25 April 2006

home: the culture shock is gone but the parasites aren't

I miss speaking Spanish. By the end of the trip I was looking forward to no longer having to try to understand native speakers in my non-native language. But that was because I didn't realize what a toll being sick for 5 1/2 weeks straight, essentially, was taking on me, just how worn out I really was.

It's so strange to be back home, and to think that the things I notice now about my own culture in comparison to Perú are just as important and could reveal just as much as it did the other way around when I was first there....

The culture shock
In the first week home I started noticing habits I'd picked up in Perú like hoarding napkins (because they double as toilet paper in all those bathrooms that don't have any) and small change (no one ever has enough, and you can wind up paying too much for something if you don't, either, and it also can feel a lot safer in some circumstances to pay with exact change since it shortens the time spent in the transaction, with your money out).

It also took me a while to get used to putting toilet paper in the toilet. And dear lord, our toilet paper is wide! You get free water here at restaurants, that you can actually drink. And there's public transit. And tax.

And the parasites
Drew and I started a five week parasite cleanse this afternoon. I hope that I get some focus back, because ever since we got home, I've been in a daze. I had thought at the end of the trip that I'd lost my Spanish since I hadn't been practicing it much those last few weeks, but being home and still having the same sort of difficulties with comprehension and memory but in my life in general, I realize that it's the parasites.

I've learned that parasites release a really toxic amount of immonia in our systems, and that extended parasite infestation can cause things like mental fatigue. Which is actually a huge relief because I didn't know what was wrong with me. Especially since I didn't know that I still had parasites, or had them again. When I got really a lot sicker again right before I came home, I was diagnosed with a bacterial infection and put on really strong antibiotics. And when I stopped having diarrhea and stomache cramping a few days after I got home, I just thought I was better. But I wasn't.

It's strange that the most immediate lasting effect of my 4 months in Perú is this sickness that almost took over the trip, and thinking that Perú may have altered my body as much as my experience. But that doesn't diminish the effect it's had on my perspective.

I set out to gain fluency in Spanish and experience being in another culture. And I did feel confident in my Spanish by the end of my time with the Ramirez family and with the Garro Arana's. And I was really there. I can still feel the moments of communion when I would get to really communicate with a child who had approached me, or one of the many women that shaped my experience there. I know now what it feels like to be in a community based on interdependence largely because of some of the women I got to know. The women of the Ramirez family, their long time friends, Perla, Patty, Janette. These women have perhaps made the biggest impact on me, and I miss them already. I miss my Perú.

At least I still have the parasites... for a few more weeks, anyway.

04 April 2006

mi otra familia de Perú

I leave tomorrow, and it just wouldn't feel right if I didn't visit the Garro Arana's who befriended me and asked only that I keep in touch.

29 March 2006

the beach again

One of the coolest things about Máncora is the kiteboarding, which I'd never seen before even though I'm told it's done as close to home for me as Seattle.

I'm still really sick, and drinking a good half a bottle a day of the electrolyte solution (think Pedialyte but in interesting flavors like lemongrass and yerba buena), and we're really just laying low. And again, I'm seeing more of the area outside the tourist section than when I was here before.

23 March 2006

Cuzco otra vez

The beach is not Drew's scene. But when I took the theft so hard, he wanted to do whatever it would take for me to be able to feel okay, and I need to be back at the sea. The altitude and cold and being sick and then La Paz were all just too much for me.

But first we're spending a few days in Cuzco. And, like in Lima, I'm seeing parts of the city that I just didn't see with Dustin. I'm seeing more than just the tourist area.

This is a popcorn bicycle similar to one in Puno that was parked in front of our hostel every day and which led me to develop a popcorn addiction at a time when I wasn't able to enjoy eating very many things. The one in Puno was spiffier, though, and the popcorn was not pink.

20 March 2006

La Paz

Can you say swollen eyelids? how about blotchy face?

The swelling has actually gone down a fair amount. I cried all night last night starting in the evening when I discovered that my small bag had been stolen. Now, it didn't have my passport, camera, or money in it. But it did have all my Spanish notes from last year, this year, and the whole time I've been in country so far - including pages and pages of words in English and Spanish that I had compiled during my homestay. A personal dictionary that reflected the things I was hearing, thinking about, and trying to express during my time with both the Ramirez and Garro Arana families.

There were some items of monetary value, but the biggest loss is my notes, and the email addresses of a few of the fellow travellers I've met, the ones I connected with...

I was so completely out of it from the long day we'd had that I wasn't even aware that we were following a stranger, I was just following my companions. And then I went upstairs. Drew's description of The Hustle is vital because he was there for it. I was just there for when I completely freaked out.

And freak out I did. When I came back and asked where my bag was and he realized that it had been taken, I just flipped. I started crying and ran outside to look for them, to look for it. I was sure that they would look inside, see that it wasn't what they'd hoped, and just ditch it. I asked people I saw ¿viste dos hombres con un bolso de la playa? crying crying making an enormous scene, probably the biggest scene I've ever made.

It's fair to say that I overreacted, but we're still going back to Perú this afternoon. I can't stay here, I can't let go yet. I'm too tired. La Paz is a misnomer as far as I'm concerned.

18 March 2006

Copacabana, Bolivia

La Paz herself in the main plaza in Copacabana
We get to the little border town of Copacabana around 11 in the morning after already having been up for 7 hours and riding first in what was either a very small bus or a very large van, and then the rest of the way after crossing the border in a combi style van, and I am just desperate for a nap in a bed. Drew heads out for some food and exploration while I crash.

Like a good marinero, he finds boats for hire. Apparently after seeing the way Drew steps into the boat, this man recognizes that he knows what he's doing and asks him if he wants to take the boat out by himself.

Which he does.

Everything is just a little bit different here. The money is worth half as much, so everything that would be 1 sol in Perú is 2 bolivianos here. And the people just seem ever so slightly less friendly, not mean, but less outgoing and curious.

We have lunch in the market in an effort to get back to being more frugal and less touristy, but make the very tourist mistake of not finding out the price in advance, so we wind up being rather ridiculously overcharged. She must have been planning on getting one over on us, because she won't let me take her picture.

This woman, however, has just had her lunch (at surely the proper price) and is happy to pose.

16 March 2006


The altitude is giving me a hard time, headaches in the morning and trouble breathing even with having quit smoking. It's also really cold here for me. I'm coming from 2 months on the north coast where it's very hot. Drew does not agree that it's very cold, but he just came from winter in Olympia and he's healthy, so he can't possibly understand.

I've been sick again (and not with the cold I had in Lima before Drew got here, if you know what I mean) for 13 days now, and have gotten increasingly more sick over the last week. Everything is basically just going through me. And I realize that when I was sick at the beginning of my trip (with Dustin), I was sick for a month and that Drew and I only have a month left now, so I decide that I will go to a doctor if I'm not starting to get better in the next couple of days. But when I wake up after our siesta and am feeling even worse, I decide that I'm going to a doctor right now. I can't wait 2 more days.

So we look in the phonebook in our room and choose the closest doctor, hoping that doctors also work on the schedule that is predominant here of being closed in the afternoon and open again later in the evening. When we get to the doctor's office, we're in luck. He has hours in the evening, but he also turns out to be a pediatrician. But more luck has it that they take pity on me as an obviously very sick foreigner, and his nurse calls him to come in (he has hours, but isn't actually in the office).

So we wait for 30 or 40 minutes, and when Dr Peña Vicuña gets there I'm really glad that I accidentally picked a pediatrician, because he's so patient and just gives the impression that he really cares. He's very thorough, as well, and after asking me loads of questions, gives me 2 options. The first is that he'll write me a prescription for a general antibiotic since we were planning on leaving for Bolivia tomorrow, and we can just hope that it kills whatever I have, or he'll write me a prescription for a stool analysis at the lab upstairs so that he'll know exactly what I have and can then write a more accurate prescription. He recommends the analysis because he thinks I may have amoebas.

Drew says he's happy to wait a couple of days so that I can be treated, and we opt for the latter choice. Dr Peña then provides me with a tiny little plastic bottle in which to deposit my sample tomorrow morning, and instructs me to come down with it right at 8 am so that I'll be the first one there when they open and thus won't have to wait as long. He also says to call him when I get the results about an hour later and that he'll come in (even though he doesn't have office hours in the morning) and look at the results and write me the specialized prescription. And he charges me only S/30 for this visit, which is essentially an urgent care visit since I showed up without an appointment an hour before they normally close, not to mention the fact that I am at least 15 years too old to be seeing a pediatrician. And the follow-up tomorrow is included. Forget the exchange rate, if it even cost 3o USD in the states to see a doctor without insurance, we could all jump for joy.

We get up early, and I find that I'm really really glad that I have the odd habit of saving the little plastic bags everything comes in, otherwise this ordeal would be a whole lot grosser, and we head off in the cold, rainy morning to the lab right as they open. I give the woman there my sample, which I find very embarassing, and the S/20 the lab work will cost, and we leave to get breakfast while we wait for the results. When we get back to the lab, she tells me that she needs another sample to run more tests but that it will only take about 5 minutes this time. So I give her another sample and another 5 soles, well actually it winds up costing S/6 because we only have a 10 sole bill and she doesn't have enough change (change is a constant issue here in Perú).

Then she gives me my lab report, and lets me use the phone to call Dr Peña, and when I ask her ¿que tengo? because the reason she wanted to run another test was that the original one had come up negative for amoebas, she tells me I have un infeccion fuerte.

Dr Peña comes in more quickly than last night, and goes through the results with me. It's difficult to understand this in Spanish, but basically I have lots of inflammation/many white cells, abundant and various bacteria, as well as some sort of parasites. The good news is that I won't have to take antibiotics at all, that he can write me a prescripiton for medicine to restore my natural flora and that will take care of it. And the special electrolyte solution he prescribed last night for after every time I go is already helping me feel better - I had to have been really dehydrated. I'm also to avoid fatty foods, milk, and, of course, fruits and vegetables since they're probably where I got all this stuff to begin with...

I decide this morning after having to get up to go to the bathroom that I'm going to start calling Perú Poo-roo. Maybe I've developed brain damage from being so sick, but I think this is terribly clever when I get back into bed and tell Drew.

I'm starting to feel a little better, so we're leaving for Bolivia tomorrow.

This is a mototaxi that is outfitted for the cold weather and rain in Puno.

12 March 2006

Lago Titicaca

Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world at an altitude of 12,580 feet.

11 March 2006


Where's the gringo?7/03/06
Our first destination is Camaná, a small southern coastal city that used to have a thriving beach community until a tsunami hit a few years ago. The main city remained untouched.

We have a little adventure getting there, though, when the bus driver doesn't stop, and we have to get off at the cafe place about a half an hour past it, where the driver stops to switch shifts with the other driver who has been sleeping in the little hold in the bus, as well as give everyone a chance to use the bathrooms and get some food. We are told that there are local busses that come by pretty regularly, and the man at the cafe says he will help us watch for one, and even flag it down for us. Without his help we would have to ride all the way to Arequipa and then take a bus back and this time make sure the driver lets us off.

True to his word, a bus comes and he flags it down from the side of the road where he has been waiting for it, and we get on and get the last two empty seats. We're charged twice as much as he told us it costs, presumably because we're gringos. We're also obviously not in a position to bargain, particularly since we're already moving by the time the man comes to collect our money.

When we reach Camaná we set off to find the hostel that I've picked in Lonely Planet, only to discover that no one knows where it is. And when we try to call them to find out, none of the public phones seem to work. I enlist a passing stranger to help us, and she winds up spending probably 15 minutes with us, first trying to find a phone that actually works, and then finding a taxi and negotiating a price for us once we realize that where we want to go is Point Camaná, not the city proper.

We spend the first night in one of the few still inhabited spots out in the old Point Camaná, but it's too isolated and the main city draws us back in, it has such a good feel to it. The woman who went out of her way to help us was a preview to the openness we would encounter.

The people here are by and large easy going and friendly, and in typical Peruvian fashion, very curious and personable. One afternoon we are befriended by a group of children on the street. On another occasion we find ourselves in the plaza at the time of day when a handful of women gather to gossip and enjoy pork snacks which they are eager for us to try. And one of the juice ladies in the market takes a liking to us and has kind words and tells us to remember to come back to Camaná when we have our last juice from her before moving on.

We would each consider living here for a while if we were going to live in Perú, and are both a little reluctant to leave.

05 March 2006

some other sights in central Lima

When I was here with Dustin, we didn't explore Central Lima at all, so Drew and I stay here for 5 days.

04 March 2006

Presidential Palace in Lima

It's so strange as an EEUU to see the home of the president right here on the street, right across from the Plaza de Armas, but there it is. It's also just massive.

And there's one of the military guards waving at me from across the street...

03 March 2006

back in Lima

It's almost as if I'm starting my trip over. Drew will be here in a matter of days and then we will set off travelling for the 5 weeks he'll be here, sort of like my first six weeks with Dustin. We'll head south and then east, to round up north to Cuzco before coming back to Lima to fly home. It's like coming full circle ending this way so much like the beginning, but this time I'll be with my boyfriend and have just lived with a family and spoken Spanish all day every day for 5 weeks.

But before Drew gets here I get 3 more days of family time because I'm staying with la familia Garro Arana. And it is a good thing Janette said I'm like family now when she invited me, because I show up sick.

The Garro Aranas are so kind, and I've been sick this whole time. I even lost my voice for the last 2 days. And tonight I'm headed off to check into a hostel before I meet Drew at the airport.

Tonight we meet up with the Garro Arana's and all go out for dinner, which is really fun. And it's nice for me to be able to treat them after they made me feel so welcome in their home (and even as an invalid)... ,' -)

25 February 2006


It's the final day of Carnaval, which is celebrated across South America, and I am in the little fishing city of Huanchaco where they celebrate every year with a parade.

My favorite thing that happens is when an older woman suddenly is standing with her arm around my side, posing for a picture. Then she kisses my cheek, smiles, and says she had to get a picture taken with a gringita (little gringa). Okay.

22 February 2006


Well, my homestay is over and I'll be on my own for a few days. And I realize that I've been in country for 11 weeks now.

I had forgotten how strange everything seemed to me at first, until another gringo at the hostel here in Trujillo comments on how many taxis there are and why do they honk so much and thinks it's something peculiar to this city, and I realize how acclimated I've become. I hardly even noticed the transition except for how quickly I got used to the traffic and how to navigate as a pedestrian...

And then I take a shower, and it's hot, and I realize that I haven't had a hot shower in literally 5 weeks, but hadn't thought about it in almost that long. And to think that it was once a daily concern.

21 February 2006

Cristo ya viene

Peruvians are confident that Christ is returning. They are faithful in general, and there are innumerable stickers in mototaxis, combis, and plastic houseware and food container products of the brand Rey (King) on the subject.

These include: Voy seguro porque voy con Cristo - Sal 121:8
Con Cristo a mi lad todo es posible
Yo [heart] Jesús
Amor, Paz, y Vida es Jesús
Jesús es mi Pastor nada me Faltará
Cristo vive
Busca la Paz en Dios
and they are not so different from what you might see in the States.

20 February 2006

mi nueva familia peruana

After a somewhat rocky start (except with Manolo), and an incident where I am told by two of the other gringas here that everyone hates me, including the family - I am leaving feeling closer to the family than the others, I'm sure.

Berta says how easy I am, and clean, how I don't smell like the other gringos do, and thanks me for coming when I thank her for accepting me. She tells me that this is my family here in Perú now, and agrees with Manolo having given me the new nickname of Cassandra Ramirez last night.

Juana tells me that she loves me when we say goodbye this morning. I'm surprised and truly touched. She is like a grandmother to me now.

19 February 2006

nuestra despedida

A despedida in this context is essentially a going away party, and Janette (she's wearing a red shirt and sitting with her little daughter on her lap) and I are both leaving in the next 2 days. So it is decided that this is our despedida and we must drink cerveza and go swimming with just the Evas (think Eve of the Garden of Eden): me, Janette, Perla (in the blue dress in the front), and Berta (a Ramirez sister, in the pink shirt standing in the middle). I find that I have been completely accepted.

And this was my bedroom for 4 weeks, though it's bigger than what you can see here...

14 February 2006


On el Dìa de Amor (el dìa de San Valentin), the drink is sweet vino rosado and the vaso is passed to the left!!! This is the only time they pass to the left...

29 January 2006

interesting little difference

I'm pretty sure all countries have at least some universal customs. For instance, in the United States we pass everything to the left: doobies, drinks, snacks, etc, we deal cards to the left. Here in Perú, all those things are done to the right. Even the cards, which is the strangest for me. Is it a hemisphere thing? I've always thought that to the left makes perfect sense because it's clockwise, but perhaps it's more gravitational than I realized.

It's also customary in Perú to drink cervezas using one cup (un vaso) shared among the group. The bottle is opened and the vaso (which is about 3 1/2 or 4 inches in height and probably 2 1/2 inches in diameter) is filled about halfway, the person passes the bottle on, says salud, drinks the whole amount, pours out the foam in this special turn the vaso upside down in a circle way that I can't quite master (but I always pour mine slowly enough to avoid much foam [spuma] and drink so slowly on my turns that what little spuma there was has settled by the time I finish and there's nothing really to pour out - which is maybe why it never works when I try to do it), and passes it on, yes, to the right...

27 January 2006

La Barranca

La Barranca is not idyllic. The waterfront is a stretch of rocky slope beyond a valley of rocks and patches of vegetation coated white from having been underwater at some point.

But climb up and then back down the other side the slope of rocks and you find at the water's edge, a narrow sandy beach. The cold water current of the ocean is mixed with the warm water from the lagoon at the mouth of the river right here. I have never heard of a hot river, but the mouth of this one is certainly warm where it forms the laguna before feeding into the ocean.

Back away from the water, beyond the white encrusted rocks and growth, and cross a small sandy and rocky slope towards the main dirt road that loops the village. Cross the road and find two sets of circular benches that serve as something close to a plazeula, and the front row of houses, most of which are abandoned and dilapidated because there are only a few families that live here year round.

But as other families arrive, some of the houses get their yearly paint job.

This is our house, it is one of the biggest, and even it is primitive and in some disrepair, as Manolo puts it to me.

My days here are filled with reading, writing, a bit of sunbathing, and my cherished constant interruptions by the various women friends of the family, and local children. I get to develop relationships, fleeting as some of them may be, and practice Spanish in a real way, trying to communicate things about myself and my life and understand what is communicated to me of the same.

I am safe and well fed, with fresh ceviche made by Mama Juana with fish or small sharks that were just pulled out of the water by a local fisherman.