Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Lima, Cuzco & the Sacred Valley: Landscapes

Before you even get to Machu Picchu, Peru offers some amazing vistas. 

Lima is BIG. Stretches for miles. 10 million people. City lights, ocean-side cliffs, buildings, graffiti, museums, shops, gardens, apartments and hotels...The earthquakes and erosion sometimes topple boulders down the bluffs onto highways or beaches, so you see gigantic nets holding everything in. This place is literally bursting at the seams. 
Giant cacti at Museo Larco, Lima
Pacific Ocean at Lima (by the docks you can see the black nets holding rocks in).
Cuzco, even stripped of its gold, has a way of glowing in the sun. It's nested in a see-saw of rosy mountains with steps, slopes and staggered buildings mimicking the landscape. Even before the Inca, the Lake Titicaca cultures had planned cities based on textile designs. Incan roads survive in Cuzco, so narrow only one car can pass through and pedestrians hug the walls to avoid cars. On top of century-old stones, Spanish stucco forms churches, restaurants and a very visible layer of history. 
Cuzco seen from the outskirts
Incan walls under Spanish plaster, Cuzco
The Sacred Valley was my favorite region of Peru. It felt like springtime, driving past rows of quinoa fields, watching animals graze, smelling the eucalyptus trees in the misty morning air. Villages, little brick houses, donkeys, alpacas, children and icecream, mud and straw, guinea pig pens...it's a sensory experience better lived than described. This region includes Písac, Ollayntaytambo, Maras, Sacsayhuamán, and the underground labyrinth of Qenko. Of course, Machu Picchu will have its own post. 

The sacred valley is full of ruins, green mountains, patchwork-quilt agriculture, fresh air and sunny vistas quickly overtaken with luminescent clouds. Ancient huts, uninhabited for centuries, are not an uncommon sight as they climb upward toward mountaintop granaries. The mountains disrupt wind currents so much that rain can fly upside-down in your face. All in all, you can't separate geography from the experience. 

Above: Ancient fortress of Sacsayhuamán (no, not pronounced "sexy woman").
Below: Rock slide outside of Sacsayhuamán. Don't start till the second dip or you'll have trouble sitting for a few days!
Above: The "patchwork" of the Sacred Valley by Ollantaytambo
Below: Our awesome trilingual tour guide for the Sacred Valley, Magali. She taught us fun Quechua words.

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Friday, November 17, 2017

Bridges, Greenhouses & Mountains

The first day I felt I was really living in Quito, one of the pedestrian bridges collapsed. It was early in the morning and thankfully no one was hurt, but the whole city heard about it. When I asked where it happened, I realized I'd passed under that bridge just a day or two before! These bridges were anchors, landmarks, to me. To hear one fell shook me even though I wasn’t there.

Some of my friends ran late to meetings and appointments that day because of the traffic, or they had to leave early for work because they heard about it on the news. Strangely, this “disaster” made me feel the city, its people. It made me a participant in a way I wasn’t before.

Even though I felt more connected to Quito than ever, this suburban student started to feel antsy after so much time in the city. Since I needed a break, a friend took me to a small village nearby called Nayón. It was a lazy Sunday afternoon and we boarded a bus that took us through winding mountain roads, slowly descending, until we reached our destination. The elevation was a little lower; it was in the upper 70s and humid. 

Nayón is a charming village, dedicated to plant nurseries, that fuels the lush gardens and parks of Quito. (No, I only almost drooled as I explored the greenhouses). We perused exotic succulents, palms, lime trees, orchids, celosia, cacti…it was the most beautiful day I spent in Ecuador. The village was quiet, with a small city square and a modest but lovely colonial church. Families picnicked on the grass, sweeping mountain vistas dimmed in the setting sun, and my friend’s treat to me—Salcedo ice cream—awoke my taste buds with unknown tropical flavors as it melted on its quirky popsicle stick. If I planned on staying longer, you bet I’d have some houseplants.  

When I came back to Quito, I saw the mountains differently. I knew them. When a cold wind came down from above, arctic in sensation, or when the crispness disappeared in sticky descent down a slope, I felt I was learning the mountains’ personalities. They felt mystical, and the muse for the Andean pan flute songs was becoming my muse, too. My Peruvian tour guide, Jessica, had described an ancient Andean belief in apus, or guardian mountain-spirits. I don’t follow any apu, but when I lived in the Andes, there was something in the landscape I could only describe as otherworldly. 

Bridges, mountains and greenhouses are a part of the geography, and a part of the people.

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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Quito, Ecuador: An Introduction

After my tour in Perú, I spent 5 weeks with an Ecuadorian institution that helps young women and their children. I lived with them, did chores, painted portraits and built friendships. In my free time, I got out in the city and journaled about my experience.

Quito is nested in a high-altitude valley between awe-inspiring volcanoes, the nearest being Pichincha. The city stretches hours north and south and is home to 3 million people. While it’s on the equator, its 9,000ft altitude keeps it in the 50s-70s year-round, with a wet and dry season. Since it’s warmer in Quito than in Cusco, everything was green and palm trees threatened to take over. Buses, the Trolley, and taxis made getting anywhere in the city easy and relatively affordable. (If you opt for taxis, be sure to use radio taxis because the fare is reliable and they have seat belts. This is even more important in Lima traffic.)

I saw a side of Quito other visitors never see. Peru both helped and ruined me: I was so tired of plazas, colonial history and cathedrals by the time I got to Quito, I didn’t explore these “must-sees.” Instead, I explored the art scene, museums, parks, cafes and shopping malls, which I wouldn’t have otherwise. Quito has great museums and galleries like La Casa de la Cultura, La Capilla del Hombre, and La Casa del Alabado. My favorite parks were El Metropolitano and Parque Bicentenario. The colonial downtown is lovely, and I did, I confess, look at the big tourist sites from the outside. La Basilica, Quito’s main cathedral, is awe-inspiring. El Panecillo (“Little Bun”) is a large hill near the Colonial center topped by La Virgen de Quito, an angelic madonna statue who overlooks the city. Quito is most famous for La Mitad del Mundo monument, the line that divides the two hemispheres. I didn’t visit, but demonstrations of water draining in opposite directions on either side can be found here

In Quito, it helped to make friends with other volunteers; they showed me their favorite places and taught me how to recharge. It was fun to see how foreigners and natives alike enjoyed this city, because everyone’s experience is different. Ecuador showed me just how beautiful the world is—the hustle and bustle, the vendors walking between cars calling “¡mandarinas!” the artisans’ markets, the fruit shops, businessmen on the phone waiting for a bus, pedestrian bridges, families playing at the park, little lunch restaurants. The pace was faster than mid-Missouri for sure, but otherwise life felt the same. Stay tuned for more on Ecuador and Peru!
House of Oswaldo Guayasamín, famous Ecuadorian artist, activist and founder of La Capilla del Hombre. 

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Saturday, November 11, 2017

New Zealand Culture Shock

            Before I went to New Zealand, my naïve self thought that culture shock was centered mostly around language: if I went to a place that spoke English, there would be minimal culture shock, right?  Not necessarily.  Culture shock may not be as dramatic as a language barrier.  It can be as subtle as word choice and how to cross a street.  I never felt culture shock in New Zealand all at once.  Instead, almost every day offered a new concept or way of living.  I wish I could articulate all the differences I noticed, but the following examples are the ones I remember from New Zealand. 

1.     Crossing the street.  In America, the crosswalks signal when it is safe for pedestrians to walk parallel to traffic to cross the road.  At some intersections in New Zealand, all the stop lights are red when the walking light appears.  This allows pedestrians to walk diagonal across the intersection.  Other than late at night in a low-traffic community, have you ever seen people walk diagonally through an intersection in America? 
2.     Driving on the left.  While on the subject of traffic, the Kiwis follow their mother country by driving on the left side of the road.  Early into my Kiwi adventure, I often momentarily forgot which side of the road was the correct place to be.  Luckily, I was never driving, so I never caused an accident.  Because Kiwis drive on the left side of the road, the steering wheel inside vehicles is on the right-hand side.  More than once did I forget which side of the car was the passenger side when riding with my host-dad.  I think no one wanted to experience my driving. 
3.     Backpackers.  New Zealand has a large tourist industry.  With a large demand for accommodations, backpackers, which are like a special type of hostel, were created.  It is affordable because you rent a bed with a pillow and blanket in a room with multiple beds that strangers rent.  Backpackers saved me money and allowed me to meet people from a variety of places.  One of the best parts of NZ culture is respect, and on my adventures staying in backpackers, no one stole anything while I was away from the room. 
4.     A winter without snow.  I knew I was travelling to New Zealand during winter.  Since I associate winter with snow, I sent an e-mail to my host family saying how I was excited for winter and especially the snow.  They responded saying that the Winterless North rarely receives snow.  This baffled me since winter is synapse with snow to me.  Since Missouri and Auckland, New Zealand, are both about 35 degrees latitude from the equator, I thought the climates would be similar.  However, I was wrong.  This website illustrates the temperature changes I experienced in central Missouri: ice in the winter and saunas in the summer.  In contrast, Auckland is considered part of the Winterless North.  This link graphs the temperature changes throughout the year for Auckland, only averaging a high 77oF during the summer. 
5.     Wear sunscreen, even in winter.  Since New Zealand can be considered “the land down under,” it is close enough to the South Pole to have a thinner ozone.  I was not anticipating this on my trip.  As a redhead, I have a higher sensitivity to radiation, which causes me to easily sunburn.  Many days I tried to enjoy my lunch outside on the patio at work, but after sitting outside for 10 minutes, I could feel the radiation harming my skin.
6.     Goodbye fruit pies, hello meat pies.  America is known for its fruit pies, specifically apple pie.  In contrast, many New Zealanders have not tasted a fruit pie.  They have a different type of pie, meat pies.  These are not a shepard’s pie.  It is meat and gravy baked into a biscuit crust in pie form.  It is delicious.  While talking about food, sausage rolls are delicious as well.  Sausage rolls are sausage links that are an inch thick in diameter wrapped in a biscuit-type dough.  Simple but tasty.  I highly recommend trying both.
7.     Anchor & Fonterra, the major dairy industries in New Zealand.  Both corporations export their milk and many Kiwis drink this milk.  I personally did not like the taste of either company’s milk.  Their milk tasted watery to me.  I would always add sugar and chocolate powder to milk in order to drink it.  I prefer my local Central Dairy milk in Missouri.  While on the topics of milk, milk shakes in New Zealand are not as thick as American milk shakes.  To me, New Zealand milkshakes are slightly thicker than the milk.  While in New Zealand, you must specifically request a “thick shake” to compare to an American milkshake. 
8.     Marmite.  It is a unique food that visitor should try.  If you are a true Kiwi, you will like it. 
9.     No Wal-Marts.  There are no Wal-Marts in New Zealand.  Let that sink into your mind.  There is no one-stop shop for almost anything you want or need to buy.  Instead, stationary can be purchased at Office Max, food at the grocer, phones at Vodafone, etc.  Shopping trips are planned more carefully when everything is not under one roof. 
10.     Tax included in the price.  Imagine you are shopping at Walmart for food.  When you go purchase your food, this magical thing called tax is applied then and not sooner.  In New Zealand, the tax is already included in the sales price.  I was able to easily add the price of my items before check-out to know how much I would pay. 
11.     No to 1¢, 2¢, and 5¢ cent coins, yes to $1 and $2 coins.  Kiwis voted to remove the 1¢ coin from the market.  Then they voted the same for the 2¢ and 5¢ coins because they said they had to many coins: 10¢, 20¢, 50¢, $1, and $2 coins.  If an item is advertised for $9.93, the sales taxes is already included.  If you had the cashier a $10 bill (note), the cashier will not give you change since the market does not have the coins to give change.  However, debit or credit card transactions would only be charged $9.93.  
12.     Not obligated to tip.  Waiters and waitresses are paid a livable wage without relying on tips.  The adult minimum wage in New Zealand is $15.75 (Employment New Zealand).  I was stunned when I realized Kiwis have a minimum wage paid twice that of Missouri’s $7.70 minimum wage which is better than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 (Minimum-Wage.org). 
13.  Options for flushing the toilet.  Instead of having the one handle on the side like American toilets, New Zealand toilets have two options: light flush or regular flush.  I appreciated their environmentally friendly attitude.
14.  Football is weak; rugby is better.  I never enjoyed American football.  I never understood why people enjoyed a game with a completely inaccurate description as a name.  I remember attending my first rugby match in the States, but I didn’t pay much attention since I was too busy talking to a friend.  However, one night my host family in NZ invited me watch a rugby match with their friends.  I am so glad I did.  I enjoyed the environment and the sport.  The rugby players do not wear padding like the American football players.  I was able to see their faces and watch their emotions as plays were made.  I recommend attending or watching a rugby match while in New Zealand. 

This is not an exhaustive list of what struck me as culture shock in New Zealand.  Since every person’s life is unique, what is perceived as culture shock or surprising to me may not be so for another person.  Through the difference and the surprises on the trip, I learned more about what it is like to be Kiwi and what it is like to be American.  I encourage everyone to travel outside their comfort zone to discover more about their identity.  
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