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Favorite Places in Cusco, Perú (by Alex)

A 12-year old Boy's Perspective

semi-overcast 65 °F

Hi, This Is Alex, And These Are Some Of My Favorite Places In Cusco!

The Meeting Place Cafe

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The Meeting Place is my all-time favorite place to get breakfast in Cusco. EVER. The waffles are amazing! They also have delicious cakes and awesome cupcakes.P1010065.jpgP1010067.jpg A cat lives at the The Meeting Place too. Her name is Socks. She likes to snuggle up on the furniture and in people's laps.
P1010071.jpgYou Should Definitely Go There!!!

Club CORASON

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CORASON is where we have been volunteering. It is an after-school program for kids in Cusco. Some of the kids are really little, a few are older than me, and lots in between. Club CORASON is a very cool place on the side of a mountain. Kids go there to hang out after school because it is safe and has games and activities.

This week Leah and I helped mom teach an English lesson. They are learning about different jobs and this week was waiter/waitress. We wrote a script and acted out a skit for the class. We did it twice so they really got to hear the words and then they did an activity with mom.

The club is a charity connected with "The Meeting Place Cafe" which is how we found out about it. We pretty much get to play the entire time and there are lots of dogs hanging around. The kids are all really nice, even though half of them act like they just had a bucket of sugar :P
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South American Explorers Club (SAE)

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SAE Is the place where we're staying for the rest of our time in Cusco. We Have been staying here for more than 2 months! I really like it here. We bought extra mattresses so that we could all sleep in one room. The shower is usually hot and doesn't give us an electrical shock - yippee! They have very nice rooms, a cool garden, a big library, DVDs, and a kitchen! (My moms favorite part). Im really glad we are staying here, and I'm going to be sad when we leave :(
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Cusco is great. I hope you get a chance to visit here!
Alex

Posted by annevl 09:54 Archived in Peru Tagged peru kids spanish family dogs volunteering accommodations cusco waffles Comments (6)

A Day in Our Life

A Glimpse at What We Do and Experience During a Typical Cusco Day

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It has been a month since we first arrived in Peru - a month packed with new sights, sounds, experiences, and learning for us. Each day continues to provide unique moments and discoveries but we are also striving for some sense of normal. I can't promise you exciting - but here is a snapshot of a day in our life.

Good Morning!!!

On weekdays we wake around 7:00am, get dressed, use the munchkin bathroom etc. Showers are especially exciting. There is an electrical heating unit in the shower head that provides between 4 and 7 minutes of warmish water - depending on the strength of the pressure. We found that if you touch the knob with wet hands you get an electric shock. We now keep a dry washcloth nearby to use, much like an oven mitt.
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Alex and Leah are not always super excited to get out of bed (it IS cold in their room). Note: there ARE 2 beds . . .
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Breakfast

No surprises here. Breakfast is our most predictable meal. It looks exactly like this every day:
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Our host family provides rolls, jelly, margarine, manjarblanco spread (toffee flavored), juice, tea, and coffee. We have bought ham, eggs, and yogurt to add to the selection. Gluten free eating is very difficult here - white carbs (potatoes, rice and bread) are an integral part of most meals.

On Our Way

By 8:10am we are out the door and looking to catch the eye of an approaching taxi driver. With Noah in the front of the taxi and the kids and I in the back, we embark on the 10-15 minute ride to school. As our Spanish improves, so does our conversations with taxi drivers. They are always surprised that we are staying in Peru for more than a couple of weeks and that we have not been to Machu Picchu. We have yet to meet a driver who has heard of Seattle - but there is always tomorrow. The rules of the road are still somewhat of a mystery - we only know that they involve invented lanes of traffic, horn blowing, and no turn signals. The trip costs 4 soles ($1) and saves us 45 minutes of walking uphill through the fumes of the morning commute.

School

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There is a lovely view of Cusco from our classroom window. Classes begin at 8:30am. Noah and I are enrolled in group classes. The school is international but our current group includes fellow American Gabby (high school student from New Orleans) and Andrew (professor at UPenn). We are with one teacher 8:30am -10:20am and another from 10:50am -12:30pm. Lessons are a mix of grammar and conversation with some peruvian culture and history thrown in as well. Class begins with a review of the homework and questions from the previous day. New material is introduced and we have reading, writing and speaking activities.
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Alex and Leah have a teacher to themselves and are in class from 8:30am -10:20am. They really like profesoro Alfredo who makes balloon animals, does card tricks, and keeps them learning Spanish. Noah and I meet them at the break and share a snack. They are then given either a math or writing assignment for the remaining time while we return to class.

Lunch

After classes our first priority is finding a place to eat. Our family home is too far away and the school serves lunch only to residents - so we are on our own. There are at least 30 cafes to choose from within a couple of blocks. We've discovered that our best value option (besides Chinese food) is to find a good menu of the day.
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At this cafe we each got fried wantons and a big bowl of soup as an appetizer, a main dish, a drink, and fruit salad for dessert. Total bill for 4 =40 soles ($16) - YUM!

Homeward Bound

At about 2 or 2:30pm we head out in the general direction of home. Any walk in Cusco involves at least a few stairs . . .
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and diversions . . .
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We usually stop at a market to pick up more water and/or other essentials. This one is our favorite because it is well lit, inexpensive, and close to our host family's apartment.
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Afternoon & Evening

By the time we get back we are quite tired and tend to relax for the first hour or so. We check email and facebook, do our Spanish homework, watch the Olympics, read, etc. The four of us tend to hang out in one room (the warmest). Here is my view:
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Dinner is served by our host mom between 6:30 and 7:30pm. After dinner we get organized for the next day, read, play a game, or choose a movie to watch as a family. Bedtime is around 9:30pm - which is quite early by South American standards but works for us. Ah, sleep . . .

Thanks for reading!
All the Best,
Anne

Posted by annevl 15:29 Archived in Peru Tagged food peru kids spanish school budget cusco Comments (7)

Cusco, Perú - Observations & Revelations

or, better write this stuff down before we forget it... by Anne & Noah (team effort)


View World Trip 2012 on noahv's travel map.

Since our last post on our initial observations from Peru, we've left Yanahuara in the Sacred Valley and settled into Cusco. To save you the hassle of pulling up the details, Cusco is the seventh largest city in Perú with a little over 400K people, well behind Lima's 9.5M. Better to think of it as the center of the Inca empire, and the hub for exploring the numerous Inca ruins in the area, including Machu Picchu.

But enough of the history lesson - here's what we've been doing and noticed in the 10 days that we've been in Cusco:

Adventurous Wandering

We spend a great deal of time unofficially lost. We must be getting the lay of the land a bit since Leah remarked gleefully just yesterday "hey, this is the street we were lost on before!" We are happy to wander as long as there is no exhaustion and starvation involved. So far we have had excellent luck stumbling upon cafes we like and we have explored parts of the city tourist feet rarely tread. Maps and guide books have not been especially helpful so far.

The Two Hour Lunch

Our host family provides breakfast and dinner while we are on our own for lunch. Turns out, lunch is a slow meal. We have waited at cafes for 45 plus minutes for sandwiches. We are cool with this now and don't expect prompt service. We come prepared with a deck of cards. Last week we decided to try a local Chinese Restaurant (Chifa) and were unnerved by the speed at which the food arrived. The kids talk about it like that lunch was some sort of circus act.

Connectivity

It is not as easy to be connected as we imagined. Access to the Internet is sketchy. We are lucky to have reasonable reliable service in our family stay (casa familia), but it's not unusual to see notices like this:
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Cafés and bars that advertise "free wi-fi" don't always deliver. We found it often takes 5 or more minutes for a single picture to upload -- so we are encouraged to be selective. Apple products are not mainstream - so we have to hope that our collection of ipod, ipad, and macbook air don't require parts or servicing. Skype is great but our contacts never seem to be online!!!

Peruvian Idyosycracies

  • Peruvians dress modestly, but advertising takes full advantage of "sex sells" - even for green tea:

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  • Wine is expensive, compared to beer and rum. S/25 (about $10) for a bottle of wine, compared to S/15 (~$4) for a bottle of ron (rum).
  • Cusco is a tourist-centered city, so restaurants are very split between tourist and local, with tourist places charging 3x + more than the local spots
  • Many restaurants have a printed menu, which is usually different from what the actual menu is. You also need to ask if there is a menu del dia (menu of the day - a choice of appetizer or soup, main course, and drink) - typically much less than a la carte off the menu.

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  • There are a ton of stray/loose/homeless dogs in the city (perros vagabundos), necessitating a certain amount of vigilance while walking down the sidewalk (and I don't just mean because they sleep there...)

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  • Typical toilets do not include toilet paper or toilet seats. And no, you still can't flush paper down the toilet.
  • Electricity and gasoline are very expensive (about $18/gal according to our highly scientific calculations), but labor is cheap.
  • We've gotten pretty good at understanding Spanish, but there are always a few signs that we just can't figure out. This one was alongside the walking path to Tambomachay (ruins just outside Cusco city).

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  • Brand names still make us laugh

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What We are Living Without -- and REALLY Miss!

  • The people we love
  • Our dog Zillah, but we are glad she's being loved by her foster family in Seattle
  • Sriracha sauce -- we HAVE scoured the markets to no avail!
  • Showers with more hot water and fewer electrical currents
  • Room temperature to mean warm, and not "barely above freezing"

Our Favorite Things About Perú (specifically Cusco) So Far

  • Peruvians have been friendly, patient, and kind - They are OK with our "learners Spanish".
  • Children and Families are treasured here, so traveling with ours gives us an immediate starting point for conversation and shared experiences.
  • The Food is Delicious!
  • Ease and Economy of Transportation - a 20-30 min taxi ride costs about $1 for the 4 of us and busses are about 40 cents. Our 2 hour long bus ride from Urubamba to Cusco was a mere $1 each.
  • Peru is a deeply spiritual, traditional, and culturally rich place. We have been moved by the intensity with which Peruvians embrace their history and national identity. They seem to live it.
  • There are llamas here!!!

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What We Have Learned About Ourselves

  • We get stared at all the time. At first this was really unnerving. Then, it became only mostly unnerving. It still feels a bit weird. Probably because we're tall and white. Or perhaps because Leah has BIG BLUE EYES. Guess we should get used to it...I don't think SEAsia or China are going to be much different. We are learning to live with the fact that we will stick out as we travel for the next year.
  • Leah can make friends with anyone (especially little girls and animals).

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  • We make a thousand mistakes a day - the key seems to be staying positive and patient. As a family we've been trying to exist in the new normal of 24/7 togetherness.

So far, we love it. It's not easy, being somewhere that is different from what we're used to, and where we are (quite obviously) the "foreigners". Although we're learning - the language, the city, the culture - we're still the strangers in town. However, we're doing it, and we're doing it as a team.

Posted by noahv 18:41 Archived in Peru Tagged children travel peru spanish cusco observations Comments (2)

Volunteering as We Travel

Anne's Thoughts on Voluntourism

No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.
(Aesop, "The Lion and the Mouse")

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I think of volunteering on our world trip not as a chance for us to change the world – it is more like giving the world the chance to change us.

Why Volunteer?

I came upon this compulsion to volunteer quite naturally. It may be genetic. My parents are Peace Corps Volunteers (I don't say "were" because even though their actual volunteer time was over before I was born - I've always considered it an integral part of their characters). My three sisters and I were raised in a home brimming with guests from different cultures, exchange students, and expectations of community service. Their stories of volunteering in Malasia (Mom) and Thailand (Dad) were filled with anecdotes of how much they had to learn - rather than accolades of what the locals learned from them. I have taken that to heart.

Volunteering provides a unique opportunity to get involved in something bigger than ourselves – to forge relationships and open portals to understanding. I do believe that we have something to contribute, but I expect that the line between teaching and learning will be blurry at best. I am most looking forward to the people we will meet and the experiences we will share. I have SEEN things that have changed my perspective - but it is in the DOING, that risky leap of faith, the willingness to LEARN – that changes lives. I want that for myself and for my family. We can stretch ourselves to be more than tourists. For me, volunteering as we travel is more important than merely “seeing the world”.

Voluntourism

Can you be a volunteer and a tourist at the same time?

Yes, of course! However, all you have to do is Google "volunteer thailand" to come face to face to face with the overwhelming number of options out there. I've found that narrowing them down requires time, patience, and clear personal "want/don't want" criteria.

While researching volunteering possibilities, I've found the term "voluntourism" or "VolunTourism" used predominantly by tour operators marketing a "unique experience" and a chance to "give back" to the communities involved in their specific trip. The package deals seem to cater to mostly "gap year" backpackers and retired folks - but some accommodate families - and look really cool. It is certainly tempting to have someone else in charge of arrangements - but I would say that paying to have the volunteer experience quickly went on the "don't want" list. There is no shortage of free or almost free volunteering opportunities the world over - they just require a bit more creativity and planning to arrange.

Our Version of Voluntourism

Well, we ARE on a budget, have limited time, and are travelling as a family - so we pretty much need to piece together our own opportunities. If we can do it - anyone can! Here is the WHERE, WHEN, WHAT, and WHY of the volunteer experiences we have lined up so far . . .

  • PERU July - October 2012

Cusco - We have made a personal connection and enrolled in 6 weeks of classes at an immersion Spanish School (AMAUTA) and their affiliate Travel Agency (DOS MANOS) in Cusco, Peru. We love that they have arranged for us to stay with a Peruvian family, the rates are super reasonable, and that Alex and Leah will have a teacher all to themselves. They also have contacts with local volunteer projects including a school. After 6 weeks of class we will be free to decide how to spend our time and where to stay - we'll be leaving ourselves open to opportunities. I'd especially love to put my ESL Certification to good use. Our hope is that spending four months in Cusco will give us time to participate in the community, learn some of the language, and appreciate the culture more richly.
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  • CAMBODIA March/April? 2013

Ponhea Kraek - Our sponsored child, Neng, lives in this rural Cambodian village. We have been exchanging letters for the past 2 years and are excited to meet each other in person. We are asking Plan to make arrangements for us to spend time volunteering at the local school and hanging out with Neng and her family.
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  • THAILAND May 2013

Chiang Mai -
Elephant Nature Park Oh, yeah, the kids are super excited about this one!
To volunteer here as a family we submitted an application, were accepted, and signed up months ago for our two weeks in the middle of May. This experience will be not only about the elephants. We will be living in a hut with no running water, getting up early, helping prepare communal meals, and putting in full days of labor - How could we not learn and grow from that? There is a fee associated with volunteering but the money goes directly to supporting the rescue and advocacy efforts of Elephant Nature Park - so I'm OK with that.
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More articles about the Elephant Nature Park:
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The Nation (Thailand)

  • CHINA June 2013

We are still working on setting up specific arrangements for volunteering in China - but we have a couple of great contacts there who have offered to help us with placements at:

a Panda Sanctuary outside Chengdu, and
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an Orphanage near Beijing
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Staying Connected

It is inspiring to read about the adventures of other travelling families. The Earlywines are my favorite. Here is a link to their blog about volunteering in Peru. Vagabond Family is also proving to be a great tool for connecting with families engaged in long term travel. Special thanks to BootsnAll for their Indie Travel Challenge and "giving back" blog posts that inspired this one.

I hope that we will all catch the volunteering bug during our trip - and don't recover from it when we return to our life in Seattle.

Thanks for reading, I look forward to your comments.

Posted by annevl 15:33 Tagged peru thailand china spanish family volunteer teaching esl language_school Comments (6)

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