PERU IN REVIEW

Commence an entire twenty-four hours of traveling, and I’m finally headed back to my home in Chicago. Even though I’ve left so much of my soul here in Peru, this country doesn’t take anything that it doesn’t give right back. I’ve learned so much in such a short time and that makes me fully okay with returning to the states.

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Not just Peru, but the entire experience of traveling abroad has given me an entirely new perspective on life. It has made me realize how many amenities that I take for granted. I sometimes complain about the half hour commute to school, but here – some kids have to walk 1-2 hours to travel to school, which makes them even more unmotivated to go. I would never imagine walking into a bathroom without a toilet seat, toilet paper, hand soap, and paper towel – but here, those things are luxuries. It makes me realize how many things I take for granted that I really should be more thankful for.

More than just a new perspective, I’m leaving here with so many friends. I now know so many great Peruvians and have a place to crash if and when I return. They’ve shown me the Peru that most tourists wouldn’t usually see, and also taught me more than I could ever learn from any textbook. But I’m also leaving with a new group of friends in Chicago too. All fourteen of the other students on this trip with me have become my friends after spending these two weeks together.

Even though it seems like I’ve packed so much life into fourteen days, for me – Peru has really just been the first step in a lifetime of travel.

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Machu Picchu

6:00 AM

My roommate Joei, or as we’ve named all of our hotel room co-inhabitants, “Perúmates,” woke up to alarms. My night had been a constant battle between sleeping because I wanted to be well rested and waking up every few hours because I was too excited for the upcoming day to close my eyes.

7:30 AM

Dressed and ready, we meet Hannah, another one of our friends for a quick yoga session in one of the hotel lofts. I knew I had to make peace with my mind and body before I endured the hike up the mountain

8:00 AM

Sneakers laced and backpacks filled with water, six of us left to hike up the mountain. As we walked out of our hotel, we saw the line for the bus that would drive the others to the top. We made our way through Aguas Calientes and began to hike up the unsteady stone stairs. On the way, we met other tourists, and a German Shepard which we named Paco. Paco (or “Paquito” as I called him) followed us all the way up the mountain, and would stop when we would take breaks.

10:00 AM

We reached the top of the mountain, each of us dripping in sweat and red in the face. But somehow reaching the top gave us that much more adrenaline to go play on the ruins and explore for the rest of the day.

10:30 AM

The tour started and we learned the significance of each of the different structures in the ruins. As it turns out, all of the windows and stones were strategically placed for different functions. The Incas were definitely a lot smarter than I think they get credit for. I also ran into two of my friends during the tour, which still shocks me. Of all of the places to see someone you know – one of the seven wonders of the world would be one of the least expected places.

12:00 PM

Once the tour ended, it started to downpour. The rain didn’t stop us though. We saw a point on the ruins that we wanted to reach, and we climbed up the slippery stairs as other tourists covered themselves in rain ponchos and made their exit. We finally reached a hut – definitely more soaked than we anticipated – and retreated there while the rain beat down over the mountain. Though the rain cut the day short, I liked the fact that we were able to see Machu Picchu both wet and dry.

2:30 PM

We made it back down the mountain and found a few others from the rest of our group and all headed toward the bus. As we pulled away from the gate and sat in the back of the bus that hugged the winding curves of the mountain’s switchback road, I started to miss it already.

3:30 PM

We returned to our hotel, I found my bucket list, and crossed off item #4 – climb Machu Picchu.

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AGUAS CALIENTES

After one early morning, two busses, and a train ride, we finally arrived in Aguas Calientes, Peru. And as it turns out, we truly did save the best of the trip for the last of the trip.

At first glance Aguas Calientes (literally “hot waters”) may seem like a tourist trap. Every restaurant on the hill toward the hot springs boasts “menu turistico s/. 15” or  “happy hour 4 for 1” and vendors stand in the streets flagging down tourists to look at their souvenirs and postcards. But after exploring the area, it was evident why people flock to this area. There are beautiful waterfalls and rivers and friendly people who always have something to smile about. Of course, everyone comes to see Machu Picchu – which is not only the gem of Aguascalientes, but arguably of Peru.

That evening, I went up to the hot springs with the rest of my group. The hot water was nice, but the bungalow above the springs was the most beautiful. Bright textiles lined chairs made from branches and dream catchers hung from the ceilings. Though the hot springs were enjoyable, I realized that I had spent the evening in the wrong level of them. Regardless, I returned to the hotel relaxed and ready for the hike up Machu Picchu.

It seems like everywhere we go in Peru is a place that I’ve dreamed about at some point in my life. It really makes me wonder if in another life, I used to vacation here or maybe even live here. 

CUSCO

As much as I loved Lima, I was a bit relieved to go to Cusco. The pollution started to wear on my lungs and days started to become more of a routine. I was definitely ready for a change of scenery.

Our second day in Cusco, we took a bus tour through the Sacred Valley. We drove at the very edge of steep cliffs and saw scenic Incan villages and brightly colored markets. Everything we saw didn’t seem real to me. It seemed like something I had seen on postcards and Google image searches and in textbooks and PBS specials.

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When our bus would make stops, I’d touch the rocks and the grass just to reassure myself that what I was seeing wasn’t just some colorful dream panoramically panned out through a laminated glass window.

One of our final stops was at the Ollantaytambo Ruins. Gorgeous stone ledges and structures glowed of history and beckoned adventure. Every time I thought we had reached the top, there’d be something new to climb on and another view to work for.

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The more we hiked, the less strenuous it felt. It began to feel more and more like a giant playground, and we felt so young at heart. 

Comida en Perú

I cannot recall anyone that I’ve met in my life that wasn’t a food fanatic. Deep down we all appreciate a wholesome meal, regardless of tastes. Maybe it’s Peru, maybe it’s anywhere else in the world – but foreign flavors are unlike anything I’ve ever tried.

The first day we arrived, we went to a beach-themed restaurant in Miraflores called Embarcadero41. The server bought us a round of passion fruit sours to welcome us to his country, and recommended us the best dishes to try. I had the Maki De Causa Acevichada – like sushi, but wrapped in sweet potato. Peruvian cuisine is heavily influenced by Asian culture, hence the maki.

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For lunch after class, we stopped at a restaurant called Pardos Chicken, across from our school (hosted by Instituto Peruano de Arte y Diseño). I was expecting something super tour-isty, since “chicken” is in the name, but the salads we ordered had the largest kernels of corn we had ever seen – definitely something one wouldn’t find in the United States.

Being an ovo-pescetarian (lactose intolerant and unable to eat meat, with the exception of fish), my options are sometimes limited. We decided to give a vegetarian restaurant a try. At Govinda, right around the corner from our hotel, everything was customizable to my allergies. Though I can eat fish, I tried a vegan ceviche – made with lime-marinated seitan and vegetables. I was a bit nervous about my food restrictions and traveling to a Latin American country because I’ve known many Latin American dishes to be meat-heavy and covered in cheese. But I was pleasantly surprised how many restaurants are more than accommodating and understanding for picky people like me.

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A Moment In Barranco

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Our group made a stop at La Posada bar at the edge of a cliff in the Barranco district. The sun had already set over Lima and it left this peaceful energy floating above the Pacific. I forewent dinner that night, but ordered a glass of white wine and left the group for a moment. I peered out over the edge of the balcony, sipping it slowly while simultaneously filling my lungs to maximum capacity with the misty South American air.

I leaned against the beam and was so blissfully content that I couldn’t help but smile. The ocean sparkled. The cliffs were alive with nightlife built right into them. All of the people on the level below us embraced each other as if they would never see each other again – but really, that’s just another night in Lima. 

Feeling so many things at once, I started tearing up. I felt so small in the most humbling way. I looked down again at the patio below me and saw a server looking up at me. He looked to be about forty, I assumed Peruvian. It seemed as though he had been looking at me the whole time. He was smiling – not a flirtatious smile, nor a mocking one, but instead a deeply understanding one. He was teary eyed too, but didn’t have the same view as I. His face read of being in awe of someone being so peaceful, looking out into the ocean. I smiled a gentle smile at him, acknowledging that I felt exactly what my expression showed.

And in that moment, I knew that I could feel at home anywhere that I go. 

Smaller en Lima?

I can’t say that I’m claustrophobic in any way. I love being in tiny venues filled to maximum capacity while live music plays, sitting elbow to elbow in packed coffee shops during finals week, and people watching from inches away on Chicago subways. Living in a big city, I guess it makes sense. 

Here in Lima (three times bigger than Chicago), everything seems to be at least half of the size. Narrow sidewalks leave little space to comfortably walk without bumping into someone coming from the other direction. The bathroom stalls give you no choice but to be thisclose to the germ-filled walls. And as for the busses – plan on really getting much closer (than you planned to) to the stranger next to you.

Due to the smaller amenities, there is definitely a different concept of personal space here. People don’t apologize for bumping into each other – and that was definitely something to get used to. I apologized to a woman for accidentally kind of walking in her path while I was still three feet away, and her reaction was priceless – so surprised that someone would even say sorry to begin with.

As odd as this sounds, I actually like how we’re all squished onto sidewalks and busses together. It makes me feel like I’m already interwoven with the culture and people of this bustling city.                    ImageImage

Peruvian Hospitality

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This likely isn’t the safest mannerism considering I’m most obviously a tourist, but I’m always looking up here in Lima. Whether it’s the sky-high palm trees, colorful architecture, or the towering cliffs – my eyes always seem to be drawn upwards. Though such beauty here is obvious, I believe that the true wonder of Lima lives within the people.

All of them are incredibly fascinated with us. Perhaps it’s the fair skin, the light eyes, or the blonde hair among the people in our group. But little do they know, we’re equally as fascinated with them. They walk at a leisurely pace (unlike the massive population of speed walkers in Chicago), all different strides reflected of the years they have or haven’t worked. Peruvians also have beautiful dark eyes that tell different stories exclusive to the minds behind them.Image
Of all of the ones I’ve met, every single person has welcomed me with open arms. From offering to be our personal tour guides of Lima to inviting us to parties and events – all of them want to understand us as much as we want to understand them, their city, and their culture.

I may still be looking up as to not miss the physical beauty that is Lima; but my focus will be at eye-level – meeting all of the people that make Peru the culture-rich country that it is.

Choco Museo

I know there are entire blogs and websites dedicated entirely to chocolate – a bit extreme yet entirely understandable. But after visiting Choco Museo (Berlin Street 375, Miraflores, Lima), I feel I owe chocolate at least one post. Choco Museo, a free and interactive museum, welcomed our group with miniature cups of cacao tea (which I soon learned the difference from cocoa). It looked like and had the consistency of a cup of black tea, but smelled like and had a taste of hot chocolate.

In addition to the museum where you learn the journey of the cacao bean from the Peruvian ground to the candy aisle at the grocery store, Choco Museo sells all kinds of chocolate products (a majority of which they make in-house). From cacao-beaded jewelry to chocolate liqueurs – the coffee flavored chocolate liqueur being my favorite – I was half tempted to bring back a suitcase full of melting souvenirs.

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And if you love what you’re sampling during the exhibit, Choco Museo also offers a variety of classes and workshops where you can try, make, and bring home all sorts of chocolate goods.

Even though I only tried things and forewent the classes, I still felt this Willy Wonka-esque joy that I definitely couldn’t unwrap in a Hershey bar back home.

Lima’s Temperature – eight times as high as Chicago’s

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In a matter of twenty-two hours, I experienced what felt like all four seasons. With carrying my suitcase as to avoid covering it in dirty frozen snow as I left Chicago, the mild temperatures and clear skies during my layover in Dallas, the slightly humid breeze at 3 am on a Lima morning, and the sweaty summer swelter I woke up to at the Pariwana Hostel.

Though it’s been slightly overcast in the Miraflores district where I’m staying, it’s been infinitely worse in my home of Chicago. The Midwest is known for it’s extreme weather during every season, but it’s set a new record low (as low as -46 degrees Fahrenheit) for the first time in twenty-six years. The weather in fact, has been labeled dangerous to the point where, regrettably, a man on my street passed while shoveling his driveway this past Sunday night.

My Facebook feed has been filled with my friends’ posts celebrating Netflix marathons and cancelled classes – which almost makes me feel a little less guilty for sharing pictures of the 70 degree weather here. Though my classes haven’t been cancelled, I don’t mind because at least I’m able to show up in shorts.