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  • Writer's pictureEmily Breeden

Back in Cusco, Peru!

Once again, I find myself in a classic “Emily” situation, after making a HUGE life change (um… Moving to PERU… with my cat?) and wondering, “How did I end up here?”

I can’t believe that 6 years after I made the decision to quit my “safe” corporate job to volunteer in Peru for 8 weeks – I am back here again, and this time, I am the one helping volunteers!

The truth is, I don’t know if I’m capable of living a life without taking big leaps of faith like this. It seems like I might be on a constant journey to experience as much of the world as I can before my human experience comes to an end. I’m coming to terms with this just being who I am… especially since I learned that I am an enneagram 7, and human design 5/1 manifestor, which have been awesome tools to understand myself more. Yes, my life is a little crazy, but I don’t think I would have it any other way.

It has been exciting, fun, and a bit overwhelming to be in Cusco again. A lot of things are the same, and a lot are different too. And although I know this was an amazing life decision, it definitely is a different experience compared to last time when I was living with a host family.

Since I’ve been here almost 3 weeks now, I thought it would be fun to share all of my initial observations…

Things that I am loving:

  1. The food ~ Aji de gallina, ceviche, lomo saltado, chicha morada, granadilla, queso fresco, sopa andina, caldo, matecitas, jugos frescos,… mmm, all my faves. I have felt very nostalgic having all of my favorite foods and drinks (chilcano is my new fave at this amazing restaurant Organica… and mint lemonade!) again. Peruvian cuisine is seriously incredible. If I didn’t walk so much I probably would become quite large living here. 🙂

  2. The people ~ Cusco has some of the kindest people ever. The people who manage my apartment are wonderful and are there to help at all hours of the day. My new coworkers are some of the most fun people and are already becoming some of my new best friends here. Seeing people I met 6 years ago here (like the woman who directed the school I volunteered) has made me insanely happy. I am so grateful for peoples’ kindness here! I even made a wonderful new Peruvian friend at the airport who was traveling with her puppy, who I ended up having some CRAZY connections with, such as her sister living in Wisconsin right by where I grew up. What a small freaking world! ❤

  3. The BEAUTY ~ My gosh, this city is so beautiful. Every day, I get to walk through Plaza de Armas which is stunning, and I always stop for a moment to just breathe it in. The city looks even more colorful right now with all the Cusco flags (they look like pride flags, but are 1 color off) which I love! I also live very close to the Church of San Cristobol and Saqsayhuaman which means I literally have the best views of the city. I am very blessed!

  4. The language ~ I cannot believe how quickly Spanish is coming back to me after 6 years of not speaking it. I’m also taking daily lessons which is helping a TON. Every day, I get so much practice just working/living here. For example, the other day I had to present and answer/ask questions 100% in Spanish for 2 staff meetings in a row. Just seeing how far I’ve come in 3 weeks makes me very excited to see where I’ll be with it in 3 months!

  5. My (crazy) new job! ~ The days go soooo fast here. My new job is like a giant puzzle (of projects, host families, international volunteers, international students/interns…) that constantly has to be put together. I feel like I’m running around all the time and I love it!

Now for some things that have been a source of “culture shock” for me…

  1. I left right before Boise summer started, to come to “winter” here; or as they call it in Cusco, dry season. And it is freaking cold! At night the temps get down into the 30s… and there is no indoor heating here! BRRRRRR. (I am wearing a fuzzy fleece and a hat inside my apartment as I write this) 🙂 Luckily during the day, the sun comes out and warms it up to the 60s. And I knowww, I grew up in Wisconsin and should be okay with the cold. I’m telling you, this is a different kind of cold here!

  2. The Latino-americano “Machismo” culture here is… interesante. In the US, I feel like I can be nice to anyone and everyone, and it’s not a big deal. I can smile and say “Hi” or give a friendly head-nod to a stranger, with no issues. Well what I’m quickly learning here, is that if a man smiles or waves at me, I basically need to ignore them or else they take it as an invitation to hit on me. I honestly try not to make eye contact with men here if I’m out at a bar or walking down the street. It’s kind of sad, but that’s just how it is here. I’ve NEVER felt unsafe, it’s just more of an annoying “UGH I accidentally smiled back at someone and now they’re coming to talk to me…NOooOooOO” feeling. Luckily my boyfriend will be here soon so I won’t have to worry about that for a whole month 😉

  3. Any type of shopping = an adventure, with a sprinkle of anxiety. When I was here 6 years ago, I had a host family cooking for me so I didn’t have to worry about groceries… it was amazing! Well, I am on my own now and I definitely have not found my groove yet when it comes to shopping/making food. There is a mall here across town, but it’s a 40+ min bus ride (or a taxi ride). There is also a great market (San Pedro) that is a 15 min walk but, I can only carry so much, and that is just for produce/breads. Also, all products/items are much different here than in the US. So my solution has been to just eat out at restaurants nonstop… which I can’t do forever. I REALLY need to start meal planning here ASAP!

  4. Walking everywhere and not having a car = a blessing and a curse. I live at the top of a VERY steep hill. So anytime I need to go anywhere, I need to prepare. “What could I possibly need for this entire day?” I always have a backpack with me because leaving/coming home is not an easy task. So when I forget something (like my breakfast the other day), simply “running back home real quick” is basically equivalent to doing a HIIT workout. At least I can tell I am getting stronger and improving my cardio, from walking up insanely steep hills every single day at over 11,200 feet!!

“Simple” things are not always simple. Here are some other funny inconveniences I’ve run into…

  1. My stove is an old-school gas stove with a propane tank, that requires a match to light. I love it, it makes me feel like I’m camping! Well, the other day, I ran out of matches. I had a lighter but it wasn’t working. Therefore, I could not make food that morning. Do you have a modern, electric stove? If so, be thankful!

  2. Sometimes, the water just stops working. I remember this from last time I was here. So there have been two times now at work, where I used the bathroom, put a bunch of soap on my hands, went to turn on the water… and nothing came out. Do you have access to water at all times? If so, be thankful!

  3. The internet is way spottier here than in the US. It goes out sometimes at work and we all just kind of have to wait for it to come back. Do you have access to great, fast, STEADY internet all the time? If so, be thankful!

  4. My shower just never gets as hot as I’d like it, and the drains don’t always work right. I am getting used to taking VERY quick showers here. On that note, the water in my sink doesn’t always heat up so the way I wash dishes is I heat up a big thing of water on the stove and use that to wash dishes. Do you have access to hot/clean water anytime you want it? If so, be thankful!

  5. People in Cusco LOVE fireworks. Between the presidential elections here, and it being June (which is “Cusco month” apparently, due to Inti Raymi in June!) there have been a lot of fireworks. Sometimes I’ll wake up at midnight, and there are just random fireworks going off.

  6. COVID ~ ooof, this could be its own entire post. The situation here is pretty terrible and complicated. Peru has the highest mortality rate, yet also has some of the strictest requirements, such as the following: Masks have to be worn at all times (even outside). On buses/some grocery stores, you need a mask AND a face shield. At the mall you need double masks AND a face shield. There is a 9pm curfew so at about 8:30pm, cops start walking around blowing whistles telling everyone to go home. They have strict stay-at-home orders during holidays such as Mothers/Fathers day. There is this thing where anytime you pay for something, the person you pay sprays your money and hands with alcohol. There are these shoe “cleaners” you have to step into before walking into any building (you know, so you don’t bring COVID in on your shoes?). There is limited capacity on buses etc., it’s wild. Everyone here is still living with a lot of fear, because if you got COVID here and needed serious medical attention, your chances of survival aren’t great. The vaccine roll-out has been awfully slow here. I don’t know any Peruvians who have been able to get vaccinated yet, and they all desperately want them, and desperately want to get back to normal life.

Overall, it’s been a beautiful 3 weeks. Many ups and some downs but overall, a soul-enriching experience already. And if you are in the US… BE THANKFUL, for many reasons, but especially for your access to quality medical care and vaccines, and everything else I listed above. I really, really hope things turn around here and people can get vaccinated… Cusco is such a vibrant city and COVID is a big ol’ buzzkill.

I think this is enough for now. I’m sure I could think of a million more things… but yo queria dormir. Buenas noches 🙂

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