A Recipe for Hilarity

16 Jan

Hello 2014!

A few friends and myself decided, somewhat last minute, to do it BIG for New Year’s Eve 2013.  Yes, I just came off an amazing vacation, but the end of the year/start of the year holiday has always topped my list of favorite celebrations. It’s a time for reflection, renewal, much-needed new beginnings aaaand champagne! And this time around, it wouldn’t be your regular sparkly-ensemble, midnight-smooch-with-your-cutie, make-12-wishes-for-every-grape, party-all-night soirée. No sir, 2014 is much more than that.  I’ve had this number, 2014, ingrained in my brain since the moment I received my Peace Corps country assignment letter back in March of 2012.  That’s the first time I ever saw the phrase “Betty Zambrano, Peace Corps Volunteer, 2012-2014.”  Ever since then, every official document, email, vacation request, survey, evaluation, work report has had “Start of service: 2012/End of service: 2014” emblazoned on it.  Up until now, it’s been an elusive date, a vague reminder that one day there will come a time when I’ll be done with this life and heading back to America.  I know it exists, but it seems so far off and impossibly distant, its almost a waste of time to register it in my present mind.

But somehow we found ourselves at the end of 2013 and thinking of how to welcome this new year and the changes it will bring.  We decided a celebration this epic would have to take place in our neighbor to the north, Ecuador!




A last minute plan, one world-famous beach town, two tents , three floaties to be used as mattresses and five broke girls looking to live up the last of 2013— that’s a recipe for hilarity if I’ve ever heard one.









I’ve borrowed Leland’s gut-busting (but not lung-popping) recount of our trip to share with you the time we lived as gypsies, ran through the beach with surfers at the stroke of midnight, and welcomed the new year with a surprising self-discovery, free drinks and a big bang!


I am fresh off a Christmas/New Years vacation from Ecuador, but rather I feel as though the border crossing rocketed me to some alternate planet far, far away from Perú, devoid of chaos and tiresome struggles; a world where toilet paper is plentiful and drunkenness is reserved for foreigners vacationing abroad.  Now, here I am, back in Chiquián, rejuvenated and ready for a new year as I begin to already confront to the adversities that is not Posh Corps. 
We might as well have stepped off the recently detailed Mega-Bus equipped with air conditioner and drivers with ties and sex appeal in polleras, campo hats, and a bag of guinea pigs or chickens swung over our shoulders.  We did not belong.  We were fresh out of poverty and hardship, yet we had no idea until we laid eyes upon a three-story bus station ready to send you off peacefully and quickly to your Ecuadorian destination with no hustle, line-cutting, badgering bus/van drivers, nor shirtless men who consistently rub clockwise their beer-induced guts and lick their lips your way only to top it off with a whistle and a salute.  We were bewildered.
In Perú, I take a combi (mini-van) with at least 12 other strangers, shoulder to shoulder and toe to heel.  I sit in the back corner with my bag on my lap looking out my window just waiting for the car to fill so that we can head on our way.  Slowly, but surely people pile in. First, the abuelitas (grandmothers) with their large hats, fancy hair clips, and sacks of animals or a nice bouquet of flowers.  Then, a young mother with two children at her tail, one on her hip, and the last on her breast, shuffle into the first row of seats.  Three youthful boys gather in back with me as each one plays his personal favorite Huayno song aloud on his phone for all to hear.  An agile elderly man hops into the car and takes a seat by the door.  Lastly, a professor or two fill the remaining seats with their ANTAMINA briefcases and shinned, pointed leather shoes.  The driver and some friends fill the front seats and the cobrador (money collector) slams the door and stands with his head and arm out the window soliciting more passengers for our already packed combi.   
In Ecuador, I wait at a bus stop for the bus to stop.  It does.  I put my bag safely below, and I continue to an empty seat, which are plentiful.  I take a seat and so do the other four people with whom I was waiting.  We are all seated, the bus continues onto the next scheduled, established bus stop.  Some people get off, and some people get on.  No one stands, I hear no yelling, I touch nobody’s sweaty leg, and I wake up with no one’s head nestled on my unforgiving shoulder. I make it to my stop unaware of my neighbor’s natural body scent and with space to exit the vehicle freely and undetected.
In Perú, I yell out the window to a woman with a snack cart across the street.  I say give me a water; she comes running; I give her exact change; my car speeds away.
In Ecuador, I ask the co-pilot for a chilled water.  He comes back with the bottle.  I give him a five-dollar bill.  He obediently gives me my change, no fuss about it.  A public transportation vehicle that provides a beverage option, they might as well offer a free shoeshine with my manicure.  That doesn’t happen in the U.S., people.
As I said, we were out of our element and soon realized that the Peruvian Sol does not get you far in Ecuador, a utopic country fueled by the Dollar.  After the easiest leg of our travel from Guayaquil to our final destination of Montiñita, we step off our bus to the bustling streets of the most adorable and hoppin’ beach town known to man.  We must have looked like those aforementioned Peruvians with traditional skirts, hats, clogs, and the sack of gerbils because a kind man walks up to us and asks if we are lost and need help finding a place to stay.  We tell him we have our tent and all we need is a patch of land with maybe a river or water spout nearby to wash our feet and do our laundry.  He tells us he knows just the place.  He takes us just past the main streets with the high rises and fancy hotels.  As we walk down the dirt road we comment on the group of what could only be gypsies juggling fire and knives a few meters away.  We stop and greet this crew and they show us in.  We ask the Knight in Shining Armor if he is staying at the campsite as well.  He looks at us, smiles, and says, “No, I have a beachfront apartment, see you around.”  We set up camp and watch as the gypsies make jewelry and clothes, juggle, do magic tricks or make sandwiches to sell on the beach.


Later we would befriend said gypsies who sell hand made goodies and food in order to make his or her long way back home.  A few sales here and there–they make enough for another night on the land, maybe a soda, and a new pair of walking shoes they hope will see them home.  These humans with ragged clothes yet booming businesses and free spirits, we would later uncover, seemingly earn more money than we volunteers do.   That being said, one might not feel so bad when the cute nomad from Argentina spends 10 of his hard-earned sandwich dollars on a down and out PCV who needed a cold one to keep her going until 2014’s first sunrise.
I use the term gypsy with love, with not a trace of judgment, and with only a pinch of jealousy.  Here we were, at a campsite with our tent, ready to save those dollar bills.  Yet, everyone around us has a certain unique and refined skill to offer wealthy beach-goers lounging in chairs under umbrellas at the beach–another sign of distinction we could not afford; I suppose we lay some where between university students and vagabonds.  Anyway, the drifters labored for their stay and punched their work cards each day as we slipped our bathing suits back on, re-inflated our floaties, recharged our speakers so that the world could hear about Beyoncé on a surfboard, and headed to the beach each morning.  We were nothing more than mere admirers of a better life; humans set adrift from down south, brought to paradise by the cold Humboldt Current.  Again, we did not seem to fit in our surroundings.  On the one hand our camp mates sold handmade goodies to survive, while on the other, the vacationers ordered plates of delicious seafood, drinks galore, and bought precious earrings from our wanderer friends.  We on the other hand would split an almond 4 ways and never pass on the condiments. 
My glorious vacation to the land of organized transportation, cat-less calls, friendly shop-owners, and the American Dollar made me realize two things: I am a Chola from the Peruvian Sierra through and through, and I am not ready for America, not now. 
Visit La Vida Lila to read more about Leland’s incredulous experiences living and working in a small town on the side of an Andean mountain.

The Greatest Vacation: Puerto Maldonado

22 Dec
MOG 14

we conquered the andes, now we’re ready for the amazon


plaza de armas en puerto maldonado

MOG 01

it took an hour bus ride then an hour and half boat ride to get to our lodge

MOG 02



a short hike from the river through dense jungle to get to our rooms

MOG 26

here they are!

MOG 03

had the whole place to ourselves


the jungle is so beautiful…

MOG 20

but also terrifying. this is literally my worst nightmare realized.

MOG 21

canopy beds

MOG 11

there’s toilet paper in the stalls!

MOG 10

best friends boat ride

MOG 08

piranha fishing in the lake.

MOG 05

i caught one!

MOG 04

im happy


rio tambopata

MOG 09

relaxing on the river…ahhhh


deep in it


daytime jungle walks

MOG 12

everything is so green and lush

MOG 13

not a bridge, but we’ll cross it


nighttime river rides

MOG 24

probably our favorite thing about the lodge

MOG 25

no electricity anywhere in the lodge except for the bar. and even then, for two or three hours at night.

MOG 23

joel and his ladies


back from our jungle expedition

MOG 18

this calls for a celebration!


delicious thai food in puerto maldonado

MOG 22

monkey friendsssss

MOG 27

hasta luegooo, puerto!


The Greatest Vacation: Machu Picchu

22 Dec
MP 18

pre-Machu Picchu night at our murder den of a hostel. so excited!

MP 34

they make 5am look gooooood

MP 09

sun’s not quite out at 6am. wait for it…

MP 33

c’mon sun!

MP 08

starting off the Montaña Machu Picchu hike

MP 05

don’t be fooled by the smile, its a tough hike!

MP 07

straight up stairs for 1.5 hours

MP 32

chao!: lee and i break off from the group and continue to the top of the mountain

MP 14

up in the clouds

MP 02

this view was worth it!

MP 01

we make dead tired look gooood

MP 03

its obvious why the ruins were never found by the Spanish during the conquest of Cuzco. they’re almost inaccessible, even with modern transportation.

MP 31

meanwhile these cuties…

MP 29

…were hanging out with this cutie

MP 04

taking it all in.

MP 06

mid-hike selfie!

MP 6

en serio. you have to see this for yourself.

MP 1

just lounging here for a little bit.

MP 2

Machu Picchu remained unknown to the world from the 1500s until it was discovered by Yale historian Hiram Bingham in 1911.

MP 3

traditional inca terraces

MP 12

UNESCO World Heritage Site

MP 5

una mas!

MP 11

hanging out before it’s time to go.

MP 10

Pueblo Machu Picchu

MP 30

we did itttttt

MP 9



The Greatest Vacation: Cuzco

22 Dec
Cuzco 14

and we’re off!

Cuzco 26

the eagle has landed.

Cuzco 3

welcome to cusco!

Cuzco 6

plaza de armas

Cuzco 2

learned to play ‘chasing the 2’ and our lives will never be the same.

Cuzco 7

guess who’s up to their old antics?!

Cuzco 19

views of the plaza from our breakfast table.

Cuzco 4

silly hats. serious beer funnels.

Cuzco 15

the sacred valley

Cuzco 24

beautiful green landscapes at every turn.

Cuzco 16

14 years of best-friendship across 3 continents ❤

Cuzco 12

cholitas guapas.

Cuzco 18


Cuzco 17

heyyy cristi

Cuzco 11

ollantaytambo, “the living inca city”

Cuzco 20

a living inca princess. i got quechua on my body!

Cuzco 8

modern construction built upon ancient inca stonework.

Cuzco 21

literally every view from any angle in the valley is breathtaking.

Cuzco 25

leggings crew.

Cuzco 13

a few centimeters back and the ground drops off, ensuring certain death. maybe the danger adds to the beauty, no?

Cuzco 10

harv’s girls!

Cuzco 22

dinner at a fancy pisco bar where we did NOT consume any pisco. everyone: “let’s go get beers at the irish pub”


The Greatest Vacation (Video)

22 Dec

This is not hyperbole. This was literally The Greatest Vacation. Carla, Cristi, Diana, Dolly, Jenny, Leland and I went on a 10-day trip that took us from Andean peaks to Amazonian jungle and everywhere in between.

Peru is beyond-words beautiful. And to share it with some of my favorite people in the world was nothing short of incredible.


Viajar es Regresar

9 Dec

Viajar es marcharse de casa
es dejar los amigos
es intentar volar.
Volar conociendo otras ramas
recorriendo caminos
es intentar cambiar.

Viajar es vestirse de loco
es decir “no me importa”
es querer regresar.
Regresar valorando lo poco
saboreando una copa
es desear empezar.

Viajar es sentirse poeta
escribir una carta
es querer abrazar.
Abrazar al llegar a una puerta
añorando la calma
es dejarse besar.

Viajar es volverse mundano
es conocer otra gente
es volver a empezar.
Empezar extendiendo la mano
aprendiendo del fuerte
es sentir soledad.

Viajar es marcharse de casa
es vestirse de loco
diciendo todo y nada con una
Es dormir en otra cama
sentir que el tiempo es corto
viajar es regresar!

Gabriel García Marquéz

viajar 2 viajar 4 viajar 5 viajar 3


Touching the Void

6 Nov

This week I immersed myself in two vastly contrasting tales of gripping non-fiction. The first was the very true story of two men who summit one of the most remote peaks in the Peruvian Andes only to have one of the climbers plummet off an ice sheet mid-descent. Assuming the worst, his partner guiltily goes back to base camp without him.  And so the fallen climber, with his shattered leg, endures one of the greatest survival journeys ever recorded.

The second was the very true story of one woman whose perfect storybook romance comes crashing down after her fiancé admits to infidelity.  An excellent writer, she solemnly conveys the agony, anguish and hurt that comes with such bone-crushing betrayal.

Then I realized these stories are not so different after all. For anyone who’s ever been really and truly heartbroken, doesn’t the feeling of having a strong grip on the mountain one minute, and the next everything in your life is out of your hands, sound familiar? Surely the void of helplessness and loneliness is comparable. In the end, they are both testaments to the power of human resilience; physical, mental and emotional.  The man survives and continues to climb, years after his near-death experience.  As for the woman, her story of recovery continues and the hope is that she too will be able to regain that which she once held so tightly in her grip.

As humans, we never know what we are capable of until faced with the worst.  Just know that even before you have been given the opportunity to show your resilience, it is undoubtedly within you, too.  Whatever your fall, we’re cheering for you.


touching the void