An Australian and his Peruvian goddaughter

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We celebrate my goddaughter’s baptism with a party afterwards. There is cake and candy, and steak, and wine, and beer, and lots of soda for the children.

MY landlord asked in Spanish if my girlfriend and I could be the godparents of his six-year-old daughter. I guess I didn’t really consider the responsibility. I only saw it as an adventure.

I said yes.

It wasn’t until we were on the way to the church for the baptism on Saturday night that I really even got to speak to my goddaughter. She stared out the window at the traffic pushing its way on-and-off through the narrow Trujillo laneways, in the backseat with my girlfriend Tiffany and I.

I remember how formal it looked, how nervous or vulnerable she was pretending not to be, in a white baptism dress and a garland of pink flowers on her head.

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She spoke few words in English, maybe a ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’, but when we first met she did recite the Lord’s Prayer, at the request of her mother. But somehow, I began talking in Spanish. It was broken and clumsy and needed some work, but slowly the conversation became less awkward between an Australian and his goddaughter.

“Cuantos anos tienes?” she asked Tiffany and I. How many years do you have. 

At first I didn’t understand, but it clicked in my mind, and with a proud ‘ohh. Entiendo!’ I said, happily, “Tengo Veintiocho anos.” I have twenty eight years.  (In Spanish, think of external forces like cold and warmth, hunger and thirst, and the years you have as a possession, and not a statement of who you are).

“Te ves mas de treinta,” she said. I knew enough to know this meant, You look more than 30. 

It was the first time I have been considered looking older than I am, but she was six, and I wore a tie, and had grown a beard. And my beard was showing the occasional gray hair.

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There was another moment that really stood out to me in that taxi ride, during which the car continued to stop and start and push its way ahead of the disorder through the laneways. We were talking about kangaroos and koalas and crocodiles, although she only reacted to the kangaroos.

I said that I needed to learn Spanish.

“Por Que?” she asked. Why? 

And maybe I was over examining the basic question from a young girl, but in that ‘Por Que’ I saw a girl in her own world that had continually been taught that English was the important language, that Spanish wasn’t as necessary, and that as a foreigner who already had mastered the one language, didn’t need Spanish. It made me sad.

“Porque todos aqui hablan en Espanol,” I said. Because everone here speaks in Spanish.

‘Ah,’ she said, and accepted the answer.

And that’s when we arrived at the Santa Rosa Church.

 

I have these doubts and wonder what it is I can do for a godchild when I return to live a world away. At the very least, presents for Christmas and birthdays are important, and so I think are the occasional letters.

By this action alone it is clear to me that I cannot just return to Australia with some happy memories and some stories to tell. I am collecting knowledge, but responsibilities too.

 

I have rarely been in a catholic church, but the last time would have been in visiting the second floor of the Church of Francisco in Cusco, with giant pillars and gold chandeliers, and wooden carvings that took decades for slaves to craft. Compared to that church, or even to the one on the hilltop of Huanchaco, this was a humble building. It was old, with remnants of the original painting on the walls, with the elaborate designs of the Mother Mary and of Santa Rosa and crosses in various shapes and forms around the building.

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We stood at the front at the baptism bowl with the padre leading the service. Eight family members stood by the two pews recording the event on their phones. The padre spoke in Spanish and everyone repeated, knowing exactly what to say, and moved their hands to the signs of the cross in a specific order.

It was then clear to me that nobody had really considered the ignorance of a foreigner, standing at the front with everyone. It wasn’t only just the lack of Spanish. The family knew that. What they hadn’t considered, perhaps, was a foreigner who didn’t know how the structure of catholic ceremony worked. I hadn’t been actively involved since I was expelled from my catholic school in grade 4. These aren’t things you tell the parents and grandparents of your goddaughter.

But there was a powerful moment. It felt like it had meaning, the sort of intensity in which I now try to reach for my phone to collect it. My goddaughter stood at the bowl and the padre poured water down her forehead. I stood less than a metre away. She didn’t shy from the water. Her face was calm. It barely dripped. She stepped back, as did the rest of us, and then we held lit candles as the padre read to us in Spanish.

 

I’ve been thinking about my own baptism since Saturday night. It was a different sort of event. My family didn’t celebrate it, that’s for sure. They treated it like a 15-year-old getting a tattoo. Well, no, with a tattoo there would have been a reaction, and that is not the same as indifference.

There’s a church in Perth designed for suburbanite snobs to keep walls up and pretend they are better than everyone else around them, and my uncle and aunt took me there. I am glad they encouraged it because I wanted to do it for some time, but I sat in a bathtub full of water and in front of everyone in the church in swim shorts, and the pastor pulled my head into the water carefully. When I emerged the room cheered like I had done something great, and I suppose I wanted that feeling of acceptance from the crowd to last, like with my friends who sang with the band every Sunday.

 

New Spanish Word acquired: Bautizo

Gypsy Amy’s teachings on Peru

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Amy is great to have brunch with. But be warned. She is a food-digger.

WHO is Gypsy Amy, and why should you have to listen to what she has to say?

Amy is the friend I’ve known the longest in Peru. One of my first memories of her was after a night at a party hostel in Mancora, in northern Peru. Three of us who had been doing a TEFL course together in a nearby fishing village woke groggily as she said quite firmly, “I am never going to do anything, ever again.”

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I remember Valentines Day, when housemates Adriaan and Amy decided it would be fun to pretend to be a thing. Very cute. Too convincing.

Amy and I moved south to work at a school in Trujillo after completing the course. We became housemates for seven months, and colleagues at the same time, along with others who did the same course as us.

Amy’s read my cards with a turban on her head. We’ve had many drinks and danced with elderly Peruvians. We have been on the hunt for the perfect pizza in Peru. We have fought each other many times, often after a few beers. We’ve argued over dishes, I’ve cleaned her room and used her Netflix, and sworn at her for waking me up at midnight. We’ve procrastinated so much together, which means there’s a hell of a lot more we could have done. We’ve been to the movies to watch something in Spanish and didn’t even understand it. She dropped the popcorn.

Once we refused to speak to each other for more than a week, and we never even told each other we weren’t talking. It was only when I was drunk on a bottle of wine late one night that I forgot we weren’t talking, and the ice was broken. She is one of the bravest and gutsiest people that I know, and has in 10 months become a sister (but doesn’t replace my real and only sister). She will tell you exactly what she thinks, even if you’re not going to like it. And, so, this blog post is long overdue.

I’ve wanted Amy to give her advice about living in Peru for some time, and here it is. Amy’s exclusive voice:

 

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The cards don’t lie…

1) BE EXTRAORDINARY

Actually, you know what, my advice to people who come to Peru is to go do something out of the ordinary. Do something you haven’t done before.

There are so many things here in Peru that you can do, that you can never ever be able to do anywhere else you live (well, it depends where you live).

Go to the jungle, go to a spiritual retreat, try surfing.

 

 

 

2) AYAHUASCA

I have had a couple of beers, because it’s my last night I can drink for a couple of weeks. In two weeks I’m going to do Ayahuasca.

My advice to you is if you do go to Peru, try Ayahuasca for the first time because it’s legal here. Anywhere else it’s highly illegal. Go to the jungle, go to some Ayahuasca. Go to Cusco, go to some Ayahuasca.

I’ve done it six times. It’s my last day I can eat meat. No eggs, no coffee, no citrus. Life is going to be horrible.

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This chica loves living in the beach town of Huanchaco.

3) TAKE ON YOUR FEAR

Get out of your f–king comfort zone and do your greatest fear.

My fear when I went to Bali was the ocean, and I tried surfing. Coming here, I was terrified of Ayahuasca, and I did it.

Do something that you’re not comfortable with doing because there’s so many things you can do in Peru that a lot of people aren’t comfortable with. Go and f–king do it.

 

That’s my rant.

That’s my advice. Do Ayahuasca, or do something you have never done before, or do your greatest fear.

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My world you probably do not know

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1

The paperwork, the marking, the lesson planning, the outside-of-work requirements, the discipline restrictions, the limitations to resources. It all adds up to become a job you aren’t really paid to deal with.

Teaching English overseas seemed like the novelty I needed, a line on my bucket list I wanted to resolve instead of wondering about. I typed on Google about teaching and found a rip-off company dealing with high pressure tactics to get me to commit thousands of dollars for a TEFL course. I was interested in teaching in China but the company didn’t seem to think that was an option for me. It was basically the south east asian countries, or Peru.

I always wanted to learn Spanish.

 

2

 I try to reach out to people in this culture, but all that does is give you the chance to be misunderstood or misinterpreted. I am surrounded by different cultures and I have been in the middle of all this for 10 months. It has weighed me down for a while but I only realised yesterday.

My students are among the best English speakers I know, and so, I think in a way they have become my friends. Or I really want them to like me enough. I realised that today.

I had to go to a school function yesterday where at the end we were asked to dance. And honestly, I didn’t feel like it. I was tired, and sunburned, and embarrassed by the competitive volleyball game I had tried to compete in, and I didn’t feel like dancing even though I was pushed to do so. I wasn’t in the mood to dance surrounded by latinos, my students and their parents.

Today my students asked me three questions:

  1. Why weren’t you wearing a suit? All the other teachers were.
  2. Why weren’t you dancing yesterday?
  3. When were you going to upload that information about the dictator president, Luis Sanchez Cerro, who was assassinated in 1933? I need to study for my exam.

My replies to that were:

  1. I want to be different to everyone else. I want my inner light to shine. No, actually, I didn’t know. Nobody told me we had to wear suits to work today. I was very embarrassed.
  2. In my culture, if you don’t feel like dancing, then you don’t dance.
  3. I’m sorry. I meant to do that this weekend. I will do that tonight. Thank you for reminding me!

My internal reaction to my replies were:

  1. I imagine this student trying to justify why she no longer wears a school uniform or future work uniform by saying “I want my inner light to shine.” Smart one, dumb one.
  2. No reaction.
  3. Oh fuck! I have to do that.

 

Now I assume what you might be thinking. “Relax. Calm down. It will sort itself out.” But the more I try to let things go the worse things seem to be. The ex-pat life, especially in the professional work environment, can really burn you out.

 

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I found this drawing of me in a student’s notebook.

 

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I am lucky in that I have a girlfriend here. She’s very supportive. Today she wrote “I am only a call away…or a taxi.”

I wonder how I got to be so lucky. I didn’t come here for a girlfriend. In fact, somehow I found myself in a relationship and was even disappointed that I couldn’t explore and use Tinder and take advantage of my strangeness here.

But now that seems like doing so would have wrecked me faster. We met through Tinder underneath the statue at the Plaza de Armas. A bunch of clowns (literally, clowns) were singing me a very belated happy birthday when she arrived. We walked to a pizza restaurant and I soon felt a refreshing feeling. We connected. She was Peruvian, but we connected. We loved or would love the same TV series, music, books. I had been on dates where they understood limited English, and here was this woman who had been been made to practice it since she was four. We understood each other.

Lately, the most normal (happy) I feel is when we’re with each other. We are watching LOST on Netflix. I’ve already seen it four times and she flinches heavily when she is shocked. She doesn’t like watching physical injuries or pain. She almost always predicts correctly what’s going to happen, but now it’s in the third season she is getting confused. She always asks me what’s going to happen next. I don’t tell her, but to throw her off the correct guesses I’ve started lying.

In the room I rent, with my Netflix, and with a Papa John’s pizza we get by delivery on cheap Thursday night deals, I feel at my most normal.

 

4

My waistline was almost 34 inches at the end of my last relationship. Six months later, when going through a modelling phases, I was 32 inches.  That was just before I left Mount Isa, Queensland, 10 months ago. Then at the beginning of the year I was 30 inches, and a couple of weeks ago I realised I had been 28 inches for some time. I had to buy new pants.

When I’m stressed I forget to eat.

After skipping so many meals and when my gums started bleeding too often I knew I needed to eat properly, and eat more vegetables. I bought a lunchbox and packed the fruits, and vegetables, and sandwiches, and biscuits, every day. On Sunday evenings I would cook enough spaghetti to last four days and overload it with about five or six different types of vegetables. I would try to drink more water. I would prepare my oats, yogurt and bananas, and let it soak in the fridge overnight so I could quickly eat it for breakfast.

I feel much better for it. And I was probably saving a little bit of money.

 

5

I’ve always been a writer. It is my identity. It’s literally my reason to exist. I will write a book. It used to be about fame. Now it’s about identity, but I’m not quite sure it’s of anything specific, about actually being fucking understood. When people read ‘me’, it’s like I have been adjusted; revalued; subjectified. Until then there’s a disengagement. Then there’s a respect. They’ve seen my heart. It’s not a bad one.

Lately I have wondered about the book I will write. In my mind it was going to be a work of genius and now I think I will compromise with a self-published version of something that nobody will read.

I barely have a following on social media, which means these days I don’t have the message or voice to appeal to a million readers.

Yet it didn’t matter. I always had a fundamental belief in my words. And soon others felt that too.

A strange thing has happened recently. I have felt insecure about my writing. It’s happening while surrounded by Spanish speakers, by well educated students who know English as a second language. I am conscious of how I say my words, and using conjunctions at the beginning of the sentences. And as it continues I feel my voice is slowly being choked shut, my accent slowing down just so I can be understood barely.

10 years ago I could only write in a notebook. Now I think with the computer keys. Two months ago I ran out of my Microsoft Word subscription. I can’t afford to renew it. I get paid in Soles. The American dollar is worth 3.3 times the Soles.

“That’s it,” I finally thought. “You can’t go on like this. You need your typing fix. You need to vent.” But for some reason, even though I was saying “shut up and take my money” to Microsoft by continuously offering my credit card details, the company continually rejected it. I’m not sure if it was because my new location doesn’t fit in with the company’s knowledge of me.

“Yo Vivo en Peru  ahora.”

 

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We are only interested in our surroundings. Our surroundings affect us. Your mental horizon stretches to places that directly affect you. We can ignore globalisation if we don’t know what lies on the other end. That’s why we care about Hollywood. That’s why we don’t focus on train crash deaths in India.

Latin America. I didn’t know much about it to be honest. To be honest I still don’t. I only know a portion and it’s called Peru. Within months I have learned that the greatly outnumbered Francisco Pizarro conquered the mighty Incan empire with roughly 200 men in 1532. He brought along four brothers (there was a fourth brother that didn’t carry the ‘Pizarro’ name), and with their help he abducted the Inca Atahualpa, who had just won a civil war against his brother Huascar.

I have learned of Argentine protector Jose de San Martin and Venezuelan liberator Simon Bolivar and their separate pushes to make South America independent from Portugal and Spain.

Chile defeated Peru in the War of the Pacific, and took the resource rich territory to the south, therefore landlocking Bolivia. Countries like Great Britain greatly benefited from this, and a few rich Peruvian families also became rich from the foreign investment. Those rich families controlled all of politics, including Manuel Candamo, who died while president in 1904. Then in order, the Peruvian presidents were Jose Pardo Y Barreda (1904-1908 and from a rich family), and Augusto Leguia (1908-1912 and also from a rich family), who became a dictator for 11 years from 1919, and extended the presidential terms to five years so he could be in legitimate power for longer. I did not check any of these names or dates, and I believe I can list the next eight presidents, or even more (except the short term acting ones) without checking.

I know more Peruvian history than I know Australian history. But every time I get asked by colleagues if I am taking Spanish lessons, or how the Spanish is going, I feel a squirm in the guts. I spend so much time being surrounded by Spanish and a world that is not my own, that I don’t have the mental energy to give any more than I already do.

People here are like that. They live in their world and all they see is a stranger who cannot speak their language. It doesn’t matter that I am learning their history. It’s a lonely feeling. I feel that I can’t talk about anything except work with colleagues, and I find it hard to connect with people without fucking it up or without it feeling awkward. My colleagues make plans to do things together, to have ice-cream or beer, and I feel continuously left out. It feels the same with home, in Australia, where I catch up with everything that is going on on Facebook, because that’s part of my world too. But the longer I go living here, the harder it is to connect with my family and old friends. And maybe they find it harder to connect too.

People are fine to like things or publicly comment on Facebook, but find it harder to message privately one on one. It feels people subconsciously require more of an audience. Does a message really exist if only one other is able to read it?

We broadcast now.

 

7

Last week in Australia it was ‘R U OK Day’ and I didn’t realise. A friend I hadn’t heard of for yonks sent me a message asking how I was, and I was stoked. I replied eagerly checking how he was too. And then about an hour later I learned it was ‘R U OK Day’ and I was deflated. It was like getting a letter as a kid and finding out it was really only an overdue library bill (remember those?).

“That’s not a real letter!” I’d think.

 

8

I’m sure I convey a message that things are great living as an ex-pat in Peru. My most popular blogs are when I visit the places that you have heard of, like Machu Picchu. When I post filtered photos exploring jungles and markets in Cusco and colonial houses in Lima and Incan ruins I seem to get a reaction. Yet there’s more to life living as an expat than seeing the exotic locations. I could have just travelled across South America for six weeks, and maybe in hindsight I should have done that. It would have been easier. The novelty always would have existed day-to-day.

9

I’ve reached the stage where I don’t exactly miss Australia. Sure, I would like Mum to send me some canned beetroot and Tim Tams and even Vegemite. I don’t even like Vegemite. I just want my colleagues and students to taste it. I want another sense as evidence to say “hey! This is where I’m from. This is what I connect to. This is my identity.”

But other than that I don’t miss the land down under. This place has become my home. I walked pass the statue in the Plaza De Armas in Trujillo and it was such a recognised subject in my mind that I wondered what I would do without seeing it once a week.

This place has become mi casa. It’s just I haven’t received a sense of ownership, and I probably never will. That’s fair enough. I’m a guest here, but while this is the case it means I’m second-rate. I just don’t want to lose myself being so.

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.

The crazy town of Machu Picchu

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That line on the right side of the bridge? That’s for the bus to Machu Picchu.

There’s a bombardment of market stalls, souvenirs, and statues of the Incas, and all in your face the moment you leave the train. The mountains loom above and the first thing you instinctively do in Aguas Calientes is look above to see if you might be able to see the ruins of Machu Picchu.

The river stream descending from the jungle splits the small town in two, and from the train station you almost straight away cross a bridge to the bus station and the main square. If you arrive at any time in the day you will notice a long line rising up the hill. This is for the bus to get to Machu Picchu.

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The trains bellow.

Restaurant waiters persuade.

The children are crazy. And there is a frantic manic energy to them, as if they are the hijos of carnies. Two infants are playing blocks with each other when I pass by, and one of them grabs a block and starts chasing me and hitting me.

There is fascinating artwork weaved into the stone of the town, with its own stories. My favourite is of the ancient Peruvian god Viracocha, because it had an insight of him emerging from nature, but some of the other artworks are spread across the town and almost hidden from plain sight unless you stare from the right angle.

There were hot springs in Aguas Calientes but I couldn’t go in without thongs (flip flops), swimmers, and a towel. These could be hired but I didn’t want to be ripped off.

This is a town of transience. Even the locals in the poor end of town, in the dodgy lanes of stairs cut into the hills in the corner of the end suburb, don’t feel local. There is a desperation, a hunger, an aggression, among the waiters that I haven’t seen anywhere else in Peru. The most reasonable meal I could find was a Peruvian menu for 15 soles (which was to include a salad platter for an entree, lomo saltado for the main course, and a crepe for desert).

They forgot to give me the desert and charged me 13 Soles for each beer. At another place the alpaca steak was 40 soles and when I said this was far too much, the waiter brought it down to 25 soles. The other waiter who brought me the check didn’t realise I was given a discount, and also charged me a service tax not mentioned on the menu! My understanding is this is illegal, but no gringo questions it.

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The line for the bus at 4am.

Travelers were in the mood to talk here. I met visitors from across the world who had time for friendliness and to share their adventures, including a trio from Argentina who taught me how to say the name of their country properly, and a Canadian.

The main thing to do in town while waiting for your trip to Machu Picchu is spending money, or trying to avoid spending it. You can also walk the steep climb to Machu Picchu, or you could take the bus. From memory it was 50 soles for the return journey, but it could be more.

The trip is worth it but you are at the mercy of the long lines at the start and the return journeys. I woke at 4am for my trip to Machu Picchu and was surprised to see that I had not beaten the line.

 

Surrounded by Incan ruins

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The taxi driver dropped me off in the main plaza of Ollantaytambo. I paid him the 15 soles and stepped out a little disorientated.

I sat with a broken backpack in the square surrounded by double story Mexican and Peruvian restaurants. All catered to the tourist. These would be expensive. As it turns out, they were.

I was dismayed to check my Google map to see that my hostel seemed to be distant from the town, and the complete opposite direction to the train station which I would need to arrive at the following day. I paid a Tuk Tuk driver 2 soles and he drove me along a country dirt road, across a winding stream.

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The hostel was a work in progress by a strange and abrupt Peruvian by the name of Carl. He was proud of his work and especially of the double story building where at the top we could have breakfast while gazing across the valley. The mountains loomed around us, and he pointed to some of the old brick buildings alone each of the slopes. These were Incan ruins.

The more I stared at the mountains the more Incan ruins I could see. They were everywhere. It was incredible the amount of influence the Inca emperors had over their people to bring the bricks up to those levels to construct their storehouses or fortresses.

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I loved Ollantaytambo. It might be my favourite place in Peru. It was safe and I wandered to the town at night. It was a country town built into a grid system, with small canals winding along the cobbled roads. The bases of the houses were the ruins of the Incas. The local children played in the street laughing and at peace. At night after dinner I walked back to the hostel watching a local family or two practice their dancing in the middle of the street.

I wanted to see one of the ruins which I had paid a ticket to see, but I ran out of time. Instead I could see people climbing a steep track to the ruins. This was a free track and called the Pinkuylluna. It took at least 40 minutes of hard climbing and by the time I reached the top point of the path the sun was about to sink. The view of the hills and the town below was glorious. See it.

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After dinner I arrived back at the hostel just as Carl was impatiently setting up his camera gear to take photos of the night sky. Mars was coming out over the mountains. He was enthusiastic about astronomy. Maybe too much so. He excitedly woke up one of his guests, a British school teacher, so she could see Mars for herself. I’m not trying to be funny when I say she was not amused. It was freezing up on the roof. I stayed as long as I could because it made a good story, but I was tired.

I shared a room with a Frenchman, who was nice enough, but understood more Spanish than English. It was a common language barrier I was having. He had bought a permit to Machu Picchu for the same day I had, but he was going to take a bus. He couldn’t afford the expensive train ticket.

I wondered if he made it in time.

After check-out I walked to the train station. The sky was clear, the creek was beautiful, and I felt free. I had a broken backpack with all my clothes in it, a depleted wallet, and my Converse sneakers.

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I passed a beautiful statue of a beautiful Indigenous woman, and I stopped to look at her. It was the wife of Manco Inca. She was brutalised and murdered by the greedy and lustful Pizarros, who were the brother-conquerors of Peru. This was the only grim moment in my beautiful time in a place of peace, because it reminded me that this place of peace wasn’t always so, and that horrible prices had been paid because of evil people.

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I bought a sombrero at the train station, and got on the train for the next step in the journey to Machu Picchu.

Lonely Planet Tour of Cusco

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Cusco’s Plaza de Armas (1)

There have been two reliable resources for me to navigate Peru. The first I use is Hostel World, a website and app which helps me decide the hostels I want to stay in.

It doesn’t often fail me.

The second resource is Lonely Planet’s Peru tourist guide which cost me $35 Australian. In the Lima airport it’s about 120 Soles. While visiting Cusco I decided to take the tourist guide’s City Walk. It begins at Plaza De Armas and has 16 stops. It says it is a four kilometre walk and a three hour journey, but in reality it took me much longer and about four attempts to complete. But here we go….

  1. The guide book advises beginning at the Plaza De Armas (1), which is always a natural starting point. I arrived here directly in a taxi from the airport at 6am. I paid 25 soles to get here but if you walk outside then 25 soles is reasonable. It’s beautiful for the old church and the fountain.
  2. I was supposed to walk through the Plaza Regocijo (2) to see some nice boutiques and shops (3) along the way, but I walked on the wrong street! And because there were so many cafes and shops and parks it took a long time before I realised my mistake! I ended up skipping a few stops to have a juice at the market. But anyway…20180724_095054.jpg
  3. The Museo Historico Regional used to be the house of a historian Garcilaso de la Vega, who has recorded many of the stories his family told him about the Incas. He was born several years after the Spanish conquest, and eventually moved to Spain. I haven’t read his work but have read some history books that have relied on his work (although they acknowledge his writing as creative). The museum is interesting and supplies exhibits of the Incas and other Peruvian civilizations such as the Moche and the Chimu. There is also information on de la Vega, and of revolter Tupac Amaru II. 20180724_105345.jpg

To see many of these museums and the ruins you will need a entry pass called the Boletico Turistico, which only lasts 10 days. It costs about 130 Soles if you’re a tourist and 70 Soles if you can prove you are a resident.

4) The Plaza San Francisco is nice, sure, but I am uncertain whether it was worth paying 15 Soles to enter the museum and church of San Francisco. Well, maybe. Some of the painting were extraordinary and the library is filled with about 10,000 books. There is a small catacomb with bones and skeletons. The church itself is grande, but all I can think when I examined the handcrafted figures within is how much exploitation was necessary to create such beauty. There is a tower but it cost an additional 5 soles and I didn’t have the money.

I suppose it is worth it but there are many churches and buildings that will distract you.

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5)If I had done this in order I would already be exhausted. But keep going! Walk along Marquez street through the huge colonial archway (which you can’t miss) past the Santa Clara church. The guide recommends trying to peek through the doors to the mirrors inside, but unfortunately the door was closed. I continued on…

6) The Mercado San Pedro is almost like any typical market to be found in tourist sections of Peru. There’s the tourist products, the clothes and the bags, there’s the fruits, the juice bars, the butchers, and the construction happening in between the stalls. To the back left and outside is a bathroom which costs 50 centimos to squat over a hole, but it may come in use if you need a public toilet and can’t afford a restaurant.

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The guide book recommended drinking a juice. This was convenient because the lady at the juice bar saw me coming and called out ‘amigo!’ I paid seven soles for a orange, strawberry, and pineapple juice. It was delicious! She gave me seconds but I’m not sure if that’s part of the regular deal.

Regardless, I had this after 18 hours recovering from altitude sickness and it was the best pick-up. 20180725_095628.jpg

7) The guide book recommends turning around at the back of the market, roughly turning in the direction of the Plaza De Armas. There’s nothing much more to see except the Palacio de Justicia. The building is grand and it’s the one where police holding riot shields stand at the front. You continue walking past Av Sol and walk into an old lane called Loreto which leads directly to the plaza.

The walls along Loreto lane is layered with old Inca built bricks. The guide book doesn’t mention that in the lane there is a gate into a courtyard filled with old market shops and alpacas.

It’s a nice surprise. I believe that out of all the stores I saw in Cusco the prices here are more reasonable. And there is variety when it comes to the ponchos and scarves and sweaters. The ladies working at the stores here are friendly too.

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8) Due to a series of errors involving train tickets, altitude sickness, and a journey to Machu Picchu, I had long failed to reach this point of the guide until my third attempt. If you continued walking along Loreto you would reach the plaza again. From there you would turn right past the Starbucks, the Irish Pub, and the persistent ladies encouraging massages for 20 Soles. The guide says you continue walking past the old palace of the sixth Inca Roca (one I never heard of) which is now a museum. From there I walked to what is described as “the bohemian suburb” which includes a fountain, a market, and nice cafes.

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9) The laneways become steep and quirky. The laneways are cobbled and windy and it’s worth exploring these at some point. There are also nice views of the central part of the city from within the alleyways. There are hidden gems among the shops too.

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10) The last step in the guide book recommends walking up the steep hill to the ruins of Sacsaywaman on the hill overlooking Cusco. The entry fee is covered by the Boleto Turistico. The view of the city is extraordinary and shows a clear view of the plaza. You can also visit the Christi Blanco, which is a much smaller scale of the Christ Redeemer.

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The ruins and the cobblestones is easily worth more than an hour’s exploration, but it’s a wide, clear and green place to play and stretch your legs away from city streets. There’s a good atmosphere here.

Cusco!

When you make a life for yourself in a foreign country, the things you truly came to experience are forgotten, for life often is predictable. Predictability means complacency for someone such as me.

I had one week off for holiday and I knew I had to do something with it. I had to borrow money and use my damage deposit to scrounge up enough money.

I bought a return flight from Trujillo to Cusco for 680 Soles for an overnight flight, packed one bag to last six days, and scoured tickets for Machu Picchu.

While in Cusco I stayed at a hostel called Puriwasi (18 bed mixed room for 29 Soles). That is a decent price compared to other places during this journey.

Here is some quick advice before I focus later posts on experience:

-Altitude sickness! Cusco is more than 3000 metres above sea level. If you fly here you will not acclimatise as well. I was in hell for 18 hours in my hostel bed. Avoid alcohol.

Maybe drink a lot of water, and wear a hat! Avoid too much walking on the first day.

Drink a coca tea from time to time. It is better to drink it before you feel the effects of the sickness.

-To visit many ruins or museums here you will need a ‘Boleto Turisto’ pass which covers about 17 places. Get it from the La Muncipalidad office in Av Sol (near the plaza de armas). The pass lasts 10 days and costs 130 Soles (if you a resident it costs 70).

-Travelling to Machu Picchu is its own story! There are many ways to get to the world wonder. I will mention more in detail in another post.

-Knowing Spanish helps with the experience but most people in customer service have an excellent ability in English (better than many visitors travelling from across the world).

It is a great place to practice with confidence. Try it, and you will meet many interesting people from across the world. For me it included Peruvians, Americans, Canadians, French-ians, amd Argentinians (who taught me how to pronounce their country properly!).

A teacher’s day in Peru

7.00am: I spent my first night in my new place in the northern Peruvian city of Trujillo. I do not know where my new place is in the city, so my landlord walks me to my school. It takes only 10 minutes. What complicates matters is I know limited Spanish, while he doesn’t know English.

I arrive at school just in time to hear loud clangs of cowbells. “Happy teacher’s day!” the school’s psychologists shout as I walk through the gates. I really need a coffee.

New Spanish word acquired: Cruzar 

7.30-8am: I have made myself a coffee (with instant which I’ve stashed in my locker for such emergencies. The school has a ‘House’ system named after American presidents. I am in Kennedy House.

Team Kennedy has organised greeting students at the gates with a banner, gifts for our primary school mates, and our mascot ‘Sully’ from Monsters Inc. It takes me ages to realise who is in the mascot suit and I don’t really want to know.

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New Spanish word acquired: Mascota

8am-10.55am: Today is an unusual day, in that it is the first day of exams. This means regular classes are cancelled while the exams are on. Teachers are scheduled to supervise the exams. I do not have to teach or supervise during the math exam. I ensure my paperwork is complete, and I also mark students’ notebooks.

10.55am-12.15pm: The siesta is over. I now have to supervise grade 10 in their business exam. Students either arrive late to class, ignore my instructions to sit down and put their books away, or ask to use the bathroom.

“Why didn’t you do it in the break?” I ask.  I order students to sit before returning to my strike-candy score system. If students have five strikes we practice dictation exercises, and if they have five candy points at the end of class then I give them candy from my candy jar.

Students quickly get to their seats after one girl rolls her eyes and puts a finger to her head. “Bang”, she whispers.

Students finally settle down but they need help from the business teacher, who undoubtedly is working her way through all the classes. Finally she arrives and I bribe her with candy so she can see our class first.

It turns out I am mentioned in the exam. “Mr. Burns wants to stay in Peru forever! But he is a little confused because the banking system is different in Australia. Where should he put his money? A bank or a caja?”

Students find this funny.

When one student hands me her completed exam, I ask, “did you give me good advice?”

“Yes.”

“Am I going to be broke? Or am I going to be rich?”

“Probably broke.”

Another student asks, “are you really going to stay in Peru?”

“…..sure.”

“Will you be teaching here again next year?”

I use the time to receive some important feedback. “That depends,” I say seriously. “Would you like me to return next year.”

“Yes,” she said looking at the candy jar next to me. “If that comes back.”

New Spanish word acquired: Caja

12.15pm-2pm: I have a break for a while because Thursday is normally my quietest days. I use this time to plan what my lessons are going to be like during exam week. Teaching will prove tricky. I won’t teach all classes, and it’s not appropriate to teach heavy or new content between exams. I consider roleplaying exercises for some classes.

It’s teacher’s day the next day but we will have that time off. Instead, we will be celebrating with designated classes from 2pm. One of my students finds me and she gives me a box of chocolates as a gift.

2pm: I arrive to my designated class where cakes and biscuits are being prepared by students and some of their mothers. I take a seat and as food is being passed around, students give us some speeches. Many students that give a speech don’t address me because they prefer to speak in Spanish, but those that I do understand are lovely and encouraging.

“When you first arrived we thought, ‘oh no, another native speaker, we aren’t going to understand a thing’,” one student said. “But instead, we have learned so much, even when you think we are really bored. And you try to make the classes dynamic and interesting.”

Spanish words acquired: The difference between torta and keke

3pm: Teachers gather for their own assembly once the students leave. We collect awards and certificates  and have a glass of wine while we wait. My friends and colleagues stand one at a time to receive their awards.

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5pm: Everyone has left for the day. I mark the notebooks from students and return the books to the classrooms so students can find them first thing on Monday. I am extremely happy with one student’s response to ‘was dropping the atomic bomb on Japan justified? Why or why not?” Most students didn’t bother completing that question for homework. This student receives a gold star from my sticker collection. I rarely give those ones out. I tidy my locker and then I walk home with my laptop and my passport. At some point I am lost but I don’t stop for my phone. I feel rather vulnerable in these new streets during this time of the day. But eventually I find my door. My landlords give me a coffee and some bread and cheese, and we talk in Spanish (as best as I can). I go to my room and fall asleep before 7.30pm.

Spanish word acquired:  Caminar

 

 

The Temple of the Moon

 

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The Temple of the Moon is something that the Moche civilization built, and it’s among the ruins that are near Trujillo in northern Peru. The Moche lived from about 1200 BC to 1400 AD.

There were two temples (the sun, and the moon) and the sun temple is closed off to the public while archaeologists still search. We are only allowed access to the nearby moon temple (the Huaca de la Luna).

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Now, according to the tourist guide there is no evidence in the ruins of a proper name for the temple of the moon, or of the sun. The Moche relied on paintings and didn’t have a written language. Apparently the temples resemble others found in Mexico and so the name was copied.

The Moche used this temple for their rituals. It’s built next to the Cerro Blanco (the white hill). The hill was also known as Alec Pong (sacred stone).

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This hill was a protecting god for the Moche. There was an area on the hill which had a platform where sacrifices were made.

The sacrifices might have been timed with strong weather events.

“The natural events were because of the anger of the principal deity, who in his fury demanded blood,” said the information in the nearby museum.

The sacrifices were the warriors who had to fight each other. The loser was chosen as the sacrifice, which was then abandoned to the elements.

So according to the nearby museum, the Moche believed in an underground world. The description reminds me of the ancient Egyptians. The dead lords or important people were treated in preparation for their journey.

Also, the priests used coca leaves to connect with the celestial world. I am uncertain if the underground world and the celestial world was the same place, or two different places. But snakes….(why is it always snakes?) could easily travel to the celestial world.