Gill St. Bernard’s Peru
May 22-23, 2019
We arrived at JFK airport in New York and boarded our 7 hour flight to Lima, Peru. Our group was very excited for the start of this adventure; it was for most of us the first time going to South America, and, before we noticed, we woke up in Lima; it was time to find our bags and re-check in for our next flight, to the city of Cusco.
When we arrived in Cusco, the former capital of the great empire of the Incas, we were welcomed by a beautiful blue sky and our Peruvian guides, James and Fabricio, then we travelled to the historic plaza of Cusco where we saw some ancient edifices from the colonial period of the city and we learned some history about the Incas. Sunshine and the long journey to Peru made us all thirsty and hungry, our guides had lunch organized for us and we enjoyed different types of juice!
We then took a bus ride towards Urubamba, the largest town in the Sacred Valley area. Coming out of Cusco we stopped to visit an alpaca and lama farm, there we saw and fed different types of lamas and alpacas but we also could see a rare species, the Vicuna, the samples they had at this place had been rescued and are being protected. We also learned how local traditional communities weave the alpaca yarns.
We went back on the bus to the hotel Samana Wasi in Urubamba, we drove a scenic road with beautiful and incredible views of the Sacred Valley, the mountains and snowcaps: It had been a great day already and we were all tired but happy. We gathered in a comfortable resting area and discussed our plans and goals for the trip, and after we held an orientation meeting with our guides we enjoyed a delicious three course meal. It was a beautiful starry night we could see before settling into bed before another great day.
By Sofia, Anna, and Allison
May 24, 2019
In the morning after a delicious breakfast we traveled towards the small town of Ollantaytambo where our guide James is originally from, there, we took part in the Sacred Valley Community Service Project. This project helps young women from Andean communities attend school by giving them a place to stay throughout the week so they do not have to walk many hours every day from their homes to the town where the school is at; Andean communities in Peru lack infrastructure like schools, hospitals and many times also roads and transportation, making it almost impossible for many children to attend school. It feels so rewarding to take part in a project that is helping improve the lives of these young women and their families too.
Sun was shining on the mountain peaks and the uneven cobblestone street of the old Ollantaytambo reminded us we were in the rural parts of Peru, the smell of grass and wet earth as we approached Sacred Valley Project building was the beginning of a great day of service work. We met Gaby, the woman in charge of this project, who had us divided in groups to take part in activities ranging from: gardening the soil and help building dormitories, it was a rewarding experience that made us feel very grateful for our education in the United States.
At the end of the morning and after few snack breaks we watched a video about the project and enjoyed a delicious Peruvian meal, cooked by Maria who also cooks for the girls that live there. It was an amazing Quinoa soup and Aji de Gallina as a main (chicken on yellow pepper sauce).
Later in the day we broke off into two groups and did ceramics and jewelry making. At the ceramics we learned about the ancient techniques of the pottery wheel and at the jewelry making we got to learn how to and even make our own silver ring. At the end of the workshops we were given a surprise and our stomachs were full of the delicious guinea pig, a Peruvian delicacy. It was an exciting, adventures day where we got to give back to the Peruvian culture.
By Hannah C., Eve R., Hayley G.
May 25, 2019
Waking up bright and early we all crawled our way towards a 7:00am breakfast. At 8:00am we departed on the bus and began our day driving up the mountains surrounding Urubamba, landscape was overwhelming as we could see the snowy mountain peaks, and learning words in Quechua, the ancient language of native Peruvians, like “ari”, meaning “yes”, and “manan”, meaning “no”. This was in preparation for our day with the indigenous people in the community of Kajllarakay.
When we arrived to the community we were greeted by singing and clapping as we walked down the streets towards a common area. We were welcomed warmly to their home and we soon split into groups of three and went on our ways with separate families. For the next few hours we helped the families clean the corn fields and used a scythe to cut and harvest the corn. Returning to their house we then helped the family to remove kernels of corn from the cob. Throughout this process we were able to speak to the families using our recently learned Quechua words as well as some Spanish.
After a few hours we reconvened with the group and hiked up the mountain for a traditional Incan ceremony and some lunch. During the ceremony the people offered cocoa leaves and a drink made from fermented corn to the mountains, pouring these items onto the earth. It was inspiring to see such great appreciation for the earth, something that we take for granted. After the ceremony we ate a lunch of potatoes which were cooked in the earth at a temperature above 300 degrees Celsius. Potatoes were accompanied with a traditional sauce and some cheese and we ate this meal with the community sitting all together in a circle with an incredible view of the Apu Wakaywillka, a mountain god for the people in the community and the Sacred Valley. After finishing our meal we hiked back down the mountain and said our goodbyes to the community, which included music and dancing with the families. We left their community feeling happy and grateful for the opportunity to meet and spend our day with such amazing and welcoming people.
Left the village around 2:30 and it took about an hour to get back to our hotel. Once we got back we had around 2 hours to shower and relax before we met up for some reflection activities and dinner. At the reflection activity, we talked about some of our favorite experiences these past 2 days and some of the things that we found most different from home. As a group, we also discussed the differences between charities and sustainable development projects and how they can work together. We all agreed that our trip and projects strive for a long term positive impact on the local communities.
Right before dinner, we talked about our schedule for the next couple of days touring around the Sacred Valley and Machupicchu. For dinner, we had cream of onion and potato soup for an appetizer. The main course was pesto pasta and vegetables. The bonfire was an amazing way to finish off a great 3 days. We laughed and ate s’mores and spent time recollecting over the many memories we have made.
By Avery H., Briana M., Surbhi S.
May 26, 2019
After having breakfast in our hotel, we quickly loaded our luggage onto the bus and headed out. We spent our morning visiting and touring the ancient Pisac ruins, this ancient ruins were mostly houses made out stones and a very large cementery of pre-Hispanic times. Besides the beautiful landscape and views, we split into small groups and hiked up the mountain.
Then in the afternoon, we were able to visit the local market in Pisac and view the different goods and handicrafts the vendors were selling. Also, since it was Sunday, many of the indigenous Andean women had come to the market to sell fruit and authentic alpaca garments. During shopping, it was a good opportunity to practice our bargaining skills, and therefore utilize our spanish vocabulary. Our lunch was delicious typical empanadas and corn refreshments.
In the evening, before departing on the train to Machupicchu, we explored the old Ollantaytambo town and saw original Inca buildings constructed meticulously upon the grandiose mountains, for instance, we viewed all-natural fridges constructed at the highest peaks of mountains, food was placed inside them and preserved through the freezing winds and the coldness of these mountains.
We then proceeded to board our train to Aguas Calientes which is another name for the town of Machu Picchu, during the train ride our group played card games and drawing games, we had a great amount of jubilant fun! We finally arrived at hotel Wiracocha, where we heard instructions for the upcoming titillating experience – MachuPicchu!!
By Christiana, Karina, Vivian.
May 27, 2019
We departed early in the morning but the sun was still shining brightly as we boarded the bus headed to Machu Picchu. We walked from the hotel to the bus, seeing Aguas Calientes in day light for the first time since arriving the night before. The bus veered around sharp corners on a winding mountain road surrounded by thick vegetation where sunlight poured greenly through gaps in the canopy overhead. For the most part we silent, anxiously peering into our first glimpses of Machu Picchu. Finally we arrived.
Surrounded by magnificent mountains and beautiful wildlife, we first climbed to get a birds-eye view of Machu Picchu. We took a lot of pictures and took in the beauty of Machupicchu before playing a game with the rings we made last Thursday May 24. In order to play the game, we each randomly selected a ring from the pile which each had a number written inside for the person whose ring it was. Then, we each had to say something kind about that person or what we have learned about them during the trip. After we split up into groups, we finally got started with the tour of Machu Picchu.
Machu Picchu actually means “Old Mountain”. The actual name of the city is unknown. The terraces and precise stonework found throughout Machu Picchu were breathtaking. Machu Picchu was once a place to protect and train future leaders. Therefore, Machu Picchu was home to numerous classrooms and workshops along with religious temples and homes. When excavating, people found that about 50% of the skeletons were female and 50% were male. Because it was so exclusive the place was no widely known throughout the Inca Empire. This eventually helped Machu Picchu to remain hidden and intact when the Spanish Conquistadores came in search of gold. About 20% of Machu Picchu has been restored and 80% has survived nearly 600 years intact.
After lunch, we were asked by our leader to go explore the market In Aguas Calientes and compare it to the previous markets we had visited. This market differed from the previous markets we had shopped and explored in Ollantaytambo and Pisac, for example, the vendors were a lot less aggressive. In the previous towns, people would come up to us to sell us their products, but the vendors in Aguas Calientes waited until we came up to them and asked them about the prices of their goods. Many of these vendors also spoke English or listened to American songs. This is most likely due to the fact that Aguas Calientes has more tourists than the other towns. Also because of the tourists, the prices were a lot higher in Aguas Calientes.
When we finished shopping, we took a train to Cusco. The train cars were decorated with Inca-relating paintings. On the train we met many other groups of travelers. These travelers came from many different countries including Korea, Australia, France and the United States, showing the diversity of people that Machu Picchu attracts. There was also a dancer that went to different train cars dressed as Saqra, a playful and cheeky demon, to entertain the passengers. To pass the time we played cards with global works guides and they taught us how to play 3 new Peruvian card games.
Late into the evening we arrived back to Cusco. We were exhausted, but satisfied with the spectacularity of the da. Around 8pm we walked to a pizza place nearby to our hotel and we devoured pizzas and pitchers of sweet lemonade with feverish delight. When our hunger had been satisfied, we strolled down the beautiful nighttime-lit streets to where our hotel was comfortably nestled along a cobblestone street. It was the Hotel La Casa de Fray Bartolome in Cusco that we, at last, came to rest after such an exciting day.
By Allysa, Kaylee and Emily.
May 28, 2019
This morning we started by walking to the Incan museum in Cusco, it is an old colonial house that nowadays belongs to the public university of Cusco, San Antonio, which is the second oldest university of the Latin America. There our guides taught us much about the development of the Incan empire and the rich culture of Peru. There were many interesting artifacts to see and things to learn there.
Next we went to the chocolate museum where we saw the many uses of the cocoa plant and got to taste some delicious crafted chocolate. Once we finished that we headed to the local market, San Pedro, where we were given tasks meant to test our Spanish as we went around the market buying multiple items. These items were then collected to make a gift for the homeless or less fortunate which was very heartwarming.
We then set off to get lunch, where we ran into Fabricio and James, our local guides, in an amazing Peruvian restaurant and we had a great meal. After having that lunch, we met back up and explored the Cathedral of Cusco. This Cathedral was magnificent and full of rich Spanish and Incan history. It was great to have Fabricio tell us in depth about multiple parts of the Cathedral and shine light.
Later in the night we went salsa dancing. We had three teachers in a second floor studio where they taught us the basic steps. At first, we danced alone trying to get the basic moves down. After a while, we partnered up and tried to do the moves together. We switched partners for time to time so everyone got to follow and lead! At the end of the session, we were spinning around and trying dips, our main instructor, Charlie, was a memorable character!
Afterwards, we walked up to the main plaza of Cusco for dinner at Papillon, a local restaurant, some of us danced all the way there, the plaza was very lively with the yellow lights shining on the colonial cobblestone pavement.
Dinner was fantastic! Some had chicken on yellow pepper sauce, a famous Peruvian plate called “Aji de Gallina”, some others tried the fresh trout and some even ate Alpaca!!
Then we returned to the hotel for our last night in Peru, feeling sad for having to leave but happy we got to discover such a beautiful country!
By Edith, Preston, Barret
May 29, 2019
Today was a very short day but it was very meaningful. After breakfast we went to the hills above the city of Cusco, we stopped at the “white Jesus” statue in Cusco, a statue that was given to the city as a gift for its hospitality with immigrants from last century. It had great views and after some pictures we had some time to look and shop the goods local vendors were selling at this spot. We then moved to an old Inka site, we took a dirt path and reached a clearing in this little eucalyptus forest where we sat in a circle and we held our last reflection activity in this trip.
Reflecting back on the entire trip really opened our eyes. With all the ending activities, we all thought about what we gained from this trip which was a lot. It felt ironic how we were looking over the all Cusco city as we were all looking back at this amazing trip that most of us will remember for a life time. This was a very special moment for some andean instrumental music started to play, coming nowhere, it was the background of our reflections and our last words before leaving this magical country.
We got on the bus again and drove back to the hotel where after filling up evaluations we had our last lunch together; it was Peruvian specialties like “quinoa soup” and “rice pudding”.
We loaded our luggage to our bus and took off for the airport, the bus ride was very short and before we expected, it was time to say good bye to our guides and we went through security for our flight to Lima. Good bye Peru!!
By James and Andrew