First published 26th June 2008 on

Well it’s been a full few weeks in Cucso, with almost every day including some sort of mentalistic fiesta. My kind of town then.

Flying into Cusco airport is like a brown trouser version of an (entertaining) Indiana Jones film, as the plane suddenly loses height and the wing scrapes the odd mountain, whilst the couple next to you ever so subtley grip each others hands, trying to disguise the fact that they’re shitting themselves with a loving gesture, and you uncharitably wish your other half was with you so you didn’t have to die alone, until you notice the stewardesses are still nonchalently strolling around and this is all apparantly normal procedure.

Some of the many mountains around Cusco.

I was met after a refreshingly hassle free trip through the airport, by the kindly señor Ochoa and his wife Teresa. Mr Ochoa is a Peruvian version of Bela Lugosi, with a 70 year old twinkle in his eye and a high pitched schoolboy laugh. Mrs Ochoa is a warm but no nonsense woman with gypsy good looks for her age. Despite the fact they’re both devout Catholics I bet they were right go-ers in their day. As opposed to the Lima lodgings, the Ochoas are lovely, and despite our mutual lack of each others language it’s hugs and kisses from word go, and they whisk me off to their guest house, fill me full of coca mate and insist that I rest in case I get soroche (altitude sickness, a real risk as Cusco is 3,500m above sea level – although to the annoyance of some of the other volunteers all I’ve had is a slight tingling in my ankles for a few minutes on my third day). The guest house is basic and sweet, right next to an internet cafe (yay!) and a phone that occasionally steals my money (boo!). I’m sharing a room with a chirpy Aussie teacher called Lisa, who’s working in a different school.

Lisa and I with the lovely Ochoa family.

The first day at my school is an eye opener, as no-one really seems to know what is happening with Carole my fellow volunteer and I at first. We end up trailing after the head of English who knows hardly any English, preferring to teach my native tongue by screaming at the kids in Spanish, turning her back on them to scrawl vast tracts of verbs on the board which they struggle to copy, or just leaving the room entirely whilst the kids run riot. It doesn’t seem to bother her when some kids don’t bring their study book, and she just leaves them to their own devices at the back of the room. The study books correspond with a cd, and this school actually has a cd player, but talk about a waste of resources as the teacher just randomly flicks through the cd to find the songs (these are her classroom “filler”) whilst the kids fail to keep up. It’s utter chaos. I try to make myself useful by inventing a few games (scissors papers stone and one involving kids acting out verbs whilst the class guess what they’re doing prove winners – as does the distribution of stickers as prizes (well bribes), and going round checking the kids’ homework and helping them with their English, but the teacher constantly interrupts any of Carole and myselfs agreed activities. It calms down a bit after a few days, and the kids themselves are fantastic, bright and funny (especially the naughty ones – you couldn’t possibly be mad at them – they’re just bored). I help with different teachers of the secondary grades and it seems the shit end of the stick has been enthusiastically passed to Bianca, the new student teacher who’s been given the largest, roughest class (25 kids of basic ability aged from 11 to 17 – with a hardcore of too kool for skool tough acting 17 year olds at the back, ensuring that none of the students get the chance to pay attention to the class). I end up acting as a short scouse bodyguard and confiscate about 20 paper aeroplanes and other missiles by pretending I think they’re presents for me (“Que bonita!!! Gracias!”). I try to ask the head of English if I can help Bianca more often, but she rather unsympathetically agrees that Bianca has a “big, naughty class”, but wants me to help in the advanced group (9 pupils) whilst Carole stays with her senior group (6 pupils). Hmmmmm.

In the meantime I discover Lisa my roomie is being left alone in classes of 40 kids at the poorer school – so contact the voluntary organisation, who’d said in advance that I could change projects if it seemed appropriate, and they agree that it would be better for me to help with Lisa, as Carole would be left in classes of only 15 kids maximum. Last night I had a minor heart attack when Mrs Ochoa, who’s on the board of Poor School, stated that the director wanted me to take the senior classes there by myself (hmmmm!), but we managed to reiterate that only by working together could we effectively teach anything to such large classes. So after two weeks I had an emotional last day bidding goodbye to the kids at the smaller school (loads of them made me really cute little cards and we all brought in cakes and had a little party – awwww!). Lord knows what I’m letting myself in for!

Year 5 kids at Khipu School say goodbye whilst demonstrating how much taller than me they are.

From 17th to 24th June was Inti Raymi week in Cusco, 2 weeks of partying and dancing for all ages (all the kids from Cusco school got up in national dress and did lost of dancing which seemed to involve beating each other with lethal looking weapons (whips and tridents ffs!) – which was actually very sweet).

Kids armed with sticks in order to perform traditional dance.

It culminated with Inca festivals on the site of the old sun temple, in the main square (which I watched with Lisa and a nice Dutch girl called Anouk who is working with tragically gorgeous street kids in the villages outside of Cusco) where we got a nice view of this year’s Inca lord high poobar (he even waved!). Apparently to be an Inca at Inti raymi you have to train for two years and then fast and speak nothing but Quechuan (native indian) for a week. It looks pretty cool though!

Lord high pooh-bar of the Incas.

Finally they all troop up hill (of course) to the Inca ruins which I can’t spell, but are pronounced Sexy woman (if you say it like Sach Distel would). Lisa and I made it all the way up to the foot of the ruins to watch women in traditional dress leading their alpacas uphill, but loads of people who’d purchased tourist tickets were being sent back after being told they had to pay 100 US dollars to get in (some disgruntled Peruvians told us this – nice to see the traditional Inca fest is being kept real. So we stayed in a cafe with stunning views of the city and some very rough and ready food (chiccarones – belly pork and huge sweetcorn) which wonderfully failed to give us the shits, and listened to the the drumming and conch shell blasts from above, before watching the actual ceremony on telly at The Muse cafe in San Blas (with me unconvinced by the very theatrical and gory llama sacrifice, and Lisa horrified) before trooping back home down avenida del sol, past the hoards of makeshift foodstalls (blankets piled high with sugar cane or empanadas, women serving murky looking corn drinks from buckets, people frying chicken and potatoes over camp stoves, blokes with microphones constantly advertising the wares on their trolleys as they pushed uphill – my favourite selling line being “Chocolates! Triangular chocolates!”) on the pavement near Qorinkancha.

Ron, Carole’s friend from Chicago, had come specially for Inti Raymi, but having denouced our cafe as too touristy and not a good enough vantage point, he promptly missed the whole thing. The one opportunity he had to take a photo with his big posh camera was scuppered when a father held his child in the air to see better, right in front of Ron’s lens the moment he went CLICK. I didn’t laugh, it would have been mean. Ron is a seasoned traveller, living by his bible, the lonely planet. He’s already bought a poncho for 200 dollars, but wouldn’t pay a sol to get a taxi up hill. Lisa and I have taken to betting the number of times he will say “When I was in Guatemala” in any given time span. The winner is bought a pisco sour (yum) by the loser. I keep winning, with my crowning glory being TEN times when we went to the very beautiful Pisac (a market town about an hour by rickety bus from Cusco).

Pisac Market.

Even today there was a party in the main square with drums and trumpets. It could have just been someone’s birthday. Yet also there were people calling for locals to sign a petition to ask the local government to share the money made from the tourist “boledo” (a 70 sol ticket that annoyingly you HAVE to buy to get into certain sites – even though they’d surely make more money allowing people to pay on the door too). Then to illustrate the differentials in living here as I walked back a young boy did cartwheels in front of cars stopped at the lights on the dirty and treacherous road then rushed tortuously between the cars to beg for coins. I think he must have gotten a few centimos for every time he risked his life.

Tomorrow I’m doing the tourist bit and going to Macchu Piccu. Apparently the kids there race the bus down the mountain to beg for coins. Don’t reckon I’ll begrudge a few sol, although I think I’ll find it nastier to watch than the llama sacrifice.

Food watch:

So far I have eaten alpaca three times, but haven’t gone for the guinea pig yet.