20 December 2008

Madrina x 2

Although I was planning on staying up in Copa through Christmas, last week was wonderfully busy and I have 6 interviews, some 50 GPS points, and 40 imagines of Copa's meeting notes that I was getting increasingly anxious about backing up...especially considering that a colleague was just robbed in Lima and lost two months of work and maybe a day later my host family gave me the 'people think you have a lot of money/life here was scary during the years of terrorism/don't answer your door at night because they might be coming to rob you' speech. So it was either come down to Huaraz and back things up (in 8 places) or sleep with my recorder, camera and GPS receiver in my pants at night...I opted for backing up (and of course the hot shower sweetened the deal!).

Again I got some comments about my last entry sounding down. I was for whatever reason dragging my feet about going back up into the mountains, but felt at home again almost immediately once I arrived. Everyone was happy to have me back and several kids brought me new flowers for my hat, so many that I converted one of my few drinking receptacles into a vase...but it really ties the room together. I think the biggest cause for my hesitation was concern over screwing up the interviews, but to combat the fear I dove right into it the night I arrived and am feeling much more secure overall but note to self: no more blog entries when feeling out of sorts, it is scaring the readers.

On Wednesday I clambered back down the mountain to pick up Claes, the Swedish NPR reporter who was doing a story on climate change affects in South America. Copa was his last stop on the way back to L.A. where he lives (he pitches stories to both American and Swedish NPR, so stay tuned...). We had a great few days of recording and I was impressed at how well the folks of Copa received his huge boom (?) microphone, which intimidated the hell out of me.

After we said good-bye to Claes, my host family and I walked over to Copa Chico (no actual relation to Copa Grande, just the next village over) where I was to be the madrina (or god-mother) of two girls that were graduating from elementary school, Florcita and Cinquena. It was a sweet ceremony followed by food, beer and dancing. As the new madrina, I am now co-padres with two families. Traditionally, the child's parents cook and serve a whole cuy (guinea pig) and whole chicken for the new god parent, but since I had two families, I was given TWO whole cuyes and TWO chickens. Needless to say, most of that 'came home with me' to Huaraz, where I shared it with the Ames family (who own my second home, the hotel in Huaraz). It was a pleasant surprise how effective the ceremony was, after eating together and sharing the afternoon (which of course included a few chelas), I felt quite fond of my new co-padres and look forward to visiting in the future. I am working on getting some video up on my site so you can experience the joys of huayno and other campo pleasures, but connections are slow here so it may take some time...

Finally, many thanks to all those who thought of me over the holiday. I went to the post office yesterday and walked out with 5 packages! I am trying very hard to stick to the many 'do not open until Christmas' requests...but not sure how successful I will be.

10 December 2008


As usual, I am reporting in with a roller coaster of emotions. With an hour or so before boarding a night bus up to Huaraz where I will spend a few days before going up into the field for a solid two weeks, I find myself dragging my feet. I’ve been staying in the city and grown quite accustomed to creature comforts, good company and delicious food. The good news is that during my border crossing last week, I talked the immigration official into giving me 183 (three?) days instead of the normal 90 before I have to renew my visa again. I was looking forward to planning a trip to Bolivia in March for the renewal, but life is much easier without having to plan around a border crossing. Now I don’t have to renew the thing until early June, which gives me plenty of time to plan a great trip to Bolivia. It will probably be the perfect time for a break before the final push in July and August. But I am definitely getting ahead of myself here…

After putting the final touches on the latest draft of my NSF application tomorrow and Friday, I have my first official Quechua lesson on Saturday. After meeting for a few hours I will head up to Copa until after Christmas. This marks the official start of project work now that everything has been set-up, which is at once overwhelming and exciting. At the moment, it feels like I can really get some good work in the next nine months, but I’m sure I’ll arrive at the end of the summer with a million things still to do. If you can believe it, we will be celebrating Christmas with the exchange of fruit cakes, or panetón. The much sought after panetón is mass produced by the same huge companies that distribute milk and ice-cream throughout much of South America; however, my host family called me from Copa to specifically request panetón from Lima. As far as I can tell, this is like asking someone to bring a Snickers from California to New York, but hey, if some nasty corporate fruit cake will make them happy, who am I to refuse?

Enjoy the holiday season wherever you are! Most of you are probably jealous of my 70 degree days, but I am missing the crisp air, snuggly fireplaces (or fireplace DVDs) and the possibility of snow! The grass is always greener I suppose, although for those who are wishing for my weather, do realize that while I’ve been away, the rains in the highlands have arrived full force, so my re-entry will have the extra twist of determining whether my floor is still in the same place it was when I left….

26 November 2008

Andean lungs

A few days in Lima has really taken the edge off; I’m feeling refreshed and ready to face the field again, although I will first spend a few days out of the country renewing my visa (specific details still to be determined).

Prior to dropping down into Barranco (a hip, up-and-coming neighborhood of Lima) I arranged several meetings with various heavy hitters in academic and development circles of Peru. These meetings have been a great success for general (and social) networking and also helped me to put Copa life in perspective. Although not in so many words these ex-pats, who have each spent 30+ years living and working in Peru, reminded me that I need not be constantly apologizing for where I come from or what I am doing, particularly since it will likely (hopefully) reach useful conclusions on many levels. Taking back a little control of my life in the village will go far in alleviating previously mentioned stressors (that and some noise canceling headphones).

I am taking full advantage of my adjusted lung capacity while spending some time at sea level this week. First day down (after almost two months without running) I jogged 5 kilometers and today I managed over 11, which felt great and is the longest I’ve run in years! No doubt this will not last, but it feels great to do some intentional exercise, as opposed to the typical and almost entirely unintentional work of scrambling up rock walls and climbing down mountains. The extra running also comes in handy with regard to the many yummy restaurants in Lima…

Unfortunately, this month brings despedidas for friends in Lima and Huaraz as they return to their home countries to complete studies or move on to explore entirely new pastures. Following the spirit of international travel and ex-pat circles, others groups will inevitably form, but these folks will be missed (and should expect visits in the coming years). Not sure yet what the Huaraz good-bye will look like (it will have to wait until after my border crossing), but we are sending off the Lima folks in style with a little help from Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, a fun Argentinean ska/Latin-rock band, this Saturday.

Happy Thanksgiving for those who are celebrating! Fulbright and the U.S. Embassy are throwing us a Thanksgiving party/dinner tomorrow night which will certainly be interesting. No doubt there will be a Peruvian spin and we are all anxious to see how that will turn out…

22 November 2008

Guilt and guinea pig

My second week of living in Copa went well, which I am especially happy about since one of my committee members joined me there to help me think about framing my project and to get to know Copa. He immediately fell in love with it, although he thought he would constantly compare it to other field sites in Peru, and as a result will be working with me in a larger comparative project on perspectives of glacier retreat. Quite exciting! We had a full week: hiking up to the glacier itself and making glacier ice snow cones, participating in a large-scale eucalyptus tree planting, weeding a corn field and preparing it for winter rains, escaping for a day to soak in the nearby thermal baths (where I might consider going regularly to bathe…), and sharing mutual concerns with the director of the national park over some well-deserved drinks.

Sunday I will travel to Lima to visit with some national characters and give a presentation at Fulbright about the work I’ve been doing thus far…this seems to be coming at an ideal time as I grew increasingly frustrated last week with the language obstacles and just generally being constantly under what feels like surveillance. While I was prepared for the people of Copa to speak mainly Quechua, the reality has been eye-opening. Not only am I unable to communicate with over half of the population, but those that do speak Castellano speak it ‘poorly,’ or mejor dicho, functionally. The result however, is that I can barely understand what they say to me nor do they fully understand what I say to them. Obviously this makes much of my work difficult and beyond that I am very uncomfortable not being able to speak clearly with, or in some cases, directly to people. Not to mention my own Castellano suffers due to lack of practice and less than ideal examples, so I become a real mix-up of three poorly spoken languages, which is exhausting. Beyond this, or perhaps in part because of it, I am feeling more and more as though I am walking on eggshells (a skill I have acquired but am tired of) with regards to how I eat, what I do, who I visit, when, what projects I am supporting in the community and how I dress. I have finally convinced (I think) a local friend that just because I arrived in Copa only three weeks ago does not mean I only just arrived on this earth, and that yes, I do know how to fry an egg and keep bugs out of my sugar (although my mother might disagree). In any event, the anonymity of Lima will be a welcome change for the week before returning to full-speed ahead in December.

Before leaving Copa for my travels to Lima, I was able to finally secure a field assistant who will also serve as my Quechua-Castellano translator, set-up regular Quechua classes with a professor in a nearby town and record my first test interview (after several more tests the real deal will start up in January). Today I finally met with the Quechua professor I’ve been bugging for months and we’ve set up bi-monthly classes and he will find folks to transcribe my interviews. All in all, things are moving forward…I think.

Meanwhile, some friends from Lima made the trek up to Huaraz to visit me and we hiked to Laguna 69 today, a glacial lake at 4800 meters. It was an absolutely wonderful trip and although it is the rainy season, we really lucked out and had some amazing panoramic views of several heavy hitters in the Peruvian glacier scene (photographic proof coming soon). To celebrate our now going out for what we are told is great Thai and then likely some dancing…

07 November 2008

The field!

Holy s***...I have officially completed my first week of field work. Arrived in Copa the day after Halloween (with the appropriate and expected exhaustion that comes from a long night of celebration) without having a clue where I would be landing. During my last visit to the site, which unfortunately fell on a day when everyone had left the town to do their weekly shopping, I left the task of finding me a place to stay in the hands of J., a man who volunteers as a connection between the village and the main health center for the district a few hours below. I was pretty nervous about what sort of place he would come up with, but it has far exceeded my expectations in many ways!

Life in Copa is going very well thus far, although the real work has not quite begun. For now, I am allowing for time to get to know the area, and for folks to get to know me. The area is stunningly beautiful with 180 degree glacier views in the morning before the clouds roll in and everyone in the village has been amazingly receptive and friendly ('gringa, come to my house and visit!' which is every anthropologists dream). I've managed to introduce myself at a community meeting (to a round of applause if you can believe it, and even a question about what exactly is the meat of anthropology), scheduled some visits to the glacier, commandeered maps from the engineers installing potable water and waste water systems, and learned a few Quechua phrases. The rains have even temporarily stopped, thankfully, which allows me a much larger window for exploring. Apparently this is the last reprieve before it really starts coming down in December...and continues to do so until April!

The room I'm renting is part of the president's one-story adobe house near the center of Copa Grande. It has its own entrance and the door into their house is half-locked (I picked up a second lock in Huaraz this weekend to fully privatize the space...the two kids love to just barge on in and stare at me, which is really enjoyable as you can imagine). The living situation is great and I have electricity which makes life so much easier in a million small ways. The worst part being the bathroom situation. The outhouse, which theoretically I have no problem using, is about three feet high and has no door, so you have to squat in all kinds of odd angles to get into the damn thing, remain squatted for the entire duration of any and all business and then chicken shuffle back out. The lack of door would not be a problem if, say the bathroom faced away from the house, but no, it looks directly at the most used space and exposes you absolutely. Not really a problem for the other women, since they are typically wearing polyeras (knee-length skirts) which allow them to just squat down without any fuss, but I've not yet gone totally native (although I will very soon) so struggle a bit. It is really difficult and makes for grumpy trips to the lou in the morning. The health director told me to harass the family about it since they should be installing an ecological bathroom anyway...something I thought would be out of line but with her blessing will get right on it and even put in for some construction costs.

This weekend I am bringing up a gas stove and some other creature comforts (like a pot and frying pan) and found a carpenter in Copa Grande who is making me some chairs and a bookshelf that will be ready on Wednesday. The kitchen being the most important and exciting piece, as I will no longer be at the whim of the family for breakfast and dinner, which along with lunch, looks a little something like this:

Breakfast: if you are lucky, fresh milk, otherwise hot water with sugar; a serious bowl of potato and egg soup and fried pork bits or other much less appetizing pieces of pork
Lunch: another hearty bowl of potato and egg soup followed by a heaping helping of rice, about 15 potatoes and again, if you are lucky, a piece of chicken or really really lucky, boiled corn which is absolutely delicious. The local corn won't be harvested in March and until then it is a rare treat. [On special occasions, like when the gringa comes into town, they fry or roast guinea pig, which is super yummy as long as you are not expected to suck out the brains, which may be scrumptious but I simply refuse...]
Dinner: you guessed it, another bowl of potato and egg soup occasionally accompanied by the local alternative to coffee (quite scrumptious and even good for you!)

Their motto, apparently, is work hard, eat hard. I try to explain in a variety of ways that I eat like a cat or have different types of work than they do so don't need the calories, etc. but nothing seems to really work as far as making my portions any smaller. The women respond by telling me that the men in Copa prefer larger women so I should fatten up...and I don't really know what to do with that quite yet. Women speak little Spanish, less than I do really, so our conversations are often misunderstood or confused past the basic name, nationality, and current occupation. They are all psyched about my hat however and are exciting about getting me into a polyera, which will no doubt happen sooner rather than later. Men are typically bilingual, unless they are much older, but who wants to talk to men all day?? But the Quechua will come...

One of my committee members arrived yesterday for a week to get to know the village and the Callejon de Huaylas. My work will fit into a larger project of his that compares tropical glaciers in several other sites around the world, so he is here helping to dovetail our interests. He was a very significant influence in the development of my project (long before he contacted me about working together) so our interests are quite closely aligned already. He has been here less than 24 hours and has already provided a wonderful amount of guidance, empathy and help with methods and other matters of the field. We will hike up to the glacier, follow the canal system around Copa, and visit with families throughout the larger district of which Copa is a part. It will no doubt be a busy and productive week!

[So I swore to myself that I would not be eating anything while in Huaraz since they feed me as though I am an elephant in Copa, yet I find myself eating a banana split while catching up on life outside my adobe hut...]

30 October 2008

Copa Grande

Ask and ye shall receive, when it rains it pours, pick your poison....after tracking down folks I unintentionally stood up my first week here, I managed to schedule a full week of site visits. It was a brutal schedule, up at 5am everyday enduring hours of bumpy truck rides on steep, scary roads up through high altitude peaks, but I saw quite a bit of the valley and all the sites on my short list. Of course, I ended up choosing to stay in one of the first villages I met: Copa Grande. For those in the know, it is a short walk from Vicos, a well-known village due to a 30-year Cornell anthropology project. It is known mostly for its in-fighting and general discord. Fortunately, Copa is nearly its opposite.

The impending move is very exciting, and not a little bit scary. I have not yet laid eyes on my specific living situation, but I know that there will be no electricity or running water though there is cell phone reception. Crazy world.

In the last few weeks I've managed to add some new friends to my local family just in time to celebrate one of my favorite holidays: Halloween. It is still a new holiday here, so the costumes are quite basic (if you can even find something for an adult) and they don't quite get the play on social commentary angle that is so prevalent in Athens. One friend wants to go as a potato! I thought briefly about going as a typical Peruvian party girl but figured that nobody wouldn't think I was dressed up at all! Not to mention it would attract some attention that thus far I've been able to avoid for the most part. What officially shut down the plan though was that I tried on the obligatory tight pants yesterday and while N. was surprised to find that I had a body and kept telling me how good my badonkadonk looked, I absolutely could not stop laughing at myself. So now I'm thinking about going as a construction worker....

I met some of the new additions when marching with Copa Grande in a small health demonstration (informative in nature) and fortunately they live nearby for the next handful of months while they carry out their year of rural medical service. There is talk of a group house in a nearby town where I could crash on occasion....bless them! Meanwhile they are regaling me with tales of their adventures in the valley and laughing with me about how many potatoes I am going to eat in the next 10 months (a LOT). I'm just holding out for choclo (corn) season because I can eat corn all day (unlike boiled potatoes with no salt, sauce, butter or anything to choke it down with)...they start harvesting in March and I already cannot wait.

I'll be sending good vibes up north on Tuesday although will be blissfully (or painfully) unaware of the outcome until I am back in range for a few hours next weekend to pick up B., one of my committee members and an academic rockstar who is coming to check out my field site and make nice with the natives. Until then, eat some macaroni and cheese for me...

19 October 2008

At least the view is beautiful!

So I have shockingly little to report since my last entry. What started out as a promising week quickly changed when I again fell victim to the Peruvian weight-loss plan and had to abandon several scheduled visits into the field. Once back on my feet I spent the whole time trying to reconnect with the folks I had to ditch earlier in the week, a seemingly impossible task. After practically forcing a poor social worker from a town over to meet me at her house on Friday night to talk about how she can help me (yeah, really ridiculous) I proceeded to get terribly lost in her neighborhood and had to call her a million times to help get me there. The damn street numbers went from 200s to 800s to 500s back to 200s then 800s again...absolutely impossible. Thankfully she is a sweetheart, and even better, was excited to have me work in her field site since she is being moved to more desk-based work. I am going there on my own this week sometime and she is taking me on Saturday to see what her work has been about: ecological bathrooms, which I think is a septic type set-up, but I'll let you know.

The Huascaran National Park Office is being surprisingly helpful. Fortunately, there is an ulterior motive...one park officer has been selected by Fulbright Peru to do master's work in the U.S. and his English is not quite up to speed. We quickly agreed that I would help him in exchange for his help with finding a research site. They are taking me to a site on the other side of the Andes this week, which is said to be beautiful and very friendly, a killer field work combination if you ask me.

After banging my head against the wall with my other contacts, I reached deep into my bag and emailed a high mountain guide that a friend from last year suggested. The guides, especially the high mountain guides, really are pieces of work egotistically so I was not super keen on going to them, but was feeling a bit backed into a corner. He turns out to be very friendly, keen on the project, speaks Quechua, and on top of it all, has done high mountain treks with Lonnie Thompson, a big time glaciologist who works in the Andes on tracking glacial loss. It is a rather perfect fit and we are going to check out some sites nearby this week. Depending on how those go, I will probably hire him to take me to some sites quite a ways north this weekend.

I really, really hope to make the decision on where to spend the next 10 months of my life this weekend and actually move my butt up there early next week. However, time lines such as these are not my friend lately so we will see how it goes...I keep telling myself that at least the view in the meantime is beautiful.

09 October 2008

Sexy Women

Okay, this is FAR overdue, but I was aprovecharing all my time with D. before we went our separate ways last night: I on a 16-hour overnight bus ride back to Lima, and her towards her last week in Peru before heading back to a new job, house and civil status. We had an absolutely fantastic two-weeks exploring Cuzco and trekking through the mountains of the Sacred Valley. I am working on getting pictures up...

We began hiking at Chayacancha (3500 meters) along the Rio Blanca looking up at the Umantay and Salkantay glaciers (about four hours outside of Cuzco). Throughout the morning we expected our guide to take a sharp turn at any moment and begin leading us straight uphill...the nervousness was tenable. After lunch, as the trail began its inevitable ascent, above us on Salkantay it began to get quite stormy so our guide suggested that we set up camp. We disagreed and decided instead to brave a few more hours of vertical hiking into the mountain to camp at the planned spot. Fortunately for us, the rain passed and we made it into the campsite just as dark settled, to sleep at 4200 meters. Salkantay pampa was a beautiful site, just below the glacier, but bitterly cold even with all our possible layers.

The next morning we were greeted with mate de coca in bed before beginning an hour of rough uphill to the Seven Snakes pass, our hightest point at 4600 meters. This was the beginning of our longest day of hiking, all downhill from the high mountain pass to puna, through cloud forest, and even to the doorstep of the selva. We spent our second night camping in a field with horses, pigs and chickens but with a lovely view and only 15 minutes from a natural hot spring. This was a day full of wonderful scenery, however our view of the glacier and other mountains was obscured by clouds (a consequence of trekking during the rainy season).

After again being greeted with mate de coca (we finally figured out it was not out of kindness, but instead to ensure we got up) we spent the next day doing more downhill, except kindly more of a rolling trail than the ski slalom angle of the previous day. Another lovely day of scenery down to La Playa at 1600 meters, which we wrongly assumed would be a river beach campground. Sadly mistaken, we were instead greeted by a camping spot at the intersection of cancerous chickens, bus exhaust and stagnant water (with the requisite mosquitoes). A literal hole, or perhaps more fishbowl, as we were gawked at non-stop. While eating lunch we casually asked about alternatives and our guide just as casually suggested that we could pack everything into a minibus and ride an hour away to the resort hot springs of Santa Teresa and camp there. We all jumped at the idea and while we were skeptical about where we were heading, were thrilled to be leaving.

Driving up to Santa Teresa did not calm our nerves as we initially landed in the construction of a hotel. Once we were inside, however, fear subsided as we set up camp next to two large natural hot spring pools. All other reservations melted away as we realized there was not only a small store with important survival items like chocolate and Doritos, but also plenty of beer. We quickly realized however, that while it looked like an oasis, one had to stay in the pools or the tent to avoid being eaten alive by the thousands of mosquitoes. Any exposed skin was immediately attacked...we left there with hundreds of bites that continue to itch like crazy today. Through the following week we were identified as having been around Machu Picchu by fellow travelers through our bite covered arms and legs. Thankfully the mosquitoes went away at night (strange twist), so we were able to enjoy our beer while lounging by the pool as soon as the sun went down. We were also the only folks to camp at the springs, so had the place to ourselves. And we were smart enough to buy a few big bottles of beer before the place cleared out...it was lovely.

We awoke early the next day with large welts on our bites and slightly less ready for the day than previous mornings (surely that does not coincide with beer availability) and prepared for what we didn't realize was the most difficult day yet. We drove back towards the trail where we hiked several of the 40,000 kilometers of Incan highways to get an alternative view of Machu Picchu from the Yactupata Mountain over the Urubamba River, from 1500 meters to 2800 and back before lunch. After climbing up, we were able to rest at the Incan ruins of the same name before the knee jolting hike back down.

That afternoon we boarded the tourist train to Aguas Calientes where we found more beer, plenty of palta and hot showers! Although there are buses that shuttle tourists from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu, we decided to haul ourselves out of bed at 4am to hike the hour of steep steps up to the site where we stumbled into line with the masses of clean, fresh-faced tourists. Once in the ruins we were regaled with tales of how Machu Picchu was 'built with love', although we were hoping to get more on how exactly the love built them, or used them... The ruins were wonderful, and significantly less crowded than any of us anticipated, but the highlight for me was our final hike, the hour scramble (as in, on hands and knees) up Wayna Piccu, the well-known mountain just behind the ruins, where additional temples and terraces awaited. Already fantastic views were made better by the fact that while waiting in the line to enter (only 400 people/day) we were all questioning whether we really 'needed' this last hike or would rather just lay in the grass with the alpacas (we were exhausted). We rallied, climbed and were thrilled with the reward.

A fantastic time was had by all with the mosquitoes and the threat of camping at La Playa being the only negative aspects we could come up with that evening while lying nearly comatose in bed after our second round of hot showers.

26 September 2008

Trout to the Pepper

After the shortest of plane trips, I arrived in Cuzco two days ago and am staying in a great farmhouse in San Blas, which is an old, old neighborhood high above the main plaza of Cuzco. It is quite a breathtaking hike home, literally, but the views from our old farmhouse are wonderful. The owner entertained us last night with stories of when his family lodged folks from surrounding villages who came into town for markets, before the current reign of tourism. They have set up a lovely courtyard with amazing panoramic views of all of Cuzco, including Ausconcate (the largest glacier in the area) when the weather is clear in the early afternoon. Today we sat in the courtyard sipping mate de coca, playing cards and watched a snow storm pass over the mountain range across the valley.

Cuzco itself is quite charming. Between Lima and Huaraz, I have only been exposed to rapidly developing cities that are in desperate need of some architectural assistance (granted Huaraz was leveled by an earthquake in the 1970s so would look dramatically different today otherwise, and Lima is so big there is no unifying style or design), but it was a breath of fresh air to see the old colonial churches built on even older incan walls (that you are not allowed to touch, by the way). Most everywhere you look there is either old, old stone, or white plaster with various shades of blue painted on doors, windows and other adornments. Almost all the streets are cobblestoned and those leading away fom the main plaza up to our neighborhood are quite narrow with less than a foot of elevated stonework for walking.

Last night D. and I found a great regae bar with an Argentinian band in the heart of San Blas, which is wonderfully bohemian. They actually let the women dance by themselves! And, yes, we hippie danced and yes, it was lovely. However, we were otherwise on our best behavior due to the fact that we are living at 3400 meters and at this altitude adult beverages have an extra kick, although I guess it makes us cheap dates.

Tonight we had a meeting with our Salkantay tour guide to go over last minute details and met the fourth girl joining our group (the jury is still out on whether a small group is better). On the way to the meeting, we discovered that it was International Tourist Day and in our honor Cuzco was throwing a big parade with the traditional hours of dancing and music (not that they need much of an excuse down here). Interestingly, several of the dancers held signs about various efforts against climate change, but of course, I had left my camera at home. It would have been a fantastic opening shot for my dissertation.

Tomorrow, Salkantay!

23 September 2008

The Real World: Lima

I arrived back in Lima to the surprising calm following the disintegration of a love triangle among my housemates while I was away. We celebrated by having all-you-can-eat sushi (note to self: quality not quantity) and checking out the local jazz house, which had a Brailian Choros band...not exactly jazz, but enjoyable all the same.

Was woken up the next day by what sounded like an angry call from the Fulbright Peru office about my visa and high-tailed all the way across the city to meet the Peruvian Fulbright representatives. Turns out, what sounds like anger on the phone is really just the need for speed since local phone calls are absurdly expensive. Scared me though. They are going to 'fix' my visa so I don't have to renew it every three months by taking short trips to Bolivia, Brazil or Argentina....drat, I mean, great. I also learned of several events over the next months that require my attendance and therefore additional trips back to Lima, including a meeting at the embassy about the 'dangers' of Peru. I tried to tell them not to worry since I had plenty of pepper spray, but attendance at the meeting is non-neogitable.

While at the Fulbright office, I met the other Fulbright-Hays student in Peru who is here carrying out a historical analysis on how the violence of the 1980s and early 1990s has affected the evolution of leftist political parties. We spent the day discussing our research and are both excited to have a sounding board in-country. I am talking her into visiting the highlands and she has offered a couch for when I come into town.

Although I was unable to settle on a fieldsite while in Huaraz last week, I am currently focused on preparing for the Cuzco - Machu Picchu - Arequipa circuit that will begin on Thursday. Stay tuned for pictures and stories from the trail...

21 September 2008


[Warning! Below is the rant of a very congested woman, but stay tuned for the lighter side of mountain life...]

Well, I had a day of reprieve from the bus ride into the mountains (ask if you dare) before being struck down with….no, not that…a common cold. But a gnarly one in my defense, although I’ve never taken well to not being able to breathe or sleep, two of my favorite things. Fortunately (or not) my plans are moving slower than I had hoped (shocker) so I had today to try and nurse myself back to health. Although it is not going well so far…I’m feeling worse. Perhaps I will try the much loved beer cure.

As we all know, the work (whatever it may be) moves forward one step and back eight, then a leap to the side… etc. Según eso, I made two useful contacts this morning, finally heard back from another set of people via email that will be important, and arranged to sit in on a 4-hour introduction class to an intensive Quechua Ancashino language program on Friday. Not bad for a half days work while feeling like your head is a balloon the size of the moon. However, it is obvious to me that my selection of a field site will not happen this week (hark, the NSF reviewers sing). On Thursday I am going to meet some folks in two villages to the north, but I fear they are too far away from the glacier to suit the needs of the project, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed. There are several other positive possibilities and I’ve now figured out two solid and rather poetic ways to portray the ideal geographical location of my proposed work (a pie de los nevados or la falda de los nevados) which will certainly help the selection process.

This morning when I first figured out the set backs (and there are several) it caused a bit of panic, but during my sick day, I was able to console myself with the realization that I proposed to begin village work in November so I need not stress too much or try to jump too fast if things are not right. An important thing to remind myself of regularly, apparently. Otherwise everyone is very gracious and helpful. Several have given me locally authored books on water issues, along with the dissertation of a colleague who I met last year that works on disasters related to increasing glacial instability. I must admit, it was a bit heavy to hold the thing (freshly signed) in my hands…am I really supposed to write one of these?!

Back to Lima on Sunday...

08 September 2008


Alright, I have arrived safely (but not altogether soundly) in Peru and am ready to sink my teeth into...oh, who am I kidding, I'm just trying to keep my head straight for the time being. That said, I have a meeting tomorrow and am heading up into the mountains this weekend to scope out and hopefully land on a specific field site. I'll spend a week up there, then return to Lima for a few days before heading down to Cuzco to see my wonderful friend D. and hike Salkantay, one of the Incan trails leading to Machu Picchu. After the trek, D. and I will travel to Arequipa where she has been staying with a wonderful host family. I will spend a few days there with her, then head back up to the mountains and begin the real work...whatever that is.

I realize that I should take advantage of being in Lima because, while I wouldn't say blend exactly, the presence of a gringa is hardly news and I don't constantly feel like a sore thumb. This morning I braved the smog, the terrible music (currently listening to Girls Just Wanna Have Fun blaring outside my window) and the constant honking to run a few miles along the ocean. Fortunately, Miraflores has a wonderful park all along the cliffs with running and biking lanes, as well as a serious skate park, dirt biking loop, tennis courts and plenty of green space. This is all complete with occasional signs from Coke reminding us to eat healthy and exercize which in turn reminds me of the commercial that high-fructose corn syrup just came out with to battle their bad reputation. Has anyone seen it? Other than getting lost in my neighborhood trying to get to the park (all of two blocks away) and being asked if I was freezing (its 67 degrees outside), it was a pleasant morning run which will be repeated.

My base camp here is interesting. A family run apartment in a complex that feels a bit like Melrose Place (lots of young, hip professionals and students). My particular apartment has several other travelers (from Italy, the US and India) and a lazy dog. I sleep under a poster of Che next to one of Snoopy as a toy soldier (and another of a young girl reading in a nightgown across the room), which makes complete sense...somewhere. I am becoming more accostomed to my new situation by the moment, although there have been a few relapses, and am fighting off homesickness rather well (mostly because I haven't had a home in several months). I have to admit, however, that I do daydream about the sweet little apartment I'll find back in Athens...

11 August 2008

Down the shore

Not really, actually I was in Philadelphia for the weekend, visiting my best friend from Bucknell. I must have heard one of my favorite mid-Atlantic phrases, 'down the shore,' about a million times. It really just makes me chuckle...and in fact, I will be going 'down the shore' later this week to visit my aunt and take in some sun. Philadelphia was great, L. and I moved all over the city, had drinks around South Street, Fishtown and Girard, enjoyed a South Philadelphia block party, slurped on wonderful Italian ice and submitted to (and giggled through) the time-honored tradition of pedicure, complete with a serious massage chair.

Otherwise, various items are showing up that I've been ordering for the big move. I got a great pack, lots of gizmos and gadgets, and some snazzy wicking clothes. The most anticipated is the solar panel that I will use to charge my laptop and various batteries for camera, GPS and flashlights. This is a rather critical element since I will be without electricity for weeks and sometimes months at a time while living in the highland communities. Solar panel laptop chargers don't have a great reputation among my colleagues, and I'm sure without the help of my electrical engineer of a father, I would surely have found myself with the wrong wattage, amps, or volts. That said, we have yet to test it out so who knows.

Next week I'll be heading back down to Georgia...

03 July 2008

Folly Beach

Hello out there. The last few weeks have been a whirlwind of camping, Athfest-ing and yard sale-ing with the usual crew (in the usual state), but I finally made it to Charleston and so now have some time to breathe, unwind a bit and begin to focus on the upcoming changes. Being in Athens, or maybe the lack of a real break since last summer, was keeping me too close to the research and feeling suffocated. Distancing myself has allowed my mind to open and the next steps are becoming clearer, and more exciting. Even a short trip to Charleston has reminded me of the excitement that comes from new people, places, and experiences.

Of course I am working while in Charleston, and as with most work it has bursts of excitement and insight but is moving slower than I or my PI had hoped. But such is a rapid fire pilot project. Fortunately, my house mates and I have made regular trips to the beach in the evenings for long walks along the ocean. I miss it dearly and vow to spend a summer by the ocean at some point in the near future, perhaps after I submit my you know what (it that shall not be named). Now the only question is which ocean...? Suggestions welcome, although I will require an ocean without little plastic castles along its shoreline.

I'm off for now. More interviewing in the morning and, of course, I must figure out how to best catch the 'award-winning' fireworks display off the Ravenel Bridge on the 4th. It has been years since I've seen fireworks over water and there are few things that bring me such joy.

28 May 2008

Here goes nothing

This, I suppose, is my reaction to the plethora of networking sites...

This past year has been intense. I recently reached a significant and long-awaited moment in my academic career, found out I have at least 12 guaranteed months of dissertation research ahead of me, and am successfully collaborating with other heavy-hitters on several projects. And it's only getting started.

In about a month I will move to Charleston temporarily to explore how various sources of information about tropical cyclones move through vulnerable communities. It dawned on me today that this work will happen during hurricane season...a fact that is entirely outweighed by the fact that I'll be living on the beach for a few weeks.

Directly after that work, I will 'liquidate' my life in Athens and move in with my folks for a few weeks before leaving for Peru (more on that later, I'm sure). Fortunately I will be staying with my folks at the peak of the blue crab season, which in addition to more waterfront living, is certainly the culinary height of my summer.

So I suppose that will do by way of introduction for now. Hopefully, I'll get better at this...