by Nathaniel McIntosh, Greenheart Travel Scholarship Winner in Peru
Wow! Words cannot express how happy I am to be done with traveling for now. My flight from LA to Lima was about nine hours and my flight from Lima to Cusco was about an hour and a half. That was definitely the longest time I’ve spent on a plane and I’ve found that I can’t spend more than an hour and a half sitting, I kept having to get up and stretch and walk around.
Even though my first flight was really long, I was too lazy to find a movie to watch and ended three movies on other passenger’s screens while listening to my music instead of the dialogue. I got the gist of them. Aside from watching movies and playing chess against a computer, which I beat, I manage to get a few very small amounts of uninterrupted sleep. Flying into Cusco was awesome because to get to the airport, we have to turn and fly between two mountains. Awesome!
Getting through the airports was slightly more difficult than expected, but I managed to get by with my broken Spanish. I got to Cusco at 2 pm and a representative from my volunteer organization, Alice, was waiting at the airport to pick me up. We grabbed a taxi on the street and were on our way to the hostel. The taxi ride was slightly scary because the Peruvians don’t really follow strict traffic laws like we do in America. The driver has to be fairly quick and aggressive, the same goes for pedestrians trying to cross the street. Cars don’t make a habit of stopping for people waiting on the sidewalk. You have to watch and wait for your chance to cross then take it without hesitation.
We get to the hostel and after Alice checked me in, she said I could do whatever I wanted for the day and took off. Keep in mind that this is my first day out of America and I’m alone. It’s not until after I get settled into my room and lay down that I realize how tired I am. But if I go to sleep then I’ll royally mess up my sleep schedule. I decide instead to go out and check out the area around my hostel and maybe pick up a few gifts for family. Walking around the crowded streets, going into different shops, and trying different types of bread was amazing.
Fast forward two and a half hours and I’ve just finished an amazing meal of brown rice, roasted chicken, and fries… so delicious. I decide that its time to go back to the hostel. Instead of just retracing my steps like a rational person, which would have been easy, I continue going the way I was going and try to find the back entrance to the alley where my hostel was. I’m sure the excitement of being in a new city/country had possessed my wits. By the time I realize that I’m not going to hit the back of the alley on this path, it’s too late. Is this really happening on my first day? Yup, I’m lost. Delightful.
I figure this can’t be that hard, if I stay in this area and look for familiar stores I’ll be able to find my way back. This works to no avail, there are so many similar stores that sell exactly the same stuff that I just keep wandering around and end up even more lost. The first pang of anxiousness didn’t kick in until it started to get dark around 6. I reassure myself by noting that I have Alice’s number in my pocket and I’ve seen more than a few phones around. I decide to forgo my own sense of direction and ask for directions because I’m tired of being lost. This too proves difficult because I’ve forgotten the street that my hostel is on and most people don’t know it.
Luckily there are many kind police officers around so I ask one for directions using my limited Spanish. I manage to extrapolate directions by watching his gestures and listening for key words that I know. He sent me in the wrong direction but not too far off from where I need to go. I ask another police officer that pulls out a map and looks at the streets then tells me that I’m only 3 blocks away. I follow his directions and realize that I’m on the right track when I see/smell the first bakery that I went to across the first big street I crossed. I walk just a tad bit further before I see the alleyway with sign for my hostel. SUCCESS!! They say there’s no better way to get to know a city than to get lost. Day one down.
The second day holds the orientation meeting where I will meet the staff and volunteers that I will be driving to the Manu Learning Center (MLC) with. Alice had given me a map and an orientation packet that told me how to get to the office, which was all the way across town. She told me that she recommended taking a taxi but that I could walk if I wanted. I look at the map and decide that I would rather walk and see more of the town than pay for a taxi, even though it would have only been a few soles (the currency of Peru). On my way out of the hostel I get stopped by another volunteer, unbeknownst to me at the time, he introduces himself as Tom and suggests that we go to the meeting together. Even though he was going to take a taxi, he decides to walk with me. I figured we would be able to get there fine with both our heads, not that I had doubts to begin with.
The map makes this walk look like it isn’t very far and it’s very simple; I mean can I really get lost 2 days in a row? Yes, yes I can. We end up taking 2 wrong turns and end up walking 3 more miles than we needed to. Eh, whatever, I like walking and seeing the town and Tom had no problem with it. In the end, I end up asking two Peruvians for directions because my Spanish is better than Tom’s. Luckily for us there car is near by and they offer to give us a ride. We gladly accept. Turns out, we were only a few blocks higher than we needed to be. We get to the office just 5 minutes late and commence with the orientation and meet some of the other awesome people that we will be working and living with for the next month.
I like these people already. Everyone here is European of many different sorts and I’m the only American as well as the only black person but it makes no difference. We get along great even though we are an amalgam of 6 or 7 cultures. After the meeting we take a tour of the city, on foot. We take an awesome tour of the city that takes us through tourists’ areas and local areas alike. We stop midway for a 3-course meal of couscous and potato soup, steak and pumpkin sauce, and bananas with sauce for dessert. Our tour ends across town at the San Pedro Market where we try various local fruits. This tour was probably a good 5-6 miles and I made it all in flip-flops. HA! After the tours ends we all go our separate ways. I decide to go back to the hostel and relax till bedtime. I don’t get lost this time.