Lake Titicaca

One of the most beautiful places I’ve had the pleasure of visiting is Lake Titicaca, Puno, Peru. From sleeping in huts with locals, to shopping on floating islands made of ‘totoro’ reeds, to lounging on top of a tourist yacht, you could say it was the weekend of a lifetime.

Upon arriving in the Capachica rural community, I was immediately struck by the amazing view. As we drove up the narrow, winding dirt road, the sun setting over Lake Titicaca emerged over the horizon. The icy mountains of Bolivia were visible across the lake and there was little sign of modern luxury. I wondered immediately how I was going to share my experience without access to Facebook or Instagram, but eventually took solace in my vacation from that world. As we unloaded the bus, we were given our hut assignments, and I found my home after a 20-minute hike along the lakeshore, a small room of three beds which I would share with five other girls. Almost immediately, we discarded our things in the room and ran to explore. Our search for a relaxing beach led us to a beautiful hike of stunning views and boulders the size of my home in Wisconsin. Though a unique experience, walking along Lake Titicaca reminded me of a walk along Lake Superior, and it felt like home.

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That night we were given the opportunity to help prepare our meal the way that the locals do. We each took turns grinding quinoa between large slabs of stone, a long, taxing process. Afterward we were taught how to make “galletas de quinoa” which were simply little chips of quinoa flour and vegetable oil quickly baked that we ate with cheese and salsa. After dinner, we danced around a bonfire built from quinoa reeds. It constantly needed to be fed, but was one of the largest and hottest bonfires I’ve ever seen. It was a nippy night, but that didn’t stop us from a run down to the shore to dip our toes in the water and share a beer, after which we crawled into our shared beds with six or more blankets and had one of the best nights’ sleep of my life.

The next morning, we had a quick breakfast of bread and fruit, and boarded a water bus, a tourism boat which would be home base for the remainder of the weekend. The cabin was full of comfortable seats and surrounded on all sides by windows. However, my friends and I preferred to spend our time atop the boat, where we could feel the lake breeze and pretend we were aboard a private yacht, strumming an ukulele and sharing laughs as we made our way to the next stop of the weekend, an island community called Uros.

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Pulling up to Uros, it doesn’t look like much of anything, until you disembark the boat and realize you are stepping onto a floating island made of what seems to be grass. Actually, it is a colossal mass of totoro reeds, all strung together and anchored at four corners. Totoro reeds are often referred to as the banana of Lake Titicaca, because though long and cumbersome, when peeled they can be eaten like a banana. The taste reminded me more of cucumber, but was delicious regardless. However, in Uros’ case, the reeds were much more than a tasty snack. As I sat on the island and listened to the explanation of how exactly the island is constructed, I realized I was surrounded by totoro reeds. Not only was the community suspended by these floating reeds, their houses and boats were built from them, there was a lookout tower constructed with primarily reeds, and I was sitting on a bench of totoro reeds.

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After the explanation we had the opportunity to shop crafts made by the six families which inhabit the island. I purchased a gift for my not-yet-born niece, a beautiful and colorful mobile constructed from – you guessed it – totoro reeds. Then we had the opportunity to board a totoro boat and travelled to another local community, where we were the first tourist group ever to visit. We hiked through what seemed to be a forest of reeds (which are actually quite difficult to walk on) and crossed an incredible totoro bridge. We had the opportunity to play a game of futbol against the local children, who took it easy on us, and observed a traditional offering to Pachamama, the Earth Mother, with a local elder of 94 years young. After this incredible experience, we loaded up the water bus and were off to find our next home for the night.

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Amantani Island is known as the island of love, and the reasons are clear. Upon arriving, we were all blessed with bands of beautiful flowers similar to a Hawaiian lei, and led to our rooms overlooking Titicaca and Pachatata mountain, quite the romantic view. After lunch we had the opportunity to hike Pachatata or go for a dip in the lake. Lake Titicaca is frigid, but I live on Lake Superior and again, the breathtaking icy water felt like home to me. I pitched my hammock and relaxed with my uke as I waited for the dinner bell, enjoying the cool breeze as the sun went down. After dinner, we were all dressed in traditional garb and joined a mass of other tourists in the island’s main plaza where we danced to traditional music and traded our stories and experiences.

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The next morning, our last morning on the lake, we were taken to one last island, one which seemed to float in the clouds. After a long steep hike, we made it to the top of Takile island, where we were demonstrated a traditional wedding acted out by my peers. We bonded with the locals, particularly a young boy no more than three years who understood only Quechua but loved our company regardless. We were given a wonderful meal of quinoa soup and gazed over the lake as we said goodbye to the weekend of our lives.

El Mundo Real – Cusco

Still can't believe I live here

A photo posted by Emma (@padmatato) on

I’ve officially been living in Cusco for four days, but it feels like it’s been weeks. Getting settled in my host family and in school has been a big transition, but I’m starting to get it down. I’ve been immersed in so much Spanish from home to school to all the shops, that English has begun to sound somewhat foreign. I often have to ask people to repeat things multiple times, no matter what language they are speaking. I’ve found myself thinking in Spanish, taking notes in Spanish (even in my English classes), and commenting on friends’ posts in Spanish, without even realizing I’m doing it. I feel very anonymous to those around me, like no one can understand what I’m saying. It’s a bittersweet feeling, being subject to the judgment of others, yet willfully unaware of it.

As for my classes, I’m loving them. I am taking two classes in English and two in Spanish, which is a real trip. The two classes I am taking in English are called “Indigenous Knowledge of Climate Change Adaptation in the Peruvian Highlands” and “Sustainable Development in the Peruvian Andes.” I’m excited to learn about these topics from a different perspective, one that is not focused on the geographical aspects of Upper Michigan. To quote my professor, “there is a debate in the U.S. over whether climate change is actually happening, but in Peru, there is no such debate, because we are suffering the effects of it.” These two courses go hand-in-hand, and are easy to absorb as they share the same professor, same reading list and same field trips. From what it seems, a LOT of field trips, on top of the excursions that are built-in to my study abroad program. I will be traveling around Peru quite a bit in the coming months.

Another one of my classes is Latin American Literature, Modernismo through Actualidad. My professor is from Salamanca, Spain, and has an accent with which I am entirely unfamiliar. If I zone out for a second, I miss way more than I would in an English class. However, I have only had two sessions of this class, and already I am finding it easier to comprehend, so I expect it will only get easier. Especially because of my last class, which is Advanced Spanish, Grammar and Composition. This class is also taught in Spanish, but with more intention of learning the language. The way I see it, the more Advanced Spanish classes I go to, the easier it will be to comprehend my literature class. Without being overly optimistic, it can only get better from here!

On my 5-minute walk to class I pass a supermarket, a number of small coffee shops and bakeries and a LOT of people. The language barrier isn’t my only handicap here, I have never lived in such a big city in my life. Nearby are a few parks, markets, and a mall. I haven’t yet been able to explore the mall. I hardly recognize my school when I reach it, as it looks just like every other house on the street, and I have to ring the doorbell to enter. The school has two floors of classrooms and offices, plus a third floor “chill out” space, a sunny courtyard and a kitchen where at any time you will find a student replenishing their cup of tea. Culturally, the people here use “mate de coca” (coca tea) as a remedy for everything. Coca is not legal in the U.S. as it can be used to make cocaine, but the leaf is not a drug. Headache? Mate de coca. Altitude sickness? Mate de coca. Hangover? Mate de coca. And let me tell you, it works. I’ve probably had more tea in the past four days than the past month.

As I predicted, I have been experiencing some minor homesickness. For the first time since I landed in Lima, I was able to video chat with my parents last night. I was experiencing some altitude sickness, and I think I overwhelmed them with complaints. I may have made this experience seem much worse than it has been, because I was feeling pretty badly at the time. Overall, I have loved my time here in Cusco and am excited for the coming semester. If anything, this slight homesickness I’m facing will make my reunion with Marquette even more exciting.

The longer I’m here, the happier I am that I made this decision. There will always be things and people I miss about Marquette, and experiences I’m missing out on. But the experiences I am getting here are once in a lifetime, and the friends I’ve made are from all over the country, everywhere from Alaska to New Orleans. It will be over before I realize it, so I have to soak it up now. Voy a disfrutar esta vida mientras dure.

Primeras Impresiones

Smoothie ordered in bad Spanish and reading on the rooftop terrace. Okay Lima you can hang

A photo posted by Emma (@padmatato) on

Hola de Lima, Peru! After nine hours on a plane, a five hour layover in Fort Lauderdale and a very stressful taxi ride from the airport, I arrived at my temporary home for the night at approximately 10:30 pm local time, which just so happens to also be central time, Wisconsin time. I immediately had to get used to speaking Spanish with everyone I met. I assume the looks I am getting are in response to a young girl traveling alone, and especially not speaking perfect Spanish. However the more people I speak to, the better my conversational Spanish becomes, even in such a short time. I have less than twelve hours to spend in Miraflores, a suburb of Lima, before I head back to the airport and am on my way to Cusco tomorrow morning. I’m not sure how comfortable I feel with venturing out on my own yet, so I am just blogging some first impressions for today, of my quick glimpse of Lima.

It’s surprisingly cold here. I was warned about the cold in Cusco, because of its high altitude, however Lima I expected to be somewhat tropical. I would compare this September day in Lima to a March day in Wisconsin. It rained last night, and was misty this morning when I got up.

I took the best shower ever. Maybe it was just that I felt I really needed a good shower after 14 hours of planes and airports, but I loved the shower at the hostel. It wasn’t that nice or anything, the walls were crumbling a bit and the water pressure was really low. But it was hot, and private, and clean. I felt refreshed, which made this somewhat unsettling experience of being alone in a foreign place a bit easier.

After I showered I called my parents and some friends and went to bed. The bed was just an old twin mattress with cheap sheets and a used blanket, but again, best nights’ sleep I’ve had in a while. I have no idea why. I was cold when I woke up, but under the blanket I was given, content. I didn’t have any reason to get up at a particular time today, besides needing to be at the airport at 11:00 pm, so I slept comfortably until about 10:00 am. The room had seven bunks in it, but only five occupants, I being the only female. I didn’t interact with the others much, besides inhaling unfathomable amounts cologne, since I basically showed up, showered and slept.

This morning I am still keeping to myself, taking the day to take it all in. The hostel is a nice place to do that, comfortable and accommodating. Tomorrow I will meet my host family in Cusco, Sunday I will meet my teachers and fellow students, Monday I will start classes. I also have the ISA blog to begin considering. So for today, I’m taking it easy.

Marquette, Don’t Miss Me Too Much

As the countdown to my semester abroad dwindles (3 days to departure), I am faced with premature homesickness. I will miss my city something fierce. The three years I have spent in Marquette have been exponentially more significant than my 18 years in Appleton. In these three years I have developed relationships that are completely incomparable, both to people and places. I have already missed out on the first week of classes, arguably the best part of the year. As the students return, the heart of Marquette returns. The city comes alive as freshmen explore their new home, sophomores and juniors reconnect with dear friends, and seniors gaze over their new kingdom. I am a senior this year, and my kingdom will persist without me.

In congruence with past years, this week would be filled with lounging on the beach, hiking between classes, and cliff jumping into Superior’s icy waters. The pressures of school have not yet set in, and the entire city it seems is at ease. Marquette is sort of special that way, there is almost an island mentality. That “life is good” vibe rings throughout the city, particularly at this time of year. I have done so much looking forward to my time abroad, so much picturing myself in Peru, that it hadn’t crossed my mind to picture Marquette without me.

My love affair with Marquette goes beyond school, beyond friends, beyond home, it’s my life. I built my life there. Every piece of my life before I moved to Marquette was built for me. Appleton is where I grew up, it is my home, but I don’t have a life there.

Right now in Marquette, I might be finishing up some homework, maybe watching a show on Netflix and getting ready for school tomorrow. I might also be sleeping under the stars, listening to the waves crash on the shore, or sitting around a fire with my closest friends on top of Hogback Mountain. Someone would probably have a guitar, and I might be singing. There would be a PBR can in each hand and dirt on every face. Other students would be coming out of the trees following the sound of a good time being had. We’d introduce ourselves and new relationships would begin to form. I’d look up to the stars and use them to align myself to face North, as I often do to remind myself of my place and size in the universe. And in the morning I would wake up and drive those 5 minutes on CR 550 back to Marquette, shower the night off and head to class.

That’s my school, that’s my city, that’s my life. Though my excitement for the next few months is ample, I can’t help but lament missing out on these first few weeks of class. I’ve never done well with change, and I imagine there will be significant differences when I return.

Since leaving the last place I held as dear as Marquette, a summer camp less than two hours north of Appleton, I’ve found myself in somewhat of a rut. I have trouble moving forward. I don’t like change, I don’t like leaving, and I especially don’t like goodbyes. It’s strange to say goodbye after spending every minute with the same 20 people for three months straight. Sleeping in little huts and living 40 feet from your best friend’s front door. It’s hard to leave.

It was even harder for me to go back after leaving. I visited for three days and felt my presence being forgotten in a painful, remorseful way. It was hard to understand that camp had evolved without me, just as I without it. Leaving Marquette brings about a fear of this same pain when I return. Will I fit in? Will I have to find my place again among all the people I love? Will I remember Marquette? Will Marquette remember me? Until recently, I hadn’t considered that I may need to adjust to life in Marquette all over again. I’m not good at adjusting.

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Life, though, must go on and I can’t allow fear of change to hold me back from doing things I love, like traveling. The loving mentality of the people of Marquette is not likely to change soon, and I take solace in returning to this place in winter. There are things that will be different, no doubt, but I resolve to take them with a grain of salt. My own stubbornness and resilience to change is a battle I’ve fought to death. It’s time for me to grow up and be comfortable with the world evolving around me. Things must change to allow space for personal growth. It’s important to miss things in order to sufficiently appreciate them. But Marquette, don’t miss me too much.