It’s so interesting to me how every month is such a different experience for each person. It just goes to show how the experiences, rather than just the city itself, are truly what form a person’s relationship with a city. For me, Cusco was probably my favorite month in South America. Maybe it’s because we were coming to the end of our time in South America, maybe it was the party life, or maybe it was the amazing experiences I had while I was there. Who knows.
Whatever it was, it was an amazing month that started off on quite an interesting note. Lindsay and I decided to leave La Paz early, so we purchased tickets to take a 14-hour bus ride from La Paz directly to Cusco. When we came to the border crossing, we all filed off the bus, walked into an old broken down building, got our papers stamped, walked across a rundown bridge (all at night, by the way), went into another broken down building to get more papers stamped and then filed back on the bus. A few hours later, we started seeing fires along the side of the road. Our bus drivers told us it was from protesters who were asking for money or wouldn’t let us through. We ended up giving some money despite many of our protests so we could just keep moving and get to our destination. We all dozed off only to wake up to our bus stopped again in a long line of buses. After talking with some of the other bus drivers, we learned it was due to protests in small cities between La Paz and Cusco regarding the contamination of Lake Titicaca. After four to five hours of waiting, we walked through the city and negotiated with some locals who driving people stuck at the border to their final destinations. Naturally, because we were having such stellar luck, we hit another group of protestors . After a strange combination of negotiating, talking, and rock towers, they let us through. 20 hours after we started our journey, we finally made it to Cusco.
The first few days we were there it was just Lindsay and me hanging out in an amazing Airbnb positioned up on a hill with a view of the valley. Not only that, the neighbor’s puppy would come and play with us while we were working or hanging out. One problematic factor was the fact that there were about three to four locks and sets of stairs to get to our lovely home, which caused a number of problems for me during the trip. Thanks to the RY2 group who was still in Cusco, we also got a quick crash course of the local party life, and let me tell you, it was quite the whirlwind.
Once our RY3 crew arrived and settled in, our life looked something like this: work, eat, go out, sleep, repeat. Due to the touristy nature of Cusco, there were always new people in the city and also pretty wide variety of food too which was a welcome change after our time in La Paz. On the party side of things, it was really a rotation of places called Mama Africa, Temple Bar and Chongos. All of which were within about a block of each other. Problematic, right?
Despite the frequent partying, we did get out and explore the city and surrounding areas. The first weekend we went on a day trip to the beautiful Rainbow Mountain. Our hike started in a valley and took about 3-4 hours to get up to the top which looked out over a, you guessed it, rainbow colored valley of mountains. It was such an amazing feeling as we scrambled to the top of this totally exotic and freezing mountain. Not only that, but it was great preparation for what was coming next, the Salkantay Trek.
The Salkantay Trek was an amazing, difficult and magical experience I was able to share with eight other Remotes. We hiked for five days and covered over 75 km, completing our trek at the top of the magical Huayna Picchu, the mountain seen in the background of traditional Machu Picchu photos. This experience deserves its own post, so if you’d like to hear about our Snickers-fueled trekking, take a look here.
When we got back from the Salkantay Trek, I found out that my brother was going to be in Maine during our transition from South America to Europe, so I booked an early flight home from Cusco so I could make a stop in Maine to hangout with my family. That meant that I would be cutting my time short and only had a few days left to soak up as much of the South American culture as I could.
A few of us decided to do a chocolate, ceviche and pisco sour making class, which is one of my favorite memories from the month. It was Kirsten, Miranda, Brecht and I who took the class, which resulted in hours of laughing our asses off. To this day I’m not sure if our chocolate making teacher actually stuck a skewer through her tongue, to symbolize the blood that was apparently an ingredient for this weird hot chocolate drink they used to make back in the day. Then, we went over to the Pisco Museum, one of my favorite spots that month, where we had an unexpected pisco tasting. This basically four shots of pisco, which we did not anticipate whatsoever. After we were feeling nice and fuzzy, we got to get behind the bar and practice making pisco sours, now one of my favorite cocktails without a doubt. Then, we went down in the basement and made our very own ceviche, one of my favorite meals, without a doubt (are you seeing why I loved Cusco, yet?), and then continued on with our evening at one of the local bars and a few of our other Remotes.
A few days before I left, it was Lindsay’s birthday so naturally the fiesta crew was in full swing. We also spent a day at a spa which was something I hadn’t treated myself to in years. It was especially fun when I got my pedicure a few days after the Trek. No matter how much I tried to keep myself busy, my last few days eventually crept up on me. So, the day before I left to head back to the States, I frantically ran around the touristy area of Cusco buying little gifts and trinkets for all my loved ones back home. After that, I crammed my suitcase full of all of newly acquired items, and then in true Cusco fashion, went back out for one more hoorah.
While the month as a whole was an amazing period, it also brought us some of our first Remotes to drop the program. This was a heartbreaking reality for all of us. But, the rest of us continued forward and stayed connected to all those wonderful people who started this journey with us no matter what our individual journeys may bring us in the meantime.Other things of note: Lindsay and my first trip in an ambulance, the impact of the phrase “Soy de California,” the RY2 going away party, the Lindsay’s generosity when I was stranded, new traveler friends, Kois and
Charles’ fun interaction on Day 1 of the trek at the lake, the welcome party, Tom’s going away party and ensuing shenanigans, helping friends pack and packing parties, Casa de Campo, Poncho, community lunch and Jack’s Cafe.
With love, Paige