In the past, I had never really considered repeating travel destinations. However, Cusco was such a gem from my first trip to Peru in October of last year that an opportunity to return and live briefly as a local, in a little oasis of an apartment in a villa high in the hills, was not one to pass up. But, the truly local experience in that neighbourhood also meant no internet access! Given that I thought this trip would be the perfect start to get this blog underway, the lack of connectivity to the outside world was definitely a bit painful at first! What will I do with ALL that time?! I did write a bit and definitely still took lots of pictures. But, the quiet ended up being the perfect escape to relax and clear my head after being newly unemployed.
Reading in the hammock, waiting for the heavy rain to stop before taking a walk into town or up in the hills (in slightly lighter rain or, if lucky, in sunshine) and nights by the fire all became part of the daily routine. The lack of internet forced me to only focus on the current activity in front of me – even if that was just a load of laundry.
Commuting the Inca Trail
I loved the walk into town. (Even though the hike back up was exhausting!) The rapidly-changing weather definitely made for a scenic trek every time. There was something mystical about this city nestled in the mountain peaks with the clouds overhead going from bright white to charcoal grey. Sometimes allowing a peak of the blue skies above. The trail leading into the city is the start of the Inca trail – and now a super highway for the locals (and their many dogs!) heading to and fro.
One morning, I ended up following behind a family as they carried a new tank of gas back home. Their son, no more than 3 years old, was bursting full of energy. Literally jumping up and down – almost jumping out of his pants! He would take off running and then try climbing up the dirt walls at the side of the trail and then just as suddenly switched directions and go spinning down the trail. I couldn’t help but smile to watch him. His parents didn’t even blink an eye – they walked calmly as he looked to almost self-combust! I was able to catch him still for a moment when a military helicopter passed overhead and caught his attention for a whole 5 seconds. I just knew I had to capture some moment of him to remember the boundless energy that he had!
Exploring Cusco Vibes
Once in the city, I was always so captivated by the incredible architecture of the historic buildings, the incredible colourful locals (of varying quirkiness!) and, of course, the myriad of VW Beetles around. The central area was always busy and excellent for people watching. The vibe was always very hurried especially through the business centres – which I normally adore – but, this trip, I often sat to take pictures in the quieter areas.
On my last evening in Cusco, we took a walk around the city before dinner. Just beyond the central market, we stumbled on a vibrant street market where, for blocks, every inch was crammed full of vendors of every kind of produce you could imagine. One street, ladies were sitting on the sidewalks with veggies, fruits and herbs splayed out in front of them. The colours and smells were intoxicating – avocados, mint, strawberries, mangoes, onions, carrots… I wanted to buy one of everything! Turn the corner and, for what seemed like kilometres, all you could see was corn – the awesome Peruvian giant corn. Turn another corner and you were bombarded with the sights and smells and every kind of meat. Or, should I say, every part of an animal I couldn’t identify exactly but the goat’s heads perhaps gave a clue… This was perhaps not my favourite street, but it was still well worth seeing. The buzz of activity and swirl of people around us was invigorating. I loved being the only ‘gringos’ around and witnessing something truly local. Unfortunately, I did not have my camera with me… but, I will say, sometimes that’s the best to truly experience it – without the barrier of the lens.
Away from Chaos – or so I thought…
Having gotten used to the quiet of the hammock and isolation of the villa, even the calmest of squares in the city felt loud! It made heading the opposite direction on the trail, up further into the serenity of the hills, even more appealing than usual.
On one hike that I undertook solo, I briefly broke off the trail to climb a small hill to get a higher vantage point of the city and the surrounding area. As I came over the crest, there was a herd of sheep there. Further up, the shepherdess was visible and so I gave a small wave. I’m not sure if she saw me since she made no gesture back. But, I thought it was the kind thing to do. The scene of the sheep with the foreboding dark clouds above them caught my eye and I raised my camera to take some pictures.
As I snapped a single photo (see below), I was suddenly surrounded by 4 large viciously barking dogs. I was too startled to really think clearly and naively assumed they would just bark at me. But, with surprising force, one dog bit the side of my right knee and I yelped in pain. (I had never heard myself yelp before!) Before I could really react, a second dog had taken hold of my left calf. I hadn’t wanted to run at first since I thought it might just aggravate them more – and a human cannot outrun a pack of dogs. But, given the option of more bite marks or taking my chances with running away, I took off like I was still on my high school track team! I headed straight for the little ridge I had just climbed around. It was soft wet dirt on the other side and without even thinking I launched myself off it. Thankfully it as no more than 5-6 feet high! After landing, I turned briefly to see the one dog snarling at me from above. My heart was still beating a mile a minute and I slowly turned and limped my way back down to the house, having my hike cut short that day. So much for a peaceful walk in the rain!
Thankfully it as no more than 5-6 feet high! After landing, I turned briefly to see the one dog snarling at me from above. My heart was still beating a mile a minute and I slowly turned and limped my way back down to the house, having my hike cut short that day. So much for a peaceful walk in the rain!
Back at the house, I inspected my wounds and discovered some rather intense scratch marks and large bruises. A hot shower nursed my physical injuries and a glass of wine while lounging in the hammock nursed my emotional ones. On the upside, I learned a few things that day:
- I can still run a pretty decent 100 metres – and at nearly 4000 metres of elevation to boot!
- I yelp when attacked by dogs – didn’t even know I could make that sound!
- Best not to hike alone near herds of sheep – they’re more dangerous than they look!
Given that I was able to stay in someone’s home and not just a hotel (the ideal accommodations for this Girl Gone Local), I can’t end this post without showing some of the flavour of the neighbourhood where I was staying, Ayuda Mutua. Here are some images from an evening stroll – truly symbolic of the relaxing time I enjoyed in Cusco this time around.