Danielle in Peru

Danielle is a junior majoring in Spanish in Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, with minors in elementary education and psychology. She was awarded a Maguire and Irby Family Foundation Public Service Internship for summer 2013 from the Cary M. Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility at SMU, and also is participating in SMU’s Engaged Learning program. She is volunteering in a kindergarten for underprivileged children in Cuzco, Peru.

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A typical morning in Cuzco

Although I set an alarm every night before I go to bed, I don’t wake up to the “typical iphone alarm.” Instead, I usually wake up to either exploding fireworks or never-ending car alarms. As an American, I generally associate fireworks with holidays such as July 4th or New Year’s. In Cuzco, though, it is common to hear fireworks in the morning, in the middle of the day, or at night. When I first arrived, I heard fireworks during the day and was afraid because I thought I heard gunshots. However, I learned quickly that the noise was simply Peruvians “having fun.”

The coca leaves on the breakfast table that I put in my tea every morning.

The coca leaves on the breakfast table that I put in my tea every morning.

On the other hand, there are days like today when I woke up to the sound of nearby car alarms. I’ve been trying to figure out why car alarms go off so often here, but I think it’s because the security systems are just more sensitive to both surrounding noise and touch. For example, car alarms commonly sound as a result of fireworks or a gentle touch on a locked car.

After waking up, I go down for breakfast at the volunteer house, where I sit at an outdoor table bundled up in my winter clothes. With breakfast every morning I drink a cup of tea with coca leaves, which is a very typical drink of Cuzco. Many tourists wonder about the similarities between coca leaves and cocaine, but they are entirely different. Coca leaves have been shown to be effective remedies for many illnesses, but especially in curing altitude sickness and promoting healthy digestion. Additionally, coca leaves have played a significant role in the Andean religions since the Incas. Peruvians commonly offer the leaves to the gods of the mountains, sun, and earth. As whole, coca is a significant part of Andean culture, from leaves, tea, candies and medicine to religion.

When I finish breakfast, I start my walk to the kindergarten. On an average walk to work, street vendors try to sell me a hat or a painting — even though I pass them multiple times daily. Occasionally when vendors try to sell me something and my response is “No gracias,” they’ll respond in English by saying “Maybe tomorrow” or “Maybe next time.” When they respond with these phrases, I can’t help but giggle a little, because I might actually buy a cheap painting off the street before I come home. In this sense, “Maybe tomorrow” is a true statement.

As I continue on my way to work, I have to cross several streets. Although it may sound strange, I’m getting better at crossing the streets in Cuzco. Here, cars have the right of way, not pedestrians. Aside from this fact, the best way I can describe how cars, taxis, and buses are driven is crazy and disorganized. This can make crossing a two-way street especially difficult. With that said, I’m learning how to cross the “Peruvian way” instead of standing like a tourist forever on one side of the road while locals seem to cross through traffic without a thought.

A combi from the Expreso Santiago line.

A combi from the Expreso Santiago line.

Eventually, I end up at the combi stop where I wait to take the “Santa Ana” or “Expreso Santiago” line. Combis are either buses or mini vans that function as the main public transportation system in Cuzco. The combis do not have a schedule, so all I can do is arrive at the stop and wait for one of the buses to come. I’ve waited as long as 40 minutes for a combi, but I’ve also waited as short as 1 minute. Once I get in the combi, most Peruvians watch my every move, probably because foreigners never take combis. And without fail, when I pay the combi attendant with exact change, I get a look that seems to say, “How did you know how much the combi costs and where are you going?” With that said, the attendants seem to be even more surprised when I tell them that I’m getting off at “Villa Maria,” which is the combi stop closest to the kindergarten where I work. Many times, the combis will not stop unless you tell the driver that you’re getting off. In this way, by giving the driver a “heads up,” he can tell that I know where I am.

Once the driver knows that I’m getting off at Villa Maria, my last challenge is getting off of the combi. The combi drivers always seem to be in a rush, so sometimes it seems as if the combi does not come to a complete stop yet the attendant is saying to me “baja, baja, baja,” which basically translates into “get off quickly…” After getting off the combi, I’m at the top of a hill and only need to walk down a few stairs before walking into Kukuli, the kindergarten, to begin my day of work with the children.

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    One Response to A typical morning in Cuzco

    1. Lee says:

      I’ll try to remember “baja, baja, baja” the next time I’m on the Mustang Express.

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