We returned to Cusco just in time for Easter Sunday. We hadn’t really packed church-appropriate Easter attire, so we decided not to try to go to a local mass. Instead, we walked around some. We actually ended up at one of the churches. The doors were open, so we were able to catch the tail-end of the service, which was nice. We then headed towards La Plaza de Armas, where we went to an ATM to get more money and then headed to a museum with lots of various artwork from Pre-Inca and Inca times. There were a lot of really amazing ceramics, which I loved. We then grabbed lunch, then we all walked to the large artisan marketplace. I bought a couple of blankets and such. After awhile, we all met back and headed to dinner.
We pretty much did the same thing everyday for our second week in Peru. After the crazy busyness of the previous week, it was nice to get a little bit more downtime and stay in Cusco for a few days. We all stayed with a host family for the week. The mother, Mery, was amazing and even did our laundry twice, which was incredibly sweet of her. We started each day with breakfast in the house (made by Mery) and then walked about a half mile or so to Yure’s house (where we had been staying before), where there was a room set up as our classroom. We spent the mornings studying Peruvian literature and discussing Peru’s economy and social issues related to Peru (all of this was in Spanish). Because we had separated from the other group, we were now required to speak only in Spanish. We had been assigned to read Los Ríos Profundos by José María Arguedas, Siete Ensayos de Interpretación de la Realidad Peruana by José Carlos Mariátegui (we only read the first 2 essays), and “El Abuelo” (a short story) and “La Civilización del Espectáculo” (an article) by Mario Vargas Llosa. We spent 1-2 days discussing each book/author and relating the writings to our experiences in Peru. Although most of these were written quite some time ago, they were all still very relevant to the current situation in Peru (which would be a whole other post in and of its self). The discussions were pretty interesting, but also a bit of a challenge due to the fact that they were entirely in Spanish (I can definitely understand most Spanish now, although I still struggle a bit with speaking Spanish). We would then eat lunch at the house and start the approximately 1 mile walk to the orphanage.
We volunteered at “Centro de Atencion Residencial Juan Pablo II”, a local orphanage right in Cusco. The orphanage is set up differently from many others I’ve heard about. Instead of a large dormitory, the kids live in small houses (called “casitas”, or little houses) with a “mother”. There are 2 mothers per casita- 1 works during the day, the other at night. The houses are set up for family-style living. There are 5 casitas total, each with about 10 kids. The kids go to the school during the day. The mothers make all of the meals in the house, which I thought was pretty cool. The orphanage has its own small “park”- really just a playground. There are swingsets and slides, along with a large volleyball court that the kids use to play volleyball and soccer. Most of the kids seemed pretty happy, but it was sad to know that many of the older kids will likely be in the orphanage until they age out. We all really enjoyed the time we spent there. We played with the kids, helped with homework, and just spent time with them. All of us wished we could adopt them all- they were great kids.
In the evenings, we would usually walk towards La Plaza de Armas for dinner (usually at least a 2 mile walk) at one of the highly recommended local restaurants. We ate a lot of really great food, including a lot of trout, potatoes, and chicken and rice dishes. I discovered I wasn’t a huge fan of the soups, but otherwise liked most of what we ate. Some of the restaurants we ate at included Gustitos de Loli, Pachapapa, Chicha, Mesón de Espaderos, Ciccolina, and Incanto. My favorites were Mesón de Espaderos, which specializes in meat (I had the best steak of my life) and Incanto (I had a delicious pasta dish with bacon, Parmesan, and zucchini).
A couple of the nights, before dinner, we walked to the modern mall near the orphanage to get wifi and relax. It is a very new mall and the majority of the stores are American stores. We were surprised by the prices there- they seemed pretty high. We later learned that most people just go there to hang out because they can’t afford to actually shop there.
After dinner, we usually worked on the reading for the following day’s class and played cards. We definitely didn’t go to bed very early, which meant I was very tired by the time we returned to the US, but it was a lot of fun and we all got to know each other really well.