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We arrived in Cusco last Thursday morning around 6:30am and came straight to the hotel. We all noticed the elevation right away. It was intense, especially after walking uphill to the hotel with our bags at 10,000 feet! We had a good 3 hour nap before setting out to check out the town. We got struck pretty hard with the altitude, and took a day or so to adjust. We spent a day in Cusco getting money exchanged and experiencing the shops and markets so typical of Latin America. The majority of the group set out for a vegetarian lunch in Cusco and a tour to stretch our legs before taking a bus to Ollyantatambo on Friday.

On Friday in Ollyantatambo, we visited a farm and had a traditional pachamanka lunch which consisted of chicken, pork and lamb cooked under hot stones in the ground. It was served with some potatoes and the most beautiful and colourful salad we had ever seen. It was delicious and very filling. The best part was the 360-degree view of high mountains surrounding us in the Sacred Valley of the ancient Incan empire. In the afternoon, we enjoyed a guided tour of the Temple of the Sun, one of the most sacred constructions of the Incan religion. The ruins were decorated with alpacas, which peaked everyone’s fascination with the common siting of these animals! There is now a challenge of who can take the most epic selfie with alpacas!

On Saturday and Sunday, we visited some of the Mosqoy students' families on their farms. It was extremely rural and the poverty jaw-dropping. The conditions that many people live in are astonishing. It was an eye-opening experience for all of us. A baby cow even walked into the room where we were eating, which revealed some of the extreme differences between their world and our own. We were able to have some very good discussions among the students about our how fortunate we are, and how we can be of service to these communities. We helped with some farming (chopping wood and pick-axing a field to prepare it for planting). It was strenuous work, especially the wood chopping because we had to climb up a mountain side (64 floors up, according to Mrs. Beatty’s FitBit!) to get the wood, and then carry it all down. The families cooked lunch for us and we all tried guinea pig (called cuy here). Many enjoyed it, despite visiting and holding the cuy at the family's houses earlier each morning. Many of the kids were adventurous and gave it a try. Alex T. got right into it and enjoyed several cuy heads!

On Monday, we got up early (4:30am) and took a bus to the long awaited Machu Picchu. We had a guided tour of the Incan ruins and then hiked up la Montana Machu Picchu. It was incredible. It was definitely a highlight of the touring aspect of the trip so far. The hike was intense and challenging; we hiked 750m up (elevation) - we went from 2400m above sea level to 3100m. Unfortunately, it was quite cloudy at the very top so our view was compromised, but the feeling of accomplishment made it the experience of a lifetime that no one will forget.

On our descent, the clouds parted just enough for us to see the ruins of Machu Picchu from above. It was an undescribable view. We returned to Cusco on Monday night and began our service work on Tuesday at Casa Mosqoy, the dormitory where the scholarship students live. There is no hot water, no potable water and quite unkempt. We spent the day cleaning, painting and gardening. It was intense work and the kids were feeling pretty proud of their work at the end of the day. We made quite a lot of progress over the seven hours. On the second day, we returned to resume our projects in the garden, the study and the kitchen/dining room. With limited resources and challenging tasks, we are managing to turn this residence into a more comfortable home for the students. On our last day of service, we are putting the final touches on our projects and beginning our legacy mural. The students have decided to paint a world map on a wall in the residence where Brentwood students on this tour (and future tours) can indicate their nationality. It symbolizes the global diversity of our relationship with Mosqoy. Stay tuned for pictures of the final product!

The Brentwood students have been absolutely incredible. They rarely complain, they take initiative and are keen to try just about anything, from new and different foods to challenging hikes. The hike was extremely difficult and there were a few tears, but it was an incredibly rewarding experience. Despite some tummy troubles, the students are persevering and enjoying the tour. They are loving buying alpaca sweaters (new Brentwood uniform??) from the local markets, as well as any other souvenir they can get their hands on! They are the heart of this trip, learning and pushing themselves outside their comfort zones each and every day.

“Our group has been very supportive of one another so far. I am making new friendships that I would have otherwise never made. I am learning that there is more than one way to do the same task, that things happen on a different schedule and that challenging tasks require putting one foot in front of the other even when your whole body is screaming at you to not continue. This trip will give me a new perspective on life that I will share with the Brentwood community.” – Sierra T.

On Friday, we depart Cusco for Huaran where we will learning about Mosqoy’s Q’ente Textile program. The students will be learning about the process of weaving, as well as the importance of fair trade. Following the weaving expo, we will be beginning our two day trek from Huaran to Lares where we will climb another 1300m to 4700m above sea level. It will no doubt be a challenging but rewarding experience that we will share with 9 Mosqoy students. We look forward to the second half of our trip with anticipation and excitement, as well as sharing our experiences with our families, friends and the Brentwood community.

- Mrs. A. Beatty

Photographs by Tres Vidas

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