The people I met: Cusco, Peru

My second night there, I met my first group of Argentinans, the first of many. Bea was a kindergarten teacher on holiday. She spoke perfect English, though the first night she met me, she asked me if I’d like some soap (soup). My Spanish is much worse, though, so she felt better after she heard my attempts to communicate with her friends.

They taught me a card game using a Spanish deck, and we stayed up late into the night playing. We hung out a couple more days and she was able to teach me quite a lot of Spanish, even going so far as to send me an email with the phrases we had practiced. She was an awesome example of the generosity and kindness I experienced from fellow travelers.

I met a group of boys, all from Argentina, and all with no English whatsoever. They were awesome, and I was able to play music with them, despite the language barrier. I spent a lot of time just hanging out with them, not speaking,  just playing.

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Next, two cousins from Argentina: Silvi and Diana. They were both so beautiful. They joked that they were turning me into an Argentinian. They took me out and taught me to salsa dance one night. I had a blast, a man from the jungle ended up grabbing my hands and giving me a real lesson. It was a blast. They also educated me on pronunciation. Como te shamos,  instead of llamos (what is your name).
Then, the mate. It didn’t take long for me to learn that culture, I loved that bitter tea.

Silvi didn’t speak much English, but we met because we both traveled with and played the ukelele. We ended up being able to harmonize really well and our ukes sounded great together. She taught me some Spanish songs, and I taught her the old timey ones I had learned from my sister.

I spent a lot of time with both of them, playing music, exploring ruins, and drinking the Argentinian main stay, mate tea. I became addicted to the stuff and not just the drinking of it, but the sharing of it.

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Once Silvi left for Machu Pichuu, I was walking down the street and a man a proached me. He was from Lima, and he recognized the instrument on my back as a ukelele. We made plans to play music later that night. Eduardo and I ended up being good friends, playing music together and doing hikes all through my stay. He was also my way around the “blonde hair surcharge,” as I like to call it. If you are recognizable as a tourist, everything is automatically double. Being Peruvian himself, thoug, he got the cheapest prices everywhere.

After my fun in Cusco, I met up with my lovely friend Katie, and we left that cultured city. I didn’t return for about a month, and Katie and I had tons of adventures in that time all over the plains and southern Peru.

Cusco

The bus ride into cusco was beautiful, but horrific. Beautiful, because of the mountains we passed through. Horrific because of the bathroom, but I won’t go into detail.

We wound our way up and down amazing vistas for 20 hours and then finally reached her. She was a city nestled in mountains. At night, when the lamps lit, you could see them shining high up into the sky, like you were sitting in a bowl of light.

I spent most of my days there checking off the museums on the Boleto Turistico, ticket of the tourists. And also, exploring the ancient Incan ruins.
I loved the mix of culture in Cusco. There were women in traditional dress, and then teenagers who could have been from the US by the technology they carried and what they wore.

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Photo credit: Katie Seifret

Peru is a mixed culture. Everywhere you go, you can see the leftover Incan influence mixed in with what the Spanish conquerors brought. Nowhere was that more poignant than in Cusco, where you could walk down a street in San Blas, framed by buildings with perfectly sculpted Incan foundations leading into gilded Spanish walls.

It didn’t take long for me to become immersed in that place. I stayed in Ukukus hostel outside of town near San Pedro. It was the cleanest, best showers, best kitchen setup, and also one of the cheapest I got in all of Peru. And it was walking distance from the market, so definitely good for me.

The San Pedro market deserves a whole blog all to itself. The smell of fresh meat, cheese, bread, herbs. The sight of the fruit, fresh picked from the tree, the produce still covered in dirt. Open air markets call to me. They have general aisles just like super markets: produce, cheese, meat, bread, and dry goods. But, they allow for multiple sellers to put out their goods. Tables piled high with vegetables, and a sweet wrinkled old man sitting behind the mound of potatoes who looks like he was born of the earth himself.
Then there were the food booths, mini restaurants serving simple lunch and dinner. Steaming plates of rice, a fried egg, papas fritas (fried potatoes), and a salad made of fresh vegetables, all for the equivalent of about a buck. Needless to say, I had most of my meals there.

Cusco wasn’t just amazing for me because of things I saw, though, or the food I ate. Cusco was incredible because of the people I met.

{Photo cred to Katie Seifert }

Huacachina

I met my friends’ s contact in Lima. I had a great time getting all you can eat sushi with him and his roommate. His roommate was a travel agent and he recommended I go to Huacachina next. So, I bought a bus ticket, looked up a place to stay, and there I went.

Huacachina is an desert oasis town a couple hours south of Lima. It is near a town called Ica and close to the coast. I stayed there at a hostel/ bed and breakfast, called, La Casa de Bamboo. It was run by a very sweet English woman and her two little girls.

I’m not really a kid person, but I spent a lot of time with those lovely kids, building sand castles and walking around the lake, not to mention watching kid’s movies in spanish. I saw “Frozen,” for the first time over there, and once I had finally seen it in English, I realized I had understood the whole movie wrong.

Besides, the family, though, there are a lot of fun and exciting tours to do in Huacachina and lots of young people to hang out with. With the adventure tourism possibilities there, it’s popular with the younger travelers. I had a lot of fun nights at the nearby hostels, sipping cerbeza with friends.

My first adventure there was a buggy ride up into the sandy dunes of the desert. The driver was, of course, a maniac. We screamed the whole time as he sped along through the sand, but i couldnt resist yelling, “mas rapido, por favor!” I’m a bit of a speed demon, I won’t lie.

Being a Northern girl, I had never experienced the full fledged desert before. It was harsh and beautiful. The sand reflected the sunlight and even being out there for only a few hours, I could feel my strength sapped. When we were far enough out, the man stopped the buggy and got out the sand boards. I looked through them carefully and selected the shiniest, fastest looking one. But, when we got to the edge of the dune, I felt a little nervous. It was very steep, and I worried about falling. I know how to snowboard, but I’m not very good at it, and that’s exactly what these boards looked like, snowboards. I refused to go first, but went ahead and was second. As I cartwheeled down the hill into a faceplant, I realized the main differences between snow and sand boarding. First of all, lean back on sandboards not foreward, and second, falling doesn’t hurt one bit.

So basically, I loved it! The only downside I would say is the sand that winds up on every bit of you, besides that, it’s a blast. I fully recommend it to the able bodied.

I also went out to the Ballestas Islands in Caracas. They are sort of like the Peruvian Galapagos. They have penguins, sea lions, and tall cliff faces stuffed with marine life. We even got to see a sample of the Nazca lines on the way out, which are famous carvings in rock of various animals made by ancient peoples.

Unfortunately, I didn’t make plans to go to Nazca, because I was too excited for my next destination, Cusco. The next evening I hopped on the bus, where I would reside for the next 24 hours, saying goodbye to my Huacachina family.

Lima, Peru

I spent most of my time in Miraflores, where my hostel was located and didn’t venture much into the main city. My first day was largely exploring. My host was kind enough to draw me out a map of the area with a fun array of things to see and do. So, here is my travel advice if you ever find yourself in Miraflores.

First, visit Pareque Kennedy. It usually has something fun going on, like dancing in the main square, or a chance for local artists to show off their works.  Plus, it’s full of cats! I’m not sure why there are so many cats there, but they are everywhere. Most of them are sweet and easy going, but every now and then you come across a hisser.

Next go and get some Cerviche at a tasty local restaurant. Third, go to The Parque del Armour and soak in the sunshine, before jumping off the cliffs over-looking the bay, strapped to a parachute. Don’t worry, you are blown back onto the grass by the wind.

Go and see the lesser known Liman ruins just off the main flow of Miraflores next. It is only 10 soles to enter and they have English and Spanish speaking tours. They also offer these tours at night, where the stones are embalmed in the orangey glow of lanterns.

Next, for your souvenir head to the artesan markets. They are cheaper than in Lima central, though not as cheap as Cusco or Puno. They do have some things there, though that I didn’t find anywhere else, and they are far less pushy than in Cusco.

Get yourself a traditional dinner of chicharones and then lastly, make your way to pizza street where you can find the best deals for pisco sours, Peru’s national drink.

Crossing the border

I have always slept very well on planes, which never fails to make my seat mates jealous. I woke up in Lima and found they had put some paperwork on my tray. This was my first time leaving the country as an adult, except of course to Canada, which doesn’t really count.

Crossing into Peru wasn’t as high security as I thought it might be, but it was also not as exciting as I’d imagined it. Just a series of lines, paperwork, and grumpy people who can’t understand you, or choose not to. Sort of like visiting the DMV.

On the other side of these lines was a mob of sweating Peruvian men, all vying to get me to take their taxi service. There are a lot of problems with false taxis who hold foreigners for ransom, or even sell them, though. Also, it was one A.M. So, I had arranged a taxi through my hostel.

The sweet looking family man stood there with a large sign, saying my name. As he drove me through the outskirts of the city past the prostitutes and the gangs, with the windows down, inhaling the muggy diesel-smelling air, I think I fell in love with peru. Or, at any rate with the feeling of international travel, of being somewhere so far from anyone and every place I had known.

I think I may have fallen in love with the taxi driver that first night also. He didn’t speak a word of english, but he was able to bring up a translate service on his phone so that we could speak. His papa called him halfway through the drive back. It was endearing and a lot less alienating than I expected. The young boy working the night service was equally adorable. I stayed at the top recommened hostel in Miraflores, which was in one of the nicest neighborhoods in Lima.

Still cheap as dirt compared to places here, but it was in a nice area, and walking distance from the main attractions. I slept well, the pillow was lumpy and I discovered termites in the bunks to my left, but I was extremely tired and I felt safe.

Peru was still just an idea in my head, but some of the stereotypes were fading. It seemed nothing like what I had heard, it was better. I was still nervous, though, and had learned that my Spanish was worse than I thought. I couldn’t wait to get out and explore.

Peru Bound

Days before my departure from the small airport known as, “the air capital of the world,” I was finishing up my last preparations. I had purchased Peruvian money from a bank in town with the best exchange rate, had put together the water filter my sister had got me as a Christmas present, and was studying a Spanish book every night.

I was really nervous, my Spanish had not improved enough for me to rely on it, and I had read up on our government’s opinion of the saftey of Peru. It was foreigner abduction, assaults in the street, and gun held theft-not good. It was New Year’s Eve, so my cousin and I went out drinking and causing trouble.

Halfway to midnight, we went to a bar for the martinis and cigars. There, I met an aquaintance of my cousins who was dating a girl with an interesting accent. Turns out she was from a jungle city in Peru, near Iguitos. What brought her to Wichita, KS is sort of an odd story. And how i came to meet her was an insane coincidence, but it was such a relief to have some sort of a contact down there.

I was flying into Lima, so she gave me the namr of an American friend she had there. I was able to find him from her facebook and make plans for when I arrived.

As time drew nearer to departure, I was packing and unpacking my bags repeatedly. Finally, I had everything ready enough. My Aunt Laura drove me to the airport after sending me off with a brand new watch. I was sad to leave her and more nervous then I have ever been when leaving one of my cozy nests. I finally relaxed once I was on the plane and started to get excited about my upcoming adventures.

The hardcore hill ladies

We referred to the spot as the hill, because the house was situated at the top of a giant hill overlooking a large canyon. It was definitely the most beautiful view I have ever had out of my bedroom window. My next few months on the hill were mostly comprised of work, so I don’t have too much news from them. But, I can tell you a bit about my co-workers.

Never in my life have I met such tough confident women as when I worked on this farm.

I say they are tough, because they didn’t take shit from anyone. They built shelves, they fixed things, they drove motorcycles, and when they entered a room everyone inside was intimidated, especially me…at first. I felt really alienated and cast-out, even though they were really sweet to me. I just thought they were so badass, I felt like chop liver.

Having Briggs as a sister, though, gives you a certain amount of prestige as soon as you enter the room. People automatically assume you are a badass when your sister is that insanely tough. So, they were really awesome to me, and eventually I came around and stopped being so shy and wimpy. So, I rolled up my sleeves and started doing what I do best, adapting to any situation. They were all tall, beautiful, and capable. Now, I’m not a wimp. I know how to work hard on a farm. I can roll a round bale, haul a square bale, and shovel shit with the toughest farm hands, but I am not what people call handy. I can not work a screw gun to save my life. I have no idea how to work on cars, or build things. But, these ladies really made me want to know how.

No miracles happened. I didn’t leave that farm a carpenter, but I got some groundwork laid for what I would need to know on order to be an apprentice. I’ll need to know too, if my sister and I are ever going to get our farm built.

Its hard work in itself getting along with seven other ladies and keeping a pleasant working environment, but with these ladies it was easy. They were fun and told it how it was without being passive aggressive. If they had a problem, they said so immediately and so we were able to all stay friends.

The work was tedious and we had few outings to town, so when we did, we really cut loose. Once we went to the corn maze and had a blast sneaking off into the corn to pound beers and then coming out and getting scared by the people in costumes. Other times we went ice skating, to roller derby tournaments, or bowling. Those ladies knew how to kick it. I stayed for a total of two months, choosing to meet my parents in Kansas for Christmas.

I had to be at the train station at three a.m. again, so me and two of the ladies stayed out all night drinking and then they dropped me off for the train. A bit of a mistake since I woke up for my flight hungover and feeling mean. But, it was a fun sendoff. The train took me to Sacramento, which by the way is literally the nicest city I have ever been in. I have never met more sweet well-meaning folk in four hours in my life. I was strolling around with my backpack and in the first hour a gentleman bought me some fresh donuts. A guy wearing a taffy necklace came and had a hilarious conversation with me about Oprah and a man working a candy shop gave me free taffy, which I handed out to all the kind people I encountered afterwards, including a woman who offered me a place to spend the holidays. I definitely plan on returning there before long and meeting more great people.

I made it to Kansas well and happy and was very glad to see my folks. I am from Michigan, but all of my relatives, including my folks and sister are from Kansas. So, I go there quite a bit and have a good relationship with the place. My family actually owns a beautiful 400 acre ranch in the boondocks of the flint hills and I can remember catching crawdads and scorpions there when I was shorter than the table.

I hadn’t spent much more than a week there for ten years or so. It was really nice to catch up with my Aunt Laura and Grandpa Phil and all. My Grandfather is a remarkable man with fire in his heart. In an earlier post, I spoke of having the warrior spirit. Well, he found his cause and he has it. It’s for fellow veterans. He has done so much for the veteran’s of the state of Kansas. He is amazing. He actually has a day named after him, “Phil Blake Day.” It’s pretty commonplace to see him in the newspaper. He gets interviewed all the time. So, speaking to him, is like tapping into a spring of knowledge. It’s not often you can sit for hours with a 90 year old man and talk about the injustices of mainstream religion, and then get a history lesson of what really happened with the Cuban Bay of Pigs.

My grandpa let me use his giant SUV for my entire stay, so with my home base as my Aunt Laura’s, I could go and see the rest of the family. I can’t lie, though. I spent most of my time relaxing in my Aunt Laura’s house, eating her fabulous cooking and enjoying the company of my Uncle Bill, cousin Sally, and their “Aged P” Grandpa Auchterlonie.

We girls like to watch movies all together, they’ve always got some movie that I just gotta see. Sometimes it’s not really my type of movie, but I always enjoy hanging out with them anyways. I can recall numerous heart-to-hearts in my Aunties kitchen after everyone had left and it was just me and her, my belly full of homemade bread and a tasty chili relleno omelet with a cup of coffee clutched in my hands. Sometimes getting spoiled for a while is just what you need. Maybe always.

It was good for me to get to know my relations again, especially since my next trip was about to be so drastic. I was about to fly to Peru for a two month excursion. I used the wholesome state of Kansas for my sponge-like launch pad. I was almost completely sucked in before I finally worked up the nerve to purchase my plane tickets and get my final preparations in order. I was in for another adventure.