Sometimes it’s all too easy to forget where I’m standing. Sometimes I don’t even see the beautiful view of Ausangate across the gorgeous Cusco valley or the twinkling stars above on a clear night or the cobble-stoned streets and Inca walls. I wish I could say the awe remains even after so many months of traversing this beautiful city but to be honest it’s surprisingly easy to fall complacent to these incredible surroundings I now call home. I’ve been here in Cusco for more than 7 months now and my life is like nothing I could have ever predicted.
I moved here with a part-time job, a backpack, and a reservation at a cheap hostel, nothing more. I remember the fear and excitement that I arrived with as I settled into my tiny private room at Cuscopackers Hostel, spending the first couple of days horizontal with altitude sickness while listening to the waves of pouring rain that sounded on the glass roof above. The beginning was lonely. I questioned everything. I had never felt so far away from home before, even though I had been in this very same place the prior June. I remember skyping with my mom, tears rolling down my cheeks, all the while also feeling this deep knowing that I’m right where I’m supposed to be.
When I did eventually leave the cave of my window-less room to explore my new city, my original excitement for the adventure at hand came flooding back. I found a spanish school right away and started classes the following week. 2 hours of daily group lessons Monday through Friday with “a nice girl from Georgia” I was told when I signed up. When I showed up on Monday, I learned Chelsea is actually from California, 26 years old, and here with her boyfriend who would be taking off soon for the jungle to volunteer at a farm. The two of us quickly became weekend buddies for Sacred Valley adventures, visiting places like Tipon, Moray, and sharing a very memorable 3-hour Chicharon lunch in Saylla recommended to us by our taxi driver.
View this post on Instagram
I'm renaming this dish "Sopa de everything AND the kitchen sink." Let's just say mystery ingredients floating in a murky broth at a very local restaurant your taxi driver recommends to you definitely takes some courage and prayers to the food safety gods to try. One day maybe I'll be an Andrew Zimmern. Not quite there yet. #yearinperu
A month and half later, I came to know for the first time the revolving door that Cusco is. People come into and out of your life quite frequently. I said goodbye to Chelsea and it felt like it was my first day in Cusco all over again. My group spanish lessons became private as all of the other students were above my level and a new ‘era’ began. The constant was my spanish school. I don’t know what I would have done without it.
Every Thursday night, my spanish school organized a social activity like cooking lessons, salsa, or a movie night for all of the students to come together and get to know one another. It was strange attending week after week, month after month, being the only student that seemed to stay put. I’d watch as the next wave of students met, clicked, and then organized their time around each other, then said goodbye. It was great but everything was always shifting and changing and so abruptly too. Right when we’d all fall into our groove, the faces would change. I had to get used to that.
About a week after Chelsea left, I turned to a local club for backpackers called South American Explorers Club. I’d heard about their weekend hikes and needed a filler now that my adventure buddy had gone. One Saturday morning, I arrived at the club for what was supposed to be a day hike to Ollantaytambo. There were two girls about my age from England seated on the sofas in the lounge area. As we waited to see if anyone else would be showing up, we got to talking and they invited me to a yoga retreat they’d heard about. I didn’t hesitate to say yes because, to be honest, my schedule was pretty wide open now that I was back to square one again. Our Ollantaytambo hike became something more local since it was just four of us plus Matt, the guide. By the end of the day, I was inviting Kate and Emily to a chocolate and beer tasting event later that night and we were already making plans for a trip to Ollantaytambo together the next day.
Without even trying, I walked right into my next round of friendship. That’s truly what it started to feel like, waves of friendships that very distinctly and impressively started and ended one after the next, hardly ever overlapping. For the next two months, Kate, Emily, and I adventured, shared meals, and went to yoga classes together. They also happened to go to the same spanish school as me.
Now, this must be mentioned. Kate and Emily are responsible for one very significant change in my life. About a week after I met them, they invited me to an informal cooking lesson they’d organized with a friend of theirs, a local Peruvian. He’d offered to teach them how to make lomo saltado. Of course I said yes. That was one of my favorite dishes.
What I didn’t know at the time was that by saying yes, I had set myself up to meet the man that would become my boyfriend. Ricardo Rivera Ulloa, master chef and now my boyfriend of 6 months. I can’t thank Kate and Emily enough for this fateful night. Matchmakers, they are!
Eventually Kate and Emily left too. But this time I wasn’t alone the next day. Somehow, they’d come into and out of my life, changing it entirely. How did that happen?!
As I had already grown accustomed to how these things work, I waited expectantly for the next round of friendship to form. Enter Amelia and Fransje, American from Oregon and dutch guy from, well, Holland. The three of us plotted and planned weekend adventures together over beers and the occasional lunch after spanish class. It was with these two and a night of mojitos on Limbus Bar’s hilltop patio overlooking the twinkling lights of Cusco, that we decided to organize a hike to Rainbow Mountain. In a matter of 4 days, we managed to get a guide, fill an entire bus, and set off on a crazy day hike to Rainbow Mountain on a day when the whole of Peru was voting for their next president.
View this post on Instagram
Trekked to the unbelievable Rainbow Mountains this weekend and had the trail pretty much all to ourselves. Hurry up and see these beauties before they become more popular than Machu Picchu (because it's looking like they will be!) #exploremore #vinicunca #peru #rainbowmountain #yearinperu
One week later, I was the one leaving. My visa was expiring so I was headed south for Chile, a two-week trip that honestly had lost its charm in my mind. I was finally into my next round of friendships, had a boyfriend, had moved into an apartment. I didn’t want to leave Cusco, even for just two weeks.
When I got over the silly pouting and tempting thoughts to just go back to Peru after hopping the border into Arica, Chile, I had an incredible solo adventure through all of northern Chile. I saw the Atacama Desert and bus-hopped into the heart of Chile’s pisco region. I watched sunsets over empanadas in Valpairaiso and climbed an active volcano in Pucon. It was amazing and reminded me of my love for travel and adventure, something that surprisingly was starting to fade away in Cusco as I fell into new relationships and routines.
When I came back from Chile, refreshed, I started a new job with a local travel agency as their resident blogger, something that had come together almost miraculously and unexpectedly before my trip. I was now getting paid to sample tours, dine at top restaurants, and learn about this country I was falling more and more in love with every passing day.
This is the part where life got really busy and that view of Ausangate, the starlit sky, and Cusco’s cobble-stoned streets started to go unnoticed by me. I found myself running from job to spanish to other job to gym and I stopped appreciating this life that I’m so incredibly blessed to call my own.
Yes, my life here in Peru isn’t what I could have ever expected- it’s even better than that. I’ve had to re-balance and re-find my center many times but I’m on a path that gives me chills of excitement. I’m doing what I love, in a place that I love, and even falling in love. Is this a dream? Yes. It’s my dream and I am thrilled to say that I’m living it.