Dinner With Locals in Cusco (and What I Learned From It)

One of the things I enjoy most about traveling is immersing myself in new cultures. This allows you to learn so much about people and yourself in general. It makes you more tolerable and understanding of people and the global community. While we were visiting Cusco, we had the opportunity to dine with a local family, and we jumped at the chance. This was something right down my alley and I was so excited to visit and see a local families home. We were picked up at our hotel and driven through Cusco to the families neighborhood. The family we were having dinner with was a middle-class family living in a middle class neighborhood. I was slightly nervous as were driving through the neighborhood. Our drive seemed to be struggling a little bit with finding the house, and were surrounded by homes with bars on their doors, and windows, and graffiti all over the buildings.

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middle class neighborhood in Cusco

As we were driving through this neighborhood, I began thinking of my own neighborhood back home. I live in a pretty nice neighborhood, where I own my own home. A neighborhood that I feel very comfortable living in. A neighborhood like this one back in the U.S is one that I would avoid living in or purchasing in. Perhaps I’m uncomfortable with it, because I didn’t grow up surrounded by a neighborhood/environment like this one. That is the wonderful thing about traveling . . . it broadens your horizons.

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We finally arrived at the home, and were told to wait in the car, while they checked to make sure the family was home. Our guide came back sounding very relieved that we were at the right place, and that the family was home. We were a small group ( total of six people, including the guide). We followed the guide behind a gate, were there was one driveway with three cars, and two tall homes, one behind the other. We were greeted at the door by a lady that spoke extremely limited English. We were directed to sit at the table that was already set, where we were joined by two children (a boy around 9 or 10 and girl around 12) and another lady who spoke english. It was slightly awkward and quiet for a little while.

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We learned that the two females were sisters, who shared this home together. The English speaking sister worked in the tourism industry, and was divorced. Her son lived in the home with them and at the grandparents house. The other sister was married. Her husband, daughter and newborn baby also lived in the house. This was a great opportunity to practice my Spanish. I understand the language much better than I speak it, and it was fun to translate what I understood for my brother. The children were very shy and only wanted to speak in Spanish at first. The little boy played video games and ran around the neighborhood with his friends after school. When he grows he wants to be a race car driver (everyone at the table found this humorous). The girl played basketball after school and wanted to be a doctor.

Both of the children attended a catholic school- this greatly surprised our tour  guide. It’s extremely expensive for children to attend catholic schools. However, the catholic schools provide a far greater education than the public schools. We were curious to know if our hosts had been to Machu Picchu and I was surprised by their answer. No. I was curious as to why they hadn’t been to Machu Picchu when they lived so close. Our guide explained that for a family to visit they would have to travel there, get a hotel room, and the cost was just too much for a family. For most families, it would take an entire months salary to be able to visit. The cost is just too dear, so less than 50% of Peru’s population has visited Machu Picchu. That shocked me . . . it put things into perspective for you. Our guide went on to explain that government has revamped some of their programs to focus more on the history of Peru. This enables schools to send their children to historical landmarks, such as, Machu Picchu.

We discussed both American and Peruvian politics. The family thought Donald Trump was the funniest thing they have seen on tv. We also discussed differences in our family culture. Most Peruvians live with their parents and take care of their parents, whereas in the U.S it’s considered odd if you live with your parents past a certain age. Also, it’s rare for people to divorce, and it’s even odder for couples to have children without being married. In fact, it greatly looked down on, and you are considered a “black sheep” in the family.

I’m so glad I was able to have this experience. By the end of dinner we were laughing together and enjoying talking about our lives and the differences between them. It’s amazing that we had this experience, even though we didn’t fluently speak each others language, and came from completely different lifestyles. This was by far the highlight of my trip to Peru. For me this what traveling is all about, and I went back to my hotel full of happiness.

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Goodbye neighborhood

P.S- Sorry for the lack of pictures on this experience. It was one of those moments that the camera needed to go down, and just live in the moment.

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