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.

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