Across the Andes to Huancayo, Peru

By Erin Hancock

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Huancayo is a city east of Lima in the eastern foothills of the Andes. High elevation, low tourism and lots of real-Peru living to be discovered. We made Peru home base for the better part of a year. Although Huancayo is a little-known city to tourists, 300 000 Peruvians make it their home. The city is fairly spread out and although a lot of activity happens around the main plaza downtown or the Plaza Real (the shopping center), every street has some stores and restaurants and an occasional market.

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It takes about 7 hours by car or bus to cross the mountains from Lima on the coast to arrive in Huancayo. Cruz del Sur provides a great experience. Slow and careful driving, meal included, personal video screens and reclining seats makes a long ride into a doable situation.

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The views throughout the mountain ride are definitely worth the gaze.

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There is a Tuesday market a block from our apartment in the El Tambo area of the city where one can get all of your wares and supplies. There is also an extensive Sunday market stretching across more than a dozen blocks on Huancavelica Street that offers everything from wool products to leather boots and herbs from the mountains.

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Like any place, friends make a place feel like home. We were able to connect with locals and foreign volunteers too. And we found or made our entertainment.

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Karaoke.

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Concerts.

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Discos and dancing.

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Parties.

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Even themed parties….like St. Patrick’s Day (a first for many).

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Music.

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Working out.

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Ask a local and get a cab about a half-hour outside of the city for an afternoon of paintball.

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You may not find yourself breaking bread with your friends (although bread is available….carbs are easily accessible), but Peru is known for good eats. Anticucho is a popular post-disco food (cow heart BBQ’d on skewers). Ceviche (marinated fish) is a popular dish across the country. You may remember cuy, another Peruvian favorite (guinea pig), from my Easter post.

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And take in a meal at a local restaurant for very little money. Like Chanciduende (pork sandwich shop) near the main plaza.

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Huancayo has been a liveable city and a great place to call home for a year. And to spice things up, we were able to explore beyond Huancayo too.

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More details and photos of nearby destinations:

La Merced (the jungle)

Huantapallana glacier

Waterfalls of Huancaya

Tarma in the mountains

 

And further away in Peru, and worth the trip:

Machu Picchu

Colca Canyon

Poor Man’s Galapagos and penguins

Beyond the Fringe – Buffalo’s Infringement Raises the Bar

By Erin Hancock

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(Floyd from Nova Scotia doing some original songs in East Coast style – folk, storytelling)

If you have followed the history of the Finge Festival, you understand the roots are a sort of “take back the arts scene and DIY”. However, as the Fringe Festival has become more and more corporate and exclusive, some great community organizaters have initiated what is known as the Infringement Festival. It is truly DIY, everybody can participate and the community is going to be rocked by the talent and treasures presented during the fest. Montreal, Buffalo, Brooklyn and Hamilton are currently cities that hold annual events but others are welcome to borrow the model and make it their own. Read how here: www.infringementfestival.com/

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Even I got in on the festival with my first slam poem and a couple covers.

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(Open mic at Wondermoth, Nickel City Housing Co-op)

Since this past summer’s Buffalo Infringement Festival (July 28-August 7, 2016) was my first, I’m going to share some highlights. That said, I’m timing my post to fall before the Montreal Infringement coming right up on November 15-20 in case you get jazzed about what you see and want to book your travel to Montreal to take it in for yourself. Of course, you’ll get the local flare (i.e. not a replica of what you see below), but quality, diversity, and sheer enjoyment is darn near guaranteed.

The highlights…

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“Buffalo Car Plays” was a lively story performed in 4 scenes, each taking place in a different car in a parking lot. The actors sat up front and the passengers watched from behind. The story fit together, no matter which car you started in and those who attended were left debating about the mystery (whodunnit).

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David Adamczyk not only committed hundreds of hours to making the festival take off, but he plays a mad violin and could be seen in parks, churches, cafes and everywhere in between.

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“Tuesdays and Sundays” was a stunning 2-person performance with the gorgeous backdrop of Kleinhan’s Music Hall.Sundown Theatre and Space in Point did a phenomenal job putting on this play. I cried!

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Donovan King, the person responsible for bringing this incredible festival to Buffalo, offered a fun and incredibly informative session called “WTF?! What the Fringe” which gave the history of the Infringement Festival movement. Donovan is heavily involved in making the Montreal festival tick too.

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Shakespeare in the Parking Lot?! Oh yes. Costumes galore and a “die off” competition took over Allentown one evening. Anyone could participate.

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Paul Kozlowski under the name Yorgi George’s Honey Pot Players offered some of Buffalo’s best street performances. Between the accordion, mini piano, Spanish guitar stylings and a brilliant little hand-wound music box (he hand-punched the tunes himself – original creations), we were all captivated.

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I caught more than a few fire spinning shows. It’s hard to capture this properly in photo form, but this truly lit up our week. Ooh…ahhh…that was on a loop the whole time. Majestic.

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Kerry Fey with her spicy messages and folk tune flirtations is always entertaining to witness. Big smiles, bold lyrics and lots to think about. Plus wings.

If you haven’t penciled the next Infringement Festival into your calendar, do it now. Turn off the world and turn on the infringement. You won’t regret it. And get the details on Montreal’s events November 15-20 here.

 

Pleasant and Punchy Pittsburgh, PA

By Erin Hancock

You can pack a lot into Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in a weekend. The city known mostly for its sports teams and conservative attitude has a whole lot more to offer than you’ve maybe heard. My first visit was a memorable one. Here are the top 5 things that punctuated my worthwhile weekend in Pittsburgh. (And thanks Dan for a great reunion of old friends!)

1. Mattress Factory Modern Art Gallery

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Typically it’s nice to check out the local museum or gallery while traveling simply for the cultural experience, but this one was all fun. The quirky exhibits come one after the other with a consistent hint of the unexpected. The Greer Lankton room (below, right) “It’s all about ME, Not you” is something to see. The American artist was born male and transitioned to female at 21 years of age which apparently played into her focus on feminine images, glamor, dolls and the like. The room is meant to represent the Lankton’s Chicago apartment – full of intricate handmade dolls, tributes to Jesus and Patti Smith and lots of trinkets.¬† Take time to catch all of the details. Plan your trip to the Mattress Factory here.

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2. Fill Your Belly with Fine Foods then have Cocktails and Conversation

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Cure is known best for its Medditerranean flare, delicate meat options, and extensive wine menu. That said, we enjoyed seafood and veggies and had a superb meal too. For a reasonable price tag you can order a tasting menu that brought smiles to most of those seated around us. Plan your visit.

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Whether you identify as hipster or not, you can find tons of great places to enjoy a cocktail that you maybe have never tried before in a funky atmosphere.

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The Livermore in East Liberty, with stellar and creative bartenders Javed and Emily, does not disappoint. Order off their menu or throw a couple ideas out and they will concoct something truly unique. If you are peckish, try their handmade mozzarella in their Caprese as well (thanks Tommy, yummy). Plan your visit.

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Apteka, a Polish-inspired little gem, features vegan fare and cocktails that go down smooth. Don’t miss their perogies. From the first time we entered, we felt like we were visiting old friends. Neil, Claire and the whole crew know how to host guests! Plan your visit.

 

3.See the sights

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Take time to walk around the city. Enjoy the many bridges over the river, the subtle urban beauty and the architecture. Glance around as you walk to enjoy some colorful street art too.

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4. Three Rivers

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The Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio Rivers converge in Pittsburgh. Find a way to escape the city while staying in the city by getting on the river adjacent to downtown. We chose paddle boarding. Not far from PNC park, you’ll find a slew of boats as well as SUP Three Rivers and they’ll hook you up with a great time.

 

5. Furry Fun

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Pittsburgh, as conservative as it is, has become home to the largest convention of people who dress up like animals. Anthrocon is not just for people who partake, but also for curious onlookers who want to enjoy a colorful parade of elaborate costumes.

 

There’s also a decent nightlife with clubs like Spirit (which we caught on diva night….bring it on Ms. Houston) and Lucky’s. I’ve only scratched the surface of the fun to be had in PGH. See it for yourself!

 

If you liked this, you might also like highlights from New Orleans.

Climbing a Glacier in Peru – Nevada Huaytapallana

By Erin Hancock

Huaytapallana (Quechua for “a place where you collect wildflowers”) is a spectacular place to visit in the Peruvian Andes. Few places in the world provide the opportunity to actually climb up a glacier and walk to your heart’s content. This is one of them. It is the highest peak in the Andes. When you hike up, you cannot mistake that feeling of being super old (it’s just altitude). Pace yourself.

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Adrenalina Tours offers daily excursions to the glacier leaving from Huancayo. After a short drive, you arrive at the bottom of the mountain. Along the way, do not believe the tour guide when he says you are almost there. You are not. But keep going because it is definitely worth it.

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You’ll probably see llamas and alpacas as you scale the mountain. It’s a medium difficulty hike. Take breaks as you need them. It’s mostly the altitude that gets you. Take lots of water and food. It’s a 6-hour hike in total.

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The glacial lagoon is a glowing turquoise (above left). It serves as a focal point when climbing to keep track of how far you’ve made it.

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The guide explained that we should take a break before we took on the last leg of the journey. We had a little pit for a sacrificial ceremony for a good journey and a good life and giving gratitude to the gods and many others things it seemed. It entailed drinking pisco straight from a bottle that got handed around to everyone in the tour group, taking a couple drags of a cigarette and tossing some fruit and chocolate into the pit.

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Don’t worry about bringing the proper equipment for climbing. Your guide will simply leap up to the top of the glacier in one fell swoop (in rubber boots) then hold a simple rope and invite you to grab then climb up the 25 m up. When in Peru…

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It’s cold up there. A snowstorm came through while we were up on top of the glacier which made the climb down a little tricky with icicle hands. 100% survival rate though (ok, 1 broken arm). Marius and Heather tried the surfing approach with moderate success ūüôā

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This little guy on our trip saw snow for the first time. That’s right. That is a snowman…ish…type thing.

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Missing my European adventure buddies (Heather, Marius, Eliyse, Michelle and Bernard).

If you love glaciers, you might love the unique landscapes of Iceland. Check out some posts here: Iceland Tips and Info and Touring Iceland.

Into the Jungle, Peru – La Merced

By Erin Hancock

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La Merced is a warm, humid and sunny spot compared to Huancayo in the mountains. It is situated in the central east area in Peru, about 220 kms northeast of Lima between the Andes and the Amazon. You basically drive into summer as you head to the lower altitude. This region known as Chanchamayo boasts great coffee and cacao, as well as waterfalls, an abundance of fruits and lush green scenery.

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Have your coffee straight up or take it in liqueur form. Careful – it goes down way too smoothly! Nothing like Peru’s most popular spirit pisco (made from grapes) paired with some of the world’s best coffee.

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You can visit a pretty great market featuring most of the local products. If you’re ever heard of the really expensive coffee that is extracted from animal feces and apparently tastes amazing, you can buy it here. A small package runs you the equivalent of $40USD per cup. Enjoy!

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If you want to be on a river in the jungle, that’s easy. The scenery is limited as you are in a valley between mountains but it’s a nice way to spend some time at sunset.

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There are several different waterfalls to visit. If you want a longer hike, check out Bayoz.

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“El velo de la novia” is a great spot to swim and is accessible after a short walk. You can even sneak behind the powerful waterfall to a little cavernous hiding spot.

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There is a village demonstrating how the local indigenous people live. Once you arrive, before you know it someone has painted your face and dressed you up. It has to be one of the strangest and most pushy experiences into full-on cultural appropriation perhaps, but take it for what it is. It’s a little village doing their thing to make a living and showcase what matters to them. We were all up dancing. My friend Eliyse (from Estonia) even “got married” apparently in a ceremony. The community allows men to have multiple wives so she became the newest addition to his group. He may have been 50 years her senior, but they made a cute couple. Marius (from Norway) battled a snake. Ok, he just held it.

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The coypu is a local animal that looks similar to a beaver. He was friendly and allowed for lots of hugs.

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We opted not to swim in the rushing river, but the local children were more than happy to show us their bold swimming skills after jumping off the bridge and hustling to the shore.

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And then….the next week our friends in the jungle saw this in the same area…..

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If you’re falling in love with Peru, check out other posts like waterfalls in Huancaya. More coming soon – a glacier, Huancayo in the foothills of the Andes and Lima.

Waterfalls of Huancaya, Peru

By Erin Hancock

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Peru has it all Рmountains, waterfalls, deserts, highlands and everything in between. One Saturday morning Рbright and early- we (my European volunteer friends РHeather, Eliyse and Marius) hit the road from Huancayo to Huancaya. Along the way, we enjoyed some beautiful scenery. Huancaya is directly east of Lima in the Andes mountain range.

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Huancaya offers a series of waterfalls. From a distance they are something to marvel at. Up close, they’re even better.

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There are some stunning canyons along the road toward Huancaya too.

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We hit a hail storm which sounded intense and awesome on the van roof on the drive back to Huancayo. The hills were dusted in white. Although we were at high altitude, we weren’t expecting snow and hail, but we got it. Again, Peru has it all!

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If this interests you, check out Adrenalina Tours. More on Peru coming soon!

Medellin, Colombia

By Erin Hancock

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Medellin is perhaps best known for the notorious Pablo Escobar. However, these days, Medellin has cleaned up its act and is a relatively safe and enjoyable place to visit. There are lots of great tours to choose from. They are popular, so book ahead. You won’t see me reporting on any here because….well, I didn’t book ahead. Also, keep in mind most things are closed on Sundays so Sunday is a good day to walk around but not much else.

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Botero, one of Colombia’s most famous artists, has his work featured in this magnificent park. There are so many sculptures that the sheer number, as well as their notable curves, are worth visiting.

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There is a lot of other great art to see in the¬†Museum of Antioquia as well as lots of Boteros. There is even an interactive “kids” section” where you can put on costumes and reenact the paintings. You don’t have to ask me twice.

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If you want to get a better understanding of the city’s geography, take the cable car up the hill. The city is sprawling.

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The little village “Pueblito Paisa” at the top of the hill features craftspeople, folks doing traditional dances and a few neat restaurants.

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The gentleman selling jewelry made from old watch pieces had some great stuff (top right).

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There is an organic market in El Poblado, one of the city’s most popular neighborhoods. I spoke to a guy from California there and he said it’s the only place in the city where you can buy kale. So if you’re traveling and have a hankering for kale – this is your spot. At most restaurants you can get the bandeja paisa (either with meat or vegetarian) and it’s awesome – arepa (rice pancake of sorts), rice and beans, eggs, cheese, avocado.

If you want to see more of Colombia, check out previous posts:

Small Town Colombia – Mica

Cute Cartagena, Colombia

Colombia’s Sunshine Coast: Santa Marta and Tayrona National Park

A Colombian Gem: Salento

Bogota on a Budget

Thanks for tuning in!