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Published: July 20th 2013
This is the view from the dining room window of my homestay
When Mark and I set forth on Saturday morning, I was filled with excitement and a great sense of relief – years of dreaming, planning and, of course, saving had finally paid off and we were heading to a part of the world I had not yet had the opportunity to explore. My next few days would be spent travelling and I had prepared myself for the long and arduous journey before me.
Following an uneventful flight, where sleep was made difficult by the hordes of young, extremely noisy Christians on board making their way to Rio for what I have been told is a visit by the pope, we made it to Santiago. Little words can be said for the flight into the city at the base of the Andes, the magnificent snow-capped mountains that advanced into the distance simply took my breath away (unfortunately I have no pictures to share at this stage as they are all with Mark). I only wish the same could be said for the city itself.
For the most part, Santiago is a city like all others. The public transport system was, for us, easy to use and very cheap. The people
The other homes near my homestay
that we met were extremely helpful and friendly, with the exception of the ‘student’ who stopped us, gave us information that we did not ask for and then told us to pay him for the privilege. I am laying the blame solely at Mark’s feet for that one, but in fairness we are both a bit rusty when it comes to quickly identifying those annoyances while travelling.
As we arrived too early in the morning to check into our motel we spent a number of hours exploring a park that was within walking distance to our accommodation. The park was a maze that hugged the side of a mountain, with many cobbled paths that led you to different areas, each waiting to reveal their treasures. A huge biblical fountain, a square filled with swordfighters and a peaceful courtyard with the most beautiful, albeit faded, tiles I have ever seen in a park, all the while the stairs led higher to the pinnacle of the park – the lookout over the city. I wanted it to be amazing but I had spent long enough in Santiago to know that it would not be.
The mountains, which would have been
View from stairwell at homestay
one of the most breathtaking views beside any city I have ever seen, were overshadowed by the haze that occupied the skyline. The smog that had filled my nose and burned my throat since the moment I stepped off the plane was clearer than ever from that lookout and instead of being able to admire the beauty of the Andes, I was looking at an ugly city with pictures filling my head of what could have been, and perhaps once was. I felt like Santiago is a wonderful example of how we, as humans, just got it wrong.
I would like to finish by saying that I am reserving final judgement until we return in September and are able to spend more than a few hours there, especially since that evening we spent some time in the trendy Bellavista which proved that Santiago is more than the ugly city I saw that day.
The following day we arrived in Lima after a short four hour flight. I’m not really sure what to say about Lima because this is the place where things started to go terribly wrong and I feel like any thoughts or feelings I have about
The view from the restaurant where I ate cuy with students from the school
the place may be tainted by the events that transpired there. I will say this, it is quite a dirty city with rubbish lining the streets, as smoggy if not smoggier than Santiago and the drivers there are actually crazy. Like proper fucking crazy. Lanes are optional, in fact it is common occurrence to just make your own lane! Horns are an essential part of your driving experience and are often used as an indicator or to let another driver know they nearly hit you, or both, at the same time. Half the time I spent in Lima was in traffic, the other half was in the airport.
For me, Lima was always going to be a stopover city, a place that I had to go to before I could get to my final destination, Cuzco. It was never a place that I wanted to explore nor had any desire in seeing. It is also the place that Mark and I parted ways. At least for the next two weeks.
So, after saying my goodbyes I headed to the airport reasonably early to catch my 11am flight. We boarded and took off as usual and flew the 55
Lunch! Half a cuy (he still had one tooth!), two potatoes and a stuffed something...!
mins to Cuzco, however once we arrived it was clear that we would not be able to land due to bad weather. We circled above for approximately 40 mins before the decision was made to return to Lima where we sat in the plane for a further 30 mins or so before we disembarked. We were advised that our plane would be delayed but we would fly to Cuzco later that day. So patiently we all waited. I think it is necessary to point out at this stage that a later flight to Cuzco, with the same airline, boarded and left while the passengers of the delayed flight watched on. After what felt like an eternity we again boarded the plane, but as soon as we entered the aircraft, we were asked to leave. We were told that the flight had been cancelled and that we had a choice of boarding a 5.30am or 6.00am flight. I chose the 6am flight. I chose wrong.
Once I realised that I needed accommodation I found the nearest wifi so I could look up the phone number of the hostel that Mark had stayed at the previous night, with the intention of
phoning and saying “no hablo espanol, hablar ingles”? – as it had worked most of the trip so far! The problem was that when I asked if she spoke English, her answer was no, an answer I had not factored into this call! Following some pretty terrible broken Spanish I was pretty sure I had booked a room for the night and was feeling reasonably good. My next challenge was to get to the hostel. It was getting dark at this stage so I wasn’t going to risk public transport so I jumped into a cab. I knew that the cab ride the night before was about 30mins and I was confident that I knew in what direction we should have been heading.
So off I went in the first cab that approached me, his price was reasonable and he seemed nice enough, even if he spoke zero English. It was probably about 30mins into the trip when I noticed not only that we hadn’t moved very far but that my friendly cabbie’s fuel light was flashing empty. I started to panic, having visions of me stuck on the side of the busy highway with all my luggage and
no idea of where to go. Worse than that, I think my cabbie started to panic also because he started nudging his way through the traffic, forcing himself into different lanes and at one stage actually made his own lane, honking, swerving, honking some more. My 30 min trip to the city was fast turning into an hour, then an hour and a half… finally we broke free of the sea of cars and headed directly to a fuel station where I was asked get out of the cab – I am still not sure why – while the car was fuelled up and after about 15 more mins I was safely in my hostel.
The next morning I made my way back to the airport and arrived at about 4am and by the time 6am rolled around it became quite clear that our flight was going to be delayed. For how long, no one could really say. Perhaps an hour, perhaps two, so for the first time in my life I became that homeless looking person, sprawled across a few chairs at the airport, taking a nap! After two hours the people from my flight started to hover
around the flight desk so I went to investigate. Further delays…. Surprisingly I was quite zen about the whole situation but other people who were on the same cancelled flight as me, not so much. An older French man took over one of the PA systems and stated to tell the whole airport lounge that he had been waiting in the airport for 24 hours and he just wanted to get to Cuzco, this was followed by cheers and applause from other passengers and I still don’t know how he didn’t get arrested! In any event, it must have worked because not long after this incident we were sitting on the plane, once again headed for Cuzco.
After landing and collecting my bags from what can only be described as an icebox of an airport, I realised that sometime over the last 24 hours I had lost my bankcard. I was having a ripper of a time which was only made better by the headache I was developing from the altitude. I was starting to feel like I had made a mammoth mistake and would have been better off with Mark, on the beach somewhere in southern Peru!
Cuzco is in a beautiful location, the whole city is surrounded by mountains, the streets are paved and the people are friendly. It is a very touristy place, as you would expect, but because of this the streets are clean and there is plenty to do. The temperature is similar to Dubbo but it feels much much colder as there is no heating in my school or my homestay – I am in a constant state of cold an have not taken off my thermals since I arrived. My first night I couldn’t work out how to turn on the hot water and so I had to have a cold shower, similar to showering in ice water!! It took a good half an hour for my feet to stop aching!
My homestay is the first bit of luck I seem to have had so far. I am staying with the most wonderful people, Americo, Laura and their seven month old Juan Diago. Americo and Laura speak very limited English but every morning I am greeted with smiles and laughs as Laura tries to help me increase my vocabulary. You don’t need to understand what someone is saying to be able to see the goodness in them and Laura and Americo are proof of that. They have welcomed me into their home and are incredibly generous with their time. There are two other students who are also in my homestay, a young Brazilian, Andre, who speaks Spanish reasonably well and Alice, an older woman who is a school counsellor from Oakland, California, and speaks Spanish a little. They have both been helping me communicate and learn and all of us have been sharing many laughs over countless cups of coco tea.
So far my school is very difficult, but that is what I expected. My teachers primarily speak to me in Spanish, which initially was quite a shock. I thought perhaps they might ease me into it but I was mistaken. Next week, Carlos, my afternoon teacher has told me he will no longer speak to me in English and I am terrified! I am gradually starting to understand some of what is being said around me and each day I am improving, poco a poco (little by little). I can feel my luck changing and am looking forward to spending some time on the weekend exploring the city – and perhaps doing a little shopping for some more jumpers!
I am not so naive to think that this holiday wouldn’t come with challenges. I was hoping to get them a little later in my trip, after I had a little relaxing break, but you have to roll with the punches. A major part of this adventure is to challenge myself, see what I am capable of and ultimately have a better understanding of who I am and what I want to become. I am confident by the end of this, if I put in the work, I will know adequate Spanish to make my experience a more enriching one. And if not, then I have met some wonderful people along the way, so therefore it already is. The most amazing experiences come not only from the interesting places that you visit but from the beautiful people you meet along the way.
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