The Hidden Gem of Perú
I walked outside, a cold breeze rustling the eucalyptus leaves and brushing against my face. Thousands of lights pierced the sky as if a blanket was thrown over the earth, and you could see the light slipping through the weave. This was the first time I had gotten a true glimpse of the stars, and they felt strange, an old friend in an unfamiliar environment. I never thought the stars in the Southern Hemisphere would be so different from the stars back in Wisconsin. I took out the star map my grandfather had given me before I left for Perú and started acquainting myself with my new home. Although I was 4000 miles (6,437 km) away from everything I knew, this place welcomed me like a mother welcoming in her children from the rain and became one of my favorite places in Perú.
My name is Kele Ramsay and I have lived in Cusco for the last 7 months. I have loved every part of my experience here, but something I have struggled with is being a tourist. I don’t like feeling as though I am just the means to an end for someone, or to have people view me as just another gringo here to see Machu Picchu and then leave. I am not here in Perú to be a tourist, I am here to explore the depths of the culture and natural landscapes, and sometimes the best way to do that is to take the trail less traveled. Some may be deterred from this method of traveling because it is usually less certain, can take you places you would never expect, and frequently can be uncomfortable. But I love this: I live for the experiences that take me closer to how the people of that country live.
Last year, I fell in love with rock climbing. I love how it pushes my body and mind and how the rest of the world drops away, and my focus is drawn to my relationship and movement with the rock. But most of all, I love the places climbing has taken me. Rock climbing has brought me to some of the most beautiful parts of the US and now has helped me find my favorite place in Perú, Huayllasca.
Two hours away by bus, from the city of Cusco, you come to a small town, Pitumarca, a city of roughly 3000 people with a large indigenous population. Almost everyone here speaks both Quechua and Castellano (Spanish) and it can get confusing when they start speaking in both at the same time. If you walk out of this small town, and continue for 2 hours south up the valley, you will get to a small community of 6 people called Hauyllasca. Here between towering 1000ft (305 m) ridges, you can find a tiny school house among the eucalyptus trees where climbers can stay. Llamas and Alpaca run feely among the hills, eating what little grass grows in the rocky valley. If you walk up these hills, following the chinchilla hopping between the boulders, you will come upon many rock climbing routes.
I have spent many days tucked between these ridges, climbing, looking at the stars, and reading in the sun. Some days I haven’t seen a single person, and other nights I have had the pleasure of meeting other climbers from around the world or have gotten to talk with the locals about their lives in the valley. When dinner time comes around, so does the wind. The wind whips through the valley, pushing me inside, telling me it is to eat. When dinner is over, it calms, and I have often found myself learning new constellations and finding other constellations I have already met. When my eyes start to droop, I go inside the tiny school house and slip inside my sleeping bag and fall asleep to the sound of wind in the eucalyptus leaves. It is always hard for me to leave this peaceful place and head back to the business of Cusco.
Kele Ramsay is a student at University of Minnesota Duluth and an ISA Featured Blogger. He is studying with ISA in Cusco, Peru.