Newsflash: I Moved

Newsflash: I Moved

I feel at this point it would be difficult not to know this because most people get here either from Instagram or Facebook, but I recently relocated from Marfa, TX to Santa Fe, NM. It’s been an interesting week, to say the least. I’ve interviewed for a few jobs, talked to a lot of strangers, read books in a couple bars, and been catcalled almost as many times as I was in Peru (who knew that was a thing here?). I started a part-time job today, so Monday was dedicated entirely to feeling more normal.

Moving interrupts you. Even if you’re leaving a place where you felt lonely, moving somewhere new renders you entirely alone. There’s a huge distinction between the two. I’ve been experiencing a lot of ups and down in the last week, and so, having Monday entirely free, I decided to do something to feel like myself again. I went exploring.

I’ve been doing a little of that here in Santa Fe, but yesterday I wanted to finally get up to Taos and see what all the fuss was about. And while it wasn’t the hippie fantasy dreamland I expected, it was still a hell of a day.

The road to Taos
The road to Taos

I drove into Taos through a mountain pass that twists and writhes along the Rio Grande, at times mere inches from the edge of the gorge. Around the last turn, the landscape opens up into a wide vista that allows the viewer to see for miles, over distant mountains, the gorge a shadowy depression along the left side of one’s field of vision. It’s difficult to capture with words or photographs how breathtaking it is. I believe my words were, “WHAT?! *giggle* NO WAY ARE YOU SERIOUS?!”

I found free parking north of the touristy plaza and set out exploring (and buying small gifts for my various penpals and a few friends around the world, just for fun). I found a bookstore–let’s be real, I found it before I drove to Taos and it was honestly my goal–but surprisingly was unimpressed with the offerings.

Taos is charming and beautiful. There are flowers and flourishing shade trees everywhere, which are a relief from the relentless sun. Buskers sing in secluded squares, and surprising treats hide around every corner (hi, have you every had a goat cheese chocolate truffle? if not, you should try it).

My favorite Taos resident
My favorite Taos resident
Brodsky's Bookshop
Brodsky’s Bookshop
I love the colors in Taos
I love the colors in Taos
Every house is adorable
Every house is adorable
So many blooms buzzing with bees
So many blooms buzzing with bees
Yuuuummm I'm glad there's one of these in Santa Fe, too
Yuuuummm I’m glad there’s one of these in Santa Fe, too
Cutest shop award goes to
Cutest shop award goes to
Op. Cit. Books
Op. Cit. Books
Hanging signs are my favorite
Hanging signs are my favorite
The mountains watching over Taos
The mountains watching over Taos

Once my feet grew tired with wandering, I made my way back to my car and ventured over to Taos Mesa Brewing company. Their lager, pilsner, golden ale, altbier, and porter are all spot on. I especially loved the lager (the lightest) and the porter (the darkest, but it didn’t sit heavy in my stomach like many dark beers do).

Taos Mesa beeeeeer
Taos Mesa beeeeeer

Inside it was stiflingly hot, so I took my flight of beer out onto the patio and enjoyed the desert wind and my book. There were two massive Great Danes traveling with their friendly mom. She and I began to talk, in addition to one other solo traveler there to enjoy the weather and beer. He was from Wisconsin, she from Portland, and me from I don’t even know where anymore. She is traveling across the country in her CR-V with her two giant dogs. I can’t imagine how cramped that car must feel during the hours of travel. The gentleman we were talking to gave me a recommendation for a hike that was only about half an hour away, and here we come to my favorite part of this day.

The Williams Lake trail leads to Williams Lake (duh?), which lies in a valley in the Rockies at an elevation of roughly 11,000 feet. The incline of the hike itself isn’t incredibly difficult (a little over 1000 feet), which means my little car had to struggle to get up the mountain so I could start. The first quarter mile of the trail takes one through a quiet and darkened ski village, largely unpopulated in the summer months, and past a ski lift that doesn’t take anyone anywhere at the moment. The trail proper begins in earnest soon after leaving the village, and along its right side gushes a torrent of snowmelt that is, frankly, one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen or heard.

A great start to this hike, for sure.
A great start to this hike, for sure.

The trail eventually leads away from this stream (waterfall? I know it’s not a river, but I’m not sure what it’s called) and winds up the mountain, soon leading the walker through snow. At first in patches, but then…THEN. There is an open patch of ground where I met some fellow hikers on their way down, and I asked them some questions about the trail. They helped me by telling me two things: 1) Most of the last mile would be entirely over snow, and 2) I needed to follow the blue dots on the trees and the footprints in the snow to stay on the trail.

Wilderness ahead
Wilderness ahead
The last easy part
The last easy part

I can’t even express how excited I was to see so much snow. It was everywhere. The odd thing was that it wasn’t even cold, so I wonder how it stays on the ground when it’s so warm out. Being from a place that is about as opposite from mountains as it’s possible to be, I don’t know anything about how they work. I was wearing a tank top and was still nice and toasty warm. In any case, snow there was, sometimes several feet deep, lying in small hills one had to venture over to keep moving. I most definitely ate it at one point, face planting in the snow and losing my glasses. It was rather amusing, but I’m glad I was alone, so no one could witness my defeat by frozen precipitation.

It was at this point that an alarming thought entered my mind: are there grizzly bears in this part of the range? OH GOD ARE THERE?! And once I thought this, I was completely unable to put it from my mind. Google was not an option, as I’d left cell service far behind, and I stopped every 30 feet, convinced I’d heard something. Eventually, I put it to myself that I could either go on and see something potentially life changing, or turn back in order not to die at the claws of an angry, hungry bear. I finally talked myself into believing there were no grizzlies in the area and kept on. The other hikers I met on the trail convinced me it was worth it.

Oh heavens, was it ever. I wish I could hold on to the feeling of turning a rocky corner and catching my first sight of the lake, after struggling over slippery snow in wet boots with soaking, cold socks, in fear of my life at the mercy of imaginary bears. I’ve never hiked through snow, nor have I ever been that high up under my own power, I think. My lungs were screaming and I’d bent my left knee backward more than once (ow). But it was all, all, all, ALL SO WORTH IT.

Just doesn't
Just doesn’t
do it
do it
justice.
justice.
So you know I was there...hi!
So you know I was there…hi!
Hi again!
Hi again!
Just...are you serious?
Just…are you serious?
These clouds caused a few problems later
These clouds caused a few problems later

As I started this hike fairly late in the day, it started to get dark on the way down, which worried me. Having never been anywhere this remote by myself, nor in a mountain forest with trees this tall, I didn’t realize that the sun seems to disappear earlier than it does on clear land. So though the day was not nearly advanced enough to be considered anything close to sundown, behind the mountain and in the forest, it looked like twilight. At some points, I could barely see the blue dots on the trees, and the footprints were much easier to see on the way up than they were on the way down when it was darker. At one point, I swear I heard a bear, though you may think I was imagining things. Regardless, I made it down the trail much faster than I made it up (in part because I was slipping on snow a lot of the way down).

Fortunately, the only animal I saw was this one.

Cute and harmless, thankfully
Cute and harmless, thankfully

I spent a very happy drive home in the dusty, golden dusk, the mountains layers of blue paper in the distance, listening to the smokey brogue of Alexi Murdoch, my heart singing with trees and mountains and snow. I think this day was one of the best of my life. Whether my fears were real or imagined, the feeling of forging ahead on my own, in spite of those fears, left me feeling powerful and confident. I want to hold on to the memory of this day forever.

A TRAVEL POST! Because Three Months Is Too Long

A TRAVEL POST! Because Three Months Is Too Long

Once upon a time, I wrote this really sad blog about all the reasons I wasn’t going back to Peru. I do not regret that decision at all though I do wish I’d been smarter about how I packed to come home (I am STILL trying to get my suitcase home from Peru three months later). I told you guys that would not be the end to my adventures, and it definitely wasn’t. So what’s next?

Turns out that a really cool former manager of mine–the one that hired me at BookPeople–moved out to west Texas (specifically Alpine, Texas) with her husband, and was a manager at a little place called Antelope Lodge. She’s since moved on, but she got me in to cover reception while their regular employee (also someone from BookPeople!) is away for a writing residency in the northeast. I will be staying at the lodge and working for them part-time, utilizing the down time to explore the area.

Alpine is a great little town, judging from the day I spent there on vacation a few years ago. It’s near Marfa, which I love, near Fort Davis, near McDonald Observatory, and near Big Bend (keeping in mind this is the Texas version of “near”). It is at a higher elevation than I’m used to living, though nowhere near as high as I was when I lived in Peru. It’s also a desert, so it’s warm during the day, depending on the season, and really cold at night. The town’s population is only a few thousand people, so it’s much different from anywhere I’ve ever lived before. Needless to say, I’m totally excited to explore the area, both the little town and the surrounding nature.

I’m not sure when I’ll be back, as I’ve heard different estimates about how long the job will last. Could be a month, could be three, or I could stay there forever, because who knows? I may just love it to bits.

Stay tuned for pictures, because there will be a lot of them. Moving day is Sunday, February 28th, so check back here for first impressions!

 

In Which She Decides Not to Return to Peru

In Which She Decides Not to Return to Peru

Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu
Alpacas
Alpacas
Peruvian flag in front of the mountains
Peruvian flag in front of the mountains
Arequipa's cathedral
Arequipa’s cathedral

When I left Peru for the holidays, I was ecstatic to visit the States, but I had every intention of returning to Peru at the beginning of January. I had big plans to trek about the country with a friend of mine there and move to Cusco in February. In the past, I had struggled with some issues, but I thought that I had overcome them effectively and begun to enjoy myself. However, over the past month I have realized that I simply found ways to compensate for my unhappiness. From the moment I arrived home, I dreaded going back.

My organized mind struggled every day to find beauty and make pieces fit that never would. I wanted to fix things up, change them, instead of accepting Arequipa for exactly what it was. People are late for everything–never on time. No matter how many times we swept the floor, it was always filthy again the next day. Showers were often cold, and I couldn’t run mine for too long or it would flood my whole room. The apartment was dirty, loud, and dark. But these are only minor irritations. These, I was able to overcome to a certain degree. There were deeper issues that were impossible to ignore.

I used the practice of taking photographs for Instagram to find beauty in every day because my eye struggled to find it. There is a movement occurring in which people expose the truths behind their perfectly framed photographs. I will expose my truth as well: I photographed the beautiful old buildings, but I did my best to hide the graffiti on everything and the filthy smudges where people passed for years upon years. I did not photograph the piles of trash on the streets, nor the mangy dogs who would rip them apart in search of food. I did not photograph the homeless men with their hands down their tattered pants, who would pull their genitals out for the world to see. There was no way to capture the frequent smell of human urine and shit, nor of trash, nor of the exhaust from ancient vehicles.

I inserted my headphones before I left the house and only took them out when I arrived safely at my destination. I would pass the cathedral as the music swelled around me, the sun hitting the white stones of the spires and gilding them with golden light, and I’d feel something beautiful move in my chest. The music buoyed my feet and put a bounce in my step; it manipulated my emotions and helped me feel as though I was enjoying myself. And I did enjoy myself for a while. It wasn’t all terrible. Living in a city that’s almost 500 years old does have a certain novelty to it. But after a while, the sickening tendency of men to tell a passing woman (especially a white, blonde one) exactly what they thought of her becomes overwhelming. Every day, both to and from work, I would hear whistles and catcalls and kissing noises from pedestrians, honks and shouts from cars. For some women, this is not a problem. For me, someone who does not like to stand out, it was very difficult. I felt like I was constantly standing in the spotlight, with a target on my back. I felt like my body was under endless scrutiny.

My health declined. In much the same way going to college disrupts one’s ability to make healthy choices and form good habits, so too does ripping yourself from everything you’ve ever known and plunging yourself into a vastly different culture. I struggled with laziness. I didn’t want to cook myself healthy meals. I thought it didn’t matter because I was walking everywhere so it balanced out. I didn’t want to run on the streets because I dreaded the attention I knew it would draw. I ate too much sugar because the place I worked sold massive quantities of sweets, and they were incredible. I could feel myself sliding back to a place in which I did not want to find myself. I have begun to make strides in the right direction during my time at home, and my concern is that my past struggles and bad habits will return if I do.

Since I’ve been home, Honey has been unable to cope with me leaving the house. Anytime she sees my suitcase, she begins to shake so hard it looks like she’s going to come apart. She barely leaves my side when I’m home (something she never used to do–she’s a fairly independent dog). I couldn’t stand traumatizing her so much again by leaving her behind, but I do not feel that it would be safe to take her with me.

There are also mundane issues, such as money and employment that I will not go into because those are issues many people struggle with here and abroad.

Some of my amazing friends
Some of my amazing friends
My favorite person in Peru :)
My favorite person in Peru :)

Right now it is difficult to think of myself as anything other than a failure, but a good friend helped me see that it takes more strength to follow my path and not cave to the pressure I might feel from all of those watching. I realized that the reason I almost forced myself to go back was because I told people I was going and they would expect me to follow through. What kind of life would that be, to live according to the expectations of people who have absolutely no stake in what I’d be forcing myself to do? I feel ashamed because many people knew I was going, and now everyone will witness my failure to thrive in the environment I thought would be so much better than where I grew up, but I won’t let this fear of judgment stop me from living my life my way.

Riding horses in the Sacred Valley
Riding horses in the Sacred Valley
Ruins
The hills around Cusco

At heart, I am still a wanderer. I know that Peru is not right for me, but I do not wish to settle yet, so for now I wait and plan my next move. I have a few ideas about where I want to go and what I would like to do, and now I know more about what I want and what I do not. Though I wish I had been able to find contentment in Peru, I am happy that I tried, and I did have fun doing it. I am grateful that I got to see Machu Picchu, practice my Spanish, meet amazing people, try new foods, get run over by a llama, take a train through a cloud forest, and dance on a bar. Peru IS a beautiful country, rich in history and tradition. Its people are proud, and rightly so. There is so much heritage there worthy of praise. I am grateful now and will forever be grateful that I was able to go. If I hadn’t, I would still be wondering what it was like and dreaming of it as a possibility. Now that I know my dreams do not lie there, I am free to pursue more of what makes me thrive. Goodbye, Peru, and thanks for everything.

Goodbye llamas
Goodbye llamas

 

 

A Short Update From Peru

A Short Update From Peru

Many may be wondering where the heck I’ve gone. I apologize! I have been really trying to focus on getting some habits cemented in place down here, instead of allowing myself to feel like I’m on permanent vacation. I have also been sick with one thing after another ( a cough-heavy cold, food poisoning, my period, a crippling headache for a few days….) and I haven’t felt much motivation to be productive blog-wise for about a month. I still want to do a post about Cusco, but I’m going to save it for a day when I don’t have to work later, because that’s going to take all day.

Life in Arequipa is awesome. It took me a while to find my feet here and truly feel at home, but now I genuinely love it, and walking around on the cobbled streets or the slick pavement of the historic part of the city, with aged white-stone walls rising all around me I can’t help but smile my biggest smile because it’s all just so lovely.

Perhaps the biggest update is that I am no longer teaching. The school I worked for was sloppy and disorganized. The person who was supposed to help the teachers here seemed to care neither about our health nor safety and was incredibly difficult to reach when one or more of us were sick with things that seemed like they had the potential to be dangerous. He actually completely turned on one of my closest friends here and is currently trying to get her kicked out of our apartments because she stopped working for them, too. Her arrival was one of the most atrocious things I have ever witnessed. It was a seemingly endless series of screw-ups and stressful situations that he should have made better and instead made worse. He took her leave-taking very personally (whereas mine was no problem, apparently), and in total it is an organization with which I want no more interaction whatsoever.

I’m at a coffee shop now, and I’m so happy. It’s a great place that I spent a lot of time at anyway, so I’m enjoying the people and the work. I get excited about going in. There’s just something I love about being behind a counter. I’m learning how to make coffee, and I spend a lot of time around some pretty delicious desserts. I move around a lot and feel healthier doing so. And after I’m finished I can just sit down on a cozy sofa and read my book for a while.

I will be in Texas for the month of December, from 1 December to 5 January. After I return I am moving into an apartment in Cusco with two sisters from Lima who own a bookstore and tea room. I completely fell in love with Cusco when I was there, and I can’t wait to be there. Now, though, I think I’m really going to miss Arequipa when I go. They’re both great cities with wonderful people in them, and it will be hard to move.

And now, pictures!

Santa Catalina street, with a view of the Peru flag and Chachani in the background
Santa Catalina street, with a view of the Peru flag and Chachani in the background
Catedral de Arequipa looking beautiful in the light of the setting sun.
Catedral de Arequipa looking beautiful in the light of the setting sun.
My friend Stacey and I at the Santa Catalina convent.
My friend Stacey and I at the Santa Catalina convent.
The cathedral at night.
The cathedral at night.
Chachani the volcano is very, very handsome.
Chachani the volcano is very, very handsome.
Some friends and I on Halloween at the coffee shop.
Some friends and I on Halloween at the coffee shop. We also have adult beverages, as you can see in the background.
IMG_5943
Convent at night.
First day at the coffee shop!
First day at the coffee shop!
A Walk in the Chili River Valley

A Walk in the Chili River Valley

One thing we are spoiled for in Austin is nature. Drive five minutes in any direction and you’ve got a park or a greenbelt on which to spend several hours of any given day, hiking, biking, walking the dog, having a picnic with friends, playing games, listening to music, you name it. Here, green is hard to come by. The climate is dry and dusty, with very little rain during about nine months of the year, so green areas must be irrigated and groomed as well as protected. In parks, you aren’t allowed to be on the grass. You sit on a bench or walk around.

My roommates, one of my students, and I decided to take a nature walk through the Chili River valley with a tourist group here in Arequipa. We thought the walk was for tourists, but actually it was locals who wanted to learn about local medicinal plants, which was even cooler than just a tourist walk.

It was so nice to be out in nature. It was still very dusty, but we walked for hours with the river on one side of us and a trickling stream on the other. We walked through farmland and saw fresh broccoli and cauliflower growing, as well as donkeys and cows grazing and a white horse staring at us from a distance.

We began by meeting at a place called Mirador in the Yanahuara district of the city. It is a lookout point where you can see over the rooftops of the city and have an unobstructed view of the volcanoes.

The view from a lookout point called Mirador de Yanahuara
The view from a lookout point called Mirador de Yanahuara
One of the oldest streets in the city
One of the oldest streets in the city
This cutie followed us for quite a bit, but it wasn't because he liked us. There was a girl dog in the group he was interested in ;)
This cutie followed us for quite a bit, but it wasn’t because he liked us. There was a girl dog in the group he was interested in ;)
Most of the houses had a flower pot hanging from their exteriors walls.
Most of the houses had a flower pot hanging from their exteriors walls.

After a walk up one of the oldest streets in Arequipa, we turned off the main street and onto an alley which eventually became a dusty path in a very rural feeling part of the city. It eventually led us further and further from stone and concrete and closer and closer to greenery and fresh air untainted by the exhaust of cars and buses.

One of my roommates, Doris, and one of my students, Andre. I told Doris to smile and I got this instead :)
One of my roommates, Doris, and one of my students, Andre. I told Doris to smile and I got this instead :)
Three roomies with Misti in the background.
Three roomies with Misti in the background.
A waterfall caused by an open canal gate. When we passed it later it was down to just a trickle.
A waterfall caused by an open canal gate. When we passed it later it was down to just a trickle.
It was so nice to see Chachani without a bunch of houses and water heaters in front of it.
It was so nice to see Chachani without a bunch of houses and water heaters in front of it.
The irrigation stream that ran alongside us for a lot of the way. Any time it hit a rock or a turn it made a sweet burbling sound that I hadn't realized I missed.
The irrigation stream that ran alongside us for a lot of the way. Anytime it hit a rock or a turn it made a sweet burbling sound that I hadn’t realized I missed.
There were cows grazing in the river. They picked their way between the large slate-colored stones lodged in the shallows, munching on water weed.
There were cows grazing in the river. They picked their way between the large slate-colored stones lodged in the shallows, munching on water weed.

One of the most memorable parts of the day was when Veronica and I were about to take a picture on one of the rocks in the shallows of the river. A Peruvian woman rushed over and pushed her way onto our rock and asked if she could take a photo with us. I can’t really think of any reason why, other than that we are gringos and she doesn’t see many of us. I’ve never been a photo-op before. It was weird, and not as flattering as you might assume. I felt like a sideshow act.

The path up out of the river valley where we stopped for a break.
The path up out of the river valley where we stopped for a break. Please ignore the inconsiderate graffiti. It’s everywhere.
Me and the Chili River
The Chili River
My whole spirit felt lighter just being out among all the green
My whole spirit felt lighter just being out among all the green

The larger tour group ended up getting separated after we stopped at the river. My small group and I followed a narrow path set into the side of the hill for a while and found a place to rest and enjoy the day. Shade was difficult to find, so Andre and I rested our eyes lounging in a “natural sofa” made of half-dried hay. Veronica and Doris took their shoes off and dipped their toes in the icy river and then lay down in the grass as well. It’s amazing what simple pleasures can do for your attitude. There was something so energizing about lying in the springy grass under the blue sky on a beautiful day.

After our break, before we moved on.
After our break, before we moved on.
This tree was very fragrant and helped with bronchial problems.
This tree was very fragrant and helped with bronchial problems.
This plant was called cullen and the flowers help with stomach aches when made into an infusion. The buds can rid the gut of parasites.
This plant was called cullen and the flowers help with stomach aches when made into an infusion. The buds can rid the gut of parasites. We harvested some of the flowers for our poor gringo tummies.
Another plant that helps with cough and bronchial issues.
Another plant that helps with a cough and bronchial issues.
The reminders that I am in a Catholic country are everywhere. This was found at the very beginning of the trail.
The reminders that I am in a Catholic country are everywhere. This was found at the very beginning of the trail.
There was a really long wall absolutely covered in morning glory, humming with bees. It reminded me of home.
There was a really long wall absolutely covered in morning glory, humming with bees. It reminded me of home.
This was just another nice view of Misti over the dome of a patio at the International Club on our way home.
This was just another nice view of Misti over the dome of a patio at the International Club on our way home.
Being silly at a park on the way home. Sorry for the shadow.
Being silly at a park on the way home. Sorry for the shadow.
Doris and Andre playing with kiddie toys.
Doris and Andre playing with kiddie toys.

It was a fantastic morning. I enjoyed seeing a little bit of nature (because a month without it is way too long), and now I know about a place I can go, not very far away, where I can get my fill of trickling water, singing birds, and the color green.

 

An Update From Peru

An Update From Peru

To be honest, the last few weeks have been a bit of an emotional roller coaster. Peru is beautiful, and I really do love it here, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t miss a lot of things about life in a more developed country. I miss the convenience of having everything I want at my fingertips in the grocery store. I miss having so many world-flavor options when going out to eat. I  miss public transportation that fits my size (the busses here are basically just vans that people cram into–no capacity limit). I also just miss my life at home because this isn’t my home yet. I came here with a broken heart, and I miss the person it broke for. I miss my family. I miss my dog. I miss hugs and human contact because I don’t get a lot of that here.

At the same time, though, I am learning so much about myself and what I’m capable of. What I like and what I truly do not like. What I’m willing to try and what limits I’ve set on my courage. I’m learning a lot about Peru and its people. Most of it’s good, some of it not, and all of it surprising and interesting.

I spent the week before my break relaxing in and around town and exploring the historic heart of Arequipa. I visited the cathedral at the Plaza de Armas, and took a tour of their museum there. It is a beautiful cathedral, with plenty of European influence, but many differences that are plainly visible and unique to this part of the world. I enjoyed learning about its history, including that it has been rebuilt multiple times due to fires and earthquakes.

The cathedral from above.
The cathedral from above.
The altar
The altar
The pulpit depicting the defeat of Satan by the word of God
The pulpit depicting the defeat of Satan by the word of God
The organ, which has been rebuilt at least once
The organ, which has been rebuilt at least once
Mary
Mary

In addition to seeing the inside, I also got to walk on the roof and see the bells in their towers! That was pretty cool. Rooftops here are used frequently, sometimes for leisure, sometimes for practical purposes like drying laundry. The roof of the cathedral is just used so people can view the city and the mountains from a really good angle.

One of the two bell towers
One of the two bell towers
The view from the roof
The view from the roof
Another view, this one of the Plaza de Armas
Another view, this one of the Plaza de Armas
Tourist picture
Tourist picture
The bells in their tower
The bells in their tower
Hello
Hello
Only two trees holding an enormous bell. Yikes.
Only two trees holding an enormous bell. Yikes.

The cathedral also had a museum housing artifacts from the history of the cathedral. Mostly, there were beautiful old clothes that the priests have worn through the years.

Elaborate funeral robe
Elaborate funeral robe
Assassin's Creed?
Assassin’s Creed?
I just liked this one
I just liked this one
Weddings and other celebrations
Weddings and other celebrations

After the cathedral I headed over to the Santa Catalina Monastery. It is still a functioning nunnery, so there were nuns living within the walls. Now, they are allowed to leave the walls with special permission for very special occasions, but they are still cloistered for most of their lives. I only saw the building in which they live–I did not see any nuns. Even all the windows of their building were shuttered, so no one can see in or out.

At the suggestion of Veronica I took a tour of the place with a guide, and I really enjoyed it. Celia was a fantastic guide, in her blue blazer and wide-brimmed straw hate with its matching blue ribbon. She had such a sweet voice and answered all of my questions very patiently. It is a solemn place, but she did make me laugh a few times.

A reminder for the nuns as they entered that this was a place of prayer and contemplation
A reminder for the nuns as they entered that this was a place of prayer and contemplation

The monastery is described as a city within the city of Arequipa, and it really is that. It’s not a functioning city, but this place at one point was a virtual village, with gardens, individual houses, a communal laundry, square, and kitchen. The policies have changed over the years. Nuns lived together in community, then in their own individual houses, and now, once again live in community with one another.

A beautiful courtyard at the entrance
A beautiful courtyard at the entrance
On the left is the building where the nuns now live
On the left is the building where the nuns now live
All beds are built within alcoves because it is the safest way to sleep in case of an earthquake
All beds are built within alcoves because it is the safest way to sleep in case of an earthquake
I love the blue walls
I love the blue walls
Books!!
Books!!
The inner garden of a nun's house. The stairs were walled off to prevent injury once the monastery opened to the public
The inner garden of a nun’s house. The stairs were walled off to prevent injury once the monastery opened to the public
A street inside the monastery, where the individual houses are
A street inside the monastery, where the individual houses are
Another
Another
A well in the communal kitchen
A well in the communal kitchen
This volcanic stone bowl is a natural water filter. The water trickles very slowly through the stone into the bowl below.
This volcanic stone bowl is a natural water filter. The water trickles very slowly through the stone into the bowl below.
The fountain in the communal square. Nuns were allowed one hour of social time per day.
The fountain in the communal square. Nuns were allowed one hour of social time per day.
The dome of the chapel
The dome of the chapel
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The view from the dome
The nuns raised guinea pigs for eating. This guys are just for show, though.
The nuns raised guinea pigs for eating. These guys are just for show, though.
Hello!
Hello!
The ingenious laundry system. This was so tranquil and lovely
The ingenious laundry system. This was so tranquil and lovely
I sat here reading for an hour
I sat here reading for an hour
A pretty little succulent garden
A pretty little succulent garden

I loved this place. I will absolutely be going back, just for the serenity of it. It’s a little pricey to get in, but it’s worth it for a few hours of peace.

I will write more later! This post took over an hour to produce. I hope you enjoy the pictures! I’ll tell you all about my teaching and other adventures in a few days!

Hola from Arequipa!

Hola from Arequipa!

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Flying over the Gulf of Mexico

 

The Andes buried in clouds
The Andes buried in clouds

I’ve officially been in Arequipa for three whole days, and it has been something. I can say with a lot of confidence that I am going to love living here.

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The street where I live, with the view of one of the volcanoes in the background.

People travel for all sorts of reasons. My motivation for coming here was to really challenge myself and step outside my comfortable box, learning to live and thrive in a culture vastly different from my own. In the United States, we are spoiled rotten. In my two days here I am realizing how much we have and take for granted that other places do not. That’s not to say it’s better–just possibly more convenient.

What am I talking about? For starters, being able to drink tap water. Though I’m not a fan of the things that are in the water in our taps (like chlorine and fluoride), at least we can drink it without getting the runs for days. I have not experienced this yet, thankfully, as I’ve been really careful, but unfortunately it happens to everyone who isn’t used to the water here, and it’s only a matter of time before it’s my turn. TMI? Sorry. It’s something that the teachers here joke and laugh about openly, as it’s pretty much unavoidable and there is very little privacy in the residences.

Also, we can’t flush our toilet paper. It has to be thrown in the trash after use. Which sounds gross, and is if you let yourself think about it, but in reality it’s really not a big deal. It’s just the way things are.

So now that that’s out of the way, here’s a breakdown of the last few days: I arrived Friday night after a delayed flight out of Lima had me landing in Arequipa about 45 minutes late. I was warned this would happen, as South Americans tend to keep their own schedules. It was rough to remain patient, having been up and moving since 4:30 am. I am not a nice person when I’m exhausted. Fortunately, I managed to keep it together because I knew it was something that was likely to happen, and I knew I would soon be home and sleeping. I was picked up from the airport by the same person who interviewed me, Christian, who is very nice and vibrant. It is almost impossible to be in a bad mood when you’re around Christian. He drove me to the residences through the city, which I sadly couldn’t see much of because it was dark.

I met my roommates (Doris, Laura, and Veronica, all of them very nice and a lot of fun) and chatted for a bit, but I was dead on my feet and needed to sleep. Laura warned me that there are roosters that like to begin their chorus very early in the morning and let me have some earplugs so I wouldn’t be disturbed. I am very glad she did because the roosters start crowing at about 4 am, which is much earlier than I expected.

Saturday was mostly spent adjusting to the altitude. Arequipa is situated at an altitude higher than almost anything in the United States, with the exception of mountain peaks, so I have never been this high up before, and it took its toll on me for the first day. That first night I woke up every two hours because I’d had to drink so much water to stay hydrated. I’d get up to pee, drink a bunch of water, then sleep for a couple of hours and wake up when I had to pee again. It didn’t make for very good sleep, but it was better than being on a plane or sitting around in an airport, waiting.

Fortunately, Saturday did not demand very much from me. Veronica took me to a market called Mercado San Camilo, where all sorts of vendors have stalls and sell their wares. Fruits, vegetables, grains, meats, cheeses, eggs, dairy, snacks both hot and cold, and souvenirs are all sold here. It is loud and busy and very difficult to get a Peruvian merchant to pay attention to your slow, clumsy Spanish when there are many brisk Peruvians waiting to buy their goods. Veronica helped me with the words for various vegetables and I managed to buy broccoli (brócoli), spinach (espinaca), and onion (cebolla). I also bought a kilo of eggs and some mantequilla (butter, and my favorite word in Spanish, so far as I know). We then did some less exciting shopping at another market that greatly resembles Wal-Mart, with electronics and clothes brushing up against the pantry and household items for sale. At this store, Plaza Vea, a man tried to push his grocery cart into line ahead of me, but I sure didn’t let him! I have noticed that people will try to cut in front of me, probably because I so obviously don’t belong and do not know how things work here. Many people try to take advantage of that. By the end of my time here I think I will be very good at asserting myself.

That said, I simply love it here. All of what I described possibly sounds like it’s a place that’s no fun whatsoever, but I am having the best time. It’s really hard to be in a place where you cannot just walk up to strangers and ask directions, or strike up a conversation with someone in a bar. But Arequipa has a vibrancy to it that makes it absolutely charming and beautiful. The streets are dry and dusty, cobbled in many places with shiny black stone. Dogs wander on their own, dodging cars with proficiency and crossing the streets during gaps in traffic. I swear they look both ways, just like we’re taught to do. The houses are often colorful, but even when not, they each possess unique angles and architecture, so that it never gets old to look at them. Above it all sit the three volcanoes, Misti, Chachani, and Picchu Picchu. I will never get used to seeing mountains in the distance, and they fill me with awe every time I catch a glimpse between the rows of colorful houses or over the rooftops of the city.

Saturday night I went with several people to a concert to see a Colombian band whose name I cannot for the life of me recall. I had the best time, dancing and shouting and sipping on a cold beer in the chilly mountain night. Earlier Saturday I had felt homesick and sad, wondering why I had decided to leave all the good things I had in Texas for a place that is so different from my life in the States. But standing out there in front of the stage with new friends, bathed in colored lights, my whole body vibrating with the pulse of the music, I was completely swept away by how fortunate I am to be here. When the concert ended I was completely drained and went to sleep shortly after.

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Amazing concert
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Sunday I explored a bit of the historic streets that are located near where I live. I sat on a bench in Plaza de Armas and read my book, but an artist pestered me to allow him to draw me for more soles than I wanted to pay, so I decided to remain mobile for a while. I was curious about the cathedral at the northeast end of the square and took photos of the outside, but there appeared to be services happening inside, and a guard posted at the door that I couldn’t ask questions of, so I continued to explore.

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I loved the view of the cathedral through the branches of this flowering tree
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A different cathedral off the main square

I’m embarrassed to admit it, but on a shopping street off the square, I found a Starbucks, and I went in both for the wifi and for a little creature comfort. It was nice to sit and write in my journal and chat with a friend from home out of the sun for a bit.

I returned home to find a bustle of activity in the kitchen as my roommates prepared for a barbecue to be held for teachers and friends on the rooftop patio. We sat for hours at ate course after course of delicious food grilled by the talented Miguel. I got to meet a lot of kind people and kissed a lot of new faces for the first time. One of the residents here is a French woman, and she made us crepes there were magnifique! It was a wonderful end to an amazing first weekend here in Arequipa and cemented my feelings of belonging.

The sun going down on the volcano
The sun going down on the volcano
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Goodnight, Arequipa

There’s a fantastic feeling of togetherness here. Here it is not everyone for his or herself. We all help each other and support each other. It is an environment of camaraderie and friendship, surrounded by beauty both natural and man-made. My decision to move here is without a doubt the best one I’ve ever made.