First and foremost, I apologize for the delay in updating you all! I have been busy getting used to my new life and traveling when able. SO — be prepared, this ones a doozy.
When I last posted I was getting ready to move into our apartment in Cusco. Leo and I’s apartment sits right in the center of the city, proving to be more than convenient. This has been our nest for the past 4 months but soon we will be moving to Larapa while we wait for our in-progress apartment to be finished with construction. Larapa is a nice quiet little neighborhood about 30 minutes from center city Cusco. I have watched each week our apartment complex being built, floor by floor. The final floor is nearing completion and I am so excited to finally live in our permanent home that I can make our own.
In August I traveled to Machu Picchu along with Leo and his group he was guiding from Chicago. We stayed a few nights in Ollantaytambo then in Aguas Calientes. While in Aguas Calientes Leo took me to climb a mountain to the East of Machu Picchu called Putucusi. Putucusi mountain is best described as a free, challenging, and relatively unknown climb full of abrupt, irregular cliffs and rugged terrain. A large portion of the mountain was only climbable by ladder due to its steepness. I pulled myself up the 2,500 meter mountain side by clinging onto shaky wooden ladders held onto the Earth by sheer rock. The ascent started as cloud forest, full of tree canopy and shade then slowly turned into very hot, dry, and open terrain. After about 1 1/2 hours we we reached the Putucusi summit, which was full of striking views of Machu Picchu and the surrounding mountains. After resting and enjoying the view at the top, we began the descent which proved to be just as taxing as the way up. Although it was easier on my respiratory system, the continuous pounding downwards by ladder resulted in very wobbly legs and painful knees. The roundtrip took about 3 hours and lots of energy, but was well worth it.
In September I assisted Leo on a trip to Ausanagate with a tour group from Australia. Remembering how my first experience was last year, I was nervous to embark on this adventure again. I remembered struggling physically and mentally but I hoped that this time, having previous experience would be in my benefit. I found each day to be so much more doable than my last visit. Not only was my body in better shape, but I knew the route and what to expect which made all the difference. I was able to actually enjoy the trek and I found myself feeling at home in each of the lodges among my Andean family. On the second to last day of the hike, we were ambushed with a snow storm that brought fierce winds and freezing sleet. Trekking into the strong wind with ice stabbing my face was not ideal, but made the adventure that much more exciting. Each step was more difficult as we pulled our bodies up and over the mountain passes. After 6 days we were finally back in Cusco, another group of peoples lives changed forever.
In October I began taking Spanish lessons at a volunteer center in Cusco called Maximo Nivel. Most students at Maximo are from all over the world, visiting Cusco and helping out in one of their many different volunteer opportunities. I met a few girls my age in class who truly amazed me with their stories. I had never met people with the same passions as myself, who were brave enough to finish high school and travel the world alone for a whole year. I became good friends with my Spanish teacher, Magda. She speaks very little English so it is actually beneficial, forcing me to understand her speaking. So — I am learning Spanish, slowly but surely.
In October we also attended the wedding anniversary ceremony of Leo’s aunt Hilda, which was an experience all in its own. Her and her husband celebrated 50 years of marriage by renewing their vows and having an incredible reception. If you thought college kids partied hard, you’re in for a surprise. Peruvians are the epitome of a good time, and age is just a number. Leo’s aunts, uncles, and cousins all brought their dancing shoes, literally. Along with boxes upon boxes of beer and champagne, we were also served a delicious traditional Peruvian meal of pork and tamales. After eating, Leo and I were ready to call it a night around 1 a.m., while all of Leo’s family were just getting started.
Sometime in mid-October I applied to graduate school. I was somewhat skeptical because I knew that most college graduates apply to multiple graduate schools in hopes of being accepted to one…whereas I only applied to one: Arizona State University. This was one of the only schools that offered my program of interest as well as the option for distance education. So after working for months on all of my admission requirements and recommendation letters, I applied for the Masters of Applied Science in Sustainable Tourism. After a couple weeks of anticipation, I was accepted.
At the beginning of November I accompanied Leo on another trip to Ausangate with a group from Germany. This time I was more than excited to experience this astonishing place with a new set of expectations and maturity. Each day the weather was beautifully perfect and I found myself wanting to learn more about the Andean culture. I used this trip to take in and learn as much as possible. I recorded each day and different parts of the trek planning to use this footage towards my applied project thesis. I am hoping this project will show evidence of this incredible example of sustainable tourism in the Peruvian Andes. As we successfully finished yet another trek of the Apu Ausangate, I found myself becoming friends with the Andean community and even exchanging language lessons with the Quechuan-speaking children.
Shortly after we returned to Cusco, Leo had a trip to Machu Picchu with a group from France. We quickly learned that his guest was Dj celebrity David Guetta. As always, Leo did an awesome job guiding and made good friends with David and his group, which resulted in an invitation for us to attend his Creamfields concert in Lima that weekend. We promptly purchased tickets to Lima for the next day. This also gave us a perfect opportunity to spend time with Leo’s family in Lima. The concert was spectacular and our time in Lima was wonderful.
As most of you know, Thanksgiving is not a Peruvian holiday, and it was rather depressing not being home for it. Thanksgiving has always been a time for my family to get together and just enjoy each others company, which is something I live for. Since I was unable to take part in my traditions with my family, I shared American traditions with my Peruvian family by preparing a whole Thanksgiving dinner, for the first time ever. I was extremely successful in sharing my thankfulness and appreciation to be in this beautiful country with these beautiful people, and Leo’s family made sure I knew the feelings were mutual.
Last weekend Leo and I decided to break out the mountain bikes. Since I arrived to Cusco I have wanted to visit the salt mines of Maras, so instead of driving there we rode our bikes 30 miles through the mountains. Although I used to ride my mountain bike everyday as a kid, I had never actually “mountain biked” before. I learned that it is a sport that takes a lot of skill…and caution on my end. I crashed once, flew off my bike while going down a steep downhill full of large rocks, resulting in some pretty gruesome bruises and a nice gash in my knee. But what’s a bike ride without an injury right? I wear mine proudly. The salt mines were definitely a sight to see, and worth the ups and downs of the ride. At the end of the day I was more tired that I have ever been, and after two dinners each (we were famished) we finally passed out. After a rejuvenating 13 hours of sleep, we finished our journey by biking back to Cusco. I am eager to keep practicing this new sport to become more talented and able to take on more challenging adventures.
December snuck up on me! This is my last week in Cusco before I head home for the holidays. Next week I’ll be home with my family and friends…excited is an understatement. I cannot wait to see those I love most to remind me who I am and where I come from. These reminders keep me grounded and so very appreciative. As for the future, I plan to be back in Cusco around mid-January to begin my new journey as a graduate student, living what I study. I will try my best to keep you all updated more regularly!