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Published: April 30th 2017
Bagua Grande is where I am right now, and it's been wonderful for a number of reasons; the food is simple and rich, I'm away from naughty commercial restaurants like McDonald's, there's nature all around, and the weather is tropical. The best aspect of living in new places is almost always the people, their lives, and their customs, and it's certainly been this way here too! One wonderful characteristic of Latin American people is that they are so accommodating and social, and once you get to know people a bit better, they just want to induct you into the family and have it done with! Living with my wonderful Mexican family has made me feel that I really do have two families now, and I missed them just as much as my friends and family from the UK during the 3 "internetless" months from January to the start of April. Peruvian people have proven to be just as generous; being quick to invite you to parties, gatherings, or just to grab a quick juice at lunchtime/beer at night.
Bagua Grande has been distinct from any other experience I've had in a few ways, including the pace of life and general demeanor of the people; they're so relaxed about everything! Time runs slowly here, I think, which explains why most Peruvian people look younger than they actually are. I bustle through the local park after lunch, and rush any conversation that breaks out so that I can be on time for my classes. People find that quite funny here, because the concept of appointed times is rather more flexible than in the UK, and they only want to chat for "un ratito" (which is any amount of time from six seconds to about half an hour, as far as I can make out). This also carries over to plenty of other social situations; on numerous occasions, I've gone into a shop, waited at the counter to pay, and been greeted with the sight of the cashier watching the last minute of a scene in a Peruvian soap opera before they serve me. All you can do in this situation is chuckle, or watch it with them.
Another way in which it's been distinct is how quickly I intially settled in. Speaking reasonable Spanish really helped, especially because it's very rare to meet an English speaker here. I've been so content with relaxing and enjoying my immediate surroundings that I've hardly explored further than an hour away from here. I've become comfortable extremely quickly, but haven't yet had the usual restlessness that usually accompanies this level of personal and social comfort in a place. Also, because I have a decent amount of Spanish, I have been taught rather a lot of slang. "lucas" are quid/bucks, "chela" is beer, and there are many more words besides. Local customs include drinking beer from the same glass, rather than having one per person. You pour a quarter glass of beer, drink it one, and then pass the glass and beer on to the next person. It's quite a nice way of drinking, although I often forget to reduce the amount I pour for myself each time when there's only a few people drinking... When you've nearly finished the beer, the person who gets the dregs has to add a small amount from the new bottle, which is known as "removing the poison". Beers are often drunk on upended crates outside shops, whilst fending off mosquitos. If you run out of money, but want another beer, you press your index finger into your neck and say "soy aguja", or "I'm broke". Aguja is "needle" in English, and I think it might originate from something to do with giving blood. Perhaps one who has no more blood to donate is "aguja" too.
Lastly, it's been unique because of the school I'm teaching in. I've only taught at established schools before, but I'm the only teacher at the school here, and it's a brand new school that opened when I arrived. We have about 20 or 25 students, who are very motivated, bright, and exciting to teach. I actually live at the school I teach at, and it's nice to be able to wake up and walk 7 paces from my bedroom to work! My bosses have been fantastic; they're patient and understanding, they're quick to offer help if I need it, and they are very good company indeed. Thank goodness, because sometimes being practically the only foreigner in town is a bit much some days, so it's nice to be able to talk to people who are on your level!
It's been a unique experience so far; a far cry from the polite people, night markets, and city traffic of Taipei. Very different from the elaborate people, tacos, and salsa dancing of Mexico. Also rather different from the shouts of "photo, misterrrr!", general rush, and sheer volume of motorcycles of Indonesia. I plan on staying until at least November this year, possibly a lot longer, before venturing on to Ecuador or Columbia! In that time, I'd like to make the trip to Kuelap; a fortress built by the Chachapoyans that sits in the mountains about 3 hours from here. I've got a quick visa run to Ecuador coming up in 3 weeks, and intend to have about 5 days of eating naughty food and hitting local Museums. My sister is planning to visit at the end of July too, and we'll be mooching about in the South of the country for her first Latin American trip. Perfect!
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