Michael Broder

Michael Broder

My name is Michael Broder, and I am 18 years old and from Boston, Massachusetts. I just graduated high school, and my friend Emily and I decided to do something good for the world this summer by traveling and volunteering in Peru. We are so excited for our adventure. Next year I am off to the University of Pennsylvania.

Doing my best to Help Change the World: July 31, 2010

 Posted by Michael Broder at 9:56 am  Peru  Comments Off on Doing my best to Help Change the World: July 31, 2010
Jul 312010

July 31, 2010: Doing my best to Help Fix the World

As I write this last blog post from Cusco, Peru, I am sitting at one of the 18 computers at Maximo Nivel on the day before I leave my home in Cusco. The other night my housemates and I were talking about how different the words “house” and “home” are. We decided that a “house” is just a shelter that a person is not emotionally connected to. On the other hand, a “home” is where ones family is and a place that holds a lot of sentimental value. I have stayed in many “houses” per say in Peru, but in La Florida neighborhood in Cusco, Peru I have a “home.” I have come to love and appreciate all the people with whom I have had the pleasure of living for the past six weeks. We all started out strangers from all over the world, but before we knew what had happened we grew so close and formed friendships that will undoubtedly last a lifetime. I am really sad that my time living with the people of La Florida Volunteer House has come to an end, but we will always remember the amazing times we have shared during the summer of 2010 in Cusco and traveling all over southern Peru. Now, enough of the sentiment. I want to tell you about my last Peruvian adventure: my stay in the Amazon jungle.

Thursday night July 22, 2010, basically all of my house went out to celebrate what we thought would be most of our last nights together as a whole. Ceremoniously, we hit up all of the dance clubs we have boogied at over the past six weeks and danced the night away. Amy, Nat, Stef, and I were going to stay up all night so that we would be exhausted for our 8-hour day bus ride to the jungle, which was to leave at 5 am Friday morning.  Unfortunately, of the four brave La Floridians who dared spend a week in the jungle, only Amy and I managed to stay up all night. We went to the 24 hour Polleria (chicken place) at around 4 am for a midnight snack/ breakfast chicken.

When we got back to the house, we woke Nat and Stef up and then got picked up in a van that brought us to a small bus station in a little alley. While we awaited our bus, we all started laughing about nothing. Clearly, our lack of sleep had made us all very slap-happy and over-tired. We were handed a lunch bag with minimal food in it, which led us to think that a future devoid of food was in store for us. We brought plenty of snacks to munch on from the supermarket, Mega, with us just in case we were constantly hungry.

At around 5:45 am, we got on one of the dirtiest buses we had ever been on here that was to bring us to our placement in the jungle. Despite the filth, I was able to sleep very well. I shut my eyes, and when I next woke up we were parked in a small town that was clearly not the jungle. This was just a place where we could buy something for breakfast and stop at the bathroom. We did not buy anything, but we watched a little Peruvian boy chace a little dog. Also, we saw some workers carry a couple of headless carcasses past us. At about 8:45 am, we got back on the bus and drove towards the jungle. When I opened my eyes again we were definitely driving on the edge of a cliff on a one lane road in the Amazon rainforest. It was incredible to see the lush green rainforest roll on endlessly over countless mountains into the distance. We were on the edge of a cliff, and I was a little nervous that we would fall off, but the bus driver, like most others in Peru, knew how to cross the dangerous terrain safely.

At 1:15 pm, I woke up again and was told that we had arrived at Atalya lodge where I would be spending the next seven days living in the middle of nowhere. We walked down a relatively short path only to find out that our accomodation was on the other side of a raging river. We needed to cross the river on a zip-line-like contraption. The only difference was that we were not really going down; rather, we had to pull ourselves horizontally across on this small wooden plank suspended on a wire cable. First, we had to wait for some tourists to pass from the lodge side to our side before we could cross. It was about 90 degrees, I was wearing jeans and a winter jacket, and bugs were flying all around me. I was really regreting my decision to go there.

When we finally crossed to the other side of the river, we were brought to the eating building where we ate our bagged lunches. We met a parrot, Polly, that says, “hola” and then we unexpectedly encountered a monkey, Paola, who came right up to us on the table and started eating our apple cores. She was so cool and it was so amazing how domesticated she was. Then, Raul, one of the employees at Atalaya who actually lives in the jungle and who only speaks Spanish, brought us all a plate of spagghetti.

At about 3 or 4 pm, we were taken to our sleeping bungalow and our beds, which had mosquito netting, and I rested on mine reading my book safely away from the tons of bugs that were flying all around me for the past few hours. Do not get me wrong, I do not like bugs by any means, but I was not freaking out at every one that was on and around me. I read my summer reading book about defacation and sanitation, which for once did not bore me to tears, and then passed out and took a nap.

When I awoke it was dark and time for dinner. Emily leant me her flashlight, so I used it to get to the dining area from the bugalows since there was no electricity anywhere for the seven days I was in the jungle. For dinner we were given an over easy egg, french fries, and the spagghetti leftovers. I really like the food they served us there and the woman, Gloria, who made all of our meals. After dinner, Raul asked any of us if we spoke Spanish. I told him that I was the only one in the group, so he assigned me the task of translating the groundrules he was telling us into English. I felt so useful because I was the only one capable of understanding the people who worked at the lodge. Following my translating debut, we went back to our beds and went to sleep by 9 pm or so. It was so wierd sleeping outside in Peru during the winter and not freezing my butt off. Just 2 days earlier in Puno it was excrutiatingly cold at 4000 meters above sea level, but in the jungle where we were only 1200 meters above seas level it was really warm, even at night.

The next morning was our first day on the job. We got up around 8 am, ate breakfast, and then were told our assignment for the day. Some loggers from Cusco had invaded a neighboring village and have been cutting down primary forest. It was our duty and mission to go and mark the forest as well as create a presence that would hopefully show the loggers that what they were doing was not right. This sounded like a covert mission to me. “The loggers are invading and ruining the forset. They must be stopped. Go in and save those trees from destruction before it is too late.” Unfortunately, top save those trees we had to walk over an hour through dense rainforest in our rubber hightop boots. One of mine had a hole in it, so when we had to cross a river my sock invariably got soaked. The best part of that day involved the fact that we got to carry around machetes. When we finally got to the work site, I had to translate everyones task for the day. The girls cut and wrote on the ribbons that would be used to mark primary vegetation while the men were to use machetes to clear weeds from the areas inhabited by the young trees we were trying to save. This was so fun that I was not even bothered by the bugs flying all around me and in my ears and face. I got a blister from swinging my machete, but I did not care at all because it is the best story behind any wound I have ever gotten.

After our work was done, we headed back to Atalaya and on the way we passed the loggers. We did not do anything to them, obviously, but when we saw the police a little further down the path we were hiking, Raul told them exactle where the loggers were. We eventually got back to our accomodation, had a very satisfying lunch of quinua soup and lentils and rice. Afterwards, I took my dirty, uncomfortable boots off, took a freezing cold, pressureless shower, and rested on my bug-free bed. A few hours later, some of the other people staying in the jungle with us, including Nat, had a Shaman guide them through a spiritual experience with the hallucinogenic drug Ayahuasca. I had no interest in participating, but I enjoyed watching the ceremony. The Shaman had Raul tell everyone involved some disclaimers. ” You may have crazy visions, you cannot have coffee, sex, or alcohol 3 days before or after consumption of Ayahuasca, and you may throw up after drinking the drug because the taste is very ugly, but try to fight the urge.” The next morning, Sunday, when I woke up, I immediately asked Nat is she had an enlightening experience like she was supposed to have. She replied saying that noone really felt anything and it was very disappointing. I was happy that I chose not to participate, but maybe one day somewhere else when I want to find enlightenment or have a spiritual experience I will try Ayahuasca.

that Sunday afternoon, since all the workers were home, most of the ten volunteers came together to cook a really delicious lunch. We just started cooking and the result of our triumphant teamwork was a great vegetable and quinua soup and spagghetti with sauteed onions, eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, and garlic. Lunch was a great success. Afterwards, me housemates and I, as well as another volunteer Greg Zoller (no relation to Emily), waled on a trail for fifteen minutes to a fairly large waterfall where we “swam” in the frigid waters. It was too shallow to swim, but we just chilled. When we got back to base camp, Stefs mosquito net was ripped from the monkey, so we helped her put up another one. Last Sunday, I learned that teamwork is definitely a necessity if one hopes to succeed in the jungle, or anywhere really. For dinner, we cooked an equally delicious meal. We recreated the soup from lunch, but for the entree we made a dish of whote rice cooked in a pan with onions, scallions, garlic, and scrambled eggs and topped off with a fried egg. We ate dinner and were very pleased by the outcome of our efforts. The people who did not help make dinner, which was everyone but the volunteers from La Florida, cleaned the dishes and made pudding for dessert. We all played cards for a while until the bug situation became unbearable at which point we all headed off to bed. It is funny that we got to sleep by 9 pm every night in the Amazon whereas at home in Cusco I do not think I have ever gone to bed before midnight since I have been here.

Monday morning, we all woke up around 8 am, ate breakfast, and I translated the days tasks. I love being the only means of communication between the workers and volunteers. It makes me feel as if my education has been worth something and can actually be applied to real life situations. The volunteers from La Florida and one other girl, Julie, were to go with Raul along the Trocha de Mono, or Mokey Path, to look for seeds to plant. Sure enough, soon after we started hiking, we saw Paola the monkey following us. We hiked for about 45 minutes up steep jungle terrain and across streams in our rubber boots. Raul was wielding his sharpened machete and seemed to be cutting down tons of bamboo to clear out path. It is amazing how much destruction a machete can cause when it is used properly. Eventually, we reached a pretty high point in the jungle and were told to enter in and among the trees to look for seeds and certain seedlings. We were really in the jungle with no footpaths around us for about an hour surrounded by bugs and unknown plant species. I thought this piece of information would make my mom, who thought I would freak out at every sighting of a bug, proud. After our work was done, and we started headed back to camp, Raul was showing us some cool jungle secrets. He showed us a vine we could safely swing from like tarzan, an ant kingdom whose queen was a poisonous frog, and the “labios de puta” (lips of a whore) flower that apparently had powers comparable to those of the sexual stimulant Viagra. When we got back to camp, we started filling bags with dirt and then added seedlings to each bag. I spotted a belligerent ant species and told Raul that two nights ago i saw a bullet ant almost bite Stef. He said that they are super dangerous because a bite from them causes 24 hours of unbearable pain and fever. If one were to get bit 4 to 10 times by a bullet ant, one could die. I got a little nervous after Raul told me this because it just made me think of all the little creatures that probably lived in the jungle that I would never suspect to be extremely dangerous. Sunday night, I used another volunteers duck tape to patch up my mosquito net to insure that no bugs could ever enter. At lunch on Monday it downpoured for about an hour, and I loved every moment of it. It had barely rained since I have been here, and for that reason I was really excited to listen to it and watch it pour in the rainforest.

Tuesday morning I woke up and it was still terentially raining. When Raul got to camp he told us we had no work and then told the group of volunteers, with help from my translating, jungle stories about poisonous snakes and spiders as well as bears and jaguars. He said that once he was a little drunk and he almost urinated on a huge bear. He also showed us the scars from where he was bitten by a poisonous snake and spider. Since we could not work, I had to cross the river with a bunch of the other volunteers via the zipline and help carry a huge new shipment of food back to camp. We got a lot of good new snacks, so my La Florida pals and I horded all the best cookies and crackers. On Wednesday we finished bagging the seedlings in the small bags and then had the rest of the day to relax and read and just contemplate life. It was so nice to go to the jungle and get away from the city for a bit just so that I could pause and catch my breath and live a simple life devoid of any of the pleasures of civilization. The jungle was so quiet but so loud at the same time, for the sounds of the thousands of species of birds, bugs, and other animals just fills the air with an awesome symphony of different sounds. On Thursday, we were waiting all morning to take a combis back to Cusco. We were not supposed to leave until Friday night, but since Amys flight left today, Saturday afternoon, we thought it would be too risky to take the Friday bus back. We paid an extra ten soles and got back to Cusco at 9 pm on Thursday night. We also wanted to go home on Thursday because we really missed Cusco and had our fill of the jungle. I am so happy to be back in Cusco, and I have been enjoying my last few days and nights in what I think is the best city on earth.

Last night we all went out to all the clubs in Cusco for one last night out all together. Amy, Stef, Nat, and I all are really close because we spent so much time together in the jungle and go out dancing a lot, and for that reason we all decided that the Incan Chacana symbol would be a cool way to represent our frendship since it has four corners and there are four of us and it has a lot of other relevant meanings. This morning Amy, Nat, and Stef got small Chacana tattoos on their wrists and will forever remember all of the amazing times we shared together in Cusco. I just bought a bracelet that has the Chacana symbols on it since Judaism does not permit me to get tattooed. The four of us went to the airport today to send Amy off, and it was so sad thinking that we will probably never be in Cusco together again. But at the same time we all understand that all great things must at one time or another come to an end.

Have you ever tried to think about what it truly means to be somewhere with its own culture, its own terrain, its own people, and its own beauty? I have tried really hard to understand the fact that I have been in Peru for the past six weeks of my life and everything I have witnessed and everyone I have come to know has been part of my Peruvian experience during the summer of 2010. However, I have a lot of trouble mentally placing myself in such a foreign country when here, in Peru, I feel so at home.

I will leave you all with the words of a good friend of mine, Julia Convissor, from La Florida. She once said to me, ” Mike, there is beauty everywhere and in everyone. All you need to do is find it. ” In Peru, I have found true beauty both in the countryside and in the people, and I will never forget the incredible memories I have from my first big trip abroad in Cusco.

Navigating the Highest Navigable Lake in the World: July 30, 2010

 Posted by Michael Broder at 7:30 am  Peru  Comments Off on Navigating the Highest Navigable Lake in the World: July 30, 2010
Jul 302010

July 30, 2010: Navigating the Highest Navigable Lake in the World

I am sorry that this blog is so late but I only had one day between my trip to Puno and Lake Titicaca and my stay in the jungle. on July 19, 2010, four of my housemates and I took a bus to Puno so that we could explore the highest navigable lake in the world and the 2nd largest in South America, Lake Titicaca. Before we took our 10:30 pm bus, most of my housemates and I went out for Thai food, which was good, but I still miss the kind from home. Some people in my house smoked Hookah during dinner while the rest of us just relaxed and enjoyed the good food. When we got to the bus terminal, we could not for the hell of us find our bus. Eventually, we found and boarded the nicest tour bus I have ever seen. It had brand new leather seats that reclined almost completely back. It was full of tourists, which is always the sign of a quality busline. I was the only one with an empty seat next to me, so I had plenty of room to spread out and get comfortable for our 7 hour ride. I took Benadryl before I left and hence was passed out for virtually the entire journey to Puno.

When we got off the bus in the Puno bus station, we were so cold because we were at an elevation 1500 feet higher than Cusco. As we entered the terminal, we were immediately bombarded by tons of companies offering the classic 3 island guided tour of Lake Titicaca. We settled on the first one we saw, which was 55 soles, that started at 8 am that same morning. We had about two anda half hours to kill before our tour started, so we headed upstairs to grab some breakfast. On the way we saw Adrianne, Elenas French boyfriend, who had basically becomea member of the La Florida community due to his frequent presence in the house. He was taking a bus to Copacabana, Bolivia, which is at the other side of the lake, and thus only had 30 Peruvian centimos left in his pocket. He had breakfast with us, and we all chipped in to pay for his meal. For 5 soles each, we got an egg, toast, tea, and freah-squeezed orange juice and also got to watch the sun rise over the massive lake. After breakfast, we said goodbye to Adrianne, bought a 15 soles bus ticket for our return trip to Cusco with Libertad that left at 7:30 pm the next night, and met a really friendly American girl who told us that she was going to Copacabana as well.

At 8 am we met with our tour company, and we all made our way down to the docks where our boat was waiting for us. We were all so overtired that anythingand everything seemed to be making us fall to the floor laughing. When we got on our boat and saw the toilet had no seat, toilet paper, or flushing mechanism, we were amazed that, on a boat where people normally spend three straight hours without any alternative access to a bathroom, there would be such a shoddy excuse for a toilet. Soon after we boarded the boat, a man jumped on, sung to us for maybe two minutes, and then went around seeking donations in his mini-guitar bag. I guess you got to do what you got to do in order to survive. We eventually left port on this small boat with an indoor compartment downstairs and a wide open rooftop with two parallel benches, one on each side of the boat, upstairs. Our tour guide was bilingual and would speak first in Spanish to appease the spanish-speaking tourists and then in English to satisfy the rest of us. he spoke Spanish so slowly and articulately that it was very easy to understand what he was saying before he switched to English.

25 minutes after leaving port, we arrived at the floating Uros Islands, which are nothing more than manmade mini-islands constructed from the bouyant reeds found in the shallow regions of Lake Titicaca. They were much more extensive than the pictures I had previously seen suggested, forthey went as far as the eye could see. The Uros consisted of a plethora of small reed islands separated by small channels of water. They were very commercialized as evidenced by the songs that the native islanders sang to entertain us (Row, Row, Row your Boat) as well as their farewell (Hasta La Vista, Baby). Despite the unauthentic feel that I got from Uros, the fact that the islands, as well as everything on them (homes and lookout towers), were made of reeds really impressed and amazed me. We all paid 10 soles each to be transported by a double-decker reed boat to the next reed island we were visiting. The operator of the awesome floating contraption was wearing a New England Patriots hat, which made Amy, Emily, and myself extremely excited and happy. After about anhour at the Uros Islands, we boarded out boat for a 3 hour cruise to the 2nd largest idland in Lake Titicaca, Amantani, where we would be spending the night in a traditional homestay. The ride was really long, cold, and there was a lot of wind, but being able to see 360 degree views of the lake from upstairs made sitting on the exposed top level worth it all. At one point, we exited the massive bay around Puno and the lake opened up so much that it seemed as if we were entering a huge ocean. It was impossible to see the Bolivia side of the lake except for a few white mountaintops that were probably 50 or more miles away. Also, when we were exposed in the middle of Titicaca, the wind picked up so much and huge waves started to rock the small boat we were in from side to side. Finally, at about 1:30 pm, we arrived on the fairly large island of Amantani. The island was mostly brown, seemed to have terraces built all over the place, and had its highest point at about 13,000 feet above sea level. When we got off our boat, we were greated by a bunch of local girls and women all wearing the same exact traditional outfit. Luckily, all 5 of us La Flordians were able to go with one girl to her house where we would be spending the night. From the two-story house, the views of the lake, Amantani, and the next days destination, Taquile, were absolutely incredible. The water was so blue and the islands so brown that the views were so cool. The five of us split into rooms with doors so short that even a dwarf could not fit through them without ducking. We then waited very patiently, though our stomachs were growling, for lunch to be served. After waiting for what seemed like an eternity, Staphanie, our local host, told us to go into the dining room for lunch, in her broken Spanish. The Lake Titicaca islanders speak a unique language and do not really understand more than a few simple Spanish words. Lunch consisted of a bowl of bland potatoes topped by a slice of cheese curd, both of which I could not handle eating. We realized that the islanders just eat what they need to in order to survive and potatoes are a cheap, fairly nutritious food. Following the dissapointing lunch, we all agreed to go find Amantanis Plaza de Armas so that we could buy something to fill our stomachs. When we tried to ask our hosts how far and where the plaza was, they pointed and said four minutes. We started walking cluelessly in the direction of the pointed finger, through peoples small farm plots, until someone told us to wait for Stephanie. Once she showed, she started walking and we followed as she basically climbed up half the island. Maybe 30 minutes later, we reached a “plaza” where we met up with everyone else who was on our tour boat. The plan was to climb to the top of the island and watch the sunset, but all of my friends and I decided we were sick of hiking and let the group go on the ascent while we returned to our host familys house and chilled with the water bottles and candy we got in the bus station that morning. once the darkness kicked out the light, we were told that dinner was ready, and we were served a really good dinner of rice and vegetables. The family shut the door of the dining room/ kitchen to give us privacy as we ate. After dinner, Emily and Amy were really tired and went to sleep, but me, Steph, and Nat wanted to dress up in the traditional clothing and go to the dance party that night. A little later, the mother or grandmother brought us our clothes. All I wore was a poncho, but it was really warm and helped shield me from the freezing cold night. When we got to the party, which thankfully was located only 5 minutes from our house, a band started playing traditional music, and the local women took the hands of the tens of tourists and started this really cultureless, ridiculous dance that I have seen at all the bar mitzvahs I used to attend. At this point, I was really tired from being awake since 5 am and would have preferred to watch the dancing. Then all of a sudden, a woman who could have been anywhere between the ages of 30 and 50, it was too dark to tell, grabbed my hand and dragged me onto the dance floor all the while initiating the dancing. She was just holding my arms and flailing them around and swinging them from side to side with hers. I was not that into the whole dance, but the song was so long and it seemed as if it would never end. Finally, the music stopped and Nat, Stef, myself, and our host grandma went back to our house. We removed our traditional garments and went to sleep.

The next morning, I woke up and the first thing I saw as I opened the door to my room was the incredible views of the gigantic lake. It made me so happy to see such a beautiful sight first thing in the morning. on a side note, there are so many places in Peru that I have seen that I would love to wake up and see everyday. I then proceeded downstairs to the dining room where I met up with my friends and ate a awrm, freshly-cooked, doughy piece of bread for breakfast. We all then headed upstairs to gather our belongings and subsequently walked down to our boat where we bade Stephanie farewell with a friendly handshake. We hopped on the boat and started our 1 hour journey to the 3rd largest island in Lake Titicaca, Taquile. The water was so choppy on the short ride that it seemed as though the boat was about to roll over everytime we were struck by a wave. Eventually, we rocked our way into the port on Taquile, and as soon as I stepped off the boat I tripped on a rock. I have tripped almost everywhere I have traveled to within Peru this summer, and everytime it happens Nat is right behind me and starts cracking up at my misfortune. That time on Taquile was no different from the rest. We all then started a 45 minute walk to the town on the other side of the island by means of a cliffside path that harbored some unbelieveable views of Amantani, the mountains on the East and West sides of the lake, and the majestic snow-capped Bolivian mountains. There was so much water and it was all so blue that my mind was in overload trying to make sense of the scenery I was seeing. At some points the water was light blue and the lake looked like the clear waters of the Carribean or somethinf of the sort. When we got to the Plaza de Armas, we saw one of those poles that has dozens of signs that point in the directions of the major cities in the world and say their distance from the location of the pole. All the measurements were in kilometers , so I could not really grasp how far everything was from us in terms of miles. New York was 6,300 km away and Jerusalem (Hi, Kaitie) was 12,200 km away. After having a little bit of free time to explore the small plaza and to take in the ridiculously incredible views of the lake and adjacent mountains, our tour guide gathered us and told us a little about the culture of Taquile. He said something that I found particularly interesting about how everyone can tell whether a Taquilian is married or not based solely on the color and type of clothing the individual is wearing. The guide then brought us to a local rooftop restaurant where we paid 15 soles for soup and a plate of Lake Titicaca Trout and papas fritas, or french fries. The trout was so good that I finished Emilys for her because she was full and could not eat anymore. We all then made our way back to our boat, which was at a port on the other side of the island from the plaza and from the firts port, on a path that required us to climb down 500 stairs. As we walked down, Emily and I counted the stairs and came out with 502 and 503, respectively. We boarded our boat, sailed away, and again entered extremely wavy waters. Unlike in the morning, we were then sitting on the roof of the boat where the effect of each wave that hit us was magnified tenfold. Emily almost flew off the boat as she was trying to lie down on the ground when a big wave threw her off balance and almost off the side. We all laughed a lot as we were tossed around for an hour or so, and then slowly we all nodded off to sleep. We reached Puno at about 3:30 pm and went to the bus station to see if we could get an earlier bus to Cusco, so that we would not have to hang around in dumpy Puno. Libertad had no space on their 5:30 pm bus,so we all paid an extra 20 soles to take a different companys bus that left Puno at 5 pm. We were told that there was only one stop in the city of Juliaca, but once we boarded the bus and saw how crappy it was we knew that we were bound to stop a lot more than once. The bus felt as though it was on the verge of breaking down and the seats barely reclined at all. We stopped 100 times and what was supposed to be a 7 hour bus ride ended up taking close to 9 hours. At one stop along the route home, some woman walked through the isles selling fried cheese and chicha to the bus full of Peruvians. I cannot say that the bus ride was that terrible because it allowed us to see how the natives here travel from place to place. On the way to Puno we had a tourists experienceand on the way home we had a natives.

Finally, at around 2 am we got home, tried to take showers only to figure out that it was about the time of night when all the water in Cusco is shut off. I went to sleep dirty, but I was so tired that it did not even matter. My trip to the worlds highest navigable lake was so much fun and so incredible, and I am so happy that I had the opportunity to travel to and experience Lake Titicaca on my trip to Peru.

Wise, Strong, Wealthy, Healthy: July 19, 2010

 Posted by Michael Broder at 9:00 am  Machu Picchu  Comments Off on Wise, Strong, Wealthy, Healthy: July 19, 2010
Jul 222010

July 19, 2010: Wise, Strong, Wealthy, Healthy

Many think that all Peru has to offer the world is poverty, crime, and Machu Picchu, but everyone who thinks such things is so incredibly incorrect. Peru is one of the most beautiful places that I have ever traveled to, and it contains within its borders so much natural beauty that is unknown to most tourists and world travelers. I came here expecting to see Machu Picchu and hopefully Lake Titicaca and for the rest of the time to volunteer, but I have had and will have the opportunity to see so much more than I ever hoped or dreamed of seeing. I went to Colca Canyon and Machu Picchu. I am going to Puno and Lake Titicaca tonight and the jungle for a week starting this Friday. I love everything about this place, and I hope that everyone has the chance to come here one day because the history here, the landscape, the people all make Peru an incredible destination for people who love to see the world at its best. Ok, enough sounding like a Lonely Planet guide book, but seriously this is the most amazing place. Now to tell you about my weekend journey to Machu Picchu, a breathtaking, magical, mindboggling wonder of the world.

On Saturday morning at about 5 am Emily and I woke up ready for our adventure to Machu Picchu. For a change, it was raining and icy cold and the two of us were exhausted from a lack of sleep. We were picked up at our accomodation by a taxi driver, and we were driven to another area of the city where we picked up two people who would be joining us on our trip. We were then driven up the steep roads and hills surrounding the city and at a few points had an incredible mountaintop view of my hometown, Cusco, Peru. Our taxi must have been fifteen years old because it was a hunk of garbage and could barely make it up the surrounding mountains without stalling. After about 30 minutes in the cab we made it to the Poroy train station where we would board our Vistadome train to Aguas Calientes, the small dumpy city that lies at the base of Machu Picchu.

The train was really fancy, for the seats were all comfortable and leather and the windows so large that one could see basically everything outside the train on both sides. Also, instead of having a real ceiling, the entire roof was basically covered with a bunch of decent sized glass windows, hence the name Vistadome train. The windows in the roof allowed us to get really cool views of the monstrous mountains that surrounded us when we were trudging through a deep canyon for hours. Since it was raining and cloudy it was a little difficult to take pictures of these beastly entities, but trust me it was so incredible to watch the clouds float over and past these towering giants. The train ride in full was about 3 hours long, but it was not that bad because we were served a delicious breakfast of bread and lox, fruit salad, and cookies and had spectacular views of the Andes mountain range. Once again, I tried to take pictures of these huge, powerful mountains but it is just impossible to capture their incredible size and beauty with a simple camera.

At 10:30 am we arrived in the dumpy village of Aguas Calientes that lies right below the site of Machu Picchu. We met with a guy who was to bring us to our hotel, which was a two minute walk from the train station, and he made us wait in a corner for ten minutes before we could go to our hotel for no apparent reason. All around us were steep green mountains that were that day covered for the most part in fog. Finally we were taken to our accomodation, which was pretty nice, and then set out to get some lunch. We went to the Plaza de Armas and had lunch on the second floor of a random restaurant overlooking the square. The guy that convinced us to come in the restaurant said that we could get any plate we wanted for 20 soles. We thought this a good deal because all the other restaurants were so pricy. Aguas Calientes is really a terrible place because its only purpose is to rip off unsuspecting tourists who have no choice but to buy whatever food and suveniors are available in the city. After lunch when we got the bill they charged us 8 soles tax. Later, we found out that they are not allowed to tax us, for there is no tax in Peru on food or clothing. The reason they offered us such a “good” price for our meals was because they knew they would get more money by duping us into paying an illegal tax. After eating lunch, me and Emily just sat in the restaurant and talked for an hour or so about how crazy it is that we are in Peru and how wierd it is that we are starting college in less than a month and a half. We then walked through the over-priced market, did not buy anything, and then returned to our hotel. I was so eager to find out if my new baby cousin was born, so I went to a nearby internet cafe and found out that Vera Grace Silk was born early that morning. I was so excited to have a new cousin, and I returned to the hotel with a huge smile on my face, excited to tell Emily the good news. Emily then took a nap while I read about Incan history in her guidebook. The Incas are so fascinating to learn about. They achieved the highest level of civilization within just under one hundred years of being an empire. I learned about the ninth Inca, or king, Pachacutec, who has statues built of him all over the country, and how he was the one who really turned the little Inca tribe into a huge empire. Right near my house in Cusco is a gigantic statue of Pachacutec, and I never knew why he was so revered until I read the guidebook. At the height of their power they ruled from around what is modern day Ecuador all the way down to central Chile. The only reasons why they were so easily destroyed and defeated by the Spanish were that the Spanish had diseases that the Incas were not immune to and the empire was divided when the Spanish arrived. The four characteristics that the Incas aspired to possess were to be wise, strong, wealthy, and healthy. If it were not for these four characteristics driving their personas, the Incas probably would not have been half as successful as they once were.

After chilling in our room for a few hours because of the dearth of possible activities in Aguas Calientes, we went out and got another really expensive dinner. We then got back to our hotel and waited until our 7:30 pm orientation from our tour guide. While we were waiting for the orientation, there were small, but extremely loud groups of natives parading around the city blowing trumpets and banging drums. It was so obnoxious only because there was no holiday being celebrated the noise persisted all night long. After meeting with our guide and figuring out that we would need to wake up at five in the morning to be able to see the sun rise from Machu Picchu the next day, me and Emily went to bed so we would be able to wake up that early in the morning.

We got up on Sunday, got dressed and packed our bags quickly, ate a rapid breakfast and amazing fresh-squeezed orange juice, and walked to the bus station from where we would take our bus up to Machu Picchu. As we drove up the mountain on switch back after switch back, we almost collided with about five or six different buses coming down the mountain. The road was only really one lane, so it was not very safe to be barreling up the mountain as we were doing throughout the painful 25 minute bus ride. Finally, we arrived at the top and got in line to enter the site. Our tour guide was late but eventually he showed up bearing the red flag that he said he would be holding the night before. At first, we walked up to the sight where you have the post card view of all the Machu Picchu ruins; however, it was really cloudy and you could barely see the site below. We explored the upper parts of the mountain away from the ruins that everyone sees in the postcars and took cool pictures of the sunrise and the massive green and snow-capped mountains that surrounded Machu Picchu. Eventually, the fog burned off and we could get that unforgettable view of one of the most beautiful wonders of the world. I know Machu Picchu is not one of the seven wonders of the world, but it ought to be because it was THE MOST INCREDIBLE THING I HAVE EVER SEEN IN MY ENTIRE LIFE. There is no way that any picture can show the awe-inspiring beauty of Machu Picchu, nor can any words do the site justice. All I can say is that if you want to understand how incredible, amazing, mindblowing, ridiculous, inspiring, beautiful, impressive, and unreal Machu Picchu is, you must go visit it. The contrast between the green mountain and the grey stone built on top of it makes for awesome views. The terraces are incredibly well-built, level, and their size and intricacy is so unbelievable. And the storage houses, temples, and sun dial are so impressive solely because they are sturdy enough to withstand the destructive forces of time. After we finished our guided tour, Emily, myself, and this girl Hazel we met through PATAS were exhausted and decided to skip hiking Machu Picchu mountain where there were supposedly incredible views of the ruins. Machu Picchu mountain is not actually the mountain with the ruins on it; rather, it is a really tall neighboring peak.

We sat on one of the hundreds of terraces, ate a snack, and just contemplated the beauty of what our eyes were taking in at the moment. From the terrace, we were gazing in awe at the surrounding giant, green, mindblowingly beautiful mountains. Machu Picchu is actually considered the highest point in the Amazon jungle, so I guess I can say that I have been to the Amazon. I am leaving to live in the Amazon jungle for a week starting tomorrow morning, but at the time I was in Machu Picchu I did not know that I was going to move my volunteer placement to the jungle for my last week in Peru.

At about 11 am, four and a half hours after arriving at the site, we decided to head back down to Aguas Calientes to get something to eat before we left for Cusco. Before I left the terrace I told Emily that I knew that I definitely would be back to Machu Picchu one day, but next time I will be seeing it through different eyes. It was just wierd to think how much I will change between now and when I return but what I am looking at will remain the same for all of those years. Just a cool/ bizarre thought.

When we got back to Aguas Calientes we found a Polleria, chicken place, to go to lunch. I got papas salchichas, which is a dish of fries covered in pieces of hot dog. After lunch, we had almost four hours to spare before our train left for Cusco, so we went back to our hotel and chilled for a few hours. I listened to music, watched the replay of the FIFA World Cup Finals, and read a childs book that romantacized Incan history. The time passed slowly, but eventually we got on the train and started our journey back to Cusco. For dinner on Peru Rail they served us four pieces of sushi, which tasted so good after not having ate asian food for more than four weeks. This meal made me nostalgiac. I really miss home food because there are so many different tastes. In Peru, potatoes are the staple and rice and chicken usually follow. I love chicken, but I do not think that I ever want to eat another potato ever again. At one point during the train ride home, the stewardess put on a fashion show of very expensive alpaca clothing for everyone in our rail car. It was really funny to watch because the train was not riding smoothly, so the “model” could not for the life of her walk straight. One time she actually got whatever she was wearing stuck on one of the passengers chairs. I was laughing the whole time the fashion show was going on because it was so ridiculous. After the show, the stewardess went from seat to seat trying to sell the goods she was just wearing. The women from Germany who was sitting across from me bought one of the wierdest looking items for 475 soles, outrageously overpriced alpaca wear. I got my alpaca sweaters for 30 soles each, but she apparently thought that was a good deal.

Finally, after an almost four hour train ride, we arrived in the station right outside of Cusco and were picked up by the same driver who brought us to the station the day before. During the whole ride back to the house, which was almost 30 minutes, I talked to him solely in spanish about a number of different things. He was telling me that he raises guinea pigs and chickens to eat, and he has two dogs and a cat just for pets. He was telling me he was happy that Germany did not win the world cup because he does not like Hitler, and he was nice enough to stop at the top of one of the mountains overlooking Cusco to show us how pretty the city looked lit up at night.

My trip to Machu Picchu was an incredible journey that I enjoyed to the max. Everyone must witness its incredible beauty and presence situated in a beautiful part of the Andes. The Incas achieved some amazing feats during their short empire, but Machu Picchu may be their number 1 accomplishment.

Early this morning on July 22, 2010, I arrived back to Cusco after traveling to Puno and Lake Titicaca. This trip was equally as incredible and fascinating as Machu Picchu. I wish I had time to do a blog on the highest navigable lake in the entire world, but I am leaving for the jungle tomorrow morning at 5 am and I am not returning until the day before my flight takes me back to the states. If I can, I will try to get that done before I leave, but I am not sure that that will happen. Anyways, I have had an unforgettable experience in Peru. I am so glad that I chose to spend six weeks of my summer in this truly enticing, magnificent, enchanting, and sublime South American country. I have had the time of my life throughout the past five weeks I have lived here, and Cusco, Peru is truly my home away from home. I miss everyone from home, and I cannot wait to tell you all myself about how life-changing this experience has been for me. Goodbye for now. De Cusco, Hasta Luego amigos.

The Sacred Andes: July 12, 2010

 Posted by Michael Broder at 8:52 am  Peru  Comments Off on The Sacred Andes: July 12, 2010
Jul 142010

July 12, 2010: The Sacred Andes

There is so much to be said about the majestic, awe-inspiring, unbelievable beauty of the Andes. Although I have been surrounded by the mountains ever since I arrived in Cusco three weeks ago, I have not had the chance to really see how incredible they are until this past weekend when I visited Arequipa and the Colca Canyon.

On Wednesday night at 8pm ten of my housemates and I left Cusco on a double decker bus heading for the second largest Peruvian city known as Arequipa. My throat was hurting every time I swallowed, and I had an aweful headache. The seats on the bus are called “semi-cama,” meaning half bed, and therefore they recline pretty far back. One would expect chairs that recline almost all the way back to provide an environment conducive to sleeping. Well, unfortunately they do not work such wonders. The mixture between feeling sick, not being able to find a comfortable position in which to sleep, being forced to watch a movie in spanish on greek mythology without subtitles, and freezing my butt off all night were all factors that hindered my ability to fall asleep. After about eight hours of tossing and turning endlessly and constantly getting up to take a sip of water to avoid dehydration, the loudest and most obnoxious spanish music I have ever heard began being blasted over the speakers in a successful effort to wake everyone up. We were about forty five minutes outside of Arequipa when they woke us all up at 4:15 am. Why they could not have waited until five or ten minutes before we arrived to start the music instead of 45 minutes prior still makes no sense to me. The bus attendant woke us up, told us to put our seats upright, took our blankets, and forced us to watch the music video version of the terrible music. We had quite the first Peruvian bus experience. Despite having miserably sat through a less than satisfactory overnight bus ride, I was very happy to be arriving in Arequipa. When we got off the bus we got into three taxis and went straight to our hostal, which was located just off Arequipas beautiful Plaza de Armas. Usually in every city in Peru there is a central plaza where one can find practically any restaurant or store. We were very lucky that our hostal was in such a central location. When we got out of our taxis, the drivers sensing that we were ignorant tourists tried to charge us 12 soles per cab. That is a ridiculous price in a country where cabfare is usually no more than 4 soles in any city. Needless to say the drivers did not get what they asked for. We gave each cab the 4 soles they deserved. After a long and sleepless night, everyone went to their rooms in our hostal, Los Andes, and we passed out until about noontime on Thursday.

When we were all awake and ready to go explore, we left the hostal and headed towards the Plaza de Armas to see if it was nicer than the one in Cusco. Arequipas plaza had really beautiful colonial terraces with traditional Peruvian restaurants and one amazing, white cathedral that took up a whole block. Everyone took out their cameras and started snapping pictures of the cathedral and the fountain in the center of the square which had been invaded by hundreds,  if not thousands, of pidgeons. After admiring the plaza for a little bit we continued walking and stumbled upon a monestery that we had read about in Emilys Lonely Planet guide book. We had heard that there was great food in the monestary, and, since we were all hungry, we decided to enter and look around.

The monestary was probably one of the coolest places that I have seen on this trip to Peru. It was so large and had so many different squares, streets, and turns that it was like navigating through a maze. Of course the restaurant was on the direct opposite side of the monestary, so we would have to go through the whole building before we could eat. After a few minutes in the monestary we were all in awe of the size and beauty of the place. Each square and room was painted a different bright and vibrant color and had a different story to it. There was one blue square that was painted baby blue and had extremely detailed religious paintings on all the walls. All of the rooms were covered with concrete ceilings, but all the squares were open to the sky. The contrast between the colors of the walls and the light blue sky made the monestary seem even more incredible and cool to look at. Unfortunately, I got an unexpected stomach ache and frantically had to run through the maze to look for a bathroom. When I took care of my problem, I met up with all of the others in the restaurant area and had lunch with them. The food was so good there that everyone grew silent once they took their first bite into whatever they had ordered. Then everyone got desserts, which were so freaking awesome. I did not order anything because my stomach still hurt, but I tried some of Emilys chocolate cake. The cake was probably the most delicious thing I have ever tasted. After lunch, we finished touring the monestary and got to climb up on one of its roofs. From the roof we had spectacular views of Arequipa and the towering mountains and volcanoes that surround the city. There is El Misti, the cone-shaped volcanoe that is still active, and some other snow-capped mountain range the name of which I never discovered.

Once we left the monestary three and a half hours after we entered it, we walked back towards La Plaza de Armas. On the way back a few of us stopped in a tienda, or little shop. Although I had already bought an alpaca sweater in Cusco that was black, white, and grey, I saw a blue and white stripped one in the store that I really wanted to buy. I bargained with one of the employees and bought the sweater. The few of us who strayed from the group then caught up with the rest of our crew and went into the huge and very intricately designed cathedral in the plaza. It was so nice inside, but it was hard to take pictures because of the poor lighting. We then left the cathedral, walked to the fountain in the center of the plaza and watched as swarms of pidgeons attacked little Peruvian boys and girls who foolishly held bird seed in their hands. Johannes, who tried to take charge of the whole trip to Arequipa and successfully pissed a lot of people off, made us all then walk to see a colonial mansion, which ended up being a colonial mansion turned bank. We mocked him for bit, which was fun, then headed home to get ready for dinner. We obviously had no choice as to where we wanted to go to dinner, for that decision was left up to Johannes who took Emilys guide book and did not give it back. We went to a traditional Peruvian restaurant where I ordered Ricotto Relleno, a dish consisting of some hot pepper stuffed with meet and onions and raisins. I am not going to lie and say it was not really, really good because I really enjoyed my meal. While at that restaurant, I tried for the first time a bite of someone elses alpaca steak and cuy, or guinea pig. Because the manager somehow found out that Johannes recommended us all to come to his restaurant, Johannes got a free meal. After dinner, we all went out looking for places to go dancing, but the clubbing scene in Arequipa was nothing like the nightlife in Cusco and thus a little disappointing. Most of us then went home and went to sleep so that we would be well-rested the next day and we could do and see a lot more in Arequipa.

The next morning we all left the hostal at around 10am. Our main goal for the day was to go to the museum across the street and see the 500 year old Inca girl who was found perfectly preserved atop the Andes a few years ago. But first, some people went to Cusco Coffee, the Peruvian equivalent of Starbucks because they have soy milk, to eat breakfast. Johannes was really annoyed by the people who would rather have coffee than visit colonial mansions. He said, “I did not take a nine hour bus ride to have coffee.” To each his own, Johannes, to each his own. Johannes, Julia, Rosalyn, and myself went to visit a colonial mansion while the rest got coffee. This time the mansion was not a bank. We climbed on the roof of the ancient house and took some really cool pictures of the city and surrounding mountains. All of a sudden I was struck by another terrible stomach ache that caused me to run for the bathroom again. We returned to the rest of the group and then headed into the museum for Juanita, the twelve year old Inca girl who was sacrificed to the mountain gods almost 500 years ago.

No cameras were allowed in the museum because most of the artifacts that were presented are probably very sensitive to flashes of light. We watched a twenty minute video that told the story of how Juanita was found, what her purpose was, and how she was sacrificed to appease the gods. I found the whole exhibit and video really interesting. The Incas believed that the Andes were all gods, and in order to prevent the gods from growing angry, a.k.a erupting, they had to present offerings. Usually the offerings during the time of the Inca empire consisted of innocent (virgin) children from affluent families. Juanita was one of those children. There were thousands of child sacrifices each m0nth, but the reason that Juanita is so special is that her body was perfectly preserved since the moment she was murdered. In the museum our guide taught us a little bit about Inca culture and showed us some ancient artifacts from burial sites. We learned that the king Inca and his wife were brother and sister and that only they were allowed to wear vicuña wool, one of the most expensive fabrics in the world. The king Inca changed outfits five times a day and never reused the same outfit. The Incas were such a powerful, innovative, and advanced civilation and were it not for their naive trust of the Spanish Conquistadors they would have continued to rule a large part of South America for many more centuries to come. After learning this information, we were taken into the room where Juanitas body was on display. When they say she was perfectly preserved that is exactly what they mean. Her brain is still intact, as are all of her internal organs. She even has the last meal she ever ate still lying in her stomach. Juanita was incredible to see and fascinating to learn about.

We all left the museum really hungry, so we headed over to a pretty, touristy street where we had some lunch. Johannes wanted to head over to the other side of the city to go look at some cathedrals and parks, but I was not feeling that well so I stayed and hung out with everyone else. I got an awesome mango, papaya, banana, strawberry smoothie and was suddenly cured of my stomach ache. We then walked around the streets that bordered the Plaza de Armas, and I bought another alpaca hat. We continued walking in and out of stores and up and down streets until the sun started to go down and it started cooling off. At one of the stores I asked the vendor if they had alpaca slippers in my size. I did not really want the slippers, but I just wanted to see if they carried my shoe size in any of the stores in my country. No one in Peru has feet that are as big as mine, so it is actually impossible to find any shoes that fit me here.

When we returned home we all had to decide where we wanted to go to dinner. After calling multiple places recommended in Emilys guide book and then subsequently finding out that most of them were either closed or extinct, we settled on what the workers at our hostel said was a good Italian place. Johannes wanted to go to a really expensive restaurant ($7-$15 per entree) but noone wanted to spend that much money. I learned that Johannes is from a really rich family that sells cookies to stores like Trader Joes. I think they are named after his last name, Bahlsen. After dinner, everyone went straight home because we knew we had to wake up at 2am the next morning to start our trek to the Colca Canyon.

We woke up really early the next morning, and I felt as though I had not even fallen asleep. We ate the usual breakfast of tea and bread and boarded our tour bus. On the way out of Arequipa as we drove through the Andes I looked at the sky and saw countless stars. I have never seen a sky so lit up by so many bright stars. After contemplating this for a while and then realizing we were driving on a narrow road on the edge of a mountain, I decided to shut my eyes and try to fall asleep to keep me from being anxious about falling off the precipice. A few hours into the six hour bus ride to Colca, it started to get so cold in the bus. The windows started to frost, and right outside the windows on whatever mountain we were on I could see huge icicles. I later learned that at that point we were about 16,000 feet above sea level, approximately a mile higher than Cusco. At about 7am we entered the Colca Canyon area and had some more “breakfast.” We then drove along the Canyon for about an hour and a half amazed by the breathtaking views of the Andes. I think that all the bread I have been eating lately has caused my stomach to not like it very much, for everytime I have bread I get a stomach ache. The whole ride my stomach was churning and making me feel sick. Finally we got to the Cruz Del Condor at around 9am where for an hour we would have the chance to see the beautiful, predatory Peruvian national bird. Condors have huge wing spans and almost look like the dinosaur birds from Jerrasic Park. They have a wingspan of about 20 feet, and watching them spread their wings and fly over the canyon with the massive mountains as a backdrop was absolutely incredible to witness.

Our trip to Arequipa had been really awesome until our tour guide Pepe told a few of us that Robin, the girl in our volunteer house who is in a wheel chair, could not go on the hike down the canyon with us because it was too dangerous to go down by mule. We all felt so bad for Robin and got so angry that the people through which we booked this trek assured us that she would be able to take a mule both down and up the canyon. Robin had traveled so many hours to hike the deepest canyon in the world with us only to find out ten minutes from the beginning of the adventure that she would not be allowed to do it. After we settled the issue and reluctantly decided it would be best for Robin to go back to Arequipa, we all hopped in the tour bus and drove to the place where we began our hike.

When we arrived at the place where we would be starting our adventure, I was awed at the beauty of the towering Andes that surrounded the Canyon. When I looked down into the great abyss, I became overcome with stress and axiety. One of my biggest fears is my fear of heights, and all that crossed my mind when I looked into the canyon for the first time was, “I HATE HEIGHTS.” Our group took a picture on the edge of the canyon before we began our trek, and I was horrified that we would all fall off. At this point in my journey, I was second guessing my decision to hike Colca Canyon, but I told myself that the only way to overcome my fear would be to conquer the deepest canyon in the entire world. As we began our hajj, I allowed my nerves and anxiety to get the best of me. Me knees were shaking and I was walking very slowly. For the first three hours of our adventure we would be descending 5,000 feet by means of a narrow trail conveniently located on the edge of a precipice. On my right was the mountainside and on the left was certain death. I hiked for three hours in the scorching sun wanting to somehow magically teleport myself to the bottom of the canyon where I would be out of harms way. Every time I slipped on the trail my heart would start to pound. Some points of the path were so scary that I would either slide down on my bottom or hold onto the mountainside and slowly pass the danger zone. As I did this hike, I realized that it was probably for the best that Robin did not come down by mule because this was one of the most challenging things I have ever done in my life. Finally, three hours after beginning the trek, I happily made it to the bottom of the canyon. In Israel, I hiked in the Negev Desert for three days, but not one part of that adventure compared in any way to any part of my Colca Canyon adventure. The whole experience was bothmentally and physically exhausting and was a test of strength and agility. After the first leg of the hike, Emily was having trouble breathing and was really nervous that she could not catch her breath. I stayed by her side, pushed her to drink water, and encouraged her to walk the remaining twenty minutes towards lunch. When we arrived at the lunch destination, we were served an awesome meal, and we all had a chance to relax before our next long hike to the oasis where we would be spending the night. Emily was too tired to walk this last part, so she rented a mule for 70 soles to bring her to the oasis. The second part of the days hike was just as challenging and horrifying as the first. We ascended and descended many massive mountains and did so on paths that were even more narrow and slippery than the ones from the mornings hike. By the time we finally surmounted the last mountain, the sun was starting to go down and I was exhausted from walking and being anxious all day. Needless to say I wanted off that mountain. When I saw the oasis thousands of feet below I had mixed feelings. I was so happy to see the place where I could finally rest and not be on the edge of a cliff, but I would need to climb down a cliff to reach said destination. Damian, a British guy who was part of our group, kindly offered me his walking stick. The stick saved me because it allowed me to climb down the slippery trail with more confidence and ease. I was really appreciative that he was nice enough to lend the walking stick to me. I basically jogged down the mountain until I reached the unstable bridge that would bring me to the oasis. Pepe and Johannes were rocking the bridge back and forth when I was on it causing me to flip out on them. Why they thought it was funny to swing back and forth and up and down on a bridge that swung 300 feet above a raging river beats me. After I angrily crossed, I walked with the rest of my strength to the oasis where I sat down immediately, took off my not-made-for-hiking shoes, and cooled my feet in the freezing pool. At this oasis there was no electricity meaning no showers or lights in the bed rooms. I was fine with this. I was too tired to shower and knew I would just get dirty on the next mornings hike. We all hung around in the dark with our flashlights until we ate dinner at around 8 pm. Dinner consisted of Peruvian cream of wheat soup and spagetti and tomato sauce. After eating dinner, I headed back to my room in the dark but something amazing caught my eye. You know how I said that the sky was incredibly well lit on my early morning bus ride to Colca Canyon? Well, the sky in the canyon was the most amazing thing I have ever seen. The stars were so numerous and so bright that they looked unreal. Noone could believe what they were seeing that night at the bottom of the canyon. It was actually one of the most incredible sights I have ever seen. I wish I could have taken a picture of it. I fell asleep right away without brushing my teeth in a very uncomfortable bed, but I am not complaining because I slept like a baby that night.

The next morning we all woke up at 6am to start the final part of our hajj through Colca. Distancewise, this was the shortest part of everything that we did, but, in terms of difficulty, it was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. The final stage of the trek consisted of a three hour hike striaght uphill. I borrowed Rosalyns, who took a mule, walking stick but that really did not help that much in the ascent. We hiked up kickback after kickback climbing large rock stairs and steep inclines. My calves were killing me, and I was already sore from the previous day. Pepe said we needed to find a rhythm and stick with it the whole way up, but that is so hard to do when you constantly need to stop for water or to catch your breath as you get to higher and higher altitudes. Finally, after about two and a half hours of hiking, I reached the top with my housemate Julia and had the satisfaction of looking down to the bottom of the canyon knowing that I just conquered it as well as my fears. At this point I also understood that I would no longer have to hike for a long time to come, which made me very happy and free of stress. Once everyone made it to the top, we walked twenty minutes to a breakfast place in town. After breakfast, in the plaza of that small town, I bought an apple to satisfy my craving and enjoyed every single bite. I have not had good fruit here until I ate that amazing apple, and I miss fruit more than any other home food.

We left the small town and headed back towards Arequipa. We stopped at a few small towns and saw some amazing views along the way. In one town, I paid 1 sol and took a picture with a baby alpaca. it was the softest and cuteest thing ever. We then stopped at a cliff where we had an incredible view of the green canyon and Colca River,  the former covered with thousands of ancient terraces constructed by the Incas for efficient farming in the Andes hundreds of years ago. We try to take pictures of these amazing sights, but no camera can do these places justice. Peru is so beautiful, and you really need to travel here to experience its endless beauty.

We then went to the natural hot springs, but I did not go in because I did not want to move or change out of my dirty clothes. We then progressed to an all-you-can-eat buffet, where we had a lunch filled with traditional foods like alpaca, fried chicked, fried bananas, fried sweet potato, rice, and tons of other types of potato. When we left we headed back to Arequipa and stopped at the place where we were all freezing the morning before at about 15,000 feet above sea level. There it was freezing but surrounding us on all sides were about four to six different giant volcanoes. We took pictures really quick, got back in the bus, drove back to the city, saw thousands of llamas, alpacas, and vicuñas along the way, and finally arrived back in Arequipa at around 6pm. We got our stuff from our hostal, bought some snacks, and took taxis to the bus station. The bus ride back to Cusco was about 10 hours long, but this time I actually slept for the majority of the trip. Before I fell asleep, they had on another movie in spanish with no subtitles, but this time I actually understood the whole thing which made me feel really good about my current spanish abilities. We got back to the La Florida volunteer house as the sun began to rise, I took a nice hot shower, and then fell asleep for a few more hours.

Arequipa was such an amazing trip, and I am so glad that I had the opportunity to travel there with all of my friends in the volunteer house. We are all really tight, and a bunch of us are going to Puno and Lake Titicaca in about a week. I know that was an uber-long journal entry, but I want you guys to understand how amazing it is here and what a great time I am having. My mom just sent me an email that Sandi is going into labor right now. I hope everything goes smoothly, and I cannot wait to see my new baby cousin when I get home in three weeks. Peace from Cusco. Hasta Luego Amigos.

VAYA CUSCO!!!: July 7, 2010

 Posted by Michael Broder at 5:13 am  Peru  Comments Off on VAYA CUSCO!!!: July 7, 2010
Jul 072010

July 7, 2010: VAYA CUSCO!!!

On Sunday morning, about seven of my housemates and I went to the bus station a few streets away to buy the bus tickets that would get us to Arequipa, the second largest city in Peru and this weekends travel stop. The roundtrip tickets costed 60 soles, which is about $22, and the buses we are taking have reclinable seats that will no doubt be a great luxury during our nine hour overnight bus ride from Cusco to Arequipa. On the street where we live, in the neighborhood of La Florida, there has been seemingly endless construction ever since I arrived in Cusco. I am guessing that the reason for the construction is to boost the local economy by providing jobs. This Sunday marked the completion of the chaotic construction, and to celebrate the end of it all there was a block party with music and balloons and a car that was spray-painted in Spanish saying, “Thank you mayor for helping to modernize our city.” I thought it was so cool to see how proud and appreciative the people of La Florida were of their successful urban renewal project.
After we got our bus tickets and witnessed the block party, Emily and I went to meet Tigon at the beginning of Avenida El Sol, the main street in Cusco, because she wanted to come to the Cusco v. Lima soccer game with us. When we met her at the water fountain just across from a giant market, we saw that she was talking to someone. When we walked over we started talking to the guy as well. He apparently has been biking South America alone for the past seven months and will continue for another five months. He travels really cheap because he sleeps in parks and does not pay for hostals. He said he bikes about 100 miles a day, and all that he has with him is tied to his bike. The people you meet in Cusco!! After we left the adventurous biker, me, Emily, and Tigon searched for a cab so that we could go back to my family house and meet up with everyone so we could all go to the soccer game together. As we tried to get a taxi, right across from the water fountain the big bus with all the Cusco soccer players was being escorted by the police to the stadium a few blocks away. We hopped in a cab and returned to La Florida.
Sunday was a really fun day because we got to attend a South American rivalry soccer match. We got tickets to the game for about $4, and when we got into the stadium and found some good seats (the tickets were general admission and thus there were no assigned seats) near the field we all bought Cusco futbol jerseys from the vendors. I bought jersey #10, which I was told was the number that Cuscos captain wears. I was commenting that in Boston when one wants to attend a sports game he or she must be prepared to pay exhorbitant prices for food and drink. The case is not the same in Peru. The jerseys costed about seven dollars and any food or drink there was about $1. At South American, or at least Peruvian, soccer games the calm fans sit on the sides of the soccer field, whereas the intense, crazy, drunk fans from both teams sit on opposite ends of the field and sing, dance, form mosh pits, and blow up firecrackers all game long. The energy at these games is so great and the fans so into everything that hundreds of policemen dressed in swat gear bearing shields is necessary to maintain the peace. I was not sure at first what the shields were for, but I later found out that they are used to cover the opposing teams players as they enter the locker room so that noone can throw crap at them.  After observing all of what I just told you, the game finally began and it seemed as though Cusco was the better team. Unfortunately, Lima scored an early goal and kept the 1-0 lead for the entire game until with 30 seconds left Cusco scored a GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOL!!! The entire stadium erupted as did my friends and I, and I think I caught the goal on video camera. During half time, I tried my first street food and surprisingly never got sick from it. I ate some dish with rice, noodles, egg, potatoes, and onions, and I tried someone elses Anticucho, or beef heart. After we scored the goal and ended the game with a tie, my friends and I began walking home because the stadium was not too far from our volunteer house. In the beginning of the walk, we saw all these rowdy fans running through the streets mob style. We heard that after Cusco either loses or ties, fans run throughout the city smashing windows. Not too long after seeing the crazy fans take to the streets, I was almost run over by a stampede of those heavily armoured policemen chasing after the rowdy crowd. We returned home exhausted but excited at the same time because that soccer game was such a fun and interesting experience.
The weekend was great, and everyone was dreading the week when we would have to wake up early (not me because I never wake up before 9am) and learn and teach all day. Since last Friday was my breakthrough with the kids, I was actually really excited to return to Salome Ferro on Monday to see if I could continue to make connections with these kids. Luckily, everything happened as I had hoped it would. On Monday afternoon in the courtyard of Salome, I ran a soccer clinic where I would toss a soccer ball at the kids heads and they would headbut it back to me. It looked dizzying and painful to me, but the kids seemed to love it. After a while I got really exhausted and decided to go into the homework room to help out. Usually the childrens homework consists of copying each others notebooks- something I cannot really help them with. But on Monday for the first time I felt useful. I helped teach and practice the times tables with a few kids, and I felt so good about finally being useful. Yesterday at my placement I also had another good experience. I was helping Freddy and Alex, two 15 year olds, with their English and Math homework. I was teaching Freddy how to pronounce the letter “v” because in spanish the “v” sounds more like the “b.” It was really funny listening to him try to pronounce it, but I was not laughing at him because obviously I am not that great at pronouncing certain spanish sounds correctly, such as the “r” that requires a toungue roll. I went back to my volunteer house yesterday in a great mood because I finally feel like I am making a tiny difference in some of these kids lives. They are all such good kids, and I am so happy that I have the pleasure of helping them enjoy life more than they already do and learn stuff that a Peruvian teacher could not teach them.
Tonight I am taking a 9 hour bus ride with ten of my housemates to Arequipa. I am so excited to hike the deepest canyon in the world and see the second largest city in Peru. I will tell you all about my adventures when I return to Cusco next week. Hasta Luego from Cusco.
p.s. HAPPY BIRTHDAY AUNT LAURA!!!! I will be thinking of you on the 12th

Viva El Peru Glorioso: July 6, 2010

 Posted by Michael Broder at 7:34 am  Peru  Comments Off on Viva El Peru Glorioso: July 6, 2010
Jul 062010

July 5, 2010: Viva El Peru Gorioso

Cuzco, Peru, a land of dirty stray dogs, exhaust pipe pollution, late night muggings, colorful flags, amicable citizens, prevelent poverty, and cheap cabfare, is the place I have called home for the past two weeks. This is the city that resembles no place that I have ever experienced before. Kids play in the streets juggling and doing handstands while the red light holds traffic. They walk from car to car with their wet squeegies asking the plethora of cab drivers if they would like their windows washed. One would expect the boys carrying the cleaning materials to actually be carrying, well, clean materials. NO, in Cusco that is just simply not the case. A few days ago I watched as a poor little boy dipped his squeegie in a gasoline puddle. I understand that many people living in this city are desperate to make money any way that they can, and for that reason I was not that appalled at the “cleaning chemicals” they use to clean the windshields of cars. This is a whole different world from the United States. Here the speedometers on most of the cars no longer function and sewage is just poured onto the streets and neighboring streams. The smell of waste and garbage pervades almost every street in this third world country.  

Although many differences exist between the cultures and people of America and Cusco, ones that sometimes make me feel uncomfortable or a little upset, this past week I have really started to adopt this place as my own home. I appreciate everything I have and all the opportunities that have been provided for me throughout my lifetime so much more now that I am here because there are so many people here who have so very little. Some do not even have the bear essentials necessary for survival. One of the facts about Cusco that amazes me the most is the lack of beggars here. So many people here are visably destitute and have close to nothing to call their own, but maybe it is pride and/or a strong sense of individualism which makes it unacceptable for them to ask other people to sustain their existence without first providing their benefactors with some kind of service. These services could be in the form of all different kinds of handicrafts that are made by hand in Peru, such as alpaca clothing, candy, cigarettes, and of course questionable street food.

So I know I already said that I love this place like I love my hometown Boston, but I still never told you what exactly was the catalyst that has made me feel this way towards Cusco. Last Friday, I finally had a breakthrough with the kids at my volunteer placement. A bunch of children had left to go participate in extracurricular activities while more than a few remained. trying to help these kids do homework is such a futile venture that no one should dare attempt such feats. I have tried many a time to help kids read dictionaries or to ask them id they need any help. Usually I am just ignored. The other times though the kids just do not have the attention span to learn say how to use a dictionary. So clearly my breakthrough with these kids was not related to helping with school work. Actually, it all began when a cute little kid, whose name I do not remember, asked me if I wanted to play a version of hopscotch that I had never heard of before. Of course I accepted the invitation, and I ended up having a great time laughing with the boy everytime I inevitably jumped outside the boxes that were ingeniously designed to fit small little Peruvian feet. After some of the other kids saw that me and the little boy were having a good time, they all joined in and started speaking to me in spanish. Their slang was a little difficult to understand at first, but I soon grew accustomed to what they were trying to say. Right before I was supposed to leave and go back home, a little kid Jonathan pointed out how skinny I was. He said, “eres muy flaco (skinny)” and then preceded to put his hands around my neck and mock my lack of neck fat. I was laughing the whole time, and suddenly Johnathan jumped on me and asked me to flip him over. As I preceded to flip him over a bunch of other kids swarmed around me and kept asking me to flip them over and over again. My pants were very dirty at this point and it was time for me and Alyssa to leave, so I said goodbye and “Hasta Lunes,” which means until Monday. I was so excited at having finally made some progress at Salome Ferro that I was no doubt smiling the whole way back to my volunteer house. I hope that this week is as good as last Friday was because those were the most fulfilling fifteen minutes of my life.

Another thing that I love about Cusco is that I know someone everywhere I go in the city. I know people from my house, obviously, my spanish classes, my volunteer placement, and from the different bars and clubs. I know almost as many Peruvians as I do non-Peruvians, and knowing so many people here makes this place feel so much smaller and safer. I stopped doing the Tandem program because right now my schedule is too busy to fit it in. Maybe in a week or so I will pick it up again. When I did it at 1-2pm I would have to skip lunch. Let me be the one to tell you that nothing is worth skipping lunch when your breakfast consists of a general intake of two pieces of bread and butter.

Every day here is so awesome, but the only thing that I am not crazy about are the nights. By nights I do not mean going to bars and such but rather actually sleeping in my room at the volunteer house. My roommate Johannes has nightmares every night, and the past few nights he has had them really bad. In the middle of the night when I am fast asleep I will be awoken suddenly by a 2.5 liter water bottle clunking me on the head. When I wake up and say “what the hell” to the crazy person Johannes becomes at night, he always says, “Mike, be careful. There is another person in the room.” I finally figured out after a few of these incidents that I AM THE OTHER PERSON IN THE ROOM. He was so ridiculous in the middle of the night that I had him put all of his water bottles on top of his dresser out of his reach.

All of what I just wrote has to do with events that took place last week. I had a very interesting week but an even more exciting weekend. On Saturday morning I was woken up by a little Peruvian kid, Henry, who my housemate Amy was taking out for a day as part of a big sister program that is associated with her volunteer placement. He was the cutest little four year old kid I have ever seen, and Amy was telling us about his aweful life story. Henrys father is unable to work because of a debilitating illness, and his family is dirt poor. Amy really was so great to him. She bought him new clothes, toys, and food and put a huge smile on his face.

After meeting Henry, about eight of us volunteer house friends went horseback riding in the mountains surounding Cusco. I have only gone horseback riding once in Costa Rica through the jungle, but this time I had a good idea of how to work a horse, or so I thought. Our tour guide brought us up to the Sacsayhuaman ruins, in the bed of a pickup truck (so much fun), where the final Inti Raymi ceremonies took place. He showed us the Cristo Blanco, or white Jesus statue, that overlooks the entire city, which is kind of  like the massive Jesus in Brazil but not nearly as large. From the base of the statue we had the most amazing view of all of Cusco and the mountains surrounding it. I took tons of pictures because I felt like I needed to capture the ridiculous beauty of it all. After visiting Cristo Blanco, we all went further up the mountain and got on our horses. My horse, Scorpion, was a little crazy. Every time someone elses horse began to trot a little faster, Scorpion would start taking off, and I would be bounced around on the saddle, which was super painful. We got to ride our horses to one of the most holy places for the Incas, the Temple of the Moon. It was basically a giant rock with a few cool carvings of snakes on it. We then found out that there was a cave inside the rock, which we conviniently snuck into despite its being off limits. From inside looking out into the light outside, our tour guide showed us that the doorway looked like the sillouhette of a llama, something I would never have noticed on my own. We then went to the Temple of the Monkey, saw some carvings of monkeys and a herd of sheep, and then returned to our horses. The rest of the ride was just filled with awesome views of rolling mountains and streams and trees. Also, the weather was perfect too: It was probably 70 degrees the whole time. I heard that there is a super aweful heat wave in New England right now and that it is 100 degrees in Sharon. It is always the perfect temperature here during the day, but it does get fairly chilly at night. Anyway, after horseriding my knees were in pain and my groin hurt like hell from the sporadic galloping. Riding the horses in the Andes was so much fun and such an incredible experience, and I am so glad that I got to do it.

That was everything that I have witnessed up until this past Saturday. Sunday was also a really fun day, but since I do not have time to write about it today I will tell you all about it tomorrow. Hasta Luego from Cusco.

p.s. I cannot believe that it has already been a month since I graduated high school. NUTS!!

Am I the Tallest Man in this City?: June 30, 2010

 Posted by Michael Broder at 5:48 am  Peru  Comments Off on Am I the Tallest Man in this City?: June 30, 2010
Jun 302010

June 30, 2010: Am I the Tallest Man in this City?

The past few days have been pretty usual excpet a few things. First of all, it has been raining here the past two days- an unnatural occurence during Cuzco winters. When it rains it is cold because when the sun is blocked it gets so cold. In my volunteer house, my roommate Johaness and I have been living in the coldest room in the place. Finally on Monday night we got a space heater which works wonders. On Saturday the USA lost the futbol game to Ghana. Truthfully, I do not really care that much, but I was proud of my country for making it all the way to the second round. While the game was going on, I was taking my first Salsa dance class. We learned the basic steps and as the day progressed the steps became much more complicated. The lesson taught me I lack basic rhythm, and I will probably never be a world-class dancer, but I still ahd a great time. At one point in the lesson, as the music kept playing we were told to every so often switch from partner to partner. This was fun because I soon learned that I was far from being the worst dancer there. Also, there was a girl about 4 foot 6 inches who I had to dance with a couple of times. It was so awkward because one of the moves involved putting our arms around each others shoulders. For that step I had to squat down so that she could reach above my chest. Despite that, it was a lot of fun, and I look forward to doing it again this Saturday. Everyone here is so short that I feel like I am a highschooler walking through the halls of a elementary school. There are some natives who look like they could either be ten years old or upwards of thirty. I love being able to see over everyone, especially during the Inti Raymi festival last week.

Yesterday was El Dia del Papa in Cuzco: a family holiday celebrating the Catholic Pope. There were no parades or anything, but I did get the day off from work. I changed my schedule around so that now my volunteer project is in the afternoon and my spanish classes are from 10-12. I reluctantly joined the advanced spanish class because of scheduling conflicts, but I turned out to actually really like it because it is not too difficult. Last night me and some of my other volunteer friends went out to Cross Keys. There was a crazy spanish lady at the bar who threw her class drink on the floor and seemed to be looking for a fight. After all of this commotion, we all decided to go back home and get some rest. In ten minutes I have to meet up with my new Tandem partner Salvatorre, and then tonight a bunch of us are going out to celebrate Tigons birthday.

From Peru, hasta luego and HAPPY BIRTHDAY AMERICA and UNCLE MARC!!!!!!!!!!

Inti Raymi: June 24, 2010

 Posted by Michael Broder at 5:24 am  Peru  Comments Off on Inti Raymi: June 24, 2010
Jun 282010

June 24, 2010: Inti Raymi

Thursday was the Incan festival celebrating the winter solstice, also known as Inti Raymi. Emily, Kat, and I woke up early to witness all of the festivities of the day, and we took a cab as close as we could get to Coricancha, the site of the initial celebration. Coricancha is an ancient Inca temple right across the street from the Maximo Nivel office. When we arrived there, people dressed in traditional Incan dress were singing, playing cool instruments, and of course dancing. In front of the temple is a huge field where allof the ceremonious singing and dancing was taking place. Surrounding the field were thousands of spectators both gringo tourists and Cusquenas. I filmed that first part of the festival on my video camera as well as the other two parts that happened later. At Coricancha we met a really nice girl Tigon who is from the USA and saw that we were gringos and thus asked to Inti Raymi it up with us. After the celebration at Coricancha finished everyone and I mean EVERYONE at once migrated to La Plaza de Armas to watch the second Inti Raymi show.

It was so packed in the square and it seemed like an hour before all of the natives involved in the festivities started dancing. Before we knew it the entire square was filled with mock Incans dancing in unison to the beat of a drum and other flute-like music. Scared of having my bag and my camera jacked by the many pickpocketers that pour into Cuzco for Inti Raymi, I held my bag tight to my chest all day out of paranoia. A little bit after all of the traditional dancers came out into the square, the king Inca came out on a thrown carried by about twenty men dressed in red and took his place atop the structure built especially for Inti Raymi over the fountain at the center of the plaza. He then raised his hands to the sky as the music played louder as if he were praying to the gods, and then he began speaking Quechuan, the native language of the Incas, with power and ease. Of course I did not understand a single thing he said, but I thought it was so cool to watch this whole traditional ceremony take place. Emily, Kat, and I all agreed that it stinks that America has no awesome traditions that every single person celebrates like the Peruvians do with Inti Raymi.

At about noon we were all starving because the few pieces of bread we eat for breakfast every day do not really fill us up but for ten minutes. We pushed through the crowd and started walking up the steep cobblestone streets towards Sacsayhuaman, where the final ceremonies would take place, to find a place to eat lunch. We stumbled upon this seemingly legit little restaurant with a pretty comprehensive menu. Emily and Tigon ordered pizza, and I ordered pasta bolognese. We thought those were pretty simple food choices, but within a few minutes the waiter returned to let us know that they could not make pizza or spaghetti. After that shocking news, I ordered some exotic and delicious fried dough covered in chocolate which apparently had no milk in it. Lunch was quite an experience, and afterwards we started the real trek towards the ruins at Sacsayhuaman up very steep inclines. Because of the lack of oxygen in this country, it was quite a struggle to walk up a street that probably would not have given me any trouble back in the states. Finally,we made it half way and found hundreds of little street vendors selling the usual alpaca gear, and for the first time I saw a whole roasted cuy or guinea pig. It looked like a giant rat/ rodent. NASTY! I still have to try one before I leave this place.

After climbing up more stairs and roads we made it to the amazing ruins. They were so large and well maintained that they almost looked fake. The views of Cuzco from the hill where Sacsayhuaman is located are just ridiculous. I took many pictures that are unbelieveable. Looking down over the large field in front of the ruins where the ceremony was to take place were probably ten thousand people or more. The hill everyone was standing on and watching from was so crazy and packed that it was literally impossible to find a place to watch the final events of the day from. Legend has it that at the end of the festival of Inti Raymi a llama is sacrificed. Now many people said that it was a fake llama, but I think the final verdict declared that it was indeed a real sacrifice. I wanted to see this event unfold so badly but it did not happen in the two hours we were there. Emily, Kat, and Tigon were so bored that they drew tattoos on each others arms with Emilys sharpies, and ultimately transformed the white tee I was wearing into an Inti Raymi 2010 shirt complete with Incan decorations and, of course, a llama. We left without being able to see the llama murder, but I heard from others that they killed it a little bit after we left and tore out its heart.

Inti Raymi was such an awesome day that I will never forget. Although it was exhausting, it was quite the adventure. Maybe in the future I will get to see the llama sacrifice.

Inti-Raymi Parte Uno: June 23, 2010

 Posted by Michael Broder at 10:02 am  Peru  Comments Off on Inti-Raymi Parte Uno: June 23, 2010
Jun 252010

June 23, 2010: Inti-Raymi Parte Uno

Ok, so Tuesday night was really hectic but at the same time very exhilirating. I grudgingly woke up at 7 am this morning to volunteer for the first time. It is so cold in the morning!!!  Anywho, I made my way to Maximo Nivel where I met up with Alyssa. We then walked together to Salome Ferro to volunteer. When we arrived we found out that all but three kids were in school every morning. Therefore, us being there so early in the morning was a little unnecessary and pointless. For three and a half hours I sat in the mess hall next to a piano that Alyssa was teaching the three kids how to play. So basically I did nothing all morning except watch three kids play the same verse of a Coldplay song over and over and over again. But it is all part of the experience so I was not that bothered. After we left the shelter and got back to Maximo Alyssa and I went our separate ways. Since today was the pre-Inti Raymi festivals, the main Avenida El Sol was shut off to traffic and was so packed that it was difficult to walk a block in under fifteen minutes. I was all alone at this point and a little nervous that I would not be able to find anyone I knew in such a large crowd. Luckily, I found one of my housemates, Kelly from Long Island, and she told me that there were some people at Cross Keys watching the Worldcup Soccer games. I walked through the crowd worried that at any moment someone would try to cut open my bag and steal my camera, video camera, and wallet. Thank the lord that never happened, and I am so thankful that a hundred feet before I was to go into Cross Keys I found Emily. My heart stopped pounding, and my nerves calm. I always know how to find Emily by the shape of her head (mainly her really curly hair). We then went into a little shop. I bought my first item of Alpaca gear: a soft winter hat with llamas on it. Emily and I then ate lunch at Cross Keys and afterwards went into the crowded plaza to take some pictures and watch the traditional Incan dancing. We walked up a neighboring alley, stumbled upon a llama walking around with a Peruvian girl dressed up in traditional rainbow sheets. Apparently you need to pay them to take a picture of their llama, but I got a picture when she wasnt looking. After walking up the alley and a huge set of stairs, we found this awesome rooftop walk where we had a great view of La Plaza de Armas. At this point, Emily and I were tired so we walked to the nearest combis stop and returned home. Although we were exhausted, we both needed money (I especially did because I only had 40 centimos left on me) so we went to the nearest Mega (a supermarket) to use the atm and get some snacks. The dinner again was aweful so a bunch of us volunteers went to a 24 hour chicken place to fill up. Later that night we returned to Cross Keys AGAIN but tonight only for a short time because we were all running on very little sleep from the night before. I am getting really sick of going to the same bar. Thats about all that happened today. I cannot wait for Inti Raymi tomorrow. We need to wake up early. Buenas noches.

First Night on the Town: June 23, 2010

 Posted by Michael Broder at 9:37 am  Peru  Comments Off on First Night on the Town: June 23, 2010
Jun 252010

June 22, 2010: First Night on the Town

The last time I wrote you was after I had my tandem visit and just before my second spanish class. After that class ended, I visited my volunteer placement, Salome Ferro, with my co-volunteer from Wisconsin Alyssa. It is a fairly large and well-kept shelter that houses children whose parents cannot afford to raise them themselves. The location is about a ten minute walk from the Maximo office but its not bad at all. After visiting my placement for the first time, I walked with Alyssa to the Plaza de Armas, Cuzcos main square. It is legitimately one of the most amazing places I have ever seen. The large gothic cathedrals circle the large grassy square. Since Tuesday was the day before the initial Inti Raymi festivals began, there were Cusqueñas dressed in traditional clothing dancing competitively around the plaza. Alyssa is very cool, and we both share a love for traveling to incredible places. We both agreed that this is the greatest place ever. We went our separate ways once we got back to the Maximo office, and I took a combis all alone (I do it on the reg and love every minute of being packed into a small, terribly-ventilated van). When I got home I chilled with the people in the house and watched family guy in the tv room before we ate the dinner which was not very good. Most of the deserts are dairy, but I am served the gross fruit cocktails because when I signed up for this trip I said I was lactose intolerant. Following dinner, almost everyone in the house went out to a bar, Cross Keys, in La Plaza de Armas. There we ordered drinks and had tons of fun laughing and telling embarrassing childhood stories. I told some people about the time when Ali and Zack made fun of me when I dressed up like a dracula for holloween, and how that preventedme from ever enjoying that holiday ever again. At around twelve we headed over to some clubs, Inka Team and Mythology, to go dance and have a good time. Around 3 am I wanted to go home, and so I took a taxi back to the volunteer house. The cab driver drove in a direction that I was not familiar with and thus scared the crap out of me. I thought I was going to be kidnapped, but apparently, my friend Amy assured me, that was the normal way to leave the plaza. I got dropped off accross the street from my house, and when I reached the other side of the road, three dogs started barking and running towards me. To avoid being bitten and given rabies, I sprinted to the door of the house and anxiously rang the doorbell. When I got into the house, I was gasping for air whilst telling everyone my near encounter with death (just kidding I am being overly dramatic). This was just my Tuesday and really early Wednesday morning. I went to sleep at 3:30 am knowing that I had to wake up the next morning at 7 to go volunteer at my placement where I knew there would only be two kids because everyone else would be in school in the morning. Ok I have to go back to my house for lunch, but when I return for spanish classes at 2pm I will tell you about Wednesday and Thursday because they were so much fun and quite an adventure.

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