Since I had planned to start Spanish classes in Cusco around Monday, I left Lima saturday on a 22 hour busride through to Andean mountains to get to Cusco. I had read about altitude sickness but I had no idea how it would be like and if I would suffer from it. Turns out going from sea level to 3,500m makes your head feel like it’s going to explode (possibly psychologically induced by my inflatable-pillow that kept inflating itself more and more the higher we got, giving me a good impression of what was going on inside my head) .
And my chest was also super painful from my heart pounding out of it and my longs working in overdrive, since the air is a lot thinner. At least the view of the Andes was spectacular to wake up with at 5 am on the bus, making it all worthwile.
I hadn’t looked up anything on Cusco on what to do, where to stay or where to get Spanish classes, except for a tip I had gotten by another traveler to go to the Kokopelli hostel to get free accommodation in return for working there a few times a week. So I did just that, since I had planned to be in Cusco for a few weeks. It was no problem to work in the bar and I immediately became part of the staff from the moment I arrived.
The hostel staff was incredibly amazing, fun and welcoming and I immediately felt at home. Since I was taking Spanish classes in the morning I was scheduled to work in the bar in the evening from 6 on, which was really no problem since I would have probably been hanging at the bar every night anyway. Only now I got free accommodation and drinks in return, and 40% discount on the amazing food. I figured I could not have made a better deal!
Waking up at 8am to go to class and going to sleep at 3am from working turned out to be rather tough though, combined with altitude sickness which constantly made me short of breath and food poisoning from the retarded decision of “eating like the locals” on the market. This all made me not see anything of the amazing city of Cusco and its surroundings. It wasn’t until Thursday that I decided I really needed to do something, so I joined a couple from my Spanish school to visit Pisac, a small town in the sacred valley. There were apparently amazing ruins up the mountains surrounding the village but since they had already seen those and just wanted to see the market, I did the 3 hour hike up there alone.
I almost didn’t encounter anyone on my hike, except for 2 peruvian families that wanted to take a picture with me. I took the bus back to Cusco alone around nightfall and met some other backpackers waiting for the bus. It was the first time I was visiting something in Peru on my own and it really dawned on me how incredibly comfortable I felt in this country, in Cusco and its surroundings. The other travelers confirmed as well that it was really a safe place. One need not be naïve of course and I am always cautious, but this was a part of Peru that was relatively safe and relaxed.
The next day I headed out to Maras and its salt mines with 2 people from the hostel, an beautiful terrace-shaped construction stemming from Inca-times to harvest salt from wherever the hell the warm salty water seeping into the construction came from.
Working in the hostel was incredibly fun, and especially on the weekends the parties went crazy, which made it even more awesome to be working behind the bar. I also discovered there was a tv room and on a less busy day I organised to watch Mean Girls with a bunch of girls but only girls because; YOU CAN’T SIT WITH US!
One Saturday it was the birthday of Tali, one of the girls who’s also volunteering, and we went to Pisac with almost all the staff and some of the hostelpeople to celebrate. It was really nice to eat together and even though I had hiked all the ruins already, it was also nice to walk part of it with people this time.
My Spanish classes were going well, but I was first put in the beginners group since I didn’t know Spanish at all. With my knowledge of French and Italian I was unfortunately on a completely different level than the Irish and Swiss guy that knew no other Romanic language, so I changed to a private tutor after a few days.
While the classes were going better, I soon realized that it would maybe be a waste of time to spend another week in Cusco just learning Spanish and not being able to visit a lot. I ufortunately only had a limited time in Peru. So I impulsively decided to quit my second week of Spanish and join this hop-on hop-off bus through Peru for a few days and see a bit more of Peru. I would still work in the hostel when coming back, but since I’m on a limited time schedule I would have to choose between seeing something of Peru or stay in the same place to learn another language that I wouldn’t be able to master anyway with just one more week of classes.
and since I’m probably not coming back to Peru anytime soon, adventure it is!