As part of our program, we were all given tourist tickets that include entrance into several site and museums in and around Cusco. Unfortunately, the tickets only last for ten days. Therefore, we were desperate to get our monies worth and visit a few more sites that weren’t included as part of the study abroad calendar.
Usually I think that my weekends are jam packed with activities. However, that week I was kept busy with school field trips and self planned trips with my friends.
Perks of Being a Teacher's Pet
Working with our professor, we managed to squeeze two more field trips in during our 7:30 AM – 9:30 AM time slot.
The first one was Thursday morning to the archeological sight: Sexi-Woman. [Cough, Cough] Excuse me, I mean: Saqsaywaman. (It’s literally pronounced the same way though.)
The archeological site is massive and displays some of the greatest marvels of Incan architecture. Not to sound like a complete nerd, but it was super cool!
The site also has naturally occurring … Rock slides!
And yes, you can in fact slide down them. To say there were a little hard on our knees is a bit of an understatement, however, it was well worth the soreness.
Good Thing We Speak (Basic) Spanish!
Thursday afternoon and a few friends and I were looking for another adventure. We had to plan our trip during the week since we’re always away for the weekends.
We caught a cab in Cusco and asked if the driver would be willing to take us out of the city and North to the archeological site of Moray and the small city of Maras. He agree, after some slight haggled, for the price of less than $10 a person!
Wonders of the Incan World
We zipped along the curvy, winding roads of the Urubamba Valley and took photos of the Andes out of the windows. It was a blast!
Over and hour and a half later and we arrived at the first stop: Moray. The ancient site was used for agriculture.
The Incas dung deep terraces in a unique circular shape. The depths and way the terraces were carved into the mountain create several distinct microclimates. Archeologists have theorized that Moray was used for agricultural experimentation with crop growth at different temperatures. Yeah, the Incans were that smart.
Asthma and Altitude
Moray was spectacular. Truly breathtaking, quite literally as we ran to the bottom of the site and took dozens of photos before dashing back to the top. My chest hasn’t hurt that much since I was a child. My asthma is well control … But not so much at 11,000 feet above sea level where every breath is already as struggle without adding in tall stairs and a time crunch.
Fortunately, I brought multiple inhalers with me to Peru and always make sure to have one (or three) on my person. Still, it reminded me that I always have to keep in mind my limits and be sure not to cross them because I could find myself a hundred miles from the nearest hospital.
Salt, Not Snow
Next, our personal driver took us to the small city of Maras were we visited the salt ponds. It was amazing! The salt ponds went on for miles connected by very narrow pathways. I’m talking centimeters wide.
The ponds are harvested by locals and some of the salt is sold on site for incredibly cheap. Naturally, I bought a couple (four) bags of different kinds of salt. I can’t wait to go home and cook with them!
Tourism a Better Way
As we drove the long way home, we were treated to the beautiful site of Cusco after dark, when, especially high above the city, the lights fill the valley and resemble multi-colored stars.
Our afternoon adventure cost less than $20 for the entire trip including souvenirs. It would have been at least twice that if we had gone to Maras and Moray with a tour group. We also would have had to deal with a bunch of tourists at both sites because the tours would have been earlier in the day. Instead, we conducted our own private tours right before closing and were treated to almost empty sites rich with history, local culture and overall tranquility in which to enjoy the gorgeous views.
No Rest for the Restless
Friday morning my class met again for another field trip, this time to the Regional History Museum. The hardest part about this trip was catching the taxi from our neighborhood to the plaza during the morning rush. Not only did it take twenty minutes to hail a cab and forever to actually arrive at the museum, the drive charged us double. Granted, double was just over three bucks… But it’s the principal of the matter!
Next: My weekend in Puno exploring Lake Titicaca!
School is Fun
I’m taking two classes in Cusco. My first class begins bright and early at 7:30 AM! Yay!! … Not. But whatever, it’s the class I was most looking forward to so I deal. Luckily, my professor for History of Incan Civilization (yeah, still a nerd,) is enthusiastic about the subject. He makes an already fun course even better by creating interactive, artistic activities and, my favorite part, field trips!
Our first field trip was last Sunday. We departed Cusco early in the morning for another adventure. My Incan history class, along with the professor’s other class, started our morning driving down dirt roads around invisible corners overlooking deep ravines.
The ride was worth every cringe worthy turn when we finally reach our first destination: the Incan Trail.
Why Did the Sheep Cross the Road?
Our job was to walk the Incan trail and pick up garbage. Fortunately, the trail was incredibly clean! I was only able to personally find two pieces of trash. Not counting any pieces of paper because you definitely don’t want to go anywhere near those… Our professor has been working for years with his students to create signs in English and Spanish that say “No Littering” and such.
On our hike, not very far from the main road, we came across a herd of sheep! The sheep and lambs quickly parted like the wool sea. Well, the adult sheep did. Several of the babies ran back and forth a few times bleating frantically as they tried to locate which side their mothers ended up on.
We continued down the path to a place where gringos to not often frequent. However, that is likely going to change soon as zip lines and rock climbing are being set up at the site to bring wealth into the local community.
Climbing up and down the wide stone steps we stumbled (and by stumbled I mean the professor gleefully pointed out) a burial site. An exposed burial site.
Our final stop for the afternoon was a rural village. My favorite part was stepping inside a cuy farm. Granted, all of the little guys will likely end becoming food, but they’re super cute in the mean time!
The way of life is very different in the village than how we’ve been living in Cusco, which is drastically different than our lives in America.
The woman whose home we visited told us about her son, who is ten: he has to walk over an hour to school and an hour home every single day because the village only has a primary school. The woman reminded our professor that her son had asked for a bicycle.
Later, our professor explained that he’s going to set up a collection box in our school in order to buy the boy a bike. Our hope is to raise enough money that when our professor takes his fall class to the village he can give the boy a bike as a Christmas present.
I hadn’t thought much about my lasting impact here in Peru, but while visiting the village and even spending time with my host siblings, I’m beginning to realize that my time here in Peru has meaning beyond progressing my Spanish speaking abilities and climbing Machupichu.
Walking through the dense forestry, my thoughts drifted to my childhood spent wandering around the jungle exhibit at the Henry Dorley Zoo. The real thing puts one of the top exhibits at the best zoo in the world to shame.
Not that I don’t still love the Henry Dorley Zoo, because I do and always will. #NebraskanForLife
It just made me stop and think how far I’ve come, literally and figuratively, from being a small town girl to an experienced young woman who has seen parts of the world that were once mere dreams.
It makes me stop and think about how proud of me my family is and how proud of me my family who watches over me would be too.
Saturday morning was our first group trip. We visited several archeological sites, learned a lot from locals and have an all around wonderful day!
Our first stop was an alpaca and llama farm were I made many new friends, mostly by feeding them.
At the farm we learned about the history of my furry llama friends. They came from North America and made strange, new furry babies with the locals (alpacas). We did get to see some of the wild vicuña, however, they’re kept far away from the tourists because they’re apparently mean!
The first archeological site we visited was: Písac. It was a bit (lot) of a hike because of the altitude. If there were more oxygen in the air, it would have been quite present. With the lack of air it made every step a bit more of a challenge, but totally worth it to walk in the footsteps of the Incas. Also, the views were spectacular.
Next, we stopped at a wonderful restaurant buffet and chowed down on Peruvian cuisine. I even got to try alpaca! It’s a very tender meat and super yummy.
The restaurant complex also have a llama and alpaca farm that also included several other species that we’d learned about that morning. I also got to stand face to face with a vicuña!
Five second after my friend took this photo he tried to spit at us. I was so proud.
After lunch we toured Ollantaytambo where the Incan Temple of the Sun sits high atop a mountain. We climbed said mountain. Fortunately, our guide has years of experience and stopped every three terraces for us to catch our breath.
Again, the view from the top was worth every sore muscle and both puffs from my rescue inhaler.
We drove for a long time after leaving Ollantaytambo. But it wasn’t a boring drive. Rather, the winding roads revealed spectacular views of the Andes Mountains. As we drove higher we could see miles and miles of the snow-topped peaks.
Chinchero was our final destination for the evening. There we entered one of the oldest churches in Latin America as dusk.
I put the knowledge I gained from my ISU Colonization of Latin America history class to good use within the church as I explained that while the Spaniards forced the indigenous to convert to Catholicism, many retained certain beliefs that combined with Catholicism to form religion in Latin America. This is literally illustrated on the walls of the church when images of vines and flowers are painted near pictures of baby Jesus.
Pictures may or may not have been allow within the church but I also may or may not have been able to resist just one.
Afterward we were able to explore the grounds in the twilight.
Our final activity before returning to Cusco was to sit in on an alpaca weaving demonstration. Several women showed us how they clean the alpaca wool, spin it while multitasking, dye it with natural products, and finally how they weave it into spectacular patterns. Incredibly, the main presenter worked the entire time with a fussy baby strapped to her back as her five year old ran around being helpful. We learned that five is the age when the women first learn how to spin the wool. It was clear that if she grows up to be anything like her mother, the five year old will have quite a bright future ahead of her.
The stunning demonstration was a fantastic way to end a truly spectacular day.
Next Post: My adventure hiking the Incan Trail!
Things I Have Learned So Far
Cusco is at a very high level of elevation. Approximately 11,152 feet above sea level. That being said, if the lack of oxygen in the air doesn’t get you, the changes in food and water likely will.
Have no fear! Traveling makes you, and your stomach, stronger.
Getting to Cusco
After returning from Europe on June 10th, I barely had time to unpack before repacking to move to Iowa. Once there, I continued to live out of my suitcase and boxes stacked in the garage.
I left home again on Thursday, June 30th so I could spend the night at my great aunt’s house because it is two hours closer to the airport. The next morning I had my cousin drive me to the Omaha airport at 7 AM. (I paid him in pizza.)
Then, a day less than three weeks after I landed in America, and 24 hours of travel later, I landed in Cusco, Peru.
Unlike my semester in Greece, in Cusco I’m living with a local family made up of a mother and father and two of the most adorable children I’ve ever met.
The little girl is four and as cute as a button. She loves princesses and stickers, which was what I brought her as a present, coloring and playing games. Needless to say, we’re getting along swimmingly. She is also the biggest help with my Spanish language skills. She is a preschooler, and my Spanish abilities are about that of a preschooler despite Dulingo and two semesters of college Spanish, meaning that she's the perfect teacher.
The other child, a boy who is one year and three months old, has stolen my heart. I meant it. I’m completely taken with this little guy. He’s got big rosy cheeks and flirts with me over his supper as he purposefully spills it all over his highchair tray. My first night, I went to bed fairly early and he kept banging on my door trying to get to me.
The little boy waves at me every time he or I leave the apartment, even if we’re actually going someplace together! The girl, on the other hand, always helps me pick out a sticker to wear before I’m allowed out the door. I already am sad about having to leave them in a matter of weeks.
But yeah, so like, the city and school are okay too… I guess ;)
Living the Dream, Again
In all honestly though, I’m so happy to be in Cusco. This city is amazing! The colors, the sights and people come together to create a wonderful place to spend the remainder of my final summer before my senior year of college.
So yeah, any of you that might have been wondering why my social media has been so quiet recently, there’s your answer.
Until next post, ciao!
Coming up next: I’ll fill you in on my course schedule and the trips planned for my summer in Peru.
My name is Hunter and this the blog of my worldwide adventures. The purpose of this blog is to show that you can be a traveler, not just a tourist.