I am finally home! We arrived yesterday morning, 2 hours later than scheduled but safe and sound. The past 4 days were incredible and I have so much to write about.
Ok, so on Friday morning (3:00 AM!) we all woke up and got ready to leave for Cusco. Our bus was supposed to arrive at 3:45AM but ended up not showing up until about 4:30. When the bus driver finally did show up and we learned why he was late, we were all totally shocked. Apparently he got a phone call at 1:00 in the morning from some people saying that they had kidnapped his son and wanted ransom money. The driver spent hours trying to negotiate with the kidnappers only to find out later that his son had actually not been kidnapped and it was all a scam to try to get money from him. I don’t know how he found out that it was a scam and how exactly eh got away from them without paying the money, but we learned that this is actually a very common thing in Peru. Someone with inside access at a telephone company will get people’s personal information in order to set up a similar scheme to take money from people. I could not believe that something so awful could be so common, but it was definitely a “cultural” learning experience for us.
We took the bus to the airport in Lima and then hopped on a one hour flight to Cusco. When we walked out of the airport I was struck by how beautiful and clean everything is compared to Lima. The sky was clear and blue and beautiful and the sun was shining over the gorgeous green mountains that surrounded the area. We were then met by our tour guide, Eddy, who took us to our hotel in Cusco. Because of the high altitude (over 11,000 feet!) we were given coca tea to drink which is said to help prevent altitude sickness. It is made with the leaves of the coca plant, which are the same leaves used to make cocaine, but it is NOT cocaine. Don’t worry. Anyway, the tea was so delicious! It quickly became a favorite of the group over the weekend. After drinking our tea we got back onto the bus for our tour of the area. Driving through the streets we saw rainbow flags hanging everywhere and our tourguide explained that they were the Cusco flag, not to be confused with the gay flag in which the colors of the rainbow are in a different order. The whole city was being decorated for the upcoming festival of the sun and everything looked beautiful.
We went first to a non-profit farm that rescues and rehabilitates animals. There, among others, we saw many birds, a Peruvian hairless dog, llamas, and huge Condors which we learned are very important to Peru’s culture. I wasn’t able to enjoy this as much as I would have liked because I was so tired from a combination of the early flight and the altitude that I was falling asleep standing up. Even so, it was a nice little farm and I got some good pictures as well as enjoyed the beautiful surrounding landscape. From there we went to another farm, this time a llama farm that had several different species of llamas and alpacas. Since I love llamas so much, I was much more awake this time and I had a great time petting, feeding, and getting pictures with the llamas.
After the farms we went up to a mountain that used to be a farming site for the Incas. There we learned some of the history and got to explore the ruins as well as take some photos of the incredible view we had from up on the mountain. Then, we got to do a little bit of shopping at a big market that had tons of souvenirs at great prices and the shop owners were really great bargainers. We didn’t have much time there because we had to leave for lunch and boy, was that an experience for all of us. At the restaurant Emily decided to be brave and try cuy (Guinea pig) which is considered a delicacy in Peru. We were completely unprepared however for what the waitress brought over to our table. What we did not know beforehand, is that cuy is served whole. They brought over an entire guinea pig, roasted, with teeth and nails and everything. It was very disturbing but at least it was an “authentic” Peruvian experience for us. A few people at our table also tried alpaca meat but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it because llamas are my friends.
After lunch we went to Ollantaytambo, another Inca site. The site itself was beautiful but it was starting to rain and I didn’t go up the mountain because I was still feeling sick from the altitude and the thinness of the air makes it very difficult to breathe while climbing. After Ollantaytambo it was time to take a train to Macchu Picchu. This was the first time I had ever ridden a train and, despite how tired we all were and how many stops the train kept making, I did enjoy it. We were really happy to finally get back to the hotel though and were glad to hear that we would be able to sleep a little later in the next morning.
Because we had arrived at Macchu Picchu late at night, I really had no idea where we were when I woke up. When I walked out of the hotel for the first time in the morning I was completely blown away. We were completely surrounded by massive, green mountains that towered over the city. It was a breathtaking site. The sun was shining, the air was crisp and clean, and everything was bright and colorful. It was a beautiful day in a beautiful, beautiful place.
We then wasted time by exploring the city until lunch and after that it was time for us to take our bus ride up the mountain. The bus ride was kind of scary because the trail up the mountain is narrow and steep and there are no guardrails. The scariest parts were when another bus would be coming down the mountain as we were going up because the trail was so narrow that it looked impossible for two buses to be able to pass each other. Even so, after much prayer on the part of our nervous group, we made it to the entrance at the top of the trail. When we got there we all needed to go to the bathroom and I was totally shocked because they charged us one sol to use the bathroom! It was such a tourist trap but I was still looking forward to seeing Macchu Picchu so I just paid the money and tried not to think about how ridiculous it was. We started climbing the narrow stairs up the mountain which, even though it was the second day, was still a challenge to those of us not yet acclimated to the altitude. The view from where we were standing when we got to the highest point was stunning. Even though it had gotten cloudier since the morning, everything was still breathtakingly beautiful. After climbing to the highest point we then explored the Inca ruins for about 3 hours until it was about to close for the day. I was really impressed by the history and some of the ruins. The coolest part to me was some of the building we saw which are built without mortar, and all of the rocks fit perfectly together and have stayed that way for so many hundreds of years. It was also really cool to sit back and think that Macchu Picchu had been discovered exactly 100 years ago, and imagine what it must have been like for the man who stumbled across such a magnificent place.
After climbing back down the mountain we had a quick dinner and then got on the train and then took a bus to head back to our hotel in Cusco. The bus ride was amazing and a perfect end to a perfect day at one of the most amazing places in the world. When we looked out the window and into the sky we were able to see thousands and thousands of stars, more stars than I have ever seen anywhere at any point in my life. Also, in the moon you could see what looked like the figure of a rabbit.We learned a legend about the rabbit in the moon that says that a long time ago the gods came down to earth and visit nature. All the animals lined up to bring sacrifices to the gods but when it came to the rabbit’s turn he did not have anything to give. Wanting to show his devotion, he jumped into the fire to sacrifice himself. Before he fell in however, the goddess of the moon caught him and saved him and told him that because of his faithfulness, she would put a symbol of him on the moon so that people would forever remember him.-I don’t believe in the legend myself, but I thought it was a really nice story and it was cool because the moon really does look like it has a rabbit on it.
The next day was another tour day that started in the afternoon. Before our tour we walked to the center of Cusco to find a place for lunch. On our way there we ran into a HUGE parade full of dancers and costumes and floats. We found out that it was a parade for Cusco’s birthday. It was so cool to see all the beautiful costumes and all the groups performing the traditional dances. After watching the parade for a few minutes, we went to lunch at a really nice restaurant in the center of the town so we were even able to watch the parade from inside. I have to write about the food from there because it was the second most delicious “restaurant” meal I had in Peru(second to my meal at the Museo Larco). I had spinach and goat cheese stuffed chicken breast covered in elderberry sauce served with mashed potatoes. It was so delicious! Even better than that though, was my dessert which I can definitely say was the most delicious dessert I have ever had. It was a red wine poached pear with cinnamon ice cream. So good!
After lunch we spent the rest of the day touring cathedrals and Inca ruins in Cusco. It was a beautiful day and by the time it was over we were all exhausted. We needed a good night’s sleep because the next day was a shopping and travel day! On Monday we got to sleep in later again and then we went to a huge market in Cusco where the people sell their handmade goods. It was so cool! There were so many stores that it was overwhelming and everything was so cheap! A lot of the time I didn’t even bother to try to bargain because the prices were so good! I was having so much fun that I skipped lunch with Emily to finish all our shopping since it was our last day in Peru.
After our shopping spree we headed back to the hotel to collect our things and go to the airport. We then flew from Cusco to Lima and then waited around writing in our journals and playing card games until it was time to board out flight home. Unfortunately, our flight was delayed 2 hours because of maintenance issues but I didn’t mind much because it was an overnight flight so I just went to sleep. When we finally landed on Tuesday morning I was so excited to be home! I had begun to really miss my own country. I loved Peru, but it’s not home so I was very happy to be back in the States.
Since I got back I have just been working on some class assignments and trying to re-adjust to life in America. I keep accidentally throwing my toilet paper in the trash because I forget that I can flush it here and I also keep forgetting that it’s OK for me to drink the water.
As for the whole of my experience, I think it will take me a few days before I have any real thoughts or reflections. When I figure it out all, I will be sure to post my final comments on my study-abroad experience in Peru.