Is this really a Spanish school? 19 Apr 2010

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Monday. Starting  Spanish school this afternoon. We decide to get a taxi. They are relatively cheap. A bus would mean fighting the locals for space with all our luggage. As we ride in the cab, Norv chats to the driver. I am understanding less of what he is saying now. I suspect that means his Spanish is getting better and/or faster. I really need more lessons.

There are no street signs in this part of town. Really glad we took a cab. Even the cabbie stops for directions.

Arriving at the address we find a house. Looks more or less the same as the others in the street. Even the taxi driver looks confused and checks the address 3 or 4 times. There is a little shop at the front of the house and an older woman appears at the door. She looks panicked and tells us we are not due until this afternoon. Norv reassures her we are not staying. We just want to drop our bags and go into town. She seems relieved.

We have organised lessons but not finalised accommodation. The teachers from the school have said they should be able to find something for us. But it will be 5.00pm when our lessons finish, and a ‘should’ makes me feel uncomfortable.

In our city explorations we find plenty of places to stay so I’m no longer concerned. The main square in Trujillo is very colourful but also full of tour operators selling their services. I make the mistake of taking a pamphlet from one and then get a full explanation in Spanish. Norv says nothing as I try to get him to go away with very limited Spanish. I am told later- ‘you got yourself in, you need to get yourself out’. He has a very Darwinian way of helping. Of course if the situations were reversed I would be doing the same thing.

We have lunch at a small cantina in town. 4 Soles menu. That’s a little less than AU$2 for chicken, rice and potatoes. It’s a pretty average meal (both in commonality and in taste). But it stops the hunger pangs.

I have enough Spanish to ask where the toilet is and have my first experience of inferior toilets here. I won’t go into details- but I did wonder whether I really needed to go at that moment.

When we return to the Spanish school we are greeted by a young woman. ‘Mucho gusto’- please to meet you. I follow the conversation initially but have limited capacity to respond. When I speak to Norv in frustrated English she understands and this makes my life easier. When she continues the conversation though- I understand nothing. It’s way too fast to even pick out a few words.

In my lesson I discover that my tutor in Adelaide has given me some very advanced words and forms of communication but skipped some of the basics. I had missed saying ‘there is’. No wonder I am finding it so difficult. I get along well with Claudia- my tutor and she teases me like my lil sis. She’s 21yo.

We are offered a home stay option with her and decide to take it. I really need to practice, and I’m aware I need to take some pressure off Norv. I feel really comfortable and am willing to try more words and phrases even though my sentences are still difficult.

We discover a few things:

  • It was her mum that originally answered the door. Her father is an engineer and works in Lima. Her older brother works in Plura (a northern village). Her younger brother is still here
  • The guy that started the school is ill and has gone to Canada for treatment. In the meantime the school has been moved to her house- a couple of offices in the front. One of the other teachers is at their English school in a small inland village. Norv’s teacher has just come back from overseas travels and desperately wants to be anywhere  but here.
  • The family must be fairly well off. They live in a gated community. The gate shuts at 11.00pm. All the houses have high fences, but are colourful and appear to be completed (unlike many other places in Peru). There is a bide in the bathroom. There appears to be a maid here, but nobody has mentioned her, and she does not look at us.
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Nightmare bus no.1- 17 Apr 2010

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The plush surroundings lulled us into a false sense of security. A double decker bus with the most comfortable seats you have ever experienced. Air-con, television, ‘in-flight’ service. Of course i’m travelling with someone who doesn’t fit into seats in Australia so reckon we have no hope here.

We are taking an overnight journey from Lima to Trujillo. It’s 11.30 by now. We are ready for sleep but instead the ‘in-bus’ service commences. A tray of carbs in the middle of the night is not cause for excitement. The movie starts- ‘The changling’. I’ve never seen it, but we are sitting right in front of the television screen and immediately under the speakers. The movie is so loud there is no hope for sleep.

The movie is full of persecution with scenes involving mental institutions, violence, murder and children crying. Neither of us are very good with this stuff and by the end of the movie we are nervous wrecks. We are however left with the kind of relief that one might have when you stop banging your head against a wall. Norv describes our experience as akin to a scene out of ‘A clockwork orange’. You don’t want to watch but you have no choice.

In the middle of the night it gets really hot. I overheat and have nightmares. I awake to seats leaned back so far that our legs are almost pinned down. I have fitful sleep for the rest of the night and arrive in the morning feeling like I’ve been through the ringer. Norv looks like I feel.

We do however arrive in a really nice place to stay. We are right on the beach. There are warm showers and comfy beds. Also an outdoor area with tables, chairs and hammocks. We sleep the whole morning and awake feeling a little more human. When we go to find people there is hardly anyone around. It is the ‘off-season’ for the beachside village. Even so, we are puzzled about why the place is so empty.

‘The hippies’ have travelled to Huanchaco as well. Norv’s named them this, though not sure it really fits. I think of hippies as people who don’t believe in work. Anna was working as an environmental consultant and Neil with a car company. In actual fact they are surfers. They’ve just spent the last 6 months in New Zealand, and are doing South America with surfboards in tow.

I look out at the ocean, but it looks kinda dirty. The surf is dumping. Doesn’t look inviting at all. Norv prods me to go in the water- afterall it was me who insisted on being at the beach. But it just doesn’t look pleasant. It doesn’t help that the beach is covered in litter.

Saturday and Sunday nights are spent with Anna and Neil. I really like them. I can relate to their perspective on the world. They’re talking about setting up a business in New Zealand. I’m excited for them.

Our favourite spot quickly becomes the organic restaurant next door called ‘Otra Cosa’ (Something Else). It is run by Perry- a older Dutch guy who married a Peruvian. Norv and Perry have long conversations in Dutch. The restaurant is trying to encourage people to eat more vegetables. Vegetables are somewhat limited in the diet here. Unless you count the hundreds of different types of potatoes. When Norv looks them up on the internet he finds that they also run a volunteer agency. The ususal suspects of volunteer opportunities – play with kiddies, play with animals, be a green thumb or teach English.

When Norv investigates further Perry says that an English guy runs the volunteer agency part of the organisation now. He suspects that they use is to ensure their properties are rented until they can be renovated and sold off. Norv seems unimpressed about this. I think it’s a great win/win kinda situation.

My last meal there is dutch apple pie. Very weird thing to be eating in Peru, but a great comfort food. Tomorrow we start Spanish school.

Adjusting- 16 Apr 2010

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I’ve been in Lima days 3 days and 4 nights now. Haven’t done much, but also pretty happy about that. Glad I have some down time before launching into things.

Waking in the afternoon and venturing out into the world- at Norv’s insistence, is probably the best thing I could do. I see families, couples, bankers in suits and school kids in uniforms. I listen to conversations, understanding little but recognising a lot from tone and gesture. There are buildings, shops, trees, coastline, and sunsets. And of course MacDonalds. I identify more things familiar than unfamiliar and slowly the world is less scary.

Of course Norv corrects my Spanish right off the bat and I’m pretty annoyed. I’ve had 8 lessons- gimme a break. His interruptions break my line of thought- and embarrass me. I hate getting things wrong!! I know it’s normal. I know I have to learn- but god I hate it. Guess i’ll just have to get used to it.

Thursday night we go to Barranco. It’s the artists district. We have drinks, and Norv insists on dancing. I’m feeling a little awkward. We stand out like dogs balls. He’s 6’ 4” and towers over the Peruvians. We are the only ‘whities’ in the place. But it’s worth it cause he can actually dance- which means I can almost salsa well with him as a partner.

Koala in the Torch Light- 14 Apr 2010

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Taxi? taxi? The Peruvians are hailing the attention of the weary gringo. It’s 11.00pm and 26 degrees. I start sweating from 5 layers of clothing. Layers great for cold planes when your body has no energy left to burn. Not so helpful right now. But I hold my bags tightly, pinning the clothes to my body. Airport greetings and bag snatching are old friends. I won’t be doing anything about my clothing right now.

I hear my name being called but can’t see Norv. From the escalators a Peruvian guy is calling my name, smiling and waving. I must look confused. He points to the other escalator. There’s Norv. Coming down the up escalator and making more headway than the crowds using the conventional method.

Norv chats in Spanish to the taxi driver as the Peruvian streets rush by. I understand 80-90%. A little less of the driver. The conversation is simple- music, drinks, population ….

Outside the night looks a little scary. I’m not feeling so brave now I’m here. The compound style houses with barb wire, the unfamiliar people, the car fumes and the masses of roadworks. The streets are congested and dirty, and I have a moment of nostalgia for the bureaucrat job.

I see a couple on the side of the road with their son. Son has mum’s hand. Dad is in mum’s face. She’s standing her ground but her body leans back- away from the tirade. Guessing domestic violence rates are pretty high in this part of the world.

As we approach the coastline the city reveals itself.  The lights are pretty and somehow soothing. I can hear the ocean and am excited that there might be a beach. Norv dismisses my fantasies quickly. He promptly declares ‘Australians are allowed to be beach snobs, and it’s not much of a beach’.

We arrive at the Red Pschyo Llama hostel. Afraid I’m not much help when it comes to the logistics of the operation tonite. Norv argues with the cab driver (and he’s meant to be one of the good ones). Norv directs me to show my passport to the hostel staff and organises a key for me. I’m conscious I’m being managed and I should be more helpful but I just haven’t got it together.

A glass of wine appears for me and I pull up a seat, finally peeling off layers of clothing.  I’m not tired but the wine adds more frosting to the opaque glass I’m viewing the world through. I go to bed.

I sleep for a bit but wake to darkness. It’s hot. Oppressively hot. 4 people’s body heat in a small room. The fan is on but does nothing. I wonder what time it is. Don’t know how long I’ve been lying here but I eventually see the sun rising. Comforted that the time is ‘almost dawn’ I return to sleep and don’t wake til late.

In the morning I feel rested but equally vague. I tell Norv i’m feeling a little overwhelmed and full of doubts. Norv declares it culture shock. Says I look stunned like a koala in a torch light…..  and I don’t doubt it. There is a reoccurring question in my head. Am I ‘un poco loco’?

By the habour- 12 Apr 2010

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I admit to a moment of jealousy when we arrive at my friend’s apartment at Kiribili. The front lawn looks directly onto Sydney Harbour, the bridge and the opera house. Business is good it seems. Pity she hasn’t been there much to enjoy it.

She has no housemate at the moment so I have a room to myself. My room has a tall, slim window. I can see the opera house and water from here. When I wake from my fitful sleeps, I roll over to see the lights of the city framing the opera house. It is spectacular.

We have lots of social plans for my weekend in Sydney. I’m grateful. A pocket full of distractions is great right now.

Goodbyes- 9 Apr 2010.

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Can’t sleep again. Tomorrow I go to Sydney. Can’t get the thoughts in my head to slow down, let alone stop. Not unusual, but tonight’s particularly bad.

I’m thinking about the possible turtle project that YCA has dangled in front of me. I know I said I wouldn’t get my hopes up but it’s hard. It really would be a dream opportunity. Combines a range of skills and loves…… but mustn’t get my hopes up.

My bag is literally bursting at the seams. I’m usually good at packing light but a year away and multiple projects complicates my usual streamlining strategies. Now my preparation is done though- for better or worse and I’m relieved.

We had a family dinner tonite. ‘Are you excited?’ everyone asks me. A normal question to which an enthusiastic response is anticipated. I feel the weight of others expectations when I reply with an honest ‘no’. I’m curious, slightly anxious, committed to my decision, but not excited. I’m clear that I’m not going on holidays. I’m going to live a different life for a while. Maybe it ‘takes’ or maybe it dies, but in 12 months time, I hope to be clearer about myself, my life and my place in the world. Perhaps that makes me a walking cliché, but…..

Brother and sis-in-law say ‘it’s been so good hanging out with you’. It’s heartfelt and the feeling is mutual. I say goodbye to all- including baby in-utero. ‘See you on the flipside little one’.

An argument breaks out about lil sis’s intention to visit me. It clashes with the olds’ trip overseas. She has to be here to look after the dog. The predictability is comforting. Lil sis tells me she loves me about 10 times before getting in the car. Now it feels like i’m going.

A month in Adelaide has been both restorative and a good reminder of why I left. Feels like an outfit that is a size too small and a decade out of style. I can pull it off for a while but then it starts to irritate and I pull at the neck.

Tomorrow I go. Maybe I can sleep on the plane.

A month in pre-departure- 26 Mar 2010

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Insomnia. Symptom of nicotine withdrawal. A familiar but unwelcome companion.

In my final days at work I had returned to smoking almost every day. Fuelled by anxiety and unhappiness I suppose. Now it’s another thing to shed in an attempt to claim my life back; another redundant item to give away.

Made the road trip safely from adopted home to original home, despite the air-conditioner breaking down an hour from Brisbane.

Stop 1- Tumba Rumba, NSW, 17 hours by road. Then 2 days in the country recovering from the drive.

Stop 2- Horsham, Vic, 9 hours by road. Received by a dear friend and her beautiful little girl.

Stop 3- Adelaide, SA, 6 hours by road. Return to the family home.

Well it’s sort of the family home. I never actually lived with Dad before. Always lived with Mum. But since her MS it’s not really an option to stay there.

I found out this morning I secured a volunteer spot with Youth Challenge Australia. I had the interview on Tuesday. I’m taking a team to do a community project in Costa Rica. Expenses paid. 12 Jun – 29 Aug 2010. It means doing wilderness first aid, bronze medallion proficiency, medical, police check and pre-departure training before I go. There goes my rest time!

It’s a good opportunity though and a great excuse to throw myself into a community. Also great motivation to develop my spanish quickly.

Still, not feeling sure about anything right now. I’m working with gut feelings rather than analysis in an effort to keep myself sane. I’ll see how it goes.