Monthly Archives: October 2012


Today I bought a new instrument at the San Telmo feria called a Kalimba, an indigenous instrument from the west coast of Africa. I love it already but the only thing I can play so far is Mary Had a Little Lamb. I think that will get kind of overplayed soon. Mom, I’m starting to learn Lord of the Dance but it’s missing a note so it doesn’t sound quite right. It only has 8 tines but it makes a beautiful sound. 🙂 Here’s a little history courtesy of Wikipedia…

The thumb piano was typically played while walking by traveling Griots, African poet bards who keep the history of the tribe or village, and to entertain people with songs, stories, poems, dances, etc. It was thought in ancient times that the thumb piano was able to project its sound into the heavens and could draw down spirits to the earth. Some of them were evil spirits so the people would stop playing the music until the spirits had departed from the area. 

It is also often an important instrument to be played at religious ceremonies, weddings, and other social gatherings. It is a particularly common musical instrument of the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Shona people of Zimbabwe.

In the mid 1900’s the instrument was the basis for the development of the Kalimba, a westernized thumb piano designed and marketed by the ethnomusicologist Hugh Tracey. This has become very important in popularizing the instrument outside of Africa. While the arrangement of notes on a thumb piano is considerably different from those on a piano or guitar, their arrangement is fairly intuitive, and it is considered to be an instrument easily learned. This quality is exploited in many elementary schools who use the thumb piano as an entry-level instrument. One of its indigenous names for this instrument can be translated as “The thing that makes walking easier.”

And if you want a sample of the kalimba, here is a clip!

and you might recognize this cover… the instrument in the beginning is the kalimba!


HELLO ALL!! I’m back! So remember how if I had to describe Iguázu in one word it would be “wow?” Well if I can take that back and use it for this trip!! I have been a lot of places in the world but I think this might top the charts. I spent 10 days with the coolest group of kids in the coolest place on earth. I guess you could call me a lucky gal! To make this easier for me I’m going to tell you about my trip day by day with the help of some AWESOME pictures taken by my friend Maddie (props girl).




My bus didn’t leave until 17.00 so I had the opportunity to attend the IES Farewell asado for our director, Amerigo. Unfortunately he was moving on to bigger things so now we have a new director, John! It was kind of weird to speak Spanish to this American who can speak Spanish almost perfectly. I was talking to my (favorite) professor Martín about this and he made a comment that his accent is so obvious. Sassy Martín! Only a few students got to go so it was pretty cool! I also met the executive director of IES! He didn’t speak Spanish so I was talking to him in English. ¡Que copadooo! The food was amazing, per usual Argentina. And for dessert they had these huge brownies with ice cream on top. Of course the only things I can ever remember are the ones that have to do with food. 


At 16.00 Jules and I left our apartment to go to the bus station, hopped on a cab and were off! This time the seats we had were cama executiva so they reclined even MORE! It was ten times more comfy and so worth it. I am very glad we decided to take a bus into Chile because we literally drove through the Andes. It was so cool. And we also didn’t have to pay an entrance fee when we crossed the border which was a plus.




At about 13.00 we arrived in Santiago, Chile! The weather was kind of overcast but it wasn’t cold, thank God! We went straight to our hostel, Hostel Castillo, and the people who worked there were right off the bat awesome. One was a girl from Hampshire which I thought was cool because I’m from NEW Hampshire. Unfortunately I never got a picture with these people now that I think about it. So her name was Fleur, like Fleur Delacour from Harry Potter. Another was a guy from Brazil, his name was Armando.  Pedro was also from Brazil. And then there was Daniel, from the States but I’m not sure which. After settling in the five of us—Maddie, Megan, Mike, Jules and I—ventured into the city. We didn’t get to do much but we did walk to the top of this hill in the center of the city which gave us an amazing view! I was also blessed with churros and chocolate which was the BEST and I haven’t had it since I was in Madrid four years ago.


We ordered a pizza that night and shared a few bottles of wine with the people working at the hostel among others. It was so fun! At first we didn’t really have any desire to go out, but the wine convinced us and we were off! We went to a couple bars but eventually we all split up and I spent the night hanging out with Fleur, Pedro and Armando! It was sooo fun. If I could be a gypsy and meet new people and hang out with a different friend every night I would be totally be OK with that.




We woke up at 8.00 to go to Valparaíso and Viña del Mar. We took the subway to a bus station and took an hour and a half bus ride and when we arrived, we had no idea what we were going to do! Some lady from a tour company asked us if we wanted a map, then, by the looks on our faces most likely, asked if we were looking for a tour. We said yeah and she hooked us up with a 12.000 peso tour (don’t be fooled, 12,000 pesos is actually only $25 USD) in Valparaíso, Reñaca and Viña del Mar! It was a great decision. We got a bilingual tour guide who was awesome who drove us around in this little van to important points in the cities. In Valparaíso we saw (one of) Pablo Nerudo’s house which overlooked the city and was HERMOSA.


ImageIn Reñaca we ate delicious seafood at this beautiful restaurant overlooking the Pacific. I had trout in shrimp sauce and it was sooo delicious.Image

Finally we saw most of Viña del Mar, and because of my obnoxious pestering we made it to the beach in time to watch the sunset. Definitely tops the list of prettiest sunsets I’d ever seen. 


At this point we didn’t have a hostel but had a recommendation for a hostel by the tour group. So we found our way to it and spent the night wrapped up in alpaca blankets watching V for Vendetta. Oh, I can’t forget the AMAZING hot dog I had. I’m bringing this recipe back with me to the states… loaded with guacamole, salsa, pepper and ají sauce which is really popular in Chile and Perú. It was sooo delightful. I was induced into a food coma and fell asleep ten minutes into the movie.




We woke up around 10.00 and ate breakfast at the hostel, where we met Vanessa, an 18 year old German working at the hostel! We asked about las dunas (dunes) de Cóncon and she asked if she could tag along. We all got along well with her, and we’re going to hang out with her when she comes to visit Buenos Aires later this month! We hopped on a bus to these dunas and on the bus Mike made friends with a local boy, Marcelo, who offered to bring us there. They were so cool. I almost felt like I was in a desert yet I was surrounded by both a city and the Pacific Ocean. So bizarre. 


After the dunas we went back to the hostel to pick up our stuff and caught a bus back to Santiago. It was the strangest feeling, having a vacation (Viña del Mar) within a vacation (Chile) within a vacation (Buenos Aires). By the time we got home we were famished and had an asado with the people from the hostel outside on their fireplace-looking grill. Once again the food did not let me down.. it was amazing.




At 5.00 bright and early in the morning we woke up to catch a cab (despite how difficult this part was we managed to make it on time) to the airport for our flights to Cusco, Perú! After about six hours of flying we made it to Cusco with one small problem… Jules was the only one of us who checked a bag and it was nowhere to be seen! She was a good sport about it though and got it back the next evening, and she had everything important with her, luckily. We got to the hostel and met up with the other five people that we didn’t stay with in Chile. Milhouse Hostel was beautiful. There was a resto/bar at the top of it and a roof with hammocks on it that overlooked the city. 


We explored the city of Cusco for a bit, although some of us were having trouble adjusting to the altitude. At some point in the trip almost all of us had our rough moments. Lucky for me my moment hit me at the highest point of our trek. I’ll save that for later. We had dinner at a restaurant in the center of the city, and I ate Palta a la Reina—my favorite dish of the entire vacation. It was an avocado piled with cheese, chicken salad, peppers, onions and tomatoes. Apparently it’s a Chilean dish but whatever; it was still foreign and delicious to me. 




Warning: This part is a little fuzzy for me for some reason so bear with me.


The next morning we all split up to do our own thing for a while. Around noon we met up to take the free walking tour advertised by our hostel. It was awesome because they took us to little cafes or shops to sample things and then gave us information about Cusco in between. It included an instrument maker, a tattoo shop, a pisco (native alcohol) bar/museum, the chocolate museum, and a little café among others. Ask me how much I was considering getting a tattoo (yeah the girl who is so against them hahaaaa). 


The trip ended with a beautiful view of Cusco!


We ate at El Paisa for lunch which had live tango music and afterward Jules and I went to the Artisan market. It was a huuuge building with all alpaca products. I went bananas.  Mom, Dad and Melissa, I got you covered. Jules and I headed back to the hostel and had a small dinner at the restobar at the hostel. Then we stargazed on the roof in the hammocks talking about our dreams wrapped in our alpaca sweaters—no big. No, but really it was one of the best moments of my life. AND YOU WERE A PART OF IT JULESSSSSS!


The next morning we woke up, ate breakfast on the roof with everybody and planned our day. I took some others back to the artisan market because Jules and I had boasted about all our purchases. Jules went to explore the cathedrals and book stores with Lucas, so that wasn’t really my thang. After a couple of us went to Jack’s café. Although it was an American restaurant it was the best food everrrr; I had a veggie burger. So yummm and very necessary. After, we hiked to the Jesus statue overlooking Cusco! It was a lot of fun.


Later on we went to a meeting with Llama Path, our tour group for Machu Picchu. We met our tour guide WILLIAM!! He was the best. Since we had an early morning the next day I just packed and went to bed to dream about Machu Picchu!!!!!! YAY!




Luckily from this point on I recorded what happened in my little notebook so this will be a lot more accurate.


At 4.50 I woke up running from room to room wakin everybody up cause WE’RE GOIN TO MACHU PICCHUUUU! At 5.30 William and our other tour guide Gustavo picked us up and we were off!!! At 6.30 we arrived to our starting site—basically the back yard of a Cusqueño. We introduced ourselves (I discovered that Sara means corn in Quechua, the native language of the Andean peoples) and the porters, about ten twenty-something year olds who carried all our luggage and tents and equipment (yeah, we’re lazy, but I can’t imagine having to do what we did with a bag on my back. I give them props.) introduced themselves. 


And we were off! The first day was the hardest; we hiked twelve miles through the Andes, so you can imagine what walking up a 14,500 foot mountain felt like. Also, there were llamas EVERYWHERE!!! I was in Heaven! 


This little baby llama was only hours old, and he fell down a cliff!!! We got it all on video. It was so funny, only because the little nug got up right away without a scratch!


Prepare yourselves. I got THE WORST headache of my ENTIRE life in the first few hours of the trek. I felt as if my head was both collapsing and expanding at the same time. Gustavo offered me oxygen at one point, which I probably should have taken, but we were already at the highest point and it would be all downhill for the rest of the day after lunch so I just took a couple ibuprofens. However the views practically made me forget it all. William used some Quechua holistic healing practices on me, too, which was pretty interesting. He made me sniff this perfumey stuff and rubbed it on my forehead, and told me that the Quechuas use it to fend off the wind when they are hiking through the Andes. He sdaid the wind is really what causes most altitude sicknesses. After lunch we took a very short nap and packed up and left. This is where we ate lunch…


At 18.00 we arrived at our campsite in time to watch the sun fall on the town of Ollantaytambo at the bottom of the mountain. It was beautiful. I couldn’t believe we were about to spend a night camping in the Incan ruins. I kept saying that it looked like the picture on the front of my old World History book. The chef made us a great meal and we tried some Chicha drink from William. That night, the stars were flawless. The best night sky I had ever seen in my life, hands down. William told Lisa, Meredith and me about the astrology of the Incans. It was soo interesting, especially being able to look at the stars. The Incans basically ran their society on the stars, and we also talked about the Mayan calendar, and he explained what they believed would happen on 2012. It’s supposed to be a gradual Armageddon, the seasons will drastically change and whatever can’t survive it, won’t, all over the span of 10,000 years.


And then I fell asleep in my tent on the ruins of Emperor Pachacuti’s luxurious Incan estate in the Andes under the stars.




This is what I woke up to…


We woke up at 7.00 and explored our campsite for a bit! It was already starting to get hot out and I was lovin it. We had a delicious breakfast, and the chef even made us a cake! After a “lecture” from William about the Incans we trekked downhill (extremely downhill, like running down the side of a mountain downhill) for a couple hours to Ollantaytambo for our lunch spot. I met two little girls living in the village, one named Almendra, or almond in English, which is definitely going to be one of my kids’ names. We were doing cartwheels and handstands with them until it started to rain, at the perfect moment because then we packed up and took a bus to take a train to Aguas Calientes, the tourist town closest to Machu Picchu. 


On our way to Aguas Calientes we stopped at an Andean Bar where we played this bizarre coin-tossing frog mouth game. It was pretty fun! Then we caught our train at 16.30 to Aguas Calientes and arrived around 18.00. We had dinner at a nice restaurant where I continued my avocado streak for vacation in my appetizer. When we got back to the hostel we all got suited up and headed to the hot springs! Not what you might think. They were actually four pools filled with sulfured hot spring water packed with foreigners—young and old, fat and skinny, speedo and bikini. So the hot springs were a little overrated but we enjoyed them for a little bit anyway. That night we all packed into Julia, Lisa and my hostel room and goofed around… well, I fell asleep even with all the noise. I was tired from the night before. Call me lame but at least I can sleep in almost any environment. (:


Quote of the night: “Jules of Corn, like Grapes of Wrath!”




4.30 – wake up. Breakfast in hostel. Bus to Machu Picchu. And then all of a sudden I was in a history book. When we arrived Machu Picchu was covered in clouds, and slowly the clouds pulled away to reveal a six hundred year old masterpiece.


If I could put in to words how amazing it was I would. But I can’t. You’ll just have to go see for yourself. (: Around noon we said our goodbyes to William and explored the ruins. After that, seven of us took the treacherous hike to the Incan Bridge… so worth it!


And after that we took the bus back to Aguas Calientes and met up for lunch. We (barely) made it to our train back to Cusco, and after the biggest day of our lives we settled down into bed at the Milhouse Hostel to wake up for our day of flying home.

Huge shout out to DCU Private Loans for funding the trip of a lifetime! Haa. But no matter how much it cost, it was one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life.