What brought you to Peru?
My journey to Peru began with an internship offer for Globalteer, an international non-profit organization that implements programs to support children and communities and promote animal welfare. As I study photography at the University of Portsmouth in Great Britain, I had the opportunity to find an internship abroad for a few months. In safety, the student career center from South America was not exactly thrilled twice. However, after several meetings and my constant persuasion, the university finally agreed and I was able to live for a few months in the historic city of Cuzco, the ancient center of the Inca Empire, today a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
What did you do in Cuzco?
The internship for Globalteer was focused on photography and media content, which allowed me to visit non-profit programs around Cuzco and document the organization’s activities, whether in the form of photos, videos, or articles. So I was most often in mountain villages, where projects supporting education and extracurricular activities for children from developed areas are taking place, or on PAWS campaigns – the Peruvian Society for the Protection of Animals. At the same time, I worked as a photographer with mountain guides and travel agencies, which enabled me to travel every weekend on one-day treks and sightseeing tours or on multi-day expeditions.
How is the mentality of local people different from ours?
The biggest difference and constant struggle for me was definitely coming to terms with the “Peruvian concept of time”. For Peruvians, it seems that the pre-arranged time is only indicative information that they may take into account. No one is ever in a hurry, except maybe the bus drivers, who tend to always blow their horns and pass someone all the time. Campaigners often arrived an hour late, and meetings were easily postponed by an hour or two, or, on the contrary, did not take place at all. Also, I sometimes only received information about the next day’s work around midnight the day before. I’ve never considered myself a very punctual person with a perfectly functioning schedule, however, as someone who had to live and work in Cuzco for several months, I just kept breathing these situations and tried unsuccessfully to change my attitude towards time and stress.
How is the lifestyle of the locals different from ours?
A lot depends on whether they are residents of larger cities or remote villages. Society, and thus also the way of life, are diverse both in Peru and in the area around Cuzco itself. In the city center, everything revolves around tourism and tourism. All of Cusco is full of hotels, restaurants, bars, cafes, souvenir shops and street stalls. Most of the indigenous people I came into contact with there on a daily basis were Quechua selling souvenirs, food or offering services from various businesses. In the more remote villages, however, cohesion and solidarity are key. Mainly thanks to working with a non-profit organization, I understood how important community is to life in mountainous areas. However, traditions are part of life both in cities and in villages. You can find celebrations, parades and traditional costumes almost everywhere. Their colorfulness is a feast for the eyes, and the music and dance that always accompany the parades are absolutely breathtaking.
What surprised you the most, either pleasantly or unpleasantly?
In those three months, I really felt at home there. I wasn’t just a tourist on vacation, but someone who lived there for a while, worked and became a part of the city and its people at least for a while, which is probably what I enjoy most about “slow travel”.
Is there anything you couldn’t come to terms with there?
I really couldn’t get over the amount of garbage in the cities and along the roads and highways. The city center of Cuzco has always been beautifully landscaped and tidy, but just walk a little outside the city and the view is immediately different. Unfortunately, the journeys to the nearby towns were always accompanied by crossing an endless amount of waste lying right in the middle of the roads. It has been explained to me many times that the majority of residents do not care at all about these things and think of it as someone else’s problem, not theirs.
Did you miss something from your homeland?
Buses where you don’t have to shout “Baja!” when you want to exit. Public transportation in Cuzco is still a mystery to me. City buses, called colectivos, instead of the destination or line number, they only bear names like Batman, Rapido, and so on. The timetable does not even exist and in every one collective most often, an elderly lady sits next to the driver, shouting over the entire bus at every stop and using a rope to open the front and back doors. Before getting off, you have to shout the word “Baja!” – I exit.
On the contrary, what do you perceive as better than here?
Probably the fact that I could always find local and seasonal products from local farmers at the markets and try different types of fresh tropical fruit on the street, which I probably didn’t even know about before.
Do the locals know about the Czech Republic? How do they react when you mention where you’re from?
When I mentioned La República Checa, most people knew that it was a country in Europe with Prague as its capital. Many times in Peru and in other countries I had to explain, mainly to the older generations, that Czechoslovakia no longer exists some Friday (the same applies to Yugoslavia).
What are the travel habits of the locals? Either abroad or within your own country?
Most often I encountered traveling for work or family. In the local communities in which I moved, it was not common for residents to go on vacations or trips every summer. But most locals know their surroundings perfectly, every river and every mountain lagoon that can be visited, which always motivated me to travel to places off the tourist trail.
What places would you show your best friend from the Czech Republic who hasn’t been to Cuzco yet?
In addition to the cathedral and the main square, I would definitely recommend my favorite San Blas neighborhood in Cuzco, which is full of picturesque stone streets, art galleries, small cafes and bars with a view of the whole of Cuzco. San Blas is located above the main square, which is ideal for beautiful views of the entire city, but at the same time, due to the altitude, just going through a few streets requires great physical strength and trained lungs.
The Sacred Valley is absolutely amazing and full of historical monuments and sites as well as various possibilities for adrenaline sports. I would definitely recommend visiting him several times.
Among my favorites is also the area of Siete Lagunas – Seven Lagoons. And then, of course, the famous Machu Picchu, which I would recommend going on a four-day Salkantay trek, which is possible with the help of a mountain guide or on your own.
Your favorite place or experience?
The Ausangate expedition, which I completed as a photographer and thanks to which I got to know the beauty of the Ausangate mountains in the Andes. The four-day expedition started at the beautiful Seven Lagoons and continued over the mountain ridges to the famous Rainbow Mountain. Everything became all the more interesting when it unexpectedly snowed, and we walked through the snow with flashlights at three in the morning, only to find out that the Rainbow Mountain had become almost completely white thanks to the snow, but this did not detract from its beauty at all. All the participants reached the bottom on the day when we had to overcome four transitions at an altitude of five thousand. However, even thanks to such an extreme, we were all the happier when we reached the destination village on the afternoon of the last day and loaded ourselves into the thermal springs with a traditional Cusqueña beer in hand.
And a favorite local dish?
Mainly they grew on my heart humintas, which I came across for the first time in Ecuador, but they are popular across almost all of South America. The basis is corn, and the dish itself is always wrapped in corn husks. Except for ground corn humintas it also includes eggs or cheese, onions and various spices. Sweets are also often prepared in Peru humintas with the addition of cinnamon and raisins. The soup is also worth mentioning el levanta muertos, whose name could be translated into Czech as resurrection or resurrection of the dead. It is not for nothing that it is mainly recommended as an ideal breakfast for curing a hangover.
Which five terms would you use to describe Cuzco and its people?
Diverse, colorful, noisy, lively and magical.