For nearly a year, 23 CBA juniors have been preparing to explore Peru. Over Spring Break, these juniors finally visited the country about which they had been learning so much over the previous months.
Their preparations included learning about the country, its history, its people and its culture. During that time, they visited regional museums, restaurants and attended lectures. Dr. John Gustavsen, Ms. Hillary Clauss and Mr. Matthew Wester served as trip leaders for the young men as they stepped into a new world.
Many things in Peru were familiar to the group. Nowhere was this more true than in Lima, the country’s capital of roughly 10 million residents. The city had traffic, a beach, business districts, and tourists. Similarities aside, the traffic was beyond anything most of the group had ever seen. The beach had stones instead of sand, as well as water that was far colder than that found on New Jersey beaches, despite Lima being far closer to the Equator. And finally, Lima had tourists – and just like our area, it had lots of them. But it was not out-of-staters coming down to the Shore for a weekend in July, it was our group. We were the tourists.
As tourists in Lima, we saw some of the city’s most important sights – downtown Lima’s historic walking district, the museum and catacombs of the Basilica of San Francisco, the Larco Museum, and – of course – the beach. Visiting Lima on Holy Thursday offered both drawbacks and benefits. On one hand, some sights were closed. Francisco Pizarro’s tomb, for example, was not accessible. On the other hand, however, certain streets were closed down for the holiday, and that made walking around far more enjoyable – and safer! At dinner on our first full night in Peru, we dined on one of the country’s most notorious dishes – and certainly something that serves as another parallel between our countries – roasted chicken.
From Lima, it was on to Cusco, the ancient capital of the Inca Empire. At over 11,000 feet in elevation, Cusco was the highest that many in the group had ever been. While most of the students dodged any major problems from the altitude, not everyone was that lucky. It is hard to describe the feeling of taking a deep breath and not feeling as though one is breathing in any oxygen – but that is perhaps the simplest explanation. So as we explored the Inca sights of Saqsaywaman and Tambo Machay, many in the group also searched for oxygen. Sometimes it was just hard to find. The group visited a llama and alpaca farm before making the seemingly contradictory choice of dining on alpaca for lunch. The afternoon’s sights included the Qorikancha Temple – an example of the fusion that took place between Inca and Spanish culture – and Cusco’s central plaza. Following dinner, the Good Friday processions that took place in the Plaza offered more of the familiar – but in a way that no one had ever seen before.
Saturday was a day for traveling from Cusco to Machu Picchu. That being said, there was a lot to be seen on the journey from one place to the other. The series of stops between the two began with Chinchero, a community of women who still weave in the traditional Andean ways. They showed us their craft and even tried to teach us a bit. (It did not work very well.) Hearing about how a group of Andean women have taken ancient skills and commodified them within our modern world was a powerful moment for the group. From Chinchero, it was off to Moray. While the sight is a bit mysterious today, one thing is clear – the Inca used it for farming experiments that we only partially grasp today. From Moray, it was on to Maras – the 3,000+ salt flats where people still produce salt (pink salt!) in the same ways that the Inca and others did hundreds and even thousands of years prior. We had a great buffet lunch (including ceviche, sushi, alpaca, chicken and rice, trout, quinoa salads, Peruvian donuts, and lots more – oh, my!) before boarding the Vistadome – a train with largely glass ceilings, and hence, outstanding views of the Andes Mountains.
Suffice it to say that most people in the group will never have a more memorable Easter Sunday than they had in 2019. We spent this one at Machu Picchu. The group began by hiking to the Sun Gate where they took in the totality of Machu Picchu. We then hiked the somewhat harrowing path to the Inca Bridge. The rest of the day was spent on a guided tour and then meandering through the smaller rooms and passes that encompass the sight. Further words just won’t help add perspective to the amazing things that we saw that day. We ended the day by learning about the Peruvian tradition of smashing people’s faces into their own birthday cakes.
On Monday, we were on the move again. We retraced our steps but discovered new things along the way back to Cusco. One of those things was the city of Ollantaytambo. It’s the only city that was inhabited by Inca people in the pre-Columbia era that is still inhabited by Inca people today. It also offered more Inca ruins and a hike to rival any of those found at Machu Picchu. (Watch out for the cacti!) We made another pit stop on the way to Cusco to snack on some guinea pig, but before we knew it we were in the former Inca capital once again.
Our final day in Peru was, if nothing else, a long one. The morning and lunchtime were spent in Cusco. The afternoon was spent flying from Cusco to Lima. And thus, the evening and night were spent in the capital – from where we would begin our 16-hour journey home! So, we began our Tuesday (which was a long one). Cusco’s San Pedro Market is a tourist sight in and of itself. While novelty t-shirts are nothing new to most people, piles of dead chickens and ox heads are. Such is the San Pedro market. (Wait… is that price is soles or dollars?) After an uneventful trip back to Lima, we whiled away our final hour in Lima in the most U.S. place that we could find – a shopping mall.
– Dr. John Gustavsen, Trip Leader