Insert foot in mouth

Being abroad, and especially being abroad while learning a new language, pretty much automatically makes you a comedian. I feel like everytime I try to say something in Spanish, it comes out completely mangled and absurd, making everyone around die laughing. Although I guess “comedian” is a rather generous term; it’s more like being the community fool. Either way, I feel like I am a constant source of entertainment for my host family.

Here are some of the recent highlights from my adventures in trying to speak Spanish:

  • While explaining to my host mom the ingredients needed for pancakes I translated baking powder as polvo de orinar. As she doubled over laughing, I realized that I said “powder of urine” instead of polvo de hornear. Such a small difference in sound, but such a large difference in meaning! I’m pretty sure all 85+ members of the extended family have heard this story at least twice…
  • Tonight I was telling my host mom about the polleria (chicken restaurant) that Catie and I ate at yesterday. I got pretty sick last night, probably due to something that I ate there. Apparently it had ALL the signs of being a dirty and unreputable restaurant, but of course, the gringas were oblivious. I began telling her that we started with quinoa soup and she immediately was shocked that a polleria would sell quinoa soup (apparently this is taboo, who knows why). She asked me what kind of meat was in the soup and when I told her nonchalantly, “chicken,” she about died. Quinoa soup with chicken! Everyone knows that you eat quinoa soup with lamb or beef! NEVER chicken! Having rather positive memories of the soup, I asked her and my host sister why you can’t eat it with chicken, to which they replied,”It’s just not done!” Having established that they served us a bastardized version of one of Peru’s favorite soups, I tried to tell her that after the soup I had rotissiere chicken, thinking that there couldn’t be a problem with that; it’s what every polleria sells! But instead of saying pollo a brasas (chicken on a spit) I said “pollo abrazos” which means “chicken hugs.” Cue the laughter! I also confessed to eating the mayonaisse which apparently is a cardinal sin (and probably what made me sick). Again, everyone knows that the pollerias make the mayo with leftover rancid oil from all the french fries they make and that if you want mayo with your chicken and fries you should bring a package with you. Oh, how naive these gringas are!
  • In the same discussion about restaurant cleanliness, I tried to explain to my host mom that in the US we have regular inspections and that every restaurant must display a piece of paper that says the grade they have recieved on the most recent inspection. Except that instead of saying una hoja (a sheet) of paper, I said they have to have an ojo on their wall, which means “eye.” Woops….

At least I can never take myself too seriously here!



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Machu Picchu and other Peruvian culinary adventures

Machu Picchu


Where do I even begin? This weekend Catie and I braved the rainy season and set off for Machu Picchu, hoping that we wouldn’t get dowsed on. Our gamble paid off; while it was cloudy and drizzly for a good portion of the time, we still got to see plenty of gorgeous views, the site wasn’t overwhelmed by tour groups, we weren’t baking in the sun, and we got a bargain on our hostel. We went with Zach, a friend from Cusco who’s backpacking through Peru and Chile, and met up with another friend from the ranch, Charles, who was visiting Cusco with his parents. It was a wonderful mix of old friends and new friends.


I was surprised by how incredible the ruins are. There is something about the mix of the beautifully subtle stonework set against the dramatic and lush scenery of the mountians of the cloud forest that just took my breath away. We got to the site at 6:00 am and when we left at closing time at 5:00 pm I still wasn’t ready to leave. Interestingly enough, the Inca stonework reminded me a lot of the contemporary landscape artist Andy Goldsworthy and the way he integrates his artwork into the natural setting (if you haven’t heard of him, check out his work here: it’s amazing!).


We got back to Cusco Saturday afternoon and spent the rest of the day doing laundry and relaxing. Catie and I were both exhausted! Sunday we turned from the historic sites of Peru to its incredible culinary scene. Catie and I went to the market with our host mom and sister in the morning and bought all the ingredients necessary for ceviche (the national dish of Peru- fish marinated in lemon and spices and eaten raw) and apple pie (as close to a national dish of the US that we could come up with), as well as tons of fruit that Catie and I had never tried before. Our houst sister’s favorite- chirimoya- is delicious but defines description. The best Catie and I could come up with was a mixture of pear, milk and pinapple! At the market we munched on fresh hot tamales (a new favorite of mine) and tried chicha de quinoa (a type of non-alcoholic beer made from quinoa) at the market stall of one of the many sisters of our host mom.


Back at the house, Catie and I worked on the apple pie, while our host mom and sister worked on the ceviche and accompanying dishes. Most Peruvians here don’t have ovens (the gas is really expensive), so instead we paid 1.50 soles to use the community wood fired oven at the bakery around the corner. The pie turned out really well and since it was ready before lunch we decided to adapt to Peruvian customs and have the dessert BEFORE the big meal (this is typical with any kind of party or birthday celebration- the cake is eaten first!). Several family members had come over for the big Sunday lunch so they got to try the pie, with vanilla ice cream of course. After our appetizer of apple pie, we prepared our stomachs for yet more food. The main meal included ceviche, sweet potatoes, fried rice with eggs and veggies, and toasted corn. YUM! I polished off my plate easily. Last but not least, they brought out a delicious hot broth made from boiling the bones and heads of the fish used for the ceviche. I think it was the first time I started a meal with apple pie and ended with fish head soup! I then fell into a food coma for the next few hours…


All in all, a great weekend of experiencing (and tasting!) the richness of Peruvian culture.Image

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Life in the city

Greetings from Cusco! Catie and I have finished up our month at the orphanage near tiny Limbatambo (about two hours from Cusco) and are now getting adjusted to life in the city. It was sad saying goodbye to the staff and children at the orphanage, but we’ll head back for a weekend before we leave. I learned so much there; I’m definitely overdue on some blog posts! Amazingly, we actually finished the mural before we left. Check out my or Catie’s fb page for photos.

Here in Cusco we’re volunteering in the afternoons with Corason, a program that works with at-risk children in one of the poorer neighborhoods in Cusco, and Promesa, a bilingual school near to where I’m living. I’m loving my homestay, and so grateful for the warm welcome they have given me. Today I went to the largest market I’ve ever been too with my host mom. It’s the main food mercado for Cusco, so food comes in from all around the country everyday. They live about a four minute walk away, so she never buys meat more than a day in advance. Cusco might be 11,000 ft high, but it’s only a few hours drive from the jungle. This means that there is a huge variety of fruits and vegetables available. There are literally hundreds of types of potatoes, and I’ve never seen so many different types of avocados, bananas, and other fruit that I don’t even recognize. Peruvian cuisine definitely takes advantage of this variety- yum! 

This blog post feels a little lackluster, but I’m tired and not feeling creative. It’s a shame, too, because there’s been some pretty funny things that have happened in the last few days. I’m pretty sure that my host grandmas can drink me under the table and I’m getting aquainted with all the popular novellas (soap operas). I’ve squeezed myself into a combi (Peruvian public van) that had standing room only- unfortunately the ceiling is only about 5 ft high. I singed my eyebrows yesterday trying to light a gas stove the day before (thankfully, you can’t really tell!), and survived peeling baby potatoes with a butcher knife (fortunately for me, my host mom forgot to get the knives sharpened at the market today). And it’s only Wednesday in the first week!

I miss my friends at the orphanage and the routine that we had settled into, but it’s good to be in Cusco. More adventures and insights on life in the city to come!


PS- Thanks to all my friends in Asia for the birthday wishes! Who doesn’t love starting their birthday twelve hours early??? 🙂

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Reevaluating Our “To Do” List (or at least our time frame)


Catie and I are trying to do a mural with some of the kids in the house where visiting teams and volunteers meet. It was an idea of one of the American staff here and we’re doing our best to try and make it happen before we leave for Cusco next Thursday. This process has been in the works for several weeks, but this afternoon was one of the more amusing vignettes in the continuing story here of “Catie and Andrea Try to Check Something Off Their List.” What good UR student doesn’t love getting stuff done and checking things off their list? We’re starting to realize that we need to get used to a different way of evaluating how we spend our time… 

This afternoon our goal was to get the design for the mural drawn on the wall so that we could start painting during our next free moment. We’re going to paint a map of the western hemisphere so that volunteers and teams that come can mark where they are from. It also has the added benefits of being a good geography lesson for the kids (and visitors- I’m sure they could brush up on their South American geography) and being relatively easy to draw considering that it’s already, well, planned out. The plan is to hook Catie’s computer up to a projector, so that we can trace the map that we project onto the wall. After much work, we have all the paints, brushes, and supplies; all we needed today were the keys to the building and the projector. Then we could get started!

First goal- the keys. We start looking for the guy who has all the keys this morning, but can’t find him. We corner him at lunch and ask if after lunch we can get them from him. He has to visit some of the other staff before he heads back to his office, so Catie and I sit outside for a while watching these beautiful emerald green hummingbirds fly around while I pick some flowers for our house. We joyfully greet him when he arrives, only to find out that he’s locked his keys in his office. Thankfully, the engineer from the farm’s pig raising operation has the spare (naturally) so we head over to her apartment to ask her. She’s in the shower (they slaughtered 3 pigs this morning!), so we pick some figs from the trees in her yard and hang out until we can get a hold of her.  After she gets out, she gets us the key to office. Key in hand, we head back to the office where finally we get the key to where we want to paint the mural. First step accomplished!

Now all we need is the projector. To get that we need to talk to Hermana G. who normally has the projector. She’s not in the office, so we head to her apartment to ask her. She regretfully informs us that actually Hermano R. has it, or that maybe it’s in Casa 4. She gives us the key to Casa 4 and we set off to find the projector. Unfortunately no one is around Hermano R.’s house and the projector is nowhere to be found in Casa 4. So we head back to the office, to ask the keeper of the keys if he can use his walkie talkie (which in Spanish they call “okey dokey”) to call Hermano R. He tries several times and then says, “Ohhhh, Hermano R isn’t here; he went into town for the afternoon. But his wife should be at home.” Of course… We head back up to try and find his wife. Thankfully she’s there, but when we ask her about the projector, she tells that she just saw it this morning but has no idea where it is now. Hermano R. knows, of course, but he’s in Limatambo…

At this point we give up any hopes of getting the projector today. But we’re thinking, “At least we have the key and can bring all the paints and supplies over.” We head over to our house where we take several trips to bring the supplies out on the porch. I start walking with Catie right behind me and it’s not 5 seconds before I realize that I locked the keys for our house AND the building we’re painting at in the house. ARGH!!!!!!!! So I go off on yet another hunt around the farm to track down the spare key to our house. Thankfully I only had to make two stops before I found it, and we could get back into the house to get all the other keys.

So for an entire afternoon, we got the keys for the building, and were finally able to store the supplies there. But I also got to see some beautiful birds, we have figs ripening on our window sill, flowers for our table, and Catie and I definitely had some good laughs. We still don’t have the projector but who knows, maybe we’ll be able to get it before the weekend is over!

Stay tuned for more thrilling and eventful mural updates; maybe next time we’ll actually get something up on the wall!

(PS- what’s really hysterical about all this is that tomorrow afternoon we’re doing a scavenger hunt for all the kids, as if we haven’t had enough of that in our own life! Oh the irony…) 

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Photos galore

Pictures are officially up on facebook! I just put up a whole album from Peru, and am in the process of posting some that I realized never made it up from Thailand. I’m so incredibly grateful for these opportunities to travel and volunteer in such beautiful places, with such amazing people. Thank you to the many many of you who have helped me in one way or the other- housing, an airport pick up, an encouraging email, a warm meal, shopping advise (every souvenir I bought was a team effort!), a much needed prayer, laundry, the list goes on and on. One day, I look forward to having my own place to host people and not being the perpetual guest!

Today Catie and I thought we were going to help paint the school, but it turns out the teachers were out buying the paint today and that we would start “manana” (tomorrow). So we decided to go do our laundry, but after we got all our dirty clothes together and dragged them down to the kitchen we found out that the women who has the keys to where we do our laundry wasn’t in today. So on to Plan C- bake cookies! Catie and I are learning that it’s best to have several ideas for what to do each day, because you never know how many will fall through! More about our cookie baking adventure on the photo album on facebook but let’s just say that any baker will tell you that making shortbread cookies with margarine and shortening (not butter), in a very humid shed out in the rain, at high altitude (8000 ft), with rather inaccurate measurements, in an outdoor wood-fired oven heated to who knows what temperature should not equal yummy delicious cookies. Miraculously, they turned out pretty well! Kind of like pie crust, but what the heck, icing covers a multitude of sins, right? It took us about seven hours, but it was a great activity to do with the kids on a rainy day. Hopefully the home parents enjoyed having a little time to themselves with the kids out of the houses. 

Back to posting Thailand pictures!

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Things I’ve Wanted to Google These Past Few Days…

Our house had lost power for five days, so while I enjoyed the peace, quiet, and romantic candle light evenings with Catie, I’m happy to be rejoining the digital world. Got caught up on some of the things I’ve been meaning to look up. What did we ever do without google?

“Cups into kilos” (we’re making 5 batches of cookies today with the kids; it’s bread making day so the outdoor oven will already be heated up and we won’t have to use any gas! This is nice, because gas has to be brought in from town about 30 minutes away, and it’s good to not have to waste it on ‘frivolous’ items.)

“Distance from Limatambo to the Apurimac River” (want to know if we could walk from where our home to the headwaters of the Amazon; wasn’t super helpful with the river but from the satellite pictures I think we can. Doesn’t look too too far.)

“Tarantula facts” (They’re big and scary and bite, but should I have killed that one that I saw in my bathroom two nights ago? Since we had no power it was rather dark and I couldn’t tell if it was a tarantula, but it was definitely a big spider crawling in my sink. I smashed it with my walking stick, but later one of the other volunteers said not to kill them. Apparently she was right; their bite is painful, but it’s less venomous than a honeybee and they eat all the other smaller poisonous spiders. Good to know, but I still don’t know how I feel about a tarantula cohabiting with us.)

“Miss Merry Mac words and other hand clap rhymes” (Hand clap games are always popular, all the world over!)

“What kind of fruit is a lucuma?” (Apparently, there is no English translation. We don’t have lucuma in the US! It’s a real delicious fruit that is native to Peru and has a sweet, dry flesh that is about the same texture as a hard boiled egg. A bit strange, but oh so good.)

“Penalty for overstaying Peruvian tourist visa” (It’s quite silly, since it’s free to get up to a 180 day tourist visa in Peru, but long story short, I only asked for 90 days when I actually need 107. Amateur mistake! I was worried about whether I would have to pay a lot of money for an extension or do a border run to Bolivia, but turns out you only have to pay a fee of $1 for each day you overstay your welcome. So I’ll just plan on paying an extra $17 when I leave.)

“Amount of oxygen at 8000 ft” (Haven’t had much issue with altitude sickness here but was curious. however when we went into Cusco at 11,000 on Wednesday I could definitely tell a difference. There is 25% less oxygen available at 8000 ft, so even much less at 11,000.)

And of course, a thousand plus queries on “How do you say _____ in Spanish?” or visa versa. So thankful for all the amazing Spanish practice I’m getting here and how kind and patient everyone is in communicating with me!

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El campo

Today Catie and I spent the morning exploring the area around the orphanage. The past few days we had been working up at the school (the kids are on vacation so we were doing some deep cleaning and grounds work), so we hadn’t gotten a chance to explore much. We set off in the morning with two of the younger girls and ended up having quite the adventure! What would have been a very short (20 min?) hike up to the water tower turned into MUCH longer as one of the little girls decided to teach us about “la tuna.” No, this is not the fish, it’s prickly pear fruit (think Jungle Book). Apparently the fruit is chock full of vitamins, so it’s a great supplement to their diet, but wow, is it hard to get at! We spent about an hour or more battling with cacti, trying to reach to the tip top where la tuna is. But once you get past the thorns of the cactus, you have to deal with the tiny little hairs all over the tuna that will stick into your skin and make you itch itch itch. So before you can touch the tuna to grab it off, you have to whack it with branches to knock all the hairs off. But, if the tuna is above you (as most of them were), the hairs come raining down on you, getting all in your clothes, skin, etc. And all of this just for a fruit that’s about the size of a pear!

The girls showed us lots of other thing (what trees have fruits that you can eat, which flowers have thorns/stickers, what all the different plants growing in the fields were, etc). They both speak Quechua (an indigenous language) and love catching tadpoles, wading through mud, finding berries, whacking down huge bushes, scavenging for tuna, and playing with the stray dogs. These girls know how to forage for food in these mountains, that’s for sure! With their love for (and knowledge of) the outdoors, I think they would make great biologists.

I’m keeping a list of new vocab words, and as I was going back over it, I realized that, yes, we are absolutely living in “el campo” (the countryside). Here’s some of the most recent additions to the list:

el repelente (bug repellent), picar (to bite), gorra (baseball cap), las pulgas (fleas), subir (to climb up), la flor (flower), el cerdo (pig), el pasto/la hierba (grass), lluvia (rain), fogata (bonfire), el puente (bridge) escoger (to choose), recoger (to gather)

I picked a bunch of wildflowers while we were out (I know my fellow A Bar A staff members won’t be surprised!), so now we have a big beautiful bunch of them in our front window. I’m amazed by the diversity of the flora and fauna here- so many plants and flowers that I have never seen! It’s incredibly mountainous, but also very lush since we’re in the rainy season. This equals lots of flowers, but also lots of bugs. Thankfully, the bites don’t itch much.

Each day brings something new and unexpected, that’s for sure! Tomorrow we’re going to help the children make the bread for the week in the outdoor wood-fired oven. It’ll be interesting to see what new set of vocab we learn then…


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