My 3 week site exploration has now come to an end. As I find myself back at the training center, I reminisce about my weeks in Ancash. I come back to Lima feeling grateful and motivated to return back to my service. Living in the mountains once again provided a homecoming I would not have traded for any other site. My host family, colegio, and PCV Stephany all played a part in a super special site exploration.
During the second half of week three, I continued to attend going-away lunches with Stephany. These were great opportunities for me to meet new people, learn from how Stephany interacted with her community and gage just how integrated Stephany really was. She was/is practically Peruvian. She spoke like it (Quechua included), dressed like it, ate like it and acted like it. The depth at which she had placed herself within Matacoto was obvious at her despedidas. The community showered her in hugs, kisses, gifts, and cuys. Stephany loved them deeply and they loved her back. Watching her hug practically every student on her last day was heart warming. And having to stop the car multiple times on the way down the hill in order to hug and say goodbye to more people spoke to her influence. It was cool to be apart of the process. I served as her official photographer. Attempting to crystalize the moments with her beloved community into digital representations of cariño, amor, and gratitud.
On a slightly less emotional note, the soccer game I was invited to play in was cancelled. This was a bummer but thats how some things go down here. Lots of last minute changes; some for good reasons and others not so much. Instead I shared a favorite soccer game with the security guard of the school, Miller. He too loves the sport, and plays quite well (much better than I thought). In the game, a player begins juggling the ball, after a few touches the player passes it to someone else in the air and says a number out loud. The other player must fluidly receive the ball, and continue to juggle it up until the number that was shouted. If they succeed they pass it back and say a new number (always bigger than the last), but if they don’t, the player who served it to them gets a point. We played this game until we were sweating and breathing hard (thanks to the altitude). In some rounds we got up to 100 juggles.
Afterwards, Miller taught me how to play soccer tennis. I thought I knew the game, but of course, there were different rules. This is played exactly as you might think. It’s tennis, but with your feet. We played countless rounds over the course of two days. I have yet to beat Miller. He plays more intelligently than I do, and utilizes lots of different techniques to keep me guessing. Hopefully, if we play enough, I will be able to beat him some day. I’ve got 2 years. Nonetheless, the juggling and soccer tennis have helped keep me in shape and my touches soft. I’m really proud of my ability to play in Peru. It serves as a language, a cross cultural bridge. United by a common passion for sport, a soccer ball and two goals, people from different parts of the globe can share space and enjoy each others company (or not if you’re loosing badly).
Saying goodbye to my host family in Matacoto was surprisingly sad. I was only there for 3 weeks and already feeling apart of their lives. My mom even told me she would miss me. Besides them, I was super happy to hear the excitement in other community member’s voices when we talked about my long-term return in November. My socios at the school, family and friends are all excited for me to come back and live with them for 2 years. For some trainees, site exploration is an experience that tells them that a Peace Corps experience is not for them. However, for me, it showed me the opposite. Not only was I ready to serve and to live, but also my community.
I accompanied Stephany to Huaraz before she left on her bus. We met our psychologist socio Jose and PCVL Devan for dinner. We went to a place called Luigis. It has the best pizza in Huaraz, and probably in Ancash. The restaurant plays reggae music, other Western beats, and totes signatures on the walls from customers arriving from all over the world. This eclectic and delicious eatery will definitely be on my list when I am craving some good pizza.
Afterwards, I quite literally ran into the other trainees as they were leaving the hostel and as I was turning from dinner. I quickly dropped off my stuff and turned back around to join them at a local bar. Everyone was in a celebratory mood for having completed another milestone in our PC training experience. Much to our surprise, there was live music. A previous PC volunteer, and another gringo from North Carolina named Sam were playing music. Acoustic guitar and banjo combined for bluegrass in Peru. I couldn’t really believe it! It had been a while since I’ve heard the twang of a banjo. Immediately I was reminiscing about my summers at the Bluegrass Festival in Telluride, Colorado. Afterwards we popped around a few other establishments. Lucky for us, the second place we went to also had live music. This time a Peruvian cover band was playing the likes of Eric Clapton, AC/DC, Pink Floyd and other Spanish speaking bands. I was really impressed at the vocalist’s ability to not only change languages, but accurately match the vocals of so many different types of bands. It was fun because as the North American rock came on, the gringos went nuts and sang along. And when the songs in Spanish were played, the Peruvians made sure to represent as well.
The following day I woke up to a hostel full of trainees and current volunteers. We shared the morning on the rooftop patio, drinking coffee, eating breakfast and watching the clouds swirl around the Cordillera Blanca. Quickly I met a volunteer name Joe. And as PC gossip (chisme) would have it, Joe already knew I was a rock climber. Lucky for me, he was headed out to climb with other volunteers. I immediately asked if I could attend, and much to my appreciation, I was invited with open arms. I rented a pair of climbing shoes for 10 soles and loaded up my pack to follow along. The closest crag to Huaraz is called Los Olivos. Its only about a 10 minute cab from the hostel and a 10 minute approach from where you get let out. The climbing can be seen from the road.
Los Olivos has a fun mixture of rock climbing. From low grade moderates, to some over-hung harder routes. There’s even rumors of a multi-pitch climb somewhere. I was able to get in 4 pitches. I could have climbed more, but I was grateful to just get up one. I was happy to see that I can still on-sight 5.10c. It had been a while since I had been on rock outside, so I wasn’t sure where my strength might had fallen. 3 of 4 climbs were on-sights. The fourth gave me a harder time, going at 5.10d-5.11a. Safe to say there’s already a project out there for me to tick. While we were out there, a previous PCV named Chris introduced me to a man named David. David is an owner of a guide company in Huaraz, and co-author of the local climbing guide. David’s climbing partner turned out to be a man named Javier that I met when I was climbing at a gym in Lima earlier this month. We had exchanged numbers and talked about climbing when I officially got to Ancash. Running into Javier at the crag was yet again another omen that I was mixing with the right people and hanging in the right places.
After climbing, Joe and Pete took me to a local restaurant called Krishna Bog. Vegetarian Indian food in Peru? YES PLEASE. We showed up to a cute, practically hidden home. We sat in the living room and were served all-you-can-eat Indian food for 15 soles. Whatever was made for the day was served to whoever showed up. We’re talking vegetable salad, rice, vegetable curry and homemade bread. Served and served until there was no room left. Pancha Hunta (I am full in Quechua). Easily the cleanest burning food in Huaraz. I will definitely be returning. Afterwards I said goodbye to my new friends, leisurely strolled back to the hostel and threw myself on the couch. It was there that I spent the rest of the evening with friends, chit chatting and waiting for our bus to take off.
As I was slipping off into a another dramamine induced sleep while the bus bumpily made its way onto the highway, I breathed easy that site exploration was over. Reflecting back, I very much enjoyed the experience. I feel lucky, grateful and motivated to get back to work. Some trainees return from site exploration realizing that the PC experience is not for them. In fact, our Peru 30 group has already lost 3. Others get back to Lima like me, only thinking about the next time they can get back to site and get back to work.