Going to Market in Cusco

Saturday, 25 May 2013
This market was actually outside of Cusco but very close and the name of it is San Pedro. Markets are one of my favorite parts of visiting a new city because this is where a visitor can witness culture and true daily interactions between locals. 

We stopped by on a weekday after lunch time and had free reign of the place. Our guide told us that indigenous people trade, sell and buy at this market and may not want their picture taken. We were to hold our cameras low and be inconspicuous if we wanted to take photos. The two ladies at the front entrance to the market were (I think) selling a corn beer home brew (see milky yellow liquid) but we didn't try it. 

Most of the ladies who work the market stalls are indigenous. This means they likely come from the Inca lineage but they'd never call themselves Inca. Instead, they are "peasants." You'll notice many are nodding off in these photos but it was just after lunch time and they usually get up before dawn to tend to their animals and prepare for the market.

The below picture is particularly interesting to me. A family from higher up in the Andes came to market to trade their coca leave harvest (1 large bag) for a bag of offerings that are suitable for the goddess Pachamama (Mother Earth - oversees harvest and planting). Here you can see the matriarch of the family negotiating with the stall owner...

After siesta the ladies woke and started back to work. This woman who is illuminated nicely by the light from outside works to clean green onions. 

I was particularly amazed by the massive kernels on the corn. Forgive me for not holding something up to show the size comparatively in the photo but many of the kernels were the size of dimes. This is of course used to make corn flour.

Highlights in Lima

Friday, 24 May 2013
James and his parents were going to Peru for a week and they invited me to go along (lucky!). Our first day began with a tour of Lima. The wealthy families in the city would construct large balconies on the fronts of their flats to show prominence. Some were pretty interesting and it is estimated that there are around 1,600 balconies in the historic center of the city.

Most of the balconies were built in the late 17th century. Now there's a program called "Adopt a Balcony" where families and businesses maintain and renovate those that are left attempting to keep them in tip-top shape. They certainly add interest to a downtown stroll.  

We then toured the Convento de Santo Domingo (a convent) that included a gorgeous chapel, crypts built into the foundation and an amazing bell tower. Our guide unlocked the entrance to the tower and we viewed it privately. The vistas from the top were breathtaking and we check out one of the bells that is circa 1500s. 

There's an insider tip about the bell tower: get there before 4pm so you can be sure someone is around to unlock the door to the stairs for you. If you're afraid of heights this is something you should skip. The five flights up are very steep. James and I walked around the outside of the tower when we finally got to the top to admire the 360 degree view of Lima.

Throughout our tour we learned about several interesting Peruvian cultural aspects from our guide. One centers around the Virgin Mary. Peru is a country that largely supports Catholicism. The Spanish influence is seen through the amazing churches they established but the indigenous people of the Andes believed strongly in Pachamama (translated roughly as mother world), a goddess who presides over planting and harvest. In the chapels often the Virgin Mother figures wear a dress that falls in a triangle shape. The guide explained that the shape resembles a mountain and gives a nod to Pachamama or Mother Earth while still being respectful to Mary. 

We also toured the Monastery of San Francisco in the historic part of Lima. It was amazing inside but the real surprise was what is located under the church. Bones. Lots of bones in catacombs that visitors are allowed to tour. The site was added to UNESCO World Heritage List in 1991. 

There are 70,000 estimated sets of bones here. Catacombs were the first cemeteries in Lima. Our guide explained that bodies were wrapped then covered with a sort of salt to hasten the break down of flesh. The remaining ossuary is creepy but amazing. 

From bones to books... the church has a crazy-fabulous library. It almost broke my heart though to see thousands and thousands of books in a humid, un-protected environment. Some of the books (estimated to be 25,000 antique texts) predate the Spanish conquest. Libraries make me happy. 

Bald Head Island 2013

Thursday, 23 May 2013
My family tries to take a vacation together each year and a favorite spot is Bald Head Island in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Mom found a great house on the marsh area of the island that had an amazing view of the lighthouse from the star gazing deck.

The home also came with kayaks and during high tide we could just drag them into the water and paddle away! Dad (pictured below) went out a few times and really enjoyed it.

This year we were super fortunate to have my best friend Casey and her fiance Ryan join us for a weekend. James also made it out for a few days. To celebrate Casey and Ryan's recent engagement we of course brought out the champagne and planned a special meal one night.

I wish the picture (below) would have turned out better but inspired by Pinterest, I created a small collage of pictures of the happy couple and clothes-pinned them on jute twine over the bar area. When the sun went down this was especially cute with low lighting and candles.

Using elements from nature around our home outside, we created arrangements for the table and set it with the gorgeous plates and dishes included with the home. We played jazz music, lit candles and opened special bottles of bubbly and wine. 

For dinner we served beef tenderloin with horsy sauce, wedge salads, crusty bread with rosemary herb butter (super easy to make), corn on the cob, green beans and appetizers of kalamata olives skewers on tiny dishes of cashews. We also tried a parmesan artichoke dip that was a hit and mom made a first course of potato soup that was excellent.

Mom and I especially had a fun time designing the desserts. She decided to do little cheesecake bites on spoons topped with a fresh slice of strawberry. I created "chocolate pots" with an adapted chocolate mousse recipe. 

We had a lovely time this year and my favorite part (beyond spending time with those I love) was watching the sunrise over the marsh and seeing the White Ibis land in flocks and feed on tiny crabs. 

The Nashville 1/2 Marathon

Monday, 6 May 2013
I set a goal for myself in January as I try to do every year. This year I hoped to complete a 1/2 marathon in less than 4 hours. On April 26th, I did so in Nashville (total time was 3.30)!

The marathon was actually very fun. Races like this have thousands of volunteers who set up along the race route and hold signs, play live music and pass out Gatorade, water and snacks. The best part is that they offer encouraging words along the way such as: "You can do! Keep going! Well done! You guys are my heroes!" Check out this video of some of the supporters:

It was pouring rain as soon as we got off the bus to go to the starting line. I was still pretty positive at that point and went into a Panera Bread to wait in a very long line for the bathroom. As I was coming out, the finish truck was moving on down the line and my "coral" (the group of people I start with) was moving toward the start line. We were the 29th group to begin and the emcee counted us down.

The rain was really coming down at that point but as soon as we got started, I stopped freezing to death and kept my head down somewhat so the water would roll off the bill of my hat. As my father predicted, the first 6 to 8 miles were pretty simple. I didn't run the entire time but I did walk part of every mile. I made a pact with myself that no matter how tired I was, I would always at least jog down-hill, letting gravity help me along.

After mile 1, I found a nice, big blue poncho with a hood. (The more serious runners get moving and start shedding layers as they go). After I put that on, I warmed up even more and even though my clothes were soaking wet, I wasn't uncomfortable. Water did slosh in my shoes for the entire 13.1 miles so that was miserable but I just tried to stop thinking about it after a while.

I was super happy when I finished but - oh wow. The last two miles were difficult. My feet started hurting in the same spot on both feet and the back side of my left knee was pretty bad. Overall, though I was shocked that I did so well and broke into a smile several times during the race. I didn't stick with my training as well as I'd planned on but mental determination really helped. I can't wait to try again but really get strong for it.