What a week it’s been so far! Most of us arrived in Cusco on the weekend, a little jet lagged and a little weary due to altitude sickness. Apparently being over 3000 m above sea level is a bit different to being back home in Australia. After settling in to our accommodation at La Casa de Don Ignacio and meeting our fellow students we ventured out to see a little bit of the city and get our bearings.
Cusco was the capital of the Incan empire and the city really speaks to this incredible heritage, as well as the Spanish influence of the 16th Century. One of the other things you notice around here is the number of dogs on the streets! As someone who has worked in animal welfare for several years, I was impressed by how healthy they all looked and how they were happy to follow you around the town for a little bit.
Cusco is a bustling town and everyday you explore you find new areas and new things. On Sunday a group of us took the walk up to Christo Blanco, a statue of Christ that overlooks Cusco which was gifted to Cusco by a group of Palestinian Christians in 1945 to say thank you for their hospitality when they sought refuge. It was a tough walk just a day after arriving in the city, but the views were worth it!
For our first day at USIL we were welcomed with an orientation and given our USIL hoodies, a great memento to take back home to remember our time in Peru. We were also greeted with traditional dancing which we were all invited to be apart of. Our first field trip took us to the town of Pisaq to see the botanical gardens and potato museum. Who knew that there was a potato museum?! We learnt that there are over 3500 varieties of potato in Peru which is an astounding number. The tour of the botanical gardens was full of beautiful plants, interesting facts (such as that the Peruvian’s prefer Eucalyptus trees for their buildings and structures) and even some wildlife (we saw a gorgeous little hummingbird flying round the garden).
After wandering through the markets of Pisaq we headed back to Cusco to rest up before our first day of classes. Oscar Ortega, our professor for the course gave us an overview of our 4 weeks before we got straight into sorting out our groups and what topics we would all be covering in the coursework. We began with learning about Peru’s unique landscape, birds and mammals as well as some of the projects that currently run here to support the native wildlife. Peru has 1879 of birds which ranks them the second highest in the world for bird diversity (behind Columbia) and 576 species of mammals.
On Wednesday we had the opportunity to tour the main cathedral in Plaza de Armas (the main square of Cusco) and the Qoricancha (temple of the sun) which was one of the main temples of the Incan empire. We were able to learn so much about the history of Cusco and how it came to be the city it is today, as well as taking in the awe-inspiring buildings and sights in the area. On Thursday we got our Salsa on with a fabulous Salsa class at USIL, which meant that we all slept well that night!
We head off to the Sacred Valley of the Incas this weekend, and have so many other exciting adventures to come!