Peru ECS | Agua Significa Vida
“Agua significa vida,” said Carlos, one of our tour guides, as the rain stopped and the clouds cleared yesterday morning. We loaded onto our bus and drove to Saqsaywaman, an Incan ruin site overlooking the beautiful, historic city of Cusco. I have come to appreciate the ruins more and more as I consider the severe damage done during the Spanish conquest in the 16th century. I’ve pondered what my own country is or isn’t doing to conserve the ancient sites we have.
After exploring various ruins, we took some time to learn about the similarities and differences between llamas, alpacas, and vicuñas. To do so, we visited a small animal farm and fed the llamas and alpacas. I learned that vicuñas, Peru’s National animal, are fairly rare, and as a result, have the most expensive wool.
Each day we’ve spent time looking at various ruins that were brilliantly built to survive hundreds of years of El Niño and Nazcan plate movements; however, our afternoon entailed interacting with local market vendors to learn more about how globalization and, as a result, modernization has impacted their livelihood. The Pedro Alto Open Air Market was bustling with tourists and locals alike. Our job as students was to ask questions about how supermarkets have impacted sales, how the quality of food differs, and what vendors thought the future held for traditional mercado’s. I was sad to hear that many locals have transferred over to using supermarkets and many mercado’s rely on tourism. While I relate to the ease of going to a supermarket, I wish Colorado Springs had more popular fruit, vegetable, and meat markets. The overall quality and sustainability of the mercado impressed me. I was glad to have been able to compare mercado’s to the new supermarkets and gain a new appreciation for fresh foods coming from traditional settings.
Last night, a non profit organization called CREES came to speak with us about their work in the Amazon rainforest. They discussed their three overlapping values as an organization: research, education, and community. We learned that each year a patch of rainforest the size of England disappears. It is easy to ignore a crisis when you can’t directly see the impact, but being here and interacting with passionate people has helped me to better understand why conservation and regeneration are vital.
Today, we awoke once again to pouring rain. I worried that I would be cold and wet all day, but thanks to Pachamama (Mother Earth) and our total luck with the weather, the sun emerged and the weather has been beautiful since 9 am. We began making our way through town to Qorikancha, the Incan temple of the sun. As I said, the Spanish conquest was devastating to Incan buildings and Qorikancha was no exception. In fact, the Spaniards built their own cathedral on top of the Incan homes. Interestingly, the Incan architecture has withstood every natural event that has (literally) shaken Peru, while the Spanish buildings have consistently been the ones to collapse in earthquakes. I think this serves as an important reminder that we should approach people and cultures different than our own with respect and curiosity rather than immediately assuming our beliefs, politics, and lifestyles are “better.” I hope to carry this realization back to my “melting pot” country and use my experiences to encourage kindness and harmony.
Our last stop this morning was to an all-boys private Catholic school here in Cusco. It is considered to be extremely exclusive and very expensive. I expected to encounter a relatively small school; however, I soon realized that the school educated more than 1000 boys. We were able to sit down with groups of 8-10 students who were 15 years old and compare our schools, our interests, and our future goals. My group didn’t speak any English to me, but they have about 2 hours per week of English classes. Comparatively, many of our students have around 5 hours per week of a foreign language class. I am excited to visit a few more schools this week to truly understand the education system here in Peru.
Now, I am sitting in the Plaza de Armas listening to locals play their flute and guitars, and feeling grateful to be surrounded by intriguing history, unique culture, and beautiful green mountains.
Please Note: The Peru ECS will be off the grid for the next leg of their journey.