It was 2007 and we had recently uprooted from Durango, Co. The plan was to go further south to Cusco, Peru that at the time to our knowledge was a poor Andean city high in the mountains with a Inca site nearby called Machu Picchu.
We—Nic and I—30 and 26, respectively, had one small child, Liam, who was 1. Our initiative was to help the poor by working at schools founded by a Catholic missionary/medical doctor, Father Giovanni Salerno. The schools were for the poorest kids of Cusco who due to their circumstances couldn’t afford the schooling. Schools here, even the state schools, have monthly fees and a seemingly never ending list of school supplies, dance costumes, and countless other surprises that even the well-off have a hard time making scholarly ends meet. And that’s for one child, which is not the norm here. So our schools offer a free, high level education that opens its doors to only the most poor of Cusco and the surrounding mountains.
We signed on for two years, saying that our home and country, the Estados Unidos, wasn’t going anywhere and we could return when so desired. It was rough: the smells, the food, the dirtiness, the packs of dogs, and the absolute lack of Spanish. We bore through it, swearing that after our verbal promise expired we were headed home. But what is the unfamiliar soon become the familiar, and we grew to love the food, the people and her customs, and the tranquility. We learned how to fight off the dog packs and turn a blind eye to the garbage in the streets and instead see the beauty in the surrounding mountains, valleys, and rivers. We also learned Spanish, slowly.
It’s been nine years; we now have four kids, a BnB on airbnb called Bill and Nic’s house, and an agency called Haku Expeditions. We ended up working at the school for seven years. It was an amazing experience. We provided a top tier education, including trade schools, for more than 550 boys and girls. At the end of any day we were helping more than 1500 people in the Cusco region. And more than anything we grew to love the Peruvian people, their simplicity, the ancient customs, and their most gracious way of opening their doors to you, unabashed, while on their dirt floors guinea pigs scurried about.
That’s how I came to meet Guillermo and Juana. Being an avid mountain biker, I was always in pursuit of finding the best single-track. It was up in the small village of Yutu where I was leaning against an adobe wall resting my weary legs when Guillermo came out of his doorway and we became amigos. As time went on we continued our friendship and I would enjoy sitting at his table discussing the growing seasons, the land, the culture, and Peru.
I had always found it a shame that so many people come to Cusco only to see the Plaza de Armas, Machu Picchu, and then go home without knowing the people. Spending seven years immersed in the Peruvian countryside, hearing more quechua than Spanish, and living off the land like so many do here gave me a real love for the simple, good people, who are Cusco. We decided to make a short tour where you can see, feel, smell and touch what is the real Cusco, seeing the people who struggle behind their oxen turning the land, who harvest the corn by manually selecting the kernels, who strip quinoa off it’s stalks by hand only to continuously filter it to have it ready for cooking on your table. This is the real Cusco and her people.
To make it more interesting we added in some other stops on the way, first stopping in a small town called Pinipampa where we observe families making 10,000 roofing tiles per month by hand. They work from 2 in the morning till 8 at night smashing dirt with sticks, mixing it with sand and water, and then churning it with their legs until it’s the perfect consistency for the tile. It’s an eye opener of the toil that people exert in order to have some bread on their table. Afterwards it’s onward to Andahuaylillas visiting a typical oven where the locals cook their oven-roasted meals. Most cook with wood over an open flame so the oven is communal, a place where you can take your cake or your freshly slaughtered lamb. A quick visit to the Sistine Chapel of the Americas, built in 1630’s, and a small Inca museum are also included.
This tour, rightfully called “A Day in the Life” was designed for the tourist who wants to know the people who make up this great city, Cusco, the “Imperial City of the Incas.” It’s intended to be a non-invasive way to have an unforgettable experience here in Cusco.