Hola chicos y Bienvenido a Peru!

On our very first day, we were welcomed very sincerely at the Universidad of San Ignacio de Loyola (USIL) from our hotel by our university supervisor.

We were then greeted with a presentation on how diverse Peru is based on its traditions and customs which are well known, and what was to be expected of us while learning in Cuzco. Then we were treated to a group dance, which got everyone quite invigorated and excited to start the week. The teachers were really warm and welcoming, and assured us that we would have an amazing time in Cuzco.

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The regular school day begins at 10am and progresses until 1pm. After school a group of friends from the biodiversity course and I set out to climb up a mountain to the 'White Christ' which was a big statue we could see from our USIL hotel. As we climbed we saw magnificent views that continued to expand of the Plaza deArmas, in central Cuzco.

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It took roughly 2 hours, as we didn't know a direct route, but we were gladly guided along the way by some locals with directions. There were hundreds of steps, I think we were all struggling and definitely feeling the altitude, as we continued to get higher.

When we reached the top, Peru's wet season became a reality, we were greeted by icy cold rain, but this weather couldn't ruin the beautiful view. We then walked down part of the hill to a ruins known as Sacsaywaman or 'sexy woman' as some of the locals claim that the tourists pronounce it.

At university (on day 2) we learnt all about biodiversity and ecosystems in Peru. After this, some friends and I went to the Paddy's Irish bar, we had experienced a fair bit of the local dishes, so we decided that we wanted something closer to home. We had a magnificent view of the Cuzco centre point. It overlooked the surrounding valley and shops. I browsed some markets and found a few trinkets. We continued to adventure around the city centre and found even more secret markets which was exciting.

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The traffic lights are structured with a countdown, even when you have a green man the drivers don't give you right of way, the traffic structure is very different to other countries, but at the same time quite similar, in the sense that everyone is in a rush. There are traffic controllers who are the police, they are essential, otherwise traffic would be complete chaos. Although this is a third world country, the people here seem to be content with their quality of life, wether they are street merchants or taxi drivers, they all seem to be joyous, happy and upbeat.

On the third day, my course group had to direct a presentation to the class on distinct bird species in Australia, and demonstrate the difference between Peruvian birds and Australian birds. We were then introduced to our tour guide of the course, who directed us through the sun temple and the main cathedral (plaza de Amos). Gold and silver lined the walls of most of the rooms, and this resembled the community's passion and devotion to their religion. There was a baby Jesus statue that had children's toys below him, the local children were encouraged to place their favourite toy at his feet. The priests then take these toys and give them as a donation to the poorer society.

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I was intrigued by a painting further down the hall of the church which summed up a man who was going to die, and he begged the Virgin Mary for his life, she granted his wish on one condition, that he only take one wife/have one girlfriend from then on (as he was renowned for having several girls at a time). He agreed and took a wife, but then got into the routine of having other women again, he was sent to hell as a result. Italians, Spanish and the Germans influenced the incas paintings. The incas were very confused by all the differences, that they combined them all and made their own style. The incas have gods of the moon, sun and stars.

Now: The main highlight of the week was by far visiting the Sacred Valley! On Saturday, we rose at 7 to board a bus at 8, which would take us to the Sacred Valley. We passed a town called Poroy and later a town known as Chinchero - which means where the rainbow ends in Spanish. We learnt about how to cook black pudding by using a certain variety of black corn, the final dish was called Massamora morala. We then ventured up to a sacred church and learnt about people who climb apu (which means mountain) to church. A Paplito climbs 4000m above sea level which is past the church.

We arrived in the Sacred Valley Sun Temple, which consisted of many stairs and unfinished walls. Each stone was taken from the valley below and carved perfectly to fit in place with the other (there was no room for mistakes in a sacred temple). Our guide told us that the place is important if it has a three edged cross, which resembled three concepts of each side. To find love, have knowledge and work in your life. The people were not allowed to be lazy, with those three ideas the incas had the first three steps. Three religious animals represented the next three steps. The snake, condor and puma represented the three worlds, the condor is for above earth or before earth, the puma is for life on earth and the snake is for death, in the after world. In some of the crosses there is a dot in the centre, which represents Cuzco, that it is all built around Cuzco.

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We stopped for lunch at a buffet restaurant called Tunupa. They had a talking macaw out the front, which greeted us as we arrived. For lunch I ate alpaca (amongst many other things) for the first time. It reminded me of a tough beef texture and taste! The view from the table was wonderful; it overlooked a river, a few grazing llamas and a cliff edge. We then went on to visit the Archaeological site of Pisaq, which was elevated 3400m above sea level (the same as Cuzco). We learnt about the lingly inca mummified cemetery which was built on a mountain wall opposite the site.

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Overall the site was extremely picturesque and outstandingly beautiful.

Come the very end of the week, everyone was quite exhausted from the mountaineering. I began my Sunday by having fresh fruit for breakfast and drinking some herbal cocoa leaf tea, which helps to adjust to the acclimatisation. Everyone has been working on their group projects, which commence over the next few days and preparing for the following weeks adventures.

Until next week! :)