Feb 282012

Bus from Chiclayo to Trujillo, Peru.

Six years ago I finished university. I had done all my subjects, did an internship to get out of the last few classes that I had to take (everybody thinks that mathematics is boring or difficult or both. Imagine how you feel after 6 years of doing it…), wrote my master thesis (about a subject that almost nobody understands and absolutely nobody cares about). I had done my final presentation (including a tiny mistake: 2 + 5 = 9. I still blame the fact that I just forgot to change one sheet when I altered my example somewhat…).

And at the end of it all I got a piece of paper that said that I was a mathematician (actually, it said something complicated in Latin, but I’m sure it was meant to say that I was a mathematician as well).

Yeay, back in Peru! I’m home again 😉 I had a truly amazing time in Ecuador, but it also feels good to be back here. And I’m really looking forward to get my package from the Netherlands…
And in the small print (like small. Really small. So small nobody could ever read it. So small even that nobody could even find it. Still it’s there) there was a whole lot more.

Like: Whenever there is anything to be done with numbers, you are fully capable of doing it. And: You are allowed to have an opinion on anything related to formulas and you may expect people to heed your opinion. Or: There are no restraints to applying to any job with the word “Quant” or “Quantitative” in it.

In other words, with that piece of paper I got all the Qualifications (with a capital) of a mathematician. I could do anything that a mathematician could do (or at least what I imagined a mathematician could do. There is as of yet no list of those things as far as I know. But I’m sure anything with numbers is fair game).

And the world was good. I got a job, first as a quantitative consultant and then as a quantitative risk manager (see, they got “quantitative” in the title!), I did a lot of stuff with numbers and had a fair number of opinions about formulas.

But now I quit my job, I am traveling and thinking. Thinking mostly about what I would like to do. When I get back. With the rest of my life.

And the problem is, most of the things I think of do not involve numbers that much. And they certainly don’t have “quantitative” in the job title (though “quantitative philanthropist” does have a certain cool ring to it. Now only to figure out what that means…).

I would like to be a writer. I would love to start up my own business. I want to improve the world.

But I find myself without the qualification to do what I want to do (or at least try). And that kind of feels like I would be bluffing my way into it. Which of course is exactly what it would be. But then, everybody who ever did anything out of the ordinary was bluffing their way into it (“Ah, yes, Mr Darwin it is? So you would like to form a world-shattering new theory, the likes of which has never been seen and which will be taught at schools for the rest of eternity? Well, with the preparation you will get at our institute we can guarantee that you will do exactly that!” Not that I would compare myself with Darwin just yet of course…)

At every moment I expect someone to come round and to yell in my face: “You can’t to do that!” and then I would have to look at the ground, hands behind my back and in a very soft voice admit that yes, I did not have the ability to do that and who was I thinking to go out and try and I’m really sorry I’ll go back to playing with numbers again now, sorry to have bothered you…

It’s not that I might fail, I’m fully prepared to do that (if you never fail you’re not learning anything new). It’s that someone might call my bluff and I’ll be standing there unable to say anything and with everybody laughing…

I know that image is only in my head. But just thinking about it makes my heart beat faster and sweat break out on my skin (ok, that might be partially because of the 30+ degrees here, but still…) And feelings are a lot stronger than thoughts…

So the bad news is I’m stuck. The good news however is that I know I’m stuck.

I’ll let you know when I find a way to get myself un-stuck.

Jan 252012

Bus from Lima to Trujillo, Peru

It’s not where you are, it’s whom you meet.
It’s not what you see, it’s what you do.

On the road now for three and a half months (time goes by so fast!). In that time I have been to Lima not once but thrice. And I will be returning again!

The fact that I’ve been having such a good time is also one of the reasons that I’m actually leaving. It’s too easy to have fun in Lima. There are too many good people to talk, eat, laugh, enjoy with. My days have been filled. And it’s time for a little bit of peace and quiet. Time for a bit of not being social all the time. So I’m looking forward to going to a small backwater town, reading, writing, surfing perhaps? I’ll keep you posted!
Of all the places I have been outside of the Netherlands, Lima feels most like home. That is because of the things I have done, but even more because of the people I have met. And almost all of it was directly or indirectly due to the extremely active Lima Couch Surfing (CS) group.

So this is an ode to all the wonderful people from Lima Couch Surfing and all the fellow travelers I have met through it!

Because of CS Lima I have:

  • Given an entire class muscles ages (and they still want me to teach another class of capoeira when I return!)
  • Celebrated new years looking at the most wonderful fireworks against a star-lit sky, whilst swirling round in my best salsa moves (after enough Pisco sours even I can dance salsa!)
  • Saw more than 7 different districts of Lima (most tourists don’t get further than 2)
  • Celebrated a Peruvian birthday over a Peruvian breakfast (which is very similar to a Dutch breakfast; bread, cheese and coffee make up the most important ingredients)
  • On the same day had breakfast, lunch and dinner with three different beautiful women (too bad all of them had a boyfriend…)
  • Learned that for the Polish vodka truly is the answer to everything (as well as the cause of most problems…)
  • Made someone addicted to something she will need to travel half a world for (Mila, when I get home I will send you a number of packets of “hagelslag”!)
  • Held long philosophical discussions about what a relationship is whilst watching great ocean-steamers pass by (love is like the ocean, there are high tides and low tides, but be careful because it can always surprise you!)
  • Hugged more people in 2 hours than I did in the 2 months before it (and stooped every time to do it. Damned short Peruvians!)
  • Had free salsa class (which is much harder without a few Pisco sours first!)
  • Learned 5 different Spanish words for beer (and even more for breasts…)
  • Made friends for life (I’m going to miss you all! But we will meet again!)

So from the bottom of my heart: Couch Surfing Lima, thank you!

Jan 232012

Lima, Peru

When someone has given you a place to sleep for free for many many days and they make a simple request, you can´t say no, right?

Thus when Mila politely asked me to teach her some capoeira I was only happy to help! And, the more the merrier, so we decided to make this a Couch Surfing event (open to everybody from Couch Surfing). A quick post on the website very soon started resulting in replies that people would be interested to join. Good!

I had posted that we were going to start at 17.30, punctually. To a Peruvian “punctual” means: Don´t be more than 30 minutes late (they have the “hora Peruana” (Peruvian hour) here, which is about the time that everybody shows up late for anything).

Thus, I was very surprised when quite a lot of people where there already at 17.33! The fact that none of them were actual Peruvians might have had something to do with it…

Warm-up using some basic capoeira moves, then stretching using another few (with a firm warning that people would be having muscles aches the following morning. Mila woke up this morning confirming that).

On to the first defense (most important of course). Go down, hand over your head, protect that and your neck and you`ll be fine. Really, a foot heading full speed your way may look dangerous, but it really is nothing to worry about! Trusth me! (Insert evil grin.)

Then the attacks. First the simplest one I know (swing your leg up, move it sideways, swing back down). That seemed to go fairly easilly, so I had people practice together, one person attacking, the other defending. Some people got the hang of it very quickly, other were very much afraid of hitting someone or being hit. I always say “if you don`t get kicked in the head once and awhile, you`re not learning anything!” (ok, so I say something else, but I`m sure it means basically the same!).

After everybody felt a bit more secure it was time for the second kick. This time the very beautiful but also quite difficult meia luna de compas, which is the quintessential capoeira kick and not used anywhere else as far as I know. Step sideways one foot. Step forward the other. Put your hands on the ground between your feet, fingers pointing backwards. Lift your leg and turn around your axis for a full 360 degrees (like a compas!). Not that difficult, right (don´t try to learn this just from this description, it`s impossible).

After lots and lots of practice of this, most of the people were able to spin round without actually falling on their buts. What more can a teacher ask for?

So finally time for my favorite part, the “roda” (Portugese for circle), where everybody stands in a circle (you don`t say!) and two people are playing / fighting in the center. I don`t know why, but for some reason people prefered playing with each other instead of with me… Am I that scary? It was really cool though to see how everybody had learnt and to see a lot of beautifully executed kicks and defenses!

After about one and a half hours of class in total it was time to call it quits. Tired, hungry, thirsty, so time for a restaurant together.

But not before getting a really great compliment: They wanted another class. So I`m teaching again this afternoon!

Jan 202012

Lima, Peru

There is a particularly vicious kind of deep-water denizen, called the Angler. It lives in the deepest, darkest parts of the world’s oceans, where it developed a truly horrid way of coming by its midnight snacks. Covering most of it’s ugly body underneath the slimy mud, only a single part of its body sticks out. A rod, with at the end a translucent ball filled with a syrupy substance on which bio-luminescent bacteria live. By providing the small and innocent little fishes, shrimps and other underwater urchins by what they crave most, a tiny speck of light in the impenetrable darkness, it lures them closer and closer to their impeding doom. This is how it gets it’s name; it’s a vicious fish’s viscous fishing rod (worse than the Dutch tax agency!). Having gotten too close, our lovely little fish is grabbed, sucked dry and left as a dessicated corpse to a watery grave.

For all your resting needs: The Dorm! Note the thoughtfully provided spaces to store all of your personal belongings.

The human equivalent of the Angler is the Party hostel. Different species abound, going by names such as Loki, The Point and The Wild Rover. They can be found anywhere where the feeding is rich; anywhere where there is an abundant supply of innocent and sweet little backpackers, ready to have their soul sucked out of them.

Lured in by what every back-packer craves, a cheap bed, abundant alcohol and a steady supply of fresh faces of the preferred sex, our brave little adventures throw themselves with full abandon into the jaws of this monster.

11 AM: Vegetating in front of the TV,

And once in, there is no reason to leave. Breakfast (typically consumed somewhere between 11 AM and 14 PM. You can’t beat the party hostel hangover!) is included in the price of the bunk bed.

There is no reason to leave. After breakfast a first beer is a good idea, consumed whilst hanging in front of the TV which is thoughtfully provided by the friendly staff and which shows the latest movies, your favorite soccer match or endless reruns of Friends, Big Bang Theory or Two and a Half Men. Perhaps you have some energy to send a message to mom and dad, saying you’re not doing anything dangerous, or check Facebook for a few hours. This of course on the hostel computers or over the extremely fast WiFi if you brought your own
mobile device.

Chained to the hostel by a fluorescent (or perhaps even bio-luminescent) orange chain. Also handy if you forgot your name after a night of really hard drinking.

There is no reason to leave. Perhaps you need to have some laundry done? Laundry service is provided. Perhaps you need to make a call back home? International calling can be done at the office. Perhaps you are actually thinking about doing something else during your trip? An in-house travel agency is there for your needs!

There is no reason to leave. Food can be had all day long, whether it is lunch, dinner or a midnight snack. Reminiscent of the food from home, without all the scary local ingredients

There is no reason to leave. After dinner it’s time to slowly warm up for the night’s party. Thoughtfully some form of (drinking) game is provided early in the evening, be it beer-pong or a drink-and-play-pool competition. After warming up it is time for the real party at the hostel, which is generously helped along by 2-for-the-price-of-1 offers of interesting cocktails, all of which contain copious amounts of alcohol.

Breakfast: The perfect moment for that first beer!

There is a reason to leave. Because at about 1 o’clock it is time to explore the local night-life. This is of course done in a carefully organized group, all going together to the same place, dancing together, snogging together (British English is great!), hooking up with someone from the same hostel, just so that the gossip the following morning can be shared to the full embarrassment of everybody involved (which of course creates an even stronger bond, because who doesn’t want to hear the latest gossip about your newly-made-backpacking-friends-for-life).

There is no reason to leave. Because the following morning it is time to do this all over again!

I was there. For 2 days, 2 nights. I escaped. Mila, Pamela, thank you so much for taking me back into your warm and loving arms and house!

Honk if you got the joke about the Dutch tax agency.

Jan 102012

Bus from Lima to Huaraz, Peru

What would a perfect day look like? I don’t really believe in perfection, but I do think it’s a good idea to strive towards it. Striving towards a perfect day is however really hard, there is no chance to do a single day over (and over) so you can make it better (and better). So I guess I have to attribute my last Sunday to chance, an open mind and / or good karma?

Woke up quite early, with the sun shining through the window and some birds whistling outside (birds actually sound differently here, though it is beyond my vocabulary in what way). Being forced to write that I was failing my new years resolution regarding sporting twice per week, I decided to actually go out for a run (it found it does wonders to actually broadcast what you want to do, I feel a very strong push to actually go and do it now that I told you all what my resolutions are. Will write a full post on this some time in the future).

Returning half an hour later (not the full hour I said I would, but a definite improvement!), hot and sweaty, tired and happy. Time for a shower and then breakfast with Laura (still loving the life out of my “hagelslag”!).

Nuns in their natural habitat

We headed out into the old center of Lima. I had been there before and got an excellent tour by someone from (how could it be otherwise?) Couch Surfing. I was happy to pay the favor forward, by showing Laura around a bit. Through the main shopping strip (why can they be open here on Sunday when they are so much more religious here than the Netherlands ever will be?), to the Plaza de Armas (plaza of armaments. They have one in every city. Not so blood-thirsty now, but I guess a lot of years of colonial repression did create some bad vibes…), where we mostly tried to be unobtrusive while taking pictures of monks and nuns (and trying to catch them without a cell-phone on their ear. Not easy) in front of the cathedral. On to Iglesia de San Martin (Saint Martin’s church), where Laura took a tour of the catacombs (I skipped the 10.000+ dead people as I had been there before), whilst I lounged about in the church yard, very much enjoying some quality time with my book.

After all of this fine culture, it was time to dart back home, get some stuff and then head off to Faro Park (Lighthouse park), for a vegetarian (is this getting boring?) Couch Surfing picnic. Met up with some friends, acquaintances and new faces. Good food, talking (in English, Spanish and Dutch) playing with a Frisbee and a game of “who am I” (I was Britney Spears; “Did I ever act in a movie?” “Yes, but you really shouldn’t have!”).

Playing "saxophone" with hippies!

When it got dark we heard some drums not too far away. It turned out that the “happy hippie music” group had settled nearby, making music (well, mostly beating a lot of drums!). In Cuzco I had bought a plastic “saxophone”, which I actually had on me, so I joined in for a while (even my last resolution is getting attention!). Then back to Park Kennedy (center of Miraflores, the Lima tourist district), where people could get buses, drinks, or whatever else they wanted. Approaching the edge of the park, my heart makes a leap: Capoeristas!

Free practice session, so I have to join in for a bit! My first mea lua de frente is expertly countered and I barely have time to duck for my opponent’s following armada. We both execute a perfectly timed mea lua de compasso, right after each other. A big smile on my face as I kick and defend, defend and kick.

After two bouts I am completely bushed (really have to work on my condition), so I decide to call it quits (though not before asking when they are playing again).

Back home, to bed. Good food, culture, book, relaxation, music and sports. Truly a perfect Sunday!