Yesterday was supposed to be slow and relaxing. Somehow, it turned out to be quite busy!
We began the day with a visit to the ruins at Sacsayhuaman (pronounced "sexy woman") - the "House of Sun". The ruins never cease to amaze, as they highlight the Incas' ability to build cleverly, strategically and effectively. One of the members of the Duke alumni group on this trip is convinced that every ruin site we have visited was constructed by aliens; I'm beginning to believe his theory, as there is frankly no rational explanation for how these structures were built. It continues to seem humanly impossible.
Our next stop was lunch. We divided into three groups and travelled to the homes of families in Cuzco. The family that I had an opportunity to visit was multigenerational, with grandparents, children, grandchildren and a niece. The grandfather is a judge and a farmer; he loves to work the land. The grandmother served the meal, which consisted of fresh vegetables, soup, guinea pig (a Peruvian staple), rice, potatoes, beef stew and a plum "pudding." One of the sons was attending university and joined us for lunch. It was so nice to spend time with a family and to also share with them information about Duke. We presented them with some fun gifts, but the o ne that got their attention the most was the stuffed Duke Blue Devil. They immediately displayed it in the dining room.
The rest of the day was spent with activities that weren't part of the planned itinerary. Our local guide is so awesome, that he is always adding opportunities to our agenda. We were able to visit a place in Cuzco where gold and silver jewelry is made; we observed the various steps in the process and then had a chance to purchase the beautiful jewelry. I think enough money was spent to probably pay for a semester at Duke!
Next, we had a chance to shop at the market in Cuzco or just walk around. One of the main markets is quite large, with more blankets, scarves, hats, gloves, sweaters and Peruvian souvenirs than you could possibly imagine. It's interesting to shop in the markets, as you can bargain quite effectively for a price that suits you. I enjoyed walking with several of the alums around the market and then to a local theater, where we experienced an evening of traditional Peruvian music and dance. The costumes were works of art and the dancing was fun to watch.
Today, was a long day on the bus as we travelled to Puno in preparation for our day tomorrow at Lake Titicaca. We made several stops along the way, including the village of Andahuaylillas, known for its magnificent 17th century church which is described as the "Sistine Chapel of South America." The amount of gold ornamentation throughout the church was similar to what we had seen in a church in Cuzco. We continued to the ruins at Raqchi, where we once again found ourselves in awe of the Incas ingenuity. We stopped at several markets and before arriving in Puno, we rode through the town of Juliaca. We all found the city to be odd and "creepy," as everything seemed to be under construction. The buildings appear to be mismatched, as they are ancient and contemporary, and the roads are basically dirt, with lots of traffic and no stop signs or traffic signals. I have since learned that Juliaca is considered the least pleasant and most unattractive city in Peru. Although i haven't been to every city in Peru, I still feel quite comfortable and confident with this assessment of Juliaca.
One of the aspects of this trip that has yet to be fully realized is the impact of the altitude. All of us have felt a bit "punkish, particularly over the past two days as we have continued to climb. we are currently at 12,500 feet and feeling it! Regardless, this trip continues to exceed expectations and I remain grateful for having the opportunity to be a part of this awesome Duke experience.