Impromptu Adventures

It was the morning of Peru’s second game in the World Cup and the excitement throughout Cusco was palpable.  The city was flooded with people wearing their jerseys; I even saw a handful of dogs sporting them.  My university had planned an excursion for us that morning to clean up trash along some of the Incan trails outside of the city.  We were set to return to the school by the start of the game, but unfortunately we encountered a couple setbacks along the way and our chances of making it back were not looking good.  Some other students attributed our bad luck to the “cursed” bus we were on; they had been stranded for 6 hours on this bus the weekend before while returning from a jungle tour.  Little did we know about the fate of this cursed bus.

After cleaning up the Incan trails for a few hours in the morning, our professor took us to a guinea pig farm.  I have to be honest, I am not sure if this is an experience I would like to relive given the chance.  Upon entering a building filled with pens and pens of guinea pigs, we were warned adamantly to avoid the alphas.  I still have absolutely no idea how one determines which guinea pig is the alpha and my confusion contributed to the apprehension I felt during our visit.  Also! These guinea pigs were not of the Petco-sort I was used to; they were gigantic.  And it was disheartening to know that these were not fated for the life of a pet but rather someone’s (potentially our) lunch. 

The guinea pig farm: 3 cheers if you can figure out which one is the alpha

This guinea pig farm was located in the poorest district of the Cusco department (Peru is divided into 10 departments: independent regions of governance).  The government had previously helped to implement guinea pig farming in this area to compensate for the infertile land and the lack of agriculture.  As a result, guinea pigs had become the main, and in some cases the only, source of income for the families in this village.

Shortly into our visit, we learned that our bus had a flat tire.  It really was living up to its reputation of being cursed!  We would have to stay in that village until the bus was fixed, and with this revelation our hopes of returning to Cusco in time for the game were gone.  Luckily, we were able to watch the game with the residents of the village, all of us cheering on Peru together huddled around a small TV in someone’s living room.  During halftime, we played a game of soccer with the children from the village; sharing snacks, playing soccer, and teaching each other new words while waiting for the game to come back on.  It was especially exciting because not only were we able to communicate with them in Spanish, but also they taught us some soccer-related Quechua words.  Throughout my time in Cusco, moments like these have been my favorites: moments when we had the chance to interact with rural communities and learn from the people we met.

I have been consistently amazed by how much there is to do in and around Cusco.  The number of hiking trails and ruins right around Cusco is unbelievable, it’s impossible to see it all even with 5 and a half weeks to explore.  In the past two weekends, I visited Machu Picchu and Lake Humantay.  Both of these trips were paired with some unlucky weather conditions, but it just made them more of an adventure!

Fog obscured most of Machu Picchu when we first arrived

When we visited Machu Picchu, there was torrential downpour and thick fog all morning.  Unfortunately, this made it nearly impossible to actually see Machu Picchu at first, but we were able to explore the ruins and hike the nearby trails.  As we were starting to leave the site, all coming to terms with the fact that we wouldn’t get the chance to actually see Machu Picchu or any of the surrounding mountains, the fog started to clear with 15 minutes to spare!  Our first glances of Machu Picchu were super exciting and everyone was relieved that we got to really see one of the 7 new wonders of the world before we returned to Cusco.

We had this same kind of experience at Lake Humantay, except in the reverse order.  Lake Humantay sits at the top of a mountain, nearly 15,500 feet above sea level.  The hike up to the lake was grueling and freezing.  Lake Humantay is famous for the snow-tipped mountains that surround it and the scenic views.  When we made it to the lake, all breathing heavily from the challenging hike and the altitude, we were amazed by the view in front of us.  It started snowing heavily as soon as we reached our destination and by the time we caught our breath, we realized that a thick fog accompanied the snow and was starting to block the view of both the mountains and the lake.  We enjoyed our view of the lake while it lasted and soon began our descent back down the mountain.  We had expected our return trip to be significantly easier, but we were mistaken.  The snow had made our entire trail slick.  I don’t think I have ever laughed as much as I did watching everyone slip and slide back down the mountain, taking a few tumbles myself on the way down.  By the time we reached the bottom, we were all covered in mud with frozen fingers and cheeks flushed with laughter.  This was definitely the hardest hike I’ve ever completed and I’d love to do it again one day, even if the snow and fog are a packaged deal.

Feeling accomplished at the end of our hike to Lake Humantay