Saturday, May 11, 2013

Dia de Madre

For my 201st post on this site, it's my honor to give a big thank you to my dear mother, Lou. Your a top notch woman who makes me proud every day. You really impressed me during your trip to Peru*. The people in my site still are talking about how much of a lovely person you are. They speak the truth and this just to show how much grace you possess (even while we put you in some pretty challenging spots). Good work Mom. Love you,and Happy Mother's Day!

I'd be to fool to not give a big tip of the ol' hat to the other mothers I know, especially the my "other mothers" who always have been a huge support to me. I'm sure you know who you are. Love you guys too. Enjoy tomorrow, it's you day.

Here's a picture of my mom and I at Laguna Paron above Caraz. Mom did a great job of winning everyone over, and fitting in like a champ; regardless that she doesn't speak a lick of Spanish or Quechua. MY MOM = MVP.

* You too Dad and Adam.

The Hoosier to Peru Book Pipeline

Sarita, a beloved Peru 16er, who never sends me any update emails (hard hint there), successfully got a boat load of Spanish language children's books from the Hoosier state to the Big Sky state, and then down to Peru (shout out to my family for hauling these) showed that she may have the skill set to be in some sort of export business (I owe you a letter of rec.).

Now that they're in Ancash, the more than 180 books will be used in 3 different volunteer sites to help promote literacy in young, rural Peruvian. Super cool. Thanks again Sarita and your friends.

Here are two of the beneficiaries this great gift:

And here's Cate holding Dina and the boys captivated with a story read out loud. It's very possible this was the first time anyone has read a story a Dina like this (I didn't want to ask):

RIP Casey the Dog.

A amazing partner in crime from my years in grad school in Texas has passed away. Casey was a fiercely loyal pound puppy that really was one the best things about my time in Texas. She was always down to accompany me on epic trips (Our solo road trip to west Texas during spring break, and the our multi-day trip through the Bob Marshal Wilderness with Tanner and Mariah being two of my favorites). I've always enjoyed my family's preferred breed of Golden Retrievers, but after spending time with Casey there's no doubt my next dog will be a rescued puppy, hopefully just like Casey, maybe even a Catahoula. She was a great four pawed ambassador of friendship and will always be fondly remembered.

To add a local flavor to this post, I'll mention that dogs in the campo are not treated the same as I am used to back home. Our three dogs, Negra, Brandon, and Gringa, recently killed some of Dina's rabbits and chickens. For this, Gringa was sentenced to death by poisoning which took Dina two attempts to complete (I wasn't there when it happened). I've learned not to become attached to dogs in site (I've seen countless litters of both Gringa and Negra never make it past a few weeks of age);Nevertheless it was sad to hear that my favorite dog in site had to go out like this.

*In Dina's defense, those animals that the dogs ate are the food for her family. In the dogs' defense, they never get fed.  

Sandy goes surfing.

Sandy is Jeff's 18 year old sister who recently left Huaylas, Ancash (a sierra town of 3,000) to go to college in Lima (a coastal city of 8 million). She is living with extended family; however, the adjustment period has been rough and Jeff says that she calls home daily, often crying.

To help support her, and hopefully encourage her to stick with it, Cate, Jeff, and I took her surfing and to lunch in Lima (HUGE shout out to Cate for driving across town, picking her up, and teaching her to surf). It was fun, and interesting to see Sandy open up a little throughout the day; however, she never stopped using the usted form (a very formal way of saying 'you') with me (probably due to my age).

She shared that she works cleaning the house during the day, studies at night, calls her mom daily, and only leaves the house to once a week to visit her brother on Saturdays. Cate did a great job of have a girl to girl talk with her, and helping her see the value of staying with her education and not returning to Huaylas prematurely. Jeff reports that the family was proud of Sandy for going into the ocean, and very thankful to Cate (whose attendance at the Huaylas town fiesta on July 6th-9th, is now obligatory). It a great way to spend a day in Lima.

Here's the photo evidence:

Who'd ever say this was her first time surfing? She looks like a pro. 

Sensei Cate and the young surf apprentice. 

The warm-ups.

Cate takes Sandy on a little surf tour. 

Starting to ride giants. 

Beach shot 1

Kinda cloudy and cold, but still a great day. 

Close of Service Conference

I just returned from Lima after our year 2 medical checks and our Close of Service Conference (COS). A conference were all of Peru 17 meets at a pretty posh resort to reflect on our service and prepare ourselves for the transition out of Peace Corps life (Sad and shocking are the two words I'll use to describe that experience. I can't believe it has finally come and gone. I feel like I can remember the whole two years vividly, especially the day I arrived in D.C. and met these people). Anyway, the Peace Corps - Peru 17 ride is quickly coming to an end, and Peace Corps does it's best to help it's PCV to try to cope*.

Reflecting, is a necessary step in moving forward, so we each spent a few minutes sharing about our challenges and successes in site (I think for almost all of us, make a sustainable change was the most challenge aspect). It was fun to finally see all the projects that each of us did (or tried to do). Then after a morning of that, we moved on to how to survive back home.

There was a panel of four Return Peace Corps Volunteers who spoke about what to expect with reverse culture shock, trying to reconnect with people, sharing your experience, and staying sane without boring everyone with "When I was in Peace Corps..." stories. It was interesting to hear their take on things; however, I feel that the information was a little skewed, since all had later taken jobs overseas (either with NGOs or the US Foreign Service) and aren't putting roots down in the states (something I see myself doing... someday).

Then our medical doctor spoke about medical issues possibly related to our service and insurance options. Dr. Jorge is off the the charts smart, and always gives a great presentation (he made the heath insurance charla fun... how is that possible?). During the presentation he showed this video (linked below). It's in Spanish, but don't worry about that, as I feel that it's great visual summary of how a volunteer may look back at their service here in Peru later in their life ** (however, I have to admit we made some pretty cruel jokes about what happens when the screen goes black... funny jokes, but not bloggable material).

Here's the link, enjoy:

PromoPeru 2012 Video

After the insurance talk, we had the Human Resources guy from the US Embassy come and give us some helps with resumes and job hunting. His main point was how to summarize all the impressive things you've accomplished in Peace Corps, and life in general , in a efficient and attention grabbing way (I think about trying to summarize this blog in a few bullet points and my head starts to hurt).  In all, it was very well done with a lot of great tips I'd never heard before (hope it works).

After this, there was a ceremony to thank all of us for our service and then a slide show of the last two years. We received a certificate, a pin, and solid handshake from our bosses, all of which meant a lot to me. But I liked the pin the best. Here it is:

In the end, it was great to see my friends and hear what everyone had planned for the future. Some have jobs, some a going to travel, others are going to back to school, some have no clue, and there's me and about 7 others who've decided to stay one more year. Yep, I'm putting the States on ice for one more year to become a Peace Corps Volunteer Leader (PCVL) in Cajamarca, Peru. I assure you it wasn't a quick or easy decision, but I decided to apply and was lucky enough to be offered a spot, so I took it. Again, as with any choice there's potential drawbacks, but I've decided one more year to help lead and support the Peru 18,19,20,21, and 22ers in Cajamarca was the best choice for me at this time... we'll see. Here's a wiki link to the city I'll be moving to in August.

Wiki Cajamarca, Peru

 Fact of life: Changes are sometimes are scary, but can never be avoided (Wow, I turn 30 and all of a sudden I think I'm the Dalai Lama or something. Hate to see me at 40).

* Honestly I feel like we're all coping from a slight depression. I could see it in our expressions  and from talking to everyone since our return from COS, we've all been sleeping and/or eating a lot. I think there may be a underlining reason for this... lot's of emotions.

** My hope is that this blog helps share Peru and it's people through the eyes of a Peace Corps volunteer. I also hope that it helps show one nerdy guy's life as a volunteer, but now thinking about it, I also wish to give anyone on the fence about volunteer service (domestically or abroad... not just Peace Corps) a gentle push into doing it. So far I have no regrets, and highly recommend it to anyone thinking about it. Just do it. Trust me.

Yefer's Motivation

During Yeferson's trip to Lima (as of now, the highlight of my service), Cate's dad gave him an old bike that has been past through multiple kids in their family, and is now perfect for Yeferson. It had been storage, so it was a little rusty but still in great shape.

However, since the Y-man was loaded up with gifts and toys (shout out to Cate's family) during that trip, we decided it would be best to hold off on giving him the bike until he earned it. And earned it he did. We had bought him a small handwriting text book in Lima to work on his cursive writing, and so the agreement was: finish the book, and you can have the bike. Yeferson plowed through the book in about three weeks.

Adam and my dad spent some time cleaning up the bike when they were here, and then it was handed over to Yeferson. It's just a little too big right now, but he'll grow into it. Here he is, with Yordi, taking it for his first cruise (he's the envy of the neighborhood). You'll see in one of the pictures that he needs to stack rocks to get on the bike.

Game Night

Thanks to Jill (happy mother's day) there is a new favorite past-time in the Pachacamac household: Playing cards. Along with some super cool Spanish kids books, jerky (gone in two nights thanks to a major lack of will-power), and a soccer shirt, she sent me a deck of kid friendly cards to play games like rummy, go fish, and memory; and they're a huge hit.

It's fun to see Roger come home around 6 and join us (Yeferson, Jenny the neighbor girl, and I) for some simi-competitive games of go-fish and Memory. Meanwhile, Dina watches and unmercifully criticizes foolish plays (without fully understanding the games). In my opinion, it's a great alternative to the typical pass time of watching scandalous news programs or trashy soap operas.

Also, I'm slightly proud to say that I'm currently undefeated in Memory (I know, I should probably let the 7 year old child win once and a while, but I don't want to). It's just such an ego boost when Yeferson exclaims that I must have a 'super brain' and that 'one day' he'll beat me. Youth development folks, that's my specialty.

L to R: Yordan, Roger, Yeferson, and Jenny playing Memory.

Two things to note in this picture. Yeferson's admiring gaze as his dad  puts a pair of pictures together. And the second, which isn't visible, but when I see this picture,  I can hear Roger's giggle as he successfully plays the game. Roger's giggle cracks me up. 

Rumble in the Jungle

That rumble would be the sound of your favorite blogger getting old(er). If you would have asked 10 years old Brice, 18 years old Brice, or even 25 years old Brice where he'd be when he crests the hill out of his twenties, I doubt 'the Peruvian jungle' would have been the response (weird how life works like that).

The trip, a very laid back casual journey, was shared with a Ryan and Kerry (Peru 17 friends from Ica), and a couple of other surprise guests that appeared along the way. We (Ryan, Kerry, and I) flew from Lima to Tarapoto, and then after a few days, we took a barge 3 days down the Amazon Iquitos. After a few nights in Iquitos, we headed out to a jungle lodge on a side tributary of the Amazon. Then I needed to return to Lima to welcome my brother to Peru.

I'll hit the highlights for each major stop, and let the pictures do the most of the talking.

Stop 1: Tarapoto. I think this was my favorite of all the places. It was a smallish town with lots of fun day hikes to cool tropical waterfalls. Also the town proved to have good food, an active nightlife, a entertaining plaza de armas (apparently in the jungle it's customary for people to go to the plaza at night to tell jokes... fun to see), and tons of motorcycles. Everyone there commutes via motorcycle, and so the streets are constantly lined with bikes parked, one after another (Think Sturgis, South Dakota, minus the people wearing tight leather... it's too hot for that).

Rainy season in the jungle means lots of waterfalls.

This first day hike we did took us to a cool waterfall with a nice pool to swim in. 

It included small cliffs to the side to jump off. 

Our next waterfall hike included a 45 minute motor-taxi ride out of town. Unfortunately the taxi didn't have enough motor to haul Ryan and I up the hill. We walked the inclines...

... Meanwhile, Kerry was treated like a princess and was carted up the hills. Here's her view. 

Again, Ryan and I walking... I'm not complaining though, just look at that vegetation!

After arriving to the trail head we had another 45 minute walk which included river crossings. Here's Ryan making it look easy.

The three jungle explorers.  

Kerry and our 2nd waterfall. This was by far  our favorite waterfall,  Kerry included (even though shortly after this picture was taken she slipped while jumping, belly flopped in the water, and hurt herself). The jungle never sleeps... gotta stay on your toes. 

An action shot of Ryan and I helping Kerry get out shortly after her flop. 

Your's truly taking a jungle waterfall lunch break. 

Our moto waiting to take us back to Tarapoto.

This is the typical street view in Tarapoto. 

Looking in the opposite direction of the previous photo. 

The Tarapoto plaza de armas, a fun place, and the last picture my camera took on this trip. 

Stop 2: Yurmiaguas and the Boat to Iquitos. Yurmiaguas is a crusty port town two hours away from Tarapoto where a barge that runs the Amazon river stops to pick up cargo and passengers heading to Iquitos. The town is typical of most ports, as it has a very transient population, with blue color pride, and a general rough, tumble, gritty feel. Walking around the town I typically noticed that my guard was elevated more than normal (although no concrete treats ever appeared).

We had originally planned on only spending a pair our hours there. This plan was confirmed when we bought our hammock spaces on the boat and the captain told us we'd depart at 5:00pm that night. Then we met Nick, a traveler who had been told the same thing for the last 3 days. Then at 3:00pm the boat's sign was changed from "departing tonight" to "5:00 pm manana" (we started to worry, while Nick showed clears signs of rage mixed with frustration... clearly he was past the worrying stage).  Fortunately, after a night spent sleeping on the docked boat, and bumming around the town the next day, the sign didn't change, and we headed off down the the river to Iquitos.

The boat ride, was very calm as we spent most our time sleeping, reading, and talking to the other travelers on the boat. The 3 days become blurred, without too much to mention besides: having to line up 3 times a day to receive our food from a mess hall (they'd ring a bell, and we'd all respond better than Pavlov's dogs), sharing the boat with 15 Haitians heading to Brazil to work, watching the full moon from the middle of the river, watching the crew throw the black hefty bags full of the boat's trash into the river, and fantasizing about either: what you'd do if you fell off in the middle of the night, or if Peace Corps had placed you in one to the small villages that only sees limited boat traffic, and floods six months out of the year (no Peace Corps volunteers are in the Peruvian Jungle).

This devastation from last year's floods was our view from the port.  

This was my typical activity... watching my eyelids. 

These canoes are the main method of transportation. 

This was the dock area where our boat was docked in Yurmiaguas. There was a consistent flow of people bringing  their goods on board. 

Jungle fruit such as this, was continually for sale from venders walking around on the boat. 

It was a 4 story boat, with the 2nd and 3rd story being used for hammocks. 

Jungle kids playing in their environment, water. 

A small town we stopped at on the way to Iquitos. 

The houses were definitely built for high-waters.  

Little kids in the jungle seem well adjusted to their environment. 

Meanwhile... Brice sleeps. 

The sunsets were always noteworthy. 

See what I mean. 

The size of the river was always mind-blowing for me. At this spot, it was roughly the  width of Seeley Lake (and it only gets bigger as you go downstream). 

Typical to form, Kerry made friends with every little child on the boat. 

Another town we passed by. 

Spot 3: Iquitos and the Jungle Wolf Lodge. Iquitos is a major destination for a lot of travelers. You definitely notice that while being in the middle of the jungle (only accessible via plane or boat). You don't feel like you really are in backwoods Peru (i.e. my site). People travel to Iquitos for various reason (i.e. nearby jungle access, nightlife, food, just say you're in the middle of nowhere); however, unfortunately the is a more dubious reason people go to there: child trafficking. Is a sad truth that was brought to my attention when I saw the state issued posters hung in most public spots and in all reputable hotels. The posters clearly stated the laws against the sex trafficking and usually showed a small child. (Also Ryan shared with me that there was a Peru 15er that wrote his Master's thesis (He was a Masters International student, a pretty cool PC program where you can work towards you Masters degree during your service) based on research he did in three major jungle ports in Peru). I don't write this to stereotype people in Iquitos (although I do admit to being unfairly suspicious of my fellow tourists without just cause), but only give you sense of one element of the city and that it unfortunately does happen too frequently. Other than this, I really liked my time there.

From Iquitos, we (Ryan, Kerry, and I) headed out a jungle lodge for 3 days. The jungle is always amazing, as the I'm baffled on how people survive out there... so many bugs, poisonous things, rain, and unseen dangerous. With that said, our digs were actually pretty cushy, the only thing was it was the  middle of rainy season, so that meant there was no jungle walking... the 90%  of land (my estimate) was underwater (only the hill tops were dry, like little islands we could canoe to; however, that also meant that all the snakes were concentrated there too).

The highlights for me included swimming around the lodge with the little kid that lived at the lodge, seeing a huge coral snake, and listening to our guide tell stories about unfriendly and un-contacted tribes (maybe you'll remember these guys: 2008 Uncontacted Tribe in Peru/Brazil. I also found this kinda interesting NGO information about the issues). Unfortunately and luckily, I didn't see any unfriendly tribal people, but did see some other stuff. Here's the pictures:

The boat docks where we caught our canoe out to lodge (An interesting side story: there was a guy walking up and down the boardwalk trying to sell an abnormally small,sickly kitten. I thought that it was strange, in that the guy's product was of such poor health, that one look at the cat suggested this 'pet' was obviously living on borrowed time. Then later  at the lodge, while eating a delicious golden catfish meal, our guide told us how they catch the catfish... it involves a hook, a two day wait, and small kitten sitting on the bottom of the river. Scrumptious).   

Our canoe heading out to the lodge. 

The Jungle Wolf Lodge

Ryan was here 8 months ago, and said that they were able to walk around the lodge  and go back into the jungle... not the case this time around.

Those are bird nests that hung in the tree outside our window.

The bunk house (or the Gertz, if you will). 

Me in jungle, is like a polar bear in the desert. I like being far away from spiders and snakes, and prefer the cold. Needless to say I was out of my element.  

With that said, the jungle is cool... to visit (however, our guide did pique our collective interests when he told us about lots with sale prices around 1,000 soles). 

Jungle sunset.

He's just a little guy.

Lots of cool trees and plants. 

These are beautiful, but probably have some crazy jungle twist to them ; like a poisonous bark, flowers that eat you, or the ability to shoot nail like thorns (this is all my irrational speculation, of course... but you never know in the jungle).  

Again a cool tree. (Remember me mentioning how I'd day dream what I'd do if  you fell off the boat in the middle of the night, our guide told us our best chance is to climb a tree, avoid the snakes, and hope someone finds you.). 

This is the coral snake. Pretty deadly. If you get bit, you have an hour to get to Iquitos, where hopefully they have the anti-venom. However, two small issues: It cost 500 soles, so the Iquitos hospital doesn't usually keep it in stock, and we were about two hours away.  

Here's our guide talking us on a tour. 

1000 soles, and this could be your private jungle escape. 

A pretty intense storm passed through one day. It was kinda scary as you could hear it coming, like a roar of train, way off in the jungle 30 minutes before it hit. The guides were scrambling, as they were worried that a tree may fall on the lodge. Fortunately, only one tree fell, and it went away from the lodge.  

More storm shots. 

This is the little kid that live at the lodge. He was a fun loving kids with a lot of independence. For example, he canoes to school every day... how cool is that!

Ryan and his little buddy. 

Kerry and I. 

Taking a tour of a near by village. 

This is the town's municipality. 

The chickens are kinda out of luck 6 months out of the year. 

Here's the school. Crazy, right?

Can you imagine that this is your classroom?

Sunset on the river.

Going to an oxbow lake to fish and see the giant lily pads. 

A vividly colored grasshopper (probably deadly). 

Piranha fishing. 

I ate this guy. Pretty tasty. 

More jungle plants. 

Here are the pads. Pretty impressive. 

Look at the size of this thing. 
That's all folks!