Photos of town

Right  now I’m at a cafe near my house with pretty good internet, so I’m going to upload some photos for you all, so that you can see a little bit of the town and the people.

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the view from outside my bedroom

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outside my bedroom – mine is the door on the left

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one of the old inca streets

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the incan granaries – i hiked up there yesterday

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a lady and her daughter wearing the traditional andean clothing

La Ciudad

I can see why people come here and never leave.

The Andes are stunningly beautiful – a gorgeous emerald green. It’s impossible to walk anywhere in the city and not see mountains, and I am humbled each time I look up at them. I wonder if the people who live here even notice the mountains anymore, or realize how lucky they are to live in such a beautiful corner of the world. While this is a relatively underdeveloped place, income from the thousands of tourists that stop here every year on their way to Macchu Picchu has allowed Ollanta to develop more than many of the other towns in the Sacred Valley. There is a large main square (la plaza de armas) with many cafes and shops that cater to the town’s western visitors, and the town is very well kept – most of the public spaces are incredibly clean, and it just has a certain natural charm. The city was built around the original Inca settlement here, so some newer buildings incorporate the Incan architecture within them and others just sprung up around that old part of town until the city reached the river. The streets the Incas built are all cobblestone, and although they are pretty narrow by modern standards, they are really beautiful. The Incas also built tiny connecting waterways throughout the entire city – basically 1 – 2 foot-wide channels in the cobblestone that took water from the river to irrigate the crops. Not only are they a feat of engineering, the channels are great because no matter where you are in the city, you hear the soothing sound of flowing water.

This place makes me laugh a lot, because back home in the states, there are so many city rules and official things that just don’t exist here, and the funny part is that it really doesn’t matter. For example, I have not seen one address since I’ve been here – not on any house or store or municipal building. Even the official “address” of the Awamaki office just states the neighborhood (Pilco Wasi) and city (Ollanta). There is one post office in town where all the mail is delivered, and if you are expecting a letter, you go there and tell the post lady your name, and she will sort through a giant pile of mail to find it. Also, while the streets do have official names, most of these names are not publicly displayed (especially not in the old part of town). There might be one street sign along the entire length of the road, if you’re lucky, but since the town isn’t very big it’s easy to find your way around. And people don’t seem to be very creative when it comes to naming them, either – Ollanta’s train station is located at the end of the street where I live, and so my street is just called Av Ferrocarril (aka Railroad Street).

Here is a map of Ollanta. The blue circle is my house on Av Ferrocarril (this is where we sleep), and the red circle is my house in the old part of town, where we eat. My house on Av Ferrocarril is awesome for several reasons – first, I am on the top floor, which is basically an open terrace, so right outside my bedroom I have a clear view of the mountains (which I stare at thoughtfully pretty often), and second, Av Ferrocarril runs right next to the Rio Patacancha (small stream that runs through town and empties into the Urubamba), so I can constantly hear water flowing and birds chirping and wind rustling through the trees. It’s pretty freaking awesome. The only downside is the roosters who live on the roof right next to me. Right now, it’s about 3 in the afternoon, and they are sleeping, no doubtedly resting up so that they can wake me up at 5 am tomorrow morning.

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The Awamaki office is the green circle, where we hold our english and computer classes, and Yachay Wasi isn’t on this map, but it’s east of the Awamaki office. This is the preschool where I will be working. Right now it’s the Peruvian summer, but Yachay Wasi has a small, informal summer school program, and we currently have about 8 students, but we are hoping to recruit a few more. The kids are mostly around 2 years old, and they are freaking adorable, yet I can’t understand a word of what they say. John and I are volunteering there, and we just started, so until now we’ve basically just been playing with the little kiddies, but soon we’ll plan some fun games for them so that they can learn while they play.

My host family

ok, so it takes forever to upload pictures, so i’ll have to do that later, but for now i’ll tell you all about my host family and my homestay. 

my host parents are victor and denise (at least i think that’s her name, it’s hard to understand her), and they are native ollantinos who speak fluent quechua. they are incredibly nice, and are very good and speaking slowly and clearly to me and making sure i understand everything (which is good, because everyone seems to mumble and i can’t understand half of what anyones says). they are also very patient with my rudimentary spanish skills 🙂 the family actually live in two houses – there is one house where we sleep and shower, and another house about five minutes away where eat our meals and hang out (the kitchen and the living room). the house with the kitchen is actually built around the original inca city walls – it is incredible how much of the original architecture remains. outside there is a little courtyard where doki (the family dog) lives and also some ducks and their ducklings (i’m not sure what the ducklings do or what they are there for, but they are extremely cute and i hope they are not for eating). this house is sort of a compound – some of denise and victor’s extended family live here as well, but i haven’t been formally introduced to them yet. however, i was invited into the room where they raise and keep the guinea pigs – and these are most definitely for eating, according to my peruvian family. i’m a little nervous about eating guinea pig but denise told me the meat is fried, so i should be able to stomach it. also since i’ve been here she’s fed me some other meat and i definitely couldn’t tell what it was but i ate it anyway, so i’m sure the guinea pig won’t kill me. 

victor and denise have a daughter, coralie, who goes to the university in cusco but she is on break now and staying with us in ollanta. they also have a son, victor junior, who is 11, and two of their nephews are staying with us too right now, angelo and rodrigo. i think the boys think i am the funniest / most interesting person they have ever met, and i’m ok with that. i don’t have any pictures of the family yet (i don’t want to be rude and ask), but i’ll try to take some soon. in the meantime i’ll post some photos of the two houses of victor and denise, and my little landing. i have discovered that my homestay seems to be the lap of luxury (for peru) – i have a private, tiled bathroom, and a cute little room that is (guess what!) painted green!! the only downside is that there are roosters outside who start to crow at the most ungodly hour of 5 am. also there are no windows, but a skylight (sort of), so it is pretty bright during the day, and it’s not very well insulated, so whatever temperature it is outside, it is inside my bedroom. i do actually have hot water, but it only lasts for about 4 minutes, so i’m going to have to make some adjustments to my shower routine (aka no daydreaming and wash myself as fast as possible). 

 

 

I’ve arrived!

I’m here! I landed in Cusco around 9:15 am yesterday, nearly exhausted from a day of travelling but excited to get to Ollantaytambo. Surprisingly there were no hitches along the way, both myself and my luggage arrived in Cusco without any issues. Nicki, another Awamaki volunteer, met me at the airport, and we eventually found our driver, Jaime, who took us on the nearly 2-hour trip to Ollanta (the length of the drive will vary based on what roads/bridges are open and closed, and this route was definitely the long way around). The drive was scary, since we had to first wind our way up into the mountains surrounding Cusco and then wind back down into the Sacred Valley, driving on small two-lane roads in the mud and rain. We drove north from Cusco and eventually wound our way down to the floor of the valley at the town of Pisac. The view of the valley from the road was simply stunning – the green hillsides of the andes overlooking the lush valley floor and the muddy Urubamba river flowing through it. Once we got down to the base of the valley, we drove west from Pisac through the towns of Calca, Tacay, and Urubamba, following the course of the river. I was desperately tired but somehow managed to stay awake through most of the trip. Once we got to the city limits of Ollantaytambo, the paved roads gave way to cobblestones, and we continued there through the center of town (la plaza de armas), and a few blocks over to the Awamaki office. Ollanta is a gorgeous little town, surrounded on all sides by green mountains which are dotted with numerous Inca ruins – check out my pics below! 

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About Ollantaytambo

Nestled in the stunning Sacred Valley of the Incas, Ollantaytambo is often called the living Inca city – the only city where the original Inca architecture is still inhabited and used in daily life. The sacred valley itself was carved from the Andes by the Urubamba river, which flows north-northwest from its source high in the mountains to join the Ucayali river, one of the main headwaters of the Amazon, and eventually out to the Atlantic Ocean. Ollanta is situated at the far end of the valley – in fact the last town you can visit before the Urubamba plunges through the steep gorges that line the way to Macchu Picchu. This is by far the most remote and distant place I will have ever travelled in my 28 years. Surprisingly, though, I’m not at all nervous – especially considering the fact that worrying is wired into my brain by all those generations of crazy Italians. At this point the excitement has far outweighed any fear I might have – but, alas, there are still five days to go, and I’m not totally convinced that I won’t have a full-blown anxiety attack on the plane ride down there. But for now, I’m super excited, and just hoping that my Spanish is at least good enough to keep me from sounding like a complete idiot. 

Here is a map of Peru and of the Sacred Valley. You can see Ollantaytambo situated on the Urubamba (Rio Vilcanota), about a 20-minute drive to the town of Urubamba and about an hour and a half from Cusco. 

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I have absolutely no idea what to expect upon my arrival in Ollanta. All I know is that someone from Awamaki will be picking me up from the airport in Cusco and taking me to the volunteer office in the center of town. What will happen after that? Who knows. And so the adventure begins!! 

5 days to go!

It is now January 2nd. In five days, I’ll be leaving the States to begin my three-month trek through the Andes to live and volunteer in the small village of Ollantaytambo, Peru. 

 This journey really began about 9 months ago – a short time after my 28th birthday, something snapped inside my head and I decided it was time to leave New York, where I’ve lived for the past five years, and go on an adventure before moving back to my home city of DC. Now I know that horoscopes are mostly gibberish, but I’ve felt for a long time that the Washington Post’s astrologer is particularly astute, and according to her, the universe seems to agree with my decision to move and travel. For example: 

May 22, 2012: In the enchanted forest that is your life, today you will be able to emerge from the frightening woods and find solace in an emotional clearing. There is no danger here, and you will feel comfortable enough to sit down, relax, and figure out where you’re going to go next. There are two paths ahead of you, and both look equally promising. Take the one that intimidates you the most — it will be the one to lead you on the most interesting and fulfilling journey.

 July 11, 2012: The culture that you’ve been a part of hasn’t been feeling like the right fit lately — is it time to see how the other half lives? Call up someone you know whose lifestyle is one you’d like to experience for a while. See if they’d be willing to let you be their apprentice for a few days or weeks — just long enough for you to see if this is a direction you’d like to move your life in. The only thing stopping you from making a change in your life is you.

August 21, 2012: Can you hear your inner engine revving up? You’re raring to go, and today is a perfect time for you to take off! The runway is clear, and the skies are cloudless and blue — head off into the wild blue yonder! Aim for your most ambitious goals, because you are in a phase of life where they are more possible than ever. You have an excellent team of people in your corner. They’re ready to tell you what you need to hear to feel powerful and good about yourself!

And, lastly, August 27, 2012: Do you want to live your life your own way, or do you want to figure out how other people expect you to live your life and then put all your energy into living up to what you think their ideal is? If your reputation is your top concern, where on your list of priorities would you put your happiness? Stop making choices based on how you will look in the eyes of others. That doesn’t matter in the long run. Do something because it’s right for you, today.

Okay, horoscope lady, I get it! I’m going to set the wheels in motion and take this amazing opportunity to do something that I have never done before. And, voila, here I am, officially mobile – tomorrow is my last day of work, all my worldly possessions are safely stored at my sister’s house in Maryland, and I’m ready to set out on my great adventure.