Busted

Ok, so las gringatas got caught. But, in the true tourista defense, we didn’t know we were breaking the law to begin with. Let me rewind. Remember our lucky find of the two-soles ride, where, if you forego a seatbelt, a facing-forward seat and leg-room, they’ll knock off an extra sol for the trip to Cusco? Well, apparently that’s frowned upon by law enforcement, and as Mads and I hurtled backwards toward Izcuchaca today, a sweet little voice of the 6-year-old in a real seat told las gringitas to get down and hide from the 5-0.

As we put two and two together from the hatchback of our amenable driver’s Toyota Succeed, the traffic cop peered her head through the back window, and tallied up the passengers to a cool nine. I should note however, one of these was the driver himself and two were under the age of six. Still, clearly there were not enough seatbelts to go around, and she wrote him a nice ticket. Mads and I watched the entire process from our sunken viewpoints, not brazen enough to actually sit up. I did though, snap this gem as she was walking away, toward her next victim.

DSCN1349

Mucho gusto Guido

We knew we liked him right off the bat. And he definitely scored points when he asked what our Zodiac sign was, and then proceeded to tell us how he was a romantic, impulsive and charismatic Cancer. This might sound like a creeper in a track suit was pulling a pretty lame pick-up line, but no, Guido was genuine. And, because we apparently only make friends with people under 10 and over 45, Guido was in his 50s and the owner of a very new and extremely delicious cafe in Cusco.

The conversation started off as usual — curious Peruvian inquires about our nationality, professions and why we’re in the area. But we instantly won Guido over after telling him about our work in Almeria and how we plan to stay there until January. He said he appreciated that we wanted to really experience the culture and learn the language. After a few minutes he declared he was going to talk with his wife, tell her he met two American volunteers, and have us over to his three-floor house. Bam, Peruvian dad, on loan until January.

Sights and smells

It’s the weekend, which means we’re back in Cusco. No complaints here, Cusco is a lovely city, though, dare I say, the touristy parts — with their cobblestones and clean sidewalks — are a bit more easy on the eyes than some other parts we’ve trudged through. Ok, it’s probably not fair to generalize most of the municipality, and Oscar took us to a a pretty swanky looking part of town, but our mile-long path from where the car drops us off at the Place de Santiago is ripe with some pretty offensive and regrettably memorable sights and smells.

Today as we wove our way through the complicated sidewalks, stepping over ladies selling fruit, soup, popcorn, toilet paper, pretty much anything you can imagine, I braced myself for one intersection in particular. Last weekend, what caught our eye at this crossroads was the site of an old lady hunkered over some rejected animal innards, pawing through them like there might be gold at the bottom. Now, with this vivid image unfortunately in mind, I held my breath as we walked by the same spot, and just when I thought it was safe, I inhaled with relief, looked to me right and came face-to-face with that damn headless, skinless, but still mostly intact, chanco (pig), that had been there last week — or at least this was his friend. That was followed up by a 4-year-old boy peeing into the street off the sidewalk, probably taking aim at passing traffic. Ah Cusco.

Oscar to the rescue!

During probably our chilliest morning yet, Mads and I got an early start and headed up to our escuela to finish painting the wood trim. The rain had started overnight and our surrounding mountains were coated with a thin layer of snow. Feeling a little frigid in the nearly-freezing rain we started painting, only to be surprised by Oscar — or el doctor, as the locals call him. Informing us that it was too cold to be painting, Oscar declared it tea time and we set off to our apartment for tea with some honey from our bee guy Jossua.

Over tea, Oscar and Principal Clamente told us that Monday would be our first day of teaching English — one hour per class, making the rounds to every class each day. We also told Clamente about our bee project, and he suggested expanding it to include lessons for parents and the community at-large. Brilliant Clamente. Mads set to work applying for a grant from the Awesome Foundation that would cover the cost two additional hives and supplies.

Somewhere during the conversation, Oscar mentioned the hospital in Ancawasi, and, telling him we were unfamiliar with it, he immediately set off to rectify this. Once again we piled into his car, and took a little joyride through the freezing rain. As soon as we got in, he threw on Prince’s Kiss and we all started to jam out. The ride reminded me of those lazy Saturday afternoon drives I took with my friends in high school, only your musically-inclined friend has 45 years to back up his music taste, and plays his tunes from a smart phone, instead of a burned CD.

As Prince’s pop melodies gave way to more somber opera, our conversation turned, as it usually does, to the state of Almeria. Oscar lamented that he’s tried everything, finally settling on raising animals to feed the kids and pay the bills. Though, nothing is without its struggles. The hens, he said, were eaten by snakes and dogs. The pigs aren’t exactly fertile and have only had one pregnancy in three months. The plastic that makes up the ceiling of the greenhouses has outlived its suggested five-year lifespan, but now with huge gashes and holes, Almeria can’t afford to repair it. Oscar said he was grateful for the new energy Mads and I provide, and thankful for our new ideas. I don’t think this bee project will be the silver bullet that fixes Almeria, but at least it’s a step in the right direction.

Got abejas?

WE BOUGHT OUR BEES TODAY! Our director, Oscar, came back from his business trip, corralled me, Mads and Baltezar into his car, and drove us to his “bee guy” in Cusco. Well, this was a friend of his former bee guy who now is apparently a fugitive avoiding law enforcement somewhere in Argentina. Sounds a little crazy, but apparently todos los apicultors en Peru son un poco loco, and actually, that’s pretty much the same in DC too. Anywho, I digress. Once we got to the Mundo de las Abejas de Jossua (a self-proclaimed Gringo, according to his flyers) the Quebecoise owner, Jossua, immediately starting falling all over himself to help us out. We told him about Almeria and our current state of funding, or better yet, lack thereof, and immediately he jumped on board, handing us some sort of cure-all diluted propolis spray por los ninos.

Over the course of what seemed like five hours, Jossua had — very thoroughly — gone over the beekeeping basics, rattled off the same bee statistics that Jeff Miller and I quote for DC Honeybees engagements, scooped out taste-testers from each of his honey/pollen products, and last but not least, showed us his nucleus colonies on the rooftop behind his shop (sound familiar Jeff?).

An expert salesman, the former Frenchman had no shame in pointing out which pieces of his equipment were crap, and which were the best. He positively lit up during our lengthy conversation, bouncing from the medicinal properties of honey, to explaining how an extractor worked. Though it was impossible to get a word in, and follow his train of thought, Jossua was extremely helpful and accommodating. When all was said and done we walked out with two complete hives (each to be started with a nucleus colony), two suits, two pairs of gloves, two veils, two kilos of wax to start the frames and one smoker.

A huge thanks goes out to Global Bees, which agreed to fund this installation. As executive director of DC Honeybees, we decided to partner with Global Bees, a DC-based organization that aims to initiate small-scale sustainable development projects, in order to expand our mission of propagating beehives and promoting beekeeping.

The way Jossua works is this. Today we signed a contract for all our beekeeping needs, and on Sunday he’ll come out to Almeria to scout a location — one that’s far enough away that no ninos are tempted to tamper with the buzzing boxes. After that he’ll come back and set up our nuc colonies and give us a tutorial on apicultura. With the rainy season approaching — and accompanying nectar-flow I presume — he said we’d be ready for our first harvest anywhere between three and six months.


So a few things are different between beekeeping here and in the states. (I’m about to go pretty bee-nerd right now, so if you’re just in it for the honey, I’d say get out now.) When Jossua set up a model hive, it only consisted of two standard supers, and your regular inside and outside covers. I asked about honey supers and he said we wouldn’t need them. Hmmm, skeptical. I pressed him (with Mads’ help) and he said pretty confidently that the queen doesn’t move up into the top box. Not only that, but he also said the bottom box should have ten frames, but the top only nine, but not to make room for some kind of feeder. Jossua said the more-than-bee-space would allow for fatter honey frames. At least this one made more sense to me.

Also he said the breed of bees we’d be getting is an Italian-African hybrid — best of both worlds, which, I’ve also heard about Italian-Russians. And, as I suspected, Jossua warned emphatically about always wearing your suit when handling frames, adding that hot smoke would only make them more aggressive and suggested using cooler smoke. The Africanized bees are no cool DC-Italians. They’re “persnickety” at best, as Jeff likes to say, and they — as their name would suggest — aren’t the best at over-wintering. Still, they areĀ the most disease-resistant breed out there.

peru-bees

And yes, these are the notorious “killer bees,” but Jossua assured he hasn’t had any sort of issue with the Italian-Africans in the 12 years he’s been working in Peru. For the most part these bees operate just like my sunny Italians, coming to a full population about one month after dropping in a nuc. Sounds like it’s time to get my nectar-flow on.

Las palabras del dia
Abejas – bees
Miel – honey
Polen – pollen
Propoleos – propolis
Colmena – beehive
Apicultura – beekeeping
Apicultor – beekeeper
Humedor – smoker
Cera – wax
Mascara – veil
Caja – box
Guantes – gloves
Trajes – suits
Marco – frame
La reina (guapa) – the queen (beautiful, as Oscar likes to say)
Obrera – worker bee
Zangano – drone bee (my favorite palabra de hoy)

High times

Nearing the two-week mark of living at elevation, Mads and I decided to test our sea-legs today, and headed up the nearest hill the surrounds Almeria. I say hill, but really we’re starting the hike at around 9,000 feet, which you all but forget until you’re 20 paces in and wheezing. Still, after only walking for a few minutes, the eucalyptus trees give way to a spectacular view of our pueblita, which is nestled in a narrow valley that looks straight up at bald, snow-capped peaks on both sides. Having given her inner-backpacker just a taste of Peruvian hiking, Mads set her sights on the mountains across the street, planning on conquering them once the days get a bit longer.

almeria

Las palabras del dia
Yami taught me this little ditty today, along with its hand-game — Manzanitas de Peru, quantos anos tienes tu? …there’s a bit more to the song where she chimes in “tengo siete anos” and then we count to nine in English, I think, because she keeps forgetting how to say ten… Can’t fault a girl for tryin.

We all know time

Leaving behind the bustle of Cusco, heads dizzy from a wifi overdose, the highlight of our Sunday routine is the prospect of returning to Almeria. Sure it might mean trading in grinding traffic for howling perros, and conversations with interesting travelers for quiet dinners with an old friend, but I’m completely drawn to the pace of this place. It’s intoxicating and I start to crave it after a whirlwind Saturday crammed with catch-up emails, uploads, posts, photos, logins, research and correspondence.

Here time clings to the backs of tradition and routine, willing it forward. In the states, time bathes in weekend plans and spontaneity, but remains elusive, only indicating its existence through pencil scratchings in calendar squares. This pace is so foreign that it grates on my distinctly American drive to do, do, and do more! I tend to shy away from free time — unless it’s duely deserved — but here it seems free time is expertly interwoven into our day-to-day, and looks you square in the face, waiting to be taken advantage of. Ironically only time will tell how we’ll choose to spend it.

Carve the roast beast

Our second Saturday means another trip to Cusco to splurge on chocolate caliente, wifi and hot showers. (The shower in our apartment works, but call me nostalgic for simple hot/cold knobs that work instantly. Ok, fine, we’re lazy and spoiled and have no one to impress during the weekdays.)

This time we got smart about our stay in the big city. We were looking for authentic Peruvian food, followed by a night cap of hot chocolate. Unfortunately our first attempt at dinner led us to a lunch-only restaurant that was shut down by 7, so we went for second-best, but still authentic, which turned out to be our first go at local fast food.

It was basically the Popeye’s of Peru, selling combos of chicken pieces with french fries and a Coke. I got the Lomo something-or-other, because it was the only one with a somewhat enticing photo on the menu. Mads later informed me lomo means back… but back of what? We asked the waitress what type of meat that was and she saidĀ ”res.” Ah yes, of course. Haven’t learned that particular animal in the farm section of my Spanish workbook, but clever gringitas never leave home without their Spanish-English dictionary! Mmm, only thing is, turns out (at least according to our dictionary) res means beast. So yea, had me some roast beast tonight, which actually turned out to be covered in grease and quite delicious. Score one for Peruvian Popeye’s.

Las palabras del dia
Grasa – grease
Saludable – healthy
Menu – menu

Tastes like rain

Being Friday, no ninos stomped by our apartment this morning to wake us up. Instead, we woke up to what sounded like white noise from a small fan, only to find out it was rain pinging the plastic tarp that covers our courtyard. Come to find out, today was the first sprinkle of the rainy season! Looking out our kitchen window, the landscape had changed overnight. Those picture-perfect puffy clouds and clear skies had morphed into mountains from a Led Zeppelin song, shredding low-hanging grey whisps

Baltezar could barely contain his grin, telling us that his pasture desperately needed the water to grow grass to feed the chanchos. But, for us, the overcast day meant the sun would never really heat things up, so Mads and I were a bit chilly in our painting clothes, with the temperature hovering around 50 degrees.

Luckily we were indoors. Unluckily, however, today was the day we reserved to put together our — what we like to call — death-trap scaffolding. In a nice way, let’s say there’s no way this contraption would be OSHA approved.

Still, Baltezar came by and said “bien hecho” when he saw the wires we used to fasten the bars together. In the end though, we came out unscathed, and the ceiling nicely coated.

Las palabras del dia
El pasto – pasture
La falta – bar
El alambre – wire

Rookie mistake

Ok, so when they say “don’t drink the water!” they really mean it. Yep, Mads and I closed out our one-week anniversary in Almeria by hugging the toilet and throwing up in the middle of the night… we’re so cute. But, to our credit it’s not like we came home from work and thought, “hmmm a tall glass of water sounds delightful.” No, in fact, the way the water snuck into our dinner is much more nefarious.

It all began in Izcuchaca yesterday when Mads and I jointly decided it was time to spice up our usual vegetable regimen of potatoes, carrots and onions with a little greenery. One giant bag of espinaca (spinach) por favor. We had macaroni on the mind, so we cooked up some elbows, sauteed our usual root vegetables, and decided to err on the safe side and threw our spinach into the boiling pasta water to blanch it — and kill off any lurking, dirty amoebas. But, alas, there were a few too many shiny delicious spinach leaves and hardly enough water to boil them all. So, stroke of genius — more water!

Womp, womp. That’s where the water delivered it’s wallop right to the stomach. We added in about a bowlful more of agua, but didn’t bring the entire pot back to boiling. Yipes. Needless to say I definitely learned my lesson… and I’m not sure if spinach and I will ever be the same again.

Las palabras del dia
El estomago – stomach
Dolor de estomago – stomachache (Sadly I could not accept Yami’s cookies today.)
La espinaca – spinach
Sarnoso/a – itchy