California Café is my favorite restaurant in Huaraz. Not only do they have the best breakfast deal in the world (scrambled eggs, diced potatoes, homemade bread, orange juice, and coffee for $4), delicious bacon, and bagel sandwiches, but they also organize an Ultimate Frisbee game every Friday. And when I can go, it’s the highlight of my week. Don’t get me wrong, life at site is going pretty great. I have some projects that are really starting to take off and they definitely bring some satisfaction to my Peace Corps life. But I also have a personal life and Ultimate Frisbee brings some satisfaction to that. Ultimate allows me to interact with other English speakers, make Peruvian friends (and practice Spanish with people who actually know how to speak Spanish), and feel like I know what I’m doing.
I try to align my necessary visits to Huaraz to buy project supplies, fruit, and food with Frisbee Fridays. On Thursday nights I often feel like a kid on Christmas Eve. Since I know I’ll be playing Ultimate the next day I can barely sleep. I’ll try to go to bed early with the knowledge that the sooner I go to bed the sooner I can wake up and get my Frisbee on. But I often lay in the dark, willing myself to sleep, but too wired to do so.
Friday mornings I jump out of bed, get ready quickly, and sling my trusty (but ripping) Targus backpack over my shoulders. After a forty minute walking descent, I jump on a combi, usually sitting in the last available (and least comfortable) seat. When I arrive in Huaraz thirty minutes later, I head straight to my favorite hostal to shower and change my clothes. Yes, I know it’s a little ridiculous to shower before running around for three hours but, after a week, my hair is so disgusting I can’t be seen in civilized company without washing it. Plus, walking around in flip flops, shorts, a tank top, a zip-up hoodie and my hair down is possibly the best feeling in the world.
I run my necessary errands and usually arrive to Café California a few hours before we leave, which is to say, on time. The menu board says to be there at 10:30 and my punctual Midwestern self always arrives by 10:30. The last time I played, we didn’t leave until 12:30. I don’t care, though, because it’s some good internet time and, if I’m feeling particularly flush with cash, I feast on a spinach, egg, and bacon salad.
We take taxis or combis to a field twenty minutes above Huaraz and get beautiful views of the city and surrounding mountains. After a casual warm up, the game begins and it’s great to be zoned in on something that doesn’t have to do with Peace Corps or projects. Three hours of running, being part of a team, and joking around. Three hours of competence, three hours of friendship, three hours of excellence.
After Ultimate we all pile back into the taxis (though sometimes we can’t find enough taxis and I never complain about making the beautiful walk back to Huaraz with some friends), and go back to Café California. Everyone hangs out for a while, talking and eating the free chocho provided by the Café. To me, chocho is a mysterious thing. I hate beans. Other than canned green beans (preferably slathered in cream of mushroom soup and topped with fried onions), I absolutely, without a doubt, hate beans. Chocho is made of white beans (I don’t know what type. I hate beans.) and chopped up peppers marinated in lime juice. I hate beans but I love chocho. And I love sitting around Café California with my Frisbee friends, listening to the mixture of different languages that always flow around the place now that it’s tourist season. Spanish, English, French, German. Friends despite our linguistic differences.
After Frisbee, I meet up with a Peace Corps friend, Erica, to study for the GRE. Although this doesn’t sound fun, I think I always end up laughing more often than learning geometry and I’m okay with that. After our weekly study date, I pick up one last kilo of mandarinas (in season and delicious!) and catch my combi back to site.
I always arrive back in site smiling, refreshed and ready for the week ahead. Ultimate gives me a reason to eat well and exercise. It’s the reason I do yoga most nights, to stay flexible, and work my legs and core. It’s the reason I go for hikes when I have time, to stay in shape for running at altitude. Talking with non-English speaking friends at Café California gives me the Spanish practice that I’m so sorely lacking at site. My GRE study date with Erica forces me to study when I don’t want to.
And the laughing. The team work. The friendship. They’re the things that keep me going for another week.