Dispatch from a world away

Summer, as well as the holidays, are surely here in Peru. Students are antsy waiting for that last exam to be over. There are advertisements of the Coca-Cola Santa all over and people decorate their palm trees with tea lights. When my host mom asked me to come with her to help with the tree, I didn’t know she meant to the attic. In the process she informed me that I had it all backwards. Turkey is Christmas not Thanksgiving. That explained the pizza. Summer vacation is three months until March. On Christmas they stay up all night long in addition to News Years Eve. Fruitcake is what they call Paneton. It’s a cake with dried fruit baked into it. And the holidays usually mean vacation as summer corresponds.

I got started a little early I guess. Last weekend I went to the highlands. I went up 3,500 meters to Huaraz to see the Cordillera Blanca, which is the beginning of the Andes. I looked at the tallest mountain in Peru, Huascaran, which at 6,768 meters is the highest peak in the tropics anywhere in the world.

The air reminded me of Vermont. It was like a very cold fall day. This was quite a change for the Lima girl. The bus trip was so fast I got zoroche – altitude sickness. But the beautiful ride was worth it. We went along the coast through the desert and up. My head felt like it was going to explode and for a 5’1 shorty, I felt tall.

Once there in the night I had an episode of lack of air, but as the night passed and a local gave me mate de coca (tea) I slowly acclimated. Coca is not a drug as the t-shirts say here. The indigenes have used it for years here and it works.

The next day I went to all the accompanying towns in the Ancash region. Spanish there was much different than in the capital, as it is a second language to quechua.

The most interesting town was Yungay – a town completely destroyed by an earthquake in 1960. It caused an avalanche that buried the town. An hour drive and 4,000 meters from there we got to the Laguna Llanganuco, which has blue water and spectacular views of glaciers. The return to Huaraz brought out the chill of the night so I drank moliente, a mix of herbs with lime juice. It tasted like tea. Unfortunately I didn’t have an herbiest with me on the return to Lima.

I got home in time for exam week to tell all my classmates I had explored the highlands.

The awe quickly faded as my classmates informed me that Cusco and Machu Pichu, my next trip, is at 5,000 meters. I better find more coca. I see less people on campus as exams are history as my time here is as well.

My family is more concerned with the long bus trip, as accidents and robberies are frequent. After Cusco I am going up north to Tumbes, to the beach area, then plan on crossing the border to Ecuador before I return home. Hopefully along the way I will have everything in place. Peru has been amazing and I plan to return soon, but as I swore to Mom and advisor and CSC – I’ll be home for Christmas.

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