Living in Lima Part 2: Day Trip to Peru’s Mini Galapagos & Natural Desert Oasis

If you research the best day trips to take from Lima, the towns of Paracas and Huacachina will be high on the list. Both are located in the province of Ica, and they’re situated close enough to each other that tour buses can stop at both towns and return to Lima on the same day. This past Sunday, I took this tour after pre-booking with Peru Hop, a hop-on, hop-off bus/coach service that my colleagues recommended. The coach itself was clean and comfortable, making it easy to take a nap after my very early 5:40AM pick-up.

En route to Paracas at 6AM

Our first stop was Paracas, located on Peru’s west coast. We arrived at 9:30AM and went straight to the docks, where we settled into the waiting speedboats. The cloudy skies didn’t take away from the beauty of the rock formations and structures that we saw, many of which were thousands of years old (according to our bilingual boat guide). 20 minutes later, we reached the Ballestas Islands, a group of protected islands that are home to dozens of species, including sea lions (see video below), penguins, cormorants, pelicans, mussels, crabs, and star fish. It’s easy to see why these islands are nicknamed the “Poor Man’s Galapagos”!

We returned to shore at noon and had 45 minutes to explore before departing for Huacachina. Our tour guides had pointed out restaurants where we would receive 10% off our meals for being Peru Hop passengers, so I stopped at one to try their famous maple hot cakes. This was my first time trying hot cakes, and I can promise you that it won’t be my last! They were delicious and really hit the spot – I guess the boat ride worked up my appetite.

2-hour boat tour of the Ballestas Islands

Beautiful old structures in the middle of the ocean

A charming tourist area in Paracas

Maple hot cakes for breakfast!

Next up was Huacachina, a stunning desert town 1.5 hours southeast of Paracas. Our central meeting point was at a surprisingly gorgeous hostel, where we were offered free wi-fi and the option to dine at a poolside restaurant. Many of us decided to preorder food for later so that we could eat it on the way home. I chilled out in the shade and bought an extra bottle of water because it had suddenly gotten hot and sunny (approximately 28 degrees Celsius). The Peru Hop website was definitely right to suggest bringing sunscreen and sunglasses!

At 3:30, we met up with the tour guides and were split into groups of 6-8 for dune buggying. If you watched that video and thought, “Wow, dune buggying looks terrifying”, that’s because it is. The driver took us up to a lookout point, but on the way there, he sped up and down extremely steep sand dunes. I’m not a fan of rollercoasters and neither were the four Mexican girls in my group, but the driver didn’t care – he gleefully raced up and down the vertical dunes, to the utter delight of the only male passenger in our vehicle! The rest of us were hoarse from screaming with terror. The guide had explained that he would expect a tip for taking us through the dunes at full speed, so the male passenger covered the tip for everyone as he was the only one who wanted the buggy to go at the fastest speed possible. (FYI, the costs of the day’s activities were already included in the fee for this full-day tour. The only extras were tips, food, and optional desert supplies, such as bandanas).

Getting ready to head out for a nerve-wracking ride!

I have to admit, however, that the stomach-churning rollercoaster ride was worth it for the views of the sunset and the only natural oasis in South America:

The natural oasis in Huacachina

I couldn’t get enough of this view!

There was an option to try sand-boarding (see video below) down the dunes, but I opted out – it looked like an accident waiting to happen. Ironically, we later saw a woman being driven to the nearby hospital with what looked like a neck injury.

We walked back down the dunes and picked up our food at the hostel at 6PM. The bus had unforeseen mechanical issues and was delayed by almost two hours, but I ran into two Canadian colleagues and was in good company while we waited. After the 4.5-hour coach ride, I got back to my apartment around 1AM, exhausted but so happy that I had taken this day trip. Peru Hop itself was a great experience, in spite of the delay – the tour guides were helpful and professional and I felt safe travelling across the country with them. I highly recommend a trip to Paracas and Huacachina for anyone who has a day or two to spare while in Peru!

Living in Lima Part 1: New Job, New Foods, and New Experiences Every Day

Happy Thanksgiving to those of you tuning in from Canada! Myself and my Canadian colleagues here in Lima are truly sad to be missing Thanksgiving dinner, not to mention Ontario’s incomparable autumn colours.

Today is a national holiday in Peru, so I finally got the chance to sit down and pen this update about life here. My first three weeks in Lima have flown by! In the past month, I started a new job (the one I moved here for), celebrated my birthday with new colleagues, tried tasty Peruvian dishes, explored a local market, and took a guided walking tour of Lima’s historical centre. I also stayed at a hostel for the first time, am trying to improve my Spanish each day, and am learning to balance full-time work and full-time online classes. The best part is that I’m not experiencing these things alone; one of my roommates is a close colleague at work, and we’re having fun getting to know Lima and learning the ropes at the office.

Without a doubt, one of the best things about Lima is its food. While I have yet to try Peruvian classics such as ceviche and Lomo Saltado, a restaurant near my office has a constantly revolving menu of local staples (it’s less than $4 CAD for an appetizer, entree, and a juice of the day). Take a look at the photos below, and check out the video to witness a truly Peruvian lunch – potatoes with the famous Huancaína sauce, chicha morada (Peruvian purple corn juice), and live music via a Peruvian pan flute.

Rice and lentils with chicken

Palta rellena (avocado stuffed with vegetables)

Rice, chicken stew and a yellow-green Peruvian potato

Rice and chicken in mushroom sauce

Pollo al Sillao (rice and chicken in soy sauce)

Unsurprisingly, my recent visit to the local market culminated in a fridge full of fresh produce. Keep an eye out for a separate blog post about the goodies that my roommate and I found there!

Work has been very busy and slightly overwhelming. I’m working at a project called EQWIP HUBs, which offers entrepreneurship and employability training sessions for youth in 6 countries and provides graduates with the opportunity to receive seed capital for their businesses. I’m part of Peru’s four-person Youth Leadership Team, which is designed to collect and analyze data about the livelihood statuses of local graduates. Our main goal is put together a comprehensive report (to be shared with the project’s partners) detailing how the graduates’ businesses are doing, the main takeaways from their months of training, and their suggestions for improving the project’s quality and delivery of classes and workshops. Our contracts with the project end in mid-December, so we have two months left to interview (by way of surveys and focus groups) approximately 100 graduates and then analyze the findings.

On my birthday, I was able to leave work a little early with my roommate (since we had worked late earlier in the week) and we checked out the famous outdoor shopping mall, Larcomar. We enjoyed the ocean views and I had some fantastic chocolate cake and coffee from Juan Valdez Café – I highly recommend both. After that, we met some of our colleagues at Mercado 28, a newly-opened restaurant where I had a delicious birthday burger. The restaurant has a cool “market” concept where diners can choose from various small restaurants located inside the space. They have a wide variety of foods, including ceviche, sushi, paella, poké bowls, Peruvian street foods and, of course, the burgers.

Relaxing with a great view of the Pacific

A classic burger – calories don’t count on your birthday!

The best chocolate cake I’ve had so far in Lima!

View from the outdoor shopping centre Larcomar

That’s all for me, folks – I have to be up early for work tomorrow. Thanks for reading!

I’m Moving to Peru on Thursday: Join Me in Exploring a New City!

It seems like it was just yesterday that I was mulling over the idea of moving to Lima, Peru to work at a youth development project. Tomorrow – which marks 6 months since I applied for the job – I’m actually going forward with it! Lima is a cultural hub, boasting a vibrant arts scene, world-renowned foods, and stunning beaches (see below). Google tells me Lima is home to roughly 11 million people – I wonder how different that will feel compared to Toronto’s 2.7 million. It’ll certainly be a welcome change of scenery!

Have you been to Lima? Tell me about your experiences in the comments below. 🙂

A few Lima-based members of the project that I’ll be working at, EQWIP HUBs, were able to find accommodations for myself and another Canadian staff member/volunteer. Our third roommate, who already works at EQWIP HUBs, has been living in the furnished three-bedroom apartment in the San Isidro neighbourhood with two other staff members. Their contracts ended recently, but she’ll be working there until this November. We connected via Facebook recently and she’s been kind enough to answer all of my burning questions about the lifestyle there and which necessities I should bring from home. I’ll meet her on Thursday night; the project has arranged for each of us Canadians (8 in total) to be taken to our accommodations in taxis when we arrive in Lima at 11 PM. The same taxi will pick us up at 8:30 AM on Friday to drop us off at the office for orientation and training, and then we’ll have the weekend free to rest and explore the city.

I’ll make sure to post regular updates, so feel free to subscribe and join me on this new adventure. Ciao for now!

lima peru

Beautiful Lima. Source: Fotos593/Shutterstock

I’m Moving to Peru!

Hello again, friends! Happy belated Canada Day, and Happy Fourth of July to those of you celebrating today. I haven’t updated my blog in over a year, but I have a good excuse: life got very busy! The final classes for my undergraduate degree will be completed by this fall, just in time for my next adventure: I’m moving to Peru this September for a short-term youth development job!

As many of you know, I study international development and journalism and aspire to work in those fields. While researching global development jobs online, I stumbled upon an application for an Ottawa-based project called EQWIP HUBs. It’s an initiative of the Government of Canada that has innovative and collaborative centres in six countries, and one of its main goals is to offer entrepreneurship and employment training to local youth so they can later create financially- and environmentally-sustainable livelihoods. Sounds fantastic, right? I applied right away, attended Skype interviews, and was offered a three-month-long placement in Peru (in either Lima or Chiclayo). I will be part of the Youth Leadership Team, which you can read more about here. I leave this September, and I could not be more excited!

Before I leave, I’ll be fundraising $2,950 for EQWIP HUBs. The proceeds go directly towards the various programs, all of which positively impact youth in Ghana, Senegal, Tanzania, Indonesia, Peru, and Bolivia. The donation link is up on my Facebook page, and some of you may receive emails if you’ve sponsored me in the past for the World Partnership Walk (for which I did not fundraise this year). Please consider joining me in supporting this terrific initiative. 🙂 Thanks for reading!

 

In Honour of Canada Day: 15 Crazy Facts About Canada You Didn’t Know

Happy 150th, Canada! This year marks a big anniversary for our great nation, and while not all Canadians will be celebrating, the majority of us will be sticking Canadian flags on every bare surface we can find and admiring the fireworks with our friends and families. I’ve compiled a list of 15 fascinating facts about (I mean, ‘aboot’) Canada – feel free to use these tidbits to impress your fellow Canucks this weekend.

  1. Our national motto is “A Mari usque ad Mare”, meaning “From Sea to Sea”.
  2. Canada is the second-largest country in the world, second only to Russia. Many Canadians insist that it’s also the second coldest country in the world, second only to Russia.
  3. The coldest temperature ever recorded here was -63C (-81.4F) in the Yukon. See what I mean? Brrr!
  4. We’ve created overpasses for wildlife. In Alberta’s Banff National Park, there are a number of curved highways and tunnels covered in greenery which allow animals such as bears, moose, deer, wolves, and cougars to safely cross highways instead of wandering onto the road and causing collisions. Neat, eh? Read more here.
  5. The North American beaver is our national animal.
  6. About 75% of the world’s pure maple syrup supply is produced in Canada. Yum!
  7. During the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, our athletes set two records: most gold medals won by a country during a Winter Olympics and most golds won by a host country during a Winter Olympics. That’s definitely something to brag about!
  8. Canada has about 1400 airports, the largest and busiest of which is Toronto Pearson International.
  9. In Saskatchewan, hoodies are called “bunnyhugs”. Aww.
  10. About 30% of Canada’s land mass is covered in forests.
  11. Canada is home to nearly 60% of the world’s polar bear population.
  12. The name “Canada” is said to come from the Iroquioan word kanata, meaning “village”.
  13. British author A. A. Milne fashioned the beloved Winnie the Pooh after a black bear cub he frequently visited at the London Zoo, who was named “Winnipeg” by the Canadian soldier who donated her. The soldier’s hometown was, of course, Winnipeg, Manitoba.
  14. Montreal is the the fourth largest French-speaking city in the world. Ooh la la.
  15. Residents in Churchill, Manitoba often leave their cars unlocked during the winter to provide shelter for pedestrians who might encounter polar bears.

Happy Canada Day!

Architectural Digest’s Style & Design Tips for April 2017

Did you know that Architectural Digest has been around since 1922? The cover design and magazine layout have changed multiple times since then, of course, but to this day the magazine still remains a renowned international resource for home design and decor. Its staff must already be hard at work on changes and improvements for the publication’s upcoming 100-year anniversary!

April and May are popular months for spring cleaning and home renovations, so with that in mind, I hope you’ll get some good information from the below tips.

1. Don’t be afraid to break the rules when decorating.

Monogrammed pillowcases, Serpentine sofas, brightly-painted walls, and vibrant art all made appearances in this month’s issue. No matter how “out there” your decor may be, the magazine reiterates that the idea is to showcase your style, so don’t worry about what others might think of it! So don’t hesitate if you want to display an undulating couch or paint every room a different colour.

2. Incorporate ethnic pieces for a “global flair” and patterned floors, pillows, and carpets for a “geometric punch”.

Whether it’s a Persian rug, Moroccan bowls, South American textiles, or African sunset paintings, there’s no doubt that worldly accents make you appear more worldly. This has been a recurring theme in many issues of Architectural Digest, so we can assume the trend is here to stay. Also, adding geometric designs around your home will brighten and modernize your space. Start with something small, like a lamp shade or picture frame, and work up to floor-length curtains or the floor.

3. Old-school glamour is making a comeback – think opulence by way of stunning jewel tones, brass accents, and porcelain.

Both jewel tones and brass accents are reminiscent of Old Hollywood glamour, which the magazine says is a very sought-after theme right now. Stunning jewel colours such as emerald, ruby, sapphire, and gold (as seen on the April cover) can instantly take your dining or living room from boring to elegant.

4. Architecture works inside, too! Majestic archways, wooden dining room tables, and oddly-shaped furniture will never go out of style.

If you want to display cool furniture that no one else will have, pick up an exposed wood table or an art deco-style piece. (IKEA has both, and at affordable prices.) Arched windows, entryways, or doorways, as seen here, can make your home look like it was designed by a world-famous architect. And who doesn’t want that?

5. Jazz up a plain bathroom with eye-catching tiles and mosaics.

Tired bathrooms, be gone! As explained here, mosaics and punchy tiles can make your powder room look big and extremely stylish. FYI: placing fun wallpaper over boring walls and installing cheap yet chic sink fittings definitely counts as redecorating.

6. Turn your bedroom into a mix of nostalgia and comfort.

Decorate with simple elements from your childhood that take you back to the easy, carefree life you likely had as a kid. Patterned bedspreads, vintage mirrors, and wooden headboards are a good place to start. Often, modern bedrooms feel too reminiscent of a hotel room; while that works for some people, others may feel more at ease in a room that feels like the space they grew up in.

 

 

This Earth Day, Here Are 7 Simple Ways to Reduce Your Environmental Impact on Earth

On April 22nd, 1970, after witnessing the devastating effects of a massive oil spill in California, U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson successfully inspired 20 million Americans to march and demonstrate until environmental protection became a part of their country’s political agenda. Since then, April 22nd has been celebrated as Earth Day every single year. Today, it is a global event aimed at educating people from all walks of life about how we can help create a healthy and sustainable environment. (First and foremost is to reduce, reuse, and recycle.)

Whether we know it or not, each of us has contributed in some way to climate change, air and ocean pollution, and environmental degradation. According to wired.com, “In 2014, plastic grocery bags were the seventh most common item collected during the Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup, behind smaller debris such as cigarette butts, plastic straws, and bottle caps.” Those are likely some of the items each of us throws away on a weekly basis, and that’s something we need to change. The following is a list of ways to reduce your environmental impact on our planet!

1. Use travel mugs and reusable water bottles instead of Styrofoam, plastic, and paper. 

This is one of the simplest tips on this list to adhere to. You can find affordable travel mugs and BPA-free water bottles at Walmart, Costco, or your local grocery store. Globally, we create so much pointless plastic and paper waste that ends up decomposing in landfills and oceans. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Americans throw away an estimated 25 billion Styrofoam cups per year (around 82 cups per person). That means there are literally millions of pounds of Styrofoam and plastic debris floating around in our oceans, which pose a very real risk to the health of marine life. Bonus: many coffee houses, such as Starbucks, will reward you with a $0.10 or $0.20 discount on drinks when you bring your own mug or tumbler. Starbucks even sells an environmentally-friendly, reusable cup for $2 that is an exact replica of the brand’s traditional paper ones. 

2. Carpool, walk, bike, and use public transportation whenever possible. 

This isn’t an option for everyone, but it’s worth making the effort if you do have access to a bike, shared car, and/or public transportation. You’ll cut down on the amount of pollution you produce and may even get to your destination more quickly. If Canadian and Americans (roughly 372 million of us) carpooled, biked, or took the bus every other day, we’d make a noticeable difference in the amount of emissions our countries would produce. 

3. Switch your plastic grocery bags for reusable ones. 

You can find these bags everywhere (try Walmart or your local grocery store). Whether they’re made of cotton, straw, or recycled materials, you’ll be reducing the number of plastic bags you throw away each year that end up negatively impacting marine life or taking decades to decompose in landfills. 

4. Lower your water and energy usages. 

You might be surprised at how much of a financial and environmental impact your household’s energy consumption and water usage have. These are a few ways to reduce your water and energy bills: only run the laundry and dishwasher at full capacity and during off-peak hours, don’t leave the water running while you brush your teeth, take faster showers, fix leaky faucets to save wasted water, turn off the lights when you leave a room, only turn on the heat and air conditioning when necessary, buy energy-efficient light bulbs, and unplug electronics from the wall when they’re not in use.

5. Pack waste-free meals, picnics, and snacks.

As noted in tip #1, it is incredibly important for each of us to reduce our amount of Styrofoam, plastic, and paper waste! Rather than packing breakfast or lunch for yourself or others using Cling Wrap/plastic wrap, paper napkins, and plastic utensils, use Tupperware, real cutlery from home, and basic cloth napkins that can be tossed in the laundry when they get dirty. Reusable food containers (such as Tupperware) can be used in any situation, from bringing home food after a family get-together to packing away leftovers at a restaurant to storing your entire take-out meal. (The last two sound a little extreme, but a quick Google search proved that they’re good ideas that help cut down on waste.) 

6. Upgrade to energy-efficient home appliances.

Look for home appliances such as dishwashers, air humidifiers, and refrigerators that are emblazoned with the ENERGY STAR logo – this means they were built to reduce energy consumption and money spent on said energy. (Products become ENERGY STAR-certified when they reach high levels of energy efficiency.)

7. Eat local, or go vegetarian if you’re really committed. 

The idea of eating locally is that food that is grown, produced, and manufactured locally (usually within 100 miles) doesn’t have to travel very far to end up on your plate, thus reducing the amount of emissions produced in preparing your meal. Restaurants have caught on to this trend and often have tasty “farm-to-table” or “sustainable” menu options. You can take further action by becoming a vegetarian, which is not a new lifestyle choice but has garnered tons of support in recent years as research shows that it results in fewer emissions produced per person. Find out more about eating locally here and more about becoming a vegetarian here