Bonus: Peruvian Drinks! (Part I)

Having been here for about seven weeks, it seems like a good time to explain how I’ve been staying hydrated. The water in Perú is a tricky little thing; although it’s fine for bathing and brushing your teeth, drinking it straight from the tap is akin to gastrointestinal suicide. So what do you drink when you just don’t feel like boiling a pot of water?*

Inca Cola. Ahh, the magical, golden, fizzy beverage that looks like pee but tastes like bubblegum. This stuff is fantastic, in that it’s available everywhere, tastes like candy and make you feel extra cultural. Served whichever way you like, in a glass bottle, plastic cup or pitcher, Inca Cola is the #1 selling soft drink in Perú (Take that, Coke!). I favor Inca Cola ‘Zero’, because it is a tad less cavity-inducing than the original, but I still consume enough of this carbonated treasure to rival the locals.

Ponche. Now this one’s a little less common, but I love it so much I can’t avoid a paragraph. Ponche, first tasted in Ayacucho, is a hot, creamy beverage whose closest comparison is eggnog…but ponche is a totally different story. The taste (and texture, for that matter) is similar to liquefied rice pudding, complete with the appropriate spices and heavy cream. It’s best drunk when it’s piping hot and the weather is freezing cold, making it, in my mind, the perfect winter pick-me-up. I’ve determined to find a recipe for this stuff, so I can perfect my ponche in time for Thanksgiving.

Limonada Frozen.  More popular in the warmer months, Limonada Frozen is exactly what it sounds like: limeade, loaded with sugar and blended with ice to make a limeade slushie. Ordering a pitcher of this stuff in a restaurant is the best decision you could make; sweet and sour flavors complement any food you’re eating (kind of like Inca Cola), and the frigid temperature gives you a nice, refreshing burst. It’s also insanely amusing to watch people try to pour it without splashing themselves.

(The next time I go out, I’m planning on ordering a pitcher of this…and five shots of tequila. It’s been frustrating, not encountering a single bartender here who knows what a “Frozen Margarita” is. If I can popularize “Tequila Limonada [Frozen]”, my contribution to the discos of Perú will be made.)

*Don’t say, “bottled water”. That’s boring, and you’re cramping my creative style.

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Ayacucho + Semana Santa

10259795_857627964252321_3337145153417698768_nWhoo, what a week! After hastily writing an exam on the gender spheres of the pre-Colombian Andean cultures (and, more interestingly, how the Incas ruthlessly manipulated gender perceptions in order to legitimize their conquest!) I packed up my stuff and travelled twelve hours to the lovely Ayacucho. Out of those twelve hours, the majority was spent driving up: as Ayacucho is in the Southern Sierra region, at an altitude of about 9,000ft, the going was slow, and the temperatures were low. Indeed, on our return journey, we were treated to thirty minutes of snow!

The running joke is that Ayacucho isn’t really a city—it’s more of a large town. The buildings weren’t very tall –the highest that we encountered were the thirty-three churches, which are what makes Ayacucho famous – and the streets were surprisingly quiet after dark…except for those closest to the Plaza itself, which is never silent during Semana Santa!

We toured the city and surrounding areas, and participated in the festivities: think roaming bands of musicians, water-spraying bomberos (of the non-stripping variety, sadly) and one very confusing bull run. I held my first baby llama and tried my first coca tea; I resisted the urge to kidnap the former, and thought the latter tasted like grass (before the sugar). I ate my first cuy and attended my first mass (the former was fried and wonderful; the latter’s grandeur was dampened by one enterprising camera-thief). Truly, considering I was only there for four days, I had more new experiences than I’d have thought possible!

All in all, it was fascinating to experience Easter in Perú. Here, there’s an interesting duality: one moment there’s a solemn procession in which statues of Jesus and the Virgin Mary are slowly carried past larger-than-life images of the crucifixion; and the next, there’s high-spirited dancing in the streets amid tiny old ladies tottering about, shouting, “¿Cerveza?” Ayacucho has easily been the most interesting place I’ve visited (and her people the most curious), and I fully intend to return.

*Special thanks to Trotamundos, the excellent student group that organized our trip!*

Bonus: Food


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Since I skipped a week with the blogging, I thought I’d cheat make it up with a bonus “What I Have in My Kitchen” post. Inspired by this fantastic photo collection, here’s my month’s worth of groceries, because I’m too lazy to go shopping every week:

Here we see some carbs in the form of beans, potatoes, bread, rice and pita pockets. In the back are the beverages: drinkable yogurt for those “I was supposed to have gotten up an hour ago” mornings, something that I thought was orange juice but turned out to be “Tampico Punch”, Manzanilla tea and some delicious $4 USD wine from Lunahuná, which is probably going to be gone after the ordeal of next week’s controles.

Fully taking advantage of the wide selection of produce here in Perú, we see to the center/right some grapes, mangos, aguaymantos, avocados and beets, along with the uncooked version of my (left) Pot O’ Potatoes.

Add to that the miscellaneous goods – cookies, honey, pollen (hey, it’s supposed to be good for you!), cooking oil, garlic, salt, pepper and CHEESE – and it’s a wonder that I have room in my fridge.

Not Just Lima (Part I)

I’ve frequently heard it said that when visiting Peru, one has to realize that Lima is not representative of the entire country. It’s easy to hear such advice, but it’s another thing to understand where it comes from. Ironically, it’s only after traveling to a few tourist hotspots that I feel I have a better understanding of at least two aspects of the country.

Peru is poor. Not in culture or beauty, in which it is incomparably rich, but in the traditional, economic sense of the word. In Lima, it’s easy to write off homeless people and low-quality housing as products of living in a city: whenever you have 9 million people living in one metropolitan area, wealth distribution is bound to be skewed. However, upon leaving the city, it rapidly becomes apparent that for the millions of people living on less than $2 USD a day, poverty is a very real issue. Relaxing in the padded seats of our air-conditioned tour bus (seriously, for anyone planning on visiting, Cruz del Sur is the way to go!), we can initially ignore the cardboard roofs and grueling agricultural work outside the windows…at least until the same scene repeats itself for the next 250km.

Peruvians have more trust in others than the US could even imagine. This doesn’t refer to the absurd confidence that leads WAC students to abandon their iPhones in the Dining Hall while they fill up on mozzarella sticks. Here, that’s the equivalence of madness (see above). Rather, I refer to trusting that most people have at least a little common sense and are generally able to make intelligent decisions. There aren’t a million rules governing what you should can and should not cannot do.

Although Lima’s insane traffic hints at this, this lack of hand-holding is most apparent at the tourist attractions. Where the beauty of a national park in the US is hampered by warning signs and security guards, the nature reserves in Peru are just that: natural. There are no signs prohibiting you from leaning over the edge of that 300 foot precipice…it’s just assumed that you’re smart enough to be cautious. Coming from a place where coffee cups have warning labels, such confidence is pretty novel.

Clases y baile

This week is the first of the new semester here at PUCP. Already the atmosphere has changed: there are hundreds of students milling about, enjoying the sun, strolling to class and, most unfortunately, waiting in line at the copiadora to make copies of all the required texts. Yes, ‘copies’. Professors generally don’t teach from one textbook. Rather, you’re given a bibliography of suggested/required readings, and are expected to find the book, copy the specific passages, then return it to the library for someone else to rinse and repeat.

While I admit to being pleased at the savings –the equivalent of two months’ rent—I’m still quite preoccupied with actually obtaining the texts. Some are checked out, others are too long to legally copy, and the worst are those that are M.I.A.! Once I’ve got my schedule approved next week, I’ll be spending an awful lot of my weekends tracking down the readings!

Speaking of weekends, this past Saturday was my first spent in Lima…and it certainly didn’t disappoint. A lovely afternoon of shopping was followed by a night of drinking and dancing in Miraflores. I tried pisco for the first time (picture a softer, sweeter vodka flavor) and was pleasantly surprised by the recipe for the popular pisco sour. Essentially, it’s a whiskey sour with more lime juice, more pisco, and no whiskey. I’ve determined to try my hand at making them next weekend…my WAC friends know how fun that should be!

On the subject of dancing, there’s not much to say that could do it justice. Imagine putting every Shakira video you’ve ever watched, a David Guetta concert, and chunks of “Dirty Dancing” into a blender, pressing ‘pulverize’, then sprinkling the lot with an extra dose of sensuality. Welcome to the Peruvian smoothie discoteca.

First Impressions

After arriving at the bustling Hugo Chavez airport, I met my amazing hostess, Olga, along with her siblings, Armando and Juana. Thankfully, I was spared the task of negotiating the taxi fare from the airport to my home (s/ 24), and now have an idea of how to go about doing it in the future.

Lima’s weather is rather warmer than that in Maryland (try going from 4.4C to 29.4C), but the beauty of its coastal setting is the ever-present breeze. In fact, writing this on the rooftop, I’m reminded of my family’s annual camping trips to Assateague.  De verdad, my new home is everything I could have pictured: bustling streets lined with colorful buildings, lush gardens housing cacti, orchids and flowering trees, as well as innumerable shops and restaurants. Although my lovely tour/shopping trip today seemed to take hours, it only covered a mere fraction of all that Lima has to offer; I can’t wait to see what else there is.

I’m realizing (rapidly) that my Spanish is at the “I’ll get by if I gesticulate wildly and nod” level. Already, I’ve picked up a few new words; hopefully, this rate of language acquisition will only improve, and I’ll be able to describe what a can opener is before I starve!

Tomorrow is the first day of my orientation at PUCP; I can expect a lecture on safety, a dreaded student ID photo-taking session and, of course, my first interaction with the new international students…how different to be on their (our) side of orientation for once!

Here We Go

Seven days from now, I’ll be landing in Lima to start my fabulous semester at Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú (PUCP)!! Am I excited? Of course! Am I terrified? Obviamente. But hey, that’s why I’m going to have a fantastic time.

For the past few months, I’ve been doing a lot of research about Peru: checking out guide books, talking to people who’ve been there…generally abusing the #peru tag on Tumblr. And while I can say that I’ve prepared, I’m totally confident that my arrival at Jorge Chávez will be accompanied by an overwhelming excitement (and nervousness)  that will temporarily negate any and all research I’ve done. That’s okay, because I am excited and I am nervous. I’ve been ‘international’ before, I’ve been a student forever before, but this is the first time I get to do both…shouldn’t I be nervous? I’m going into this as prepared as I can be, but I’d be foolish if I thought I knew what to expect.

 That isn’t to say I don’t have expectations for this semester: I plan to improve my Spanish; I anticipate seeing some of the most wondrous, mysterious ruins in the world. Most important, I expect to return to the US a transformed person. We read a lot about study abroad, and folks generally take an all-or-nothing approach: either it’s a transformative experience, or it’s not. But here’s the thing: transformation isn’t something that one can avoid. Every new person met, food tasted or epic adventure hiking trip taken transforms us, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. After four months of meeting, tasting and adventuring, I can’t wait to see what my transformation will be.