I´ve spent the last week or so getting adjusted to Cusco and my crazy new surroundings! My Spanish has been improving quickly (although not as quickly as I would like) and I can now successfully hail a taxi, give him directions he can understand (my teacher´s are impressed at my progress--I got many compliments on my accent, but also many comments on how I mostly spoke gibberish) and travel from one end of the city to another. I´ve been exploring some of the old Spanish cathedrals...gorgeous! Although oftentimes they have really creepy dolls at their altars, dolls of Jesus and Mary and the like...I know, I´m speaking pure blasphemy probably, but they truly look alive! I can´t look at them for very long.
I´m getting to know my host family a little better as my Spanish knowledge increases, and they really are a great family. I´m pretty much in love with my host papa--he has to be the cutest old man ever! He always makes sure to eat with me, and usually he breaks out the atlas and/or his Spanish-English dictionary. The oldest son, Paul (I´m 95% sure that is his name!) is an engineer, and spends a lot of time at Machu Picchu for some reason, although the careers and names of the rest of the family elude me, except for the little boy, Rodrigo. Although I don´t know how he fits into the family yet...I´m still trying to figure out all the dynamics! Thankfully I did find the shower, although the water is rarely hot, and only slightly lukewarm...hence I´m much smellier here than I was at home. Not to mention crazier hair, if you can even imagine that! There is also a spider that´s been in my room that I´ve been trying to set free, and today my teacher told me that it´s one of the most venomous spiders in the world...knowledge I would have happily lived without! It´s just a teeny little thing that shows it´s face usually right before I go to bed...hopefully I catch it or I might never sleep!!
I´m slowly adjusting to the altitude, although some days I still am very weirded out by it--the city is pretty hilly, and when I go exploring I can definitely feel it! I like the city more and more every day, (still on the hunt for a bookshop!) although it´s tiring to constantly be harassed by little kids trying to sell stuff. The little boys seem to be even more persistent, and will follow you until you jump into a taxi or a shop! I feel bad about not giving them any money, but after the first few days of caving, I realized I´d better stop or soon I´ll be trying to sell postcards right next to them!!
Last week was rather uneventful when I look back on it, although every small thing feels like an adventure to me now! Just walking around the city is still really exciting--and I love it when I can actually find my way!
It´s Carnivale in Cusco right now, which as far as I can tell, mainly consists of random cars and people throwing water, candy, manure, and who knows what else at passersby! I seem to be a popular recipient of the water--much more than anybody else I´ve talked to, of course--as I´ve been drenched a few times! I´m definitely a big fan of the candy throwing--a rare occurance unfortunately...but thankfully not as rare as poo throwing! That only happened to me once, and I dodged successfully (and surprisingly--they had good aim!).
I´m still getting used to all the cultural differences, such as the millions of dogs, dancing in the street, and soccer playing everywhere, as well as the little beggar children and their llamas, and the food!! Too much soup! Although I love this vitamin milk they have, and leche con arroz (milk with rice) is delicious! We also have this delicious bread with fruit in it every night, that only comes around at Carnivale. That´s mostly what I´ve been living on, although I go to the grocery store quite a bit to buy new random treats, some of which are great, some just plain weird!!! The music is also different--my host sister plays the Backstreet Boys nonstop, and they´re all big fans of ABBA and other bands from the 80´s. I feel like I´m back in fifth grade when she has the Boys on repeat!! I like it best when they play salsa.
I haven´t made many friends, although I did make one in the form of a dog! I´ve christened him Señor Perro, and he follows me to the corner every morning! I accidentally let him into the house once, and since then he´s never left, and tries to sneak back in occasionally, although as far as I know he´s never been fed there!
I was planning on just hanging out in Cusco this weekend, but I ended up buying a tourist ticket that gets you into tons of cultural sites, mostly archaeological stuff, although some museums and churches are also included. The ticket is only good for ten days, so I signed up for a tour of the Sacred Valley this past weekend.
The Sacred Valley of the Incas, also known as the Urubamba River Valley, is gorgeous and full of old Inca sites! Our tour visited C´orao and it´s market, as well as the world famous Pisac market, and the ruins at Pisac, called Pisaqa by the Incas. Pisaqa was amazing--so high up in the mountains!! I got way behind taking pictures and had to run to catch up, generally a bad idea, but apparently the Andes are turning me into a mountain goat:). There were lots of terraces and temples, and at the very top we could visit some Inca tombs--awesome!!
We also visited Ollantaytambo, more Inca ruins, and Chichero, which has a church that´s a combined Inca wall and Spanish church, like much of the ruins around here. It seems that the Spanish merely used whatever was left of the wall and built up from there. It was an amazing day, including a lot of hiking in the Andes (I have a vicious sunburn as a result of that) and wandering around the old ruins. We also stopped a few markets, I picked up a few items here and there. Linda, the lady from my school I was travelling with, was quite impressed with my haggling ability--I can sometimes almost cut an item´s price in half! I should probably just suck it up and pay the soles, considering the price is usually decent anyway, but I´m kind of addicted to haggling at this point!
In Urubamba, right before we were to stop for lunch, there was an explosion on the bus right beneath me--two of our tires had burst! The driver was in awe; apparently he´s never seen both explode at the same time...I think I might be bad luck... We had a slight delay, but eventually we got our lunch and headed to Ollantaytambo. There we hiked up past the agricultural terraces used by the Incas up to the top, and a gigantic piece of rock in the shape of a puma, along with many temples and the like. There was lots to see and many stories from our guide (only half of which I understood, as my Spanish still sucks!), but it was still a fun hike! We went back down past the old Inca aqueducts which still successfully run water, and visited a temple of the water.
I got briefly lost in Chinchero while buying some postcards, and ended up wandering the streets for a half hour while the rest of my group was in a textile demonstration. For about half of this time, a little girl was following me, begging me to buy her stuff--and if she had been selling anything else but finger puppets in the shape of fish (pescado pescado bonita senorita!), I probably would have caved!! I eventually made my way back, and we headed back into Cusco, a few hours later than originally planned, but oh well! It was an amazing trip, and I can´t wait to see more of the ruins on my little tourist ticket!
I think I am adjusting quite well, and I get a little less homesick every day. It would be fun to have people with me, so come visit!! (Adam!) Carnivale is supposed to get crazier in the next few weeks--I hope that doesn´t mean more manure!! I also hope the weather gets better, I´ve gotten spoiled with all the sun this past week! I spent tons of time in parks and in plazas and near fountains (I even fell in one and got on a few tourist tapes...one guy from Germany proudly showed me his footage) but today it is pouring down rain! Ah, the unpredictable weather...seems to follow me wherever I go! Keep in touch! Loooove....