One can experience the same city in many different ways. Though I travelled to Cusco four years ago, my experience this time stands in stark contrast to when I was last here. This time around I am living with a host family a little bit away from the city centre and have been making a conscious effort to come “home” for most meals so that I can converse with the host family. Secondly, living away from the city centre and my Spanish school means that I have experimented with various modes of getting myself around the city such as walking, taking the combis (overcrowded mini-vans which are mostly meant for locals rather than tourists) and taxis. The combis are definitely an interesting experience as you get to interact with the locals a bit (even if it is just sitting really squished next to them) and sitting by the door can give you a bit of an adrenaline rush since the combis often start driving before the door is even closed (bear in mind the fact that the drivers in Cusco don’t really follow any rules and pedestrians never have right-of-way).
After my arrival in Cusco early Monday morning, I dived into my Spanish classes at FairPlay right away. I have been taking 2 hours of grammar and 2 hours of practical Spanish every day. The grammar and practical Spanish classes complement each other as the grammar lessons gives you the basic tools to construct sentences and the practical classes allow you to practice what you’ve learned. The practical classes are also a great way to experience the city. For example, my practical Spanish teacher has taken me to El Mercado San Pedro where we looked at and discussed the many fruits and vegetables and she has also taken me to her daughter’s school recital where I was able to watch various traditional dances performed by children ranging from the ages of 3 to 11. FairPlay, the school where I am taking my Spanish classes, is quite unique as all of the teachers are single mothers who were struggling economically and socially but after enduring eight months of rigorous training, completing 30 exams and monthly evaluations, they are now excellent teachers. Moreover, FairPlay is not only a Spanish school but they organize for volunteer work and run cooking and Spanish classes (I participated in their cooking class on Tuesday night where we made a traditional Peruvian dish called lomo saltado which consists of beef, fried potatoes, red peppers and rice).
For those who have yet to visit Cusco, it’s a very beautiful city full of cobblestone streets and one can definitely feel the mixture of the Spanish and Incan influences – the Spanish built the city on top of Incan ruins. Because of the high influx of tourists, there are now many travel agencies, restaurants, cafes and bars geared towards tourists. However, the local Andean culture is still very visible and poverty is still a pressing problem. Nevertheless, I have noticed that people here really look out for each other (even the children).
Signing off, I leave you with some pictures of Cusco: