Learning from games and entertainment

I’ve found that inside and outside of the classroom the best way to practice Spanish is soften through playing and through having fun. Sometimes that means playing a card game, and other times it means going to the movies.

Of course, there’s Scrabble, which is as fun in Spanish as it is in English. The Latin American version has a very different distribution of tiles than the English version does, so I’ll probably have to purchase or borrow a Spanish-language copy if I want to continue practicing at home.

“Tutti fruiti” is a race to see who can think first of enough words that start with a given letter. For example, let’s say the group begins with the letter a. Then you fill out the chart as fast as you can by writing an animal, a thing, an action, and a food that start with a. If you finish the row first, you say “Tutti fruiti,” and everyone has to stop writing. Then you add up the points: 10 points for each unique word and 5 points for each word that someone else also got.


In Dobble, there’s a card in the middle with a number of objects and each player has a card in their hand that shares at least one of the same objects. The first person who correctly calls out the common object gets to add the card in the middle to their stack, and the person with the most cards at the end wins. While that itself is harder than it sounds, it gets even harder because after winning a round you have to draw a new card with totally different objects on it.

Finally, I’ve found it’s great practice to watch films and television shows that you’re already somewhat familiar with. For example, I went to see the new Lion King remake. Since I had already seen the original, I did not have to worry about following the plot. I could focus on the dialogue and what the characters were saying in any given moment.

Of course I’ve also been reading and watching various Peruvian books, comics, and films too. But when you want to practice with a little less difficulty you can always watch a Spanish dub of a show you’ve already seen in English.


Slang in Lima

In an effort to learn some Peruvian slang (or jergas) I’ve been asking a variety of people to help me identify some of the most common local terms and expressions. I’ve asked Peruvians in clothing shops, bars, Uber cabs, and my language school. They have been men and women and have varied in age. One must have been just eighteen or nineteen years old, and others were in their forties and fifties. I’ll describe some of the slang I’ve learned, though I’ll leave out the swear words.

It’s very common that sang terms are based on formal words that sound alike or have the same letters. When you call a car lenteja, literally meaning “lentil,” you’re really calling it lento, meaning “slow.” When you call someone mano, literally meaning “hand,” you’re really calling them hermano, meaning “brother.” When you say you want to go to the ypla, you r mean the playa, meaning the beach.

The most interesting expression, which I learned from two middle-aged women in a bar, was estoy Chihuán. It means “I’m broke,” but it actually comes from someone’s last name. Leyla Chihuán is a Congresswoman who infamously complained that her salary in Congress was not sufficient to support her lifestyle. Since most Peruvians make much less money than those in Congress do, the phrase sparked widespread ridicule and produced this slang term. Another phrase you can use when you lack money is estar misio.

Informal greetings are common among good friends but are not used in formal settings. Instead of hello, people sometimes say ¡Habla causa!,” “¡Habla batteria!,” or “¡Habla bateria!” The words causa, bateria, and pata are used like “friend” or “dude.”

I found that you’re often more likely to hear most of those words above from men, but one slang term that I only heard from women was churro.  It is an adjective used to describe a handsome man.

There are some “Peruvianisms” that seemed very familiar to everyone I talked with, and most were very comfortable using them. A choro is a thief. Chela means beer. A pituco is a rich snob. A tombo is a police officer. When you have bad luck, you say “¡Que piña!,” even though piña literally means pineapple. When you are embarassed or ashamed you can say “!Que roche!





Tacu tacu

I ordered a tacu tacu–a version of refried beans and rice–and talked to the waitress Estephanie about it.

One theory says that tacu tacu began among enslaved Afro-Peruvians who figured out how to make use of food waste. Chronicles suggest that grandmothers would prepare it for breakfast using left-overs from the previous night’s dinner. Some theorize, however,  that the dish has Quechua origins.

There are many ways to eat tacu tacu, Estefanie told me. While it’s usually made with Canary beans, sometimes it is made with lima beans or lentils. It’s sometimes eaten alongside bacon, fried eggs, or seafood, and sometimes these sides are mixed into the tacu tacu itself. Estefanie told me that tacu tacu, like the lomo saltado, is often cooked in a wok. This is an example of the extensive Chinese influence on Peruvian cuisine.

Since I was eating at an all-vegan restaurant, the dish was fried in vegan butter and was served with soy steak strips instead of animal-based meat. soy meat instead of animal-based meat. Sauteed onions and peppers were also included.


Adiós, Cusco

My last week in Cusco was a scramble to squeeze everything in–one last visit to favorite restaurants, spending time with friends, and completing another hike. Here are some highlights:

My friends Avery, Sean, and I took an early morning bus to Laguna Humantay, a popular hiking destination for tourists in Peru. After some delays, we made it to the sunny base of the hike, and spent about 90 minutes panting up the steep incline. To says the views of the lake at the top were worth it is an understatement; I was blown away by the blueness of the water and the snowcapped mountains in the background. This definitely was my favorite hiking experience of the trip!

My last week in Cusco also coincided with the last week of June, and this month is considered sacred in Cusco. There are festivals, parades, and celebrations every day, and it was great to have this sort of send-off.

A parade outside of the Church of the Society of Jesus in the main plaza.

Avery and I also frequented our favorite coffee shop the mornings of my final week. It was such a blessing to meet a friend from the states to explore the city and practice my Spanish with! We also managed to make it to the cine to watch “Toy Story 4” in Spanish, whispering to each other to make sure we both understand the plot. Avery, I will miss you dearly!

I am incredibly grateful for my SLA grant–traveling abroad for the first time and immersing myself in Spanish was an experience that I will never forget, and I am elated at how much my language skills have improved. Having met the goals I set for myself six weeks ago, I am determined to continue to pursue Spanish and look forward to all future learning opportunities.


Delicious Vegetarian Food in Lima So Far

July 26 update: I’ve found an all-vegan restaurant with food that’s as delcious and even more affordable than the food at Vida Sana. It is also much closer to where I’m staying. It’s called Loving Hut, and here are some pictures of the food, which includes vegan versions of typical Peruvian dishes such as ceviche, tacu tacu, and bistec a lo pobre.

[“seafood” dish photo]

All the meat, fish, and eggs in these photos are plant-based. The chef showed me a list of the ingredients in the vegan egg. It included potato and soy for texture and sunflower oil for the color of the yolk.

Before my wife and I left to Perú, several of our friends remarked that we would have a very difficult or even impossible time keeping a vegetarian diet in Perú, given the heavy amounts of seafood people eat here with Lima being right on the Pacific Ocean. However, we have found that the vegetarian cuisine here is rich, delicious, affordable, and abundant.

For example, I ate out once with a friend who ordered fish and it cost twice as much as the vegan meal I ordered. I can’t remember what I ordered exactly, but it may have been lomo vegano (based on the lomo saltado), a common vegan meal pictured here. Most restaurants will make it for you even if it’s not on the menu.

Our meat-eating friends once brought us to a McDonald’s here, and we noticed that a hamburger costs 15 soles, or about 5 U.S. dollars. For the same price, you can get a multi-course, delicious vegetarian meal at the downtown restaurant Vida Sana including an appetizer, entree, tea, dessert, and a generous tip. You can see in these photos that the meals there combine fresh vegetables with a bit of delicious soy protein.

Another safe bet is to go to the ubiquitous chifa restaurants that mix together Chinese and Peruvian cuisines. These usually have several vegetarian and vegan options. I recently ordered these mixed veggies and tofu over noodles, and I’ve found that you can order similar dishes at pretty much any chifa restaurant. Vegetarian chaufa, a fried rice mixing Chinese and Peruvian style ingredients and flavors, is also easy to find at chifa restaurants (the photo of the chaufa is from the Internet and the only one that we didn’t take ourselves).

Today for lunch, my wife and I decided to check out a more upscale all-vegan restaurant called Veda. We were so hungry–and indecisive!–that we shared 3 entrees between us, but the bill still ended up being only about $15 for each of us.

The first entree was a margarita pizza made with cashew cheese. Second was called ananda and included a lentil stew, spinach, and artisenal bread. Third was a lentil burger with a sweet potato bun and fries. And for dessert, we had a vegan cheesecake. It was absolutely delicious, perhaps the best meal we’ve had here so far.

Of course, the cheapest option is to cook at home, and we do that a lot even though our apartment lacks an oven and has a barely-functioning stove. I cooked this tofu and veggie stir-fry last night, and the ingredients didn’t cost very much. The only hard part was finding the tofu. The supermarket keeps tofu in the cheese section for some reason! Burritos are another easy easy meal to make.

My point is that being a vegetarian in Lima has been pretty easy, and I’d bet that being more strictly vegan (as we are at home in the U.S.) would also be possible albeit more difficult.

You might protest that I’m missing out on a lot. Well, I’ve tried bites of the ceviche and lomo saltado and other meat and fish dishes from friends’ plates. I even had a bite of someone’s piranha (don’t believe me? here’s the picture!) The truth is that I think these vegetarian dishes are always comparable and often better than what they’re eating. And it’s almost always cheaper.

^^(Yuck. Yes I did have a bite, but, no, you’re not missing much.)

Celebrations in the Streets: Fútbol and LGBTQI Pride

For my second post, I’d like to share a couple instances where the people of Lima have taken the streets for celebration while I’ve been here. First, I saw that the frenzy of soccer matches comes close even to what I’ve seen in South Bend following football. Second, I’ve learned that Peruvians take the street not only for sports but also for social justice and dignity.

On June 18th, I headed to a small bar near Kennedy Park to catch a soccer match between Perú and Bolivia. It seemed that practically everyone in Lima watches these American Cup soccer games, whatever their age or gender. To my alarm, even the Uber drivers watch the games their smart phones as they drive.

The large crowd, packed into a small martini bar and sipping on beers and pisco sours, roared with delight as Perú’s captain Paola Guerrero scored his team’s first goal. I’m not much of a sports fan, but even I got swept into the excitement as we all stared at the relatively small television screen hanging above the bartender’s head.

When Perú won the match, 3 to 1, celebration broke out and fans rushed into the streets. Fireworks, banners, and costumes sprung seemingly out of nowhere. A group marching in the streets chanted “Perú!” each several seconds to the beat of a catchy drum roll.

I went yesterday to observe Lima’s 18th annual LGBTQI Pride parade. Thousands of rainbow flags filled the streets.


Paracas and Ica

Last weekend, I went on a day-trip to Peru’s coastal towns of Paracas and Ica. The bus left Lima at 5 am and would not return until midnight.

Upon arrival in Paracas, we boarded a boat and saw the world-famous ancient Candelabra lines. A newspaper explains their significance: “Thought to date back to 200 B.C., the Candelabra’s well-preserved state owes to its location: the nitrous atmosphere in the hill acts as a binder, compressing and hardening the sand surrounding the geoglyph. Likewise, Paracas’ strong winds regularly remove any excess sand from its canals, keeping lines well-defined.”

The boat continued to an series of small islands and rocks home to sea lions and penguins. The penguins are hard to see in these photos, but they’re there!

We continued to Ica, where there rests an oasis known as the Huacachina lagoon. We held on for our lives as our dune buggy sped up the sandy hill, and as we rode sand-boards part of the way down.

Conversación y Controversia

For my last two weeks of classes in Cusco, I was moved up to a higher level and have begun a new textbook titled “Conversación y Controversia”. These classes have allowed me to practice my conversation skills at a more in-depth level with my teachers and peers, while learning new vocabulary surrounding controversial topics. With my teacher Rocio, we have read articles and discussed topics like abortion, marriage, atheism, and immigration in the United States. At the root of all of these conversations are cultural differences–it is incredibly interesting to listen to her point of view, and I enjoy sharing what the differing opinions in the US are surrounding these topics.

During my six weeks in the city, it has become clear to me that nearly every Cusqueño identifies as Catholic, even if they are not practicing. When discussing abortion, Rocio was clear on her Catholic views and was shocked to learn that abortion is legal in the US, since it is illegal in Peru. She shared with me a few sad stories of illegal operations, and we discussed the pros and cons of the difference in laws between Peru and the US. When discussing atheism, I learned from Rocio that public schools in Cusco essentially act as a Catholic school would in the US–students attend mass and daily religion classes. We discussed how the histories of the colonization of both Peru and US has caused a difference in the separation between church and state. The US is a mixing pot of cultures and identities, while nearly all of Peru shares a religion. Catholic holidays are celebrated as national holidays here, and Rocio does not know any atheists.

Immigration has been an ongoing topic since I’ve arrived. All of my teachers have been quick to mention Trump and his policies, and it has been difficult for me to address questions about immigration laws and opinions in the US, because it seems they are constantly changing and there is never a simple solution. Rocio ran through a list of immigration scenarios with me, and it is my homework to determine what is considered “legal” and “illegal” by our current system. Though there are not many Peruvians attempting to migrate to the US in this moment, Cusqueños seem concerned for the well-being of Central Americans attempting to immigrate.

Despite this, attitudes towards Venezuelan immigrants in Cusco are completely different. Venezuela has been facing an economic and political crisis for years, and 10% of its citizens have left the country, many arriving in Peru. From talking with locals, I have noticed negative and generalized attitudes towards Venezuelans that, at times, mirror attitudes towards Latino immigrants in the US. One of my teachers is quick to point out Venezuelans in the street, citing a clear difference in looks and character than Cusqueños, and a host parent has claimed that Venezuelans “rob and kill people” (though so do Peruvians, I’m sure). One of my teachers is Venezuelan and immigrated to Peru a year ago. He has opened up to me about some of the blatant racism he’s experienced and how difficult the transition has been. For example, his brother was denied a waiter position after the restaurant learned of his nationality. At times, it’s been difficult for me to grapple with this contradiction–Cusqueños do not understand harsh immigration laws in the US, but they also can express disdain for immigrants in their own country. Of course, I acknowledge that I don’t understand the situation fully and it is impossible for me to judge the situation without more context and information.

My opinions aside, my classes with the “Conversación y Controversia” textbook have been nothing short of fascinating. I feel as though I have learned so much in past week alone about Peruvian culture, and to do so in Spanish makes the process all the better. Politics, Catholicism, and morals weave in and out of my conversations, and I can’t wait to discuss these topics further in the future.


Weekend Wanderings

I have had a wonderful second-to-last weekend in Cusco! My Spanish classes are challenging and in-depth, and I am feeling much more confident with the language than I was four weeks ago. After spending Friday sick at home, I was ready to hit the ground running on Saturday, replenished and excited to make the most of my two days free from classes. I began the day by touring Qorikancha, the most important temple in the Incan Empire, dedicated to the Sun God. When the Spanish arrived, they spent a century building the Church of Santo Domingo on the base of Qorikancha, destroying the temple itself but leaving much of the complex stonework built by the Incans. I deeply appreciated the religious art featured throughout the site, and I’m glad I was finally able to explore this piece of history that sits just across the street from my Spanish classes.

In the gardens on the grounds of Qorikancha

The following morning, I attended mass at Santo Domingo, and was extremely impressed by this beautiful cathedral. I also visited two other churches–Catedral del Cusco and the Basilica Menor de la Merced–as Sundays during masses are the only time when tourists can see these churches for free. Though I regularly attend Spanish mass on campus, it was an entirely different experience to witness mass in the city I’m calling home this summer. Afterwards, I walked around some areas new to me, and grabbed a coffee in the San Blas neighborhood.

Mass in Santo Domingo, attached to Qorikancha

Coffee with a view in San Blas

I was also able to eat at Chicha por Gaston Acurio, a famous restaurant in Cusco, this weekend. Here, my friends and I sampled chicha morada, a traditional Peruvian drink made from fermented purple maize. We asked our waiter how the chicha was prepared in this particular restaurants, and learned that, traditionally, the maize is chewed up and spit into water to ferment. Our chicha was fermented with a different method in this restaurant. Chicha is significant to Peru, because it was a drink consumed by the Incas and served to the Incan Sun God, Inti, during celebrations and sacrifices. We also tried a classic Peruvian dish, lomo saltado. This delicacy is a mix of Chinese and Peruvian cooking traditions, part of a category called chifa. Lomo saltado is a stir fry of vegetables with beef steak, marinated with soy sauce and other spices. Adding potatoes keeps with the Peruvian staple of eating this vegetable with every meal. All in all, the restaurant was a relaxing experience, and it was fun to engage our waiter to learn more about Cusquenian cuisine.

Two different types of chicha

Lomo saltado

Halfway Point: New Sites and a Strike

I’ve reached the halfway point of my time in Cusco, and I can’t believe how quickly my six weeks are passing by. I spend many mornings in a coffee shop with my friend Avery, and I’ve been able to explore more neighborhoods and areas surrounding the city center. This past week, I went to the zoo with my professor and classmates, where we put our conversations skills to test during the long walk, and fed the monkeys and parrots with crackers from our hands. This weekend, my friends and I hiked through the San Blas neighborhood to reach Cristo Blanco, a huge statue of Christ on a mountain overlooking Cusco. The steep walk was breathtaking, as was the view. I also ventured out to the San Pedro Market, where countless vendors line up to sell their food and souvenirs.

Studying in my favorite coffee shop, Cappuccino Cafe!

Pictures from our hike to Cristo Blanco. The view was incredible!

This past week, I also witnessed a major transportation strike throughout the city. No buses were running, and very few taxis and other cars were in the streets. My host sisters’ schools were cancelled, and many people did not attend work. As I walked to classes during the strike, people walked through the streets yelling and holding signs, and a more organized march down the main avenue occurred later in the afternoon.

Thanks to a safety app I was required by ND to download on my phone before traveling abroad, I knew that the strike was happening on this day, but I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. I was able to ask two of my Spanish professors and one of my host sisters about their thoughts concerning the strike, and got some more information. One professor, Vanessa, explained that the strike was for a combination of demands. Bus drivers want higher salaries, gas prices in Cusco are too expensive, among other things. She talked about the frequency of strikes in Cusco–something I’ve noticed during my 3 weeks here, though this was the largest one I’ve seen–but how they always fall on weekdays in the afternoon, so her job prohibits her from participating. Vanessa also told us about a strike that occurred a few years ago, after the government poisoned a great number of dogs that live on the streets in Cusco. This particularly bothered her, and she wishes she had been able to march. Vanessa asked us about strikes or protests we’ve participated in in the US, and we talked about women’s rights and gun reform.

I asked my private lesson professor, Nely, about the strike as well. She immediately jumped from transportation to talking about healthcare and a hospital in Cusco. Nely explained that the strike was also to protest the delay in building a new hospital in Cusco. Apparently, people at the top of the project management have been pocketing the money, and the hospital has not been completed in over 7 years. Nely, along with many others, are extremely frustrated with the corruption and delay, as well as with the state of healthcare in Cusco as a whole. It costs exorbitant amounts of money to see a doctor or a specialist, and not everyone is Cusco is afforded healthcare. I also asked my host sister about the strike, but she was merely happy to skip school. Her dad, however, made sure that she watched the news the morning of the strike to learn more.

While it felt incredibly unusual to see empty streets and people away from work in Cusco, I was inspired by the capacity of Cusqueños to come together for a common cause, or causes. Time will tell if this strike or others will bring change to the protestor’s demands, but I am anxious to follow along.