Tuesday, December 17, 2013

An Unforgettable Haircut and the End of the Year

I´m at the Santiago airport killing time before my flight back to the States for the holidays.  One of my friends is also flying out around the same time, so we've been catching up waiting to board.  I also ran into a coworker at a cafe here and a former coworker while in the line for security.  It seems the airport brings people together.

I thought that I wouldn’t have much interesting to blog about before leaving Chile for the year, but it turns out I was wrong.

Have you ever gotten a round of applause after getting a haircut?

No?  Really?  Well it’s a pretty cool experience.  So how did THAT happen?

There’s a hair salon school about 3 blocks from my apartment, and I have been going to get my haircut there for a little over 3 years now.  Students that are learning to become hair stylists cut your hair, and since they are practicing they charge a very nice price.  For me to get a haircut I pay $1,000 pesos, which is about $2. 

I went on Saturday morning, and after paying the receptionist asked me the following question:

¿Te molesta si el instructor hace el corte mientras dos alumnos observan?
(Would it bother you if the teacher cuts your hair while two students observe you?

I told him it would be fine, and about five minutes later the teacher came for me and asked me how I wanted my hair cut.  A buzz cut, same length all around, I told her.  I then walked into the room curious to see the two students.

Well, it wasn´t two students.  It was about 35.

I quickly realized that I misheard the receptionist.  I thought he said dos alumnos (two students), but he said los alumnos (the students).  I think the surprise on my face was obvious, and there was a quet laughs and murmurs upon my entrance.  I then wished I had shaved seeing that I was going to be on display for an entire class of students.

So I took a seat, and the instructor put on the apron while I took off my glasses.  She began talking to the class giving a play by play of my haircut.  She asked me what length I wanted, and I told her 3 to start but possibly shorter.  “Si el cliente pide 3, usas 4. Si pide 2, usas 3.  Siempre se puede hacerlo más corto pero no se puede cortarlo más largo.”  (If the customer asks for length 3, use 4.  If he asks for 2, use 3.  You can always cut their hair shorter, but you can´t cut it longer.”

She then continued on, showing how you go over each area of the head with a buzz cut twice, and insisting that the hair stylist is in control of the head positioning, not the customer. 

Another interesting thing came up during the haircut.  For those of you that don´t know Spanish, there are two words that are pronounced almost identically in Spanish but that have different meanings in English:

Peine means comb.
Pene means penis.

The instructor was very fond of talking about her peine and how she took it out and then ran it over my head to get out the loose hairs.  As childish as the similarity of words is, I had to hold in my laughter since I was on display for all of these students.

She cut my sideburns and trimmed my neck before brushing the extra hairs off.  After handing me my glasses and letting me look in the mirror, I took of the apron and stood up.

And that´s the moment when I got a round of applause.  I was taken off guard and had no idea what the etiquette is in that situation.  Do I give a bow or just nod my head?  I settled for a smile, a quick wave, and a gracias.

The past few days have been spent meeting with friends, finishing up the last of my classes for the year, and getting ready for the trip home.  I didn´t get to meet up with everyone that I was hoping to, and I didn´t get my place as organized as I had hoped to, but that´s ok.  I´ll be back in February and will have plenty of time to pick up where I left off.

In case I don´t get to post again in 2013 I`d like to wish everyone a wonderful holiday season and Happy New Year wherever in the world you are.

¡Hasta 2014!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Reflections on Peru

I arrived back in Chile safe and sound.

The bus ride back to Lima was uneventful, and in the evening I went souvenir shopping and grabbed a quick dinner.  I had to be up at 5 to get a ride to the airport the next morning.

The taxi was half an hour late, but luckily I still had enough time to get through security and get some breakfast.  

The flight was also uneventful, and I made it home by 3:30 that afternoon.  

I´m really glad I took this trip.  Traveling always brings out the adventurous side of me, and I always meet interesting people along the way.  Even though I will probably never see the people that I met along the way ever again, there´s something special about connecting with other travelers and people from another culture.  It broadens your horizons, makes you realize that traveling is worthwhile, and makes you realize how we are all human.  We all want to be happy, and we all have dreams.  Some of them are more complex than others, but many are much simpler.

My family shared their concerns about my safety, and I was sure to be cautious every step of the way during my trip.  I didn´t wear my watch in public, and the only technology I brought with me was my camera, phone (which stayed in the hostel), and old I pod.  I didn´t go out at night unless I was with another person or in an area that I knew was safe.  I was anxious about having a bad experience, but I used common sense and didn´t let my anxiety stop me from enjoying my trip.

There were still more things that I could have done in Lima and Nazca, but I didn´t want to overbook myself, and eating at some of the nice restaurants cut into my budget more so than I was expecting.  Oh well, I guess that means I´ll have to go back another time!

Lima has a Papa John´s in their airport.  It´s nice to see that
they have their priorities in order.  When are you going to
catch up Santiago???

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Nazca: A Day for the Sky

Yesterday was a day for the sky.  What do I mean by that?  Well, I took a flight to see the Nazca lines, and I went to a planetarium to go stargazing.

After a nice breakfast at the hostel a guy named Raul picked me up at 9.  There was a German couple in the car too, and we talked about our travel experiences on our way to the Nazca airport. 

The airport was surprisingly busy.  There were about 12 counters with different companies offering flights to see the Nazca lines and small groups of people milling around waiting for their flight.  Luckily Luis was making all the arrangements for us.

After stepping on a scale and handing over our passports for verification, the three of watched an informative video.  The Nazca was a pre-Incan culture that survived in very harsh conditions: only 2 hours of rainfall per year and a very hot climate.  We don't know the reason why, but they constructed elaborate lines of various figures such as an astronaut, monkey, parrot, and triangles by arranging rocks in various outlines.  The incredible part is that the figures can only be seen from the sky, which begs the question: How did they do it?  They didn't have the technology to fly then.  Some people think that they made the figures for their god to see, as they believed in one god who could fly.  Mysteriously the Nazca disappeared without a trace at one point, leaving scientists baffled as to what happened.

Before the video was over Luis came over and told me that I would be flying with 4 Colombians.  They had to arrange the flying groups based on weight distribution since the planes were so small.  We had the chance to snap some pictures on the runway before getting in and taking off.

The flight was smooth, and we got a detailed card showing the flight path and the different figures we would see.  The pilots passed by each one on the left and right side and pointed the wing so that we could see the figure.  It was amazing seeing them with my own eyes, but unfortunately it's difficult to see them from the pictures I took.  The flight was about half an hour, and then we were back on the ground again.  Here are some of the pictures I took:

You can see the outline of a man along the right dark side of the mountain.
If you look closely you can see the outline of a hummingbird.
Attached to its tail are a bunch of geometric lines.
We survived!  Our reward?  The chance to get a picture
in the pilot`s seat!
Afterwards I got a van ride back to the hostel, and it turns out two other people in the van were staying there too.  We chatted about our travel experiences, and they decided to go on the sand dune tour I took yesterday.  The sun was strong, so I decided to rest a bit before heading out for lunch.  As I walked through town I came across some really beautiful murals.  Some of them do a much better job of showing what the Nazca lines look like:

Either they must have spent a lot of time at the gym and had a steady
diet of protein shakes or they must haven done a lot of steroids.

This is a representation of the god the Nazcan people believed in.
The woman who dedicated her life to preserving the Nazca lines
After killing some more time I went to the planetarium.  I got there a bit early and chatted with a Peruvian woman who ran the gift shop until the guide arrived.  The planetarium is actually part of the Hotel Nazca Lines, and he took us through the courtyard towards and open area with a telescope.  Unfortunately it was cloudly so we couldn`t see much except for the moon, but then we went inside and got to see a show.

The guide created a show all about the Nazca lines and how they were created and what we know about them.  Apparently the Nazcans created them over a period of 1000 years by picking up the dark rocks in the area to uncover the whitish/grayish ground underneath.  They used poles and string to help create straight lines, and the lines cover an area of over 300 square miles.  Not at easy feat considering that this spanned over multiple generations of people.

They were first discovered in the 1920s when commercial airlines began traveling over the area.  At that time the Pan American highway had already been built, cutting some of the figures into two. They believe that the lines point to water sources related to the nearby river, but they also discovered that some of the lines point to the sun´s location during the winter and summer solstices.  Archeologists think that the lines were part of a religious ceremony and that the Nazca people would walk or dance along them.  Many of the lines lead to the river and large hills, so that seems to make sense.

So how do we know so much about the Nazca lines? A German woman named Maria Reiche came to Peru to research and preserve the Nazca lines.  She dedicated 40 years of her life to their research and preservation, walking there and hitchiking each day.  Eventually the Nazca Lines Hotel (which at the time was owned by the Peruvian government) offered her a free hotel room there due to her dedication to the cause, and she stayed in that room for 25 years.  Maria lived to be 95 years old, and she passed away in 1998.  The room isn`t available for guests to stay in, but people on the tour are allowed inside.  Inside there were two beds (one for Maria and another for her nurse), an armchair that she sat in much of her time there, and some pictures up on the wall of her at various times of her life.  It was really amazing to see how she dedicated so much of her life to a cause that she believed in, and if it weren´t for her perhaps we wouldn´t know as much as we do about the Nazca lines.

 Even after the show it was still too cloudy to do any stargazing, but I didn´t mind.  I found the Nazca lines and information about Maria Reiche fascinating and was satisfied with that.
After catching dinner with some fellow travelers from the hostel it was time for bed.  I wanted to be rested for the seven and a half hour bus ride back to Lima.  

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Roughing It: Downtown Lima, Some Catacombs, and Sandboarding in Nazca

My first few days in Lima I settled in.  I got used to Miraflores and the "nice" part of town, but now it was time to venture out and see more of Lima.

I had to go to the bus station to pick up my tickets to Nazca, and I also wanted to go to downtown to see the Plaza de Armas and the San Francisco Church and catacombs.  I told the hostel receptionist about my plan, and she started to give me directions how to get there.  It was confusing at first and I wasn't keen on the idea of taking the buses she was telling me about, so she told me about another line of buses.  I needed to borrow and charge a bus card, and after she explained it to me it sounded much more straightforward. 

Some of the other people staying at the hostel had told me about a market which was near the bus stop, so I decided to check it out.  It had a dizzying array of fresh fruits, foods, and housewares.  There was a huge range of colors and it was bustling with activity, much in contrast with the relatively calm places I had gone to before this.  Here´s the sign from one of the shops selling fruit juice and sandwiches:

It was actually a hot sunny day (in comparison to the overcast and humid days Thursday and Friday), so I settled on a strawberry smoothie and small ham and cheese sandwich.  It was delicious and cost an entire 7.50 soles (about $2.50).  I wandered around a bit but then decided to head out for the bus station.

Taking the metropolitana bus system was surprisingly easy.  I put money on the card and then held it up to a reader which let me through a turnstyle.  I went down the stairs and went left for south or right for north, and there were then 2 or 3 spaces where the buses stop to let passengers on and off.  I was able to take route A or C to get to the bus station, and after one bus went by and it being too crowded I made it on the next one.

Well this certainly makes things easy!

I quickly learned that people in Lima do not have any qualms with violating your personal space, pushing, or shoving.  It reminded me of the metro rush hour in Santiago, but as annoyed as I was I made it to the bus station without a problem.  After getting my ticket it was back on the bus and to downtown.

I got off the bus in downtown and made my way to Plaza de Armas.  I saw people with cameras and phones out, so I cautiously took mine out to snap some pictures.  I found someone to take a picture for me too, and then I went to the church and catacombs. 

Along the way I found a nice treat: churros!  They were selling vanilla, chocolate, and caramel,and I settled on a vanilla one.  It was quite different from any churro I had ever seen before, but it was delicious.

OK, so back to the church and catacombs.  I wasn't allowed to take any pictures inside, but it was good to make me focus on the tour guide.  Lima used to be an important cultural center, and the artwork showed its importance.  There was a lot of colonial influence and of course a lot of religious art.  I think the most interesting part for me was an alternative painting of The Last Supper.  It had the 12 apostles, but instead of a rectangular table it was round.  I'm not much of an art history buff, but it was still interesting.

As we made our way down to the catacombs, the tour guide explained that there were churches for people based on their social status.  This particular church was for poor people.  We went from chamber to chamber and saw bones and skulls sorted into various sections of the ground below us.  It was really eerie.

When I finished there I decided to head back to Miraflores for some dinner to beat the rush hour traffic.  (It was almost 5 by that point, but I only remembered it was Saturday after I was already on the bus).  I settled on some lomo saltado at an upscale restaurant (ok, so I cheated a bit on the roughing it part here!) and made it an early night.

I was worried about getting robbed or having problems in Lima, but I didn't let that stop me from going out to see what I wanted to see.  Some common sense goes a long way, and it was a nice self esteem boost to have navigated around the city on my own.

Back at the hostel I researched options for my two days in Nazca before going to bed.  I woke up around 2:45 Sunday morning and packed my bags for my bus to Nazca at 3:45.  I traveled with Cruz del Sur, and it was a comfortable trip.  I sprung for a VIP seat (it was $35 instead of $27), and the seat was big, comfortable, and reclined.  They put on a movie, but I was content to sleep.  I got a sandwich, tea, and a piece of fruit for breakfast, and we arrived in Nazca at 11.

After checking in at the hostel, I booked a tour to ride a sand buggy, visit the sand dunes,and go sandboarding.  I still had about 3 hours to kill until then, so I wandered into town and came across a huge market.  I got a fruit smootie and then some lunch for 8 soles (about 3 bucks). 

The sun is strong here, and I bought a hat and 3 bottles of water to prepare for the sand dunes. I waited at the hostel, and imagine my surprise when Luis called me outside and a guy drove up in a sand buggy.  Yes, an actual sand buggy.

The driver greeted me as Eduardo and encouraged me to hop in.  I did so and fumbled a bit as I figured out that the seat belt went over my head and then attached to a part from below.  Maybe it`s just me, but that arrangement doesn`t seem too friendly to a guy`s nether regions in the case of an accident or fast stop.  

We drove a few blocks and made a few turns, and we picked up two more people: Martin and Alex from Germany.  We chatted during the ride, but as we made it from the main street to the highway to the offroad terrain it became too loud to talk.

Our first stop was the see some aqueducts that the Nazca had constructed.  Nazca gets 2 hours of rain per year.  Needless to say, they need to conserve every drop of water they get.  They built them this way with rocks in a terraced manner so that the rocks would protect the ground from falling and destroying their access to the water.  It also allows them to tap into the water below the ground.

We then continued on to see the ancient pyramids.  The Nazca civlization dates back to the time before the Incans, and they constructed about 25 pyramids for the purpose of celebrations, honoring their god, animal and human sacrifices, among other things.  Eduardo told us that there are more pyramids, but there isn`t funding for people to come and do any type of excavation.  Unfortunately they stopped letting tourists walk through the pyramids about 10 years ago, so we could only get pictures from afar.

Our next stop was to see some preserved skulls and bones.  Some graverobbers came along and dug up some graves to sell the jewels and anything of value, and then they left the skulls and bones behind.  Due to the sun, sand, and dry weather, the bones and skulls appear very white.

About 20 minutes later we drove through a small group of houses, and then Eduardo told us to get out.  He had to let air out of the tires in order to drive through the sand.  A few minutes later we piled back in, and then we made our way to the sand.

Seeing the white sand against the blue sky was beautiful.  There was no one there except for us, and it really made me appreciate the beauty of nature.  

We made our way up one of the dunes.  I thought, "OK, where are we going......?"

Before I could finish the thought by saying "now", Eduardo had us going down a sand dune at almost a 90 degree angle.  We were caught off guard but it was so awesome.  Eduardo drove us around up and down various dunes for about another 10 minutes, and we loved it.  At times I flew off of my seat, and it was really exhillerating.

Notice that we can´t see the sky because we are going straight down.
We finally stopped near the top of a dune, and Eduardo told us to go to the top.  The view was amazing, and we snapped some pictures.  Then Eduardo brought up the sandboards and showed us how to ride them.

That´s the sand buggy down there.
The first step was to put some wax on the bottom of the board.  Then we started simple with sitting on the board and riding it down.  As simple as it was, I still managed to fall off my board near the end.

Wax on, wax off.  Sorry, I couldn´t resist the Karate Kid reference!

After making it back up to the top again, the next step was to lay on the board and go face first.  I wanted to get a video of what it was like, but I also didn´t want my camera covered in sand so I had to settle for a picture from the top.

Here goes nothing!
I managed to stay on this time!
Then it was to the real thing: strapping the sandboard onto your feet and riding down that way.  Due to my amazingly bad coordination I didn`t give this part a try.  Eduardo gave really good instructions on how to put on the straps and brake, and I actually think it was more entertaining watching Martin and Alex go down the first few times than actually participating.  

While the Germans were sandboarding, I talked with Eduardo.  He told me about his dreams of traveling to the United States and of expanding his business.  The sense I got is that he is doing pretty well and has developed good relations with others in the tourism business in Nazca, but he wants to expand and to be able to offer more tours.  (Right now he only has one sand buggy that can hold him and 3 passengers).  He told me how he wants to improve his English and is grateful to the private schools that have started up in Nazca.  His daughter used to be in a public school and the resources weren`t there for her to learn, but now she`s learning English and all of the basics at age 4.  When I told him about Amazon and how there are books for learning English there geared towards tourism, he thought I was talking about the jungle and had never heard of the website.  As I explained the website to him, it really hit me how different our realities and lives are.  Despite that, here we were connected through this tour and a love of adventure and travel.

The sun was starting to go down, and the wind was picking up.  After getting some last pictures, we got into the buggy and started to make our way back.  We made one last stop to see the sunset and knock the sand out of our shoes and socks.  

Here I´m pretending to think something very philosophical.

We got back to Nazca at about 7:15, and after thanking Eduardo for the amazing trip we decided to get some dinner together.  Martin had to catch his bus about an hour and a half later, so he had his huge backpack with him.  The three of us must have been a sight as we walked into the Chinese restaurant: a tall and thin blond haired blue eyed German, me, and a short guy with darker skin with a backpack that was almost bigger than him.  

lemon chicken
We talked about Germany and our travel experiences, and after the meal we parted ways.

The fountain in the main square
When I got back to the hostel it was almost 8:30.  It was a long but rewarding day, and I really enjoyed getting to connect with others and share in the adventure.

What`s happeneing tomorrow? A flight over the Nazca lines, some exploring of downtown, and a visit to the planetarium to do some stargazing.  We`ll see how it all goes.