Arrived in Cuzco. I am so thankful that I opted to take anti-altitude sickness tablets before coming, because the altitude (which is approximately 11,000 feet) is not affecting me as much as it has at lower elevations in the past. Cuzco is nestled in the Andes, so when you arrive by plane from Lima (which is at sea level), you run the risk of soroche, which is the Spanish word for altitude sickness. Still, even if you´ve prepared for the altitude by taking tablets, it is best to take it easy when you arrive and drink plenty of coca tea (which tastes a lot like green tea and is quite good).
After disembarking from the plane, we met with Ginny, the volunteer coordinator, who took us to our house in Larapa (a small “suburb” of Cuzco). The volunteer house is a traditional adobe house in a residential neighborhood—but don´t let this conjure up images of your average American neighborhood. The roads are unpaved, there are few (if any) street signs, and though Larapa might be considered fairly affluent by Peruvian standards, it would be considered much less so by ours. The house is nice and comfortable, however, and the organization (Peru´s Challenge) has worked hard to make it a home away from home for the volunteers.
By the way, we´re adjusting to the lack of street signs by using other things as markers. We´ve dubbed a little lot in which a baby pig roams ´Pig Square.´So, directions often sound like “take a right at Pig Square…” It works well.
At the house I met the rest of the volunteers sharing the house: there´s Genelle, a CFO; Wei-Sen, a doctor; Zita, a registered nurse; Rebecca, an accountant; Mark, an economist; Jackie, a flight attendant; Michael, a green grocer; and Pauline, a caregiver. All are from different parts of Australia and they´re a fantastic bunch of people.
After lazing around on our first day, several of us caught a combi van (also known as a “collectivo”) into Cuzco center. A combi van is slightly larger than a minivan and—while a normal and inexpensive way to get around town—not necessarily the safest. Combi vans pick up passengers at seemingly random stops and fill the van beyond its maximum capacity. That night, the van we were in (which could safely seat 13) had up to 23 passengers in it. This means it isn´t unusual to see combi vans racing by with passengers´ backsides pressed against the window as they all squeeze to get in. Nevertheless, it´s the way people get around and you know how it goes: when in Peru…