Written by Hannah Reid - Peru 2008 Year Out Volunteer
Well, I thought I should write you all an email to tell you about my first week in Peru. First and foremost: you MUST come here at least once in your lifetime!
Ok, so we arrived in Cusco on Sunday morning (Monday night for you guys) after 37 hours in transit. Yuck! So we had a very chilled day on Sunday. The most exciting thing that happened to me on Sunday was when Izzie, Jess and I went to find some food and explore a bit. I say ¨a bit¨ because it takes a while to get used to the altitude, so we all trekked off expecting to explore the city for the day but after 5mins you stop and realise that you´re puffing like you´ve just sprinted a marathon! So most of the group (there are 10 of us) ended up in one of the hotel rooms just chilling and trying to catch our breath.
Anyway, after some yummy soup at Jack´s café (which is owned by an Australian woman and very cool) we walked outside and were accosted by two little girls who said ¨Take photo? You take a photo with us?¨ They were dressed up in colourful traditional dress and had a baby alpaca/llama (still can´t tell the difference) strapped to their back. Thanks to Fleur, I knew that the little niñas would expect money for the photo. So all three of us, in turn, were sandwiched by the two girls and had the alpaca/llama thrown into our arms while the other Aussies took photos. Thanks to Flu it didn´t surprise me when the girls asked for 5 soles (about $1.50) from each of us.
The other exciting things about Sunday were waking up at 12.30am (thank you jetlag) luckily Gemma woke up at the same time so we played cards for a few hours, and the freezing cold shower after lunch. Yay! It took a few tries to figure out how the hot water works, but now we almost always get hot showers.
The next few days are a big fat blur of jetlag exhaustion and amazement at the beauty of this place. We discovered a few important truths during these days…
1) Five hour Spanish lessons are not fun when jetlagged.
2) Jack´s café is fantastico and breaky is the best meal of the day!
3) Altitude is evil. Seriously, two minutes walking uphill and you feel like you´ve run a marathon.
4) Go Fish, 500 and Snap are great cures for jetlag. (As is lots of sunshine through your hair! Thanks for the tip.)
Gosh, I almost need to write another email dedicated to the food. Because this first week is just orientation before we get to quite a poor family in a rural town, Urubumba (or Urumbumbum for Bree) we are COMPLETELY living it up. Everyday one meal is paid for by Antipodeans, so on Tuesday we had this great three course meal and our first Pisco Sour (the national drink) at one of the most up market restaurants in Cusco. On Wednesday we had lunch at this AWESOME café/bar, Los Perros, (the dogs) which was started by an Australian guy- check photos on facebook! Yumo! Thursday we went to a place for lunch which has lots of traditional Peruvian food, where Ollie and Izzie tried Alpaca and we, as a group, almost had guinea pig. Almost. Not that brave yet. And tonight, for our last night in Cusco, we´re going to another amazing restaurant.
On Wednesday, when we were all feeling very cocky about how we´d overcome our altitude sickness, we went for a hike. An uphill hike. Uphill for about 4kms. We died. Absolutely carked it. We literally had to stop every 200 or 300 metres to catch our breath, and let me assure you that it´s not because we are an unfit group of people, (although that may be a factor…) the air is just so thin that your body has to work about a bizillion times harder to keep going. After saying how difficult it was, it was so so bloody worth it!
We were hiking to an old Incan ruin site called Saqsaywamán (pronounced Sexy Woman!) which overlooks Cusco. Saqsaywamán was the site of a massive battle between the Spanish and the Manco Incas in 1536. 1536!! Because it is a ruin site, we only see about 20% of what was originally there… wow! The battle site is surrounded by dozens of Inca walls, some of which are still being found and unburried today. Seriously, you could spend a day exploring the area. But we were starving and had to have lunch before another five hour Spanish lesson, so we walked home via the huge white statue of Christ that overlooks the city and is lit up at night, making it look glow-in-the-darkesque.
On Thursday and Friday we were split into groups of five and given a treasure hunt list of questions. Seriously. So much fun! The aim was to answer all these questions about the history and culture of Peru and Cusco by using very (very) broken Spanish and asking whoever on the streets would help. The collective memory of these people amazes me… it just reminds me how young Australia is.
Umm… so, that is a tiny little sum up of my first week in Peru. I didn´t even get onto the great bargaining with the street vendors, or the dozens of women and children who dress up for tourists, or the beggars who have nothing, or the street kids who help their parents sell rugs and food and jewellery on the streets rather than being able to go to school.
One night, Ollie and I were walking around haggling with jewellery sellers (he has a knack for it and enjoys it, whereas I feel bad about cheating people out of money they need but find it interesting to watch) when we came across this tiny girl, probably 5 or 6 years old, selling all types of different stones. The night was freezing. Jeeze, Ollie and I were cold in thermals, pants, jumpers and scarves. She was wearing a skivvy and a skirt. She was shivering but still tried to sell us some stones. It was devastating to watch so Ollie and I chipped in 10 soles each (about $4) and bought her a beautiful rainbow jumper. Marissa gave us both a hug and a kiss and Ollie and I walked away feeling like saints. I saw her today and she was still wearing the jumper.
Anyway, tomorrow we jump on a bus and drive to Urubumba where we meet our families and get thrown into a completely different, and I´m sure much more challenging, environment with the awkwardness of living in a complete stranger´s house and all the issues that come with that… not to mention the language barrier! On Monday we start teaching… Wow! Tips, anyone?? Don´t know how it will go but I´ll keep you posted.