Thursday, July 30, 2009

Lares to Cusco

July 28 – Lares to Cusco

Hello family and friends,

Today we spent most of the day in transit between our campsite at the hotsprings of Lares and our final destination at our hostal in Cusco. We woke up listening to locals who were already splashing in the hotsprings at 6:30!

After a peanut butter and banana pancake breakfast we set off on another long journey, this time by bus. After the hike yesterday it was nice to sit back and relax on our bus for morning. We stopped briefly in Pisac for an empanada lunch break before continuing on to Cusco.

Our hostal is located in the narrow alleys of Cusco's
San Blas neighborhood, which made getting our luggage to our rooms a challenge, but the views from our rooms are definitely worth it. After taking some time to shower and settle in the group celebrated our arrival in Cusco with a big dinner before getting some well-deserved sleep. We’re looking forward to exploring Cusco with Peter Frost tomorrow.

Jordan and Lindsay

We woke up this morning at the hotsprings of Lares
Photo by expedition leader Lindsay Mackenzie

Well, most of us woke up (this is Jordan in his sleeping bag)
Photo by Lindsay Mackenzie

The valley view from the bus en route from Lares to Cusco
Photo by Lindsay Mackenzie

Cusco at night. . . this is the vista from our hostal
Photo by expedition leader Jordan Gantz

Let’s make like a llama and hike!

July 27 – Let’s make like a llama and hike!
Blog written by Hannah Dunsirn, Menasha, WI

This morning we woke up at 5:00 a.m. to get ready for our big hike through the Andes. The brisk morning coupled with the high altitude made for a challenging start, however on the plus side, after four days of rain we were lucky to find the sun smiling at us. The hike was tough but we were fortunate to have six horses to help us out along the way. We began in the village of Patacancha and walked up through arid mountains spotted with llamas and alpacas and the occasional stone and straw village. Our lunch consisted of sandwiches and a stunning view of a high alpine lake. When reaching the top of Ipsakaya Pass we were greeted with snow at our feet. We can now say that we have experienced snow in July. With the high altitude, we were out of breath when we arrived at the top of the Pass at just under 15,000 ft! The rest of the trail down the mountain went quickly, we were all quite proud of ourselves for finishing the 7-hour trek.

Our bus picked us up in a small town called Wakawasi. From there we took an hour and a half drive to Lares. In Lares we set up camp at a set of natural hot springs. As soon as we set up camp we relaxed our tired muscles in the warm pools of water that lay within feet of our tents. After heating up in the hot springs we made noodles, beans, and rice. It was the perfect way to end the long journey.

Walking through the hills at the beginning of our hike
Photo by Felix Jordan from Cologne, Germany

The group taking a break to catch their breath in the high altitude
Photo by Felix Jordan

Llama lookout
Photo by Felix Jordan

Our guide and local contact, Miguel, taking a well deserved break
Photo by Felix Jordan

Traditional meets modern…
Photo by expedition leader Jordan Gantz

Summit shot! Celebrating everyone making it to 15,000 feet.
Photo by expedition leader Jordan Gantz

Pisac Market and Ruins

July 26 – Pisac Market and Ruins
Blog written by Danielle Itin, Englewood, NJ

Today, the group got up early and drove to Pisac, famous for its huge Sunday market. The rolling mountains and farmland created a beautiful backdrop to the bus ride. We were welcomed into Pisac by a traditional Peruvian wedding taking place at the local church, and we got to experience some of the culture behind the celebration. After working on our On Assignment projects, we spread out in groups of three and four to put our negotiation skills to the test in the market.

The market was filled with bright colors and Peruvian patterns, along with persistent shopkeepers, whom we were encouraged to bargain with. Everyone loved being immersed in the culture and conversing with the locals, plus, buying loads of souvenirs. After a few hours spent at the marketplace, we got on the bus again and headed towards the ruins of Pisac. The ruins are the largest fortress-city-temple complex of the Incas. It was cold and windy but the ruins were great. After touring around them we headed back to Ollantaytambo.

In the evening everyone started packing, picking up laundry, and preparing for the hike the next day. Later we headed to Pachamama Grill to warm up with quinoa soup for dinner. It was the place where we ate our first dinner, and our last, in Ollantaytambo. The food was filling and good, and after we ate we picked up the pottery we made in town. We’re almost all packed and we’re excited to get started on our hike tomorrow!

Traditionally dressed local boys blowing conch shells in the huge Sunday Market in Pisac

Photo by Gabriel Ruiz Blake, Puigpunyent, Illes Balears, Spain

A bride and groom walking toward their wedding ceremony at a small local church

Photo by Gabriel Ruiz Blake

Friendly market greetings

Photo by Gabriel Ruiz Blake

Catherine emerges from a cave on one of the Inca roads inside the ruins of Pisac

Photo by Gabriel Ruiz Blake

Looking out over the ruins of Pisac

Photo by Gabriel Ruiz Blake

Some of the most precise and intricate Inca stonework

surrounds the Intiwatana or ‘hitching post of the sun’ in the ruins of Pisac

Photo by expedition leader Lindsay Mackenzie

The intermittent rain created a stunning rainbow that greeted us upon arrival at the ruins.

Photo by expedition leader Lindsay Mackenzie

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Chinchero Textile Centre

July 25th - Chinchero Textile Centre
Written by Kathleen Pait from Little Rock, AR

Today began with an hour long drive through beautiful, rolling hills of countryside and colorful farmland of rich greens, browns, oranges, and yellows, to reach Chinchero in order for the group to visit a textile center. We were able to watch demonstrations of alpaca and sheep wool spinning and were even lucky enough to participate in the traditional art of wool weaving.

The Chinchero Textile Center is a recipient of a National Geographic grant because it preserves and revives ancient cultural textile traditions. Both the Archeologists and Photographers were given assignments to document the process of creating textiles. We were then introduced to our first true traditional Peruvian meal which included cooked maiz, vegetables, soup, mixed tea, grains, and the very unique dish that only some of us were daring enough to try: Guinea pig.

We headed back to Ollantaytambo where the Photographers got to work on another assignment and the Archaeologists scouted the town to ask townspeople more about the local language called Quechua. We’re so excited to head to the Sunday market tomorrow to find some awesome souvenirs!

*A note from the expedition leaders: On Sunday we are headed to the market in Pisac before we begin our hike in the highlands on Monday, finishing up at a campsite at the hotsprings in Lares. It is likely that we will not be in touch with another blog update until Wednesday, July 29th from Cusco.

Until then!
-Lindsay and Jordan

Watching a master weaver at work at the textile centre in Chinchero
Photo by Jessie Ludin, Upperville, VA

One of the weavers helping Emma
Photo by Jessie Ludin, Upperville, VA

The Centre uses only natural products to create dyes for the wool, reviving ancient traditions in the process . Local plants, roots, flowers, minerals, and even dried, crushed insects are boiled and combined with fibers to create a wide array of natural colors. This photo show lichens used to create the brown color shown in the wool.
Photo by expedition leader Lindsay MacKenzie

Cuy or guinea pig - the centrepiece of our traditional highland lunch!
Photo by Jessie Ludin, Upperville, VA

Watching paragliders take off at a viewpoint above the town of Urubamba.
Photo by Jessie Ludin, Upperville, VA

Rainy Day Rearrangements!

July 24 – Rainy Day Rearrangements!

Written by Forrest DiPaola, North Vancouver, BC

Today we awoke to cool temperatures, rain, and mist; something the locals tell us is very rare for this time of year. We had planned to spend today helping out in a small highland community, making mud bricks and picking potatoes, but neither of these activities were possible in the rain. Instead of working on the farm we took advantage of the time inside to continue with on our On Assignment projects. Photography students critiqued their recent assignments while the Archaeology students started to work on their final project – creating a guidebook to the Inca Empire.

We had a leisurely lunch at a cafe that donates its profits to children who are in poverty. After lunch we went to pottery shop to make bowls or cups with clay. After the potter gave us a short demonstration we attempted to make something ourselves. Most of us needed some help to shape the clay and some of us needed a lot of help! He also showed us how the Inca polished clay with smooth stones from the river.

After finishing our bowls and cups we had free time for the first time in two days. Many of us went shopping or sent emails to friends and family. In the evening we had takeout pizza and went back to photo critiquing or working on our book. Many of us headed to bed right after working on our On Assignment projects.

Photos below by Kaia DeBruin, Port Washington, NY

Kathleen and Jesse huddle for warmth in the hostal

Eduardo the ceramics teacher demonstrating how to make clay pots

Students attempting to follow Eduardo´s instructions

Ceramics scene

Evening photography critique at the hostal

Ollanta Ruins, Moray, and Salineras

July 23 – Ollanta Ruins, Moray, and Salineras

Written by Marya Mayne, Sioux City, IA

Today was a very eventful day in and out of Ollantayambo. We started out the morning in the Ollanta ruins guided by Peter Frost, our National Geographic expert. We hiked up to the top of the ruins where we were awed by the view of the town on one side and beautiful mountains on the other. We learned from Peter that most of the stones from the site were from a quarry over four miles away and that some of the stones may have been used at other sites before coming to Ollantayambo. Though Peter knew a great deal about the site, it was also interesting to discover that there are still many unsolved mysteries about the history of the ruins.

After the tour of the ruins, Peter showed us around town and took us into a local home whose architecture has not changed since the Inca era. Inside, a woman had brewed chicha, a traditional fermented corn beverage that also hasn’t changed much since Inca times. Strictly for educational purposes, Peter indulged in a glass of the frothy drink.

After lunch we headed to Moray, where instead of building terraces on the side of a hill, terraces were built on the walls of a depression in a circular shape. Some speculate that the Inca may have experimented with different agriculture growing techniques due to the microclimates created by the unique terracing.

Next, we headed to Salineras, an ancient salt mine in the mountains. But before we reached our destination, we had the opportunity to take pictures and observe a local family herding sheep and cattle. We were all in awe of the beauty of the mountains and excited at the opportunity to take pictures so up close and personal with locals and their herd. We made it to the salt mines before sundown and got to explore – and in some cases taste – the awesomeness that was Salineras. After this long day we were all pretty tired so we headed to one of our favorite places in town to enjoy some great burritos and then back to the hostel for a well deserved night of sleep.

Taking in the view of the highlands above Ollantaytambo
Photo by Ridgely Gaier, Indian River Shores, FL

NG Expert Peter Frost taking the group through the mysterious Inca ruins above Ollanta
Photo by Ridgely Gaier, Indian River Shores, FL

Inca-era agricultural terraces of Moray
Photo by Ridgely Gaier, Indian River Shores, FL

The salt ponds of Salineras
Photo by Ridgely Gaier, Indian River Shores, FL

Another view of the highlands above Ollanta
Photo by Hannah Dunsirn from Menasha, WI

Chatting with locals workers from Salineras-- we gave them a ride
up the hill to the main road to save them an hour walk!
Photo by Expedition Leader Jordan Gantz

The group poses during a stop in the highlands
Photo by Expedition Leader Jordan Gantz

Thursday, July 23, 2009

This blog is written by Alexa Garant from Tecumseh, Ontario.

We awoke bright and early to prepare for our first group hike. By 7:30 am we began our exploration of the plentiful Incan ruins that surround the beautiful valley of Ollantaytambo. The tedious trek upwards led us to a surreal view of the town and valley while enabling us to get an up-close look at the ruins we saw from below. The group ventured through ancient Incan storage houses while absorbing the amazing view. After an eventful morning, we returned to the hostal for lunch and a comedic group activity acting out episodes of Inca history. Shortly after, we were joined by National Geographic Expert Peter Frost as well as a traditional Andean shaman and his family. The shaman blessed our group on our journey by presenting an offering, which contained an eclectic assortment of items such as herbs, llama fat, candy wafers, and cocoa leaves. Later that evening, Peter Frost presented the group with a brief history of the Inca and pre-Incan empires before dinner. We had a tasty meal at a local restaurant before heading back to the Hostal for a good night’s sleep.

Photos below are by Katie Lohman from Sedro-Woolley, Washington

Enjoying the view on our morning hike.

Exploring Inca agricultural storehouses perched high above the town of Ollantaytambo

A traditional Andean shaman adds items to the pago or offering for
(Earth Mother) while his wife watches in the background.

At the end of the ceremony the pago was burnt over a small fire

Students acting out Inca historical skits. Alexa Garant
commentates whileHannah Dunsirn acts as Atahualpa,
the victor in the pre-conquest Inca civil war.

Rafting on the Urubamba River

*This blog is written by student Catherine Ake

This morning we started off with a white water rafting trip down the Urubamba River. It was a beautiful ride through the mountains, with Incan ruins on both banks. It was awesome to know that we were riding down a tributary of the Amazon River. Before the trip, we helped some local Peruvian women shuck corn. It was fun to help them, and neat to see all of the different colors and varieties. The trip ended with a picnic lunch overlooking the river and the snow capped Andes.

After browsing through the town, the afternoon picked up again with a game of yoga ball soccer with some locals. Yoga ball soccer differs from the traditional game by substituting two large yoga balls in place of a standard soccer ball. Each ball is worth different points according to its size; the bigger the ball the more points it is worth. The field was surrounded by mountains and gave a dramatic backdrop to our intense match. After two of our yoga balls popped, we ended the game, and played ultimate frisbee with some American volunteers that we met on the field. By the time that we finished, our lungs felt like they were going to burst due to the high altitude and lack of oxygen. (About 9,000 feet!!) We ended the day with a huge pizza feast and an evening stargazing and storytelling session.

Photo by Saskia Taylor

Photo by Saskia Taylor

Photo by Lindsay Mackenzie

Photo by Lindsay Mackenzie

Photo by Lindsay Mackenzie

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Saludos from Ollantaytambo

This blog is written by student Kathleen Pait from Little Rock, AR.

Monday, July 20th

After waking up at 8 o’clock to the cool, dry mountain air, we enjoyed a delicious breakfast of bread and jam, fruit, coffee, and pineapple juice. We then headed over to a local museum to learn about the history of Ollantaytambo and the Inca ruins that overlook the Sacred Valley like protective guardians. They seem to sprout out of the surrounding mountains like weeds from a garden. We left the museum to walk the streets of the town, taking peeks into local houses, conversing with the indigenous peoples, and taking our first true samples of the culture.

Our group leaders then sent us on a scavenger hunt around town. We split up into groups of three or four and hustled around to gather the items we had been assigned to find. For lunch we ate at a small local, non-profit café. All proceeds the café makes go to helping the children and women in small highland communities of the Sacred Valley. Some group members donated warm clothing and children´s books to the NGO director. We were touched by her gratitude for such small donations.

After lunch, we divided up into our On Assignments groups to learn about our projects and get an idea of what we would be doing for the next few weeks. We also had some time to explore the town on our own, practice our Spanish with the locals, and browse through the markets before dinner, which was also at a small local restaurant. To wrap up the night, the group gathered together for a short pow-wow back at the hostal before watching a National Geographic movie about the archaeological excavations we visited on our first day in Lima. It was a full first day in Ollanta!

Photos below by
student, Felix Jordan from Cologne, Germany.

View of Ollanta´s famous ruins from the roof of the CATCO museum

Traditionally dressed local women pose in Ollanta´s Inca-era streets

A collection of artifacts inside a local home

Finding exotic fruits during our scavenger hunt at the local market

working in On Assignment groups on photography focus techniques

Landing in Lima

Post written on Saturday, July 18

After meeting in Miami, the group arrived in Peru early on Saturday morning. The capital of the most archaeologically rich country in South America, Lima, was a great place to get an initial glimpse of the depth and diversity of Peru´s ancient cultures, and there was no better person to introduce us to this topic than National Geographic Archaeologist Guillermo Cock.

Willy has worked extensively with Inca mummies, directing a team that excavated an Inca burial site called Puruchuco. Situated on the rapidly developing outskirts of Lima, Puruchuco is the largest Inca burial site ever discovered - in total, over 1769 intact mummies have been found there! Willy showed us around Puruchuco, telling us about what they discovered from the excavations. One of the most interesting finds were skeletons of people who had been killed by European weapons, the first casualties of the Spanish Conquest ever discovered. Willy also showed us around the remains of a coastal Inca Palace and its small museum. It was an exciting introduction to our expedition!

In the afternoon we had a short siesta and then spent the remainder of the day with a local guide at 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.

Tomorrow we head to the Sacred Valley to our home base of Ollantaytambo. We are excited to get there and get settled in.

More soon,
Lindsay and Jordan

Archaeologist Guillermo Cock with the group at the ruins of an
Palace in Puruchuco, Lima (photo by Jordan).

The Inca Palace is one of the only remaining examples of
coastal Inca architecture (photo by Lindsay).