Just Passed the Half Way Point
The entire trip is only five weeks for the unschoolers, and the first two and a half are now past us. Together, we did many things, separately as well, and much drama filled our experience together the previous week. But looking forward, we hoped the general theme would be unity from here on in, so I continued to make plans, and schedule outings.
From the beginning, there were some lofty expectations from the group in terms of hiking, I wanted to approach each expectation step by step. As was the case with the intention to hike to Machu Picchu, a 7 day hike of self reliance.
Step by Step
Moving forward, I told the group, we needed to schedule a day hike. Only two and half weeks left and here’s a list of things the group still wanted to do:
Since the BIG group intention was to hike to Machu Picchu, I suggested we do a few shorter treks and day hikes to make sure everyone was still interested, actually liked hiking, had no problems carrying a pack and was physically acclimatized The Machu Picchu trek the group was interested in doing would take 7 days, which meant carrying sleeping bags, tents, pads, clothes and food on the back while walking 4-8 hours a day. Had anyone in our group done this before?
I know that Miro dislikes hiking, has no desire to trek, but he agreed to do so if the group was going. Good sport. The only trek I had done in my life was the trip I did to Qoru Riti, and the hiking was only about 4 or 5 hours one day, then we set up camp. But it was high altitude and I carried my supplied on my back, so I knew I could (possibly) do it.
The other teens had said they had not trekked nor have they even hiked much for that matter, so I thought it was a good idea to start off with a day hike.
My friend Lorene, was our hiking guide, had hiked all the circuits and mountains surrounding the Sacred Valley and Huaraz, and she was excited to lead our hikes for us. We talked about designing a day hike that would be challenging for all of us to give us an idea of what hiking felt like with our packs. We decided on taking this circuit, starting first from Urubamba, then hiking up to Salinas to visit the Salt Ponds of Maras. After that, we’d hike across to visit the ruins of Moray (one of my favorites). Normally, groups hike this circuit on horseback or start in the reverse, from Moray because it’s downhill from there. But we decided to trek the reverse to give us a challenge.
The group met for a meeting the day before and I described to everyone the next day. I asked everyone to prepare, to bring packs so we can all sample how it felt to carry weight on our back, fill the packs with at least a litre of water, food for the day and money to get into both sites.
The next morning we met, bright and early and boarded the busses for Urubamba. As it turns out, Ben one of our dear teens, decided not bring a pack, water, money or food…. gave us all a chance to improvise and share.
The ride to Urubamba was through the windy roads, and for our travelers that were prone to motion sickness, it was a rough way to start the day.
And across the bridge we went and our day started with a challenge. And what a challenge it was.
The beginning of the hike was the most difficult part, two or three hours up a steep incline, and this particular day was hot. Half the group high tailed up the hills without much problem. The other half struggled behind. And in the very behind, I fell.
Remember I mentioned Ben didn’t bring a pack? Bless his heart, he carried mine. And my water. And at some point, he carried Miro’s bag too. Then he and Luke took turns carrying our bags.
Then Luke and Ben carried Miro.
The sun was blazing and the first few hours were so difficult. The altitude was lower than Cusco, however, my lungs were not properly filling with air. I struggled to catch my breath and at times, I felt tears spring from eyes filled with frustration at the limits my body was presenting me. I wanted this so bad, but I couldn’t take in enough air to keep moving.
Miro fell behind.
Devin declared “this isn’t fun”.
Xavia, although she was able to keep up with the quick hikers, she felt her lungs heavy too, as she was struggling with a little cough.
And the group moved upward and onward and the sun shined down unforgivingly.
We finally made it up to the Salt ponds at Salinas.
Salinas Salt Ponds
Forty kilometers from Cuzco, is the small town of Maras where we find the Salinas Salt Ponds tucked into the valley.
For quite possibly thousands of years, a flowing subterranean spring from the mountains above, has filled the 3,000 salt-pools below. Through a series of channels, the farmers block the flow determining which pool the water flows to. Once the pool is filled, the flow of water is blocked, allowing the sun to evaporate the water which can take up to one month.
As the salt water becomes supersaturated, salt crystals begin precipitating out of the water. The farmers then scrape the salt to the side and collect it once a sizable amount has been gathered.
After we rested and hydrated ourselves, we continued.
The Hike Continued
Across the valley we started, up many hills. We stopped to enjoy the scenery, dance, throw rocks and rest.
Luke asked me if he looked better with the bags, or without, we took pictures and let you decide.
For me, the hike didn’t get easier, but as a group we pushed on, stopping frequently for rests. Finally we made it to the town of Moray, the rustic charm enchanted us.
At the edge of town was the sign to the archeological site, which welcomed us to venture on towards the ruins. The hike from the edge of town was still 9 kilometers to go, so first, a little more time to rest.
Our hike through the farm land of Moray was relaxing and the gang seemed to regain their energy among the mountain air.
We witnessed farmers tending their land and lots of smiles along the way.
Finally we made it to magical rings of Moray, some say was a testing ground for the Inca
This unique archaeological site is one of the best examples of what might be called extreme Inca landscaping. Three enormous pits, each with beautifully curved sides that staircase down like the interiors of titanic flowerpots, have been carved out of the earth to depths of up to 100 feet and more. Air temperatures between the top and bottom layers can differ by more than 20 degrees, which has led some researchers to theorize that Moray was an Inca agricultural site where experiments on crops were conducted.
This seriously was the most difficult hike of my life. Most struggled at some point, but in the end, we made it back to Cusco. Exhausted. Happy to be back. And it appeared we had a completely drama-free day.
We left at 8:30 am to embark on our hike, and arrived back at our house at 8:00 pm. We spent close to 12 hours on our adventure and everyone was tapped physically. Although the drama and fighting from the week before seems to have subsided, there still remains some low level tension between the gang. I suppose that’s human nature, and it takes time heal.
Back in our house, Xavia, Miro and Devin all declared they were not interested in going on the Lares trek.
Hiking = Not fun
Trekking = No
Since, Ben, Shauntea and Luke were still interested, Lorene had committed to guide as long as at least one teen was going and once again, our group has declared a separation. And so the plans for the Lares trek were starting to be discussed.
I was staying with our gang, secretly relieved, but equally disappointed since I wanted to go on my first trek. But the chance to share time with Miro, Xavia and Devin without the external tension cast the others, was inviting to me.
Plans and preparations for the Lares hike would take a fews days, organizing gear, renting additional supplies, buying food and packing. In the meantime, I organized a visit to one of my favorite archeological sites in Cusco, a visit to Qoricancha.
Guides in Cusco will tell you the history of Coricancha begins with the Incas
But does it?
The walls and floors of this magnificent structure were once covered in sheets of solid gold, and the adjacent courtyard was once adorned with golden statues. But this was before the Spanish arrived in Peru the 14th century. And after, this grand structure became a church.
The Incas created the golden temple, but were they the builders of the structure?
Some say ‘yes’.
Others say ‘no’.
The complete story of the historic site of Coricancha, remains untold.
Many believe the Incas were responsible for the construction of Coricancha. Other believe the Incas built upon an even older structure that was already there, built and abandoned when the Incas occupied Cusco and the Sacred Valley. But what is known for sure is that the Spanish built the Church of Santo Domingo burying possibly hundreds, maybe even thousands of years of history.
Sharing all that we’ve learned with the teens was exciting. We looked at the masonry and marveled by it’s construction. Devin has recently become interested in building wilderness shelters and taken it upon himself to study construction, mathematics and masonry, he had a keen interest in the construction. Miro and the other teens talked about the hardness of rocks, carving and the bronze tools available to the Incas.
It was so exciting to see teens tackle these complex issues from how were these buildings built to who built them. “How could these structure be built if the only tools available to the Incas were bronze tools and the rock structures were much harder than the tools available?” I asked.
The ideas went round and round.
When I suggested that perhaps a much older civilization than the Incas built the structures, perhaps 12,000 years ago? The conversations started to spin in all kinds of directions, wondering who these people were and where they may have come from. The group wondered how drill marks could have been made in a time before electricity and what kind of technology could they have had? And of course, I had to sneak in my favorite topic of all….ALIENS!
The conversations were all in good fun, but unfortunately I realized a little too late, these sorts of topics made Shauntea very uncomfortable as she started to argue a more biblically acceptable explanation. All view points are welcome, open and discussed in my opinion, and it’s unfortunate the exploration of an ancient ruins became uncomfortable for her, as was not my intention.
I am learning. I am learning about others limits and limiting beliefs.
Cold Cusco, Resting and Taking Care
It is dead winter here in Cusco. And it is terribly cold. Coupled with the cold, altitude and foreign food, Ben, Luke and Shauntea all got sick! The folks from the other house alternated between throwing up, having stomach pains and other physical problems. Rest and time, and they took 3 days to recuperate Then the trek preparations resumed for their departure at the end of the week.
In the meantime, Devin, Xavia, Miro and I enjoyed a couple of lazy cold days. We made a giant pot of vegan chili, stayed in our pajamas for 2 days straight, danced around the kitchen singing Queen, made art and music and watched numerous movies. Yeah, down time is just as good as scheduled activities.
I really love spending time with this group. I realize how much I am learning about group dynamics, supporting interests and being together as a group. I personally have received so much in return from that honor.
And the songs play on and a new week begins….
Read the entire Unschooling in Peru Adventure here, by week: