Saturday, July 28, 2012

Final Post - The last days in site and a quick jaunt through Machu Picchu. Goodbye, my dear Peru.

Crazy cop rommate Edir, Mom, and little bro Adrian.
I barely know how to describe the last few months at site.  It appears I haven't blogged in a good four months.  I suppose a lot happened, as well as a remarkable amount of nothing.  Anyone who sees my facebook knows that I spent a large amount of time stuck in strikes.

I continued with as many projects as I could, though most of my classes fell apart, as well as my marmalade farm/factory getting a pretty weak outcomes, and me having to complete my tourism project essentially on my own.  I kept being able to teach my shorter term courses and my one really successful bank continued to be awesome.

The strikes were weird - a mix of the worst of boredom and frustration, and some of the more intense moments of my service.  A few good/crazy times from strike days:
  • Roadblocked in on and off, longest for about 12 days, though some of my nearby volunteer friends were stuck in for up to 40 days.
  • Roadblocks often just for a day or two, not affecting much.  Only when we'd run out of food/money/sanity did they really prove to matter much.  Everything being closed so often was quite annoying.
  • Rarely heard from Peace Corps, almost never sure of what we were supposed to be doing/how nervous we should be.  When I tried asking the office before "the Big One" if I should leave beforehand they said they thought the people would "lose steam."  They were wrong.  In fact, often a pretty incredible lack of knowledge of what was going on in our region, though they seemed to apply arbitrary rules to us all, not dependent on our situations.  It got annoying.
  • The "ronderos," or militia-types who were physically putting on these strikes, did NOT like me, or many of the other volunteers.  Being the only gringos in the area, and the mines being American-owned, they thought we worked for the mines.  I once rather nerve-wreckingly got surrounded by them yelling at me and taking away my stuff, til some profesoras who knew me got me out.
  • Due to the ronderos not being my biggest fans, I have not been able to run in about two months - didn't feel comfortable at site to stand out so much with them around, and have been traveling since - never a fan of running around these unknown towns alone.  We'll see how this race goes, with me only having 3 weeks to prepare for it after I get home.  Gulp.
  • My favorite:  I spent a lot of time hanging out at the clinica with my friends during the strikes.  One day we were all upstairs drinking cañaso and watching one of the Peru World Cup qualifying games (Colombia, maybe?), in the midst of a long blocked off period.  My friends had been trying to help me come up with a way out for a couple days, so I could get to Lima for Med Checks.  All of a sudden there was a big commotion downstairs.  The ronderos had shot some dude (or maybe the cops shot him?  We couldn't get a good story, as everyone from the ronderos to the cops to the patient to the doctors to me, was a bit drunk from watching the game.)  So, he had been shot in the thigh and his femur was broken, but his femoral artery wasn't (yet) so they needed to rush him off to Chiclayo.  We immediately got the idea to smuggle me out in the "ambulance" which was a pick-up truck with a note from the doc.  So they tucked my hair up in a hat, put on long sleeves, and decided to pretend I was a nurse.  So they put me in the truck with the dude, then it turns out I am the only one going besides the driver, as they couldn't be short on people not knowing when the strike would end.  Then they give me a syringe.  Ok, I think we are just adding to the costume.  Then they start explaining to me when to use the syringe.  Huh.  They are serious.  They are smuggling me out and using me as the actual nurse to accompany this guy, who thinks I am hilarious, but who very well may die on me.  I was stuttering trying to figure out what to do when luckily-ish, right then the ronderos showed up wanting to see my Peruvian ID.  Only having a passport to produce, the ronderos weren't having it and sent me packing.  No escape.  The ronderos hate me.
  • The circus was stuck in our town for the long 12 day blockage.  Drunken midget clowns wandered the street.  The ronderos didn't like the circus either.  We had to hide from them in the clinica another time when they marched in force to shut down a party in the circus tent.
  • A guy got his head bashed in in front of my house for trying to sell food on one of the days businesses weren't allowed to open.  That was at the beginning and when I realized we were in for it.
  • Other volunteers: One guy got chased by a guy with a machete who thought he worked for the mine.  Another guy had to hide in fields while ronderos were chasing him.  One girl, in her village a guy got shut down by the rondas for serving the white girl.  Three people got killed in one site, one of them being someone the volunteers there knew.  Also in that site, the ATM was violently smashed and they were stuck without money or much access to food for way too long.  In a couple of sites, huge street demonstrations became a daily occurrence. 
  • When I got out of my site, the bus was stopped by ronderos who got on and forcefully pulled off a bunch of people that apparently weren't supposed to be leaving, amidst lots of screaming and crying.  I just closed my eyes and crossed my fingers that they didn't pick me.  They didn't.  It was awesome.
  • Chota area got adventurous.  But most days, we were all just desperately bored and unable to work.
So the last few months of my service were pretty defined by failure, work-wise, but there were many celebrations as well with me finishing my service.  I had some good trips to the polleria, one with my bank people and one with my muni/school people.  I had some parties with my family and friends to say goodbye.

It was all tragically hard.  I do not like goodbyes and I am not a big fan of public displays of emotion.  After I gave my final radio address in my last week, I had a bunch of very sad encounters.  My panaderia lady.  The muni guards.  The anticucho lady.  My kids.  And my family.  Oh, man the family.  That was rough.  So hard.  I will miss them so much.  I will miss all the town so much.  But I know I will be back.

My mom's bday/my going away party.  Prepping food.

So. Much. Food.

I ate too much food.
So, that was the end of site.  I had to leave early to get to Chiclayo before another strike started - I wasn't willing to risk staying in and missing my COS date.  So I hung out there a week and then headed down to Lima to meet up with all the others and officially finish our service.

Saying goodbye to the other volunteers was easily as hard or harder than saying goodbye in site.  They have become my family and some of my greatest friends of all time.  I hope to see them all back in the land of milk and honey sometime.

Then I took off to Cuzco, to finally see Machu Picchu before I left.  I honestly didn't even want to go - the only person in the world annoyed to go to Machu Picchu.  I was sad with the departure of all my friends, melancholy about leaving Peru, and just wanting to get on a plane and get 'er done.  But I figured it was pretty much an obligatory trip.  So after many disasters - getting robbed, having my tickets all messed up, etc. - I was off to Cuzco.  21 hour bus ride later...

Cuzco plaza
I wasn't all that impressed with Cuzco.  Maybe I just wasn't in the mood for it.  It was super duper crowded and expensive and you couldn't walk four feet without someone getting in your face about buying jewelry or a massage or something.  It did have some pretty churches though, and some great market food.

I made a friend my first night there, Romi from Argentina.  I am actually still hanging out with her, now in Lima.  We went out wild that first night, finding funny parties.  Second night, we met the most absurdly overly-nice bunch of medical students from Michigan and played hilarious drinking games with them, and the third night, we headed off towards Machu Picchu Town together.

There are a few routes to Machu Picchu.  The most common is by train.  There is the famous Hyram Bingham train which costs a million and there is the backpacker train, which was still too rich for my blood.  So we took the back route.  Take a combi 5 or 6 hours to Santa Maria.  Arrive at 2am - tiny, tiny village.  Take another combi to Santa Teresa.  Arrive at 3:30am.  Another combi last half hour to the hydroelectrica.  Walk 2-3 hours to Machu Picchu Town (Aguas Calientes.)  We got lucky though.  At that first stop, in Santa Maria, first we met 4 girls heading the other way, looking for a combi back to Cuzco.  But the a bus pulled up and off came 4 other girls, a pair from France and a pair from Argentina, all headed the same way as us.  So, with our powers combined, and a whole shitton of cajoling, we talked a taxi driver named Freddy into giving us a more than reasonable price for a ride all the way to the hidroelectica.

When we got there, it was still only about 3am and we realized that no one had brought a flashlight, making the walk up the tracks not exactly the smartest, so we decided to hang out in the super freezing cold until morning.  We found a little guard station where the guards gave us a bench and blankets and hot ecco and we curled up and tried to nap and waited for the dawn.

Romi on the left, my nest area, the two crazy and super young French girls, and the two Argentinean ladies.

Eventually dawn came, and then it was just, walk straight up the tracks.  Flat the whole way and we're all fit - should be closer to two than three hours.

We immediately realized we were the all-chick version of Stand By Me.  All but the Frenchies had seen it.

We had a dog companion that walked with us for a long time.  I named him Macho Pichi.

We knew from the beginning that at some point we were going to have to cross a train trestle.  As we walked I got more and more excited about this.  SO EXCITED.  I just kept picturing Stand By Me and how we were going to end up having to run from the train and jump dramatically at the last second down a steep pitch.  It was going to be the greatest moment of my life.  So of course we get to the trestle and find that it has a walking path on it's side.  Sigh.  Nothing ever works out for me.  This is a picture of me and the French girls being a train.  These girls were super nuts, just like you want teenage girls to be.  They played on the train trestle for probably 45 minutes.

Trains came by sometimes.  They smashed lots of soles for us.  Once they almost hit us, for being lazy.

Dog number two, Destroyer.

It was really a gorgeous walk with all sorts of dramatic mountain views.  We felt all Inca-trail-without-paying-and-without-crowds-ish.  We liked it.  Really I thought it looked a lot like Oregon, I mean except for the orange/lime/avocado trees and the funny pineapple plants all over.  And the giant tropical flowers and massive wild guinea pigs darting around.

I walked in the wrong grass on the side, which turned out to be orange mud.

Best graffiti ever: Fook Yah

This was around the point where we realized it had already been 3.5 hours.  Romi and I would walk twenty minutes, then wait ten for the others.  It was fine at first, they were playing and taking lots of pictures and stuff.  But we had a lot of stuff with us and were getting sick of carrying it.  This is the point we took off and just started hauling ass towards the town.  We figured we may see the rest of the girls later.

The last dog.  He was called "QUIT BITING ME YOU LITTLE BASTARD."  But he was cute.

Tore my pants.  I was getting all sorts of classy on this walk.


Off the tracks, on the road, heading in to town.  Hungry.  Over 4 and a half hours later.
Machu Picchu town was totally adorable.  If it weren't ungodly expensive I would love to stay there a month.  Also, because most people just pass through and don't stay, and those that do are leaving for the ruins at 5am each morning, there is exactly ZERO people out at night and zero things to do.  Pretty funny.

The whole town is a science of contradictions.  Poverty next to insane riches.  Dirty next to sparkling.  Stone churches sharing a wall with fast food.  Wild days and quiet nights.  Then there were the funny tiny streets and the strangely stacked buildings.

We walked into to town and almost immediately came across a pizza place.  We had pizza and beer for breakfast.  Nine in the morning and so happy.  While we were eating the Argentinian ladies came along and joined us.  Apparently the French girls just kept on walking, to try and get into the ruins that day.  We never saw those wild little girls again.  Hope they didn't fall off anything high - they seemed prone to that.  After our awesome college student breakfast we said goodbye forever to the other ladies and went on to have a relaxingly lazy day - we got hot showers, ate probably five times, and drank so many lovely cocktails.

The town is two blocks wide, with train track in the middle and a river on one side, all sides surrounded in the craziest cliffsides and ominously large mountains.  we mostly wandered in awe that civilization ever chose to make its way into this labyrinth. 
The next morning, off to Machu Picchu.

Right when we got in though, we had to use our tickets to climb Machu Picchu Mountain, which, for some reason, we had been under the impression, was not all that big of a mountain.  We were wrong.  We spent an hour forty-five minutes climbing crazy steep stairs.  We took our time and rested and didn't want to get to gross sweaty, but we still died.

First stop, not too far in, looking back on Machu Picchu.




Near death.  Can't breathe.



TOP!  (I have a nice panoramic I will put up someday.)

TOP (Look at little tiny Machu Picchu down there!)

Going down brought out a little fear of heights for me.

Romi is a biology teacher in Argentina.  Sometimes I got lessons about plants.

Back at the bottom!

Someone else at the bottom.


Want to eat my snacks but my hands are soooo dirty.

(That's a really famous rock.)

Back to town, pretty satisfied with the last few days.

Directly back to our favorite pizza place.

The pizza place was UFO themed, all decorated with crop circles and magic rocks and aliens.
So after Machu Picchu I ended up in a sudden hurry, or I was going to miss my bus from Cuzco to Lima.  Considering I still couldn't afford a train directly back to Cuzco, we started bailing across funny routes again.  See, the guide books had all mentioned that Machu Picchu should take you 3 or 4 hours.  Seeing as how I do not read guide books much, I didn't realize that didn't include I huge 4.5 hour mountain trek, so I had planned my timing poorly.  A few town hops later, I made it running into my bus station and hopped right onto a 22 hour bus.

It was a cheap bus.  I couldn't move my legs.  Going directly from all that trekking to this stupid little bus wasn't good for my legs.  By the time I got off it yesterday afternoon, I couldn't walk.  I can a little bit again today.

Today is Fiestas Patrias - the Peruvian Independence Day and the biggest party of the year.  I am going to go celebrate my last days in this amazing country.

I am excited to go home.  I am devastatingly heartbroken to leave Peru.  I am scared about finding a job in a timely manner.  I am nervous about reintegration.  I am a wreck.

Imma go get a beer.  ¡Feliz día!