Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Puerco de Caz en Cajamarca

I am back home in Huascaran after a long, eventful, exhilarating, exhausting, amazing week in Field Based Training in the department of Cajamarca.  I am officially in love with that place.  I partially very, very much hope I get placed there and am partially thrilled to get to see the rest of this fantastic country.  I am intimidated at the notion of writing a blog of this week.  So many perfect moments and so much amazing adventure.  I realized within 24 hours that I had to take notes and now I have this cryptic page of hilarious and unintelligible partial statements.  I will see if I can even begin to do it justice.

First, a random pic that was still on my camera of Ryan and Biz and Ryan's host brothers when they finished setting up the sheet and projector and we were just sitting down to watch the Universitario vs Alianza game.  That was before the trip.  Thumbs up.

The trip started off rather auspiciously as Mark, Chris Boston, and I headed into Lima in a cab and almost ran down a two year old who was just wandering unattended in the middle of the Carretera Central (the crazy big wild and loud highway.)  All of the cars were just swerving around the little guy and honking rather than trying to get him out of the street.  I decided to believe he was rescued after we drove out of sight.

When we got to Lima, there was another unsettling moment as we heard that a few of our companions had been attacked by piranhas nearby earlier in the day.  Piranhas are packs of little kids who mob you all at once to steal your things - they will even get you down and take your shoes.  Some police firing blanks intervened and the children scattered, but our friends were apparently a bit shook up.

So, we got on the bus.  Sixteen hours ahead of us, we were anxious to see the set up.  OH MAN, WAS IT SWEET.  This bus was a Super VIP, also known as a cama cama.  Our seats laid all the way down into beds, we got to pick out movies to watch, and they even served us wine in bed.  It was the most comfortable I have been yet in this country.  Fantastic bus ride.  I sat next to Tim the whole way there and back - he's my bus buddy and we had a pretty great time.

Our hostel in Cajamarca City the first night of the trip and the last.  Right on the plaza with balconies overlooking the street in our rooms.  The room the last night was particularly epic with me and the two other girls sharing a room that could sleep six.  It did prove to be a great place for us all to hang out.

Climbing a hill in Caja City.  This was a beautiful city.  I think Mallory nailed it when she said it reminded her of Antigua, Guatemala.  Super colonial and gorgeous.  We spent the first day just wandering.  I had my first anticucho on the street - and it turns out that cow hearts are delicious.  We went to the regional Peace Corps meeting and were promptly kicked out.  We were shown the PC book exchange hidden above a little artesenia shop - these are in every capital town and will be my homebases for the next two years.  I think I will try to selectively leave noticeable books and possibly sneak notes into books as well.

That night we went out with a few volunteers living in the Cajamarca area - Ken, John, Edson, and Sam.  Ken is the twin (or triplet, actually) of one of my good buddies in my training group, Ryan, and there could not be two people with the same genetic code and with more different personalities.  We had a blast going out with them.  They took us up to this hotel on this mountain overlooking the city and had a bonfire in the back.  We were also with a volunteer from Peru 4, Jason, who never escaped and his pal, a random gringo chiropractor.  This hotel reminded Biz of the Shire and he wandered around it like a hobbit.  It was a beautiful spot and we could see the whole city as well as the Milky Way.  Once we got shuffled out of there, they took us to another funny bar called Full Skee with the largest beers on earth.  It was their last night in Caja City and our first.

A little town we visited, another volunteer's site.  So beautiful.  We visited a few different spots the next day before settling down in San Marcos for the week.  We went to Vann's town and helped teach an English class to little kids and went to a zipline on a farm.  Only 5 of the 13 of us actually rode the zipline (not me), as the handholds on it were a frayed rope and you had to climb way up in a tree to start off.  It was pretty fantastic, nonetheless.  Also in this town, we were served pink cake for breakfast and everyone and their mom invited us in for a gaseosa (soda) - very fancy.  I have never drank so much soda.  At the school here, we were challenged to some sporting events.  The other girls and I played volleyball against the school team while the boys played futbol.  While we were absolutely and royally crushed at volley, a marching band played on the sidelines and about 200 kids watched and laughed at the silly gringas.  It is SO intense when you're trying to serve to a deafening drumroll.

In John's site, we had a cuy (guinea pig) feast and did a community diagnostic.  It was another gorgeous and perfect town.  Quiet and beautiful with kind mountain people, cows in the street, and perfect sunsets.  We were all too exhausted to function at this point, however.

We went back to San Marcos, where we were set to stay for the week.  We then went to another bonfire with Paul, the volunteer we spent most of the week with.  He is friends with everyone.  This guy is the King of Having Connections.  So we were able to do our debriefs and have bonfires pretty much every night at this nightclub that is only open on the weekends.

Our afternoons were taken up with teaching our class at the local Instituto Technico.  We taught a four day course to about 20 students a class on how to open a small business.  We taught marketing, accounting, business plans and lots of other stuff.  Pretty exciting.  The last day, our kids were to run a business we helped them plan, after taking a loan from our Peace Corps bank.  We lost half our kids through the process, but the survivors were pretty impressive and I am happy to say that all of our kids were able to pay back their loans the next day as well as turn a tidy profit.  And the breastfeeding 17 year old wasn't in my class.  Also, this entailed me speaking Spanish for a good hour and a half in front of a room full of students.  This was intense, but I pulled it off.  Edgar only had to repeat most things I said.

Almost every morning we went hiking.  This is a few hours up and over a mountain away - a town of 100 and a sign that says foreigners aren't allowed:

This is a bridge to nowhere.  A big one.  You have to hike a good hour to get to it and Paul says if you walk three hours more you will find a village of 50.  Why they built this epic bridge in the middle of the Northern Peruvian mountains is beyond me.

Paul has an interesting host family.  He is thirty, his host dad is 25 and his host mom is 19.  His host dad is in a gang.  Also, this is his kitchen:

Still his kitchen...

Over dinner at El Buche one night, Paul randomly busts out with, "So, anyone wanna kill a cuy?"  A few of us were immediately in.  Of course, Paul knows the cuy president and we go to his house one morning to pick out our animals.

We had to hike quite a ways out to the campo with our six live cuys in a bag...

Stopping at a mud hut to buy crazy fireworks...

These amazing women were teaching how to cook campo style.  Here I am making aji between two rocks.

And then it was cuy killing time.  This was hilarious because we were at first all slightly squeamish.  Well, not all.  Biz started us off without hesitation.  Within a couple of corpses - complete with squeaking and squirting blood - we were all just enjoying watching the process.  I killed mine pretty cleanly, though had some trouble snapping its neck, so it was a bit wiggly.  When it got to Mark however, he just DECAPITATED it and everyone just started cracking up.  So surreal in hindsight.  I mean, we laughed HARD.  Ha.  I am still laughing.

After this, we had to pull the fur off, which was quite difficult and involved scalding baths.

That night we ate our cuys all fried up and they were pretty good - tasted a bit like savagery.  Paul had explained to me earlier a bizarre drinking game you could play with a dead cuy and which I was rather stoked to try.  When in Rome, right?  He said that deep down in the brain of a cuy, you could find a little bone shaped just like a little mini-cuy.  He said that you can throw this bone into a glass of beer and it sticks to the bottom.  So then you pass the glass around and do a lot of swishing and chugging, trying to drink the bone.  Whoever drinks it, gets good luck.

So I spent a long time rooting around in the brain of my cuy.  I wasn't finding anything.  Soon, it dawned on me that I was covered in brain and that Paul had pulled a good one on me.  Nope. Soon as I accused him of this, he smashed open the brain of his own cuy and pulled out not one but two itty-bitty cuy bones.  They were much smalled than I expected - just larger than a grain of salt.

Jim and Paul each drank one.  They are lucky.

Over the next couple of days, we finished up our classes (quite smoothly), had a lot of hotel picnics, and returned to Caja City.  That last night, back in the regional capital, we owned it like real Peruvians, staying out til dawn.  We started at the most amazing little bar called Usha Usha that was covered in graffiti with little old men of the mountains playing traditional music and telling us tales of folklore.  It was friggin' tiny, lit by oil lamps, and fully magical.

Then we went clubbing...  Paul, in another feat of knowing-everyone, got us all passes to a 3 story night club where we danced and sang til the sun was rising and it was time to get caldo verde from the street vendors.  We mostly laid around all day the next day before proceeding to another lengthy and cozy bus ride.  All around successful trip.

More photos, stolen from Biz:

Cuy bone (trust me)

At the hobbit bonfire place

Procession of women in Caja City

Sign welcoming us to Vann's school


Kids at school

El Buche - Our favorite restaurant

Teaching at the Instituto

Cooked Cuy

Usha Usha

Sometimes we'd find the Youth people and kidnap Ellen and Heather - this guy was selling mattresses, I think?

It has been nice coming home and seeing everyone who went to other places for FBT and hearing their tales and terror and woe.  I have a fantastic group of friends here.  We came back just in time for condom training?  We had relay races yesterday, putting condoms on dildos.  Thank you for that, Peace Corps.  Apparently Peruvians carry lots of STDs... Fun.

Tomorrow is the first day of Fiestas Patrias, a sort of Peruvian 4th of July.  We all have tomorrow off and tonight is my friend Mallory's bday, so I think we are all headed to Chosica in a bit.  I hope everyone at home is doing well.  It hasn't been very long.  Are you all forgetting me yet?  I miss you.

I find out my site assignment a week from today.  Bittersweet as I am taken from my new friends but thrown into my new ones and my hopefully amazing project for the next two years.  Everyone cross your fingers for me that I am way up in the mountains in a tent somewhere, gardening, and maybe even learning native languages!


  1. I loved reading this and checking out your pictures Courtney! Sounds like you're having a blast, small animal slaughtering and condom relay races, awesome! I'm taking a class on art of the Andes and Mesoamerica, so it's especially interesting for me to read about your adventures in Peru.

    I'm pretty broke right now, but I'm definitely going to send you some late-birthday Ninkasi when I have a little extra money in September.

  2. Courtney Marie........... You totally amaze me. I really did not think that when you were going to be in Peru that you would be doing any of the things you are doing. Some of the adventures I could do without knowing. But I have always known, since you were a baby that you would be seeking the DIFFERENT PATH. I love you and am proud of you. Please be safe. Kisses Grandma