Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Concluding a Successful Journey

The group had a fantastic time in Machu Picchu; everyone felt privileged to be guided through such an iconic site with a National Geographic Expert! Photography student Haley Burton commented: "Sitting on a terrace at Machu Picchu looking at the light of the sunrise over the beautiful wonder of the world, I was surprised to find that my worries disappeared. Not only the beauty of the site but the way that Peter Frost explained the history of it fascinated me. I will never forget this amazing experience."

Archaeology and Ancient Culture student Ariana Jimenez said "Looking at the site for the first time and breathing the fresh, thin air felt like I was in a dream. Machu Picchu is an amazing place that I will never forget. A simple postcard can´t really explain it!"

Caroline Ruhland summed up the group's experience well, saying "Being at Machu Picchu was one of the most awe-inspiring and majestic experiences of my life; it was truly unique to be able to look at what is and imagine what was."

After returning from the ruins the rest of our time in Peru passed quickly. We spent Saturday, our last full day in Cusco, finishing our On Assignment projects and preparing for the evening's presentations. Each Photography student picked up to 20 of their favorite images to share with the group, while the Archaeology and Ancient Culture students each contributed a chapter to a self-published book entitled "Inca Explorations." Expedition Leaders Lindsay and Michael and National Geographic Expert Peter Frost were extraordinarily proud of the group's accomplishments and impressed by the quality of every student's finished product. After concluding our presentations we celebrated the success of our journey with an upbeat night of dinner and salsa lessons and dancing.

The group returned to Lima On Sunday and finished up with a lovely oceanside dinner. Over chicha and ceviche we talked about highlights of the trip: learning about Photography, Archaeology and culture; seeing the beauty of Peru and learning more about the country`s complex and fascinating history and future; and perhaps most importantly, learning that sometimes life`s most rewarding experiences occur outside of our comfort zones. We are all excited to return home with new experiences, new perspectives, and new friends.

-Lindsay and Michael

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Cusco with National Geographic Expert Peter Frost

We spent much of Monday and Tuesday discovering Cusco with National Geographic Expert Peter Frost. As the author of a guidebook called Exploring Cusco, Peter's knowledge about the city´s history is unmatched. On Monday we spent the morning seeing how the layers of Spanish and Inca history are interwoven in Qorikancha, a Spanish monastery built atop the remains of one of an elaborate and important Inca palace and sacred site. We also visited the Plaza de Armas and the city´s main Cathedral, home to a famous painting of the Last Supper by Cusco artist Marcos Zapata (1710-1773). The painting again illustrated the mixture of Spanish and indigenous traditions as it shows Christ and the Apostles about to dine on the local specialty - roasted guinea pig! After a relaxing afternoon we again met Peter in the evening for a presentation about post-colonial Peru.

On Tuesday morning we hiked up the hill behind our hostel with Peter to an archaeological site called Saqsaywaman. Famous for its massive Inca walls, the site was the location of a pivotal battle between the Spanish and the Inca during Manco Inca´s Rebellion. After a stroll through the hills above Cusco past a number of other Inca sites, we descended back into the city along the remains of an Inca road. The Archaeology and Ancient Culture On Assignment group had lunch with Peter and enjoyed the opportunity to have an informal chat with him.
We spent Wednesday resting and relaxing in preparation for a two day excursion to Machu Picchu. We look forward to updating you again when we return from our visit to one of the Modern Wonders of the World!

-Lindsay and Michael

The excerpt below was written by student Roy Varley:

Another night has been concluded with delicious food and lasting knowledge. Each member of our group is hands on seeing the tradition, unity and emotions of this unique country.

After watching a documentary about National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore I could tell that it affected everyone and gave us a lot to think about. I felt as if Joel´s attitude on life gave each of the students a reawakening about what this trip could mean to each of us. So my slogan for the day is ¨love what I´m living for.¨

-Roy Varley

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Chinchero, Salineras, Moray, and Ipsayccasa Pass

On Thursday the group spent a day in the highlands above Ollantaytambo. In the morning we visited a traditional textile centre in Chinchero run by National Geographic grantee Nilda Callanaupa Alvarez. The purpose of the centre is to revive and promote traditional weaving processes for future generations and to provide a source of income for local women. After a short explanation and demonstration of weaving techniques the group spent the morning participating in a hands-on wool dying workshop. We learned about how Nilda's centre uses only natural materials - from local plants and minerals to dried, crushed beetles! - to create a beautiful array of colors. It was exciting to be able to work side by side with local women mixing giant cauldrons of wool and dye! By the end of the
morning we had certainly gained an appreciation for how much work goes into each finished piece of weaving. Hungry from all our hard work, we were treated to a delicious traditional lunch, the highlight of which was the chance to try the local specialty... qui or guinea pig! We were very proud of our students for trying it.

In the afternoon we visited Moray and Salineras. Moray is an set of circular terraces which some experts believe was used for Inca-era agricultural experiments due to the wide variation in temperature between the top and bottom levels. Salineras is a set of active salt pans which have been used since Inca times, a very interesting stop.

On Friday morning we worked on the second part of our community service projects--painting part of a local school and cleaning and varnishing desks. Though it was hard work, it was definitely an eye-opening experience to spend some time at the school. As it was our last day in Ollanta, we spent the afternoon focusing on our On Assignment projects, photographers working in the highlands and archaeologists interviewing locals and finishing up with notes about the town's Inca architecture.

On Saturday we awoke bright and early to get started with our day of hiking. We waved goodbye to Ollanta and drove up to the small mountain town of Patacancha. In Patacancha we met our local guides and loaded our gear onto horses. Though it was tough to get started walking uphill at high altitude the whole group persevered and, with the help of a few horses, made it over the 15,000 ft / 4,500 m Ipsayccasa Pass! After lunch we slowly descended through spectacular Andes scenery, past groups of grazing llamas and curious kids. Eight hours after we began, we finished in the town of Lares. We (Michael and Lindsay) were thrilled that every member of the group finished the hike. We couldn't have picked a better spot to stop and spend the night than in Lares because the town is famous for its hotsprings, which were oh so welcome after the long hike! It was a fun way to celebrate the Fourth of July.

Yesterday we woke up and jumped in the hotsprings one last time before packing up our tents and boarding our bus bound for Cusco. We stopped for lunch in Pisac and students practiced their bargaining skills in the famous Sunday market. We arrived in Cusco in the afternoon and had a break before heading out to dinner. Having spent the last 10 days in the countryside, Cusco feels like a very big city! We are looking forward to spending the next two days exploring the "navel of the earth" with National Geographic Expert Peter Frost.

Saludos desde Cusco,
Lindsay and Michael

Friday, July 3, 2009

Life in Ollantaytambo

We began our first full day in Ollantaytambo learning about regional history at the local museum. Our home base for nine days, Ollantaytambo (or Ollanta, as the locals refer to it) is today a town of 2,000 inhabitants whose history is disproportionate to its size. Ollanta functioned as an important agricultural production and storage centre during Inca times, serving the large urban population in nearby Cuzco, capital of the Inca Empire. In addition, it was (and still is) a stop-over on the route between Cuzco and Machu Picchu, and its temple/fortress served a defensive role when necessary. Ollanta is famous as the site of a rare Inca victory in a battle against the Spanish Conquistadors in 1537. Today the town is known as the “living Inca city” because little of the its layout and character has changed since Inca times. After finishing up in the museum, we spent the rest of the day exploring the Inca-era streets in On Assignment groups.

On Sunday we switched our walking gear for wetsuits and spent the morning rafting down the Urubamba River. The Urubamba winds its way through the Sacred Valley, past Ollanta and Machu Picchu before ending in the Amazon! We didn`t make it that far, but we had a great time navigating Class 2 and 3 rapids and getting to know our local guides. After a sunny river side picnic lunch we again spent the afternoon in On Assignment groups, photographers solidifying their manual camera skills and archaeologists taking a preliminary look at Ollanta’s famous Inca ruins.

On Monday we were lucky to be in town to witness Ollanta Raymi, a local festival featuring a performance at the Inca ruins. The performance included over 450 local participants dressed in traditional costumes to re-enact the story of the Inca general Ollanta’s doomed love for the daughter of the Inca King. Photographers were thrilled to get a chance to cover such a colourful event while Archaeology students were lucky to get a chance to see how the locals interpret and have pride in their Inca heritage.

In the afternoon we had our first meeting with Peter Frost, our National Geographic Expert. He arrived with an Andean shaman who blessed our journey by burning a package of local goods as an offering to Pachamama. Our final activity of the day was listening to Peter introduce us to the history of Peru and of the Inca Empire. His presentation was a great overview and gave us a lot to talk with him about over dinner.

Tuesday morning we again met up with Peter, this time for a tour of the Inca ruins. It was a treat to be able to be shown around this complicated and mysterious site by such a knowledgeable expert! When we finished exploring the ruins Peter walked us through town and showed us to a Chicharia – a house where local women brew a popular concoction made of fermented corn. Though Peter was the only one whose stomach was strong enough to try it, we appreciated the opportunity to see inside a local home and to learn about the chicha making process. Inspired by our visit with our expert, we spent the rest of the day working on our On Assignment projects.

One of the interesting features of Ollantaytambo is that Inca-era canals still run through and around the town. Though a fine example of Inca ingenuity, the canals require regular maintenance and cleaning so we thought it only appropriate to incorporate the canals into part of our community service component. We were impressed by our students' willingness to get dirty in order to give back to the community! The students pulled a lot of plastic out of the water and were reminded of the importance of limiting our use of plastic bags and bottles.

Having spent the morning hard at work, we were rewarded with an afternoon soccer game at the local field. The group was proud to introduce the game of yoga ball soccer to Peru, which was fittingly chaotic and hilarious and attracted a huge crowd of local kids who were all too happy to join in the fun!

We have a lot to look forward to in the next couple of days, including a day trip to a textile centre in Chinchero and helping to paint a local school here in Ollanta!

Hasta Luego

-Lindsay and Michael

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Photos from the first few days

at Larco museum, Lima

on the streets of Ollantaytambo . . .

our rafting trip . . .

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Saludos from Ollantaytambo

We arrived in Lima early Thursday morning and met Lindsay who was waiting patiently at the airport. After a short nap and breakfast, we started the day with introductory meetings in our On Assignment teams. Archaeology and Ancient Culture students were introduced to their subject with a visit to Huaca Pucllana, a mud-brick temple constructed by the Lima Civilization in 500 AD. It was exciting to see archaeologists actively excavating the site. They told us that only five days ago they found remains of a human sacrifice! Photography students began with a meeting and slide show about learning how to control all the settings on the camera and an overview of what being ´On Assignment´ entails.

The group spent the afternoon visiting some of Lima´s most famous sites, including the Parque del Amor, a cliffside coastal prominade where locals lounge and tourists fly by, paragliding on the coastal wind currents. Photo students captured the commotion of the historic Plaza de Armas while the archaeologists were intrigued by the the catacombs of the Monasterio de San Francisco, where the remains of 25,000 people have been sorted and arranged into eerie designs. A local guide walked us through the fascinating private collection in the Museo Rafael Larco Herrera, home to some of the most famous and well preserved artifacts of Peru´s many ancient cultures. We finished with a dinner at a local Peruvian-Argentian restaurant.

Yesterday we woke early to catch our flight to Cuzco. Miguel, our local contact, met us at the airport and drove with us to Ollantaytambo, our home for the next 10 days. We walked through ancient Inca streets on our way to lunch where the group tried chicha morada, a local drink made from purple corn. Adjusting to the altitude (2800m/9186ft) wasn´t a problem but we relaxed for the afternoon and finished our orientation activities.

This morning students caught up on sleep or woke early to catch soft morning light with their cameras. A few worked individually with Michael, learning more about the camera´s capabilities. Next, we visited the local museum, CATCO, which opened especially for our group. During lunch at Hearts Cafe we had a chance to meet and speak with the owner Sonia, who runs a local non-governmental organization (NGO) with the profits made from the cafe. Students were happy to have a chance to speak with Sonia about the NGO´s health, education and conservation projects in local mountain communities. After a break from the sun, the we broke into On Assignment teams for special projects. Archaeology and Ancient Culture students spent the afternoon walking through Ollantaytambo on an scavenger hunt where they learned about local foods, exploring Inca city streets and practiced Quechua words from locals. The photo students began with a short critique of the photos from this morning and yesterday before breaking off into small groups to continue shooting around town.

With all the action we can´t believe we have only been here in Peru for three days! We are excited to get active tomorrow on a rafting adventure and on Monday to meet with our National Geographic Expert, Peter Frost.

Hasta luego,

Michael and Lindsay