Monday, June 22, 2009

Peru Trip - The First Five Days

This summer, Rivers students are embarking on a variety of interesting and challenging adventures, from doing medical research at local hospitals to attending prestigious music camps. Over the next two weeks, middle school faculty members Susan McGee and Laura Brewer will be traveling with twelve students on a trip to Peru that will include language exchange, cultural immersion and community service. Today we hear from Ms. Brewer as she talks about the experiences her students have been having in Peru.

We are here, and are finally acclimated to the altitude. I admit to a little reluctance to leaving the bubble of the amazing experience we are having to look at a computer screen. I am sitting in a renovated monastery in Urubamba at 9800 feet (nothing compared to where we´ve been!) We are in the Sacred Valley of the Incas surrounded by towering sharp mountain peaks. The valley is warm and mild, and the crops are still being harvested in the late fall season. But for a few minutes, we will try to communicate a bit of what we have done, but just picture me here at a keyboard with the letters taped onto the keys...

So far, in the first five days, Peru is everything we could have hoped for. Monday was a long day of travel and excitement, with our final arrival at the hotel in Lima at about 1 AM. We awakened in this enormous, flat, dry city. Looking outside the hotel, a small square park was already being swept by local women in green city uniforms, and men pedaling bicycles with enormous flat baskets collected recycleables and other garbage. In ten minutes flat, the park was immaculate, and three dogs continued snoozing in the center in the early morning sun. Tuesday the 16th, Joel Miranda contributed, We left for the airport to catch a flight to Arequipa. The flight lasted about two hours, which was nothing compared to the 16 1/2 hours we spent traveling the day before. We went to have a Peruvian lunch which was highlighted by a local band playing for us. Then we walked to the museum where they keep the Frozen Girl, Juanita who was an Incan mummy found in the Andes mountains. We were able to see her body and relics kept with her. We also visited the Monasterio de Santa Catalina. This was a monastery for nuns in the 1600s and was mainly inhabited by second daughters of wealthy colonial families. They could not marry. The monastery was enormous and abutted the beautiful Santa Catalina cathedral in Arequipa. There were numerous streets within the grounds, each named for a city in Spain and copying thier architecture.

Brendan Connolly writes about Wednesday, Today we had a long bus ride to Puno. We got our last looks at Misti, Picho Pichu, and Chinchachi (the three volcanoes above Arequipa). We got to see some magnificent landforms and then got to some open road. Along the way we saw families of Andean deer called vicunas, and thousands of llamas and alpacas being herded on the altiplano. We were all feeling the affects of the altitude. Even the walk from the bus 100 feet down a small hill to have lunch left us feeling winded. (And not just Laura and Susie!) The barren altiplano is farmed in the traditional way, by hand, and looks very lonely. You can see for miles, and spot teeny little people far away across fields and hills watching their herds in brightly colored wool clothing. In the browns of the altiplano, it makes it easy to see your family members, who look to me like they might have been nearly a mile distant. Brendan concludes, When we were almost at Lake Titicaca, we stopped to see some Inca ruins (Sillustani on Lake Umayo - amazing) The ruins held mummies that were found and taken out, but the burial places are still there.

Thursday was one of the most interesting days of my life, and the kids could not believe what we saw. Kate Mecke writes, Today we took a boat to Taquile Island, located in Lake Titicaca. It has practically zero electricity and zero cars. The boat ride to the island allowed us to view the massive lake from many perspectives. On our way we stopped by a village (Uros Islands) that created a floating island using solely (torturro) reeds and other natural materials. The locals showed us how their ancestors created the island and their many other fascinating ways of life. They then allowed us to take a ride in a large reed boat. We reboarded our own boat and headed once again to Taquile Island. As we arrived we were treated with hospitality as well as a fantastic lunch (local trout from the lake). The residents welcomed us warmly into their private homes where we would be spending the night. The remainder of the day was devoted to exploring the island, as well as seeing a mgnificent sunset. Despite our language barrier, we were able to play games with the local children and put our Spanish to some use. Before dinner, we were adorned with native dress. Traditional dancing and a warm fire (as well as some fire jumping) followed dinner and put a perfect finish to a great day. The homes were not heated but neat and tidy and the blankets were heavy and warm. Everyone slept well.

Friday, June 19th. Carly Devereux journaled, Today we woke up at 5:30 to watch the beautiful Taquilean Island sunrise over the Bolivian mountains. As we watched the sky getting lighter, the people of the island awakened, carrying their bundles across the hillsides. After a short nap to recover from our early wakeup, we ate a breakfast of pancakes and hard boiled eggs. From there we walked up the steep hillside to a secondary school with kids our own age. We toured around and learned how the school worked. After our tour, we played a basketball game against them. Although we won (side comment: our kids could only play hockey-length shifts and so the game couldn´t have continued much longer. Smiles everywhere. Our kids lined up for the handshakes - it was awesome, and then Tyler gave them the ball.) We walked across the island, which consisted of many stairs (524, but Susie and I were not counting at 12,000 feet...) On the boat ride back, we played many intense card games and relaxed in the sun on roof deck. When we pulled into the port of Puno, we were driven to the center of the city in 7 bicycle cabs (taxicholo) and walked around the city blacks and plazas.

Saturday, June 20. The last day of fall. As you may have heard local farmers are protesting the planned privatization of water and have blocked the two roads between Puno and Cuzco, which changed our day a bit. We flew (actually very quickly and efficiently - thanks to quick work by Andean Treks) to Lima and then Cusco, arriving at noon. We had a leisurely lunch, and did some drawing on a hillside, listening to the braying of donkeys, watching workers on the tops of huge hayfilled trucks laughing on their ways down the road. Griffin Green says, We saw glacier topped mountains, which were stunning, and then we saw the Sacred Valley of the Incas. The hotel that we are staying in is an old manastery with very fine art. ¨We spent most of the day traveling, but we saw some amazing scenery.

This is really only the tip of the iceberg. We´ll try to blog again, but reentry to the real world... Everyone is happy and healthy, our guide is fantastic with the kids, and we are having a lot of fun.


tomconnolly1 said...

Hi Brendan, Glad to hear everythings going well and hope the altitude did'nt bother you too much. Don't forget to take pictures. See you soon. Dad

Anonymous said...

Hi Kate,
It was great to hear from you! It sounds like a great trip, and we can't wait to hear more details!

Alaina Cotillo said...

Hi Laura,

Sounds fantastic! Que lo paseis bien!