-Disclaimer- There won´t be any photos to go with these vacation posts. I´m sorry. I know a Peace Corps blog without photos is a just a shade of it´s potentia. But they´re all on Facebook! With more to come this weekend! It just take so g.d. long to post photos that I can´t bear to put the same ones in two different places. I´d rather teach children and go medicinal plant collecting. Sorry! I promise that there are still good stories below.
This long trip started with PDM (Project Development something) and EIST (Early In Service Training) in Olmos, Lambayeque. But we had to get there first. My sister/social Jenny and I left on a Saturday morning from Carhuamayo to catch a bus to Lima. Despite repeated remindings and phone calls the morning of, she was late for the bus and made me hold it and argue with an angry cobrador. I was feeling equally murderous with Jenny as we sat down, but she was unfazed by my scolding and harried look. I calmed down and we had an uneventful trip to Lima. We traveled through the town where I had training and it was funny to see everything again. The plaza, the crappy pizza place, the favorite discoteca. Everything was greener with the passing of the rainy season. It seems like we were there forever ago, though it was only a few months. What I thought about then, what I knew and felt, how unknown and foreign everything was, is so far away. Things are still surprising and strange, but I know how to roll with them now.
We caught a night bus and were in Chiclayo 12 bleary hours later. Other volunteers trickled in throughout the day to lots of smiles and hugs. We spent a good part of the day on the sunny roof of the hostel catching up, playing music, and sitting on each other’s laps. I didn’t even realize how much I missed and liked everyone until I saw them again.
We were supposed to start the 2 hour drive to Olmos from Chiclayo at 6pm. The vans showed up at 6:30 and we started off into the dusky desert. After a few miles, one of the vans mysteriously slowed to a crawl on the shoulder of the highway. It continued, only to pull over for a moment every quarter mile or so. We continued our halting journey for another hour with many unanswered questions and guesses from the volunteers. Finally, we pulled over at a plaza and all the drivers got out of their vans to confer. It turned out that the van’s battery was bad and we waited for the drivers to find a mechanic to replace it. It was long dark by this time with a sorry lack of street food vendors in the plaza. We eventually got on our way and arrived in Olmos late.
Now, we were grumpy. Most of us had been traveling for at least 24 hours, spent the last night on a bus, and hadn’t had any dinner, a shower, or a good teeth brushing for a while. We were all looking forward to a chance to get cleaned up and have a nice bed. Sadly, this wasn’t available at Hostel Romanzo. We disembarked from our vans to find that the older, open-shirted, slightly addled proprietor had no idea we were arriving that night. He hustled his sparse staff to get sheets on beds and rooms cleaned up. The place was filthy, even by Peace Corps standards. And the bugs. Even the locals described it as a plague. It turns out that jillions of black cockroach-sized beetles emerge during the rainy season and invade. They were everywhere. If you stood in the open, they crawled over your feet, especially liking the space between the arch of your foot and your sandal. If you stood under a tree, they fell in your hair and occasionally down the back of your shirt. They made a horrible buzzing sound when they flew and had no respect for privacy.
I was eventually led to my room and there were dozens of them creeping in the entryway. I shooed a couple off my bed and tried to sleep. The beetles were everywhere as soon as the light shut off. They flew around my head and crawled over me in bed. I tried to deal by burrito-ing myself in my sheets, but the desert heat was too much even at night. I was sweating and breathing shallowly. If I’d open up a breathing hole, they’d crawl in an over my neck or face. Intermittently, I’d wake up and clear off my bed, but it was hopeless. It was the most miserable I’ve been in my Peace Corps experience so far. In the wee hours of the morning, I gave up and went and knocked on my socia’s door. I slept for a few hours on a quilt on her concrete floor.
We moved rooms the next day and it turns out that I had the buggiest spot in the whole hotel. Though they didn’t go away. One morning, I had 5 beetles in one shoe and a grasshopper in the other. Once, I put on a shirt without careful inspection and found out that I was sharing it. We got more accostumed to the fellow hotel guests. At first, I was my normal gentle self, not wanting to kill things. After a few days, I was the Jackie Chan of beetle murder. Swift. Using anything as a weapon: shoes, bars of soap, Kindles, condiment bottles. I grew familiar with the satisfying crunch of exoskeleton that meant that it was dead. Sounds brutal and unlike me, but you’d have to be there to understand.
As soon as we got used to the beetles, then came the flood. It rained one night and it seemed like the walkways immediately became rivers. People piled their things on their beds as water rose to ankle depth in some rooms. Thankfully the desert soil sucked the rain up quickly and we only had one soggy night.
For all the biblical level problems we had, our time in Olmos wasn’t all bad. It was a novelty to me to be hot. I’d walk to the market at 7am and arrive with sweat down to my belly. The volunteers got to hang out at night. I hadn’t been outside at night since I got to site. We played music, ate ice cream, and wandered around. We visited the zoo Tina works at. It was pretty sad, but she’s working hard to make it better for the animals and I got to hold a monkey’s hand. At the end of training, we had a fantastic talent show with belly dancing and recycling reggaeton. The four of us in Los Maximos wrote an original song together and everyone loved it. It was called Olmos Home, get it? We were demanded an encore immediately and everyone got up to dance. It was wonderful.
I wasn’t sure if we’d make it, but then all of the sudden the week was done and it was vacation time!