Let's play the honest game for just a second. I'm tired of writing this recap. At first I thought it would be a great way for me to be able to share my experiences in Peru with the whole wide world but as I've been writing and thinking about writing I've realized that there aren't enough words to actually capture what it was like. Just like I keep saying the pictures don't do the views justice, neither do my poorly worded musings. I would also like to write about eating and marathoning more because things are starting to get interesting in the world of the monster. That said, here is the grand finale. Grab a drink and a comfy seat because you're in for a long one my friends.
After sitting in a pool of tepid water with 20 of my closest Peruvian friends and a pretty baller faux Bachelorette Party I took a very hot shower and headed to bed. The next morning we were back on the train to Ollantaytambo to get the rest of our luggage before taking the bus back to Cusco. I was sad to leave and head back to "the city" because being away from the hustle and bustle was a welcome change of pace from being back home. Little did I know that Cusco is the best city in the world. The bus back to Cusco was only mildly terrifying because driving downhill with all of your belongings very loosely strapped to the top of the vehicle tends to cause a bit of anxiety. Our driver was an old pro though so windy dirt roads were no worries for him. Along the way we made a stop in Pisaq where another group of women showed us about spinning and dyeing wool and afterwards sold us all kinds of cute and native looking apparel. I think everyone bought at least one thing, I got more yarn for my mom and a couple of scarves. I also chatted with our guide about Cuy aka Guinea Pig aka a popular Peruvian meal. The women in Pisaq had a pen of Guinea Pigs so I asked if he ate them and how you pick them. They are not like lobsters where you point to the one you want and someone cooks it up. You get what you get but they only take the big, fat ones (or as our guide said because he didn't know the word for fat, "heavy").
We collected our goodies and went back on the bus for another ride to get to the hotel. Cusco streets are pretty narrow and the traffic was like Lima on a diet. Lots of honking still but not quite as terrifying or congested. We dropped our bags at the hotel and walked to the main square to find some lunch. One thing you may or may not know about me is that I'm a bit of a bargain shopper. I absolutely love a good deal but I do not love shopping in general. The same applies to food. I was on the hunt for pizza. Because I love pizza. So the "crew" and I went from place to place checking out menus and comparing numbers. Luckily Peru is also very salesy so it wasn't long before a woman (we began to call them recruiters) found us and showed us her restaurant's menu. I asked for pizza and she delivered pizza at 5 or 10 soles less than anywhere else we'd found so far. They often say you get what you pay for but I have a hard time believing that more expensive pizza could've been better than what I got...or maybe I was just really hungry.
We did a little more shopping then took a coma. It was an incredible evening.
Next on the agenda was the Cusco city tour. The weather was beautiful, the views were beautiful the architecture and language...guess what? Also beautiful. We visited the Koricancha and what just so happened to be the 3rd largest cathedral in the Americas. Our guide was fantastic and I had lots of fun chats with him which lead me to find out that not everyone wants to visit the United States. We are kind of lead to believe we are the greatest country in the world and that everyone longs for the day when they can visit. That is false. At least from talking to our guide I learned that some people are very happy with their own country and their own cities. They find culture around them everyday and do things like learn English to become tour guides so they can share their love and wisdom with tourists. He said he'd like to visit the United States one day but he'd be ok if he didn't make it there. In his words, "It's very expensive." Apparently he's never been to Europe either. I also learned that although he took us on tours of sacred Catholic sites, he himself was not Catholic. In fact, there's a rather large segment of Peruvians who are not Catholic, do not like to speak Spanish and are even at least a little bit bitter towards the Spanish for conquering the Incas. Anyhow, after our tour he headed off for lunch and I haggled with an alleged College of Art student for a gorgeous piece of work I can't wait to frame. At some point I was forced to take a picture with a baby goat. It was really gross, kind of smelly and a little bit wet. Still not sure if I've forgiven my lovely travel mates for that one...
The next day was really the purpose of our trip where we visited a women's organization for girls who had been victims of human trafficking and other horrific crimes. The girls were around 12-17 and were all so sweet. I'm definitely not a baby or little kid person but for some reason I have an affinity towards tweens. The girls were shy at first but we did some arts and crafts with them to break the ice and after they taught us to dance. Damn could those girls dance! I'm a fan of dancing so I was ready to party with them and party we did. We went outside afterwards to play some volleyball (which they were also fantastic at) and then taught them to play Duck, Duck, Goose! Along with the other great bits of Spanish I learned that day I also learned how to say duck and goose. Don't ask me how. We also visited a group of orphan boys who were on the campus separate from the girls. They were working on math and guess what? Yeah, they were pretty good at it. We gave them some candy and beach balls and I think the math lesson ended pretty promptly. We went back to the girls to eat pizza with them and dance a bit more before we left and I couldn't have had a better time. We all took pictures, some of which are adorable but for the privacy of the girls I won't post them. It was so incredible to see that these girls weren't at all tarnished after the experiences they'd lived through. They were just like your ordinary tweens. Big One Direction fans, they giggled with each other and flirted with the boys in our group. And when it was time for us to leave I don't think there was a dry eye in the house, myself included. It was really nice to be able to share experiences with them because even in that one day they impacted my life. I just hope our presence was able to do something for them as well.
When we begrudgingly left we headed over to a traditional Cusco dance show which was a nice upbeat distraction.
Our last day in Cusco was all bitter, no sweet. Of course I was excited to get home and see my family and pets but leaving Cusco just sucked! We went horseback riding which was therapeutic and gave me time to really reflect on the trip and my life as a whole. I was happy during my entire 10 days in Peru. Every frustration wasn't one at all. Traffic was no big deal. There wasn't anything that really grinded my gears (thank you Peter Griffin). As Marguerito (my horse) and I foraged on up the sides of mountains I was really able to think about everything and create a significantly more positive outlook on life which I'm happy to say has stayed with me. Now I have a place to go in my head when things get to be a bit too much and I think I'd really needed that. During and after the ride we visited sites including a fertility temple I refused to even touch a wall inside of and the great fortress of Sacsaywaman (which our cab driver informed us was pronounced like Sexy Woman). It was another beautiful day and we took everything in pretty leisurely which was great. That night was our farewell dinner before the early wake up call for the flight back to Lima.
Our flight to Lima was around 8 (time is not precise in Peru) and we proceeded to sit in the airport for roughly 14 hours. Literally. Apparently the weather between Cusco and Lima is often pretty turbulent which can delay flights for hours. Because of that the flights are scheduled early in hopes you'll actually make it to Lima before your connection leaves. Our flight back to the U.S. wasn't until 12:15 a.m. and with no delays we got to soak in the Lima International Airport in all its glory. It is not glorious aside from the fact that they treat food courts like restaurants. Employees of all the restaurants (much like the recruiters we saw in the cities) walk around with their menus and will take your order and bring it to you right there in the food court. They also deliver ice cream which I found to be particularly useful.
And so we've come to the end of the journey. I don't know what to say about my trip overall. "Amazing" has been overused and just isn't quite amazing enough to describe the experience. I will say, if you ever get the opportunity to go to Peru or South America, GO. In fact, create the opportunity. Life is too short and if you've wanted to travel, DO IT. It's not cheap to get there, I'll admit that but as we said repeatedly during our time there, you live like Kings. The exchange rate between the dollar and sole was roughly 1:2.75 when we were there and that makes everything pretty damn affordable. The good salespeople will often convert for you so you can say things like, "What?! Only 10 bucks for this? How could I pass it up!" You'll inevitably come home with a lot of stuff. But it's nice stuff. I also want to make it clear that I had no problems eating. It's always a little scary as a vegetarian leaving the country (or even your city) because you're not sure where or what your options will be. I had a lot of absolutely amazing eats in Peru and as long as I said "no carne" I didn't have any issues. The food that actually made me sick were the prepackaged Oreo's we got from a convenience store. Maybe it's because non-American Oreo's aren't vegan like here at home. P.S. Does that bother anyone? That the "cream" filling in American Oreo's is vegan? Which means no dairy contained? Bizarre. Also, is that actually accurate? I've heard mixed reviews. I digress. I do hate the un-word "Yolo" but I like its meaning. You really do only live once so whatever it is you want to do, do it. And make it worth it.