We landed in Cusco on Monday after a short flight from Peru’s capital, Lima. We were greeted with a rather unusual bout of weather as Cusco decided to welcome our group with a bit of rain during its usual dry winter. Luckily we did not have to brave the rain as we were met at the airport by our local guides, Lucho and his brother, Frank. Lucho and Frank drove us to our cozy hotel located blocks from the city center where we relaxed and drank a local tea to shake off the cold and protect against altitude sickness. After warming up it was time for a tour of an Incan archeological site named Saqsaywaman. Saqsaywaman, pronounced “sexy woman”, seems like a fortress at first glance with walls made up of rocks weighing up to 60 tons, an amazing achritectual feat for a society that had not yet harnessed the power of the wheel. However, despite its high walls Saqsaywaman was actually a religious site for the Incas housing many sacred ceremonies, including human sacrifices! In an open field at the base of Saqsaywaman’s walls our group got to meet some of Peru’s oldest native inhabitants, llamas and alpacas! Emily had a great time chasing the alpacas around the field trying to hand feed them grass. Despite being enthralled with the llamas like the rest of the group, we are beginning to wonder if Sarah would rather spend her time chasing after the many wild cats and dogs which inhabit Cusco’s fields and streets. There is a family of kittens that lives on a roof close to our hotel that she is particularly found of. After our tour we returned to the city center for a bite to eat. Annalisa showed great leadership and navigational abilities by leading the group to and from dinner with little more than memory and a hand-drawn map.
We started the next morning with a Spanish language class with our teacher, Iliana. Although everyone in the group had different backgrounds in Spanish everyone had fun conversing in Spanish and learning how to bargain. Jennie in particular stood out as an excellent Spanish speaker and shrewd businesswoman in our simulated market interactions. This proved true as our group went to a local market to put our new Spanish vocabulary and bargaining skills to use. We bought all the ingredients necessary to prepare a typical Peruvian lunch consisting of potatoes, chicken curry, quinoa soup, and rice. After the market all that was left was to actually prepare the meal, which we did in the kitchen of our hotel with help from Lucho, Lliana, and Lucho’s wife, Lucy. Sean impressed us all with his cooking prowess which didn’t come as a surprise after he shared that he was the son of a chef, it must run in the family! With full stomachs we headed off to an artesian market to shop for hand made Peruvian gifts and further perfect our bargaining skills. Everyone came away with newfound treasures, Jamie bought a hand made pan flute which he continues to serenade the group with daily. By the end of the trip he hopes to make back some of the money he spent on the flute by performing in the square beside many other local musicians, and if he keeps up with the practice he just might make enough money to come out ahead.
Wednesday our guides Lucho and frank, who despite being amazing travel guides are also professional raft guides, took us on a float trip of the upper Urubamba river. The Urubamba is a tributary to the Amazon and gave us quite a ride offering up to class 3+ rapids even in the dry season of the South American winter. Some group members were a little apprehensive before the trip but those feelings of nervousness quickley gave way to those of adrenaline fueled excitement after the first rapid. Molly, and Sean joined the guides in some cliff jumping and Kate was quite the river surfer. River surfing is when the guide intentionally gets the raft “stuck” in a rapid where the boat acts like a surfboard riding the rapid like a wave. If these three days have been any indication of what’s to come then we are in for an amazing trip. Tomorrow we are off to the sacred valley for three days of service then to Machu Pichu.