Our two day hike around the Cordillera Real took us to the highest peak of the semester, reaching over 17,000 feet. We walked past beautiful lakes and up steep inclines to the precarious tip of a huge mountain. This physically challenging hike offered us one of the most beautiful views of the semester as we walked parallel to a glacier.
The rural village of Irupampa is home to a host of mysteries. Known as “the bellybutton of the world,” no one truly knows how the crater was created. The soil in the crater is rich in nutrients, and much of the land is used to grow wheat and potatoes. While in Irupampa, we helped a local farmer harvest wheat and enjoyed a meal of potatoes cooked inside the soil. Our hikes across the valley boasted magical views, despite the scorching heat.
Cerro Rico, the mine that funded the entire Spanish empire during the colonial period in Latin America, is the heart of the thriving city of Potosi. During our stay in the highest city in the world, we learned about the harsh conditions of the mines and experienced a small glimpse of the mines ourselves. Our guide, an ex-miner himself, shared his experiences hauling 10 tons of stone a day out of the mines to provide enough money for his family. We also visited a treatment facility in which the rubble is stripped of precious minerals and other stones. Our experience in Cerro Rico was eye opening and extraordinarily humbling.
Uyuni Salt Flats
Welcome to Bolivia! Our first stop in Bolivia, after traveling for 12 hours, was the Uyuni Salt Flat. Driving across the white salt in Land Rovers, we took in the vast expanse of salt surrounding us, while jamming in our Rovers. Stopping to view cacti and mountains, we took hundreds of jumping and perspective distorting photos. Despite getting stuck in a large lake located directly on the salt flat, our car made the most of it and took stunning photos of the sunset as we walked to the shore. At long last, we arrived at the “salt hostel,” a hostel made entirely of salt, where we crashed for the night.
Machu Picchu, the historic lost city of the Incas, was the final destination of our two day Lares Trek. We followed an Incan trail through endless mountains to the most important city of Incan and pre-Incan times. Arriving at Machu Picchu, we were overwhelmed by the precise architecture of the buildings and the impressiveness of the vast array of mountains surrounding us. We spent the day learning about the culture of the Incans and the vast empire they once ruled, all while being followed by a llama.
During our time in Cusco, we explored many Incan and Pre-Incan sites. An underlying theme of our time in this tourist city was understanding how the Incan empire drew many ideas surrounding their belief system, their architectural styles, agricultural systems, and many more concepts from Pre-Incan civilizations. Our cultural exploration of Cusco took us to sacred rocks, temples, and burial grounds. We also explored many modern industries of the indigenous peoples such as weaving and salt collection. Basking in the sunlight of Cusco, enjoyed many days shopping for vibrant sweaters and taking in the old city.
In the gentrified capital of Peru, we spent three days shopping and enjoying the coast. The built-up neighborhood of Miraflores demonstrated firsthand the effects of globalization. Walking by the J.W. Marriott to the Starbucks, we were surrounded by familiar US companies. Even though the pull of US influence was enticing, we were excited to continue exploring the unfamiliarities of Peru in new cities and towns.
The Santa Cruz Trek
In Huascaron National Park in the Cordillera Blanca mountain range of Peru, we embarked on our 5 day trek. Reaching an altitude of over 15,000 ft, we hiked through sunshine, rain, and snow. Reaching the “most beautiful campsite in the world” on our second day of trekking, we were surrounded on all sides by mountains and glaciers. The pale blue glacial lakes contrasted the dark peaks of mountains, giving the valley an otherworldly feeling. Our both physically and mentally challenging trek, the hardest of the semester, took us to new heights and tested our perseverance as we immersed ourselves in the beauty of nature.
Our day hike to Laguna Churup helped us acclimatize and prepare for the five day Santa Cruz trek. As we hiked along a ridge to the huge lake, we were completely surrounded by waterfalls, rock faces, and shrubbery. We reached the laguna and stood in awe of a vast glacier in front of us. The scenery was captivating as we ate lunch, reflected on the semester, and took many photos. We then headed back down the ridge to Huaraz, where we packed and prepared for the Santa Cruz trek.
Welcome to Peru! Our first stop in Peru after crossing the border, Tumbes, was also the first place Pizarro, the ancient Spanish conquistador, landed to begin his conquest of the Incan empire. Although we only spent one night in Tumbes, we were stunned by the loudness of the city and the immense heat of the coast. In the heart of the city, we explored a heightened level of hustle and bustle, with tuktuks and street meats everywhere. Even though our time in Tumbes was short, it left an impression on each of us.