After a few weeks of straight class, all of us intercambio estudiantes were feeling the itch to travel again and seek some sun during a four-day vacation from classes. My destination? Cusco, the land of the Incas and the Sacred Valley.
My roommate and I for some reason decided to take a bus there. I don’t like to dwell on the 20 hour trip too much, but in the end it was fine. Though we endured curvy roads, fitful sleeping, cold AC, and interesting American movies dubbed in Spanish, we did get to see the interesting transition from desert to the green hills. This forced isolation also provided a great opportunity to read all those literature lecturas in preparation for our midterm the following week. Finally, after many hours of miraculously gripping the windy roads on a double-decker tour bus, we descended from the road above into the little valley of Cusco.
The city doesn’t appear to have much charm from up above and reminds me a lot of Lima, where houses seem to be sprouting from the ground and slowly creeping up the hill, threatening to cover the entire hill before long. Once we got off the bus and found our legs again, we met up with a friend from Chile who had flown in exclusively for a quick trip to Macchu Picchu, and took a taxi to our hostel.
The first impressions of Cusco proved me entirely wrong. After leaving the bus stop/ airport part of Cusco, we climbed up a hill to the more touristy district and found our hostel. It was located in the corner of Plaza San Francisco, bordering an ancient church that stands guard over the cobblestone plaza. The earth-tone houses and streets reminded me of some hidden European town that I’ve seen pictures of. I immediately fell in love.
Our hostel was incredible for the low price of 7$ a night. It was two stories tall, with two courtyards, a bar, computers, friendly staff, and very clean bathrooms. One of my favorite things about Peru is the cheap price of travel. Over dinner Erin, Victoria and I compared Peru to Chile and our conversation made me so happy I chose Peru, as about a year ago I was really set on Chile. Victoria compared her average prices to Chicago, while here in Peru a weekend trip (transportation, lodging, and food) can easily cost under 75$ and the average meal is about $3-4.
Since my parents will visit in winter (summer here) I decided to wait to experience Macchu Picchu with them, so while Erin and Victoria did that I set out to explore the town myself. One of the greatest feelings is to wake up with nothing on your agenda but whatever you feel like and nowhere to be. I left the hostel around 9 and walked around the city soaking up the sun, turning where I felt like, and entering any building that looked interesting. Findings:
- one amazing croissant (Europe or Cusco, which is it?) + an Americano (I now understand why it is called an Americano: because it is usually the type of coffee sold to Americans. They commonly drink powdered coffee or espresso here.)
- a hipster art store
- countless massage offers from women on corners
- fancy restaurants with badly translated English menus
- at least five different languages
- about ten different vendors trying to sell me “their own unique work of art” from a battered briefcase
- a little waterfall
- Coca everything (a sacred, multi-use traditional plant, also known as the derivative for cocaine and a cure for altitude sickness)
- El Museo de Plantas Sagradas, Magicas y Medicinales (The Museum of Sacred, Magic, and Medicinal Plants)
- the most peaceful little street in what I later identified as the artsy neighborhood of San Blas, which is further up the hill from the main square.
Later that morning I met up with another group of friends from the university who were staying in Cusco as well and we hired a taxi driver to drive us to the Artesian Market in Pisaq, about 15 km outside of Cusco. Though the market didn’t offer much different from the stores in the city and we ended up being rained on, the drive was gorgeous. We passed by multiple archaeological ruins while winding through the hills. The village houses are the same dark red clay as the hills, giving the whole environment a feeling of harmony, in contrast to when houses seem to just suddenly appear on the horizon, unconnected to the land around them. At the market we bought some alpaca sweaters and came across a restaurant with a giant oven, as well as a little pen for guinea pigs, destined to become cuy, a traditional dish of roasted guinea pig. I planned to try cuy while in Cusco but it just didn’t sound very appetizing. Next time?
The next day Erin and I went to the museum I had seen earlier. The museum had an overwhelming amount of information but it was all very interesting. The displays covered everything from traditional medicine in the jungle and the Andes, the development of Coca-Cola, tobacco, to rooms full of specific plants that are traditionally used for sickness. If I remember right, the red and white colors of Coca-Cola actually correspond to the Peruvian flag, since coca, which was originally in the soda, has deep roots in Peru and was first “discovered” here. Coca is a stimulant, and when Coca-Cola’s inventor paired it with caffeine in the original recipe the drink made for what could now be compared to a 5 Hour Energy. They also mixed coca with wine, which became very popular in Europe. Now it comes in many forms, such as candy, tea, chocolate, and cookies—I stayed with the tea, in hopes it would help ease the slight headache I got from the altitude.
We left that afternoon, and after descending from the hills, watching movies as various as Norbit and La Vita et Bella, “sleeping”, and beginning a knitting project with some alpaca yarn, we were submerged yet again under the cloud of Lima fog. Although I missed the sun, I was happy to be back home. I can’t go a few days without seeing Marquenso running to greet me as I come and go from my room each day. With a successful trip and a renewed excitement, I accepted that the next week would be full of studying and wishing for a more diverse Spanish vocabulary.