July 14th – August 17th 2013
I had the great opportunity of taking some classes abroad for five weeks in Cusco, Perú through Rutgers University. Cusco is such a beautiful city. From the bit of research I did before going on this trip I thought that it was going to be a dry and almost rural area. However, Cusco is fairly advanced because of the high touristic flow. The city is located in a large valley, so the views of the mountains surrounding Cusco are purely amazing.
The program had the other students and I stay in a hostel for the first 2 weeks, a host family the next 2 weeks, and the last week was spent on a bus from Cusco to Lima doing different tourist activities along the way. Therefore, I feel that I got to know the country of Perú very well.
The city of Cusco also has a very high altitude, so for those who are not used to it you might experience heavy breathing and slight headaches. Coca tea is a great and healthy remedy for any type of ailments you might feel due to the altitude. Nonetheless, do not let that deter you from exploring the hidden gems of the city. The main square in Cusco is called Plaza de Armas, and I would suggest that everyone exchange their currency there and just get lost in Cusco. That is essentially what the other Rutgers’ students and I did on the first day, and it was a great way to get to know the city and each other.
On the second day of the trip one of the other students had this idea of climbing to the top of this mountain that said “Viva el Perú” on it. So out of the 15 students, five of us made the treck, and I’m happy to say that I was a part of that group of five. When we got to a certain point a 12 yr. old boy named Irwin helped us get to the top where there was a mini temple. The climb was exhausting, but the views were unforgettable. You could see all of Cusco, and more of the surrounding mountains along the horizon. There are also a lot of smaller villages along these mountains, and walking around them was a great way to get to know the country.
This same day I feel like I got a crash course on Peruvian culture because this was also the day I had some of their signature plates. Even though it is not my favorite, everyone should try Peru’s famous Pisco Sour, which is an alcoholic beverage. I also tried Cuy Cuy, guinea pig, and it is not very meaty, but if cooked right can be very tasty.
So after some hiking and good food the group went to a town called Paurcartambo, which is a small lesser-developed city about 3.5 hours away from Cusco. The drive there is beautiful through the mountains, and the further you go out of Cusco the more gorgeous and untouched the scenery is. The reason why we went to this small town is because every 16th of July they hold the Virgen del Carmen festival. The festivities include a mix of Catholic and what you might call indigenous or Quechua traditions. Quechua is one of the main indigenous languages spoken throughout Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador.
The festival is very colorful, and there are numerous processions leading up to the church throughout the day. But the night-life was pretty intense. In the main plaza there are fire pits everywhere, and performers running through the pits with revolving fire sticks. Then after midnight they had fireworks, which were by far the best fireworks I have ever seen in my life!! Part of the reason why they were so great is because they definitely did not comply with the safety regulations that we have in the United States, but they were so close and amazing. There were also many different contraptions to start the fireworks, which was interesting.
The school where we took classes was extremely small, but also extremely charming. I took a class in Latin literature and Quechua, but everyone was assigned different classes. It was actually quite an intensive program because we were only there for 4 weeks, but it was a total of 9 college credits. After school we had to do a community service, and I chose to work at an orphanage and help a hospital paint their outdoor seating.
The weekends were also a lot of fun, and for those who like the club scene can find plenty to do around the Plaza de Armas. We also filled our weekends with some small trips, and of course Machu Picchu. Being that Machu Picchu is one of the wonders of the world, I don’t think that I have to spend too much time talking about it so here are some pictures.
Even though the first 4 weeks of the trip were fantastic, and an enlightening experience, the last week was where the real adventures began. The program took us on a bus from the inland mountains of Cusco to the coastal capital of Lima. Throughout the week we stopped and stayed at various places.
Our first stop was the islands of Lago Titicaca, which is a large lake on the border of Peru and Bolivia. There are a small chain of islands on this lake where indigenous communities live, and make a living off of the tourists that come to see their lifestyle by selling crafts and food. I really loved the experience because we stayed there for the night and there was no wifi or electricity. It was nice to have a day to ourselves with nature without being tied to the rest of the world.
When we got back on the bus we headed to the small colonial city of Arequipa, and stayed overnight in a hotel. The architecture there is very different from Cusco, with a lot more Spanish influence. There is not much to do other than the club scene and fine dining, but it is still a great place to relax and enjoy the scenery of the city.
On our way to Lima we also got to stay in the city of Nasca. This area is famous for the lines of Nazca, which are desert line drawings that can only be detected if you are at a high level. Therefore, we had to take a small airplane to see the different animal shapes that take up kilometers of the desert floor. These lines are believed to be a product of the Nazca culture around 400 AD, and have been protected by UNESCO since 1970.
Considering that we were in the desert we also went to the Ica region to go sand dune surfing! This was by far the most fun and my favorite part of the trip. The sand dunes that we surfed also had a real life oasis, which is a village called Huacachina. I loved this day trip, but make sure to keep your mouth closed because you will get sand in your mouth.
Of course we spent the last day in the capital, Lima, because of our returning flight back to the States. To be completely honest, in my opinion, Lima is just a typical big city to me, and does not have the charm that Cusco or any of the other smaller cities that we visited have. However, there is a lot to entertain, and I really enjoyed the shops along the coast.