Travel Notes

Quistococha Zoo, Iquitos Peru

The Quistococha Zoo is about 30 km outside of Iquitos, Peru, off the highway to Nauta (past the airport). The cheapest way to get there is to hop a bus, which costs less than a Peruvian sole (about 37 cents). I sat next to a nice man who bought treats from street venders through the window when the bus was stopped. He insisted that I try the treats and he kept giving me some! Probably not the norm.

The rickety old bus from the early 70′s will drop you off at a little street. Don’t worry if you come hungry. Along the street to the zoo entrance, there are a few outdoor eateries serving fresh grilled river fish and other jungle treats. And there are a few dining options inside the Quistococha Nature Reserve by the beach. The eateries outside the reserve are probably more economical. And they have fresh coconuts!

Entry into the nature reserve is 3 soles per adult. A little over $1. Inside there are a variety of jungle animals that you probably won’t see up close in the wild. Some of the animals have fairly large homes, and some are even uncaged. But many of the animals are caged in relatively small areas. Of course, this is the big trade off. On one hand, we get to see these beautiful animals up close, and on the other hand, feel the guilt of enjoying their captivity and the abuse that goes along with it.

Well, there’s nothing I can do about that or any of the other poverty and suffering one witnesses when visiting a “third world” country. So I took some video footage of the animals, left my judgments at the door, and enjoyed a beautiful day.

Here is the video. Warning, R rated material!

If you decide to go to Quistococha, bring a swimming suit and towel! It’s way more crowded on the weekends, but there are more venders. During the week, it is very chill.


Posted by Rachel Shell in Travel Notes, 0 comments

7 Tips for Spanish Immersion

7 Tips for Spanish Immersion

You often hear that the best way to learn a language is by immersion. This means going to a country for several weeks where they speak the language you are learning, hopefully exclusively. The idea is that by doing so, you will absorb way more, and your brain will be focused 24/7 on communicating, hearing and speaking in a different tongue.

This article addresses 7 things to consider before jumping into an immersion experience. Tips 2 and 3 are specific to Latin America and Spanish, but the rest of the tips can be applied to any language you are learning.

1. Know as much grammar and vocabulary as possible beforehand.

This will make your experience so much better. In Peru, I met a man from Canada who was traveling by himself. He didn’t know a word of Spanish. He said he was miserable, sorry he had gone to Peru, and sorry he didn’t know any Spanish. You don’t have to be fluent to enjoy yourself and meet great people, but knowing more than the bare minimum will enhance your experience exponentially. Be sure to focus on practical vocabulary. Learning the words for “Plum” or “Stick Shift” may not be the best use of your memory.

2. Go to a language school.

While you are in Latin America, why not attend an immersion language school. There are plenty to choose from in most countries. They usually all follow a similar schedule from 8am – Noon, Monday through Friday. Some of the poorer countries, like Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, and Ecuador, specialize in one-on-one classes. It’s like having your own private tutor and they are very affordable. Other countries are a little cheaper in group settings but will still offer individual sessions. Some countries, like Argentina, Panama, Costa Rica and Mexico, tend to be a little pricier.

These schools offer a variety of excursions, or trips to local areas of interest. These could be environmental in nature, like to a nature reserve, or historical like a trip to some indigenous ruins. Some are more adventure oriented and include surfing, climbing or other outdoors activities. And some offer volunteer opportunities with local schools or community centers.

The great thing is you’ll have some structure to your visit, and you’ll be able to work with a teacher who is dedicated to your improvement of Spanish. You will still have plenty of time to do personal exploration as well.

3. Stay with a local family

Many of the language schools arrange for home-stays with local families. This is highly recommended as it allows you to practice Spanish in real life situations. These arrangements usually include 3 homemade meals each day with the family. And they are affordable. The families are well chosen by the schools and they usually have plenty of experience hosting foreigners.

This may not be the best option if you are going to be out partying at night. There are usually plenty of cheap hostels available with connections to the language schools. I recommend at least trying a family home-stay for a week and seeing how it goes. You can always switch to a hostel later.

4. Strike up a conversation.

Don’t be afraid! You’ve spoken to countless people who speak English as a second language. Their accent doesn’t bother you, and you don’t judge them (hopefully) by the way they speak. It’s the same thing when you speak your adopted 2nd language. Most people will be happy to talk to you, and will understand that you are learning.

Many people who have never been to the United States have an inaccurate perception of Americans due to how they are often portrayed on television and movies. Now’s your chance to be an ambassador for the real people. Show them a different side that they may not know exists. Help change their perception by speaking their language, and respecting their culture and beliefs.

On one overnight bus trip in Peru (from Trujillo to Huaraz), I talked with the person sitting next to me for about an hour. He turned out to be a police officer. Since they have a national police, he can live in another part of the country and commute. He travels to work and stays in Huaraz for a couple of weeks. Then he returns home (an 8 hour bus ride) to be with his family for a few days. The police don’t make much money, but his wife is a school teacher and combined they do o.k. Looking back, I’m not sure how I managed to stretch out a long conversation like that because my Spanish wasn’t that great at the time. But at the end of our conversation, he said if I need anything or if I have any problems, he would be able to help and he gave me his number. Not bad having a friend in the police force.

5. Intercambios

Let’s say you aren’t great at starting conversations with strangers, or you are a little timid still. Intercambios are a great way to build your confidence and meet new people. Basically, you try to find somebody interested in practicing English and you spend one hour speaking in English, then one hour in Spanish. It is best to try to incorporate some type of activity in your time together, as that will help stimulate dialogue. You can find intercambio partners in the bigger cities, through a language school (that teaches English) or by word of mouth with the hostel workers. In some communities, you can even post a sign with your number on a bulletin board. With an intercambio partner, you may not get the best education, but you will pick up many new slang words and phrases, and hopefully get an insider’s tour of the area.

6. Have a romantic friendship

Meeting a special someone is always exciting. Meeting a special someone who doesn’t speak any English, and who only speaks Spanish is quite possible the best thing you can do for your Spanish immersion. There is something about the intimacy that inspires you to live in the moment, to let what you’ve learned flow out effortlessly. And of course you’ll learn the special vocabulary that lovers use. I could mention personal anecdotes here, but I’ll let you imagine the details. Being single is a great advantage when traveling abroad and learning a language!

7. Relax!!

Most important of all, when immersing yourself in a foreign country with unusual cultural differences, it is important to learn to go with the flow of it all. You can’t control most situations and make them ideal to suit your needs. Try to remember that you are a visitor, a guest, and you aren’t there to change or improve anything. There are going to be discomforts and challenges to your patience. Lack of sleep from overnight bus rides may lead to irritability. But if you come prepared, you’re time will be much more enjoyable.

Besides having some of the language already learned, you are going to want to bring earplugs. Earplugs are the most important thing to remember. You can get a box of 20 foamy cheap earplugs at the local drug store. You will definitely be glad you brought these with you.

Another little tip: If you are staying in a hotel, consider requesting a room as far away from street level as possible, or in the center of the hotel with no window. Do this if having a good night’s sleep is important to you.

And one final tip: Smile as much as possible!

Posted by Rachel Shell in Articles of Interest, Travel Notes, 0 comments