I’ve safely arrived to Ollantaytambo after a day and a half of traveling, and I can already say that it’s well worth the trip. After taking 2 flights on Monday, sleeping in the Lima airport (which was surprisingly comfortable thanks to my new sleeping mat and sleeping bag), and taking two different taxis, I finally arrived to Ollanta. First impression is that this place can’t be real. It’s everything I thought Peru would be, and much much more. You see women carrying large bags over their backs walking towards the market with various products to sell, whether it’s fruits and vegetables or others. You see kids dressed up in their school uniforms walking to school. You see cars passing each other in every which direction (although it’s not as crazy as I have heard India being). You see wild dogs once ever few blocks, and I even saw a few horses and cows pretty close to the road. Every little thing that is so much different than the US and Europe makes very excited.
There are certain times when I travel that I get the chills because it’s kind of that “I’m actually here” moment. I got it when I went to London for my first Europe trip, I got it when I first arrived in Australia and saw the Opera House, on the taxi ride from the airport to the my hotel in Prague, and now again when I was taking the taxi from the Cusco airport to the Cusco shared taxi stop to Ollanta. Just being able to witness a place so drastically different from where I’ve ever been was great.
Since I had all my luggage, I went straight to the Cusco shared taxi stop. The 1.5 hour shared taxi ride cost me 12 soles which is less than 5 dollars. The way it works is there are several vans waiting which hold 8 people each, and they don’t leave until the van is full. This is very handy since it means it’s extremely cheap to go anywhere in the area. For my Spanish lessons, I need to go to Urubamba (20 minutes way) and I’ve heard it’s about $1 or less each way.
After I got to Ollanta, I went straight to the office of Awamaki, the organization I’m volunteering with. I met a few of the people there and then they called my host family to pick me up. Tina, my host mother, came by and we walked to their home. Tina is probably about 60 years old, and her and her husband, Mario, have 5 kids. They have 3 boys and 2 girls, ranging in ages from 18 to 27, and one of the boys has a son. From what I understood, right now in the house it’s Tina and Mario, and another couple who I think are friends but are renting a room. There are two empty rooms of one son and one daughter who currently live in Cusco but come back on weekends.
This house is like nothing I’ve ever lived in before. You walk in the front door and you’re in the small dining room. When you go through to the next room, you’re now outside. To the right is the bathroom with no door but just a curtain. To the left is 6 roosters in different cages. Straight ahead is an open space which then leads into the kitchen. Also to the right are the stairs that lead up to the bedrooms. Up top you just have several doors to each bedroom. The best part is that when you walk out any of these rooms, you can see mountains to your right and mountains to your left. And these aren’t in the distance. They call this the Sacred Valley for a reason. My room is much more than I expected. A full size bed and enough room for a small shelf . The room must’ve been from one of the boys when they were younger because it’s outlined with stuffed animals (one being Popeye) and other kids posters.
This part is for Sarah…and this part is better than I could’ve imagined too. I knew that guinea pig was supposed to be popular in the mountains here so I’ve been looking forward to trying it. Just for fun, I asked Tina if she likes to eat guinea pig, or cuy in Spanish. So “Te gusta comer cuy?”. All she does is leads me to a door out by the kitchen and opens it. As the light shined through, I saw several guinea pigs scampering around. Ranging in size from a small one pounder to a juicy 2 or 3 pounder. Then Tina threw the food in and even more came out. She said they have 8 or 10 of them. She also said that we’ll have them on my birthday, but since I won’t be here on my birthday I definitely hope that someone else has a birthday before March!
Everything is just so much different, and I love that about it. All of the roads that aren’t the main roads in Ollanta aren’t paved. Right behind Tina and Mario’s house is an open field, and once a year in May they have a fiesta and let two bulls battle against each other while people stand a little too close to the action. They always have to boil their water, so the water I’ll always get is extremely hot. There are Incan ruins within a 5 minute walk of my house.
I am most nervous about my low level of Spanish. It can be tough not being able to communicate with my host family. With my low level, I can string together some words into something they can understand, but with mistakes in every sentence. I’m happy that I am able to express myself a little bit. The challenge is when they say something back. I think I miss 90% of everything that is said to me unless I have an idea of what to expect in their response. Tonight, Tina cooked dinner but just for me and the girl of the other couple living here. Tina, the girl (I am horrible with names I’m not familiar with), and I sat there talking for about an hour. I am pretty happy with how it went since I was actually able to get to know them a bit better and I think they can see a little more what I’m like. It was by far the best I’ve ever spoken in Spanish since, with no translator, I was forced to speak whatever I could.
Well that’s my first day here. I think this will be a pretty unique experience in the 6 months that I’m here. I know I’ll have some culture shock here soon, especially with the language barrier. But hopefully it doesn’t hit too hard!