“Rainbow” Mountain

For my last weekend in Peru, I knew that I wanted to do something spectacular, so myself and some of my friends decided to go to Rainbow Mountain (aka La montaña de siete colores). A lot of my friends had already gone and their pictures looked amazing.

This is what it should have looked like

However, Mother Nature had other plans in store for us that weekend.

After a brutal 2 am alarm and a 4 hour bus ride, we made it halfway up the mountain where the hike starts. Did I mention that Rainbow Mountain is approximately 17,000 feet above sea level? However, due to icy conditions, it was not safe for our bus to continue up the steep roads. Sounds like a good start, right?

When we finally trekked all the way up to the start of the hike, it was clear that things were not looking so good for us. The ground was blanketed by fresh white snow and it was much colder than what our tour guides had told us to prepare for. Nonetheless, the head guide assured us that we would still be able to see the rainbow mountain so we trekked onward.

However, as we went further and further, the conditions only worsened and soon the snow and ice had gone straight through my ragged tennis shoes and through the light jacket that I had brought with me. At some points, we could barely see in front of us and the altitude was making it pretty difficult to breathe. But still, we kept going.

Eventually, we made it to the rainbow part of the mountain, which was covered in snow of course. It was a little disheartening that we had gone all that way for nothing, but in the end it was an adventure that I definitely will never forget.

The experience as a whole was definitely not exactly what I was looking for or expecting but I think that this final adventure in Peru really nicely summed up what it is like to travel internationally: sometimes things work out and sometimes they don’t. The important thing is that you ride out the journey as best as you can and always remind yourself of the positive. Yes, I was cold and freezing. Sure, I couldn’t really feel my toes at the end and at some points I felt like I couldn’t breathe. But I definitely had the time of my life, with great friends, in a place that most people never even have the opportunity to visit. For that I feel blessed.

Peru taught me so much and I gained so much (knowledge, friendship, weight, etc.) along the way. If you’re reading this, I highly recommend that you go to Peru at some point in your life because their hospitality, scenery, culture, and food are unrivaled.


Cusco, Week 4

Week four?!

I actually started to freak out this week when I realized how little time I have left here in Cusco. This upcoming weekend was my last chance to explore Peru and to walk around the city before I leave the following Friday.

My week started about the same as usual. Although classes were a little different since we had a new group of students matriculate in and two new students were in my class on Monday. It was really fun to get to know some new faces and to practice Spanish with a different group because a lot of learning is done from learning from each other and with fresh minds come fresh topics and places to improve and learn more. I think that having a different set of faces in class really helped me avoid complete burnout this week as I was nearing the end of my time here.

This week was also a lot more interesting than others as we began to move forward and progress towards topics I was a lot less familiar with, like the more advanced subjunctive tenses. Although I had learned them in the past, having a more in-depth and detailed review really helped me to solidify what I already knew and to understand how to better use these tenses in conversation and in writing.

Each day this week, I really made sure to take advantage of what Cusco had to offer. I went to the market almost every day before class to buy fresh and cheap fruits and vegetables to eat, I revisited all of my favorite restaurants for lunch, and tried to hit up as many of the museums and cultural centers that I could around the city.

It wasn’t hard to find things to do since this week really kicked off the beginning of Cusco’s festival period leading up to Cusco day on June 24. Each day was full of parades and music and crazy events and dance groups in the Plaza de Armas and on Avenida el sol (Cusco’s longest road). Although I was leaving before Día de Cusco, all of the celebrations felt like a really good way to end my time in Cusco.

For the weekend however, I had one more adventure planned with my friends: La montaña de siete colores (Rainbow Mountain).

The Coolest Lake House You’ll Ever See


My next week of Spanish classes were definitely filled with moments of frustration and complete exhaustion, but they also reinforced my understanding that learning another language is not something that will come instantly, even with the help of immersion. Concentrating heavily on grammar and on conversational skills has made me keenly aware of my shortcomings. However, it is with this newfound knowledge that I understand the best way to proceed and improve. I know exactly what aspects of the grammar trip me up each time and I know exactly what I need to practice the most.

However, despite the difficulties that I experienced in class each day, this week I really began to notice how my improving conversational skills were allowing me to communicate much more easily with my host family. Although I’m sure that my grammar had its flaws, my ever-growing vocabulary has helped me to talk even more fluidly and fully with my host family. Rarely is there a moment when my sentences are too jumbled or cryptic for them to understand the intent behind my words. Knowing that I can hold a conversation or survive on the streets if I am lost is definitely something that has made me feel more comfortable and confident while exploring the city.

However, as excited as I was for the end of the week, it was definitely bittersweet. I again had to say goodbye to many good friends, some of whom had been my first guides around the city when I got here and it was a little heartbreaking to think that I would probably never see some of them ever again. However, it was still a blessing to have known them and I can only hope that this was not truly the last time.

But on the bright side, the weekend came with another adventure. One of my friends and I took a weekend trip to visit Puno and Lake Titicaca. While the bus ride was cold and long(er than expected), the view of Lake Titicaca and the islands there was absolutely stunning. We went to one of the floating islands built by some indigenous groups. Our tour of the island included an explanation of how they are built, essentially by tying reeds together and drying out plants to form the base of the island, which floats on enormous clusters of the floating reeds that are native to the area. It was a really remarkable and ingenious technique and I am still in awe at how they even came up with the idea. Truly the most amazing lake home you could ever hope to see. Their islands form a community just sitting int he middle of the lake, and it was really cool to get to experience their way of life for a few hours. After that, we went to Taquile which is a really strange (natural) island within Titicaca that is home to a decently sized village where we had an amazing lunch and toured the scenery. We learned a lot about their culture, their quite unique governance, and got to meet some of the people (who are much more reserved than the Peruvians that I have met thus far).

All in all, another amazing week in Peru!

Machu Picchu!

This weekend was an absolute dream. I went on a weekend tour of Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley. Bright and early on Saturday morning I hopped on a tour bus along with a bunch of other people from Maximo Nivel and we started our bus tour of the Sacred Valley.

We stopped at the ruins of Pisac and Ollantaytambo, where our tour guide explained a lot of Inca history (such as how they believe the Inca constructed many of their towns and building with shocking precision).

After exploring the ruins, we hopped on a train leading into the town of Aguas Calientes, the main site for people to stay and rest before or after going to Machu Picchu. It’s a very touristy town and when a large amount of our group went out to dinner that night we actually had a problem with the staff trying to charge us a non-existent 30% service tax that we had to spend an hour arguing to get removed (we won).

The next morning, the group that I traveled with all met at 4:00 am to wait in line for the buses that would take us up the mountain. By the time we got up to Machu Picchu it was around 6:00 am but we made it in time to watch the sunrise. It didn’t even feel real.

After exploring the ruins and learning a lot about the history of Machu Picchu, its “discovery,” and its restoration in the present, I am extremely grateful for the chance to have seen and walked around this wonder of the world. Especially because our tour guide told us that in the near future there are plans to greatly reduce access to the ruins to avoid erosion and damage from all of the human foot-traffic.

After visiting the ruins and seeing everything up close and personal, it is not hard to understand why this is one of the seven-wonders of the world, nor is it difficult to understand why it is on the bucket lists of so many people. No picture that I took can do Machu Picchu justice.

This trip has truly been the experience of a lifetime for me so far, I highly recommend Peru to anyone with an adventurous spirit and open mind. Every single day I spend in Peru comes with more stories and memories that I can tell and hang onto for the rest of my life.

Cusco, Week 2

Hola a todos!

My second week in Cusco was definitely a success. I can feel my Spanish improving each and every day and although the progress is not as quick as I had anticipated and hoped, I can definitely feel a difference in my confidence and accuracy while speaking.

Although the six hours of class each day is still incredibly tiring, my teacher, Roy has been finding other ways to teach me that are a bit more exciting than sitting in a class all day. This week he took me around the city to explore some of the museums, markets, and even showed me his favorite bar (I will definitely be returning later).

Something else interesting happened this week. On Thursday there was a city-wide strike organized by transportation workers against the Peruvian government. The protest was against the rising price of gasoline. It was amazing to see the entire city come together to protest. From the morning until the afternoon, all the roads around the city were filled with people protesting and it was impossible for cars to drive around. It felt very different from the protests and strikes that I have witnessed in the US. The people of Cusco stood together against their government and it was remarkable to witness how much strength the city had when they stood united.

In the two weeks that I have been here I have had the chance to meet so many amazing people from Peru as well as other travelers from around the world. I have become friends with people from Canada, Brazil, China, India, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. Unfortunately, the problem with making friends abroad is that eventually you have to say goodbye. I was very sad this week to have to say farewell to some of my friends. Even though I only knew them for two weeks, exploring an unfamiliar city together definitely accelerated our friendships. I’ll be sad to see them go but many of them are off on another adventure and I’m excited to see where they all go next and happy to have had the privilege to meet them.

But I still have a lot to look forward to and my trip is less than halfway over. This weekend I’m going to Machu Picchu!

Saludos de Cusco!

After an extremely hectic, long, and confusing day of travel I finally arrived in Cusco at around 6:30 am. A taxi driver (sent by Maximo Nivel, my language school) took me directly to my host family, a woman named Tuca and her brother, Victor. They don’t speak any English but luckily my Spanish is enough to communicate and converse with them. After sleeping for a couple hours, my host mother showed me the way to Maximo Nivel, where I had language testing and orientation for my Spanish program (a combination of four hours of group classes and two additional hours of private lessons).

After my testing I went on a short city tour of the nearby area and got to know some of the more popular restaurants and cafes.

The next day, I started my classes. My teacher’s name is Roy and he is originally from Lima, but has been living in Cusco for over 10 years. In my group class there is just one other person, a girl named Mikayla from Toronto, Canada. The classes are simultaneously really overwhelming as well as a little tedious and slow. Each day I learn an incredible amount of vocabulary, but at the same time I haven’t learned much grammatically. In this first week of class we focused only on the present and preterit tenses which was a little frustrating at times but I also feel that the practice has made me more confident in my speaking abilities. Even though I haven’t learned any new grammar, I can talk much more quickly and fluidly than before.

However, despite all of my progress, by the end of the week I was completely burnt out. Constantly thinking and talking in Spanish is EXHAUSTING. Luckily, each day I have a three hour break between my group classes and private lessons that I use to explore new restaurants and explore different areas of the city. My favorite dish so far is a famous Peruvian dish called Lomo Saltado, which has beef, onions, some other vegetables, french fries, and rice.

And on Fridays, Maximo offers cooking classes and this week the dish that we learned to make happened to be Lomo Saltado. I learned a lot more about the history of the dish and that while it is a Peruvian favorite, it is actually inspired by Chinese immigrants. Throughout Peru there is a large mix between Peruvian and Chinese cultures and throughout the streets of Cusco you can always spot various “chifas” which are Peruvian-Chinese fusion restaurants. Peru is a really fascinating country because of all of the different cultural mixings. It’s interesting because aside from my clearly American clothing, I actually blend in around the streets of Cusco pretty well.

Aside from all the Spanish classes, another snag along the road have come from the sharp slap in the face and reality check regarding my privileges in America. I don’t think that I ever really understood how blessed I am to always be able to rely on hot water, clean tap water, and conveniences like Walmart (where I can find everything I need in one place). Luckily, my host family has been doing everything in their power to make me comfortable here and I am incredibly grateful for all their help.

On the weekend I had a lot of free time to explore the city. I ended up going to Sacsayhuaman, a famous Incan site right next to Cusco, it was close enough for me to walk (which was a HIKE, the streets of Cusco are steep and narrow). It was incredible to see how advanced Inca society was and to see their engineering with my own eyes. I couldn’t believe how strong and sturdy their buildings and walls were without having modern-tools.

And on Sunday, I went on a hike with a couple of other students from Maximo. We went to Humantay Lake which is about a three hour drive away from Cusco. The drive was both beautiful AND terrifying. The scenery around Peru is like something out of a dream BUT the roads are really different from what we are used to in the US. In a lot of places they can get a little bumpy and people here drive a lot more aggressively.

But despite the long and bumpy drive, the hike was definitely worth all of it. I had a ton of fun getting to spend time with others my age who were traveling from various parts of the US as well as from Canada and Brazil and I had a blast climbing up to the lake with all of them. However, the hike was more difficult than I was expecting because of the altitude. Humantay Lake is approximately 13,000 feet (South Bend is approximately 700 feet). It took me much longer than I was expecting and I had to take a ton of breaks along the way.

Although my first week was exhausting and overwhelming, I can’t wait to see what the rest of my time here has in store for me. 4 weeks left!