A Christmas Story (Cusco Traditions)

What do you do when you are abroad for the Holidays? Here´s what I did….

Making Kids Smile.  On both the 23rd and the 24th, I contributed  (first with my coworkers and then with my church) to buying small presents, candies, cookies, juices and then handing them out on Bélen Pampa and in San Blas.  The idea is that whole families from surrounding villages always to Cusco over Christmas to sell pine branches, moss, and other greenery to make the Nativity sets.  They sleep on the street or plaza with their kids in the freezing cold and rain.  Kids with mild frostbite and mud on their cheeks.

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I remember Christmas when I was 5 years old. And thought that maybe, somehow, if I could give these kids a little of the joy that I have had over the holidays, it could make theirs a little brighter.  But, in the end, you never know.  Countless kids left without presents, making the two days of handing out presents seem like a drop in the bucket.

Arariwa Christmas Party. The 23rd, all the workers from all branches of Arariwa got together for a night of food, drink, and a lot of dancing.  The party was held over at Arariwa Promoción, and within the first ten minutes, I realization that I was out of my league as far as the dancing was concerned.  Men would line up to dance with the women and begin flailing their arms and rapidly stomping their feet.  It was a mix between off-beat salsa and a traditional campensino dance.  All in all, a fun night!

Christmas Eve. Unfortunately, I didn´t bring my camera to Christmas Eve or Day, but hopefully some friends will post pictures on Facebook soon! Christmas Eve is characterized by waiting up till midnight here in Peru, to 1) put baby Jesus in the Nativity 2) to pray and toast minature glasses of champagne 3) to light off fireworks from the roof 4) to eat a small meal, have hot chocolate and paneton (pretty sure it is more directly translated fruitcake).  I got to join a coworker, Andy, and her family that night.

Christmas. I spent the morning with some American missionaires eating brunch and watching Elf, and then the afternoon (after it rained) with Andy´s family eating turkey and drinking wine until the early evening where I crashed in my house for a good 12 hour Christmas sleep.

The Cusco Christmas Market

Tradition. Good Catholics bring baby Jesus to mass on the 26th and place him on the altar for the entire service.  And in Cusco, you visit at least seven Nativity scenes in churches across the city tossing coins in the wishing wells in each of the Nativities for good luck in the new year. 5 down (Plaza de Armas, Cathedral, San Francisco, La Merced, and Santo Domingo), 2 to go!

Cuzco Ruins Travel Guide

This is the best information you are going to get on the ruins around Cuzco.  Which ones you can get in for free, which ones are the best.  Here, I´m evaluating Tipón, Pikillacta, Moray, Chinchero, and Q´enqo.

So, this past week Marc Capule came to visit.  Being a shoestring traveler like myself with a strong adversion to paying the gringo tax that Cuzco imposes, we decided to try to get into as many ruins as we could for free.  To prove my point, we walked into a bookstore to find him a notebook, and when the lady behind the counter said 80; he assumed it was 80 soles ($40) and said, “Ok, I don´t need it that badly” and started to leave. Soon everything got sorted out (the notebook was 80 cents), and we started a week of awesome food (will be in a following post) and touring around Cuzco.

 

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Tipón is my favorite ruin so far.  To get there, take a cab to the Urcos taxi stop on Av. La Cultura in front of the Universidad.  Get off at Tipón.  Cabs cost S./10 a person and another S./10 to get in.  Alternatively, walk down the road 4 km.  When you get to the base of the hill, don´t go up the pedestrian steps, but walk up the road past the giant Tipón sign.  About 20m up the road, there is a small path leading up the ancient Incan steps to the ruins (and bypassing the control).  Tipón is a beautiful series of terraces interspersed with canals.  You can walk up the Incan steps in the wall (generally rocks sticking out of the wall) to climb the terraces to the natural spring at the back of the ruins. Or alternatively, check out the view from the fortess that you passed coming up the Incan steps.

Pikillacta. Similarly to get here, you take the taxi from the Urcos stop, and get off at Pikillacta.  The only cool part of the ruin is the giant wall alongside the road and views of the lake. (see slideshow). Sneaking in to the main ruin is easy.  From the road, take “the high road” instead of walking down the path to control.  The path leads you past control directly to the ancient city.  Now, merely crumbling rock walls. Place this at the bottom of your list.

Moray. I thought (and had been told) this was one of the closest ruins in the Sacred Valley.  My verdict, go to Tipón first.  It´s better maintained, greener, and with the natural spring, more beautiful. To get here, take the bus to Urubamba from Pavitos street in Cuzco.  Get off Moray.  Your options of getting to the ruin are limited (they are 14km away).  The cab runs S./15 each way.  Alternatively, you can do a bike ride to the ruins.  The circular terraces were used for crop rotation (each terrace differed by .5º C so they were experimenting with temperature differences) and the larger one as an amphitheater.  The cab will drop you off at the control, but a dirt path leading down to Urubamba suggests that you could sneak in from the valley.  There is a nice hike from Las Salineras to Urubamba (another S./15 to get there).

Chinchero. Second favorite ruin in this list. Take the bus/ convey/ taxi from Pavitos street in Cuzco.  Get off at Chinchero.  From the big sign that talks about the ruins, walk up until you see the plaza on your left. Walk through the plaza, and take the street up that is closest to Urubamba (away from Cuzco).  Although there are three controls in the city, going up the left hand side (if you are facing the ruins) lets you avoid all three.  The ruins, the church, and the market are all worth checking out.

Finally, Q´enqo. These ruins are a short trip from Cuzco and a lovely afternoon hike.  Walk up through San Blas until you hit the road going to Sacsayhuaman.  On the road should be a small sign for rock climbing.  If you cross the small creek and follow the path up, you reach the Moon Temple (when you get there, make sure you go into the caves).  For Q´enqo climb the hills on the other side of the creek until you pass a massive Inca stone wall. You can reach Q´enqo from the backside by crossing the bridge.

Happy Travels! Cuzco Restaurant and the Rest of the Sacred Valley Ruins Soon!

A Look Under the Hood (Fine Tuning an MFI for 2011)

My new Kiva Fellows Blog Post about Asociacion Arariwa’s Retreat last weekend. From microfinance reflections, to singing Peruvian Folk at 2 am!

A Sneak Preview> “The retreat started out with pictures of Machu Picchu, Maras Moray, Sacsayhuaman, and the mountains and sweeping valleys that put Peru on the map for every tourist coming to South America.  The executive director began, “This is our rich history, memories from a time were we were the most advanced race on the face of the planet”.  The discourse went on to show poverty in Peru: families standing outside of adobe shacks, and homes destroyed by the floods last February and the executive director explained that their “rich” history can´t guarantee a “rich” future for the poor in Peru.  How only microfinance coupled with education (at every village bank Arariwa provides training sessions for their clients) and a focus on improving health and nutrition can do that.”

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Living with Less

I remember coming back from college the summer after freshman year, looking at a room full of stuff that I hadn´t used and wondering how I got it all.  Then, I just started giving it away.  I didn´t even realize that it was a part of my lifestyle until when at my college graduation party, my mom mentioned this habit as something she admired.  Now, I am spending July to March traveling and working in South America, out of a backpack, and I continue to wonder, what do we really need?

The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less” – Socrates

So, here are some of my random thoughts on minimalism, “Living with Less”.  It seems that as Americans, when we are bored, we consume.  We buy new DVDs or invest money in new hobbies.  (I do all this).  Then we look at a blank shelf and wonder what we could put there and we head to Pottery Barn or an Antique Shop for that perfect “thing” to fit that hole on the shelf. (Guilty).  Consider even, the stimulus package: it was given for the purpose of consumption under the pretense that buying more would be good for the economy.

And at the end of the day, we end up with rooms, houses, garages, and storage units full of stuff that we have used once or twice and left by the wayside.  And I wonder if this consumption inspired by boredom is what we must really do to be happy? And I wonder that if everything I own was stolen, would I be less content?  I think back to the robbery in Guatemala, and sad as I was that all my stuff was gone, I realized that it wasn´t the end of the world, and that I could survive without all the stuff that I had lost.  Packing as I did for Peru, I realized that all I am taking in my 55l Osprey is all I will really need for the next few months.  More than that, I realize that I would be satisfied with what I brought for longer than a few months.

My revelation lies not in the desire to give up everything we own, but the evaluation that the things I own don´t make me who I am.  It lies in the realization that the most spectacular parts, the best memories in your life will never be created by the things you bought, but by people you were with.  So, endeavour, as I do, to make your life less about what you buy and more about those with whom you can share your life with.

Borrower Visits Here

Maybe I have written too much in the past, but now that my camera is back, I can load my posts with amazing “I wish you were here” photos.

Yesterday, I went with one of Asociación Arariwa´s (pronounced Ararigwa. who would have known?) loan officers into the Sacred Valley of Cuzco, the provincia de Urubamba to the town of Chincero.  There, I was performing a “BV” or Borrower Verification.  It´s to make sure that the loan information, the loan use, and the borrower match what is posted on the Kiva website.  Anyway, I´ll let the pictures speak for me:

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Save Me, San Diego

It´s not a daydream if you decide to make it your life – Train

It has been a while.  And typically with my schedule as it was in the states I would never have the chance to get on and blog.  But here I am.  I think its only because I am trying to put off packing for as long as possible.

I visited a ton of people (and I´m super bummed about those that I never got a chance to hang out with!) and tomorrow, I leave for Cuzco, Peru.  As I leave, I wonder what would happen if I stayed.  If I would get a job, if I would be happy back in L.A. or the U.S.A. for a while.  But if I did, I would wonder what sort of adventure I missed out on down south.  Which is why I try to continue to turn my travel dreams into reality.  Over the next few months, I´m going to live at the base of Machu Piccu, explore Patagonia, and continue to serve as a Kiva Fellow in one of the coolest cities in South America.

It´s with a mix of nostalgia and excitement that I leave the U.S. because when you get down to it, nothing in the world beats a California sunset or crusing down PCH.