Sunday, November 14, 2010

Life at 11,000 ft

Hola from Cusco, Peru! Cusco is a charming city. It reminds me a fair amount of Edinburgh, what with its cobblestone streets and 16th century architecture. Although, this city has me breaking more often for that extra wind - 11,000 feet and they aren't kidding.

I arrived last Saturday at 7 am. My last of the three buses I took was uncomfortable, but despite blowing a tire at 3 am on a one-lane road high in the Andes, we managed to arrive unscathed. My host father, Luis, picked me up at the bus station and brought me back to the apartment I'll be calling home for the next month. The mother, Leah, speaks a bit of English, which has helped tremendously in the first week. The two girls (ages 2 and 4) are terrors, but the upside is that children's television en espaƱol is basically at my vocabulary level. I take spanish classes every morning at San Blas Spanish School, right in the San Blas barrio - a cool, bohemian 'hood up on the hill. La escuela is a brisk 10 minute walk uphill every morning. In the afternoons so far I have been exploring, but I'm hoping to start volunteering at Helping Hands (an Omprakash Foundation partner) some time this week.

  • Peru may not have lots of money or any sort of organized public transportation (it's all private minivans combis that will pick you up and take you to what may or may not be your intended destination), but there are three things it has plenty of: churches, stray dogs, and old school VW Beetles. Cambodia has its Toyotas, Peru its Volkswagons.
  • Peruvians like their dogs. I will say it's a welcome sight to have dogs on the street rather than the menu (read my Vietnam posts for more on that). Plus, the dogs here are super chilled out - not mangy and barking all the time. The other thing is that pet dogs mingle seemlessly with the strays. I've seen maybe 2 people actually walk dogs on a leash. It seems much more common to just turn your dog out for the day while you're off at work. How would I know that these dogs aren't just strays? Well, unless there is a local charity providing sweaters for stray dogs, it seems these clothed pooches must belong to someone. Yes, Peruvians love dressing their dogs in sweaters

  • A word on food and drink: Through my homestay I am given 3 meals a day. Almuerza, or lunch, is the big one. Dinner is literally whatever we had for lunch, just a smaller portion. It's been mostly some sort of meat mixed with rice and potatos. I am totally jonesin' for a little Tabasco, but don't want to offend my hosts. I am looking forward to traveling so I can diversify the culinary experience. Cuy, or guinea pig, is a specialty around these parts and I fully intend on trying it out. Pisco is the favored alcoholic beverage of choice and is key to the infamous pisco sour drink. I have learned that altitude makes a fairly distinct difference in one's ability to properly digest said beverage. Glad I learned that one early on...

  • Pretending like you actually speak spanish is fun. In Lima, I jumped in a van with a sign ¨San Christobol¨ in hopes that the van would take me to the top of the hill that overlooks the city (yup, the one with the cross). I hopped in only to realize that this minivan is actually a tour, and they're only speaking in spanish. So I sat there on my stool (Asian style - plastic stool in the aisle), pretending like I understood every word that woman said. When the others laughed, I laughed (mostly at myself for laughing in the first place). When they looked left, I looked left. It's just like ¨follow the leader¨only you have no idea what you're actually following.

I am still having some trouble uploading photos. If you're on facebook you can find some of them there. Otherwise, you're just going to have to wait.

Here is a video of a gathering in Lima on All Saints Day, honoring those who died during the country's internal conflict:

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