a female walking alone in a city like this, one is constantly alert. Having been almost mugged once and attacked by a crazy woman on a different occasion, my first reaction was to let out this amazing shriek, which I can never muster up except for when I think I'm going to be killed, and run. My colleagues calmed me down upon arrival at work by assuring me that this could be expected every day for the next MONTH. Yes folks, carnval is a MONTH LONG celebration.

Perhaps what you didn't know is that being a white woman in an area where you are a minority makes you a preferred target for everyone. They sit in their little huddles atop buildings and behind trees and plot- 10 points if you ruin that guys laptop, 20 points if you make that white shirt see through- OH MY GOD WHITE GIRL, 100 POINTS IF YOU TOTALLY SOAK HER. My local friends were much more adept at spotting these people than I was, and would back off, leaving me to my conversation alone when suddenly a bucket of water would be overturned on me or 20 waterballoons would cause me to do a crazy dance, usually resulting in me jumping into the road and giving motorists a good excuse to curse liberally. My local friends thought this was hilarious and enjoyed speculating about how they "got me again". The worst thing is when you can see a truck coming your way with a group of unruly people in it singing the Carnaval songs, but there is nowhere to hide and you obviously aren't going to outrun them. What fun, what fun. I even caught a couple of my student wallopping balloons out of my third floor classroom window when they thought my back was turned.

Also, throughout the month, drinking in the usually pristine main square is the norm. Usually, people are employed to blow whistles and chase people away if they try to walk on the grass. During Carnaval, urine and garbage is everywhere. Hundreds of people gather in circles to drink, sing and party until dawn. This is, I think the young would say, hardcore partying.


The "core" part of carnaval is three days. On the Saturday, people set out to paint the city. I mean everything and everybody. It's chaos. The taxis are constantly having to stop and clean off their windscreens as huge groups of people representing each "barrio" (neighbourhood) try to out-paint each other. There is nowhere to hide on the streets. You WILL get painted if you leave your house. I tried to avoid getting painted by running and hiding under the hubcap of a semi much to my friends' delightment. They found me and lanced their paint balloons at me without mercy.

This is somebody who was only peeking out of the balcony of his house.

The other two days are much less crazy. There are lots of parades (and I mean like, 6 hour long parades) featuring all the barrios, and concerts. The worst part is the bleachers they use. How much you pay for your spot on a bleacher depends on whether you want to survive. People make the bleachers using varying qualities of lumber. Sometimes they collapse and the sheer quantity of people is a danger. I mean, there are thousands of people in close confines. It will rain and people will still be throwing water at you. Prepare to get wet.

What an experience!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

B is for Barro

Well, this one is a bit hard to guess as it has nothing to do with bars. Barro means mud, which is a world of difference from the snow we've had for about 6 months now. Don't forgot to roll your "r" when you say it! Makes the mud sound delicious. I've almost forgotten what mud looks like and my feet long for the chance to wade willingly through the wildly wet marvel that is a mud puddle. Much to my parent's chagrin, I used to delight in sitting in mud puddles pondering the meaning of life and wet knickers!

To tie this in to my travels, I was in a very rural place once which claimed to have magic mud. To arrive we had to travel in a van with about 25 people crammed into a it for an hour. Most of the people were locals and were not going to the use the thermal waters. We didn't know about the mud until we arrived, at which point we were told that for $2 a little boy would scoop us a bucket of hot mud to put all over our bodies. The two guys decided to go for it and I decided to take photos and laugh at them instead (nothing wrong with a bit of mud, but it was too hot for this northern girl)! The guys had a blast covering themselves to the point of ridiculous and hopping around like crazy sloths. The little boy said that the mud would extend their life span, so I'm sure to die before they do. Being guys, they of course treated me to whatever mud they could manage to hit me with so maybe parts of me will live longer than others. Wouldn't it be strange to have random patches of skin that weren't aging? Hehehe. The problem came when they tried to get the stuff off! Wow, that was a challenge and it was getting late. Itching to get back to a populted area before nightfall I tried to convince them to shower the rest off in the hotel, however the freezing cold shower there was not appealing when they could bathe in natural thermal water instead. We managed to miss the vans that went back to the village and had to hitch-hike in the back of a cow trailer. We got to sit precariously on a log they'd strapped to the top of the open trailer with some rope for just 1 dollar each. It was exciting for about 20 minutes and we laughed about how we shouldn't fall into the trailer because that would hurt and be potentially fatal. Then it just got cold and dark and being young and stupid we hadn't brought our jackets. Luckily we all survived and I was able to tell you this story.

The photo is not mine. It is from they also have other great pictures of the area.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

A is for Analfabetismo

Well, my friend at has decided to the A to Z blog challenge, and it sounds like fun. I'm enjoying reading what she has to say! Therefore, I decided to do it too! Not officially though, because the page where people are supposed to sign up has long scripts and won't load on the laptop. Also I might be too late, as it started on April 1st. I figure that it's not likely that anyone will actually read this, but that's okay because I will! I am going to base the blog around one Spanish word a day. So when 30 days are up, you will have 30 new words in your vocabulary which I am sure will be very useful to you! So, today is A for Analfabetismo. Do you know what that means? Alfabet is close to alphabet, so maybe it has something to do with letters? Good guess. It means illiteracy. Living in westernized Canadian towns, it may not be something that many people even think about. We may just assume that everyone can read- even if it's not a conscious thing. At a restaurant you'd ask people what they want off of the menu, without even considering that they might not be able to read it. People hand out brochures, business cards, etc. to everyone they see, never thinking that to some of their market it could be incomprehensible.

Having lived in a city in the developing world where much of the population is illiterate, I can tell you that generally the educated class there does the same thing. It works for the most part, because many people are trying to sell things to people who have money- which for the most part is not the illiterate population. I do know a man who owns a multi million dollar buisness and cannot read or write more than his own signature. He has trusted employees who read things for him. Life seems to be quite swell for him. But, generally speaking, the inability to read and write is a huge disadvantage when it comes to employment which pays a decent wage (like more than $100 a month). The biggest problem is the rich, educated class' opinion of the generally poorer and less educated- they think it's their fault and often see them almost like a different species. That way, they don't have to try to help them or feel anything constructive about thsi issue. It's quite disgusting. Actually, in some cases people have chosen to continue to be illiterate, because they like their lifestyles or because they are used to them and do not see education as a worthwhile endeavor. But, other people strive to better themselves and it's very inspiring. Have you ever tried to teach a 16 year old girl to read (in your second language)? I have, and it's quite an experience, out of which I think I learned more than she did. Another challenge people face is embarrassment. It's hard to go back to school knowing you will be in a class with people half your age- and still harder to be motivated to stay. Obviously the best thing to do is put young children into school as soon as possible, but what about those people who are already teenagers and adults? How can we convince them to go to school or learn to read and write? I don't think we can. It has to come from them. How do we convince parents to send their children to school rather than collect an income from their work? I think that people have to see that it will be useful to them, worth the sacrifice of lost income due to taking time to study, and valuable enough to make up for lost free time. Have you ever tried convincing a teenager with a grade 1 education that going back to school and training to be a nurse (her desired occupation when asked) would be beneficial and economically profitable in the long run? What about convicing her mother? If you figure out how to do so successfully, you will be able to solve a big problem. How do you inspire a girl to get educated when all of her role models- all of the women she knows- are exactly the same as she is and as far as she can see, they are fine?! How can you get somebody to think about their future when they only tend to think about their future as a week or two from now? Is illiteracy even a problem, when a lot of the people who are illiterate are quite content with their lives? Shouldn't we just focus on the people who actually want to be literate and allow the rest to enjoy their existance as they have chosen?

It's not so different from us really, people stick with what works for them. We are a habitual species and we like our routines.

This image is not mine. It is from Check them out if you want!

This sign says, "Please don't go past this point. If you can't read, ask at the ticket office. Thanks."