Visit from Dad- Cusco

Let’s see, quick summary first: Last two weeks of school drag by but are spiced up by my birthday, the arrival of Dad, and the Christmas party on the last day of school. Dad and I explore the Sacred Valley and some sights in Cusco as we prepare for the trip to Machu Picchu after Christmas and the subsequent travels on the way to Lima. We arrive in Lima on the night of the 3rd, settle in, I send Dad off on the 6th, and start work on the 7th. In the meantime I meet a lot of new friends and even find someone to play tennis with! I started cooking for myself and finally learned how to wash dishes in an efficient manner.

This is going to be a long one.

So, for my third week of Indigenous Culture, the Academia brought in a guest teacher that teaches the subject at a university. We learned about andean legends and myths in the most boring way possible. I thought the class would be more interesting because I loved the literature class and this was practically the same thing but I was very much mistaken. Some teachers can make any topic interesting but ours was not one of those. He had a great reading voice, very expressive and calm- just the thing for putting kids to sleep with a bedtime story. He read us a story about a mine goblin making a contract with a miner and then stealing his soul and I could barely stay focused long enough to keep up with the story! Granted, Rebekah and I weren’t the most attentive audience since we were very much done with classes already (see first line of previous post) and didn’t want to be there. We did have two outings again- the first an all morning trip to two more sites of Sacsayhuaman where we saw defaced carvings of the snake, puma, and condor and the second to the Kusi Cancha, a fairly recently excavated site of an Inca palace that had an army barrack built over it for many years. The test that week was horrible because apparently the teacher didn’t know what was on it and we declined the review the morning of because we were so tired of the class and just wanted to get it over with. So, there were two questions that made up 13 points of the 50 point test on a jungle ritual that we had spent about 5 minutes on the day before. That was not fun but I managed to BS enough to get the majority of the points for each of those questions. Rebekah, Denton, and I got together to see Spiderman 4 but it was in Spanish without subtitles in any language so we switched to The Dictator instead. That Friday Rebekah and I met up and watched a Christmas movie together. Denton didn’t show because his sister and girlfriend had just arrived that morning. Later, Rebekah and I went to a Christmas concert in the temple at the Qorikancha and heard some amazing songs from a singer who should be in the opera and the students from her school. We called it an early night and went home to catch some winks.

Sunday was the 16th, my birthday! I came downstairs and immediately saw a chocolate cake on the table and my host mom came out of the kitchen to ask me to cut it! So, we had chocolate cake and hot chocolate for breakfast. That was all. It was explained to me as “Well, we eat the cake in the morning because that way we know that everyone will actually be there.” when I explained to them how weird it was to me to have dessert first. Great start to the day but I’m surprised I didn’t get a stomachache from all the sweets. I went up to the Meeting Place for the weekly meeting in the evening, had Happy Birthday sung to me again, and blew out the candles on the Advent wreath. Overall, a good birthday.

I took Monday and Tuesday off from school because Dad came in at 12 on Monday on the bus from Lima. I had told him it was a bad idea but, well, you know how he can be about saving money. He says he won’t do that again. Ever. I gave another math lesson that afternoon after I dropped Dad off at his hostel and got him settled in. Later that night I picked Dad up from the hostel and we went over to Jack’s Cafe to meet up with Denton, his sister (Emily) and girlfriend (Brittney), and Rebekah for a belated birthday dinner. Dad and Denton both had some kind of Mexican eggs, I had pancakes, someone else (Rebekah?) also had pancakes, either Emily or Brittney had french toast, and I don’t remember the other order. Weird how our minds work sometimes, right? It seems like we remember everything and just need a trigger point to recall distinguishable points in long term memory. It’s like our brains make little topic tags with an expand button associated with them. Funny how that doesn’t work on most tests. I guess you have to have a separate file for each object or you see random attributes from each layer in the scene but have no clue which is which. Oh well, most of us don’t have an Intersect in our brains. Only Chuck and Bryce.

On Tuesday I brought Dad home for lunch and introduced him to my host family. I think we had seafood and rice for supper that night. I spent the rest of the day putting the final touches on the 5 page report (in Spanish) that I had to turn in on Wednesday. I wrote it on the history of Peruvian art from pre-Columbian times until now. I didn’t have Internet at all during that time so I got by with using my dictionary for a few words. I found out that if I am writing in Spanish I get writer’s block a lot faster than when I write in English so I wrote the last page and a half in English and then translated it. I still ended up putting accent marks in at the last minute the morning it was due because I actually had internet at school, allowing me to find the page to copy over the accents. I also found out that it is a lot easier to put the document in google docs (online, not offline like how I wrote it), let it recognize the language as Spanish, and let spellcheck tell me where the accents need to be.

Wednesday I actually had classes so I left Dad to his own devices for lunch and then we went to some sites around Cusco like the Qoricancha, my school, and the Plaza de Armas (Main Square). I tried to remember obscure facts about random places and rock formations while Dad took the pictures. That night I wrote my presentation to give the next morning on the paper that I had just turned in. It consisted entirely of slide titles and photos after the title slide and then a slide at the end that said “Any questions?”. I left captioning completely up to my memory and it went much better than I thought it would. Rebekah and Denton made sure that they presented before me even though I was the least prepared of the three of us- something about how I usually didn’t study for the tests much either. Anyways, the three of us presented for the academics director, Carolina, and our teacher, Rebeca. Mayke, the school director, happened to drop in during my presentation and stayed to ask some questions as well. I haven’t actually seen my grades for the paper or the presentation but I was assured by Carolina that they were fine.
On Thursday after school we all went to The Meeting Place for lunch and Dad finally met Steve! As I thought, they hit it off immediately and were chatting for the rest of the afternoon. FYI, Steve is a volunteer at The Meeting Place and my brain more or less adopted him as a surrogate father figure once I got to know him. Dad and I both got bacon cheeseburgers and they were AWESOME. We stayed until it stopped raining and then headed back down to the school to make some chocolate dipped crackers for the Christmas party. I stopped to buy some crackers on the way down and since Dad had brought down marshmallow creme, peanut butter, and dipping chocolate from home, we then had everything we needed to make some chocolatey goodness. Oddly enough, none of the other Americans had ever made chocolate coated crackers.
We made a few with only peanut butter, some with only marshmallow creme, but the majority were both. We ended up sending Denton (my friend) to buy more crackers because we used more than I thought. We used all of the jar of marshmallow creme (aided by the fact that it wasn’t all there to start with because it had exploded in Dad’s luggage) and about half of the peanut butter. Turns out that Dad had a good judgement call in bringing both trays of melting chocolate because we used it all. At the end we were all a little sticky but we enjoyed every moment of it- especially taste testing. We stored the goodies in the fridge at the school until the party the next day.

Friday: test day. We did a review and then gritted our teeth and dove into the test. Happily, the review basically told us what was on the test so Rebekah and I both did really well. We had a bit of a break until the party started. Before the party started, we had the “despedida” (goodbye) for all of the students that were leaving the school. I hadn’t written a speech so I just made something up on the spot. Denton, Rebekah, and I had agreed earlier that we weren’t going to write speeches because we didn’t feel like it. There were other students that were leaving as well and none of them had speeches written either. Then the party started! Each nationality represented in the school brought a typical holiday food and some were coerced into singing. Somehow I was talked into introducing the American food and then all of us went up and sang Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer. That was lunch- very sweet but also very filling with the rice pudding from Denmark. The school gave everyone a little bag of chocolates too. We got lots of lovely comments on the chocolate coated crackers and I think a lot of people will be making them at some point.

That Saturday we went on a tour of the Sacred Valley and saw some amazing ruins. I managed to sleep through the commentary, which was pretty amazing on those roads. The interesting thing about these tours is that since I understood both versions of what the guide was saying (Spanish and English) I could listen selectively and still get the full benefit. Actually, I understood them better in Spanish than in English because they didn’t mispronounce words and they also had a fuller vocabulary. It was a bit drizzly that day but it cleared up a bit towards the end.
That Sunday I helped Dad move in with my host family- it made things a heck of a lot easier for Christmas dinner on Tuesday. I also baked two batches of foccacia bread for the pot-luck Christmas dinner at The Meeting Place that night. The dinner was amazing, with both wonderful food and company. Dad made the gravy and the turkey was delicious.

On Monday we went to Santuranticuy, the Christmas market. It was filled with people and overflowing. The main market was in the Plaza de Armas (main square) but there was another smaller one in the plaza of Belén (Bethlehem).


These photos were taken as we were people-watching from the Starbucks balcony.
We went back to my host family’s house for lunch and then I went to teach a final math lesson while Dad took a walk back to the Plaza. We met up at the Plaza around 6 and saw a beautiful rainbow. However, that meant that it was going to start raining again so we picked up the laundry from the laundromat and caught a taxi home just before the rain started. Once we got home, we waited until 10 to have the traditional Christmas dinner. The food was amazing and there was more than enough for another meal (Tuesday’s lunch!). Once the radio countdown hit midnight, we all lit sparklers (yes, in the house) and waved them at the elaborate nativity scene in the dining room until we ran out of sparklers. After that we all crowded around the window to see the fireworks that everyone was setting off like crazy. The fireworks had started several hours earlier but suddenly increased in volume at midnight and gradually tapered down until dawn. The city doesn’t set off their own fireworks but it seemed like everyone who could buy them had and it sounded more like a bombing than a party. Apparently there are even more fireworks during New Year’s but Dad and I were already in Arequipa at that point.

On Tuesday night several of us got together at The Meeting Place to watch some Christmas movies and have a bite to eat. We watched Elf but it was a pirated disc so it had some problems. Dad and I finished packing for Machu Picchu that night so we could take off easily in the morning.

That Wednesday we took a taxi to the Plaza, walked to the bus to Ollantaytambo, had a ~1.5 hour ride (in which I slept), caught the train, and had a 3 hour ride to Aguas Calientes. Once we arrived we were taken to the hotel where we were staying and signed into our room. After about an hour of downtime we changed into our bathing suits and walked over to the hot springs. We spent a couple of hours in there and experienced some refreshing rain drizzles (not quite showers) that came through the area. Once we got dried off and changed we went out to eat. We also tried to find where to catch the bus in the morning but that didn’t work so well in the dark. One of the interesting things about Aguas Calientes is that there are no cars. Everyone arrives by train and the streets are so narrow and steep that cars simply would not be of use. Also, it is one of the few towns that preserved the Inca drainage system in the streets (canal down the middle) so turns would be practically impossible. Cusco is in the sierra and thus has dry and wet seasons. Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu, however, are in a cloud forest so it’s wet and wetter. Luckily it didn’t rain hard enough to lose power like it did for some of my friends the week before.

Anyways, the next day we got up, saw that it was raining, and went back to bed until the latest possible hour before we would miss breakfast. Then we proceeded to the bus, which crossed the river and climbed a ridiculous number of switchbacks before arriving at Machu Picchu.
We caught our tour of Machu Picchu in the rain and both wore our ponchos. Our lunch consisted of Pringles, granola bars, water, and probably something else typical and snacky that I can’t remember. We had bought most of these supplies the night before in Aguas Calientes because we knew in advance that the prices would be ridiculous on the top of the mountain. We sat around for a bit waiting for the rain to stop and eventually, it did! We re-entered Machu Picchu and I did a bit of exploring and stair climbing to get some good pictures.
Eventually we came back down to Aguas Calientes (by bus, I slept) and chilled for a while before eating dinner and heading back to catch our 9:00 train. We tried out some Chifa dishes in one of the many Chifa restaurants close to the hotel. Chifa is the peruvian take on Chinese food. It’s not exactly chinese dishes but you probably need to speak chinese to work in one of those restaurants.

More on Dad’s visit will be coming soon.
Sorry about the wait on this post, I’ll try to be more regular.