Every Thanksgiving before this year, I’ve celebrated Turkey Day by stuffing my face with mashed potatoes and green bean casserole surrounded by family and friends. But this year, I found myself flying to Northern Peru, near the equator, to celebrate the weekend on the beach. My friends and I got to spend three days laying out on the beach, watching sunsets, and exploring the cute little beach town we were staying in. We even got to swim with sea turtles!
One of my favorite parts of the trip was strolling through the craft market the last night we were there. Each table we visited had a selection of handcrafted jewelry and souvenirs we could purchase, usually for less than 15 soles or $5 USD. I even got to purchase a few Christmas gifts for my family to bring home next month. (They’re not pictured below because I don’t want them seeing what I got them just yet.)
There was a moment when I was bargaining with one of the vendors to purchase to get a better price for one of the things I was buying when this wave of pride came over me. Being able to interact with people on an equal level in Spanish is something I never thought I would be able to do when I first got to Peru. If I was buying something I would just mutter a common phrase, “Cuanto cuesta?” to ask the price and hand over the requested soles. I knew I was likely being given a higher tourist price, but I didn’t have the confidence or vocabulary to bargain. Now I can ask about the object, what its made of, where its from, and know what a fair price is to ask for. It may not seem like much, but to me it’s a sign that I’ve been able to adapt to living in Peru and feeling comfortable interacting with people in Spanish.
I realized today that even though I have been posting study abroad updates since July, I have so far left out a significant part of my experience here: the part where I actually study.
So over the past few days, I’ve stopped in between classes to take pictures of my school and reflect on some of the differences between going to school here in Peru versus going to Holy Cross. My university, officially known as the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru, or PUCP for short, is one of the largest and most highly accredited universities in the country. The college grounds themselves are beautiful, with intricate floral landscaping and modern architecture spread throughout the campus. The size of the school is a little smaller than Holy Cross, but it feels much larger as PUCP is a commuter school so there aren’t any dorms. The school’s population is actually about 5 times Holy Cross’.
My classes here are all taught in Spanish, so I’ve gotten a lot better at listening and comprehending Spanish while studying here. The classes are also taught a little differently. In each class, there are semi-weekly reading quizzes over the material, and the midterm and final are also heavily based on the readings. This was a little frustrating towards the beginning of the semester, when I spent more time studying class notes than readings and ended up doing poorly on my exams because of it. This was the norm at Holy Cross, however, many students here do not even take notes in class and study only the reading material. Now that I understand how the courses work, I have been able to do a lot better. (Unfortunately, I do still have to take notes.)
After an incredibly hectic and stressful week studying for midterms, I’m finally getting to post again about life here in Peru. Last week, I spent almost four days straight reading scholastic articles in Spanish to prepare for midterm exams. Reading in Spanish takes a lot more focus and concentration for me, as well as the occasional assistance of Google Translate for words I don’t know yet. My first day of studying was incredibly frustrating, because it was so difficult for me to understand a lot of the scholastic vocabulary, but by the end of third and fourth days, I found myself reading things and comprehending them much faster. Still, at times the studying could be really dull and tedious, so my roommate and I tried to find a few different study spots around Lima so we wouldn’t just be stuck in our living room. We ended up finding a cute cafe within walking distance from our house, with french pastries and free Wifi.
To reward ourselves for having survived our week of midterm exams, we visited a beautiful museum in Lima, Museo Larco. The museum hosts a collection of art and artifacts from before Peru’s colonization, showing the history that is often ignored in favor of the history of Spanish colonization. The works inside the museum are impressive, but equally so is the exterior of the museum. As soon as you walk into the museum gates, it feels like you’ve been transported to a new world. Outside of the museum is a beautiful floral garden, with bright red and pink flowers growing up and along the walls of the museum. It was the perfect little escape after our week of exams.
This weekend I got to on a much needed vacation to a desert oasis. I was feeling really down last week, so this trip was the perfect chance to get out of my usual routine and be reminded of some of the incredible opportunities I have here. The weekend was packed with amazing views, including gorgeous sunsets every night, and outdoor adventures. Before Friday, I never knew how much fun you could have so much fun in the middle of the desert. We traveled to a city started around a small desert oasis in the desert, a short ways from the Pacific Coast. There, I got to try my hand at a few adrenaline filled actives including ATVing through the desert at sunset one day and sandboarding from the top of massive sand dunes the next. At certain points I was pretty terrified to accelerate down one of the dunes on an ATV or ride down one on a skateboard sized plank of wood. But if I have learned anything so far from being in Peru, it’s that when something that excite you and terrify you at the same time, it’s probably worth doing. So I held my breath, gunned the accleration, or pushed off the dune, and for a second I got to fly. And yeah, it was worth it.
So far, I’ve only updated the site when something really cool was happening. I’ve written to tell everyone all the fun things I’ve done here. I’ve been reluctant to share some of the realities of my life here out of fear that someone will think I didn’t make the right choice in coming here, or that someone will judge this amazing country negatively based on one event. Recently, however, it’s been harder to keep this side of my experience here from affecting me.
Some of the difficulties, I knew to expect. I was warned that pick-pocketing was common. Sure enough three weeks ago, my wallet was stolen while I was getting off the bus on my way home from school. I only had cash on me, but I lost about $35 US dollars. Since then, I’ve been so scared to go home alone that I’ve Ubered home or skipped class on the days when I had night class by myself. Besides that, I’ve been catcalled and harassed numerous times here by men on the street. There’s a sense of unrelenting weariness I have now whenever I have to leave my touristy, upscale neighborhood.
Mentally, being in another country has been exhausting too. The language barrier, the cultural differences, and thousands of miles between me and my home are overwhelming at times. This past week especially I’ve been particularly homesick. Yesterday, I cried on the combi (think of it as a small public bus) because I was so homesick I didn’t want to go to school. Last night, I called my mom and my voice broke when I said hi because I missed her so much. There have been a few days so far where I’ve decided not to call my family because I didn’t want them to know how hard it sometimes is for me. What gets me through it is knowing that at the end of this, I’ll be proud of myself for having challenged myself enough to come here… even if some of those challenges really sucked.
This weekend I took an 8 hour bus south from Lima to Nazca, a city in one of the driest deserts on the planet. At first glance, Nazca would not seem like much of a tourist attraction. That’s because the city’s main attraction, the Nazca lines, are only visible from the sky.
So, Saturday morning, my friends and I woke up at 7 AM to be driven to a small airfield about 20 minutes from our hostel. Then we bought our flights, for about 90 US dollars, for a 35 minute trip in a small Cessna, with room for only 7 people, including the pilot and co-pilot.
Each Nazca line figure, or geoglyph, was an animal or human figure carved into the desert sand thousands of years ago by the Nazca people, between 500 BC and 500 AD. No one really knows why or how these figures were carved into the sand, just that they offer an unprecedented glimpse into the lives and capabilities of a culture that no longer exit. Because of this, the Nazca Lines and the surrounding ruins which we later visited (pictured below), have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Before the flight, we were not allowed to eat anything because the flights are known to be somewhat nausea inducing. While at first, my friends and I thought this was an unnecessary precaution, once we were in the air, we quickly realized it was very important. The pilot did donuts in the air around each of the figures, so every thirty seconds the plane would be turned completely on its side; if you were looking out your window, you would be looking straight down at the figure. Each donut was nauseating, and by the end of the ride, everyone on the plane was fighting nausea. The flight and the views were incredible, and I’m glad to have done it, but I would not recommend it for those looking for a more relaxing vacation experience.
Last week, my friends and I got to do something most people only dream of doing; we spent the better part of week living in the Amazon rainforest. To get to our jungle lodge, we took a plane from Lima to Iquitos, then a two hour van ride to a small town on the Amazon river, and then traveled over an hour by boat. It was a long journey, but it worth all of the long hours spent travelling because while I was there, I got to and see incredible things: riding in a small. motor powered canoe down the Amazon, hiking in the rainforest, swimming next to Amazonian pink dolphins, searching for alligators in a swamp with a flashlight, and holding several different animals including a sloth, a small alligator, and a giant frog the size of my head. I even ate a larva (video link here).
This past week, my group and I visited one of Lima’s biggest tourist attractions, The Magic Water Circuit. The show is hidden inside a beautiful life park in the heart of Lima’s downtown, called Parque de La Reserva. The Magic Water Circuit is the largest water show in the world. Though it is possible to see the park for free, the already beautiful fountains become much more spectacular at night, when the water is synchronized to a light and music show. The show costs 4 Peruvian soles for adults, less than $1.50 in US dollars. It takes 30-45 minutes to walk through the park. One of the most popular attractions in the show is a water tunnel in the middle of the park. If you do choose to walk through the tunnel, as my group did, I will warn you that you will get a light sprinkling from falling droplets going in the streams of water above you. That didn’t deter any of us, however, as we already have plans to go back.
This weekend, my friends and I took advantage of our three day weekend (in honor of Peru’s Independence Day) to explore a small part of the Andes. Thursday night, we took an 8 hour bus ride to Huaraz, a small town known primarily as a tourist destination for hikers. On our first day, we took a short 90 minute hike to acclimate to the high altitude. Huaraz is a just a little over 3000 meters above sea level. For reference, Denver, the mile high city, is about 1600 meters above sea level. The first hike, which was less than two hours, was incredibly difficult; however, it did little to prepare me for what was to come.
The next day we woke up at 4:30 AM to catch a three hour shuttle that would take us to Huarazcan National Park. The shuttle took us to breakfast, let us off to take pictures, and then dropped us off at the starting point for the hike. My group, 5 only slightly-prepared college students, then hiked 8 hours to and from a glacier a top a mountain like, named Laguna 69. To say the hike was grueling would be a gross understatement, not only was the hike physically demanding, every step was made more difficult by the lack of oxygen in the air. The laguna sits at 4600 meters above sea level, where there is less than 12% oxygen in the air (standard oxygen levels at sea level hover around 21%). Members of my group suffered from at different time from extreme nausea, painful headaches, and difficulty breathing. I was miserable every second of the hike, but the incredible views were well worth the challenge. Laguna 69 is often referred to as the Switzerland of Peru. Truly, had I not known where I was at the top of the mountain, I could have mistaken the crystal-clear turquoise water fed by the grandiose glacier for an idyllic Swiss-Alpine destination. It truly is a hidden gem of Peru. Though I do not think I would ever want to make the hike again, I am incredibly proud that I accomplished it.
I live 4 blocks from the Pacific Ocean. The view is high up on a series of cliffs overlooking the beautiful ragged coast line. In my first few days in Lima, I would even go out of my way to walk along the incredible view.
Then, Friday after school, my immersion group took a trip to a nearby town, just a few minutes drive from my own town. The drive along the coast was stunning. Then, the driver pulled over to the side, and when we got out, I discovered one of the most amazing views I have ever seen. From the coast, a pathway had been carved into cliffs, with a beautiful rock bridge connecting one rock formation to another. As we crossed over it, getting closer to the water, giant waves crashed over its edges and hit the ground just feet from where we were standing.
The rocks have been named, “El Salto del Friaje,” roughly translated it means “Jump of the Priest.” Legend has it that two forbidden lovers were separated here, the girl and their baby were sent away in a boat, and her boyfriend jumped after her. None of the three were ever seen again. One can easily picture such a dramatic event taking place here; the scenery is so spectacular and stirring. Even looking back at the pictures, I am truly in awe of such a magnificent surprise location. I can’t wait to see what else Lima has in store for me.