It’s hard to believe that my last week in Peru has already arrived. My experience working at Camino Nuevo and living with my host family has really surpassed any expectations I had before arriving. While I’m excited to return to the US after 5 months, it’ll be so hard to say goodbye to my Peruvian life in just a few days. I’ll save my update on how my work at Camino Nuevo is going until I finish up my final project this week, so for now I’ll share some of my adventures from Cusco!
At the top of everyone’s list when they visit Cusco, or Peru in general, is a trip to Machu Picchu, and during my first weekend in Cusco I was able to cross it off my own list. By some odd coincidences in planning, my sister, Emma, and I ended up volunteering in the Sacred Valley of Peru at the same time this summer, so I was able to make the trip to the Incan city with her and her friend, Becky. It was a whirlwind of a weekend, complete with our tour guide leaving Emma and Becky for a few hours in one of the small towns we visited and us navigating the bureaucracy of trying to get into Machu Picchu without our passports (hint: bring your passport to Machu Picchu). Despite the hiccups, though, I truly enjoyed exploring the Sacred Valley, as we made stops at the ruins in Pisac and Ollantaytambo before making our way to Aguas Calientes, the tiny town outside of Machu Picchu. We managed to beat most of the crowds by making it to the ruins at 5:30 am, which also meant we got to watch the beautiful sunrise as we explored the various parts of the city. The ruins were even more amazing than I imagined, and I learned that the Incas really did know where the best places were to establish their cities because the surrounding jungle is breathtaking.
During my afternoons here in Cusco, I’ve been able to really take advantage of what the city has to offer. I’m so glad that I was able to come to this city for more than just the two days around a trip to Machu Picchu that most travelers get. As touristy as it may seem to some people, Cusco really is a charming city surrounded by beautiful mountains. My afternoons have been spent visiting the many museums (including the Chocolate Museum, of course) and exploring the Incan ruins right outside the city center. A 25-minute hike up from the Plaza de Armas did a number on my lungs in this altitude but also brought me to Sacsayhuaman, a beautiful set of ruins that overlook the entire city of Cusco. In addition, I made a trip back to the town of Pisac, where my sister was staying, to experience the Festival of the Virgen del Carmen. The town’s week-long festivities include dozens of different dances and costumes to go with each one. I can proudly say that I started one of the parties when one of the masked men invited me to the dance floor to learn the traditional dance.
For my last weekend in South America, I made a trip with Vanessa, another volunteer with Manos Unidas, to Lake Titicaca, Peru’s largest lake right on the southern border with Bolivia. The trip included stops at three of the islands on the Peruvian side and a night spent with a local family, who dressed us all up in traditional outfits and brought us to a big hall for a dance party. Perhaps the highlight of the trip was my final hike of these 5 months in South America – a trip up to the Pachatata Temple on Amantani Island at 13,300 feet above sea level. The altitude made the 45-minute climb pretty difficult, but the sunset we got as a reward at the top made the huffing and puffing so worth it.
I have a few more days to explore the city, spend time with my host family and finish up my work at Camino Nuevo. I’m excited to share what I’ve been doing with the amazing students at the school – I’ll update again soon!