Volunteer Leah Hughes in Cusco | Part I
After much planning, anticipation and many hours of travel, I finally arrived in the city of Cusco, my home for the next five months. I was met at the airport by residents of Casa Mosqoy and a fellow Canadian volunteer. They welcomed me and brought me back to the house, where I soon met the 20 other students I will be living with! Casa Mosqoy is a large house located in a residential area about 25 minutes from the Plaza Mayor. The students live four to a room and we have communal breakfasts and dinners from Monday to Thursday. The students are friendly and full of life, and there is always music and laughter to be heard somewhere in the house. I have a room with my own bathroom, and recently had a hot shower installed! I am still learning names and slowly getting to know my new roommates, but I feel very welcome and I think I will make some lasting friendships here.
I spent the first few days adjusting to the altitude and getting my bearings in the city. It is easy to get to the centre of town by taxi or in a mini-bus, and I spent a lot of time exploring the steep cobblestone streets and bustling marketplaces of downtown Cusco. The Plaza de Armas is beautiful and offers amazing views of the surrounding mountains. The whole city is a fascinating mix of Incan ruins, colonial churches, and busy urban life. I am amazed at the range of colours, smells and textures seen on every corner and in each market stall. The different varieties of corn alone are incredible for my North American eyes. Members of my new Mosqoy family have been showing me where to eat in town and I am getting a feel for Peruvian cuisine. The staples are potatoes, rice and legumes mixed with interesting spices and flavours. I was taken out for ceviche for my first breakfast in Cusco!
On my first weekend here I got to visit one of the remote weaving communities that Q’ente works with. I went with Sarah, the textile programs manager, and a Peruvian student who is our Quechua interpreter. We got a bus from Cusco to the town of Calca and spent the night there in the home of a wonderfully warm and hospitable local lady. We woke up at the crack of dawn the next day and got a minibus to a nearby village, where we started our three hour hike. It was a beautiful hot and sunny day. We left the fertile green valley below us and continued upward into the rugged mountains. The scenery is breathtaking (quite literally!) and I was so happy to be up in the fresh open air. The trail loosely followed a stream and we passed little stone shelters, mossy green clearings and the occasional bleating sheep.
As we got higher I saw my first alpacas! They are graceful creatures but also a bit comical with their long necks and big doe eyes. When we arrived in the stone village of Cancha Cancha I was struck by the rugged beauty of our surroundings. The houses are nestled in a green field at the base of mountain peaks. When I looked up I noticed a glacier in the mountains overhead. We took a seat on a stone wall and waited for the weavers to arrive for our monthly meeting with them. Unfortunately it soon became clear that most of the members of the weaving cooperative didn’t hear the radio announcement about the meeting time. The village is so remote that there are no phones or computers, so the only way to relay a message is in person or by radio. It’s planting season so the villagers were mostly out in the fields and couldn’t be called in to see us once we arrived. As we were in the village we spoke with a couple people in person and arranged a time for the next meeting. Then we had a picnic and hiked back down. It was unfortunate that the meeting didn’t happen, but it was a beautiful hike and I thoroughly enjoyed the day’s adventure. It was a wonderful way to round off my first week in Peru!