My blog has moved!

You should be automatically redirected in 6 seconds. If not, visit
and update your bookmarks.

Translate This!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Ex-Pat Re-Cap

Happy Thanksgiving, America! In preparation for my own ex-pat Thanksgiving here in Cusco, I began thinking about holidays spent on the road, and then I began to think about all the different quirky lessons I've learned along the way too. Here's a rundown of some lessons I’ve learned throughout the years abroad.

Your Neighbors Will Always Be There. ‘Getting to know the neighbors’ – whether by name or simply by listening to their habits through your walls – is always part and parcel of living in a new place. And in my travels, I’ve experienced a lot of neighbors: docile, grandmother Luz in Puerto Varas, whose days were a well-oiled machine (and don't you dare try to sit in her spot at lunch); fun ex-pat Paul in Valparaiso who lived above our house and never complained about the heinous amounts of noise we made during asados, wine clubs, parties and more; the innocuous roommates in Lima who I almost never saw but could always hear them urinating; the boy who lives somewhere in the downstairs vicinity of my current apartment complex and shouts, constantly and repetitiously; and our landlord who lives next to us, and every time she comes home and opens her door, it sounds like she’s breaking into our apartment, because the sound buffer is that non-existent. Daily, chest-tightening panic for a second until we realize Oh, it's just Ada coming home, not a strange person trying to insert a key into our front door.

Looking down the line at the various apartments in our complex. 

Classic American recipes, especially around Thanksgiving and Christmas times, can mostly be reproduced abroad. Sometimes tweaks are needed, other times not. And sometimes you just have to be hyper-vigilant around an oven with no indicator of whether it's scorching or lightly caressing your baked good. But it always comes out delicious. And the journey to attempting to recreate it is an adventure all its own, from hunting down specific ingredients that might not necessarily be local, to acquiring the proper cookware, to obtaining a stove if you don’t currently have one (cough cough, CUSCO). There's pretty much always a way, if one is determined enough and uses enough holiday whiles. 

Holidays without family aren’t bad, just different. Prior to moving abroad, one of the aspects that made me recoil was the idea of missing holidays -- and potentially a lot of them. I’ll admit, the first Christmas away from home was very strange and a little sad, though tempered by the fact that I had Leslie and Amanda with me, and we spent it in an American-style guest house. My second Christmas abroad was totally unique to the first one abroad, and to every Christmas spent prior. What I’ve realized is that it’s about creating that energy of the holiday, no matter where you are. And it CAN be done, and usually very successfully. Especially if you involve Christmas cut-out cookies with various incarnations of inappropriate shapes. Though, as I’m nearing my third year without family on all major holidays except for July 4th, I’m VERY ready to get home next year and spend some holiday time with my BLOOD. There’s something inexplicably fulfilling about spending Thanksgiving in the crisp November fall time, and the Christmas bustle amidst the snow-covered Ohio backdrop.

Peru wins in the Pisco battle. Sorry, Chile.

Though I am living in tourist destinations, I cannot be like the tourists. Even though I desperately want to schedule all manner of buses and flights to surrounding environs to hit the spots along the tourist trail, I cannot. I am a slow traveler, and this means that I must squelch the urges to dine out frequently, visit tons of bars with the gringo gang, or hit up that last-minute tour to wherever. My budget is not a backpacking one, or rather, one who has saved for a long time to be able to splurge for a short time. I have a regular person’s budget, as I am a regular person who just happens to live abroad. And other people I meet on the road sometimes forget this. Simply being in the same country as tourism seems to imply to some that I am living an action-packed, dollar-fueled adventure. I am not. In fact, I have several jobs and am working most of the time. Most of my friends and family couldn't just up and take a trip across the USA tomorrow, and neither could I. I have to plan my trips and movement just like everybody else.

Living in a colonial city is really inspiring, pretty much all the time. Sometimes to where I can’t stand it.

San Blas neighborhood (Cusco) at night.

Technology makes the distance WAY more bearable. As in, I sometimes don’t even notice the sheer thousands of miles between me and my loved ones, because we manage to stay in such frequent contact. It’s similar to living in a different city in the same state. Minus the random Sunday meet-ups (because THAT would still involve a day's worth of travel across hemispheres and international frontiers). 

Creative workarounds make the difference. It helps that my boyfriend is a master of coaxing use out of random, disparate household objects. It means we don’t have to fret if we don’t have something, and has allowed me to expand my problem-solving skills in general. Notable examples: constructing a dustpan out of a wine bottle and cardboard. Figuring out how to re-heat food without a microwave, or warm tortillas without…whatever you might normally use to warm tortillas. Unplugging a hopelessly stopped sink with an incense stick (didn’t have to call the plumber on that one!). Using a sewing needle to make a hook to attach to thread to rescue a pair of boxers that had fallen to the patio a story below our window. In lieu of a potato masher, using the rough bottom of a drinking glass. And the more recent controversial coffee-making method utilizing leggings. And on, and on.

I speak like an Argentinian now. During my most recent visit to the USA (September-October), I remember recording a message to send to Jorge via Whatsapp. For some reason, I listened to it after I had sent it, something I don't normally do, and was horrified by the blatant and excessive Argentinian accent. Yet, when I had recorded the message, I certainly hadn't remembered talking like that. Could it be that almost two years with an Argentinian has finally, and irreversibly, tainted my Spanish? It must be -- because the other day, I used the word vos with Jorge, something I swore to never do. OOPS! 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Jury Is Out...

I love Cusco.

It is such a joy to be here. Both Jorge and I agree, this place is inspiring in a way that Lima didn't accomplish, not even in the cool boho neighborhood. Maybe it's the colonial-fortress feel of the historic center; maybe it's the adrenaline from the tourism industry; maybe it's the ancient whispers that waft through the Sacred Valley.

At any rate, it feels really, really good to be here. We love it. And the next 5 or so months will be spent very happily here in Cusco.

One of my favorite parts about where we live -- the San Blas neighborhood -- is that everything is literally a sneeze away. As I mentioned before, within a three block radius I can find a vegan restaurant, my laundromat, an Ashtanga-Anusara blend studio, a Catholic diocese (actually that's our neighbor, haaay!), and the local market.

I've had a great time breaking up my work day (which consists of lots of sitting and computer time) with short trips to the market or nearby locales. If I'm feeling really inspired, I can walk the four block or so to Starbucks. I might save that for days when I feel like I'm missing the USA. Any Starbucks on the face of the planet is the same, I'm convinced, and damn, what a trip to middle America! Sometimes, it's grating. Other times, it's an odd refresher that I need. I just try not to get swept away with the consumer urges to purchase every stylistic coffee cup available.

We went to the central market on Sunday, a pretty lovely tradition for parts such as these, and I found a woman sitting with her wares on display. It looked like she was selling every manner of witchcraft and potion supplies. What do you guys think? Perfect stuff to throw into my cauldron sometime! Or, you know, make a great tea.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Quirks of Cusco

I haven't been in Cusco long, but already some interesting quirks are making themselves known. Life in a new place always comes with associated learning curves and surprises (like in this post from November 2012 about settling into Puerto Varas, Chile; and this one about the inverted seasons; and this one and this one about acclimating to Valparaiso), so it should come as no surprise that Cusco has it's own learning curve.

The first thing that stood out about Cusco really jolted me. No really, it did. Because I electrocuted myself. IN THE SHOWER.

How is this possible, one might ask? I certainly didn't get into the bathtub with a lightning bolt, nor do I consider myself a risk taker with electrical currents. It happened during my celebratory first shower on our first day (first HOUR) in Cusco. After that 22 hour bus ride, I was more than ready for a hopefully hot shower.

Once inside the thankfully warm shower stream, I looked up at the shower head and noticed there was a sort of lever that looked like it could control the water stream. It was coming out pretty weak, so I thought, hey, we need industrial grade water stream if possible, folks.

I tried moving the lever but it was sort of loose. So I grabbed the shower head, to steady it against my water-stream-adjustment.

ZAP. Electrocuted.

Turns out, Cusco (at least the shower heads I've seen so far -- certainly every apartment we visited during the house hunt had them) uses electric shower heads. Instead of an external water heater system (in Lima and Valparaiso, it was gas), the shower head itself heats the water as it comes out.

This is our actual shower head! Does anybody know
what the dangling hose is for? I sure don't!

Awesome. Does anybody else feel like this is an extremely bad idea? I mean, I know the gas system has its own risks and dangers. Probably water heaters too. But for F's sake -- this seems like we're tempting fate just a little too much here.

But hey. If all of Cusco does it, it must be fine, right? Probably nobody has died. Probably.

There's just one simple rule in bathing in Cusco, from here on out.


The next quirk became readily apparent the very first night we moved into our apartment. Late that night, we noticed that a very unsavory smell wafting from the bathroom. We figured it was perhaps a problem with the toilet, and resolved to inform our landlord about it.

Then we noticed that when you turned the faucets on, nothing happened.

And then we noticed this again the next morning. And then the next afternoon. And again during the next night.

In fact, all of Saturday, we had water for about 4 hours of our waking day. (We did hear the water pipes shudder to life soon after we went to bed, around 2 AM. "WATER'S BACK. Just in time to not use it!")

This was disconcerting. We asked the landlady why this was -- she said it was normal, that the water was cut most every day, but only for a few hours at a time and then it came back. It was for water saving practices, since there's either a shortage or global warming or all the tourists. We didn't get a clear answer.

Every visitor to Cusco has their own water story, I imagine.
Note: This is actually a BAND named Cusco, and the image is from their 
album of instrumental music. But it was too perfect not to use.

Indeed, the water does disappear everyday. It tends to be available in the morning, goes away around noon, and then comes back again (maybe) in the late afternoon, and then sometimes at night. We're still gathering data to form a chart about WHEN we can expect the water to be there. This can become a problem when one has to, you know, bathe for work. Or wash the dishes in order to eat something.

Upon move-in, we noticed lots of containers of water laying around. Not the drinkable water you buy at the stores, but just plastic jugs full of tap water. It confounded us, to say the least, but now we get it -- helpful tactics for when the water disappears and you need to flush a  toilet or wash a dish.

And this explains the unsavory smell as well. We've noticed it again, and it happens when the water's been turned off for several hours. Without the running water, shit starts to get funky.

Acclimating to the rhythm of Cusco is an ongoing adventure. More time will tell what further surprises await us! And don't worry, I'll blog all about it.

Editor's Note: I found an excellent blog recently written by a woman living a lifestyle similar to mine. She just moved away from Cusco after being here 5 months, and she blogged about surprises in Cusco  as well, which had me nodding in agreement after less than a week here.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

House Hunting in Cusco

On Wednesday, we arrived to Cusco with over 100 lbs of STUFF on our collective backs. Jorge's new employer set us up with a little hotel room while we hunted houses, and we set to scouring the hills of Cusco. Slowly and carefully, of course, because the altitude does a number on us.

Our experience in Potosi, Bolivia showed us quite painfully that we are two people that are sensitive to altitude sickness, and over-doing it in any manner makes you feel like you have either the flu or a raunchy hangover. Or both.

It's anyone's guess who will suffer from altitude sickness. Physical fitness doesn't have much to do with it -- it either hits you or it doesn't. Luckily, it goes away in a couple days. Or, it doesn't, and then you have to descend the mountain immediately. That's probably only like, when you're on the tippy top of Mount Everest, though.

By Saturday, we had scored a new apartment in the heart of historic Cusco. We have apartment-hunting and house-acquiring down to a science by now. All told, we saw 5 different places. I took some pictures to share with you, so you could get an idea of what the regular accommodations are like for ex-pats and wanderers in general.

After two full days of visits and phone calls and trekking around Cusco, it felt like an episode of House Hunters International. Without the one million dollar budget, that is. Or the camera crew or the pending mortgage.

OPTION ONE: This was higher up into the hills than we liked, right on the fringe of what I would consider the 'safe' part. The outer part was messy and in the throes of construction, but once inside the apartment, it was completely restored and lovely.

Extremely narrow kitchen. I can feel the 
dinnertime cooking frustration already.

However, the only windows overlooked a shared central patio, which was full of old Peruvian women hanging laundry, and every manner of junk thrown around.

Lovely decoration, but the location and vicinity didn't convince us.

Option Two was an actual house in the historic center of Cusco. However, it was woefully dreary and closed in. An advertised "shared patio" (which led to salacious fantasies of having an asado on Sunday) turned out to be an enclosed arboretum of sorts, lit by a very strange green glass roof, which lent a very odd ethereal tinge to everything. We passed.

Option Three was on the upper fringe of Cusco again but closer to the safer part. The walk to get there, though, reminded me of Valparaiso in the bad way. Add in altitude sickness and Jorge and I had a heart-pounding, chest-wheezing helluva time getting there.

Smallish bedroom.

The kitchen.

The landlord was lovely and the apartment came with the use of the rooftop terrace. That had us racing to see what was up there, and the view was honestly spectacular. 

The rooftop terrace view!

However, the entire place smelled like gerbils, and the place itself just didn't convince us. I couldn't imagine living in gerbil smell for six months, not even with that view as a bonus.

Our fourth option was an extremely overpriced hotel room. It wasn't advertised as such, but it was literally just a hotel suite that I suppose somebody had bought and was operating as an independent condominium of sorts. It had the dreaded interior windows I've come to loathe, two very tiny bedrooms, and a cramped living room/kitchen area. It didn't even have the room to lay down my yoga mat. So we moved on.

Option Five ended up being the winner. And what a winner it is! It was actually the second place we visited of the five, early on Friday morning, and by 5pm that night we made our decision and trucked our bags over the same day.

The lovely kitchen!

Though not seen here, the place has three skylights: one in the living room
here, one in our bedroom, and one in the bathroom. It's always sunny and bright! 
Except for at night, of course.

The location is perfect -- just steps away from my yoga studio, all manner of restaurants and shops surround the place, a laundromat is across the street, and I just noticed today that a vegan restaurant sits conveniently right next door. Awesome. 

The door to our new place! Inside, there's a terrace and multiple little apartments. 

And we even have a view from outside our front door! 
Can't complain.

Our Peruvian House Hunters: Cusco edition went as smoothly as one could hope for, and we are having a lovely time settling into the new digs. My first task: buy a desk. And a blender. And then life will be quite grand.