Mid-Semester Break and Field Studies in the Andes

Posted: December 1, 2014

Alejandro Camino D.C.
Center Director
Biodiversity and Development in the Amazon, Peru

Mid October came, and with it the students’ much anticipated break in Cusco where they would have their first chance to visit Machu Picchu, the ancient, sacred capital of the Inca Empire, which they had only glimpsed at the start of their semester.

Cusco, the oldest continually-inhabited city in the Americas, is a unique international tourism destination as well as the gateway to Machu Picchu. There is no place like Cusco, a site chosen by the founders of the Empire for astronomical reasons and given the name Qosqo, navel of the world. It is an unforgettable experience to wander its narrow streets bordered by the magnificent remains of carved stone Inca palaces and 16th century Spanish mansions built on top of massive pre-Columbian walls.

Cusco also offered our students insights into the rich history of a society where gold and luxury, which were only meant for adornment, turned into the bounty of well-armed Spanish wealth seekers. Here, our students learned that during the 16th and 17th centuries, the Spanish crown used that enormous wealth to buy arms and goods from England, boosting the industrial revolution, and to buy silk and porcelain from China, enriching the Asian hereditary imperial monarchy. And thus, Spain gradually became the poor European brother, while the Chinese Dynasties and the British Empire surged. Discovering these turns of history were good lessons on the ground!

Certainly, the visit to Machu Picchu was the highlight of the break — a mountain citadel of marvels, and one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

After break, the academic program restarted with a week-long stay in the wooden bungalows at the Wayqecha Biological Station in the upstream Amazon cloud forest. This was yet another exciting learning adventure. We were immersed in heavy mist, among twisted tropical trees that were covered with moss and lichens, and a rich and varied flora which is a magnet for bird watchers. For the students, the extended canopy walk facility was the highlight in the brumes.

We also had the opportunity to visit highland farms that were more than 10,500 feet above sea level – the home of more than 6,000 varieties of potatoes and a millenary farming technology designed to withstand hale, frost, intense tropical sunlight, snow, droughts and floods, and an unpredictable tropical climate. Our stay in the cloud forest ended in a visit ascending the remains of the ancient Inca road network, the Capac Nan.

We learned a lot in these days amidst a breathtaking landscape and the most gregarious and generous people we could have imagined.