17 October 2009

Buses, taxis and lots of walking

Okay, so not surprisingly for those of you who do or have lived outside of the Western work-a-day world, not too terribly much has been accomplished in the past few weeks. At least not much vis-a-vis interviews, though I have been able to get up to my site several times and re-connected with folks. However, between the first week of panic to finish my 'narrated powerpoint' for the November conference (suddenly it was due in early October!) and the many days of celebration in Huaraz for war heros, and independence in the villages, it has been difficult to get up the mountain.

Now that I live in Huaraz instead of Copa itself, I am dependent on the various cars and buses that go up and down the mountain. When I first arrived, the unpaved road up and down to Copa was in terrible shape with huge swaths washed out entirely or deep potholes. Fortunately, last January, the district decided to spend the money to fix the road, and now it is a fairly decent ride (though my parent's might disagree...its all relative). As such, there is much more traffic up and down because taxistas and others no longer fear for the life of their vehicles on the journey. There is even now a bus up and down for the professors of the primary school during the week, which is usually what I catch to go up (at 7am). But, if there is a school holiday, and when the rainy season break comes up (December to March) I have to find other ways. There are taxis that go up and down the mountain, but they charge quite a bit of money for a sole passenger, which is not in the budget. On market days (Wednesday and Sunday) these taxis take carloads of people up and back for just a few soles. Otherwise, I try to connect with the medical folks who go up and down the mountain, even throughout the rainy season, so as to keep the taxi costs down as much as we can. Although it is in their best interest to have me go up and back with them (it lowers the overall cost to have more people) they are less than reliable when/if their schedules changes.

Anyway, this week will not be much different as Copa is holding the annual 'fiestas patrias' to celebrate their independence from the patrons in 1978. It is a full week of celebration (aka drinking) starting tomorrow with a Mass (following by dancing and drinking) then the week is generally a time of less work, more play (and a semi-permanent state of drunkeness), and then Thursday and Friday are the main days of celebration in which there are three story firework wheels, four or five bands which play all day and night, who knows how much beer, all-night dancing in circles around the fireworks structures, and bull running! I was quite surprised about the bull running event, but was assured by several women who have adopted me as their own that I would not be running with the bulls. No kidding ladies. I get nervous just walking near the damn things when they are tethered to the earth. I hope to avoid the majority of the debauchery and participate only in the structured drinking events where fireworks are involved...

During my final week for this round of work, a reporter from LA that visited me last year around this time is coming again to follow-up and do a story on the 'life of a researcher'. We are visiting some other sites in the valley that are working on responses to water scarcity and climate change issues (unlike my fieldsite...), including one that is 're-introducing' ancient techniques of water management in an attempt at adaptation. Should be an interesting few weeks all around!

29 September 2009

Home Sweet Home?

Back I am. To be honest I was entirely unsure as to how I would feel upon arriving back in my current country of residence. But when I began the long taxi ride though Lima it was a comfort to see the sights I have come to know so well. For me Lima has been many things to me throughout the past year. There were times when I thought of it as a conceited capital not worth the time, energy and money to visit. That of course changed as I met folks there through conferences, got to know students who moved to Lima from Huaraz for school, and became closer to my Fulbright colleagues. Either way, I am now completely comfortable with the city, and enjoy whatever time I do have to take advantage of wonderful restaurants, beautiful parks, and although the faces of Lima have almost continually evolved, the friendships that have developed. It also helps that modern creature comforts can be found within, which is always a good break from the dusty (or rainy depending on the time of year) frontier town of Huaraz.

Speaking of, I arrived 'home' to a sunny afternoon with a comforting breeze. Fortunately, it has not begun raining yet, and I think I'll have a few solid weeks to enjoy before the deluge happens. This year is El Nino, which means that the highlands will see long bursts of torrential rain. This translates into dangerous times because of the resulting mudslides and of course the damage that type of rain inflicts on agricultural practices and pasture animals.

Otherwise, life continues as normal here. I will be moving back and forth between Copa and Huaraz interviewing folks and observing village life and times.

24 September 2009

Peru Take Two

Crazy. My lovely yet busy time at home is coming to an end. I saw most of my people, had a fantastic time on the beach for my friend's wedding (pictures posted) and even made some good headway on a paper to be presented in November when I return briefly to Athens for the Millennium meetings of the Ecological Society of America. My only complaint is that I did not get to experience a good storm...while I am incredibly happy that it did not storm during the beach wedding, a nice thunder and lighting storm rolling through earlier in the week would have been welcome by all.

On Sunday, I am heading back up to the mountains as a Junior Specialist Staff for the University of California, Davis. A nice help in the final months of my work in Peru. While finishing my own research, I will also be providing insight and interviews for a larger multi-sited work on the local perspectives of glacier loss, which I imagine I have mentioned here before. If not, stay tuned for presentations and papers...

Visiting my country has been really wonderful and I do admit that I am looking forward to returning (somewhat) permanently in the near future. While in the short-term I will be settling in Athens to analyze and write-up, I am excited about potential future movements toward the mid-Atlantic with a J-O-B! All leads welcome!

This is just a short check-in since it has been too long since my more routine posts, but I will be back in touch next month with more entertaining stories from the field.


26 July 2009

Make me down a pallet on your floor...

It is hard to believe, but after a year of high-altitude living, various unknown live-in intestinal friends, plenty of near misses, insanely jealous Latin men, gigantic slugs, rats, tocosh, incessant honking, urine allies, and too many mind- and ass-numbing bus rides, I get to come home!! For good or bad, it does not mark the true end to my dissertation research days, as I have been hired as part of a larger National Science Foundation project for a few more months. But the upside is that I get to come home for a month and unwind, and from this point on I have a lot more control over my life instead of depending on the kindness of State Departments, that is, if they don't lock me up for living off a tourist visa...

My folks came to visit in May and it was quite a trip. We made it over to the Amazon just before things blew up in Bagua, then explored the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu. As the intrepid travelers they are, they then made their way up to Huaraz, survived meeting the locals and eating cuy, not to mention a few 12+ hour tours around the Cajellon de Huaylas. Fortunately, we missed anything heavy, but we did manage to catch quite a few regional and national strikes. The folks left in early June and I spent a few days moving into and settling my apartment in Huaraz, which is saving my sanity. It is a great work space with wonderful views of the glaciers and overlooks a sweet little plaza which is great people watching. I spent a few weeks working up in Copa then had a quick but great visit from Dabies. We hike Santa Cruz, the more famous trek in the area, on about 1,000 calories...over four days! Word to the wise, do not use Galaxia tour company! July was largely spent planning, organizing and participating in a large conference on Adapting to a World without Glaciers, put together by USAID, The Mountain Institute, and your favorite university, UGA! It was great networking, and I was relieved to learn that I was still up-to-date on the regional research even after hiding out in the foothills of glaciers for a year.

There is not too much to report in these final days. As usual, it has been a roller-coaster, but I am getting lots of work done and setting up some good leads for when I return in September. Copa meanwhile is very excited that I will be joining them for their independence day celebrations in October. It is so wild! Three story spinning firework displays, non-stop dancing and too many cajas!

So get ready folks, I will be in and out of our fair country a bit over the next 6 months or so (namely in September and November), and will be looking for a place to rest my head...'make it soft, make it low, so my good girl will never know, oh make me down a pallet on your floor'...

09 April 2009

Esa Kata

This is how I am known throughout the Callejon de Huaylas, and Peru for that matter....regardless of age, gender, or village/town/city association. It literally means, 'that Kate', but is probably more accurately translated as, 'that crazy Kate' and is followed by a chuckle. And it does not matter what I am doing, I could be dancing like a fool; cursing out the national airline, bank...or really any national entity; using the latest slang; or showing off my (sad) Quechua skills.

Semana Santa, or the week leading up to Easter, was absolutely wild. It is celebrated most dramatically in the sierra, Huaraz espsecially I am told. While I cannot really compare it to other sites, it certainly lived up to its reputation. On Good Friday the entire main street of Huaraz was decorated using colored sand and flower petals to create HUGE images of Jesus, crosses and various other saints. I was blown away by the detail and sheer size of these 'carpets' but amused by those that were sponsored by the national phone company or bank, whose logos were almost as big as the Savior himself.

Lately, I think for the change of season, I have been receiving quite a few nocturnal visitors, and not the fun kind. This last week I was eye to eye with several huge spiders (I am told they are not poisonous...), the mice that have been leaving droppings all over my room, including inside my bed and all throughout my clothes (yeah...), and my all time favorite, several very very large slugs, I am talking four or five inches long and thiiiick. Nasty! Not quite sure what to do about all my new friends...except pray they don't want to be in my bed the same time I am I suppose.

In other news, since I am staying here through May of next year (to even out the academic year...although I might be tempted to stay longer because that will be the beginning of the gorgeous season here in the mountains) I have decided to take an apartment here in Huaraz. This way, I can continue research in Copa and other sites but have a solid, permanent space for an office so that I can begin organizing and writing! Anyone who knows me understands how excited I am to have a space of my own once again. And you know it will be buried in plants! The site is great because they are newly built apartments above a new restaurant that a friend here is opening, which means that when I am up in the field or away in Lima or the states, someone is there keeping an eye out...I also get to poach his wireless internet and his cable which certainly sweetens the deal. This is all still somewhat theoretical, but I am keeping my fingers crossed I can get into the apartment around the end of the month....happy birthday to me!

01 April 2009

B-52s and Village People

Oh yeah, they are alive and well and coming to Lima. Boo yaa!

I find myself at the end of another month here in Peru, the last weeks of which I have spent in the grand city of Lima. But not only in Lima, the neighborhood of Los Olivos, which is an up-and-coming neighborhood (at least parts of it) on the outskirts of the city where lots of folks from Huaraz and other highland provinces land. Still though a far cry from the lush, gentrified oceanfront communities of Miraflores and Barranco where I usually stay while in Lima. And I must admit I was purdy darn scared a few nights ago when I arrived well past curfew, without my cell (second one lost in as many weeks) and no way to get into where I was staying without waking up the whole apartment building! Finally the guard, after calming his dogs which were on the point of attack (there was not a rock in sight) and admonishing me for wandering around after hours, talked some sense into me saying, just ring the bell and ask their forgiveness because you cannot stay out here! I have since embraced living in Los Olivos as it gives me a broader view of the city (via the two hour bus rides) and has a nice neighborhood feeling...at least until dark.

I was in Lima for two weeks full of conferences on water, climate change and indigenous communities and have been bouncing between various different conferences on any given combination of the three themes, with none of them saying much of anything interesting. I did enjoy watching the environment minister speak (Peru has just created an environment ministry this year), but otherwise like any other conference, it was mostly useful in terms of networking. I met another environmental anthropologist who has worked in Ancash as well as Peruvian doctoral students (a rare find) working in hydrology and climate. As one can imagine, apart from economics the social sciences were not represented, but hopefully I can change in the coming months.

In other news, I will be extending my stay in Peru through February or March of next year at least. A large comparative NSF project is picking up Copa as one of their three sites which gives me a few months of funding outside of my Fulbright-Hays to continue research that will benefit both my dissertation and my CV. I will be coming back for two short trips in the fall however, one to celebrate the wedding of D. and A. in September, and then again to present at the first Millennium Conference of the Ecological Society of America and as part of a double panel at the American Anthropological Association meeting in Philadelphia (get ready L.!!) in November, just in time to catch my favorite season.

08 March 2009

Chibolos and Water Balloons

February is finally over. Thank goodness. February in the sierra of Peru means Carnaval, which for all intensive purposes equates to roving bands of teenage boys seeking out targets for their water balloons. In my first encounter, I managed to outrun them, but they caught up with me eventually, soaking me and my pack on the way up to Copa (becuase it ain't wet enough up there). To escape the need for head-to-toe waterproofing, I joing a band of merry dissertators on a trip to the north coast of Peru. We began in Huanchaco, a small but beautiful beach outside of Trujillo, which we used as base camp to explore the ruins of Moche culture: Chan Chan and Huaca de la Luna. Of all the beaches and ruins, Huanchaco and Huaca de la Luna was by far the most pleasant, it is highly recommended. Moving north, we were to originally stay in the beachtown near Chiclayo, but heard that it left much to be desired so decided to stay in the city itself...the first of many disasters that will forever brand Chiclayo my least favorite place in Peru (and possibly South America). Besides the ruins and museaum of Sipan, which are magnificient, there is no reason to visit this city (God certainly never did). The most important city economically in the north, it offers nothing of beauty, few restaurants and only two night spots: a Cuban place that makes a boring Mohito and a bad disco where roaches parachute from ceiling tiles onto unsuspecting breasts....yeah. We loved Chiclayo so much that we tried to leave a day early, but two of us managed to get sick, which trust me rules out bus travel.

Finally we arrive in the bohemian capital of the north, Mancora. Town of huge surf and thriving nightlife, which is periodically overrun by Chilean and Ecuadorian toursts. I had a great time reliving my Chile days. Once you find the ocean through the ramshackle of a town, there is little reason to leave the beach. First because the Panamerican Highway runs through the center of town with zero shoulder, but mostly because the beach is beautiful, the water warm and everything you could ever want comes to you: beer, ceviche... (almost to a fault, at one point when I was relieving myself down the beach from a bonfire, a man walked up very close to me and tried to offer me the rather large fish he had just caught...um, no thanks guy, kinda busy). The waves were so huge, and broke in such dramatically different places each time, that you had to have (and continue to revise on a dime) serious strategy in order to avoid being pummeled. Each success would cause me to laugh delieriosly due to the sheer thrill. Other than the mornings we watched the sun come up after a bonfire, we stayed in a hidden oasis with beautiful greenery and plenty of hammocks.

Upon returning to Huaraz, my computer immediately threw a fit and died, but not before I put all my pictures on her, deleting them from my camera in the process. I am working with a local computer center to try and salvage data, pictures, music and bad US television that is at times my salvation, so hopefully stay tuned...

20 January 2009

Limbo lower now

It is hard for me to believe that it has taken me a month (exactly!) to get back to the blogisphere but indeed it has. I was in and out of my site over the holidays then spent a week finalizing my NSF grant to continue research next year, which I think has a decent shot (current financial crisis aside). To celebrate, UGA wrote me about some accounting rules that I inadvertently broke, and so I have to now front all my research funds instead of living on a loan from them. Actually, they wrote me the day before the grant was due. Good timing. It is not the worst case scenario (yet...fingers crossed), as they will be reimbursing me monthly, but it certainly felt like it for a while. Spent last week collating receipts and writing justifications while feeling like a criminal.

This week, while waiting in the city for final word on the accounting debacle, I am keeping myself busy writing conference abstracts, interviewing regional government and NGO folks, reviewing an article for Human Organization, and outlining a paper to be co-authored with a Fulbright colleague. Meanwhile, folks in my site are calling every morning to make sure I am still planning to return, which I hope to do this weekend. I think they are concerned because I came very close to getting beat on by a sheep(!!) just before I left. He kept circling me and peeing, which I suppose was meant to scare me...and did. He had quite a look in his eye. After Yosep ran around behind him and tied him down, we laughed for about an hour since the sheep scared me more than the huge bulls I walk by everyday without blinking now. Although, knowing that the sheep is willing to come after me, I might rethink my walking paths.

Things I realized I missed this week: roasted pumpkin seeds with salt and soy sauce......mmmmmm; things I realized I loved this week: chocho, a super traditional highland dish of white beans stewed in lime juice with raw red onion and a bit of tomato......mmmmmm. Oh so good! Going for some now!

Happy inauguration!