November 17 – December 7, 2019

Proverbs 16:3

Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and he will establish your plans

November 17-23, 2019 [Arequipa, Peru]

I packed my bags and headed for my new temporary residence on the rooftop terrace of a complex in Yanahuara a neighborhood in Arequipa.  I really loved the new location and it was closer to the historic district which made for nice walks throughout the day.  I had it in mind to be very scheduled and diligent with my Spanish studies, but to be honest I failed miserably at this. 

I spent the week in between a range of activities.  The terrace had a *fabulous* kitchen with a wall of glass doors leading out to the deck that overlooked the neighborhood and grand bridge that unfortunately blocked the peak of Montana de Misti.  I took the opportunity to cook a LOT of my meals.  I missed cooking, and with the lack of day to day pressures, this chance to relax, listen to podcasts and music while enjoying the scenery was a welcomed routine.  I especially enjoyed cooking in the evenings.  The air was cool, and I found a strand of Christmas lights and a few candles that served as my primary light sources.  The market was about a mile away.  There were 2 supermarkets (1 in the basement floor of a very elite mall) and the 2nd was down the street in a 2-story building where you took your cart up a floor to get to the food.  There was an actual outdoor local market next to the supermarket, but as this was my first round purchasing a large quantity of groceries, I was not confident enough in my Spanish speaking abilities to navigate the situation. In the states, I make a point to space out or buy limited quantities of many items for cost savings.  Here in Peru, I found and bought all of the grocery items I wanted! I bought avocados, passion fruits, fruits that looked like passion fruit but weren’t and were slightly sweet and tasted DELICIOUS, almonds, pecans, jar of peanut butter, quinoa, organic yogurt, sauces, spices, rotisserie chickens, blue cheese, another type of cheese, really nice meats, precut vegetables which I was unfamiliar, and a number of other items.  In total I’m embarrassed to say I spent a total of $70.  This is a ridiculous amount of money, especially when my weekly rent was $77, but I missed cooking and my body was (and still is) craving nice salads and a high protein/fat diet.  So, I made my way home by taxi with bags of groceries and meal prepped by candle light. 

I kept the rest of my week pretty mellow.  I managed to get at least 6 Spanish lessons in online.  I also went for a lot of walks around the neighborhood and took many afternoon naps.  To get to the historic district from my Airbnb, I walked through a long park that bordered the river and ‘International Club’ which was more or less a country club.  The park is a little neighborhood oasis. At any given time, you would see fathers playing soccer with their kids, older ladies knitting on a park benches, many young couples in full embraces, groups of younger people sharing ‘special’ drinks from old soda bottles.  Towards the end of the long stretch of park there were llamas left to graze during the day.  Large trees scattered throughout and pineapple sized flowers that smelled like honey suckle lining the sidewalks.  I turned left out of the park to cross the bridge into the historic district.  It was at the end of the bridge where the street vendors appeared, restaurants, and all of the historic points of interest spread across the city.  I took a liking to this one particular desert called ‘Sopa de Lucuma’ at the restaurant Capriccio.  I liked this desert so much in fact I had it a total of 3 (yes 3) times.  The dish came out on a large rectangular plate with a cream and chocolate swirled pudding type spread, then there were these three-gumball size fried balls dimpled on top.  When you cut into the fried balls, they oozed out steamy chocolate lava.  I realized on round two of this magical desert experience, that one ought to pour spoonfuls of the pudding concoction on top of the fried balls before releasing the chocolate goodness from its fried shell. YUM. YUM. YUM.

Other evenings I went for walks on the south side of the city to get better views of the sunsets.  I REALLY enjoyed the sunsets in Arequipa.  The colors in the sky were breath taking.  The way the dry hot air turned brisk and light was well worth simply finding a chair and watching the sky shift into dusk.  On one particular evening I found the Munanqui Tea House with probably the best tea menu I have ever seen in my life (https://munanqui.com)

It was that Wednesday mid-morning when I realized how significantly my life had changed.  I had been attending workouts a couple of times a week at the climbing gym, and the owner was planning for an outdoor hike which I was invited to participate.  I met up with the group and took a bus about 20 minutes out of town.  We ended up in this mosquito infested landing near the river with giant flat boulders prepared for our ascension.  As I was getting ready for a 2nd round of outdoor climbing (this time in the bright of day), I realized that it was in fact a Wednesday and I was hanging out with some Peruvians, Frenchmen, and one kid from the states and we were just climbing some rocks.  No meetings, no emails, no ‘making the donuts’ 😊, just hanging out in Peru climbing some rocks.  Life is good.  I did three climbs that day, each one harder than the next.  It was weird looking down and having your feet dangling above 50-70 feet of space with only your toes tucked onto a ledge and fingers barely griping a hold.  I only fell once on the first climb, but the entire experience was more than invigorating.  I felt very confident until the last climb.  I had just made it to the top and was ready to descend when I looked down, and the guy belaying me had received a phone call which he promptly TOOK while I was preparing (mentally) to repel.  Not my favorite moment in life… After climbing I made my rounds to my first Peruvian ceviche and I was more than impressed by the food.  

Throughout the week I had the opportunity to play frunton with some new friends.  Frunton is a Peruvian sport very similar to racquet ball/tennis.  It has a racket and a baseball sized plastic ball that you serve against a wall and the opponent(s) receive the ball from the wall and proceed to smash the ball as hard as possible against the wall while keeping the ball within the boundaries.  Although similar to tennis, it removes all necessary fundamentals of the sport. Rather than encouraging a forehand with complete follow through over the shoulder and bent knees, frunton strongly encourages a brass swing in any conceivable direction so long you’re aiming towards the very tall wall.  The sport is fun and high intensity.  I am surprised by how long it takes me to get the hang of it, but fortunately the people I am playing with are patient and even let me serve twice on my turns (which was very necessary).

That Saturday, I prepared stuffed Caihua with vegetables, sausage, pepper jack cheese and sweet potatoes.  Afterwards I was craving my favorite desert and made my way to town.  After taking the last bite of the Sopa de Lucuma, I started to hear music coming from the street.  I went to the door to see what was happening, and I found an entourage of street performers and people carrying this doll shaped idol on a platform.  Group after group of musicians proceeded coordinated dancers in full costume performing dance routines over and over again led by whistle blowers maintaining the masses.  I paid my bill and made my way to the plaza where I knew a set of stairs that would lead me to the rooftop to watch the parade.  I was surprised to see that I was the first of only a few people who would arrive in the location.  The parade went on for some time.  I finally managed to speak with someone who explained that the event was in honor of some type of music goddess.  Apparently if the people in the town need a blessing of music, they can go ask the doll for assistance.  I stayed long enough to see a couple of people bowing before the doll gesturing the sign of the cross as they knelt. 

November 24-30, 2019 [Arequipa/Yanque, Peru]

Sunday came around and I was excited to attend an actual church service.  I went into town for an early breakfast and made my way to the church.  Church ended up lasting 5 hours which would have been fine had I understood more of it.  I was following along during Bible school and sang along to the worship songs, but as we got into the announcements and regular message, I was completely lost.  Towards the end of service, they had me stand up and say hello, which was nice and awkward since I couldn’t really say anything back. I smiled and nodded and sat down quickly.  It was a very friendly group, and many people came by to greet me afterwards.  I tried my best, but dipped out quickly. 

The next day I took on the adventure of walking across the bridge that had been staring at me from my rooftop. It was not particularly easy to get across. I suspected a pedestrian lane as I had seen many people walking across.  When I made it to the entrance of the bridge I was slightly intimidated to cross.  I found it strange that on this very busy 4 lane bridge there was an ice cream vendor setup between the round-about and bridge entrance. I watched as two or three taxis came zipping over to park and request their order from the passenger window.  I continued past and walked over the river to the neighborhood on the other side.  My objective was to make it what appeared to be a very large park per the map.  I somehow missed my turn, and ended up in this very kid friendly neighborhood.  The neighborhood was quite literally decorated with child art.  Pictures hung from the trees and were taped to the light posts.  It was like a parent’s refrigerator door decorated the town.  I finally made it to the park, but after fighting swarms of mosquitoes, opted to continue into town to run a couple of errands. 

That night I made it home and began craving some skewered meat. I had remembered seeing a street vendor setup nights before with a grill. My neighbor and I walked to town and we each ended up purchasing 3 skewers each for less than 5 soles (<$2).  I had two carne asada and one stick of corazon…  This was the week of appreciating street vendors, and I kept having random cravings for street food.  One night I had an urge to track down the churro lady… another successful mission, and dang that stuffed churro was delicious!

I was trying to find different things to do in the city.  I came across a chocolate making class at ‘The Chocolate Corner’ and signed right up.  This was hands down one of the coolest classes I have ever taken.  The host was Mark, a professional chocolatier who had studied chocolate in a 4-year program in Belgium. He met his Peruvian wife and later moved to Arequipa to open up a shop. The access to cocoa and other prime chocolate-making ingredients are readily available in Peru.  Mark thoroughly explained all of the details involved in the cocoa manufacturing process.  Not only did we make truffles and chocolate bars, but we taste tested different ingredients, and he showed me the secrets to preparing a perfect chocolate bar.  It was a real life ‘Willy Wonka’ experience, and to top it off, he gave me the recipes!

It was Thanksgiving week, and I was debating what to do.  I had met a lot of really cool people in Arequipa, and thought of hosting a little get together for a group.  On a whim I sent a few messages out and had a pretty good response.  I confirmed with the Airbnb host, and he agreed to let me host a few people. The day before Thanksgiving I came up with a menu, made a grocery list (in Spanish), and headed to the market.  This time, I was going to the real mercado, none of that supermarket business.  I had three large bags in tow and a list.  One of my proudest moments was successfully making a round through all of the vendors and buying almost every item I needed using what little Spanish I had started to pick-up.  I opted to cheat a little, and I did stop by the supermarket for just a few final items (specifically queso azul and 4 rotisserie pollos).  I made my way back home by taxi, and prepped food until 1am listening to every country song and child hood favorite hit I could think to play. 

Thanksgiving Day, I played a round of frunton and invited a few more friends to Thanksgiving.  The early morning frunton game was accented by a coffee invitation by the three older men that hung around the courts and spent their mornings conversating under an umbrella covered table near the courts.  The conversation had revolved primarily around religion to which I thoroughly enjoyed.  I understood large chunks of the conversation, and was even able to speak (with some assistance) here and there. 

The Thanksgiving dinner count had grown a bit, and I was up to around 13 guests.  I still needed to pick up a bus ticket, so I made my way across town to the Terminal station.  Upon arriving home, I hit the ground running and continued prepping the food.  Everything was taking quite a bit longer than expected, as I believe I had used quite a bit of propane in the week prior.  It all worked out and the dishes turned out wonderfully.  The guests were a mixed bunch, some I had met from climbing, another from my Spanish school, there was a group of four that I had met from the previous night who lived in Flordia and were traveling to Arequipa to visit their friends and family, and of course my neighbors and friends from frunton.  It ended up being an incredible night, and we topped it off with a venture into town to watch some local jazz. 

The next day was a bit of a whirlwind. I hadn’t quite planned on it, but on a whim, I emailed a Workaway program in Colcoa Canyon.  Colcoa Canyon is around 3 hours north of Arequipa.  It’s a hub for tourists, and throughout the city of Arequipa there are tour groups all over the city offering pretty expensive treks through Colcoa. The canyon itself is said to be deeper than the Grand Canyon.  The Workaway I had applied to was a resort hotel in the village of Yanque with horses, gardens, and a planetarium.  I had initially sent an e-mail and was rejected as I was only going to be available for less than 2 weeks, and there was a 3-week minimum.  The day after my rejection e-mail, I received a follow-up that there was a German couple who had planned to stay, but had a family emergency and needed to leave.  With the opportunity available, I booked a bus for Chivay and left the day after Thanksgiving. 

I made it to the town of Chivay in the early afternoon.  I was able to pick up a few essentials, grab a lunch from a restaurant serving a ‘menu del dia’, and tracked down the collectivos (minibuses where you share a ride with a group of people).  Collectivos are super cheap (~$0.60).  I showed the address to the driver, and he told me he would drop be off on the street, and I should walk straight until I see the hotel.  We drove the 15 minutes, and sure enough the driver pulled over and pointed me in the direction.  I don’t know what I was expecting, but Yanque is a pretty small town (~2,000 people).  Based on a pretty small sampling I’m guessing the average income is somewhere around 3-4 soles per hour ($1-$1.30 per hour).  I stepped out of the bus on a dirt road with dilapidated building all around.  There wasn’t a person in site, and the wind had really started to pick up.  I made it to the end of the dirt road and could see the hotel.  It was then that I hear what I am fairly confident is a bee (but maybe in retrospect a very large fly?) Whatever it was got stuck in my hair.  At this point, I have a 40L pack on my back, a daypack on my front, and a cloth bag on my shoulder.  I am whipping my hair like a CRAZY person trying to get this bee/fly out of my hair, and it WILL NOT LEAVE.  I spend a solid 60-90 seconds running, screaming, flipping my hair and praying that I will not get stung while all of this luggage is strapped to my body.  And so, with a bit of my pride left in the wind and dirt, I arrive at Tradicion Colca.   

When I first arrive, I am greeted by a 19-year old Swedish kid who will soon be my closest friend at the ranch.  He speaks incredible Spanish and English, and really has a knack for putting the place into perspective.  The truth turns out to be, the ranch is a bit… over marketed.  There are very few guests, most shifts (5 hours per day, 6 days a week) are spent thoroughly cleaning already clean things, and apparently there is ‘nothing to do’.  Entonces, I put my things in my cubby hole of a room, and head to the lobby where there is pretty slow internet.  I start to research every opportunity in the area, and I manage to come up with a pretty decent list.  I share it with my new friend who is stocked at any opportunity to get out of the hotel, and we agree to go on a hike the next day.

December 1-7, 2019 [Yanque, Peru/Cocoa Canyon]

It’s my first formal day of work in a little over a month and a half.  As informed by my dear friend, I spend the morning wiping window seals, moving chairs, sweeping, mopping, waxing floors, and cleaning patio furniture.  It is what it is, and I look forward to the hike.  The next couple of days are spent like this:  work in the morning and hike in the afternoons.  I find a few trails walking distance from the hotel and we make our way to the area.  On our first hike out, and in typically Grace fashion, I navigate incorrectly, and we end up near a river.  We start to make our own trail, but we need to cross the river.  Rather than jumping across a bunch of rocks that seemed a bit dangerous to me, I opt to walk straight through the river.  I end up throwing my shoes across to the other side, and one ends up in a puddle, haha! My buddy and I end up following the river quite a way, and then ascend to where we spot a bridge.  We climb through the terraced fields around the edges of planted gardens, and make steep climbs to fields of sheep and llamas, eventually making it to the bridge leading back to town. 

The next day we make a second attempt at the original trail headed towards the Uyo Uyo ruins.  We were told that there was a waterfall in the area and keep an eye out for it.  The Uyo Uyo ruins were occupied by the Quichuay Indians before the Incas took over.  I am again impressed by the ingenuity and irrigation systems, and the fact that much of the structures are still standing.  We spot the waterfall and follow a trail that appears to lead to the base.  There are NO PEOPLE IN SITE, and I begin to be even more thankful for a hiking buddy to explore safely.  We find the base of the waterfall, and start to climb a very steep path upward.  We find our way to a rock that overlooks the entire valley. In the distance, we see the river we explored the day prior, the volcano, Uyo Uyo ruins, town of Yanque, and the waterfall.  It’s a pretty incredible place.  In the distance we hear the roll of thunder and start to head back to town.

On Tuesday, we are brave enough to take a bus into Colca.  A year or more ago, I paid the premium rate for an AllTrails subscription which enabled me to download the area maps.  In the app, I found a couple of routes that would take us to two of the prime sites that someone back in Aguas Caliantes near Machu Picchu had shared with me.  The first hike was a pretty short route that took us to see a valley where condors would fly between 8-10am in the morning.  With the guide of an AllTrails map, and the name of a one-way bus route, we headed to the Plaza to wait for the bus.  We each pay the 5 soles for what turns out to be a 1-hour bus ride.  The bus stops at each village and we watch the passengers come and go.  The Peruvian woman are all decked out in their traditional skirts, long sleeve blouses, vests, and be-dazzled hats.  We make are way to the destination when we realize AllTrails is having us dropped off literally in the middle of no where on the side of the road.  I feel confident that this is the place, so we knock on the driver door and have him pull over.  Sure enough, we find the trail and begin our short walk across the edge of the canyon towards the condors.  For lack of better words, the local troll comes to us asking to see our Colca Canyon pass.  Apparently, there is a 5-day pass that is required to be in the canyon.  This is the first time either of us are hearing about this.  At first, we are skeptical, but it becomes clear that this is in fact a requirement for all tourists.  The cost is 70 soles (~$23) each.  We explain that we are volunteering in a village nearby, and that we are only going on this short hike for less than an hour to see the condors before returning to work in the afternoon.  Eventually we talk her down to 15 soles each and she hands us a pass that is good for 2 days.   This was an unexpected joy which we only later realize the true value. After paying the troll, we embark on our 1.5 mile hike to the condors.  When we arrive, we see no condors. Only slightly disappointed, we find a nice place overlooking the canyon and eat our packed lunches.  As we are finishing up lunch, we see a bus pull up and it appears to be heading back in the direction we need to go.  This is very fortunate, as the place is starting to clear out and we were told the next bus wasn’t going to arrive for another 4-5 hours (if at all).  We speak with the driver, and he has exactly two spaces left.  He charges us 5 soles each, and we begin the ride back to town.  We soon realize that we crashed a tour bus.  This works out quite well for us.  We get the history of the area, and the driver stops at many places along the way back to let everyone out of the bus for pictures and a brief synopsis.  Fortunately for me, I have my trusty translator in tow, and my dear friend skips all the boring details and fills in the gaps with a lot of ‘blah, blah, blahs’. At one of the stops there is a man-made tunnel created from the rock. It reminds me of a picture my dad and grandpa took together when he was maybe a little younger than me.  I get my friend to snap the shot.   When we make it back to the hotel, we grab some lunch and decide to go to the hot springs.  The hot springs are across town (and by across town, like a 15-minute walk).  We walk down the steep hill, across the swinging bridge, and make it to the hot springs.  They tell us it’s 30 soles for 2 people, but we haggle down to 20 for 2.  There are 5-6 covered hot springs.  The pools have been carved out of the rock and are full of minerals. The water is naturally warmed from the active volcano nearby.  I haven’t had a hot shower in a few days and it is a relief to the body to relax in the steamy water.  After the hot springs we head back, and I work a 5-hour shift.  A few guests arrive, and I immediately know they are Californian.  I find out later they are actually from Rancho Bernardo and use to live near my old neighborhood.  I get the slightest bit homesick speaking with them, but we have a great conversation and enjoy sharing stories from Peru. 

Wednesday is my free day.  It is finally time to explore THE Colca Canyon.  We board the bus and enjoy the 1-hour scenic ride towards our destination.  Again, we have the driver drop us off at some unknown location on the side of the road.  We find our way to a water hole where I purchase some water and my kid friend grabs a Twix (which he insists are from EU, lol).  The lady tells us there is no chance we’re finishing our hike in a single day.  We insist we know what we’re doing.  We start the descension, and continue the descent for the next 9 km.  The canyon is massive, and to be honest, at the beginning, I really didn’t think the map was going to take us all the way to the river at the base of the canyon.  Had I known that piece of information earlier on, I might have woosed out.  Remember this thing is deeper than the Grand Canyon.  But I must say, it was magical.  I’m not sure if it was the altitude or dehydration, but I sat for a while zoning out on the way back up, just staring at the vastness of it all, trying to grasp the size. It was a bit unbelievable and no pictures do it justice.  In total we ended up with 18.2 km, 27,237 steps, and 306 floors of stairs at 3,395M… Not to mention, I’m trailing this 19-year old kid who has the fastest walking pace I’ve ever seen. We made it back in record time and began looking for a ride back home.  On the way up, I started praying hard for a ride.  The thunder started rolling, and I was worried we were going to get caught in the rain.  The place where the bus dropped us was deserted.  We planned to hitchhike, but hadn’t really seen to many cars.  A commercial truck drove by, but didn’t have space.  A few minutes later we saw a car in the distance.  We stuck out our thumbs and they pulled over.  We asked for a ride to Yanque, and they said they would be driving near, and told us to hop in.  They were two friends from Madrid driving a rent-a-car through the canyons headed back to Chivay.  They were really nice, and the girl and I immediately hit it off.  She is a professional violinist and shared with us some of her work.  She also typed out a list of Spanish artists and songs for me to check out:

  • El Colectivo – La Sra Tomasa
  • La Bejazz (jazz flamenco)
  • Ahyvin Bruno
  • Flavia Coehlo
  • Ana Tijoux
  • Eskorzo
  • Jorge Pardo
  • Chano Dominguez
  • Silvia Perez Cruz
  • Bomba Estereo
  • Diego El Cigala
  • Javier Limon
  • Volando Junto a Ti (song)

Unbeknownst to us, they were on route passing right in front of our hotel.  They left us there, and we said our goodbyes.  Apparently, I left my hat in the backseat, and they were so kind to turn around and drive back to our hotel to give me the hat.  They hung out at the hotel for a little while, and we chatted a bit more. 

A few hours later a new volunteer arrived.  A really laid-back dude from Spain who has an infectious laugh.  My Twix loving-speed walkin’ friend wasn’t too thrilled about a handful of things going on at the hotel, and opted to leave early the next morning.

The next day I came down with another round of stomach issues.  I try eating very bland foods, use my oils, take the last of my probiotics/multi-vitamin/methylfolate, nothing really helped.  I ended up spending a majority of the next day in bed, then working, then back to bed. 

Friday was a very relaxing day.  It was just me and the Spanish dude, and not a single hotel guest.  Later in the afternoon another dude showed up. He was from the Bay area, and a professional cook at a Michelin 1-star restaurant.  I hadn’t eaten much for at least a day, so I was pretty stocked to have a chef show up.  That evening, the three of us decided to check out the Plaza and potentially go to the next town over.  When we made it to the plaza it was completely empty.  We hung out in the ONLY open place and played a few rounds of a new card game called ‘Cambio’.

Saturday morning, I woke up early to help with making a staff breakfast.  I was excited to help and got quite a few tips on omelets, hash browns, poached eggs, directions for making fancy infused butter with garlic/shallots/parsley.  Afterwards, we scraped the restaurant chairs and re-stained them. Later that evening, the three of us played more rounds of ‘Cambio’ next to a dying fire.