I took my first gun class this weekend, and boy was it an eye-opening experience for someone who knew absolutely nothing about guns. The course was titled "Introduction to Handguns for Ladies Only," and was given at Calibers, an indoor shooting range and gun shop in Albuquerque.
The class instructor, Lindsey, explained to us that because men and women have very different reactions to guns (men are generally less leery and less emotional about shooting), Calibers chose (wisely in my opinion) to offer a separate women's class. Lindsey, who was incredibly knowledgeable as well as personable, is only 22 years old. She has been shooting guns since she was a child, and has been working at Calibers for 5 years—since she was a teenager! She knew more about firearms than anyone I have ever met.
The first thing that struck me about the class was how little I really knew about the subject matter. I felt like I was taking a beginner's foreign language class with how hard it was to keep up with the strange words. Terms like "single-action", "striker-action," "de-cock," "mag clip," "mag release," "front sight" and "cartridge caliber" were completely beyond me. I soon realized I did not even have the most basic handgun knowledge, like the difference between a semi-automatic pistol and a revolver, or what an actual bullet looked like.
The first day of the 2-day course was in a classroom setting. We learned firearm safety (never point a gun at something you are not willing to destroy), basic handgun anatomy (semi-automatic vs. revolver, single action vs. double action), ammunition basics (bullet types and caliber measurements), handgun maintenance (you should clean your gun once a month whether you fire it or not!) and, of course, handy tips on selecting and purchasing a handgun (it is a gun shop, after all). We also learned about New Mexico gun laws. There don't seem to be many. There is no waiting period to buy a gun and no required registration. New Mexico is an Open Carry State, meaning it is legal to carry a loaded weapon as long as it is not concealed. "Seriously?" I thought to myself. You need a permit to carry a concealed gun, but not one that is openly visible? Does that seem strange to anyone else? New Mexico law also allows a person to have a concealed loaded firearm in his or her vehicle—including motorcycles and bicycles. Yup, this is the West, folks, where it is absolutely fine to tote around your loaded gun in a cute little bicycle basket. I did feel a little better learning that in New Mexico you must be 21 to buy a handgun, though only 18 to buy a rifle or shotgun and only EIGHT to shoot at Calibers Shooting Range. I was still learning how to shoot a water gun when I was 8!
Course participants were encouraged to bring their own hardware (the polite term for guns and ammo) to class. Since many people apparently inherit guns or get guns as gifts (who gets a gun as gift?), about half of our 12-person class brought their own. When it came time to learn how to load and unload ammo, the rest of us experimented with different types of handguns, all semi-automatics (which are nowadays much preferred over revolvers). Loading rounds in a semi-automatic handgun is much harder than loading a revolver though and I struggled to get even 5 rounds into a gun designed to hold much more. The next day we would be shooting on the range and everyone seemed to be pumped, except me, the petrified one. What if I accidentally shot someone? Maybe I should just watch and brush up on the lingo I just couldn't quite seem to master.
The next morning I awoke at the crack of dawn (extremely unlike me, especially on a weekend) and drove to Starbucks to get a latte (also extremely unlike me, since I don't drink coffee) in the hope that the caffeine would keep me alert enough to not shoot anyone (like classmates) or any thing (like my foot) that I wasn't supposed to. In preparation for shooting, our class practiced things like stance (the stance you see on old cop shows is, by the way, totally outdated, no one shoots standing sideways anymore), grip (sorry lefties, almost all guns are built for the right-handed), sight alignment (which part of the gun to look at before you fire), trigger control (this one I understood—"index finger" is pretty easy to remember), breathing (don't forget to breathe) and follow-through (don't let the recoil hit you in the head or knock you off your feet.)
Off to the range we went. Those of us who did not bring our own ammo had to buy 50 rounds for our shoot. I had so much trouble getting the ammo into the gun that I was the last one to finish shooting our initial 25 rounds. This is a skill that will take some practice for me. I shot four different types of guns: a Barretta 9mm standard-issue Army Reserve model, a Glock .40, a Glock 9mm and an HK 9mm. We were supposed to shoot the man on the paper poster in the chest, which was marked with a rectangle. If you were really good, you could then graduate to shooting the man in the brain, which was marked by a much smaller rectangle. I never graduated to the brain rectangle. In fact, I seemed to be shooting poster man everywhere except his chest. Lindsey came over, gave me a few corrections, and viola! I lethally wounded poster man on the next shot. And the next and the next. Well, now things were looking up. This was probably as close to being a bad ass as I will ever get in my life.
Unbelievably, I gained some confidence and got so into the shooting toward the end of class that I bought another round 50 rounds and stayed on the range after everyone else had left. My second paper poster man was a huge improvement on my first, although I was still not able to shoot him in the brain. Oh well, there's always next time. Oh and there will be a next time because I found out that every Thursday at Calibers is "Ladies Day" so women shoot for half price! Just like happy hour at the local bowling alley. Woo hoo! How can you say no to that?
A majority of the women in my class indicated that they were going to follow this course up with the Concealed Carry Permit class, which, if you pass, gets you an official CCP in the state of New Mexico. I have no desire to do this, or to ever own a gun. But as my boss, John, said as I shared with him my skepticism about guns before the class, "If you are ever in a situation involving a gun, wouldn't it be better to know something about guns than not to know?" Yes. I'm glad I took the class, and I'm glad I now know.
I’m back from Los Angeles, and am happy to report that I finished my fourth—and last—marathon. After completing two 26.2-mile marathons in NYC and two in L.A., my marathon career is finally over. I’m also happy to report that the weather conditions for this year’s LA Marathon were much better that last year, when the 20,000-plus participants practically drowned trying to get to the finish line, battling torrential downpours and gale force winds. More than 2,000 had to drop out due to hypothermia. It was the worst weather in the history of the LA Marathon. But that's all in the past now. Here’s how it went down this year:
It rained the entire day Saturday, the day before the race. All runners had to go to the Marathon Expo at Dodger Stadium to pick up their race bibs and credentials for the following day. After we did that, our small all-girl sub-team, in a nod to the short-honored tradition of last year, went to get pre-marathon mani/pedis, an important and necessary prerequisite to participating in any marathon. The weather forecasts for this year’s event were all over the place, calling for rain, showers, thunderstorms and possibly windy conditions. So this time we planned and dressed for crazy weather. Ski underwear, gloves, hats, fleece jackets, waterproof shells, plastic ponchos (or hefty bags with arm and head holes cut out, for those who refused to spring for the 99-cent ponchos). Cameras, cell phones,and supplies of Advil secured tightly in Ziplock bags. Running shoes treated with waterproofing spray. Plastic bags to wrap our feet in, just in case. But miraculously, although it rained nonstop on Saturday, on marathon Sunday, Mother Nature decided to give us runners a much deserved break. Well, at least for most of the day.
Dodger Stadium before dawn
I'd like to say that the members of our small sub-team, 69,0000 Steps 4 Cancer, woke up bright eyed and bushy-tailed on race day morning when the alarm sounded at 3:30 a.m., but after getting a total of four hours of sleep the night before, waking up wasn't exactly an adrenaline-fueled celebration. We put on our 17 layers of waterproof clothing and drove to Santa Monica at 4 a.m. to catch a 4:30 shuttle bus to Dodger Stadium, where the race would begin. There, about 25 Team Concern marathoners got to eat breakfast and relax in a VIP suite, which was kindly provided by sponsor CVS. We VIPs also got to use real bathrooms instead of port-o-pottys, which was a treat that we all took advantage of a record number of times before the race started. At 6:30, Team Concern, along with the other 23,000 marathon participants, started positioning at the starting line. After "God Bless America" and "The Star Spangled Banner" were sung, the starting buzzer sounded at 7 a.m. and the runners were off—to the appropriate strains of Randy Newman's "I Love LA" on the loudspeaker. The handicapped runners went first, then the elite women, who, interestingly, start 17 minutes and 31 seconds ahead of the elite men, who took off next. Finally, the rest of us 22,900 participants began moving. As the starting buzzer droned, the sun, with astoundingly perfect timing, made its first appearance. It was an auspicious beginning indeed!
Team Concern members at Dodger Stadium prior to running to raise money for cancer research
The sun stayed with us on and off the whole day, and incredibly, it never rained. It was almost perfect marathon weather - partly cloudy, partly sunny, and in the 40’s and 50's most of the day. We walked with Lisi, a cancer survivor, who brought a stash of food in her backpack large enough to feed a dozen marathoners for several days. I, in contrast, brought only “Gu”, the amazing electrolyte gel that brought me back to life last year after I hit the wall at 10 miles, and a Powerbar. The Powerbar and a quarter of Lisi’s graciously offered sandwich were all I needed to get through the entire 26.2 miles. Compared to last year, when I hit the wall at the 10-mile mark (hitting the wall refers to the point in the marathon when runners have a complete energy meltdown after depleting their glycogen reserves), I felt amazingly energized at 10 miles, and still felt pretty darn good even at 20 miles, when most participants, no matter how much they train beforehand, hit the wall. As I had not trained at all for this marathon due to my pulled hamstring I got while skiing several weeks ago, I must admit I was grateful to whatever marathon angel was up above holding my hand and moving my legs.
However, at the 22-mile mark, the wind, which had steadily increased from about 10-m.p.h. at the start to about 30-m.p.h., suddenly picked up alarmingly as we neared the beach in Santa Monica, where the finish line was. The gusts, which had to be at least 50-m.p.h., were head-on and fierce. We had to hold on to our hats with both hands so they wouldn’t fly off our heads. (What is it with wind and the LA Marathon, anyway?) The incredible headwinds slowed everyone down big-time. The temperature, or
at least the wind chill factor, also dropped about 10-15 degrees. It made the last 4-5 miles—the hardest anyway—seem pretty endless. But, we kept reminding ourselves, at least it's not raining!
The 17-mile mark in Beverly Hills
We braved the winds for the last 4 miles, watching leaves and small branches flying off the sideways-blowing trees, and stepping over the piles of palm tree fronds that had blown into the street. We held our arms up high, cheered, and high-fived as we crossed the finish line. My legs ached, but I still felt somewhat perky, quite an improvement from last year when I was blue lipped, hypothermic and shivering too hard to even speak when I crossed the finish. Medals were placed around our necks. Mylar sheaths were handed to us to provide warmth, but the wind was so strong that I literally was unable to wrap the thing around me, as it kept blowing off. So much for warmth.
It seems a cruel joke that LA Marathon finishers are forced to walk yet another mile to get to their parked cars after having just run or walked 26 miles. I would suggest airlifting finishers to their cars next year, or providing pedi cabs. OK, we'd settle for shuttle buses. Hello, LA Marathon planners! No one wants to take another step after stepping over the finish line!
OK, back to the race. This year, I was able to notice much more of my surroundings, since I didn’t have to stare at my feet the whole time to avoid large, lake-like puddles. We went through some awesome neighborhoods—Downtown, Chinatown, Little Tokyo, Thai Town, Hollywood, West Hollywood (where sexy cheerleaders in drag performed very unique cheering routines for us), Beverly Hills, Brentwood and Santa Monica. Los Angeles is infinitely more interesting seen on foot than seen from the freeway, which is where most people from L.A .seem to spend their time. And because of the pleasant weather, all kinds of peeps from the aforementioned neighborhoods came out to cheer us on, and offer us water, orange slices, bananas, energy bars, tootsie rolls and specialites from their local neighborhood restaurants. Bands played for us every few miles and DJs spun tunes in between the bandshells. Not surprisingly, we heard the theme from Rocky played at least 8 different times. Gotta love that, especially if you're a Philly girl!
But the best part of all is that the Concern Foundation for Cancer Research surpassed their goal of raising $100,000 to pay the salaries of two cancer researchers for a year, raising a total of $112,296.25. WOW! Our small 3-person sub-team of Deb, Cindy, and I (69,0000 Steps 4 Cancer), raised almost $8,000, thanks to Deb, our awesome team captain and extraordinary fundraiser, and to all of you who donated to this cause. Thank you again!
At last ...
Although I vowed that last year's marathon was my final one, and then vowed the same thing this year, who knows? Ha! Just kidding. The fat lady has definitely sung! I believe the song was "I Love LA"!
69000 Steps 4 Cancer teammates in Dodger Stadium suite
Here's the headline news about the LA Marathon: According to the Los Angeles Times, this year's marathon fell on what was "the stormiest day in race history." It rained the entire day. Poured. Torrentially. The Today Show stated that Los Angeles got "more rain in 24 hours yesterday than they received the entire previous month." Streets were flooded. Runners were walking. Walkers were shuffling. Hundreds of participants dropped out due to hypothermia. Yes, I finished the whole 26.2 miles. But it wasn't easy. Here are the gory details.
I should have realized from the start that any athletic event which requires a wake up time of 3:45am is probably not for me, being the non-morning person that I am. But somehow I managed to wake up, and with my teammates Deb and Ron, catch a 4:30am shuttle bus to Dodger Stadium, which was the starting point of the marathon. The three of us, along with 20 other members of Team Concern who had raised money for cancer research, were treated by CBS to a catered pre-race breakfast in a luxury suite at the stadium. Watching daybreak at Dodger Stadium was pretty awesome. Little did we know it would end up being the highlight of the day.
I knew even before I left Albuquerque that there was a 70% chance of rain predicted for race day. By Sunday, that chance had gone up to 100%, with chilly temperatures and gusty winds predicted as well. The weather conditions weren't ideal for a marathon,but we weren't too worried about it. After all, what's a little rain? We threw on extra layers of clothing (which we planned to throw off once we warmed up at mile 2 or 3), and plastic rain ponchos that Deb had purchased for us the previous day. The 99-cent hooded plastic ponchos were pretty fancy; many other runners opted for more casual outerwear and donned Hefty trash bags with a hole cut for their heads to keep them dry. Because of the rainy forecast, our small sub-team, "69000 steps 4 cancer" decided that we should run/walk the marathon, instead of just walking it, to speed things up. Having run 2 previous marathons myself, I knew full well that it takes a solid 6 months to train to RUN a marathon. OMG. I hadn't even trained to WALK in this marathon, much less run. I rationalized that walking's easy, right? Anyone can do it, can't they? Who needs training?
It started drizzling at about 7am, as the 20,000 runners participating in the marathon lined up at the start. No one even noticed at first, as our adrenaline made us oblivious to anything except hearing the the starting buzzer.
Team Concern marathoners at Dodger Stadium pre-race
During the first few miles there was intermittent rain. Most people threw off their extra "warmth" layers in these first few miles. I refused to even consider removing one piece of clothing, even the too heavy sweatshirt that I was planning to discard before the race started. It was chilly! By mile 5, the rain was constant, and the winds were blowing well over 10 or 15mph. By mile 10, it was a downpour, and the winds had picked up significantly. It was hard to stay dry because the wind gusts blew up our ponchos and blew off our hoods, so we got soaked everywhere. Our wet shoes and socks were the worst. They got heavier and more uncomfortable with every step. It was like walking with each foot trapped in a bucket of water. Miraculously, we kept up our run/walk routine, but at about mile 10 I started to "hit the wall", which is when racers start feeling weak as their stored glycogen is depleted. (Guess I didn't carbo load enough the night before.) I made it to mile 12, and then had my first fix of "gu" with an Advil chaser. "Gu", an electrolyte-restoring gel-like goop, is the darling of the running world. It comes in a little foil packet. You just suck the goop out, which allows you to eat while you run. It comes in tons of flavors and is similar to Gatorade, but in gel form. The stuff is amazing. Between the "gu" and the Advil, by mile 14 I was a new person, sloshing through the streets at breakneck speed.
By that point we had adopted a new teammate, Sean, who was doing his first marathon. He liked our run/walk pace, and so joined us for the rest of the race. Sean was wearing only a t-shirt and shorts. With no other protective clothing, he was totally drenched from head to toe. His cellphone, which he had put in his pocket before the race, was waterlogged and non-functional. We stopped at a med station so he could get a mylar sheath, which is what they usually hand out to runners AFTER the race to prevent chills. However, due to the weather conditions, they were handing them out along the entire route. All of us got one and wrapped it around us tightly.
By mile 15, the rain was a torrential downpour that never let up for the rest of the day or night. By this time it was impossible to avoid stepping in the puddles that had formed below us, as the streets were becoming flooded. Who said it never rains in southern California,anyway?? The winds were gusting to over 25 or 30mph now. Our hands were so cold and swollen that we could barely get the wrappers off the energy bars we had packed. My always upbeat friend Deb started skipping, to break up the monotony of running and walking, and soon she had a whole group of marathoners skipping behind her. Ron refused to skip with us, stating that under no circumstances should heterosexual men ever skip. We cheerfully disagreed!
At mile 20, we decided we were no longer going to even attempt to run. It was walking only from here on in. Getting from mile 22 to 26 was the hardest part of the race. By this time it was so windy that the trees were blowing sideways and the rain was pelting in our faces. The mile markers seemed to be hundreds of miles apart. It was getting hard to remain upbeat. I had hit the "wall" again, but my hands were too numb to tear open another packet of "gu" and no one else around me could manage it either. The rain had melted Ron's stash of Advil.
The medical stations along the route were crowded, but not just with the normal marathon ailments like sprained ligaments, twisted ankles, and dehydration. Hypothermia was a real concern. It was hard to stay warm at that point no matter what you were wearing. Everyone was soaked through and through, and was chilled to the bone. My legs were so stiff that they felt more like 2' x 4's than human limbs.
Crossing the finish line at 26.2 miles was not as boisterously joyous as it normally is in marathons (we were too cold, tired, and wet to muster the energy for shouts, high fives, and jumping up and down) but it was quietly joyous nonetheless. We made it!!! Incredibly, there were still lots and lots of people behind us. Before attempting to walk the half mile to where our car was parked (a cruel joke, no?) we went into a coffee shop to get hot beverages to warm us up. My teammates started looking at me strangely, and asking me, "Are you okay?" "What day is it?" "Do you know where you are?" I was fine, but apparently because of my extremely blue lips, very pale skin, lack of usual chattiness, they thought I might have hypothermia. Nope. It was nothing that a vanilla latte couldn't cure!
OK, you've heard the bad stuff. Here's the good stuff. I feared that because of the weather forecast, the marathon volunteers manning the water and medical stations along the route wouldn't show up. I was also afraid that spectators, who cheer you on when you are feeling tired, wouldn't show up either. They all did. Perhaps not as many spectators as would have normally been there, but the real troopers, the ones with umbrellas and raincoats and signs that said "Go Dad!", were scattered along the route. Kindly onlookers provided us with banana slices, orange segments, candy, and even food from restaurants that were on the route. Bands, protected by tents, played music for us at the main mile markers. We laughed at signs like "You are at mile 5. The Kenyans just finished mile 15." The Concern Foundation had a booth at mile 17 with an incredible cheerleading squad. The marathon route itself was fun, as it went through every well known area of Los Angeles, including Chinatown, Little Tokyo, Hollywood, West Hollywood (where scantily clad men in drag danced for us on a stage!), Beverly Hills, Century City, Westwood, Brentwood, and Santa Monica. I wanted to take photos of every area, of the runners, of the spectators, of my teammates and I, and of course of crossing the finish line. Alas, it was too rainy for any of us to even get our cameras out. And our hands were too swollen and not functional enough to work a camera until much later.
"69000 Steps 4 Cancer" teammates post-marathon
The best part of participating in this event, of course, was raising a significant amount of money for cancer research. Thanks to my wonderful friends and family, I not only reached my marathon goal of raising $1,000 for the Concern Foundation for Cancer Research, but actually DOUBLED the original goal by raising over $2,000. Our small sub-team "69000 steps 4 cancer" raised over $8,000. In total, Team Concern raised over $80,000 in donations from participants in the LA Marathon. Thank you all so much for your donations! The blue lips were totally worth it.
That said, in the future I may look for a way to donate to charity that does not involve walking, running or skipping 26.2 miles.
I somehow managed to become deathly ill on my very last night in Peru. It was the dreaded "stomach thing" again. Everyone traveling here gets it at one point or another. I've had it twice in six weeks, as have all my voluntario housemates and people I've traveled with. Milt, who flew here to visit Machu Picchu with me, and to make sure I actually came home from Peru, got it a few days after he arrived, despite brushing his teeth with bottled water and following all the suggested food precautions. Generally this is nothing that a little imodium won't cure. But what hit me on this last night was the "stomach thing" with a vengeance. It came on swiftly, relentlessly and violently, con mucha fuerza. I spent my last night in Peru camped out on the bathroom floor in a hotel room in Cusco, memorizing every floor tile. By the next morning, I was so sick I could not stand up. The problem was, I had not one, but two flights to take that day, one from Cusco (the airport closest to Machu Picchu) to Lima, then later from Lima to the United States.
I crawled out of the bathroom, which I had locked myself in six hours earlier, and knew there was no way I was getting on a plane in this condition. I just couldn't imagine camping out in an airplane lavatory for eight hours, and certainly couldn't fathom what the turbulence would do to my stomach. I told Milt to go without me, that I would fly home sometime in the future when my stomach stopped hurting. When Milt realized I was totally serious about spending the rest of my life on that bathroom floor, he sprang into action. After all, part of his mission here in Peru was getting me home. He dressed me, packed my suitcase and ran to the nearest store to buy me the Peruvian facsimile of Gatorade. Meanwhile, the hotel sent someone up to my room to administer oxygen, which they made me breathe for 10 minutes. Then they tried to make me drink something, anything—coca tea, Gatorade, water—to help revive me, as at that point I was completely dehydrated. But to no avail. I could not even keep an imodium pill down.
All I wanted to do was to lay down on the cool bathroom floor again, next to my new best friend the toilet, but no one was having any of that. Milt practically carried me downstairs, and handed me three or four plastic bolsas, which he had thoughtfully confiscated from our hotel, for me to use as barf bags. Upon our arrival at the Cusco airport, no Spanish translations were necessary. The staff from LAN Peru Airlines took one look at me, promptly put me in a wheelchair and rushed over an oxygen tank for me. Then they wheeled me to the plane. OMG, was this really happening? Aren't I still too young to be pushed through a busy airport in a wheelchair with an oxygen mask over my face?
Despite their efficiency at keeping paying customers like me alive, LAN Airlines does have a track record of removing really sick people from flights before takeoff. Milt, having heard horror stories about this, kept propping up my limp-as-a-ragdoll body in my airplane seat after we pre-boarded (being in a wheelchair has its perks), and lifting up my lolling head, begging me to smile and look happy every time the flight attendants walked by my seat. I tried to tell him that if anything were to give away my true condition, it would be the unattractive pale green color of my skin, not whether I was smiling. But at that point, my words were coming out slurred, so I'm not sure if he understood. I made it through the 1 hour flight, clutching my barf bags for dear life. I spent my last afternoon in Lima sleeping in a dark hotel room until it was time to catch the next plane, not having enough energy to even go outside to give my beloved city of Lima a last look, or a proper goodbye.
I was still feeling shaky as we headed to the airport for our flight to the U.S. I slept for the entire eight hours home, something I have never done before. Milt kept checking to see if I was still breathing. I still couldn't look at food, even though I hadn't eaten in almost 36 hours. This isn't the method I would recommend for losing a quick 10 pounds overnight.
This was NOT, needless to say, how I wanted my last memory of Peru, the country I had fallen in love with, to be. No one wants to remember leaving anywhere in a wheelchair, with an oxygen mask on, in extreme pain, convinced she is going to die. I cannot allow myself to remember my goodbye to Peru like that. So, I will remember my farewell in a different way. Perhaps whatever brought on this illness the day I was to fly out of the country was telling me that it wasn’t time for me to leave Peru yet. Perhaps I was meant to stay longer. Perhaps I still had unfinished work to do here. I don't know. It's a nice thought. Whatever it was, I have made peace with it, and the less-than-perfect ending to my mission will in no way tarnish my feelings for this wonderful country, or my feelings of happiness and pride in making a small contribution to the community of Villa el Salvador during my short stay here. In the words of my seatmate who got sick in our tiny plane in Nasca, "It's all part of the experience."
I received an amusingly large number of responses from many of you after I mentioned in one of my first emails that Peru is the world's second largest producer of cocaine. Here are more facts on that subject.
Peru is one of only two countries where it is legal to cultivate coca. The country grows about 56,000 hectares of coca, and can produce about 400 metric tons of cocaine.
Cocaine is the second most popular illegal recreational drug in the U.S., behind marijuana. The U.S. is the world's largest consumer of cocaine, accounting for 50 percent of the world's annual consumption.
The U.S. has spent roughly $1 billion in Peru since the year 2000 on anti-drug efforts. The result? A net increase of 18% in land here used for drug crops. Back to the drawing board, Washington.
According to Peruvian sources, 1 gram of cocaine that would cost between $80 and $120 in the U.S. would cost between $5 and $10 here in Peru. And, it is pure, not cut, like it is by the time it arrives in the U.S. There is a test, involving plain household bleach, that can determine how pure your cocaine is. Most drug dealers or addicts are familiar with this test. Sorry, amigos, but I was sworn to secrecy on the method.
Drinking coca tea (mate de coca), an infusion made from the leaves of the coca plant, is a popular remedy for alleviating altitude sickness, which many tourists get when traveling to Machu Picchu, Peru's most popular tourist destination. Chewing on the actual coca leaves themselves is also a well-known remedy. This method of consumption has been practiced for many centuries by the indigenous people of Peru. I have attached a photo of a coca leaf.
Drinking coca tea or chewing on coca leaves does NOT give you the same high as cocaine, although it will give you a mild stimulation and mood lift. However, you should be aware that you WILL test positive for cocaine if you are subject to a drug test after using these remedies. It is best to refrain if you will be looking for a job after your vacation to Machu Picchu!
Peru has the highest navigable lake in the world, Lake Titicaca in Puno. It sits 12,500 ft. above sea level.
Peru has the two deepest canyons in the world, Colca Canyon and Cotahuasi Canyon. They dip down 10,600 ft. and 11,000 ft. respectively.
Peru has the second highest peak in the Americas, the mighty Huascaran, which rises to 22,200 ft.
Lima, Peru, is the second largest city in the world that is located in a desert, after Cairo.
Annual rainfall in Lima is 0 inches. It NEVER rains there. And I thought Albuquerque, with its mere 8 inches a year, was dry.
The world's longest river, the Amazon, starts in Iquitos, Peru. Iquitos is the gateway to the world's largest and most diverse natural reserve, the Amazon rainforest.
With a population of 400,000, Iquitos, in the Amazon rainforest, is the world's largest city that cannot be reached by road, only by water or air.
Sixty percent of Peru is jungle, or selva. Most of Peru's Amazon remains unexplored, and hence has some of the best untouched rain forests anywhere in the world.
Should you decide to explore the unexplored Peruvian selva, make sure you get vaccinated for typhoid, yellow fever and malaria. And be sure to bring LOTS of bug repellent, with at least 30 percent DEET. I can always spot tourists who have recently been to the jungle by the huge red welts all over their arms and legs!
Machu Picchu, the most famous archaeological site in South America, is the iconic symbol of Peru. It is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, rubbing elbows with India's Taj Mahal, Rome's Colosseum and the Great Wall of China. It was discovered in 1911 by Yale University historian Hiram Bingham, who, incidentally, was the role model for the Indiana Jones’ character in films like Raiders of the Lost Ark"
In Villa el Salvador, a shantytown which is one of the poorest neighborhoods in Lima, there are hostels, or hostals as they are called, everywhere. Naturally, there are hostels all over Peru for travelers and tourists, but it struck me odd that there were so many in Villa el Salvador. I mean, how many touristas would want to stay in one of the worst parts of a city, where it is dangerous to go out after dark? When I inquired about this, I was told that the ubiquitous hostals in Villa el Salvador are not actually hotels as we know them, but places where men and women go “to have a private moment." Ah ... comprendo. All of these hostals have signs in their windows advertising their prices, which I now understand are hourly, not nightly, rates.
Hermana Jacci explained to me that there are two reasons for the success of these numerous hostals. There are sometimes so many people living in a home in Villa el Salvador, often in only one or two rooms, that married (or unmarried) couples have no private place to go to be together. The hostal serves as their private place. The other reason for the hostals is they provide a place for married men to take their amante, or lover. Peruvian men, she noted, are not known for their fidelity, much to the chagrin of their wives. Unfortunately, unfaithfulness among married men here men is so common that wives have practically come to expect it. Peruvian men themselves have confirmed that this is true, but have assured me that the “chauvinistic” society here is improving. I'm glad to hear that, although I'm sure it will take a while to change social mores that have been around for so long.
But that's not to say that married men with a wandering eye have cornered the market on amorousness in Peru. ¡Al contrario! Peruvians are the most affectionate people I've ever met. Public displays of affection are readily exhibited and highly encouraged here. Even the statues love a little PDA (see photo). Couples walk hand in hand, arm in arm, down the street, nuzzling each other on street corners, on buses, in movie theaters, and at the supermercado, oblivious to their surroundings. (At least now we know there's a hostal available for them in Villa el Salvador, should they need a room.) Even friends display more affection toward each other than I am used to.
Which brings me to one of my favorite things about Peru. When Peruvians greet each other, it is always with a kiss on the cheek, a hug and a greeting of "Buenos dias,” “Buenas tardes,” or “Buenas noches,” depending on the time of day. This ritual applies not only to good friends, but also to people who have never met before. When I first arrived here, this custom surprised me, as I was not used to kissing, or being kissed by, people I didn't even know. What happened to the polite all-purpose handshake? But in about no time flat my surprise turned into delight, as that sort of affection makes you feel immediately welcome, especially when you are clearly an outsider like myself. I have kissed and hugged more people than I can count since I've been here. (Kissing 100 abuelos hello and goodbye three days a week is practically a full time job in and of itself!)
This tradition is yet another thing that makes Peru so special. As far as I'm concerned, every country should adopt it.
The question I received most frequently from all of you in response to my e-mails about the Los Martincitos program in Villa el Salvador was "How can I help?" I truly feel blessed to have friends who are so eager to help those who are not as fortunate as we are, even if they live 5,000 miles away.
I had mentioned previously that it is not recommended to send supplies or donations directly to Los Martincitos, because of the unreliable postal service in Peru. I have since learned that there is a website, which was started by Sister Jacci's niece Marianne Boyle, whose purpose is to raise money for Los Martincitos program. In Ms. Boyle's own words:
"Two years ago, my daughter and I traveled to Peru to perform service work with my aunt, Sister Jacqueline Glessner, a Catholic nun, who lives in Villa el Salvador, a shanty town of some 500,000 residents outside of Lima. I returned from that trip feeling like I wanted to help "her people" in any way possible. After all, it was nice to travel to the area and assist personally, but what these people really needed was money to purchase life's necessities: food and medicines, shelter and clothing."
The website address is via-villa.com. If you'd like to get in touch with Marianne directly, you can e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org. She can also receive checks at her address in NJ, which she then deposits into a joint bank account she shares with Sister Jacci, who is able to access the funds in Peru and use for the program. All money donated goes directly to Los Martincitos; there are no administrative costs, or middle men. Her address is:
Mrs Marianne Boyle 18
Flemington, NJ 08822
There is also a link on the website to a program called Adopt a Grandparent, or "Adopta un Abuelo", another website that helps the Los Martincitos program. That website address is adopt-a-grandparent.org.
Francisco has just had his third stroke and is thought to be beyond rehabilitation. When we visited him, he clearly knew we were there, but was unable to communicate with us, as his speech and most of his movement had been affected by the stroke, except for movement in one arm. No communication was necessary for us to know that he was miserable. He so wanted to talk to us, and yet all that came out of his mouth was unintelligible sounds. His daughter (his wife was in the kitchen and didn't seem to want to talk to us) told us that the night before, he had made a hand signal across his throat indicating that he wanted to die. Hermana Jacci told him firmly it was God's decision when he would go, and he had no say in the matter. He cried when we left, and I did too.
Although Francisco was still able to attend the program at Los Martincitos after his first and second strokes, he is no longer able to attend because of his deteriorated condition. We now go to visit Francisco on a regular basis, since he cannot come to us. We talk to him and even try to joke with him, but it is difficult for him to respond. We believe he is comprehending because he squeezes Hermana Jacci's hand, and gesticulates wildly with his good arm when he doesn't agree with something, or wants to make a point.
Perhaps Francisco will improve, and will be able to attend the program again someday. If not, I pray that God intervenes and grants him his wish. No one should have to suffer, through no fault of their own, a life they cannot bear. Vaya con Dios, Francisco.
Petrona, one of our abuelas, lives with her daughter and son-in-law. Her son-in-law is abusive to her, but her daughter is unable to do anything about the situation. One of Petrona's legs is very swollen, and she doesn't know why. My voluntaria friend Margaret from Ireland, who is a nurse, is on this visit with us. She thinks Petrona has some sort of infection, possibly cellulitis, and should see a doctor immediately. However, it is very painful for her to walk so she will need to figure out a way to get to the doctor.
While Hermana Jacci discusses the situation with Petrona and her daughter, I catch a glimpse of a little girl peeking out from behind a door. It is Petrona's granddaughter. I go over and try to talk to her in my broken Spanish. She is wary of me, and won't talk to me or even smile, but she agrees to have her picture taken. She begins warming up to the camera, and proudly shows me her prized possession, a Barbie backpack, which she insists be in the photo with her. She finally manages a slight smile after I have taken several shots.
This niña bonita was a bright spot in my day. Perhaps I (but more likely my camera) was a bright spot in her day too.
My camera serves an amazing function here in Peru, allowing me to communicate with people with whom I otherwise I would not be able, due to language or cultural barriers. It has become my most valued possession, and I keep it with me at all times. Thank you, Dad, for the best birthday present you've ever given me.