We began our adventure in the Andes, tallest mountains in the Western Hemisphere, with an afternoon tour of Sacsayhuaman. This epic archaeological site is perched above the city of Cusco. Built by the Inca civilization, it features a three-layered string of giant stones shaped like a lightning bolt and fitted together like pieces of a giant puzzle. According to our guide, Hector, each layer represents an aspect of the Inca trilogy: the under world (where we came from), the surface of the earth (where we are) and the heavens above (where our spirits go after death).
After a few hours climbing around Sacsayhuaman, we were ready for a rest: life at 11,000 feet can be tiring! So we settled into the San Jeronimo Alberque, ate a simple dinner and retired. The next day we enjoyed a lecture on Andean spirituality by Juan Carlos Machicado, author of “When the Stones Speak,” and a presentation on Andean folk music by flautist Amaru and guitarist Percy, two musicians who perform regularly in the Cusco area. The following day we learned about mining — both the economic benefits and the environmental and social costs — from Catalina Jiménez Aguilar, an agronomist and faculty member at the University of San Antonio Abad (second oldest university in the Americas). Then we packed up for our journey to a remote Andean village located several hours, and a world, away.