Farewell Pisco, its been real!

Trip Start Sep 05, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Monday, December 24, 2007

As Kristina and I leave Peru, it is only fitting that we write a parting mágnum opus reflecting on the past 2 and a half months we have been here. We spent most of our time in Pisco and Ica, and this is not the Peru that the rest of the world knows. This is the hot, dry desert where it rains a calculated 1.8 milimeters of rain. The other day we woke up to a light mist and it was as if a category 5 storm had struck the area. The areas surrounding Pisco and Ica are the areas where the Nazcas thrived. Not much is known about the Nazcas other than the strange designs they have left carved into the sides of the desert mountains. They are known to be related to the Incas by the designs they have left venid because their sacred symbols of the condor are the same as the Inca sacred symbols...also of the condor. However Nazcan life was carved out of the unforgiving desert. They must have been masters of moving fresh water from natural sources to their crops, and possibly they were the fathers of moden day ceviche, learning to cook fish without heat.

Well, the modern day Pisqueno as they are called, is a chip off the old shoulder of these Nazcans. The people who live here in the desert have found a way to build cities that sustain tens of thousands, and the case of Ica, a million souls. The rural aras around these cities are relatively densly populated as far as rural living goes, and they too manage to have thriving crops and are able to manage intricate systems of irrigation. The earthquake has highlighed the resourcefullness of the people of Pisco, as they seem to be able to get an incredible amount of use out of the garbage that is thrown away in the rubble piles. The addage, ¨one mans trash is another mans treasure¨ is truly exlpored to the fullest here in Pisco. As an outsider, it is hard to actually judge how the people of Pisco have reacted to the earthquake, but it has been interesting to see the varied responses from the communities in Pisco and the surrounding areas. One thing is for sure, this earthquake completely turned the lives of these people upside down. To this day, and for years to come, this community will be so heavily affected by this earthquake, the word recovery is not appropriate. It is more a question of how long it will take for these people to accept what has happened, and begin to do something about their situation for themselves. Many people have found a way to build themselves a temporary shelter, but the matted wooden walls are starting to sag. Peoples temporary homes are now disintigrating into the desert sand and they will once again be sleeping under the stars. The government has made all shorts of promises, and in some cases it is beginning to follow through. Cement floors are being laid for semi temporary structures, that surely the people will use until they too crumble to the ground. Schools have been given government help, and they are in need of much more. Some schools have enlisted an army of their parents and teachers to salvage what they could from their buildings in order to build an entirely new school out of the old materials. Some schools have a corrupt director with a plasma TV in his office while the school struggles to find enough estera mats at 3 dollars a piece to build thier classrooms. Some are so unorganized they have us dig holes through concrete for a day and a half, then tell us to fill int he holes and build classrooms in the dirt. There are sites where we have worked where the whole neighborhood comes to help us take out all the rubble of a old copules home. There are other neighbohoods where as we have cleared the rubble from the home sites into the street to be taken away by a buldózer, neighbors complain about the rubble makng their street look ugly, and they tell us to stop the job. The result is sometimos a day spent entirely moving the same rubble from one pile to another pile, only to have to move it back again. Easy to say these things when your house didnt fall down! The responses to the tragedy, and to our presence in Pisco has been varied, but on the whole, it has been a very positive experience. When travelers travel, there is always the lure of finding that place where travlers never go, the lure of getting yourself lost in the perfect local community where the locals feed you, house you, talk to you, laugh with you, and share with you. I really can say, that we have had that. We work hard, but we are rewarded with these priceless experiences. I never really got tired of the run by ¨hello.¨ It was often young girls in the places where they hadn´t seen gringos before, and they would shout the only english word they knew ¨hello¨ and then dissapear behind a wall of their young friends. We have spent weeks in places where the locals have never seen a gringo before, we have shared wine made in a crumbling estera shack, we have build classrooms in the desert where the kids know nothing of the rest of the world, and the rest of the world knows nothing of these kids. We have also been regularly blessed with a wide variety of stomach and head ailments. As Kristina put it alter her time in the Phillippines ¨this is the way to travel¨

There are some other observations I´d like to make about Peru and Peruvians. Rural Peruvians look very different from the Peruvians who live in Lima. My guess is that that Spanish were either unable, or chose not to interbreed with the Nazcans, or the people residing in the high, inaccessible Andean villages. These people seem to bear the similarities of their ancestors very clearly. From a tourists point of view, they look simply like I though an incan, or nazcan might look like. In addition, Peruvians are not trim and fit Incan runners who dominated the Andean villages by running for days. There appears to be a strong correlation between living in rural parts of peru, and womn being the same shape of the jars they make chicha in. That is, almost perfectly round. I realize that it is highly likely that his probably has a lot to do with the Peruvians steady diet of carbohydrates. Rice, pasta, and one of Perus known 3000 types of potates often make up the largest proportion of the meal. It is very common to combine two of these carbo loaded ingredients together, even all three. On a similar note, I have noticed that there is absolutely no such thing as ¨un poquito mas¨ or in English, ¨a little bit more¨ when it comes to food. Peruvians often take one look at me and assume that I am starving. Lunch is the largest meal here in Peru, and that is completely backwards for me. I love to have breakfast and dinner as my largest meal, so at the times when Peruvains eat the most, I only want to eat a little. The 5 sole (1.75) menus as they are called here are more than a complete meal, usually containing one or all of the above carbohydrate staples, meat and some other side. This is all prefaced by a bowl the size of my head full of more hearty carbs like pasta, barley and potatoes...surprise surprise. Im often already breathing deeply by the time my main comes around. In the off chance that I didn't eat breakfast, or actually am starving for some reason, asking for a little bit more is dangerous. It has to be spelled out exactly what a half of a portion is. Usually no matter how much I explain that I only want un poquito mas, and un medio plato, I am brought a whole new massive bowl of soup, which of course I can not eat. Another culinary delight from Peru is he aji, pronounced ackckkckckjjjiii. Like the dahl bath in Nepal, it is different everywhere you go, and they have it everywhere. It is made, usually, from a local spicy peper, and ground up with some other ingredients. It is very good and very fresh, and a great way to give you pasta, potatoes and barley a kick. I noticed in the house at HODR, all of us gringos loved the aji and kept asking for more and more of it from the wonderful ladies who did the cooking for us. Carolina and Gisela in the kitchen got to know some of us pretty well, and by the end of my time there, they grew worried that the amount of aji I was eating might actually be dangerous. Kind of like the time I was bitten by a spider in the neck on a job site and the young girls whose home we had been tearing down began to break down in tears anticipating my imminent death.

One thing I have never fully figgured out is the Peruvian obsession with sweeping. Like I said, the Peruvian desert is hot dry and covered in dust and sand of course. That doesnt stop the locals from sweeping at any chance to do so. Even in Pisco, where most of the city now lies in the middle of the streets, they sweep their plots of land constantly. I immagine that the people are still in shock that they no longer have a home, and it is a matter of doing what they always did, sweep their front areas to make sure they are clean.
They may not have a home, but at least they can keep the area they used to sweep still cleanly swept.

It is with these observations and some questions left unaswered that Kristina and I leave Peru. Kristina has gone home for the holidays and I will be spending my Christmas on the amazon river swimming with pink dolphins. We will meet again on the 30th in Iquitos along with some other friends and head up the Amazon to Leticia, the jungle frontier town that borders Colombia, Peru and Brazil.

Merry Christmas all!!!

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