Thursday, 17 September 2015

First Days in Cusco

Getting ready for my next adventure has me reminiscing about my first days in Cusco last December.
I'm trying to remember what it was like, how I felt, and the things that seemed so strange at first, before I slowly grew accustomed to life in South America. I'm mentally preparing to go through that awkward stage again once I reach Bangkok.

I remember it was very cold when I arrived. There was no central heat in house, which was not uncommon. I would bundle up in my newly-purchased alapaca sweater and wrap myself in my blankets while I typed away on my tablet or studied my Spanish lessons. It didn't help that I couldn't figure out how to get a hot shower for the first week, so I would come out shaking like a leaf and stay shivering for a very long time! (note to newbies: to get hot water out of those electric showerheads, only use the very smallest level of water pressure possible. Also, try not to get electrocuted)

Regis in front of the Catholic cathedral in Plaza de Armas, 
I loved my homestay hosts from the very first. They were an adorable older couple that just loved to have young travelers stay with them. They patiently helped us along with our Spanish, advised us on how much was a reasonable price for taxis, instructed us which buses to take, and fed us delicious food!!! They were a huge highlight of my stay in Cusco, and I highly recommend living with locals while traveling, at least for a portion of the time. I lived in a part of the city I probably would never have seen otherwise, and experienced the day-to-day Cusco from a local perspective. 

L-R: me, my homestay "parents", and my Dutch housemate 
Speedy Gonzales was the little terrier pup that belonged to my hosts. Since they were empty-nesters, Speedy became their fur baby and he was spoiled, but so much fun! It felt very homey and reassuring to have a pet around. He was always happy to see me when I got home :)

I arrived in Cusco at an awkward time, right before New Years. The regular classtimes at my Spanish school were interrupted due to the holidays which delayed the ideal scenario of slipping into a regular routine, and in addition to that there were not many students enrolled. I ended up in individual classes for the first while because no one else was at the beginner level with me. This was nice because it meant I was basically being tutored, but it was also overwhelming.
To have to adjust to a new home, culture, language, and social situation was exhausting and stressful! I had no friends, no family, and nothing familiar at all to turn to. 
When New Years came around, I felt lonely and isolated. I was incredibly relieved when E., a young Peruvian employee at the Spanish school, invited me to join her and her friends for the celebration.

E. and I joining the festivities in Plaza de Armas at New Years
I had only spoken to her over email before I arrived, and a couple times at the school, but I really liked her because she was so friendly and outgoing. Her English is fantastic as well, so I finally had someone to talk to! She ended up not joining her other friends for the night, so we just hung out and talked the night away, danced around the plaza at midnight amidst fireworks and drunken revelry, and then chilled at a local pub and listened to some fantastic live music until the wee hours!
Having a friend made a huge difference to me, and things started to look up.

At the beginning, everything is new and difficult. I took this photo from a cafe off Plaza de Armas, while exploring the city alone and ordering a meal in Spanish for the first time. I was so nervous about the most basic phrases, but with practice it became easier. Navigating transit and city streets by myself was stressful at first as well, but eventually I learned my way around (I made lots of mistakes, and it wasn't the end of the world!), and it felt awesome to be able to show newbies how to get around and where to go. 

I loved randomly experiencing something unexpected. Sometimes it was festivals and dancing in the streets. Sometimes it was a conversation with a local lady. Sometimes it was trying a new food I had never seen before. Every day was something new and exciting. 

I know that my first weeks traveling will be difficult and full of uncomfortable adjustments. A part of me dreads that and wishes I could skip it all together, but the truth is that those first days are when the impressions are the strongest and there is so much potential to see things so clearly...things that fade and become normal over time. I want to try to do better at capturing those moments this time. Hopefully it won't take me 10 months to get around to sharing them with you :) 


mumsy said...

Thanks for reminiscing, Jill! Looking forward to more posts. And I love that Places We've Been slide show addition to your blog. Wow! oh the places you've gone!

Jill said...

Thanks mama!