There’s something about settling into the routine of daily life, no matter where you are, that makes it normal, seemingly uneventful, and therefore not worth sharing with others. We’re happy to say that our Peruvian life has simply become the life we live, and many months flew by without us noticing. A heat wave during this “Holiday Season” hasn’t helped make it notable, but we now realize how out of contact we’ve been. Please know that life is great. We continue to eat a pineapple a day, as well as amazing “campo” cuisine of farm-fresh ingredients without any freezing or preservatives. Work is plugging along nicely, our Spanish has plateaued (or more like a low-lying sand flat) but serves us well, and we are amazed to realize that we’re only 11 months from the end of our service. We hope you enjoy the photos and the details. In late March and again in June we traveled to the neighboring department of Ancash, seven hours away. Ancash is home to the second tallest mountain range in the world, the Cordillera Blanca and the nearby Cordillera Huayhuash. In March we treked the four-day Santa Cruz Circuit with our La Libertad Regional Coordinator Sandra Rivasplata including one pass over 14,000 feet and in June the seven-day Huayhuash Trek which includes six passes over 14,000 feet and one over 15,000 feet. For the Santa Cruz trek, we hauled all of our own gear, stumbling off of an all-night bus ride bleary-eyed and bushy-tailed to start the trek at 10,000 feet. After living at sea level for 10 months and with no time for acclimatization, the trek was beautiful but tough. One of the highlights was spending time with our Peruvian Regional Coordinator. Both of us love visiting her and her family when we are in Trujillo. At 38 years old, she is closer to our age than most volunteers, and is finishing up her Master’s Degree in Social Work. Her mother makes documentary films on social issues including one on the controversial Conga Mine to the north in Cajamarca, and her father is an aficionado of jazz and other music and so visiting them is a treat. Sandra had never done a trek like Santa Cruz and bravely stuck it out. We finished with good food and beer in Huaraz before the all-night bus ride back to Trujillo. For the June trek, we spent three days in Huaraz, playing tourist and adjusting to the altitude. We ended up in a small group of eight, including a “just-married” Spanish couple, a “just-married” Brazilian couple and another couple from the States. Interestingly enough the common language was Spanish as neither the Spanish nor Brazilian couple knew English while the other couple from the states knew Spanish; thus we used our Spanish for the duration of the trek. Being from Colorado and California, we figured we had seen plenty of mountains and beautiful treks but the Cordillera Huayhuash trek quite simply blew our socks off. We both agree it might be the most beautiful trek we’ve ever done and would highly recommend it to folks especially in the next 10 years as rumor has it, it may be sacked for mining. Arden has plans to try and convince her bevvy of Colorado College gal-pals to hike it for one of their future reunions. We had a father-son team of guides lead us including carrying our gear on mules and cooking our meals. It is pointless trying to wax eloquent about it except to say imagine the Rockies with 4,000 – 5,000 more feet of mountain, including glaciers, glacial lakes and high altitude “pampas”. Every day we’d wake at 6:00 to coffee and pancakes or eggs, pack up our gear and stroll out of camp by 7:30 a.m., to wind our way up to a 14,000 foot pass, and back down to camp. Thankfully our small group got along fabulously and we spent the cold nights playing cards and sharing stories before retiring by 8:30 to bed. Again, we will try and let the pictures do the talking, but folks wanting to get a taste of the Andes should seriously consider the Cordillera Huayhuash. It has several peaks between 19,000 and 20,000 feet that haven’t been climbed and with receding glaciers is a “must-see” before “cambio climático” takes its toll. Our first United States visitors, Read’s family including sister, brother-in-law, nephew and mother visited in late July. We joined them for beach time and for four days in Poroto before they went with Read to Huaraz. Our host family celebrated by preparing “Pachamanca” for us, a Peruvian speciality. They killed one of the family pigs, a turkey and several “gallinas” that they buried in a pit full of red hot rocks, with sweet potatoes, tamales, corn and beans and served up with plenty of ahí or pepper sauce. Our host mother also prepared “ceviche” (Arden’s new favorite food) or fresh fish marinated with lime and served with sweet potatoes and “cancha” as well as other Peruvian delights. We are blessed to live with a family of excellent cooks. As Read says, our lives revolve around lunch. Every lunch we are treated to freshly prepared soup followed by a mountain of rice and “manestra” or beans cooked with ahí, peppers and onions and “un poco de carne” which is usually chicken or fish. Food for Peruvians is love and a source of national pride. Read’s sister Heather fell in love with the ahí or hot pepper sauce that spices most dishes. Every morning, various tiendas prepare batches of different pepper sauces ranging from sublime to blow-your-mind hot, pack it up in little bags and sell it. The sauce flavors everything from soup to beans and the variety is stunning.
During their visit, Read’s mother Pepper lived up to her new title, “Ass-kicking Granny”, hiking over sketchy terrain at altitude to see the glaciers, leaving kids and grandkids behind. We hope that by the time we hit 74 there will be a wheelchair ramp installed. Pep’s Spanish proved worthy, or at least intelligible. A little language challenge never stopped her from making friends with everyone. She did offer fewer cooking tips than normal, but then it could be that she’s never cooked multiple animals on red hot rocks buried in a pit in the driveway before.
After Read’s family left, our neighboring Evangelical church, the one that plays live, amplified sermons and music five nights a week from 8 p.m. – 10 p.m. in our living room (or at least it sounds that way), celebrated it’s 20th anniversary with a super-show staged and lighted in the street directly out our front door. The five-foot high speakers actually cracked one of our windows with the blasting “Jesus loves you” music. The message is the same in any language with a touch of full-throated fire and brimstone which rolls out nicely in Spanish.
Poroto celebrated the town’s birthday in late August with competing marching bands who followed us around town to each event, cranking out marineras, cumbias, huaynos, etc. Add to that endless cases of beer, recklessly dangerous fireworks (including the 6 a.m. wake-up barrage), and lots of visiting relatives, and you have a five-day, no-sleep fiesta. Arden loved it!
When not fiesta-ing, Arden works with (and is worked by) adolescents with the help of the local psychologist or teachers, teaching them to teach their peers in themes of responsible decision-making, realities and myths around teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections and birth control. One of the highlights (of course) proved to be the condom class where, after completing the “stick-the-condom-on the-carrot” race while explaining the correct steps on how to use it, the adolescents blew up the condoms to play a mean game of volleyball for the duration of the class. Arden’s Spanish sexual vocabulary has improved radically. After one student asked her to “explain female orgasm” (I mean, COME ON, this is difficult enough to explain in English), Arden spent her next one-on-one private Spanish tutoring session much to her teacher’s amusement, “boning up” (pardon the pun) her vocabulary, learning new verbs like lamer (to lick), acariciar (to caress), excitar (to sexually excite), and desfogar (to emit). She further learned them in subjunctive because, let’s face it, most sexual topics among adolescents AND adults are not reality but possibility (wishful thinking) and this is all in subjunctive or conditional. Arden further leads a “Healthy Living” home visitation program with the help of volunteer health promoters, visiting 30 moms and their small children twice a month to promote everything from hand-washing to early childhood stimulation. Highlights thus far include teaching the importance of “play”, which was aided by the help of “Nurturing Parenting” coloring books written in Spanish and English sent by her friend and early childhood expert Jane Whitmer and Scott Bates of the Colorado Children’s Trust Fund. As part of the program, she is finishing up building “cocinas mejoradas” or improved-cookstoves (meaning Read is training a local guy to build them). It is wonderful to see moms take pride in lighting their stove for the first time, using half the amount of wood, emitting no lung and eye-damaging smoke, and cooking faster than ever. Arden relishes her afternoons tramping from one house to the other with the volunteer promoters, chatting in Spanish (usually comparing notes about husbands – i.e., yours does that TOO), visiting moms one by one or in small groups, trying to “be” or be like her mentor Jane Whitmer. After completing six months of house visits, two visits a month, many of the mothers feel like friends and invite her to birthday parties or give her pineapples to take home. She will be truly sad to end the project in March and April, and hopes to spearhead a workshop or two with the health promoters to continue to see many of the mothers.
In October, Arden’s mother Mary visited. They spent the first week hiking together in the Cordillera Blanca in Ancash. Arden’s mother truly earned her Wheaties, hiking an average of 8 miles a day at 10,000+ feet, one day hiking over 10 miles to a lake at 13,000 feet. After Ancash, Mary spent the next week at site, accompanying Arden for home visits and one particularly naughty class of 14-year old’s. Being Arden’s mother and coming all the way from the states, the mothers rolled out the red carpet, treating Mary to fried pork, ceviche, fresh juices, and other Peruvian delicacies. Again, in Peru, food is love and the mothers treated Mary in style. Mary also attended a surprise birthday for Arden, spearheaded by Arden’s Peruvian mother Isabel, complete with a “Hannah-Montana” piñata, cake, Inca Cola (tastes like bubble gum) and masamora (a purple corn jello).
Read’s life revolves around riding his bike everyday to visit water systems, and finding excuses to go to Trujillo to surf. Slowly communities are coming around to the idea of chlorinating their drinking water, though pockets of resistance are still strong. Toilets are the next project in queue, as he has attempted to navigate the elusive funding system of applying federal mining royalties to local infrastructure projects. The mayor of Poroto is “gung-ho” to “go big”, but we’ll see how that shakes out.
A recent November visit by Read’s friend Cathy Howard and her son Xander gave us the chance to showcase the life of a volunteer. It was sadly punctuated by the recent passing of a great mutual friend Jamie Tucker, who was an inspiration to live life fully, here and now. It’s almost too easy to carry on without appreciating the precious details life brings. Thank you Jaime for once again making your point heard. The burden is now on us to not forget your example. And so life carries on, but not without a purposeful appreciation of all that has been provided to us. From the love of our families from afar and in their visits here, to the appreciation locals show for our efforts, including an amazing host-family, we can’t possibly share with you all that it is to be a Peace Corps volunteer in Perú. The best part of all is sharing this experience with each other, laughing and (occasionally) ranting through each chapter with an appreciative partner. It just doesn’t get any better, (though Read says, a phat snow-storm sure would be nice).