A Travellerspoint blog

Cultural Integration

5/25 Cultural Integration

Leigh took me to a hotel near where we were staying where we could have some breakfast with great views of the amazon river. Afterwards we headed to Sandra’s house (a friend of Leigh’ from when she lived in Peru) to help prepare a traditional Peruvian lunch complete with soup , main course, and freshly made juice from two different tropical fruits that I cannot pronounce… J We spent about 6 hours there, with Sandra, her parents, her brothers family, and Helga (another friend of Leigh’s). It was a wonderfully rich cultural experience. I did however reach a wall where I was absolutely exhausted trying to translate everything everyone was saying. Sandra’s parents were especially hard for me to understand, so of course they are the ones that would usually ask me a question, leaving me saying, “que?” or “como?” over and over again… Usually when I am traveling in Latin America I can take breaks from translating or talking whenever I felt like it, here with some amazingly patient big-hearted people it would have been inappropriate to just take a walk, so I struggled a bit to keep that little hamster in my head spinning that darn wheel. It was like cultural immersion 0 to 50 in 2.5…

After an amazing meal we grabbed a moto to the airport for our journey to Lima (where Channa, another of Leigh’s good friends met us for our layover) then a red eye to Buenos Aires.

Posted by senete 02:47 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Hands-on with Amazonian Animals!


5/24 Bufeos (Pink Dolphins), Sloths, monkeys, and more!

Leigh never ceases to impress me. J Yesterday amongst a swarm of Peruvians she was able to negotiate and bargain for the most economic way to the Serpentario. In the end it was our faithful Moto driver that “knew a guy,” and had the best price. The moto driver picked us up at 9am and took us to Huequito (a port with many small boats that are used to commute to indigenous villages and for tourists such as ourselves. It was at this port that we met Jorge and Junior, our tour guides and boat operators. Junior was one of Jorge’s sons. He skipped school today to help his dad as co-captain. Our journey began with a short boat ride to the el encuentro where the el itaya and amazon river mix. Amazingly there is a stark line where a deep blue/black water ends and the Amazonian chocolate colored river begins. Jorge said this is where the Bufeos (pink dolphins) like to play and eat. Within about 5 minutes our trusty captain found a Bufeo! We tried to tail it but almost immediately it retreated upset that we scared away all of the fish with the sound of our outboard motor. After chasing the Bufeo we went to an indigenous village called “The Yahua” where we were greeted by women and men dressed in grass skits bare upper torsos. They hurried us into their ceremonial TP where the chief declared that we were to pay about 8 us dollars each to watch their ceremonial dance. We obliged then were dumbfounded to see that the ceremony they referred to was us running around in a circle a couple of times, spit a few darts out of a very long wood straw, then have all of the members of the tribe surround us with their handy crafts, shaking their handy work literally an inch from our faces. It was at this moment that Leigh said, “This is isn’t about raising awareness this is about selling. You have such an opportunity to educate people about preserving your indigenous culture, shoving souvenirs in our faces is not going to achieve that goal. I came here to learn not be harassed with handy crafts.” The chief took this to heart and he took us aside and asked us what we would like to learn, We asked him a few basic questions and then somewhat disappointed with this particular experience embarked for the Serpentario (an outdoor property that houses Sloths, monkeys, anacondas, pre-historic water turtles and more!)

Holding a sloth is like holding the most cuddly teddy bear imaginable, only this teddy bear hugs back. J It was hard to give them back… They had one baby monkey that was barely weaned. Leigh made a special connection with him and he started suckling her hand, and lightly inspecting her fingers with his own soft padded hands. After Leigh made this connection I jumped in and was able to receive the same open affection that she did; precious is the best way to describe him. Next came the anaconda that was draped on us like a cold heavy scarf, and a pre-historic turtle that’s face looked like a rough leaf. Our Guide at the Serpentario, Jack, was very informative and patient.

On the way back from the Serpentario to the docks we found a pair of Bufeos that were playing just off the bow of the boat. What a treat!!

After lunch Leigh and I walked to the school that she taught at. She was greeted with many warm hugs, screams of excitement, and glowing faces. J I got to peak into her past seeing where she used to march in the courtyard, watch traditional dance competition, see what her classrooms looked like, the teacher lounge, etc.

By this point in the day I was ready for a nap, high 90s with 90% humidity really zaps energy. So I napped while Leigh caught up with a couple of friends.

Posted by senete 02:43 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

reuniting in Iquitos

El 22 de mayo

We arrived in Iquitos to a warm jungle blanket, familiar to me and welcoming to Shannon. Miguel and Juan, our new friends from the Machu Picchu train who happened to be on our same flight, were greeted by their army major and his two security guards, and they gave us a ride to our apartment. The apartment I lived in in ’04-’05 was occupied, but the neighboring unit was available and smelled the same, initiating my sweet nostalgia from the moment we opened the door. My friend Sandra was also at the airport, waving to us amidst the crowd of those waiting for passengers to exit. We caught up briefly with her before checking in to our home away from home (AC and balcony view of an Amazon tributary!) After a quick shower (which my friend Carmen called a Polish bath, not remembering that I am 25% Polish!), we met up with 3 of my former colleagues who sang the traditional “Welcome to Iquitos” to us. We crossed a long floating dock (~100 feet) and reached a jungle hut with cozy couches and hammocks, where we caught up until midnight to the jungle’s soundtrack. It was a great way to introduce Shannon to my beloved Iquitos.

Posted by senete 14:44 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Ideallic day in the jungle

El 23 de mayo

We caught up on sleep and, just as we were planning our day, Helga surprised us with us a visit. (She had called my buddies to find out which unit we were staying). Shannon met Helga when she visited us in Kansas in ’06 and knew that she was my Peruvian “mom;” however, she didn’t fully understand the depth of her nurturing and playful personality until we spent today with her on her own turf. Helga, 62 going on 30, arrived on her moto bearing an indigenous mother-and-child doll, which she explained represented her and me. We delivered her requested vitamins and shared a giggle over our distinct cultural gift exchange. Shannon, eager to meet the manatees, invited Helga to join us, and we were off on a colectivo bus (a must do here). One of Shannon’s fellow Haiti volunteers had dropped a name that allowed us to enter the manatee rescue property. Harold, one of several biologists collaborating with the Dallas Aquarium that has provided funding and monthly veterinarian visits for the project, shared with us the need for the rescue project and gave us a brief Manatees 101. Boats, the main form of transportation for most of the Amazon Basin population, often run into mother manatees leading the babies to certain death without intervention. Manatees are also hunted for food, and the babies are stolen as pets. These same people unknowingly feed these herbivores fish and bread, resulting in malnourishment and death. After talking with Harold, we had the opportunity to bottle feed milk to the baby manatees. They only consume milk for their first 3 years, and then they progress to aquatic plants. Harold told us that we could swim with the manatees tomorrow, so we will return in the afternoon.

Since we were close to the zoo, we decided to get every bang for our soles and stopped in to see: jaguars, monkeys, crocs, otters, pumas, cheetahs, Spanish-speaking parrots (“¡hola!”), AND… the only fresh water dolphin in the world, el bufeo or pink dolphin! Several local zoo visitors were tapping the water, and one little girl kept excitedly calling the bufeo’s name. However, Shannon, apparently a bufeo whisperer, placed her empty hand in the water, and much to her delight, the bufeo approached, raised his head out of the water and checked her out. Shannon pet his chin and head, and the bufeo rolled on its back, so she continued to rub his chest and fins. Right about this time, I overheard the bufeo expert explaining to Helga (in Spanish, so Shannon didn’t notice), that she generally doesn’t like for people to touch the bufeo because he has no partner, and touch sexually excites him. Before I had a chance to translate, (and I was still processing this information… did I really hear that right?!), I reached for the video camera. Next, I heard the crowd of 30-some people and Shannon laugh. Apparently, as the dolphin was rolling around, his “beak”, as one observer joked, was out of the, er, “ lipstick case,” and Shannon’s arm unknowingly hit it, abruptly ending the bufeo massage. For sure, it was an unforgettable experience!

We headed home, took quick showers, and went to lunch at Huasaí, my favorite restaurant in Iquitos. For 10 soles (~$3.60) a person, we enjoyed a pitcher of Tapiriba resfresco (fresh-squeezed juice from a local fruit), paiche (the biggest Amazonian fish), and a beans, yucca, cilantro and beef stew. YUM!

I had predicted that, by the time we reached Chile at the end of our trip, Shannon would have processed enough input and would be bursting at the seams with the urge and vocabulary to speak. This happened much earlier than I had predicted, however, as she impressed both Helga and me at lunch, telling stories about her work and the health care system in the US. Helga said, “When I came to visit in ’06, you knew very little; how did you learn so much?” Shannon loved that acknowledgment and replied that she learned a lot in Guatemala, the Dominican Republic and from me.

Next, to cool off, we took a short boat ride to a new floating restaurant with a fresh water swimming pool. Shannon, sweating buckets, headed straight for the swimming pool. From the pool we could enjoy the amazing view of lilies, flowering aquatic plants, and water as far as the eye could see, Amazonia… We enjoyed the amenities for about an hour, which is when the restaurant closed, and returned home. We told Helga “¡hasta luego!,” as she kick started her moto and headed home.

Shannon and I took second showers for the day and decided to head out to see what was happening along the boulevard that borders the river. As usual on any given evening, it was teaming with street vendors, street performers and families out for a stroll. We perused an open-air craft market where Shannon discovered some 20-day old puppies sleeping in a box under a table. We then stopped in The Yellow Rose of Texas, a place I remember fondly, despite the confederate-flag boasting Texan owner who speaks so little Spanish he can’t even correctly pronounce his iquiteña wife’s name.

On our way home, we picked up water, toilet paper and a razor. When we got “home”, Shannon commented that she enjoyed putting away our first groceries.

Posted by senete 14:41 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Aguas Calientes - Machu Picchu tomorrow

5/20 Cuzco--Aguas Calientes

Our morning began at 6:40am with: a taxi ride to a bus stop, a bus ride (approximately 2 hours long) to the temporary train station since the February mudslides that closed Machu Picchu for 2 months, then a beautiful ride on the train accompanied by two Peruvians who live in Iquitos. You can imagine their excitement when they discovered Leigh’s intimate knowledge and love for their city and region. When they learned what we do for work, they proclaimed to their Brazilian travel mates that they were all in good hands in the event of a medical emergency, and that Shannon could perform ‘boca a boca’ or mouth to mouth resuscitation. This broke the ice, and we spent the rest of the ride listening to why we shouldn’t travel to Chile (Peru and Chile have a huuuge rivalry), much like MU and KU. The Easter Island temples were made by Incas (Peruvian); Chileans didn’t invent wine; they simply replicated its production. Their diatribe reminded Shannon of a scene in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” when the father dares someone to give him a word, and he can prove how everything has a Greek origin. Our journey ended by trading a mini bottle of Jack Daniels from our flight attendant for a bottle of water, so we could hydrate for tomorrow’s climb!

Alas, we arrived in Aguas Calientes, a town whose purpose is essentially to lodge and feed visitors and acts as Machu Picchu’s gift shop in the form of a maze-like outdoor market! The town is small but the peoples’ hearts are huge! One waiter shared with us the Titanic-like economic division of rescue efforts when floods shut down the town, railroads and South America’s #1 tourist destination, at a loss to Peru of hundreds of thousands of tourism dollars per day for 2 months. First, women and children were rescued, and once all of the foreign tourists were helicoptered out, the ~7.000 local Peruvians had to walk 9 hours on the broken railroad tracks. Well, except for the 4 chosen to stay behind to keep an eye out for looters, etc.

We wandered to the town square and purchased our entrance tickets to Machu Picchu (Thanks, Rysko’s!!) On our way back to our hostel we witnessed two adorable boys who must have been no older than 2.5-3 years of age sitting on plastic toy fire trucks (the kind you push with your feet, no pedals or controls of any kind). A man counted to three and they both lifted their feet and went barreling down the cobblestone, steep curved road! Leigh and I both bit our nails until we saw them stop safely! Ay Dios!

Later a soft rain was a perfect backdrop for our patio seat at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant where we enjoyed coca tea, vegetable soup, and some Peruvian main courses. While we were waiting for our food we paid tribute to the Vold’s by playing Gin Rummy; Leigh won… again. J Mañana, we ascend Machu Picchu!!! Our day starts at 5:00am, so we are headed to bed now!

Posted by senete 13:43 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

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