Category Archives: RSIS: Round Square International Service Project (Peru)


What can I say about Machu Picchu?

It is one of the New 7 Wonders of the World and certainly lives up to this title. Machu Picchu is a pre-Columbian 15th Century Inca site. “Pre-Columbian” meaning before the Spanish invaded! (actually the term commonly refers to time before any European influence).  It was an Incan estate for an emperor, built on a mountain ridge on the Urubamba Valley at 2430m altitude. It was abandoned during the Spanish conquest: decades of fighting that caused the collapse of the great Inca Empire. In the 12th Century, the Inca were originally a pastoral tribe in the Cuzco region of the Andes, who began expanding after victoriously defending themselves against an attempted overthrow by the Chankas, another Andean tribe. (This they did by mythically turning stones into soldiers – they dressed stones as soldiers to deceive the aggressive Chankas – but that is a whole other story)

The interesting thing about Machu Picchu is how long it remained hidden from the outside world, including the Spaniards! It was only in 1911 that the American Yale History professor: Hirram Bingham, discovered the site and bought it to the attention of the rest of the world.  He was actually seeking the last Incan refuge from the Spanish conquest, and after years of exploration in the region, an 11 year old Quechua* boy led him to Machu Picchu. He began excavation work as well as notoriously taking back many artifacts to Yale University, where they are still stored and being fought over to this day (Yale’s argument being they only they have the facilities to safely store said artifacts). Bingham called the site “The Lost City of the Incas” and the National Geographic devoted their entire April 1913 issue to the site, paving the way for its fame.

Wayna Picchu (Young Peak or Huanya Picchu) is the mountain overlooking Machu Picchu that has a trail built by the Incas for the high priest to climb each morning to welcome the new day.  It is 2720m high and only 400 tourists may ascend each day, necessitating the need for advanced booking. We climbed in the second session – 11-2 and were forewarned that any sign of rain would cause the mountain to be closed.  Once reaching the top it was easy to understand why.  The summit is a pile of boulders that would no doubt be dangerously slippery if wet.  We “encouraged” all the students to climb and all agreed it was well worth the effort, as these pictures will testify.The very last section of the climb entailed scrambling through a narrow rock cave – it was nearly enough to stop me making it up but my two lovely Indian students coaxed me through.

After descending back to Machu Picchu, Emmett and I headed out to the Intipunku – a sun gate that marks the end of the famous Inca Trail and served as a guard post. Sadly I cannot find any information on the Intipunku but it was explained to me that a certain time of the year, the sun shines through in a special way that aligns the first rays with the gate and a feature on the Machu Picchu site. The views from here gave a whole new perspective of Machu Picchu. We were also treated to being the only people on the path as it was near the end of the day, with the added benefit of us view some interesting birds.  Walking along the path to the sun gate it was easy to see how Machu Picchu had been so well hidden. The vegetation is very thick and dense, as I have tried to show in one of the photographs. You can also see the zigzag path up the mountain, taken by the buses bringing thousands of tourists each day.

We stayed 2 nights in Aquas Calientes – the town near Machu Picchu (the only town – so everyone has to come through here). It is a very interesting town with many markets, hotels and great restaurants. You just need to be aware of the trains!

*Quechua is the collective term for the indigenous Andean people of several tribes that speak the Quechua language. This includes the Incas, Chankas, Huancas and Canaris and other throughout the entire Andes.

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Train ride to Machu Picchu

The train ride from Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu is magnificent.  It descends along the Urubamba River and with its large windows one can enjoy amazing views of the valley, small villages and farms as well as glimpses of several mountains in the majestic Andes.  The waiters serve drinks and snacks and offer to sell a range of Machu Picchu related souvenirs. The journey passes in a heartbeat as you scramble from one side of the train in order not to miss the ever changing scenes of horses drinking in the river, farmers tending crops, children waving, hydro dams, Inca terraces and snow capped wonders.


Filed under Peru, Places of historical interest, RSIS: Round Square International Service Project (Peru)


WHAT A BEAUTIFUL TOWN!   I could live here……  Ollyantaytambo is a picturesque town lying at 2800m above sea level, on the Patakancha River, near where it joins the Urumbamba River.  It is known for its:

  • magnificent archaeological Inca sites
  • extensive agricultural terraces on the mountains either side of the valley, all the way down to the river
  • the Inca storehouses for grain, with their unique ventilation systems
  • quarries of rose rhyolite used for the buildings
  • several chullpas: small stone towers used as burial sites in Pre-Hispanic times
  • some of the oldest continuously occupied dwellings in South America
  • the starting point for the Inca trail
  • the train to Machu Picchu

We only spent a couple of hours here but one could spend weeks exploring the various sites.


Filed under Places of historical interest, RSIS: Round Square International Service Project (Peru)

RSIS: return to Quishuarani

On our second trip up to Quishuarani to complete the greenhouse, snow had fallen.  The landscape looked quite different …. (and the roads were slippery —- eeeeeek!!)


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RSIS: Final stage of greenhouse

After a wonderful 3 day break which included a visit to Machu Picchu, we returned to Quishuarani for the second stage of the project.  We completed the greenhouse and had the blessing ceremony.  Then we split into teams to build smaller greenhouses for individual families. This was also hard work and we were spread throughout the valley.

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The blessing of the greenhouse:

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Working on the “cold frames” – mini greenhouses for families:

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RSIS: Greenhouse building stage 1

The whole aim of the Round Square International Service Project in Peru 2012 was to construct a greenhouse for the Quishuarani community in order to improve their monotonous, carbohydrate rich diet, by providing a way of growing vegetables in the harsh high altitude climate.  The local people of Quishuarani are known as the “Huayruros” in reference to their bright orange & red ponchos. The project aim included working together with the local people in the construction of the large greenhouse in the school grounds and then later assisting in building smaller “cold frames” for individual families.  All the materials were purchased by Round Square.

It was hard work, especially the first day when all the rocks needed to be carted down the hill to the site. Walking  back up the hill was a battle due to the altitude. However it was pretty cold so the work kept us warm and whenever we stopped for a break, we soon were reminded of the air temperature!

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The slides show the projection of the project but perhaps not just how physically hard the work was. Despite some frustrations that were beyond our control, the first stage went well and everyone grew fitter and stronger, as well as more skilled as each day progressed.

Alongside the actual greenhouse construction, a small group led by Duncan, dug a long trench from the creek to the site in order to bury a hose to provide water.  We were all very inspired by this group’s endurance and the speed of their progress. The first use of the water was for “burro” = mud!  This was needed to build the rock wall.  Making burro entailed first digging up soil. Not as easy as it sounds as either strong grass roots conspired against being separated from mama pacha or rocks!  The next phase was to actually remove all the small rocks from the soil. Only then could the soil be delivered to the highly skilled burro-makers!  Soon shouts for “burro” could be heard all across the valley as the rocks began to pile up……


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RSIS: Arriving in Quishuarani

July 22-27th:  First part of the Quishuarani Project…..

How do you cure a phobia of riding in a bus on windy mountain roads?

Well – you just simply do it over and over and get higher and higher on ever narrowing and steeper gravelly roads. Those of you who know me well will appreciate that this was a pretty tough aspect of the trip.  I had not actually anticipated it and was it took me unawares.  However the scenery was so incredibly breathtaking that after some intial annoying mini panic attacks, I soon settled into the experience and did my best to ignore the adrenaline cursing through my veins…..

Quishuarani is in the Lares area and is nestled in a valley at about 4200 metres above sea level. It is a place where time has stood still. The people speak Quechua and only the men speak some Spanish. Houses are made out of adobe (mud bricks), rocks and wood. People have sheep, llamas and alpacas and grow potatoes and corn. The weather was sunny and clear, but cold. At night the temperature dropped down between -5 to -10 degrees.

Please enjoy this slide show of our drive up the mountain to Quishuarani and our arrival and walk to the greenhouse built by Markham College in 2008.  Mr Rafael Solomon, the project leader, was delighted to see the greenhouse still in good use. We were greeted by the ladies of the village selling their handicrafts.  Children always came out to see us, some to stare, some to smile and some in hope of a game of football. Their beautiful faces belied their varying degrees of malnutrition and bellies full of parasites, as pointed out to us by Dr David, our accompanying physician from Cusco.

Please watch in full screen.  Music: Tu Fotografía by Gian Marco……..[wpvideo dtYji7VB]


Filed under RSIS: Round Square International Service Project (Peru), Service Projects