Arriving in Cusco was an experience in itself, when I stepped off the plane I was suddenly intoxicated by the city. Not in the passionate way that Paris might intoxicate you, but rather the silent suffocation of a home intruder. The thin air 3,400m above sea level is certainly noticeable, but nothing a few Coca leaves (or Soroche pills) can’t fix! However, the beautiful scenery, ancient civilisations and amazing nightlife soon take your mind off the altitude and instead fill it with wonder and adventure!
Although people from all over the world travel to Cusco as it offers so many unique experiences, they continue to celebrate the past and present through many different festivals and fiestas all year round! The morning after enjoying the nightlife I was strolling through the quiet city to find some food when I suddenly found myself in an ocean of costumes and colourful masks with music and exploding crackers coming from all directions. Each dancer wore unique costumes and many locals and tourists were gathered to watch the procession.
Upon our first day at the University (Universidad San Ignacio De Loyola) we were welcomed with gifts and a show of traditional dances inspired by the beautiful birds of Peru. We then all joined in on the dances but didn’t last long before we were exhausted, it’s an altitude thing. After the welcoming ceremony we all piled into busses headed to the small town of Pisaq situated within the awe-inspiring Sacred Valley. We visited the local botanical gardens where we were able to discover, smell and taste a variety of different plants whilst also learning about Orchids and Cacti, which we determined to be indeed spiky. The gardens also contained the museum of the Peruvian potato (papa), of which there are around 4,000 species in Peru alone! We learnt a lot about the importance of this diversity for the millions of people still living high up in mountainous regions and what the different species could be used for, I could talk about papas for weeks!
The first week of classes were great! Our lecturer, Oscar, is a very passionate and intelligent teacher who often brings the entire class into discussion. During the week we were given a tour around the Plaza de Armas and Qurikancha temple with an experienced tour guide who told many stories of Cusco’s history. The weekend tour took us to Ollantaytambo ruins, Pisaq’s Archeological park, and the house of traditional weavers of Alpaca fur who kindly gave an insightful demonstration of the materials and techniques they continue to use.
Aside from the amazing tours and engaging classes we have all got off to a great start in Peru! Although a few of us had some trouble adapting to the local foods and conditions we are now confidently enjoying ‘super vegetariano’ lunches from the crazy but cool San Pedro markets for only 6 sol! The kind people and friendly doggos of Cusco make this a special place, super excited for the next 3 weeks of adventure!