Few tourists can say that they visited Peru and that they missed Cusco. With more tour agencies, Internet cafés, and falafel joints than anywhere else in the country — and with close proximity to the world-famous Inca ruins of Machu Picchu — Cusco is the tourist Mecca of South America. I spent a few days here before my Salkantay hike, and I'm spending one month more here, to study some Spanish.
For the remaining two weeks of Spanish school that I've got at Amigos, I've decided that each day, there's going to be a PDD, or Palabra Del Día (lit: "Word Of The Day"). For today, the inaugural PDD is: burbajas ("bubbles"). You can blow burbajas. You can live in a burbaja. And, if you want to relax and feel nice and warm, you can have a baño de burbajas (lit: "bubble bath").
This week is going to be the quietest yet at Amigos, with only 3 students (including myself) enrolled for the week's classes. As such, there's nobody for me to be in a class with, and I've had to switch to private lessons. So instead of an 8am-12pm daily class (2 hours with Merly, 2 with Ursula), this week I'm just having 3 hours straight (8am-11am) with Merly, one-on-one. Today's lesson was much more intense and personalised, but it was also a bit lonely.
After Jesus and I finished our excursion to Pisac this morning, we continued west through the Valle Sagrado ("Sacred Valley"), to the town of Urubamba, for the afternoon. Urubamba's a cute lil' town as well; but it's much quieter than Pisac, due to the lack of a big market, or of any major ruins nearby. However, it made a nice spot to grab some lunch, in our second trendy café for the day; and this time over a game of (my newly purchased) ludo (close game — but Jesus won). We really were taking our time and chilling out at every opportunity today. Ah well, that's what Sunday's for, right?
I saw a stall full of ludo sets at the Pisac markets this morning; and being the avid ludo fan that I am, I couldn't resist purchasing one. It's a beautifully designed little wooden set, with a decorated board and animal-sculpted pieces. Unfortunately, one of the llama heads has already snapped off — but a bit of superglue should be able to fix that. The board has already been christened with two games — of myself against Jesus — and so far the score is 1-all.
I've been very slack in my time so far in Cusco, because after 4 weeks here, I still haven't visited the Valle Sagrado ("Sacred Valley") at all. Lying about an hour north of Cusco (by public bus), and consisting of three principal towns — Pisac, Urubamba, and Ollantaytambo — it's one of the main tourist attractions in the area. This morning, I was planning to visit Pisac (and to continue on to Urubamba) on my own; but at the last minute, I ended up going with Jesus. We didn't quite make it up to the Inca Citadel, but we did have a colourful and relaxed morning at the markets.
Jorge is the director of Hampy, an organisation (that I got introduced to today) that helps disadvantaged kids in the village of Chocco, near Cusco. Jorge's been working in Lima for the past few years, with the US government's Peace Corps; but now he's back with Hampy. He's a friendly and very passionate guy, and I'm glad that I'll be able to help him out a bit, over the next few weeks.
Wil's been studying at Amigos with me (but not in my class) for the past two weeks; and he's also involved with the volunteer group Hampy, that I went on a little tour with today. Wil's an American from Upstate New York, and he's been travelling in South America for quite a while already, so his Spanish is quite good. He's got a girlfriend from Chile, and from the sound of things, their relationship is pretty serious. He's a quiet guy, but he's very genuine, and he's doing great work with the kids at Hampy, helping them work out how to find employment.
Chocco is a small and impoverished town, that lies about 20 mins out of Cusco (by taxi). This afternoon, my friend Wil invited me to come with him and a group of his friends from Hampy, to go to Chocco for an informal tour of the town, of the kids there, and of the volunteer work that's being done there to help them. It ended up being a fun, social, and intriguing afternoon. It also resulted in me (most likely) becoming a part of the volunteer effort that is Hampy, for at least some of the time that I have left here in Cusco.
Huayno is a traditional Quechuan style of music and of dance in the Cusco area. The music has a lot of guitar and high-pitched singing, and the dance has a lot of foot-stamping and stiff-leggedness. This afternoon, Abram — who conducted a salsa lesson with us last Friday — taught us Amigos students this strange, difficult, and surprisingly tiring dance. Good bit of fun for a Friday afternoon, but it seems more like a stand-up comic routine than an actual, romantic folk dance.
So the class of Amigos week 2 ended up being myself, Debra, Justina, and Dorien. Chrystal and Ricky both moved to individual lessons on Tuesday, Chrystal because she was slow and holding up the group; and Ricky because he has hearing difficulties and needs the personal voice. We learnt a lot, but I'm still desperate to learn more. And once again, next week will be a new class, with me the only old-time veteran.