House Hunting in Cusco

On Wednesday, we arrived to Cusco with over 100 lbs of STUFF on our collective backs. Jorge’s new employer set us up with a little hotel room while we hunted houses, and we set to scouring the hills of Cusco. Slowly and carefully, of course, because the altitude does a number on us.

Our experience in Potosi, Bolivia showed us quite painfully that we are two people that are sensitive to altitude sickness, and over-doing it in any manner makes you feel like you have either the flu or a raunchy hangover. Or both.

It’s anyone’s guess who will suffer from altitude sickness. Physical fitness doesn’t have much to do with it — it either hits you or it doesn’t. Luckily, it goes away in a couple days. Or, it doesn’t, and then you have to descend the mountain immediately. That’s probably only like, when you’re on the tippy top of Mount Everest, though.

By Saturday, we had scored a new apartment in the heart of historic Cusco. We have apartment-hunting and house-acquiring down to a science by now. All told, we saw 5 different places. I took some pictures to share with you, so you could get an idea of what the regular accommodations are like for ex-pats and wanderers in general.

After two full days of visits and phone calls and trekking around Cusco, it felt like an episode of House Hunters International. Without the one million dollar budget, that is. Or the camera crew or the pending mortgage.

OPTION ONE: This was higher up into the hills than we liked, right on the fringe of what I would consider the ‘safe’ part. The outer part was messy and in the throes of construction, but once inside the apartment, it was completely restored and lovely.

Extremely narrow kitchen. I can feel the 
dinnertime cooking frustration already.

However, the only windows overlooked a shared central patio, which was full of old Peruvian women hanging laundry, and every manner of junk thrown around.

Lovely decoration, but the location and vicinity didn’t convince us.

Option Two was an actual house in the historic center of Cusco. However, it was woefully dreary and closed in. An advertised “shared patio” (which led to salacious fantasies of having an asado on Sunday) turned out to be an enclosed arboretum of sorts, lit by a very strange green glass roof, which lent a very odd ethereal tinge to everything. We passed.
Option Three was on the upper fringe of Cusco again but closer to the safer part. The walk to get there, though, reminded me of Valparaiso in the bad way. Add in altitude sickness and Jorge and I had a heart-pounding, chest-wheezing helluva time getting there.
Smallish bedroom.

The kitchen.

The landlord was lovely and the apartment came with the use of the rooftop terrace. That had us racing to see what was up there, and the view was honestly spectacular. 
The rooftop terrace view!

However, the entire place smelled like gerbils, and the place itself just didn’t convince us. I couldn’t imagine living in gerbil smell for six months, not even with that view as a bonus.
Our fourth option was an extremely overpriced hotel room. It wasn’t advertised as such, but it was literally just a hotel suite that I suppose somebody had bought and was operating as an independent condominium of sorts. It had the dreaded interior windows I’ve come to loathe, two very tiny bedrooms, and a cramped living room/kitchen area. It didn’t even have the room to lay down my yoga mat. So we moved on.

Option Five ended up being the winner. And what a winner it is! It was actually the second place we visited of the five, early on Friday morning, and by 5pm that night we made our decision and trucked our bags over the same day.

The lovely kitchen!

Though not seen here, the place has three skylights: one in the living room
here, one in our bedroom, and one in the bathroom. It’s always sunny and bright! 
Except for at night, of course.

The location is perfect — just steps away from my yoga studio, all manner of restaurants and shops surround the place, a laundromat is across the street, and I just noticed today that a vegan restaurant sits conveniently right next door. Awesome. 
The door to our new place! Inside, there’s a terrace and multiple little apartments. 

And we even have a view from outside our front door! 
Can’t complain.

Our Peruvian House Hunters: Cusco edition went as smoothly as one could hope for, and we are having a lovely time settling into the new digs. My first task: buy a desk. And a blender. And then life will be quite grand.

Another Jaunt to the USA

Folks! I apologize for the lengthy and unexplained disappearance. While there were no mysterious fogs that consumed me, nor an unintentional overdose on ceviche, there WAS another trip to the United States of America.

And boy, was that joyous and action-packed!
It started with a harrowing all-the-worst-things American Airlines flight (two delays, flight switching, late boarding, engine failure, flight cancellation, hundreds of angry passengers and no way out of Lima, an inexplicably *closed* Lima airport???, passport stamp cancellations, long lines, sleepless night, to name just a few) that somehow managed to deliver me not to Baltimore as I originally scheduled but to D.C.-Reagan. I made it to my family by the hair on my neck, and we attended my cousin’s wedding as planned. A great time was had by all.

After a few lovely days in D.C. visiting family and the headquarters of my day job for the first time EVER, I flew back to Ohio, which began a whirlwind explosion of friends, family, and fall! 
There were dinner parties, shopping sprees, cleaning sprees, art nights, family visits…

…and road trips…

excellent time with soul mate friends…

good quality OHIO moments…

reunion of best friends…

this dog…

and best of all, a surprise 60th Birthday Party for my beloved father!! And he didn’t even suspect it! 

The time was, as always, a desperately fun and fast-moving, delightful whirlwind. By the time I felt settled in the USA once more, it was time to leave. The only thing that made my departure easier to bear was that a certain Argentinian was waiting (VERY patiently, I might add!) for me in Lima.

Experiencing fall in the USA again was, as suspected, almost too much for my fair Midwestern heart to bear. When I arrived to Baltimore in early September it was basically high summer still, though within a week or so it firmly switched to fall. I was able to drink apple cider, sometimes spiked and sometimes not, touch pumpkins, crunch leaves, and witness gorgeous tree transitions. The crisp fall airs at night, too, were appreciated.

And as though Ohio was making sure I left the country completely satisfied…the day of my departure, it felt exactly like spring.

Thank you, friends, family and homeland, for yet another delightful, inspiring, and nourishing visit!

The Greatest Tastes from the Smallest of Spaces

Jorge and I live in a mini-apartment.

We have a camping stove — two burners. Count ’em. Two. Plus a makeshift sink/counter area, a half-fridge (like the ones people keep in their kid’s room, or rec rooms? Yeah. That’s our tiny box of heaven), and a plank of wood they attached to the wall that can serve as a dining room table/plank, or be lowered for ‘more room’.

Proof of camper burners.

Because, you know, this is a really mini apartment.

I think that this chapter is yet another test of Jorge’s and my relationship. We went from Insta-Routine (living together two weeks into the relationship) to Long-Term Living in Valparaiso to Uprooting Everything to Backpacking Together (almost 2.5 months on the road) to Settling in a New City. All the most infamous stressors to a relationship (difficulties of routine; moving to a new city; traveling together; language barriers) we have faced.

Yet somehow, we seek more stressors. In the settling process, we have approximately 5 square feet to ourselves should we choose not to live inside the butt of the other.

God forbid we get into a fight, because the hanging crinkle door doesn’t slam well. Plus, our neighbors will hear everything and that’s embarrassing.

All that aside, we’ve been managing well. It makes me think of those Eco-Friendly Houses, where people essentially move into a shoebox to save energy and reduce the amount of crap they own. We’re just doing it in Lima. I mean, hey, there’s energy-saving lightbulbs here. Sorta counts.

Despite the lack of space and proper kitchen, Jorge and I have been conjuring some really freaking tasty meals. I’m talking, tastier than anything we’ve ever produced before.

Our stir-frys? Legendary. His torrejas de acelga (chard patties)? Insanely good, and vaguely gourmet. All the Argentinian soups, stews and more that we’ve thrown together on a budget and with, need I remind you, only two burners? FANTASTIC.

Jorge’s basil-chard patties–a gourmet touch that 
created a flavor I literally couldn’t stop eating.

I don’t know what it is — maybe the ingredients are tastier here. Or maybe our tight quarters are squeezing something new out of our concoctions. Maybe Jorge’s been unemployed for so long that he has turned to culinary innovation as a way to pass the time. Who knows.

Jorge’s chicken-beef-black bean taco mixture was a big hit for our Taco Night.
Please take note of the Plank O’Wood Dining Room Table/Countertop.


Has anyone else noticed the common thread here? It’s mostly Jorge’s culinary prowess that’s taken a flying leap. Let’s be real, he’s been doing all the cooking! Seriously, what a great stay-at-home Dad he’d be. *strokes chin* Hmmm…

Aside from the tasty adventures we’ve had in our Two Cubic Feet of Kitchen, Jorge has spent some time innovating household items from trash. We’re big up-cyclers (well, okay, JORGE is, I lack the creativity to do this), and he’s come up with some ingenious solutions to the lack of certain items in the shoebox…I mean…mini.

This old water bottle serves as a silverware storage space after washing.

This is a dustpan made from a wine bottle and cardboard.
It works like a charm!

Sometimes, temporary living situations can bring out the best — and most creative — in a person. 
Not all people, though, because let’s be real, I’ve been mostly reveling in his great ideas, eating his awesome food, and catching up on all the work I missed from almost 3 months on the road!
Bottom line is, folks: you don’t need a lot of space to have a home. We miss our place in Valpo, deeply and severely — but we’ve settled in just fine to our new 2 Cubic Feet of Kitchen, and it’ll do until we hit the next mark on the map.

A Month In America

Readers, Followers, Lovers and Others,

I apologize for the lengthy delay. I’m not usually SO bad about updating!

But, it must be known, that Jorge and I had one freaking jam-packed month in America!

I’m not just talking busy, I’m talking, DOING ALL THE THINGS.

We went to a 4-day festival in Michigan, he met almost all of the family, we explored Sandusky and northern Ohio, we flew to Nashville and spent a weekend there, we visited parks, we walked dogs, we watched (almost) every match of the World Cup, he met and spent time with 95% of my best friends, we held multiple cookouts for both friends and family, we went to Cedar Point, we had 4th of July celebrations, we went to the beach, we got in the lake, we went to Kelley’s Island, we went to Put in Bay, we had dinner at friends’ houses, we went to a local music festival, we saw a lighthouse, we parasailed, we ate so much food I don’t wanna talk about it, and, most of all…we enjoyed a freaking awesome summer in northern Ohio!

On top of all of this, I was still working (though reduced hours). The only thing I had to put on hold was WRITING. Sigh.

Here’s some photographic proof of stuff!

Lovers on the 4th of July

Jorge checks out Lake Erie and Cedar Point Beach

On a little walk with Storm, my dad’s new pup, through Osborne Park

Jorge showing his prowess in asados

After a great visit in Nashville with my mom and stepdad!

On a daytrip to Put-in-Bay with friends!
Helping good friends install laminate flooring for their dance studio!
A self-portrait of the occasional cameraman

My Monday in Cordoba

Jorge and I are visiting Cordoba, Argentina for a few days! Here’s a little run-through of part of our Regular Sunny Fall Monday in Cordoba:
I saw this weird guy lurking in the plaza San Martin.

I thought I’d go to the Cathedral to try to lose him; turned out 
he followed me inside and all throughout the gilded halls.

The weird guy even posed in pictures with me in front of the 
central fountain in the plaza.

We decided we’d go to the Jesuit Crypt and wander the humid passageways.
There was an information tour guide there who told us about all the 
hypothetical uses of the crypt, since no one actually knows.
Here the man, who told me is named “Jorge”, darts away.

I tend to look forward to crypt visits for a chance to look at mummies,
bones, human remains, or anything else macabre or long-dead.
In this crypt, there was none of that. Only humid stone and arched brick areas.

So after the Crypt we opted for a quick saxophone lesson. 
Here Jorge learns about finger placements and not to
over-clench the jaw.

Sunday Funday, Disfrumino No-Fomingo!

Valparaiso has 42 hills.

I have no idea who saw this naked area way back when and thought, “Hey, let’s build millions of buildings on these cliff-like hills and generally inhabit the ravines and valleys formed by these typically uninhabitable areas.” Seriously, kudos. Because most houses here are on stilts and everyone is apparently okay with that.

Anyway, the hills follow the natural ravines of the topography, so at least discerning where one cerro ends and another begins follows some sort of logic.

Although I’ve lived in Valparaiso for almost a year, I haven’t been to all of the cerros. I probably won’t go to all of them, to be honest. People live here all their lives and don’t get to all of them. But this past Sunday, Jorge and I took a trip to a new destination: Cerro Cordillera and Cerro Toro.

Here’s a map that doesn’t even show any of the places we went on Sunday! Instead, see where I live, where my yoga studio is, and an unhelpful vague arrow gesturing in the vicinity of Cerro Cordillera!

Cerro Cordillera and Cerro Toro are further south in Valparaiso. There are touristic parts of Cordillera including the Naval Museum and some ascensores over there, but both cerros have a reputation for being kind of dangerous in certain areas for tourists.
However, my friend Peter has been living here for 3 years and knows all the ins and outs of the place. He and his partner Seba offered to host a brunch at their house in Cordillera, with a delightful post-brunch sightseeing walk afterward (with helpful knowledge about what parts to avoid). How could we say no? Armed with friends as tour guides and one (or two…) mimosas in the early afternoon, I knew this was the perfect chance to get to know Cordillera and not get robbed.

Okay, this might just look like a bunch of crap, but look closer: It’s an abandoned/exploded?/decrepit house, but upstairs is a girl’s room. Almost perfectly preserved. Very eerie.

View as we ascend Cerro Cordillera.

Amantes

Our Sunday Funday/Disfrumingo group! Jorge, Peter the host, Paul the friend and neighbor, and Rayelle, the visiting artist and Spanish student!

Something I love about Valparaiso is the constant stream of interesting characters that come through. It’s a city that attracts artists of all types, and has for generations. I don’t know if it’s the views from above, the spell the ocean casts, or that carnivorous fog I wrote about once that lures people in, but there’s something here that artists can’t resist. Add to that mix a constantly revolving door of exchange students, a sprinkle of ex-pats from all over the world (especially USA and Spain…), and you have a recipe for Valparaiso, one of the most consistently interesting cities in the world.
Boredom is not an option, and there’s never a lack of people to get to know. Jorge and I are active in the Couchsurfing community in Valparaiso, which brings even more interesting people to our door. To date, we’ve hosted poets, artists, chefs, and more, all of whom have appraised the views, the hills, the sunsets, the grit and sighed, “Ahhh, Valparaiso.”
On this particular Sunday Funday/Disfrumingo (our brunch attempt to combine the words Disfrutar/Enjoy and Domingo/Sunday), I met Rayelle, a young artist from Nebraska who came to conquer Spanish, and no doubt absorb the artistic essence that courses the streets of this city like rainwater down a hill. We got to look at her sketchbook — a delightfully intimate peek into another person’s brain, like reading their journal or catching someone behaving when they think they’re alone — and she gifted Jorge and I a drawing of our choice.

The symbol for the Sun, with hands. There’s something creepy and all-knowing in that dot in the middle.

Typical Valpo: Cluster of cables in every shot.

Overlooking Valpo from a different angle…this time, from Cerro Cordillera!

Jorge tries to catch a trolley before it drives off.

A view of the Valpo port, where an enormous cruise ship is docked. At first glance, it looks like a huge building. Because it essentially is one. Only, it floats.

Quite a successful DisfruminoSundayFundayNoFomingo. As I seem to be a crappy sightseer once I live in a place (my recent trip to Puerto Varas was another example of this; during our 3 days there, I did more sightseeing than I had in five months living there), this bright and beautiful day got my ass to a couple new areas and key touristic sights that might have otherwise gone un-visited.

The Art of the Asado

Asados (BBQ’s) are a big deal in Chile. On any given day there is sure to be at least one asado going on somewhere, within some circle of friends. I resisted them at first – being a definitive “not meat eater”, I felt the asado to be useful only as far as a social gathering tactic. When I first got here I shirked the call to the asado – I was busy establishing my routine here, testing the waters as a bonafide self-employed entrepreneur of sorts, but furthermore, I couldn’t stand the thought of standing around with a bunch of people celebrating and reveling in the slow-cooked flesh of animals.

But as time wore on, and countless invites to asados had come and gone, I decided to go to one. It’s a cultural thing, I told myself. If you don’t go to one, it’s as bad as not trying the coshari in Egypt, or the pupusas in El Salvador. I just needed to go to one to try it, to say I did it, and to participate in one of the few scraps of “true Chilean culture” in these parts. As I look back on it, I was probably more afraid of the potential of the asado ending up an addiction as both coshari and pupusas have since become, but the moral conundrum still weighed heavily on me. I just don’t like to eat a lot of meat (excluding seafood), and I certainly never purchase or prepare it myself. However, when I’m around it, I’ll try it. And if it’s good, I’ll eat a lot of it.

And here we see the inherent Conflict of the Asado: these Chileans really, really, really know how to cook meat. I am by no means a well-educated consumer of meat products, but holy crap hell god pants, this meat is GOOD. I am a believer of the idea that Chilean food is mostly tasteless, bland, and otherwise uninspired – but this belief does not extend to the food at an asado. Chileans cook exclusively with carbon – charcoal – and the art of the asado is as much a social gathering as  a richly delicious food journey.

Asado in the sun.

It took us awhile to acclimate to the pace and procedure of the asado. There were several important cultural differences, which I will explain below:

1. The Asado Never Starts On Time. If the asado is pegged to begin at 8pm, plan to eat around 11pm. Chilean time is much the same as time anywhere else in Latin America: severely lax, and more of a suggestion than any sort of binding commitment.

2. The Food Preparation is as Important as the Consumption. I got in trouble once with one of my Chilean friends when he told me to be at the asado by 7:30pm and I asked, “Well, is that when we’re eating?” The process of preparing the grill, cutting the meat, arranging the kebabs (if there are any) and engaging in all of the social activities around this process is as important as eventually eating the food. My American friends and I all shared this same outlook: in America, you show up when the food is ready, not hours before you eat. I suppose the act of cooking and preparing the meal is regarded far differently down here, and I can’t say I haven’t come to appreciate and perhaps prefer this approach. Preparing a meal to be enjoyed by your family tends to be a solitary and laborious process in the States – why is that? Think of Thanksgiving, or July 4th, or any birthday gathering you’ve had recently, and how was it prepared? Most likely by one or two people laboring quietly for hours before the event begins, where the start time of the party signals the beginning of the eating. We’ve since learned down here that you never go to an asado hungry, because you will be starving for hours sometimes, waiting for the first slab of meat to be ready.

3. Plates are Not Necessary. One of the other big differences between Chilean and American BBQ’s is the fact that the meat is consumed literally fresh off the grill, piece by piece. Once one steak or lomo is ready, it gets sliced up and everyone grabs a piece with their fingers. No utensils necessary. And then when the next piece is ready, the same thing happens. The eating takes place around the parilla, or grill; in fact, this was another hard lesson we had to learn. Luckily, one of our culturally-aware Chilean friends Ignacio was sensitive to this difference of eating behavior and brought pieces of meat to us when it became apparent that we Americans were waiting for some sort of procession to a dinner table or clearly-defined “Eating Time” during our first asado.

Because we are now medio-chileno (half-Chilean), we held an asado for Amanda’s 24th birthday this weekend. By this point, we’re all pretty skilled in the preparation for and execution of a Chilean asado, so it went off without a hitch. There was plenty of filete, lomo, salmon and papas (potatoes – not fathers) to go around.

Some friends on the terraza,
while we prepared the parilla and food.

It was a beautiful day for a birthday asado.
Happy birthday, Amanda!

And then afterward, per the tradition 
of all males in every part of the world,
we watched sports. Soccer, in this case.
The viewership was just as raucous and noisy
as if we were watching a Browns game back home.

I can say without hesitation that I am now a firm and perhaps lifelong fan of the asado. This is something of an embarrassing confession, especially given the fact that I’ve spent so many years eating little to zero meat. But at the end of it all, I regard my participation in the asado de carne (meat BBQ) as a cultural journey – I will enjoy it while I’m around it, though I do not plan to continue the frequent and all-too-delicious meat consumption permanently. The art of the asado, however, will stay with me. Friends and family back home: get the charcoal ready, because when I get back you can bet on frequent vegetarian asados, complete with group preparation, unclear start times and a whole lot of fun in the sun. 

Non Sequitur

 Here’s a shot of my cutting board, for no particular reason.
I was really impressed by the mushroom design.
Look at how gnarly that thing is.
(The red pepper bits are just for artistic effect.)

And then I found this rainbow a couple days ago.
Usually you see the beginning of the rainbow but not the end.
Well the end of THIS rainbow was in Lago Llanquihue.
And look at how brilliantly vivid it is.

Another shot of this epic rainbow. 
It was actually a double rainbow (not noted here).
Soo….a little bit better than just one rainbow. 

A shot of the Great File Transfer of 2013.
My files were distributed between two laptops (my old one
and the one borrowed from my friend, far left) as I
awaited the arrival of the New Vaio (far right).
Completing the transfer using only a 4gb stick was fun,
let me tell you. 

My new bike!
Her name is Hermanina. 
She has tricky gears and wobbly handlebars,
but I love her because she let’s me zoom down hilly streets
and enjoy crisp Chilean airs atop two moving units that are not my legs.

Snapshots in December

A little friend I like to call ‘caracol’ (snail).
These lil’ guys are everywhere.
Be careful not to smoosh them on the sidewalk!

Us girls with Francisca, a friend who was giving 
Amanda and Leslie Spanish lessons.
It was always a treat to sit in on the classes…
(more for entertainment purposes!)

Robert and I posing in downtown Puerto Varas.
I look inexcusably 90’s and I’m not sure how it happened.
But there it is. 

This is the Garage, where Amanda and I work
as two overly-enthusiastic and color-coordinated bartenders.
We frequently dance in sync and are rarely seen not having a good ass time.