Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Latin America Excursion

August 28th, 2008 Lima, Peru

Today starts the Latin America Excursion. My buddy Ryan and I will be traveling throughout South America and eventually north thru Central America all the way back to the States. This is something we have planned to do since training in 2006. We hope to take buses the entire way although we may be forced to take a boat or plane along the way.

Peace Corps gave us each approximately $800 cash in lieu of the plane ticket they would have bought to fly us home. We are hoping to maintain a budget of about $2,800 or less as we travel home. So, we are doing this on the cheap.

We are posting videos on http://www.youtube.com/. Search "ryanenelson" to watch videos of our trip along the way.

I will also be maintaining a blog at: www.latinamericaexcursion.blogspot.com.

I may not be posting as often as I did during Peace Corps but hope to write short summaries on each of the countries we visit as well as include any interesting anecdotes. I hope you join me vicariously.

End of Peace Corps Service

August 27th, 2008 Lima, Peru

After 2 years, 2 months and 4 days as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I am no longer. Today I had Close of Service duties at the Peace Corps Office. Basically, I had to take a bunch of surveys about my experience and take care of last minute stuff like health insurance.

I really enjoyed my Peace Corps experience and would recommend Peace Corps to anyone. The organization really takes care of its volunteers and as well as providing support, offers good technical training. Due to the economic crisis stateside, it may be a good time for individuals to join Peace Corps and ride out the turmoil across seas. Think about it.

I feel good about ending my service. I really do feel like I made a difference and gave hopeless people hope for the future. Furthermore, I learned alot during my two years and honestly believe the experience will continually provide wisdom as I live life. I encourage you to consider serving your country and your fellow man.

Friday, September 05, 2008

August 16th - 24th, 2008 La Encantada, Peru

Farewell Parties

This last week I had several farewell parties or despedidas. I am going to give a short recap of them all.

Saturday - Chulucanas Basketball Team

Everyone from the team got together to bask about all the good memories over the last two seasons. I made margaritas for everyone since they had been asking me to do that for two years. They presented me with a certificate from the Team Club with their autographs and some words from each of them. It was a good last team outing.

Monday - Dried Fruit Group

For lunch, the dried fruit group put together a great despedida. One time when I was the guest of honor at an event, I ate an entire female chicken. They love how much I can eat, so the group had been talking for the past few months about how they were going to serve me a huge plate. When it was time to eat, everyone else was served a modest plate with a little bit of chicken on it and rice and other traditional sides. Finally, they brought me an entire female turkey and placed it before me. I told them to quit fooling around and bring me my actual plate. They told me to eat as much as I could. I successfully ate half the turkey and could have ate more but felt bad that no one else was getting any turkey, so I pretended to be stuffed.

The president and some other members of the group each gave some words and we spent the rest of the day drinking and recalling jokes for the last two years.

Thursday - Artisan Association

Tonight the majority of the artisans came to my despedida as well as the directors of the NGO I have been working with for the past two years, Cite Ceramica. Just like the others, some people gave little toasts and we enjoyed a good meal and some beer.

Friday - Host Family

My host family invited all the extended family from the regional capital of piura that I had got to know over the past few years. We had a really good meal and when it was time to toast, it was really hard. My host sister and brother talked a little bit, but my dad had to stop midway because he started choking up and my host mom couldn't even say a word because she was balling. I started crying halfway through my speech but finished nevertheless. It was good to cry.

I really will miss my host family because they truly treated me like family and we had a wonderful two years together. I will always remember them and plan on staying in touch.

Saturday - Lunch with Mario's Family

Mario is definitely my best Peruvian friend and we have done alot together over the last two years. Since I stay in Chulucanas after my basketball games, I have got to know his family pretty well. His mom prepared a farewell lunch for me on Saturday. It was fun hanging out with the cousins one last time.

Saturday Night - The Big Blowout

My friend Reydelinda prepared a little meal for my closest friends before the big blowout. Afterwards, everyone danced to the hired DJ and there were a few planned speeches given by the dried fruit group and a member of my youth group. I gave a little speech thanking the town for their hospitality. We danced late. It was good to have the opportunity to say goodbye to everyone.

Sunday - Leaving

I left Sunday morning. Several people saw me off and my host family started crying again but I held strong. Everyone asks me when I am coming back. Since I am now a godfather (in the Catholic sense of the term), of my host sisters child, I will probably be back in like 2 or 3 years for the baptism. I will be excited to return.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Dried Fruit Sold Here

August 8th, 2008 Piura, Peru

Dried Fruit Sold Here

Last week we had sales dress rehearsals. Today was the big day. In the morning, Silvia went to Piura with me. First we visited an Art Gallery Center that also sells natural products from the local area. The owners were very kind and agreed to buy 14 bags of 100g each for the moment for personal consumption as well as to give away as gifts. They expect to buy from us the next mango season and encouraged us to continue to investigate the possibility of preparing mango jam as well.

Then we talked to the manager at a local grocery store. He told us that he carried dried mangos before and that there wasn´t very high turnover because the clientele doesn´t know the product. We offered to set up a sample stand and he said next mango season we can maybe give it a try.

Later that evening I met up with a youth named Cesar after his daily classes at the local Art Institute. We made the sales pitch at a local chocolate and candy shop. They were very excited about the product and told us they used to dry mangos themselves and that they sold well but it was just to labor intensive. So they agreed to buy the rest of our stock (44 bags of 50g each) and asked us to return once production began again.

I think this project has been a real success. In order to produce the 3.6 kg of product we just sold we used one case of fresh mangos which sells for S/. 10. We sold the value added product for S/. 125.60. Most of the cost of the product is mango which we buy from ourselves and labor which we provide. So basically the entire difference is profit we are earning. Thus the group just earned about 12 times as much per case of mangos then they used to.

Hopefully, they really take initiative and continue to expand the project. If you would still like to buy product, my mom still has some in States. Its $2 a bag plus $4 for shipping up to 5 bags. Just email me.

Sales Dress Rehearsals

August 1st, 2008 La Encantada, Peru

Sales Dress Rehearsals

Last week I taught a lecture on the basic principles of sales. Before leaving for Lima, I left homework assignments for the potential sales candidates. They each had to prepare their sales presentation, which they would practice during a sales dress rehearsal today. It went really well. Each youth made his/her presentation and then we as a group offered constructive criticism. Afterwards, I made a presentation. Everyone commented on the difference and then was given a second chance to make their presentation. Then we elected two of the five candidates to accompany me to Piura the following week for a real sales run.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

No Surgery!

July 31st, 2008 La Encantada, Peru

No Surgery

Dr. Jorge called today to inform me about my knee and the results from the MRI. Apparently the meniscus in my right knee is damaged but is not torn, so I don´t need surgery. Unfortunately, there really isn´t anything I can do to make it better. It practically has to get worse before I can then get surgery which will make it better. Got that? Alright. So no surgery, which is great and means full steam ahead with La Carrera Asombrosa (The Amazing Race) around South America.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Waterfall Trip

July 25th – 29th, 2008 Department of Amazonas, Peru

Waterfall Trip

Supposedly 5 years ago a German tourist was hanging out drinking in a bar with some locals when he heard of a mystical waterfall nearby. He wondered why no one ever went there when the locals informed him that it was guarded by duendes or elves. So he told them to round up their bravest men because they were going to make a trip. When he arrived he found the supposed duendes, big monkeys the size of small humans. Ever since, the waterfall has become a bit of a tourist attraction although the number of tourist who visit it is very slim compared to most other tourist attractions in Peru.

July 28th is Peru´s Independence Day so Peace Corps gives us a couple of days off because no one does anything for several days besides sit around and drink. So we headed out to Chachapoyas to discover the waterfall for ourselves.


This morning we got up and did a few errands before hopping on a bus to Chiclayo. There we said good-bye to Steve and Julia because we probably won´t be seeing them again before everyone heads their separate ways. At 6:00pm we boarded the bus for Chachapoyas. Sometimes these bus rides can be like 12 hour long roller coaster rides so we popped some Dramamine for motion sickness and woke up around 5am to the darkness of Chachapoyas. After settling into our hotel rooms and catching a nap we headed to one of the largest sites of ruins in Peru: Kuelap.

These ruins are actually older than Machu Picchu and were built by a civilization older than the Incas, the Chachapoyanas. The rocks weren´t as finely cut as those in Machu Picchu but the ruins were still impressive nevertheless. In some ways it was cooler to be here instead of Machu Picchu because it wasn´t overrun by tourists. The site has a lot of work to do because they have only recently discovered these ruins and don´t know much about them. Around 4pm we made the 3 hour hike back down the mountain.

Catarata Gocta

According to National Geographic, Gocta is the third highest waterfall in the world. There are two steps to this waterfall. The first fall is 120 meters and the second is 650 meters or 2529 feet in total. So Sunday morning we headed out to a town called Cocohuayco. From there we hiked 2 hours to a small village called San Pablo where we grabbed a quick lunch and contracted a guide to take us to the waterfall. The path was pretty well marked on this side of the waterfall and the scenery was beautiful.

The guide was supposed to take us to the area between the two waterfalls and show us the path on the other side but frankly this guide was pretty bad. She abandoned us early because it was getting dark and she didn´t have a flashlight which we were told she was going to bring so she could get back. Later we would learn there were problems with this guide and the agency was thinking of dropping her.

The waterfall was absolutely beautiful and mystical. The boys set up the tents and worked on making a fire while the girls took a dip. The fire was nearly impossible to get going because we were working with wet wood because it had rained a good half hour during our hike. Eventually we got a fire going which we huddled around and roasted marshmallows. When the girls returned, they kept the fire going while we guys immersed ourselves in what had to be water very near 32º. The water is pretty much a mist by the time it reaches the base and creates a cold blanket of air surrounding the nearby area. The weird thing is that after submerging, you actually feel warm once you get out. I guess it is so cold that it shocks the body into some kind of warmness. Or maybe its just hypothermia.

We spent the rest of the night camping, although not necessarily sleeping because the tent was rather crowded.

Second Fall

There are approximately 150M between the first and second fall, so this morning we hiked over to the mouth of the second fall. Ryan and I ventured out to some boulders to get a good look of the fall. There was one rock which pretty much hung over the edge and would have proven the coolest picture ever. Although it looked feasible to get to it also seemed rather risky and we decided mom would never agree that a cool picture was worth life.

After an hour or so admiring our Creator´s beauty we started the hike from the second fall down to its base. At first there was a decently marked trail but it soon dissipated and we found ourselves blazing through the jungle, hoping we were heading the right direction. At times we were hiking through swamp. Eventually we came into a clearing and from there the hike was much more agreeable until we reached the town of Cocobamba. Originally we were supposed to get here much earlier in time for lunch but due to some unplanned deterrents we were slowed quite a bit. It was already 4pm.

The Run

From here the hike was a supposed to be a 4 hour walk round trip. Everybody was famished because we hadn´t really ate anything all day besides the random candy bar and packet of crackers. Some were proposing that we camp the night here and then do the waterfall in the morning. Others wanted to spend the night in the hostal we had already prepaid and then come back in the morning. Meanwhile Ryan was talking to a local and inquiring how long it would take if we ran.

Supposedly it would take an hour to run there and an hour and half to get back. We hadn´t ate anything all day and had already hiked 5 hours that morning. But we would save $25 in transportation and then have the next day to do nothing. So while Ryan and I were packing a light backpack of water and whatever food we had left, Casey (our resident marathon winner) ventured over to wish us luck. She had a goofy smile on her face and I could tell something was up.

Brent, “You want to go to, huh?”

Smiling, “Yeah. I think I do.”

“Grab a headlight. We might be coming back in the dark.”

And that is how the run started. We began jogging to the base of the second fall. The path was very well kept because most tourists only make this journey instead of doing the 2 day hike. It was also the most scenic run I have ever done. At one point my glasses fogged up and I tripped, falling to the ground with a thud, scraped knees and knocking my glasses to the ground. Casey and Ryan turned around.

“Are you alright?”

“Yeah. Lets go. Don´t stop. Never Stop.”

Forty-five minutes later we were there. It was one of the most spectacular things I have ever seen and Ryan put it the best, “I feel like we´re in the middle of Jurassic Park or something.” We took a quick dip in the frigid pool which felt utterly amazing after a day of sweaty hiking. From here we returned before dark completing the trip in quick 2 hours and 15 minutes.

While waiting for our transportation back to Chachapoyas we chatted up one of the local guides. Apparently the path had only been constructed a mere 6 months ago and just 2 months the town got electricity. The agency in San Pablo contacted the agency here in Cocobamba and apologized for the problems with the guide from the first day. Finally, some very nice people from Lima in their mid-twenties gave us a ride back to Chachapoyas in their Toyota 4Runner. What a day.

Trip Back

This morning Hana and Michael got up early at 6am to head back to Cocobamba so they could do the same hike Ryan, Casey and I did the day before. Ella headed off to see some ancient statues in another region nearby. Ryan, Casey and I got up for breakfast and then did what we had planned all throughout our run: nothing.

Later we would hop back on a bus to Chiclayo and from there to Piura.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Piura 7 Despedida

July 24th, 2008 Piura, Peru

Piura 7 Despedida

A despedida is a going away party and I will probably be attending several of these over the next few weeks. Volunteers typically spend most of their time with the volunteers that live in their same department. Therefore it is tradition for the other volunteers in that region to throw a despedida for the outgoing volunteer class. We rented a retreat center in the department capital and had a bit of bbq / pool party. Everyone pretty much just hung out around the pool, playing pool games here and there. After dinner we put on a little music and started dancing a bit because it was still way to early to head to the club. Around 11pm we headed out to the club where we partied one last time as a group until around 2:30am, which is actually an early night for us. It was the last time I will probably see alot of folks. Although there are several volunteers I only see maybe once a month, everyone develops strong relationships quickly because we are going through the same things.

Close of Service Medical Exams

July 19th´ - 23rd, 2008 Lima, Peru

Close of Service Medical Exams

My service is coming to a close and therefore I had to go to Lima for some final medical checks. Peace Corps wants to make sure its volunteers are healthy before they are finished. Peace Corps covers all medical conditions incurred during service, for life. The medical exams include a routine physical and any other testing the physician and/or volunteer deem necessary. The routine physical includes testing 3 stool samples for parasites or other problems. Most volunteers results come back negative.

Mine did not. I have a little friend living in me right now. It is a parasite called giardia. I haven´t actually had any real symptoms and the parasite hasn´t bothered me at all. I took a couple of pills and supposedly should be parasite free soon. I guess we will find out when I return to Lima for the final check out.

My right knee has been bothering me lately so we visited the orthopedist. He thought I might have a torn miniscus so we had a MRI. We are still waiting the results and exactly what Washington will do about it. Peace Corps will pay for everything but this might mean my trip around South America will be canceled if they make me fly home early for surgery.

Saturday, July 19, 2008


July 18th, 2008 La Encantada, Peru


It is always fun to have visitors because automatically have a better understanding of the life you live. In the past month I have had quite a few visitors because everyone wants to see where I have lived for the last two years before I leave. Casey came in June and then last week Lizzi came. The other day Rachel, Hana and Cheridyn all came. And yesterday Julia and her mom and brother all made the trip. It was fun to have everyone and I am glad they got to see what my life is like day in and day out.

How to Make Sales

July 17th, 2008 La Encantada, Peru

How to Make Sales

Each time I leave a meeting with the artisans I always wonder if there is any hope for this country. Each time I finish meeting with the dried fruit business, I know that there is. Today was a great meeting. We have practically completed the formalization process and are now ready to start applying for a health certificate. I prepared a presentation on how to make sales. Each of the members participated and upon request invited their college age kids to participate as well. Everyone actively participated in the lecture and this coming week we are going to perform practice rehearsals. After that, I and the two best salespersons will be heading into the regional capital to attempt a few sales. Wish us luck!

Artisan Association Elections

July 11th, 2008 La Encantada, Peru

Artisan Association Elections

A year has passed since the association last elected a new president and all the other leadership positions. Tonight was the election for next year´s positions. Before the association held the election, I proposed that they did it a little different this year. I proposed that those who wanted certain positions give a little speech and then we would hold a secret ballot vote. Normally, a few people are nominated and then everyone is asked his vote personally in front of all the others. Unfortunately I was shot down because “we have always done it this way.” Talk about a lame excuse. I made this known and a couple people supported me but eventually they decided to do it “like they always have.” The problem is that it puts people on the spot to have to declare your vote in front of everyone, especially when they go down the line one by one. It becomes just a big political problem with personal friendships and pressure playing a big part. One guy stood up and said, “This is why nothing ever changes. We don´t really hold our leadership accountable to actually accomplish anything.” I really don´t know if there is much hope for this association.


July 10th , 2008 La Encantada, Peru


After I returned from the United States I tried to organize a community recreation committee. Unfortunately it never really happened. After talking to Dad, we decided the girls still deserved such an activity nevertheless. So about 2 weeks ago I bought a volleyball net and some volleyballs with the money Dad sent me. The girls have been playing 3 to 4 times a week and really to seem to enjoy playing. They would much rather play volleyball than make jewelry. So would I. So we only make jewelry on Wednesdays and play volleyball the rest of the week instead. They have been setting up the net by themselves and playing when I can´t due to prior commitments. If you only knew how big that is!

This week they wrote a petition to the community president requesting a permanent location to play volleyball. Dad gave us some money to put the posts in cement. They gathered signatures from girls all over town and should present it to the proper authorities this week.

Casey: The Speech Pathologist

July 8th, 2008 Piura, Peru

Casey: The Speech Pathologist

I think I may have mentioned that the infant in my house has trouble speaking. Pedro is now 2 years and 9 months old and still only speaks about 20 words max. The other child in our house is the same age and speaks like a 4 year old. Fortunately my friend Casey, a volunteer in the sierra, studied to be a speech pathologist in grad school and will be pursuing such a career when we returns to the States in December. So today my host sister met me and Casey in Piura with Pedro. We spent a few hours together so Casey could properly diagnose Pedro.
She said it could be aphasia which is the inability of the brain to produce or understand speech due to an injury or disease. She said he is way to young to diagnose this because some kids don´t start speaking until they are 3 ½ or 4. There are also many good signs: he understands almost everything, he uses lots of gestures and is very communicative in general, and sometimes uses 2 words together. So hopefully he is just taking a little longer to learn and will someday just explode with speech. My host family and family back home are both very thankful to Casey for being able to help us out.

Pacasmayo International Marathon

July 5th – 7th, 2008 Pacasmayo, Peru

Pacasmayo International Marathon

Mario is my counterpart but also my best friend in Peru. I have always tried to arrange for him to join me and the other volunteers on vacation sometime but it never worked out until recently. A couple months ago we signed up to participate in a 10K race on the beach of Pacasmayo. Two volunteers organized an international marathon there as well as other races. It was very well run and I think the community plans on organizing the marathon again next year.

Mario and I only trained for about two weeks before the 10K (1/4 marathon) race. Thus our expectations were not too high. In fact Mario was just concerned about finishing because he had never run 10 km in his life. We didn´t do so badly. I finished fourth and Mario not too far behind me. The three men who beat us are all part of a runner´s club in Lima. Mario said he wasn´t exactly sure where he got the energy to finish the race.

I had a couple of friends who ran the entire marathon. Pete had trained pretty extensively and ended up finishing third. My friend Ryan had only trained up to 13 of the 26 miles but crossed with pride still intact. Casey was the first woman to cross the line and received a cool trophy as well as a S/. 500 prize. Way to go Casey!

The rest of the weekend everyone kind of just hung out. Mario said it was a really cool experience. I am glad he got to join me.

Regional Government Project

July 1st, 2008 La Encantada, Peru

Regional Government Project

Originally I was assigned to the town of La Encantada to teach administration skills to a group of mothers who were going to run a restaurant. The regional government was going to build the restaurant but early in my service that project fell through. Recently the World Tourism Organization, part of the United Nations, approved a pilot project in La Encantada. It is a pilot project testing the ability to provide funds to small towns that have tourism potential. The WTO is working alongside the regional government to implement a development program and promote tourism at the same time. So for the last couple of months I have been consulting both organizations. Recently we have been giving presentations in the following themes: self-esteem and family gardens. We will also be training a mothers club in food preparation and training teenagers as tourism guides.