Thursday, October 30, 2008

back in dc

We are now in DC and our blog can be found at http://www.vanessarivera.com/wordpress/

Friday, October 3, 2008

it's a girl

We finally went to the doctor at 5 months, not the smartest thing to wait so long, but Vanessa has been through it before and felt healthy, and as we suspected everything is going along fine. It's going to be another girl! So at least we won't have to buy any more clothes or toys.

I arrived in the US on Friday and have already Skyped Alexa and talked to her twice. I don't think she realizes she's not going to see me for a month, she asks me to put on Elmo and the Backyardigans like I can come right out of the screen and do it.

Since we're effectively back in DC now, I'm going back to my original blog at:

http://www.rockwoodsindc.com, or you can get to it at http://www.vanessarivera.com/wordpress/

The savvy blog reader will notice that the date in the above picture is '04, and cannot possibly be our baby, or can it? In any case they all look the same at 2 inches.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

no summer for T

It's finally getting warm enough for beach weather the week before I leave. That means I'll go from winter to winter, no summer for me this year. The nice beaches are all about 1/2 hour south of Lima and have really nice sand and blue water and wide beaches, but the water is freezing cold and has questionably colored foam floating in it.

Alexa loves playing with her bucket and shovel and me carrying her in the shallow waves. Her other favorite game is pretending she's a baby and being carried around wrapped in a blanket and fake crying until we put her in bed and turn off the lights. Then she stands up and screams "mas baby!!!" and really cries until we do it again. For my last week we're doing what we always do, eating and sleeping and trying to keep Alexa entertained.

Looks like I'll have to wait until next time to see Cuszco, Machu Picchu, the jungle, lake Titticaca, Cajamarca, Ayacucho, Cohuasi Canyon, etc, etc, all of the millions of things there are to do here if you have the time and the money. I got to know Lima fairly well, and saw some places I hadn't seen before and definitely want to see again. Peru is really an adventure tourist's paradise.

We bought two pictures for Alexa's room from a famous Peruvian artist whose family is friends with Vanessa's family. She is in her 20's and is severely mentally handicapped. When she was young her parents gave her paint and paintbrushes as a part of her therapy and she's been painting like a prodigy ever since. You can see her work here: http://www.veronicapacheco.com. She came over to our house and tried to take all of Alexa's toys.

In other household drama, the two parakeets in our family (to the left) who we hang out our 8th story window have been getting attacked lately by a hawk. He sits across from them on a tree and then swoops down and attacks their cage and they fly around like crazy, but so far nobody has gotten hurt. Other times I hear flapping, and come out expecting to see a bloodbath but it's only doves that are trying to steal their food. Yes, this is as exiting as my life gets in Peru.

Below is a video of Alexa chasing pigeons in Barranco.
video

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Red light green light

I pulled up to an intersection the other night to a traffic light that was a good metaphor for what my next move is in Peru. It was both red and green at the same time. Some cars stayed put and didn't move, and others went racing through, and others kind of putted around the intersection not knowing what to do. While it's somewhat normal for Lima traffic, not knowing what's next is a new experience for me. For those that haven't heard, Vanessa's pregnant and in the next few months we'll be needing things like health insurance and a real salary. That means that I will have to cut my Peruvian sabbatical short and return to DC to look for a job. Although I'm not looking forward to job-hunting and being told that my skills are perfect - if I only had a security clearance, I will be glad to leave some things in Peru behind.

First of all is the ingrained class system that puts people with white skin at the top, and people with dark skin that look like natives at the bottom, regardless of their education level. It's way worse than the middle east, it's horrible. They don't even try to hide it.

To the right is a picture of a park next to our house with two huge people making out.

Second will be the driving. I've driven in some crazy places, both in the US, Europe and the Middle East. Egypt, for example has no system or order to the traffic, and you always have to be on your toes or you'll get run over by a taxi, a mule, or herd of goats, but the people are pretty good drivers, and a system of organized chaos works itself out. Washington DC has the opposite problem. The driving is over-organized, but people are bad drivers. When one person goes outside of the established traffic system, nobody knows what to do and they all run into each other. Here in Lima you have the worst combination - no order, and bad drivers. Nobody follows the traffic system, and nobody ever knows what to do. So you have people parking in the middle of a one lane road and going to get something to eat and people backed up for 2 miles and everybody just kind of sits there and waits. Or you get people driving 5 miles an hour on the freeway for no reason, and people swerving around them and into everybody else. It's like bumper cars out here, and the body of your car is there to absorb all of the dings and scrapes that you collect daily.

The picture of the paraglider was taken right outside our house, they go back and forth all day giving tourists rides.

Third will be the pollution, and visiting relatives. It's not that I don't like going and visiting relatives, but in Peru a dinner visit is a 6-8 hour affair. You arrive at 2 or 3 for lunch, then you wait until about 5 until they actually start cooking, then you eat and are expected to take a nap in one of their beds, and then continue eating and hanging out until 10 or 11 or so. It's an all-day affair, and when you have stuff you'd rather be doing, like being in your own house scratching your bum, it get's to be too much. I will miss the food in Peru though.

We haven't done much outside of naps, nursery and eating. We did go to a wild bird refuge on the outskirts of town and took a little boat around a swamp. Alexa is talking more and more and is always doing something funny. She's in the making faces stage. She is also obsessed with spices, and makes me take her to the spice rack every five minutes. She has about 10 of them memorized by smell, and I let her sniff the cap and she'll say "paprika", or "cumin", etc. She also won't go anywhere without a funny red duck marionette that has to walk in front of her at all times.

Friday, September 5, 2008

The year of the potato

For those of you unaware, this year is the worldwide year of the potato. Since Peru is the birthplace of potatoes (over 8,000 years ago), and currently grows about 2,000 different varieties of potatoes, it's a big holiday here. They come in all shapes and sizes, colors and flavors. Some are purple, some are green, and some make your intestines clean. I'm thinking of throwing a potato party, but mainly I've been celebrating by eating a lot of french fries.

The stand below shows the average variety available at the local market. You'd probably guess that Peru produced a lot of potatoes, but you'd be wrong. They mainly produce for local consumption, the world leader of potato production is China, and the leading consumer is... also China. If you have no life, read more on Peru and potatoes here: http://www.potato2008.org/en/potato/origins.html.

As a family we went to the circus the other night and Alexa was mesmerized by for two hours straight, which was like a vacation. She also saw Barney and was in complete shock for about 5 minutes and couldn't take her eyes off him. She is getting into her terrible two's stage where everything is about what she wants, and when she wants it. She's speaking more and more and regularly mixes spanish and english so that I'm sure nobody at her nursery understands her.

Tonight is also a special night as I'm going to shave off my hair. I was planning on letting my hair grow out a little and sport a latino suave look, but because of all of the humidity in the air my hair looks like an afro, and instead of growing down, it keeps growing out. And that just won't do because it makes me look like a poof, so I'm just going to get rid of it all. On the left is a scary picture of the monster I have become. Hopefully Alexa will have no memories of this person.

Please eat a potato in celebration of this glorious year and think what kind of life we'd all live without them...

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Lima at last

After being here over two months I have finally gotten the energy to go downtown and see something of colonial Lima. You can't see it clearly, but the houses on the mountain to the left are all brightly colored and look like a party town from a distance. Once you get closer you see that it's a shantytown for the poor - but what a good idea to paint the poor ghetto parts of town with vibrant happy colors!

Speaking of colonial Lima, I couldn't help taking a picture of the sign where we ate lunch - they offer not only an Israeli breakfast (which means that it includes a half a avocado), but also a Colonial breakfast. Coming from the middle east where the term "colonial" is equivalent to "era of suppression and violent occupation" it's hard to get used to the idea that the colonial period was actually a positive thing for some people around the world, it is almost revered as the golden age here in Peru.

In any case I picked up Alexa in the car after her nursery and we drove to the old part of town and saw some impressive churches, one of which houses the grave of Francisco Pizarro (the original colonizer himself), who with 180 men and 37 horses defeated the entire Inca empire of millions. And a big church with catacombs under it housing the bones of unlucky former monks who not only had to live a boring monastic life, but whose bodies can't even rest in (one) peace. They've arranged the bones by type, so there's a room full of femurs, a room full of skulls, vertebrae, etc.

We also saw Lima's Chinatown, complete with an arch and everything, and Alexa had her face painted like a cat, and then ran after the pigeons in one of the main squares for over an hour. I was really bored, but consoled myself by reading a guidebook about all the other neat things to see downtown that I'll have to save for another time.

This last picture is some of us with my Dad up at his cabin in Brighton (Vanessa, Alexa, Lauren, Lila, Eliot, and Keno Keith). It was a beautiful day and I miss that kind of sunshine here. Every day is just a giant misty mist, like a dense London fog. Today I went walking in the wet mist on the beach below the cliffs in front of our apartment and found a dead dog that had washed up on shore. He was a real mutt's mutt. There were a bunch of surfers in the water and I'm sure they must have bumped up against it while they were surfing. I swear I've never seen so many dogs in my life as in Lima. There are mutts that must be a mixture of over 50 breeds.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Clay's Wedding

I just got back from my brother's Clay's wedding in Utah, and of course I have to post a really cheesy short video, it's too tempting not to.
video
I didn't mean to focus in on Aria's chest area on that one pic, it was lengthwise and it's too late at night for me to go back and change everything. It was your usual large family gathering, a lot of activities, a lot of kids, a lot of food, and some drama to boot. We had a barbecue dinner with the two families the night before the wedding and shared funny stories about the two, and then we had two groups at the Salt Lake Temple the next morning - those of us that went to the ceremony in the temple, and the self-proclaimed "Sinners Circle" that waited outside.

There was a gorgeous reception at a farm in Mapleton that had a lake with boats and there were horses and mountains and stuff. Clay and Aria are now on their honeymoon in Ireland and the rest of us have scattered back to our various places of residence across the country(s).

After the wedding we all went up to my Grandmother's cabin in Smith Morehouse and slept, knitted, ate, fished, and did some small hikes. Then it was off to my Dad's cabin at Brighton for the next day.

On the one hand it's nice to be back in Peru where I have my own place and some control over my situation again, but on the other hand it isn't that fun to be so far away from all of your friends and relatives for such extended periods of time.

I'm really happy for my brother though that he's found the love of his life - their marriage is the culmination of knowing each other and dating on and off for nine years. I wish them the best together.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Huaraz

This week we finally made it out of Lima and went high into the Andes to a town called Huarez. It is right smack in the middle of hundreds of snow covered peaks and is the mecca for rock and ice climbing, mountain biking, river running, camping, or trekking to the top of one of the over 50 peaks that are above 19,000 feet (the U.S. in comparison only has one - Mt. Mckinely in Alaska).

It's streets are full of adventure guides and mountain climbing equipment stores full of grungy die hard European and American climbers and trekkers. There are also a bunch of Israeli tourists and is the only place I know of outside Israel where you will see signs in Spanish, English, and Hebrew.

There was an earthquake in 1970 that killed 70,000 people across the region and flattened or buried all the houses, so the towns are now nothing to look at as they are all hastily build cement and brick structures, it's mainly the setting that's pretty. In one nearby town, Yungay, 25,000 inhabitants were all killed in one blow as the quake launched a 100 ft wall of snow, rock, and dirt that came down the mountain at 300 mph and completely buried everybody. They never dug anything up and it is now a national cemetary people go and visit.

We tried to get out and do as much as we could with a baby, which ruled out about 80% of the activities, however we did hire a guide to take us rock climbing one day (that's Vanessa to the right) and took turns playing with Alexa while the other climbed. We did some scenic driving, saw a glacial lake, saw some pre-inca ruins at a place called Chavin, and visited some hot springs which we promptly left after seeing how dirty they were.

Although it is winter, this part of the Andes falls in a tropical zone, so while the tops of the mountains maintain about -40 degrees year round, in the valleys it stays in the 70's and 80's all winter (in the summer it rains all day). At night it gets a bit nippy, but during the day we were in short sleeve shirts and shorts.

The people here are all speak Quechua and Spanish and wear the traditional clothing and the food is really tasty - although I didn't try the roasted guinea pig or llama. Vanessa accidentally ate a peice of an andean pepper and almost started crying it was so hot, so I showed what a baby she was by eating the whole peice - which I sorely regretted for the next hour.

To the left Alexa spotted a roasted pig in a wheelbarrow that people were pulling meat from and eating and kept pointing and saying "piggy", "piggy" and wanted to pet it. She also kept wanting to pet the llama below and I had to hold her back when it started making a hissing sound and getting ready to spit or something. I think llamas spit.

Anyways, now we're back in dismal Lima, and I'd love to go back sometime and do some more of the outdoor activities there, so if anybody is reading this and they also think it sounds fun, please come and join me.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

This blog would be less boring if my life was

I skipped Spanish class the other day and went to the big Tourist Artisan market near where we live. There's nothing like being in a market the size of a football field surrounded by tens of thousands of handmade products and not being able to find a single thing you would like to buy. Everyone sells the exact same tourist junk, stall after stall, you'd think someone would come up with something more interesting than an alpaca hat, a poncho and a reed flute. I mean the cheap labor is there, the materials are there, there just needs to be someone with some new ideas. I guess the tourist industry as a whole just breeds tacky junk wherever it is in the world.

Alexa is growing and speaking more and more and has developed her own mini-language. It takes time to understand, but it has a system and it's own rudimentary grammar. It's a mixture of Spanish and English, so every noun takes the definite marker "la", as in "la papa" and "la mama". "ayi" (a derivative of the Spanish for "there") is the action verb, as in "la fishy ayi" = I want to see the fishes, or "ayi la mama" = take me to mom. As far as I can tell it's both a SOV (Subjet Object Verb) language as well as a VOS. "tu" (spanish for "you") is the question marker, as in "a umm tu" (umm is food) = will you give me something to eat?, and "tu ayi" = will you pick me up? "all done" as well as "no" are the negative markers, as in "mama adone" = mom is gone. She also mixes in the baby sign language we taught her, making the language very advanced indeed, a downward motion of the hand over the face while putting the fingers together (the sign for "tired") combined with "la book" = I'm tired, read me a book and put me to sleep. Then when she puts her finger up her nose and says "mas la cabeza" = I have a lot to think about right now, let me contemplate my existence.

My entire family is at a reunion on the Oregon coast that I wish I could be at, but the financial situation on a Peruvian income is tight and airline prices are ridiculous. To get the whole family up there would have cost 3k, which is like 6 months income in Lima.

I am itching to get out of Lima and see the amazing countryside - I'm dying to just get out of the apartment most days, the only thing there is to do is: go to the park and see the goldfish pond on the way, then run around the park with the dogs, especially these four little white poodles that are always there that Alexa walks, or is walked by. Then we walk down to this mall on the side of the cliff that has those creepy oversized cars and horses that move around when you put money in them.

I thought the sign to the left was funny - you usually name streets after something you are proud of, but then maybe Peru is proud of the Inquisition.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

I'm a Weiner

There is a small university near our house that I pass on my way to Spanish class every morning called "Weiner University" and I can't help think that the alumni are called Weiners. Speaking of funny names, there's also a casino a few blocks from where we live called "Premie's", and I don't know if that means something special in Spanish or the owner is just a really small guy.

One cool thing here that I think the US should adopt is grass advertising. Most public spaces with grass, like parks, the grass on the side of the highway, etc, advertise using different colored plants and grass to make company logos and spell out thier slogans. What better way of making useless public space pay for itself? And the cost of planting a few shrubs is cheaper and prettier than a big metal sign. Speaking of public spaces, the air pollution here makes walking in them prohibitive - even in the house a fine layer of black soot-like dust settles on everything every day. After a week or two the floor below the windows have black ash on them like somebody poured their ashtray out onto the floor. Luckily we're right on the coast and get a fresh seabreeze for most of the day, but walking around is harder on your lungs than Damascus.

Speaking of walking around, we have found some great markets for both fruits and vegetables, a healthy/hippy market, and markets that sell computer junk and handicrafts etc. One dissapointing thing is that in the handicraft markets I've found a lot of "handmade" items that are exactly, not just similar, but exactly the same as what they have in Syria, except stiched or painted on them it says "Peru" instead of "Syria". I have a sneaky feeling the worldwide handicraft markets import most of thier stuff straight from China and then do after-market localizing.

For the 4th of July we went to a gringofest out in the desert put on by an American/Canadian association where there was a petting zoo for the kids, some bar-b-eque, a campaign booth for Obama, and some horrible American rock cover bands. Alexa loved feeding the animals, I liked watching her feed them, and Vanessa won a silent auction for a 3-day trip to Cuzco. Hopefully one of these days we'll actually get out of Lima and get to use it and see the real Peru, which looks great in the pictures.