Starting the working week on Monday, we attended university from 10am – 1pm, where we learnt about worldwide hotspots and centres of origin of crops. There was a protest going on in the centre square of Cuzco about the low wages of the common people who were being used from independent mine companies. People gathered together who made speeches and danced. You could hear the passion in their voices! In between listening I asked a local about the specifics of the protest and she said that the gold mining companies wanted to drill and extract gold from their sacred mountain, where the locals participate in holy dances and execute sacrificial processes as a return to the gods for the health of the land.
On Tuesday we attended university on Pampa del Castillo street, in Cusco. To our sadness we learnt about Peru’s environmental issues, as this comes hand in hand with conservation efforts and the overall biodiversity of the country. We encountered a harsh reality as we stepped off the bus at the Huanatay river. The pollution and smell of the area along the river was belatedly obvious after the first breath. It was mildly raining as we arrived which suppressed the smell from the area. We were ankle deep in mud at some points and had to resort to crossing the river to the other side, where we could see the abattoir releasing fresh blood and excrement into the river, which was feeding many stray dogs and seagulls. Along the walk we saw many pipes leading from the north side houses which contained their sewage.
The current government leader has promised that by the end of his term the water in the river will be fresh enough to swim in. So far (over the two years he has had power) the bank has collected rubbish, the sewage and slaughter house pipes have not been redirected. The overall only advancement that has been made is the planting of shrubbery on the bank edge.
This week has been simply amazing by gaining so many insights into the world of Peru! The Peruvian locals are very passionate about their cultural dances. They decorate their walls with masks and costumes in many stores and restaurants. Another fun fact, but if you shine your soles note against a bright light you can see a hidden figure of Peruvian importance. That is how they check if the note is real or fake. The thing I have noticed about cusco, is the amazing artworks that cover the city. The people are so passionate about their history and culture. They have walls with painted tiles and gates that have embroidered patterns that represent the food and inca civilisations.
Of course, being so busy on an intensive program means the week goes quickly! On Friday, we learnt about the IUCN (international Union for conservation of nature) website, which acted like a database of threatened and extinct animals worldwide. It is present in 160 out of the 186 countries in the world. Everyone employed by the union is a volunteer, all with experience and credibility. Some friends and I then had lunch in the plaza de Amos and then found a supermarket called ‘orion’. We stacked up on snacks for our trip to Machu Picchu this weekend. On our way back from the supermarket we browsed some markets and found a group of very photogenic llamas and alpacas. The llama depicted in the photo was loving looking at his reflection on my screen. They were all very well looked after and very friendly.
Now for perhaps the most exciting part of the Biodiversity in Peru program: Machu Picchu! On Saturday morning, we rose at 3am to be on the bus by 4am in order to reach a train leaving at 5.40 am to Machu Picchu. I watched the sun rise, ( I was clever and went to sleep earlier than normal the previous night in order to get as many hours sleep as possible) it was absolutely breathtaking, but then again the views still Impressed me at every turn. We passed through media lunas (a small town) on the way to the train station.
We then dropped off our bags and walked up the train line for the first hour and a half and continued up a nature trail after briefly stopping for a rest for another half an hour approximately. We finally concluded our journey at the waterfall which was surrounded by butterflies. The majority of us brought bathers and jumped into the freezing water fighting the strong push of the gushing water. We walked back to the hotel, refreshed and then went out for lunch at the hot springs restaurant. In total the walk was 23kms, we walked a quarter of the Inca track today. On average it takes 4 days to walk the track (with roughly 25kms a day).
The following day, we woke at 5 to get on a bus by 6, in order to avoid the peak hour of the tourists. We learnt that Hiran bingam rediscovered Machu Picchu. He was seeking inca ruins as a historian, and some local farmers guided him to the site. Machu Picchu actually stands for ‘old mountain’- no one knew what the place was actually called, as it had been abandoned and forgotten for 400 years before Hiran arrived. Huayna Picchu is a mountain next to Machu Picchu and its translation is ‘young mountain’. We arrived when the cloud forest was at its best, meaning that the cloud cover was maximal, covering the majority of the views. The views were absolutely breathtaking and the fog just added to the mystery of the place.
A few members of our group agreed to hike up Huayna Picchu mountain. The hike was so physically draining but when we got to the top, the views were spectacular. We sat on and had to climb across huge rocks and rest watching the butterflies which were surprisingly abundant. To me, they were beautiful pieces of art floating through the sky. The incas were clever in the way that they built Machu Picchu. It was structured so that the common people in their houses and classrooms at the top part of the hill were able to access water flowing from the very top of the mountain (where the Kings quarters were), with in built drainage systems. We saw a sun dial which was hypothesised to have been constructed from the southern cross.
I must acknowledge that the incas were quite clever, they knew they were on an earthquake prone zone so they built a stronger wall along an geological earthquake line, to transport water. They also created seismic constructions with roller stones as the foundations to which they built their houses and areas of importance on. They also understood the southern cross and sun patterns, so they planted their crops to face east for maximum sunlight. We then said our final goodbyes to the mountains, came back on the bus and had a buffet lunch. We boarded the scenic view train and went back to our hotel. Where I dropped straight into bed after a very long weekend.