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...