NY Times explores Peru's Qoyllur Rit’i festival →
New York Times reporter Paula Sadok experiences Qoyllur Rit’i, the Snow Star Festival, last summer and shares her experiences in this article. Qoyllur Rit’i is an annual pilgrimage that draws indigenous Peruvians from all over the country. It’s almost time for this year’s event to begin.
I stopped, again, to catch my breath in the thin Andean air, struggling to ease the dizziness as I inhaled from a portable oxygen tank. I must have been a curious sight to the Peruvians passing by. My friends, Andray and Louise, stood beside me, concerned. Realizing we were blocking pedestrian traffic, I pressed myself into the side of the mountain to let the other pilgrims pass.
At about 15,000 feet above sea level, we still had farther to climb to our destination, the Sinakara valley in southern Peru’s Ocongate province. We had come to participate in Qoyllur Rit’i — the Snow Star Festival, the annual midyear Andean pilgrimage, which attracts tens of thousands of Peruvians who travel from all over the country, the largest festival of its kind. They divide themselves into nations — groups with distinct traditions — and are invited by the Brotherhood of the Lord of Qoyllur Rit’i, a volunteer body that organizes the event. During our trip last June, our guides, whom we hired from the tour office at the Casa de la Gringa hotel in Cuzco, told us that as many as 500 nations had sent delegations.
The gringa on Lima's combis →
I’ve been a little lazy about posting lately, but that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped writing. During my study abroad, I’m working at a local news site for English speakers in Peru, and I have a weekly column about culture shock and my experiences. Look for it every Wednesday on Peru this Week. My next column will be about celebrating a birthday in Peru.
Here’s an excerpt from my second column:
The combi whines to a stop, and the door-watcher and money-taker yells out street names and destinations — todo Bolivar, Universitaria, Catolica.
I jump on the rusty vehicle trying not to hit my head on the short doorway, quickly finding something to hold on to before the overly packed van takes off for the next stop.
I give the sweaty doorman a sol, say my destination and repeat at least once and maybe twice until he finally makes out my words. Then I put my money pouch back inside my shirt where pickpockets would have a hard time getting to it.
In Lima, I never fail to stick out. I wear my bright pink backpack on my chest, holding on tightly and taking in my surroundings. It matches my pink face, neck and arms.
Check out the full column at Peru this Week and my first column, Meeting Lima, Peru, as well.
Paddle, paddle harder. Do an upward dog, and jump to your feet.
I went surfing today on the Peruvian coast, and I actually did pretty well at it. While practicing on dry land, I couldn’t get the motions right, but somehow, once I hit the board, I stood up and rode five waves.
The other surfers congratulated me saying “good wave,” but all I could muster was a “that was awesome.”
I’ve been dreaming of going surfing since I was a little girl, and today I not only gave it a try, but I did well at it - despite getting hit by a couple surfboards. I can’t wait to do it again, but for now, it’s back to studying.
I can speak Spanish… I think
I dove under trying to escape the crushing wave, but as I came up, another one hit taking me under water and filling my senses with salt water.
After four days filled with classes in Spanish and reading boring theory of literature, I feel quite defeated by Peru. My patience is running short, and my emotions are running high. Everything feels like an insult and another notch on someone else’s belt.
It’s hard, but I finally feel like I will make it through. After the waves took me under, I retreated to a sandy beach towel, but I didn’t stay away from the ocean. After a few minutes and a cold Cusquena, I ran back into the ocean ready for a second chance.
Like the ocean’s waves and bits of Peruvian literature and history, I will learn how to conquer my classes and this foreign language. My Spanish is constantly improving, and every conversation with a random bus-companion makes me feel more confident in my abilities.
My language skills can only improve and I suspect so will my ability to stay above water in my classes.
Most of my second week two was filled with my new classes. I’m taking literature of hispanic America with a focus on feminist writings, Peruvian literature, pre-hispanic history of Peru and themes in history of the American Andes.
But I also made time to try a Peruvian Pizza Hut - fancier but with disappointing portions - check out a park with about a dozen water fountains, hang out at the beach and shop in one of Lima’s largest and cheapest shopping centers.
In other news, my fellow intercambios have discovered my North Dakota accent, so now I can be made fun of in two languages. The feelings of stupidity may take longer to pass.
Week one in Peru brings troubles and successes
I thought leaving home and moving to a foreign country would be easy. I don’t mean that I would get the language right away or automatically blend in with the locals, but that it would be easier to enjoy every moment. But right now, enjoying myself is the hardest part.
I’m torn between my life at home with my love, my friends and my family, and feel like it’s keeping me from fully embracing my life in Peru. In some ways this is great, because I have a terrific support system. I was comfortable at home, and felt like I belonged, but now I feel like a puzzle piece in the wrong cardboard box.
I’ve been comparing my experience in Peru to my experiences in India a lot mostly because it’s my only semi-comparable experience. Today, I almost missed on a great ride around a shantytown on a rickshaw-like auto because I felt like I had been there and done that.
But I haven’t been here, and I haven’t done so many things. I want to get up and go see new things and experience this exciting new world, but instead I’m sitting inside my bedroom with the curtains closed and wasting sunshine.
Day one and sunburns
It started waking up on an airplane and looking out at clusters of lights glittering the Andes mountains in the dark.
I was supposed to land in Lima last night, but after my flight from Minneapolis to Newark was cancelled, the day took an unexpected turn. I was rerouted to Miami on a 1 a.m. flight, but that was after I said goodbye to mi novio and cried until my eyes were red.
I landed in Miami around 5:10 p.m., and a few minutes later, I took off running through the airport and made it to a completely different section in about 15 minutes. It was an impressive feat if I do say so myself, but it wasn’t enough to get me moved up to an earlier flight.
So alas, I boarded a 11:55 p.m. red-eye to Lima and had more of a siesta than a night’s rest. I landed in Peru around 5:30 a.m., met my host family around 7 and began moving into what will be my home for the next 10 months.
The trip here was enough to exhaust me for a day, but this was only the beginning of a marathon 36 hours.
Apprehension at a journey’s headwaters
I wrote this post from the Minneapolis airport while waiting to board a flight, but couldn’t find an Internet connection. After writing this post, I board my flight to Newark and stay on board for about 20 minutes before being kicked off because of technical difficulties. My 8 a.m. flight was cancelled, and I was rerouted to Miami, but more on that later.
Today is the day. The day I’ve been waiting for, but now that it’s here, I met it with apprehension and a heavy heart.
I’m a different person now than when I started planning this trip. Then I was eager, inexperienced and waiting for my life to begin. I feel differently now. I’m content with the life I’m leaving behind and less ready to run away from it.
Now that I’m sitting in the airport eating an unsliced plain bagel with plain cream cheese that cost too much, wiping wandering tears and carrying a far to heavy backpack, the romance of travel is fleeting.
My outlook is more realistic. I’m not as anxious to get lost in a distant city, and my heart feels like it’s stuck in the states.
Despite my new-found apprehension – a feeling I didn’t want nor think I would find – I can’t wait to finish my last meal on American soil, start fresh, check my caution and jump in headfirst.
Thanks to everyone who has supported this dream. See you in Lima.
No peace for Ayacucho →
This article does a great job of explaining terrorism, in particular the Shinning Path, in Peru and showing how it still impacts the country today.
Each bounce on the gravel road knocked my neighbour and I together like billiard balls, the driver rocketing at alarming speed around sharp corners with steep drops at their sides. We passed tiny adobe homes with thatched roofs and livestock out front; neat squares of farmland tucked into the fierce folds of the Andes. The clouds hung low over purple peaks.
I was thinking of the opening scene of La Teta Asustada. An old indigenous Peruvian woman, face deeply wrinkled, eyes closed as she leans back against a pillow, sings in a high, reedy voice. The Quechuan lyrics sound hauntingly beautiful, but the Spanish subtitles below them are not.
She sings of her gang rape at the hands of Peruvian soldiers years earlier. Of being forced to eat her dead husband’s penis. Of the trauma transmitted to her unborn child.
"When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money. Then take half the clothes and twice the money."
I have six days to pack up my life and head to Peru. This is the best advice I’ve found so far.
"Don’t tell me how educated you are, tell me how much you traveled."