SPARK Abroad in Peru: The Experience
As a part of Golden Key’s SPARK a Change initiative, Golden Key has partnered with EF Tours to offer SPARK Abroad–international service-learning tours to serve at-risk youth through literacy, education and real-world preparedness. SPARK Abroad trips allow attendees to experience engaging site explorations while working side-by-side with locals on community-driven projects. Golden Key hosted our first SPARK Abroad trip this June in Peru, and Golden Key’s Associate Director of Corporate Relations, Alex Quinn, attended the trip alongside other Golden Key members.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from this trip, especially considering that this would be my first real trip out of the United States (I went on a cruise once that made a couple of four hour stops in Central America). Honestly, I am not a fan of traveling– I have very little tolerance for airplanes and even less for sitting still for long periods of time– this trip has changed my attitude, though.
The majority of us attending the SPARK Abroad tour in Peru came into Lima on the same late, 1:00 a.m. flight from Atlanta, Georgia. With just a few hours of sleep, we woke up and headed back to the airport for our flight into the imperial city of Cusco, where we would spend the resounding majority of our trip.
Although we spent the majority of our time in Cusco, we were able to spend some time in the Miraflores and Chorrillos districts of Lima. Generally, the coastal city of Lima is cloudy and warm, even though it was winter when we were there. We experienced Lima at a strange time, though, because it was the year of El Niño, so the ocean water was more tolerable for winter than usual and the weather was much warm enough to wear a short sleeve shirt at night.
As much as I enjoyed Lima, I preferred the weather in Cusco, which has a completely different climate. Given that Cusco is a mountainous city located 12,000 feet above sea level, the sun has a much stronger effect than in Lima. All seven days that we spent in Cusco were sunny and warm. One could easily wear shorts and a short sleeve during the day. However, we had to plan ahead when we left the house, because once the sun goes down, the temperature would quickly drop into the 40’s and 30’s.
Due to our late, international flights into Lima and early morning flights to Cusco, we weren’t able to spend much time at the hotel our first night in Peru. We stayed at the Lima Wasi Hotel in Miraflores that first night. We became much more familiar with our next residence as we would spend the next five days living there.
As you drive through the streets of Cusco, there were no front yards. Buildings and homes either sat right off the street or they had rather tall walls that wrapped around them, which made it hard to see what the residences looked like. When we pulled up to the walls that surrounded the home that we were staying in, we didn’t know what to expect, but we were pleasantly surprised when we walked in.
The “compound” that we stayed in had six bedrooms with their own bathrooms, a living room area, dining hall and a beautiful outdoor courtyard. While we were there, we also had a cook who prepared three meals a day and a driver to take us all over Cusco.
Once we completed our service project (more on this later), it was time for us to visit Machu Picchu. We had to drive roughly 40 miles from Cusco to Ollantaytambo to hop on a two hour train ride to Aguas Calientes, the base of Macchu Picchu. We stayed at the Hotel Flower’s House, which was a quick walk from the train station and to the bus stops to head up the mountain to Machu Picchu.
We were lucky enough to have visited Peru during Winter Solstice, which is not only the shortest day of the year but also the Incan New Year. On June 24 we watched as the Peruvians threw their most important celebration– Inti Raymi, or the “Festival of the Sun”. The event starts with an hour long ceremony in the Plaza de Armas, and it is celebrated with music, dances, colorful costumes and processions. Once the ceremony is completed in the Plaza, the procession continues in the streets, and they march up to the archaeological site of Saqsaywaman.
We were also able to experience the Copa America while we were abroad. This international futbol competition brought together twelve nations (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Jamaica, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela) to play for the cup. Although the matches were being played in neighboring Chile, our group was able to experience two Peruvian matches (Bolivia and Chile) in some local pubs in Cusco.
Tune back in tomorrow for another post in this blog series! If you are interested in attending a SPARK Abroad tour this upcoming December or next June, you can visit the SPARK Abroad page on Golden Key’s website to learn more about the trips.