One of the things I enjoyed most during my Spanish lessons in Cusco (Peru), are the field trips. Learning Spanish in Peru is a great way to improve your Spanish quickly: during the four hours per day in small groups with my teacher, I spoken more Spanish than I’d ever done during my Spanish course home.
But the best opportunities to practice Spanish, to learn about Peruvian culture and to explore Cusco, were the field trips organized by AMAUTA. During one of those trips we went to the Qolwanpata Inca Park in Cusco. Here you can read my report of my Spanish lessons in Peru with fun field trips.
Menta, lavanda, kantu, muña, orégano. We are walking the gravel path up the terraced slope at Qolqanpata Inca park in Cusco, as our guide pauses before each medicinal plant, describing its flavor and uses, and sharing pinches of leaves so we can sample the aroma.
At the entrance, we were offered a choice of a Spanish or English-speaking guide: we are students at AMAUTA Spanish School on a field trip, so of course we choose a guided tour in Spanish. Our guide, Jhosset, a student intern majoring in tourism at the University, speaks knowledgeably about each plant. I have reached a point recently in my immersion in Spanish in which I am more and more often no longer aware of what language I am listening to. I am simply understanding what is being said, and, although he speaks at a natural pace for a native speaker, I understand almost all. Needless to say I’m very happy with this, as a result of the intensive Spanish lessons in Cusco.
We continue past the herbs to the fenced areas where the llama and alpacas seem to be expecting us, staring at us as we approach. Their eyes are like large, dark pools. Our guide senses our excitement. He quickly brings us each a bundle of long grass. Whereas we were quiet and studious listeners moments before as we learned about the herbs, we become giddy and exhilarated as we feed the llamas.
The lovely animals lean toward us eagerly, the long arcs of their necks crossing over the fence. I don’t know if there is something about the feeding of animals that elicits our delight, or if it is these in particular: llamas are nearly non-existent in North America, where I am from, or in Japan or Europe, where the other students are from.
They are nearly the size of horses, but with implausibly long necks and the enormous eyes of fantasy creatures; their faces are bony like their camel cousins, and they chew like goats, their jaws scissoring back and forth. Watching them chew, it is impossible not to smile.
Our small group of Spanish students now is talking more, laughing more, as we give the last of the grass to the llamas and continue up the hill to the bridge. The bridge, Jhosset explains, is a replica of those typically made by the Incas; it is made of ichu, a kind of straw that grows in the Peruvian Andes. The most famous bridge made of ´ichu´, is the Puente de Qeswacha it is remade every year according to the inca traditions. The fiber is both strong and supple: stepping onto it feels like stepping onto a very long, very sturdy hammock.
When we reach the textile exhibits, we pause to look at the views of Cusco and surroundings. We can see more of the sky from up here, layered with cumulus clouds, and below, Cusco’s clay roof tiles seem to merge, looking, at this distance, like a terra cotta crust. Jhosset shows us a typical Peruvian oven, dug into the ground, and describes how potatoes were baked.
We meet a weaver patiently adding one thread at a time to her cloth. The threads are dyed with plants, minerals, and even insects, giving the fibers earthy tones. We meet more animals: conejo, gallina, cabra, oveja, caballo. We are not beginners in Spanish, but walking through gardens, naming and talking about the plants and animals in a Spanish is a nice challenge.
It seems to me that the higher we climb, the more Spanish we speak. Learning new words, subjectively speaking, also accentuates attention and appreciation. We speak fluidly with each other now in Spanish, making mistakes with ease— knowing that is part of the process of learning—as we pause to take delight in the strut of the roosters, and the alertness of the rabbits.
Further on we see the orchids; a cactus that looks like a sloth, with two long, furry arms; an array of fish swimming in a mossy, subterranean paradise; and lastly, the museums of musical instruments, the collection of Peruvian agricultural tools, and the botanical library.
The Qolwanpata park, as complete as it seems now, is still in the process of growing. The park was opened at the end of 2017 only. The enclosure that now houses orchids will one day house a variety of butterflies, and plans are underway to create a park especially for children. Listening to Jhossett and the other guides speak about the plans, and the park as a whole, I appreciated how the old and the new are both present and honored in this park—how established traditions, wisdom and practices are preserved here, with the enthusiasm and energy of a thriving culture.