Peru Pre-departure Preparations

By the Chisnell Incan Trek and Service Group

Follow along as Mr. Chisnell and his fellow Incan Trek and Service Trippers prepare for and speculate about their upcoming Peruvian escapades.
What We Will Notice… – by Alec Snyder

Clearly, this will be a memorable trip.We will be traveling to the southern hemisphere, viewing a rural region of a developing nation and volunteering among a largely indigenous population [and by “indigenous” I mean “Native-Americans”].We will also sightseeing in a region that was home to one of the most advanced pre-Columbian civilizations in the western hemisphere.Additionally, the Cusco region of Peru – the heart of the Incan Civilization prior to the arrival of the Spanish – is home to one of the most interesting historical sites in the world.Our time at Machu Picchu will be breath-taking.However, what I am looking forward to most of all will be our cultural encounter.I believe this will be the most enlightening for all of us going on this trip.

We are going to meet people who are the ancestors (for the most part; it is safe to assume many of those we meet will be mestizos to some degree) of the indigenous population that originally settled that part of the world.We will notice a cultural divide that will be a rewarding challenge to bridge.What will be most intriguing for me, as a high school teacher, is to see how our group relates to the people we interact with while we are volunteering in central Peru.We will notice a lifestyle that is so radically different from ours, that the culture shock will be very real.And we can tell our students, and ourselves, that this cultural difference is coming, it will be real, it will be intense.But when we finally experience it… our reflecting on these experiences has me most intrigued.And that goes for all of us.We’re not going to be interacting we people in Peru who are mostly of European descent (like most of the Spanish population would be in South America); instead, we’ll be interacting with the indigenous population and their world view that is not “Western”.The Quechua presence in Peru pre-dates European arrival, and their cultural heritage is a very rich one.The Quechua can claim to be descendants of one of the earliest civilizations in all of World History, and they would be correct.And their world view is different from the Western view of culture, lifestyle, socio-political relations, and leisure time.It will be an eye-opener for all of us attending on this trip.

Having traveled with Steve Chisnell and the Model UN group internationally before, I have some experience being with students overseas.I went to Ireland, Italy, and Greece in the late-1990s and early-2000s and the cultural divide was relatively small.Language difference in Italy and Greece was hardly a barrier – I met a high school student in Athens who spoke 6 languages fluently (she was a 16-year-old Belgian student debating against us at the Model UN conference in Athens).We had more of a challenge with accents in Ireland.When the club went to China in 2008, six weeks before the Olympics in Beijing that summer, we were exposed mostly to the “Western”-friendly tourist areas.When there was a language barrier in China, smiling and nodding worked well on both sides.But this trip will be different.I know it.

I’m looking forward to seeing how the experience impacts our students and myself as an educator. I will be sharing reflections on this trip, hopefully on this site. That depends on us finding internet access at some point in Lima or Cusco. We’ll see. Otherwise, I’ll share what we noticed about differences and commonalities amongst us and the Peruvians after the trip.

Please Hold While We Die of Multidrug Resistant Tuberculosis – Ellen Vial
When we first began our Peru meetings, I often found myself googling “Peru facts” five minutes beforehand so I would have something profound to say when I got to Caribou. As our departure date draws closer, I’m quite certain all of us have employed this method of fast-fact preparation. What I am most interested however, is something I learned from a PBS documentary about global health that I watched in my AP Environmental Science class this year. Surely staying healthy, especially during the trek, is a top concern for all of us (see Greg’s post about pulmonary edema), but avoiding infectious diseases is something about which we will have to be particularly wary in Lima, Cuzco and Limatambo. The spread of tuberculosis is not uncommon in developing countries, and although the treatment is rigorous, overcoming TB is possible. In Peru however, TB plays a different kind of ball game. The most common strain of tuberculosis in Peru is called multidrug resistant tuberculosis (MDR TB), which is unresponsive to the typical medications used to treat tuberculosis. The Ministry of Health in Peru falls short in many areas (comprehensive clinics are few and far between anywhere outside of Cuzco or Lima, health care subsidies are usually not enough for people below the poverty line to afford doctor visits or treatment), but they do have quite a system to treat tuberculosis. However, the drugs available to the public are only sufficient for normal TB and cannot cure patients with MDR TB. The government refuses to reevaluate the TB treatment program because the drugs necessary to treat MDR TB are far too expensive, and the World Health Organisation has even advised against a publicly funded program to treat MDR TB due to cost. For this reason it is probably a good idea to understand the symptoms of TB (weight loss, energy loss, appetite loss, fever, cough, night sweats- although all of these can be easily confused with other diseases) so that we can be wary of them in Limatambo. Next time we are fast-facting Peru on Google, read about MDR TB and how quickly we can get back to the U.S. to get treated! But hopefully we just won’t get it in the first place.
Ramblings on Family and Infrastructure- Carolyn Berger
In preparing to travel, one always hears how different the destination is from home. This is of course natural and understandable, and probably also prudent, but in preparation for this trip to Peru I have been trying to seek out a commonality. I have traveled and dealt with different cultures, but never to a developing nation; arguably, there will be more differences there than I am used to (with television news’s infatuation with covering the recent incarceration of Joran van der Sloot in a Peruvian prison, some of them have been processed by my family at dinner: “There are no toilets in the prison, and that’s normal.” “Yes, dad, but I am probably not going to jail there.” “But it’s normal. Even outside of the prison, there aren’t that many toilets.” “Yes, dad, developing nations don’t tend to have the same widespread modern facilities we do.” “But…” “Yes, dad?” “It’s normal.” “…Yes, dad.”)

So, in these days leading up to our departure, the concepts of family and infrastructure are weaving themselves a confused little basket in my mind, and waiting for me to find a few commonalities to put in it. We have been told that family is a broader idea in Latin America, that helping out is “just what people do” for their family and friends and neighbors, and that we volunteers are not unlikely to be treated as family by strangers while there. And as my dad has come to realize, civil and municipal development in Peru are at a different stage than that to which we are accustomed. I happen to come from an extremely large and inclusive family that often comes together to work and help out; almost anyone, related or not, who has been to a gathering on my uncle’s farm in rural Pennsylvania has also volunteered or been merrily conscripted into helping bale hay or butcher or clear a trail, and even more certainly they have been fed (or stuffed) and shown all of the entertainment the farm has to offer. But, although this is common, it is still an event – the vast majority of our family has been suburbanized for some decades. Many of my relatives moved to industrial cities (Pittsburgh, Detroit) around the time of World War II, when manufacturing and democracy and capitalism were the absolutely unquestioned foundations of our society; around the same time, Peru fell under a military dictatorship. In the 60s and 70s, the US coped with massive civil unrest, but the suburbs were already organized meticulously; in Peru’s capital city of Lima, neighborhoods were being created by force, with squatters building shantytowns wherever they could muster the numbers to resist the police. In the 1980s, my own nuclear family joined the white flight from the city of Detroit and enrolled me in a suburban elementary school so well-established it seemed to have always been there; many of those shantytowns in Lima were just receiving official recognition and municipal water and electricity, and beginning to build schools. But for all that time Peru has been undergoing massive changes and various arms of my family have been moving to cities and suburbs, my uncle’s farm has remained at the center of my family, and at the center of the farm has stood a hundred year old farmhouse bearing quite visible signs of change unto itself. It is often said, not always with the same amount of love, that the farm is a several-decades-behind microcosm of how we came to think of modern amenities as necessary during the 20th century. The original part of the house seems from the outside to be propped up by additions of varying ages, which, spanning many years, have endowed the place with additional rooms, a kitchen with electrical appliances, and indoor bathrooms (the story of the installation of plumbing is still told). The well pump is still in use, too, although city water came to the house “a fair while ago now”. It isn’t easy anymore to see where the old barn burned down and the new one was built on its foundation, but one certainly can if one looks closely.

Likewise, by mentally squinting, I think can begin to see what I have in common with Peru through that poor old farmhouse and our family gatherings there. It’s in there, sort of, if you stretch a little; at the very least, I think I will understand and cope well with the things we have been “warned” about. (Emma: I have no compunction whatsoever about eating a guinea pig. If we are for some reason forced to do so, I’ll take yours.) But, to paraphrase my dad a little, what’s normal there will still only be a very survivable 2-week trip for us, and that I think is where my attention will wander while there. Even if we do understand and cope, what does it really mean that we are only required to accept these things as normal for two weeks? I hope I’ll find out. And maybe also find a better commonality for my still confused little basket.

I am always surprised and not surprised by two questions I inevitably hear before a trip. I still consider myself fairly new to travel, having only been exploring seriously for about ten years. That regret alone has caused me to include my students on as many experiences as they can afford. Yet in those ten years, it has become clear to me that the best education from travel comes when I travel “close to the ground,” connecting more directly with the country I encounter and its people.

That’s the first question: Why Peru (or insert developing nation here)?

The answer is easy: my students chose it two years ago, claiming Machu Picchu or bust! Nevertheless, while I would have been equally supportive of their desire to go to Japan or Australia, Greece or Poland, I admired their desire to meet a people quite different from Americans and to meet them personally—not through the resort-filter of the tourism industry or simulations of a Disney-esque park.

The impact US tourist money has on the developing world is significant, both good and bad. On the one hand, wisely-spent tourist dollars enrich an economy. Costa Rica employs about 10% of its labor force in tourism and the Tibetan-Government-in-Exile in Dharamsala is fortified by tourist dollars. Of course, we need to be careful where it is spent: Costa Rican resorts can break up Tico families to serve as staff while sealing off beaches from the locals and consuming slim resources; Kashmiri in Dharamsala buy up the real estate around the Dalai Lama and sell “authentic Tibetan” crafts with profits never reaching a Tibetan.

The same, then, is true of US tourism’s cultural impact. Globalization is on, and it is a rare community in the world that doesn’t have its citizens wear a Barack Obama t-shirt. There is no undoing that any more than removing Rambo from the storefronts of Ladakh, WetWipes from Dominica, cruise ships from tiny Alaskan coastal towns, or Ms. Piggy from Japanese kabuki theater. Rather than merely export such non-sustainable idiocies into other cultures, the least we can do is reveal to these peoples that we are something more (or less) than Kung-Fu Panda.

More importantly, living closer to the lifestyles of those in the developing world enriches our own experience. We learn nothing by exporting our cultural comforts with us via cruise ships and gated five-star (or even three star) resort communities. In fact, as I suggested above, maintaining our consumptive ignorance can often damage the very place we visit, even those self-rated “Green” hotels. Travelers—especially US tourists—are needfully humbled by seeing how five billion others on the planet live, by opening themselves to the collective wisdom of thousands of years of history as opposed to the US school summaries of a few hundred years.

My friend Alonso in Dominica said it clearly before I ventured into the rain forest: “You must give up everything you have, everything you are. You must be naked of idea, naked of judgment, completely naked in order to find out who you are.” And what an interesting idea: that Americans who don’t travel are trapped, insulated by our own mass market culture from discovering who we are. What better education?

So why volunteer abroad? That’s the second question, the one which always implies that we would do better to serve those at home. Doesn’t Detroit need help?

The first response is the same as the first question—my students chose to do it, over debate conferences or meetings with political figures. They are already understanding a global ethic that took me so much longer to discover. More importantly, I think it’s important that we do not create an either/or situation when it comes to volunteerism. The fact is that people need support everywhere on the planet. We should volunteer in our own schools, in our communities, in our country, and in the world. To focus exclusively on any of these is . . . limiting. Global volunteerism has the added advantage of bringing us again closer to those cultures which too many of us xenophobically avoid, even as we caravan through their country sides.

I’m glad to have spent time teaching in the schools of Pokhara, Nepal, and I’m proud of my former students who worked in Costa Rica (through Cultural Embrace) and will now work for an orphanage in Limatambo, Peru. Alum have since traveled throughout Latin American, Asia, and Africa, some through studies abroad, others through volunteer experiences such as the Peace Corps. And having seen a Nepali community transformed by a former Peace Corps friend of mine, there is little question how significant real globalization can be.

No one can predict where one small experience like Limatambo will take us. When we open ourselves to the experience, however, the number of future global paths expands exponentially. My classroom can never serve as substitute.


Machu Picchu: Revealed! – Karly Lawnizcak
Reading about the glorious site of Machu Picchu, I find that I am drawn towards climbing Huayna Picchu, described as a “step climb” that must be “tackled.” Unfortunately, the time confines of our trip will probably prohibit us from climbing to see the Sacred Rock of Machu Picchu, and I will have to accept not seeing this acclaimed view. The plethora of things that we will be seeing however, seems just as enticing as this illustrious peak. From the Funeral Rock Hut, another scenic photo stop- where the grassed terraces are mowed by the native alpacas and llamas- to the Temple of the Condor, a hypothesized sacrificial alter that stands over a prison complex filled with small human sized niches to hold the condemned criminals and sacrifices. Ignoring the more gruesome aspects of the temple, we can also appreciate the beautiful Incan stonemasonry, built without mortar to better withstand the passage of time and the treachery of Mother Nature. (The Incans pieced together their building without mortar or cement leaving small spaces in between the stones that allowed them to shift in the case of an earthquake.) The temples namesake, the condor, symbolizes the celestial plane of the gods, and is carved into the natural rock formation in three-dimensional flight, making another prime sight-seeing opportunity. Although we should still keep in mind that this statue was the alter in which many a person was gruesomely leeched to appease the bloodthirsty Incan gods. I find myself anticipating the beauty and magic of Machu Picchu. Seeing the genius of these famed architects, astronomers, and religious people will make for a fulfilling end of our long trek through Peru.
Threads – by Randon Chisnell
I’ve just returned from a trip to the New Mexico and Southern Colorado (Four Corners) area to visit some the ruins of the Ancestral Puebloans (these are the people once referred to as “Anasazi” – however, that term is not as accurate as their descendants are the various Pueblo tribes: Hopi, Zuni, Acoma, Taos, etc.). I took with me for travel reading a book about Machu Picchu. When I was younger, I was always fascinated by the “mysteries” of people from other cultures and other times (Pyramid Builders, Cliff Dwellers, Machu Picchu, etc.). Now I find that it’s the similarities among the peoples of the earth that holds the greatest fascination for me. Modern geneticists tell us that we are all (all of us homo sapiens) 99.9% genetically identical. Our concepts of race and all are simply that: our concepts. Further, our primary culture around the planet (and for thousands of years) has been one of sustained agriculture (as opposed to hunter-gatherer). All ancient and modern “civilizations” came into existence around this basic way of life. The sun, rain and seasons therefor are a common focal point for peoples everywhere. We marvel at the ability of the ancients to plot the movement of the sun from solstice to equinox to solstice, to know when to plant and when to harvest… but the simple conclusion is that if they didn’t understand these things, they’d perish. I suppose my point is (if there is one) that again and again we solve the same problems of existence, and when we study other cultures (both current and past), the primary differences usually lie only in the solutions. So I go forward on this trip hoping to see how the people of Peru, both past and present, have gone about solving their basic needs for surviving and thriving and hope to find more threads that unite us.
Trekking ie Pulmonary Edema – by Greg Cline
Quite honestly the part of this trip that I am most looking forward to is the hiking along the Incan trail. I love hiking, I love nature, I love heights – basically, our journey up to Machu Picchu is the ideal set of circumstances for me. I’ve had experiences with treks like this where the entire goal of the trek is to get somewhere and no thought is given to the experience itself; I sincerely hope that although our final objective is Machu Picchu, we give some thought to the splendor of the land we are traveling through. Now to the true topic of this post: high altitude pulmonary edema. Being the mountaineering nerd that I am, I have read many books about expeditions to the world’s highest mountain ranges where the adventurer’s companions or the adventurers themselves have been struck down by a case of high altitude pulmonary edema .Once I heard we were going to be scampering about in the Andes I immediately set about finding whether or not our little group would be at the altitude where pulmonary edema might be an issue, and I was quite pleased to find out…we are! Between 2500 and 3500 meters is the area where the symptoms of pulmonary edema become common, and it does not matter what shape you are in, whether or not you develop it is pure chance. If one of us were to develop pulmonary edema it could result in difficulty breathing, coughing up blood and pale skin. The best treatment is to immediately descend in altitude, reaching around 1000 meters above sea level at least. However, considering the difficult terrain we will be traversing it could be more of a challenge to get the person down than it sounds, especially if he or she becomes unable to walk. Now the only unfortunate thing about what I have found out so far is that high altitude pulmonary edema generally sets in after two to three days, which means that given our trek only lasts five days and alternates between mountains and valleys, it is unlikely that anyone of us will get it.
Requiem for the Guinea Pigs – by Emma Green

Unaccustomed to writing things of this nature, I will begin with a simple fact. I really do not want to eat a guinea pig. I should most likely preface this with the idea that I am taking this blog as an opportunity to voice my concerns for this adventurous endeavor. Then we can return to the initial declaration. Lewis Carroll would be remiss. My only concern, for some unknown reason is that of consuming a furry little rodent friend. I had a pet guinea pig once, and was rather attached to her. I doubt I’d be able to consume her South American cousin. I’m not really very worried about the conditions; I enjoy jungle treks and water purification, which may seem like an odd hobby to some. The language barrier may prove to be an obstacle, however, over the years, I feel myself to be quite an accomplished charades expert. Mime school, don’t fail me now.

It’s going to be interesting to carry everything I need in a single pack. I’m often not the best “packer”, and I have been known to substitute reading materials for pajamas. So we’ll see how this turns out. I am not squeamish, or afraid of long, tiring days, and I do not suspect that there will be trouble in the area of altitude sickness. It seems to be the little rodent that’s tripping me up. Which brings me to an interesting (at least, I’m hoping) point. This notion of consuming what could have been a household pet somehow became stuck in my head after watching too much travel channel. Through the research our group has been doing, we have become familiar with much of the history of this nation, and seem to fancy ourselves as the open-minded, tolerant-type travelers. Yet I wonder how far this illustrious vision will take us. Is it unfair to assume that at some point I will be forced to eat a guinea pig? Have we fully outrun the stereotypes that we look upon so scornfully? I believe that, in a sense, I have done the best I can to put all preconceived notions behind me. Yet, one can never be truly sure until he or she is staring the destination fully in the all encompassing, albeit metaphorical, face. But I wonder, can we outrun the stereotypes imposed upon us? Will the people we meet in Peru look at us as these intrusive foreigners, much akin to that of the early conquistadors? Will they scan our bags for devilish plots to take more land and destroy more culture? Or will they, like we attempt to do, welcome us in without bias, or assumptions of American ignorance. I often find it hard to look past this veil of manifest destiny heritage, so I worry that these people will be unwilling, or even adverse to overlook it as well. However, as in any place in the world, I expect to find a mixed result. I suppose only time will tell. Ending on a cliché seems to be a bad omen, so instead I will end with the hope that this trip can reverse my cynicism, and expose a culture, or even simply just a person, that is willing to forgive me my heritage and accept the proverbial olive branch, from one traveler to another, furry rodents included.


Peruvian Geography – by Dylan Davids

Peru’s geography is incredibly diverse, from lofty mountains ranges to low-lying rain forests. The nation is approximately 1,280,085 square kilometers and is split into about three geographic regions. From west to east these are the coastal region, the Andes and the Amazonian Basin. The area we will be traveling to is in the Andean region, and the higher altitudes are something I will need to get used to. Compared to Detroit’s measly 600 ft above sea level, Cuzco is over 10 times greater, at almost 11,000 ft. As someone who has traveled to every state except Hawaii, I can confidently say that I don’t think I have ever been that high up. It should be interesting to see how I react to that elevation. I’m leaning towards “negatively.” Something interesting I discovered is that Machu Picchu is actually at a lower elevation, “only” 8,000 ft above sea level. While shopping for hiking boots the other day I came to the great realization that in Peru it is currently Winter. I had been worrying about the heat being compounded by summertime, without taking the time to remember what I learned in elementary school, that the Southern hemisphere is not the same as the Northern hemisphere. I felt incredibly stupid that I had forgotten about the tilt of the Earth. I’m not sure how hot or cold a Peruvian “winter” is considering the proximity to the Equator, but I hope we’ll have cool weather throughout the trip. Looking forward to it, I’ve always had an interest in landscapes and now I’ll finally see some that aren’t “American” or “Canadian.”

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