Having just spent two weeks taking in the warm-weathered beaches of Brazil, I was immediately struck by the cold and unsympathetic weather in Cuzco, Peru. My first breath in Cuzco was a difficult one; at an altitude of 3300 metres, I feel my lungs working twice as hard on inhalation. Though, I am happy to report that I have not succumbed to altitude sickness – I credit steady consumption of mate de coca (coca tea).
Countless travel guides (mine included) paint Cuzco as the gem of the Peruvian Andes – is it ever! I often find myself lost in the culture and landscape that, together, make Cuzco such a beautiful and unique city. The surrounding mountains are decorated with ruins, beckoning tourists to venture off trail…
Over the next three weeks, I will be taking Spanish classes at an organization called FairPlay in Cuzco. FairPlay took root in 2006 and has since trained 32 single mothers in Cuzco to become Spanish teachers. I spend a welcomed four hours a day in Spanish class, my time divided equally into grammar and practical lessons. Walking to and from classes at FairPlay has become a new pastime of mine. Although I could easily and affordably take a taxi or ‘colectivo’ (read: overcrowded mini-bus) to FairPlay, the 45-minute walk (each way) allows me time to absorb and reflect on my new environment.
Learning a new language is equally rewarding as it is trying...I do appreciate the small steps of learning, however, it is highly frustrating when your contributions at the dinner table are limited to the day, month and season (I concede that even my Brazilian Portuguese is better than my Spanish). At times, I struggle with pronunciation – my Spanish teacher sure gets a laugh when I confuse “Hombre” (man) and “Hambre” (the verb for hunger). She explained that confusing the two words could land me in a rather awkward predicament. I recognize that my learning curve is steep; however, I am confident that, in time, my Spanish will improve.
Despite only having been in Cuzco for three days, I feel welcomed and settled in my family’s home. I am grateful for their generosity and hospitality and for their continued patience while I transition into a new language and culture. The perception that Peruvian families showcase hospitality on a plate has never been more true – I have been indulging in many traditional/homemade Peruvian dishes. (It is not an overstatement to say that I have eaten better in Cuzco in one day than I have two weeks in Brazil).
I am happy to be able to call Peru home, at least for a little while…