Names have been changed to protect the guilty

There’s a new boy in the house who is about 19, very sweet, very green and very 19.  Sometimes, there are so many different people of different ages in the house, all doing the same sort of work, it’s easy to forget how old people really are and what that might actually mean.  We’ll call the new boy Herbert.  Ooh, or Herbie?  I like that better.  Okay so on Herbie’s third or fourth night in the house a few of us decide to buy some bottles of wine (read: cardboard containers of wine called “Gato” ) and have a few drinks on the roof.   Sidenote:  we’re not allowed to drink in the voluntario house.  So the way we circumvent this rule is to drink on the roof of the classroom building, two feet from the house.  We’ve never specifically been told not to drink there, but let’s face it, it’s probably even worse to be drinking where we teach, and I think we all know we really shouldn’t be up there.

So, with that in mind, we head up to the roof and have a bunch of cartons of wine.  Herbie is starting to slur a little bit, but big deal, I think.  We’re two feet from home.  Let him slur.  Most of the others leave about1am.  I stay with Herbie and another voluntario who we’ll call John.  Herbie goes to the classroom to go to the bathroom.  He returns.  One minute later he gets up to go to the bathroom again.  Shortly thereafter we hear a loud crash, like something shattering.  I guess we should check on him.  I let John go ahead of me.  I stand aside, wanting to give Herbie privacy if he needs it.  John opens the bathroom door and just stares in disbelief.

-What is it?  What’s going on?

-Herbie!  What the f___ is going on in here?  Herbie.  Jesus!

I peak into the bathroom and there is Herbie.  A tallish, skinny, lanky, effeminate boy of 19, standing in the middle of the bathroom surrounded by shattered ceramic, bleeding profusely from his foot, and trying unsuccessfully to stop the high powered stream of water that is shooting out of the wall and all over him/the bathroom.  John just stands there, frozen.

– Well don’t just stand there! Help me!

The bathroom’s not big and there are already a few inches of water on the floor.  I push past them and start crawling around looking for the knob to turn the water off.  There isn’t one.  Why does every damn thing have to be different here?  I crawl around on the floor, intermittently being shot in the face with toilet water, as Herbie and the John shout unhelpful suggestions from outside.  Great.  Thanks for the help dudes.  This is totally how I envisioned my night going.  We eventually locate the off switch.

– Herbie, go home and deal with your foot and go to sleep.  John and I will stay here and clean up.

John’s not pleased.  So what I’ve gathered from the forensics here, is that Herbie got sick, found that the toilet did not flush for whatever reason and so he proceeded to remove the lid off the tank to fix it.  He drops the lid and it shatters, stabbing him in the foot.  That much is crystal clear.  What is not quite so clear is how or why he managed to rip the pipe connecting the toilet to the water source completely out of the wall.  Like, it’s not just disconnected, it’s ripped out.  Broken.  Awesome.  Perfect.  So now we have a toilet full of vomit, with no water in the tank, or water source with which to flush it.   So John and I spend the next hour or so filling up the tank with water bottles that are so small no comedy writer could have written a more amusing set-up.  So we fill up, and dump.  Fill up and dump.  Eight ounces of water at a time.  Eventually I get the toilet to flush.  I Huaycan-rig the remnants of the tank lid, and we dash out of there, hoping we can just blame it on a student the next day, like any responsible adult would.

It really wouldn’t do to explain to the boss that while the teachers were getting drunk, in the classroom building, we also broke the bathroom beyond all simple repair.

Okay, so that isn’t great, but no big deal.  We’ve all been 19.  It happens.  John and I head back.  Shortly thereafter I hear ruckus coming from John and Herbie’s bedroom.  Herbie got up to go to the bathroom, and in his absence, John noticed that not only had Herbie !pooped! – in his bed, but that it was actually leaking down onto John’s bottom bunk.  Herbie comes back and we point this out.  He bursts into tears.  He had no idea.  So the three of us go into frenzy mode, ripping off sheets and mattresses.  I’m not sure what else to do so I just star pouring massive amounts of bleach on the mattress.  It’s the only cleaner we have. It’s bad.  Obviously.  And Herbie can’t stop apologizing and I feel bad and we try to make it so it’s not a big deal.  We’ve all been 19.  I’ve never been “poop-in-my-own-bed-19,” but I’d be lying if I said I don’t know some pretty respectable people  today, who have pooped in some less than desirable circumstances.  You all know who you are.

Then, today, I asked Herbie if he could cover a class for me so I could attend another meeting and he whined about having to do it!  It was very hard, but I refrained from pointing out that here, in this program, we all help each other out.  I cover for you, and you for me.  Sometimes I clean your vomitty, poopy, toilet-breaking ass mess up for you, and you spend a half fricking hour in a computer class for me.  Fair trade right?

English Class in San Lorente – Alternately titled – Epic Fail

I’m scheduled to begin teaching an English class to a group of teachers who work at a local private elementary school.

Day One:  Huaycan is just about the dirtiest, dustiest place around and for the most part the voluntarios only wear t-shirts and shorts and ratty old sneakers that no one cares about.  We’re mostly only teaching a bunch of dirty, dusty children and/or adults, so it wouldn’t make sense to look nice anyway.  But since I’m teaching at a private school I put on a dress and black flats.  It’s hardly the nicest dress around, it’s somewhere between a summer dress and a business casual one, but hardly fancy.  I walk downstairs and all the voluntarios are shocked.  It’s not often any of us even showers to go to class, so this is a big deal.

I walk down to the school.  The director meets me and tells me that on account of Semana Santa, most of the teachers have either forgotten about the class or don’t have time.  I tell him that’s fine, I’ll come back next week.  But no, he wants me to wait, just in case.  He takes me to the classroom, sits me down and says he’ll be back shortly.  He comes back an hour later.  No one’s showed up.  He apologizes profusely and we agree to start next week.

Day two:  Because it’s a private school it’s basically on lockdown.  It looks more like a prison than a school.  It’s surrounded by an 8 foot high cement wall and steel gates.  There are a bunch of parents standing around the entrance and pounding on the gate when I arrive.  No one is answering.  The parents are freaking out.  Eventually the steel door opens, a little girl with pigtails lets us in.   Inside, there are children running wild everywhere.  In and out of all the classrooms.  Throwing things,  fighting each other.  Slamming doors.  Standing on desks.  Total chaos. Hmmm, little different than last week.  I walk to my classroom, the door is locked.  I knock on the director’s door.  No answer.  I stand around awkwardly for a bit and watch the madness.  A little girl walks over to ask me what I’m doing here.  I tell her I teach English (or well I would if anyone would let me).  I ask her why all the kids are running around.   “There are no teachers.  They have a meeting.” 

Hmm.  Okay so I guess the teacher’s just sequester themselves in a soundproof room somewhere and leave the children to run amok and take over the school.  Every child’s dream, really, but how is this allowed to go on? After awhile, the only adult I’ve seen in a half hour walks over to me and informs me that she’s the admin assistant and she can let me into the classroom.  She says the teachers are almost out of their meeting and won’t be too late.  I enjoy that the fact that they’re already a half hour late is not considered to be “too late” at all by Peruvian standards. We walk by a group of kids hurling rocks over the school walls, she doesn’t say anything and neither do I.  There are no rules in Peru.  Even in private school.

I set up the classroom.  Take chairs off desks, write some grammar points on the board.  “Hello my name is Abby,” etc.  I watch the kids go nuts outside.  A child runs by me chasing another with a broom.  Two kids are sword fighting with plungers, while their friends cheer them on.  A kid pops into my classroom, takes a broom and a dustpan and then looks up and sees me there.  He freezes.

– Um, can I?

– Are you going to use that to clean up or to fight someone?

– Fight.

– Um. Yeah, okay go ahead.

I think I’m getting the hang of this no rules thing.

Like everywhere in Huaycan, dogs abound.  Classroom dogs, much like roof dogs (see previous post) are actually pets that are well fed and basically cared for.  Two very friendly classroom dogs come and hang out with me and I name them Naranja and Cicatriz, because let’s face it, Amigo’s been taken.  “Do you want to learn English,” I ask them.  They just stare at me panting and wagging their tails.  “Sit,” I tell them in English and they do.  Wow.  They must’ve had this class last semester.

So I sit there.  The classroom is all set-up.  The name tags and attendance sheets are out, the lesson is on the board, the worksheets are all ready to be passed out.  I’m even dressed up . Still no one comes.  I have this ridiculous feeling that I’m being stood up for a date.  Class is over.  No one shows.  I erase the board and put everything away.   In the movie of my life there will be sappy music playing as I clean up.  The soundtrack to life in Huaycan, now available for download.

Huaycan comes from the word huaico which means landslide

At the airport  on the way back from Arequipa, I catch the news over breakfast.  On the screen are images of a terrible landslide/flood that happened this week in Chosica, a town just about a half hour from Huaycan, where we go out sometimes.


Holy oh my god!  I grab Tricia and point her at the tv.  Oh my god.  If this is happening there, what about Huaycan.  What about the roommates who are home now?  And the people there?  Is everyone okay?

I call my boss and apologize for bothering her, but ask if she knows about what’s happened and if everything is okay in the big H.  She says it happened a few days ago, and that she “didn’t get any phone calls from Dina [chef] or Queta [cleaner]” so she assumes everything’s fine.  Right.  Unless they’re under a pile of rocks and couldn’t call you.  Wouldn’t this be a good time to call them?

When we land I chat with our resident taxista about it.  He lives a few towns from us, where landslides are not an issue. He tells us the government has been trying forever to get people to stop building in these areas, but that the people have no where to go.  It’s been over 15 years since the last one, but you just never know.  Since it rarely rains in Huaycan, he says, we’ve got nothing to really worry about.  But he points to the hills surrounding our house as we get home and says, “If you ever notice that it starts to rain really hard here, you get to your roof as fast as you can.”  Great.  Like I need another thing here that could potentially kill me.

Week three random highlights

Everything in this house shocks me.  Like electrically.  I’ve been shocked four times today.  The computer cord, the light switch, the other light switch and now the my camera charger.  AHHHHH.


People in Zone D, where I live, have a little bit more money than the other zones.  The houses are more legit and they can afford life little extras, like pets.  The thing is that, even with a bigger home, it wouldn’t be fair to say anyone’s house is really big enough for a pet, and no one has backyard.  So you want a dog and you don’t have the space…how do we solve this problem?  You get a roof dog.

That’s right folks.  A roof dog is exactly what it sounds like.  It’s a dog.  That you own.  That lives on your roof.  All the time.  It’s kind of awesome.  They’re kinda like guard dogs because when you get near a house that has one they run to the edge of the roof and bark at you.  And for a second, you’re afraid.  And then you’re like, wait, that dog is not going to jump off the roof to fight me.  For sure.  But then you aren’t sure.  Because they always seem like they just might do it.  Go ahead.  Just give ‘em a reason to jump off.  Make his day.   And then you’re not so sure.  So you back up.  Ingenious!  I want one for the house.

Roof dog and her roof puppy
Roof dog and her roof puppy


I brought my Kindle into the library today to read to the kids.  I have Twilight in Spanish and they all take turns reading it.  One kid named Enzo is so excited about the Kindle he can barely stand it.  But he’s excited for all the wrong reasons, because no matter how many times I explain it to him, he can’t get the idea out of his mind that with this magical device I can turn any movie into a book.

– Can you get me that movie “300” on here?  I love that movie.

– Right, Enzo, it’s got to already be a book.  This doesn’t turn movies into books.  It’s just the electronic version of something that was already a paper book.

– What about the Fast and the Furious?

– Yeah. Sure.  I’ll look for that one.


Things I’ve been asked to hold on the Combi:

  • A backpack
  • A sack of onions
  • A baby
  • A plastic bag that leaks an unidentifiable liquid onto my toes/flip-flops. But there’s no where to move so I just keep holding it and letting it drip all over me.
  • A potato sack containing a screaming animal.  Well now I have to ask:

– What’s in there?

– My cat

– To eat?

– (Horrified.) No! No he’s my cat.

– Oh, well.  I’m okay to just hold him, maybe we should take him out of the bag?  He seems upset.

– Oh no!  We can’t do that.  He’d run away.  He hates the Combi.

Hm.  That makes two of us.


Trekking the Colca Canyon

Peru shuts down for a few days before Easter, so all the voluntarios plan a trip to Arequipa.  Six people chose to take an 18 hour bus both ways.  Tricia and I opt for the one hour flight.  We win.  Clearly.

Where we lose, is with the hostel.  I use the term hostel, loosely.  Really it’s a nightclub with a bunch of beds in it.  So if you’ve ever walked into a really smokey, bumping club and thought “wow, I could really take a nap here,” then this would be the hostel for you.   The voluntarios don’t see quite enough of each other living in the same house, so now we’re sleeping in one hostel room with 8 bunk beds.  Awesome.

Arequipa is a real city.  Beautiful. Safe. Legit.  A few of us walk around and check out churches, and shops and various parks.  Then I see it in the distance, a coffee shop!  A real live, honest to god, coffee shop that could just as well be on any street corner at home.

– You guys wanna tour the rest of the city?

– No.  I’m not going anywhere.  I’m going to sit in this shop and read and listen to my Ipod and drink coffee until I’m sick!

I walk over to the counter and grin like a fool at the menu.  The barista eyes me suspiciously.  I seem to be from this planet and yet I look as though I’ve never seen a café before.

-Can I help you?

– I’ll have a latte.  No!  A mocha!  No!  A latte AND a mocha.  Oooh and a chocolate chip cookie!  Oooh and that little scone thing!

She gives me a funny look.  “I live in Huaycan,” I want to tell her, but I don’t think she’d really get it.   I look around and see another voluntario sitting at the back of the shop with two coffee cups and a book.  She sees me and waves, obviously just as excited as I am,, holding her cup up in the air as if to toast me.  I nod and smile like a maniac.  Living in Huaycan is like prison, or like being at war maybe, the only people who really understand are the people who are there with you.   “This is happening right now,” she calls to me.

It is indeed.




2 day Andean mountain hike into Colca Canyon


11PM– Bed time

11:15– Switch out foam earplugs for the better silicone ones

11:30– Grumble toss and turn because of the club that is happening outside our door

12:00– Sit up in bed and look around for someone else to commiserate with.  How are all you people asleep right now?

Toss and turn.

2:00 AM  – Wake-up call (had I hypothetically been able to sleep)

2:30 AM– Bus pick-up

We travel by bus for three hours to a little town where we have breakfast and consume massive amounts of coca leaves and tea to ward off the altitude sickness.  No, you don’t get high.

An hour later we arrive at abou 3300 meters to begin our trek.  Our guide talks to us about safety (try not to fall to your death is the basic general rule).



A fluffly black dog who appears to have a broken paw is following us as we head down the path.  I name him Amigo and share my water with him.  We walk for awhile and despite the broken paw he’s determined to come with us.

The first three hours of the hike bring us 1000 meters downhill which sounds easier than uphill but it’s not at all.  You have to step pretty gingerly because the rocks on the footpath will slide out from under you at any second causing you to slide over the edge of the not very wide path to your death.


(Not even enough path to walk side by side with anyone other than a dog.)

I have the world’s worst backpack for this trip and it must weigh 30 pounds with the two giant 2 liter bottles of water I’m carrying.  Not fun.  Kills your knees.

Eventually, Amigo passes by all of us even with his broken paw and he’s gone.  Sad face.

We get to the lunch place after three and a half hours….I’m exhausted, starving, and gross and grumpy.  I don’t want to go any further.  Then I look up and Amigo’s there!  Waiting!  Day brightener!  If he can do it with a broken paw I should stop complaining.

After lunch, we’ve got three and half more hours of hiking, some uphill, some down, to bring us to the lodge where we’ll spend the night.  Amigo limps along with us for two more hours, until he meets his little dog girlfriend (I assume this was his plan the whole time) and he takes off with her.

The Oasis is very pretty with a built in pool that’s filled up with fresh water directly from the mountains…..and then there’s the little puppy who lives there “Borbuja” (Bubble), who looks more like a little polar bear.  So cute….


But there’s no electricity, and our rooms have dirt floors.  I’m exhausted and want to shower, but it’s too cold to do it without hot water.  And now in the dark no less.  They give us dinner and we head to bed at8PM.  As soon as it gets dark we go from sweating to freezing.  I’m wearing a tank top, a long sleeved t,  a fleece, a scarf, a hat, two pairs of pants and socks to sleep.  I hang some of my other clothes out on the line outside my room to dry.  When I wake up they are soaked.  It rained.  Perfect.  My bag will be even heavier.

Next day we’ve got a 4am wake up call.  We have to hike for 3.5 hours to our breakfast.  It’s about 1500 meters uphill.  In total darkness for first hour or so.  Intense!  The fastest in our group finish in 2.5 hours.  I finish in 3 and am so proud of myself.  I wasn’t last!  I am dying though.  As I approach the top, the early finishers start yelling to motivate me, “Abby, there’s a friendly dog up here that you can pet if you hurry.  And we’ve got a Snickers waiting for you.” – So I’m officially the chubby animal lover of the group.

Six days of this crazy hiking in Machu Pichu is going to kill me.


The Zone S Turtle!

You just can’t make this stuff up.



Frankie (yes, Frankie) insists that the turtle is a land turtle because one time he tried to put him in a pool and he couldn’t swim.  But when he brings the turtle a bowl of water to drink, the poor little guy sticks his whole head and neck into it.  I’m sure he just needs a shallow pool to cool off in.  You’d be surprised by how hard it is to find a baby pool around here.  I’m trying to Huaycan-rig something for the little guy.   Maybe dig a hole and put a tarp in it?



Sunday – Huaycan-rigged gym class

The voluntarios have taken to calling things that we’d normally call ghetto-rigged, “Huaycan rigged.”  Doors that we keep shut with sand bags, sinks held up by bricks, etc.   It’s my new favorite saying.


English and gym class for 6-9 year olds.  Highlights:

Milner is a chubby little boy of about six.   He has a big round face and always wears a  Brazil soccer jersey with his name on the back that’s just a liiiittle too tight for his frame.  He is shy and mumbles a lot.  Very sweet.  He comes to class today with his mother, who reports that he has a really bad rash and shouldn’t be allowed to scratch it.  I look at him.  His face is covered in cortisone cream in all the places where he hasn’t already succeeded in scratching it off.  He wants to kiss me hello, as all the little kids do here, but I hold him at arm’s length.  Whatever he has, I don’t want it.  He sits in class and starts maniacally scratching his arms.  Is it on your arms too, I ask him.  He looks at me very seriously. Yes, but don’t tell my mom.

I tell his mom.


Played soccer with the kids today for gym.  Made the first and probably only goal of my life.  These six year olds have nothing on me.


Huaycan rigged gym class game #1: Play volleyball without a net.  Not just without a net, but without even a string or anything to denote the location of a net.  So what happens is we just bonk the ball over the imaginary net, and then argue about whether or not it “went over.”  My eye is obviously off, because I keep “hitting the net.”  Jeez, I even suck at imaginary sports.

Huaycan rigged gym class game #2:  Huaycan at this time of year is incredibly windy. It’s too windy to play Frisbee, so instead what we do is lodge the Frisbee in the side of a large rocky hill.  Then we climb the hill and throw rocks down onto the Frisbee. The first person to dislodge it, wins.

Huaycan rigged  gym class game #3: Scale the side of the rocky mountain without your shoes on.

Huaycan rigged  gym class game #4:  Imaginary jump rope is just what it sounds like.  All the girls hop around pretending to have ropes. It’s not a bad system for me, because this way I never mess up, but really this is sorta pathetic.  We apparently had a jump rope at one point. I need to buy some.

Friday – Rules

This is how you give directions in Huaycan:

– Go about halfway up the mountain til you get to the third trash pile on the left.  It will seem like there’s only two piles, but there’s a third, it’s smaller, and you can’t see it til you really get past the second one.  Okay so pass the third trash pile of the left, then you take a right onto that dirt road.  You go three or four shacks down on your right, I can’t remember how many, but you’ll get to that one with no roof…no, no, not that one with no roof, I know the one you mean, that’s the other direction.  If you’d gone left at the trash pile.  This is right.  So you go right, get to the house with no roof, make another right there and walk down until you see the classroom.  It looks like all the other buildings but you’ll know it because of the three roosters out front.  It’s sorta hidden, so you’ll know you’ve gone too far if you see the dog with the underbite.


The weekend for the voluntarios is actually Weds and Thursday, which apparently only means that we end up having a four day weekend.  Everyone wants to go out Friday night for someone’s last hurrah.  I’m exhausted and don’t want to go, but I’m still new and who wants to be that girl, so I go.  I’m informed that we’re going to a club called Kenko’s about a 15 minute combi ride away from the house.  I obviously don’t know much about the bar scene in Huaycan, but I’m not expecting much.  A club? Like a club?  15 minutes from where there are people who, not two months ago, didn’t have access to running water?  Well, this I’ve gotta see.

Obviously I’m not expecting much.  We get there and wait in line to pick up the free entry passes that someone has managed to finagle for us (the Jerseyin me feels at home).  They hand over a pass to each of us, which seems strange, because the pass-hander-outer is already inside of the door.  Really you should just give her your name, she should confirm you have a pass, and then you should walk right by her.  This is not the system.  What you do instead is give your name, get your pass, and step maybe six inches to the right, and hand it to another person, who then let’s you pass by.  And I kid you not, he then hands your used pass back over to the pass-hander-outer lady, who places them back in the pile of passes to be reused.  I’m simple minded, so I just tell her to keep the pass, and I’ll walk in.  This is very upsetting to all the employees involved and they make me do it their way.  Wait, am I inGermany right now?  This isPeru.  There aren’t any rules inPeru.  But okay.

We walk in, and it’s seriously the most disconcerting change.  You leave the outside Huaycan world behind: sounds, smells, noises, trash, sketchy characters, roofless shacks, and enter a very nice, very clean, very pleasant and modern indoor/outdoor club.  We could seriously be in Florida.  The dance floor is outside under a huge roof.  There are white leather lounge-y couches and chairs everywhere.  Plants all over the place.  A quieter grassy knoll area where you can sit and talk.  I rub my eyes.  This is the desert.  Maybe it’s a mirage.  No.  It’s not.  It’s still here.  It’s an oasis! We sit down at a table. One kid who’s been in thedesert ofHuaycan too long asks:

– What’s that smell?

– What smell?

– I don’t know, it’s like herby somehow.  Fresh, kind of.

– Um, I think that’s grass.

– It’s awesome.


I bring back a report from the ladies room:

– Guys, there’s toilet paper in there!  On rolls.  Provided for you!  I brought my own, but they just give it to you here.

Five voluntarios in unison:

– Woooow.

I take a bottle of water out of my purse and a bouncer walks over to me before I can even have a sip.  They don’t sell that brand here.  No outside drinks.  Really?  Here?  InPeru?  Where there are no rules?  Kenko’s is the only place inPeruwith rules.  I hand it over.  I guess this is the price you have to pay for luxury.


More rules: I walk to the bar and order a drink.  The bartender asks for my receipt.  What?  He points to the cashier at the other end of the bar.  Order with her.  Pay first, then he’ll make it.  I’m at a bar in the back completely alone.  Not a single other person around.  I figure he will start to make my drink while I pay.  He doesn’t make a move.  I walk three feet to the cashier and order my drink.  The bartender watches me, stands his ground.  I pay.  He doesn’t move.  I walk back over with the receipt.  “What can I get you?”  Um, the same thing, I just ordered from you one second ago, maybe?


Still more rules:  For about an hour at midnight ladies drink for free in a little roped off area.  They basically feed you watered down kool-aid with the Peruvian version of watered down Gordon’s vodka, the kind that comes in the plastic bottles with the handle, and can cause blindness from over consumption.  I don’t want any of those free drinks, but I walk over to stand with everyone and take my drink with me.  A bouncer stops me.  Can’t come in the roped off area with the drink. But I bought this here.  Just over there.  At this bar.  No.  If I come in with a drink, I’ll actually save you guys money, because I’m not drinking the free stuff.  No.  But it’s ridiculous.  No.  I stand on the other side of the rope and chat with the girls from there.  Crazy!

One of the girls gets tipsy quickly and wants to leave.  I go with her.  We get into a Combi.  The Cobrador starts talking to us and eventually tells me he loves karaoke.  I tell him to show me what he’s got.  He asks the driver to turn up the radio and turn down the lights for effect, and belts out whatever we’re listening to.  Other people on the Combi start singing. Then we’re all singing.  Ladies with babies strapped to their backs in blankets.  Men carrying huge bags of rice.  The loud Americans.  All of us.  It’s funny and random.  I tell him that we should make a regular event of the Karaoke Combi.  Like on nights where it’s not in service we’ll just get a little strobe light and a karaoke machine and drive around Huaycan picking people up for the party.  He thinks it’s the best idea he’s ever heard.  If he starts turning a profit on it one day, I’m hoping for a cut.

We get back to the center of Huaycan.  Our place is like a four minute walk away, but it’s too dangerous at night, so we have to take a mototaxi.  Of course those are just as dangerous sometimes, so I become the Goldilocks of mototaxistas, trying to find one that is just right.  The dispatcher points out the first one.  No.  That one has doors.  I don’t do any with doors, because I want to just be able to just tuck and roll if some shit goes down.  He points to a doorless one.  No.  The driver’s not wearing the standard garb.  He looks as if he was just walking by and decided to take a spin in a mototaxi.  A few drivers are standing around yelling and trying to get us to choose them.  The dispatcher points out another guy, youngish.  I try and do the Peruvian move where you look into his soul….I don’t know if it’s working but I don’t like the look of how eager he is.  There is an older man standing aside, not soliciting us.  I pick him.  He doesn’t kill us.  I get out and pay him and study his face so I can remember to choose him next time.


On Saturday’s our boss eats lunch with us at the house.  The house manager is yelling at everyone to clean up the table and not to leave stuff around, because the boss will be mad.  She doesn’t like personal items on the table.  She also doesn’t like people to eat lunch at different times.  She also doesn’t like when someone gets up from the table before we’re all done.  Someone notes:

– There sure are a lot of rules in this house.

– Yeah.  I think our boss used to work at Kenkos.


Wednesday: Huaycan is literally the loudest place I have ever been

There are the usual busy city sounds: dogs barking, people yelling, horns blaring.  But there are also a series of distinct sounds for everything here. The garbage man comes every morning.  He rides a little moto around and sings a sort of song into a megaphone:  “Come with your garbage.  Come with your garbage.”  People then come running to give him their trash.

There are some other words to that song, but I’m gonna need to Google the lyrics – the megaphone tends to distort.


Then, we have the mothers who use horns to call their children home.  One toot is not enough.  They toot until the child shows up.  Around sundown the mom-horns start to kick in.  Each horn is a little different, and the voluntarios who have been here long enough can even tell which kid belongs to which sound, and thereby deduce who is in a crapload of trouble for not showing up on time.  Alejandro seems to be in trouble a lot.


Then, there are the sounds of the whistles that the security guys use to ward off would-be thieves.  The sound of the lady who sells bread from her bike basket: just a standard bike bell while she yells “PAAAAN.”  The man who sells his wife’s leftovers is my favorite. He’s got a pretty good voice and he just sings about whatever she’s made.  The papas rellenas are pretty legit.  When all the sounds start to happen at once, it’s all so very Oliver Twist ala the “Who Will Buy” number.  All the street vendors singing about there wares.  “Who will buuuuuuy my sweet red rooooooses, twoooooo blooooms for a penny…”



A bunch of the voluntarios pile into a Combi.  There are no seats and we have to stand.  I realize I’m literally the only one in the bunch who doesn’t isn’t required to be doubled over in order to “stand-up.”  In fact, I couldn’t even touch the roof with my head if I stood on tiptoes.  I feel a little bit like the Bee Girl in that Blind Melon video… I’ve found my people!  We’re all sort of short, and stout, and into carbs.  I totally fit in here.  Take that tall, fit, handsome Germans!



The Combi system is really ridiculous.  In addition to there not being any legit stops or schedules, you also can’t actually trust the cobrador to tell you where you’re going.  They get a commission for every person they get on board, so sometimes they just lie to you about where they’re headed.  Or, actually, it’s not that they lie really, but they omit.  So if you walk up to one and ask: “Avenida de Quince?” they don’t actually say yes, they just yell:  “Sube. Sube. Sube.” (Get on. Get on.)  They bang the side of the bus and yell to people walking by on the streets trying, I can only assume, to solicit them into taking a Combi ride they weren’t otherwise planning to take.  (“You know, I wasn’t planning on spending money to be packed so tightly into a van that I’m actually covered in other people’s sweat, all just to go somewhere I don’t even need to be, but that Cobrador is quite the salesman.”)


They just act like they didn’t hear you, or that they’re so busy taking money and advertising that they don’t have time to say anything but “Sube.”  So they just keep yelling at you, and so eventually you just sube and hope it’s going to where you need to be.


So today, in Zone Z, I discover a bunch of children standing around a giant turtle….wait….let me back up and paint a better picture for you with these actual pictures.

This, friends, is Huaycan.


It’s basically a desert valley between a bunch of mountains.


There’s no water for miles. None.  Like sometimes not even to drink.  The only wildlife I’ve seen so far are stray dogs.  Animals don’t live in these conditions.  People barely live in them.  I’ve seen cacti dried out and keeled over.  So marine life certainly does not live here.  And listen, I’m no scientist, right.  Maybe it’s a land tortoise or something…. but he doesn’t live in Huaycan anymore than he lives inManhattan.

– Um, Ernesto where did you guys get this turtle?

– We found him.

– You found him where?

– Here.  (Points to mound of garbage on the side of the road)

– Here in the trash?

– Si.  We wanted to feed him something, but I think they eat leaves and we don’t have those (See above In re: no water/vegetation).


Enter another voluntario.

Other Voluntario: – What the hell?  Is that a tortoise?

Me: –  I’ve been saying turtle, but what do I know?

OV: –  Yeah, it’s definitely a tortoise.

Me: –  You sure learned a lot majoring in Spanish literature.

OV –  But how did he get up here? (Looks down the massive hill.) There’s no way it climbed up the hill, right?

Me-  Doubtful.  I feel like we would’ve seen him making his way up here for days.  This is apparently the first sighting.

OV: – Crazy.

Me: – Yeah, the poor little guy probably got on the wrong Combi and shit.  He was all like “Galapagos?”  and they were like “Sube! Sube!”

OV: – Yeah, I guess.  But once you see you’re on the wrong Combi, you just get off.

Me: – Dude, he’s a turtle…

OV: – Tortoise…

Me: – …tortoise…by the time he was able to get moving it was too late.  Now he lives here among the Zone Z trash.  He’ll probably never be able to get up enough speed to catch another Combi headed back down.