Hello from beautiful Cusco, Peru! I arrived on Tuesday after 30+ hours of travel from Prague to include a lovely 7.5 hour layover in Madrid. The flights all went fine, even the 12.5 hour flight from Madrid to Lima that left at midnight. They kept us up for a couple hours to serve us dinner and drinks and finally allowed us to sleep around 3 am Prague time (8 pm in Peru). We arrived to Lima around 5 am and after getting through custorms, I was on my flight to Cusco a few hours later.
I didn't see much of Lima, as it was pitch black when we landed and hazy/cloudy when we took off. However, the flight into Cusco was gorgeous. As we got higher, you could start to see the tops of the Andes mountains peaking out above the clouds. When we landed in Cusco - the sun was shining! It sure is an intense sun here at just over 10,000 feet elevation! A nice woman from my school met me at the airport and quickly got us a taxi. Unfortuntately, due to a tranpsortation strike, there weren't many options, so we crammed ourselves into this tiny car with a trunk that had about one foot of space between the back door and the back seat. Somehow, my massive collection of stuff (ok, I only have 50 kilograms of stuff with me, and yes that's basically everything I own minus a few boxes in Iowa). So, we start to make our way to my school, Maximo Nivel, but because of the transport strike, roads are closed and this typical 10 minute journey took nearly an hour! The woman who met me kept apologizing for the inconvenience, but of course I didn't know any differently. It was an interesting way to see the city - at a much slower pace!
Upon arriving at my school, I met a few co-workers and checked in before heading to my homestay that was arranged by my school. I was met by my host Ana Maria and her father Alejandro who helped hoist my massive collection of stuff up 4 flights of stairs. At this point, I was certainly starting to feel the effects of the elevation! After getting settled in, I sat down to a lovely meal of a quarter chicken, soup, and a fresh salad with avocados. It was delicious. Ana Maria is a Spanish teacher at my school, and she was headed back to work, so I came back with her to get online and explore the city a bit more.
Over the last few days, I've taken several taxi rides on my own and successfully navigated my way to and from my homestay without a lick of Spanish! I'm picking up basic things up fairly quickly, but also looking forward to starting Spanish lessons soon. Mostly I do a lot of pointing and gesturing, which is a skill I perfected working with kids in the Czech Republic. I'm greatly looking forward to being able to better communicate here.
I've also been looking at apartments, which I swear is the best way to learn a city. Cusco is quite small, so it's not hard to find my way around, but still, wandering up and down different streets and checking out neighborhoods is how I love to travel, so it works well with how I am finding my way here in Cusco. While I have housing paid for by my school through next Friday, I am hoping to get settled into a new place before then. We shall see how things go in the next few days.
On Monday, I start the TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) course that I'll soon be teaching. For this first month, I will simply go through the course like any student. It's a bit interesting to take a class again that I just took about 3 years ago about the work I've been doing for 2 years. However, I agree with my supervisor that having the experience of going through the class so close to starting to teach it will be most valuable. Afte the first month, I will assist the current trainer for one month before taking over on the last month as she observes me. At that point, I'll be the full-time trainer. I'll know more in the upcoming weeks about how long I'll be here in Cusco- at this point its very much in the air, but I at least know the plan for the next 3 months. I may be moving to La Antigua, Guatemala in October to be the TEFL trainer there.
Well, as I don't have internet at home, I am unable to upload any pictures just yet, but I will do so as soon as I can. Cusco is a wonderful city with beautiful, kind people. I am noticing a bit of culture shock as I make the transition from Prague to Cusco. I have finally started saying "hola" before "dobry den" and am not as surprised when people I don't know smile and initiate conversations with me. I am even mostly acclimitized to the altitude now, which is great! I enjoy wandering a lot, but its even better when you're not completely out of breath all the time.
I've had many observations about life here and at times feeling guilty for coming from an affluent background. I suppose this is something I'll wrestle with a bit as I live here and/or Guatemala. I'm so grateful for this experience and the many people I've already met who've been so helpful and kind to me in getting settled. I already feel a strong connection to this place and have learned a lot about the culture and people from just a few conversations with new friends. This is definitely an experience new and different from anything I've experienced before. I've had glimpses of this type of lifestyle during a brief trip to the Dominican Republic, but living somewhere is always different. It's exciting and scary and beautiful and sad and wonderful all at the same time. I'm mostly excited and ready for all the interesting challenges that lie ahead, but I'd be lying if I didn't say at times I wonder what I'm doing here or how I made this choice. New challenges are always difficult at first. But I often think back to starting in Prague, and how it didn't take long to feel settled there. While I know my challenges here are different than when I started in Prague, I also know that this too is something I will succeed at. Stay tuned for more stories...