I’m checking in from the Lima airport to report on the last few days. Unfortunately Emily had to head home after fighting some health problems. We heard from both her and Alexa that they made it home without incident and they both wished the group well.
The last time I posted a blog was at the beginning of our last day in Chinchero. It seems like so much has happened since then! On Saturday morning, we all got in a minibus at 3:30 in the morning. Well, almost all of us did (we had to turn around because we forgot Senorita Stenlund). Over the next 5 hours or so, we rode over a snowy mountain pass and then descended into a much warmer and wetter part of Peru where the Amazon basin meets the mountains. This is where we began our hike to Machu Picchu.
Saturday was a very intense day of walking. The hike began with a quick ascent from the Urubamba river up to one of the Incas’ famed mountainside trails. We enjoyed breathtaking views from the edges of cliffs (in between mad scrambles up and down steep slopes). The weather was a lot warmer than we had become used to in Chinchero, so we were happy to get water and food at a nice trailside restaurant. The second part of the day was hiking along the river. Much of the trail was washed away in mudslides during an exceptionally rainy summer last year, so we had to climb down to the river and back up again many, many times. It was tough! After crossing the river on a small car suspended from a cable, we arrived at some hot springs and took a dip. We took a short van ride up to our restaurant/camp site. We ate and hit the hay!
On Sunday we left camp at around 9 after a hearty breakfast. The hiking was less difficult, consisting mostly of a riverside path. We stopped for lunch at a settlement with a small set of shops and a restaurant called Hidroelectrica (guess what’s there). In the afternoon, we had a pretty easy hike along the railroad tracks to Aguas Calientes, the city at the base of Machu Picchu. We ate dinner and slept at our hotel.
All I can say about Monday is that it was incredible. We were up before sunrise for a long slog up thousands of steps to the ancient city of Machu Picchu. Once there, we all did the hike to the absolute top of Wina Picchu, one of the mountains overlooking the ruins. We headed back down to Machu Picchu and our guide Chino gave us a tour of the ruins. We took a bus down to Aguas Calientes for lunch and ran to a train to take us back to Ollantaytambo.
We slept at a nice hotel and went on a tour of the ruins in Ollantaytambo on Tuesday before heading back to Cuzco to catch our plane here. The last few days have been amazing and I’m sure the students will have loads of great stories to share upon arriving home!
Greetings from Chinchero!
I´m writing in my bedroom at my homestay early on Friday morning. The Kingsford group has been working hard on a couple of projects at the local Parish. So far, the crew has re-plastered two walls and painted a third. Additionally, they´ve torn up an uneven stone floor in the entryway and replaced it with a smooth concrete surface. Now there won´t be so many people slipping and tripping on the way in!
Yesterday, we took a break and went on an excursion to three sites here in the Sacred Valley. First, we were treated to a weaving demonstration by local artisans here in Chinchero. They make truly beautiful textiles here. Then we took a bike ride through the majestic rolling hills to the town of Maras, where we enjoyed packed lunches while admiring the view of snow-capped mountains and golden fields. After lunch, we rode on a bus to Moray, an ancient agricultural experiment complex consisting of many terraces. This is where the Incas learned what seeds would work at various altitudes.
Our next stop was Salineras, an enormous series of more than 3,000 cascading salt pools fed by a spring. Here, people have cultivated salt for centuries by filling the pools with a few inches of water and then letting it evaporate. We returned to Chinchero for some hot chocolate and some free time in the main plaza before calling it a day.
Today is our last day here in Chinchero. We hope to finish up scraping and painting one more big wall before packing up and heading out on our final adventure–a two-day hike culminating in the ascent of Macchu Picchu. I´ll try to check in one more time before the end of the trip. Again, the internet service here is not quite fast enough for me to send pictures.
It is with a heavy heart that I must report that Alexa, a valued member of our team, will need to return to the United States after fighting with a serious case of altitude sickness. Alexa was able to see the wonders of Lake Titicaca, the Andean altiplano, and Cuzco before the altitude got the best of her. We´ll miss her but I think that Peru may see more of her in the future. Thanks, Alexa, for your contributions to the group.
After a day of sightseeing in Cuzco, we arrived in our host village of Chinchero yesterday evening. We were welcomed by the families in a central market where woven goods are sold. After a brief round of introductions, we each went back to the homes where we´ll be staying for the next few days. Everyone seems comfortable, even if the accommodations are a bit different that what we´re used to! All the students report that there is way more food than they could possibly eat at every meal. Today we started our work at the local parish hall. So far we´ve been painting and preparing to pour a concrete slab for the entrance to the parish yard. Tomorrow should be more of the same, plus maybe some soccer?
Well folks, I have to say that Kingsford group continues to impress us with positive attitudes, even in the face of adversity! The high altitude (something like 3800 meters above sea level) has been stealing our lung capacity but the students are keeping strong.
On Friday, we watched the sun come up over Lake Titicaca from the top floor of our hotel as we ate breakfast. Later bicycle taxis whisked us through town to the port, where we boarded a boat. Students were uneasy at first, but were soon in awe of the beauty of the lake and the people that inhabit it. It was certainly a worthwhile voyage.
First, we stopped at one of seventeen floating islands inhabited by the Uros people. We took a short ride on one of their famous reed boats and then re-boarded the big boat for a long ride out to Taquile island, a remarkable place just beyond Puno Bay in Lake Titicaca. We were treated to lunch in the yard of one of the island’s families, where some of the members of the family demonstrated some dances for us. Jess and Chris just couldn’t contain their enthusiasm for the dance and decided to join in! We returned to Puno, had some Peruvian pizza, and hit the hay.
On Saturday, we spent much of the day riding in a deluxe bus back to Cuzco. We encountered some construction that held us up a little bit, but we entertained ourselves with games (while we weren’t sleeping).
What better way to explore the amazing city of Cuzco than with a good old-fashioned scavenger hunt? The students took photos of just about everything on the list and then we dined on burritos, steak, and quinoa soup. Many of our students asked to attend mass at the main cathedral tomorrow morning, so it’s off to bed now.
The Kingsford Peru trip is off to a running start. The group arrived in Lima at around 11:00 at night on Wednesday. Sarah and I had no trouble finding them at the airport. We quickly jumped on a bus that took us to Mami Panchita, a charming mini-hotel in a peaceful neighborhood by the Pacific Ocean. Our arrival at the hotel coincided with the delivery of a few pizzas, which were quickly consumed by the ravenous travelers. Yum!
After a brief night of sleep, we awoke at 7:00 and ate breakfast at the hotel. Then we were on the move again, this time back to the airport to catch a flight to Cuzco. We landed mid-day and were greeted by our Walking Tree Peru Coordinator, Chino, who showed us to our bus. More traveling? You bet. Seven hours through the high plains of the Andes seemed to pass faster than I expected. A couple of hours in to our trip, we ate lunch at a roadside restaurant and then spent the following hour of travel getting to know one another with some ice breakers and deciding on the guiding principles of our stay in Peru. Here’s the list:
Risk-Taking: stepping out of our “comfort zone” and experiencing new things;
Honesty: being forthright with ourselves and one another;
Energy: putting physical and mental strength to positive use;
Open-Mindedness: being aware of and respecting cultural differences;
Hard Work: rolling up our sleeves and applying ourselves, whether in learning Spanish, working on our community service project, or processing the day’s events.
Each of us shared a little about what we expected to get out of the trip. Alexa is ready for adventure. Jessica wants to work on her Spanish and is looking forward to the community service. Alec is reveling in the experience of exploring new places. Chris is grateful to be traveling, not as a tourist, but as a student of another place. He hopes we don’t pull our socks up too high. Erin is anticipating lots of fruitful interactions with her host family. Josh is enjoying the many differences between life in Peru and life back in the UP. Emily plans to use this experience to further her aspirations to be an international businesswoman. Cat is looking to expand her (already broad) culinary horizons and is documenting, with her camera, all of her Peruvian food. We have an amazing group of students here!
We arrived in Puno at around 7:30 this evening, got settled in to the hotel, and had a fantastic dinner at a nearby restaurant. Tomorrow morning we’ll get up early and head out to the famed floating islands of Lake Titicaca.
Adios for now,