December 29, 2007

What Next?

Filed under: General — mmrobins @ 2:20 pm

The month in Leymebamba has been a tranquil one. There’s been a lot of free time and the last few days Kim and I have begun to discuss what we’ll do when we return to the US. I think this is the first time in my life that my options have seemed so open ended to me. I’ve definitely decided that I don’t want to go back to a traditional office job. So I’m just going to muse on the future options that we’re considering.

One of the most serious options is starting my own company. I want to create software, and I already have an idea that I’ve been working on a bit. Much of the influence for this idea came from reading the essays of Paul Graham. I believe that the idea of a typical job will change a great deal in the near future as the tools to create things of value to others become so much better, but so much more complex. Those who can use these tools and provide something of value will be compensated according to the value instead of just how many hours they work. It’s already this way for those who are willing to take the risk, but the risk is becoming much less as access to these tools become so much less expensive. Anyway, once of the barriers to this idea is much research indicates that having a partner greatly increases the chances of success, and I’m not sure I’ll find a partner. I have a few friends that I’ve approached with the idea, but I’m dubious that when the time comes they’ll be willing to make any commitment to the idea.

Therefore another idea is to return to school for an advanced degree. Since leaving school the more study I’ve done into computer science the more I’ve wanted to know. I’ve missed the environment of school. What’s more, I might meet fellow grad students that would be interested in some starting some sort of company. One major problem with this idea is that we don’t know where we’re going to live. We don’t know if we’ll find a place to live first and then decide what to do or vice versa, and if there’s no good schools for computer science, why bother going back. I haven’t looked into online universities though.

Another new idea is to continue this vagabond life without home and hike the Appalachian Trail. We’re already without a job or home to worry about, and getting to that point in decent financial shape is quite a bit of work. So while we have that would be a great time to take advantage and take some months to do something like this, that I’ve always wanted to do. A problem with this is that we’re already feeling a little homesick and missing creature comforts. And it could be a little expensive.

Of course, we could decide to keep on traveling through Latin America. It really is cheap compared to living back home, and our house is probably appreciating faster than we’re spending money here, so even though we’re not earning any money, in theory our net worth is going up. Right now we’re both leaning toward coming back in mid April, but we could change our minds once we head to other countries. Right now the general plan is to head south to Arequipa, then through Bolivia, and then to Argentina. We had considered going to the jungle, but since it’s the rainy season in the highlands in the jungle until around May, we’re thinking going south to get a nice summer in the southern hemisphere might be more pleasant. We still want to go to the jungle at some point, but we might do it in Bolivia or when we come back north from Argentina and Chile.

Having all these options to consider is both exciting/fun and a little scary. Before there’s always been the next year of school to look forward to or a job after graduating. School and job are still options, but not in the same certain way they were before. Kim and I both definitely miss having a routine and schedule to our lives, but I don’t think either of us want to fall into a stale routine. I think the excitement and fun of exploring something new usually outweighs the fear of risk.

Leymebamba – Near the End

Filed under: travel — mmrobins @ 2:10 pm

Pastores singing and dancing in church

This was my first Christmas away from home. I definitely missed being home with family. It just didn’t feel like Christmas here. No snow, no Christmas tree, no family dinner, weird food, most stores didn’t close, no gift giving and few feelings of familiarity. I think some of these feelings of familiarity are my favorite parts of the holidays. I really wanted a group of people to speak English with.

Not that it was a bad Christmas, just not like home. Christmas Eve was actually when most of the action happened. The day was very quiet and the people we’re staying with don’t seem to have family gatherings. They spent most of the day working on the construction of the new part of their house. There was talk of a shared dinner, but nobody seemed to make it happen, so in the evening we just drank hot chocolate with cheese. Weird combo, huh? And the hot chocolate here isn’t like Swiss Miss. It’s straight from the cocao beans, so it’s really weird and oily. Oh, and paneton which is essentially fruit cake but light and fluffy. It’s pretty gross in my opinion, but it’s a huge deal here. I taught class at night. I didn’t think sutdents would want class at 8 on Christmas Eve, but they did and I had free time so why night. Afterwards we went to church. It started like the same old boring Catholic ceremony, but at the end there were children who sang and danced what sounded like traditional songs. After church they go from house to house to visit people’s nativity scenes and do their songs and dances there. This all takes place after midnight.

Lily, Maibel, Carmen y Arnold our host family for Christmas day lunch

Christmas day was a nonevent really. There were a lot of people hung over in the streets the next day. We heard that the discotech was even open the previous night. Weird. Just not Christmasy. We had lunch with a family, but it’s not like there was any tradition or anything out the ordinary. Kim has a much more complete description, but really Christmas just didn’t feel like a big deal here.

Other than that the last few weeks have been quiet. It rained last weekend so we didn’t go anywhere. We didn’t watch TV at all for the first 3 weeks, but lately we have. A few movies and the Simpsons in Spanish mostly. The children have left for their “summer” vacation, so we don’t have classes in the morning anymore. Besides that I haven’t had any students show up to the evening classes in more than a week. I really has begun to annoy me a great deal how flaky people are here about being at places when they say they will. You wouldn’t believe how many people say, “I’ll definitely be there!” and then don’t show up. Even the people we live with sometimes say they’re going to class, even 15 minutes before class, and then don’t go. It’s like the more certain people sound when they say they’ll do something, the less likely it is. But what can you do? It’s the culture and they just don’t seem to notice when everyone is late or doesn’t show up. At least the children have been showing up to a new afternoon class that we’ve started. We’ll see how many continue to show up conistently.

One of the few things we want to do before heading back is go on a horseback trip to the Laguna de Los Condores. I think this will depend a lot on the weather though. Aside from this, I’m looking forward to getting back on the road again. A month with too much free time turns out to be a little too much for me. I’ve actually at times felt bored, something I don’t think I’d felt almost at all in the last few years. As soon as I’ve felt bored I’ve found something to do, but it’s not what I’d be doing if I was back home in my spare time.

December 16, 2007

Two Weeks in Leymebamba

Filed under: General — mmrobins @ 5:49 pm

Leymebamba Viewed From the Museum Trail

Two weeks have passed fairly quickly in this quiet little mountain town. We’ve been plenty busy teaching English. When we arrived there were only about 10 hours of class a week for each of us, mostly for adults that have major attendence problems, to the point that some nights only one of us teaches the few students who attend. That’s far too much free time in a town this small. We already had too much downtime at the farm in Ecuador, so here we wanted to be busy and involved, so we started teaching at the local schools.

Every week day we’re teaching an hour at the grade school and a half hour at the preschool. We’ve rediscovered a few of our childhood songs for teaching purposes like “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes”. Classic and perfect for little kids who would much rather move than memorize. We’ve got songs for days of the week and colors too. We also started another afternoon class for kids who want to come.

Pronunciation really is difficult for Spanish speakers since there’s so many sounds they just don’t have in their language. I’ve spent HOURS trying to teach people to make a “th” sound. I’m teaching to all beginners, every class, so I’ve been going over basics like numbers, days of the week, greetings, etc a LOT. Kim has the only advanced class and she’s liking it, so that’s cool.

The weather has been mostly sunny and the scenery around here is gorgeous. We’re in a valley with a pretty river and green mountains all around. I think the rain is even pretty and I’ve actually enjoyed the rainy days when they come since it rains hard and washes everything. We’re techinically in “winter” now, but they only have two seasons here, and they’re really just the rainy season, which they call winter, and the not rainy season, aka summer. It hasn’t been too rainy for us though so far.

We’ve gone to the museum which has a bunch of mummies that they discovered on the land of the family we’re staying with. There’s dozens and dozens of ruins and discoveries of past civilizations in the area. They’ve only really just begun to develop this area for tourism. The problem with most of the sites for tourism is that they’re hard to get to. The Laguna de Condores, where they discovered the museum mummies, is a three day trip from Leymebamba, and getting to Leymebamba is no day trip either. It’s 3 or more hours down a bumpy dirt road from the nearest “city”, Chachapoyas, which is only accessible right now by a highway that’s under construction so that it’s passable only at night. They’re improving the roads though, even if slowly, and I think that will make all the difference in developing the region.

We also went to Kuelap which is an ancient Chachapoyan (people of the clouds) fortress that supposedly rivals Machu Pichu for grandeur. We definitely liked it. We hiked to it instead of taking a car since we didn’t know the schedule and might have had to wait for hours for a car to get there. The hike was a little over four hours of all uphill. We climbed a little under 4000 feet in that time. I think the downhill was harder though since we were already tired and downhill is so much harder on joints.

I’ve been reading Isaac Asimov’s Foundation books and playing some old Nintendo games in my down time. I was definitely going through video game withdrawal for awhile. I realllllllly missed playing video games, but the laptop I have with me really isn’t fast enough for many games and downloading anything from here would take forever with the slow connection. Then I remembered you can download Nintendo emulators and the game files are tiny, so I’m playing some of my old Super Nintendo favorites. That’s actually a big help when I start feeling homesick.

Aside from school Kim’s been cooking a lot. The family we’re living with includes a couple close to our age, Omer and Estefani, and Estefani wants to learn to cook some of our favorite foods since they’re opening a tourist restaurant in a few months. There’s kitchen so it’s great that we have space to cook our own stuff since we’re in general NOT big fans of Peruvian food. I’ll rant about that later.

Julio and Wilma are Omer’s parents and the owners of the hostal, and there’s a child, Omer Jr, who is going through a bratty phase right now. It’s nice living with a family and still having plenty of our own space and downtime. Although I’m a little jealous of the previous volunteers who were in a different hostal that was quite a bit more modern with a washer, private bathrooms, and windows in the rooms. We have a shared bathroom here with one of those damnable electric water heaters that scare me to death and only warm a little water at a time. Our room has a balcony which is cool, but there’s no windows, just the wooden doors to the balcony, which we don’t really want to leave open at night, so in the morning when we wake up it’s pitch dark no matter what time we wake up.

I’ve really begun to realize how great a lot of the appliances and utilities we have back home are. We washed our clothes by hand today and that just sucks. It’s so much less efficient than a washer. I don’t mind hand drying clothes as it’s fairly easy, not messy and uses less energy, but washing by hand is not efficient at all for the water usage. I also really miss reliable water. A lot. I can’t wait to get home and turn the tap and have hot water, drinkable water, and have it all the time! We haven’t had running water all day. When we do have water we have to let the dirt in it settle, then pour it in a pot and boil it. The water comes from the local river and the sewage gets pumped right back into that same river. The power goes out frequently. In fact it was just out for five minutes as I write this. They have internet and phone in the village via satellite so phone calls are expensive and internet is slow. Amazingly Skype works, so we can use that to call home cheap, even it is a little laggy. They have 3 telephones in the town, so if you want to call someone here from another city, you call, someone answers, you tell them who you want to talk to and hang up. Then you call back in 10 or so minutes and hope the person could be found and came to the phone.

So far it’s a great experience and the people are famously friendly. There’s much less noise and traffic than where we were before, which is amazingly nice. The students when they do show up are eager and grateful. I want to emphasize that I like it here, because I’ve been writing a lot about things that I miss and am about to talk about some cultural differnces. It’s just that differences and stuff that I miss is more interesting to read about than me going on about how pretty the countryside is. Besides, living without the conveniences and at a slower pace of life helps you appreciate what you have in the US when you return.

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before about South America in general, the pace of life is much slower. People say they’ll do something at 1, which really means that they might show up at 1:30, maybe 2. Sometimes not at all. We’ve met a ton of people who say they’d like to go to English classes and that they WILL be there. They never show up. Many of our students who do show up for the 8 o’clock class show up at 8:30.

There’s no one grocery store here. There’s about a dozen very small shops though that all have close to the same stuff. However, if you want something other than rice, potatoes and onions you might have to go to 3 or 4 stores before you find what you want. We’re amazed at how few vegetables people eat here, excluding potatoes of course. I think they eat more rice than in China too. It sounds to me like people have lost a lot of the healthy eating habits that their ancestors had living off the land. Most meals consist of rice, potatoes, some meat and a lot of salt. Fortunately there’s one restaurant in town where the owner is one of our students, and the couple before us were vegetarian also, so the owner knows how to cook for us.

Phew, if you read that much congratulations. I’m sure the next two weeks will pass just as quickly if not more so. The children we teach are going on their “summer” vacation until march though, so we may soon have few classes. But with Christmas and New Years come up I’m sure there will be festivities to keep everyone busy. After Leymebamba we may head to the jungle, we may head to Argentina. Who knows. I’m leaning toward Argentina right now though as I hear it’s more modern and still really cheap. Plans always change though.

December 1, 2007

From Ecuador Back to Peru

Filed under: travel — mmrobins @ 2:28 pm

Kim looking short

We spent the afternoon in Loja before heading back to Peru. There’s not too much to do in the city, but it’s a nice little city. We went to the zoo there which is fairly new. Not to say it’s up to any kind of standards of American zoos, but it’s better than we expected. We got to see a spectacled bear, which is endangered in the region and very rare to see in the wild. A guide on a hike said he’d only seen two in 30 years. The monkeys are always fun to watch too.

From Loja we had an overnight bus that went straight across the border to Peru, stopping for immigration, and on to Piura. Much simpler than the other border crossing even if less exciting. We spent a few hours in Piura and that was more than enough. From there we were on to Chiclayo. I was extremely frustrated by the food options in Chiclayo.

Peru’s Airforce in Chiclayo

I hope to never see another polleria (basically fried chicken) restaurant again. We finally found a vegetarian restaurant by jumping in a cab and asking since the directions some people gave us were utterly useless and there were none listed in the guide book. We went to three movies to pass the time in evening: Beowulf (thumbs up), Next (thumbs down), and Mr Brooks (neutral – good in a way, but super weird).

The highlight of Chiclayo was definitely the museum, Señor de Sipan, which is actually in Lambeyeque. This is the best museum we’ve seen so far. We must have spent over 4 hours there. By the time we got out we didn’t have to see anything else as our bus left at 7PM. We got a semi-cama with one of the nicer bus companies, Movil Tours, which means the seat goes almost horizontal and they don’t blast action movies all night long.

Crazy Road Back to Chiclayo

This makes night buses soooo much better. We also got the very front seat too, which is cool because you have a view right out the windshield to see the scenery and there’s nobody in front or behind you.

We got stuck for a few hours again in Chachapoyas, which I don’t think I’ll ever enjoy too much, but now we’re in Leymebamba for the month of December to teach English. It’ll be nice to be somewhere small and friendly for Christmas if we aren’t going to be at home.