Saturday, July 31, 2010

Hammock heaven

When people asked us what we were going to do in Nicaragua, we said that we were going to sit on the beach. We have sat on the beach. From Granada, the Islands of Ometepe are a 1 1/2 hour bus ride, 15 minute taxi, 1 hour ferry, then 30 minute bus to the beach ¨Playa Santa Domingo¨, so once we had arrived we figured we might as well stay a while. There are two volcanos on the island, both active! Our hostel was right on the beach, with complementary hammocks to lounge in:) We stayed here happily for the first night, paying 20 dollars US per night (both American money and Nicaraguan Cordobas are accepted everywhere here), but soon after realized that we did not have much cash, and we had no access to a bank or ATM. That´s when we started counting our pennies because we really wanted enough to get off the island. Our next home was a little place which was comfortable, yet there was no water!
Day one we walked 6km down the street/beach and stopped in at all the little shops to scrutinize prices. Almost every house has a store in the front room, or advertises rooms, horses, or bikes for rent. I guess if you have the items already, you might as well make money off them! It is uncommon to see a bike with one person on it here. Most times a person (or a dog) sits perched on the metal between the seat and the handlebars. Everyone on the island was super friendly and we recieved a lot of cheerful ¨holas!¨ as we walked.
For the rest of our time on the island we became food connoseurs (sp?). We only ate at the same place once. We think we should sell our info to Lonely Planet:) Only being able to afford 2 meals a day meant that we were very picky, and that we had a lot of time on our hands.
The beach was a dark sand beach with water warmer than we´ve showered in since we left home. There were thunder and lightening storms every night, and sometimes during the day. It is the rainy season here which explains why everything is so green. And with the rain comes the mosquitos! The worst ones are the little flies that are so small that they are dead when they fall on you (or your food). Yuck.
Now, we are back in Granada. Flipflopless. Someone nabbed both our flipflops as we were swimming:( Tonight for dinner we decided to eat only street food, which turned out to be a delicious idea. We purchased a fresh, sliced mango, a raspburro (ice covered with a sweet, raspberry sauce and milk glaze), and two quesillos (corn tortilla filled with hot chilli, tomatos, cheese, and a sour cream sauce) for the equivalent of 1 dollar and 10 cents each.
Before this disappears on me,
!Hasta luego!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Through the Sun Gate

Hello! This past week has been a pretty exiting one. We spent a few days getting used to the altitude in Cusco then went on to conquer the Inca Trail.

Sunday morning at 4:00AM we gathered our packs and headed to a plaza in Cusco where we would meet the rest of our group and our guide and porters to bus up to KM 82, the place we would start our trek from. We stopped in Ollantaytambo (an tiny agricultural town known for keepĂ­ng traditional Inca traditions such as plowing by foot) for breakfast and to stock up on water and chocolate. Here we were introduced to the type of bathroom facilities that are found on the trail and in the poorer areas of Peru (hugely unsanitary, yet probably cost effective, holes).
The first day was supposed to be an easy day because we were only hiking 14km and the route was quite flat. Day two was a bit more of a challenge. We hiked 16km total over two passes, the highest of which was at 4200m! I could definitely feel the thinner air. The third day we entered into the cloud forest and saw three different Inca ruins. The Inca Trail was used for messangers to run through bringing messages from town to town and for people travelling to Machu Pichu where they would worship the sun, moon, and earth. The Inca people had no written language so the messages were all verbal. Some of the ruins are fortresses which were used to spot invaders from the Amazon or the Spaniards, some are purifying stations or rest stops prior to going to Machu Pichu, and some are full of terraces where food was grown and new crops identified. The most amazing thing to me about the trail is that people RAN on it. We had a group of 14 amazing porters who carried our tents, food, etc. for us. They were a group of Quechua farmers aged 16 to 47 who work as porters in peak tourist season to support their families. They sped through the trail with nothing but sandals on their feet and heavy packs taller than they were on their backs. About 5 years ago, archeologists wanted to find out how fast the Inca people could bring messages across the trail so all the porters had a race. The record was 3 hours and 40 minutes!
We also had a chef on board who whipped up restaurant quality food in the mountains.

Through the Sun Gate we were able to take the postcard picture of Machu Pichu. It was really busy with tourists, so I possibly enjoyed the other Inca sites better! Machu Pichu was never found by the Spaniards when they came and invaded most of the other sites, and it is probably because they had deserted the place and taken everything of value. There were no riches of any sort found in Machu Pichu when it was discovered in 1911.

My time is up. More pictures soon, I hope! We are off to Nicaragua tomorrow, and hanging out again in Lima tonight.

Hope all is fantastic wherever you are.

Shanna and Monica

Friday, July 16, 2010

21 hours later...

21 hours later on the BUS... we arrive to the beautiful city of Cusco. It is warm and sunny, although still winter, so the locals (and therefore us as well as we try not to stand out tooo much) are dressed in long pants and heavy sweaters with scarves and all sorts of winter attire.
The bus trip was quite the adventure. We booked it a long time ago so managed to snag the front seats up top (prime viewing location)!! We had reclining chairs and foot rests, as well as 2 meals, and a game of Bingo. Somehow, I won the Bingo game! I had to go to the back of the bus and, using the microphone, and say something. So I told everyone my name and said thankyou... :) The prize was a free bus trip from Cusco to Lima, but it has to be used between Aug. 9 and Sept. 9.

Once in Cusco we found our hostel and had a warm shower!!! First one in weeks:)

We ventured out for lunch and were served soup with chicken parts (feet). Blech. We tried to eat them but they were really tough.

We came across a museum like place with exhibits of artwork that children in the areas have produced. Volunteers go out to see children living in the surrounding Quechua tribes and bring art supplies. Because there are so few external influences on their imagination (like TV, books, radio) their artwork is a completely pure representation of how they view their everyday surroundings.

Today we are running errands and looking around the main Plaza.
Book hostel for nicaragua- done!
Buy medicine for Monicas cough- done!
Update blog- done!

Hope your weekend is wonderful!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Goodbye Lima, Hello....

Well I guess it's probably due time for another little update because we are about to pack up and head on to the next city!
But I'll back up.
Our days have been really busy (kids are exhausting), and most of the time we arrive back to the house and have a siesta before almuerzo/lunch at 3 ish and our spanish lesson. The lessons are really helpful simply because we get a chance to talk to someone who is fluent in both spanish and english and can tell us exactly how to say what we intend to! There have been a few mishaps in that department as you can probably imagine...

From our house it is about a 15 minute walk to the main street where there are shopping centres, internet cafe's, and restaurants. One of the things I think is so neat here are the mototaxis. They don't drive long distances but we can take one for one sol (equivalent to about 33 cents) to the main street. They are smaller than smart cars and have three wheels like a tricycle. They just barely fit four people on the bench seat in the back:) One thing I won't miss about Lima is the smell. It is really smoggy and there's lots of exhaust everywhere.

This week I've had three cups of arroz con leche (rice pudding with a Peruvian purple corn sauce- Chicha morada). You can buy them from people on the side of the road, also for 1 sol.

This past weekend we were all sick but did manage to get out and about a bit. We went to Central Lima which is the "downtown Victoria" of Victoria, of Lima... if that makes sense. We took a tour of The Cathedral San Francisco which was absolutely STUNNING! It is a catholic cathedral and convent dating back to the 1600's, although much has been restored. I managed to grab a few pictures from the cathedral before mass started, but we weren't allowed to take any other pictures:( Underneath are cattacoombs where the poor people burried their dead so that they would be closer to reaching heaven (the richer people had designated graves under the church, not communal holes).

We watched the FIFA games in the Plaza de Armas and cheered along with many other people when Spain won. Football (soccer) is huge here, in all the neighborhood parks men and boys (no girls I've noticed) are playing. We wanted to take the taxi down there to get the last half of the game and realized why there didn't seem to be any around... all the taxi drivers were watching it too!

Today we made our family pancakes with some syrup that we brought. They liked them (or so they said)!

So tomorrow we take a bus from here to Cusco- 21 hours! It's an overnight bus. We will have to remember to pack kleenex... we're going to drive our neighbours nuts because we're still a little sick. It feels like we have just settled in here and now we're moving on... but we're excited to see Machu Pichu, South America's national pride!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

One more...

Here is the waterfall we trekked HOURS to see! It was very beautiful.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Finally some pictures:)

This is Larcomar, a new-ish shopping centre built along the sea side. This photo was taken by an overly excited waiter who was trying to convince us to eat at his restaurant by explaining all the menu items. It worked for about 5 minutes but by the time 20 rolled around I had decided to move on:)

A day hike (the one with cows and dogs and a waterfall). Pretty, yeah?

This is our family with a volunteer who left the day we came. To get to the house we need to walk up five flights of stairs- it was hard on the legs at first! Wait, I lie- it still is. School seems to be optional for the kids- we have not figured out why some days they go and some days they stay home. Little Pablo is so adorable and the kids all adore him. The father (Pablo also) works at a Casino somewhere in town.


Tuesday, July 6, 2010

We're still alive!

Hola everyone! Monica and I both have a little blurb here... I apologize for the length... And still no pictures unfortunately. This way you can picture Lima however your little heart desires!


We are spending half our time at the school in Pachacutek, and the rest of it in an orphanage for children with special needs- that’s where we were today! It’s hard to believe that all these kids really don’t belong to anybody. One of my favourites is Lorena. She is three or four and stays in her crib all day because she does not have the strength to walk or sit up. She loves her bottle and being held and cuddled, like most of the kids there.

Here’s a good bus story: Last weekend we had a LOT of bus time. People often jump onto the bus to try to sell their wares (sandwiches con carne- meat, peaches, oranges, bamboo), and jump off again a few minutes later. A little boy who was probably 12 years old was singing and asking for money on the bus and so we gave him a few extra bananas. Judging by his shocked, disgusted, priceless expression he was not at all interested in the food, so started trying to sell the bananas to other passengers!


This weekend was full of exciting things! On Saturday we and seven other volunteers were lead by the very competent Pablo on a hiking adventure! We rode the bus for approximately four hours and then hiked for about two hours to see a waterfall. It was gorgeous! Lima is all smog so it was refreshing to see actual blue sky and clouds again. There were donkeys and cows (Shanna has a bruise where a cow “nudged” her with his horn) and many stray dogs along the trail. In Lima, all the dogs that are kept as pets seem to be wearing coats to differentiate them from the wild ones.

Sunday we woke up late and then four of us volunteers took a taxi to Miraflores. We have not heard back from Melinda so missed the meeting that would be going on this morning. Instead, we took a tour of the Lima ruins Huaca Pucllana. A few key facts about the Limas:

- Their main gods were the Sea and the Moon
- They sacrificed girls of short stature aged 12 – 25 because the Sea and the Moon were both female gods (we don’t stand much chance)
- At the same time of the sacrificing they had a banquet and ate shark
- They built their pyramids and walls out of bricks, which were hand formed and then sun dried. They layers the bricks and put mud in between the layers but not in between the bricks so that they could sway and not break during an earthquake

After the tour we went to La Mar for lunch. It is a well known ceviche restaurant (ceviche is raw fish in various juices- it’s a Peruvian delicacy).We had the sample platter, with five different types of ceviche. We also had some very flavorful rice with all types of seafood and vegetables. And my (Monica’s) particular favorite was a skillet of corn, mashed potatoes, squid and octopus with spices. That’s right mom, I loved the octopus! We finished lunch at around 4 and then saw La Iglesia de la Virgin Miragrosa (Church of the miraculous virgin), El Parque de Amor (Park of Love ) and then headed home.

Today (Monday), we went back to the Special Needs Orphanage. We feed the kids and play with them and keep them from running away. We are going to have Spanish lessons this afternoon.

Hasta luego!