Monday, July 11, 2011

Machu Picchu and Goodbye

July 3-5, 2011

The famous ruins lie around 1200 feet above the town. There are two ways to get to the top, hike up the Incan stairs or take a bus. The main reason to take the stairs is to get to the top quickly and wait in line at the entrance. Why would you want to do that? Next to Machu Picchu (Old Mountain) lies another small mountain 1000 feet higher up that overlooks Machu Picchu. This mountain is called Wayna Picchu (Young Mountain). On top of this mountain is another city with a breathtaking view and incredible drop-offs. The Peruvian government is concerned about too much tourist traffic there and only the first 400 people in line each day are allowed to climb up it. You have to get up pretty early to make it in the top 400.

The day started with rain and intense cloud cover. We assumed (rightly so) that the very early rise and intense hike to see Wayna Picchu would be a wasted effort due to cloud cover so we slept in and took a bus to the top. Even though there were clouds obscuring parts of the ruins, it was still amazing. Pictures just don’t even come close to revealing the beauty of the city in the clouds. There are endless terraces, buildings, and temples. It seems like there are millions of stones that have been cut and carefully placed to create what is considered to be the home of Pachacuteq (the great Inca). Often times we joke that aliens are the only ones who could have built it. This was my fifth time visiting Machu Picchu and it still hasn’t gotten old.

Ben and I

We did hike up to the Sun Gate after our tour. The Sun Gate is almost as elevated as Wayna Picchu but on the opposite side of the city. It is on the Inca Trail and is built at the pass connecting two mountain ranges. It is normally quite a spectacular view, but we still enjoyed hiking on the well-built stone road that was the main thoroughfare hundreds of years ago.

After the ruins we headed back for lunch and caught the train back to Ollantaytambo. Sunday evening was our trip to the dorm!! We bought pizza and brought it there to share with the girls. They were very shy at first but after introductions and a tour around the facility the girls opened up and our students had a great time. We also delivered the donations, and used the dry erase markers right away on the special tables where they can be used. It was a great night. The Rustic students also were so moved by the dorm they started donating money right from their wallets! I am so impressed and thankful for those donations.

Monday was supposed to be bungee jump day, but the facility was still running safety checks and does not operate in the rain. So instead we drove to Cusco and took care of business there. We started at the great cathedral in the main plaza. It is insane. It is so big that mass can be said at five different places at once. There are endless statues, paintings, sculptures, wood carvings, and altars. Wow. We learned about how the Spanish forced Catholicism on the Andean people and it was interesting to see how the native religion meshed with the Catholic traditions. My favorite painting is the one depicting the Last Supper except all the disciples are eating guinea pig!

We had lunch at an Indian restaurant then headed off to several markets. We started at the San Pedro market, which is a huge local market. Families can buy everything they need there. The meat aisle is my favorite because every part of an animal is available, including heads, intestines, tongues, hooves, etc. We also had the famous old woman there skin some frogs for us. Which means of course we headed to the fruit smoothie aisles to enjoy a little Espiritu de Rana (Sprit of the Frog). The woman mixes up an amazing fruit smoothie and blends the frog right in it with everything else. I feel a little jumpier today.

After that we went to the Artisan Market where they have endless rows of souvenirs. Then it was off to Fusiones, a fancy restaurant where we eat our final dinner. We dressed up and the food was amazing.

Tuesday morning we visited the famous Cusco ruins, Saqswuaywoman. This is the enormous Sun Temple overlooking the city. Holy crap. The stones are the size of small cars and fit exactly together. I’ve seen stone work like this before, but only on a small scale. There are three full levels of these massive stones. How the Incans built this I have no idea. There are also natural slides made out of stone coming out of the side of the mountain. We slid down those, and then walked through a dark cave maze. It was a great experience that I have never done before with a group.

After Chinese food for lunch, we said goodbye to Allen our amazing guide and headed off to the airport. In Lima, we had the traditional Papa John’s pizza dinner and loaded the students on their flight home.

Yes, there were a few tears. We had a great group and thinking back at our adventures I can’t help but laugh. We had a great time. I miss them a lot already.

Rustic is an interesting company to work for. With my students in Grand Haven, the end of the school year doesn’t mean much. I know I will see them again next year or when they come back to visit from college. At YMCA Storer Camps or Special Days, there was always a chance of seeing them at reunions or even visiting at another time. But with Rustic kids, I will probably never see any of them ever again. They are scattered all over the country and world; the likelihood of crossing paths is just very small. It is hard on me meeting such interesting students and then parting forever. I just hope I see their names on the news someday doing great things and learning lessons from the experiences here.

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