August, 2012: We stayed in the Cuzco area for the majority of our month in Peru. It is a beautiful place full of history and culture. We learned, experientially, about pre-Incan and Incan civilizations of more than five hundred years ago. What an amazing people – their architecture and construction can teach us a lot even now. Their agricultural practices such as food storage and terracing techniques are still exemplary. Their astrological awareness marvels the mind. The incredible canals and water systems they built are being studied for application today. At every ruin (and we saw lots!), we marveled at their engineering prowess and ingenuity and the vastness of their empire.
We loved visiting many Inca and pre-Inca ruins. Some were tributes to water. We saw others that were places to gather for spiritual growth and exchange, agricultural experimental plots, masterful grain storage sheds, stones that weighed hundreds of tons (hard to imagine how they moved them even now), temples that illuminated only on the solstices, cities – like Machu Picchu, built on top of mountains with breathtaking scenery. Each was fascinating in its own right and taught us a little bit more about the indigenous people of Peru. Machu Picchu was a highlight – getting to watch sunrise there was spectacular. With so many of the structures intact you get a real feeling for what their lives might have been like when they lived there. Wayne also did a hike along the Inca trail that he had walked 25 years ago. He had travelled through the area on an amazing trip, after living and working in Paraguay and Brazil during his 20s. He really enjoyed coming back to such a special place and sharing the experience with his family.
We were lucky enough to stay a few days in the longest inhabited Inca town, Ollatantambo, with a woman from Asheville. Her partner led us in a special offering to Pacha Mama (Mother Earth) on the Quechua New Year. It was a moving ritual. We all gained a new perspective on the local culture and people – and their appreciation for the earth and our natural world, something our modern society has lost.
We were perplexed and intrigued by the Spanish colonization – curious to see how it changed Peru’s landscape forever but also to see how the indigenous ways continue to survive despite the Spanish conquest. Cusco is a charming colonial city filled with Spanish balconies and stunning plazas. It was sometimes hard to look at the remarkable buildings and churches without a tinge of regret that all of them were built on previous Incan temples or were constructed with stones from other desecrated sacred sites.
We stayed in an apartment for two weeks and did not lack for things to see and do in Cusco. We often were pleasantly surprised by a parade or festival. Eye-catching narrow streets were filled with stores, restaurants and hotels tucked into corners. We especially enjoyed our night walks ablaze with lights and lively people from all over the world sharing the streets. The only inconvenience was the cold and lack of heat in the apartment – we bundled up, but still managed to get a little sick from being so cold.
At the end of our trip we went to Lake Titikaka – the world’s highest navigable lake that forms part of Peru’s border with Bolivia. We visited islands built of reeds (Uros) and stayed with a family on Amantani Island. The scenery was only outdone by the locals’ kindness. Our host family fed us well and we shared lots of conversation. In the evening they dressed us up in indigenous attire and took us to the community center where we danced together. And the night sky was memorable. Without light pollution the stars and the Milky Way were brilliant. On the way back to Puno, we stopped on the island of Taquile, another picturesque island where Wayne had stayed before.
We wonder what the kids will remember of our trip. We think that they will recall that we hiked, we went on boats, we went horseback riding, we visited indigenous markets, we climbed mountains, and traversed caves. But, what they will most likely remember is the ice-cream that we often ate daily! And the city park, Urpicha, with really long slides. What might have escaped them was that we walked on trails that were used hundreds of years ago to connect a vast empire, that in the ancient caves we visited sacrifices were made and the stars and moon were worshipped, that some of the indigenous markets continued traditions, such as bartering, that were centuries old. We marveled at the history and rich culture that engulfed us at every turn. The kids were great travelers. It was a special place for all of us.