Here, as opposed to the United States, life happens outside, and thus a tight knit community exists. On our first day in Peru we sleepily wandered to a square with restaurants, where, upon our arrival, we were bombarded by several restaurant owners attempting to give us the best bargain and gain eighteen new customers. After much haggling between the leaders and the various restaurant owners, the leaders decided on a restaurant and we all sat down.
Halfway through our meal two musicians appeared and started playing traditional Andean music for us, standing in the doorway of the restaurant. It was a magical experience to hear music that I’ve only ever heard before on a CD being played live, and in the very region it originated from. The musicians seemed genuinely happy to play for us, and we, in turn, were more than happy to listen to them and buy CD’s and give tips.
On our third day we headed to the floating islands of Puno, via bicycle taxis which took us to the dock where we got on a boat. The bicycle taxis were by far my favorite experience thus far despite their uber touristy nature. It was fantastic to go whizzing down the streets as hip hop beats flouted past, coming from the bicycle taxi in front of us.
The fact that surprised me most about the floating islands was how genuinely happy the people were to show us around; despite tourism being their main income, they made us feel unique, and not just another group of tourists passing through. They welcomed us to explore the island, and even dressed us up in their clothing and invited us to see the interior of their houses. The families on the islands all depend on each other to keep up their living space, adding new layers of reeds every three weeks to keep the islands from disintegrating.
The next day we arrived in Cusco and were assigned a scavenger hunt in order to aid in our exploration of the city. We broke into three groups and began to tackle our forty two tasks. This involved locating miscellaneous items and documenting them all with a camera, which was at times quite difficult. We had to ask several people to be in pictures with us, and for one particular challenge, to dance with us. Everyone was so friendly and willing to assist us, whether it meant being in a picture with us or giving us yet another set of directions on how to find a Chinese restaurant (one of the items on the scavenger hunt list). There was only one instance when people were unwilling to let me take a picture; the boys playing soccer insisted I pay them one sole to take a picture, and when I refused, as per the scavenger hunt guidelines, they chased me down the sidewalk chanting “un sole! Un sole!”. It was a close call.
Lastly, Wednesday we went on a very intense bike ride which turned out to be an alternate route to the original plan because protestors were blocking a bridge we needed to go over. They were protesting to call attention to teachers low pay, and eventually riot police were called in. This only angered the protestors more, and the police threw tear gas into the street, which the protestors responded to by throwing rocks. We eventually turned around and drove the other direction since we still could not get through. After a change of plans we continued on, winding our way up a mountain road to the start of our bike ride. The view was breathtaking, as was the experience of passing another vehicle on the very narrow dirt road. After an exciting bike ride with intensely beautiful scenery we arrived in Salineras and saw the mountains covered in what looked like hundreds of hot tubs. They were actually very shallow pools of water used for distilling salt, which is then shipped away and used for cooking and other purposes. All in all I have enjoyed my time here immensely, and can’t wait to return, friends and family accompanying me.