We left Ollantaytambo and headed to the bigger city, Cusco, where we would spend our last night and complete our final purchases before our flight to Lima and then to JFK. This was a nice hotel that had a beautiful outdoor courtyard with gardens and a breakfast room that was made entirely of windows. When we arrived in the afternoon we split off to do what we wished and were only told to stay in groups of at least four. I stuck with a group of five other girls and we decided to head right out and do some shopping. We had been consistently told throughout the trip to save our money until Cusco because everything would be cheaper there, so we were in desperate need of gifts for our families and friends at home. We walked down to the different markets where there were many vendors selling colorful tapestries, sweaters, t-shirts, jewelry, and other trinkets. It was hard to resist all of the beautiful things they had displayed. The vendors were pretty aggressive but we quickly learned how to bargain and were proud to tell our friends of the good buys we made.
I opened my eyes and saw a tent above my head. It was day two of the overnight hike in the Andes. We hiked most of the day yesterday and then reached our campsite at about 3:30 in the afternoon with time to relax before dinner. It had been hot all day but there was a significant temperature drop when the sun disappeared behind the mountains, and after dinner, when it was dark, we all scurried back to our two-person tents to bundle up and go to bed, despite the fact that it was only 8:30 PM.
When I woke up my stomach was churning, but I ignored it—too cold to think about getting up to get medicine or anything. After breakfast at 7:30, those of us up for the challenge began our hike further up the mountain to the “saddle” between two other mountain peaks. The journey up probably took about an hour and fifteen minutes, but it was very strenuous and hard to breathe. This was probably one of the most physically demanding things I’ve done in my life. We were headed to Inti Punku (Puerto del Sol) or the “Door to the Sun.” When we spotted this door up at the saddle from a distance it seemed much closer than it was in reality. When we finally made it I felt incredible. We were actually standing on top of a mountain in the Andes. I kissed the doorway out of pride when I walked through it, and we stayed up in the little square of ruins for about 45 minutes, taking pictures, journaling a bit, talking, and congratulating ourselves. I tried to memorize how I felt at that moment, looking overtop of the surrounding mountains, so I could save it and feel it again later at exciting time, like maybe when I get into college or something. We were 4,000 meters high.
Going down was a lot easier cardio-wise, but there were many loose rocks and the trail was rather steep, so it was slightly startling when I slipped every once in a while, especially with the steep drop easily within reach.
In the end, we all safely made it down the mountain and, looking back, I think this was my favorite part of the trip.
Today was our first morning waking up in our host families’ houses. I roomed with Maddie and we lived with a family of four kids: a boy who was 28 named Javier, a girl named Eliana who was 25, a 16 year old boy named Luis, and a 13 year old boy named Alex. We had a room to ourselves, and a shower with hot water, so we were very happy. The family we lived with was a little shy at first, and it was difficult for me to communicate with them because I hardly speak any Spanish, but Maddie helped me say some things, and I tried to be as polite as possible because it was very generous of them to open their home up to us and cook us three meals a day (which were very good).
Maddie and I woke up early, even without an alarm clock, because Ollantaytambo (the name of the town where we stayed) is bustling by 6:30. We got ready in our work clothes for the first day of service at the local high school, and after breakfast we walked to the school and met up with the group. I loved seeing the mountains on the walk to school. I don’t know how the kids here get any work done; I’d be too busy staring out the window!
Our service project throughout the trip was building a wall at the high school. The trench for the wall was already dug and we were to move cinder blocks and mix cement and do other preparations for the wall. Right inside the school’s gate was a pile of 1,000 cinder blocks and another 1,000 were on their way. When the new shipment was delivered, our whole group made one long assembly line and passed blocks down the line. The people at the end of the line made a new pile, closer to where the wall was actually being built. Some of us were skeptical as to why the blocks weren’t originally delivered closer to the wall trench, but it was easier to just move blocks and not ask questions, because that’s not how they were delivered and they had to be moved anyway. This task of passing cinder blocks down an assembly line seems quite simple but, block by block, the tensions grew, especially when there was a holdup of blocks because someone was struggling with one or because their grip slipped. When instances like this happened, the blocks built up and we were at a standstill. A holdup was usually followed by much yelling and talk of, ‘fixing the system.’ “Come closer!” or “Spread out!” were common cries down the line. Despite many attempts to fix the chinks, eventually there would be more yelling and frustration. I believe that this was more a product of the tediousness of the work rather than the fortitude of the group. After about two hours and 1,000 cinder blocks, however, we were all thrilled to be finished so we could act civilized again, and rest our shaking arms.
After lunch we got to relax a bit and play some team-building games. We were happy to go home that night to shower and veg because it had been a long, tiring day and we wanted to get some good sleep because the next morning we were headed off to Patacancha (a weaving community where we would learn how local weavers spin and dye their yarn, and how they create the beautiful woven things we see sold in the markets). We would even get to do some shopping!
After a quick breakfast with the group we walked all together to the base of the sun temple ruins. We met up with a local guide and he led us up the ruins, explaining Incan history along the way. Every activity we do here seems to involve ‘a short hike up the mountain,’ so I often feel a little winded, but we are trying to avoid altitude sickness as best we can by staying hydrated and drinking coca tea (a tea made of coca leaves that supposedly helps prevent this sickness).
The Inca engineering is incredible. The steps we climbed up were granite rocks about 2’ wide by 4’ deep, and very thick. I can’t completely wrap my head around how these huge rocks were transported. The ancient people harvested them from the top of a neighboring mountain, and then used timber, ramps, animals, and their own physical strength to haul them up to a very high point on the mountain of the sun temple. I wonder how many years and people it took to do this. There is evidence here at the sun temple of the Spanish invasion because some rocks were abandoned on the ramp on the way to the temple. How disappointing it must have been to not be able to finish.
The temple walls are built like a giant puzzle—each fitting into the other with such precision that you could not fit a sheet of paper in-between them. I tried to soak up as much history and knowledge from these people as possible. The architecture here is amazing. We learned that trapezoid-shaped doors and windows are a distinctive feature of Incan architecture and this is an easy way of differentiating ruins.
The placement of these structures also amazes me. The Incans looked at the nature around them and the shapes of the mountain and then built in a way that incorporated the earth. Unlike in today’s society, where we destroy nature and build up our own towers, the Incans embraced nature and trusted its guidance for their architecture. They seemed to have had no problems with landslides, earthquakes, or erosion; after all, mountains have been standing for quite a long time…
There are only five short days until I depart from the U.S. on my way to Peru along with a bunch of my classmates. Despite what you may be thinking from the title of this blog post, I do not speak Spanish. That was straight from Google translate. Though I learned Spanish throughout Lower and Middle School, I now take French, and have lost most of the ability to speak and understand Spanish over the years…I will be living with Maddie though, who is in Spanish 6, so I’m feeling pretty fortunate.
I have been at Westtown since first grade and have always heard about the amazing experiences that the seniors have over Senior Projects, and read many of their blog posts as an underclassman. Now it’s my time to discover a piece of Peru and share my stories, and possibly evoke some envy from those who are still in classes over these next few weeks…
Since November the Peru group has been meeting on Wednesday evenings in preparation for our departure. We’ve talked about many things including cultural differences, dressing in a way that is respectful of the local community, host family gifts, personality types, and even some very intimidating things like how to say “hello” in the local Quechua dialect: Napaykullayki (pronounced Nuh-pie-kuyaki). I’m hoping I can get away with “hola” most of the time, though I look forward to immersing myself in the culture and trying my best to learn the local language. Continue reading “Cinco dias!!!”