One year in Peru and I’m still learning

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The many faces of Burnzy. This is 1) Halloween Burnzy.

I almost refused to wear a Halloween costume to school today. I hadn’t saved any money from my last pay check, and I spend all my money on living, and really, in the end, shouldn’t I just focus my energy on what is important? Shouldn’t I care more about teaching my students and preparing for it?

I reconsidered and thought that even with no money I could still leave my rented room and walk to the costume store with my girlfriend and at least find out how much it would cost to get a costume. And, as it turns out, there was an entire building in this town devoted to Halloween costumes. Three stories of stores filled with rented costumes of pirates and princesses and supergirls and Mad Hatters and Freddy Kruegars.

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2) Gringo Burnzy.

I decided to wear my signature costume; The Joker. Everyone was as in as mad a rush to get their costume as it would be to grab the last item in a boxing day sale. The fire hazard of the windowless room in the third floor corner was crammed with clothes and people and I needed to leave, desperate for air.

I am glad I changed my mind. Because today at school I had a lot of fun. I had one successful class of teaching (against all odds) before the Halloween dance contest was held. One of my students, who I struggle to connect with despite my efforts, is obsessed with comics, and likes clowns. When he saw me he was shaking with happiness and had the biggest smile on his face. I walked away with warm tears bubbling in my heart not knowing how to express myself, but the costume was worth it for this moment alone.

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3) Backpacker Burnzy. Not to be confused with ‘Gringo Burnzy.’

I watched all my colleagues and even students’ guards drop all day, not just with me but with the other costumes. I saw a teacher I was scared of, who I assumed disliked me, laugh when I smiled because she was dressed as a bunny rabbit.

I believe Oscar Wilde said “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.” I think that if you wear a mask, people treat you like a stranger. Wear a costume and people will treat you like a character they might already know, and love, or love to hate.

 

This week I have felt really down, and quite frankly, perhaps for the first time, I might understand the meaning of the word ‘depressed’. It wasn’t just a flat feeling, but like a physical feeling, as if a heavy steel capped boot was stomping on my chest and pressing down, and squeezing, and continuously pushing. The more my body found space to relieve itself from the pressure, the more area the pressure took up. All I could think of was this pain.

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4) Shakespeare Burnzy. Performing the ‘to be or not to be’ scene at school. I think it might be a real skull.

The pressure in my body is a pressure of the external circumstance as an ex-pat. As an ex-pat I have felt that I haven’t been able to express myself properly. Life and the people in Australia become distant and in many ways through language barrier, among other things, kept me distant from those around me too.

In two days it will be one year since I arrived in Peru. There has been ups and downs, challenges like you wouldn’t believe, frustration and pain and misery and so much gaining of knowledge. It’s been a life, not a holiday, and one where presumptions and assumptions and stereotypes and ego have had to break, or bend, or be questioned, or tested.

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5) Jungle Burnzy.

This moment today alone has almost made the year worth it. I created an expression of joy in someone by being myself (by being someone else).

In the last week I have reflected on what to write for this anniversary post. And I was going to write about the mistakes I made this year, or what I would do all over if I had the time again. It just felt so negative though, and needlessly hard on myself. But what I wish I had done is something that maybe I am still beginning to learn. Education and teaching is important, but at some point in the year I immersed myself too much in teaching. I focused all my energy into a job and relationships that doesn’t necessary give back as much as you put into it, not because these are necessarily horrible, but because we and others only have so much to give.

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6) Snow Burnzy.

I caught myself ranting at students last week, who have one last term before graduation, ‘I’m sorry I take your education seriously. Too seriously at times, maybe.’

I could have refocused my energy so that I was a pleasure to be around, fun to be with, a colleague and a teacher to enjoy having. So I have to end this blog on this point, spoken by the great Heath Ledger.

‘Why So Serious?’

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7) Beach Burnzy

 

Machu Picchu and the Sun Gate

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There was some light in the sky by the time my bus was halfway up the winding dirt road to Machu Picchu. The jagged mountains formed the most intense horizon I had seen in my life.

A few restaurants and a bathroom have been built next to the entrance gate to Machu Picchu. The line of early risers waited while travel guides offered their services, but I had spent too much money to get there. My ticket to the world wonder cost 200 Soles, and that did not include the accommodation or the train tickets.

I bought my ticket from the official government site, Ministerio De Cultura. It was a pain in the arse for a foreigner. My Peruvian girlfriend printed a voucher and paid for the ticket at the bank (of Spanish speakers obviously), and then from there put the voucher number into the website. There are easier ways to buy tickets more directly in Cusco. The problem with buying these tickets in Cusco is that there is a limit of tickets to travel every day.

 

I was able to buy my ticket the week before I went, in high season, but thousands visit daily and tickets were selling fast in the days ahead. There are three types of tickets to Machu Picchu. There is the visit to the ruin, a bit extra to climb the mountain, and a third more expensive ticket to climb the mountain you always see in the photos (Huayna Picchu). For the third option you need to book months in advance. I didn’t have a chance to climb it.

I was worried I hadn’t beaten the crowd when I saw the line for the bus and the gate that morning (at 5am). I need not have worried. I did beat the crowd that came much later, at about 10am. The ruins are a huge place and when I turned around the first corner and saw the stone ruins for the first time, I was able to get plenty of photos in the grey dawn with nobody in the background. Yet, there was plenty of friendly tourists happy to take photos of me on my phone camera all through the day.

 

There were amazing things I saw that day. I was worried it would all be overhyped. I wondered how on earth I could possibly spend six hours walking around ruins. I thought I would be bored within the hour after I had taken my selfies. Definitely not.

I heard the gasp of Asian tourists ahead of me in the dark and I wondered what was happening. And then I saw it. A line of silver spread a ring around the peak of a nearby mountain. The silver became stronger, and the sky changed from gray to blue, and the silver became a sharp glare of white, and that ended up becoming the sun. The ball had formed before my eyes in 30 seconds, and it had announced the start of a new day, all justified and collected in those moments. I spared the sun no more thought as I continued through the ruins, and walked the path up the hill for more than 40 minutes to find the Sun Gate, where the travelers of the Inca Trail can first see the ruins from a far distant for the first time.

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And it was all amazing.