This is a guest post by Sharon Nickols, Fulbright alumna (Malawi, 1983-84) and participant in the Fulbright Service Corps Trip to Albania in 2015.
A major attraction for visiting Peru is Machu Picchu. In a word, Machu Picchu is awesome. “The views of snow-capped Andes Mountains, the meandering Urubamba River, and the conversations with fellow travelers on the Peru Railroad added to the pleasure of the trip to Machu Picchu,” said Nancy Neill (New Zealand, 1963), Fulbright Association President. The engineering genius of the Inca also was evident in visits to the Ollantaytambo ruins and Sacsayhuaman, a fortress believed to have been a university.
Machu Picchu was only one of many great experiences in the Fulbright Association Insight Tour in Peru, October 13-21, 2016. Fourteen travelers from Washington, D.C. to Hawaii were led by Andrea Neves (Tanzania, 1997; Uganda 2002), Member of the Fulbright Board of Directors, and Victor Colunga, tour leader. We were met in Peru by two Peruvian alumni. Former President Alejandro Toledo, a Fulbright Scholar to the U.S., joined us for dinner in Lima. And Maywa Blanco, agronomy professor at Cusco’s San Antonio Abad University, directed an excursion to the Quechua potato-growing community.
The Potato Park (El Parque de Papas) was a trip highlight for Lee Fletcher (India, 2004; Fulbright Specialist appointments in other countries). “The insight aspect of the trip was exemplified by our visit to the five altiplano communities where the residents have joined together to improve their physical and social circumstances. They are using indigenous knowledge to create a sustainable food production system without use of chemical fertilizer or plant protection.” Spouse Cindy Fletcher enjoyed the “diversity of sights, sounds, and conversations woven together in a well organized itinerary that still allowed time to explore independently.”
“I enjoyed finding the Centro de Textiles Tradicionales del Cusco (Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco). It’s a beautiful museum showcasing the history of weaving and its geographical variety,” she explained. Lee also enjoyed Cuzco’s central plaza. He observed, “With the exception of the insertion of luxury hotels and stores into colonial buildings, Cuzco has the same ambience I found there forty years ago.”
The cathedrals in Cusco and Lima attest to the predominance of Catholicism blended with local customs in the religious tradition and contemporary practice of the country. We also learned about the multi-ethnic history of Peru through visits to private museums, including the Museo Rafael Larco Herrera in Lima, where we glimpsed the highly developed pottery and metal craftsmanship (think gold and silver) of the pre-Columbian cultures such as the Moche and Nazca. And, of course, there were opportunities to experience the things Peru is famous for today. Not one person among the group could resist feeding the alpacas and llamas at the Awanakancha Center for South American Camelids, or bringing home at least one delightful example of the rich textile tradition of Peru.
Hotel accommodations throughout the tour rated five stars. The sounds and the view of the rushing river next to the hotel in Aguas Calientes below Machu Picchu and the view of the Pacific Ocean from the hotel in Lima were an added bonus. But the most rewarding part of the trip was traveling with other Fulbrighters and sharing our common concerns for mutual international understanding.
Fulbright companionship, layers of cultural history, skillful weavers of colorful symbols in fabric and song, breath-taking mountains and valleys, scrumptious food pleasing to the palate and the eyes, and modern preservation coupled with ancient cultivation of the ubiquitous potato. That’s a thumbnail sketch of one amazing trip to Peru.