The Scenic Route to Pachacamac

The plan was to go to Pachacamac, have lunch and come home. That happened, but also a lot more.

I learned about this opportunity to go to Pachacamac from Ana María about two weeks ago. She mentioned that her friend Oscar (or Fernando, I don’t know but there’s more to this and that’s for another day) was giving a tour to a group of school children for a field trip and that if I wanted, I could go with them. Roxana could come too and we wouldn’t even have to chaperone or anything. I thought why not and sure let’s do it! As the trip day got closer, I learned more about what this trip would entail, however, never could I have anticipated what actually happened.

Hannah, Roxana, Ana María’s sister, Amelia and me set out for our trip to Pachacamac at around 8 this morning. We met Oscar at the kids’ school and waited for them on the bus. I was hoping that we would just casually sit in the back and be able to do our own thing, but that did not happen. Once the kids arrived, got seated and we were ready to go (which is no easy feat), we were publicly acknowledged and as all of the kids turned in their seats to look at the “turístas”, I realized that we really didn’t know what we got ourselves into.

Our trip to Pachacamac was really quite the package deal. Not only did we go to the said destination, but also made a few pit stops along the way. We got off of the bus to see some cows (two times), a river bed and this sort of hauntingly beautiful hill top:

One of ten crosses that are located on this hill

The cross at the tip top is just one of ten that are located on this hill.

We made our way through the backroads of Villa El Salvador and through districts that I don’t know the name of and by lunch time we finally made it to places that said “Pachacamac” in their name in some context. That gave us hope, although we had yet to get to the ruins.

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We took a much needed break from the rambunctious group of kids and went to find lunch. Oscar helped us find this particular restaurant that was affordable and had vegetarian options. The food was pretty good as well! I am all about the lomo saltado/verdura saltado so that’s what I got.  It was delicious.

After a quick stop to look at more cows and almost have kids get run over while crossing the street, we finally made it to the ruins of Pachacamac.

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Emelia, Roxana, me, Hannah

The fact that this incredible archeological complex was just minutes away from where I live was surreal. (We went a very roundabout way with the kids, because it only took less than ten minutes to get back home on the bus.) Pachacamac was the most important religious site for the indigenous people of Peru’s costal region and dedicated to the god of the same name. There are more than a dozen pyramidal ruins, many dwellings and frescos. From the first indigenous people (said to have first occupied the site during 200 CE), to the Incas who so revered Pachacamac’s powerful religious standing to the point where they allowed Pachacamac to coexist with their own sun god, Inti, to Pizarro who crashed the party in classic conquistador fashion and left Pachacamac to be forgotten. But not for long (well sort of), because in the 19th century, archeologists began to excavate the site and the rest is history.

Getting to walk around Pachacamac definitely made up for all the random, often tiring little trips along the way. But before we could square this trip away and head back home, we were once again publicly acknowledged. This time we were applauded by the kids and their teachers (I like to think for enduring almost seven hours with 30 third graders and one bus) and many pictures were taken. It was sweet. One of my favorite moments was when the kids’ teacher had her student get out of his seat to take a picture of her sitting with all of us, all while the bus was steam rolling down the highway.

All in all, it was quite a day. I don’t think I’ll be signing up to tag along on another field trip like this one, but nevertheless, it was nothing short of memorable.

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Liquid Gold a.k.a. Yogurt

One of the hardest things about being vegan was the lack of yogurt – specifically greek yogurt.  Sure, there are the “non-dairy yogurt style” products, but if you have ever had those, you know quite well that those don’t cut it. Not even close. So for about two precious months, I shamelessly ate loads of greek yogurt. It was a quite a glorious time in my life, yes it was. Then I came to Peru and my greek-yogurt-centric life came to a sudden halt. There’s yogurt here, but unlike the sour cream consistency of yogurt in the US, it’s more like a beverage here in Peru.

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It’s like the liquidy part of kefir. It’s also very sweet. (Even the natural flavor is sweeter than the plain yogurt that’s in the US.) But nonetheless, there are a myriad of flavors, lactose-free and even soy. Another interesting factoid about this yogurt is that it’s shelf stable. This has enabled me to create a stock-pile of sorts, as you can see above. (I also have one in the refrigerator.) The only catch is that the woman who I buy my yogurt from doesn’t always have the same flavors all the time. It’s quite the struggle. My favorite is the Light Natural because it’s fat free and has no added sugar. This is probably because it is the closest thing that resembles greek yogurt. I also like the ActiBIO which is fat-free, sweetened with stevia and has flax seeds. Pretty fancy. Last night I went to the (assumedly only) supermarket that’s in Villa El Salvador for the first time and my yogurt dreams were fulfilled.

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This supermarket had an entire refrigerated isle devoted to yogurt. It was beautiful. I had never seen such a large selection and it was almost a little overwhelming. I quickly searched for the Light Natural, but they sadly did not have any. Instead, I found four other flavors of the Light variety and decided that the vanilla would be a pretty safe bet. It has been added to my stock pile and I am excited to try it. Much like the Light Natural, the bottle for Vainilla Francesa features a picture of a woman being…”light”?

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So that’s that for this Monday’s “Peruvian Food Monday”. There’s been a lot going on regarding non-food related activity, so I’ll be catching up on that stuff in the coming days.

Deep Thoughts and Michael Jackson

Directly across from CEDED is a school for elementary and secondary school students. For the past few weeks, (possibly even months) they have been preparing for their school’s anniversary. We’ve gotten glimpses of the dances, decorations and all the festivities that lead up to today and to say that I was looking forward to seeing everything come together would have been an understatement. This school loves them some build up, that’s for sure.

Earlier in the morning they had a little fair with stands that displayed the different foods from the various regions/districts in Peru. There were foods from the jungle, the sea and everywhere in between. Some people were selling food from their respective region and this lead to my first antichuco experience. I didn’t know it at the time, but this was an anticucho de corazón aka heart. Not that this little piece of info could have dissuaded me from eating it – it’s just something note. It was so good though. But what I was really looking forward to was the talent show that took place at night. I knew that a lot of kids that frequent CEDED programs would be in it and I was excited to see their performances. And boy, they did not disappoint.

My absolute favorite group were the third-graders who did a dance to Thriller by Michael Jackson. They didn’t just do the dance – there were theatrics. It started off with a boy dressed in a red tracksuit number and an afro wig, which was entertaining in and of itself. Behind him there were prop caskets and tombstones as if he was dancing in a graveyard, a la the Thriller music video. After he did his solo, all of a sudden the tombstones started to move and kids were coming out of the caskets! These zombies were very zombie like – watch out actors in the Walking Dead. As the zombies crawled out of their hiding places and got into position, little Michael Jackson took off his wig, put on some kind of Michael Jackson mask and then routine really began. They basically did the Thriller music video and pretty damn well. Granted, they are third-graders but they they were so full out, it was amazing. I was laughing out of pure happiness and tears were brought to my eyes.

As I watched the kids I know perform, I was filled with a huge amount of pride. It was really overwhelming when I realized this, because I’ve really only known them for a little more than a month. Yet as I watched them do their (despite appearances) choreographed dances, I was smiling for so long and so much that my cheeks started to hurt a little. Literally.

As mentioned before, sometimes I think about what it’ll be like once I’m back in the US. I’m often reminded when people ask how long I’ll be here and sometimes it’s hard to think about the fact that I will be getting on a plane and going home. Emily told me that the cyclical nature of international volunteers can have very adverse affects on the community that CEDED works with. After all, this organization is built upon creating genuine, meaningful relationships. How can one establish continuity with these relationships if volunteers who provide input on many of CEDED’s programs, leave after a certain amount of time and never come back?

I know that this may be naïve to say so early in my trip, but I feel like there’s an inevitability that I’ll be coming back to Peru and undoubtedly, Villa El Salvador. Never communicating or staying in contact with the people I’ve met here after coming home would deprecate the development of these friendships and the idea of letting them go to way side feels careless. I don’t know what will happen in the future; if my life will be at a point where I could even consider coming back to Peru. If anything, I think I’ll just leave that train of thought for the future and continue to stay in the present. However, I do know that I really wouldn’t mind being there for this school’s next aniversario.

Chinita on Chifa

(Let the first official Peruvian Food Monday commence!) 

China. Chinita. I have been addressed by either, from little kids to adults. But I really don’t mind. I know that there’s no malice behind the moniker, so there really isn’t a reason to be miffed or anything. (Although, I think it confuses people when I tell people that I am from the US but that I was born in China.) Before coming to Peru, I definitely thought about how great of a minority I would be, or the social perception of Asian people. During the research I did pre-departure, I learned that Asian people weren’t as much of a minority than I had anticipated. There’s even an Chinese food scene.

Around the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Chinese immigrants came to Peru and their culinary influence is still prominent in the country. The term used for this type of cuisine is “Chifa” and there are restaurants all over the place. In Villa El Salvador (assumedly in other places as well) there are these green and orange tents that dot the main thoroughfares and all of them cook Chifa. I’m not sure if they are organized in any sort of way, but there is one conveniently about twenty feet away from where I live. At first, I was sort of sketched out by these places because I didn’t want to get any sort of weird food poisoning. But every night that I would come home late from CEDED, the place was hoppin’. A place that’s consistently busy can’t be bad, right?

The first time Roxana and I went to this place, we both ordered the arroz chaufa aka fried rice. When the woman came with our plates, my mouth dropped and my eyes widened. The portion was gigantic. The plate wasn’t even that big, but somehow they managed to fill it with at least four cups of fried rice. It was a glorious mountain of rice with chicken, egg, peas, carrots, and green onion.  It was overwhelming but also really really fabulous. Because the entire plate cost 6 PEN (Peruvian Nuevo Soles), which is around 2 USD. It made awesome leftovers.

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So, that was my first experience at our neighborhood Chifa joint. Last night we decided to go again and we were ravenous. And rightfully so, because we had originally intended to go on Saturday night, but that night’s festivities lead to the cancellation of our Chifa dinner. The bad food from the night before also increased our need for Chifa tenfold.

This time, I ordered the “salvaje”. Essentially, it was arroz chaufa (portions just as big) but with noodles and vegetables added to the mix. I was very enthusiastic about the veggies: broccoli, bell pepper, snow peas (so fancy), cabbage, sprouts (not so into that). Reason being, I really love me some vegetables and the amount I’ve had while being here is significantly less than what I’m used to. I will take what I can get. And this was real good.

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See the salvaje. Taste the salvaje. (Just get a ticket to Lima.)

I am all about budget friendly meals that make for delicious leftovers and Chifa seems to fit the bill. Although, now I have established yet another dangerous food habit (e.g. the panadería across the street, coconut cookies at the Sunday flea market, the snack lady who sells virtually every nut known to man for my trail mix, the abundance of alfajor cookies that are everywhere). Oh, well. I say it’s community building. Yeah.