Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Viaje #1- Junín, Perú

This past week I went on my first excursion with ISA-My study abroad program!

We took the Ferrocarril Central (Peruvian train) which is the highest passenger train in the world! The train took us almost 16,000 feet up into the Andes Mountains and the view was undescribable! Although, this was an amazing experience with the scenery, at that altitude, there were a few people who got sick while on the train. We were given tea de coca (yes, that is cocaine leaf tea) to help with the altitude. Don't get too excited though, although the coca leaves will cause you to fail a drug test, and are illegal to bring back to the US, they are not processed or made into cocaine, instead they just help with altitude and overall health while up in the Andes. The best part of the train was that the last car was a bar and was turned into an intense dance party towards the end of the trip!

Besides our time in the Andes mountains, we also spent a couple days in the Central Jungle in Peru. From the snowcapped mountains, we took a bus into the jungle and went from wearing scarfs and coats to jumping into our bathing suits! The different climates and landscapes within only 100 miles in Peru is insane. While in the jungle, we made a short trek to the Tirol waterfalls in the city of San Ramon. Here we were able to jump in the water and swim under the enormous waterfall! The view itself was amazing, but being able to jump in and swim was better than I expected. At night, we were able to visit a native tribe in the jungle, where we celebrated a wedding with them! In fact, Erin-my sister, was the bride! The dancing after the ceremony was like something out of the "Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls" movie. So naturally, a lot of fun!

The last day of the trip was spent relaxing by the pool and a little more adventuring through the jungle near our villas which we stayed at before returning by bus to Lima. My first excursion included the highlands and the jungle---and I am already certain that Peru is unlike any other country and a must-see for anyone who enjoys travel!
The dance party on the train

One of the views from the Andes

The waterfall- we swam at the base!

Erin's wedding ceremony with a random native

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Clases en la Universidad

This is the first week of classes in my university!
I have two classes in Spanish and two in English, and the majority of my classes are with Peruvian students.

Although, the classes taught in Spanish might be more challenging, I am already reaping the rewards of further emersing myself in Spanish as I am noticing that my ear for the language is picking up meanings and words much more quickly- and after only a couple days of class! Also, the professors are more than willing to help international students in their classes and are very understanding of the language-learning curve.

I have noticed some differences in the university setting:
- In Peru, classes are longer (3 hours), but then might only meet once during the week

- The majority of Peruvian students work while attending school. For this, they typically take their classes very early in the morning or late in the evening. Many of the classes are offered until 11 or 12 at night.

- One thing that I noticed in all my classes with Peruvian students is there is a LARGE cultural difference with punctuality (and even the importance of attending class in general). My first class began at 9 in the morning. The class was from 9-12 and attendance is taken at each hour during the class. There are 12 students enrolled in my class, and by the time 9am rolled around, I was the only one in my classroom (teacher included). By 9:02, my teacher entered the room. By 9:15am there were 3 students. A few more shuffled in within the next 5 minutes, and the teacher took the first roll call. At this point, there were 6 of the 12 students present. By the second roll call at 10 o clock, 3 more joined the class. And for the final hour of the 3 hour class, 2 more students showed. In total, only 11 of the 12 showed up. And all, except for me, were at least 15 minutes late.
The policy at my university is that students must attend near 60% of their classes.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Compras! Shopping!

Everything in Peru seems very cheap compared to in the US!

You can ALWAYS bartar the prices. Usually they are not even listed.

The manner or process for shopping is different. Peru has a recent past of theft within stores. Shining Path. Now the stores are set up to where you go in and look around. In stead of personally grabbing what you want and taking it to the counter to pay, as is customary in the US, in Peru you tell the sales associate what you would like to buy. From there, you can ordinarily negotiate a price. Once a price is decided, you will go to the counter and pay for the item. You will be given the receipt and with that you can go back and pick up your item to leave the store. This is the process in almost all stores with the exception of large department type stores (in which, most of the items are bought and sold in the same way the US does, but many of the larger or more expensive items are paid for first, then carried out).

Monday, August 8, 2011

El Tiempo


August is a month in Peru's winter, and usually the weather during the winter is around 60 degrees. It is very humid in Lima, and for this, the temperrature can seem even cooler. In the homes, there is no air conditioning or central heating. The cold even comes through the floors, and for this- I would advise any travelers coming to Lima during the winter season to pack accordingly. Bring slippers, warm clothes, even coats. Many of the Peruvians like to keep their head and neck covered as well with hats and scarfs (It is a common thought among Peruvians that by keeping your head and neck covered and warm, you can prevent colds and sickness).
During the night, there is usually some wind, especially the closer you get to the coast. Although it never really rains, during the winter, it is almost never very sunny.

But today- it is a different story!
It is 70 or 75 degrees out and completely sunny! Although this is rare during the winter months- I'll take it. The weather is BEAUTIFUL outside! I started my day with a long run around one of the countless parks here in Lima, and am ready to walk around and explore more of the city in this gorgeous weather!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Peruvian Culture- Around the house

After living with a Peruvian family for a week or so, I have began to realize that there are many cultural differences around the house!

- As previously mentioned, you cannot flush your toilet paper. That must be put in the waste basket after wiping. Although this seemed gross at first, you quickly get used to this.
- Don't waste electricity! Nothing is wasted in Peru. Food is never thrown away. Water and electricity are conserved. Many houses will turn on their water heater before showers and turn it off after. In my house ALL appliances are unplugged while not in use (For example: I must plug in the microwave to heat something up and then unplug it from the wall once finished. The same is true for chargers or lamps, etc.)
- House shoes are a needed item as a Peruvian. Many countries consider it polite to remove your shoes when entering someone's home, but in Peru this is not the case. It is considered rude to walk around someone's home without shoes- even in socks, but especially barefoot. You will rarely find a home with carpet, and for this the floors can be cold, so most of the time you would want to keep your shoes on anyways. Most Peruvians wear house shoes or slippers while in their own home, but anything less is considered rude.
- Eat slow! Lunch is the largest meal and takes place at 1 or 2 in the afternoon, while dinner is smaller and takes place at 8pm. Most people come home from work to eat with their families and lunch will take at least an hour, sometimes longer. Not all of this time is spent eating, but rather talking with the family and friends eating with you. I am not typically a fast-eater in the United States and my Peruvian father even told me to slow down while eating meals. It is more about taking time to relax and enjoy the food, conversation and company.
- While we are talking about food--the food in Peru is INCREDIBLE! I have loved almost all the dishes that I have tried (even the weird ones like Alpaca-which was my favorite so far!) There is rice served at every meal. Potatoes are very common with all meals as well (Random food fact: potatoes originated in Peru and Peru has over 300 types of potatoes). Deserts are delicious in Peru as well, although I have noticed that they are served less often. In stead of offering a desert, typically fruit is offered at the end of a meal in the house. Usually our mom will pull strawberries and pineapple out of the fridge after a large meal for us to finish with something sweet.
- I have always learned that big families and even exteneded families live together in Latin American and South American countries, but I was still surprised when I came here to realize this for myself. In my house here in Peru I am living with a family of a mom and dad (age 57) and a son (age 30) a daughter (age 27) and the son's wife (age 29) and their cousin is also staying with us (age 21). The son works in insurance, his wife is an architect, the daughter works in marketing- all are very successful. I couldn't believe that successful adults, especially married adults, would be living in their parents' house! But here this is VERY common. There is no rush at all to get out of the parents' house and to be living on your own.
- All Peruvian families have maids who typically live in the house with the family. To be an ama de casa is a very common job for a woman in Peru. Nearly all families have maids, and even a couple of maids (not just especially well-off houses). Our ama de casa is named Sara. Sara does all the house work including: dishes, cleaning everything inside and outside, cooking, laundry, getting groceries, etc.

The Culture -Day 4

As I stated before, after only a few days, I feel as though I have learned SO MUCH about the culture and the different way of life in Peru.
Here are some CULTURAL TIPS which I figured out in the first couple days:
- One of the first things that I noticed was as soon as I was picked up from the airport, I was greeted by all with a kiss on the right cheek. This is how Peruvians say hello, good-bye, even good night or just before leaving a room.
- Toilet Paper does not flush. This is something that is useful to know in many foreign countries- including Peru. The plumbing and water pressure is not as strong as in the US, and for this, the toilet paper will not flush down the toilet. If it is flushed, the toilet will clog. There are waste baskets next to all of the toilets, and after wiping, you throw away your toilet paper in the waste basket. At first, this takes some getting used to, but after only a week or two, it begins to feel normal.
- La Agua. The water in Peru is NOT okay to drink if you are from the US. The water out of the tap is not purified and you must drink bottled, or boiled water. This is not a problem for me, because my host family boils water everyday so that we will have pure water to drink. The problems come when you want bottled water outside of the house. Typically, when asking for or ordering bottled water, you will receive corbonated water. To avoid this, you must clarify that you want a "botella de agua sin gas" (without the carbonation).
- I am realizing that in all things, being punctual is not a big deal. We have had various orientations, meetings, classes, and even tours. Nearly all of our scheduled events to this point have started 15-30 minutes later than scheduled.
- Being politically correct is no big deal in Peru. Many Peruvians "call it like they see it" more or less. For example they will instantly give people nicknames based on thier appearance. (A Chinese person will be referred to as "Chino" or a heavier set person will be called "gordito" or "gordo". In a group of Peruvian people, I am always referred to as "la gringa" or "la rubia"). This was  made apparent to us as soon as we arrived at our host family.
- Affectionate and caring people! The Peruvians are very caring and welcoming. Coming in as a foreigner, this has been very comforting. Although, their affection is appreciated, for me, at times, it can be too much. You can see these very affectionate qualities acted out everywhere! In other words, there is a lot PDA! Couples are everywhere on the streets, in stores, and in the buses. And they are usually making out. This was a surprise for me, and something that I am still getting used to.
- Also, the Peruvians have a smaller "personal bubble" than in the US. They stand closer to you when talking to you. It is not so much so that it is uncomfortable, but it is noticeable.

Cell Phones in Peru

Today I FINALLY activated my cell phone in Peru.

Even if you have roommates who have cell phones or think that you will not need a cell phone while you are abroad, I would recommend getting one. They are very cheap and will be very useful when making plans or communicating with others.

It is possible to use a phone from home and get it unblocked so that you can use it internationally, but to tell you the truth- that is a lot of work, and I have found that it is better to simple buy a pay-as-you-go phone here.

I planned on using an unblocked phone from home and then just putting minutes on a sim card while here, but once I got the sim card while in Peru, I found that it was incompatible with my phone. The phone still needed to be activated and none of the companies in Lima are the same or can work with my phone company back home.

All in all- I highly recommend getting a cell phone in Lima. The companies here are Claro, Movistar, and Nextel. They sell these phones in many large stores (grocery store, malls, target-type stores, etc.). My phone, with card and 15 minutes pre-paid cost 59 soles.

Day 2-3 in Lima

I am in Lima with the ISA (International Studies Abroad) program, and our second and third days have been filled with basically getting to know Lima and orientation for our program and university. However, in only a matter of a couple days in Lima, I have learned more about the culture and language than i could have imagined.

One large difference in Lima than in the US is the traffic. To me, it seems like pure insanity in the streets, but the Peruvian drivers seem to make it work. Taxis, Convis, Busses and cars are everywhere and mixed in with pedestrians and bicyclists. There are 10 million people in Lima, so as you can imagine, the city is busy. We usually hop on convis and busses to get around Lima (literally "hop on" because they barely comme to a stop while entering or exiting). It costs me about 1 sol to get from my house to almost any other part of the city (with the exchange rate at 2.75 soles=$1; it is cheap!). The traffic and the convis can be somewhat initimidating at first, but by the second day here, I was already getting them figured out.

I first noticed that taxis will honk at pedestrians walking next to the street often. I have now figured out that this is how taxis get their customers. The taxi honks to let you know that they are available, and then you flag them down with a wave if you would like a ride. Taxis here are very inexpensive. My roommates and I went from one side of Lima to another yesterday and altogether it only cost us 8 soles!

All in all, I am starting to really enjoy the convis as a mode of transportation!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Day 1 in Lima!

We arrived! But not without some difficulty, of course. The first day was more or less just travel. I took a flight from Kansas City to Chicago; from Chicago to Fort Lauderdale; and from Ft. Lauderdale to Lima, Peru. I left KC at 6am and arrived in Lima around 9:30pm (it's the same time zone here, but the US time will change with daylight savings, which is not observed here). Of course we had various lay-overs in different cities.

Tips for future Travelers:
- Spirit airlines has some of the CHEAPE$T flights to Central and South American countries. Do some shopping around when booking flights, but I would make sure to check the prices for this airline! With that said, Spirit only flies out of some international airports. The available airports in the Midwest were in Chicago and Dallas.
- Other airlines that are cheaper than most US airlines are: Copa, and Taca
- Be ready to speak Spanish when you arrive at Lima's airport. You will go through customs and immigration, and it is VERY helpful to know Spanish during this process. I was handed a card on the flight to fill out immigration and customs information and the entire card was in Spanish without any English translations. ATTENTION STUDENTS: You do NOT need a visa in Peru. I was told at the airport that anyone staying longer than 90 days must get a visa, but this is really not the case. And it is a huge hassle to go through the process of obtaining a visa. For this, you must say you are a TOURIST when you go through immigration at the Peruvian airport. And also, they will ask (all in Spanish) how many days your trip will be. The maximum amount is 183. This is the number that I would recommend giving if you are studying for a semester. It is VERY IMPORTANT to let them know an accurate amount of time (or longer) that you will be in Peru because there is a charge of $1 a day for every day that you are in Peru over the amount of time that you gave at the airport. If you say nothing to them, the immigration attendant will put 30days typically. Also, there is a $50 fee to change the number on the sheet. This can be a hassle.
- BE AWARE OF WEIGHT LIMITS FOR LUGGAGE. It can change from airline to airline. This created a fairly embarrassing problem while I was traveling. I flew on an American airline to Chicago, which allowed 50lbs for checked-in lugguge. Once I arrived in Chicago, I switched airlines to Spirit Airlines and found out (while trying to check in my bag) that the limit now was 40 lbs. I then had to find a way to immediately shave 10lbs from my bag, and my carry-on was not going to fit more than another pound or two. Which left me with one option- to wear as many pounds of clothing as is physically possible. (Remind you- it's July and over 100 degrees in Kansas). Only some of those in line behind me were entertained- others seemed frustrated.