Hola, everyone! My name is Sharon Andrews, and I am one of the teachers who went on the National Geographic Hands-On Explorer trip to Peru. Wow! What a fantastic trip it was! All of our days and evenings were filled with new sights, sounds, flavors, and adventures! The Peruvians were very happy that we were visiting and were anxious to show us their country. We had so many exciting adventures on our trip that I could write volumes, but I will summarize the trip according to Peru’s three geographic areas: the dry coast, the highlands, and rain forest.
Peru’s major cities are along the Pacific Coast. We began and ended our great adventure in Lima, the capital city of Peru. Lima is a beautiful colonial city that is always bustling with activity. The streets of downtown Lima were filled with street vendors selling food and people out in the parks having a great time. The Magical Water circuit, a water fountain extravaganza, was a wonderful surprise! Hundreds of Lima citizens were strolling around the park enjoying the colorful water fountains. One of my favorite water fountains was “the tunnel,” where we were able to walk under the spewing water.
I don’t know for sure, but it appeared to me that all Peruvians know how to play a musical instrument and dance the traditional Peruvian dances. Almost everywhere we went, Peruvians entertained us with live traditional music and dances. When we arrived at the Mamcona Country House on Sunday morning to see the Peruvian Paso horses, I was overcome with emotion as we were greeted to a reception complete with a live band playing traditional Peruvian music! Wow! We all felt like royalty during the entire trip!
The food in Peru was fantastic! Almost any kind of food that you can think of is grown in Peru. We ate a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables, including several types of the over 200 types of potatoes that are grown in Peru. Farmers grow food anywhere there is land–even on the sides of mountains. I was very impressed with the hundreds of terraces on the sides of mountains that the people had built in order to farm the land. And most impressive was the fact that in many cases, the mountains are so steep that farm machines cannot be driven to farm the land, so all the farming is done by hand! I saw many plows that were being pulled by animals. Pack animals, such as llamas, are used to carry heavy loads over the mountains. The Peruvians work very hard. We were told that when children reach the age of three, they begin helping the family with the farm work.
While we were in the highlands, we visited several small communities and a small school. We were greeted at the school by a live band and traditional Peruvian dances. Even though I only speak a little Spanish, I really enjoyed talking with the children. They seemed to appreciate my attempt to speak with them using their language. Later in the day, we visited the Pisaq Market and were taught a traditional Peruvian dance. Once again, we were treated to a live band!
Altitude sickness is a common malady when visiting the highlands of Peru. Some of our group suffered from altitude sickness at one time or other, but fortunately I did not. Mate de coca is a traditional tea that is brewed with coca leaves. When we arrived at Cusco, we were given the tea to help combat altitude sickness. I thought the tea was quite tasty!
Everyone was excited on the day we visited Machu Picchu! Words simply cannot describe the “Lost City of the Incas.” Seeing it took my breath away! As we walked around and listened to our guide, I realized that the Inca were very intelligent and quite progressive. Even though the city was inhabited hundreds of years ago, they knew a lot about farming and agriculture, architecture, and science. The Inca were also conservationists. You could see on the mountainside where they quarried the rocks in one small area. They did not destroy the entire mountainsides like some people do today. The sad thing is that after all of the work that was put into building Machu Picchu, they did not finish it and only inhabited it for about 30 years. The Conquistadores arrived, so the Inca left the area.
THE RAIN FOREST
Another big highlight was the rain forest. We arrived at Puerto Maldonado on Saturday, May 30. After about an hour’s trip down the Rio Tambopata by boat, we arrived at Posada Amazonas, which is a joint effort between the Tambopata Research Center and the native community of Infierno. Posada Amazonas was a wonderful place with many trails, a canopy tower, and a lodge that had no doors, no windows, almost no electricity, and cold showers. I loved it! During the time we were there, we experienced a rare “freajes,” which is a cold front from the south. Because of the unusual weather, we did not see the wildlife that we normally would have, but we still saw a wide variety–in our sleeping rooms! During the middle of the night we heard some unusual sounds and some scrounging around. At least we had mosquito netting around the beds to protect us from tiny critters! As we walked around on the trails, our guides told us about the flora and fauna that live in the rain forest. They were very knowledgeable.
The kids on the trip were amazing! I was very impressed with how well they got along with each other and how knowledgeable they were about Peru. Elliot particularly impressed me with his extensive knowledge about the animals of Peru. The National Geographic staff that accompanied us on the trip was fantastic! The two photographers, Amy and Bruce, were very enthusiastic about helping the kids develop their photography skills. As a result, the pictures that the kids took were absolutely outstanding!
In a nutshell, the trip to Peru was an adventure of a lifetime! The tour guides from Peru went out of their way to make sure that we all were happy, healthy, and safe throughout the entire trip. Thank you, National Geographic, for the opportunity to be a part of this great adventure and to experience the sights, sounds, flavors, and culture of Peru!