By Laura Balbuena, IFSA-Butler resident director in PeruOne of the highlights of IFSA-Butler’s program in Peru is the once-in-a-lifetime trip to Cuzco and Machu Picchu. IFSA-Butler Peru Resident Director Laura Balbuena chronicles the spring 2010 trip below.
I’ve done 5 trips with IFSA-Butler students, but this semester I decided to change the trip by adding one more day. Now it is a 5 day, 4 night trip. And I think this extra day has made the trip an even more life changing experience. Students really loved it and you’ll see why below.Day 1
The first day of the trip started as usual: Taking a tour of the city, then off to the ruins that surround Cuzco: Koricancha, Sacsayhuaman, Q’enqo, Pucapucara and Tambomachay.
Some students got sick because of the altitude...but that’s part of the adventure of Cuzco! Don’t worry, a free ambulance provides oxygen and medical assistance to those who need it.Day 2
The second day was the day I added. Our students went out from the touristic path to see some social work that is being done in Cuzco. Today we went to Yanaoca, 3 hours away from Cuzco city and located at 4000 meters (13,124 feet) above sea level to visit two projects. One is what Institute for an Agrarian Alternative (IAA) is doing in different communities to help impoverished laborers in becoming self-sustained. IAA took us to 2 farms to see the work they are doing. On our way there, they showed us the way they are working with water and we stopped at a lake and stopped by a (dead) volcano that our adventurous students climbed.
Also, on our way to the 2 farms we visited the second project: a shelter for rural Andean girls who come from violent families or have suffered from sexual abuse by their relatives. The nuns who run this shelter explained us about their work. Our students met the girls and sang for them (They sounded so beautiful!! We can say we have an IFSA-Butler choir!) and the girls sang back in Quechua (their native language). Needless to say, this is a moment that our students will never forget.
We then went to visit Juan Tacusi’s farm, where we learned about having a farm that lives out from the environment and that gets energy from different sources from nature. The owner showed us how he obtains gas for his stove from the waste of his animals, electricity from the sun and how he waters his fields from recycled water.
We then went to the IAA office to learn from Cristobal, a community entrepreneur, about environmental ways of getting energy.
After a delicious lunch, we visited a second farm where we learned about the work they do with animals. Part of the goal of IAA is for the laborers to diversify their products and become small entrepreneurs. In this way, they can use their land in a way that is good for the environment and, at the same time, break the cycle of poverty. Day 3
The rest of the trip was the same as previous semesters: a day at the sacred valley where they visited the ruins of Pisac and Ollantaytambo. They also visited a project called Awana Kancha where they could interact with South American camelids and learn how women and men weave their products in a natural way.
At the end of the day we took the train to Machu Picchu town. Days 4 and 5
The fourth and fifth days are the days they were all waiting for: Machu Picchu!!
The students woke up VERY early in the morning (around 4 a.m.) to go to Machu Picchu and be able to see the sunrise in the sanctuary. Some students climbed Huayna Pichu (the mountain behind Machu Picchu), while others went to the hot springs located in town.
I could give lots of details about the rest of the day, but what else can you say about a visit to one of the world’s most amazing cultural treasures? Everyone found the experience incredible, even humbling. I’m sure it will be one of the best experiences of their semester in Peru, if not of their lives.
On day 5 we gathered the students together and we all headed back to Lima. At the end of the trip students told me that they had two WOW moments: the day they visited the communities and the shelter and the day they saw Machu Picchu for the first time. The first “wow” brought them to tears and touched their hearts. The second one amazed them and tested their strength.
This has been the best Cuzco trip in the 5 trips I have done with our groups. It proved me that to add the social aspect to the trip just made it the perfect one. I will keep doing it with the rest of the groups and I feel that now I have millions of ideas for improving our program to make it even better.