Our first week went off with a great start, full of new meetings, exploration of the city of Cusco and cultural excursions. We all arrived of the course of three or four days and from different directions of the globe, some people having been traveling through North America others Europe. A few of us did have some tiring times battling with the time zone difference and altitude sickness, but within a few days this all passed and we were set to start our exciting new journey.
Cusco city is a beautiful place to be studying, already experiencing many of the culinary delights it has to offer within the first few days, there is no shortage of restaurants to suit everyone dietary needs. For many of us only a few days passed until we ventured to the infamous Choco Museo in Peru.
Our orientation was just another reminder of the amazing country we are studying on, and we received a lovely introduction to the staff at USIL and the University. We were also able to watch some traditional dancers over morning tea, it was just one of the many cultural experiences we were to partake in over the rest of the week.
Everyone was very excited for our first class that covered what we will be learning over the month. Then we were off on our first cultural excursion to the Sacred Valley of the Incas with our wonderful guide Fernando. Firstly we visited the town of Chincheros and saw some traditional Alpaca wool yarning, dying and making of table runners. It was wonderful to see the materials that were used during this process and how the runners were prepared with such skill and precise technique. We were able to explore the remains of the royal hacienda of Tupac Inca Yupanqui and a beautiful church built on Inca foundations. Our next stop was Ollantaytambo where we were able to view a parade, see how a traditional Peruvian family lives and we were explained about many archaeological sites such as the temple of the Sun and how the Incas used shadows and shapes. Final stop was Pisac where we were explained and able to explored the agricultural ruins of the Incan empire in the Sacred Valley.
Thursday morning we were able to see the sunrise, waking up at 04:00 weary eyed, piling into a van we were off on our first overnight voyage to Mandor and Machu Picchu trip. We arrived back in Ollantaytambo where we caught the 06:10 train to Aguas Calientes, here we met Fernando and arrived at our character filled hotel. We then walked through a beautiful cloud forest that had a large diversity of plant species, including an abundance of Orchids, fungi and the Mandor waterfall. Although it was rainy and a little chilly one student braved the elements and went swimming. After an exceptional buffet lunch we had the afternoon free, some people went to the local butterfly farm and hot springs while others rested.
Day two we were off to Machu Picchu, on a bus of course. So up the hill our bus climbed and when we arrived we were ready for our five-hour adventure. Machu Picchu was beautiful and Fernando was full of information, including one hypothesis that potentially Machu Picchu was used as an educational or training institute for the nobles. Then we were ready for the hike up Waynapicchu, which was walking up many flights of stairs and for many the first mountain climbed. Once again there was an array of insect and plant species to observe as we hiked, but the reward was at the top where the view was something a photograph could not do justice. Surrounded by magnificent mountains and looking down through parted clouds at Machu Picchu, it is easy to understand how this became one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
And so our first week ended, eventfully and already strong friendships are forming through memories that will last a lifetime.