Background: This month I'm in Cusco, seeing the city and volunteering at a school project for underprivileged, impoverished kids. This is an almost verbatim entry from the diary I'm keeping while I'm out here.
It’s 5:30AM and this is the earliest I’ve been up in a very long time. The difference of -6 hours is just enough to cause considerable jet lag, but I should be okay in a couple of days.
Last night was lovely. Doris walked me to the Spanish school (not to be confused with the after school programme I’m volunteering with, the San Blas Spanish School is a basecamp for a whole host of volunteering projects). I met Niko, a funny, charming and charismatic Austrian who works at the school. He told me we were going for dinner soon but needed to wait for a few others. The others turned out to be six Americans; five girls and a guy. They were all absolutely delightful and I very much look forward to getting to know them better. They all seem to be in their mid-Twenties.
We ate at a funky little cocktail bistro called ‘The Frogs’. The food was superb and the Pisco sours plentiful; to top it off, my newly acquired volunteer card gives me 15% off food and happy hour all night long. It’s also pretty cheap, at s/.15 per drink, which is about $4, or £2.50 for the sterling-inclined.
Niko distributed a bunch of welcome packs. My pack contains a map of Cusco, the discount card, a few coupons, a bunch of useful numbers and addresses and most importantly, the schedule. I’ve got a busy few weeks ahead of me but it seems to be rather flexible too. I think it’s the Peruvian attitude: a pervasive culture of ‘why do it now when you can do it later?’ The Spanish translation of this is mañana, I believe.
I’ve got Spanish lessons Mon-Thu 11-1 this week. I’m on an after school programme so my volunteering doesn’t begin until 3, which means I’m busy this week but I will have plenty of exploring time next week when the Spanish classes aren’t so intensive.
Wednesday and Thursday nights host some great activities at San Blas: this week it’s Salsa lessons, the following week cooking. Niko tells us on Thursday night we can go to The Frogs for a cocktail class.
I’m very much looking forward to my Spanish lessons: my patchy Spanish is already improving but a one-to-one class is going to be extremely valuable. I feel very limited at the moment. Those of you who know me know how much I like to express myself and not being able to articulate myself properly is proving to be a major barrier to, say, winning arguments.
I eat some potato skins with sour cream and salsa, followed by a Peruvian dish with big chunks of beef cooked up with a load of veg in soy sauce. They’re big on their carbohydrates here; most meals are served with rice AND potatoes or chips.
For breakfast today it’s fresh bread with butter and jam, as well as freshly squeezed and pulped pineapple juice. Pineapple is quite clearly the king of the juices.
I chat to a fellow lodger over breakfast; Gabrielle is a 50-year-old Swiss woman who speaks fluent Spanish and has just quit her job as the HR director of a large Swiss firm in order to travel full time with her husband. Stories like hers are utterly inspiring and it’d be amazing to have the courage and audacity to do that. Her kids have grown up so she has no attachments, which is hugely freeing, but I wonder if in a few years she’ll yearn for a home, for a base, for stability.
I walk up to the Spanish school and take a wander around town. I buy an SD card reader, but it doesn’t work in my laptop or the school’s computer, so I’ll return it tomorrow.
I’ve taken some great photos today and can’t wait to share them. There are so many interesting scenes and people here in Cusco and they make for some excellent photography.
On a walk through an old Incan sidestreet I come across this small sign with a guitar and an arrow pointing to an open doorway. Walking through the doorway brings you into a yard; a chicken pecks at some corn and a dog chills in the shade. Another sign points to the direction of a arrow store corridor. I walk through, turn the corner and cross the threshold into a small, but bright workshop.
Wooden chippings make up a carpet, and a man stands with a chisel, hunched over a small wooden instrument. It’s got the build of a ukelele but the bridge and head of a guitar, so it must be a Peruvian instrument I’m not aware of. I make the worker aware of my presence with a simple “¡Hola!” and instantly he switches from focused craftsmen to scatty amigo. I ask him about his instruments and he begins animately describing the process, the tools and the business he runs.
Of course, it’s all in speedy technical Spanish and I understand close to none of it. I take a few photos, nod along, smile, say “gracias señor” a lot and leave. I’d like to revisit him in a couple of weeks to see the instrument when it’s complete. I think he also appreciated the visit. I don’t think he gets a lot of company normalmente.
It’s time for my first Spanish lesson. I arrive back at the school to find a bunch of confused foreigners sitting in chairs and eating avocado. I get chatting with a dutch girl called Anuk. She’s an art historian and yoga instructor. People are interesting.
Franklin, my soon-to-be Spanish teacher, pops his head round the door and yells my name. He says “¡Arriba!” and marches up the stairs. Thankfully, I knew arriba means upstairs rather than the “let’s get drunk, take our clothes off and party all night” that it’s synonymous with in British culture. That could have been embarrassing.
The lesson is entertaining and rewarding, and I already feel a lot more confident with my Spanish. Give it a few more weeks and I’ll be talking no ends of bullshit. It’ll be fantastic. The equilibrium will be restored. I don’t like not being able to express myself.
I have another look round the city, sit in a café and type up yesterday’s entry. Just as I’m about to leave, the Dutch girl from earlier sidles up to me and says hello. I initially don’t recognise her - she’s not wearing her glasses - but after a couple of seconds it comes to me and we start chatting.
She mentions getting a coffee. I come clean and sheepishly admit to having no more money on me (lunch was more pricey than I was expecting), but she says it’s okay and offers to buy me a latte. We grab our coffees and sit by the fountain in Plaza de Ramas, chatting about everything and anything and watching the tourists pass by. We walk back to the school and go our separate ways.
This is what I love most about traveling. Because I’m on my own I have to make an effort to chat and make friends, and I’m meeting so many interesting people.
I spend the rest of the evening tucked up in bed reading, writing and sleeping. The combination of jet lag and altitude has left me thoroughly exhausted. Just remembered I have Office Space on my laptop so I might watch that. I’m tempted to go out and abuse my discount at Frogs but I decide against it in favour of an early night and the thrilling final chapters of Boris.
I begin at the after school programme tomorrow, as well as the two hour Spanish class, so I ought to be rested up. I’m also starting to run out of my initial $100. I’ve spent about $50 so far and I want this to last me until Thursday or so.
An early night it is.