Tag Archives: South America

Traveling With Someone Who Is Sick

16 Jan

There are many pros and cons to think about before deciding whether or not you’d prefer traveling solo or with others. I decided to go solo on my trip to Peru last summer. My decision was partially influenced by the fact that I would be spending four weeks with a group of people on an archaeological dig so I knew I wouldn’t be alone for my whole trip and partially based off of the fact that there was no one else to go with.

During the four week dig I made some really great friends. I talked openly about my plans that would commence after the dig and one friend, in particular, asked if she could join me in my travels to Cuzco and Machu Picchu. Her and I had become very good friends so I welcomed the idea instantly.

The weekend before we left for Cuzco she had started to feel sick, but I didn’t think much of it. Once we arrived in Cuzco we spent all day exploring the city before we were off to Machu Picchu the next day. While we were walking about the ruins she said that she felt sick and needed to leave. We had a train to catch from Aguas Calientes to Ollantaytambo anyway so it didn’t inconvenience me very much.

When we arrived back in Ollantaytambo (the stop before Cuzco), she felt as if she were going to throw up and didn’t want to do so in a taxi. She wanted to stay the night. For me, I was on a much stricter budget than she was and I couldn’t really afford to stay the night in Ollantaytambo, especially since I left my backpack at the hostel in Cuzco where I had already paid for that upcoming night. I felt bad thinking about leaving her there, but when I explained it to her she decided that she would try to taxi back to Cuzco with me and I was grateful for that. One two-hour taxi ride later and we had made it to Cuzco. She immediately went to bed.

Now, I’m not trying to say that her being sick was a burden to me, but it definitely put a damper on our time in Cuzco. We had all these plans that we were looking forward to together and we couldn’t do any of them because she was sick.

In the middle of the night, she woke me up saying that there was something really wrong with her. She felt absolutely dreadful and ended up going to a small hospital. I was leaving the next night at around 10 p.m. for La Paz, Bolvia and I didn’t know what to do. I kept getting phone calls to the hostel from her boyfriend and family wanting to know how she was, but I had no idea.

Early the next day, I got an email from her. She said that she had a parasite but that she was doing better. She told me that she would be staying in the hospital for another day or two and wished me a good time in Bolivia. She apologized for being sick.

That’s when I realized I had to go see her. So I took a taxi to this clinic that was pretty far from Cuzco’s centre. She had no idea that I was coming and we both started tearing up when we saw each other.

As much as her being sick was a setback, she was now my friend. I didn’t even know her for a month at the time, but we could no longer consider each other travel buddies. We were friends. If I were sick, she would’ve been there for me.

So, how did I spend my last night in Cuzco? In a hospital. I’m glad I did because I would’ve regretted not going. Of course I would have loved to go out dancing with friends, but sometimes you need to think about what’s more important.

Yeah, sure, I was pretty bummed that most of our Cuzco plans fell through, but I can always go back.

Cuzco will always be waiting for me.

I think the point I’m trying to make is that your plans aren’t going to turn out exactly as you want them to when you’re traveling with another person; however, the friendships that you can possibly make in such a short time can outweigh those negative factors.

And they did.

I made some really great friends during my trip to Peru and Bolivia. Some I would even consider to be lifelong friends.

Sometimes you just need to make sacrifices and learn to deal with the less ideal things that come with traveling. And, I wouldn’t change a thing.


The Time I Lost ALL My Pictures in Peru

2 Oct

I think that my worst nightmare while traveling (other than the obviously fear of dying or getting seriously hurt) is losing my pictures. If there were a phobia for it, I would have it.

I take SO many pictures. I document pretty much everything and anything I see because I want to hold on to the memories I make as long as I possibly can. Looking through my photos albums brings up so many great memories I’ve had in my travels; memories that I couldn’t form solely off of what I have written in my journals.

Anyway, I went to Huaraz in Peru about a month into my trip. I had well over 1000 pictures by this time.

I had pictures of my first days in Peru exploring the capital.

Peruvian pride in central Miraflores, Lima

I had hundreds of pictures from one of my favourite places in the world – Huacachina (want to know more about Huacachina?), Peru – where I made the most amazing friends.

Frolicking about in Huacachina

I had pictures from my digging days and, particularly, of the first artifact I ever found.

The first artifact I have ever found! A sewing needle!

I had pictures of the beautiful Lagunas Llanganucos in Huaraz.

Lagunas Llanganucos in Huaraz, Peru

I basically just had a shitload of awesome pictures that represented my trip so far (about 5 weeks into 7 weeks).

None of my pictures were backed up onto a computer since I decided not to bring one (I will ALWAYS bring a computer from now on. Stupid, STUPID mistake). My pictures were put onto USB drives, but this didn’t matter since they were in the camera case that I left in Huaraz.

Here’s what happened…. After a great long weekend in Huaraz, my friends and I packed up our bags, headed to the bus station, and hopped onto a 10-11 hour bus to Chimbote, Peru.

Now, I had my camera with me. It was sitting loosely (not in the case) in my shoulder bag with a fresh memory card in it. As I went to look through my pictures I realized that I needed to get my other memory cards that were full of all the pictures I had just taken over the weekend. They weren’t in my day bag. Feeling slightly panicked, I believed that they just HAD to be in my camera case in my big backpack. But, as my backpack was stashed away in the luggage compartment, I knew I had to suck it up and just wait until we got to Chimbote to check.

After a quick check in Chimbote, I couldn’t find my camera case.

Once we arrived back to where we were staying in Nepeña, I did a thorough check through my bags and my friends bags. Nothing.

I don’t think I’ve ever cried that much in my life. I was hysterical. It seems so ridiculous to me now, but I was just devastated.

Not only did I lose ALL my memory cards, but I also lost my camera CHARGER and my USB drives that had all my pictures backed up to them.

I had decided that they were gone forever and pretty much cried myself to sleep. I wasn’t even thinking of ways to try and find them.

Then, my friend Hanne, who I am SO grateful for, decided it was worth a shot to call the hostel and see if they could find it.

They did a quick once over of the room we were staying in and couldn’t find it. My life was over. No, really, I felt like my trip was ruined.

Then, by some miracle, they called back later and said the person cleaning the room found a camera case under the bed!

Now, here’s where I need to tell EVERYONE to go to Jo’s Place if they are ever in Huaraz.

Not only did they work hard to find my pictures, but they also sent the camera case on an overnight bus to Chimbote free of charge! I couldn’t believe it.

A few days later, I got my pictures back.

I have never felt such relief as I felt when I opened the package they sent me.

Complete and utter joy was felt when this package arrived

It’s things like these — acts of kindness like this — that gives me such hope for our world.


A Colourful Festival in Peru

15 Jul

I decided to go to Huaraz in Peru on a whim. A friend on the archaelogical dig I was working on wanted to go one weekend for a festival she had heard of. She didn’t really know anything about it, but it was enough justification for a small group of us to take Monday off so we could spend a few days there.

Even if we hadn’t stumbled upon a festival when we were there, I would’ve loved it anyway because I found there was so much to do other than trekking, which is what ultimately draws tourists to Huaraz.

Anyway, once we got there we couldn’t find any signs about a festival. It seemed as if there was no festival.

Then, one fateful morning, as we got out of our taxi in front of California Café, we hear a huge ruckus coming from around the corner.

We decide to check it out and, sure enough, there was a parade processing down the main street.

It was wonderful. Such a great way to experience the culture of the Peruvian Ancash region. And we finally did find a sign.

Another thing we heard about Huaraz was that it was very cold due to altitude and after experiencing so much cloudiness in Lima, we expected the same in Huaraz. But the day was absolutely perfect. Sunny and clear and warm. We could even see the beautiful Cordillera Blanca in the background.

The costumes were bright and colourful and each group of people represented a different part of the Ancash region in Peru; Huaraz being the capital.

There were tons of opportunities for funny photos like this one:

It wasn’t anything like a parade procession back home where everything is so perfectly planned out. Everyone seemed so happy and carefree. It was so unifying.

The parade didn’t last more than an hour or two, but little events went on in the Plaza de Armas throughout the day.

Some of the parade-goers would do synchronized dances.

Others would show off their skills as a puppeteer.

So much variety and so many things to see.

If you want to see this festival when visiting Huaraz, make sure to go in August. For us, it occurred on August 22nd.

Huaraz in August also brought us amazing weather.

Huaraz was one of my favourite cities in Peru.

It was the perfect day soaking up culture and witnessing a city surrounded by happiness. It was an experience I’ll never forget.

Top 5 Things To Do In Huaraz, Peru (Other Than Trekking)

4 Jul

The beautiful Cordillera Blanca is what pulls people toward the city of Huaraz, Peru.

Trekking, climbing, basically anything to do with seeing this gigantic mountain range is what appeals to a lot of adventurous travellers.

The Cordillera Blanca

Huaraz was a last minute trip planned for a weekend during the period I spent working on an archaeological dig so I didn’t get a chance to book any treks. I also was only able to go for 3 nights and it seemed as if there were no treks offered that were for less than 4 full days. Then there were the factors of acclimatizing and not being in great shape. So I was content with just exploring the city for a few days.

I ended up LOVING Huaraz.

I found that there were so many things to do other than trekking.

Here are what I believe are the top 5 things to do in Huaraz (other than trekking):

1) Market Hopping

You can find markets everywhere in South America. In Peru, Cuzco definitely takes the cake with its markets. Any backpacker who has been to Peru can recognize other backpackers based off of items specific to the markets (i.e. winter hats with llamas on it, comfy drawstring pyjama pants in various colours, loose shoulder bags with llamas on it,…). Cuzco has it all. But so does Huaraz. Not only does Huaraz have the exact same Peruvian souvenirs and such as Cuzco does, but it is WAY cheaper and it is WAY easier to haggle prices. I got all of my souvenirs in Huaraz for half the price I would have paid in Cuzco.

Modelling my market purchases while I take a nap

2) Eating

Huaraz is home to many really great restaurants. I didn’t have a singe meal there that didn’t fully satisfy me in every way. My recommendations? I’ll narrow it down to two, both of which you can find in pretty much any guide book. Cafe Andino. It had such a cool feel to it. Classic rock decor covered the walls. It had a comforting feel to it, almost as if I were back home. It also serves as an adventure travel company, which can be convenient. Cafe Andino is located on an upper level, which means that they had a balcony overlooking the Cordillera Blanca which was amazing! The quesadillas with guacamole was unreal. Surprisingly, I didn’t love the breakfast or desserts. Stick to the lunch and dinner items. All-in-all though, I enjoyed this place. I think I ate there 2 or 3 times in 3 days.

View of Huaraz from Cafe Andino

California Cafe. This place was awesome. It was such a chill backpacker hang out. The food was great. They had a book exchange. They even put together activities like frisbee games which was cool. Plus: All day breakfast!

Coca tea from California Cafe. The cure for altitude sickness.

There were so many other great restaurants in Huaraz, many of which had real authentic Peruvian dishes, if only I could remember the names…

3) Hot Springs

Hot springs are essential to Huaraz with all the trekking and hiking going on. I went to two. One of them I didn’t like at all while I did like the second one. The Thermal Baths of Chancos, was more for locals. Part of the problem could’ve been that we went on a weekend and so there were tons of pushy families fighting to use the baths. It was crowded and kind of gross to be honest. We ended up leaving before we even got a chance to test out the baths. The worst part was that it was impossible to find a taxi or collectivo and we spent a good hour trying to find a way back into town.

Walking up to Monterrey hot springs. As you can see, the altitude was absolutely killer!

The Monterrey hot springs was much better. It was not nearly as crowded. There was a great view of the mountains. You had the option to pay for the public hot springs that were filled with iron which made the bath appear brown or you could pay for a room where you had a private tub. We chose the former. The bath wasn’t very hot at all, but it was a relaxing and unique experience. If we had trekked for a week or so we probably would have chosen the latter option. How to get there: taxi or collectivo. We took a taxi there which was expensive. The collectivo back was 3 soles which is about a dollar US.

Iron baths at Monterrey

4) Carhuaz, Caraz, and Yungay

There are many tours that run to places outside Huaraz. The two most popular run to Chavín de Huantar and Huascarán National Park. Due to limited time, we could only do one and chose the latter. I usually don’t do tours, but since Huascarán National Park wasn’t super close to Huaraz I thought that booking a tour would be my best option. My friends and I found a random place on the main street in Huaraz and booked a tour that would take us through Carhuaz, Caraz, Yungay as well as Huascarán National Park. I was a little skeptical because it was only around 30 soles which is super cheap for a full day of touring, but it turned out to be completely legit (aside from the fact that the tour was only in Spanish which was probably why it was so cheap!). Carhuaz, Caraz and Yungay were really unique little places. Carhuaz was small, but it some great little shops including an ice cream place that was good, cheap, and served beer flavoured ice cream (!!!).

Nom nom nom

Yungay — made famous by the landslide that wiped out the town in the 70s — is home to Mount Huascarán! We stopped at Campo Santo Yungay where we could see a lot of the damage the landslide did to the town. I loved Yungay the most of the three cities.

The remnants of a bus that was hit by the landslide

On our way back to Huaraz we stopped in Caraz where we got to try manjar blanco (almost exactly like dulce de leche, nom nom nom) which is like caramel, milky, buttery goodness which I HAD to buy. These pitstops on the way to Huascarán are really what made the day so great. I got to see a lot more of Huaraz and the surrounding area than I thought I would and I was sure glad I got the chance to.

5) Huascarán National Park

I don’t even know what to say about Huascarán National Park other than that you HAVE TO GO! This UNESCO World Heritage Site was just breathtaking, particularly the Lagunas Llanganuco. The water was so incredibly blue and the snow-capped Mount Huascarán in the background was amazing. Seeing the lakes was one of those moments in life where I was truly speechless. It’s hard to describe the beauty of the lakes. The weather was perfect that day too which made it even better.

Nuff said

Honourable Mention: Region of Ancash festival. This was awesome. Definitely one of my favourite things to experience in Huaraz. The reason why it’s not included in the top 5 is because it just so happened that the festival was occurring during the weekend I was there. If I went the next weekend or the previous weekend then I wouldn’t have seen it, so it isn’t something that you can experience any day of the year. I’ll probably write about this fully in another post.

Huaraz was one of my favourite cities in Peru. It was fun, adventure-filled, relaxing, and just a place where I could feel comfortable. I wish I could have stayed longer.

Do you agree with my list? Any better suggestions?

The Time I Was A Celebrity In Peru

8 Jun

There’s one thing I know for sure, which is that foreigners are, in some way, more attractive, more interesting… just more, in general.

My girl friends tell me how hot they think guys with Australian or British accents are. My guy friends tell me that French chicks are SO sexy. Personality isn’t nearly a key factor in these cases as it normally is.

And foreigners think the same things about us Westerners.

Thai women love Western men. Italian men love American blonde women.

South Americans, in general, find Caucasians fascinating. Especially if you’re blonde or if you have pale skin (I definitely fall into the latter category).

A man proposed to me as I was walking through downtown Lima. Like, actually got down on one knee in front of a huge group of people and proposed!

Another man who ran the internet cafe in the tiny town I was living in took a special interest in me.

None of this, however, compared to the welcome I received when I visited Huaca de la Luna in Trujillo, Peru.

Oh, you know, just signing some autographs. No big deal.

It wasn’t just me though. It was everyone I was with. I wondered why we were receiving such an overwhelming welcome at this particular place. I still don’t fully understand it, but  I assume it’s because Trujillo is a place less traveled than most areas in Peru, so it isn’t common to see ‘white’ people.


It was an unusually nice Saturday morning in Trujillo, Peru.

Me and some fellow volunteer archaeologists took taxis to Huaca de la Luna (located approximately 4 km outside of Trujillo). We got out of our taxis and were literally swarmed by dozens of school children.

I was a little confused.

And then they started pushing notebooks and paper towards us signalling for us to give them our “autographs”!

A few of the people in our group spoke Spanish and it turned out that the children actually thought we might be celebrities and, even if we weren’t, they just wanted to know more about us and where we came from.

Hannelore and I didn't mind posing for the paparazzi...

Everyone was snapping pictures of us and asking to take pictures with us. I mean, I know it’s South America and I should expect these things to happen because they really do happen everywhere in Peru, but never happen to this extent.

It was… weird, but at the same time it was such a unique cultural experience.

When I think about Canada, if I’m walking around Toronto for the day, I’m bound to see a wide spectrum of ethnicities, which is completely normal unlike Peru.

So, that’s how I was almost famous for a day.

Lesson learned from this: If you’re blonde and Caucasian and you’re looking to find a husband quickly, South America is the place to go.

Trujillo, Peru: The Temple of the Sun and the Moon

31 May

The Temple of the Sun and the Moon — more commonly referred to as Huaca de la Luna — is an archaeological site near the city of Trujillo in Peru that once belonged to the Moche civilization.

It is beautiful and intricate and unexpectedly well-preserved.

I loved it so much I went back a second time.

Maybe it’s just me, but I believe that Huaca de la Luna is a must-see in Peru, especially if you were planning on heading north to Mancora or the Amazon.

It’s difficult to put Huaca de la Luna into words, so I’ll let pictures do most of the talking.

Huaca de la Luna was magnified by the Cerro Blanco mountain in its background.

This particular face of Ayapec, a Moche deity, was very common throughout the murals in Huaca de la Luna. The representation of Ayapec and the preservation on this particular wall is absolutely fantastic as you can see above.

Huaca de la Luna also made for some interesting photo ops. This one in particular was in an area not open to the public. I was privileged to view this area thanks to Jorge and Carlos. Much appreciated.

The site involved artwork that appeared in layers as you can see above. Each layer repeated the same image in a horizontal fashion and each layer represented something about the Moche culture.

Jorge (pictured above) knew everything there is to know about Huaca de la Luna so he was our group’s personal guide. Here, in particular, was a restricted room that he showed us, as he is an archaeologist working on the site.

Another interesting thing about Huaca de la Luna, like any other modern building, was that it had graffiti. I couldn’t believe that the graffiti was still visible, some 1200 or so years later. Can you tell what kind of animal is graffitied in the picture above?

Adobe brick was used to build the structure of the temples. It was everywhere. It is made of clay making it is easy to carve things into… like happy faces. Can you find the happy face? Well, it kind of looks happy.

Currently, the archaeological complex is still being excavated on. Above, you can see Huaca del Sol in the background and the residential sectors in the foreground. The residential sectors are not open to the public (as they were to the group I was with) since that area is still being excavated, but you can get a good view of them from Huaca de la Luna.

Unfortunately, Huaca del Sol (pictured in the background above) isn’t nearly as big and as complete as it once was. Looters and erosion have destroyed approximately two-thirds (!) of Huaca del Sol, so, unlike Huaca de la Luna, it isn’t open to the public.

Go to Huaca de la Luna if you are ever in Trujillo or if you’re ever traveling through the north to Mancora or the Amazon. It’s amazing and, like any other archaeological site, it won’t be around forever.

Come on, who doesn’t want to learn about blood sacrifice and pre-Columbian badasses?

Off The Beaten Path: Trujillo, Peru

18 May

Trujillo is a city in northern Peru. It is the third largest city in the country, but it isn’t really a host for many travellers.

Trujillo's Plaza de Armas

To be honest, the only reason I went to Trujillo was that it was the closest big city to me. As I was staying in a tiny little town in the middle of nowhere, I was dying to eat in a restaurant, to go grocery shopping, and to be able to sleep in a bed that didn’t feel like it was going to collapse any minute. I also went because there were some interesting archaeological sites nearby — Huaca de la Luna y del Sol, Chan Chan, and El Brujo.

I actually ended up liking Trujillo so much that I ended up going twice.

I probably spent about a week total in Trujillo, so I will do my best at giving you a brief overview of what to expect, what to see, etc.

I love street art!

To me, three things stood out in Trujillo: The variety of restaurants, the nightlife, and the sightseeing (the archaeological sites, in particular).

The only aspect of Trujillo that I found was lacking was accommodations. It was really hard for me to find a hostel. I got the name of a hostel from a friend, but there was no taxi driver who seemed to know where it was. Eventually someone found it and it turned out to be a nice hostel, but a little overpriced since there was no dorm option. The upside? Close to Trujillo’s centre and the staff was very friendly and helpful. It was called ‘San Pedro Residencial Hostal‘ or something similar to that. It was nice enough that I stayed there the second time I went as well. One man who worked there even walked some friends and I to a restaurant he thought was really good and wouldn’t accept any tips from us. Note: this is common in Peru and probably anywhere in South America. If someone if going out of there way to bring you somewhere, they will expect a tip. This happened to me on my very first day in Peru! Beware. You’ve been warned.

So other than that, Trujillo was perfect for me.

1) The Food

Every meal I had in Trujillo was great for two reasons: They were cheap and they were delicious. Two of my favourite words. You can look in a guidebook and I’m sure there are plenty of great options, but I just walked around and found great places.

I found that Trujillo had a lot of great breakfast spots. You may even be able to find coffee that isn’t instant for once!

If your in the mood for fast food, you’ll find it everywhere. I went to a mall one day because I needed to buy some warmer clothing and the food court was gigantic. So if you miss fast food go to a mall. I promised myself I wouldn’t have McDonald’s while in South America, but I ended up caving 3 times. In Trujillo, no one really spoke English so I had to order in Spanish. So, after I finally understood exactly how to order my meal: “Una hamburguesa con sólo la carne, pan, queso y salsa de tomate, por favor.” Yes, I was told to ask for everything I wanted, including the meat (carne) and the bread (pan). So, in short, I ordered a burger with only ketchup and cheese because I HATE mustard SO much. I opened up my burger and, to my dismay, there was mustard. Such disappointment. I had finally understood how to order, but I had no clue how to say that my order was made incorrectly. Anyway, Trujillo has some great malls and department stores that are full of resources, including fast food as well as…

This was taken in a mall in Trujillo. Turns out that Twilight really is extremely popular everywhere!

Now, back to food (blood counts though, right?)…

If you’re in the mood for Italian? Yep, you’ll find it. I went to this restaurant a few times called ‘Rustica.’ It had pasta, pizza, and other Italian favourites. It also had Peruvian cuisine like anticuchos de corazon (cow heart!), which I tried, and thoroughly enjoyed. Rustica wasn’t really budget friendly, as some dishes were expensive and some weren’t, but it was nice to have Italian for a change.

Another thing I noticed in Trujillo was that there were a lot of dessert places. So if you’re craving ‘Dulce de leche,’ which I craved pretty much every day, then you’ll be able to find it no problem.

Just walk around and find a restaurant that has a set menu (cheap!) and a huge crowd and you’re golden.

2) The Nightlife

When the night crept in, there were two different kinds of places that I went to.

One was a really fancy club/martini bar type of place. It was expensive and posh, so if that’s your style, then go for it. The other place I went to was more my style. It was called Ributo Bar and it was on one of the main streets off of the Plaza de Armas. Ributo Bar was pure awesomeness. It had cheap drinks (Although no Cusquena, which was odd). The best part though was the live music. Not only was the band amazing, but they even sang a few English songs like “With Or Without You” by U2. I also liked how my friends and I were the only ‘gringos’ in the bar. Unlike in Lima, we weren’t given any special attention. It was cool to just feel like a local.

My suggestion would be to go to Trujillo’s centre, Plaza de Armas, and just walk around the main streets. You’ll find tons of places.

Jenny, Hannelore, and me. I don't look drunk at all...

@ Ributo Bar in Trujillo

3) The sightseeing

I’m not going to go into detail on this because I’ll be dedicating an entire post to one of Trujillo’s main attractions, but I will briefly mention the places I think you should see in Trujillo.

There are two main sights to see in Trujillo that attracts tourists: Huaca de la Luna y del Sol (The Temple of the Sun and the Moon) and Chan Chan. Both are archaeological sites.

I saw the former twice. I loved it. The artwork was amazing and so well preserved. The structures were such a testament to the lifestyle of the Moche people. There is so much more to it, but I will leave that for another post. If you are keen on archaeology, Huaca de la Luna y del Sol will blow you away. Tip: Make sure you get a guide and make sure you get one that speaks English if you can’t speak Spanish. The first time I went, we had no guide, and although I still loved it, having a guide during my second visit exponentially improved my experience at the Temples. Come on, who doesn’t want to learn about blood sacrifice?

Standing in the Temple of the Moon. You can also see the Temple of the Sun in the background (the mound to the right of my head).

As for Chan Chan, I actually didn’t go see it. The reason is because I had limited time and I decided that I would rather revisit Huaca de la Luna since I loved it so much (and since I would be given a private tour through the restricted areas of the temples!). A few of my friends saw Chan Chan and they said it was really cool. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is the largest pre-Columbian city in South America and it is entirely constructed out of adobe bricks which is quite impressive. It is Chimu, rather than Moche, and the adobe city was eventually conquered by the Inca.

Honourable mention: El Brujo. Meaning “The witch doctor.” It is also an archaeological site. It’s an ancient monument of the Moche culture, but what’s really interesting about El Brujo is that Lady Cao was discovered there during excavation. What’s so interesting about Lady Cao? She is the first known governess in Peru! She also was covered in tattoos, which are still visible on her corpse! Amazing. Another interesting thing to experience at El Brujo is, well, probably illegal so I won’t mention it here. You’ll just have to go find out yourself!

One of the rooms inside the El Brujo. I don't think you're allowed to get this close to the walls, but oh well!

So, would you ever consider adding Trujillo to your itinerary?

A lot of people bus from Lima to Mancora, which I think is around 18 hours, so why not make a stop in Trujillo?

It’s off the beaten path, but nothing less than awesome!

A Day On An Archaeological Dig: Part II

8 May

If you’ve read Part I then you’ll have an idea of what you’re basic schedule would be like for a day of digging. Most of the time you should expect an early wakeup followed by a full day of working that will usually end before the sun sets. Digging in the dark is impossible.

I feel as if the media, and especially movies, like Indiana Jones, completely glamorizes and romanticizes archaeology. Archaeology is nothing like Indiana Jones. If that’s what you’re expecting or if that’s what you want, then don’t bother because you will be horribly disappointed.

Archaeology is tedious and time-consuming. It takes a lot of work and a lot of patience. You’re not going to be finding really awesome artifacts every few minutes. It’s more like every few days or not at all.

I’m not trying to make it sound less exciting than it is because, to me, it is very exciting, even when it’s not me who is actually finding highly significant artifacts, but rather someone else. But, when you do find something, especially your first artifact, it is SO exciting. When sand is blowing in your face on a windy day, then maybe not so much.

One of those windy, cold, crappy days

Five really important factors stood out to me during this volunteer experience that I think are important to be considered BEFORE committing.

So, before you buy your plane ticket, make sure you can handle the following:

1) Are you okay with being isolated?

Because you will likely be located in the middle of nowhere.

A lot of archaeological sites are located in a remote area because they are likely the sites that haven’t been terribly destroyed by weather or looters. Also, as times passes, the larger sites are already completely excavated and so all that is left are the more unknown, remote sites. Excavated areas in big cities and common areas will definitely already be excavated, so don’t expect to be doing digging around the Colisseum or the Temples of Angkor Wat. They have already been fully excavated and, if not, they are left to the professionals.

2) Do language barriers freak you out?

Because there may be a lot of workers who don’t speak English.

While my fellow volunteers did speak English, the workers who did all the “heavy-lifting” didn’t speak a word of English. It’s hard to find workers who speak English in such an isolated area. Consequently, all paper work, including forms that I had to fill out regarding the artifacts I found, were in Spanish and I had to complete them in Spanish. I got the hang of this quickly, but it was a little bit overwhelming at first as it was crucial that we didn’t screw up the forms. Organization is such a key aspect when handling artifacts and it was a huge issue if we didn’t fill out the forms properly. The upside? Learning a lot of uncommon terms in a different language, in my case, Spanish. I learned how to say shell, metal, wood, and many other terms and phrases in Spanish to the point that they became second nature to me. It was a cool way to learn a language.

3) Are you in good health?

Because this is definitely not an “easy” volunteering experience.

I put easy in quotations because I’m not referring to the actual technique of digging. That’s the easy part. The hard part is the strain on your body. For me, my knees and back were under so much strain to the point that I didn’t know if I could continue digging. On top of that, I was doing close to an hour of walking up and down hills each day and the majority of the time I was carrying heavy equipment. If you have back problems, joint problems, asthma (like me), or some other type of health condition, you may want to really think about whether or not you will be able to work under these strenuous conditions. If you do encounter problems like this, you can always ask if there’s any lab work to be done. I did lab work cleaning textiles for a week and I loved it!

4) Do you fare well with less-than-satisfactory climates?

Because the weather can be very unpredictable.

I’ll give you an example of the type of climate I encountered each day in Nepeña, Peru. I was there during Peru’s winter months (July and August). The weather was very unusual to me. The mornings were very cold in Nepena, followed by hot temperatures midday plus really intense heat from the sun, followed by VERY cold nights. It was frustrating because when I would leave in the morning for the dig site it would be so cold that I had to wear pants, a jacket and sometimes even a hat or gloves. THEN, once it hit midday, it would be so hot that I would be sweating buckets. Then there’s the wind factor. When you’re working in a place like I did, which was basically a mound of sand, wind will be your worst enemy. Sand blowing into your face while your digging or into your food while your eating. Sometimes I would spend the majority of my time cleaning out one area in a room I was working on and then the winds would start up and completely ruin what I had accomplished. If you can handle these weather nuisances, then you should volunteer on a dig!

and most importantly…

5) Are you a patient person?

Because digging is a slow-paced type of job.

Although it may take a long time to find something that makes you feel accomplished, I assure you that it will be a great feeling when you do. What’s better than finding a piece of history than can contribute to the understanding of humankind? Be prepared that sometimes you might go days without finding something that feels significant to you. I found things everyday, but a corn kernel or a piece of llama hair didn’t really give me a sense of accomplishment. Be patient because you will find something. And even if it’s a fellow volunteer who finds something, it is just as exciting because you are part of it. If you don’t think brushing a wall for hours on end is your cup of tea, then this is not for you. Don’t expect to be finding dinosaur bones everyday because I assure you that you will likely never find a dinosaur bone. Ever. That’s not what archaeology is all about.

Of course there are other factors that you should consider.

Can you deal with handling bones? Hair? Dried feces?

This needle that was found is made of bone!

Are you okay with getting down and dirty? You WILL get dirty.

Can you handle criticism well?

Do you hate following orders or a strict schedule?

These, along with the five factors I mentioned before, as well as many other factors, are things to consider because you will most likely have to face ALL of them.

Archaeology is fun! But like any field, there are things you might not like about it or things that you might not be able to handle. Think about it. If you have back problems, ask beforehand if you can do lab work half the time and dig half the time. If you hate sand, try volunteering in Poland. If you hate cold climates, try volunteering in Thailand. Archaeology is everywhere. Look around, do research, and make sure that this is an experience that you would enjoy. And if it is, then it will be totally worth it.

A Day On An Archaeological Dig: Part I

2 May

For anyone interested in archaeology or volunteering abroad, I’m going to give you an example of what to expect during a day as a volunteer archaeologist.

I’m studying anthropology and archaeology in university so naturally I knew that volunteering for something related, like an archaeological dig, would be a great opportunity for me.

I was nervous because I just assumed that everyone would already know what they were doing while I had ZERO experience with any hands-on work in archaeology.

However, to my surprise, while half of the people volunteering were involved in archaeology before, the other half had no previous experience.

I think it’s a great idea to volunteer on an archaeological dig. Not only do you get to meet a lot of people, but you also get to immerse yourself in a culture and find actual artifacts yourself! You get to learn different techniques, like how to use a trowel and how to clean artifacts properly. You get to learn so much about the past of the people who the artifacts once belonged to.

A friend and I posing with our archaeology tools

Something like this is also really great for your resume/CV. I recently got a job at a garden centre partly because  of this unique experience I had (and partly because of my irresistible charm).

AND you get to discover some very, very weird objects.

Like a fully preserved llama leg (with hair, nails and everything!)

…or a broken off piece of pottery of a PENIS! No joke.

Yes, it's small, but it is a penis

Well, maybe you won’t find the latter, but I guarantee there will be some artifacts found that will be bizarre. Side note: The Moche civilization (who the artifacts once belonged to) are known for having very erotic pottery, ceramics, etc. Hence, the tiny penis.

No doubt, volunteering on a dig will make for some interesting stories and great conversation with friends and people you meet, maybe even on a first date ;). No doubt that you’ll make memories to last a lifetime.

However, it is a good idea to look into what you should expect and I am here to help!

Here is the basic schedule that I was to follow daily:

6:00 a.m. – Wake up and get ready. I would usually have just enough time to change and pack a lunch.

6:30 a.m. – Breakfast with the group. We were to meet at the “restaurant” at 6:30 every morning if we wanted free breakfast. It consisted of scrambled eggs and crappy coffee that I learned to eventually love.

7:00 a.m. – Car ride to Pañamarca. Pañamarca was as close as we could get to the site. We had to walk the remaining twenty minutes or so. Also, the car could only fit a small group of people so the first group would leave at 7 and the second group would leave at around 7:30. Consequently, the first group would get to come home first at the end of the work day and the second group had to wait.

I would love to do a post on Pañamarca, which is the ruins of a huaca (a.k.a temple), but it’s very isolated so I’m sure no one would ever go here. Here’s a picture of a section of the huaca to give you an idea of what it looked like.

More pictures can be seen here on my Flickr account.

Anyway, assuming I went with the first group…

7:15 a.m. – Walk from Pañamarca to the dig site in Nepeña Valley. This took about 20 to 30 minutes depending on what we had to carry. We had to take turns carrying the wheelbarrows which may seem easy but they were filled with equipment and we had to push them on upward slants which was a killer workout (and a sure way to accumulate blisters all over our fingers)!

This was taken on the walk to the dig site

8:00 a.m. – This is usually around the time when we started digging. Our director would assign us to work in a specific area.

10:30 a.m. – We would dig straight until 10:30 and then we would have a half hour break, which I would usually use to take a nap with the sand as my bed and a rock as my pillow.

11:00 a.m. – We would start digging again. Sometimes we would be moved to a new section.

1:00 p.m. – Break #2. It was also a half hour. Most of us would usually eat lunch or nap. The sun was very hot at around this time which was pretty draining.

1:30 p.m. – The digging resumed.

2:30 p.m. – We would start labelling, categorizing, and bagging all our artifacts.

Bags of artifacts!

3:00 p.m. – Clean up, pack up, and start walking back to Pañamarca.

3:30 p.m. – First group would be taken back to our house and we would arrive close to 4 p.m.

And that’s it! It might totally suck getting up early at first, but once you’re used to it you’ll be happy that you’re done work earlier because that leaves you with a lot of free time.

You’ll also likely get the weekends off! Nepeña was about an hour drive to Chimbote and from there another 2 hours to Trujillo, a fairly big city, and I went there almost every weekend.

I should also mention that archaeological digs involve lab work, which you might have to do. This could include cleaning artifacts, labelling artifacts, etc, and it really isn’t as boring as it sounds. Sometimes it was actually a really nice break to work in the lab for the day. My personal favourite thing to do was working with the textiles, which involved carefully cleaning them, drawing them, and writing a description for them.

Cleaning textiles

Am I glad that I went? Absolutely. It was a great experience. I learned so much that will help with my studies. I learned so much about myself. I learned to adapt to a lifestyle that I wasn’t used to. I went out of my comfort zone. I found artifacts. I worked hard and it paid off.

But it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows so stay tuned for Part II which will include a list of what you should consider before committing to volunteer on an archaeological dig.


Finding My First Artifact

25 Apr

This post is more for the archaeologically savvy than anyone else. So if you don’t have a strong interest, this will probably be a boring post. Just warning you in advance. But I DO think you should read it regardless! Maybe you’ll realize that you dig archaeology (yes, pun definitely intended and yes, that is how you spell archaeology, in Canada, at least).

The whole reason why I went to Peru in the first place was because I was participating in an archaeological dig! I then decided I wanted to stay for longer and backpack around.

I love anthropology. Everything about it. I love learning about different cultures, which is pretty much what I get to learn about in my university classes. I get to learn about the significance behind Balinese cockfighting, the mystery of the Incas and Machu Picchu, gypsies and how they aren’t what people assume they are, and so much more. Since anthropology is the study of humanity (variations between cultures, social organizations within those cultures, how our evolutionary past influenced these variations, etc) then it makes sense that archaeology would be a branch of anthropology because archaeology is the study of the human past through material remains.

Over the years of learning about anthropology I gained such an interest and appreciation for archaeology. So, I decided that I would try a field school or volunteer work with archaeology to learn more.

After a little research, and a long lasting desire to see Machu Picchu, I decided that Peru was where I HAD to go.

I arrived in Nepeña Valley, Peru at the beginning of August 2010. I’m not going to lie, I had a rough first few days. I was in the middle of nowhere, with access to so little compared to Canada, and I truly didn’t think I would be able to stick it out for a full four weeks.


I found my first artifact!

Before I tell you about the artifact I found, I will give you a little background information about the project. Now, I’m no expert on the Moche (pronounced: Moe-chay) civilization in Peru, but I will do my best to briefly explain.

The Moche civilization occupied northern Peru from around 100 to 800 AD. The Cerro Castillo Archaeological Project (the project I was a part of) aimed to contribute to the interpretations on Moche craft production, looking at the shaping of identity, power relationships, specialized craft production, and funerary practices. So, during the four weeks I was there, I was digging in the domestic areas — the residential sectors — of the site, which would also look at the urban characteristics of Moche settlements beyond the capital. I know, sounded confusing to me at first too. Basically, we were trying to understand specialized craft production in a Moche area that was residential and the role of the craft specialists in social development.

The dig site!

One of the residential areas

Anyway, on to the good stuff…

I was digging on a very hot, sunny day (like most days) and (like most days) I wasn’t finding much of anything.

BUT THEN… dun dun dunnnnn…

I was brushing a wall in one of the sectors and I hit something metal.

So I continued digging around it.

Once I carefully removed it from the wall and briefly inspected it I realized that this metal artifact was a SEWING NEEDLE.

It looked so similar to a modern sewing needle except that it was much longer, maybe 3 inches, and it was thicker. I could tell it was a sewing needle because of the loophole at one of the ends.

I found an artifact that was approximately 2000 years old! I’m not trying to brag… who am I kidding? Yes, I am. Modesty has always been a virtue of mine.

The icing on top of the cake? Not only had no one found an artifact made of metal since I had been there, but it was museum-worthy! One weekend, our group went to visit Huaca de la Luna (a famous Moche temple) near Trujillo, Peru and the museum there was a needle that was exactly the same.

This might be a lot more thrilling for me than for you, but it was SO exciting.

This is what I came for. To work hard and long hours, finding next to nothing most days, to eventually be rewarded with the amazing feeling of finding something that contributes to archaeology and the knowledge of the past of our ancestors.

Hard work (and a little luck, of course) definitely pays off.