- Mary Rogelstad
- August 11, 2022
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In the mountains of Peru, Rustic Pathways students worked up a sweat as they created an irrigation system, planted trees and did other tasks with local villagers this summer. The work took hundreds of hours to complete but is now taking care of important needs in the regions where the students traveled.
The work for both the Sacred Valley Service and Andes to Amazon programs centered around the Sacred Valley, which is tucked in the Andes Mountains in southern Peru. This mountain range has the highest peaks in the Western Hemisphere and is the largest continental range, spanning 5,500 miles from the southern tip of South America through Colombia.
The Sacred Valley was once the center of the Incan Empire and both the town of Cusco and famous Machu Picchu ruins are nearby. The region provides ample opportunities to learn about how pre-Incan cultures led to the Incan Empire and how local residents live today.
Sacred Valley Service Program
For this program each student completed about 40 hours of service across a two week period, while also soaking in the majestic views. In the town of Pachar the high schoolers moved rocks and made cement alongside local villagers to create an irrigation system for crops. They got great insights into the Peruvian culture by engaging in this work, along with interacting with local guides and staying with village families.
While in the region, the students also visited Incan temples and enjoyed a celebratory dinner consisting of guinea pig. Afterwards the group had a day of adventure – paddle boarding at a lake by the mountainside and then mountain biking before getting to the famous little town of Ollantaytambo.
The second village where they did service was a small rural community in the mountains called Marcuray. There the students improved a play area for local children. They also camped, star gazed, and joined in a ceremony to “pachamama” Mother Earth.
Afterwards, the program could not be complete without a visit to the Machu Picchu site. Plus, the students rock climbed, zip lined and enjoyed the markets in Cusco.
Mackenzie Bernhardt, who traveled with the program this summer, was surprised by how hard some of the service work was – but also found it to be really rewarding, along with many memorable moments. One of them was when the students took a long difficult hike to the top of a mountain.
“We stared at the view for an hour, Mackenzie said. “I remember being super happy and realizing, ‘This is where we are right now. Wow, I’m in Peru.’”
Andes to Amazon
This program also involves service in the Sacred Valley and unforgettable moments at sites around the region. This summer the Andes to Amazon program included both high school and college sessions. These groups headed from the valley to the jungle – going deep into the Amazon basin.
For service the students engaged in crucial reforestation efforts. They planted hundreds of saplings on the mountainside by Pumamarca in the Sacred Valley. The work took place in a high Andean forest that has native endangered Queuña trees.
During their time in this region the students camped and bonded around the campfire. After spending time in the town of Ollantaytambo, the students got to explore Machu Picchu, and then followed it up by visiting Cusco and making chocolate. They also kept busy with many adventure activities.
The students spent a few days hiking and rafting near the Ausangate Glacier. They enjoyed some hot springs, zip lined and went rock climbing.
Later, the students explored the Amazon jungle, venturing into Tambopata National Park. Along the way, they got to try amazing Peruvian food.
As they wrapped up their programs, all the students traveling to Peru took part in Rustic Ties discussions, where they received their Rustic bracelets and discussed what they learned. Among those lessons, according to Mackenzie, was to not sweat the little stuff and to live like the villagers, including the children.
“The kids lived so simply and were so happy all the time. They could go without wifi. They could go without food for the day and not have a care in the world,” Mackenzie said. “In the (Peruvian) village everyone helps everyone. You help your neighbor. They want the best for everybody.”