Saturday, May 30, 2009

Hasta Pronto

This post was originally written for, when I was a member of a Rotarian Group Study Exchange in Pery.  I added this post to One Great Dewdrop on December 26, 2012.

It's 11 a.m. on Saturday, May 30. Our group spent four days in Chimbote, taking the night bus to Lima at 11:30 p.m. yesterday and arriving here in Lima at 6:00 a.m. We are passing the hours at an apartment of a Rotarian family who splits their time between Chimbote and Lima. ¡Muchíssimas gracias por la caldorosa bienvenida!

Our time in Chimbote was full of interesting and fun activities: a church built into a hillside (and our walk down the hillside!), an amazing visit to a high school, and a warm welcome from our last Rotary Club visit (R.C. Buenos Aires with Interact and Roteract, two Rotary youth groups). I don't think any of us had much internet access during our stay in Chimbote, but I hope we'll be able to post more details and stories in the coming weeks.

About thirty seconds ago, I said "hasta pronto" to Gabriella, who is now on her way to the airport to catch a flight to Cusco with her sisters. Today our group will go our separate ways: Maria and I are spending one night in Lima before she goes to Cusco and I head south to Páracas, while Nancy and Molly are catching a red-eye flight back to the U.S.

It's a strange day. We have spent a lot of time together, to the point that I can sense when someone in the group is missing, and I automatically start looking for them. We have learned so much about Peru and Rotary International here, but speaking for myself, the more I've learned here, the more I've realized how little I understand. There are good parts and bad parts and parts that aren't good or bad, but one thing that has been consistently amazing is the reception from our host Rotarians. I know I speak for the entire group when I say that we will ALL miss our Peruvian Rotarian family very, very much.

So, on our last day together, I raise an imaginary pisco sour for brindis to my Nancy, Molly, Maria, Gabriella, and the entire cast of characters in the U.S. and Peru who made this adventure possible. May there be many more pisco sours in our future. :)

Thursday, May 21, 2009

So, How's the Corn?

This post was originally written for, when I was a member of a Rotarian Group Study Exchange in Pery.  I added this post to One Great Dewdrop on December 26, 2012.

Dear Mom:

I'm not surviving on corn. I promise. Really, you don't have to worry.

Ok, fine. You want to know what I'm eating. Here we go...

Beverages/ Bebidas

Inca Kola. Looks like yellow highlighter fluid, tastes like bubblegum. Everywhere.
Hot fish juice with lemon and herbs. Seems to be everywhere on the coast.
Yes, you read that right. Cheers!
Sweets/ Dulces
Shredded coconut fried in coconut oil and sprinkled with sugar. Outside Piura.
Lùcuma ice cream. Everywhere.
Grains/ Grano

Cancha. Dry roasted corn. See Maria's post. But I promise I'm not just eating corn and sweets, really! Found everywhere in every restaurant.
Corn, lima beans, peas, onions, and farmers' cheese salad. Huaraz.
Potatoes. Everywhere, especially Huaraz.
Kiwicha, a grain related to quinoa that looks like millet. Huaraz.

Rice and beans. Actually, I've only eaten this once so far.
Seafood/ Pescado y Mariscos

Andean trout, stuffed with cheese and served with potatoes. Huaraz.
Cebiche/ ceviche. Raw fish "cooked" by marination in lime juice. Found everywhere on the coast.
Various seafood... mariscos. This is battered and fried squid, octopus, and other seafoods. Found on the coast.
More seafood. Clams with red onions in their shells. Coast (Piura).
Octopus with olive sauce. Coast (Piura).
Tropical Fruits/ Frutas
I'm blanking on the name of this. It's good, whatever it is.
Mango ciruelo. A cross between a mango and an apple. Piura.
Coconut! Piura.
Again, I'm blanking on the name of this fruit. This was from Huaraz.
There are a lot of other amazing foods that I'm leaving out: ajì de gallina, papas a la huacaìna, chaufa de mariscos, and about 1,000 tropical fruits. But I'm not surviving on corn, I'm not starving, you don't need to mail me a care package. I promise.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Plants of (Northern) Peru

This post was originally written for, when I was a member of a Rotarian Group Study Exchange in Pery.  I added this post to One Great Dewdrop on December 26, 2012.

Hello, world:

We're here in Piura, "the city of eternal heat." This is the closest that I've ever been to the equator, but the heat doesn't seem to be bothering me much. What is bothering me is my stomach. All of the octopus, guinea pig, and other exotic meats that I don't eat in the United States (oh yeah, and the beef, pork, and chicken, too) have finally caught up to me. Fortunately, my host family is taking very good care of me, with plenty of tea, soup, and Sportade (Peruvian Gatorade).

I think everyone else is feeling more or less ok, although some of us are starting to feel less rather than more. We are one day past the halfway point of the Rotary portion of our adventure. The two weeks we've been here feel like two months... or two years. Fortunately, we have this afternoon to rest and relax, so hopefully the other ladies will have time to chime in with their impressions.

One thing I've enjoyed greatly on this adventure is seeing and learning about plant and animal species native to Peru. I'd like to share some of the plants that exist here, but not in Ithaca. I'll start with some of the trees and succulents. I'll save the tropical fruits and animals of Peru for another post. :)

The tree of the guayanabana fruit is tall, with very large, egg-shaped leaves. The leaves are a lighter green with darker green blotches. The guayanabana fruit grows in a long, green pod; the flesh of th fruit is white, gently sweet, with large black seeds.

More so in Piura than elsewhere, there are a lot of palm trees. This picture is from Sullana, near Piura, I think.
The almendra tree (almond, right?) has light grey, smooth bark with bright green, medium sized, elliptical leaves. The fruit of the tree is small, orange-yellow, and American football shaped, with a large nut in the middle. This picture is from Piura.
The acacia tree has palm-like fronds and very large seed pods. During the summer, it blooms with brilliant red flowers. This picture is from Piura.
The floripondio tree is small, distinguished by large, white, trumpet-shaped flowers that hang downward. This picture is from Trujillo.
This isn't a tree, but I'll include it anyway. Sugar cane is an important crop here. We visited a sugar cane processing plant outside of Trujillo (I think... the days are starting to blur together!).
There are cactuses in the sierra (the mountainous region, such as near Huaraz), as well as the desert areas near the coast (such as Trujillo and Piura). Here is a typical cactus. I took this picture in Huaraz.
This succulent is known as tuna in Peruvian spanish. I believe that this is prickly pear, correct? Apparently, there is a little critter, which I think is the carmine beetle, that lives on this cactus and is used to made pigments, such as for lipstick. This picture is from Huaraz.
This succulent is known as penca or cabulla. These plants are shaped like our common aloe vera plant... on steriods. I've seen some specimens here that are probably as tall as I am! This picture is from Huaraz.
Finally, I'd like to conclude with a picture from a garden in Huaraz. "Vivir sin plantas es como no vivir." To live without plants isn't to live.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Urbanista´s Reflections on Chan Chan

This post was originally written for, when I was a member of a Rotarian Group Study Exchange in Pery.  I added this post to One Great Dewdrop on December 26, 2012.

Show me any city, and I´ll be able to tell you about the people that live or lived within it. Urban form and human context are always intertwined. Look at Los Angeles, United States, and see how the six-lane freeways reflect the heroic mythology of the automobile of the 1950s. Look at Roma, Italia, and see how the Capitoline Hill reflects Roman and Renaissance ideas of governance and authority. Look at Chan Chan, Peru, and see how the ancient adobe city´s layout, design, and construction reflects the understandings of the Chimu people.

The District 7170 team and their Trujillian hosts visted Chan Chan on Saturday, 9 May. I enjoyed the visit and felt like I learned a lot about the Chimu people and their city... which I´d like to share with you!

Chimu Urban Design

The city itself is comprised of nine or ten citadels, mini-cities, each with cerimonial, commercial, and residential land uses, surrounded by a large wall, which could have been 50-60´tall. Only one of the citadels has been reconstructed to be available to the public: Tschudi Palace.

To enter Tschudi Palace, you walk through the only break in the outer wall. That´s right: one way in, one way out. The urban space is clearly defined and shows that the Chimu were serious about controlling who was in their city. The entrance in the outer wall does not line up with the entrance to the first public space; instead, the entrances are offset. These offset entrances were repeated throughout the city. This offers greater privacy and still more control, creating a defensible space (invaders can´t just run into the city).

Wandering through the citadel takes you from the most public to the most private spaces. The first public space is the Principal Ceremonial Patio, a grand space that could probably hold a thousand people. As you wander farther into the citadel, through offset entrances, the spaces become smaller and the passages more constricted to match the increasingly sacred and private functions of the spaces. At left, the top photo shows a passage near the main entrance to the citidel. The bottom photo shows a passage somewhere toward the back of the citidel.

There is a Second Ceremonial Patio, whose design matches the Principal Patio, except with a smaller, more intimate and private scale. The Huachaque, or ceremonial well, is actually located behind the Second Ceremonial Patio, indicating and even more important and higher function. I´m standing in front of the Huanchaque at left. This large, enclosed well has ramps leading down to the water and a large platform overlooking the water. Archaeologists have determined that the well had important religious and ceremonial functions for water and fertility cults. Finally, at back of the citadel is the Funerary Platform, the final resting place for Chimu leaders. Secondary tombs indicate all of the goods (and people) that were meant to accompany the leader through death. Overall, the ordering of the spaces within the citadel corresponds to the level of function of the space (public, semi-public, private, and sacred).

Chimu Construction

Chan Chan is touted as the largest adobe urban ruin in the world. Adobe is made of sand and mud (clay and water) with hay or straw mixed in. It´s shaped into blocks and dried in the sun to become one of the longest lasting building materials known to man. Chan Chan was constructed in approximately 850 AD and inhabited until approximately 1470 AD, when it was conquered by the Inca empire.

I was really impressed with the construction of Chan Chan. I am particularly impressed with the durability of the adobe structures. This city is built from the lowliest of building materials: literally that which you can find on the ground. Yet the Chimu knew how to turn these humble materials into something greater than the sum of them individually. I think that modern urbanists, architects, and builders could take a lot of inspiration from the use of natural, renewable materials in Chan Chan.

Not only did the Chimu know how to create adobe, they knew how to build with it. The great walls are constructed in a pyramidal shape (narrower at the top and wider at the bottom). See the photo to the far left. In addition, the adobe bricks were placed with spaces between them. See the photo at left. Why? This is the most flexible construction for an earthquake-prone zone. Very smart.

Chimu Art of Form

Chan Chan is famous for the web or net-like walls in the stores or audience halls. The net pattern looks nifty, but it also has an important form. The walls are rather thick--I´d say about two feet or so. The passage leading through this area is actually elevated above the rooms enclosed by the net-like walls. This means that people walking through the passages can´t actually see into any of the rooms because of the angle of their vision. The photo at right was taken from one of the passages, looking toward the rooms. In addition, people inside the rooms have plenty of air and light circulation, without sacrificing privacy. Very smart.

Chan Chan is also famous for its Corridor of Fish and Birds. These decorations actually have a hidden symbolism. The fish and the birds are facing in opposite directions. Archaeologists postulate that the fish facing one direction symbolize the Humboldt Current of the Pacific Ocean, while the birds facing in the other direction represent the jetstream and the movement of air and climate over Peru. The Chimu people were dependent on fish harvesting, which was dependent on the ocean currents, and on agriculture, which was dependent on weather. During the periodic El Niño weather phenomenon, the Chimu people were at risk for famine. Like all urban people, their urban art reflects what was on their mind: a higher symbolism and purpose.

Final Thoughts

I traveled 4,000 miles from home to see whether I could make a connection with another person through space. Does it matter if you´re born in Peru or the United States? If so, how much does it matter?

My visit to Chan Chan gave me the opportunity to travel not only 4,000 miles through space, but also 1,000 years in time. By reading the urban form, construction, and decoration of Chan Chan, I was able to learn a little about the Chimu people: their priorities, their hopes and fears, and their way of life.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Peruvian Time & Public Transit

This post was originally written for, when I was a member of a Rotarian Group Study Exchange in Pery.  I added this post to One Great Dewdrop on December 26, 2012.

We took an overnight bus from Huaraz to Trujillo, departing at 9:30 p.m. on Thursday and arriving at 8:30 a.m. on Friday. We arrived two hours late because the bus broke down on the side of the highway somewhere between Huaraz and Chimbote. I awoke out of a haze of barely sleep to clanging and shaking. I briefly considered whether we were being robbed before my TCAT brain kicked in and I realized that we were having a road call. I go 4,000 miles away, and I still can´t escape buses breaking down. Sigh.

Anyway, we arrived in Trujillo two hours late by American time and right on time by Peruvian time. Peruvian time is whatever time things end up happening. If you´re Rotary meeting is scheduled to begin at 8:30 p.m, there´s a small chance it might start at 8:30 p.m, but it´s just as likely that it will start at 9:00, 9:30, or even 10:00 p.m. This is completely normal and you should never waste energy stressing about it. The best approach is to get yourself ready for the published start time, then sleep/ journal/ blog/ read/ play with children/ walk around/ talk with Rotarians/ drink pisco sour as appropriate.

This flexibility of time has interesting implications for public transit.

There are generally two levels of Peruvian public transit: intercity and intracity. Intercity buses, run by companies like Cruz del Sur, Ormeño, and Movil Tours, run luxury, over-the-road (MCI-type) double-deck vehicles with passenger amenities like reclining seats, on-board snack service, movies, etc. I believe that there are also non-luxury versions of intercity transit, but I´ve heard that they are pretty unsafe, as drivers drive through the night with no rest, leading to accidents, drivers speed, leading to more accidents, and buses constantly break down, leading to still more accidents. These buses seem to generally depart on time, more or less, and arrive on time, more or less. Many times less rather than more.

There is also a smorgasbord of intracity transit:
  • Microbuses or micros are approximately 25-30 feet long and look sort of like shorter school buses. They run like shuttles, without a schedule.
  • I affectionately think of combis as the clown car of Peruvian public transit. Combis are approximately 10´vans with sliding doors in the middle into which you can stuff 15 or 16 people.  They also run like a shuttle, without a schedule.
  • Collectivos can be any type of vehicle. Collectivos depart from major destinations when full.
  • Official taxis are always yellow cars. Taxi transport is extremely cheap, and taxis abound (at least in Huaraz and Trujillo).
None of the intracity transit has anything like a schedule. A few people have commented that public transit here needs more planning, but I´m not sure that´s the case. Imposing schedules on public transit in a country where time is always flexible and relative is impossible. What´s the point of a schedule if it's not followed? As an outsider, it seems to me that Peruvian public transit is surprisingly efficient and culturally appropriate.

Let´s conclude with a photo of a market in Lima... taken our first day in country.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Vegetarians, Stop Reading

This post was originally written for, when I was a member of a Rotarian Group Study Exchange in Pery.  I added this post to One Great Dewdrop on December 26, 2012.

Before we embarked on this adventure, we all had rules that we wanted to follow. Don´t drink the tap water. Don´t eat fruit or vegetables that aren´t peeled or boiled. Wear a seatbelt. Things like that.

Personally, every rule that I set for myself was broken within 24 hours of arriving in Peru, including avoidance of meat. In the United States, I´m a vegetarian, as is Molly and Maria. Both Maria and I have broken down and eaten meat, although I think life-long vegetarian Molly is still going strong.

In the interests of experiencing the full culinary heritage of our host culture, Gabriella, Nancy, and I decided to try cuy for lunch today. (If you´re a vegetarian, here´s the part where you should stop reading.)

Cuy is guinea pig. Cuy is surprisingly delicious. Cuy is a traditional Andean meat. Yesterday, as we were touring some ruins, we saw two people bathing a large bag of cuy (you read that right). The meat tastes a little like chicken, but with more flavor. The texture is tender. It´s almost like combining the flavor of dark meat with the leanness of white meat. Our Rotarian host, Alfredo, told us that cuy are best when they´re young, around three months. After six months, they´re too tough.

Other traditional Andean foods include potatoes, corn (maiz), potatoes, trout, potatoes, cheese, potatoes, chicken, potatoes, eggs, and potatoes. We have been fortunate to eat in several Andean restaurants since we´ve arrived in order to sample all the local dishes. Peruvian food is delicious! Everything seems much fresher, with more flavor, than in the United States. I want to put a few chickens in my backpack to bring to the U.S. for their delicious eggs, but I think I might have a problem getting through customs...