Tuesday, 10 June 2014

What do monkeys dream of?

Oh, hey you. It's me again. Wait...what's that I hear? Less than a week? Less than ONE WEEK and I'm back home? Noo..that's crazy, you have to be kidding. Oh no, hold up. Yep, yep that's right. This time next week I'll be home. HOME. UK. HOME. So very very excited.

homestay mum & sister
I'm back in Cusco at the moment. I had to leave the beautiful Ollantaytambo this morning, after 3 brilliant months. I'm currently writing this from a very comfortable double bed with wifi (living the dream), but I am definitely going to miss the incredible views and even more incredible people from Ollanta. Waking up to snow capped mountains and quinua-filled chacras was something that I was very lucky to have done for the past months. I'm going to miss my homestay family a huge amount too. They kept me very happily full up on

coca tea, lomo saltado (my fave), rice and potatoes (not so much my faves), quinua and cuy. There was never an empty stomach in the house, which is what I love about the people here. They really don't have much, but there so willing to share what they have with you. The little girl I lived with was the happiest little thing I've ever met, every time I would come into the room she would scream 'Sasa' at me and then drag me over to her toy corner to play legos and barbies. The house would always be full of neighbours and 'cousins' (cousins in quotation marks here because everybody is introduced as a cousin), or random travellers and volunteers. I loved it! I'm also going to miss my Ollanta bestie, Holly, so much. Without her I would have been so lost the past 3 months, I was so lucky to have met her here! 

Okay, mushy stuff over (I can admit I blubbed a little bit on the way to the bus station this morning), time to tell you about my past month! Again, this could very easily turn into a small book, so good luck with reading it (if you get to the end you're a pure trooper, I don't even know if I can type it all). RIGHT lets start the chapters! 

Moray and Maras

So in my last post I don't think I talked about another mini-excursion me and the American did. We decided to take a little weekend trip to see some of the famous sights around where we live (because I mean, we've been there for 3 months, we should really see some things that aren't cafes and hostels). About a 40 minute drive from Ollanta are Moray and Maras, some really beautiful villages dead in the countryside. Moray is
 home to some incredible circular Incan terraces. Yes, we have had our fair share of terraces in Peru, but I still can't get over how amazing they are. The more common terraces are carved down the mountains, where the Incans use to cultivate their crops. However, the Moray terraces are slightly different. They're carved into the ground, in a huge circle. Apparently, the Incans used these terraces as a sort of experimental crop growing place. Each terrace, incredibly, has it's own mini-climate, meaning different crops can be grown at each level. For example, coca, which needs lower altitudes and a warmer climate, was grown on the bottom levels, and things like potatoes (of which there are literally thousands of types in Peru) were grown on higher levels. Yeah, it may sound boring, but I think it's amazing and a very clever way of growing things. 
salt flats!

Maras is another village. The attraction of this village are the Salineras, about 20 minutes out of town. The Salineras are huge salt flats. It's interesting here too, because they are nothing like the salt flats in Bolivia, which go on for miles and miles and are just plain white planes. No, the ones here are carved out on different levels (the Peruvians do love their terraces), and are sectioned off (look at the picture, it's kinda hard to explain). The views of these salt flats are absolutely insane - they spread quite far, and you have to drive down to get to them, which makes for incredible views. It's also the home of the famous Peruvian 'Pink Salt' which is supposed to be great for illnessess and gourmet cooking. After this, we were suppposed to go to Chinchero, a town famous for it's market. However, we arrived there after dark, and on deciding that we didn't want to find a hostel in this sketchy looking town, went for the safe option and went back to Cusco. We do love Cusco.

Bolivia (again)

on the hike
Why not go back to Lake Titicaca again? I was there in August with Steph, and it really is a beautiful place. So I went with the American again, and another girl from Ollanta! It was a lot of fun, and Bolivia really is cheap. Although the people, they're not so nice. Don't know if it was bad luck but pretty much every who talked to us was rude. But, hey ho. Also, it was freezing. And so very very windy. To be fair it is something like 3800m above sea level and on a lake, so you can expect it really. We stayed on the Isla del Sol (birthplace of the first Inca) for a night, and walked the hike from north to south which was challenging but fairly enjoyable. (More information about Isla del Sol in a much earlier blog post). The night we stayed on the island was, again, freezing. So freezing, infact, that the 3 of us got into a double bed because it was just that cold. I also had about 100 layers of clothing on. It was a short but sweet trip across the border, but to be honest we were happy to come back to Peru - nice people, nice food, nice wifi. 

The Amazon

So this is possibly the most exciting part of my past month. Me and Holly (I should start using her name really), decided that, because we're here and neither of us had been yet, to take a trip into the jungle. I thought I'd been here long enough without seeing the Amazon to go any longer. So, last week, we did it. Last
Sunday we flew into Puerto Maldonado, which is a jungle town on the Brazilian border. We stayed, for 2 nights, in a beautiful hostel just outside of town. Flying into the airport we got our first taste of the jungle - the aiport sits in between huge trees that makes it look like your landing deep in the jungle. Which, to be honest, you kind of are. The hostel we stayed in was great - as soon as we arrived, we were greeted by the lovely Thai owner, and, get this, monkeys. Baby. Monkeys. We sat on our porch outside our mini-bungalow for an hour and played with some monkeys, which was amazing. And so much fun. The baby one even took a nap in my lap which was the cutest thing ever. So we dined on Thai food for 2 nights, and then decided to do a 4 day tour across the river. We stayed in a lodge about 30 minutes down the huge Madre de Dios river, and were told that we would have a big itinery each day - which we really did. It's fair to say we were absolutely exhausted by the end of it! The first day, as soon as we arrived at 9.30am, we were escorted in another boat to Lake Sandoval, a huge lake full of amazing animal. We trekked for a couple hours in the jungle, wading
through mud, clinging onto trees and nearly falling over, a lot (well, me anyway). Also getting attacked by bugs. The lake was massive, and we were lucky enough to see otters, caiman alligators and 'smelly birds', so called because they stink. The next morning we woke up at 4am (I know...) to go and see some parrots, which again, didn't dissapoint. After breakfast, we went ziplining and canaopy walking in the jungle which was so much fun - scary, but fun, and then attempted to go to a place called Monkey Island (self explanatory). We kayaked half-way to the island, but then got pulled in by the main boat because it was going to rain. And rain, it did. Sadly we didn't get to the island (don't worry, we got to the next day), so went back and had a bit of a nap. In the evening we went alligator hunting which also didn't dissapoint. For our third day (phew, this is getting long), we visited a native community in the morning - which is a family of about 15
people living in traditional huts and living basically. They wear clothes made from tree bark, and still practice hunting techniques as their ancestors did. It was really interesting. In the afternoon we made it back to Monkey Island - which was great. 3 types of monkeys live there, and we got to saw a lot of them. They know that when the tourists come, so does food. In the evening we did a night walk through a jungle path - and we saw tarantulas, butterflies and lots of caterpillers! For our final day, we went fishing in the morning. Sadly, I was the only person not to catch anything. After that, we visited a fruit farm - a couple live on a farm which has mango trees, orange trees, pineapple trees, cucumbers and bananas. We also got attacked by ants and spiders here, my feet are now
covered in bites because I was the stupid one who wore sandals. Anyway, it was a lot of fun. Oh, also, the lodge we stayed at had a pet pig who thought she was a dog and was the cutest thing ever. One of the boat drivers also had a pet monkey, which is apparently very common in the jungle. Also I've failed to mention the heat. And the humidity. Dear lord, it was hot. 90% humidity and maybe 30 degrees C heat. Talk about sweat! But then, what can you expect, it's the Amazon. 

Right, so, I think that's about it for the moment. Sorry there's so much! So much has happened in a month. As I said, I'm now in Cusco, and fly to Lima on Wednesday morning to live with  Maddi in my beloved San Miguel until I finally fly home on Saturday! Excitement doesn't cover it. This week is going to go quickly, but I can't wait until I'm home :) 

I'll probably write another post when I'm in Lima, just to let you know I'm there! 

Hasta luego,
S x

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Eating and drinking my way around the Sacred Valley...

We have less than one month people, one month. HOME in one month. This time next month I'll be arriving back in blighty. O n e m o n t h.

Don't know if you can tell but I'm a little bit excited to come home. Don't get me wrong, I love Peru so much, and I know I'll be sad to leave, but I'm very much ready to come home now & start summer.

Okay, so, where have I been since my last post. Right now I'm sat in a cafe (surprise surprise), with some coca tea, trying to plan my last month/summer things. Well, anyway, my last post was pretty much a month ago, just after my adventures in the jungle! Since then I've finished my essay (thank the Gods), and gone on a
Pisac Market
few little side trips with my Ollanta bestie (that's you Holly).  Nearly 3 weeks ago we went to the town of Pisac, which is about an hour away. There's this big artisan market there which has everything, and as soon as we arrived we didn't want to leave. We also did some horseriding. First time I've ever been on a horse, which was an intersting experience. Scary, but fun. And beautiful scenery. The hostel was also beautiful and the town itself is really lovely. It's in the middle of some mountains, and is surrounded by ruins, like Ollanta. So we stayed there for the weekend, ate some delicious food, bought some presents from the market, and then got lost on the way home. Because really, what is a weekend in Peru without getting lost somewhere along the way? We tried to take a bus back to Ollanta, ended up in a town halfway there, and then got another bus, which we realised halfway through the journey was actually going back to Pisac. Fun for everyone. Don't worry though, we did eventually make it back home, albeit tired and hungry. So that was the first time we got lost.

Cusco Adventures
Since then we've walked around Cusco numerous times trying to find a hostel/restaurant/hospital. We've been to Cusco on mini-excursions twice since my last post. The first time we wanted to go to the flea market (we do love our markets), which was amazing, had everything and was huge. So we arrived in Cusco, with a hostel in mind to stay at for the weekend. However, apparently, it didn't exist, because nothing is ever where you want it to be in Cusco. We then walked for around an hour looking for another one that wasn't ridiculously out of our price range (and bear in mind here, Cusco is very hilly. And is full of steep steps). We found a lovely one eventually though, so stayed there and then pretty much ate our way through the next couple of days. On the Saturday we sat in a cafe for approximately 4 hours, because we are typical white girls who needed our coffee and wifi fix. It was a lot of fun, anyway.

The second time we got lost in Cusco wasn't as fun, however. It was yesterday. Holly needed a yellow fever shot (because we're going to the jungle, but that's for later), and that involved trying to find somewhere that had a yellow fever shot. And that involved getting taxis to every corner of Cusco, pretty much being sent on a wild goose chase. 'No, you need to go here...' 'We're closed' 'Go to this place then come back' were just a few of the phrases we were familiar with by the end of our little ordeal. We ended up in a sketchy looking hospital, an industrial estate in the arse-end of nowhere, 2 pharmacies and then a very expensive private clinic. But on the bright side, at least now I know what the Spanish is for 'yellow fever' 'immunisation' and 'help us please we don't want to walk round Cusco anymore'. (The last one's a joke, I knew how to say that from the day I set foot in the city). I do love Cusco though, its beautiful and there's so much to do and see there. It also rains a lot, so it's pretty much like being at home. With more mountains, and steps. And less British people. And more loud American/Chinese/British/Japanese tourists. But I love it!

I also had a lovely brunch with some girls last Sunday - which involved spending literally all day in the restaurant, eating and drinking champange. What else could you want from a Sunday? Here's a little picture to sum it up.

So, other exciting things. I'm off to Bolivia (again) tomorrow, for about 5 days. Me & 2 friends (including the American) are going to the lake for some relaxing and some more hiking, which I'm looking forward to. Also, Bolivia is so cheap, so that's a plus for everyone.  We might visit Puno (in Peru) as well for a bit, but we'll have to see where the next couple days take us. After that, we're off to the Amazon for a week (even more excitement!!) to see some animals and take some boat rides and hopefully not get eaten alive by mosquitoes. Then, after a week in the ol' rainforest, I have ONE WEEK LEFT to go back to Cusco and Lima, to pick up the rest of my belongings, and then I'm flying home. I'M SO EXCITED TO COME HOME (if you hadn't noticed...).

So really, this post was just to tell you all what I'm planning to do with the rest of my time here, and how excited I am to be back in the UK! I'll make another one of these before I'm home, probably when I'm in Cusco/Lima, to update you all about my Bolivia/Amazon adventures, and then I'll be home to see all your pretty faces again! This was also a lazy post because I'm tired (when am I not, really). But just thought I should update you.

Okay, that's quite enough writing for one day.

See ya in a bit,
Hasta luego, S x

Thursday, 17 April 2014

through the jungle on a motorbike

im tired but I'm going to force myself to write this. It's either this, or doing more of my essay, so I guess this is the lesser of two evils...

RIGHT, boom, writing, lets do this.

san isidro from the ruins
okay, so, at the moment I'm in the lovely little town of Ollantaytambo, about 2 hours outside of Cusco, in the Sacred Valley. It's where the train leaves for Machu Picchu, so it's very touristy, but I love it nonetheless. Also I'm living in a homestay, so it's not thaaat touristy for me. I live about a 10 minute walk from the centre of the town (which is not very far, but a certain Holly refuses to walk there because she is lazy and [another adjective here]), in a community called San Isidro which is very pretty and where everybody is family. And that's not an exaggeration or some sort of cheesy saying, everybody is actually family. I got a lift home from a guy one night and when I told him where I live he said 'oh yeah, that's my aunt's house'. So yep, everyone is someone's aunt or cousin or grandma. It's great! My family consists of the mum, 2 daughters, a granddaughter and a son-in-law. The granddaughter is nearly 2, and is the cutest little girl ever. She calls me 'saha' and is the happiest little thing
ever. The daughters, one the mother of the little girl, and the other a 17 year old, are also really nice. I go salsa dancing (I know right, miss 2 left feet over here) with the 17 year old every Wednesday in a town called Urubamba about 30 minutes away, and it is so so much fun. It's exhausting but I love it! I'm not going tonight though because I am way too knackered, I'll mention why a lil later. The mum, who is my house mother, is amazing. She works in the 'chacra', which is a plot of land they own where they grown quinua, herbs, pumpkins and flowers, as well as having 2 cows, 2 sheep, loads of cuy (guinea pig - the local delicacy) and even more chickens. She works there every day, and I really don't know how she has so much strength! She makes the best food as well, although maybe a little too much rice, and we have trout, chicken, sometimes cuy and other yummy things everyday. OH and, oh man, she makes a banana smoothie juice thing for breakfast which is delicious! The house is pretty too, I have my own big room with a big window and a desk, and you can see the stars (from the window, don't worry there is a roof). The stars are incredible here.

sneaking into pretty ruins
So the town is really pretty, and surrounded by ruins which are incredible. The aforementioned Holly (who is  beautiful and hilarious and tolerates me so is the best - can you tell she's sitting next to me?)  and I managed to sneakily get into the most touristy of the ruins (didn't feel bad about not paying because about 100000 people go up there per day - also I went there with Steph some months ago). But that was cool and we got to see some great views of the town. Might try to do some more ruins another day when I'm not feeling lazy and tired and don't have essays to write. Ollanta (i'm  native now so I can call it that) is nice, and there's loads of cute cafes which have wifi and good food, so I can sit there all day and write and research and eat. Perfect! My 2 favourite places (look at me, talking about food again. Who woulda guessed it), are one place called La Esquina, or the 'Gringo Cafe' where everybody who volunteers/lives here goes. The food is amazing though. There's also Hearts Cafe, which is a charity owned one, which is good because the food is also good, and you're money goes to a good place. And believe me, I am spending all my money here.

As well as eating my life away, I am also doing some research. I have this essay (bane of my life) due in about 2 weeks, so I'm having to write and study and stuff, it's not all play here. I am learning a lot about coca, and I do think it's really interesting. Well, I have to find it interesting if I'm going to write a 15000 word dissertation about it. But yeah, it's really interesting and all the people here are helpful when I ask them about it. Swear down, I could talk about coca for years. I love the stuff. And no, not the drug, It's ok, just the leaf. The history and everything about it I find so interesting! So as well as doing some research here, I also have just got back from the jungle! I'm going to go back when I can, I was only there for 3 days but I loved it. I got some research but it was overall an amazing experience!

Paragraph explaining the title of this blog - woooo

So yeah, the jungle! Just on the edge of the rainforest, about 5 hours drive from where I live at the moment, is Quillabamba. It's quite a large town in the middle of the mountains and the jungle. To get there you have to drive up the side of one mountain and then down the other side. It was, erm, an experience. The highest point I got to was about 4100 metres, and it was freezing cold. The day we drove there it was raining so
quillabamba from the mountains
hard and I nearly froze. I was cold though, because I went by motobike (yeah mum, that may of been the part I didn't tell you before I left...). So a friend I have here has family in the jungle and I was really interested to go, so we went by his bike. And it was so much fun. Scary, especially the sheer drops and the huge waterfalls, but fun. 5 hours on a motobike though, it's seriously tiring! We stayed a night in the town, then the next day drove to his family's place which is about 2 hours up the side of another mountain. And this is right in the jungle - banana trees, coffee trees, coca bushes, mango trees - everything! It's amazing. We got to the house, which is a house made from clay bricks, with chickens in the garden and guinea pigs running about everywhere. It's such a beautiful place, right off a dirt track and down past huge trees. There, I obviously talked about coca, but I also peeled some cocao beans (for chocolate), from straight off of the tree, and the next morning we had the hot chocolate
coffee tree
from it. It was insanely delicious! I saw pretty much all of my food straight from where it grows - the chicken being killed, the corn picked and the coffee in bean form. It was incredible, seriously! I also got eaten alive by mosquitoes. I don't know why but the bites are like 10x more painful here. Even though I wore repellent and everything, my face/hands/ankles/back still look ridiculous. At least I know I'm sweet though ;)

Well, that's it pretty much. I'm back here, just got back today which is why I am so so tired (woke up at 6am, left at 7, arrived here at midday), but I'm very much alive and well (don't worry mum) and looking forward (HA) to finishing my essay and enjoying the rest of my stay.

This will probably be my penultimate, or there abouts, post. Well, at the rate I'm going anyway, unless something incredibly exciting happens in the next week.

Wow lots of writing, even more tired now! Anyway, enjoy the pictures and my ramblings, and when I'm back I'll only have maybe 1 month to go!! Scary stuff...

Hasta luego, S x

more me  & ruins

in the jungle

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Public transport, hospitals and more bad cultural references...

[by the way - sorry about the crazy change in font that goes on in this blog, I don't know what's going on...]

Okay then, let's do another one of these...the posts seem to be getting longer and further apart from each other. It's okay, at least I have a load more to write each time (yay me!)

(That sentence took me about 5 days to write, just an example of how lazy I'm getting)

RIGHT. So, this post will probably be in chapters or something as well, might as well stick to tradition and all that. Ill put more pictures in though - lucky you! The last time I wrote this I was trying to survive in Arequipa, drinking coffee, working late bar shifts and waking up too early for Spanish lessons. All whilst attempting to do some dissertation work (I have to keep reminding myself that that is what I'm actually here for, actual research, and not to piss about drinking pisco and getting constantly ill [I'll talk about that later - fun for all]) So since Arequipa and all that happened there for 3 weeks, my lovely Swiss friend arrived and we jetted off to Bolivia for a bit to explore the salt flats (which are incredible) and generally have a lovely

time in Sucre, and the we bussed it back up to Cuzco (for me) and Puno (for her). Do not even get me started about the bus ride. No more buses, ever, in my life, ever. Ever. If I even see another bus...No, I'm exaggerating (as usual). It was dire but bearable. This will all be explained in the Bolivia chapter, don't you worry. So now I'm in Cuzco, but it's my last day before I go to the lovely little town of Ollantaytambo (about 2 hours away) to live in a homestay for about 2 and a half months. Im doing this so I can actually, finally,
get some hardcore research done - no volunteering, no lessons, just 2 1/2 months of talking about coca with the locals. Which I am looking forward to. And then - HOME!! Wow this is going fast, under 3 months until I set foot back on English land, which I'm both very very excited for and ready for, but also...no, I don't want to leave. It's cool here, I'm enjoying wondering round the cobbled streets and sitting in little coffee shops reading my book, and getting caught in the incredible Cuzco rain which soaks you to the bone. I love it! Three months to go though, I'm sure by the end I'll be even more excited to get home. Right, that's a summary of whats happened, just in case you're incredibly lazy and can't be bothered to read more detail (which, I wouldn't blame you for to be honest) Okay, anyway, here come the chapters that I know you've all really been waiting for...

1) Things I did in my last week in Arequipa

So, when I left you last time, I still had a week left in Arequipa. I finished my Spanish lessons, which were really awesome and I was sad to go, the lady who run them was very nice. On my last day, she cooked me a delicious meal, and her two lovely daughters presented me with a One Direction poster. Why not. So now I'm carrying it around in my bag with me, I'd feel rude to let it go (also Harry Styles is a BABE) - no that's a joke, oh god now everyone's going to disown me. Whatever. They were sweet (the girls, not One Direction!) so I took their poster. I also finished working at the bar, which I also had a great time doing. Learnt to make some cocktails, met some cool people! My last night at the bar was a bit of a mess though; when everyone found out it was my last night, I was bought drinks by pretty much everyone. I'm not complaining or anything, don't get me wrong, but dear God Peruvian drinks are strong. Then Yael (the Suissa) arrived, and we pretty much just drank and ate our way round Arequipa which was a lot of fun - and we also didn't realise that the day she arrived was the same day that Carnaval was ending. So we were walking innocently up the street, and suddenly got ambushed by Peruvian kids with silly string and foam. So much foam. But the end of Arequipa was fun, so that was good. Then, we packed up again and flew to Bolivia. Which is all in the next part! 

2) Sucre & Salt Flats (or how I learnt to stop worrying and just hate public transport)

[^ ^ ^ ooh look a kind of cultural reference - for my Dad really] 

Anyway, we arrived in Sucre, after hours of getting really mad at Amazonas Airlines for being incredibly South American and not being on time for anything. Obviously it was the cheapest option, so we weren't really surprised that neither of our planes were on time (we flew from Arequipa to La Paz, and then to Sucre). The first one was delayed for two hours, and the second for another hour and a half or something. So that's reason number one why public transport isn't fun, although I guess it's all part of the travelling. We finally arrived in Sucre, to a very iffy looking hostel, which claimed to be three different hostels. The Swiss couple that we got a taxi with said they were going to one hostel, just around the corner from ours, and when we arrived both hostels were the same hostel. Which makes no sense, and then the name on the door was

something else. The taxi we got was also the only taxi in the entire airport, because when we arrived at 6.30pm, the airport was already closing and there was no one in sight. Crazy Sucre. We stayed there for 3 days, and Sucre is a lovely city. It's the shared capital of Bolivia, with La Paz, but I would take Sucre over La Paz any day. It's classic South America, with little streets and old houses.We walked around quite a lot, visited a museum and also went to the crazy markets - which are filled with stalls selling everything you could imagine at a very cheap price. It was fun! From Sucre, we took an 8ish hour bus to Uyuni, where the salt flats are. The bus was, again, standard public transport. You get what you pay for, which was as followed: screaming kids, crying babies, women sat next to you breastfeeding for the whole goddamn journey, bad smells, toilet stops where there aren't really toilets and lots of delays. But hey ho, South American transport! When we got to Uyuni, we were getting off the bus and this woman comes up to us trying to sell us 3 daytours, which is the reason we went there, and she knew it. 'Hey look at those white girls, I bet they're easy to get money out of', is what I bet she was thinking. We really wanted to do a tour the next day, so when she finally let us get our bags and stopped pestering us, we booked a tour through her. She promised it would be the best thing we've ever done, the food would be amazing, we'd see everything, the guide would be full of knowledge, the hostel would be equipped with hot showers and good food. Did we get this? Like hell we did. To be honest, I'd already read that the tours are not what the tour offices say they are, so I expected less. But we payed a bit more than we'd seen advertised, so I thought, yeah, this could be awesome. And it was really amazing, the group we went with were brilliant. It was me, Yael, 2 Danish girls and 2 Swedish guys (Europe 4eva), and we had a great time together. The salt flats are incredible, they're absoloutely huge! We also went to a train cemetery, and some hot springs and stopped over at loads of beautiful lakes and mountains. But we definitely didn't get what we payed for. When we got back to Uyuni after the tour, we (well, I say we, me not so much) layed into the woman who sold us the tour for way too much money. And, after about an hour and a half shouting at her, we managed to get some money back, success! However, the tour, although lacking some things, was amazing and a lot of fun! So we got back to Uyuni, and now is the time for the rest of why I don't enjoy public transport. The day we got back to Uyuni, we had had a 6 hour car journey - very very warm. We then had about 3 hours to eat and wifi and then we had booked a 12 hour bus to La Paz. I wanted to get to Cuzco as cheaply and quickly as I could, so this was the best option. Supposedly direct bus to La Paz, we had to get off the bus 6 hours into the journey at 1am and change to an equally crowed, small bus. I have short legs, but I could not feel them after that. Also got no sleep, because the driver turned the lights on every 20 minutes to pick randomers up. We arrived in La Paz at about 7.30am, and went straight to the bus station - luckily, we found an 8.30am bus straight to Cuzco, which was a great find. It stopped in Puno, where Yael got off. Another 15 hour journey, and I got to Cuzco! So, about 2 days of busses/cars later, and I had the best sleep of my life. What I'm trying to say here is that yes, public transport gets you to the destination, although you may be a lot later than planned and half-dead at the end of it. Apart from that, Bolivia was great! 

3) And now, Cuzco 

from party...
I made it back to Cuzco, just alive but not feeling all too great. I love Cuzco, so I was very excited to explore again, and have a walk round. I met a guy off the bus and we went to get some dinner after the ridiculous bus journey, and the next night we went to a hostel bar and then met some more people and had a great time. However, I wasn't/am still not, feeling all too well. My tummy was feeling strange, and since I arrived in Cuzco I completely lost my appetite. I know something's wrong when I don't want to eat. So last Saturday, I walked around the city for a bit, bought some really good books for my dissertation, and then thought I'd go to the hospital to see if I'm all okay. 3 days in hospital, lots of antibiotics, a drip and too much TV later, and I'm out of there! Turns out I have bad food poisoning, so I had to stay for two nights in there. I was in a room on my own, connected to the drip and no wifi. I know, wifi, but come on, when you're on your own in a foreign hospital for 3 days, internet is really 
...to hospital :(
quite a saviour. But nope, no internet, so I relied on the TV and my phone for entertainment. I'm back in my hostel now though, and still feeling a bit groggy with my stomach, but the doctors gave me lots of meds that will hopefully get me better. I hope they work quickly, too, because I'm off to my homestay tomorrow! I'm living with a family in Ollantaytambo, about 2 hours outside of Cuzco, which is exciting and I'm hoping to get the rest of my research done. So at the moment I'm repacking and sorting my life out again! I know this will all go really quickly, so I'm also having to sort out flights back to Lima for when I go home, and everything like that. Lots to do! 

So that's it for now really, phew that took me too long to write. I'm sure I'll write another one in about a month or so, maybe earlier if lots happen, but I do like to keep you hanging! 

Hasta luego, S x

Monday, 24 February 2014

my lack of sleep and coffee diet in Arequipa

I'm back in my favourite city! (Okay, I've been here for 2 weeks but blogging's haaarrrdd!)

My favourite city's Arequipa by the way, but come on you should know that, you know me well enough by now right? (also I wrote a post about months ago all about the perfection that is Arequipa).

hey you beautiful city

So I'm back here for a three week trip/intense Spanish course/bar work thing. It's definitely not long enough to be here but I have to really get to Cuzco at some point and do some actual research (that is what I'm here for). Instead of writing this post out like a normal, well written account of the last two weeks (ooh yeah I have one week left here by the way, but you probably worked that out already, I'm guessing you're not that bad at maths), I'm going to write it in three parts (exciting stuff right) - the first about the exciting touristy things I've done here, and the lovely little places I've found on my little trips around the city; the second about the intense Spanish lessons I've been taking ('but you're perfect at Spanish!' I hear you shout...oh no my friend, I am not) and the third about the bar work I've been doing while all these other things have been going on. Yes, I'm mixing things up a bit, I don't live by the rules. So get ready for the read of your life...!

I like to be a tourist and explore things (part 1)

Although it's only been two weeks, I like to think I have a good idea of some nice places to visit here in Arequipa, and have found some off-guide, pretty and interesting little restaurants and such. For example, at the moment I am sat writing this in an awesome Chocolate cafe, set up with the thickest, most delicious hot chocolate I've ever had and a big slab of brownie (ooh look at me, being all touristy and stuff writing my blog in a cafe - no, to be honest, I really just craved chocolate and the hostel has no roof so typing in the rain can be difficult). This cafe is awesome, but I've found some other nice places too (90% cafes/restaurants, but we all know very well by now that I do quite enjoy my food).So I found a really nice little French/Peruvian cafe just off the main Plaza here too, which can only be described as a hipster's dream. It's covered in old-fashioned black and white pictures of France, all hung up by pegs on string. There's also fairy lights
the lovely view from the French cafe
everywhere, and the tables are laden in red and white checkered table clothes topped with white and red flowers. It's beautiful, and the food is delicious - I had the best guacamole and toast I've had ever (I'm a guacamole fiend, I know, but I've accepted it and so should you) and a huge mug of coffee. YUM. 
Just walking down the old cobbled streets and trying to navigate my way round the city is entertainment enough for me. I've got off at the wrong bus stop many times and have found myself wandering round little streets and stumbling across old-timey pizzerias and cevicherias in places I never knew existed, it's a lot of fun. I always have my trusty map handy though, so I know I'm never too far from where I started. That's probably my favourite part of travelling - walking down streets that are off the beaten track and then sitting in a cafe and people watching (I'm not a weirdo, promise). But it's great just to watch the world go by. 

I'm taking Spanish lessons and now I'm a native (part 2)

some more nice architecture
Obviously I'm not really a native...I mean I'm getting there (my timing's horrendous, I'm drinking coffee instead of tea, I'm no longer phased by taking the very questionable local buses...etc), no I just said that to get you interested, I can see you falling asleep - hold on, there's only a little way to go! So I'm taking Spanish lessons, 4 hours a day, 5 days a week for 3 weeks, at an institution called 'Llama Education'. It really is great, the classes are located in the owner's house, which is a 10 minute bus ride from the hostel I'm staying at, and it feels like being at home! She makes me endless cups of tea and coffee, she's given me cake, breakfast (when I turned up on time) and also cups of delicious chica morada (which is a purple corn drink). The classes start at 9am, but as I said, I'm not great with the old timing thing, so most days I manage to roll in at around 9:20. But it's okay, because normally the teachers are only just ready and I guess it's Peruvian timing so nobody really seems to mind. The one-to-one classes really are quite intense, but I really enjoy it because it means that I can practice what I'm not so good at (90% of stuff), and ask loads of questions. It really seems to be making a difference too, and although I'm only 2/3rds of the way through, I've learnt a lot of new things, an have managed to practice and re-learn a lot of grammar that I didn't really understand at school. The teachers are great too, they're all native Peruvians and a couple don't speak much English which is great because it means I can really practice. Being natives as well, I've also learnt quite a lot of slang and different variations of words that the Peruvians use, which will be great for my research, because
I'll be able to speak to my interviewees on a more personal level. So that's cool! I've had some really funny conversations with the teachers too, and they treat me like a friend. Especially when I hobbled into class last Monday morning, in a lot of pain with a sprained toe (believe me, a lot of pain - I managed to smash it on the corner of a sofa, fun times for everyone), and I instantly was handed ice and anti-inflammatory cream and obviously the famous cup of coffee. I'm really enjoying my time at the school, and am going to miss it when I leave. 

I party in my free time (part 3)

No, I don't. Sorry, I lied again. It's not partying (I swear, Mum), it's more just like serving alcohol to old Peruvian guys and the occasional tourist. So I'm working at a hostel in the city, mainly in order to get a free bed and some free drinks and other free things. It's a really good way to save on accommodation, and right now I'm doing anything I can to save money (and then spend it on coffee/food). The people are really nice there too, it's a really cute little hostel close to the river. And the owner has the cutest little pug puppy, who is now my new best friend (sorry Sam). A massive perk of working in the bar is that I've met a lot of really
hey mr pug! 
interesting people, all giving me opportunities to do different things, like horse riding and mountain climbing (probably not going to do the mountain one, but it's a nice thought). I met a cool guy from Birmingham, who lives here with his Peruvian wife and 2 kids, and he's offered me the opportunity to work in the University in Tacna as an English assistant, and also teaching his children English. Obviously these would be amazing, but maybe after I graduate (if that happens, seeing as my dissertation is going very slowly). At least I know I have something here in Peru if I want it! But anyway, the bar. You get a lot of interesting people in bars. Normally it's quite quiet, but when people come in I always have really interesting conversations. Especially with the Peruvian guys, although I have been told numerous times how pretty my eyes are and how 'hermosa' I am by them (I know, I know, I'm beautiful...) but no that's not the only reason I enjoy talking to them (they are quite creepy). No, it's a good way to practice my Spanish, and also they have loads of interesting things to tell me about Arequipa. One downside about the whole bar work thing (and it's the only downside, because getting free drinks every night, free bed and meeting cool people is definitely a plus), is the late nights. Yes, I have turned into a very old woman, and I do very much enjoy my sleep and early nights. However, I work from 6pm-midnight, but usually close a bit later because of people wanting to stay), and have my classes at 9am - 1:30pm in the weekdays, and anything less than 7 hours sleep for me normally doesn't end well. I mean, in the mornings I'll get up 10 minutes before catching the bus and grab a banana and a coffee, which helps a lot, but I'm still very sleepy. Sleep's for the dead though, so I guess that's a motto I'm going to have to start living by. But anyway, it's a great experience and very different, obviously, to volunteering, but I'm enjoying it a lot!!

Okay guys, I'm tired now (refer back to the non-sleeping issue), and I've finished my hot chocolate so I'm going to have to go back to the hostel to have a long shower and sleep. Sorry about the lack of pictures, I mean, they're not of my face so that's usually a good thing, but travelling alone normally means you don't really get the opportunity to take many pictures of yourself (selfie time!). I'm here for another week and then hopefully am jetting off to Bolivia with the lovely Yael again, and the next post I write (because I'm getting lazy, if you couldn't tell), will be during/just after Bolivia).

So have fun while I'm gone, you all know I have a facebook which I'm forever updating and filling with pictures and hilarious status' about the crazy things that happen to me (ha), so if you ever need your Sarah fix (which we all know everybody does), just check that.

Okay I'm actually leaving now, chau all.

Hasta luego, S x

Thursday, 6 February 2014

oooooh, we're half way there...(6 months down)

[Okay, I know I'm over half way through my trip but let me have this one. Cheers. Plus I like Bon Jovi. Don't judge. Okay, you can judge a bit].

Time really flies when you having fun right?! Well yes, but also definitely no. The last 6 months have felt like my whole life (in a good way of course, don't get me wrong). Climbing Macchu Pichu and hiking down canyons with Steph feels like it was a hundred years ago, and just trying to remember all the things I've done between then and now is nearly impossible - thank God I've got this blog and facebook to remind myself! Wow, 6 months. I've finished my volunteering in Lima after 5 life-changing months (ergh, I know I said that, cheesy right, I'm sorry, but they have been pretty life-changing, it's true). I've met some pretty amazing people, both volunteers and students, who have all been so full of life and beautiful. It was very sad to say bye to all of my students, who I've really got to known over the past few months. I was presented with a lovely rosary from one of the ladies that I taught, who also begged me to come back soon. Happily, I will return at the end of my trip, when I have to get my flight back home (which I still have to book, oh crap yep just reminded myself of that. Thank you blog, you're good for one thing). I've had some really fun and hilarious times living with the volunteers, like running through fountains, celebrating my birthday in the sand dunes in Huacachina, trying cerviche, pisco, cuy and alpaca and dancing my little legs off dressed as an elf in the Andes. And also showing my beautiful family round Lima. Its been a pretty good 5 months. I'm definitely going to miss it, although I'm very very excited for the next half of my adventure. Also, I made a cheesy photo montage thing of my time volunteering to put on facebook, but I guess you lot can be lucky enough to see it too. 


                                         Part 2 - Arica 

ANNOUNCEMENT - First facebook message in weeks from my brother - 

Paddy - You're going to need a jumper
Me - What? 
Paddy - Because it's going to get a bit Chile...
(My emotions - a mixture of disbelief for the communication, and then a saddening fit of laughter because I found the pun funny)

sunset from El Morro
But anyway, talking of the next part of my adventure, it really has already started. I actually finished my volunteering about a week ago, and have been chilling in Chile (see what I did there...) for about a week with the beautiful Suiza Yael! (I volunteered with her). I arrived last Sunday after a surprising tiring 22 hour bus journey, and since then it's been all uphill. I'm in the north of Chile, in Arica. Some fun facts about Arica (I put fun facts in bold because it'll draw you in like 'oooh, this is going to be interesting', when really it's not that interesting, it's just my observations about the city. Got ya!) - 1) It's a crossover city, linking Peru and Chile border crossing. Also Peru and Chile don't really like each other - they have a long history of wars and land-stealing (there's recently been huge debates and anger about how Chile want more of the Pacific ocean but Peru won't give it to them. I don't know). 2) It's the driest city in the world (according to some newspaper cutting in the hostel kitchen). It gets close to no rainfall per yer, and is in the Atacama desert. But it is next to the ocean. Water water everywhere, but not a drop to drink (from some poem I studied in school by a guy I can't remember). 3) The beaches are beautiful, it's very very hot, and the sky is pretty at night. Also there's a huge famous rock called El Morro where you can watch the sunset over the ocean (they're just some general observations). 

me by the lake, and look there's a huge mountain! 
Arica has been amazing, Yael has just left to go back to Lima (I'm alone!) and I have two days left until I venture back up north to Arequipa! We visited the Lauca National Park yesterday, which is home to the highest lake in South America, or the world, or something (you can see how much attention I pay to things - it's a pretty high lake though, believe me). The lake is at 4500m, the highest I've ever been, but this time my heart was okay, I just got a piercing headache. It was worth it though, it was beautiful! I saw vicunas (animals like llamas) and flamingos, and we also visited a lovely little town for lunch. We have also laid on the beach for a fair part of the week, but can you blame us? Also I'm as pale as a ghost so I think I needed some sun on my skin. Oh, and we
legs on the beach -
 guess who has the ghost legs!
've eaten our weight in guacamole and wine (again, we're 21 year old girls, AND we're in a country renowned for its amazing wine, can you blame us?!). So Arica has been pretty perfect!! I'll be sad to leave the beautiful weather. However I am very excited to get to Arequipa again, a city that I'm in love with. I'm hoping to do an intensive Spanish course when I'm there, and then after 3 weeks, I'm off on my travels again with Yael to the salt flats of Bolivia. It's a hard life...!! (really though, I should probably start getting down to this dissertation thing soon...)

So, that's all for now I guess...I'll add some pictures so you can all see what's been going down over here, and I'll go and drink some more wine and read my book in the sun (erm, I mean...drink water only and study..haha who am I kidding?!) 

Love you all, hasta luego! 
S x

arica from the Morro
miss red-face by a mountain again

Saturday, 4 January 2014

The life of a travelling Elf is a hard one

Nearly 2 months have past since my last post, so I thought it'd be best to have another little update - 4ish months into my travels!

This post will be split into two important parts, both which describe what has been going on over the last two months in Peru...(just to mix things up a bit)

PART ONE - THE EXCITING ADVENTURE OF BEING A TRAVELLING ELF (or 'duende', if you wanna be all Latin American about it)

So for the month running up to Christmas, my self and the other volunteers were told that we were going to be participating in a Christmas Show, being organised by Lidia and her coordinators. So this would be exciting and everything, participating in a show, but ohhh man we didn't know what was in store for us.
Queue endless nights packing 500 sweet bags and making bracelets. It was a very bonding experience for all of us. Also, dancing elves. 6 dancing elves, that is what we were. With our red dresses and green leggings, we took Lima by storm. Okay, over-exaggeration, but whatever, we were the best elves the world had ever seen. We did these shows for the children who we teach and work with in the orphanages, and a couple of times we also travelled up into the Andes to put on the show for some school children there, which was a lot of fun. The Andes both made for interesting trips - the first was fun, very very very cold and rainy, but the kids seemed to love it so that definitely made it worthwhile. For the second trip we somehow got about 50 people into a 20 person mini-van and transported them up an extremely windy and dangerous mountain road with no injuries - but that's a very stressful and painful story I'll leave for another time. I'll just leave you with a picture of the road, and your imagination can do it's own work...

In the Andes, I also got to eat Cuy (or guinea pig as it's known back home), or at least a bit of it, and yep it was just like chicken. Tasty though! And we also had fresh trout, literally straight out of the nearest river and
cooked on the grill - it was delicious! All the people there were amazingly welcoming and seemed to really enjoy what we did. We had a quick look around the neighbourhood and these people really didn't have much, but still gave us a full meal. They were really amazing.

Anyway, being an elf was fun, and we rocked those costumes, even if I do say so myself. Our show consisted of making crafts with the kids (beautiful Santa cards), handing out sweet`s and presents, and us dancing 4 times, to Christmas songs. And we all know that I can't dance. Add that fact to me being at the front of the group, and you get a hilarious series of events. So yep, I moonlight as an elf now.


Now, i'm back to volunteering for another month, after a brilliant Christmas and New Years shared with my family. I got to show them round Lima, and their first day here was spent in Pacha where I work, watching
our last Christmas show and getting covered in paint! Best way to be welcomed to Peru, I think. I took them to Central Lima as well, which was crazier than ever - we visited the market which is filled with fruit stands, various different types of clothes, and meat stands which come with full pig bodies casually hanging outside. We were staying in Miraflores, the touristy part of Lima, so I thought they needed to see some of the real city!
Christmas Day lunch

Miraflores was amazing though, the weather's great here now so the beaches we packed and the blue skies made it beautiful. We visited LarcoMar, a mall built into the side of the cliff,
and we also had our Christmas meal there. Me being the complete mug that I am, I managed to miss Peruvian Christmas, which, unknown to me, is celebrated with a huge turkey dinner at midnight on Christmas Eve. However, we still had a lovely day, no turkey but a lovely meal in LarcoMar, followed by Christmas afternoon with wine and cake and the
volunteer house in San Miguel, which was really nice! I'm just glad I got to share it with my amazing fam. Oh, another important fact is that I visited the chocomuseo in Lima for something like the 5th time...I really should get a membership or something there.

Me and Pat also tried our hand at surfing, because that's a huge thing here in Lima. Apparently the waves are perfect for it. Well, obviously Pat was great at it, he's just natural at spot and stuff, whereas I, erm, didnt do as well. I enjoyed it, it was a lot of fun, but I guess I just wasn't made to surf. But I thought it was great to try, and I didn't drown, so everyone's a winner.

During the short 2 weeks they were here, we also made it to Cuzco, which once again did not disappoint! The only downside was we were all hit by a bit of the old altitude sickness (except Patrick, who is apparently is superman or something). Mum got the worst of it, but we all pulled through and had an amazing time in Cuzco, visiting the museums and admiring the amazing architecture - I really can't wait to return! Being in Cuzco, we had to visit Machu Picchu (second time for me, why not!), and it was once again beautiful. We were lucky because we had a perfectly clear days and got to see some amazing views! And even though it's rainy season there at the moment, we had amazing weather and it didn't actually rain which was perfect! So we had a short but fantastic time in Cuzco (oh, it did rain in Cuzco, just not in Machu Picchu - yeah, it rained a lot in Cuzco).

After returning to Lima, it was New Years, which was spent by the parents watching the not-so-safe fireworks in a park in Miraflores, and by me and Pat in a hostel bar in Miraflores with the other volunteers. That was fun, and although I may have fallen asleep on the grass at one point, I was awake and alert for midnight, which was a success! So a lot of fun was had by all.

So guys, that's about where I am at the moment. The family left yesterday, and it was really sad to have to say goodbye again, now for nearly 6 months. But we power through, and I have one month left here volunteering before I have to pack up again and continue on my adventure! I'm currently trying to plan exactly what I'm going to be doing for those 5 months, but along the way I'm hoping to get back to Arequipa (my favourite city), get up to California for a week to see a lovely volunteer I met a few months ago, do a little travelling in Ecuador & Chile/Argentina (if time/money allows it), get back to Cuzco and maybe even do some more of the uni work I'm supposed to be doing while I'm here!

That's the plan, let's see what happens!

Hasta luego, S x

elves in the Andes! 


          more Andes scenes