Archive | August, 2012

Exploring South America – Arequipa

17 Aug

Due to some odd flight pricing, Chris and I ended up in the Peruvian city of Arequipa for an extra-long layover on the way back to Paraguay. This town, the second most populated in the country, is known as the “white city” because it has a number of colonial-era buildings built out of a pearly white volcanic rock known as sillar.

sillar building

An example of a building built out of sillar

The most noticeable feature of Arequipa is the imposing volcano, El Misti, that looms in the near distance.  There are a number of other volcanic mountains in the area as well, making the city very photogenic.

volcano from airport

El Misti volcano greets you at the airport

el misti from lookout

The volcano from the Yanahuara viewpoint

more volcanoes

More volcanoes loom in this shot from the river

river in town

A river runs through the center of town, while El Misti chills in the background

The main plaza, the Plaza de Armas, is the heart of the city. It features a fountain, millions of pigeons, and lots of benches. One side of the plaza is dominated by the city’s cathedral. The other three sides are lined with two-story buildings that house stores and restaurants.

balcony view of plaza

View of the plaza from our lunch spot, on a nearby balcony

fountain and pigeons

Some pigeons loiter around the fountain

fountan with water

They turned the fountain water on about midday


The city’s cathedral is a massive structure, one whole city block


The cathedral from our lunch spot

plaza buildings

These two-story buildings ring the plaza

There are a number of beautiful religious buildings scattered throughout town, mostly made of sillar.

company church

The church of the company of Christ

La recoleta church

La recoleta church

Iglesia Santo Domingo

Iglesia Santo Domingo


Smaller church at the Yanahuara viewpoint


Outside the Santa Catalina monastery

There are also a number of lookout points throughout town, including the Mirador of Yanahuara, which provide nice views of the city and surrounding volcanoes.

Yanahuara viewpoint

Sillar arches at the Yanahuara viewpoint

el misti

A view of El Misti from Yanahuara viewpoint

el misti arch

El Misti through an arch at Yanahuara viewpoint

The city also has a lovely public park, which sadly appears to only be open on weekends (perhaps that’s why is manages to be so lovely?). It was frustrating to see such a pretty place from the wrong side of the fence. I think we spent an hour looking for an entrance before we found a sign with the hours.


This park is taunting me, looking all inviting.


At this point I’m baffled that no one is in the park, and that I can’t seem to find the entrance.


Evidently, only this dude gets to enjoy the park during the week.

Overall, the town is a great place to spend a relaxing day. I’ve also heard that it’s a good base camp for outdoor adventures on the nearby volcanoes or in the canyons not far from town (some of the deepest in the world). I’ll definitely be returning to explore the surrounding area.

See all my photos from Arequipa on Flickr.


Exploring South America – The Sacred Valley

15 Aug

Not far from Cusco lies the Sacred Valley, a treasure trove of Incan ruins and interesting villages. During our Peru visit, we made two day trips out to towns in this valley.

Sacred Valley

View of the mountains surrounding the Sacred Valley


Ruins at Ollantaytambo

Our first stop was Ollantaytambo, a fascinating town that was once the royal estate of an Incan emperor. The village was also a stronghold for the Incas during the Spanish conquest of the region. The Incan king, Manco Inca, was able to use the towns extensive irrigation system and high terraces to flood the plain and slow the Spanish advance.


Cool old streets are lined with irrigation channels that run all over town


A handicraft market sits at the foot of the main ruins

Today the town is best known as a gateway to Macchu Picchu. It is the starting location for most Inca Trail treks and is also home to the main train station to reach Aguas Calientes.

train station

Disembarking the train in Ollataytambo after our visit to Machu Picchu

The town is situated along the Patakancha River and features impressive ruins.

danger sign

Evidently this hike is high risk and we shouldn’t do it…


If you don’t want to pay to enter the main ruins, you can climb the cliffs on the other side of town to see other cool stuff.


These were granaries used by the Incas


A view of town from the granaries

ice cream man

This town also has a delightful ice cream shop (on the way to the train station). This fantastic Spaniard (from Mallorca) was working when we stopped by (twice in one day). He was quite the character.

Another day, we took a bike tour to Moray and Maras. The Moray ruins, which look like some sort of alien spaceship landing pad, are thought to be an agricultural crop laboratory. You can climb down into these interesting terraces, and the temperature changes dramatically between the varying levels.


Our first view of Moray


The sweeping terraces of the main bowl

Marnie at Moray

Marnie takes in the view at the Moray ruins

bike ride

Steve bikes from Moray to Maras, through some lovely scenery

Nearby are the Maras salt mines, which have been worked for hundreds of years. The salt is harvested by feeding salty water into ponds, then waiting for the water to evaporate. The process takes a few months. There are thousands of salt ponds here, each worked by different locals. It was a fascinating place to end our bike ride and visit to the Sacred Valley.

salt mines

A view of the main section of salt pools at the Salineras Maras salt mines

lady in mines

A local checks on her salt pools

There are lots of other interesting towns to see in the Sacred Valley, but Cusco was so seductive that we only saw these two. Check out my Flickr to see more photos of Ollantaytambo and Maras/Moray.

Young Entrepreneurs of Paraguay

14 Aug

 Since February I’ve been working on the planning team for a national business plan competition. The competition is part of my sector’s Young Entrepreneurs of Paraguay initiative, the goal of which is to help youth to start businesses all around the country.

Jep Kids

Goofy photo of all of the Business Plan Competition participants

As part of this initiative I taught a 3 month entrepreneurship class, called Build Your Dreams, at the local agricultural college. I had 7 students complete the course and 4 students complete business plans. Three of these students, Olivia, Erwin and Carmen, were chosen to participate in the national business plan competition.

Erwin, one of my students, before his presentation

The plan competition was held August 3 to 5th in Asunción. Thirty-four youth competed in the 3-day event, where they participated in activities and attended talks to help them prepare to start their businesses. All of the youth then presented their plans to a panel of judges in the hopes of winning seed money to start their businesses.

Carmen presents her plan in the finals

I was the marketing and communications coordinator for the event, which involved making a lot of collateral materials, making things look pretty, doing general promotion, and being generally helpful to the other committee members. All of the members of the planning committee were extremely pleased with the event, but I think I was especially happy, as one of my students, Carmen, won first prize! Carmen’s plan to start an organic lettuce business in my town was awarded over $1000 in seed funding. I’m excited to watch her business grow over the next year!

Oliva, Erwin, me and Carmen (first place winner)!

It was amazing to see the diversity, creativity and quality of the plans that the participants presented. I left inspired to teach more entrepreneurship classes in my site. I’m also excited to work on public relations and planning for the next step in the Young Entrepreneurs of Paraguay cycle, the business case competition, that will occur next summer.

See all of the photos from the event on my Flickr page.

Exploring South America – Cusco

9 Aug

Situated at 11,000 feet, Cusco is a city that takes your breath away, literally and figuratively. The former capital of the Incan empire, the city brims with beautiful churches, fascinating ruins and delicious food.

Amy above Cusco

Me from the Sacsayhuamán ruins, with Cusco below

The heart of the city is the Plaza de Armas. The massive cathedral dominates one side of the plaza, while the equally impressive Compania de Jesus church sits nearby. Two-story colonial-style buildings ring the plaza, providing lovely views from their balconies. The plaza is frequently the site of cultural presentations, both planned and spontaneous.

Plaza de Armas from Sacsayhuamán

View of the Plaza de Armas from Sacsayhuamán


The city’s cathedral dominates one side of the plaza

Church of the Company of Jesus

The Church of the Company of Jesus in the Plaza de Armas

Inca fountain

The fountain in the center of the plaza, featuring Manco Inca

view from starbucks

Impressive view from the Starbucks balcony on the Plaza de Armas (that’s my first chai tea latte in a year)

Kids dancing

A group of kids practicing traditional dances in front of the cathedral

Proceeding uphill from the Plaza de Armas is the San Blas neighborhood, home to delicious restaurants and a large portion of the city’s arts community. Wandering the narrow and often steep streets is quite an adventure.

San Antonio Chapel

San Antonio Chapel near the MAP art museum

typical street

A typical street in San Blas, steep and often featuring a staircase

Street of the seven little devils

The street of the seven little devils, atop San Blas

Chris and Amy Lookout

Chris and me at the lookout above the San Blas neighborhood

View from lookout

View from the lookout

Lookout park

The park and lookout in San Blas

Granja heidi food

Amazing vegetarian food at Granja Heidi restaurant

Aldea food

Delicious lasagna at Aldea Yanapay

Incan stonework

Intricate Incan stonework down one of the side streets

The main street in town is the Avenida del Sol. Along this route you’ll find Qoricancha, a monastery and church built atop the ruins of an Incan sun temple.

Avenida del Sol

Buildings along the Avenida del Sol

night church

The church at Qoricancha at night


Qoricancha sun idol on the back of the church

outside of ruins/church

Terrace view from Qoricancha


Archways inside the main building at Qoricancha

A short walk from the main plaza you pass under a lovely archway on the way to the San Pedro Market. This bustling market is full of food and handicrafts and is a great place to feel the pulse of the city.

Arco de Santa Cruz

The Santa Cruz archway

San Pedro Market sign

The main entrance to the San Pedro Market


Endless stands inside the San Pedro Market


Handicraft booth at the market

Amy Annette Juice stands

Annette and I enjoy juice from one of HUNDREDS (I’m not making this up) of juice stands at the market

Another lovely plaza, the Plaza Regocijo, is just one block off the Plaza de Armas. Overlooking the plaza you’ll find the Choco Museo, a museum and cafe dedicated to chocolate. My friend Annette and I took a chocolate-making workshop there. It was informative and delicious.

Plaza Regocijo at Night

Plaza Regocijo at Night


Plaza Regocijo during the day

plaza building

One of the buildings on Plaza Regocijo


A parade passes the Plaza Regocijo, as viewed from the Choco Museo balcony

Annette making chocolate

Annette making chocolate


My finished product: dark chocolate bars of different varieties

Looming over the city are the Cristo Blanco (White Christ) statue and the impressive ruins of Sacsayhuamán, which is pronounced something like “sexy woman.” This Incan fortress features enormous polished stone walls and spectacular views. A little further up the hill are the smaller ruins of Qenqo.

Cristo Blanco

The Cristo Blanco statue from below

Cristo Blanco

The Cristo Blanco statue from Sacsayhuamán

climbing to the ruins

Climbing up to Sacsayhuamán: a great way to see if you’re ready for the Inca Trail

ruins walls

The group enters the Sacsayhuamán ruins

us in door

Me, Annette, Steve, Betsy, Chris and a random dog, in the Sacsayhuamán ruins


The main open plaza at Sacsayhuamán

betsy with ruins

Betsy demonstrates the size of the stonework


Looking at the stone walls from the main plaza. Also: cool clouds.


A view of the ruins with part of the city in the background


The main area at Sacsayhuamán


Another area to explore at Sacsayhuamán, near the rock quarry


The ruins at Qenqo

Overall, Cusco delights with its vibrant culture, amazing food, and rich history. To see all the photos from Cusco and Sacsayhuamán visit my flickr page.