For our last day in Peru students were free to explore the city of Cusco on their own. This beautiful city had much to offer in terms of food, shopping, history, and views.
Around 3:30 the group headed to the airport for the return flight. Many reunited with their families at JFK or boarded connecting flights. The bus pulled in front of Brooks House just before 4pm on Thursday, almost 24 hours after the journey began.
Thank you for reading the 2019 Peru GEO blog! We hope you have enjoyed it and wish everyone a great summer. ¡Hasta la próxima!
The group got up early on Tuesday to bid one last farewell to our hosts before heading off to Cusco, exchanging warm embraces in the chilly winter mountain morning air.
Along the way to Cusco we took many stops. One of the favorites was a local zoo, where we encountered many local (and exotic) species, including spectacle bears, llamas, alpacas, pumas, condors, deer, ocelots, monkeys, and of course, cuyes (guinea pigs).
We visited many ruins on the way to Cusco, most notably the Incan fortress of Sacsayhuaman. Situated high above the city of Cusco, this site demonstrates the scale and precision of Incan stonework. Massive stones were placed together without mortar and have stood for hundreds of years. In some places these master builders used uniquely shaped blocks to incorporate images of animals into the walls.
In addition to the many sites displaying Incan architecture, this gigantic lava rock made for a great slide.
Before descending into Cusco, we enjoyed some views from above the city (12,000+ feet!).
Upon arrival in the city, we enjoyed a wonderful buffet
lunch at a local restaurant before exploring the city. We took tours of the
Inca museum, el Convento De Santo Domingo, and La Catedral de Cusco. These
sites displayed combinations of Incan architecture and culture combined with
modern Spanish influence. For example, there is a large painting of the Last
Supper in the Cathedral that resembles many other depictions of this famous
gathering, but with one exceptional detail: the main dish on the table is cuy
Many of the buildings in Cusco are built on top of Incan foundations due to their resistance to earthquakes, which decimate the city roughly every 300 years.
The group took a brief rest at the hotel before heading out to our last dinner in Peru. In addition to a delicious Peruvian meal, we were treated to professional dances and music. Many students joined in the fun after putting down their forks.
For our last day in Ollantaytambo, students had a completely
free day. Some relaxed, some did some shopping at local markets, and others ran
to a natural pool in the mountains for a quick dip.
Later in the evening, all the students and host families got together for a big meal at the hostel. There each student stood before the group and expressed gratitude for their host family. Everyone enjoyed a wonderful meal cooked by our coordinators. As with any festivity in Peru, dancing ensued.
Thank you to the coordinators, host families, and all of the wonderful people of Ollantaytambo who made our stay in the village unforgettable.
This morning mass was held in two churches in Ollantaytambo. The services focused on the importance of El Señor de Choquekillka, one of the town’s prominent religious symbols. Prayers contained a fascinating mixture of Spanish and Quechua, the language of the Incas. After church, we congregated for lunch in a garden near El Tambo. However, today we ate Pachamanca-style. For those of you unfamiliar with this traditional Andean form of cooking (for shame, parents), a stone oven was buried underground to cook potatoes, lima beans, chicken, pork, and cuy (guinea pig!). We ate with our hands and washed it all down with chicha morada, a drink made from fermented corn (not to be confused with regular chica, an alcoholic beverage). All of our homestay families were invited as well so that we could enjoy one of our last meals together.
Later that afternoon, we continued the INTENSE COMPETITION
of soccer with some members of our host families. Surprisingly, Señor Viacava’s
team continued to come out on top. Alex maintained his famous streak of falling
down before scoring, while Pancho (the organizer of the homestay families)
lived up to his nickname as the “brick wall” goalie. Both of Alex’s hermanitos
joined in, and one managed to score a goal too.
In the evening, we had our regular meeting to recap the day
and discuss its highlights. Tomorrow will be our last full day with our
homestay families in Ollantaytambo – we’ll miss them as we head off to Cusco on
Today we spent the day exploring the almighty Machu Picchu.
We had to wake up super early, some of us woke up at 5 AM, and met at the train
station at 6:30. Our teachers didn’t show up until 6:45, but luckily the train did
not leave until 7. After an hour and a half of early morning train ride, we got
off in Machu Picchu Pueblo, a town at the base of the mountain. On the train we
were served brownies before any of us had the chance to eat breakfast. Next, we
took a bus to the top of the mountain on very windy roads and hiked the last 20
minutes to the top led by our fantastic guide Eddy.
In the city of Machu Picchu, there were more than 20 llamas roaming around and eating grass. Yumin, characteristically embracing the nature, tried to feed one of them a cracker, but Señora Vera quickly intervened, and the llama continued to happily eat its grass. Eddy explained to us that the llamas have a tendency to spit in self-defense, so feeding them was not ideal.
As we reached the top of the site, the prime picture location, we took the classic Peru GEO photo wearing our matching Groton T-shirts (some say this was the best one yet). After the photo op, we explored the ruins for a couple of hours and learned more about the history of the city. As per usual, Tai and Luke had their cameras at the ready and took a record number of photos in one day.
One of the most interesting parts of our tour was the stargazing pools. The Incas would use these tiny pools of water to reflect the stars at night and study the constellations. It was not night, so we couldn’t see any stars, but we could look at the sun and that was cool too. Max and George also took many more epic vlogs, stay tuned for the final product coming soon. Today we featured a surprise interview with Mr. Harvey. He didn’t really answer any of our questions, but we think he had a good time.
After a long day on the mountain, we descended back to Machu Picchu Pueblo and had lunch in a restaurant in the town. In a coincidence that defies all odds, we (Max and Tai) both ordered the exact same lunch, including appetizer, the day before without any communication. Our meal was pollo a la piña, or pineapple chicken for those of you who don’t speak Spanish, and we both agree it was one of the best things we’ve tasted in our short lives. Seriously, try it if you get the chance. The presentation was also top notch with the chicken mounted inside a hollowed-out half of a pineapple. I know, my mouth is watering too. Pictures below. Unfortunately, while we were at the restaurant we also witnessed the Peru men’s soccer team lose 0-5 to Brazil in the Copa América, but the pineapple chicken made up for the loss.
On the train ride home there was music and dancing and a
brightly dressed figure running through the cars. Tai was trying to sleep, but
everyone else was having a fun time.
After a filling breakfast with our families, we went to work with them again. Some of us worked in the artisanal markets, while others worked hard baking bread and cooking food. In this photo, our fearless leader, Cornelia, is working her butt off at the market. At the same time, our other strikingly handsome leader, Jorjito, was sitting in another shop, reading his book.
After lunch, we returned to the local school for more lessons with the children of Ollantaytambo. There was even more chess, soccer, bracelet making, and Marinera. All the children had a great time. At the end we took a group photo with all our new friends.
After the lessons, we all gathered at the local stadium to spend more time with the kids, flying kites. As the sun went down over the mountains, we watched as the kids had a great time flying kites.
After the fun with the kites,
we returned to El Tambo to discuss our day, and celebrate Elena’s birthday, and
our best friend Beto, who had a kid this morning. Everyone was happy when Señora
showed up with a delicious cake. We all grubbed hard. We are happy to announce
the leaders for tomorrow, leading us to Machu Picchu: Max and Tai!!
Today was our second day of working with our families. Some of us were hard at work while others of us were hardly working. Grace, for example, woke up at 3am to make bread while Luke just stood and held a hose for a little while. A few examples of various tasks that we did were selling items in the market, preparing meals, and working on our family’s farms.
After a rewarding lunch, we meet at El Tambo and headed to a nearby school to participate in various activities with the local kids. These activities included teaching the kids to make bracelets, learning to dance the Marinera, playing soccer, and playing chess and other board games. Both of us played in a very competitive soccer game turned into basketball game for a solid two hours.
We then embarked on a journey to the most delicious part of our day, a chocolate museum, where we molded our own chocolate figures. We also learned about the process and history of the cacao bean – a chocolate lovers favorite plant.
After stuffing ourselves, we went back to El Tambo for our daily reunion. We also had a very special announcement. Tomorrow is a very special day for someone in our very special group. This day is even more special as it is the winter solstice here in Perú, and in the Incan ruins in Ollantaytambo, there is a special rock structure that, when the suns first rays break through the mountains, shines a direct light on a fountain, symbolizing the connection between the sun and earth gods through the sacred water. Oh, and by the way, it’s also Elena’s birthday tomorrow.
We started off the morning with an hour-long bus ride along the river and train tracks coming into Ollantaytambo. Along the way we paused for a moment to look at a hotel called “Sky Lodge” which was literally in the face of the mountain with capsules for bedrooms hanging off the side of the cliff. Before our day took off, we also saw a dude on the zipline coming down from the lodge which was pretty dope.
Our first stop was at Maras, which was a mix of Incan ruins and a Spanish church. They charged us un sol to pee and as the Groton gang says, “If I pay, you pay”. Do with that what you will. It was at a super high elevation (about 12,000 feet). The church is still in use and there were many wedding ceremonies today. We saw a newly-wed couple leaving the church and having confetti thrown at them (we helped a bit with this part). We bought chomp and took some group pictures in front of the terraces.
After a quick snack, shout out to Beto, our next stop was at the Moray ruins. We didn’t spend much time here but, the terraces here were the most complicated we’ve seen so far. They were in a circular pattern, descending into a shallow valley, and the Incas used this site for domesticated various types of potatoes.
Before our last stop, we ate our lunches that we each brought from home. We visited Las Salineras, a huge salt mine. The drive down was a little terrifying because we were going to drop off a cliff at any second. Anyways, we learned that this has been a resource since the Pre-Incan era and how they collected the three types of salt. They pretty much depend on a natural spring flowing from the mountain which carries the salt to these many pools. With time, the water evaporates and leaves the salt behind. On average, they make two thousand tons in a year.
We began our second Tuesday in Peru by helping our families with various tasks inside the house and out. Some of us were graced with fairly light workloads; others, however, were not so lucky. Kevin, for example, spent approximately seven hours cutting the lawn with a pair of scissors (no joke). Meanwhile, Elena’s morning consisted of peeling 10,000 peas. Alex, Cornelia, and Ainsley attempted to convince grumpy old tourists (also known as certifiable curmudgeons) to buy products from their families’ stands in the artisanal market.
After lunch, the gang headed back to the local school to continue workshops with younger students and their family members. Workshops were similar to yesterday’s, with Groton students leading activities such as coloring, board games, bracelet making, and sports. A group of six Grotonians were overcome by their younger friends in a game of soccer.
At 5:00, we returned to the ceramics shop to continue our work on last week’s pieces. We used smooth stones and metal scrapers to polish our masterpieces. Ainsley put a bit too much power into the task and now has multiple pieces to take home.
We wrapped up the day with our usual gathering and discussions at El Tambo before heading home for dinner. A few of us were lucky enough to witness an enraged Señor Viacava throw a water thermos at the TV when two Brazil goals were called back (see picture below).
To begin the day, we went to Pancho’s house, the man who organized our homestays, and learned how to make baskets out of thin branches found in the high Andes. These are called canastas in Spanish and require a lot more skill to make than we initially thought. Pancho has been making these baskets for his whole life because his father taught him when he was very young. We started with a bundle of branches and weaved our way to a basket under the close instruction of Pancho and his wife Balbina.
This is everyone with their completed baskets after three hours of hard work. We completed the baskets in four steps. First, we weaved the sides of the basket with new sticks that Pancho had brought down from the mountains. Second, we used the tops of the bundles that you see in the previous photo to complete the base of the basket. Third, we used a pattern of laying the bundles of two section and under the third to create a braided rim. Finally, Balbina cut the excess branches and leaves from the baskets to polish them off.
In the afternoon, we went to a local school and ran some workshops including bracelet making, soccer, and, as you see here, The Marinera. The Marinera is a traditional dance here in Peru and Senor Viacava taught us and the local kids the basic steps. The Marinera uses the handkerchief that you see in the photo to communicate between the women and the men dancing with each other.
Another one of the workshops was teaching some of the local kids board games like checkers and chess. Some of them had already played them before but for a lot this was a new experience. Another game they loved was Jenga but everyone already knew how to play this and so it became very competitive. Another workshop was bracelet making where we taught some local kids how to make friendship bracelets. Teaching the workshops was a slightly challenging because the kids speak Spanish very quickly and we have limited vocabulary; but we made it work.