Thursday, October 23, 2014

Spanish Schools In South America

I received an inquiry on Spanish classes in certain countries in South America so I decided to write about my experiences with the various Spanish schools I have attended during my stay here. I have taken Spanish classes in: Colombia, Ecuador and Peru so for now those are the areas I will focus on.

In Colombia I lived in Cali where there were not as many tourists or expatriates so there were not as many Spanish schools as say Bogota or Medellin. Don't get me wrong, there were still Spanish schools but the choices were limited and private classes were a bit pricey for me so I didn't end up taking any classes in Cali, I took classes in Medellin instead.

Medellin, Colombia

I took classes at Medellin Language Academy which I have just learned changed their name to Toucan Spanish School. They have both group and private classes, since I am on a strict budget I ended up taking the group classes just because the private classes cost more than my set budget. The group classes were kept very small so on average I was taking classes with 2 or 3 other students. Here is a break down of their cost and some additional information:

Group classes (20 hrs/week) - 400,000 Colombian pesos/$194.72
Group classes (10 hrs/week) - 220,000 Colombian pesos/$107.09

Private classes (20 hrs/week) - 800,000 Colombian pesos/$389.43
Private classes (10 hrs/week) - 400,000 Colombian pesos/$194.72

Conclusion - The school was very flexible in terms of how many hours or specific times you wanted to take classes. I liked their teaching method and even though I prefer private classes, the small group classes were small enough for the instructors to give each student needed attention. Would I recommend them? yes I would.
Their website can be found here for more information.

Quito, Ecuador

Simon Bolivar Spanish School

I took classes at Simon Bolivar Spanish School and since their rates were pretty good I was able to take private classes which really accelerated my learning. A breakdown of their costs is as follows:

Group classes - $5.50/hr per person
Two students (maybe a couple or two friends who want to share classes) - $6.00/hr per person
Private classes - $9.00/hr NOTE: this is where I say it never hurts to ask for discounts.

Since I knew I was staying in Ecuador for a while and I was going to be taking many classes, I asked the school if they could give me a discount and lower the rate for the private classes. The administration gave me quite a good discount and I was able to save quite a bit of money while taking the private classes. I don't want to say that the discount is guaranteed so I don't want anyone assuming that the school can change their rates if asked. It never hurts to ask though so you can try, you may be lucky.

Conclusion - I really enjoyed my classes at the school especially since I had a very good teacher that made classes more fun and interesting. The school was very flexible with their hours so you could select how many hours you wanted to take classes each day and the time you would be available for classes. Would I recommend the school? definitely!
Their website can be found here for additional information.

Cristobal Colon Spanish School

Currently I am taking classes at another Spanish school in Quito. I am taking classes at Cristobal Colon Spanish School, I wanted to try a different school and this one had lower rates, came highly recommended plus it happened to be close to where I was living. Their rates break down as follows:

Private Classes - $7.50/hr
Group Classes - $5.50/hr
Skype Lessons - $9.00/hr
Classes in your home/apartment - $11

I am taking the private classes and I was able to talk to the director to give me a discount since I am taking many classes. Once again, it never hurts to ask but I will not say a discount is guaranteed by the school.

Conclusion - I really do enjoy my classes at Cristobal Colon, their schedules are flexible and the one on one classes really do help in advancing faster as you learn at your own pace. Would I recommend the school? definitely!
Their website can be found here for additional information.

Cusco, Peru

I took classes at FairServices in Cusco, classes in Lima were pricier than I had expected so I decided to go with Cusco. The classes offered in Cusco were cheaper but still pricier than Ecuador which I was surprised at. The rates at FairServices were as follows:

Registration Fees (one time) - 125 Peruvian Soles/$43 
Private classes - 30.08 Peruvian Soles/$10
Group classes - Not sure about the cost but you can get information by contacting the school

I chose FairServices because I really liked the fact that they are working with single mothers offering them an opportunity for a better life by training them to be Spanish teachers and paying them fair wages. The teachers got half the cost of the classes while the other half went to the school administration, at the end of each week of classes you would actually pay the teachers directly so  you would know for sure that they are getting their fair share.

Conclusion - I liked the teaching methodology at FairPlay, they had two teachers assigned to each students. One teacher focused on teaching grammar and vocabulary while the other focused on helping with conversation as a way for the student to practice speaking Spanish and enhance their conversational skills. I only stayed at the school for 2 weeks because my budget wouldn't allow me to take more classes, I did ask for a discount but I was told that the school doesn't offer any because they want to ensure that their teachers continue getting their fair share of working wages. Would I recommend the school? definitely!
Their website can be found here for additional information.

That's it folks, I hope this information will be of use to someone out there. I have to say that so far Ecuador has been the cheapest place to take Spanish classes and there are plenty of Spanish schools to chose from. I have heard Bolivia is even cheaper but I have yet to visit the country but that's in the works, stay tuned!

Monday, October 20, 2014

What I Have Been Up To

I know I have been a bit silent on here but I am back now. So what have I been up to? well, I figured since right now I am not traveling as much as before, I needed something to keep me busy instead of sitting in the house twiddling my fingers wondering, "dang! is this it?" I really do not like staying idle, I love keeping busy so I decided to engage in activities that I am passionate about.

I started up again on salsa lessons after discovering a dance studio right across the road from where I live, talk about convenience. I stopped by the studio and after meeting with the owner I was sold on their salsa classes. I love dancing and listening to salsa music so what better way to incorporate both at the same time? I have been taking the salsa classes offered at Mundial Dance which is the name of the studio three times a week in the evenings and I love them! plus they do play some good music as well so that's another bonus. I have a good rapport with the folks who work at the studio and it's always nice chatting with them whenever I have classes. You can find out more about Mundial Dance here.

Here I am with the owner to my right and his cousin to my left. The owner also happens to be a musician and entertainer who travels quite a bit because of his line of work. He also trains other dancers who want to advance to the professional level.

In addition to my dance classes I managed to get myself an internship. I stopped by this travel agency that I was already familiar with, I wanted to see if they had any day trips that I hadn't taken before but turns out I have already visited most of the places that are included in their day trips. The owner Luis, is a really cool and funny guy so we ended up chatting for quite a while and he mentioned that one of his interns at the agency will no longer be working with him as he wants to take some time off to travel within Ecuador. I asked him if he needed another intern and offered my services, he agreed and told me I could come in and work for him. I will be learning more about the tourism industry and on occasion I will also be going on some tours offered by the company to see how the trips are and what we can improve on.

After working as an Accountant for the past 7 years I want to gain new experiences in a totally different field so why not a travel related field right? considering traveling is one of my greatest passions, who knows where these new skills will lead me to.

Here I am with Luis my new boss and the owner of the travel agency.

My new office and one of my co-workers including Luis. Everyone is super cool in the office and the whole vibe is very relaxed and casual which I like a lot. Check out Luis Tipan Travel for your travel needs within Ecuador.

I am still volunteering at the organization I mentioned in my last post and still taking Spanish classes. As you can see, this girl is keeping busy!

That's it folks, my posts may not be as frequent as before but hang in there won't you?

Random Thoughts of The Day:

Right now I am learning the subjunctive in Spanish and it's been quite a challenge trying to grasp it especially remembering when to use it in conversations.

So my internship at the travel agency includes lunch and occasional free trips. I think I mentioned the free trips part earlier on.

I finally came across one of my favorite fruits here in Quito. Remember when I was in Peru I wrote about chirimoya? once I got to Quito I looked for the fruit in the various fruit stalls and markets within the city but I was told it was not in season. Today when I went to buy fruits at my regular fruit shop, I came across chirimoya and the lady told me they get their supplies every Friday. You best believe I plan on taking advantage of this.

I casually mentioned to my boyfriend that he has a nice body and should consider modeling to supplement his income. He mulled over this for like a hot second before deciding we should look up modeling agencies in Quito for the heck of it. We submitted some pictures that I had taken of him to one of the agencies that seemed bigger than the rest and we didn't expect anything to come off of it. You can imagine our surprise when we got a response back stating that he fits their requirements perfectly and they have put him in their data base so if any work comes up they will be calling him pronto. Now the dude has been walking around with an extra bounce to his step and has become quite obsessed with the mirror. I think I may have opened pandora's box.

Ask and ye shall receive, okay you will not receive all the time but it's worth asking anyway. Got the rate of my spanish classes reduced, got our rent reduced and got my salsa classes drastically reduced considering the owner of the studio is the one who is teaching me and his rate is crazy high compared to the dance instructors who work for him. What can I say? ask and ye shall receive.............or maybe I just happen to have a way with words, either way I am happy with the results.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Volunteering In Quito

So what have I been up to since I got back to Quito and finally settled down? Well, I have been taking Spanish classes everyday of the week because my goal is to keep improving on the language plus I do enjoy learning Spanish.

In addition to taking Spanish classes I decided to volunteer at this great organization called ASONIC (Asociacion Ecuatoriana Para Niños Con Cancer). The website is in Spanish so I will explain a little bit about the organization to give you an idea of what it's all about. ASONIC is an organization that provides support to parents who have children with cancer.

A lot of these families live outside Quito but they have to come to the city for treatment so while in Quito, they do need a place to stay that's within their means. ASONIC offers them shelter at no charge, food and emotional support through a psychologist who comes in to talk to them because what they are going through is not easy. The shelter is not only for the parents but their kids as well, the ages of the kids range quite a bit, from 2 years old to 16.

I volunteer my time playing with the kids, reading to them and basically keeping them company and entertained. I also help with translation because sometimes the organization gets letters written in English from donors or supporters from other countries so they do need someone to help with translation. There are other miscellaneous stuff that I help out with as well.

The ambience at the shelter provided by the organization is very warm and inviting plus it has all the necessities to ensure the kids are kept busy and entertained. They are already going through so much so it's good for them to have distractions that make them laugh and enjoy themselves.

I took a few pictures so you can get an idea of how the place looks like.

For some of the older kids there are computer games that are available to them.

The main sitting area. This is at the lower level of the house, upstairs you will find: bedrooms, bathrooms, a laundry room and there is also an area to watch TV and relax.

Here I am with one of the staff from the organization, she is really great with the kids and treats them like her own.

The two kids in the picture below are regulars at the house and the younger boy follows the girl everywhere like a big sister. It's so adorable! as you will notice with all the kids at ASONIC, they wear hats because they are going through chemo and have lost most if not all their hair. When we were taking pictures of the little boy for the parents, they wanted him to remove his hat but he cried and insisted on keeping it on because he felt shy exposing his bald head. The little girl removed her hat but kept rubbing her scalp shyly. All her hair is gone. I just wanted to cry, it was so heartbreaking for me seeing her feel so self conscious about her hairless head yet giving the cutest smile that just made her so adorable.

Honestly I was nervous about volunteering at this organization because I feel awkward around kids as I have not had too much experience interacting with children. Once I met some of the kids however; I just fell in love with them especially those who warmed up to me so fast and would come sit on my lap or take my hand and lead me to play with them.

I really don't know how the staff at ASONIC deals with the tragic cases of some of these kids because unfortunately not all come out of the cancer ordeal alive. I was talking to one of the staff and she was saying that they do cry but not in front of the parents or any of the kids, it's not an easy job sometimes but they all enjoy what they do.

One a lighter note, I live about 5 minutes from ASONIC which is super convenient for me. Unfortunately I have to cross the roundabout you see below which happens to be pedestrian unfriendly. There are no traffic lights so you have to be strategic on how you go about crossing to the other side. In the afternoon traffic is crazy so you can imagine the ordeal! seriously you should see how pedestrians run across, we look like chickens trying to cross the road.

That's it folks, I have to admit that I have never been very active in volunteering so this is a great experience for me working at ASONIC. One thing I realize is that good health is priceless! be grateful that your body functions as it should, the little things we take for granted mean so much for others and I am reminded of this everyday when I volunteer at ASONIC.

Random Thoughts of The Day:

The little girl who's picture I have above has a strong personality and I find it so cute! you should hear her making demands with her tiny voice. Everyone just bursts out laughing when she starts talking, she sounds so darn cute! I started noticing that every time I would carry her by the armpits to lift her to my laps she would say, "catéte" pointing to her armpits. At first I thought she was referring to her armpits but I noticed she would flinch whenever I lifted her up by the armpits. I asked one of the staff at the organization what "catéte" means and that's when she explained that the kid was trying to say "catheter." Apparently that's where the doctor injects her with drugs and it gets sore so whenever anyone touches her armpit area it hurts her. 

Seriously I hope I will last long volunteering at this organization because I have such a soft spot for kids and I hate seeing any kid suffering. I am afraid I might get so emotional when we lose a kid that I may decide to call it quits, I hope none of this happens.

So the caretaker at our apartment has a hobby, he likes to raise chickens and guess where the chicken coop is? right next to our bedroom!!!! have you had a rooster wake you up at 4 am and crow continuously for what seems like hours on end???? I talked to him about the noise but he just laughed and said after a week I will get used to it. Aaargh!!!! 

Speaking of apartment gripes, so apparently every tenant in the building has to share the cost of water. It doesn't matter how much water you consume, everyone will bare the same cost. When I read this in the contract that the apartment provided I went complaining to the caretaker and jokingly asked if we are living in a communist apartment building. He laughed so hard at this then said that's how certain things function in Ecuador and there is nothing he can do about it. Aaargh!!!

We have a laundry room but guess what? no one can access it besides the caretaker so anytime you want to do laundry you have to look for him to get access to the washing and drying machine. The apartment building charges $1 per kilo for laundry so the caretaker has to be present at all times when you want to do laundry to make sure you pay for the services. What does this mean? when I need to do laundry I have to look for him to open the door, weigh my clothes and put them in the washer. When I need to dry the clothes I need to look for him again to open the laundry room so I can put my clothes in the dryer. Once laundry is done I have to look for him again to open the laundry room so I can get my clothes. Seriously! someone needs to invest in coin operated machines.

I have to say though, I have developed a rapport with the caretaker so we joke around a lot and I like giving him a hard time once in a while.

My favorite time of the day is in the evening when my boyfriend comes home from work, it gives me great joy seeing him walk through that door. 

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Visa Extension For Ecuador

The maximum number of days you can stay in Ecuador on a tourist visa is 180 days per year if you are a national of the: US, Canada, UK and Australia. The list of countries could be long but I just mentioned the few that I know off for sure.

Traveling with an American passport, I did not need to apply for a visa when entering Ecuador the first time I visited. At the airport I got a tourist visa which was basically a stamp on my passport allowing me to stay in the country 90 days, within these 90 days I could leave the country and re-enter but the days I was out of the country would not be counted against my given 90 days which does make sense.

After my 90 days were up I left the country and went to Peru not thinking I would come back to Ecuador but as you know by now, I did end up coming back. I had to apply for a visa extension in Lima where they have the Ecuadorian embassy and the process was actually not as grueling as I assumed it would be, here is a list of the documents I needed for this process:

An original passport photo - Good thing before I started my travels I had taken 6 passport size pictures just incase I would need one and this came in handy at this particular time.

Written Petition directed at consulate - I had to write a petition letter stating why I wanted to come back to Ecuador and indicating what type of visa I wanted, in my case it was the 12-X visa which would allow me to get back into Ecuador for another 90 days. I kept my letter short and specific, you don't need to write too much. Point to note though, this petition letter has to be in Spanish and if your Spanish is a bit shaky you can always use google translate to help you out.

Original Passport - This is self explanatory but keep in mind that your passport has to be valid for at least 6 months so check up on the expiration date to make sure you are good. I have a few years on mine before it expires so I was all good to go.

Copy of Passport page with photo and entry stamps - Make a copy of your passport page that has your photo and details. Also make a copy of the page that has the stamps you got when you entered and left Ecuador. The copy can be in color or black and white, I had mine in color but also included a black and white copy just in case.

Copy of flight out of Ecuador - I had to provide evidence of my flight out of Ecuador once my 90 days were up. This part was a bit tricky because I didn't have exact dates of when I was going to leave Ecuador and I wasn't sure if I would leave the country by bus or flight. Good thing I came to find out that you can go to the Copa Airlines website and make a flight reservation without paying and this can be your evidence of your flight out of the country. The reservation is held for 24 hours (or is it 48 hours?) by the airline and if you don't pay it's canceled, you don't even need to provide any billing information. Once I made my reservation I printed out the page and used it as evidence of my flight out of the country. I also included a copy of my flight into the country.

Bank Statement - You have to provide evidence showing that you will be able to support yourself while in Ecuador so a copy of the latest bank statement is needed as proof of your financial means.

Money - For my 3 month visa extension I needed $60 so make sure you have this in cash and in American dollars because that's the currency used in Ecuador. Make sure the bills are new or in good condition because apparently banks here can be very fussy about old bills and may reject them.

Once all the items from the list above had been gathered, I needed to have them arranged in a punched folder in the order of how I have presented them above.

Unexpected Occurrences

Of course some times there are things that come up which you did not anticipate so this is what I experienced.

Invitation Letter - In my petition letter I had mentioned that I was going to be staying with my host family in Ecuador, this one guy from the embassy told me I needed an invitation letter from them. Good thing this other Ecuadorian guy I had met at the embassy was able to hook me up with an invitation letter so I included this in my paperwork. If you plan to stay in a hotel or hostel just be sure to print out your reservation as back up just in case it's required even though this is not included in the list of requirements.

Full Amount - I had read somewhere that the required $60 is paid in two installments, the first $30 when you turn in your documents and the last $30 when you come to pick up your visa. Shock on me when the full amount was requested all at once and I had only carried $30 for the first installment. I had to go to an ATM and get cash real quick and rush back to the embassy before closing time.

That's it folks, in the end I got my visa within two days and I was ready to travel back to Ecuador without any issues.

Random Thoughts of The Day:

Try not to overstay in Ecuador and go past the given number of days allowed in the country. I had a friend who overstayed for a day and she was told she could not enter the country again for the next 12 months! I have also heard that you could be fined or end up in jail. You best believe I don't plan on overstaying my visit!

At the Ecuadorian embassy in Peru I met this seemingly nice Ecuadorian business man, he is the one who actually helped me out with an invitation letter when I needed it. Anyway, as I was waiting for the embassy to re-open after lunch I accompanied him to downtown Lima as he went on a buying spree of stock for his business, he took me out to lunch telling me to chose whatever restaurant I wanted and not worry about the bill as he would take care of it. I was a bit uncomfortable but he kept saying I am like one of his kids and not to worry, he paid for my taxi and made sure that I was taken care off at the embassy before he left. He told me that since I speak English and he imports and exports drinks between Miami and Quito, he needed someone that speaks English and some Spanish so if I didn't mind I could work with him and he would pay me. I was actually excited at this new prospect and I thought what a great opportunity it would be. When I got to Quito I contacted him but unfortunately dude turned out to be a creep. It was a 360 degree turn from the perfect and professional gentleman I had met at the embassy in Lima. Turns out this married father of three had other agendas that I was not willing to be a part of, I was disappointed and so disgusted. I really thought he was genuine but I guess I was naive.

I remember when I was buying my flight ticket out of Ecuador to go to Peru I had opted on buying a two way flight because it was cheaper than a one way flight, I think the airline had offers going on at the time. This was months ago and as my host was helping me with the flights we picked a random date for a return flight because we both figured I wasn't going to use it anyway, it was just for the sake of getting the good deal on prices. Well, that return flight came in handy because that's what I used when I came back to Ecuador this time round to be with my boyfriend, and to think when I first bought this return flight he was not even in the picture. Flights to Ecuador were super expensive so the return flight I initially had, saved me big time!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Apartment Hunting In Quito, Ecuador

Yup! you read that right I am back in Quito. I suppose I should let the cat out of the bag now and let you know what I have been up to. The plan was to go to Bolivia after Peru but let's just say a lot of things that you were not privy to, have been happening behind the scenes and now I am ready for the big reveal. Well...................okay, I am a bit nervous and shy revealing this but what the heck. My plans changed because of a certain special someone, somehow he managed to wiggle himself in my heart and secure a cozy spot. That's what led me back to Quito and now I am living in domestic bliss with him.......okay that last part sounds cheesy right?

Apartment hunting in Quito turned out to be more stressful for me than I had anticipated and I was almost at the point of giving up, mark you this is only after one week! I told you, my impatience will be the death of me one of these days. I have to admit I threw several fits but my sweet guy with his awesome patience took it all in stride and was so chill to the point where I was annoyed, yes! really, I was annoyed (high strung anyone?). Anyway, these are some of the obstacles that we were coming up  against:

A lot of Ecuadorians rent out apartments for a minimum duration of one year and since we are renting for a short period of time, no one wanted to rent out their apartment to us. I do understand their reasons but it was very frustrating especially after coming across several good potentials only to be told we needed a one year contract.

I found myself scouring the classifieds relentlessly and calling so many numbers to the point where I developed a spiel to rush through the calls. Some people I called would be excited at the prospect of a potential new renter until I showed up at their doorstep for a viewing, only to be given a lame excuse that the apartment had just been rented out. Hmmm? that's not what you said an hour ago! This one lady was nice on the phone till I got to her apartment and as soon as she saw me she didn't even bother with a hello before dismissing me and telling me that the apartment had just been rented. I was so pissed off because I knew she was lying so I told her it's not true because 10 minutes ago I was talking to the owner of the building to get directions and he never mentioned anything about the apartment being rented out already. I took out my phone and told her I would go ahead and call him right there and then. She changed her tune pretty quick but was still rude. She didn't even want to show me the apartment but instead pointed upstairs and told me it's on the top floor. I could not believe her rudeness and even though I did view the apartment I knew I would never want to live there if those are the kind of people I was going to be dealing with. I had three such incidences, make your own conclusion but I believe the color of my skin had a great deal to do with some of these shady attitudes.

The other obstacle we were dealing with was getting a reasonably priced apartment in the area we both wanted. We needed to get something close to my boyfriend's job and close to my school which are both around the trendy La Mariscal area. The apartments I was coming across on airbnb were beyond our set budget, we even tried checking out suites in hotels but we found nothing within our budget and the ones we could afford were already rented out. The very cheap apartments were located way too far to be convenient to both of us so that was a bummer, they were either way north or south of the city and the commute just wasn't worth it.

I did find a good apartment via airbnb in a conveniently located neighborhood but the owner was a bit weird and I decided to keep looking for other alternatives. On airbnb I have my picture on there so she knew how I look like but she wanted to see pictures of my boyfriend as well before agreeing to rent to us. She was also adamant to know what nationality he is, really? does that change the value of the money you will get from us when we rent from you?! weird! I just did not understand it.

I was at my wits end but as luck would have it, my very sweet host who I had stayed with my first time in Ecuador and in whose house I was staying in until I found something, came to the rescue. She remembered this one area from 10 years ago where there were furnished short term rental apartments, I was quick to go check out the place as I crossed my fingers hoping that the apartments would still be around and available.

Fortunately for us the apartments were still around and not only that but they also had an available one ready to be rented out. There was a one bedroom apartment available with some furniture so we wouldn't need to buy a lot of stuff, just the basics. I was quick to jump on it and everything was settled pronto, we were ready to move in and I couldn't be more relieved especially after all the drama! Anyway, let me introduce you to our apartment. It's nothing fancy and it could use some sprucing up but it will do for the time we plan on being in Ecuador. By the way, the location could not have been better as it's close to what we both want.

That's the apartment building, the neighborhood is pretty chilled out and I like it.

The main gate to the apartment building

This is the main reception area of the apartment building where you can watch TV and hang out.

The main entrance to the apartment and a peek of the dining room to the right.

The living room which has a door that leads to a backyard.

The dining room

The kitchen

Bathroom, the toilet is discreetly tucked behind a corner below the window.

Us.............remember the Dominican from this post? well, that's the guy. Funny how things turned out huh? I never imagined we would be where we are now but hey, we are here.

That's it folks! what an experience it has been looking for apartments but I am glad it's over now. Let's see where this new and different adventure will lead me, sometimes you just have to take certain risks and if things work out then it's well and good. If they don't then at least you will know and move on without having a lot of "what ifs."

Tips On Apartment Searching In Quito:

Buy the newspaper called El Comercio which has the classified section that lists a lot of apartments for rent. The best days to buy this paper is on Saturday and Sunday, actually the Sunday edition has even more listings.

Some apartments will come with furniture so if you come across an apartment that indicates amoblado or con muebles then that means it's furnished. Some will not indicate this so you can also ask when inquiring about the apartment.

Before you get excited about an apartment make sure the rental contract matches with your needs. Ask what the minimum rental period is, this should be one of your first questions.

Feel free to bargain the rental price, some people will budge and lower it. I managed to get our rental price reduced by $50, it never hurts to ask.

Find out what exactly is included in the rent, shock on me when I came to find out that we will have to pay for water and electricity as these are not included in the rent.

If you are in Quito and want a short term rental with basic furnishing, check out the area around Cristobal Colon and Placido Camaaño. The apartments are on Placido Camaaño and there is only one way you can turn on the street from Cristobal Colon, most taxi drivers will know where this is and the street itself is not that long so you can go from building to building asking for rentals.

You may need to put down a garantia which is like a deposit and this will be returned to you after your stay if there was no damage to the apartment.

You can pay cash but make sure you are given a factura which is an invoice. Always have written evidence just in case. If there is a contract in place it will be in Spanish, if you don't understand most of it have someone go over it and explain it to you if they are able to do so in English. 

If you don't mind commuting then there are many cheap apartments located way out in the southern and northern parts of the city. You will find a lot of them listed on the classifieds. 

Being able to speak and understand Spanish will be very helpful while looking for apartments especially when you are going through the classifieds and calling people. My Spanish classes are paying off! 

Sunday, October 5, 2014

For Those I Met In Cusco

Well, my time in Cusco is done and I can't believe how fast time flew. My initial plan was to stay in this city for a month and that month is up so it's time to move on and seek other adventures, feels like yesterday when I was trying to get settled in Cusco and it's now time to say goodbye.

Even though my stay here has been pretty short taking into account my jaunts to Lima and Puno for several days, I managed to meet some really awesome people who made the city fun for me even though I have to confess that Cusco for some reason never really grew on me. I have nothing against the city but to each their own right? some places just don't rub off on you like others. Anyway, enough of that and without further ado I will introduce you to those who made my stay here worthwhile.

The Staff At Aloha Tiki Bar - This one guy randomly started chatting me up on the street and invited me to come watch him play at a bar near where I live. That bar is Aloha Tiki, in San Blas neighborhood. He was very earnest and his friends who were with him kept telling me that he is actually pretty good so I should really check his act out. They all looked artsy and hippie and were very sweet so I promised to stop by the bar later on in the evening to check out the guy's act. I did keep my promise but the guy was a no show - I later came to find out he had gotten too high and missed his act (long story). 

Anyway, all was not lost because when I showed up at the bar the owners were pretty cool and they invited me to join them in a game of Uno as they waited for the bar to fill up. They were super friendly and we ended up having such a good time that they invited me to stop by again. Let's just say a lot of my evenings were spent at Aloha Tiki hanging out with these folks. Every time I showed up everyone would stop what they were doing and they would each come to give me a hug, you see the lady next to me in the picture below? we ended up bonding really well and every time she would hug me she would say, "Ayyy! please don't go, stay in Cusco longer" (I am translating this in English) she used to say this as my departure date neared. She was super sweet and we had really good conversations. The dudes were such gentlemen and one of them actually took it upon himself to show me other parts of Cusco I hadn't seen, during his day off. These folks were just the best and I will remember them fondly when I think of Cusco. 

My Spanish Teachers - These two were my Spanish teachers, one was my grammar teacher while the other was my conversational practice teacher. What can I say? I developed a bond with them and they became more than my teachers, they were more like my friends and we had many conversations about our personal lives. They were always so much fun and made my class time exciting given the fact that I was taking 4 hours of Spanish everyday. On my last day of class there were many hugs given and we exchanged contacts, they each separately asked me why I couldn't stay longer. It was really touching.

My Housemate - He is from Israel and we met in the house where we were both renting rooms and we just clicked. We used to hang out a lot after my classes and we would take walks around the neighborhood as he showed me all these different places. He is such a cool, funny guy and I enjoyed his company so much, we used to talk about a lot of stuff and it was always such fun. He left Cusco before me and I missed him a lot especially those first few days but we continue to keep in touch. When he left he sent me a message on whatsapp saying he was glad to have met me and that I made Cusco a nicer place for him, Aaaw! likewise my friend, likewise. By the way don't let his serious look in the picture fool you, he is a really sweet guy and has the cutest smile which he needs to show more often in pictures. 

My Favorite Juice Lady - I met this lady when I was with my housemate, he bought some juice from her and she was very chatty and friendly. I bumped into her on the street a week later and I didn't recognize her but she remembered me and she said hi while engaging in some small talk. She was really sweet so I found myself going to her fruit juice stand every evening to get some nutrition plus engage in conversation. It became routine and every time I showed up she would greet me with a wide smile and lots of enthusiasm then we would both tell each other how our day was as she made my usual drink. She used to compliment my hair all the time and would tell me hers is thinning and falling out due to stress, I would tease her and say that maybe she needs to fall in love and the stress would go away, she would laugh so hard at this. When I went to see her one last time she reached over the counter to give me a big hug and told me "until we meet again" she said she didn't want to say goodbye because saying goodbye is final and she hopes to see me again in future. 

Last but not least, are my hosts at the house I lived in. For some reason I never managed to get a picture with them which is such a pity but they were really cool and great people. They were an English couple and the guy was the funniest dude ever! really entertaining and always ready with some funny anecdote to get you laughing. They definitely made my stay in the house better than I expected and I am glad I got to meet them.

That's it folks, I am grateful for the amazing people I have met during my travels so far and I hope I will continue meeting more because it always adds more fun. Once again it's time to pursue new adventures and see what's out there to be experienced. 

Random Thoughts of The Day:

A lot of the indigenous women I have seen over here have really long beautiful thick hair that's usually braided down to their backs, I don't think they cut their hair. I have seen the same with men too especially in Ecuador.

I really don't know what's up with Lima but every different room I have stayed in has had a moldy smell to it.

As I mentioned before, Cusco has a lot of stray dogs so of course it's not uncommon to see a lot of dog poop on the streets. When it rains guess what smell lingers in the air? yup! you got that right, dog poop. This is especially common if you pass an area where the dogs are mostly concentrated which most of the time happens to be in residential neighborhoods. 

Now imagine climbing the many steep steps you will find in Cusco and as you are panting with your mouth open, you are hit by the stench of dog poop. Uurgh! disgusting!

By the way if I come across as very negative in regards to Cusco, don't pay me any mind. I don't mean to paint it as this dump because it does have it's good parts too.

As December nears I am getting a little bit more anxious because it means my adventures may soon be coming to an end. I have to think about applying for jobs and figure out what state I want to settle in because I want to relocate to a different state. Le sigh! let me not even think about that now, let me enjoy this time I have right now.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Walking Around Cusco

There really is never a dull day in this city and if you like crowds and streets full of bustling activities then Cuzco might be your cup of tea. I personally like walking outside and seeing many people on the streets, it just makes everything come alive and gives me a certain kind of energy. That being said, Cuzco is my cup of tea in that regard.

After lunch I like taking walks mostly for the exercise and to familiarize myself more with some of the streets in this city. There is always something entertaining I come across plus the weather is always so nice so I try to enjoy it by being outside as much as possible. I will share some of the images that I have managed to capture with my camera during my walks and by doing so maybe you can get a sense of what I experience and see on the regular.

During my stay here I have witnessed lots of processions and some are really colorful and full of pomp. This particular procession in the picture below took place on a Sunday and it was one of several that I had seen on that day.

You can definitely not say there is a shortage of fruits here. Same as with Colombia and Ecuador, Peru has a lot of fruits to spare so if you are a fruit lover like me, you are spoilt for choice plus the prices are dirt cheap so you can have your fill.

On the streets you will see some of the indigenous women dressed in their traditional clothing. I love the bright colors of their clothes and some of them have found ways of capitalizing on their traditional image. You will see them carrying these cute baby lamps and they will ask you for some money if you want to take pictures of them or with them.

This dude has secured a small area at the oldest street in Cuzco where you can see the old Inca walls. He is always waiting to take pictures with tourists against the wall, of course you have to part with some money if you want a picture taken with him. For the heck of it I decided to take a picture with him, don't ask me what he placed on my head.

Plazas and more plazas. If you like people watching plazas are the best places to do that and this city is not lacking in this provision.

Plaza de Armas - This is the main plaza in Cuzco and is usually full of people and activities. Unfortunately you will encounter plenty of folks hustling you to buy stuff so sometimes it can be annoying but it is a nice plaza to sit and watch the going ons in the city. You will see lots of tourists here and sometimes there are concerts held here as well which makes it even more fun. I took the picture below early in the morning when the crowds hadn't gathered yet.

Plaza de San Francisco - This is a laid back plaza and good for taking it easy and enjoying the warm sun without the hustle and bustle of Plaza de Armas.

Plazoleta San Blas - This plaza is near where I live and it always has artsy folks hanging around selling their wares, it's actually my favorite plaza. I have met interesting characters here and it is a cool small plaza to hang out and appreciate the various artisanal works that are in abundance in the surrounding area and shops.

The views - Cuzco is very hilly so there is always potential to get some amazing views the higher up you go. I have to warn you though, going up can be physically tough but it is worth it plus who doesn't need the exercise anyway?

Rants About Cuzco:

In as much as I appreciate and like certain things about this city, there other things that also get on my nerves and I will go right ahead and express them.

Walking around this city can be exhausting because of how much you will be hustled to buy stuff. Everywhere you go there is always someone shoving stuff in your face for you to buy, sometimes I just feel like shouting, "No! I don't want to buy anything, just because I am a foreigner doesn't make me a cash machine!!!" it is super annoying.

I also find it very annoying when people rip you off by tripling their prices just because you are a foreigner. I understand that life is hard and people are desperate to make a living but the extent at which people go is just appalling. This one guy sold me a painting and I later came to find out he had charged me triple the regular price, I was so pissed off! He did have good paintings and I would have bought more from him had he been honest. These days when I see him on the street I just pass him like I don't know him even when he tries to chat me up.

I passed by this store that had really cute ponchos and I was going to buy one. The girl in the shop quoted me the price and as I continued looking around, an older woman came into the store and I figured she must have been the girl's mother. She started quoting double the price of what the daughter had mentioned before. At that point I was so exhausted from all the rip offs I had encountered and didn't have the energy to call her out on her lies so I walked out of the shop while she was still rattling her ridiculous prices. She followed me outside but I ignored her.

Going into the numerous artisan stores and markets is another huddle, the sales people are so desperate to make a sale that they follow you around the store listing all their products and urging you to buy. I find the desperation both sad and annoying. I know they may be under a lot of pressure to make a sale but such tactics just put off customers.

Everywhere on the busy streets you will find these girls advertising massage services, they will shove their business cards or pamphlets in your face and will be calling out, "massage, massage lady, you need massage??" now picture walking down a street full of these girls, each trying to get you to accept their services.

Yesterday I went to get a pedicure because they are so cheap over here. I finally got to see a sample of those massage parlors because the services were being offered in the same room. Let's just say even if my neck and back are killing me, you will not find me getting a massage in there. The room looked very seedy and the sheets on the massage tables looked like they had seen their share of clients, they did not look clean at all. As for my pedicure, let's just say I had to stop the girl halfway and tell her it was enough. The point is, there is never a shortage of mediocre services here. I could give many examples but I will keep this particular rant short.