Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Proud to be an American Abroad

Today, for the first time in my travels abroad, I have felt an overwhelming sense of pride and excitement as a U.S. citizen. Last night, watching the CNN projections in a packed room of expats, university students in study abroad programs, diplomats, international workers, and a few Peruvians. I cheered and screamed with everyone when Obama was officially recognized as the 44th president of the United States....

...and I was taken back to Argentina, 2003. My brother recommended that I put a Canadian flag on my backpack before I left the country. There were days when I wished I had. Everytime I met someone, be it in a cafe, in a classroom, in a club at 3am in the morning, I was asked: "You are American? Are you a Republican?" It seemed everyone disapproved of the US then, and Republicans were faced with harsh responses from foreigners. A Republican house-mate of mine, from Louisianna had some scary run-ins that year in Argentina. One day, she jumped in a cab, and the driver asked her where she was from. When she responded "Los Estados Unidos" the driver began to scream, literally scream out his window "I HAVE THE WAR IN MY TAXI!" She threw him a few pesos as he stopped at the next stoplight, and promptly jumped out.

Being in Latin America during the past 8 years has not always been frightening, but it certainly has been tough. Most people are consiencious that the general public is not responsible for many of the decisions the Bush Administration made. Still, there was a sense of resentment and judgment passed on the American population for having allowed its leadership to lead us to where we...and the world are today.

But last night, I felt a sense of admiration for my country, for my nationality. I cheered with my fellow Americans as Obama called out to us, "And to all those watching tonight from beyond our shores, from parliaments and palaces, to those who are huddled around radios in the forgotten corners of the world, our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared, and a new dawn of American leadership is at hand."

Today, we Americans abroad, have a new sense of duty and position in our global community, as we are lead by a man who embodies a spirit of diversity and diplomacy that is called for from the shores of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans to the shores of the highest navigable lake in the world.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

change of travel plans

Let me just start off with the moral of the story before I actually get to the story: when traveling in Peru, ask each and every day if there is going to be a paro or road blockade/strike and figure out the best alternative to get where you have to go.



I was suppose to fly out from Puno to Lima on Tuesday, the 7th. Last Saturday night, Qiqe's mom tells me to call the airline, LAN, ASAP because there is going to be a paro by the truck drivers and a big blockade in Puno, possibily throughout the south of the country. This would mean it probably would be difficult to get to the airport. There was a chance I could spend the night in a hotel in the gloriously dangerous city of Juliaca (where the airport is). But, that was certainly not a good or safe or secure option. Many times the strikers will also cut off movement within Juliaca, and direct attention on avenues of transit like the airport.

So I call LAN, the Chilean airlines with a monopoly on Peruvian air, and they told me they could not accept my call without my reservation code, which I of course left in my house. I rush to the house to get the code, call LAN, and get put on hold for 20 minutes. They finally say that I need to call back in 30 minutes so that they can tell me if I can change my flight. So I back...and they say that my flight was purchased on their economical plan, which doesn't allow me to change my ticket. Then, the LAN attendant begins the song and dance about how LAN is not accountable to external disruption of travel plans, such as paros, so they aren't held responsible to change my flight. And the plan I am on won't even permit me to pay more money to change the date or schedule AND, (to put the cherry on top of this horrifying mess), missing the first half of the flight means the whole trip is cancelled. No return flight. period. I automatically lost my return flight for the 16th of the month!

Now, I could have waited until Tuesday to see if the paro was serious and prayed that there was no major blockade. But, I had a presentation with the Rotary on Thursday. If I missed the flight because of the blockade, my only option would be to put down another 150 dollars or more for a flight...HOPING that there was room on the Wednesday planes because there wouldn't be enough time to take the bus (20hours) leaving on Wednesday to get to Lima for a 7:30am presentation with the Rotary Club. Grrrrrrrrrrrr.... what to do, what to do?

Qiqe's parents and I discussed my options, and in the end, I opted to ditch my flight, bought a 1 way bus ticket for 40 bucks, and was on the road for 20 hours from Puno to Lima.

Fantastic. I hope you just yet another ridiculous story about my travels in Peru!

Monday, September 22, 2008

highway turned race track

This past week I took a break from Puno and travelled to Arequipa with my arqueologist friend, Amanda. We met Benito, a co-worker from Concordia Language Villages, who just arrived to Peru in order to work on my Amantani literacy project over the next few months. Since Benito was getting used to the altitude (11,000 ft. in Arequipa), we decided to take advantage his condition and spend an additional day in the white city. The plan was to travel to Puno on the 10am bus the following day, Friday. But, of course, it's Peru and things never go as planned, and so I share with you yet another story:

The bus left on schedule at 10:00 am. I assumed things would go smoothly, especially as the bus was more than half full with tourists. We got about 30 minutes outside of Arequipa, on the hot, dessert outskirts of the city, when the bus was pulled over by the highway police.

No announcement was made by the driver, so initially we just waited. Benito and I could see that there were some angry Peruvians getting out of a bus in front of us. So, after about 10 minutes another American sitting near us went down to the bus driver to see what is happening. As it turns out, they had closed the highway between Arequipa and Cuzco for the Inca Path Road annual car race throughout the country. As luck (??) would have it we'd just happened to be on the route of the race that day. We were told we'd be holding from then (11:00) until around 2pm...maybe 3pm. In Peruvian that means 4pm...maybe 5pm!!!!!!!!! That meant, instead of getting into Puno around 3pm we'd arrive, at the earliest, 9pm or 10pm!!!!

The idea of being stuck on the bus on the edge of the city of Areqiupa that long...with about 4 pieces of bread, 5 clementines, and a bottle of water didn't sound great.

I called one of Qiqe's good friends who we'd seen the day before, Giorgio, and asked him if he thought we could get our tickets refunded for the next day. He said not to worry, stay put, and he'd call me back in 5 minutes. He returned the call, telling me how he had pretended to be our tour agent (his family runs 2 hotels and a tour agency) and yelled at the bus company. The bus company claimed they had warned all their passengers about the road blockage, and therefore would not hold themselves accountable.

Of course, we were not told about the road race...or the fact that it meant the entire highway would be closed all day. Seriously...who in their right mind would say, okay, I'll buy the ticket for 10am anyways and sit on the highway until 3 or 4ish!?!??! Strikes, road blocks, etc. never are good for transportation services. Instead of taking the high road (figuratively speaking) and being straightforward with their clients, these companies sell their tickets to make money and leave their clients stranded...literally.

We were not about to sit under the hot sun, so we got off the AC-less bus, requested the driver remove our bags from the storage unit, and grabbed the first taxi we saw to take us back to the city (for a total of 8 soles). Two quite intelligent, non-Spanish speaking German tourists approached us and asked if they could tag along. So, we found a second taxi and were off to the bus terminal. Giorgio, bless his soul, was studying for a test in his pijamas and quickly got changed and grabbed a cab from his house to meet us in the terminal. While he demanded our tickets be replaced for the following day, I called the hostal we stayed at the evening before and booked 3 rooms.

Our tickets were replaced, at no charge for the following day, the hostal gave us the rooms at a nice discount, and we spent the afternoon on the Plaza de Armas sipping coffee and reading instead of baking in the sun in a hot bus. It was, by far, our favorite day in Arequipa on the trip. Moral of the story: when in Peru...know what's going on on the social front, be proactive so that you don't get burned by inconsiderate tourism players, and plan a few days extra in case you get stuck on the side of the road as a highway is converted into a race track.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Getting back to work

Okay, I know, it's been a REALLY long time since I've posted something on this page. I wish to extend my sincerest apologizes to those who have continuously read my blog. You are probably wondering what happened to me since the last post MONTHS ago...let me just help you catch up:

-June and July were INSANE! Talk about your high tourism season! The restaurant was PACKED day and night! We were short one cook, so Qiqe was busy in the kitchen and I was upstairs trying to manage the overflow of customers. 13-14 hour days did not make it easy to sit in front of a computer to blog!

-The last time I posted on my blog I was extremely excited to be a legal resident. Sad to say, I was a bit premature in my celebration. Coming back to Puno from Bolivia, I still had quite a bit of bureaucratic....I'll try to keep this p.c. for the kids....hoopla to go through. Not fun. After more trips to the bank in Puno, getting my dental record checked with tools that I am pretty sure were never sanitized between patiences, more pictures, more waiting in line I was FINALLY given the okay to go to Lima to pick up my foreigner ID.

So, in Lima it only took another 2 weeks (after an amazing trip home with Qiqe to see my family) to get the okay first from INTERPOL...and the US FBI, and migrations. I will spare you all those details....because seriously, I could write a book on this whole experience. I would probably title it "Go Illegal or Go Get Married: saving time, money, and sanity...cuz legalization in Peru just ain't worth it".

Now that I am back in Puno, things are quite different. Qiqe is in Lima starting his first semester in Cordon Bleu. I can't wait to see him and have him cook for me! He loves it but has an incredibly busy workload.

Ursula, his sister, has taken over the administration of the restaurant, which has allowed me to focus more time and energy on the quinoa project and other social endeavours in the city. I invite you all to keep up with my work on my new sister blog where I am managing information for the project. Until we get funding to design a website, this blog will serve to provide information on our project.

This blog will be a bit more informal....a bit more check-out-this-crazy-experience to keep you all entertained on the ridiculousness of my life here among the Aymaras.

:) I will do my best to get back on track with my story-telling!

Friday, May 30, 2008

Legal residency...FINALLY

In mid-March Qiqe's dad was pushing us to start the application process for my worker's residency visa. "You don't want to wait until the last minute to deal with a bunch of problems," he warned us. What none of us realized at the time was that the whole process would be quite a problem.

I arrived to Peru on February 27th (the plane touched down right at 12:01....happy birthday to me!) on a tourist visa, providing me 90 days of residence in the country. After 90 days, I would need to leave Peru, enter a different country, and then re-enter Peru to revalidate my 90 days on a new tourist visa. To simply live in this country, this process does not present any legal problems...

...but, of course, things are never that simple. First of all, it is a tad expensive to move between countries every 90 days. Before Evo Morales took office in Bolivia, this situation was much easier. La Paz is a mere 6 hour drive from Puno, and many foreigners take advantage of the border to renew their visa. For Americans, though, the new policy of "reciprocity" has complicated the situation. Due to the strict migration policies of the USA, countries like Bolivia, Brazil and Chile have implemented a visa process for Americans who wish to travel to their countries. They all require US citizens to pay more than $100 dollars to apply for a visa.

Bolivia went above and beyond this requirement by presenting six or seven requirements for US tourists, including demonstrating economic solvency (they request a copy of your credit card!!!) Because I knew I'd have to visit Bolivia at least once in the coming year, I did apply and receive a Bolivian visa while I was still in D.C. It was a pain, but at least it was one less issue to worry about once I was in Peru. The biggest downfall is that the visa only allows you to enter Bolivia three times a year for a period of five years with a limit of 90 days per year!

Another reason that I need a work visa in order to, well, work! The benefit of having a worker's visa allows me to receive an income and live in Peru for up to two years without having to leave the country. Plus, it resolves any concerns that observers may have of my presence in the restaurant. The last thing I would want to do is cause problems for Qiqe, his family, or their business!

And so the process of applying for my workers visa began...and let me give you a summary of the ridiculous steps we had to take over a period of a month and a half:

**please note here that there is no written explanation or process to actually explain HOW to do all this...and each time we did one process we normally had to wait 30 minutes to speak with someone**

-go to the Ministery of Labor and present ourselves to the director who would okay the visa...just a quick "hi" to find out how to begin

-go to Migration Office to request the form required for a foreigner to sign a contract

-go to bank, wait in line to pay 20 dollars and 27 soles to the Migration Office

-return to Migration Office with bank payment slip

-go to photocopy center to make copies of passport, bank payment slip, and form

-return to Migration Office and receive form to sign contract

-go to Ministry of Labor with form to find out what forms, paperwork is needed

-create contract, print off diploma, fill out 4-5 other additional paper work needed

-return to Ministry of Labor to be told that we need three copies of each document, signed by notary

-go to notary to have papers signed...after hunting down three different lawyers on two days because they all take lunch breaks from 12-4pm!!!!!

-return to Ministry of Labor and be told that we needed to have three separate folders for each set of papers

-get folders, go back to Ministry of Labor

-go to bank to make similar payment to Ministry of Labor

-return to Ministry of Labor with bank slip

-go to Photocopy center to make copies of bank slip and signed document by Ministry of Labor

-return to Migrations Office with signed documents by Ministry of Labor

-go to bank to make another payment (I'm still unclear why we had to pay them again)

-return to Migrations begins the wait up to 45 minutes to speak to anyone, and most of the time they aren't doing anything in the office!

-go to Photocopy center to make copies of bank slip, signed documents by Ministry of Labor

-return to Migration Office to send materials to Lima for approval.

This was done on April 14th. We were told to come the first week of May to hear when we could go to La Paz to pick up the visa.

-First week of May, no word from Lima

-Second week of May, still no word. Some of my friends recommended that I pay off the staff with some cash to make the process speed up. I refused to sink that low.

Luckily, it turned out that Qiqe's mom was friends with the director of Migrations...get this....the director of Migration's mother use to sell them contraband televisions and other electronics. Oh the irony. Anyways, Qiqe's mom and I went into the office to meet the director. Enjoy the following dialogue:

Director of Migrations "Rosa! How are you? It's been so long since I have seen you."
Rosa "It is good to see you too. Congratulations on the position..."
(additional small talk)
Director of Migrations "I didn't know that this was your case...I will make sure it goes through tomorrow"
Rosa "Please do...Laura only has a few days left here with her visa, and we really would like to get things in place as soon as possible."
Director of Migrations "Of course"
Rosa "Yes, she is working with us now. She is my son's girlfriend"
Director of Migrations "Oh that is wonderful! You know, Laura, you two could just get married and this would go much faster"
(moment in which my face turns BRIGHT red and I somehow forget to speak Spanish)

We thank the director, and leave...and wait...and wait....until I can't wait any longer, and I have to leave Peru because my tourist visa is almost up. So Enrique and I take a day off to go to Bolivia, and return the following day to renew my tourist visa.
(the pictures are from our break in La of my favorite cities in Latin America by the way!!!)

Four days later we get the call that my visa has been approved! FINALLY. Now, I just have to return to Bolivia in the coming week, obtain my visa from the Consulate of Peru in La Paz and come back into Peru.

So, ugh, yeah...gotta love Latin American bureaucracy!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


It has been unseasonably cold the past week. Needless to say, it was a bit difficult to wake up at 5:30 am and leave the comfort of 4 wool blankets, 1 fleece, and a hot water bag. Still, I managed to get up, put on two pair of pants, two sweaters, my winter jacket, my hat, my gloves, and my sunscreen. Qiqe and I were on the bus a little after 6am and rode out to Juli to meet up with Nico and Oscar of the NGO, Centro-IRPA, the local organization behind our new project.

We jumped into Nico's truck and headed out to our first visit of the morning in the community of Anchoaqui, in the District of Huacullani, of the Province of Chucuito (a.k.a- middle of nowhere rural Puno.) Our guest was a relative of Nico, which may play a key factor in making the project work in this sector.

Over the next hour, we spoke with two locals about the production of quinoa. Currently, they produce an adequate amount of quinoa and even in a year of difficult weather, for their family's needs. They are even able to salvage a few kilos of the grain for sales on a good year. Generally, though, they produce a more bitter version of the quinoa which requires additional washing, and is not as appetizing as the white, or sweet quinoa.

For the needs of the restaurant, we explained that they would have to harvest a specific strand of white quinoa called “Sajama” because it is a larger and sweeter grain that is easier for recipes like taboule, quinoto, and other salads. The two farmers expressed a bit of concern because sweet quinoa often falls victim to hungry birds that inhabit the area. We all shared a laughed as Nico joked that the community was afraid of birds. But he did question if they used any tactics to scare the birds off like scarecrows or netting. The farmers commented that this was never done, so it gives us all hope that a different method may help protect the sweet quinoa.

We spoke a bit more about the local human, socio-economic and technical farming production realities of the community. The population lives in extreme poverty. There is no medical center in the region and only one school for 60 children who are taught by 2 teachers (3 grade levels taught per teacher).

What I found to be completely shocking was the price at which they currently sell their quinoa grain. An arrobaor about 6.5 kilos sells for about 15-18 soles (that’s about .60 cents of a sole per kilo!) In the local market in Puno, quinoa grain sells up to 8 soles a kilo. We still need to do the math with the NGO as well as consider a more adequate payment for the quinoa, as to not overwhelm the expectations of the producers at the onset of our work.

Next, we set off towards Lake Titicaca. Nico said to save time we would cross one of the hilltops, which Qiqe and I thought he was just saying as a joke…but literally….we took this crazy path and drove over a small mountain. It was like being in a ford truck commercial…and his truck is, seriously, like a rock.

After another 45 minute drive we arrived in the lakeshore community of Isani in the district of Zepita. If the project works here, it is an ideal spot to conduct agro-tourism as it is situated right between the border towns of Yunguyo and Desaguaderos.

The wind from the lake felt so cold that we hoped to convince the farmer we had come to meet to meet in the truck. He really wanted us to come speak in his house, which in this case meant in the yard of his house. Brrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

This meeting proved to be a bit more apprehensive and uncertain. The community currently does not produce a great deal of quinoa as it holds less purchasing power in the local markets compared to beans, potatoes, and barley. Still, the farmer was open to the opportunity and will invite another five farmers to participate in the effort.

With both communities, we are set to meet with all the interested farmers and begin discussion of the project in late June. The day was long, but extremely productive, and we are all quite hopeful for its development. Next up, Nico and I have a lot of work to edit the project and start seeking out financial support for the effort!

Monday, April 21, 2008

An Education in Tourism

We woke up at 6:30 to start packing the box lunches. The tour bus picked us up at 8:00 and we were on our way to Atuncolla, a small community outside of the Sillustani Funeral Temples (about 45 minutes away from Puno.)

It seemed like a normal tourist outing, but in reality, the big yellow tour bus of All Way Travel hauled out a special group of passengers: Nina Fogelman, Director of Ancient Summer Enterprises, Inc., Mery Calderón, Director of Kuoda Tours Agency, Victor Pauca, Manager of All Ways Travel, Jeny Juño, President of the Chamber of Hotels and Owner of Kusillos Posada Hostal, her son, Gerson, Enrique, and myself.

The bus was also hosted boxes of story books, encyclopedias, and a bookshelf. The purpose of the trip was to inaugurate a new approach to tourism, connecting tourists with locals, and both parties to education with the objective of supporting the educational potential rural youth. The tourism project is based on the curriculum that Victor and I developed during my first months here as a Fulbright. Now, it seems, our dream is becoming a reality. Victor, Mery, and Nina are very committed to supporting the development of social conscientious tourism that promote local, culturally sensitive development in the rural communities of Puno. Nina brought together a very gracious donation of books and shelves. All three are hopeful that their clients will be interested in participating in the tourism route.

During our trip, we gave books to children in a local kindergarden and elementary school. Money was also raised by Nina and her contacts to improve the sanitation services for the elementary school.

The amazing part of this whole effort is that tourists can participate both directly and indirectly.
Those that wish to visit the communities can take part in the trip through any of the three tourism agencies. They can visit the schools, meet the children and work with them as tutors to read and with other academic development needs. At the same time, they get a chance to see the BEAUTIFUL lagoon and the temple ruins of Sillustani or Lake Titicaca.

Those that do not want to visit the sights, or want to support indirectly can make donations (monetary or in the form of academic materials like books, pencils, etc.) either to Nina in the US or with Victor in Puno. If anyone would like to see the profile of the program, I would be happy to mail them a copy via my work email: