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A Kat's Tale: Keeping up with Katryna

Things That Were, Things That Are, and Things That Will Be.

PERU | Thursday, 29 January 2015 | Views [662] | Comments [5]

When I began to write this entry, I wasn’t sure where to begin. Then I wasn’t sure where to finish. I just kept writing everything that came to mind, and I wrote for hours. By the time I ran out of things to say I was so tired that I couldn’t even read my own words. I meant to re-read and edit the following day, but I ended up quite sick (seemingly with a variation of the flu) and couldn’t look at a computer screen without worsening my headache. Today, feeling much better although definitely not one hundred percent recovered, I have finally managed to edit all my ramblings into what I think is an acceptable first post written in South America. It may be a little rough (I’m still sick!) so please bear with me.


Welcome friends, family, colleagues, acquaintances, and internet strangers: welcome to Peru!


Here, drivers have the right of way over pedestrians (possibly true in all of South America, but I can’t confirm that yet). The use of a vehicular horn is quite different in this part of the world. People drive down the streets honking at everything and everyone, ALL of the time. Sometimes there isn’t even anything to honk at, and drivers honk anyway: I witnessed one guy lay on the horn the entire way down an abandoned street. There are a ton of stray dogs running around the city, baking in the sun during the day wherever they can find a patch of pavement to rest, and ganging up in groups at night to fight each other. Barking is so common it becomes part of the background noise- you stop noticing it after about a week.  Unfortunately you also stop noticing the presents those dogs leave behind all over the sidewalks and roads, and once in a while you get the remnants of one of those presents on the bottom of your shoe. I often hear the shrewd and annoying sounds of whistles late into the night, although I have no idea why. They sound similar to the whistles that the traffic police use during the busy hours of the day. Fireworks are huge here. People have fireworks for everything- regardless of time or special event. I have heard them booming at all hours of the night. It isn’t necessary to set an alarm for the morning because like clockwork, there is someone relatively close to my neighborhood that feels a need to make very loud noises at 4:00 am, 5:00 am, 6:00 am, 7:00 am, 7:15 am, 7:30 am, 7:45 am...you get the point. There are people standing outside the doors of little restaurants and cafes, welcoming you to come in and try their ceviche or their lomo saltado, or their pisco sour. Some of them have English (okay, Spanglish) catch-phrases: “you want drink? Is muy hot! Happy hour! Come in for happy hour!” I also had a street artist try to sell me his paintings by telling me “my name is Johnny Cash!” I have to admit, that was almost a selling point right there.


So what does this all mean? It means the noise never stops. The noise. Never. Stops. But along with all that incessant noise comes a lot of cultural exuberance. Life is everywhere. It is in the small Andean child, his round rosy cheeks beaming while he sits on the sidewalk outside of his mother’s small store (tienda) and plays with the tiny, fluffy, puppy. It is in the artist who walks the streets day in and day out, carrying a giant portfolio of paintings to sell to anyone who he can get to stop for a conversation. It is in the fruit vendor, who pushes her little cart up and down the sidewalks, fanning away the flies from the wide variety of local fruits. It is in the restaurant owner, who beckons you inside the main floor of her house that she has converted into a makeshift restaurant, takes your order, and then goes and cooks it herself, proudly serving you her home cooked meals for the equivalent of a few dollars. It is in the markets, in all the little stalls, in all the lovely handmade pieces: everything you can possibly think of, and then some. It is in the multiple museums and art galleries, the tour stores advertising treks and train rides,  and the little lavanderias where you can get your clothes washed, dried, and folded in a few hours for a couple dollars. Life is huge here.


I had a moment the other day that really struck a note with me. When you take out money from a bank here it costs you $5 every time, so you are always conscientious of that fact and try to withdraw bigger amounts at once and then hide the extra cash around so you don’t lose it if you get pickpocketed or mugged. Yesterday I took a S/.100 (100 Peruvian Soles) with me for the day; it just so happened that I managed to spend it all in one day. I got a beautiful scarf from a market, a pair of shoes, some food, and some ice cream; it all added up. I realized I had just spent all of the S/.100 and for a moment was quite shocked. I couldn’t believe I had spent so much. How would I ever survive long enough on my savings if I spend money like this? After mentally kicking myself for a few minutes, I decided to check and see how much S/.100 converted to in CAD$. It is equivalent to about $40 Canadian.


Yeah. I couldn’t help but laugh at myself, despite my bemusement. I had gotten so used to the value of money here for locals that I started to think the same way about my money. When you’re traveling for an extended period of time, this is actually the best way to think about the value of your money- it gets you farther on less. I am glad I have started to appreciate the value of my money here, and to realize that with every extra Sol you spend on a drink or on a taxi, the less you’ll be able to do in the future. Once in a while though, you have that little reality check and realize that it isn’t the end of the world because you spent what is a lot according to local standards.


It all comes down to one simple thing, in the end: what really matters? Are you a big spender? Do you appreciate what you have? Are you always wanting more?  More of what? More clothes, more nights out, more trips to museums, more flights, more hostels, more food, more water? You can’t drink the tap water here, so you better budget for bottled water or make sure you’re in a place with a drinking filter on the tap. You want a shower? Make sure you know during what hours the place you’re staying at has water (my current home doesn’t have water between approximately 8:00 pm and 5:00 am). Our level of appreciation is very different than so many parts of the world. We, our North American society as a whole,  lack appreciation. It is obvious in our throw-away, buy-a-new-one economy. One major thing that I love about Peru is that you can get ANYTHING fixed here. Your toaster stopped working? Take it down to one of the markets, there will be a guy there who can fix it for you in a few hours. Your sole came off your shoe? Take it to the market as well- probably in the stall next to the toaster-fixing guy. Button popped off your shirt and you can’t sew? You could have it repaired while you munch on a tamale from the stall next door. Such is life in Peru: different, humbling, curious, fascinating, lively, and loud.


Beyond general observations of the country, let me sum up my life since arriving in Peru almost two weeks ago. I landed in Lima just before midnight on the 14th (almost the 15th for those who are chronically challenged). I had arranged for the hostel I booked with to pick me up at the airport, so there was no sketchy taxi business involved. It ended up being 1:30 am by the time I arrived at the hostel and got my room. Jet-lag was not my friend and despite being exhausted from nearly two full days of flying, I was unable to sleep until almost 4:00 am. Fast forward to the normal daylight hours: I woke up in Miraflores, a beautiful coastal section of Lima. It is the rich part of the city and, consequently, the one with the most tourism (a common association). The sun was beating down, casting gorgeous rays of light across the city. It was hot, but with a slight breeze sweeping in off the ocean the temperature felt wonderful. It was like I had woken up in a dreamland. I stayed in Lima for three days. During that time I managed to give myself a terrible sunburn, which got me many odd looks in the streets and several comments from store tenders and fellow hostellers. I ate wonderful, fresh, Peruvian cuisine and had some lovely Pisco Sours and local red wine. I met people from all over the world: primarily Australians, Americans, and Europeans, most of whom also seemed to be traveling without any particular set intention in mind. The conversations with fellow travelers are something I cherish greatly. People come from all different paths in life and I find it inherently interesting to know why someone is traveling, to know their plans, to know where they’ve already been and what they loved, to know what went wrong or was a bit beyond their comfort level, and so on. I perused the streets of Lima and explored the markets with some of these new friends. I met up with an old friend for an afternoon and we practiced conversing in both Spanish and English (practicing Spanish was for me, practicing English was for her- it worked out nicely!). I milled about the beaches and chatted with surfers and slept off my jet-lag. I read in the sun-soaked patio of my hostel. I re-gained confidence in the Spanish that I know, but haven’t practiced in years. And then, I took an early morning flight to Cusco, on the 18th.


Cusco. I have been here for about a week and a half now. I was picked up at the airport by employees of the school through which I am taking my TEFL course. They brought me to the main office, where I signed in and got my welcome package including a tour of the school. They then dropped me off at my homestay house.

Edit: I tried to add photos directly into this blog but it wouldn't size them properly and kept cutting them off. Very frustrating!! Instead I have created an online album and you can view my photos from Cusco and the hike to Naupa here:


Funny story: it was the wrong homestay house. No one noticed for about an hour, by which point I had already met the family and fellow students, and had mostly unpacked my bag. I was given an option to stay or go to the homestay I was originally supposed to be in. I liked the place I was in already so I decided to stay. Turned out to be a great decision- my host family is sweet, welcoming, and hilarious, and they are trying to learn English so we often practice each others’ languages. They are a middle-aged couple with two sons who do not live at home, and a ten year old daughter who loves theater, miming, and painting my nails (actually, just the other night we had a sing-off. I won’t tell you who lost). They also have a beautiful little cocker spaniel dog, named Toffe (pronounced Toffee). The cousins visit frequently, so there are usually quite a few people around. The kids are hilarious and love to play games with us. It is a happy house. During my few bouts of sickness my host-mama has taken care of me as if I were her own child: checking up on me, bringing me dinner in bed when I was too exhausted and weak to eat at the table, ensuring I had enough blankets and pillows, and making me hot lemon teas at night to help me sleep. When you’re sick and in a place far away from home, this kind of comfort means so much to you. I couldn’t ask for a better placement.


As for my TEFL course, it is a lot of work. I didn’t realize quite how much work would be involved. On the first day we were told that this one-month-long program is equivalent to three full-semester university courses.


I’ll just leave that statement up there for you to read again. Go ahead. Read it again.


INTENSE, right? Week one just finished and I didn’t go to sleep before midnight from Wednesday on. We are in class all day, then have assigned readings and papers to write. I had several days where I was at the school for 10-11 hours straight, then came home for dinner and did homework all evening. This is my primary excuse for not providing any updates until now. Eat, school, eat, school, eat, homework, sleep, repeat. My program is back-loaded, so it will only get more difficult.


The course itself is pretty good. We have 16 students in the class and everyone is cool. When you are with the same people for so long, day in and day out, you get to know each other’s quirks pretty quickly. I think we have a good thing going on. Some of us went on a day-hike/brewery visit out in the Sacred Valley on Saturday, where we took a bus an hour and a half out of town and hiked up to some Incan ruins, known as Ñaupa (pronounced “nee-ow-pa”). It is a place considered to be very spiritual and people often go up with offerings to Pachamama (“Mother Earth”) to say thanks or to ask for something (like rain, when it has been dry for a while). There are terraces and stone steps up the side of a mountain that lead to a cave, where you can see that chunks of rock have been carved out to provide spaces to leave offerings. After visiting the site, we stopped at the Sacred Valley Brewing Company where we enjoyed a barbeque, live music, and of course, beer, in their courtyard. Quite a nice way to spend a sunny afternoon!


On Sunday I managed to have a day off, because I finished my homework early (I hate getting behind). I went to a yoga class with some of my housemates. It was pretty interesting to do yoga at 11,000 feet above sea level! The altitude here takes a while to adjust to- the first few days I was here, I was tired and had low energy levels, but once your body starts to adjust it’s fine. Altitude affects everyone differently and some people actually struggle quite a bit. Apparently it takes about two weeks to fully adjust, so I’m not quite there yet. This past weekend was really the first time I attempted any sort of physical activity beyond climbing up and down the hills of Cusco to get around. I still get winded going up stairs (and there are a LOT of stairs in this town!). Another big issue is that the air here is quite dry, so I find myself constantly thirsty. You learn quickly to make sure you always bring a water bottle with you! The UV is much higher here, as there is a growing hole in the ozone layer above Chile, and a lot of that affects Peru. I now wear an SPF 80 daily and usually long sleeves/pants or a skirt to prevent any more sunburns.


Cusco is full of beautiful colonial buildings and large Catholic temples. It is known as the archaeological capital of the Americas, although I’m sure other cities would disagree. There are tons of little winding side streets, barely wide enough to fit one car, with sidewalks just big enough for you to squeeze past without getting run over. Some of the walls in the city are built with the cut stones from Incan era buildings, that the Spaniards disassembled and used in their own structures. It is a charming place. If you want to know more (I highly recommend learning more about Cusco as it has a really interesting past and was highly significant to the Incan civilization and during the time of the Spanish Invasion/Conquest), this website has a decent summary of Cusco’s history as the Incan Capital: http://archive.archaeology.org/online/features/peru/cuzco.html


This area is rich with archaeological ruins and well-documented history. My plan is to visit as many local archaeological sites as possible while I’m here, especially on the weekends when I have a bit more time. By the end of my program I will hopefully have become well adapted to the altitude and will be in much better shape for potentially taking on Machu Picchu. There are great looking hikes in the area as well; alternatively you can easily grab an inexpensive bus ride out into the Sacred Valley and do some exploring. I could see this place being quite a comfortable one to live in for a while. I don’t know what my plans are yet, after my TEFL course is done. I may stick around for a while and get in some more exploring, I may try to pick up a job in the area, or I may move on. Decisions will need to be made eventually, but for now I’m focusing on my TEFL course and attempting to stay healthy. I am also considering taking some Spanish classes to help speed up my learning process. Living with my host family and speaking with locals at stores and restaurants certainly helps but I think I’d like to catapult myself into it. Along my current line of thinking, it would probably be best to learn as much Spanish as I can in a place where I am relatively comfortable and have somewhat of a safety network before moving on.


Well, friends and family, that is about it for this time around. If you’re still reading by this point I’m flattered and impressed. It was a long one. I thank you all for sticking with me and continuing to read about my updates and adventures!

Hugs from Cusco.

Tags: archaeological, archaeology, arrival, culture, homestay, mistakes, program, sickness, sunburn, tefl



Thank you Kat for taking the time to write your experiences down. I feel exactly what you're going though and support you to dig deep and carry on! Live BIG!
I love Peru and love you even more!

  Connie Ekelund Jan 29, 2015 4:56 PM


Cool!! Sounds great. Keep the updates coming! Get some aloe 😉

  Kirsten Jan 30, 2015 1:01 AM


We love reading your adventures - thanks! With all the stairs, hills, mountains and other steep bits you'll be fit AND fluent in Spanish. Glad to hear you're feeling better(ish) and that all your hard school work is worthwhile. Be well, learn lots and have so much fun.

  Susan Jan 30, 2015 5:40 AM


Great account! I'm so pleased that your homestay family is so nice and that you've met like minded travelers to share in on the adventure! I hope you're feeling better & thanks for the update!

  Michelle Jan 31, 2015 1:15 AM


Soundsn awesome!!! The coca leaves will help with the energ. Me and then other northern bound folks are still waiting for a vlog entry!

  J Dubs Feb 2, 2015 2:54 PM

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