Friday, June 28, 2013

Going to Peru? Some Helpful Hints

Some of you might be planning your own Peru trip, now. If that is the case, I have a few suggestions of things that worked for me.

1. Buy your plane tickets far in advance. LAN was my favorite airline, although it is more expensive than the other ones. Also, if you are going to Machu Picchu (and you better if you are going to Peru! Why wouldn’t you?), you need to book those tickets long in advance (for example, to go the famous Waynu Picchu mountain, you have to book those tickets 6 months in advance).

2. The following items were GREAT to bring along: My Keen hiking sandals (best investment ever! Leather, waterproof, comfortable for all terrains), my day bag (MountainSide; it has a belt, which puts the weight on your hips and not your shoulder), polarized sunglasses, floppy sun hat, hand sanitizer (with the cool holder from Bath and Body Works), altitude sickness medicine (talk to your doctor; it has to be prescribed), money/passport belt, baby wipes, Chapstick (the stuff in Peru just doesn’t compare), Neutrogena facial cleansing cloths (no water necessary; perfect for camping), Lindt truffles (great gifts for host families), a bath towel (towels are hard to find and are very expensive in Peru), bug spray, sunscreen, a nice camera, etc. Those are just a few recommendations, especially if you are going hiking/camping. Also, Bequis brought along these “Breakfast on the Go” granola packs, which were really good, too. They have flavors such as apple cinnamon, maple brown sugar, peanut butter chocolate, blueberry and yogurt, etc. They are delicious and came in handy as snacks.

3. Buy your souvenirs in Cusco. They have a lot of markets there, and the prices are pretty reasonable. The selection is great, too. I recommend going around and finding out how much things cost and then buying (it is okay to barter for lower prices, just keep in mind that this is how they make their living, so don’t be aggressive about it). The souvenirs in Lima were much more expensive.

4. Ask locals to know how much you should expect to pay for taxis from the airport. Some cab drivers take advantage of the fact that you are unfamiliar with the prices and price gouge. It is usually cheaper to take a cab just outside of the airport than it is inside the airport (although they will tell you that it is unsafe to do so).

5. If you are going to do a hike, do Machu Picchu FIRST and THEN hike. Otherwise, you will be tired, sore, and covered in blisters (and it will be harder to enjoy the Machu Picchu experience). If you are going to do a multiple-day hike, BE IN SHAPE and DON’T BE SICK! Enough said on that. Yes, I recommend getting to Cusco for a few days to acclimate to the altitude before trying any major trekking expedition. Also, get the altitude sickness medicine from your doctor as a preventative measure. Bequis and I didn’t have any problems due to altitude.

6. Check out the Lonely Planet website for other tips. Also, remember to always keep your bag (even backpack) in front of you at all times, to avoid theft (you can always tell the locals from the tourists…the locals carry the backpack in front and the tourists in the back).

Home Again

I had Monday night and all day Tuesday to enjoy in Lima before I went home.

Monday night Marlene had arranged a special Family Home Evening in my honor. I was happy to see Wendy and Alexander, both of my friends from Iquitos (who were studying in Lima). I was also happy to see Elen, who was baptized in Comas. We called up Hna. Katty Avalos, my mission companion and good friend, so Elen could say hola to her. Later that night, I was able to call up Katty and catch up with her, which was SO GREAT! We had just seen each other two weeks ago, but a lot had happened in that time.

On my last day, Tuesday, Elen, Marlene, Lucy, and I went to town to help me accomplish one of my final trip goals-that of eating ceviche. We weren’t allowed to eat it as missionaries, so, of course, I was curious to try it. In case you wondered how they prepare ceviche, they take fish and soak it in lemon juice until it is “cooked.” Then, they add all the good stuff; boiled sweet potato, crunchy canchita (toasted corn kernels with salt), red onion, a few beans, and some sea plant. Yummy! We had ordered a large platter to share, and then had ordered pescado chicharrón (fish cut in small chunks and fried) in addition. We were stuffed! Oh, there happened to be a tremor from an earthquake a few miles away, but it is was very slight for us.

We walked around, took a nap in the Olivar park, and then had mazamorra morada con arroz con leche , which is a very Peruvian dessert, and then took the Metropolitano back. Good times. I stopped by Seraphina’s house one more time to say goodbye (she is my 95-year-old Peruvian friend we would often visit as missionaries), got my suitcases (with help from my friends who carried them down the hill for me), got in the car, and headed to the airport.

After a month of traveling and visiting friends, it was time to wake up from my dream and to come home again. I thank God for helping make my trip as meaningful as He did, packed full of many miracles and priceless experiences. He helped me reach my trip goals; just to make it to Peru in the first place, but then to accomplish the many objectives I had laid out for my trip. I am so grateful to Him, as well as to the people who opened up their hearts, their homes, their dinner tables, their schedules, and everything to me. Thank you!

To be continued….

In the Jungle...

So, whenever missionaries talked about serving in “the jungle” (la selva), I got the impression that they lived in the Amazon rainforest, slept in hammocks, had pet monkeys, and used machetes to clear the brush and to protect their companions from attacking anacondas. Well, when I went to Iquitos, I was shocked to find a city of over 430,000 people complete with people selling ice cream on bikes, among other amenities.

When I came back for this trip, I felt I could relax. I also had a ton of memories flooding through my brain. We would ride in motortaxis and drive down certain streets and I would exclaim, “Oh! I miss Hna. Rodriguez!” or “I remember when Hna. Duarte and I rode down this street to go to a training with our mission president.” I missed my companions wherever I went, and it just wasn’t the same without them. I have got to send them a report and let them know how each family is doing (add to the to-do list).

I did all kinds of things I never did as a missionary. I took a boat, for example, to see the remote village where my pensionista works as a teacher; I visited a butterfly farm with some friends; I rode on the back of a motorcycle a few times (I don’t need to do that again); I got my first manicure and pedicure (20 soles = $8 USD; it’s okay to be jealous); I took naps after lunch! It was glorious.

I continued doing visits to see the different families. That was my favorite part of my trip. To see their reaction was priceless. They were so humble and they were so excited. They said, “To be honest, we never thought we would see you again! Now it seems like you have never left!” They thanked me for my service and for coming back and visiting them.

Then, after I showed them my pictures and gave them an update on my life came the inevitable questions: “Y tu novio?” (and your fiancée?) or “Cuándo te vas a casar?” (when are you getting married?). I would joke about it and say, “I’m getting married June 14, 2014…… You didn’t ask me with whom, only when. I haven’t planned that minor detail yet.” They would laugh and then pointedly remind me that I was getting old and had no time to waste (thank you, Peru, for reminding me of my marital status. I had forgotten I was single and that my biological clock was ticking). They would then ask, “When is the next time you are coming back?” and then told me they wanted me to come back with my husband and my babies. I told them that would be within 10 years. They did not like that response.

Qué más? Well, my friend Janifer accompanied me to visit one area and Francis, the 13-year-old son of my pensionista Vicki, accompanied me in the other area. We joked that Francis was my bodyguard or my new missionary companion. Excelente, compañero, excelente! He would repeat stuff I had said to my missionary companion, Hna. Rodriguez, while staying at their house, even in the same goofy voices and everything! I would give him Jolly Ranchers (his favorite) and all kinds of random stuff I had lying around in my suitcase (a stuffed animal elephant, pictures, a USB, fake dollar bills from the Dollar Tree, measuring cups, etc). He loved all the random stuff! I would joke about him becoming my best friend, but there’s no joke about it! He reminded me of hanging out with my nieces and nephews. I already miss that kid! Good thing there’s Facebook.

After eight days in the jungle, it was time to head back to Lima and then head home.

To be continued….

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Waking Up From My Dream…Traveling to Iquitos

The next day I had breakfast at the Quiroz home and then they took me to the airport to catch my flight. My flight was delayed because of rain in Tarapoto. We boarded the plane and then waited, and then were told to go back to the airport to wait. We left 5 hours later. In the interim, I made friends with the Tarapotino neighbors sitting next to me, sharing my overpriced trail mix with them. They mentioned they had plans to go to Brazil the next year for the World Cup. Cool! Generally speaking, though, there were a grumpy group of passengers, that’s for sure! I felt bad for the employees of Star Peru, having to deal with all the grumpy people. It isn’t their fault that the weather is bad! It helped that I had expected weather-related delays, so I wasn’t terribly surprised or upset when it happened. Keep your expectations low.

On a random side note, our plane picked up passengers in Tarapoto, including some missionaries heading to Iquitos! They were Assistants to the President and happened to sit in the same row as I did. They filled me in on some of the news of the mission (Iquitos is becoming its own mission on July 1 and has a new president from Mexico). I happened to have a package for them with the new logos of the mission, which my friend Marlene designed. So, it worked out perfectly.

I did feel bad, however, because there were people waiting for me at the airport. I had to keep on texting and calling them to let them know that the flight was delayed. I didn’t want to inconvenience them and ruin their plans.

I arrived at 7:30 pm. Janifer and her mom, Flor, met me at their airport (some of my favorite people). I was supposed to stay at Vicky’s house, but they were so sad when I told them that. So, I (being the people pleaser that I am) told them, “You know what, why don’t I spend four days with you and four days with Vicky. She will understand!” They brightened up and were excited. I called them my “kidnappers.” They found a moto-taxi and I came back with them. We had so much fun together!

I must confess, that for the first three weeks in Peru, my life seemed like a dream. It seemed surreal that I was there in Peru, visiting my friends. However, when I got to Iquitos, I snapped out of my dream. I felt right at home and felt so comfortable there. I LOVED IT! Keep in mind that I had spent a year of my life in this city. Keep in mind that these are some of the nicest and most friendly people I had ever met. This is why I love Peruvians, this is why I loved my mission, and this is why I loved my trip!

When we got home, I changed shoes and Janifer and I immediately began to visit people, to say hola and to invite them to come to church the next day. I loved it! I felt like a missionary again. We made quite a few visits that night, surprising many people by our visit.

To be continued…

Friends, Chocolate, and Bodyguards

For any teachers, you know how expensive classroom materials can be, so, ¡aproveché! Disregarding the cost of the airfare, it was way cheaper to buy posters, CDs, and other materials for my future classroom as a Spanish teacher in Peru than it would be online. I went with Jenny to the Politécnico, where they sold materials for teachers. I also found flags of Spanish-speaking countries while in Cusco at reduced prices (compared to American prices). ¡Lo máximo! (awkward translation: the best ever!)

I went to el distrito Carabayllo, where I visited my first pensionista, Marlene. She was practically my first Peruvian mom, cooking every breakfast and dinner for my companion and I, and taking care of us while we were sick. We reminisced over old times, while enjoying amazing Peruvian food (including mashed potatoes, meat, and rice). We remembered our “romantic Christmas dinner” when the lights went out, and we used every candle in the house. She invited me to tour downtown on Thursday and I was delighted to accept.

The next day, Wednesday, I went to the Lima temple with my friend. While we were eating lunch there, a young man came up and said hello (actually, he said hola). I stood up and gave him a huge hug (don’t worry, I’m not a floozy, just keep on reading). It was my friend, Wilbur, from Iquitos! He had worked with us missionaries in the jungle, and we knew and loved his family, who came from humble circumstances and gave us the best they had. He had gotten back from his mission in September and briefly filled me in on how his family was doing. I did not expect to see him in Lima. He and his sister had moved to Lima from the jungle (apparently, I learned that they weren’t the only ones who do that. I soon learned that a lot of people moved to Lima from Iquitos, for better job and schooling opportunities).

Later that night, I met up with my friend Silvana, who also served as a missionary in my mission. We became companions for a day, visiting various ward members. We visited Seraphina, a 95-year-old woman. On Monday, Hna. Avalos and I were sad because she didn’t remember who we were. However, when Silvana and I came on Wednesday, she remembered la gringa and the Ariquipeñan who would visit her. She looked at Silvana and pointedly told her, “You aren’t her.” She told us she had the things that we had given her saved away. I gave her a Soy amada (I am loved) pin (thank you, Helzberg Diamonds, for donating the pins), which she put on her chompa (her sweater). I love Seraphina and was so grateful that she remembered who I was! Mini miracle!

With Silvana, we did a Family Home Evening with one of my favorite families, Sangama Ortega. We trudged up the hill to get to their home. These kids were so excited when I gave them a sticky note to write a goal on. Aldair, six, asked for 2 sticky notes. I willingly complied (Do you see why I love these kids? They are excited about sticky notes!). After the lesson and after the goal-writing activity, I pulled out balloons for the activity (I had no idea what we would do with them; I just had faith that inspiration would hit) and invented a relay race using balloons.

They also loved the Reese’s peanut butter cups I brought and were excited when I told them we could make them from scratch on Thursday night. On Thursday night, they made Father’s Day cards, and then we made our dessert (we took Ritz crackers and made peanut butter sandwiches with them, dipped them in melted chocolate almond bark, and then put them in the fridge to harden). We stuck a pan of the treats outside and took turns standing guard, making sure the roaming cats (or kids) didn’t get to them.

Then, it was Christmas! If they were grateful for sticky notes, they loved the gifts I gave them. I explained that I had missed their birthdays and Christmas, so I was making up for it. They loved it. I loved it. And I remembered what my grandpa had taught me about the purpose of money. One of the happiest things we can do is to give to other people and to bring happiness into their lives. Amen. That was one of the most rewarding aspects of my trip; giving to others.

Amador (the dad) was expected to come the next day, but I wasn’t sure if I would get to see him before I left to go to the selva, or jungle. Well, he walked right in right during the gift-opening session (He works far away for 28 days and then comes back for 5 days on an ongoing basis)! Since he would be gone for Father’s Day, he went ahead and opened his Father’s day cards and presents. It was a great (and late!) night for everyone.

The next day was Friday. My host family was excited to show Las Piletas to me; a park with fountains and lights. It happened to be the same day as the huge fútbol (soccer) game. Apparently, everyone else decided to be out and about, to get off work early to watch the game. We spent about an hour trying to find an available bus or taxi to go and meet up with our friends! We finally found a bus and smushed our way through all the people. Talk about no personal space! It’s a good thing I wasn’t claustrophobic; we were packed like sardines. I made sure to carry my bag in front of me at all times; it is not unknown for people to lose cameras and wallets unknowingly while taking public transportation.

We got off the bus and my friend said, “Let’s go take a look at these movies.” We went inside the little kiosk and my friend said, “Keep on looking.” So, I obediently looked around at the pirated DVDS. She pulled me aside and said, “Susan, when you got off the bus, there was this guy who immediately began to follow you. That’s why I steered us into this store. We will have to take any car, because if we walk farther, he could be waiting for us.” So, we actually waited for our other friends to meet us at the store before we boarded another bus. I bought a few DVDs (which possibly saved my life) from the guy.

A similar incident happened later, and we decided that there was too much traffic. It would be better to go back home. The whole time, my friends stepped up and protected me. They became my bodyguards (keep in mind that they are probably no taller than 5 feet). One friend walked in front, one at my side, and two in the back. We laughed that they were protecting me, when they were so much shorter than me! We went home, safe, and watched the fútbol game (which Peru won, 1-0).

To be continued…

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

More Goodbyes

So, Bequis needed to get ready to go to the airport the next day, so we did not sleep that night, preparing her luggage and such. We left the house at 4:30 am, said our goodbyes, and were back by 6 am.

I think that Bequis enjoyed Peru. People welcomed her with open arms. People are so nice and welcoming and loving, that it is sometimes overwhelming. Bequis has been a great travel companion and friend, and I will miss her on the second half of my trip. We have had quite the series of adventures together. I was glad to have someone else appreciate things we would find different that other Peruvians would take for granted (like the dogs on the roof that surprised Bequis, having to stand far away while our Peruvian friends were hailing a cab so we wouldn´t get charged the gringo price, bartering in the market, looking nappy while we camped, having lots of leg room on the plane, etc).

After a four hour nap, I met up with Hna. Avalos and Harold and we visited Hna. Rosa up at her home on the cerrito. Her house was much bigger now and they had some modern conveniences, for which I was so grateful. We spent some time talking with her and helping get the niñas ready for the colegio. I got to hold the youngest baby, whose name is Susan Katty (named after Hna. Avalos and I. No, seriously. I told her that we would be the godparents). I told her we would do a noche de hogar (FHE) at her home on Wednesday. Her husband should be back this week! He works 24 days and then gets 7 days off (supposedly, since he spends many of those days traveling to and from work). It is fortunate that I will get to see him when he comes back.

After our visit, including at the house of our pensionista, Hna. Soledad. We had an AMAZING Peruvian meal (arroz con pollo). I had forgotten that she is such a good cook. I was so spoiled as a missionary with excellent food. We had so much fun and just laughed and laughed, like old times. Andy, her son, joined us and we teased him just as much as we had in the good old days. Good times, de verdad.

After our visit, it was time to say goodbye to Katty and Harold. I was so happy to spend the time with them this weekend, just like old times, and to visit those families. It seemed like a dream that I am here in Peru, but IT IS TRUE! We had a blast doing the show, and we were able to conversate and catch up. What a blessed weekend it was. Of course, we hugged and cried and said, ¨hasta el milenio¨ (until the millennium), but hopefully, it will be sooner than that. Now we say, ¨hasta Facebook.¨ But, that is life, right? If you love someone, it hurts to say goodbye to them. And, people have to keep on living their individual lives.

To be continued...........

Belly Aches---Food and Laughter

After visiting Olga´s family, we visited Gloria and her son, Jhon (yes, that is spelled right), who had just received his mission call to Argentina. To Bequis´surprise, she knew the new mission presidents! They were from Boston, too! We joked about how Jhon would get special privileges because Bequis could give him a good recommendation (pizza, perhaps? become assistant to the president the moment he walked off the plane?).

I failed to mention how much I have been reliving my mission. I had forgotten about the hundreds of stairs we walked up, the dogs that ran loose and barked at us (scaring the daylights out of us), the dusty streets, and all the food we ate. I soon remembered, after eating at every house a full meal. I don't know how we ate three meals in a three hour time span and walked after that, but somehow we managed.

We four (Hna. Avalos and her fiancee, Bequis and I) took a taxi and went to the apartment where Pres. Blunck and Hna. Blunck live. They soon finish their mission the end of June, which is one of the main reasons why I scheduled my trip when I did. In the taxi (much to our amusement and the driver´s bewilderment) we rehearsed our ¨show.¨ We didn´t have time to come up with an ending, but figured we would improvise. And we did.

If you really want to know about our show, contact me and ask me about it and I will tell you about it. It was hilarious (of course, I am biased). Basically, it was about two returned missionaries who try to use different habits and skills they learned from the mission to apply towards the second mission....finding a husband. I am sure you will see it on Broadway in a few years.

Although our gathering was small, perhaps 10 missionaries came, it was so special to catch up and see how everyone was doing, and, of course, to spend time with the Bluncks again. Hna. Velarde, who served in my mission, presented the Bluncks with a binder of letters that other missionaries had written for them, and had emailed to Hna. Velarde to compile. That was a labor of love, since Hna. Velarde has very limited time. She is great at organizing and accomplishing many things.

Side note: Hna. Velarde also helped Bequis and I find our great hostal in Cusco...if you need a travel agent, she is the person to talk to. I will be happy to forward her information on if you are planning a trip to Peru. She is fluent in English (and of course, Spanish).

That night was just preparation for other goodbyes we would have the next day. To be continued......