A guest post, by my older son.
….Aaand I’m back!!
Cusco, two days:
The first thing I did after the choir left was rent a motorcycle and spend my two days motorcycling around Cusco.
I went far and yon and almost crashed into a cop who was driving another motorcycle. All he did was shout something at me as I wildly swerved around him.
Puerto Maldonado, two weeks:
While living in the Amazon jungle with a family of twenty kids (two biological, the rest adopted), I hoed, planted watermelon, built fence, wrote in my journal, ate only two meals a day (not my choice—it was the family’s custom), and did a bunch of other “around the farm” chores.
On the weekends, I relaxed in the hammock and read.
The kids from the jungle had really good aim. I found that out the hard way when I challenged them to a clementine throwing match. I thought I could hold my own against a six and nine year old. I was wrong.
Puno, four days:
I arrived at dawn on the outskirts of Puno on a blisteringly cold winter morning. Well, blisteringly cold for my clothing; a sweatshirt, jeans, and thin gloves. My first day in Puno I walked all over the city and then spent the night in a hotel room that could have been used as the set for a horror movie: yellowed walls and stained bed sheets. The next night I stayed in a five-star hotel where I lay around all day and night eating expensive food and watching movies.
My third night in Puno I stayed on a reed island, called an uro, out on Lake Titicaca.
There are about 100 uros on the lake. Most of them are built for a family of about ten, but there are also uros for schools, churches, and a market. Nine feet thick, these uros are made of reeds and roots that are stacked and bundled together until they are about 70 feet x 70 feet. The uros float just one foot above the water, and would float about the lake if they were not anchored.
There were seven other travelers spending the night with me on the uro. It was the first, and only, time during my trip that I met other travelers that I was able to really talk with. It was as if we were old friends.
The young couple that lived on this island made our meals, gave us tours and history lessons, entertained us with live music, and placed hot water bottles at the foot of our beds.
Nazca, two days:
Nazca is home to the mysterious Nazca lines and Cerro Blanco, the world’s tallest sand dune. The first day I was there I got to fly over the Nazca lines in a six-seater plane.
The view was awesome!
I also got to take a dune buggy tour to see an ancient spring and some old ruins.
The next morning I woke up at 3 am to hike up, and then sandboard down, Cerro Blanco. Unfortunately, my 18-year-old guide forgot to bring along wax for our sandboards, so I wasn’t able to actually sandboard down.
Pisco, two days:
At the end of my three days in Nazca it wasn’t quite time for me to head back up to Cusco, so I flipped through my little Peru mapbook and decided to go to the beach. I never did make it to the beach because on my bus ride up the coast, I noticed the water didn’t look very clean. Also, it’s boring to swim by oneself. Also, I was feeling lazy. But I did make it to Pisco and score a nice hotel room for cheap!
Cusco, eight days:
My final leg of the journey was spent with the Calders, a Peruvian family that only spoke Spanish.
Ada, the mother, was incredibly kind and generous, and she had superhuman patience. The father, Daniel, was also pleasant tempered. One evening he took me by bus to the center of Cusco just to give me a tour.
The two younger sons, ages two and four, were the wildest kids I had ever met. The youngest liked to grab things and then drop or throw them. The second youngest constantly ran around hollering for attention. Ada would merely laugh and scold them lightly. The oldest son was thirteen and very shy. Everytime I said something to him, he would turn bright red and grin.
*It’s a bad idea to lead a small group of fellow choristers up a mountain and not tell anyone. Especially when the rest of the group is about to sit down to a special meal of fried fish.
(The view was amazing, though.)
*When the girl next to you eats some exotic pepper and now has tears streaming down her face, don’t eat the same pepper just to prove she’s being a wimp. She’s not.
*Don’t swat an insect that is half the size of your hand.
*When walking down the dirt path to the outdoor family showers in the jungle and hollering Spanglish to make sure they are empty, understand that no response does not mean unoccupied. (And it was not a same gender shower, folks!)
*Think twice before you tell people that you know how to cook. First, assess your cooking materials and consider the limited kitchen supplies first.
Otherwise, making homemade pizza for a family of 22 will go something like this:
1) Make the dough with the wrong flour, which is not your fault because they accidentally gave you corn flour instead of wheat flour.
2) Make the dough again.
3) Burn the vegetables you’re sauteing for the tomato sauce.
4) Flies really like sugar. By the time you figure that out, they will have consumed a surprising portion of your two tablespoons.
5) Suddenly realize you only put two teaspoons of yeast in the flour instead of two tablespoons. AHHH!!
6) Eventually manage to get the pizzas in their appropriate pans, cover them in tomato sauce and cheese, and stick them in the oven.
7) The first pizza will be undercooked and the second burned, but the other four will come out quite nicely. The family will love them.
*Don’t fret about transportation. You get there when you get there. End of story. Period.
*Never underestimate the power of altitude pressure. When traveling from sea level to 12000 feet, the bottle of mango juice in your backpack will burst. You will not know this until 2 am when you reach into your bag to discover that everything—books, tickets, battery charger, and other such valuables—is a sticky mess.
When I was in the jungle, I noticed that my little toe was swelling and turning red. I decided it probably wasn’t anything to be concerned about. Besides, I wasn’t about to tell the jungle toughened Peruvians that my little toe hurt. After about a week, I noticed a little white dot at the tip of my toe, which by that time had swollen so much that it made wearing my boots quite difficult and painful. One of the older kids noticed I was limping and asked if one of my toes was bothering me.
Her: Let me look at it.
Her: Oh hey! You have a Piki.
Me: Oh. Should I be concerned?
Her: No, it’s just a parasite. But if you leave it there, it will eventually make your toe fall off. We’ll just take you to our operating room and extract it.
Me: Um … are you joking?
In the operating room (the mess hall), she got an almost-empty bottle of alcohol-based antiseptic with a yellowed lid and then pulled out a surgical needle that would not have looked out of place in a medieval torture chamber (though there was a chance it was just a normal sewing needle) and began to poke at the swollen skin. Her goal was to remove the skin around the little white dot and extract the larva in one piece. After five minutes of digging, muttering under her breath, and causing me intense agony, she finally got it out. And in one piece, too. Yay!
Unfortunately, the saga continued. Three days later I noticed another telltale white dot, this time on my big toe. An older daughter took a turn at performing the invasive surgery. She was a little more experienced and got it out faster.
And then, a week after I left the jungle, I saw The White Dot once more. This one was in the same hole as the first. It wasn’t hurting too bad, so I just left it go, but a week later, I decided I needed to take some action. I found a needle, a bottle of alcohol, and did some serious self operation.
It was messy. The sac ruptured, so I had to scrape out all the little bits of white larva with the needle.
To Sum Up
I didn’t know what to expect when I arrived home.
Would I have culture shock? Would I find it hard to slip back into my normal life? Would I feel drastically changed? Turns out none of that went down. I had no culture shock, which may have been because I was only gone for seven weeks and I was already somewhat familiar with the Hispanic culture. I was also able to get back to my normal lifestyle—listening to my parents, fighting with the sibs, and needing to coordinate my schedule with others again—without much problem.
While the trip didn’t drastically change me, I now feel more responsible, more capable, and more aware of my surroundings. In Peru, I had to constantly be on my guard and I had no one bossing me around, cough-cough, Mum. I was totally in charge of myself. There was no one other than me to make the decisions. It was exhilarating, and it showed me I am capable of living on my own.
When I lived in Guatemala with my family for ten months in 2013, I was thirteen years old and I didn’t pay much attention to the surrounding culture. Now, at seventeen, I observed, and absorbed, much more. It made me realize how fortunate I am. I have a home with all the luxuries of family, friends, and possessions. I don’t have to worry about getting sick from the food or water. I don’t need to wear the same clothes every day. I can just climb in a car and go places without any hassle (other than negotiating with me mum). I have a network to rely on. So many people in Peru—and here, for that matter—do not have all those things.
Not to say all those people weren’t happy! Here it’s very easy to get caught up in consumerism and social media. Our culture is about power, money, and who has the coolest stuff. In Peru, there was very little of that. What they value most is friendships and family. Some of them have almost nothing, yet they gladly opened their homes to me and provided me with the best they could offer.
I’m glad I went to Peru. It was really cool, but traveling by myself was also sometimes lonesome. If I ever do something like this again, I’ll probably travel with someone.
Here’s a short video, a movie trailer, that I made of the trip. Enjoy!
This same time, years previous: in progress, the quotidian (8.18.14), starfruit smoothie, the beach, garlicky spaghetti sauce, this is what crazy looks like, how to get your refrigerator clean in two hours, canned tomatoes, oven-roasted roma tomatoes.