Thursday, April 21, 2011

Cuba Libre, Really?

I must admit I was a wee bit nervous heading to the enemy land, Cuba, so I again turned Irish for the occasion.  Who doesn't like the Irish?

It was a day long journey to Havana from Cusco, via Lima and Panama City, not arriving in Havana until nearly midnight. Despite the fact that it was Domingo, when things are usually dead, Havana was hopping (but not for me since I was tired and dirty).

Havana airport offered interesting sights- everyone smoking, flat screen TV’s coming out on the baggage carousel and sniffing dogs as I waited forever for my bag in the dimly lit baggage area. Then I had the pleasure of losing $50 on my money exchange since they charge an extra 10% on US Dollars--- damn embargo!

The next morning I met everyone on the Cuban Adventures tour and our local guide, Yoxander, for our drive west to Vinales (pop. 10,000), a small farming village with limestone pincushion hills (mogotes)-- this is tobacco country and one of the most agriculturally productive areas in the country. After a yummy $1.20 grilled cheese sandwich we went on a tour of the colorful village (which color would I paint my casa?).

The first stop was a tobacco plantation where we saw and smelled freshly picked leaves drying, in addition to coffee growing. The owner brewed us some of their strong coffee and showed us how to roll (and smoke) cigars. First puff of a cigar, not terrible but I didn’t really see the point.

The tour then turned more into a hike through pineapple fields (the farmer cut up a huge bowl for me and it was SO delicious, even if I didn't need an entire one), up a hill, through a cave and down the other side. Yoxander really should have mentioned that a skirt and flip flops were not so suitable.

Now that we were in Vinales we would be staying with local families and also eating some meals there. This is a way for the locals to make some money, but also a way to provide rooms for tourists since there are not enough hotels. Mirta was a lovely host and I slept so well here I considered staying longer.

We then had to experience the local music scene and the first of many mojitos--- a sort of cabaret show with a band (and sexy keyboard player in a playboy bunny wife beater- eck!), dancers in fabulous (and ill fitting) costumes, and my favorite, the soloist with the male dancer performing around her to be followed by a French tourist singing along. Priceless!

I know by now that I am not into caves, but the group decided to check out Cuevas del Indio so I went along and was fairly unim- pressed. Good thing we stopped by the bazaar Mural de Prehistoria painted on a cliff face (200ft. high X 300ft. long and commissioned by Castro in 1961)- it was so odd I was delighted (Laura would like this!).

Yoxander brought us to a scenic lookout where in addition to the spectacular view of the mogotes we spotted a swimming pool. Somehow we then crashed a fancy hotel’s swimming pool with lots of poolside (and in pool) mojitos.

Refreshed it was time for the pig roast at one of Yoxander’s friend’s places. I was excited to play dominoes, the national past time, but it really isn’t that fun.  A lot of Havana Club rum, some picking at the roasting pig and card games made for an enjoyable afternoon.

A few of the local guys joined us for a game and were hilarious in their enthu- siasm. We are now concerned that they are going to abandon dominoes in favor of a stupid drinking game.

Unfortunately the next day it was a long, 7-hour drive east to Santa Clara (pop. 175,000), a key city in the Cuban Revolution. I will dub it Che-ville since there is a huge Soviet-esque monument of Che with a museum underneath. There is Che everywhere in Cuba, but this is the territory he controlled during the revolution and the site of a successful attack on a train transporting troop reinforcements and US armaments to the east. Within days they captured the city, Batista fled the country and everything changed.

On the way to Santa Clara we had the pleasure of meeting Jennifer and Jessica (“the skinnier one”), 9-month old twins, and their grandparents who were waiting on the side of the road on route to Havana. Locals basically have to rely on occasional buses and hitchhiking to get from a to b. We bypassed a ton of people, but how can you not stop for babies all dressed up in fancy dresses and lacy socks.  Before I knew it a baby was plopped down on my lap--- they were pretty cute.

Although not my favorite, Santa Clara was an interesting glimpse into real Cuban city life, since it is not a big tourist desti- nation.  For instance, walking down the street and seeing pig heads out of the corner of your eye. There is so much pork in this country-- amazingly you could get a full roast pork meal with rice and salad for $1.50!

Better yet, $0.10! The cost of attending the playoff baseball game in Santa Clara.

I befriended 9-year old Brian, who would only take peanuts from us, while waiting for someone to score and explaining the game to the Brits and Czechs. I am still disappointed they don't have mascots here and forget about any hot dog race around the bases.  Just pure, old school baseball.

When Santa Clara finally took the lead the crowd went crazy and we decided to leave since they don’t sell any cervesa or crappy food like at home. You will be happy to know that Santa Clara won!

It was good to have some fun as we had just left a super awkward situation with our very large breasted host Luisa (they were really on display, otherwise there would be no reason to mention). We basically moved out after she insulted Danielle for being vegetarian and didn’t exactly have the appropriate accommodation (I was sleeping in her bed, it seemed). Our new host Rolando was a big upgrade!

After the game we enjoyed some Pina Coladas, Daiquiris and really good music in Parque Vidal, where they have a double-wide sidewalk that once kept whites and blacks apart (now there is no racism-- everyone really is equal).  I was surprised to see the occasional cross dresser walk by. Go figure!

Of course we couldn’t leave without visiting the Monumento Ernesto Che Guevara and museum, which was really just a bunch of stuff he may have touched at one point (and I got shushed just like at waxy Lenin).

A quick drive by Tren Blindado, the blown up train, and it was off to Trinidad through a bumpy Sierra del Escambray mountain road.

Trinidad (pop. 38,000) has quite a history.  Originally founded by Diego Velázquez in 1514, it is a beautiful colonial town and formerly the producer of a third of Cuba's sugar.  It was once very wealthy, as you can envision from the once grand mansions, due to the sugar that was introduced by French refugees fleeing a slave revolt in Haiti in the 1800's.  Unfortunately they also imported slaves from Jamaica to work those sugar plantations.

Jesus’ home and hospitality was perfect (I love the beautiful floor tiles in Cuban homes), as was Yoxander's walking tour before lunch of an absolutely enormous $10 lobster (after I sent back the dodgy shrimp).

The handicraft market around the Plaza Mayor had plenty of domino sets and stuff with Cuba written on it-- apparently you could buy anything since Danielle as offered a “side partner.”

When Jesus offered crab for dinner I was so excited, but the preparation was so odd-- chopped up with all the shells made it a bit of a challenge (later I had my suspicious why).

Trinidad has tons of live music venues, but it seems everyone starts the evening with a visit to The Steps. The name pretty much says it all--- a long flight of steps that people sit on while watching a band and dance troupes (the guys in bubble gum pink were my fav!). Some people dance along but I found that way too intimidating since 1) Cubans can really dance and 2) you basically have spectators, including my favorite Cuban sporting the ‘Proud to be an American' t-shirt. Instead I opted to watch as well while sampling a few more mojitos—I am conducting an informal taste test of Cuba’s mojitos. :-)

After The Steps the tourist ‘must do’ is Disco Ayala, aka The Cave. It is a full on disco inside a real cave, complete with disco lights, DJ booth, bar, banos--- everything you would find in a normal club. It was a late night dancing to a lot of reggaeton, mixed in with an occasional Black Eyed Peas, Shakira or something familiar. After months in South America a lot is now familiar and I have all sorts of favorite Latin tunes.

Since we were up until 3am, it is no surprise the next day was pretty lazy, with a late breakfast and trip to the money changer and Internet cafe.

We popped by a special needs school so the nice Canadian school teachers, Stephanie and Sandra, could donate some supplies they brought along—the kids were adorable and since we arrived at lunchtime it didn’t cause too much of a disruption.

To Playa Ancon in a robin’s egg blue vintage Chevy--- these old cars are SO spacious (they have converted them to diesel)! Hours lounging under an umbrella and hanging with Merhdad in the water proved quite relaxing. A red ’57 Chevy back to town capped off the afternoon.

That evening we learned that YoYo (Yoxander, who is married to an Australian he met on a previous tour) was granted temporary permission to move to Australia—you can imagine how excited he was. Hopefully he can now get permission from the Cuban government to leave. I really hope it all works out for him—after traveling for a year it is hard to fathom never having been off this island.

Celebration was in order! No time to mess around, just give me some dark rum on the rocks (I couldn’t take any more sweet mojitos). Since last night was so much fun it seemed fitting to do it again---- The Steps and The Cave with Stephanie, Yoxander and Merhdad until 3am. It was a great night!

The only problem was that we had to get up early for the trip back to Havana, stopping at French founded Cienfuegos on the way where a guy told me he hates America (he didn’t know I was American). The city is known as 'the pearl of the south' and is quite pretty.

On the way there we killed zillions of crabs (hmmm, dinner the other night?). Yes, you think I exaggerate, but really it was kilometer after kilometer of road completely covered with them!  You could hear and feel the crunching under the tires since we had to drive slowly to avoid a flat tire. It was SO gross and really disturbed my nap.

We also stopped by the Bay of Pigs for some anti-Yankee and “flunkies” propaganda (literally the words used in the museum material). It was a little awkward and reminded me of the feeling I had at the tunnels in Vietnam. I guess they have their side of the story too.  From then on I only wanted to be referred to as 'the Yankee' (I was the only one).

I did enjoy the snorkeling afterwards since there were tons of fish thanks to the nice Cuban man feeding bread to attract them (his parents live in the US, so he was quite happy to meet me and wanted a photo together).

Back to Havana (pop. 2.2 million).  As a total bonus at the end of the tour, we were upgraded to the historic Hotel Nacional (modeled on The Breakers in Palm Beach) which is pretty cool even if the rooms are a bit dated. It is also an excellent place to sample yet another mojito on the patio before heading out for our farewell dinner.

I missed it the first night, but the Cuban thing to do is BYOB to El Malecon, the waterfront area where everyone (young and old) hangs out, chats and listens to roaming musicians. At $3 for a bottle of rum, what a bargain! I loved!!

I was really sad to see all my new friends leave after breakfast, but thankfully the Aussies, Kristie and Danielle, had a late flight and were game to check out Old Havana, yet another UNESCO heritage site. It is charming- a restored area in the midst of a crumbling city.

After the market, Danielle getting mobbed by kids and a visit to the Princess Diana garden (why?), it basically turned into a tour of beverages, or places where Hemingway consumed beverages: chocolate milk, daiquiri, mojito and pina colada.

The end of our tour took us past El Capitolio, a building that once housed the House of Government and ironically was modeled after the US Capitol- weird!

Once everyone left I totally crashed--- god it was so good to finally sleep. I slept and slept and slept some more and eventually rose the next morning with nothing much to do. Of course I had to check out Plaza de la Dignidad and the Elian Gonzales statue pointing it's finger at the US Special Interests Building- excellent!

Speaking of US policy, I had such an impression of what life would be like in Cuba- it wasn't exactly accurate. It is not like the former Soviet Union countries--- these people smile!

Sure, the buildings are in disrepair and they don’t have the latest cars, the average monthly salary is between $10-20 and a taxi driver or tour guide earns more than a doctor.  Not like home, but not so bad.  Overall I actually found it to be incredibly pleasant.

The people are lovely, generous, spirited and generally seem happy. Life is slow and I am sure not easy, but they seem to make it work. There is music everywhere and people dancing every night just enjoying life.

I wanted to visit Cuba before the US changes our policy and we mess with the country, but the Cubans explained that even if that were to happen it wouldn’t change Cuba's policy-- interestingly, they don't see things changing any time soon.

I certainly wouldn’t want to live in a place I wasn’t free to leave, with tight government control and restrictions, where I was forced to find ways to cover basic expenses (la lucha--- the daily struggle). We heard it described as "the land where nothing is allowed and everything is possible."

I am not sure how they have kept the locals, who are fairly well educated and aware of the realities outside Cuba, so content.  When the USSR 'abandoned' them (the period known as the "Special Period") they had to open the country to tourism as a solution to the economic crisis--- how can seeing tourists driving in nice buses as they wait on the side of the road not breed resentment?   Sure, they have a system (and currency) to keep us separate so we don't corrupt the socialist ideals, but I would think our mere presence would have that result.  Is it really better to keep everyone poor versus having classes? 
I guess like everyone I left a little more confused, but also with a big smile and so many good memories.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Peru Pt. 3- Inca-riffic!

Off to Cusco, the center of the Incan empire/the "navel of the earth", and the continents oldest conti- nuously inhabited city.  Good reason, it is super charming! 

It must have been quite a sight back in the day when it was nearly covered in gold, but that was all plundered by Pizarro and the Spanish conquistadors.

Before leaving on my trek to Machu Picchu I had to take care of a few errands and plan the rest of my trip, which is rapidly coming to an end.

In the evening I took a stroll around the beautiful town, walking to the Plaza de Armas which was full of activity as the lights lit up the churches, colonial buildings and surrounding hills.  It really is a perfect little town.

The evening was capped off with a lovely chat with Alejandro, a lovely Bolivian bartender at The Lost City, who made me yummy popcorn and a hamburger (which I haven't had in ages!).  No surprise I ended up staying way longer than anticipated.

I had a couple of days before leaving on the Inca Trail to explore town and acclimatize (Cusco is at 3326m) since I lost it after being at sea level for weeks. 

I headed out for an abridged walking tour of Cusco, starting at Mercado San Pedro which was pretty quiet given it was a Domingo.  For once Domingo (Sunday) worked out--- all those churches that are normally closed or charge admission are free when you sneak in during services (and there are a lot of them)!

Randomly outside the market I met Richard from Lancaster, PA who is embarking on a round-the-world trip.  He ended up joining me for the pseudo tour along the cobble stone streets and alleys (originally made for llama traffic), stopping at the plazas and churches, including the Cathedral and the Jesuit's Inglesia de La Compania de Jesus where we had a private tour by someone with a Russian name (he pointed it out as odd).

Oddly, we thought we were entering that church, but instead ended up on the edge of a building overlooking the square- this can not possibly be sanctioned by any authority! It was cool-- a good bird's eye view of the Plaza de Armas.

The Cathedral, started in 1559 on the site of Viracocha Inca's palace using stones pilfered from nearby Sacsaywaman, dominates the square.  Oddly the Cathedral is joined to two smaller churches on either side; Inglesia del Triunfo to the right is reportedly Cusco's oldest.

Seriously this city has a church on every corner--- why did the Jesuits, Dominicans, La Merced and Franciscans all need their own places?

Since yet another star gazing tour was cancelled, I was able to enjoy some tapas at Cicciolina with Richard-- I really think I may be able to get out of Cusco without eating any more rice- yay! :-)  

On the way there I couldn't help holding the baby alpaca the local woman shoved in my arms--  the locals here are certainly enter- prising. One boy chatted me up on the Cathedral steps and I was so excited I could converse with him in Spanish and answer his question of "what is my favorite animal."  I am now the proud owner of a penguin finger puppet (penguins aren't even my favorite, I just knew how to say it in Spanish!)

We also happened upon Qorikancha by the light of the full moon.  These Inca ruins now form the base of Ingesia de Santo Domingo, but were once the richest temple in the empire--- covered in 700 solid-gold sheets, each weighing 2kg.  Plus there were gold statues, alters, etc.  Again, damn Spaniards--- within months the temple had been looted and all the gold melted down.

A new Cocho Museum just opened and offers chocolate making class, so why not- I will need snacks for my trek.  Oddly an American girl from Vermont was the instructor and explained how and where the bean grows, had us roasting, peeling, crushing and finally creating our yummy concoctions with all sorts of add ins (next time less of the spicy chilies).

Randomly afterwards I ran into the Aussies from Pichilemu, Val and Ryan, and had lunch at a charity restaurant whose menus are storybooks and chairs occupied by stuffed animals (sounds cheesy, but was actually kinda cute and could be a big hit in Brooklyn!).  Instead of finishing my walking tour and wandering around San Blas I spent the rest of the day watching rugby.

5am came really early for my pickup for the Inca Trail.  Ouch! The couple hour nap on the bus wasn't quite enough, good thing I only have 4 days until another proper bed.

The next 43km from the Sacred Valley to Machu Picchu would be spent trekking with 13 others, our SAS guides Freddy and Jose and 21 amazing porters and cooks---- only a zillion steps and three high Andean mountain passes in our way.

Despite it being the end of rainy season, the weather was mostly good (it poured down while we were sleeping) and we stopped a lot on the way to hear about the Incas and the sites.

We didn't expect much, but our first glimpse at the porters in action was impressive.  There were kitchen and dining tents where we enjoyed delicious soup and a chicken curry.  These guys have to drag all this stuff up on their backs- amazing!

In Nepal it was the Yaks, on the Inca Trail you have to watch out for the Alpacas-- much faster than you would think.

After a few hours uphill we arrived at camp and added more clothes as the temperature quickly started to drop. It was early to bed (with Calum, my super tall Scottish tentmate who didn't really fit in the tiny tents) since we were all tired from the early start.

It was very early as we were woken to coca tea and Freddy's “Hola Chicoss." Ready for day 2, the dreaded hardest day.

Before leaving we met all the porters and learned what they each carry.  Egg man- huh!  Decided I wouldn't want to be the guy that carries the gas tank.  Freddy told me waiter was really the best gig.

Day 2 is pretty much all uphill and steep downhill, crossing two mountain peaks.  After probably 2 1/2 hours up you reach the first peak known as Dead Woman’s Pass-- wow that last 10 minutes was a killer!  This is the highest point of the trek at 4,198m.  The next 1 ½ hours downhill was hard on the knees.

After lunch it was more uphill, passing the ruin of Runkurakay where we had a long lesson in the rain- I can't tell you anything about it since I just wanted to be somewhere warm and dry.  It reportedly has good views.

One more steep ascent and descent over the next several hours and alas at camp on the eastern Amazon slope where things are a lot lusher.

That night the hot toddies led to some loud drinking games which didn't really do it for me, thankfully I had a dry tent to escape to.
Part of the reason we hiked over both passes on day 2 was to reach the cloud forest before it got totally fogged in.  In was certainly a stunning view upon leaving the tent, but by the time the two Germans we waited for arrived (and then refused to leave with us--- it did not make them popular) things were pretty well fogged in. Grand views of the Rio Urubamba valley- no!  The ruin of Phuyupatamarka and its beautiful ceremonial baths- sorta.  Hundreds more Inca steps downhill- most definitely. :-(

It did clear up just in time for us to visit the terraces of Intipata before arriving at camp 3 for lunch and our first shower in days.  Ahhhhh!

Nearby was Winay Wayna, named for the orchid that grows here year-round.  It was probably the best Inca site we had seen so far and a good warm up to Machu Picchu the next morning.

Our final dinner was quite nice as we said goodbye to the porters. These guys really could not do enough for you and always had a smile on their face.  They even baked us a cake---god knows how they managed that given the facilities.  I do love my postre!

The 330am wake up call was much less enjoyable.  In order to be among the first to Machu Picchu you have to get in line around 430am, sitting on a poncho on the cold ground, to be ready to practically run to the Sun Gate when the entrance opens at 6am.

I personally hated this part since it really was a very quick one hour walk to Intipunku, the Sun Gate (having to pee the whole time), but had no real problem with the “gringo killer” at the end.

I will say, seeing the sun come up while above the clouds was pretty cool. 

But the real event was from the Sun Gate as we watched the clouds lift and caught our first glimpse of Machu Picchu, literally in the middle of nowhere. Pretty amazing!

About 45 minutes more downhill and we were finally there.  4 days and 43km later, in rain, uphill and down, it was all worth it.

Machu Picchu is an ancient city that was never found by the Spaniards and lost until American Hiram Bingham found it in 1911. Since there are no records, no one really knows what it was used for but speculate it was a trade nexus between the Amazon and highlands and a ceremonial center.

Of course we needed a team photo, but “the Germans aren’t coming” since they never really caught up. We were completely exhausted, but the proper bathroom really improved our spirits (just like in Nepal!).

Freddy's "mucho cool"  tour of the site was very extensive, but at points I thought my legs were too sore to go up one more flight of steps. Calum really got into the thousandth explanation about the many sided stones that perfectly fit together and those carved for sacred areas.

Forget the hike up Wayna Picchu- enough is enough. I caught the bus back to Aguas Calientes for some rest and lunch before taking the 5pm train towards Cusco.

The train was surprisingly fun as we compared tips (we were extravagant) and shared a few cervesas with the other groups. The real fun began when we met at Paddy's Pub (very Peruvian, eh!) for team drinks which turned into a 5am dance party at one of the discos.

I felt bad waking Coco up at 5am to let me in, but at least he didn't have to deal with me all day since I slept, only to rise for a massage late in the day and then headed back to bed since I had another early wake up to catch a flight to my next destination.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Peru Pt. 2-- The Real Peru

I had done some kind of charity thing on every other continent (assuming volunteering at an Italian vineyard counts), so felt strongly I should do a little something in South America too.

I realized before I left that I don't really have any real skills (e.g., teaching, medicine, etc.), but I can swim and drowning is far too common.  I got it- I can teach swim lessons!  Wait, there aren't really any organizations doing that?

That is how I came across WAVES for Deve- lopment, a non-profit with the goal of creating "life-enriching experiences in coastal communities through Education programs that develop youth into healthy, empowered adults and Surf Voluntourism programs that engage travelers and transform their views of the world and themselves."

Sounds pretty good, eh!  I can spend two weeks teaching swim lessons, helping with English class and surf lessons AND try to get better at surfing.

Here I come Lobitos, Peru-- a small fishing and surfing town in northern Peru.

Sam, the Swiss volunteer coordinator, met me at the bus from Lima with a fellow volunteer, Loreto from New York.  Jen (Canada) and Tracy (Nantucket) had already arrived  so there were four of us living in the Waves house for the next few weeks.

We started the first week of the school year after summer break (isn't 'little business man' cute!), so it was a little slow getting started since they had all sorts of activities that did not seem to include learning.

Eventually we did get to help out in the 1st and 2nd grade classes-- it was fun teaching colors, animals and days of the week (good thing we were there or they would forever be spelling Wednesday wrong- admittedly it is a tough one).

Surf lessons with 'Shrek' (I accidentally named him since his real name sounded a bit like Ogre-- it stuck, sorry!) were great, but much harder work than you would think.   Besides getting pretty good at surfing, the six boys in the class really liked playing in the water with my waterproof camera-- I have about 1,000 pictures to prove it.

It was all going smoothly until 1) no one showed up for our organized swim lessons and 2) I got deathly ill.

Having a 103.8F fever, chills, mega aches and a bad tummy was not my idea of a good 4-5 days as Loreto (in the picture, not me) and I basically camped out in our room with no TV or Internet.  Perhaps we were delirious, but we did have lots of laughs. 

Some of my favorite Lobitos moments:

Loreto decided she was going to surf at a beach further away in hopes it wouldn't be crowded with "Brazilians" (like a curse word).  Fast forward to an image of her walking back in her wetsuit (half on) through the desert with shoes she made from scrap wood and hair ties to avoid more blisters (and she didn't even get to surf).
"Libre de Anal- fabetismo"- we weren't sure what it was, but we were happy there were free of it since anal- fabetismo sounds bad!  (turns out it is illiteracy).

Laughing hys- terically as we waited for no one to show for swim lessons, all the while listening to the same Presidential campaign song blaring over and over in the main square of Old Lobitos.  We considered rearranging the stones atop the hill to spell out NADAR (swim), perhaps that would have been better marketing since it works for candidates running for local office.

We dubbed Lobitos "the city of dirt" since everything was either sand or dirt and you could never stay clean.  I also had a run-in with a large thorn that went through my flip flop into my heel--- could "poop foot" (there are a ton of stray dogs besides the dirt) be the cause of my illness?  I was walking back from grabbing a cervesa at Cora, a place I only visited in tribute to my niece, so I blame her ;-)

As our symptoms multiplied, Loreto thought we need to flee Lobitos before we got the "Immaculate HIV."

Sporade, our cure and the only thing we ingested for days. What a bad name for a Gatorade knockoff.

Thanks to another expat in town, 'Chef' as I called him, we ate very well.  We even made fresh pasta one night which required a shocking number of us--- I perfected the role of pasta "catcher" since the bulk was ending up on the floor before we used my travel clothes line to hang the pasta. 

I tried to make a chocolate cake and now understand the importance of baking soda, measuring cups and proper sticks of butter.  It was quite right!

Bowling at the oldest alley in South America, built by the Brits in 1903. We had to hire local kids to reset the pins for us when we actually managed to get the ball down the lane (we were convinced they pulled to the right).  Amazingly I went from a winning score of 113 to 59 in the next game--- ouch!

Since my surfing was not going well (not the best location for a beginner since you have to share the wave with some pretty aggressive "Brazilians" who know how to surf), I decided to swim to the pier instead.  Picture the look on the fisherman's faces when I climbed the super tall ladder at the end of the pier- where did this chica in pink come from?

TSUNAMI!(from the devastating earthquake in Japan)  Got out of town! As all the locals heeded advice and headed up the hill with their tiny suitcases we decided to barbecue (and nearly fall through one of the open holes in the ground-- so close!!!!).  At least we didn't try to surf like some others.  A 1 meter wave hit and we were none the wiser.  There was a blackout a few days later, but apparently that is pretty normal.

Pekki, our guard dog, who followed us everywhere and watched our things while we were in the ocean not surfing. I think she sensed I was not so fond of her, so paid me the most attention. We missed her when she fled with the locals during the tsunami.

But the best-- the celebrations of Lobitos' 56th anniversary.  What a blast!

First we got to march in their 1-block parade in front of the Mayor (it was rumored the Mayor was boozing it up in Talara until the early hours, hence the delayed start). 

Everyone in Peru seems to goose-step, but we just couldn't!

The LPD (Lobitos Police Department) was in force, although they always seemed to be in force, patrolling town in teams of at least five.

There was also great people watching, for instance the woman wearing the "Money Before Bitches" t-shirt-- don't want to be her friend.

Finally we were feeling better, so celebrated with some wine and a good meal before joining the locals in Old Lobitos for some beer and dancing (the band was really good).   The gringos showing up made quite a stir.  Loreto, Sam and I danced with a bunch of locals and drank all the free beer offered.  As you can see, the school security guard maybe had a little too much of that free beer. ;-)

And the highlight, we finally got to meet the newly crowned Miss Lobitos, Sam's favorite after Miss Tourism Talara!
All kidding (and germs) aside, WAVES is doing a great thing trying to help the local community, not just coming for the good left break and contributing nothing. 

The kids will learn a lot more English, the boys in the surf class will gain confidence that will hopefully motivate them to consider something beyond fishing or mototaxi driver. 
Hopefully Henry will become a successful photographer thanks to the equipment provided and personal attention he has received from volunteers like Loreto.

Perhaps the women who cooked us lunch every day in their houses will have extra income and see how they can grow that by catering to all those "Brazilian" surfers.
I am really sorry I got sick and couldn't help as much as I had intended, but I left with lots of good memories and new friends (I have not laughed so much writing this blog!)

It is definitely an ambitious undertaking and I wish WAVES all the best and look forward to all the updates.