Machu Picchu

All aboard!  Standing in front of our Peru Rail train in the Ollantaytambo Station

In the Quechua language, Machu Picchu means “Old Peak”.  A bit understated, it would seem.  For on this majestic outcropping of white granite, the Incas constructed a magnificent citadel — complete with houses, temples, stairways and terraces — incomparable in its beauty and design.  Hiram Bingham, a Yale University professor, is credited with discovering the … Keep reading »

Rocks and Flowers

Rocks and flowers

The rocks were cut, polished and placed here centuries ago.  The flowers, on the other hand, were fresh, the product of mid-summer rains that water the hillsides each year.  Ollantaytambo is a mix of old and new.  The main draw is a huge fortress, fashioned by Inca leaders as a defense against invaders and a … Keep reading »

Textiles and Tastes

Nice day for a tour -- the countryside near the village of Chincheros

Traditional woven cloth has made a comeback in the Cusco area in recent decades due, interestingly enough, to the strong demand for authentic materials and designs by international visitors.  Handmade textiles are time-consuming to produce.  However, if foreign tourists are willing to pay a fair price for the labor required, local weavers are more than … Keep reading »

Gold

This valley and the surrounding area are home to many informal gold mines

On our last day in Colquemarca we scheduled a workshop on the topic of informal, or artisan, mining.  We made our way to Jacinto’s house for a demonstration of how he produces small quantities of gold using fairly primitive technology — simple digging tools, an ore grinding stone and small quantities of mercury to concentrate … Keep reading »

Village Life

The road to Colquemarca follows a series of switchbacks down to a bridge over the Apurimac River, then back up again

The Andes mountains are home to tens of thousands of small villages, where families live and work much as they have for centuries, even millenia.  Subsistence farming is the common profession.  Sometimes people grow enough potatoes, corn or habas beans to produce a surplus to sell in the market.  But often they simply grow what … Keep reading »

Sacsayhuaman + 10k

Our guide, Oswaldo, introduces us to Sacsayhuaman

In the Inca world, lightning connects three realms — the heavens (home of the condor), the earth (home of the puma) and the underworld (home of the serpent).  Seen from above, the archaeological site known as Sacsayhuaman takes the shape of a lightning bolt, in triplicate.  This was a religious site, a place where rituals … Keep reading »

Transitions

With  his host father, Donald

Over the past week we have traveled far and wide through the Andes mountains, from a remote village called Colquemarca to the world-famous Inca citadel known as Machu Picchu.  With internet connections that were weak or non-existent, we were unable to upload photos to the blog until now.  Over the next several days we’ll post … Keep reading »

So Much to Learn

Gladys Allende gives her talk on "Climate Change"

Each student came to South America with some understanding of Spanish.  They studied it in high school or college and some even grew up speaking Spanish in their homes.  But the Spanish spoken in Peru, called Castellano, is distinct from that spoken in other parts of Latin America.  The vocabulary is often different; for example, … Keep reading »

Tipon

The students work on their first quiz of the term

The Inca culture constructed palaces, fortresses and temples that were built to last.  Made from massive stones that were tightly fit together, these structures are impressive in their cunning engineering and enduring beauty.  Our first visit to an Inca archaeological site took us to a little-visited placed called Tipon.  According to one theory, it was … Keep reading »

Rains, Mines and Quechua

Gathered in the village of Huacarpay

This is the rainy season in the Andes.  But the rain that fell this week is nothing compared to the torrent that lasted four days back in January 2010.  That extraordinary storm flooded the Cusco region, closing the airport for several days and the railroad line to Machu Picchu for several months.  Homes, businesses and … Keep reading »