We were able to make it to Lima, Peru without any flight problems. The only small glitch is that when getting onto the plane in Washington, D.C., they required everyone in Zone 4 to check their bags. Well, our whole group happened to be in Zone 4. So we all checked our bags with the hope that they would arrive in Peru with everything in them. And they all did… except for Kristin´s. We waited and waited until all of the bags had been picked up, in hopes that hers would show up, but it didn’t. For some reason, they didn´t send it from Atlanta. So the next day they were going to send it to Peru and she received it Friday.
Thursday was spent traveling by plane from Lima to Cusco, meeting our host families (which we were all a little nervous about) and relaxing in order to adjust to the altitude. As I speak for myself, but hopefully most of the group, I love my host family. They were very welcoming and welcomed us into their house as if it was our own. ´´Mi casa es su casa´´. Brittany and my host family consists of Javier, the father, who works as an administrator at the school our trip is through, Maria, the mother who was a teacher but has not been teaching since she had her last child, Santiago, who is 11, and Sophia who is 2. Javier speaks a little bit of English but Maria does not speak much at all. We have been able to communicate with each other with the little Spanish or English we know, hand motions, and a lot of patience!
Since it is technically winter here, it gets very cold when the sun is down. However, during the day, when the sun is out, it is pretty warm. Our host families have laughed at us when we leave in the morning in shorts because to them it´s still pretty cold but it feels good to us. Some persons in the group have had to go to the market to buy llama wool socks and sweaters to sleep in at night since there is no heating in any of the homes.
Friday morning we all met at Academia Latinoamericana de Español, which is the school our trip is planned through. When we first got there, we took a written placement exam to test our levels of Spanish knowledge for our classes that began Monday. I believe we all were supposed to take an oral exam as well but only some of the persons in the group had to… I did not! After our placement exams, Diego, the head of the Academia, took us on a tour of Cusco to show us safe places to exchange our money, pointed out certain places in the city such as La Compañia, San Blas, and Plaza de Armas. He also gave us a brief history on the ´´evolution´´ of Cusco with the indigenous people and the Spanish. We all returned to our host families for lunch and then returned to the Academia at 3 p.m. for orientation.
Lunch in Peru is the biggest meal of the day for the Peruvians. In fact, many families don´t eat dinner at all. Lunch generally consists of a type of soup, followed by a meal of a type of meat and some sides. For example, my first lunch that my family fed me was a bowl of soup (which is what I expected to be the whole lunch) followed by chicken, potatoes, and mixed vegetables. And the portions aren´t small! I ate as much as I could until I was full and still didn´t finish my plate. My host mom commented, (in Spanish) ´´You eat very little! ´´ I responded ´´Si´´ but was thinking, ´´I ate a lot!! You gave me so much food!!´´
Saturday was our first day trip, which was to Salineras and Moray. It was about an hour’s drive out of the city and it was beautiful! We stopped once to take pictures of the countryside and the Andes Mountains. Salineras was formerly the Inca Salt pans but is still used for livestock consumption. How it works is that when it rains, the mountain soaks up the rain. While the water is moving through the mountain, it picks up salt and other minerals and then runs out through a natural spring and flows into these mass amounts of shallow ´´craters´´. The water would then evaporate and the salt would be left to be mined. We were driven to the top and then walked an hour down through the salt pans.
After our long (and hot) but fun trek, it was time for lunch at a buffet style restaurant in the town close to the salt mines. There was a lot of food, some we weren’t so sure about, but we explored new foods and found new ones we liked and ones we never wanted to eat again! The afternoon was spent in Moray. Moray was the center of Inca agriculture for cultivation experimentation where seeds were produced for different ecological settings. There were 3 circular, extremely wide, ´´holes´´ that were approximately 500 feet deep. Each hole had 7 platforms built into it to represent the different ecological settings.
The whole group took a trail down into one of the holes, down the platforms, and to the very bottom of the whole. Then we had to climb back up. Man, was that exhausting. Did I mention that it´s really difficult to breath normally at this altitude?! With this type of hiking, we´ll definitely be in shape and skinnier when we return to the U.S!
Yesterday was our second day trip. For some of us, the day started very early. A group of us met at 7:45 a.m. to attend a Catholic mass at a large cathedral in Plaza de Armas. It was surprisingly a short mass, only lasting about 20 minutes, which was okay since I didn’t understand anything that was being said except for ´´Cristo´´. It was neat to walk through the cathedral and see the detailed architecture and lots of gold. Moira had visited the cathedral the day before to get some information about the traditions there so she was able to explain things to us.
We left at 9 a.m. for our day trip to Awankancha and Pisac. Awanakancha was our first stop, which is a llama and alpaca breeding project. It is run by 14 indigenous groups that work cooperatively to make textiles. We were able to explore the site by feeding the llamas, seeing the step-by-step process of using natural dyes, and watching the women weave the wool. Jessica even got to experience being spit on by an alpaca!
Our next stop was in Pisac, where we were able to see how they had built platforms into the side of the mountain to prevent erosion and use as farm land. At the top of the mountain were Inca ruins. We climbed the mountain to the top. The view was so beautiful!
Lunch was eaten at another buffet restaurant with delicious food! The afternoon was spent at the Pisac Indian Market, where we were able to practice our bartering skills. We found out that the ´´walk away method´´ works pretty well. If you give them a reasonable price that they don´t accept and you start to walk away, they often will give it to you for that. The market was very large. We spent 2 hours there and only made it through ½ to ¾ of it, but we´re all coming back with great souvenirs!!
Today was our first day of Spanish classes. We were all separated into small groups based on our levels of knowledge of Spanish. Rochelle, Derek and I were in a class together today and we enjoyed ourselves. When originally thinking we were going to be in class for 4 hours, we thought we would go crazy, but luckily it went by fairly quickly! Our teacher is very nice and patient with us. I need someone to have patience with me when it comes to learning Spanish! I didn’t hear anyone complain about their classes so it sounds like a success!
The drivers here are crazy! Pedestrians do not have the right away. So be careful when crossing the road. Actually, just sprint across the road. Nobody really obeys the lane lines, horns are constantly honking for many reasons, and people cut each other off so much! If you’ve ever been in New York and seen the driving… Its 10x scarier here!
One last thing to write about before I finish up (although there could be a lot more!): As we travel throughout the countryside and even in the city, I see God’s creation and all its beauty and I am mesmerized. The city is very beautiful in itself but parts break my heart as well. The amount of dogs running around homeless breaks my heart as I think about my two puppies at home. The amount of trash on the street and a lot of the living conditions also breaks my heart. Beggars on the street who are homeless and or injured break my heart. I am constantly reminded of how fortunate I am and am extremely grateful for this experience and my life back at home.
So now that I’m done writing this, I realized that it looks a bit long (and for those that know me, know I talk a lot). But in reality, what I wrote doesn’t hold half of the details of our experiences. So if I could sum it up in one sentence… The group is getting along great and we are having a blast with new experiences!
Steps walked Saturday and Sunday alone: 30,392+ (Thanks to Megan’s step odometer)
Number of times one of us has almost got hit by a car: Too many to count
Number of times we’ve heard a horn honk: Enough that we don´t think much of it anymore
– Julie Weaver