Friday, July 29, 2011

The Past Few Days (posted by Kie)

The past few days have been filled with Casa Mosqoy meetings, more video interviews with the prospective Mosqoy 4 students, and me working on leadership and teambuilding documents for the Mosqoy leaders as well as the potential incoming students. Writing and translating into Spanish when you’ve only been studying the language intensively for a month is not easy, but it’s good as it forces me to expand my vocabulary and improve my grammar.

In addition to the above, on Tuesday, Lindsay and I went to the weaving community of Amaru (about a 30-minute drive out of the popular market town, Pisac) with Ebhert, one of the Mosqoy leaders, to buy textiles and converse with the weavers and their President, Gregorio, about what kind of support they would like from the Mosqoy students. As Lindsay mentioned in her last blog post, one of Mosqoy’s goals is to implement a volunteer service program wherein the Mosqoy students give back to weaving communities in the Sacred Valley Region. I think that this initiative is quite important since the students receive scholarships from all around the world due to people’s generosity and this is a way for the students to give back. While the students may not have money to give to the weaving communities, they certainly acquire skills during their post-secondary education that could be really helpful to the communities.

Gregorio conversed with the weavers in Quechua and the weavers articulated that they would appreciate English classes, cooking classes, interior design support, help in the communal garden, and support with creating a brochure about Amaru(including a route on how to get there) so that the community can become more tourist-friendly.

It was interesting to see the differences between Amaru and Q’enqo. Amaru seemed quite a bit more developed: for example, they had a nice common area, a weaving centre and a beautiful communal garden. I don’t know if it’s because of its proximity to Pisac where perhaps the weavers can sell their goods more easily than the weavers of Q’enqo. Furthermore, the community of Amaru has taken some concrete steps to improve their situation: Gregorio has been working on setting up a small hostel and showed Lindsay and I a nice dorm-room which is almost ready for tourists.

I’m off to Ollantaytambo tomorrow to visit some students’ families and to conduct a couple of teambuilding/leadership sessions with the potential next generation of Mosqoy students. Today marks one more month of volunteer-work which is quite scary to think about as I feel like I still have so much left to do!

An offering of tea and bread in Amaru.

Grenadilla-type fruit.


Gregorio showing Lindsay and I the room he set up for tourists.

The weavers.


Lindsay & I with the Amaru weavers.

Adrian, Elvira and I had a couple of visitors at our Wednesday night meeting.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Road Less Traveled (posted by Lindsay)

I would not hesitate to characterize Peru as a tourist haven, so I have been particularly eager to venture off the beaten path and explore parts of Peru untouched by tourists. Yesterday, I accomplished just that.

At 5:00am, Kie and I struggled out of bed ready to start our day. At the breakfast table, we heard screams coming from outside: “por favor, por favor, por favor!” As we went to investigate, we saw a man on the street kneeling in a prayer-like position (we think he was heavily intoxicated). Our homestay family awoke and called the police. They arrived 10 minutes later and gave resolution to the situation.

As we got ready to leave the house, our homestay family in Cuzco (we jokingly refer to them as our Peruvian parents) expressed worry, as a parent would, about leaving the house before dawn. We assured Tula (our Peruvian mother) that we would be fine and she should not worry. We walked up the street to the bridge – our meeting point with the Peru Leaders (individuals tasked with supervising the Mosqoy students in Casa Mosqoy). 5:30am came and went (our agreed meeting time). We waited. And waited. And waited some more. Just as we were about to hop on a combi and attempt to find our own way to Q’enqo (an off-map community), the Peru Leaders arrived at 5:55am. I pointed to my watch as if it would mean something to them, but I am thoroughly confident that my point was not received.

The four of us (Kie, myself, and two Peru Leaders – Adrian and Elvira) jumped into a taxi headed for the bus/combi terminal (read: open-space with 3-4 idling buses). We boarded a combi along the Pisac route, and disembarked in a small town called Ccorao. We walked along the dirt road in the direction of our meeting point with the President of the weaving community. There was a thick layer of frost on the ground and the temperature was bone-chilling cold. I immediately regretted my decision to bring to South America only one pair of yoga pants and wondered how I would survive the cold nights in the weaving villages.

We stumbled upon a small road-side store and used a public telephone to call Bacelio, the President of the Q’enqo weaving community. He answered from Cuzco. “Cuzco?” I asked. Yes, Bacelio was in Cuzco. It became apparent that somewhere the lines were crossed between Bacelio and the Peru leaders. We asked Bacelio to return to Ccorao and meet us on the dirt road leading into town, as agreed upon (according to the Peru Leaders). The four of us turned around and walked back towards the main road. Half an hour later, Bacelio appeared, and we jumped into a taxi leaving for Q’enqo – a small weaving community nestled in the Andean mountain range. The drive was at least an hour, along a rocky/unmarked trail (I felt sorry for Bacelio, who had to ride in the hatch). I wondered to myself if taxi drivers incur as much in damage to their vehicles as they receive in payment.

We arrived in Q’enqo just before 9:00am, and were welcomed into Bacelio’s home. He served tea, coffee and bread and we discussed the itinerary for the day. The Peru Leaders raised to Bacelio issues the leaders have been experiencing, as of late, with Mosqoy students. On Bacelio’s recommendation, we paid a visit to one of the student’s families. Just as we were about to leave, I was reminded of why I should not have had coffee to drink – a natural diuretic. I pushed open the door to the restroom and was confronted with an African-style toilet (essentially, a hole in the ground with two footsteps). I sat pondering for a few minutes, wondering if I could manage the day if I were to pass on the opportunity. Although I had lived in Africa and encountered nothing but this style of toilet, I have somehow never managed to master the ability.

We were welcomed by the student’s family. The family spoke only Quechua (a dialect unique to Andean communities), so Kie and I sat on a wooden log as the Peru Leaders spoke with the student’s parents. I contributed a nod of the head every few minutes or so, to communicate to the family that I was engaged and in the loop of what was going on. Although I could not understand what was being said, I could see disappointment in the mother’s eyes. I studied her facial expressions closely throughout the meeting to see if I could make out what the Peru Leaders were saying.

We spent about an hour at the student’s home and then walked down the dirt road to Bacelio’s home where we would meet with the weavers. We sat in the sun and were served potato soup. Not too long after, we were joined by the weavers and our meeting began. With the help of Adrian and Elvira, I explained to the community our aim of establishing a volunteer service program, wherein Mosqoy students would give back to the weaving communities in the Sacred Valley region, and asked about needs in the community of Q’enqo. Bacelio explained the need for Spanish and cooking classes as well as the desire for administrative/tourism support from Mosqoy students. Another weaver raised the need for family planning workshops and increased education around opportunities for youth. I filled pages of my notebook with notes and promised to return to the community in mid-August to further discuss these project ideas.

I thanked Bacelio and the weavers and inquired about the textile order I was to pick-up and pay for on behalf of the Q’ente Textile Revitalization Society. Within a matter of minutes, the weavers left and returned with the textile pieces they were responsible for making. The pieces were laid out on a blanket for me to inspect and we began the long, arduous process of labeling and recording each piece. I settled payment with Bacelio and we were invited, once again, to eat – this time, cheese and bread that I had purchased on behalf of Q’ente and gave as an offering to the community, fresh tomatoes and cucumbers and an enormous pile of fire-roasted potatoes.

Bacelio explained that our taxi would not return for 2 or so hours, so the four of us agreed to attempt the 3-hour hike back to Ccorao. Although the trail was challenging and largely unmaintained (I struggled to catch my breath climbing up at least one mountain), we were rewarded with spectacular views of rolling mountains, a tranquil lake (Lago Q’oricocha) and herds of animals in their natural habitat - wild pigs, sheep, alpacas, and donkeys. I smiled to myself, knowing that, often, the road less traveled, is the road most rewarding.

We found ourselves back in Ccorao just before 4:00pm. We sat waiting on the paved road for a combi heading in the direction of Cuzco. Four combis passed us by. The combis were so full that people were pressed up against the front, side and back windows. I could feel my stomach turning, not sure what this would hold for the 30 minute bus ride back to Cuzco. A few minutes later, a combi stopped and we were quick to jump on and secure a place to stand. The combi was stale and I had little room to breathe, sandwiched in between locals. The churning in my stomach was worsening and I began to feel a combination of dizziness and faintness. It was in this moment that I really began to worry that I would not make it back to Cuzco without seeing the contents of my stomach somewhere in the combi. I rested my head on the seat in front and tried not to think about the moments impending. As we approached Cuzco, the bus became half-empty and I welcomed the opportunity to sit and encourage my stomach to calm. Thoughts of the day ran through my head, and I tried to rationalize which meal had caused me upset. “Las papas” (potatoes), Elvira said. “Did you eat the potatoes?” “Yes,” I said groaning and holding my stomach. “They were not clean,” she explained. I gave myself a hard mental kick, because just the night before we had discussed how, with my weak stomach, I should refuse any and all community offerings. Although my stomach eventually did calm, the potatoes served as a crude reminder of why I should not accept offerings in the remote weaving villages. Lesson learned, at least for now…

Tomorrow morning, I leave for the weaving communities of Amaru, Huaran, Calca and Cancha Cancha, and so will be out of reach for several days. I look forward to reporting back on my adventures when I return.

Thanks for tuning in,


Friday, July 22, 2011

Video Interviews in Ollantaytambo (posted by Kie)

Lindsay and I have spent the past few days in Ollantaytambo conducting meetings and interviews with the current and incoming Mosqoy students. Ollantaytambo is a quaint little town and during my time off I have been spending my days here cooking (to be honest, my contribution has mostly been peeling potatoes), walking around and playing Frisbee with one of the children of the family that Lindsay and I have been staying with. On Wednesday I went for a walk a little-ways out of town and on my way back, I managed to come across some unmaintained ruins. After hiking for about 30-40 minutes with no tourists around, I realized that the unmaintained ruins were connected to the “official ruins” which was quite cool and it was interesting to see the contrast between the unmaintained ruins and the official ruins.

In terms of the potential incoming student video-interviews, Lindsay and I have completed three so far (it has been really fun to interview them in Spanish while of course stumbling over the pronunciation of a few words!). In the past two days, we have interviewed Rosmery, Eurelesis and Karina, all young women from the Ollantaytambo area who have recently graduated from high school. The young women are all very mature for their age as they have had much responsibility placed on them at such a young age. For example, while Karina was attending high school, she also had to work and do household chores such as cook and clean since her mother has not lived at home for years and consequently, she has had to support her father and two younger brothers. She noted that even when she moves to Cusco for post-secondary studies, in addition to studying, she plans to work part-time so that she can continue supporting her father and two younger brothers.

Lindsay and I found that all three applicants were very well-spoken and put thought into their answers. They also all seem to genuinely want to help others and their communities and are confident in what they want to study (two of them want to study nursing and one wants to study hotel administration). It was nice to see that they all want to come back to the Ollantaytambo area after they complete their studies in order to give back to their communities. Eurelesis mentioned that she was interested in starting a health program in Ollantaytambo and Karina would like to open up a pharmacy.

Initially I wasn’ t really sure what to expect during the video interviews, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that all of the interviewees so far have been candid and open during their interviews as well as eager to engage with Lindsay and I.

Tomorrow Lindsay, Rolando and I will be hosting a Mosqoy 2, 3 and 4 general meeting (with the students and their parents) to discuss the graduation ceremony, sponsor letters and questionnaires (to monitor the students’ progress). The meeting was announced on the local radio today which was quite exciting!





The market in Ollantaytambo

Me in the kitchen before preparing locro de zapallo

Me in the Ollantaytambo ruins!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Yo Soy Voluntario (posted by Lindsay)

This week has been filled with as much adventure as it has frustration. Born from a culture that revolves around time and timeliness, it is frustrating to not only join, but to work in a culture where the same appreciation for time is not shared. Coordination meetings have been late to start, or, in some cases, expected attendees fail to show altogether. However, more and more, I am able to laugh my frustrations away. And, I suppose the bright side of recently failed and/or deferred meetings is that I found myself with a weekend free to explore the surroundings of Cuzco: Tipón, Piquillacta and Pisac.

Tipón, Piquillacta and Pisac

On Saturday, I hopped a combi to Tipón, a small town on the outskirts of Cuzco. The town is known to tourists for its ruins, but is known only to locals for “cuy” (guinea pig). Together with two of my housemates, I negotiated a taxi to drive us up the steep mountain to the base of the Tipón ruins. Not keen to pay the high entrance fee to the ruins (I take after my father), I spent the afternoon descending the mountain on foot, stopping every now and then for a photo and the opportunity to interact with passing locals. I waited 30 minutes at the base of the mountain to re-join my housemates, and then we set off for the ruins of Piquillacta, only 10 minutes by taxi. Late afternoon, we made our way back to Tipón, stopping off at a local restaurant (read: open grill on the side of the road) to indulge in a local delicacy: “cuy” (guinea pig). Though, I quite enjoyed guinea pig, I admit that the meat was far too rich for my liking.

I spent much of Sunday wondering about the Pisac markets and exchanging pleasantries with locals. The streets of Pisac were filled with festivities – traditional music and dance, colourful/extravagant costumes, and a sea of empty Inka Kola/Cusqueña beer bottles! I was really taken with the expression of culture in Pisac, and because words cannot do it justice, I am attaching a few photos below.


Kie and I arrived in Ollantaytambo yesterday afternoon and settled into our family’s home. The family is pleasant and the children, for the most part, are keen to interact with us. Nelson (3 years old), however, did not warm to us immediately. Nelson greeted us wielding a broomstick and made several attempts to counteract (verbally and physically) the flame we had burning for hot water. After a few swings with the broom, I turned to Nelson and said with a firm voice, “es malo!” (in English, “that is bad!”) and he took off crying in the corner. I am semi-confident that he learned his lesson, because he had only hugs and niceties to offer in the evening.

My first impressions of Ollantaytambo are encouraging. Although Ollantaytambo is much smaller than Cuzco, I much prefer the tranquility of Ollantaytambo. The streets of Ollantaytambo are narrow and constructed of cobblestone as they are in Cuzco, however, the streets of Ollantaytambo are guarded by large stone walls (similar to a fortress!) reminiscent of Inca civilization.

As my work begins here in Peru, I find myself excited, yet at the same time anxious. My Spanish is manageable, but by no means perfect…

Leaving Peru, my goal is that I am able to contribute to something both tangible and sustainable and leave with good faith that I have in some way made an impact, however small.


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

And the volunteering starts! (posted by Kie)

On Sunday night Lindsay and I met with all of the Mosqoy leaders at Casa Mosqoy where they and all of the students live. It was exciting to go there and finally meet all of the leaders (Ebhert, Elvira, Adrian and Rolando) together to kick-start the volunteer work that Lindsay and I will be doing in Cusco, Ollantaytambo and a few of the weaving communities.

For those who don’t know, the Mosqoy leaders are alumni who graduated from their post-secondary institutions last year and have been hand-picked to act as leaders of the students who are currently studying. Each leader has a main responsibility which is specific to him/herself although they often collaborate and assist one another. For example, Ebhert is the activities coordinator, Adrian is the house supervisor, Elvira is in charge of issues related to the student volunteer program and education, and Rolando works as a communications liaison between Peru and Canada.

At the house, we went over Lindsay’s and my itinerary, discussed when certain tasks should take place and worked on figuring out logistics. It was an important meeting where we got to organize and plan the next week. Through interacting with each of the leaders, I observed that each of them took their roles quite seriously and really tried to hammer out the details of the itinerary which was helpful.

In other news, yesterday morning Lindsay and I met with Bacelio (a member of a weaving community in the Sacred Valley called Q’enqo) to buy yarn at a local shop near San Pedro Market. Next week we will be going to Q’enqoand Amaruto purchase some textiles for Mosqoy’s partner organization, Q’ente, which focuses on revitalizing and supporting the weaving communities in the Sacred Valley region. I think that they will be very interesting cultural experiences so I am very much looking forward to visiting the communities.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

All About Food/Todo Sobre la Comida (posted by Kie)

I believe that one of the richest ways to experience a different culture is to try their food. Southern Peruvian food consists of a lot of potatoes; lentils, beans and/or rice; and meat (chicken and beef being the most common, followed by pork and on special occasions duck, turkey or “cuy” ie. guinea pig). Alpaca steak is also a delicacy although I think it’s more commonly served in tourist restaurants than at home. While ceviche (raw fish marinated with citrus juices, spiced with chilli peppers and often served with chopped onions and avocado) is probably Peru’s most famous dish, it’s not too commonly consumed in Cuzco since the city does not lie on the coast.

In my experience of food here so far, it is rare to be served a meal without potatoes. It makes sense once you find out just how many varieties of potato are grown in Peru – over 2000! Apparently there are more kinds of potato grown in Peru than in any other country in the world. Furthermore, the diversity when it comes to corn is also quite incredible – there are approximately 35 different kinds of corn cultivated here. The locals not only use corn to prepare various dishes, but they use it to make a drink called “chicha” (one can have this drink cold, warm, non-alcoholic or alcoholic). So far throughout my stay in Cuzco, I have been served warm “chich morada” made with purple corn several times for breakfast. Though it’s not something that I might crave or order at a café or restaurant, with every mug I’m getting more accustomed to the taste.

Additionally, in order to explore the culture of Peruvian food, I’ve been attending cooking classes at FairPlay (my Spanish school), which take place every Tuesday. They’re a lot of fun not only because you get to help prepare the ingredients, but because you get to see the whole process of how a dish is made and socialize with some of the Spanish teachers and students. The first week we made lomo saltado which is a dish that consists of sauteed slices of beef, onions, tomatoes and fries served on rice. The second week we made causa rellena which is a mashed potato cake with chicken, avocado and mayonnaise inside (and topped with sliced tomatoes and onions as well as black olives). Finally, at the last cooking class we made tallarin verde con ocopa which is a green pesto-like pasta served with a boiled potato, hard-boiled eggs and aji (chilli sauce). All of them were really good, but I think my favourite was lomo saltado because of the variety of ingredients involved and the “papas fritas” (thick French fries) which were fried to perfection.

Other observations: Products that are definitely not consumed here as much as in Vancouver are milk (the amount of milk consumed in Peru is approximately 55 litres per capita whereas the amount of milk consumed in Canada is approximately 94 litres per capita), drip or espresso coffee (most people drink instant powdered coffee) and whole or multigrain bread. Ice cream is very popular and cheap here which is great since I am a pretty big proponent of ice cream. Inca Kola tastes like yellow cream soda and is owned by Coca Cola but I think it is rarely sold outside of Peru (and perhaps Bolivia).

Cheers everyone!


Machu Picchu: To 100 Years and 100 Years More (posted by Lindsay)

My alarm clock sounded at 2:00am on Sunday morning and I awoke to join hundreds of sleepy-eyed tourists waiting to be taken by one of the most remarkable archaeological sites on the continent – Machu Picchu. I had taken the train from Poroy (a small town on the outskirts of Cuzco) to Aguas Calientes (often referred to as Machu Picchu Pueblo) the day before. Aguas Calientes is as small as it is monotonous. By my count, there are as many massage parlours as there are restaurants. I jokingly refer to Aguas Calientes and Cuzco as the massage capitals of the world.

Minutes before 6:00am, I joined the already well-formed line leading to the entrance of Machu Picchu and secured my place hopeful for the opportunity to obtain one of 400 daily climbing permits to Wayna Picchu (offered on a first-come, first-serve basis). Because Machu Picchu sees thousands of visitors daily, (understandably) the queue for climbing permits to Wayna Picchu is hostile and unsparing. Tourists are eager to police the line both verbally and physically and by no means hesitate to out others for unfair play. Callous it might be, I happily walked away with my climbing permit to Wayna Picchu (choosing to climb with the second group at 10:00am).

I pushed through the entrance gates to Machu Picchu just before sunrise. I stood tranquil, for a while, watching the first rays of sunlight blanket Machu Picchu. I felt restored and inspired to piece together the thoughts in my head. Traveling, particularly on my own, encourages me to reflect on what it is I want in life. And what I want is a life rich in and rounded by experience. It is my hope to someday flip through the pages of my life and feel confident that I have opened myself up to every experience possible: the good, the bad and the ugly.

I spent a good couple of hours exploring the ruins of Machu Picchu before heading to the entrance gates of Wayna Picchu. The Wayna Picchu climb was as difficult as it was steep. The altitude alone is enough to take your breath away. However, those that make it to the peak are rewarded with spectacular views of the ruins and surrounding mountains (not to mention bragging rights).

I descended Machu Picchu mid-afternoon, my legs still aching from the steep uphill battle with Wayna Picchu. I boarded a late afternoon train for Poroy (4 hours), and sat back in my chair watching towering mountain ranges disappear into the horizon. It was about mid-way through the journey when I became acutely aware of the black fly bites on my ankles (foresight was somewhere lost in my excitement). [Though, I suppose this will toughen me for the infamous puri puri awaiting foreign flesh, when I make my way overland to the Gran Sabana region of Venezuela in November]. I arrived at the train station at 8:30pm and was surprised (but, at the same time, not) to find that buses were no longer running to Cuzco. Annoyed at the idea of paying for a taxi, I bartered with three tourists from mainland China for an impromptu “ride-hitch” into Cuzco. I could not have asked for a more interesting or better way to round out a fantastic weekend spent at Machu Picchu…

Cheers, Machu Picchu, to 100 years and 100 years more!


Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Cultural Observations (posted by Kie)

1. Fiestas & Parades Galore

What I have noticed in Cuzco (and which I similarly noticed in Bolivia) is that they really enjoy their fiestas and parades. It seems as though there is a parade or fiesta of some sort almost every day. There were fireworks on the night of my arrival in Cuzco (which I got a great view of from my homestay family’s house) and it was quite humorous as nobody even knew what the occasion was for setting them off.

Additionally, El Dia de San Pedro (The Day of the Saint San Pedro) was last Wednesday and the procession of the saints throughout the city proceeded to take another 5-6 days. The procession not only involved the saints, but many people dressed up in various traditional costumes dancing on the streets as well as their accompanying bands.

This weekend I will probably witness even more celebrations since I am planning to visit Machu Picchu and the 100th Anniversary of Machu Picchu is on Monday, July 11th.

2. Being Asian in Peru

Another interesting cultural phenomenon which I have experienced in Cuzco is being called “China” or “Chinita” on the street by the locals. I am not sure why but people seem to like pointing out that I am Asian. It’s not done in a harmful way but I do feel a bit odd having the spotlight randomly put on me when I am making my way around the city. There was also an instance when a local joked that I was “Keiko” (Fujimori), one of the candidates who recently ran in the presidential elections of Peru.

It seems as though many people here tend to think that most Asian cultures are interchangeable and in various conversations I have had to explain the differences between Chinese and Japanese culture. For example, many people think that the Chinese and Japanese languages are the same (not realizing that even within Chinese culture itself there are two main languages and many dialects). Explaining that I’m from Vancouver or Canada has been met with mixed results (most people seem to want me to say that I am from somewhere in Asia and probe until I say where my parents are from).

One thing that’s for sure is that Peruvians definitely like their Chinese food (their version is called "chifa"). There are a ton of Chinese restaurants in Cuzco. I’ll have to try one out to compare the Chinese food here to that which is served back home.

3. A Visit to Almudena Cemetery

On Monday I visited one of the largest cemeteries in Cuzco where the graves are very unique. The tombs are stacked up on top of each other and each tomb has its own window behind which people can place flowers, photographs as well as little mementos which relate to the person. Many windows had plastic miniature bottles of beer and Coca Cola which was pretty interesting. Some even had miniature crates of beer and a special Peruvian dish purchased from one of the local vendors just outside the cemetery (the special dish consisting of cheese, cuy (guinea pig), chicken and a few other sides).

Moreover, I learned that the bigger tombs have the actual corpses behind the windows and the smaller tombs are for individuals who were cremated. There were also mausoleums for families and important individuals from Cuzco. And of course when I was exiting the cemetery, a parade was just entering!

The following is a picture that I took at Almudena Cemetery (I will try to attach more pictures later as the internet connection I have now is not the best):


Monday, July 4, 2011

Ramblings of a Backpacker (posted by Lindsay)

If you have ever been to Cuzco, you know just how unforgiving the climate can be. The skies have been filled with menacing clouds and heavy rains these past few days (uncommon this time of year) and the temperature has been dipping below zero at night (normal this time of year). Because the water system is solar-powered in many Cuzco homes, a sunless sky has meant running water cold enough to freeze. For me, this has meant seeking solace in my bed and four consecutive days without a shower. Though, I enjoy the challenge and embrace the opportunity to devise creative solutions; for instance, shower by “wetnap.” Besides, what would travel be if not for the trials and tribulations? I believe them to be a necessary part of travel and I am confident that you learn equally from the negative as you do the positive.

Having traveled to parts of Africa, Asia and islands in the Caribbean and South Pacific, I recognize that fair features invite curious/leering eyes. Though, I am surprised that this has been nothing short of true in Cuzco, a town well-visited by tourists and foreigners alike. I find myself all too often the subject of probing eyes and obnoxious honking on the streets of Cuzco. Though, if my time in Brazil has taught me anything, Brazil taught me how to play an aggressive game of eye hockey. Exploring the precarious streets of Rio de Janeiro (a city that sees the devil’s share of violent crime), I learned the necessity of locking eyes with locals, projecting confidence and resilience. This has been a similarly useful technique in Peru, helping to defuse a sometimes uncomfortable stare.

Aside from curious advances, I feel rather secure walking the streets of Cuzco. Peruvians are, for the most part, gregarious and sympathetic. I sure wish I could say the same for cars…My heels have been nearly pinched a few times by aggressive and egocentric drivers. I have quickly learned that four wheels rule the road (and sidewalk) in Cuzco.

My Spanish is improving by the day. I am more confident in my interactions with locals and find myself eager to introduce new words into my vocabulary. Though, I remain humble in my abilities, and welcome corrections and new learnings from children as young as three. Learning a new language, I find, can be exhausting at times. And so, next weekend I have planned a well-deserved break from Spanish lessons – a visit to Machu Picchu!

Note: I am attaching photos taken at a local festival in Cuzco, "El Dia de San Pedro" (The Day of the Saint San Pedro).