Recent Posts

February 9, 2013

Textiles and Tastes

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 willing to spend their time shearing alpacas, spinning and dying the wool, and using it to weave intricate designs handed down from their ancestors.  We visited a weavers’ cooperative in Chincheros for a demonstration and a chance to support this homegrown industry with our own…

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February 7, 2013


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 the nearly invisible gold powder into small lumps large enough to sell.  We have heard many things about informal mining in Peru — how common it is, how lucrative it is (or isn’t) and how much the use of mercury, a natural but toxic substance,…

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February 6, 2013

Village Life

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 they eat and eat what they grow.  The food is natural and healthy — chemical fertilizers and pesticides are expensive and have not reached the remote areas.  Rural electrification projects have connected many of these places to the regional grid.  But the expense of electronic…

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February 3, 2013

Sacsayhuaman + 10k

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 and celebrations were conducted.  Soon after the Spanish marched on horseback into Cusco, it became a battleground littered by the bodies of Inca soldiers.  The corpses were far too numerous to bury before the vultures arrived — Sacsayhuaman means “stuffed falcon” in Quechua. Today, thousands…

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February 2, 2013


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 stories and pictures from our travels. In the meantime, we have returned to Lima, Peru’s capital, home to eight million people.  The students have met their new families and are spending the weekend getting acquainted with their host mothers, sisters, fathers, brothers and grandparents as…

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January 26, 2013

So Much to Learn

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, the word for avocado is palta.  And there is an emphasis on speaking correctly, even cunningly.  After all, Castellano is directly descended from the Spanish nobility.  The students are divided into three groups depending on their competency and each afternoon they learn, or re-learn, how…

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January 22, 2013


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 here that the Inca Pachacutec, the royal leader responsible for expanding the empire far beyond what we now know as Peru, asked his engineers to research and develop water delivery technologies.  According to our guide, Hector, the channels and fountains we observed depended on two…

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January 19, 2013

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 fields were washed away in the flooding.  And the tourist dollars that pump up the local economy disappeared for a while, meaning that people had to deal with both the loss of their assets as well as a drop in their incomes. During the months…

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January 17, 2013

Our first week of lectures and workshops began with a diverse set of presenters.  Jerrell, who teaches economics when not helping Jane lead the Peru Study Service Term, opened with a presentation on the Peruvian economy.  At first glance Peru seems quite poor when compared to the United States — the average Peruvian earns the equivalent of $5,500, while up north the average income is $48,890.  But prices are much cheaper here; taking this into account would double Peru’s average income by comparison.  And these figures do not take into account the value of the potatoes or corn a farmer…

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January 15, 2013

Orientation — Part 2

The Andes are spectacular.  With peaks reaching over 20,000 feet and valleys made green by the recent rains, the tallest mountains in the western hemisphere provide a striking backdrop to our study program.  People have called the sierra home for thousands of years.  They have sustained themselves through strong traditions and hard work, learning from their ancestors how and when to plant potatoes, corn and habas (broad beans).  Seasons are marked by planting time and harvest time, by the wet season and the dry season.  Knowledge has been passed down from generation to generation in the form of stories and…

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