Living Like The Incas CMSFQ - 10th Grade Academic Field Trip - Peru 2017

After months of planning and several hours of travelling we finally arrive in Peru. Our first destination is Cusco, the capital of the Inca empire and a colonial treasure. The mixture of cultures is everywhere, from the Inca stones used as bases in the houses to the Churches, richly decorated with both European and indigenous traits. Cusco, situated at 3400 meters above sea level, made us all gasp a bit for air but walking slowly and stopping at the many sites made it so much easier. We split up in our four groups: Quilla, Wirachocha, Pacha Mama and Inti, and walked around the city with our guides, who shared their knowledge with us. Our students demonstrated their knowledge about the history of the Incas by participating and asking interesting questions to get to learn more.

First day of real research! Waking up early to have breakfast and then heading out in our groups to visit several sites, we got a chance to get to learn more about the history of Cusco, both from an Inca perspective but also considering the colonial heritage so visible in Cusco. Some of the places we visited were Qoricancha, Museo del Inca, and San Blas. While walking from one site to another we took advantage of every moment to soak in as much information as possible, as our guides explained the history of the streets, buildings and events that had occurred in the different places. Our groups met up at a restaurant to get some well deserved break and recover our energy. The afternoon was spent learning more about the culture, while visiting a typical market in Cusco. Once again students demonstrated their engagement by actively completing information that the guide shared or by asking relevant questions related to their research projects.

Today is the day when we leave Cusco and will visit different sites as we take advantage of every moment. Our final destination is Ollantaytambo but as we drive through the Peruvian Andes we stop at several sites, including Saqsayhuaman, Chinchero and Moray. In Saqsayhuaman we learned about how the sacred huacas of the Incas were replaced by churches, during the Spanish colonization. Huge rocks were transported from this sacred site in order to construct the churches. Today, only about 10-15% remain of the original monuments. Saqsayhuaman took about 50 years to construct and the rocks were quarried in a mine located about 25 km from the site. Rocks up to 50 kilos were carried by one person while rocks between 51-100 kilos were carried by two people. Some of the stones at this site weigh as much as 120 tons. We also got to learn about the spirituality and the three dimensions of existence that the Incas believed in. Uru Pacha is the infra world represented by the amaru, or the snake. The next dimension is the Cai Pacha, our world, which is represented by the puma, believed to be adaptable, posses courage and power. Finally, the Hanan Pacha represents the world beyond this one, comparable to heaven. This dimension is represented by the condor, which was believed to be able to communicate with the gods, as it could fly up to 7000 m up in the sky. The Incas did not believe in a beginning or an end, but that all the existence is a cycle. We also visited Quenco, a labyrinth which is believed to have been a sanctuary and sacred place for the Incas. here religious ceremonies were carried out, as well as mummification procedures. The muña, a medicinal herb was used during to mummify bodies, along with our plants, such as seeds from the zapallo. We also visited a textile production site in Chinchero, where we observed the process of coloring wool using several different natural ingredients. Perhaps what most impressed us was how the color red was extracted from lice that inhabit the cactus plant. By crushing the lice a deep red color is obtained. If mixed with lemon it becomes orange. This red color was also used as lipstick. Moray, the final stop of the day, was an impressive agricultural laboratory, created by the Incas to experiment with different altitudes and temperatures in order to determine where plants would develop best. There can be a difference up to 15 degrees Celsius between the different levels. Rocks absorbed heat during daytime to release it during night time. By creating terraces the Incas gained up to 200% more land where to plant their crops.

Yesterday certainly was a culturally intense day! And we are continuing today, as we are walking the streets of Ollantaytambo. The morning started with being introduced to the symbolism of textiles and the colors of clothing. Two little girls and a boy demonstrated their culture through songs and their clothing. Yellow is the color used by young people up to the age of 16. Pink is used for falling in love as youngsters above 16 wear this color. Once married the color black is worn. After listening to the children sing, we continued our tour of this city. We visited a typical house, where the inhabitants shared their living quarters with their cuyes. The house also had a typical shrine, including the ekeko and other objects used to bring health, good luck and fortune to its inhabitants. We also visited the archaeological site of Ollantaytambo, an impressive construction on the steep side of a mountain. It included religious temples, military areas and collas, the storage sites used to preserve surplus food. This site is also evidence of how the Incas established at already existing places, where previous cultures had developed. The constructions of previous cultures were built with smaller and more irregular rocks, while the more recent constructions were built with larger rocks are attributed to the Incas. These rocks are smoother and don't include jagged edges. In the afternoon we took the train to Aguascalientes, the town just below the mountains where Machu Picchu is located. The train ride was a welcome time to relax and have some catching up time with eachother, as all groups were travelling together. Along the way we saw terraces and ruins, yet again demonstrating how the Incas expanded throughout the Peruvian territory and adapted to this difficult terrain in order to create a prosperous culture.

Today we woke up very early and after a quick walk to the bus we hooped on and began the ride up the mountain. The road was as curvy and steep as the view was breathtaking. Once up by the entrance we stood in line to enter the site. Finally inside we all realized how spectacular this Inca citadel is. Many of the constructions are virtually intact, only missing the typical thatched roof that once covered the houses, shielding its inhabitants from the cold and the rain. The groups split in two; one group was heading to an extended tour of Machu Picchu while the other group would climb up to Huayna Picchu. A fun fact: Macchu Picchu means old mountain while Huayan Picchu means young mountain. The fantastic story of how it was re-discovered was told to us. Hiram Bingham is often considered as the man who discovered this site, but when he arrived here there wer already several families living here. dedicating themselves to farming. An 11 year old boy guided Hiram Bingham up to the ruins, which were covered in thick vegetation, after hundreds of years of being abandoned by its former inhabitants. The boy, whose father had preferred to stay in the valley with friends, rather than accompanying the American explorer up the mountain, would becom part of the excavation team.

The group who toured Machu Picchu walked through the site and ended up at the Sun Gate, after having learned about the different buildings and their functions. The Incas had divided their city into different sections suitable for the various purposes and labors needed to support the population that lived there. There was a section for production o goods, a school for the children of the upper class, a section for farming and another for raising the chosen girls, who would later become married to the Inca nobility. The Inca society was divided into different social classes and according to their class they would live in different parts of the site.

The group who had decided to hike the Huayna Picchu began their climb just before 8 in the morning. Almost immediately we encountered stairs and understood that this would not be your everyday hike. It was demanding at the same time as it took our breath away, both because of the mystic beauty of the climb, but also because it was physically exhausting. We reached the top after climbing for about 1 1/2 hours. It was covered in thick mist and the visibility was poor. As we stood looking out for the famous view of Machu Picchu the clouds opened up and we got a spectacular vista of the citadel. After squeezing through the cave we began our descent, proud of ourselves and our achievement of climbing this mountain.

Once back at Macchu Picchu the rain began to pour down and our planned sightseeing was cut a bit short, but as we walked through the site the guides managed to explain some of the interesting past of the site.

In Aguascalientes we ate lunch and headed to the train station to catch the ride back to Cusco.

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