My name is Lauren Cole and I am a rising senior at Highland School of Technology. This past June, as part of the Gastonia Sister Cities Student Exchange Program, I traveled to Peru where I lived with a host family for ten days in Lima then spent the remainder of the trip in Cuzco.
The Palacio Municipal, Cathedral San Francisco, Larco Museum, and the Gold Museum were just a few of the many cathedrals and museums that we visited, as well as the Government Palace and the Parliament. The cathedrals historical architecture fascinated me not only because of their beauty, but the overwhelming amount of labor that was put into constructing them. Touring the Cathedral of San Francisco was most memorable not only because of the elaborately painted ceilings in Mudejar style and beautiful baroque architecture, constructed in 1674, but also because of the catacombs that lay beneath it. The catacombs were the first cemetery of the city, and are believed to be the burial ground of 75,000 people. Though, the fact that the bones of the deceased were buried here in odd geometric patterns was most unnerving. At the time of our visit of the Plaza Mayor (Lima’s Main Square) was enclosed by guards due to a rumored protest. However, our cameras and matching backpacks proved us to be tourists and we were granted access and pictures with the guards.
Although Lima is a beautiful city, it is infamous for its chaotic traffic system. Traffic laws including: stop signs, red lights, the right of way rule, etc., are often ignored causing the streets of Lima to be hazardous to anyone on them, especially pedestrians. Miraculously, none of the Gastonia Sister Cities students experienced any serious traffic accidents. However, at one point during a commute from the school to the home of my host, we were caught in a fender bender which was ignored by both drivers. Such events are everyday occurrences in Lima. Though, incredibly this incident was not quite as nerve racking as the earthquake that occurred about an hour after we had come home from school. The earthquake lasted no longer than three seconds which Andrea, the daughter of my host family, slept through remaining oblivious until I informed her of the event after she woke up. I later learned that the safest place to be during an earthquake is in the arch of a doorway.
After spending ten unforgettable days in Lima we departed to Cuzco where we were visited Machu Picchu, the ancient Incan Empire discovered in 1911 by Hiram Bingham, also known to be one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Fortunately, we had a tour guide who enlightened us of its history. For example, the variation in the architecture that differentiated living areas and more sacred areas for worshiping and that the name “Machu Picchu” means “Old Mountain”. We also learned that the architecture is deemed as renowned because it has weathered centuries of earthquakes which occur almost daily and are responsible for the magnificent landscape that makes up Cuzco. After the tour, we spent some time meandering on the terraces and taking pictures of the remarkable view, as well as the alpacas that roam freely over the mountain and are surprisingly amiable towards tourists. During my stay in Lima and Cuzco I fell in love with the Peruvian culture and made memories that I will treasure forever.
Though I was reluctant to leave Peru, I left as a more cultured and well-rounded individual with the desire to become fluent in Spanish and return someday to further delve into the Peruvian culture.
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