Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Road to Santiago

I found this cool song by Heather Dale called The Road to Santiago while starting this blog, check it out here :)

I fell in love with Santiago the moment I met Santiago.

The first aspects that hooked me were the immense wall of Andes mountains surrounding the city and the beautiful, art-filled, and clean downtown Santiago. But what made me truly enamored with the city was the wonderfully sweet and charming people, consistently excellent food and drinks, and depth of expression of culture (impromptu opera in the main plaza and the wealth of free and immensely creative art museums, galleries, and markets only scratch the surface). I was consistently surprised by Santiago, as I feel like I've gotten to the point where going to new places just reminds me of places I have already been. Santiago was an amalgamation of it's own culture and that of others I had never encountered before, which was ineffably refreshing. 

Santiago is a city of many cultures through which the Chilean culture still finds room to shine brightly; it is a city of people who have immense strength from having endured a dictatorship and torture while still being among the warmest and welcoming I have ever met.

On top of all of this, I felt very at home here as a Coloradan, with the mountains close to the city, the chilly fall air, and people dressed in sporty outfits, looking ready take a stroll in the mountains at any time.

I only spent 1 week in Santiago, but I immediately ranked it near the top of places I want to live someday. 

Here are my photos from the week in Santiago and its surrounding areas, just so you can see how beautiful Santiago is:

The beautiful, forested walkway - Parque Forestal - next to the river. It was fall :)
The river Mapocho running through Santiago
Chris & I at the overlook on top of St. Lucia hill with the Andes in the background

Cerro San Lucia

Inside the main cathedral, in the main square

Beautiful architecture at the "Wall Street" of Santiago



Ceiling of the San Francisco church

Inside the Mercado Central

Monday, June 29, 2015

Pala Qu'ala

I'm on the theme of Lima day trips to the Andes lately.

Probably because the Andes are so pretty! And surprisingly close to Lima are beautiful, lesser known, verdant areas full of farmland and waterfalls. I love the fact that I live on the East side of Lima so close to the pretty part of the Limeñan Andes. 

This past weekend we went with a group of volunteers to San Jerónimo de Surco - also just called Surco - in the Huarochirí province to hike to the waterfall Pala Qu'ala (also spelled Palakala). The trip was pretty painless - go to Chosica (I describe the process of how to arrive there in my Markahuasi blog here) to Parque Echenique. At the Parque, you get off and immediately take a right on the road behind the plaza, which is where the buses going to Surco are located. These buses have a final destination at Matucana (also a pretty hiking spot), so they will have Matucana written on the side. It's S/3.50 one way to get to Surco.


When you get off at Surco, it's pretty apparent how to find the trail to Palakala. You walk straight down the road from where the bus drops you, and there should be a hut with tourist information where you pay an entrance fee next to the Municipalidad building. No one was manning the hut, so we went without paying the fee :/ but I believe it's super minimal, maybe S/2. The trail was easy to find, you just walk to the end of the road where the bus drops you off, hang a right, and keep walking till you see the sign pointing you to Palakala. From there, just follow the red arrows, they're pretty clear. 

Follow me!
Palakala is waiting for you, keep going...
Let's go, you can do it!
However, don't trust the little signs on the way up. It'll tell you "you're close!" "you're SO close!" "you're almost there, keep going!" ...even when you're only a quarter of the way done! We were just a little frustrated when the trail kept going.




Waterfalls along the way
More waterfalls along the way

But all in all, beautiful easy-to-mid level hike that was around 7 miles (11.2km) roundtrip - another sign not to believe, when you get there, it says it's 9km, and on the internet it said it was 5km. It's 7 miles total!! We were going kind of slow, and total hiking time was 5 hours. But the incline is not steep, and experience hikers could do it in 3-4 hours.
Palakala! Final destination reached!
The waterfall was kind of small, but very lovely and refreshing. This part of the Andes is always beautiful, in sum a lovely weekend hike.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Marcahuasi

Several weeks back we went on a little two day trip to Marcahuasi.


Marcahuasi is located just above a town called San Pedro de Casta, which is about 2.5 hours from Huaycán (let's say this is about 4.5 hours away from San Isidro or Miraflores, Lima) by bus, in the district of Huarochirí. 

San Pedro de Casta's main square

San Pedro de Casta from above

It is a natural landmark comprised of jutting stones in a dramatic background of Andean peaks poking their way through cloud cover at an altitude of around 13,100 feet (4,000 meters); the perfect vantage point for gorgeous sunsets and sunrises, and a great escape from the excessive noise and pollution of Lima.

I went there with my friends Shelby, Kari, and Luis - Luis had been there before, so he was showing us the ropes. We arrived there by taking a bus to Chosica (you can find these buses in downtown Lima, they depart from near the art museum next to the Parque de la Exposición. If you're further away from downtown, like in Miraflores, you'd take any bus to "Ate", get off in the town of "Vitarte", and take a bus to Chosica). You get off at the bus stop Parque Echenique in Chosica. There are two places from which the bus for San Pedro de Casta leave - either across the street from the park, or two blocks walking away from the park. Unfortunately this part is inconsistent, so please ask locals where to go, they usually know! Also, sometimes the "bus" is a colectivo, or minivan where it leaves when it is full of passengers. The San Pedro bus leaves either at 9:00am or 4:00pm, so make sure you're getting there early enough to get a seat on the bus or colectivo! It's S/10 one way from Chosica.

The trip from Chosica takes about 2 hours. It's gorgeous, though keep in mind that you are going along mountain passes on mostly unpaved road, which can be scary for some. I think I'm too used to this stuff by now between having lived in Colorado and traveled a lot in Peru :/

It'll be around 11am when you get to San Pedro de Casta. When you arrive, go straight to the tourism office, and they'll register you to enter the park (there is a fee, I forget how much but it's small, around S/10) and even set you up with burros to carry your stuff or firewood if you want. We brought our backpacking stuff, which is good because we didn't register immediately and by the time we got to the tourism office there were no burros, oops!

Then you can head up to Marcahuasi! It's a several hour hike at a mid-level incline with an altitude gain of around 2,100 feet. But the trail is straightforward and doesn't require any technical skill, so it's definitely a mid-level hike. The view going up is gorgeous too. We ended up hitchhiking half the way up, so I can't really estimate how long it would have taken us. We actually ended up having quite the adventure - we set off to backpack, but a Spaniard who happened to be working on a paving project there took us halfway up the mountain, and a couple in an RV that had traveled all the way from California took us to the base of the trail to the Afiteatro. Quite the mix of people!

A woman tending to he cattle just outside of San Pedro de Casta. The community around Marcahuasi is primarily a farming community, raising cattle and growing potatoes and other agricultural products.

There are two trails up. Definitely take the one that goes through the Anfiteatro. The Anfiteatro is a impressive rockfield full of spongey grass and huge boulders resembling various human heads. This also has campsites and beautiful views, though it's cooler than other campsites due to the shade on all sides from the rocks. If you cross through the Anfiteatro, there is another trail leading to Laguna Cachucachu and La Fortaleza. It's another small hike to get there, but definitely worth it because it's so stunning! We set up camp at Laguna Cachucachu, not quite sure what La Fortaleza was. Saw a stunning sunset and sunrise from the laguna :)

A face in the rocks just outside the Anfiteatro
The Anfiteatro
Hiking across the boulder fields to Laguna Cachucachu, People put up a lot of cairns in the area, which Luis told me they build them thinking of a hope or dream. If the cairn falls, the dream comes true.
Almost to the Laguna.
Laguna Cachucachu
One of the gorgeous, gigantic stones we camped under
View from the cliffs by the Laguna.
Nightfall
The moon was extremely bright that night, would have been the perfect evening for a night hike.
The stones at sunrise.
Laguna Cachucachu at sunrise
Looking down from the laguna.

Sunrise on the surrounding mountains


More beautiful stones on the way down.
The next day, we packed up and hiked out. There are two buses that leave from San Pedro to return to Chosica that leave at 5:00am and 1:30pm. Leaving our campsite around 9am gave us plenty of time, and even taking it leisurely we made it to San Pedro by around 12pm.

View on the bus ride back.
I'd definitely suggest going to Marcahuasi if you have camping gear & you love the mountains! It's an attainable distance from Lima, and gives you a taste of what Peru looks like off the beaten path. If you don't have camping gear, rent some! Go exploring!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Little Peru trips

Since I last wrote in February, I've mostly been working and hanging out in Lima, exploring various nooks & crannies of the city. But I've taken a few smaller trips to other parts of Peru too. 

The rest of February was mostly working and hanging out with Peruvian friends & volunteers, seeing parts of Lima like Huaca Pucllana (some pretty ruins in Miraflores) and going to a friend's birthday party.

Posing outside Erico's (which we lovingly call Carmen's for the woman who always takes our order) in Chaclacayo 

 Outside Huaca Pucllana in Miraflores

With some of the kiddos I teach library class to in Zone Z Los Alamos, Huaycán 

With some more of my kiddos after art class in Zone S - Linda (a participant) made this adorable piece of art with drawings of myself and one of the volunteers, Zach (whose name she adorably spells as "Isac") saying "The Light and Leadership Family" 

With friends at the parrillada

At Playa Pulpos 

With my friend Tamy at Barranco Beer Co.

March was characterized by going to a parrillada (BBQ) at a friend's club called El Bosque, which is near Chaclacayo, dancing in Barranco, seeing Playa Pulpos (a pretty, less populated beach south of Lima), going to our favorite burger place in Chaclacayo - Erico's - and (unfortunately) losing my iPod while running. I also got to experience Lima restaurant week and go to two amazing restaurants - amaZ and Maras. AND last but not least, I got to travel to Ayacucho in the last week of March for Semana Santa (holy week). There, we ate lots of amazing food at food festivals, explored Andean towns, shopped artisan wares, saw a bull run, went to a life-altering museum about the Shining Path, met new friends, and basically experienced what every vacation aspires to be. The following are my Ayacucho photos:

Muyuchi (sesame ice cream) with a dot of bright pink tuna (cactus fruit) syrup from the main square. I might have eaten a lot of these... 

Emblematic arch, "Arco del Triunfo" just off the main square. This was built in 1910 to commemorate victory in battle against the Spanish on May 2nd 1886. 

 A woman selling wawa sweet breads in the main Ayacucho market. The market was full of all kinds of goodies, like Ayacucho textiles, artisanal honey and chocolate, and a natural sugar (similar to Mexican piloncillo) called chancaca.

Artisans from whom I bought this beautiful, handmade quena (andean flute). Ayacucho was overflowing with gorgeous handmade goods like textiles and items made from "piedra de Huamanga" (Huamanga stone), a type of alabaster mined in nearby areas. 

Muyuchi sellers in traditional dress in the main square. 

During Semana Santa, many groups of people would create huge murals throughout the main square made of natural materials like ochre, flower petals, and leaves, which were stepped on at night by the parades carrying the figures of Mary and Jesus (among others) at night throughout the entire week. 

Local musicians playing serrano (mountain) music on the quena and guitar.

Doing yoga poses under an arch at the Wari ruins between Ayacucho and Quinoa

Clay figurine on a rooftop in Quinoa, a village famous for its artisans that is located near Ayacucho. 

A master potter making a clay piece half his size in Quinoa

Here's a gif I made of the master potter creating a piece.

An artisan's workshop in Quinoa 

The obelisk memorial at the Pampas de Ayacucho Historical Sanctuary. This was where one of the principle battles for independence from the Spanish took place on December 9th, 1824. 

Selling sweets made of figs, plums, peaches, quince, and the like in syrup at a food festival in Ayacucho. 

Chorizo!!! We had one plate and then immediately ordered another after tasting it. I don't need to say any more.... This was at a food festival called Mucho Gusto Ayacucho ("nice to meet you Ayacucho) at which we spent (ahem) 6 hours eating all sorts of awesome food like chancho al palo (bbq pork belly), passion fruit ice cream, honey pisco, and chicharrones with puca picante (fried pork belly with potatoes in peanut sauce).

Pachamanca - potatoes, meat, apples, and plantains slow cooked in an oven made in the ground filled with coals and superheated rocks. 

Traditional hats of Ayacuchanos waiting to see the running of the bulls on the day before Easter. 

An amazingly talented female musician, part of the all-female (which is extremely, extremely rare) traditional musical group, "Killa" 

Running of the bulls before Easter. This bull was dragging several men behind him on a rope like it was nothing. 

Cross just outside of the Museo de la Memoria (Museum of Memory) in Ayacucho, which says "no killing". This museum is the most impactful museum I have ever been to. What makes it different is that the families of victims and victims themselves own and run the museum. Our guide, Maribel, was a victim of torture for 6 months by the Peruvian government during the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) era, and everything she said was profoundly moving, educational, and thought provoking. If you ever go to Ayacucho, this should be the first place you go. Ayacucho was the birthplace of the Sendero Luminoso movement, and it saw the brunt of the deaths, disappearances, tortures, among other human rights violations during the 80s and 90s.

 One of the city's famous 33 churches. Each church supposedly represents one year of Jesus' life.

Playing the Wakra, or bull horn. These were played on the day of the bull run, and many people wore red that day in honor of the bulls like the scarves these men have on. 

A chicharrón restaurant gave us a traditional anise and sugar cane liqueur, which we were told is a Semana Santa tradition. 


Photo by my friend Tamy - Ayacucho city views from our hostel and enjoying the day with friends! We stayed at Hotel Samary, which was in a great location, clean, and had awesome views - definitely recommend it.

When we returned from Ayacucho in April, I celebrated my 25th birthday with my friends in Barranco. This month I also discovered the Centro Cultural Peruano-Japonés (Peruvian-Japanese Cultural Center), which is a large building full of 2 Japanese restaurants, a couple Japanese gardens, rooms for art and music classes, a store selling Japanese goods, a theater, a teahouse, and a museum on the history of the Japanese in Peru. What a wonderful little find!

Photo by my friend Bryan - being sung to in Spanish, English, Arabic, French, Finnish and Polish by friends from all over the world, and with my birthday crown my friend Jessica made me!

Ramen and green tea at the Pervian-Japanese cultural center

We also went to Churín, a small town 6.5 hours North of Lima where you can find lots of hot springs. We went to one complex called Mamahuarmi (whose hot springs, though they were beautiful and in a beautiful location, were not very hot) close to Churín, and another which was 1.5 hours away in a place called Huancahuasi (which was both hot AND beautiful!). I also bought lots of the great dairy products this town is known for. This was a beautiful, cheap vacation, the busfare was S/45, the hostel was S/15, the hot springs were S/18 for transportation to Huancahuasi and S/3-S/5 to get in, and the food was super affordable and really delicious. If you're in Lima, you should go. (photo credit for these photos and the Matucana photos to my friend Shelby, I didn't bring anything to take photos on either occasion).


At Mamahuarmi with our friend Saúl 

Hiking to Atankallo

Then we went on a small day hike to gorgeous Matucana, which is in a province neighboring Lima to the East called Huarochirí. We first went to Chosica, a 45 minute bus ride from Huaycán, and then it was another hour or so by bus to Matucana. We hiked to the Atankallo waterfall and back, a lovely 1-2 hours day hike. The woman who worked the entrance fee both commented that we had done the hike ¨so fast¨! 

So many adventures in the past few months! Coming up, running the Lima half marathon, going to a wedding and maybe traveling outside Peru (Bolivia perhaps?) in July! Till then, I'll leave you with one of my favorite photos from the last few months of me with the volunteers:
Chau!!