Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Thought this suited well to my blog.  Updates coming soon.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A Rant - Who are you to judge me?

Many of us, previously myself included, have never thought twice about the restrictions of traveling to other countries. As U.S. citizens we have a freedom to travel throughout the world with simply a passport and never need to question whether a country would let us in or not. (Although this is beginning to change as countries we have restricted are now returning the favor.) It is a luxury that we take for granted and that we often times don't realize doesn't exist for people in other parts of the world. If you wanted to invite a friend from another country to come visit as a tourist in the U.S., you would probably just assume they would buy the plane ticket and come right on over. Unless your friend is from Western Europe, Canada, or Australia, this is definitely not the case. 

The United States requires Visa's in order to be allowed to enter the country.  Even just to stop in a U.S. airport for a few hours in route to another country, you have to have a Visa.  There are many different types of Visa's depending on what the reason for your travel is; for example, Business Visa, Tourist Visa, Temporary Work Visa, or more long term Visas.  A tourist Visa to come visit the United States on a trip would seem to be the easiest to get, but I don't necessarily think this is true.  I will take you through a little bit of the process you have to go through just to be considered for a tourist visa.  (Tourist Visa's allow you to enter the country to visit friends, travel, etc... on a temporary basis.  The Visa is usually for 5 - 10 years and allows you to enter once a year for up to 90 days at a time.)

Please note this information is relevent for Peru; I know other countries have similar procedures, but I cannot say that each process is exactly like this.

The first step in obtaining a Tourist Visa to enter the U.S. is to submit an application.  The application can ONLY by filled out and submitted using the U.S. immigrations online website.  The website is pretty confusing and probably very difficult for most people to figure out on their own.  The online form itself is extensive, and will probably take you over an hour of your time to complete.  If this form is not submitted exactly correct, you will not be able to move on to the next step of the process.  At the end of the form you get a verifcation page where you need to submit a current picture of yourself.  After doing this, you then print a one page receipt with application number, a brief overview of the application you submitted, and your picture. 

The next step is to take your application stub and head on over to the bank and pay your $140 fee for application.  This is a fee you have to pay in order to get an interview.  The money is non-refundable, which means whether or not you actually get a visa - they keep the money anyway.

After the payment has been processed under your application number, you can then log in online to a site at the local embassay to register for your interview.  Typically, the earliest you can get in for an interview is 2-3 weeks from the time that you register for a time slot.  After selecting a date and time for your interview, you get a confirmation to again print and bring with you. 

Now we have reached the time for the interview.  The average interview is between 2-5 minutes in length, and during this time you state why you want a Visa to go to the U.S..  The agent interviewing you will then ask you a few specific questions and make a decision on whether or not you are going to be allowed in.  The interview process is very hard to read, and there are no set guidelines.  It appears that the decision is up to the discretion of the agent interviewing you and the small amount of information obtained in the interview.  They simply need to decide whether they think you are going to the U.S. legitimately just to visit, or if they suspect you might be trying to stay illegal once you enter.  It is written all over that the main criteria for this decision is if you have something substantial keeping you in Peru.  This could be classified as a good job, close family, large investments,  commitments, etc...  The agent must decide in 2-5 minutes if they feel your individual case presents enough evidence to state that you have a good reason to return to Peru.

I would like to describe Julio's interview directly:

(probably a 3 minute conversation) He stated that he wanted to travel to the U.S. in July to visit friends in Minnesota for 2 weeks.  He was asked if he was still a student and when he was graduating - answer is Yes, and in July.  He was then asked about his work, answer - yes he currently has an internship that he will be hired onto after graduation.  The agent told him that based on his criteria he does not get approved.  He asked for further explanation and had another discussion on exactly why he was visiting the States again, since he had already been there as a student worker.  He explained that he was dating me and would like to visit my family.  Also that I am living in Peru, and we intend to stay in Peru.  Once again he was told that he does not meet the correct criteria.  And he was told that he has already had the chance to go to the United States before he shouldn't need to go again.  The agent told him to wait one year to re-apply - and only if his current information changes.

As you can imagine, we were both completely surprised by this result!  We thought that there was no reason that Julio should be denied.  He is educated, has a job, has traveled to other countries before and always returned, has someone willing to vouge for him coming to the U.S. to visit....... unfortunately none of this matters.

Doing more research now, it is evident that hundreds of people apply for U.S. Visas in Peru every day, and hundreds are told "NO".  The selection process seems to be entirely random and not based on any rational reasoning.  Also, where is all this money for Visa applications going?? It seems the U.S. government must be getting rich on making people apply, then re-apply, time and again while paying $140 each time.  (This is a lot of money for most Peruvians!)  Many people with parents, kids, friends, etc... located in the United States will never be allowed to go visit them.

I called the U.S. embassay here in Peru to talk with someone and was told I needed to submit an email.  I submitted a very nice email explaining the entire situation and trying to be very fair and reasonable.  5 days later I got what seemed to be an automated response with a link to a webpage that states general criteria for getting approved.  I replied being more firm, stating my disappointment and that I felt like no one even read my email!  I got an automated response stating the rules on re-application and that a Visa can not be reconsidered once a decision is made.  I sent one more email basically pleading and telling them exactly what I thought of their process.  I never got an email back, and when I called to ask about it - I was again told, submit another email we can not answer your questions at this time.

I wrote a letter to the Senator's office in Minnesota, as I read somewhere that getting a letter from a State Senator may help you get approved the next time you apply.  I still haven't gotten a response, and everything I read seems to tell me that the U.S. Embassay no longer considers these letters of invitation when making their decision.

It seems the only way to get Julio in, is for him to completely lie and hope he slips through the cracks and gets lucky enough to get a Visa.  Something seems entirely flawed in this system.  Yes I understand that the U.S. government has reason to regulate who can enter the country.  If we didn't, we would have far too many people staying - yes this is true.  But when so many people that I know here in Peru have tried to get simply a tourist visa and only want to visit have been denied - something seems wrong.  The process is no doubt unsuccessful.  I realize it will probably cost too much money, time, and someone actually doing something in order for this to ever change.  Apparently that is something that U.S. government is unable to do.  This is very sad, and I can not express enough my disappointment in this entire process.  Why are we denying foreigners who want to enter as tourists and spend their money in our country??  Is there not a better way to decide and screen applicants.  Shouldn't someone from the U.S. be allowed to submit a letter of invitation and take responsibilty for the visiting tourist??  With a struggling economy I think we would be supporting allowing more tourists to enter!!!!!!!!!!

I actually am feeling embarrassed to say that I am from the United States.  Who are we to tell someone that they are not good enough to enter our country?? 

Monday, April 2, 2012

Into the Amazon we go!

(Shortened version - sorry - I just lost all my text and am not happy about it.....)

My friend, Jaime, arrived to Peru on March 13th and stayed until the 28th.  I just have to say that it was really really nice to have someone I know here in Peru.  It was like I had a friend all my own for the first time since I have been here.  Someone to speak English with, to share stories of the past, someone from a similar background... I think you get the picture.  Finally, I felt like the Peru Expert - getting to show her the city and head out on some adventures together.  I am really hoping that a couple more of my friends, and maybe even my family will come visit this next year!  I am dedicated this blog to our jungle adventure.....

Jaime and I headed to the airport to board our flight from Lima to Puerto Maldonado.  We had packed light and were ready to head out to explore the unknown with just our backpacks.  Upon arrival in Puerto Maldonado, we were greeted by our guide from the Corto Maltes Lodge.  It always feels like a bit of a relief when you arrive somewhere and you have someone waiting for you!  We all piled into the tour van and headed on our way down to the river.  Here we loaded ourselves onto a long river boat and were ready to navigate down the Madre de Dios river.  It was hot and the air was heavy, but I was so excited that I really didn't even notice.  The views were amazing, and our guide taught us all about the history and wildlife in the region.  After one hour of navigating the river, we finally reached the lodge.  We unloaded our bags and got checked into our rooms.  The lodge itself has a big dinning hall, reception, bar, and gift shop - and each of the rooms is actually a private bungalow located on the property.  The rooms were really nice and fit into the jungle atmosphere perfectly.  We enjoyed a delicious lunch before heading out on our excursion.  I must say that the food was extremely good and presented as if we were at a 5* restaurant - very impressive for a jungle lodge!  Our first excursion of the day was a nature hike around the region.  We spent about 2 1/2 hours exploring the trails near the lodge and learning about different trees, plants, insects, and birds of the rainforest.  Our guide, Saay, was excellent and seemed to know everything there is to know about the plants and animals within the rainforest.  It was amazing to look up and have our heads covered by the jungle canopy as we hiked along the trail.   That evening, we headed out via river boat in the dark to hunt for caiman.  (species of crocodile)  We were lucky enough to spot a couple of the smaller caiman along the river banks.  More than anything, it was just so enjoyable to be out on the boat in the middle of the amazon rainforest.  I just kept thinking to myself, "How in the world did I ever get so lucky :)." 

The next morning we got up at 5:00am to begin our full day of events!  We started with an early hike to a parrot clay-lick which was about 30 minutes away from our lodge.  The clay lick is basically an eave along a small cliff edge that is made of clay - the parrots and macaws need to eat this for their digestive system.  We hid in the brush as we waited for the birds to come.  After about 30 minutes a group of about 2 dozen macaws slowly made their way down to the clay-lick.  They were a little hard to see, as they are green in color, but we definitely got some good photos of the birds!  It was then time to head back to the lodge for a big breakfast before heading out for the rest of the day.  We got our things together and once again loaded onto the river boat where we sailed down the river to Lake Sandoval.  The Lake is located on the Tambopata National Reserve and is known to be home to a lot of wildlife in the region.  Upon reaching the entrance point, we headed to the office to check-in.  Then we began our 1 hour hike to the lake access.  We trudged with our rubber boots through a lot of mud along the way, but it was well worth it once we reached the lake.  The access point was a sort of lagoon of low lying water that the rainforest was basically still growing in.  It was absolutely beautiful and felt like something straight out of a movie!  We then climbed into a smaller canoe and our guide navigated us through the trees until we reached the lake opening.  We flowed around the ledge of the lake looking at the wildlife and learning about the region.  Eventually we stopped and enjoyed a traditional packed lunch along the riverside.  Our guide then informed us that he could hear a large group of monkeys moving.  We all rushed up the river bank where we could see the monkeys passing by.  Monkeys sometimes travel in large groups when they are moving through the rainforest, and we were lucky enough to witness this.  We starred in amazement looking up as over a 100 monkeys crawled over our heads for about 20 minutes.  By the end of the day we got to see three species of monkeys - squirrel monkeys, capuchin monkeys, and a spider monkey.  It was so fun to watch the monkeys look at us and we starred up at them.  It was then time to continue on our tour of the Lake and we enjoyed the rest of the afternoon navigating our way back.  After hiking bike out, we boarded our river boat once again and went back to the lodge just as the sun was beginning to set.  A lovely dinner that evening, followed by a dip in the pool, was the end to a lovely day.

On the third day, Jaime and I got to have a private tour since the other 5 in our group were returning home that morning.  We headed out with our guide and began the tour at a local farm.  This farm was definitely not what you think of as a traditional farm.  To anyone, it would just look like a couple of shacks surrounded by the rainforest.  However, after meeting the family and walking through the property - we learned that everything on the land was something they could use.  The trees were all various forms of fruit trees, and the ground was crawling with lots of medicinal plants.  We pretty much got to sample everything we came across - and the fruit was so good!  After the farm tour, we headed back on our way to monkey island.  We hiked through the island for about an hour in search of another group of monkeys, but we weren't as lucky today.  We returned to the boat and continued on to the last top of the day, a small adventure lodge.  It was finally time to enjoy the much anticipated zip-lining through the rainforest.  I was definitely more excited than nervous, but I must say climbing up the rickety tree house to the platform did have my stomach on edge.  The zipline consisted of two seperate zip lines connected by a a tiny bridge made of 2x4s.  The bridge was without a doubt the scariest part - it was pretty much like walking the tight rope - 60 feet in the air!  The zip lines were really thrilling as we zipped through the trees and brush below, with our feet narrowly missing the trees we passed.  I can't imagine any other way to end a vacation! 

The experience at the lodge was definitely fun.  Not only was the staff great, but we got to meet some really cool people who were staying there as well.  One of the best parts of traveling is no doubt meeting other travelers and sharing stories with them.  Our guide, Saay, did an amazing job, and the entire staff made us feel extremely welcomed.  I was sad to leave that next morning, but after breakfast, we loaded back into the boat and headed back to Puerto Maldonado.  We took our flight back to Lima and enjoyed the views from our plane of the river weaving through the Amazon like a snake below.  I highly recommend an Amazon excursion to everyone who comes to Peru.  It is a place like no other, and I can not wait until I have the opportunity to return again one day!!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

What does my future hold??

If only we had a crystal ball so we would know how today's decisions will impact tomorrow, if only we could secure future success by our actions right now, if only life had a map or a diagram telling us where we were going.....  I'm not sure about you, but I don't think I want any of these things.  I do believe each of has some type of destiny; somewhere we are supposed to end up.  Whether that destiny is impacted by our actions today, by something greater than us (God), or quite possibly both, we will probably never know.  There is no doubt in my mind that God has a plan for me, and by trying to live my life in his image he will guide me.  However, there are still choices and decisions we make each day that impact our future.

I like to believe that I live my life enjoying today, but I am more and more conscious of how it may impact my future.  I try to take advantages of the joys presented to me, thank God for the blessings he has given me, and use every opportunity I can to be kind to someone else.  That being said, I do find that I have been thinking more lately about my future.  This is something that has honestly not crossed my mind much over the past five years.  I love to plan and organize my work, studies, vacations, exercise routine, etc...., but when it comes to personal decisions about MY future - I've really just been filling in the pages as they come.  These new feelings and pressures I have in my life to make decisions about my future are confusing me.

How do you find the balance between truly living your life for everything that it is today and making decisions for your future.  I have always believed that living for today definitely trumps planning for the future, but is that right?  I could go around and around and explain how well maybe living for today is what in a way actually does plan your future, or how if we plan for tomorrow we will enjoy today, or how you only have today so take advantage of it!  I am now seeing the argument from every angle, when before I saw so clearly that living for today and taking things as they come was the answer.

Now I will bring things to a little more personal of a level.  I can probably name 5 reasons off the top of my head as to why this question has started to trouble me the last couple of months.

1. Family Pressure to have a plan and make decisions.
2. I have someone in my life I want to plan a future with for the first time.
3. Money (I hate that this is on the list, but I know that it is true.)
4. Age, let's face it I'm not getting any younger.
5. Career development and opportunities.

Now here is the real kicker.  Is any one of these things on it's own enough to change the way I have believed is correct to live my life?

I'm sure that at the end of the day I will relax and find a solution that is right for me that combines all of these aspects.  I also think I have realized that there is a BIG difference in "living for the future" and "planning for the future".  In the meantime, I have been making some future decisions while still trying to live in the now.  A moment will come when my eyes are opened and see clearly the value life holds and how best to handle it.  I know that the best thing is to let go and know that someone is guiding me along the way.

Without trying to plan to far ahead, here is an update on my somewhat laid out future plans.

I have official started a new business.  Since I have experience both working in tourism and traveling myself in Peru, I have established an online business called "Expert Peru Travel".  This will be very advantageous for me since I will basically be able to work from my home no matter where I am.  My future is a little uncertain, but it is likely I will be spending time in both Peru and the U.S. in the coming years, so this is perfect.  It has been a project in the works for almost 3 months.  I am proud to see that what started as a fantastical idea has turned into a reality.  Please visit www.expertperutravel.com and let me know what you think!

I will be coming home for about 2 1/2 months this summer.  I arrive home at the end of May and will be staying into August.  Spending time with my family and friends is something that is very much needed!  Julio will also be coming to the U.S. for 2 weeks or so to finally meet my family.  (still pending VISA approval on this - keep your fingers crossed!)

Julio has just started a new job working for a mining company here in Peru.  It is a very good job with very high potential for him to be very successful in the future.  He is technically an intern at this point, but the intention will be for him to be hired on after he graduates in July.

Beyond this, my intention is to stay in Peru for at least one more year.  What comes after that will be determined by a whole lot of factors that I can't plan for just yet.  =)

Good Night!!!!!!

(it is funny how writing things down just makes everything a little more clear)

Weekend exploring in Cusco!

I had the opportunity to travel to Cusco for my second time since arriving in Peru.  For those of you who are unfamiliar, Cusco is the historical capital of the Incan Civilization.  It is a historical city with all of its original buildings being around 500 years old or more.  Cusco is also the destination city closest to Machu Picchu.  Machu Picchu can be accessed from Cusco by a 3 1/2 hour train ride through the Sacred Valley.  For this reason, Cusco has really developed into a home point for tourists traveling to the nearby Incan Ruins.  Luckily, the tourism hasn't transformed the city too much, many of the original old buildings have been restored and turned into hotels, restaurants, museums, or other tourist friendly stops.  All of the roads in the old downtown are cobblestone, with hardly enough room for one car to fit through.  As the city is constructed in the mountains, the streets are uphill everywhere you go - making both walking and driving around the city quite the challenge.  (This city was definitely not made for cars!)
The history of Cusco goes back a couple of thousand years even before the Inca Civilization exhisted. However, it really was developed into a lively capital city with the rise of the Incan Empire. Around the year 1250 AD, Manco Capac founded Cusco as the capital city of the Incan Empire. During this time the Incan Empire was very strong and growing, covering a large area of South America at it's peak. During the Incan Empire's most prosperous years, every aspect of the culture was advanced far beyond it's time;  construction methods and architecture of the ancient cities, development of new textiles and agricultural methods, the social organization of the community, advanced science and astronomy, deep religious beliefs, etc...   The Spanish invasion of the city happened in the 1530's, which was eventually the fall of power of the Incan Empire.  However, Cusco remained a central and important part of the development.  The Spanish brought new ideas of religion and construction, which you can see incorporated in the city of Cusco today.  Much of the stone work on the buildings in Cusco was done by the Incan culture, but you will notice a destinct line in most buildings where the construction style changes.  The bottom half of many buildings were constructed by the Incans, and later the buildings were restored or completed with a very evident Spanish influence.  Cusco continues to be very cultural influenced city today.  It is evident that craftmanship, art, construction, preservation of the culture, and community development are still important to the people.

My favorite place to visit in the city of the Cusco is definitely the main Cathedral in the Plaza de Armas.  This building is unbelievably massive and an obvious central point of the city.  Inside the cathedral is really beyond words.  There are so many little niches with seperate alters set up for different prayers or different saints.  Each individual one is unique and an intriquite work of art.  The alters are constructed from wood and beautiful metals - gold and silver.  There are also beautiful tapestries, paintings, sculptures, and mirrors - each with it's own significance and placed in it's exact position for a specific reason.  There is a large mix of the Incan and the Spanish cultures within the cathedral - you can see it in the pictures and figures carved or drawn.  There are two points I think are the most impressive in the cathedral - the organ and the main alter.  The organ is constructed of wood with such detail and the main alters are massive works of art in both wood and gold. 

There are of course an endless number of other places to visit in and around the city, but I won't go into such detail about this.  Some of the most famous places are Koricanchi, Monasterio, Sacsayhuaman, and many other historical cathedrals, plazas, and museums.  The historical sights really only begin within the city, as the entire Andes region around Cusco is full of Incan history.  You will find worship grounds, ancient cities, temples, agricultural terraces, burial grounds, fortresses, and a number of other sites all located within the vicinity.  Machu Picchu is definitely the most well known, accessible, and probably most significant of these sights; however, other cities just as massive have been uncovered in the region as well.

Now to talk about my weekend.  I traveled with Julio again, so that was very nice.  We left early on Friday morning and came back on Monday afternoon - so a fairly quick trip.  The first day we spent our time taking care of business to get that out of the way.  I had 3 meetings set up and also some hotels that I wanted to visit.  So the first day was pretty hectic, but we got everthing done and out of the way.  I also met with some pretty cool people that I am excited to hopefully be working with very soon.  In the evening we went out for a nice dinner and enjoyed some time with Julio's sister, Jocelyn.  She works with the government on development projects, so she gets to spend a lot of time working on different projects through regions in Peru.  It was very nice to sit down with her and enjoy a nice evening in the city. 

On the second day, Julio and I got up early to head out on an adventure into the Sacred Valley.  We had hoped to be able to rent a car, but as none were available, we rented a taxi driver to take us for the day.  Surprisingly this is actually quite a bit cheaper than renting your own car anyways.  We headed out of the city with a brief stop at Sacsayhuaman (Ancient Incan Ceremonial Grounds - famous for Inti Raymi Festival), then continued through the Urubamba river valley onto the city of Pisaq - one hour away.  We enjoyed a nice lunch in Pisaq and walked through the local market before heading up to the ruins.  The ancient construction of Pisaq is a site above the city within the mountains.  The city is gaining more popularity as a tourist destination as it is a large city with 3 seperate and distinct parts connected by Incan Trails.    We walked through the first site which is largely used for agriculture and some housing complexes, then continued along the trail to the main religious center where the temple and worship sites are constructed.  The worship grounds are always constructed with the utmost skill and perfection - the massive rocks are cut and carved to interconnect perfectly and form skillfull designs and construction.  The citadel is really very similar to Machu Picchu in the way it is constructed and the significance of each building.  The trail then continues on to the final stop of the city - the community.  The granite stone buildings were constructed to house the majority of the people in the city and provide a central point for community activities and work.  After the somewhat strenous hike back - I was ready to head back home.  (Either I am really out of shape, or the altitude was getting to me.  I am not sure how the Incan people ran up and down these trails, stairs, and cliffs every day!)

On the third day, we finally were able to rent a car!  I don't think Julio has ever been so happy as he was driving the car through the Sacred Valley.  The reality is Julio has never had a car and therefore loves to drive every chance that he has!  I must admit it was pretty fun to just have the freedom to go where we wanted, drive on the open, and stop in little villages along the way.  It definitely provides a more intimate experience and time to really enjoy.  After a couple of merely scenic stops, we eventually reached our first destination - Maras.  Outside of this little, untouched by the modern world, city, are two famous incan sites.  Moray is a natural circular indentation in the ground formed by the different sediments in the region.  The Incans constructed perfect circular rings into the ground in this region and used it test crops - it was an important agricultural development.  The second destination was the nearby Salineras - salt mines.  This salt mines were first harvested by the Incans, but continue to grow and are active salt mines today.  It is a massive system of pools set up along the mountain side where the salt is collected. 

After enjoying the two stops, we continued on our way and happened to come accross a local festival taking place in one of the villages.  We of course decided to stop and enjoy the fun!  It was a comunity festival with games for the kids, lots of food and drink stands, a stage set up for a beauty contest, music, and native dance performances.  It was fun to stop and take part in the festivities - I even got to eat some cotton candy - who would have thought!

Our final destination of the day was Ollantaytambo.  This fortress was built by the Incan's in a strategic point along the river valley blocking access to Machu Picchu.  The massive construction above the Urubamba River gave them both a lookout point and an advantage over anyone trying to cross.  The fortress if most famous for a battle with the Spanish army led by Pizarro.  The Incan's defeated the Spanish from this point and in that moment kept the Spanish from continuing to conquer the region.

The trip to Cusco was definitely fun, and different for me this time.  I got to get off of the traditional tourist path and explore some of the lesser known regions.  It was a full and productive weekend - definitely a nice a get away for Julio and I.  I would sure love it if we could do this every weekend!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Lake Titicaca

In the middle of January, I had the opportunity to finally visit one of the most famous sights in Peru - Lake Titicaca.   I had been waiting anxiously to go on this trip for a number of reasons.  I have been selling vacations to Peru, which almost always include the beautiful Lake Titicaca, yet I had never even seen it myself!  Also, last August, I was lucky enough to have won 2 free nights at the 5*Libertador hotel located on a peninsula stretching out into the lake.  I had made our reservations and bought the plane tickets for Julio and I back in October, so I was excited the day was finally here! 
Lake Titicaca is considered the highest navigable lake in the world at over 12,500 ft..  It is a massive body of water boarding both Peru and Bolivia.  The Lake is over 100km in width and 60km across.  The habitat around the lake is very unique as well.  You can see the views of the beauitful mountains all around the lake, but it is also located at the dividing point were the vegetation really changes from a mountainous region into the Amazon rainforest.  If someone had the time, I think it would be an amazing trip to trek around the lake and visit the local communities and historical sights. 

Our journey began early on Friday morning to catch our flight to Juliaca.  (city 40 minutes from the lake)  We had a bit of a delay getting to our destination which caused a long layover in Arequipa, but finally we did arrive to Juliaca about 3 hours later than expected.  We had no real plans in place for this first day, so all was well and good =).  We took a combi from the airport along with a couple other travelers and headed on our way to Puno. (Lake Titicaca)  Every time I travel outside of Lima, I am still surprised at what I see.  Even though I know that the rest of the country lives in much different conditions than I do in Lima; it is like you forget how different it really is when you don't see it everyday.  I guess that explains how a small 15% or 20% of the population in Lima's modern districts can live completely modern, almost luxury lifestyles while the majority of the people in the country live with hardly anything.  I will save some of these comparisons of economic class for another post.  Back to the trip, the ride through the Andes was absolutely beautiful as we made our way up and down the curvy roads until we reached our destination.  It was wide open countryside, green, animals, farm houses, I guess you could say it kind of made me feel like I was back home! 

We finally reached Puno and were dropped off at our hotel, just outside the city limits.  We quick checked in and explored our hotel.  We had an amazing room with a perfect view out to Lake Titicaca, along with all the perks of staying in a 5* hotel.  Julio and I are pretty used to traveling on a budget and finding whatever cheap hostal we can, so this was definitely new to both of us!   I was anxious to get out and see the city, so we got a cab and headed back into the city center.  We were able to walk around and see some of the hisoric buildings on the main plaza, check out a couple of hotels, and grab a bite to eat at a market next to the lake.  The weather was good with fair temperatures and clear skies, which was lucky as normally January begins the rainy season.  So we took advantage of this by going out on the lake a little bit after renting a paddle boat.  After a couple races with some kids up and down the lagoon, we docked our paddle boat just before the rain began.   It was time to head back to the hotel and relax for the evening.  When traveling from sea level to such high elevation, it is important to allow yourself some down time to avoid getting altitude sickness, and we had already reached our limit.

We were woke up very early by the sunrise at about 4:30am, but I can't complain as it was probably the most beautiful sight I have ever seen. We had an amazing breakfeast buffet and then were picked up for our full day boat tour of Lake Titicaca. We met up with our tour group and got into our seats at the front of the boat, and off we went.  Our guide told us all about the history of the Lake and the development of different tribes that lived and still live in the area today.  If you are looking to learn about native cultures still living the way their ancestors did 100s of years before, this is a great place to visit.  Our first stop was at the Uros Islands where we got invited onto the island by the president of the native tribe.  These islands are very unique, as they are completely man made floating islands.  The islands used to be located out in the center of the lake, but have recentely been moved a little closer inland due to the profits they receive from allowing tourism.  The culture still lives in the native form that they did; however they are not completely seperated from society as they do need to occasionally come inland for goods and local events.   The islands, homes, and boats, are all constructed from the reeds and boyant soil in the lake.  The construction process, as you can imagine, is very time consuming and tidious work done with very few tools available to them.   The second stop on our trip was quite a trek out to a real island, Taquile Island, located in the middle of the Lake.  The people of this Island are completely self sufficient and live as a community working together to support each other.  They have pretty much everything they need on the Island, including stone homes/buildings, terraces for agriculture up the sides of the island, livestock living on the island, and a organization of government on their own.  Obviously the society has been touched by some modern advantages as well from tourism, but for the most part, they still live as an independent community.  The views from this island were amazing.  You can see across the lake in each direction and the shadows of the mountains in the distanct background.  After learning about their culture and enjoying a nice lunch, it was time to head out on our journey back to Puno.  It took about 2 1/2 hours to return to Puno, and I think everyone had a nice nap on the way back from the trip.

We returned to our hotel and enjoyed a relaxing evening with a nice small dinner at the restaurant, then relaxing in the hot tub.  I was surprised to learn that Julio had never been in a hot tub before.. haha.. I guess this is not something that really exists in Peru.  The only place you are likely to find this would be in a 5* hotel.  I definitely enjoyed the busy weekend, but I was exhausted and ready for bed.  The next morning we enjoyed a quiet morning with another amazing breakfast (this breakfast buffet was amazing!) and walking around a little to enjoy the grounds outside of the hotel.  It was then time to head out in route back to the airport so we could get our flight home.  The flight back home was without incident and we arrived back to Lima at about 2:30pm.   It had definitely been a quick weekend, but we enjoyed our time at Lake Titicaca.  The only sight we didn't have time to really visit that I was hoping to see were the Chulpas (Towers for funeral/burials).  They are historical burial tours located outside of Puno dating back to the pre-Incan culture.  I guess that gives me another reason to return again someday!!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

6 Month Recap

I took a stance about 6 months ago that I didn't need to share my life with everyone through my blog.  I closed the book and kind of wanted to keep my life private.  I have always been a more private person - I like to tell stories of my adventures, but naturally leave out any real personal anecdotes.  I have never really needed/wanted a lot of support, encouragement, or advice from other people; thus I avoid situations where people will feel they need to give me those thing.  It is not to say that I do not care or don't truly enjoy the company of others, I just don't like to make everything about "me".  I would rather sit, enjoy hearing all about the trials and triumphs of all my friends and family, and offer my support and advice if asked for.  In regards to this blog, these feelings have put me in a bit of a hard spot.  I do want to share my experiences because I know it is important for my family and friends to feel in touch, I also do want to keep a record for myself of the experiences I have had, and I actually do enjoy the writing aspect of this.  I also do have a new reason for continuing the blogging - that will be touched on soon enough. =)

Lodge at Puemape

Rewind to my last blog:  It was the middle of winter here, and I was preparing for a get away with Julio and another couple, Andrea & Pato, whom we are friends with................. At the end of July, the four of us headed out on a 8 day trip to the North of Peru.  It was about a 10 hour journey or so, but we were traveling with our own vehicle so it wasn't too bad.  We were able to stop and enjoy different things along the way.  In general, the entire coast of Peru is dessert; however, it is still the most inhabited area of Peru because it is along the ocean.  Outside of Lima is much MUCH different than in Lima.  Basic infrastructure - meaning roads, water, electricity, sewage management, garbage disposal, etc... - exists, but it is hard to find and usually is in disaray.  We arrived to our destination, which was a famous surfing point called Puemape.  To my surprise, there was nothing here - literally some brick buildings half built/fallen apart, a couple of nice houses, a shack that was a surf shop, and our lodge - which was in an old train car.  Who knows how this train car was ever left along the dessert coast, but it was my "cabana" for the week.  Nonetheless, it was a quiet place to relax outside of the city - which was exactly what I wanted.  We went on several day trips from this point, including visits to Trujillo, local villages, a great oasis to hike to, and most importantly to Cajamarca.  Cajamarca is an amazing historical city tucked away in the Andes Mountains.  It was a little over 3 hours to get there, but we enjoyed amazing views along the way as we made our way up the curvy roads as we ascended into "heaven".  This is one of the few areas in Peru that still has a real forrest within the Andes.  The area was so lush and green, with full size trees everywhere, fresh air, and breathtaking scenery.  We visited a couple of the local sights and enjoyed the city's historical main square.  The city of Cajamarca is much like a smaller version of the ancient city of Cuzco - with so many historical buildings over 500 years old.  We found a little hostal to spend the night in and enjoyed our time in Cajamarca, which was obviously the highlight of the trip for me!

For the next couple of months, I pretty much just worked and continued with my regular routine.  Julio and I did get away one weekend to the South with some friends, but other than that I can't say we did a whole lot that was really noteworthy.  I was begining a short lived fitness regimen with my new 3 month gym membership and Julio was busy with the start of his next semester in school. 

Playing with Hud!
My next trip, the most important one of all, was finally almost here!  On September 29th, I boarded a midnight flight back to Minneapolis, MN.   It had been a LONG 8 months without seeing my family and friends.  My favorite little man in the world was even waiting to welcome me at the airport.  I was so glad to get to spend time with my nephew, Hudson, and even more excited that he remembered me so well!!  (probably in large part due to his Mom & Dad reminding him - thanks guys!)  I enjoyed a wonderful 2 1/2 weeks back home with my family.  The majority of my time was spent just at home enjoying my parents new house, babysitting Hudson, spending time with my Grandma, and of course getting the chance to check up with old friends.  I forgot how nice it is to speak ENGLISH with everyone I am around.  To have a conversation without my brain straining to understand and be understood was definitely the best part of the trip.  It was also just so wonderful to see everyone and catch up on old times.  To be honest, it really didn't even feel like I had been gone very long.  I think that is one of the best and the worst things about a small town - nothing really ever changes :-).   It was so easy to pick up right where I left off with everyone and hear about how everyone's summers had been and what was new in life.  I am very blessed and have the most amazing family and friends a girl could ask for.  After an exciting time back home, I guess you could say I was ready to return back to my schedule and mostly to see Julio.  Although it was probably a good break for each of us, I think we were both surprised how much you miss just having that person around.

During my trip back home, I had made some choices about changes I needed to make to my life in Lima.  I realized that so much of my time and energy was being focused on a job that was really just a job.  The main reason I moved to Peru was not so that I could work my life away making $1000 a month.  This was hardly enough money to justify working 40 hours a week and not having the freedom to travel when I wanted, go out and meet other people, have free time to just explore and learn about the culture, or to enroll in school to actually really start learning more Spanish.  Work was beginning to get slow, and that $1000 I was earning a month had turned into about $500.  It was time for some changes.  I shifted my priorities and talked with my boss about changing to a part time schedule.  Not only would I be able to still manage just as many accounts and make just as much money, but I would have free time and could finally enroll in a school.  I don't think anyone at my job was real happy with this decision, but it was the only thing that made sense to me and the only way I would have stayed at the job.  So I began having classes every morning from 9:00 - 11:00 am in a school close to my house in order to learn Spanish.  My work schedule was switched to 30 hours a week and I worked from 1:00pm - 7:00pm with just a small paycut.  (Almost all of my income comes from commission anyway, so the cut to monthly salaray was less than a $100 - totally worth it!)  From the first day of my class on October 31st, I knew I had made the best decision and could not believe I didn't make this change earlier.  Enrolling in school meant new challenges to work toward, meeting other people (expats) in the exact same situation as me, and gaining a whole new level of confidence in my Spanish speaking abilities.  I felt a new energy, happy and motivated!!

New Year's Eve on the beach

The following months of November and December were very enjoyable for me.  The climate had changed and the sun was back out!!  What a huge difference sun  makes in your life.  I can't even express the happiness I feel walking outside enjoying warm temperatures and the sun beating down on me.  Lima really is composed of two seasons - 6-7 months of gray skies with a cold wet dampness in the air, then 5-6 months of warm weather with plenty of sunshine!  My attitude had done a complete 180; I was loving my classes at La Catolica, enjoying the changing seasons, and feeling so motivated.  This bit of freedom from my job had really opened my eyes to how much I could accomplish myself.  A lot of ideas began flowing in out as to how I could make money without going to a job everyday that provides me with no new challenges or satisfaction.  The job was good in a sense that it taught me a lot about Peru, I love working with my clients, and it was a good starting point when I arrived to Peru.  However, why I am settling for a job that limits my abilities and earning potential when I could do so much more.  Although this may come across like a "white supremicist" statement, the fact is that it is true.  I simply have more resources and opportunties available to me than a normal Peruvian because of where I come from and the opportunties I have had available to me in my life.  That is not a popular or socially correct statement, but my eyes were being opened to the fact that I don't have to just settle for what I have now.

Christmas Eve - with Julio's mom, Adela.
I think my new found motivation and desire to take action to change my situation was a bit of a surprise to Julio.  It was probably the first time Julio had seen me not so dependent on him, and this was definitely a good thing.  I was starting to meet people on my own, could finally communicate on a social level in Spanish, and was working towards some career changes.  I have no doubt that these changes have brought Julio and I much closer and more in touch as a couple.  He has given me endless support and is working hard to help me move forward with future projects in my life.  During the past two months. Julio and I have also spent a lot more time together and talking about plans for the future.  We have been spending most of our weekends heading to the beaches in the South, traveling, or enjoying the holidays.  My Christmas was spent with Julio's family at his house on Christmas Eve.  It was just his parents, two sisters, brother, and me.  I am so thankful that his family has welcomed me and made me really feel like part of the family.  His mother always looks out for me and treats me just like I am one of her kids.  The communication hasn't always been easy, but it just goes to show that love and support does not necessarily need a lot of words. 

Finally, we arrive to the present.  Friday was my final day of work at the travel agency and yesterday was my one year anniversary in Peru, so I celebrated by doing absolutely nothing.  I have had the majority of this weekend to myself as Julio left yesterday morning for a one night camping trip with some of his high school buddies.  I actually feel relieved to just be in Lima with nothing on the agenda this weekend.  As I stated before, the last two months have been filled with plans for every weekend, so it is a nice change to just do nothing.  Apparently the SuperBowl is in a couple of hours, haha - who knew!, so my roommate and I will be getting back to our American roots by watching the SuperBowl with a six-pack of beer. 

Look for more updates soon as life continues to bring us surprises!