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