Made it back home after almost 24 hours of airport travel! I really did not want to leave. It was difficult to say bye to my friends and my new life. If you had told me at the two month mark (whenever I felt that although I had met people, I really didn’t have any friends) that I would feel this way at the end, I don’t know if I would have believed you.
After I wrapped up finals (don’t worry friends, I did well), I set out on last-minute travel adventures with some of my international student friends: two Colombians and the mother and boyfriend of one of them. During finals I was too busy to write and while on my trip I was with limited wifi (and also too busy to write haha) so here’s to one big final giant post!
We went to Cusco, Puno, and Arequipa. It had been my plan all along to go to these cities at the end of the semester once I had sufficient time, so I was excited when I found out my friends also were planning on taking the same route. Although we created an itinerary before we left Lima, we really just let the road take us as it wished. Everyone in the tourism industry seems to work together (from taxi drivers, hotels, to tour agencies) so even though we would have hotel reservations, we hardly ever made it to where we reserved because our taxi drivers would set us up with hotels even closer to the main plazas at better prices. In the US they say that business is all about connections and knowing people, but I find it to be even more strikingly true in the Peruvian tourism industry. I learned a lot about bartering from my travels with my latino friends throughout the semester.
We started off in Cusco and spent more days there than we had initially planned. Cusco is the jumping off point for many tourist destinations (including the much anticipated wonder of the world… Machu Picchu). Immediately upon arriving in Cusco, we set out on our way to Aguas Calientes, the town closest to Machu Picchu. In route, we stopped and stayed in a town called Santa Teresa in order to go to the hot springs 🙂 Que riiiico!
From Santa Teresa we took a bus to Hidroelectrica (free of charge because we made friends with a tour agency worker who was in route there to pick-up and bring back another group. Granted, later once we were in Cusco, we bought tours from them). From Hidroelectrica, we walked ~2.5 hours to get to Aguas Calientes, where we stayed the night before going to Machu Picchu in the morning. There is a train that runs to Aguas Calientes (we basically walked the same path the train takes) but it is expensive for foreigners. Even though it is extremely cheap for Peruvians, I know many who still refuse to take it because they say it is a Chilean company and are mad that even in a site around Machu Picchu, the government has sold off rights to foreign powers and the total revenue doesn’t go to the state.
Due to the popularity of the site and it being peak tourist season, they have begun selling tickets for Machu Picchu in morning and afternoon timeframes. We bought the 6am to 12pm slot and also a bus ticket to carry us up (we wanted to maximize our time as well as possible) and woke up around 4:00 in the morning to begin our journey. We made it! There was fog in the early hours, but I think that added to the mystery of it all.
Taking my tour, I learned that all the artifacts from Machu Picchu were taken away by the American explorer that “discovered” Machu Picchu (he was led there by natives who knew about it, then he told the world about it) and to this day are hanging out at Yale University so that they can be studied and given back “eventually.” Peruvians will tell you this is another example of how foreign countries benefit more from the resources of Peru than Peru itself. I can’t help but agree with them that the artifacts should be in Peru where they belong. Imagine how awesome it would be to visit Machu Picchu and not only see their awesome building constructions, but also their skilled craftsmanship of ceramics and other goods.
We returned to Cusco and set out for Valle Sagrado. It’s scattered with smaller ruins (but as our guide told us, “ruinas” is misleading because it implies that they are useless. But they are NOT useless, and because of that, we refer to them as arqueological sites) but impressive nevertheless. We visited Pisac, Ollantaytambo, some salt mines, and Moray. Moray is a huge circular terrace that has over 20 different microclimates. It’s no wonder that Peru has 5,000 varieties of potatoes.
The next day we took a hike to Laguna Humantay. Add beautiful blue lakes at high altitudes to the list of things Peru does well.
We also took a hike up to the mountain Ausangate, which is known for it’s stripe formation of 7 different colors. It is above 5,000 meters in altitude and for some reason my symptom this time was that my hands swelled up as if they were the latex gloves in the doctor’s office that you blew up like a balloon. My thumb had it’s own seven colored mountain (just kidding, it didn’t change colors thank goodness). I’ll spare you those pictures. They hurt a lot, but luckily when I returned to normal altitude they slowly returned back to their normal size. Swollen hands isn’t something they tell you to look out for when hiking in high altitudes haha
From there we set out to Puno, a city that is located on Lake Titicaca – the highest navigable lake in the world. Puno doesn’t appear to have much going on for it other than its proximity to the floating islands of uros in Lake Titicaca. Although the Uros culture hasn’t existed in years, there are people who still build and maintain the islands and houses in the traditional way to show them off to tourists. It’s pretty neat to think that at some point people created their own islands out of the reeds and lived there. I never cease to be amazed at how incredibly adaptive the humans are to their environments.
We spent the night with a family on an island (although not a floating one) and got a taste of local life. Norma, our host, told us that people come to stay every two weeks. One big difference from the mainland was the food. There was a lack of meat (to my pleasure and to the dismay of some of my Colombian friends). Norma dressed us up in traditional clothes (as an American, I felt a little weird trying on someone else’s traditional dress for fear of cultural appropriation… but when someone is happy to be sharing their traditions with you, you can’t turn it down) and we danced around. Those pictures are on a friend’s camera so unfortunately I do not have them in this moment. We hiked up to the top of the mountain where there were some ruins of a temple to the pacha____. I can’t remember how it was called, but “pachamama” is mother earth and “pacha-something” is father earth. This temple was for father earth and on another high part of the island there was a temple for the pachamama.
The next day we toured some other islands in the lake and learned a tiny bit about their cultures. On Taquile island, they have a serious knitting culture (which I found really intriguing since I have been knitting since I was 8 years old). The men included knit. When they are young, their fathers teach them how to knit. When they become skilled enough, they create hats for themselves that are half white and half red. These hats indicate that they are single and eligible to be married. Once they are married, they have to knit themselves new hats that are completely red.
When the tour ended, we immediately traveled to Arequipa. From the initial moments I laid eyes on the city, I was in LOVE. I was immediately sad that we only had two days left to spend. I have already decided that when I eventually return to Peru to visit, I will stay in Arequipa and travel from there. I still lack the rainforest and the northern cities in Peru, so I have to return at some point. Also highly considering searching for jobs in Arequipa. I saw a sign outside of a hotel saying they were looking for someone with basic english for the reception lobby… I think I could handle that 😉 What makes Arequipa so wonderful? For me, it is absolutely beautiful. Surrounded by three snow-capped volcanoes (as well as other mountains) the beautifully carved stone buildings couldn’t be any more picturesque. Also, the food there is wonderful – renowned all over the country.
About three hours from Arequipa there is Colca Canyon – the deepest canyon in the world (yes, it’s double as deep as the grand canyon). Because we only had a day, we didn’t hike down into it, but we did get to visit a spot where condors are constantly hanging out. I learned from the guide that the condors under five years old are solid brown and the adults have white markings on black bodies.
Other things that happened during the trip: nationwide indefinite strike of teachers. The train to Machu Picchu was not running on the days that we went (which meant less tourists for us!) due to the strike. The school in Aguas Calientes was covered in protest posters when we arrived (but I failed to take a picture and the next day they were gone. Always should take the picture immediately). However, when returning from Hidroelectrica back to Cusco, we had to wait hours on end for a bus because the roads were blocked off by protests. When we finally got on the road, the bus was constantly having to swerve around large stones on the path that the teachers had carried up and placed in the road. When we got to Puno, we saw people marching and shouting in the streets (but just that – nothing dangerous). Once we had moved on to Arequipa, I had received an email from the US State Department (reasons to sign up for their safe traveler program) telling me about the protests, especially big in the Cusco and Puno regions, and to avoid large crowd gatherings as peaceful protests can easily convert into violence. The purpose of the strikes is to get the government’s attention and raise teacher salaries – time will tell what becomes of it.
An observation that I had is that, whether I like it or not, English is the global language. Even though I was traveling in a Spanish speaking group, a good many of our tours were in both Spanish and English. There were other tourists from Europe and Asia who didn’t know any Spanish, but were getting by on what English that they knew. I met a family from Holland that spoke Dutch, English, and Spanish (because the mother was Peruvian) and they told me that in Holland everyone speaks both Dutch and English. In my university, all of the students are required to take courses in English and often in their normal classes, they have readings in English. I’m not quite sure if I am at an advantage or disadvantage for already knowing it. It’s an advantage in the sense that I can communicate with a lot more people on the global scale, but I see it as a disadvantage in the sense that it wouldn’t be that difficult to learn English. I say this, not from a grammar perspective, but from the point of view that English is EVERYWHERE. My friends that don’t speak English still know a good bit of vocabulary just from seeing it/hearing it. In Peru for example, they really don’t have that many peruvian movies. They watch Hollywood movies either dubbed over or with subtitles. When you go to the theater, you have your pick of whether you want dubbed or subtitles. In the US, when I want to watch a movie in a different language, I have to go out of my way to find one. It makes it more difficult to pick up another language when you’re constantly having to search opportunities to practice it instead of it just being incorporated into your daily life.
With that, I’m calling an end to my study abroad adventure. I can’t wait to see how it will continue to shape me.