I was sitting alone on the window seat of a LATAM airline plane, flying over the ice capped mountains of the Alps. The mountains were vastly covered in vegetation and home to villages scattered through the valleys. After travelling many kilometers, the plane started to descend into Cusco, the Incan capital of Peru. Here, I would be studying Peruvian Biodiversity and Sustainability at Universidad Andina del Cusco for four weeks, as well as going on many excursions to see the sites of Peru. From the sky, I could see a small, developing city of brown, brick buildings, no higher than five stories high, completely surrounded by the picturesque Alps. I was nervous to step foot into and adapt myself to such a new, culturally rich environment and hoped that my daily Duolingo Spanish lessons were enough to keep me alive and nourished.

 

Cusco from Universidad Andina del Cusco

 On a typical week day my natural body clock would wake to the rise of the sun. I would pack my bag for the day and walk down four flights of stairs to early rising classmates and an all you can eat buffet breakfast cooked by the friendly hotel staff. We would finish eating breakfast and then walk a short distance to a nearby petrol station to catch a private bus, direct to our university. We would learn about Peruvian geography, plants and animals, ecosystems, conservation and sustainability. On most university days, groups of students would present their thoughts on set readings, participate in very intense and interactive debates or present to the class their final capstone project; which was to provide a solution to an environmental or social issue in Peru. When the bus dropped us off at our hotel, all we could think about was lunch. There were so many tasty food options in Cusco; Jack’s Australian Café, Paddy’s Irish Pub, Greenpoint, Papacho’s Burgers and Qucharitas Ice-cream. 

 

Kalang, Robin and I finding it funny that we ordered soup from Paddy's Irish Pub for our dinner

Excited for ice-cream from Qucharitas

Wanchuq Food Market was definitely my favorite place to venture for lunch. It’s a local Peruvian market hidden away in the upstairs compartment of an old building offering two course meals for an extremely cheap price of five sol. I would walk around the market and the little Peruvian ladies would yell out their menu to anyone who passed. My friends and I would always go to the same Peruvian lady; Felie, to get our meal. First, we would get a large bowl of soup, then a second which was typically rice, lentils, beef stew, chicken mix, chips, or stir-fried vegetables. We would then get a strange warmed tea. Felie was always very excited to see us and we were always very excited to see her. She provided great entertainment and had a very kind nature.

 

Our final day visiting Felie and Corina for a market lunch at Wanchuq

Nat and I enjoying Tuna (fruit) from Wanchuq market

Each weekday afternoon we had the freedom to complete university assignments and enjoy our time exploring and having fun in Cusco.

Included in our international study experience itinerary were many excursions to the main sites of Peru. We spent an entire day looking at, learning about and exploring the Sacred Valley of the Incas, trying our hardest to get the perfect llama selfie and becoming mesmerized by the unbelievably beautiful country side.  

Llama selfies

 

Mesmerized by the views in the Sacred Valley of the Incas

One of the most exciting excursions was a plane trip and three night stay in the Amazon Jungle’s most sustainable ecolodge, located right next to the jungle and the river. We learnt about ecotourism and the wide range of biodiversity that exists in Peru. We also learnt about mining and how it is a major threat to the long-term survival of vegetation and biodiversity that exists in the jungle. Despite this, it was an extraordinary opportunity to see and get up close to a wild sloth climbing its way along a palm tree leaf, enormous families of capuchin monkeys keeping their newborns safe from any dangers and green macaws feeding on clay licks as a source of sodium. As a lover of food, I very much enjoyed trying a wide variety of new and interesting flavors from fruits, plants and small creatures.  

A wild sloth

Amazon Jungle!

 I enjoyed every single part of my international experience, but if I were to choose one moment to call my favorite it would have to be feeling the sheer joy of reaching the top of Machu Picchu Mountain. The hike up that mountain was insanely difficult; it involved climbing up 2760 very wide and steep Inca steps. At some sections of the hike I was climbing up the steps on my hands and feet. But I managed, and I felt very accomplished to have reached the top. Machu Picchu itself was also incredible! I found it hard to believe that the Incas could stack perfectly shaped and polished rocks on top of another to create such a large archeological site using just logs and their bare hands as construction tools!

 

Summit of Machu Picchu Mountain

Machu Picchu

Two days after the hardest hike of my life, we were off on a bus trip through the countryside to see and climb the amazing, Rainbow Mountain. I never knew that such a mountain could exist until I reached the summit, the clouds cleared, and I could see the mountaintop in clear view. The mountain was striped in natural marron, lavender, turquoise and gold

On Rainbow Mountain

Rainbow Mountain summit 

Saying goodbye to some lifelong friends on the last day of the tour was tough. I met some really awesome people from all across Australia. Luckily, some of these friends, just like me, were off to Lima to explore more of Peru, practice more Spanish and make even more memories.

 

My name is Amy Hunter and I am a third year student at Monash University. I am studying an extended major in environmental science and minors in human geography and plant sciences. In my spare time I love to volunteer for environmental causes, travel, play netball, learn geography and go bushwalking.