Sunday, April 24, 2011


I feel that I often turn to this blog to write entries in which I hope the reader will feel some measure of sympathy for me. Whether I'm writing about being stuck on a bus for 36 hours, communication mishaps, or, most recently, how sick I've been lately, I'm definitely seeking a pat on the back and some comforting words.

If you don't have any comforting words for me after this post, I understand.

Celebrating the holidays in Peru is strange. Not just because of the cultural and climate differences but also because I've never celebrated the holidays apart from my family before. I recently realized that I never discussed Thanksgiving or Christmas on the blog so we're going to travel back in time to review those holidays and then fly back to the present to talk about Easter.


We lucked out with Thanksgiving because right after Thanskgiving weekend we were having a training here in the beautiful land of Ancash. This meant that all of my youth development friends were able to travel here on Peace Corps money.

I had requested that we have a 5K Turkey Trot to carry on family tradition. Well, John William took my 5K idea and ran with it... our small volunteer Turkey Trot and dinner was suddenly going to involve at least forty people, though we had no idea how many people were actually goign to show up to eat. Compounded by the fact that JW and I have never cooked a Thanksgiving meal... well, let's just say that we had some pretty interesting planning meetings!

Since most of our friends arrived Thanksgiving morning we postponed our Thanksgiving meal to Saturday. On Thursday we celebrated with this awesome spread: pizza, mac and cheese, fruit salad, and brownies.

Friday was spent grocery shopping and doing prep work in Jangas (John William's site and Thanksgiving base camp). Okay, that's a lie actually. Some people did that... I held down the fort in Huaraz and played an epic game of Scrabble at Cafe Andino with some friends. But other people were working and their hard work should not go unacknowledged.

Saturday we woke up bright and early to get to Jangas in time for the 5K. It was hilly and at altitude but still a lot of fun. And we had a great turn out!

All the 5K runners

We cooked and baked all afternoon (I actually did help this time) and ended up with a great Thanksgiving spread. I give almost all of the credit to Ian who blessed us with amazing things like pineapple glazed carrots and rosemary garlic mashed potatoes.

We had a great turn out. The tables were shaped like a "U" so there was another table just like this on the other side of the room too.

Take note of the speakers in back. There were more on the other side of the room too.

Our Peruvian companeros wanted to have a dance party after the meal. More accurately, they wanted to drink beer, play loud music and watch us dance. We obliged.

Thanksgiving 2010 was a hit and before we left we were already planning Thanksgiving 2011 in my friend Erin's beach site.


Christmas Eve is historically my favorite day of the whole year. I love getting together with family, the anticipation of Christmas Day, and the feelings of goodwill and cheer. So I knew that Christmas Eve was going to be almost impossible. My host family invited me to supper with them but it took me about an hour to walk from my bedroom door to the kitchen because I had to keep stopping to cry. It was horrible.

After a tasty supper of turkey, sweet potatoes, and yellow potatoes, I went back to my bedroom. At the time, I was re-watching all of the Grey's Anatomy seasons so I put on the next episode and crawled into bed. Turns out the next episode was the one where a guy comes and goes on a shooting spree in Seattle Grace. Just the thing to get you in the Christmas spirit... NOT!

I woke up bright and early on Christmas Day and walked down to the main highway to catch a combi. John William's family was out visiting so I met them at their hotel and had a nice breakfast. We eventually headed to JW's site to watch him in a Christmas play. Now, I've been to a number of Christmas performances in my life but none of them involved demons and fireworks or Germans in black face.

Yes, that is JW in the white robe.

For lunch, John William's host mom served us all soup and cuy. We headed to Huaraz in the afternoon and went out for curry for supper. Really, the only "traditional" part of my Christmas was playing Sheephead while we waited for our food.

After supper, Kyle, Elke, Vero, and I hit a discotecha which played a John Travolta medley.

Christmas 2010 was alright but I'm hoping to spend Christmas 2011 in America. It's just not the same.


For Semana Santa (holy week), Peace Corps gives us four "free" vacation days. Some friends and I decided the the only way to use these days was to go to Mancora, a beach town in northern Peru.

After almost 20 hours on buses and a Pizza Hut filled day in Trujillo, we were dropped off at the side of the road in Mancora. It was 5 in the morning, but we lucked out and we able to check in to our room right away. After showers and a short rest we hit the beach. Our first order of business - surf classes.

I know what you're thinking. "Beth? On a surf board? She broke her foot walking down a flight of stairs." I had very similar thoughts but decided to give it a try anyway. The classes guarenteed that you would stand up on your board during the hour in the water or they would give you your money back. What did I have to lose?

That is not me.

I was able to stand up twice during the hour class and it was a lot of fun. If (when) I go back to Mancora I definitely want to take more classes.

Overall, we spent four days in Mancora. I'm not going to do a day to day breakdown but I will say that our days turned into a pleasant blur of lying on the beach, swimming in the ocean, boogie boarding, walks by the water, swimming in the pool, rum slushies, Thai food, and dancing on the beach at night. In short, it was close to the perfect vacation.

I'm back in Ancash now and heading back to site this afternoon. I'll be back in Huaraz next Monday through Wednesday for a training so send me some e-mails!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


Being sick in the Peace Corps sucks for two reasons:

1) I’ve always been a bit dramatic when I’m sick. But when you’re alone in a foreign country, everything you feel is bigger. So my caps locked drama suddenly become caps locked, underlined, bolded, and italicized. So when I’m sick, I’m SICK.

2) When I’m sick, the first order of business is to call the Peace Corps doctors in Lima. No matter how helpful they are via the phone they never say what I want them to, which is “Beth, it really sucks that you’re sick. Guess what. We just bought your Mom a plane ticket and she’ll be there tomorrow with your t-shirt quilt and a bowl of soup.” Instead of buying my Mom a plane ticket they always give me practical advice, such as drink plenty of water, rest a lot, don’t forget to eat… Good advice but not quite what I want to hear.

Since I’m currently lying in bed, feeling like the grim reaper is knocking on my door, I’ve decided to countdown my Top Four sickest moments in the last ten months.

4. The Ear Infections: I can’t remember having an ear infection before the Peace Corps. I used to spend forty hours per week in a pool every summer and I never caught an ear infection. Since coming to Ancash, I have been plagued with ear infections. I’m currently suffering through my fourth on in eight months. My ear constantly aches, I can’t sleep, and my throat hurts. Zero fun. (Update: this is probably the sickest I’ve been in Peru. But I’m not removed enough from the situation to write about it… trust me, it was/is miserable.)

3. Food Poisoning: The occasional bouts of diarrhea are to be expected. But I’m pretty sure I had food poisoning one night after eating cookie dough made with bad eggs (my bad). Diarrhea in a latrine at 2 in the morning sucks. Vomiting in a latrine at 2 in the morning sucks. Doing both at the same time… sucks.

2. Upper Respiratory Infection: One night during training, all of the trainees in my group decided to go out together for karaoke. I love karaoke and I miss hating a fun time. So despite feeling slightly unwell I still went with the group. Big mistake. I convinced a friend to bring me home when I started feeling dizzy.

I didn’t leave my bed for three days except to make and deliver the fruit salad I had promised to bring to the 4th of July party. Because, yes, to add insult to injury, I was sick during 4th of July, my second favorite holiday (don’t worry, I’m going to make up for it this year by going on a sand boarding, whitewater rafting, penguin watching 4th of July trip of epic-ness).

My chest hurt so badly I thought I must have come down with tuberculosis and was going to be sent to some special hospital like Cecily on Avonlea. I thought death was imminent. Even after I was able to return to training, I still had a loud, hacking cough for the next couple of weeks. It was a great interruption during many classes.

1. The First Ear Infection: During my first couple of months at site, I became SICK. This would probably rank number one on the sickest I’ve ever been in my life (not any more!). Well, I had pneumonia when I was a baby and had to go to the ER, so that’s probably the sickest I’ve ever been in my life, but I don’t remember that so it doesn’t count.

We suspect that I had an ear infection that raged out of control but I compounded the problem by becoming dehydrated. Seriously dehydrated. Usually when I’m sick, I’m content to read books, watch TV, and listen to podcasts. This was the first time I’ve ever become so sick that I just wanted to lay in bed and stare at my ceiling. For hours at a time. I didn’t have energy to do anything else. At points, I didn’t even feel like I had the energy to sleep. And I definitely did not have the energy to boil water. It’s entirely possible that a dementor was floating around my room. I sure felt like I was in Azkaban (in case you don’t know, those were two pretty dorky Harry Potter references).

When I finally called the Peace Corps doctor, he requested that I go to the town health post to get an exam from a nurse there. I must have looked drunk walking through town at 10 in the morning. I couldn’t even walk straight. While waiting in the front room, I stumbled to the bathroom, and kneeled on the floor, my forehead pressed against cold sink, trying my hardest to not pass out.

On Day Three, I finally stumbled across the street and bought three bottles of water and two bottles of lemon-lime soda. The combination of getting some liquids in my system and antibiotics did me some good and I was back on my feet after a day or two.

Life in the Peace Corps… always an adventure. Also, I am currently accepting Emergen-C donations.

As an aside, I was recently introduced to the "Stats" section of where you can see which countries your blog has been viewed in. I'm proud to say my blog has been viewed in: Iran, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Poland, Slovenia, the UK, Israel, Canada, the Netherlands, Russia, Brazil, Iran, St. Kitts and Nevis (proof that, at one time, Caleb was reading this) and South Korea. So a shout-out to any international readers out there! What up?

Saturday, April 2, 2011

... And Then It Started to Rain

In all honesty, this is my second draft of this blog post. The first one covered only the first half of our trip and was already three pages long. I decided that the average blog reader probably did not want that much detail on our (mis)adventures and am going to give you the highlights. If you want more details, let me know and I’ll send you the original. But I have a feeling this one is going to end up being pretty long anyway. We were busy…

Thursday, March 17:

As you may remember, Caryn, Caitlin, and Becky (three of my closest friends from as far back as elementary school) came to visit for a week. They spent four days in Cuzco and at Machu Picchu and then I met them in Lima. That day, I spent fifteen hours on various buses. It was extremely exciting to see my friends. Other than that, it wasn’t the most interesting day.

Friday, March 18:

After a delicious breakfast of ciabatta bread, cheese and Nutella (not together!) in the main Plaza of Huaraz, we went to my site. We had a great hike, played with my host niece, and baked a cake and some pizzas. After a cross-cultural lunch with my host family, we headed to the plaza for youth group. Over twenty kids showed up, as well as John William and our new mentors from Huaraz (more on that in another entry). We played Sharks and Minnows, drew with chalk, played with bubbles, had cake… and then it started to rain. Torrential, does-somebody-have-an-ark type rain. Using the magic of Caitlin’s digital camera, a handful of books, and a jump rope (FYI: I’m really bad at jump roping and starting a chant so I have to embarrass myself at my birthday party – cough, John William, cough – will not endear you to me) we were able to entertain the kids in the outdoor entry way to the church.

Catching a (rare) lucky break, we were able to get a combi instead of sludging down the muddy mountain in the rain. We went to John William’s site and my friends were able to witness the discrepancies between his site and mine. We attended his weekly movie night and then headed back to Huaraz.

Saturday, March 19:

We caught another combi and settled in for the almost two hour ride out to Yungay. Upon our arrival in Yungay, we hired a taxi and climbed a mountain for over an hour. The ride up was beautiful and we drove through part of the beautiful Huascaran National Park (co-founded by a Peace Corps volunteer. Just ask me about it… we’re very proud). We arrived at the glacially-fed, brilliantly blue Llaganuca Lake and unpacked our lunch. It took us three hours to get to this lake. Three hours… and then it started to rain. We sought shelter and finished our meal. Luckily, it passed pretty quickly and by the time we finished eating we were able to rent a row boat. After a slightly disastrous first trip (I will not comment since I was not rowing…), a gentleman on the shore took pity on us and offered to give us a short ride. We made it farther into the lake but definitely laughed less.

On the way back of Llaganuca, we stopped at Campo Santo, a beautiful garden memorial that I had visited once before. We walked around for awhile before returning to Huaraz.

In my humble opinion, part one of my birthday celebration went beautifully. Between eating barbeque chicken at one of my favorite restaurants and receiving a free bottle of wine later in the night, I have nothing to complain about.

Sunday, March 20:

After taking the morning off (completely the fault of this tired birthday girl), we headed off towards “Old Huaraz”, the only street in the city that wasn’t destroyed by the earthquake in the 1970s. Every Sunday, it is full of people selling pachamancha and cuy, and since Caryn and Becky were desperate to eat some guinea pigs, it was the place for us to be. We enjoyed a huge, traditional lunch and walked back to the hostel. We were at the grocery store buying snacks… and then it started to rain.

Our only other plan for the day was to go to the Sport Ancash game. In case I haven’t shared before, Sport Ancash is infamous for drugging the Arequipa soccer team last season. When I invited one of my Peruvian friends to go the game his response was that he didn’t want to go because he didn’t want to watch crap soccer. They’re a division two team and I guess my point is that they don’t have a great reputation, inside or outside of Ancash.

Reputations aside, I had a great time at the game. After making sure that we would be able to get covered seats at the stadium (because, of course, it was still raining), we grabbed a taxi and went to the new stadium. Unfortunately, they weren’t running the same special as the week before (women free when accompanied by a man) so we ponied up the small entrance fee and found ourselves sitting right by the (unofficial) pep band. The Sport Ancash team has two gringos so we focused our attention on cheering for (and heckling) them.

We spent many a happy hour that night at a favorite café playing Settlers of Catan and Phase 10. I was in board game heaven.

Monday, March 21:

My birthday!

Another relaxed morning playing Settlers of Catan. Or, at least, as relaxed as a Catan game can ever be. We spent the afternoon getting massages (I know, I live the hard life out here) and, in a birthday miracle, were able to miss the daily rain storm while we were relaxing.

That evening, we had supper at my absolute favorite restaurant in Huaraz, El Horno, which specializes in wood stove pizzas. We were joined by at least fourteen other friends – Peace Corps volunteers, new friends of friends, Peruvians, and one German friend. It was a great group that came prepared with some great gifts – an elephant (representing Kyle) and llama (me) carved out of stone, peanut butter, a movie, balloons, and a birthday cake. John William also followed through on a promise that he made all the way back in August and sang me “Midwestern Girls”, a re-write of Katy Perry’s “California Girls”.

We had another great night out and about in Huaraz. One place we went has its own Giant Jenga game, which starts out at least three feet high. Towards the end of the game you need to climb on a chair and the bar provides a hard hat for protection. Ridiculously entertaining.

Tuesday, March 22:

Our last full day in Huaraz and we had one thing left to do… go horseback riding. Once again, we hopped on a combi and went to Yungar. We met up with a guide and headed out on the ride. It was pretty awesome. For three hours we climbed into the Cordillera Negra mountain range and saw areas that we never would have been able to see by car.

Oh, and being the huge dorks that we are, we named our horses after Harry Potter characters. Because we are just that awesome.

Anyway, we were three hours into our ride and we decided to take a break… and then it started to rain. To be honest, I was already a little terrified of what this descent was going to entail before the rain turned the path into a mud river. Downpouring. Unrelentlessly beating down on my back as I thought about the wonderful Columbian rain jacket that I had back at the hostel.

Three plus hours. In the cold, cold rain. On a horse that was, at times, to terrified to continue the descent on his own and needed to be led by our guide. It was cold, it was miserable, and I only remained sane knowing that it would, one day, make a good story (as always, thanks for the advice, Mike). We stopped talking after about fifteen minutes and just trudged along in the rain.

Another brilliant stroke of luck meant that we somehow hailed an almost empty combi. After staring at us (we must have looked ridiculous, a bunch of soaked to the bone gringas), the cobrador asked what happened. I explained and she helped us close all of the air conditioning vents. We were so cold.

When I finally got into a shower at the hostel, I was so cold that I couldn’t tell if the water was hot or cold. It was beautifully, steaming hot and I can only think of one other shower that had ever felt so good (the result of another miserable, rainy trek in Ancash).

Once we had all heated up, we went to another excellent restaurant and almost fell asleep at the table. Since we had a few hours to kill, we headed back to that same favorite café and settled in with huge mugs of hot chocolate next to the fireplace. Of course, we played another game of Catan. Now, most games of Settlers are emotionally charged but, since we were all exhausted, I voiced my concern that this has the possibility to be a friendship ending game of Catan. It almost was (I don’t want to beat a dead horse but, seriously, I only had four points! You know what I’m talking about. I haven’t forgotten.).

I passed out pretty quickly on the bus back to Lima. It was heavenly.

Wednesday, March 23:

We arrived early in Lima and got a taxi to bring us to the Peace Corps office to drop off our stuff. It was, possibly, one of the most frustrating experiences of my life. I gave excellent directions but the taxi driver only pretended to know where he was going. I may have spent some time yelling and I (hopefully) gave a death glare when the driver had the audacity to ask for a tip.

After resting (and watching some episodes of The Office) at the Peace Corps volunteer lounge, we grabbed another combi (woo-hoo, I know a combi route in Lima!) to the ritzy, America-like part of Lima called Miraflores. For lunch we got cerviche at Punto Azul (the place to go if you want cerviche in Lima) and then went to a super fancy mall on the Pacific coast. Four young girls in a mall… what do you think we did?

Of course we grabbed a table in the food court and played Phase 10. For the record, I had many Mentink family Christmas flashbacks during the week of Phase 10 playing… I even introduced Mentink rules regarding “skips” aka that you can pile up multiple skips against a player and that they carry from one hand to the next. Also, no one is as ruthless as the Mentinks and I think it may be time to reinstate this tradition… I’ll bring the cards this Christmas.

After our Phase 10 game, we headed back to Parque Kennedy to go to my favorite restaurant in Lima, La Lucha. I had been hyping this restaurant all day and my friends were a little concerned that I had oversold it. Little did they know, La Lucha is the Machu Picchu of sandwich restaurants. It will always live up to the hype. ( A little shout-out to my Dad, thanks for thinking to add bacon and cheese to the turkey sandwich… genius.)

I dropped the girls off at the airport and, I’m a little ashamed to say, was relieved that it was a quick good-bye that didn’t allow me to dissolve into my usual sobbing mess. I went to the bus stop and got a bus back to Huaraz – exhausted but happy.

(A quick aside: there had been unfounded rumors that a strike might be starting up the night I was travelling back to Huaraz. I probably had enough food in my backpack to feed the whole bus. I had learned my lesson…)

Okay… so that was the shortened version of the trip details. I guess I’m just not very good at short and concise. To sum things up: three friends came, we saw everything we could see, we celebrated my birthday three times, and made more memories then I thought possible in such a short time.

Thank you Caryn, Caitlin, and Becky for such an epic time! And the offer still stands… if you send me your take on the trip (or a day of the trip, or my site); I’ll post it on the blog. It’s hard to imagine that you’re not all sick of my rambling on by now.

I also want to throw a shout-out to the only blog I read on a regular basis – the one that my cousins, Anna and Mike, keep. I strongly recommend that you check out Mike’s Leatherman adventures ( Just don’t call him a hero.