Last Week, Machu Picchu, and more!

In my final week,  I travelled around a bit and have lots to record, so I won’t waste any time!

Last Thursday was a national holiday: Saint Peter and Paul or “Pope’s Day,” so we had the day off of school and work.  Due to the holiday, the whole house decided to go out together.  Edy took us to a local open-air market type-thing in three taxis and I am almost positive we were the only tourists who graced the “Expo” with our presence.

The fair with my housemates was most definitely a fun way to spend the day, and afterwards, we decided to do some more shopping at a shop in town that gives discounts to volunteers and students associated with Maximo Nivel (my organization). The ladies at the shop love to hug and shower their clients with lots of love, and in our case, this love was showered in the form of dressing everybody up in traditional Peruvian garb for a photoshoot near the storefront.  After our stop at “Asunta,”  I went to the market to pick up something for Rosa and Vaneza, my dear teachers,  in preparation for my final days of classes.

I couldn’t quite believe my time was already coming to a close. So, I was sad when my final day of class rolled around, but it didn’t really feel like my last day of class. In the night time, instead of dinner at my host family, Vaneza and I went out for Pollo a la Brasa at this chicken place right across the street from my house.  


The next night, I watched Disney’s Tangled on Netflix with the Spanish voice-over until around 10:45pm and then called it a night in preparation for my Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu tour. Sidenote: I found that I was really able to grasp a large majority of the movie in Spanish, far more than I would have been able to during the first few weeks.

The first stop was Pisaq in the Sacred Valley.  Pisaq is situated on a hill overlooking a valley and was complete with the classic terraces indicative of Incan agricultural engineering.  In the mountains behind Pisaq is a wall of curiously small holes as though a giant came down from his beanstalk (or in this case maybe a potato stock even though that doesn’t exist but, ya know, Peru) and took his giant pencil and poked at the mountain for a while.  Our guide explained that in those holes were once thousands upon thousands of mummies that the Incas had placed in the mountain, but that the Spanish later excavated.  The Quechuan people during the time of the Incas mummified their dead in fetal position and placed them in the earth with the believe that they should go back to the Pachamama (mother earth) the way that they came into the Earth.

After lunch, we went to the Ollantaytambo ruins, which were very interesting, beautiful, and like every activity this week, involved many, many, many stairs.

Our train to Aguas Calientes was the next stop after Ollantaytambo and so, our tour guide dropped us all off at the train station about an hour before departure time.  It started to sprinkle a little, but nothing too drastic.  We all boarded the train in time and had a pleasant ride.  We had to wake up at 4am to eat breakfast at 4:30am in the hotel and meet our guide at 4:45am in the lobby.  After a quick breakfast, we all walked down to the bus-top in the dark morning and stood with the long line of tourists and their guides waiting for the buses up the mountain.

We finally got in a bus around 5:45am and road the windy road up the mountain. The sky was barely lit and it was misty all around.  It felt as though I was in the middle of the jungle of an Indiana Jones movie, or more specifically in the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland as I was being jostled and jerked around the curves of the jungle-y looking mountain.

When we first arrived in Machu Picchu, we couldn’t see much of anything.  There was one point when the guide said, “Alright chicos, look at that tree straight ahead” and I thought “what tree?” For the majority of our tour, Machu Picchu just looked like floating ruins in a mess of thick, white, fog.  

It was all interesting, but I couldn’t quite figure out of what it was the everybody was so eager to see and take pictures.  It wasn’t until we climbed a little higher and the fog finally disbanded a bit that I realized why 5,000 people a day flock to Machu Picchu.  Atop the hill, I could gazed upon the delicately placed ruins resting at the base of the misty hill in all its grandeur—the classic scene printed on the front of many a postcard.  All of the Inca Ruins that I have seen have been INCAredibly impressive, but this was the most beautiful of all of them just based on sheer location and the gravity of the construction tucked into the lush green hills at the gateway of the Amazon Rainforest.

After our guide departed and we were finally able to get a taste of the beauty of Machu Picchu, we decided to start to make our way to the Machu Picchu Mountain trailhead.   In Machu Picchu, there are two additional hikes to a higher elevation on either side of the ruins: Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu.  Because the path up Huayna Picchu Mountain is extremely narrow, only 500 hikers are allowed up the mountain everyday: 250 in the morning and 250 in the afternoon, and for this reason, if you want to hike Huayna Picchu, you have to book this hike about 6 months in advance.  More hikers are allowed up Machu Picchu mountain, but unfortunately, for me, this is the longer hike.

I don’t know exactly how many stairs I hiked up that day, but according to some travel website on the internet, I hike 2,000 steps…so I’m going to go with, I hiked 732,993,938 steps.  The hike up the mountain was all stairs and all stairs for well over an hour and a half.  I huffed and puffed my way up each flight of stairs as we climbed higher and higher into the mist and the fog.

We finally exited the trail and were back near the main attraction where the fog had cleared up a bit more.  We snapped a few additional pictures, took in the sights one last time, and then were on our way…but not without getting the Machu Picchu passport stamp!

A few nights after Machu Picchu, I took an overnight bus to Puno.  The bus, to my surprise, was actually quite nice.  

Our guide came for us at 7 and we took a shuttle to the docks of Lake Titicaca along with a family from Mexico City and a retired Swiss couple.   Our guide was charming and very thorough.  

In the bay of the lake, we first visited the floating islands.  There are about 100 of these floating islands with about 5-6 families living on each island.  They build these islands out of reed and compact dirt-type material and to be quite honest, I am still not quite sure how they build the islands, but however they do it, it is very impressive.

We took a short boat ride, according to the islanders, in the “mercedes benz” of boats to a neighboring island, and then took a two and a half hour boat ride to Taquile Island.

This ride to the island provided for the perfect napping opportunity and before I knew it, we had arrived in Taquile.  Taquile is an agricultural island and because it is situated in deep waters, they do not have a regular trout supply for food.  There are not very many animals on the island, so most of the people are vegetarian.  It wasn’t until 1992 that the government sent teachers to the island to educate the people.  To this day, teachers still come to Taquile on Monday and go back to mainland Puno on Friday.  The views from Taquile were absolutely breathtaking and the water shone a deep blue.  For lunch, we ate outside on a little terrace in a family house and had quinoa soup and the choice between trout (supplied almost exclusively for visitors) or an omelette.  I had the omelette, finished my meal with some muña tea (good for settling the stomach) and then we continued back to the boat.

On Friday morning, I took a tour of the Salt Mines and Moray. Out of all works of Inca ingenuity I have seen during my time in Cusco (and I have seen quite a lot or ruins), I think the Salt Mines were the most impressive. The ancient people during the Inca Empire discovered a spring with a high concentration of salt in the water, and decided to construct an intricate irrigation system to direct the flow of the water to different rectangular shaped pools.  Once the pools that they formed filled up with the salty water, the people would obstruct the flow of the water and wait for the sun to evaporate the water, leaving behind the salt.

To this day, the people of the community still collect salt with the same system that the Incas implemented.  I found this ancient system of salt collection absolutely fascinating, I think because for me, it was the most tangible encounter with the Ancient Civilization.  For weeks now, I have been learning all about this civilization as I walk on the same ground that the Incas treaded upon years ago, and even amidst all of that I find it quite challenging to really grasp the fact that a once powerful civilization with real people and ideas and a real way of living resided  in the same area where I was going to school and buying street food everyday, just by looking at worn-down and partially-standing stone ruin after stone ruin.  But here, in the salt mines, I could actually see a fully functioning feat of Inca ingenuity at work. The difference between the salt mines and the ruins is that the salt mines are not ruined…they are still functioning just the way they were when the Incas ruled.

After the Salt Mines, we went to Moray, which are circular agricultural terraces. Though there are many theories of the uses of Moray, nobody really knows the real purpose.  Some think that the Incas used these terraces to experiment with different crops and methods of farming.  Supposedly, from top to bottom, each terrace decreases in temperature by a constant degree. Whatever the case may be, it is certainly impressive.

Though by this point, classes were over,  it didn’t feel right to leave without saying one last goodbye to Vaneza, my lovely Spanish teacher! I said a quick and emotion-filled goodbye, and walked back home along the same path that I had taken for the last seven weeks for the last time.

Back at home, I started the tortuous process of packing.  Almost everybody in the house had an excursion planned for the next day which involved an early morning wake-up call, so though it was Friday, nobody really felt like going out after dinner…with my 5am pickup time, I was one of the last ones out of the house for the day!

So, as my little last hurrah, we all went to our favorite bakery for one last slice of chocolate cake. Once back at the house, I said my final goodbyes, sadly headed back up to my room to get ready for bed, and made sure I had everything in order for my departure.

Coming back home is so incredibly bitter-sweet.  Though of course I miss my family more than words can describe and am so thrilled to be able to see them, I am so sad to close the chapter on this wonderful experience.   I have learned so much and am so grateful to the Center for Languages and Culture for making this possible.  My Spanish-speaking ability has increased by leaps and bounds thanks to this amazing opportunity.  Not only was I able to finally hone in on my Spanish skills, but this journey to Peru provided me with an unbelievable cultural experience.  I never would have thought that my first trip outside of U.S. soil would be to Peru, of all places, but I am so incredibly grateful that it was.  

Welp, it seems that is all for this journey!! This Peruvian adventure is over, but I pray there will many more adventures to come!

As the Peruvians say, Chau!


Sun Festival Week in Peru!


The highlight of this week was definitely the huge cultural experience in the form of Inti Raymi, the pinnacle of all Peruvian festivals.  Due to this, my week was chalked full of cultural experiences resulting in a somewhat lengthy post, so I’d better get started!

My week kicked off with finally trying traditional Peruvian ceviche. I expected the ceviche to look like all the other ceviche I had seen, but it did not.  Though different from what I expected, I enjoyed it all the same.

Seeing as we had some time to kill after lunch and no place to be until dinner, we finally decided to go inside of Qorikancha.  I had been inside the church, but I hadn’t yet paid the entry fee required to tour the whole structure.

With the student discount, it was only 8 soles to enter the Inca-sun-temple-turned-to-spanish-monastery. I was astounded by the extensive and beautiful grounds, the large collection of art, and various exhibits inside.

When I got back, I changed out of my church dress and went to lunch with some people from the house where I tried causa, a traditional Peruvian dish a little like a potato casserole with tuna (or some other kind of seafood).  Afterwards, we wandered around the San Pedro Market area and headed back home where I met two new housemates.  Back at Edy’s, we had a little fruit party with a giant pomegranate that we had bought for 4 soles on the street and a Peruvian fruit called a Chirimoya.  We also had also tried a fresh cactus fruit at the San Pedro Market, so I would say on the whole, it was a pretty fruity day.

I can’t remember a day here where I haven’t eaten some sort of potato. Peru has over 3,000 different types of potatoes and they don’t let you forget it for one minute!

For the most part, during the week, I stuck to my daily routine: wake up, class, lunch break, more class, home, dinner.  Monday I was a bit sickly, but luckily I got over it by Tuesday and was able to go out to lunch with some new members of my class at Yola, a Peruvian restaurant that everybody just loves.  I am a big fan of their Lomo Saltado, which is a steak and french fry dish on a bed of rice covered in some sort of soy-saucy sauce. Whatever it is, is is pretty darn good.

Though this whole month is Cusco celebration month with festivals and parades galore, this past weekend marked the climax of all the celebrations.  The winter solstice was June 21st, but the grand Inti Raymi festival took place this past Saturday.  In preparation for the celebration, class was cancelled on Friday.  It sure is a good thing that they cancelled class because the streets were absolutely and positively filled to the brim with people.

On Friday morning, I had it in my head that I would take my day off as an opportunity to hike up to Christo Blanco, the giant white Christ on the hill overlooking the Plaza.  Though the Christo Blanco is a main tourist attraction very close to the city, I had yet to make the trek up the hill as it was not recommended to start the hike late in the afternoon in order to avoid falling prey to local hooligans lurking near the path to Christo Blanco prepared to wreak havoc upon unsuspecting tourists. Classes don’t end until 4pm, and because it gets dark very early here, I have never had the opportunity to make the journey.  I figured that my Friday off would make for the perfect day to hike up the hill.  

I had close to zero clue where I was going and I didn’t have my map handy, so I just had to rely on my not-so-keen sense of direction.  I just did a bit of wandering in the general area of where I thought the base of the hill might be until I saw a staircase with a rusty sign that read “Christo Blanco.” I figured that this was a safe bet and surmounted the steep and narrow stairs as stray dogs swarmed around me and the sun beat steadily upon my shoulders. About halfway up the stairs, I started to doubt whether or not the staircase really led to anything at all.  This was, after all, a pretty big attraction during high-tourist season, and I thought it curious that I was the only person on these run-down cement steps.  Huffing and puffing my way to the top, I realized that the cement steps suddenly disappeared into dirt and trees.  I thought that surely, this couldn’t be correct, and on account of the scary looking stray dogs and my being all alone, I decided it would be best just to walk all the way back down and find the correct route.  

Once I finally reached the bottom and started in the opposite direction in search of some other more legitimate looking sign, an Australian tour-group passed by me.  I put together that they too, were headed to Christo Blanco. The only difference between their journey to Christo Blanco and mine was that they knew where they were going and I, did not.  With that, I decided to follow.

I was, I admit, a bit disappointed when the tour group started up the same steps that I had JUST climbed all the way up and all the way down, but I figured that this group of jolly-looking Australians would not lead me astray.  I decided it would be to initiate conversation with the school teachers from the group on account of it being rather strange that I should just join their tour group and trail behind them all the way up the hill without explanation.

It turns out that the steps turned into a sketchy dirt path which somehow led to Christo Blanco.  In any case, I am very grateful I tacked myself onto the Australian tour group because at least I was able to have a bit of company during my hike up the disconcerting path.

Once we reached the top of the hill and took in the view, I parted ways with my adopted tour group.  They were continuing on to a nature hike, and I continued onto the small path to Christo Blanco.  After hiking up the same steep stairs on a hot day twice, I was not looking my best, to say the least, so I was much relieved when I was able to finally sit down and marvel at the view from the top.  I snapped a few pictures, prayed a while, and sat on a rock in pensive reflection for a bit.  I figured I might as well make my visit on the hill worth the two trips up the stairs. After I had felt that I had sufficiently gotten the full “Christo Blanco” experience, I started back down the hill to meet some housemates for lunch.

That night, we decided to just wander around the crowded streets and take in the marvels of nightlife during the peak of Cusco festival season. The two men-folk in our group purchased some street beverage and we got some street meat and had ourselves a little street feast on the steps of the San Francisco Plaza.  The street meat might have been one of the best pieces of meat I have ever had.  We got “anticuchos de corazon” which just look like a steak kebob with a potato on the top, but is actually the meat from the heart of the cow.  I would be the first skeptic of this mysterious street meat, but I am hear to tell you that it was perfectly flavorful and tender in every way.  Other meats aspire to be as wonderful as this meat.  Just trust me on this one—I split one skewer with a few people from my house and we enjoyed it so much that we all decided it was of the utmost necessity to eat purchase our own.

The next day was Inti Raymi, and boy was it a day.  This was supposed to be the biggest festival in all of Cusco, and though I wasn’t super jazzed about waking up earlier than I usually do on the weekends, I just knew I couldn’t bear the thought of knowing I was so close to the supposed “festivals of all festivals” and not being present.  The dancing commenced at 9am on the lawn of Qorikancha, but people started to congregate there as early as 6:30am to secure prime front-row seating.  I, however, on account of not wanting to miss dulce de leche “pancake” (more like crepe) morning, arrived at  Qorikancha just 45 minutes before 9am.  I quickly figured out that 45 minutes was far, far too late, and if I did not purchase a 10 sole banquita (a little stool), I would not really have a chance of being able to see anything.  Determined not to waste 10 soles on a stool I would have to discard anyways, I channeled my inner Shaquille O’neil and just thought “tall.”  Just as my father often convinces himself that he is the tallest person in any situation, I too convinced myself that I was more than tall enough to see the ceremony without the aid of any stool.  When the dancing started, I was able to catch glimpses here and there standing on my tippy-toes, which was sufficient enough for me.  

Once I got the gist of what was going on, I darted for the Plaza in hopes of securing a prime spot for viewing the parade.  

Before I go any further, I’ll give a quick overview of what goes down on Inti Raymi: The festivities start on the lawn of the ancient Incan Sun Temple (Qorikancha).  The many dancers perform their ritualistic dances and out from the very corner of Qorikancha in the direction of the Sun emerges the Inca High Priest where he makes his first salute to the Sun.  After about an hour and a half of this, the dancers make their way from Qorikancha to the Plaza.  The whole party from the lawn of Qorikancha then parades around the Plaza for about another hour.  After this, everybody climbs up the mountain to the Saksayhuaman ruins right across from Christo Blanco.  The main ceremony of Inti Raymi takes place here. Some people camp out in Qorikancha to ensure prime seating for the “opening ceremony,” others prefer to skip the Qorikancha dances and just wait at the Plaza, others camp out all day in Saksayhuaman, and others, like me, try to get a little taste of everything.  There is also that group of people who purchase tickets for 200 USD near the main stage for the ceremony in Saksayhuman, and thus, do not have to worry about arriving early to secure seating.  Thankfully, it is not necessary to purchase seats, that is, if you don’t mind being smashed in a rioting crowd on a steep hill under the beating sun for over two hours, but I’ll get to that part later.

Luckily, because I left Qorikancha about a half hour into the dancing, I was able to get to the Plaza in time to get a semi-front-row spot.  It was a hot day, and I had to wait quite a while for the dancers to make their way to the Plaza, but I was glad I was able to see everything up-close.

As the parade continued, I overheard a police officer tell a woman that it was not necessary to purchase tickets for the ceremony in Saksayhuaman to see the goings-on.  At this point, I was still uncertain if it would be worth it to climb the mountain.  I had no idea what the set-up would be like or of what the ceremony consisted, but after much internal debate, I decided I would give it a go.  I figured that this was my opportunity to get the full Cusquenan experience, and I might as well take it, even if it meant climbing a mountain.  I had no idea where I was going, so I just followed some dancers down a street and up a road where I eventually and very thankfully, ran into three people from my house.

We made it up the mountain and actually had to fight our way through the crowd of people.  After climbing over many people, I eventually made it to a spot on a rock where I sat for two hours and lost all feelings in my legs and feet.  Apparently, people weren’t very thrilled about the long and uncomfortable wait because there was much shoving, pushing, yelling, and even full on fighting.

About half-way through the wait, a teachers strike broke out amidst the crowd which meant more yelling, chanting, and throwing things.  The strike was justified in that the teachers of Cusco are underpaid.  They only earn, on average, 1,200 soles per month, which amounts to just 400 USD a month, which is just 4,800 USD a year.  For this reason, I didn’t mind the strike so much before the ceremony and even found myself chanting along caught up in the passion of it all.  The problem came when the ceremony finally commenced after hours of waiting in an awkward position in the hot sun, and the strike continued to rage on.  At this point, half the people were still protesting and the other half of the people started protesting the protesters. Food, water bottles, and fists went flying all during this sacred religious ceremony. It was quite the interesting situation, and though I couldn’t really hear or make out exactly what was happening on the stage, I am glad I was a part of the action.  I think I would have felt that I had missed out if I hadn’t gone…and I definitely would have missed out on the llama/alpaca sacrifice (side-note: in the olden days of the Incas, they definitely sacrificed either a llama or alpaca at the ceremony, but I can’t remember which one and it was hard to see the details of this year’s sacrifice from a distance, so I couldn’t quite tell if it was real or fake.  I would like to think it was fake, but both my Spanish teachers said it was a real animal sacrifice)

After a while of watching, we decided it was probably time to leave.  By the time we got back down the mountain, it was already around 4:30 in the afternoon, and I was exhausted, hungry, and very sunburned.  I walked some new people from the house to a Peruvian restaurant, but I decided just to grab a quick empanada and street pineapple so that I could go back to the house, shower, and nap.  The only thing I had eaten since the breakfast hour was a piece of bread I found floating in my bag which I had taken from the house the day before and had forgotten was there.  It was a very long day, and I was happy to finally be able to shower and lay in bed until dinner.

I crawled out of bed in my pajamas for dinner barely able to walk down the stairs, and in this state was somehow convinced into thinking that it would be a good idea to go to the discoteca after dinner for salsa dancing.  

I found myself later that night being whipped around the dance floor for salsa hours from 9-11pm and then dancing the night (and a bit of the morning) away until l really, really couldn’t feel my legs any longer.

I woke up for mass the next morning, which was lovely, per usual, and came back to the house to relax for a bit.  

After the usual Sunday spaghetti dinner, a few of us played cards in the kitchen and drank tea until about 11pm, and then I went to bed in my once-again roommate-less room.

Yesterday, I was not feeling 100%, so Vaneza, my wonderful Spanish teacher, decided I need some medicine…medicine in the form of cake, that is.  We walked down to the pastelería and had our class there.  Though I came down with another unfortunate fever last night, I am happy to report I am feeling much better today, all thanks to my good friends DayQuil, Emergen-C, lots of sleep, and of course, cake.

Cusco is a FOURTH to be reckoned with!


This week the house was very full!! One night, everybody in the house went out for picarones (sweet-potato donuts) after dinner, and we filled the whole restaurant.  I really like living in a house with a lot of people.  It not only gives me an opportunity to practice my Spanish, but to engage with people from all over the world.  

On Friday, my morning teacher, Rosa, cancelled class and sent us on a “cultural-learning tour”…in Spanish, of course!! It was a hot day and our little class of five hiked all over the city.  We were able to explore a little more of San Blas, which is the artisanal district just behind and above the Plaza de Armas.  Our guide took us to a look-out point wherein we could see the whole city.  It took quite a lot of huffing and puffing to get up there, but the view at the top was absolutely breathtaking.  I loved San Blas and the charm of its narrow streets and artsy shops.  I decided then and there that I wanted to come back to San Blas!

During our tour, we also walked around the Quechua museum just beside the Qorikancha. We were able to see the plants that the dyes came from, learn about about Inca folk-tales, and learn a few phrases in Quechua!

After the tour, a girl from my class and I decided to try a popular vegan restaurant in Cusco. The food was very fresh and absolutely amazing.  The restaurant was small, and they have shared tables which provided an interesting way to meet with other people.  We struck up a conversation with some volunteers from Colorado and also sat next to some women from Germany.  

The next day, my host-father’s son took a few of us from the house out for sushi.  It was really strange trying to figure out the names of different rolls in Spanish, but fun all at the same time!  Afterwards, I decided to go back to San Blas to do some shopping at the artisanal fair open on Fridays and Saturdays.  This not only gave me the opportunity to shop for souvenirs, but also to interact with the local artists in Spanish.  My favorite interaction happened completely by chance after I randomly wandered down a small pathway just off the San Blas square.  The pathway opened up to a little sculpting-atrium area, shop, and small museum.  I was the only one there and the woman I were able to have a lengthy conversation about the difficulties of learning another language. It turns out that she had been trying to learn English for the past three years and gave some kind words of encouragement.  

I also learned that I was standing in the house of a renowned Peruvian artist who, during his life, was famous for making statues with distinctive long necks.  Artist, Hilario Mendivil, was inspired by the long necks of the llamas and alpacas, animals characteristic of Cusco, and decided to endow his human sculptures with the same trait. It was a very unique experience, and I am so glad I wandered into the museum!

It was a beautiful day, so afterwards, I sat on a ledge overlooking San Blas and read Matilda in Spanish.   I decided to venture up to the higher lookout point to do some reading, and it started to lightly rain.  It was a beautiful and peaceful day in San Blas.

I even discovered the secret entrance to the restaurant that overlooks the whole city.  I ordered a milkshake and tried to read a little more, but I was completely mesmerized by the spectacular view.  The more time I spend in Cusco, the more I fall in love with the city and the beautiful culture!

Also! Fun fact: The Quechua flag is rainbow, which means you can even find rainbows in the food!

TRES me, I love Cusco! (the third post)


This week got off to a very sweet start…chocolate class! Though Bean to Bar might sound like some new trendy exercise fad or something, I would not recommend this class to the health-minded individual. Let’s just say, cut to the end of class and find me spooning liquid milk chocolate with a popsicle stick into my mouth—good times. Overall, it was a high-energy, and very informative class.  We learned how to shell cocoa beans, roast them, and ground them by hand with a mortar and pestle into a paste. From that paste, we made both aztec-style hot chocolate, and hot chocolate with European-Spanish influence.  The Aztec hot chocolate was very bitter and unfortunately not totally true to the original because we omitted the human-blood ingredient 🙁  The hot chocolate with European influence included cloves, cinnamon, more sugar, and milk, which made for a much richer and sweeter hot chocolate!

After that, we got to make our own chocolate candies in molds with a whole bunch of add-ins to choose from.  I haven’t eaten all of my flower-shaped chocolates yet, but my favorite so far has been the milk chocolate with crushed almonds, brazil nuts, and sea salt.

Yesterday, was one of my favorite days because I got to test my comprehension and I really felt like a local! My really spunky, amazing Spanish teacher Vaneza, two other girls, and I went to the movies!  The movie theater was in two-leveled, very American-looking, indoor mall. The movie theater was teeming with people all yelling theater times, seating preferences, and combo numbers in Spanish. I had no idea what was going on amidst all the chaos! Luckily, Vaneza was there to take care of it all and somehow, we ended up in one of the last few seats available for the 6:50pm showing of Mujer Maravilla (Wonder Woman).  They have a very interesting system wherein you must buy your tickets, select your seats, and purchase all your food items in the same transaction at the ticket counters downstairs, and then you have to keep your receipt and take it upstairs to concessions, and you also need that same receipt to get into the theaters. They had this really cool tray contraption that holds both your canchita (popcorn) and sodas and hooks into your armrest!  I really enjoyed the movie and found that it was the perfect choice for the eager-to-learn Spanish student such as myself.  This is because Wonder Woman is an action-packed film, so the dialogue is not too extensive which made the film a bit easier to understand.  I very much loved my theater-going experience!

Vaneza made sure everyone got home safely and walked me right to my door where Edy was happily waiting to heat up my chifa (Chinese food) dinner, despite the fact that it was already 10:00pm, and I was full of popcorn.

Spanish classes are going well. Mornings with Rosa have had a bit of excitement lately with recent strikes.  The bus fare rose from 70 centimos to 80 centimos which led to city-wide bus strike two days in a row.

I first experienced the strike when I was walking down the street to school and heard a stampede of people, loud screams, chants, and noisemakers coming from behind me.  Before I new it, a bunch of kids came charging at me, and I quickly dashed down the street and turned the corner to safety.

It wasn’t until that same group of people came marching down Avenida el Sol and past my classroom that I learned that it was the University students protesting the bus fares.  The next day, the bus drivers, along with the citizens, also went on strike.  I found it interesting to learn that here in Cusco, the buses are actually owned by the bus drivers and they pay for their own gas and get together with the other people who own buses to decide the bus routes.  This private ownership of buses explains why the buses are named things like “Batman” and “Zoro,” but it also explains why the bus drivers went on strike—they collectively raised the bus fare in response to a raise in the price of gas, which they were protesting.

There have also been various other fair-wage protests, which is a serious issue in Peru.  Many laborers work for very little to no pay.  Today, the construction workers were on strike marching past our classroom.

Needless to say, even in the throes of conjugating en el pluscuamperfecto de subjuntivo, there never seems to be a dull moment!

That is all for now!

Segunda Semana de Cusco


Other than my hour lunch break, I am in class from 9am-4pm, which leaves just enough time after class to do a little something before I have to be back for dinner. This past week was a busy one, so here is a quick overview:

  • Monday: Museo Inka
  • Tuesday: Choco Museo tour
  • Wednesday: Ceramics class
  • Thursday: Bought two books
  • Friday: sickness 🙁
  • Saturday: more sickness and spanish movie watching
  • Sunday: mass in Spanish, movies in Spanish, recovery!

On Monday, Vitoria (my roommate), two other girls from Maximo, and I, went to the Inca Museum after classes. I love learning about the rich cultural history of Cusco.  It is evident that the Incan roots are very much a part of the culture today.

On Tuesday, a few girls and I decided to go to the chocolate museum! The Choco Museo offers free tours, and more importantly free samples. We all decided to sign up for the “Bean to Bar” class that they offer for the following Monday.

On Wednesday, they had a ceramics class at the language school with a renowned Peruvian sculptor. In all truth, I would have paid the 6 soles just to play with a giant wad of wet clay for an hour and a half.  Due to this, I wasn’t too devastated when I knocked my cup of water on my clay model of the Qorkichancka just as I was leaving class.  I probably could have salvaged my wet replica, but when I went to pick it up, it broke in right half. I decided that at that point, it was best to just say my final goodbyes and walk away, Qorikancha-less.  

An hour and a half of ceramics class and all I had to show for it was a sad excuse for a cup. One of my housemates (our whole house ended up at ceramics class) mentioned that it kind of looked like a honey jar, so I snagged a random toothpick from the table, inscribed “HONEY” on the side of my creation, and called it a day.  Although I do not think I have a future career in sculpting, I really enjoyed being able to learn a bit more about the significance of different pots throughout Peruvian history.

After class on Thursday, I wandered into a little hole-in-the wall bookstore and bought two books in Spanish to practice some reading.  I decided I would buy a classic novel that was originally written in Spanish, which  would serve as a rewarding challenge, and I decided I would also buy a simpler book, just in-case I wasn’t up to the challenge quite yet. After standing in the book-store completely overwhelmed with all the choices for far too long, I finally walked out with Matilda by Roald Dahl and Cien Anos de Soledad by Gabriel Garcia Márquez.

Although I might not be quite ready for a book like Cien Anos de Soledad, I think it is a nice tangible language goal. For now, I am really enjoying reading Matilda and being able to write down words and phrases that are unfamiliar and also being able to reinforce the vocabulary and grammar that I have learned.

I had planned on going out with the rest of the house after dinner on Friday night, but Friday night had other plans for me.  After dinner, I wasn’t feeling very well, so I went to lay down, and I woke up with a fever. My weekend consisted mostly of sleeping and half-conscious movie watching. It wasn’t all terrible because Peruvian Netflix has so many more movies to offer than Netflix in the US and I figured out how to change the language to Spanish! The voice-overs are not at all distracting and this way, I didn’t feel as though it was a wasted weekend.

Over all, week two of classes in Cusco have been amazing! I am loving having to struggle through the language, and I really feel that I am improving. This experience has been incredible! That is all for now!

Hola de Cusco, Peru!


Today marks the completion of one full week in Cusco!  I arrived last Sunday, May 21st, around noon.  The journey here was long, but for the most part, painless. My flight to Cusco was perhaps the most enjoyable of the three flights. I was delighted to be able to practice my Spanish on the plane with the girl sitting next to me!

When I first arrived at my homestay, I was greeted by Edy, my host-father.  I felt comforted by Edy’s friendly demeanor, contagious smile, and the fact that his name, though spelled differently, is the same as my actual father’s name!  Edy directed me to my room upstairs.  My roommate had yet arrived, so I quickly set my things down and came downstairs for tea. This served as my introduction to coca tea, which I have had a least twice a day, every day, since the my introduction to the beverage!  The coca leaf is very prominent in Peruvian culture, not only because of its ties to ancient Incan spirituality, but because of its remedial properties in helping to soothe altitude sickness.  Cusco is 11,200 feet above sea level, and though I did not feel the effects of the altitude immediately upon arrival, it was certainly made evident to me in attempting to walk to the corner of the street and finding myself utterly out of breath.

my house from the street 

Once I finished my coca tea, Edy invited me to lunch with his family, and he drove us into town.  We sat upstairs in a little restaurant. There were only four items on the lunch menu, and Lily suggested I get Caldo de Pollo (chicken soup) so as to ease myself into the food in Cusco, but everybody else got chicharrones, so I figured I might as well try it too and dive right into Peruvian cuisine!  After all, chicharrones were not so much of a stretch for me…if I hadn’t before tasted them, I had definitely heard of them and knew what they were.  Everything was wonderful, but I was most surprised by the corn! If you ever come to Cusco, expect each kernel of corn to be bloated to a size about 3x bigger than the average kernel in the U.S.

coca tea!

Upon return to the house, I found myself pretty exhausted and decided to take a little nap.  Later in the day, I met my new roommate, Vitoria, travelling with her father from São Paulo, Brasil.  Vitoria is a medical student volunteering with the medical program through Maximo Nivel, and I am happy to report that thus far, we are getting along fabulously.   

My first day, I had orientation at 7 a.m. and met some other people in the native Spanish program. After orientation, a short walking tour of the city, and a language diagnostic test, I dove right into classes.  Classes are 6 hours a day, 5 days a week.  It is intensive, no doubt, but I really love being able to immerse myself in the language and not have to focus on anything else but Spanish and the beautiful culture here in Cusco.

To avoid a play-by-play report of my every action from the past week, I will just give a brief overview of what my day-to-day life has looked like so far.  My house is only about a fifteen minute walk from school, and it is a pleasant walk past the Iglesia de Santo Domingo, an elaborate church built by the Spanish atop the most prominent Incan temple to the sun god Inti. The façade of the temple, once adorned with gold, is still visible and serves as the foundation of the Church. The whole structure is referred to as the Qorikancha.

 in the Plaza de Armas!

My morning class runs from 9am-1pm, I have an hour lunch break from 1-2pm, and from 2-4pm, I have afternoon private lessons. My small group morning instructor, Rosa, is very kind and patient (thank goodness!) I have two other people in my class, a girl traveling with her boyfriend, and a missionary who recently moved to Peru with his wife. I enjoy class with them very much.

My private instructor, Vaneza, is spunky and sweet!  The majority of the class consists of the two of us talking about anything and everything, interspersed with mini-lessons when I make a grammatical blunder or am in need of a word.  On Wednesday, Vaneza took me out to lunch at one of her favorite restaurants just down the street from class.  We got a bread with a guacamole-tasting-dip appetizer, a large bowl of traditional Peruvian soup, pesto pasta and chicken, tea, and chicha morada dessert–chicha morada is a popular beverage made from purple corn. The dessert version of this beverage was mild flavored with a consistency somewhere in-between jello and jelly.  We got all this for just 8 soles (1 USD is the equivalent of 3 Peruvian soles!)  Lunch was all in Spanish…of course!

the San Pedro Market

I really love Vaneza.  She encourages me to speak and I can already see an improvement in just the simple fact that here, as opposed to in school, I am less worried about having the “wrong answer.” This way, I can speak freely and learn from the errors that I make.

After being here a week, I feel that I know my way around the city fairly well.  The other ten-or-so people living in the house (the number of residents fluctuates from day-to-day) have been very helpful in helping me find my way around.  At dinner, somebody always seems to have a new activity, restaurant, or shop recommendation to share with the group.  We all went out two nights last week after dinner (one of the times, just for sweet-potato donuts), which ended up being a pretty fun!  Everyone in the house, so far, has been extremely nice. In fact, one couple let me tag along with them on their day-trip to Rainbow Mountain.

In summary, the day of the hike up Rainbow Mountain marked what may have been the most strenuous physical activities in my life. The peak of the mountain rests 5,200 meters above sea level and is 5 ½ miles uphill. Hiking 5 ½ miles at a sharp incline is hard enough as it is, but the added factor of subtracted oxygen made even the simple task of breathing a challenge. It took about 2 ½ hours to get to the top of the mountain. Although the hike was rough, to say the least, I am glad I decided to complete this hike…the view at the top was definitely worth the trek.  The mountain is called “Rainbow Mountain” because the mineral deposits on the mountain make the mountain look a little like a rainbow!

on Rainbow Mountain!


This morning, I walked to the Plaza de Armas, the main square just down the street from my school, for mass at the Cusco Cathedral.  The Cathedral was absolutely packed.  They have four masses a day from 6-10am on the hour, and the 8am mass, of which I was in attendance, is celebrated by the Bishop in Spanish. I was delighted to find that I was able to understand the majority of the homily.  After mass, I found myself in the middle of a military parade, which apparently happens every Sunday according to a friendly man trying to sell paintings on the street.

More to come later!