Monday, October 21, 2013

Whatever it Takes to Get Street Cred

Peruvians get hammered.

Coming off senior spring where we took drinking season very seriously, we are now learning that was child's play compared to the perpetual drinking life of Peru. Not only did multiple 75 year old grandmas drink us under the table, but an 8 year old child was putting it back with more style. Our first marathon drinking experience was at our host dad's birthday party. We went to bed the night before with plans to wake up, work off some sublimes, and live a healthy lifestyle. Plans changed very quickly when we were awoken at 6:30AM for chocolate cake and Lima bean liquor (Lima bean liquor, that's healthy, right?) The real drinking began at noon. Once we finished a plate with about half a chicken, we were immediately handed a 40 of Cusqueña. Two hours and a few 40's later, we were served dinner which consisted of a stuffed pepper, huge chunk of pork, pasta, 3 regular potatoes, and 2 sweet potatoes-- so yeah, it was a light meal and right on track with the plan to live a generally healthy lifestyle. We decided a healthy lifestyle can take a backseat to earning some Peruvian street cred though. Feeling the need to burn off some calories, we decided to introduce the party to the classic game of flip cup. Now, remember this was our host dads birthday, so the average player age was about 45, with us and our Quechua-speaking abuela being the outliers. Speaking of which, we may not be able to understand a single word abuela says, but we bonded over the universal language of beer drinking. Homegirl's a tank. 

Sharing a beer with abuela- she's probably casting spells on us, but we interpreted it as "salud"

Our amazement at the witch-abuela's drinking ability soon faded while at a traditional Peruvian wedding when we learned that all abuelas here are excessive drinkers. Yep, that's right, we actually managed to get invited to a wedding. Not just any wedding, but one in the deep rural villages of the Andes Mountains called Soccma. I'm sure you're wondering how we got there. Well, remember that time we got in the back of an 18 wheeler and went to the jungle and said we would never do it again? That lasted about as long as our healthy lifestyle. So after the church service in Ollanta, we jumped in the back of an 18 wheeler with about 25 Peruvians and headed up to Soccma. We really had no choice but to get in.. Our street cred was at stake. If you haven't figured it out yet, we are really into street cred right now.   

At least this time we were in the back with people rather than sugar and eggs. The fact we didn't know anyone is irrelevant. 

Right when we got to Soccma we were immediately handed a cup of Chicha. This corn-based alcohol is absolutely disgusting. We liken it to a frothy foot milkshake that for some strange reason the locals are obsessed with. We should also note that it is made in those containers you buy gas in that have large "Xs" printed on them. So we got that going for us. After forcing down a few cups of Chicha, we were served Lechon. We don't really know what Lechon is, but in this case it was mass amounts of pig that we ate with our hands. Who needs utensils? Speaking of useless things- bathrooms. Turns out they aren't a thing in Soccma. It's always awkward when you eat half a pig, drink feet, and chug beer without a bathroom nearby. Use your imagination with that one. Another cultural difference we experienced at the wedding was the very public display of gift giving. Everyone in attendance is expected to approach the bride and groom and give them money, the amount of which is announced to the entire party. Talk about awkward. Even more awkward was when we went up, and were announced as Alison and her daughter. We are still trying to figure out who should be embarrassed here. 

We've carried a lot of cases in our day, but a case of 40s through the Andes Mountains was definitely a first

Wedding celebration with some friends. See that pank drank? Yeah, that's the frothy foot milkshake Peruvians like to call Chicha. 

While heavy drinking and consistently eating half of whatever animal is served has done some damage to the body, we have still managed to go on a few hikes. The first of which was to a tiny town called Markaqocha. We never really know where we are going when we set out, all we know is that we are supposed to end up somewhere awesome. So this time after hiking for 3 hours and ending up at nothing we were pretty confused. This confusion is probably a result of the guide book we have been using. To give you an idea, here are a few of our favorite directions: "the path is not always clear but continue traveling left and downhill," "walk up the road to an electrical pole on the left labeled 2224 and take a left on a path that leads behind some houses," "follow the trail straight past the foundations and ignore other paths that intersect this trail." As for getting to Markaqocha, we were told to "follow the path down through the fields, across a stream, and to the ruins on the far end of the football field." There are so many things wrong with this. First, this "path" was literally a cliff down to a stream. This brings us to the issue of the stream. It was a freaking river with level five rapids. Finally, they left out the minor detail that the ruins were atop another mountain that you have to hike. We aren't even going to address the fact that football fields do not exist, so who knows what that was referring to. After exploring and forging our own path we were thankfully able to get to the ruins. What. A. Sight. Not only were there incredible Inca ruins, but there was a group of girls in traditional garb playing soccer. Life doesn't get much better than that. But wait, as we were picnicking we heard faint Andean music playing in the background. As the music grew louder we noticed a man, also in traditional garb, traversing down the mountainside playing the beautiful music. You could say the scene was pretty unreal. 

Looking down on the Inca ruins and girls playing soccer

Close up - girls in traditional garb playing soccer alongside some bulls and sheep 

Just getting a little artsy

Though we got a little lost and struggled with directions, Markaqocha was a pretty easy hike. Our second hike to Las Canteras was entirely different. Interpreting the difficulty rating of "moderate" as a leisurely hike, we were blindsided when we found ourselves hiking straight up a mountain. After about an hour of scaling this mountain we came to the first of two rock quarries that were used to supply the rocks to build Ollantaytambo. Here, we found a bunch of adorable mini houses. "How cute! The Incas must have been mini people," we thought as we imagined a land of Oompa Loompa Incas. Oh god were we mistaken. We later found out they were tombs.  

So yeah, that's Alison sitting inside an Inca tomb. 

Looking back, there were a lot of deadly undertones to this hike. Aside from the mini houses aka tombs at the first quarry, the second rock quarry boasted some real-dead skeletons in a cave. Unfortunately, the directions to find the skeletons within the huge quarry were shockingly unclear and involved following a path of rocks. Seeing as the quarry was filled with rocks it was a little difficult to decipher which ones made up this so-called path. So, as per usual, we forged our own way. After two hours of serious rock climbing, we found those sneaky bones. Honestly though, thank god we did because they were absolutely amazing. These skeletons were at least 600 years young, and haven't been moved from this cave, 1000m above Ollanta. So what do we do when we find something like this? But of course, have a photo shoot! Or better yet, if you're Claire, really hit it off and become besties with the skellies. 

We actually have no clue why Claire was cracking up - those must have been some funny bones, eh? 

Creepy yet awesome. Anyone know if that's hair or rope coming off that dead person's head?

Just us and our new buds. We may not have live friends but we kill it with the dead people 

We are really hoping that hanging out with skeletons and inside tombs isn't a bad omen. Especially since we just moved into a new place. After spending a month with a host family, we decided, ya know, why not rent our first apartment while traveling in Peru? We like to think that since we are renting a place and have to cook for ourselves that we are now in the real world (how do you feel about that Sheehy?) Strangely enough our real world happens to be in the middle of the Andes Mountains and doesn't involve employment. We'll see how that works for us..

And this brings us to our This Is The End segment:

5. We hop in the back of an 18 wheeler with 25 Peruvians while waving bye to the only two people we knew who were "meeting us there" (they took a much more logical mode of transportation- moto)
6. Due to unemployment we decide to eat at a 4 sole ($1.30) place in the Urubamba market. What did we get for $1.30? Soup, rice, fries, huge piece of fried chicken, salad and soda. We were the only two gringas... Anything in the name of street cred
7. While searching for skeletons we decided to split up to cover more ground. After 2 hours of searching in different areas, we couldn't hear or see each other. Ya know, three tombs are easier to find than one, right? 
8. Pisac market post 5pm. Who knew it turns into a creepy ghost town? We clearly didn't as per usual 

We've decided to go to Bolivia this weekend for a casual weekend trip to Lake Titicaca. We'll try to travel in something other than an 18 wheeler but can't make any promises. 

Until next time,
Alison and Claire 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Whatever it Takes to Get There

Let's get this started with a little message about Sublimes (read: soob-leem-ays). We know our last post started with an ad for TACA, but since we are laying in our beds eating sublimes as we have done every night, we figured we would give them a shout out. While the ingredients read "chocolate, peanuts, and milk," there is just no way that can be true due to our physical and mental addiction to the candy. We kid you not when we say that we have "sublime time" every single night where we sit cross-legged on our respective beds in silence until someone finishes and consequently talks about how sad they are that it's gone. In order to cater to this addiction, we are probably going to have to start a Sublime branch in the US when we get back... Honestly, you're welcome. 

While this intro may make you think all we do is eat Sublimes (not entirely false), we have actually ventured around the Sacred Valley a lot in the past week. It only makes sense to start with the headliner of our trip thus far. Let us clarify that we specifically chose the word headliner because it was in no way a highlight, but instead one of the most bizarre things that we have ever done. Which is really saying something because we are quite odd and have had some really strange experiences. Anyways, here goes nothing (we no longer say "here goes nothing" because that's what got us into this mess). 

Traveling throughout South America, we have learned to truly embrace expecting the unexpected (Thanks for the training, Shacks). So when the power went out in Ollanta shutting down the entire town, our friend Juan- a Rustic Pathways guide- asked us if we wanted to tag along with him to meet up with his gap year tour group in the jungle. We figured, "hey, that's cool... We like jungles... We like animals... Let's go." Usually it's a simple trip where you catch a coach bus in the town center and arrive in the jungle about five hours later. Are you shocked to hear that there were no busses running on this particular day? Yeah, we weren't too surprised either. But now are you shocked to hear that we found ourselves in the back of an 18 wheeler, sitting on sacks of sugar, surrounded by eggs, with a random, yet very friendly, Brazilian? Actually this one was a little surprising, even for us. After riding in the back with Juan and our Brazilian for about an hour, the driver asked if anyone wanted to sit up front with him. Since the view from the back consisted of rotten wooden walls and a trailer door, we figured, yeah, it might be nice to see the Andes mountains and a glacial peak. Soon after joining Carlos, the driver, and his copilot, Quechi, we were drowned in cultural facts about Peru, and asked if we had tried Peru's most famous beer, Cusqueña. Soon, we were no longer drowned in historical facts, but rather beer. By this, we mean Carlos and Quechi stopped in every small town we passed to buy us more Cusqueña. While we may have drank a few too many Cusqueñas, heard the entire history of Peru, and had countless "what is going on" moments, after nine hours, four more than usual, we made it safely to the jungle. As we clarified the headliner, we should also clarify what we mean by jungle. In our minds there were jaguars, monkeys, lush banana trees, we don't know, maybe even a sloth. Turns out the only animals in this jungle were Mosquitos. Not your everyday Mosquitos, or even malaria Mosquitos, but Mosquitos that leave you with a blood blister to compliment the never ending itch (seriously never ending, it's been a week). Aside from all this, there were some positives: we camped in the "Peruvian jungle," there were some pretty cool hot springs, and man, what a story. But wait, the biggest up side is that we bought sublimes, coke, and animal crackers, which we enjoyed on the five hour drive home. Yes, we did make this drive at 9am the next morning, meaning we were in "the jungle" for a total of 9.5 hours, 6 of which we were sleeping. 

Back of the 18 wheeler- Juan taking a snooze and Claire taking in the beauty of the wooden walls and sugar bags 

Hot springs and the bathroom across from our Sublime stop- told you the addiction is serious

Moving away from the headline, there have been some serious highlights. The majority of these highlights have been hikes in the Sacred Valley surrounding Ollanta:

Hike 1: Incan Pool. We went on this easy hike with a local friend, and went swimming in an Ancient Incan pool that overlooked the river, Andes, town, and our friend, Veronica (a glacier.. Friends are hard to make here. But hey, we have five total contacts in our cell phone now. Yes, one contact is our own number because we can't remember it to save our lives. Talk about popular)

Hike 2: Intiwatana. Since we think we are Incan, we decided to forge our own hiking path to the Intiwatana ruins. The ruins were awesome, but a recent forest fire burnt everything which led to mixed feelings. It was terrible but made the ruins look so cool. 

Ruins in the distance, valley, mountains, cool

Hike 3: Pumamarca. Like we said, it's hard to make friends here. So, when we were accompanied by two great dogs, Puma and Stan (great names, we know, we named them), we were pretty happy. The ruins were about four miles through the mountains and overlooked an isolated farm, 3,425 meters high. There's not much to say other than they were incredible. 

Ruins and dogs

Big girl little door - Incans were miniature 

When we aren't hiking, riding in 18 wheelers, or eating sublimes, we do something relatively normal (Well, normal if you overlook the 1.5 hour walk and 20 minute moto ride)- we teach English at a grade school in the rural village of Pomatales. The great thing about grade school is they still have recess, which gave us a prime opportunity to draft teams for a soccer game (we can't give up the dream). Pretty sure recess was extended by about 30 minutes, but as true Princeton athletes, we believe in Education through Athletics. 

To end, we wanted to introduce everyone to a little thing we call "This is the End" (Libby, 2013) (honor code, gotta give our friend Libby credit for this idea which arose after hearing about "the jungle"). We will be keeping track of the moments when we think to ourselves, "oh yeah, this is the end."  Here we go:

This is the End 
1. Nabs falls up makeshift ladder, spills bucket of contaminated, muddy, puddle water and swallows it 
2. Claire refuses to brush her teeth with purified water because she is too lazy to carry a water bottle to the bathroom
3. We are in the back of an 18 wheeler on route to "the jungle"
4. The Quechua-speaking abuela/witch. She will kill us. Don't know how, don't know when, but when she is in view we know it could be the end. 

All good for now though!