Day 1- May 6, 2018

Well, I made it to Peru!  I have to say, getting here was an adventure in and of itself.  But two airlines, three planes, and ten hours of layovers later, I’m finally here.  As you can probably tell from that last sentence, I had a lot of time to think about the coming three weeks, dwelling on my doubts, my fears, my hopes, and my expectations. Will my host family like me?  Will I like the food?  How bad is the altitude sickness going to be? Will my Spanish be good enough?  I wonder what Machu Picchu will be like. I wonder where else we’re going to visit. I hope I get along with everyone.  All of these thoughts and so much more have been racing through my mind since I got on the first plane in Detroit.

Even though I slept through almost the whole flight from Lima to Cusco, I was able to wake up in time to catch a glimpse of the Andes Mountains as we descended into the city.  And let me tell you, they are breathtaking. I absolutely love the mountains.  This is something you should know about me.  It’s one of the reasons I was so excited to come here. My dad says it must be because of the Armenian blood running through my veins, because our ancestors used to live in the mountains (the Caucasus Mountains to be exact). I had the same experience my first trip abroad in Costa Rica. While we were waiting in line to go through customs, you could see the
mountains outside the window. I fell in love right then and there. Those don’t even compare to what I saw from the plane this morning. I could stare at them for hours. 

The next few hours after we landed were sort of surreal.  A staff member from Centro Tinku, the school we’ll be attending, picked us up from the airport and dropped us off with our host families. I was so anxious about meeting them.  And I knew I was going to be alone when I got there because my roommate wasn’t flying in until later in the evening.  I was nervous about my
Spanish-speaking ability, too. I shouldn’t have been, given that I am a Spanish major, but my fluency isn’t exactly where I’d like it to be, and I had been practicing with hypothetical conversations in my head since we landed in Lima.  But I really had nothing to worry about.  My host family are some of the kindest people I’ve ever met.  We must have been a funny sight, dragging my 50 pound suitcase down the street to their house.  I felt immediately welcomed into their home, which started with a warm cup of mate de coca (coca tea), to help with the altitude sickness. 

To be honest, I’ve spent most of the day sleeping. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner have helped to
break up my naps though.  My host mom also took Ashya (my roommate) and me for a walk to Orion Supermercado, which is where our group will be picked up tomorrow to go to Centro Tinku.  Cusco is so pretty at night.  I love the way the lights look on the mountains surrounding the city.  It actually gets pretty cold when it gets dark, too.  I’m starting to think maybe I didn’t pack as well as I could have.  I guess we’ll find out soon.  We have our orientation tomorrow at Centro Tinku!  I can’t wait to find out what else is in store!

Day 14- May 19, 2018

I wonder if you’ll believe that, as I’m writing this, I’m actually sitting on top of a mountain right now.  I’m not sure I even believe it.  I woke up at 4:30 this morning, along with seven other students, with the intent of climbing Wayna Picchu.  You know, the big mountain in the background of every iconic photo you’ve probably ever seen of Machu Picchu.  Yeah, I climbed that! I did it! I still can’t believe I did it. This morning, when I got up, I thought I would get here, take one look at it, and turn right back around.  But I didn’t. I’m here! 

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about myself on this trip, it’s that I’m capable of a lot more
than even I know sometimes. I’ve definitely pushed my limits.  On Day 4 (May 9th), we visited Qenqo and Sacsayhuaman, two very important archaeological sites up above the city.  We walked from Qenqo to Sacsayhuaman, and then all the way down to the Inca Museum in the city below.  All while battling the symptoms of altitude sickness. Then on Day 5 (May 10th), we hiked the longest trek I think I’ve ever done in my life.  We hiked seven miles through the countryside, from the ruins at Tambomachay, to the archaeological site of Puka Pukara, all the way to Templo de la Luna (Temple of the Moon), and then back down through San Blas to Centro Tinku.  All before lunch.  On Day 8 (May 13th), we followed our guide along a tightrope-thin path through the salt mines of Maras and then trekked from there down into the Sacred Valley.  Before this trip, I never would have imagined myself being capable of doing those things.  But here I am.  On top of a mountain. 

Machu Picchu has been amazing.  It has. But honestly, it really hasn’t been my favorite part of the trip.  I’ve noticed that the things I’ve most enjoyed while being here are the interactions with the people around me. The conversations I’ve had over dinner with my host family.  The conversations I’ve had with our guide. The conversations with random people on the street and in the shops in the city that resulted from a photoethnography assignment assigned by our professor. The visit to a school in the small community of Huilloc.  Talking and playing with those kids, I have to say, is one of my favorite things that’s happened so far.  For me, it’s not the places I’ve visited that are important.  It’s the people. The relationships you form.  The lives you touch. The lives that touch you.  

Day 22- May 27th

I’m pretty sure I jinxed it.  I should have knocked on wood or something.  Friday night, as I was packing up my suitcase to get ready to go home, I was thanking my lucky stars that I hadn’t gotten sick at all on this trip.  I had made it three weeks in a foreign country without getting sick.  I was congratulating myself.  And you’ll never guess what happened Saturday night.  Well, I came down with (what I think was) a bad case of food poisoning.  I’m not sure what it was exactly, but all I know is that I can’t even think about the tres leches (three milks) cake I had with lunch on Friday without feeling queasy.  Being sick obviously isn’t how I wanted to spend my last night, but it almost feels like it had to happen for me to have the complete traveler’s experience.  Did that make any sense?

It’s probably not a surprise, then, that I’m feeling ready to come home.  After all, being sick always seems to be better when your snuggled up in your own bed.  But I was ready to come home before I got sick, too.  I have been craving pizza, burgers, and fries all week.  Sure, you can find that food here, but it’s just not the same as home, you know?  I miss my family and friends, too.  That’s always been the hardest thing about traveling for me.  I miss them like
crazy.  Sometimes I wish this trip had been longer, too though.  It almost felt like three weeks was rushing things.  It would have been nice to slow down a little and really look around.  Maybe to just be in Peru, just for a day. 

There are things that I’m going to miss about Peru.  Of course there are.  The mountains for one.  I just know I’m going to land in Detroit, look around, and wonder why everything is so flat.  I also love the bread here.  They don’t make bread like this at home.  I know that’s kind of
a random thing to miss, but it’s true.  I’m going to miss the coca tea, too.  I think I’m also going to miss everything being in Spanish.  I don’t know, is that weird?  I’ve gotten so used to it, it seems weird to think about everything being in English again.  But what I’m going to miss most?  The people.  It’s going to be so strange not to see everyone every day.  We’ve been seeing each other every day for three weeks, and now we’re all going our separate ways.  I’m going to miss my host family.  I’m going to miss the staff at Centro Tinku.  I’m going to miss all the people I’ve met here who touched my life in some way.  I’ve always hated goodbyes.  But I have a feeling I’ll be back.  There’s still so much I haven’t seen here.  So many people I haven’t met yet.