As I stepped off the plane and into the terminal in Cuzco, two things struck me: I was cold and I was tired. I had just flown overnight from New York to Lima, and then Lima to Cuzco. At the time I was baffled by how the driver, who had been sent to get me, picked me out of the crowd. In hindsight, I’m guessing it was a combination of my blonde hair and bright purple sweater. I climbed into the car and promptly fell asleep. Soon enough, my friend Sarah had arrived and was in the car with me. The following 24 hours were a blur of curvy, bumpy, mountainous roads, lots of fast-speaking Peruvians, and a plethora of dogs. In fact, the following two weeks up until now could be described pretty similarly, I just remember more of those details.
During that first day Sarah and I were introduced to our new host family, and began to settle into our room. Our parents, Lucho and Sylvia, and their children Frank, 11, and Francesca, 3, were better than we could have hoped for. Talking with them, they are patient and engaging, and at mealtime, Lucho happens to be a chef at a high-end hotel in Ollantaytambo, so no complaints there. Francesca has a flair for the dramatic, and is always entertaining us, and Frank frequently helps with our Spanish grammar. We even have a sweet abuelito (granddad), and a dog named Bon Bon, who shows up every couple of months.
A few days after arriving, Sarah and I took our first hike up to a community in the mountains, which our director, Keri, had not yet visited. The trek there involved a short car ride followed by a two-hour hike. The hike, to me, a first time climber, felt fairly vertical. Sarah and I, being new to the altitude, gasped, laughed, and scrambled our way up the mountainside, stopping every once in a while to take in the incredible view. Once we arrived in the community, we found that most of the adults were away tending to their farms, but we were able to speak with the schoolteacher instead. He invited us into his beautiful classroom, filled with eager children, and told us more about the needs of the community and his students, in particular. It was a wonderful first trip to come across such a benevolent individual, who was interested in the work we were doing as well. I was immediately motivated to do more.
As only a two-week veteran, I still have a lot to learn about my new town and my new work, but I have concluded a few things, at least about the first. The town of Ollantaytambo is close-knit and full of quirks. Most of the dogs here have names and personalities, but not necessarily owners. The cafes around the main square either have the best food and company, or the best wi-fi, but not both. If you find a running route, it usually is a walk-run route involving at least a couple steep hills that your low-altitude-calibrated lungs cannot yet handle. The colors and landscape of Peru are unrivaled. Even the steepest of hikes have a high pay-off once you reach the top. And around almost every corner exists some comic relief, should you need to find it.
Written by new SVH volunteer Payton Kendsersky