Sunday, July 17, 2011

Editor’s Note: The following is a second guest blog written by the one and only, BonBon Larson. I apologize for the delay; this trip took place in early June and should have been posted weeks ago. Unfortunately for you, my audience, I have had two of the busiest (and perhaps, best) months of my life. In addition to my mom and aunt visiting my town, I began the process of finishing up my Peace Corps service and saying goodbye to some people I have come to love dearly. I’m not fully prepared to reflect on that yet, so stand by for my grand finale blog post. You won’t be disappointed.

Another Great Peruvian Adventure:

I wasn’t sure if I would get back to Peru or not, but I really wanted to visit Kimberly’s Peace Corps site of San Miguel. My sister Jackie graciously agreed to accompany me on this beautiful but arduous journey. The department of Cajamarca is not exactly traveler friendly. After spending the night with the nuns and flying from Lima to Chiclayo (Kim note: a group of nuns used to live in San Miguel and now live close to the airport offered to let us stay with them one night), we spent hours on buses and taxis which flew precariously around hairpin curves on the paved and unpaved roads along the Andes Mountains. We look back now and laugh about one driver who took a curve a little too sharply and ended up running into a rock slide. After crawling out the driver’s door and watching the men pick up the rocks one by one until our van was freed, we were on our merry way once again.

Enjoying the not-so-traveler-friendly transportation:

But we made it to Cajamarca!

Sunset overlooking the city of Cajamarca:

Hiking in Cumbe Mayo, just outside Cajamarca:

We were warmly welcomed not only by Kim’s host family, but also the entire town. I don’t believe they had ever seen tourists before, especially not blonde sisters! We got lots of stares, giggles and people touching our hair and telling us we had beautiful heads. I’m not sure which was more attractive, the mountains surrounding San Miguel or the lovely people living there. We were wined and dined wherever we went. One day we ate no less than six meals! Kimberly’s host mom killed some chickens for our lunch and hung them from the ceiling. She must have known we were a little squeamish, so she kept them covered with a towel (Kim note: Host Mom gave me a wink and said she knew how to handle “real gringas”). We kept Kimberly busy boiling water to drink and bathe in. She was very patient with her high maintenance mom and aunt.

Host Mom cleaned my room (and washed my shoes!), hauled a bed and mattress into my second-floor bedroom and made a welcome sign for their arrival. She was pretty pumped.

("Vani" = Bonnie and "Yaqui" = Jackie. I assume she wrote "okey" because it's the only word Host Mom knows in English. I love her.)

Kids LOVED the American candy - especially these candy necklaces

We helped her celebrate her birthday with a big feast, followed by the traditional dunking of the face in birthday cake and lots of dancing to wino (Editor's note: it’s spelled huayno, but I enjoyed my mom’s use of the word “wino”), cumbia and salsa music.

Our next destination was Kuelap, a pre-Incan fortress in the eyebrow of the Amazon jungle. We stayed in the quaint town of Chachapoyas and made a side trip to one of the highest waterfalls in the world, Gocta. As usual, Kim’s hikes (at 10,000 feet above sea level) tend to be grueling. Luckily I was able to ride a mule part of the way (led by an Indian woman wearing flip-flops and a skirt). The scenery and waterfall were breathtaking. I was able to top it all off with a meal of cuy (guinea pig) and rice. The views from Kuelap were equally stunning. Our guide kept us laughing even as we viewed thousand-year-old bones and a llama who met his demise falling off a cliff.

All too soon (or as Jackie says, not soon enough) it was time to return to the luxuries we take for granted in the USA. I will treasure the wonderful memories of the warm people and the rugged beauty of the Andes Mountains. And once again, I am grateful for our young people in the Peace Corps who live and work under less than ideal circumstances to bring joy and hope to so many.

Chau Peru,

Bonnie and Jackie

Another Editor’s Note, to the Guest Blogger and her sis:

I would like to formally apologize to you both for dragging y’all from one uncomfortable situation into another. Thank you for being good sports, even when it was scary. More importantly, thank you for coming, even though it was scary. You’ll never know how much it meant to me.

Upon leaving Peru last week, I am only barely beginning to grasp how much I will miss that place and those people. The past two years already seem like a dream to me, having flown by in a haze. Just knowing that you have been to San Miguel, stayed in my house, met my friends and coworkers and seen why I love it so creates a bridge between the two lives I’ve lived. I can’t imagine living without my memories of either. Mil gracias!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Cotton Anniversary

Today, June 5th, commemorates my second anniversary here in Peru. It seems just yesterday that Peru and I first met, thrown together in the oddest of circumstances. The first few days were, in a word, awkward.

Next came the honeymoon period, and we’ve spent the last 700-odd days getting to know each other up close and personal … sometimes too intimately for comfort. Like any relationship, we’ve had our ups and downs, but with time the highs became a little less high and the lows much less low.

A comfortable understanding of each other has now replaced the former awkwardness. In fact, I can’t imagine myself ever feeling awkward in any situation again. For that, I thank you Peru.

To celebrate this special occasion, I went through the volumes of pictures I’ve taken over the last two years and selected a few of my favorites. So here they are: the best-of moments between me and my guy Peru.

Celebrating Christmas in San Miguel

So many memories with Host Mom and Host Bro

Visiting the deepest canyon in the world (and my friend who actually lives there)

Sharing my favorite American holiday (and favorite American foods) with Peru

Hiking through the highlands of the highly underrated Cajamarca

Three birthdays in Peru!

Hanging out with my fabulous students

Helping my artisans pass on their art to High School students

Our Rehabilitation Center for the disabled actually got built!

San Miguel now LOVES pizza

I picked up a few new hobbies ...

... but managed to find some down-time with friends

The San Miguel fiesta nearly killed me, twice.

Oh, and so did the Amazon jungle

I saw geysers!

I crossed into Bolivia!

I went sand-boarding!

I held a sloth!

My Peace Corps bosses came to visit, and San Miguel showed them a good time

Hiking with other Volunteers

Including hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

My house threw the best parties in town

Teaching Business skills to youth

and they taught me how to rock the sombrero

Two Christmases in Peru!

Youth Entrepreneurship Club

I found my true calling: cheese judge

Did I ever mention San Miguel was founded by Francisco Pizarro? We love him.

And another birthday in Peru

My favorite tradition: Unshas!

Cascade escapades

Boy will I miss Carnival in Cajamarca

and donkey transport

and the other white meat!

but of all things I love in Peru, above all I love Peruvians