Believe it or not, I am nearly half way through my time here in Peru. I am quite enjoying myself and Cuzco certainly feels a little like a home now. I am able to navigate around many areas of the city and have learned some of the little tricks of living here: the ideal price to pay for a taxi home; that you have to plan ahead in case there is no running water in the evening; how to fill your stomach for less than 20 cents (the answer is a local version of stale popcorn or maná); and a few Quechuan sentences for impressing Peruvians. I am also really enjoying living at Casa Mosqoy. Stephanie, Clara, and the students make good company and we have a lot of fun together. I am still struggling along with my Spanish but now the students know I'm still learning so it is a little less awkward when I give them a blank stare. There are several students who regularly help me with the right way to say something.
I have gotten into a good daily routine for work, too. In the mornings, I usually work on my computer at the house. For lunch, I either go down to one of the local restaurants that has a 5 soles menu or make lunch myself. If I do go into town during the day, I usually go down for lunch and do my errands or work in the afternoon, but I tend to work at the house in the afternoon. Of course there are also longer trips, such as to Ollantaytambo, that my job requires.
Lately I have been doing a lot of student interviews with Clara. We have spent some time over the last few weeks sitting down with each student living in the house and asking some questions to get to know them and find out about their experience at Mosqoy. We then translated those interviews into English, which has been good Spanish practice for me. On the weekend, we started our next set of interviews with the families of the current students. We got to visit the houses of Cristian, Marilyn, and Carmen where we shared meals and talked about their way of life. These pueblos (small villages) are very different from what I am used to. It was very special that they shared their lives with us for a short time. Cristian and Marilyn live in Tanccac, a beautiful little collection of farms located in a valley a half an hour drive from Ollantaytambo. It is a very picturesque little community with steep mountains enveloping the community and the train track to Machu Picchu running through fields of maize and wheat. On Sunday afternoon we shared a taxi back to Cuzco with a Canadian. He and I talked about Canada and Canadian cities for almost two hours. I found this a lovely way to finish our weekend trip.
It has been good to enjoy other outings closer to home, too. I went for a hike with Kristina and Killa, her dog, past the Temple of the Moon ruins just outside the centre of Cuzco. We were quickly stopped by a park ranger because bandits had robbed some tourists a few weeks ago. We were disappointed that we wouldn’t be able to continue but the park ranger was kind enough to accompany us along part of the hike. He also let another ranger know we were coming with his whistle and two way radio. So in the end we were allowed to go to the ruins of an hacienda (an estate) about a forty minute hike from the Temple. It was a beautifully peaceful little spot with some adobe ruins from the Colonial era. Kristina and I sat and I ate some of the maná I mentioned before.
As a side note, I have gotten to know some of the students/volunteers at FairServices and am continuing go to the weekly cooking nights and salsa lessons. It has been nice to make some new friends even if many of them are only here for a few weeks. Just like at Mosqoy, there are people from all over the world there. It is fun to hear different perspectives and learn about different countries. If any of you readers plan to come volunteer in Cuzco, which I recommend you do, I would also recommend FairServices!
I had another incredible cultural experience at Inti Raymi, which is essentially Cuzco Day, and probably the most famous holiday all year. In Inca times, Inti Raymi was the festival for the son god, Inti. The main event is a procession of Peruvians dressed in traditional Inca costume, from the Inca king to spear-bearers and flower girls. The parade starts at the site of Coricancha (historically the most important Incan Temple) and stops at the Plaza de Armas where there is a ceremony, which I attended. I stood with thousands of Peruvians and tourists watching as each group danced their way into the Plaza de Armas. Each group's dance was a variation of hopping on one foot then the other, over and over again. I felt sorry for their feet since they did this for several hours. Once all the costumed groups were in their positions around the square, the Inca king gave a speech and then others gave him gifts as part of the ceremony. Then the people danced out of the centre heading up to Sacsayhuaman, the most celebrated ruin in Cuzco and literally the head of the city (Cuzco was designed to be in the shape of a puma). Clara and I intended to end our Inti Raymi experience after watching the ceremony in the centre but the bus system would have it otherwise: we got on a bus that would normally take us home but which was being used as a bus to Sacsayhuaman. We realized this after about ten minutes of incredibly cramped, sweaty, extremely slow driving up an unfamiliar hill. Unfortunately, because the bus was headed straight to Sacsayhuaman, there were no other stops and it was another twenty minutes before they finally let us off on the side of the road. We paid the fare, which was more than double the usual, and got a bus back down that also cost more than double. Then we walked for a while and took another bus that took us in the direction of home. It was all very trying especially because our original plan was to go home for lunch and we were both starving. But we learned a valuable lesson and now we can say we were practically at Sacsayhuaman for Inti Raymi.
All in all, I am really enjoying my time here. I see lots of work getting done and lots of fun memories being made. I look forward to the next two months and what can be learned, enjoyed, and accomplished in my remaining time in Peru. I want to get to know the students better and I want to continue to help Mosqoy improve as an organization.