13 students and 9 adults adventured to the land of Inca to engage in cultural immersion and service this past June of 2015.

Let me clarify: 13 middle and high school students.  9 parents and teachers. 5 different cities in Peru, South America. 9 days of travel.  Altitudes of 12,500 feet.  4 hotels. 2 service projects. 1 INCREDIBLE TOUR AGENCY:  Education First (EF) Educational Tours.


We departed Lakeview Middle School by school bus and drove to Indianapolis. We flew to Atlanta where we connected with 3 other teammates coming from JFK and Houston.  Finally all together, we headed to Lima, Peru.  We arrived quite late at night, but we quickly met up with our Tour Director, Victor.  He would soon become like family to us.  We followed him through the busy airport, the dark parking lot and onto our beautiful charter bus which then took us to our hotel for the night.  I don't know if anyone really slept.

Group leaving Lakeview Middle School for Indy.

Alexa, Kayla, Ashley, Shunterra, Sophie and Abby grabbing lunch before heading through security.

Nik, Missy, Tamie, Makaela & Diamond eating lunch in the airport.

The girls having fun while waiting at our gate!

The guys having fun while waiting at our gate.

After landing in Lima...finally on our bus!

Our group after a long day of travel, excited to head back to the hotel.

Hotel #1: El Carmelo (Lobby)


The next day was dedicated to Lima:  a sightseeing tour by bus, an interesting art museum, and time at a local shopping mall overlooking the ocean.  We ate chicken & french fries (all happy campers!) at a nice outdoor restaurant.  Victor amazed us with his knowledge of the history of the capital city of Peru:  the weather, the economy, the politics, the issues, etc.  We soaked it in!
Gathered in the central plaza listening to our tour guide.

My students with a great view of the changing of the guard in downtown Lima.

Getting some handmade bracelets.

So many impressive ceramics from the Incan Civilization.
Loving Lima!

Ready for some food!

Students at the food court in the mall (YES, they even ordered in Spanish! #proudteacher)


Early the following day we flew to Cusco, Peru.  Not a long flight, but a long ways up.  This is where we were most nervous about encountering altitude sickness. We had heard to drink the tea offered us on the plane, so we did.  "It should help," they told us.  Fingers crossed. If we were sick, we didn't have much time to notice because upon disembarking, we immediately soaked in the sites of Cusco.  We walked the streets, explored the main plaza, bartered prices while collecting souvenirs, and then boarded another bus to see our first set of Incan Ruins:  Sacsayhuman.

Back at the airport waiting for our plane to Cusco.

The tea on the plane to Cusco.  I was never sick...so maybe it works?
Our local guide, was extremely knowledgeable about the back stories surrounding this enormous site on a hilltop overlooking Cusco.  She explained that her own grandfather had loaded rocks from this site to construct his house, before anyone was aware of how culturally significant the ruins were.  We spent time just sitting on the grass, gazing at all the rock formations and then asking questions.  She released us to have some free time exploring and climbing. Some students found "rock slides." Others climbed to the highest point and took pictures overlooking the city.  And almost all of us realized for the first time that "altitude sickness" can start by claiming your breath and your ability to climb stairs.  SO. TIRED.

Diamond and Shunterra checking out the street artists.

Like mother like daughter! Makaela & Tamie bought some cute miniature llama keychains.

William liked them, too!

Alex had forgotten a belt on this trip. Local Peruvian woman to the rescue!

Our group listening to the story of Sacsayhuman.

LOTS. OF. STAIRS. But check out how beautifully they fit together!

This was a perfect activity for a sassy group with lots of energy :)
We made our way to a store run by families that live in this area.  In this store they first taught us the differences between authentic Alpaca products and fakes.  Then, we browsed through their stuffed animals, ponchos, hats, blankets, sweaters and other keepsakes.  I think everyone found something irresistible...baby alpaca is INCREDIBLY soft!

Our group LOVING all the Alpaca goodies!

Alexa found a little friend!
After petting, and buying things having to do with Alpacas...we then ate them for dinner.  Victor took us to a quaint little restaurant high on a mountain overlooking the city where we were served delicious soup, Alpaca steaks and purple corn lemonade as we listened to a pan flute concert.  Many students looked back on this meal as their favorite.

Trying the quinoa soup (and taking pictures, of course!)

Alpaca steak. Mmm.

Alex & Jonathan trying their alpaca.  I had some adventurous students!
Before our day was done, we even got an art lesson!  We went to the house/workshop of a famous artist and his family who continue to do ceramic work the same way the Incans did it.  We got a tour of their facilities, and then we even made our own tiles to take back with us.  Sidenote:  when the electricity went out in the workshop, we finished by phone light and flashlight. SO. COOL.

Checking out all the different pieces they do.

Watching a demonstration from the artist's son.

Summer & Dr. Boyd are excited to see how their tiles turn out!

Nik, Ashley, and Shunterra working on their tiles with some help from the staff.

Makaela, Diamond and Ian working in the dark.

Most of the group's tiles are ready to be fired.

LOVED chatting with my personal helper.  
Rosario with her finished product...probably the best of all!

Alex with his finished product.

The hotel we stayed in the longest was in Amaru Valle.  It.was.unbelievable. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves:

Hotel #2: Amaru Valle

Yes. We had a fireplace in our room. And the man that built the hotel would come light it for us at night.

Little cobblestone paths connected the buildings.


Then we had our day in Machu Picchu.  Anyone who has been there must know it is nearly impossible to put to words.  My students were awestruck.  Our bodies were pushed to their limits. Our cameras were extremely inadequate.

We started by making our way to the train in Ollantaytambo.  The train took us into Aguas Calientes where we boarded a bus that climbed the switchback road to Machu Picchu.  Let's just say I took a Dramamine and tried not to get sick.  The views were amazing as the anticipation built for what we would see next!
Buying the train tickets.


On the train...ready to head to Machu Picchu!
Our local guide met us at the entrance to Machu Picchu and promptly blindfolded us.  We placed our hands on the shoulders of the person in front of us, and carefully made our way through a rock tunnel.  Finally, he told us we could remove our blindfolds on the count of three...


We spent the rest of the day climbing ancient staircases, exploring old houses, temples and fountains, taking pictures of breathtaking scenery and asking questions of our guide.  When one student began to not feel well, I stayed back with her as the rest of the group continued to ascend the mountain.  We were both bummed to be missing out on their adventure, but we had great conversation and even saw a wild llama up close and personal!

Me with the llama!...well, part of him...

Alexa with beautiful terraces (used for farming on hillsides & preventing errosion) and mountains!

Our friend Abby was a bit of a daredevil :)

Dr. Boyd getting the special stamp in her passport from Victor at the end.

We did it! Exhausted, but INCREDIBLY worth it.

One of our best group shots! An unforgettable day.
Later, we headed to yet another delicious restaurant for dinner and stayed in a lovely hotel (Hotel #3) in Aguas Calientes. Let's just say that thin walls plus tile floors plus no rugs or wall hangings = VERY. LOUD. HOTEL.


Our fifth day of travel included taking the train back to Ollantaytambo and visiting our 3rd set of Incan Ruins with another local guide.  Each site was so different and unique that it didn't feel like a let down even after having seen Machu Picchu.

The protruding rocks were handles used to move the rocks.  

LOOK how precise these stone masons were!!

Our guide showing the students the path the Inca had to take from the stone quarry all the way to the fortress they were building.
That same day we visited a local family home to see how those with Inca heritage still hold those values and beliefs close.  The two skulls you see in the picture below are actually great-grandparents of the family.

We boarded the bus and headed to lunch...a lovely buffet this time.  Our group enjoyed great conversation, lots of pictures and on the way to our next stop, we even tried a local delicacy we had only heard rumors of before!

One of my many trips to the buffet.

Victor explaining the delicacy of  "Cuy"...or guinea pig.

So you can get a picture of where we stopped to eat.


As we chewed and swallowed our guinea pig snack, we headed to the market in Pisac to buy some souvenirs and teach the students about the art of bartering prices.  It was one of my favorite experiences as a teacher because I saw my students HIGHLY invested in using Spanish well...money is a great motivator!

We first saw a demonstration of how to spot authentic and fake silver products. 
Then, we headed out in small groups to purchase our goods!

It was a great experience and everyone came back with something different.


I think every member of our group would agree that the most memorable instant on our trip was the beginning of day six.  We took a very long and winding bus ride (are you seeing a pattern here?!) to a small village at the top of mountain near Cusco.  The village was called "Umasbamba."  We hardly knew what to expect, but the second we stepped off the bus, many local women dressed in traditional clothing and armed with fresh flower necklaces ran to us, hugged us, and never let go of our hand for the remainder of the day.  Two men playing a flute and a snare drum walked behind us like we were in a parade. We only picked up tiny bits of conversation from the two or three women that spoke any Spanish;  the rest of them communicated in Quechua.

They let us take a quick bathroom break (explaining that it would be the only bathroom break all morning...) and then strapped tools on our backs and led us to a potato field...watching my students try to figure out what was going on was INCREDIBLE.

Never forget to grab toilet paper BEFORE getting into the bathroom stall.

Quick selfie with Diamond before getting started!

These ladies are called "Mamitas" and here they are helping the students learn how to form backpacks out of cloth.

We packed sheepskin to sit on, tools for harvesting potatoes, and some carried children along for the ride, too!

We then walked through the winding, rocky paths of Umasbamba to a local family's field.  The Mamitas explained to us through a translator that we would be helping this family by harvesting potatoes today.  They modeled for us a ceremony of thanks to the "Pacha Mama" or "Mother Earth" and allowed us to participate as well. Then, a man and a woman with two oxen and a manual till began to till the earth.  We followed behind them sifting through the dirt for small, yellow potatoes.  We carefully threw them on to a plastic tarp and, when it became full, placed them into a potato bag at the edge of the field.  After a hard two hours of work, the Mamitas disappeared and brought us back a delicious lunch to eat as we took in our breathtaking surroundings.
Sitting in the field, listening to our job assignments.
Alex & Jonathan taking part in the ceremony to honor Pacha Mama before beginning the harvest.

Sophie transferring the potatoes into a larger bag.

Eating soup with our Mamitas.

Going through the buffet line that the Mamitas had set up for us.

Our delicious lunch: Quinoa, onion salad, corn and baked potatoes.
We packed up after lunch and walked back through the winding village roads accompanied by flute and drum music.  Each Mamita led a student to her home along the way and dropped off her leftovers from lunch.  We soon heard tiny footsteps and children voices and realized that the local school had let out.  As we made our way back to the town square, the young children danced along behind us.

We sat down in the grass in the middle of the central building in Umasbamba and watched in amazement as the Mamitas demonstrated their art of spinning, weaving and dyeing wool.  Each student (and adult!) got a chance to try each step...and we quickly realized just how skilled these women truly are!  At the end, each Mamita unwrapped her handmade products and we purchased a few more meaningful souvenirs from the women we felt so close to.

Half of our group sitting in a circle before the demonstration.

The Mamitas beginning to weave belts.

This was 90% Mamita & 10% my spinning.  It was so challenging!

The students were very intrigued by this whole process.

Makaela tried her hand at weaving a small belt.

Ashley having fun learning how to weave.

My very happy self with my Mamita, Paulina, and all of her beautiful products!


On our final day of service learning, we ventured back to Umasbamba and visited the local school.  The children were enjoying recess and as soon as we entered the school yard they formed a large circle.  We completed the circle and their teacher led them in a welcome song.  When they looked at us, wanting to hear a song from our students, we spontaneously bursted out into the first verse of the National Anthem.  Immediately the Peruvian students clapped and ran to hug us. We then broke up into smaller groups and played soccer, volleyball and duck-duck-goose with them.  We Americans tired quickly due to the high altitude (and me being out of shape...) and the young Peruvian children beat us VERY badly.  We had fun nonetheless :)

Our "song circle".

Ashley and Kayla having fun with their new friends.

The boys playing soccer.

The school was composed of two wings in a "T" shape.

Abby saw that this young girl didn't like soccer & taught her volleyball instead.
In the afternoon of our final day, we did what no EF group had done before.  We worked with a few men of the village making mud bricks.  We first watched them (BAREFOOT!) bring loads of mud over in a wheelbarrow and then separate with their feet, pack it into a mold, add straw to prevent cracking, and remove the mold before beginning again.  What they made look extremely easy, we found out was in fact an incredibly tough job.  This was the part of the trip that I was the most impressed by my students.  They got extremely dirty, worked alongside men they couldn't understand, and worked until the job was completed for the day.  What a fulfilling experience!

Our group watching a demonstration from the local men.

The adults (and some students) doing VERY heavy lifting.

Our students ready to help when needed!

Jonathan (and others) filling a wheelbarrow.

Abby adding mud & straw to the brick mold.


Our group worked on the row behind the rooster and everything closer to the camera.  So proud!

One of the coolest stories of the day:  Ian giving his shoes to his new friend.

Our group followed Ian's lead and began to give away gloves, and shoes.  This man was very excited to receive new work gloves!
For lunch, our group was treated by our Mamitas with a yummy soup and some of the potatoes we helped harvest.  We were so humbled!

"Fruit" of our labor!
To wrap up our incredible last day of service, Victor took us to a local market for a bit of a scavenger hunt.  He challenged us to find a unique fruit, vegetable or other product that we had never seen before.  We split up into smaller groups and began the hunt.  When we came back together and headed to the hotel, Victor told us what each food item was called, what it was used for, and allowed us to taste test them.  What a unique, all-senses-engaged, experience for our group!  We had an extremely late night/early morning flight to catch from Cusco to Lima, so Victor walked us around Cusco at night for a final farewell.

Be thankful that pictures don't smell...because Makaela's fruit STUNK!

The market was bustling...and it offered anything you needed.

The market:  San Pedro.

Sophie and Shunterra showing off their finds.

Nik, Jonathan, and Diamond showing off their finds.

Diamond decided to stop for ice cream after the hunt...

Sophie followed Diamond's lead!

Listening to Victor's information about our fruits from the market.

William trying one of our fruits.

Ashley, Kayla and Tamie weren't too sure about this one!
Our many different finds from the market scavenger hunt!
On our final walk around Cusco, we watched many dances in the streets.
Having so much fun on our final night in Cusco!

SO SLEEPY in the Cusco airport.

Boarding our flight from Cusco to Lima!


Once we landed in Lima, we had a twelve our layover before boarding a flight back to Atlanta.  Victor did a great job of giving us one last chance to say goodbye to Peru by seeing new & familiar sites in Lima before heading back to the airport for the final time.

One last group picture on the beach in Lima.

Our final lunch in Peru:  in a Spanish restaurant themed with bull-fighting decor.

One more stop at our favorite outdoor mall.

The "Lima" view:  hills, buildings and highways...all squished next to the ocean.

Our final activity:  a local fountain show in a beautiful park.

Myself, Victor, and my husband enjoying the fountains.

Ready for our flight to Atlanta!  Incredibly thankful for the experience that EF & Victor provided our students.
We had an INCREDIBLE adventure, thanks to EF and Victor.  Every adult and student on our trip raved about all that we got to see, experience, taste, buy and learn.  The service learning part of the trip truly made this visit to Peru an enriching and rewarding time spent doing more than simply sightseeing.  For more pictures and stories, check out #LMSPeru2015 on Twitter or Instagram and see what the students and adults pictured here said for themselves.  ¡Viva Perú!

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