Friday, October 31, 2008

Peru, China, Happy Halloween!

It has been ages! This is going to be such a long post. Apologies in advance. It's all interesting though. Of course.
So. Peru.
Cusco is my absolute favorite city ever. It is amazingly beautiful, and so interesting. We got there very early in the morning after a huge layover in Lima so we essentially hadn't slept in two days. They instantly gave us lots of coca tea (which is a bit like a religious experience), and I was good to go all day. It gets rid of your appetite and need to sleep. We had a quick introduction to the Incan trail with our guides, then were set free for the day. Since it was still just about 8:30, we had a lot of time. John, Alexis, Isabel, Katie Robson, and I went and hired horses and a guide to ride around the mountains and visit some of the temples. It was the most incredibly clear day, with the bluest sky. All of our pictures look photoshopped. Strangely enough there are eucalyptus forests on the mountain, so we rode through some of those too. When we got back we did some shopping at the markets, got ice cream, and wandered around. I spent a few hours walking around by myself which was nice, it was pretty much the first time alone I'd had in ages. Oh, also, John got hit by a truck. We were walking along the narrow sidewalk when a man walked straight at us. John stepped off the sidewalk to let him pass, and before he could get back on a truck drove into him. He stumbled foward and I thought he was dead, but he didn't even fall over or get a bruise.
The Inca Trail! It was very long. And very steep. There were a lot of stairs. It was quite hard. It was also incredibly beautiful. Nights were very cold, with more stars than I've ever seen. We'd lie out in our sleeping bags for hours, and see maybe six shooting stars a night. Huge ones, with fiery tails. It was amazing! The second day we hiked Dead Woman's Pass, which is exactly like it sounds. A million steep stairs. Towards the top we got into a cloud, and it was very cold and wet and you couldn't see in front of you at all. Day three we got caught in a hail storm! By the end we were all so tired and sore, but so glad we'd done it. Even when I was struggling up Dead Woman's Pass I was enjoying myself; how many people get to do that? I was hiking the Inca Trail! We saw many Incan ruins along the way, which were wonderful. All of their stones are perfeclty fit together, and they polished them with water and sand! The last day we woke up early and saw the sun rise over the mountains from some Incan ruins, before finishing the hike to Machu Picchu. Finishing the last climb to the Sun Gate and seeing Machu Picchu at last was absurd. We were sweaty and tired and sore, and suddenly it was there. It's as amazing as you would imagine. We spent hours there, walking around and learning about the Inca. They were brilliant astronomers, and all their buildings are built to work with the sun and stars. Their special animals were the condor, puma, and snake. They view the snake as cunning and intelligent just like we do, but their idea of the condor is very different. They think of it as peace, because though it eats meat it never kills. Very different concept of scavengers!
After Machu Picchu we went into the town, Aguas Calientes, and had the largest meal of my life. Noah, Alexis and I went to the hot springs for which the town is named. They are a green-yellow color, and apparently smelled like urine though obviously I couldn't tell, and very hot. I enjoyed myself, but Alexis and Noah were a little grossed out.
Then we flew to China! It took about two days, with five flights. After the first flight Robin's bag got stolen, with two computers and his journal inside. That was a very bag beginning. They could only check our bags through to LA because damn USA wanted to check them even though they weren't staying in the country. We only had an hour layover so we got security to let us off the plane early and escort us to get our bags. Which would have been great, if our bags hadn't been the last ones off the plane. The security guard helping us was insane, more like a tv caricature than a real life guard. He kept announcing anything he could think of, and making jokes about our names and whatnot. Then we had to literally run through the airport, and about five of us got lost and thought we weren't going to make it. But we did. I slept for most of the flight then played chess with John, on our awesome Incans vs. Spanish chess board.
Excellent food. EXCELLENT. You sit at a huge table and about twenty dishes are placed in the middle on a lazy Susan, and you pick what you want with chopsticks and put it in your bowl. They don't drink cold water here, they drink hot, so my mouth is always burned. We spent a few days in Tonghai at a hotel for orientation, visiting schools and temples and having lessons. Then we went to meet our families! Part of the fun is that we hadn't done laundry since Machu Picchu, so we were all wearing the same clothes for about a week. Right before we met our families we gave our laundry to a woman, but we didn't get it back until yesterday so I had to wear the same shirt with my family four days running. Since they speak not a word of English I couldn't explain why, and I'm sure they think I'm a slob. I'm wearing a clean shirt now though, it's amazing!
My family is a mother, father, and possibly son. By which I mean a teenage boy lives with us, but he never looks at me or talks to me and I almost never see him. We've only spoken because I got forced him to shake hands the first day, since then there has been no contact. My host mother is very nice but has a poor opinion of my intelligence since I got lost the first day three minutes from the house. I showed two men the address hoping they'd point me in the right direction, but they instantly called my host mother and told me to stay here, the only English they knew. So she thinks I'm an idiot. My host father is the happiest person. He smiles and giggles and talks to me in Chinese and doesn't care that I don't understand. I really want to squeeze him, he reminds me of a teddy bear. Liz lives very near, and her parents are best friends with mine. We always have dinner together. She has a host cousin who speaks English, and he eats with us too which is very helpful.
Every day we have Chinese lessons at the school which are incredibly hard but so interesting. I have a great teacher, Charles (his English name), who is one of our guides while here. He is a whiz kid computer hacker who skipped high school, and he keeps getting us TV shows for the computers. After lessons we have two hour seminars with the group, then lunch. After that we go to our schools. I'm with five others at the private school. My teaching partner is Dave. Yesterday we gave our first lessons, a day before we were supposed to. Because we didn't think we'd start til Monday we had nothing prepared, so we just talked to them about America and China and tried to have conversations to practice English. They are enthusiastic! We watched their PE class, which was very funny. They run around a basketball court as a group, and look like the wildebeasts from the Lion King more than anything else.
Last night was Halloween (even though for you it is right now), so we had a party. We went back to our room at the university in the evening, and ate lots of candy and watched a Chinese ghost story. It was so funny and strange, but sadly I fell asleep for most of it. No one here knows Halloween, so it was part of our lessons yesterday.
I have a bit more to say but I have to go meet at the university. We are doing Kunming exploration today, where they drop us off solo or in pairs somewhere in the city to find something. Essentially it will be about six hours of being lost, but it should be fun! I'll probably be back tomorrow and say all the other little details.

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