For the past week, I’ve been working at an elementary school in Cusco, Perú with the volunteer program Ubelong. Mondays through Fridays I work as an assistant to a Physical Education teacher and stumble my way through a number of conversations in broken Spanish. On the weekends, there are options to travel to Machu Picchu, go white water rafting, and explore an assortment of ancient ruins.
Due to the whirlwind of experience this past week has been, I haven’t had the time to write as much as I’d like. When I do sit down to write, I go through the frustrating sensation of having so much to say, that I can’t say anything at all.
I’m currently working on a story about traveling to “Rainbow Mountain”. If Mars had valleys teeming with llamas, indigenous Peruvian farms, and towering snow capped peaks, Mars and Rainbow Mountain wouldn’t be too different. That said, I found some time to climb to a rooftop terrace, drink some papaya juice, and write a short collection of observations and stories.
1.) Cats, Dogs, and Llamas
If you follow my Instagram, maybe you’ve already read about my scarring experience with rabid dogs, but I don’t want that one sack of rotten apples to take away from the flood of fluffy wonder Perú offers. Legions of dogs roam the streets, llamas flood the valleys, and kittens sometimes pop out from behind windowsills and alleyways to provide welcoming rays of bone crushing cuteness.
Here is a picture of Darwin, a cat from the Hostal I’m currently writing at:
Here are some dogs kickin’ it in one of Cusco’s many plazas:
And lastly, here are a couple photos of some llama action:
2.) In Perú, Eating at a French Restaurant With a Brit, Italian, and German
Another interesting aspect of Peru is the eclectic and diverse mix of cuisine, ethnicity, and culture. A couple nights ago, I was eating at a French restaurant with a British pre-med student, a world traveling German, and an Italian who eats sugar for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. At one moment, I took a step back, and asked myself “What the fuck is going on?”
That night, we went out to experience the Peruvian night scene. We played King’s Cup with Cusqueña beer, mojitos, and pisco sours. We hopped over to a club that smelled like sweat, tequila, and piss. I found myself pooling money with a fellow 35 year old volunteer from Maryland so we could get the “2 mojitos for 25 Soles” deal. The British pre-med student, Beth (wonderful person with a heart warming laugh), had a flight the next morning, but due to her unholy alcohol consumption, she missed it.
3.) The Holy Incan Triad: Condor, Puma, and Serpent (Freedom, Power, Intelligence)
So it’s my second day on the job, and I’m chillin’ in the the teacher's lounge, putting on sunscreen and chugging water, when suddenly a Peruvian man with slicked back hair and a piercing red tie enters the room. He’s holding a bottle of rum and a shot glass, and in his eyes I see the power, sheer confidence, and immutable force of the entire Andes mountain range. He pours the shot glass to the brim, turns towards me, and recites what was apparently a classic Incan toast. His eyes lit me up like I’d been struck by a hot rod of distilled lightning. I questioned my identity, thought back over the twist and turns of my life, and felt the power of a thousand suns pump through my veins.
It wasn’t quite that powerful, but still, it was pretty cool.
4.) Puberty Sucks
Little Peruvian children are incredibly cute. I see kids face plant on concrete in the midst of a game of fútbol and pop up with ear to ear grins. I spend afternoons conversing with 8 year old boys and girls, trading English and Spanish words for animals, colors, and sports. They run up to you, and for absolutely no reason at all, give you an all embracing hug. They’re resilient, independent, and loving.
But then you go from the elementary school to the high school, and things just aren’t the same. They make fun of my shitty Spanish (not necessarily in a mean way, but not necessarily in a nice way either), chirp at the girls, and aren’t nearly as open. Puberty can make your forehead shine like a full moon, your voice sound like grinding chalk, and your pits smell like a pile of dirty laundry. It is kind of gross, and I can confirm it’s no different here.
5.) Cool People
There are lots and lots of cool people. There is the aforementioned Simi, an 18 year old German who can speak three languages, become friends with just about anyone, and score a bicycle kick. There is Linda from Maryland, a 65 year old teacher who is quite possibly the nicest and cutest lady on the planet. One random night, I found myself discussing child development, her study abroad experiences in France, and the Trail of Tears with her over a couple cups of Green tea. Then there is Dave, a 27 year old teacher who has a rockin’ black moustache, used to play in a punk band, and recently returned from a 10 day meditation retreat of silence.
There's lots of other weird shit happening, but that's it for now. Rainbow Mountain post and more to come.
Songs Lighting Me Up:
// Parallels // Big Thief
// El Canto del Cuculi // Los Koyas (Shoutout to Peruvian Flute Bands)
// Seasons (Waiting On You) // Future Islands