Monday, August 30, 2010


Lima, Ayacucho, PERU

For someone who usually doesn't make a big deal of their birthday, last week was surprisingly cake-filled. First I went to Lima to meet my former Ranelagh housemate Sinead and her four Australia-bound friends from Ballincollig. We went surfing, had a couple of nice meals out, including a birthday dinner and cake for me, and a really fun night out.
It was great to meet up with the girls and to hear their Cork accents (as far as I can tell, there are no other Irish people in Ayacucho).

Back in Ayacucho, a "surprise" party was thrown for me in the shelter. I had another (very creamy) cake, which my face was pushed into (a Peruvian custom!)
and I got some nice presents - the kids bought me a wallet and the other volunteers gave me a jersey of the local football team, Inti-Gas.
Then on Saturday night there was a joint birthday party for me, Emilie (a French friend of mine) and her Peruvian friend Lorena (our birthdays fall within three days of each other). We made a brownie cake so that our faces couldn't be covered in cream - Emilie has lived in Ayacucho for a few years so was well aware of the custom involving birthday cakes! It was a fun night.
In between all these parties, I continued my work at Los Cachorros, which includes helping out at our chocolatería. This has now expanded to be a repostería, so I spent a morning in the home of a Dutch woman (picture a lovely, cake-baking grandmother type) who runs a nursery here as she taught a few of us (mainly Deysi, the 18 year old mother of two who used to live in our shelter but who we are now training to run the repostería) to make cakes. I hadn't done things like separating the whites and yokes of eggs since "helping" Mum, i.e. about twenty years ago (I realised in this week that I turned 29 that I can now say things like "I haven't done this in twenty years" and not be exaggerating). I quite liked making the cakes, although I learned that the nicest ones have loads of sugar, butter and chocolate in them!

While on the topic of celebrating anniversaries, I started my career break this week last year - its been a great year and right now I feel like I will continue with travelling and volunteering abroad for the next two years! So I wonder where I'll turn 30...

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Jungle Blog

San Francisco, Puchari, PERU

Since arriving in South America, and especially since getting to Ayacucho, I've heard a lot about la selva (the jungle) and last week's "Festival of the Coca Leaf" in Pichari provided the perfect reason to go. So I took the six-hour mini-van ride north through amazing and changing scenery (where the mountain roads reminded me of the so-called "World's Most Dangerous Road" that I cycled down in Bolivia) with my friend Miguel. He is one of the few people from Ayacucho who I have met who can speak English. Although he is about to qualify to be an English teacher, my level of Spanish is about the same as his level of English (and I wouldn't consider myself in any way able to teach Spanish to anyone - an indication of what appears to me as the low standard of the education system in Peru), so we talk half the time in English and half in Spanish - a handy arrangement.

On arrival in San Francisco (the town where we spent our first night) after our sweaty journey, we did as the locals do - we went for a wash in the river. The water was warm and it was busy with people washing themsleves, their clothes and even their moto-taxis (note the guy shaving in the moto-taxi´s mirror while his friend washes it).The fact that I wore swimming shorts rather than just my underwear made me stand out - although it would have been hard to blend in given that I was the only white foreigner there (I didn't see any other non-Peruvians during this four-day trip). Washing myself in a river across from a topless old woman who was doing her laundry was one of the most "third world experiences" that I've had here.

After a night out with Miguel's brother and his friend, we headed an hour up the (dirt) road to Pichari. During our three days there we watched some of the festival's events, including:
  • a singing contest (I am not a big fan of Peruvian music - click here to see Marisol, who I saw in concert in Ayacucho, who is a popular and typical example);
  • a running race (I was one of the only people who clapped for the people as they crossed the finish line - even for junior events the Peruvians only clapped for the winner, and then without much enthusiasm); and
  • a version of the ploughing championships involving the four stages of planting and producing coca (this was scheduled to start at 10am, but when we left at 1pm to get our bus back to Ayacucho the event still hadn't started - punctuality is not a Peruvian trait).

I didn't go to the cock-fighting competition, and then we missed the moto-taxi race as we spent that day doing a great hike through a lush, fruit-filled jungle track to six impressive waterfalls.Note that Muguel is about the average height for Peruvians - in Peru I have often found myself in the novel position of being the tallest person in a room full of people.

It was interesting to see a side of Peru that is quite different to Ayacucho: Pichari was hot right through the night, whereas in Ayacucho when the sun sets at 6pm it gets cold due to the altitude; and I felt my first rain since the end of the rainy season in Ayacucho in April. I plan to go to the jungle again when travelling in north Peru or Ecuador.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Cheery and tuneful?

An account of my cycling trip in Argentina back in February has been published in the blog of "Journey Latin America" - check it out at: