Well everyone, the electricity has miraculously been on for the last hour and a half and so I figure I am safe to start writing another blog post before it goes out again. I don’t know what’s been going on for the past week and a half but every day of that time has been without power. I figure they must be working on it because it goes out in the day and comes back at night. This is fine except for the fact that much of my work these days is on the computer in planning and prepping. The kids have been out of school for a week and this week for mid-year vacation (remember, we start in March) which means I’ve had a fair amount of free time to work on my larger projects.
But I’m not writing today about those. I would like to write to you about an adventure that I had in mid-July. This post is titled as such because I feel that my time in Laraos has become very routine which, although satisfying, seems to be contrary to the fact that I live in the mountains of Peru and the feeling that I should be having adventures at every turn (so that I can write about them later here in my blog) So to put a little bit of adventure in to my work, in mid-July, the high school science teacher and I took the graduating class on a two day/ one night hike.
The hike was to be the research for the class’s project that they would then present at the science and technology fair as well as a nice mid-year excursion for this year’s graduating class. I should mention here that the class is only 9 students, 8 boys and 1 girl. So she, the female science teacher, a park guard and his two songs, 8 high school boys and I set out on this hike at 3:30 one Friday morning. I had never been hiking in the dark and I’m not sure I would recommend it. Although, I will say that it is pretty rewarding to know that you have beaten the sun to the spot where you choose to breakfast. We chose to breakfast here…
…at the cell phone tower about 800 meters above Laraos. The boys, not yet tired of climbing, took to the tower in the early morning.
After about three and a half hours of climbing, we still were not done climbing. We had a couple of hours more of walking past a couple of lakes – Huarococha and Iskay Cocha. If you didn’t know, “cocha” is Quechua for lake. Also interestingly, “iskay” is Quechua for 2 and so you can imagine that Iskay Cocha is actually two lakes…Twin lakes if you will (Palatine, anyone?). But we finally reached the highest point of our hike. According to the park guard it is an elevation of 5300 meters about sea level. I don’t know if that is the case, but it was definitely high and my lungs felt it.
From there it was a descent on loose gravel to the focal lake of the hike, Winsococha. Winsococha is smaller than I had imagined it but was in every way spectacular. Maybe it was because of the effort we expended to get there and knowing that was our resting point, or maybe it was its crystalline water but as we approached I was astounded by its beauty and wanted nothing but to go for a swim in it.
Just up from the lake was the “mesa de sacrificios,” the sacrificial table. We sat and rested while our trusty park guard, Che (just a nickname folks), explained how it was here the Yauyos people (Pre-Incan) sacrificed the first born male of every year to ensure enough water for the year. The site had fallen in to even more ruin since the last visit so we set about rebuilding some of the walls. This really only meant picking up rocks from the path and putting them on the wall. Liz insists that we tampered with history here but I hold to the idea that we were restoring it.
We offered our sacrificial coca leaves and cigarettes (apparently, the modern first born son) and then we were headed to the other side of the lake to have lunch and see this!
These are the “Siete ventanas,” or seven windows, of Laraos (trust me, there are 7). This was the ancient settlements way of diverting water from the lake to irrigate crops but also to control the flow of that water. Quite a little bit of ingenuity if you ask me. I figure if I were an engineer, I could understand and explain this better but I’m satisfied to just accept that it worked.
It was 1:30 and we had been on the trail for 10 hours and we still had a couple more to go before getting to our campsite in the quiñual forest. We crossed the pampa and began a gentle descent in to the forest and along the stream. We camped near the stream and under some branches that extended over us like a roof. We made our bed on garbanzo flowers topped with plastic and put our sleeping bags all in a very compact row to keep warm. That night we had a campfire complete with ghost stories and were actually sleeping very early. I once again enjoyed the night sky, this time sleeping under it, even though the ghost stories of the youngest on our trip had scared the blisters from hiking right off my feet.
In the morning, we awoke to find that although we had slept soundly and warm enough in the night, the water we had left standing overnight was now frozen! Whoah. Refreshed, we ate breakfast and prepared for day 2 of our adventure, the purpose of our trip, to visit the ruins of Sinchimarka.
It was about an hour and a half more of hiking to reach the ruins and when we got there, we were at first unimpressed. The entrance was only wide enough for one person to pass through and that and a small circle of stones was all we could see. But then we entered further and the hill opened up to a sort of plaza in the center of many homes.
We spent some time, wandering around, exploring, climbing and even cleaning a little bit of the brush away from the walls.
The neat part for me was that because much of the site had become overgrown, each time swept a branch back from the stone, it was like I was discovering it for the first time, myself. Alright, make fun of me if you like but I was channeling my inner Indiana Jones. In that sense, cleaning the ruins was fulfilling but in another, it was sad to see that such an interesting part of Laraos’s patrimony was so overgrown and so infrequently visited. Almost everyone in Laraos knows that Sinchimarka exists but there are very few who have been and even fewer who know the way. The boys, upon arrival, were unimpressed and wondered aloud why they had made such an effort only to see…this. But then, they started exploring and discovering and they realized the potential that the place holds as an important historical site not only for larahuinos personal enjoyment but also for tourism.
Aside from the site being complete unmaintained, the major challenge to making this a touristic excursion is the path. The path is in such poor shape that even for people who know it, it is a challenge. I contemplated this as we headed down from Sinchimarka, certain that we weren’t even on a path and fearing I would break an ankle several times over. Somehow, we made it to the river where we ate lunch and relaxed in the sun for a while. I took off my shoes and socks and like a lizard, laid on a large flat rock in the sun for a while. The boys fished and the girls chatted. I’m not certain, but I’m pretty sure I napped. We had completed our mission but there was still two hours of downhill to complete. Luckily for me, that path was clear and although the sun was hot, we were rewarded with a spectacular waterfall at our journey’s end.
And that was my adventure with the kiddos. I saw kids but really, they are 16-18 years old. Overall, I would say that I enjoyed their company and getting to know them more, recognizing that they are adolescents and I most likely, was like them when I went on overnights with friends. Interestingly, this was my first overnight with only Spanish speakers and let me tell you, I discovered something about my Spanish: After a certain amount of time of all Spanish, no English music, reading, listening or speaking, I reach a certain point where my brain just gives up and all of a sudden, I am speaking English without even realizing it. It took me a moment of strange looks from the teens before I realized that I had answered their question in English and then was able to recover the Spanish. But apparently, without planned breaks, my brain programs its own. Neat, huh? But truly, apart from that little difficulty, I feel like I grew closer to the students and to my two adult counterparts on this trip. I tested my own physical hiking limits, proved my worth and was rewarded with a truly unique experience.
Anyway, the youth presented their project “Let’s Save Sinchimarka” in the fair last week and it ended up winning. Although, I was one of the judges and had my eyes on the miniature solar car to win, I was still proud that I had been a part of making their project a success. With a lot of initiative it could even become a feasible project of restoration but we’ll have to wait and see. Until then, it may be one of those paths less traveled that do indeed, make all the difference.