Category: languages

Salt mines and ancient nurseries

After leaving Machu Picchu, we headed back to Cuzco to spend a few more days with our dear friends Yuri, Roxi, and little Matthew.  It feels kind of strange calling them “dear friends” when I’ve only known them for a week or so now, but I really do think of them as such. They’re the type of people whom I fully expect to stay in touch with, and when they invited me to come back to visit with my husband after I get married, I actually think that that may realistically happen one day.  Bonus points for the fact that they had me pray my first ever prayer in Spanish! (a skill that, as it turns out, I would need to have when I translated for the medical missions trip a few weeks later ^_^.  But that was still in the unknown future at this point…)

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Anyway, back to the story. The first day back in Cuzco was pretty chill – we got back from Aguascalientes around noon, had lunch with the family, and then spent the afternoon doing laundry, writing, and just relaxing. Yuri and Roxi are so nice and friendly…every time they’re home, we have such nice conversations about anything and everything, and they’re always willing to explain unknown Spanish words or specific Peruvian slang to us :).

A view of the entire city center from the top of a giant statue:

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Cuzco is one of the only cities in Latin America to have TWO cathedrals in its main square

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The next day, Wednesday, Roxi drove us into town and dropped us off at the handicraft market in downtown Cuzco. We had heard that they have very fair prices for their wares, and indeed they did – some of the cheapest I’ve seen in all of Peru. While there, we both made friends with some of the vendors – Caro had one guy give her a little magnet as a gift, and I met a man named Cristian who offered to walk with us and show us the city later in the week. I ended up not calling him, because we left earlier than we thought we were going to, but I was fully planning on contacting him. He was a very nice guy; I really enjoyed talking to him. Particularly since, even though I knew he was a vendor, I didn’t get the feeling that he only wanted to talk to me to sell me something. He actually wanted to talk to ME. That’s rare in Peru.

In the afternoon, Caro and I split up. I decided to walk around and explore the city center and visit the museums and such. During my wanderings, I struck up conversations with a few other people…most notably Hector, an employee at one of the museums I went to. He told me lots of history about the city, and then we moved on to more important topics like his family, friends, and faith.  That is what I love so much about traveling.  It’s not the cool sights or exotic foods or amazing pictures.  It’s meeting people with vastly different backgrounds from my own and seeing what makes them tick.  Hearing about their lives.  Learning about their passions and preoccupations.  That’s what makes life rewarding – it’s not just investing in yourself so that you have a bunch of cool stories, but rather investing in other and hearing their stories.

The day after, we went to see the Andean village of Chinchero, the salt mines of Maras and the experimental agricultural fields of Moray. Even though the day was grey and drizzly, that was still one of my favorite days of the trip so far.

We were supposed to take a tour with a big tour bus. But they overbooked the trip, and so we ended up on basically a private tour – just us, two Australian siblings who are traveling the word together for an entire year, and our fascinating driver, Rolando Santos. That was a wayyyy better deal than the big tour bus. The Australians, Matt and Emily, didn’t speak any Spanish, so I got to play translator for them, while also just getting to know them better throughout the course of the day. I really enjoyed that. They’re fascinating people, and I really admired their willingness to uproot their lives for an entire year. I don’t think I could do it, though. This trip of five weeks is about as long as I can go of continuous travel.

So anyway, on to Chichero.  Peru is known for their artisan handicrafts that are extremely popular purchases among tourists.  But one thing that I hadn’t realized is that each individual village that sells such handicrafts has slightly different patterns and slightly different methods employed to make the brightly colored and intricately designed fabrics.  Chinchero is one such village.  When we got there it was cold and rainy, but they took us to covered awnings and gave us hot tea, so it was all good.  We got to watch a few demonstrations of how they make the fabric – how they clean the wool, dye the yarn, and weave the designs.  It was very interesting.  Definitely not something that you get to see in the States!

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Nothing particularly symbolic about this plant. I just thought it was cool 🙂

When we were planning this trip (I use the term “plan” quite loosely, as in reality very little of it was actually planned), I had originally wanted to go to the famous salt flats of Salar de Uyuni, in Bolivia.  The largest salt flat in the world, Salar de Uyuni is (I’m told) one of the strangest places you’ll ever see.  However, in the end we decided that there wasn’t really time for that on this trip (although they’re definitely still on the list!!), so the salt mines of Maras was kind of a compromise. Although actually quite different from Salar de Uyuni, they were still fascinating, nonetheless.

The salt mines are fed by a subterranean mountain stream that is comprised of over 50% salt. That in itself makes it very unique, as almost all other salt water comes from the ocean. The salt water is fed into thousands of different pools; the pools are then left so that the water can evaporate, and the salt is then harvested. There are 3 different types of salt harvested in Maras – white table salt, pink salt, and then salt used for industrial or medicinal purposes. The different kinds of salt all have to do with different levels of evaporation that the pools have undergone before being harvested. It was really a fascinating, truly unique place.

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They stretched on forever!!

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This is an example of how the mines were fed with salt water – water ran continuously through the troughs on the right. When the mines needed to be filled with water, the little gullies were cleared, and when enough water had filled into the pool, the gully was blocked with rocks, as it is now. They then allowed the water to evaporate from the pool so that they could harvest the salt.

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Another fascinating place, albeit completely different from Maras, was Moray. Thousands of years old, Moray is comprised of a series of terraced levels of earth. Somehow, each level has it’s own unique temperature – there is a temperature span of over 20 degrees between the top and bottom layers. The Incans used this area as an experimental agricultural field, to see which seeds grew the best in which climates (in the video below I said I didn’t know what it was for, but afterwards I went and found out). They also used it as a sort of nursery – plants of different ages were put in different levels, and grown there until they were mature enough to be moved and put into a regular field.

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It’s amazing to me how much diversity there is in and around Cuzco.  In a single day, we saw salt mines, traditional weaving, and ancient agricultural fields.  And we weren’t even starting to scratch the surface of what is in and around the city.  However, all good things must come to an end, and it was time to move on from Cuzco.  Yuri and Roxi had actually invited us to stay the weekend so that they could take us to see the ruins and Sacred Valley in the outskirts of Cuzco, but at the end of the day we decided that if we stayed there any longer, we wouldn’t be able to go everywhere in the north that we wanted to go.  And so, onward we went…and then the REAL adventure began!


Coming back from Busan on the train with Elizabeth last week, we started waxing nostalgic.  I asked her what she was going to miss most about Korea, and most looking forward to in America, and then she asked the same of me.  It was strange….both of us are really excited about returning to America, and yet with both of us, our lists of what we like in Korea are far longer than what we miss from America.  But I digress….

The point of that intro was simply to bring up a short story that made me laugh.  I was talking about my students, and how I would miss them.  “I’m really going to miss their outgoing-ness,” I said.  “Wait, outgoing-ness?  Is that right?  What’s the word I’m looking for?  Outgoitivity?”

Yeah.  Outgoitiviy.  That was definitely the word that I was looking for, lol :).  This is what a year of teaching English has done to my English.  I’ve also caught myself on numerous occasions dropping verbs and articles, just like my students do.  For example, I say “exciting” or “funny” all the time now, instead of “It’s exciting” or “It’s funny.”

Also, does “take a rest” sound strange to you people who have been in America this past year?  I remember thinking that it sounded strange when I first came here, but now I can’t for the life of me think of what a native English speaker would say in that situation.  Maybe “take a nap,” or just “go rest”?  **sigh** I have no idea.  I’m told, however, that this loss of one’s native tongue is a common side effect for teachers of other languages, so I take some comfort – albeit small – in that fact.

I’m sure my language lessons with Si-yeon don’t help.  Si-yeon and I have really kicked up the Spanish / Korean studying this past semester.  We meet every week twice a week for 2 hours, and do other homework and studying on our own during the week.  It’s been really helpful, and my Korean has improved by leaps and bounds.  But please, let me just explain to you really quickly what our study sessions consist of, so you understand why I’m so linguistically confused these days.

First, we correct each other’s writing – we both write at least one story in whichever language we are studying during the week, before class.  Then, we start on the flashcards.  I make flashcards written in Korean and English, and she writes hers in Spanish and English.  So I take her flashcards, and choose a Spanish word and make a sentence in Korean with it.  Si-yeon then has to say the same sentence in Spanish.  She then does the same thing in reverse with my flashcards, making a sentence in Spanish with my Korean flashcards, which I then have to translate into Korean.  (are you still with me? ;])  After that, we do guided dialogue.  We both have textbooks with practice dialogues in them.  So she takes my textbook, reads the Korean sentences, translates them in to Spanish, and then I say them back to her in Korean.  Then I do the reverse with her textbook.  After that we have a period of open dialog on a topic that one or both of us is studying at that time, first all in Spanish, and then all in Korean.

Whew!  It’s no wonder my brain is fuzzy these days!  A Peruvian guy, Alejandro, came to church last week, and I got to talk to him in Spanish for almost an hour.  On the one hand it was really fun – I still have a lot more of my Spanish than I thought I did after a year of no practice, and I had almost forgotten how I adore that language until talking with Alejandro reminded me.  On the other hand, though, I realized just how badly all of these languages have been mixed up in my head these days.  Almost every other sentence while talking to him, I would throw in a Korean or English word, and half of the time I didn’t even realize it.  I’m going to have to get better at mentally categorizing all of these languages, lol…

Well, I wish wish I had some pictures to show you, but things have been pretty quiet around here the last few days.  I’ll have some the next time though, I promise! 🙂

A Seoul-ful Thanksgiving

I went to Seoul this weekend to celebrate Thanksgiving.  And yes, I know that it’s a week early, but apparently in Korea this is when they celebrate American Thanksgiving.  So off to Seoul I went, and man, what a weekend it was!!  In the span of 2 and a half days, I met the American ambassador to Korea, got a private tour through the most visited museum in Korea, talked with some guys from Uzbekistan for nearly an hour – in Korean! – went to a new church, talked to a waiter in Spanish, had a Chicago deep-dish pizza, went West Coast Swing dancing, and got my Indian visa.  Let’s start at the beginning….So Saturday morning, I headed to the bus station bright and early – and by that, I mean 10:00 in the morning.  Which admittedly is not really all that bright and early, but saying “dim and mid-morning” doesn’t have nearly the same ring to it…anyway, I digress.  The 10:10 bus was sold out, so I got a ticket for the 11:00 bus, instead.  While I sat there waiting, 2 men who were obviously foreigners came and sat down next to me.  I couldn’t tell where they from, but I could tell that it wasn’t Korea.  They kept staring at me, so finally I decided that it would be less awkward if I started talking to them.  “Where are you from?” I asked.  “Oh, no English, English very very little.”  Great.  “어느나라에서왔어요?”  (same question,  in Korean).  Well, turns out that they did speak Korean, although I don’t know how they learned it – my Korean vocabulary skills were not advanced enough to ask.  But they were advanced enough to have nearly an hour-long conversation with them about other things – augmented by frequent queries to the English-Korean dictionary on my phone.  It was hard, and most of the time I felt like and idiot – but we were still communicating.  It was fun, I really enjoyed it :).

So I finally made it to Seoul, and met up with some of my friends and went to the Thanksgiving dinner.  This was an event co-hosted by the Fulbright office, the American embassy, and the National Folk Museum of Korea – the most visited museum in all of Korea, and also our venue for the evening.  It started off with a private tour of some of the galleries – the museum was already closed, so we had the entire place all to ourselves.  It was crazy.  Other events during the course of the evening included speeches from embassy and Fulbright officials, performances by both traditional Korean folk artists and fellow ETAs, and of course, dinner!!  The performances were amazing….but I’ve got to say, the meal was probably what made me the happiest.  Turkey, ham, cranberry sauce, candied sweet potatoes, stuffing, fruit, green bean casserole, pumpkin and apple pie, the works…I was one happy puppy :).  The only thing that was missing was my family.

National Folk Museum of Korea
Our adorable little tour guide
Traditional performers…they were sooo good
Yummy!! 🙂
ETA performances
They sang a traditional Korean folk song….or tried to, anyway 😀

Sunday morning I went to a church service with Leora.  The church, Julibee, is the largest independent English-speaking church in Korea…and it was awesome.  The worship, the sermon, the people, the building – all of it was wonderful.  I met up with my friend Dan for lunch, and we decided on a Mexican restaurant in Itaewon, the foreign district in Seoul.  The food was great, and the waiter spoke Spanish, which was even greater.  Ever since then, I’ve been listening to all of my Spanish music on repeat.  I love Spanish sooo much….I’m determined to not forget it while I’m here!!  Dinner was Chicago deep-dish pizza with Leora – they claimed to have invented the deep-dish pizza, which was a lie, but it was still good.

Leora is nothing less than adorable <3
I love my friends….
Jubilee church
Cardboard walls….so cool
Dan and I at “Los Amigos”
They said they invented the deep dish pizza….lies….

After dinner Leora had to head back to Hwacheon, but I was staying through until Monday.  So I made my way to the other side of town by myself, searching for a tiny little club in the corner of an alley.  The rumor on Facebook had it that this tiny little club had a West Coast Swing dance on Sunday nights.  So I got off at the right exit and started walking in the direction that I thought the instructions told me to go.  It soon became clear that that was NOT the actual direction I was supposed to go, and within a very short amount of time I was lost in the middle of Seoul.  I was about to turn around and just go back home, but in a last-ditch effort I asked a taxi driver to take me to the big wedding center that looked like was very close to the dance club, from what I could make out from the grainy, pixelated directions.  Well it turns out that I was right, and before I really knew what was happening I found myself in Tiffany’s Bar, watching people dance my baby, a dance that I haven’t seen in nearly 6 months.

Oh my goodness, I was in heaven.  Not only were the dancers incredible, but they were also all super friendly, and some of them spoke English, so I didn’t feel quite so alone and outsider-ish.  I finally had to tear myself away, for fear that the metro would close and leave me stranded on the opposite side of Seoul from my hostel (that would have been one EXPENSIVE taxi!).  But I had a blast.  It was definitely worth the lonely treck out there, and even the fighting off drunk people on the way back.  Don’t worry, it’s not quite as bad as it sounds…the metro was full of noisy drunk people on the way back, and the man sitting next to me happened to be so inebriated that he couldn’t sit up straight, and so he kept sliding and slumping over onto me.  It was uncomfortable and disconcerting, and I was certainly glad that we were in a public, well-lit place, but he got off before I did, and I didn’t have any more problems after that.

West Coast dancing….pure joy….

Monday was not quite so fun, but I suppose it was necessary evil to have fun later on.  I went to apply for my visa to India, so that I can go there during my Christmas break.  It took me a while to find the office, and I was tired and grumpy by the time I got there, but I finally made it ten minutes before my appointment.  I had a bit of a scare when my number was called – I was told that they don’t accept payment via ATM transfers, which is what I had done.  But because they had never actually said that on their website (and also, I think, God was with me), they decided to accept it in my case, and I am currently passport-less, waiting for my Indian visa to be put in and then mailed back to me :).

I finally made it back to Gyeongju late afternoon.  The rest of Monday was spent doing laundry, cleaning up, catching up on my blogs, and other sundry things like that.  But what I neglected to do is finish my lesson plan for tomorrow, so I suppose I should go do that.  Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!!  You are loved!!!