Posts from the ‘Cusco’ Category
They say that the grass is always greener on the other side, but almost any Cuscenean would strongly disagree with this statement, especially if they are talking about Arequipa, a city about 7 hours south of Cusco. I secretly suspect that my host mother offered to accompany me to Arequipa just to show the opposite — the grass can never be greener than it is in Cusco.
Before you study abroad, you can talk about cultural differences. You can read up on the symptoms and consequences of culture shock. You can try to be emotionally prepared, but there is no way to avoid experiencing the startling disparities between the way of life you are accustomed to and your new surroundings while studying abroad.
If you ever become so lucky as to visit the “Belly Button of the World,” that’s what the Quechua name of Cusco translates into, you are guaranteed to be constantly surrounded by the magical beauty of this ancient place. Although the wonders await you on every corner of its old streets, make sure to pay homage and fully enjoy the most important pieces of Cusco that make it the unforgettable and unique place.
On this day we hiked down the Colca Canyon in the morning which took us about 3 hours to get to the basin where an oasis-like place lingered. I knew the hike back up was going to be difficult. The path had an elevated, zig-zag, loose soil, rocky texture. I left the oasis around 4:15pm when there was still sunlight. As I looked up at the canyon that I was about to climb I could see that the shadow made by sunset was beginning to rise and eat up the canyon. My marvelous plan: Walk up that canyon at a pace where I was always at the border between sunlight and shadow. This way the sun would illuminate my path upward but I had the shadow to keep me cool at times. The climate in the Andes highlands is made of dry air that blankets brown mountains, pastel trees and plants all spotted in everlasting rocks. It is not the tropical rainforest with coconut trees you find on cellphone wallpapers. It is land where the apus (mountains) demand their presence known and are not apologetic about it. They don’t make hikes easy. They may have never been made for go-hard hikers. They stand in dry weather and wear endless rocks: big, small, loose, bulky, dusty, wet. Even though you can’t miss them in sight, they are quiet. The hike I was about to take up a canyon of 13,650 ft (4,160 m) deep (twice the height of the US Grand Canyon) was not going to be an adventurous walk with lots of adrenaline rush. It was just gonna suck. I was the last one to head out in the group, I had a big backpack and at least one liter of water on me. My biggest fear was getting stuck at night alone with just a small flashlight and empty quiet canyons surrounding my every direction.
My flight back to the U.S. went smoothly, although it was the longest single period of time for which I have ever traveled. The first thing I noticed when I got back was the heat – I spent almost all my time in Cusco wearing at least a light jacket, and came home to find Kansas in the middle of a 95 and above heat wave. I was also surprised by the public restrooms, where the toilets actually have seats – until I remembered that that is commonplace here. The biggest adjustment has been the fact that I can use water from the tap here. Numerous times I have started to brush my teeth with water from my bottle, or panicked to find myself brushing with water from the sink, only to remember that that’s ok here. In Peru, we always drank water that had been boiled, and on trips it was a constant concern as to where we would buy bottled water and how expensive it would be – and after coming down with a pretty nasty stomach bug for three days, I learned just how important those measures were.
This has all contributed to help me realize just how luxuriously many of us live here in the U.S. – climate controlled buildings, multiple vehicles per family, lights and electronics in every room of the house, etc. And these are just the extras – every day we take for granted clean drinking water from the tap, bathrooms with warm showers, and toilets that flush (and have seats). We also take for granted just how much electricity we use, and how much we waste. My host family in Peru was quite well off, but electricity there is expensive – and though she never asked us to be more conservative, I could tell that my host mother was (for example, when we would come back from trips I would find that there were fewer lights on and the internet was unplugged). Here at home I find myself shutting off the radio and lights that have been left on, and turning up the thermostat when I feel the AC doesn’t need to be on – and my family is not particularly wasteful, by American standards.
My goal for my future career in mechanical engineering is to improve the world through design of sustainable forms of energy production. Peru and much of South America do not have the same addiction to coal and oil that we do here in the U.S., nor do they have the same geographical ability to provide infrastructure for these commodities (large scale power transmission would not be as easy to implement across the Andes mountains as it has been through much of the U.S.). The need for clean water and improved medical facilities is huge in rural parts of South America, and I hope that someday my career involves work that contributes to establishing the sustainable power production necessary to provide these things. If nothing else it would be a way to give back to this amazing country and continent, which have provided me with a truly incredible experience.
In the slide show you will find pictures of a few highlights of my stay. Thanks to ISA for providing such an awesome program, and giving me the opportunity to share my experience with all of you!
In only a few short days, I will be back in the United States after eight and a half weeks of living and volunteering in Cusco, Peru! I am quite excited to return to the US, but some things will be difficult to leave here in South America. Easily, the thing that will be the most difficult will be leaving my host family.
Naturally, I was quite nervous and yes, even scared, to live with a new family that I did not know at all and who all spoke a different first language than me. Would I get along with them? Were we going to be friends? Was I going to feel included and happy living there? Would I fit in? It was one of my biggest preoccupations about studying abroad, regardless where I went in the world.
Well now, fast forward two months to a few days prior to heading back to the United States, and I can’t believe that they’re not coming with me! My host family has been one of the best things about Peru, hands down. When I was sick, my host mom took care of me and made me some really yummy soup :) When I told my host sister that I was really bad at reading things in Spanish out loud, she happily sat each night when we had time to listen to me struggle through “Harry Potter.” On Sundays, our whole family hops in the car and eats together, and when my host mom is out for a bit, my two and a half year old sister comes to find me and sit on my lap until mom returns. My host family has been the best that I could ever ask for in the whole wide world, and I can’t believe they won’t be coming with me to the States.
Luckily, I know that we’ll keep in touch. We’ve talked about having my Peruvian family come to visit my Minnesota family sometime soon, and I promised my host mom that I would for sure send her an invitation when I got married! It’s so nice to know that I am loved here, and I (and my Minnesota family) appreciate it more than they will ever know. Thank you, host family!!
With only three days left in Cusco, I have started to reflect on the things I have done here, and what life has been like for the past five weeks. I have studied, traveled, and lived in ways entirely new for me, and it will be interesting to return home and discover how I have changed. When most people think of experiences in Peru, the first thing that probably comes to mind is Machu Picchu. While this truly was an amazing experience, one that left a greater impression on me was my trip to Puno and Lake Titicaca.
This trip was not an included excursion in my program, but with the recommendations of our coordinator six other people and I bought bus tickets and made a skeletal outline of a plan for the weekend. The drive between Cusco and Puno was beautiful, winding through an expansive valley between jagged mountain peaks, dotted with sheep, cows, and small villages. We arrived in Puno late afternoon, with time to book a hotel and a tour for the following day.
Puno was not the most impressive city, but the lake was absolutely breathtaking. At about 12,500 feet, Lake Titicaca is the world’s highest navigable lake, and also South America’s largest, covering some 3,200 square miles. If it weren’t for the distant mountain peaks on the other side, it would be difficult to even believe that it is a lake. Many Andean creation myths stem from the lake’s grandeur – for example, one version of the Inca creation myth tells that the stars, sun, and moon all originated from the lake. Today, there are still some very interesting cultures that live off Lake Titicaca.
One of the lake’s biggest attractions is the man-made floating islands. Home to the Uros people who fled the shores from the Colla and Inca people, these islands are constructed with the root and plant mass of the totora reeds that grow in the Lake. The decomposition of the reeds and the influx of tourism mean that a new layer must be added every two weeks, but it is a marvel that this way of life has survived for several centuries now. The people on the islands build reed houses and boats and sustain themselves through fishing and tourism. As a mechanical engineering student interested in renewable energy I was especially excited to see a solar panel mounted on a wooden pole outside one house – an excellent way for this culture to experience modern amenities while retaining their own unique identity.
The next stop on our tour took us to Taquile Island, one of the Lake’s largest natural islands. This island is known most for its hand-woven textiles, but what struck me most was the agriculture and way of life of the people on the island. There are no cars, hotels, or major business centers – almost the entire island is covered with 500-year-old Inca terraces that support about 2000 people today through cultivation of potatoes, maize, and other crops. Families on the island are happy to host tourists, and my one regret for this trip was that we didn’t have time to enjoy that experience. I certainly would have welcomed more time on the island for exploration, as the view was gorgeous, and the current culture is firmly rooted in a very interesting past.
Right around the corner from my host family’s house, there is a marvelous little bakery that is the best spot in the whole wide world!
La Basílica has the most amazing munchies that are fresh baked daily. In addition to fantastic pastries, muffins, cakes, breads, sandwiches, drinks, ice cream, and funsies much the same, it is a wonderful spot to meet up with friends and chat about the day. It is conveniently located near three different host houses, and as all the other ISA people living around here are attending summer classes, it is a great spot for us to meet and catch up.
That is one thing that I really appreciate. Here, as a volunteer, I operate very independently. On one hand, this is great! I get to practice my Spanish individually and thoroughly at my placement, choose how to spend my free time, and from there, explore what the city of Cuzco (fun fact: there is no official spelling of the city’s name! It can be Cusco, Cuzco, Qusqu, or Qusqo in order to honor the Inca and Spanish heritages) has to offer! On the other hand, at times, it is hard to spend time with the other ISA students because they are in class while I’m volunteering. Luckily, ISA has helped to solve that problem, planning fun get-togethers, excursions and adventures throughout our stay! Another easy set of solutions is to make a Facebook group of all the people in the destination city, and to exchange phone numbers once you get a phone. Sounds simple, but it really helps!
Volunteering in a foreign country is a really unique opportunity. I am currently volunteering at El Jardín de Niños de San Cristobal, a school for kids from ages four to five. It is so fun to go everyday, because each day brings something completely new. I get to learn a lot about the different teaching techniques from this culture as compared to American culture, and I also get to learn about the different types of lives the kids lead. Also, it’s really convenient to be working in a school – it’s a great way to brush up on beginning Spanish! ;)
Well, that’s all I have for now – Peruvian life calls!
Cusco, Peru – once capital of the Inca Empire, the longest continuously inhabited city of South America, and also the city where I have spent the last five weeks.
The phrase, “We’re not in Kansas anymore” is one that I (being from Kansas) cannot escape, even here in Peru. However, for once in my life it could not apply more. I recall reading that life moves at a slower pace in South America. In some ways this has proven true, but in other ways I feel it could not be farther from the truth. Everyday as I walk to and from class I am surrounded by a flurry of activity as people commute to and from work, buy and sell meat, vegetables, and fruits, and do what people do here to scratch out a living.
I have been fortunate to be able to visit the Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu, and Lake Titicaca, but on a daily basis I probably consider the food here to be almost as incredible as these experiences. Granted, it all must be carefully washed, but seldom in the U.S. can one go on a 20 minute walk and pass anywhere between 10 and 20 fruit stores, bakeries, and other specialty grocers, teaming with activity and offering inexpensive, fresh produce on a daily basis. I am fortunate that my daily commute takes me down the street Tres Cruces de Oro, where I can experience this nitty-gritty of Peruvian Culture.
Every day my host mother and her maid prepare amazing meals for my housemates and I. I am sure that our experience is probably not that of most Peruvians (Mama Julia, as she prefers to be called, used to own a restaurant), but our food comes from the same markets where many Cusqueñans shop. Yes, it is common to have both potatoes AND rice in the same meal, but sugar and processed foods are consumed considerably less than in the U.S. It is also not terribly difficult to have a plethora of fruits and vegetables on the table, and almost all of the staple foods here in Cusco are grown fairly locally.
Having grown up on a farm and having spent much of my life eating from my parents’ garden, the food aspect of my experience has obviously intrigued me. Most people from the U.S. would probably consider Peru a third world country that our agriculture is supposed to be “feeding” – yet I come here and see cheaper, healthier food than I can get within an hour’s drive of my home in the states – and did I mention that it’s winter here in Peru? Around 50% of the people who live in Peru are under the poverty line, yet these people do not have the same difficulties obtaining healthy food as in the U.S., where unhealthy processed foods are the cheapest – here it’s the opposite. I find this disparity both fascinating and strange, worthy of more research – but in the mean time, I’m simply going to look forward to my next meal.