Saturday, August 20, 2016

Cordillera Blanca Research Expedition: Cusco


My last full day in Peru snuck right up!  While I am sad to leave this beautiful country, I am comforted by the fact that when I get home to Bellingham, Washington, I will still be surrounded by the stunning mountains of the North Cascades.

Also, what better way to spend my last day than to visit Machu Picchu!  We woke up before the sun this morning to go stand in a huge line for the bus from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu.  Our timing was pretty good though, because by the time we arrived at the ruins, the clouds were just starting to clear and a bright morning glow was beginning to illuminate the peaks surrounding the ruins.

Our first view of Machu Picchu, just as the clouds started to clear. 
When we arrived at Machu Picchu, some of our group members had some important business to take care of. Since they are graduating this summer, they brought a cap and gown to take graduation pictures in front of Machu Picchu!   One graduate even brought a bottle of local beer to celebrate the special occasion.
Aaron will graduate this winter, so he celebrated early
with a Cusqueña beer and an awe-inspiring view. 
After taking lots of pictures of the complex ruins, it was time for a hike up Montaña Machu Picchu (also known as Huayna Picchu). We hadn't been hiking much since our research ended, so a long steep hike with killer views along the way was just what we needed. We were all so well acclimated that the hike felt easy, and our guide Luz said that we may have set a tourist record with our hiking time to the summit.

Here I am on the summit of Huayna Picchu high above the ruins of 
Machu Picchu.  It felt great to get our legs moving again after 
a few days of resting in Huaraz and then in Cusco.

Next, we did a quick hike over to the ruins of the Sun Gate, which also has gorgeous views of the city of Machu Picchu.  Finally, it was time to tour the city, and our guide Luz led us through the maze of ruins (and tourists), the whole time telling us a good history of the city and the Incan people who occupied it.  She was also great about pointing out the best places to take photos!

Some impressive Incan stonework inside the city.  Recesses in the
walls, like the three pictured here, contained candles for lighting.

A temple inside the city with high-precision large stonework.

The sundial inside Machu Picchu.  It tells the time of day as well
as the season using shadows from the sun. 

Some of the beautiful stonework in the terracing and buildings
that are within the city on this amazing mountain perch.
After our climb and a thorough and repeated crisscrossing of the city, we were pretty tired and ready for dinner. Although one day felt too short to see such an incredible place, Luz did a great job showing us everything she could, and I don't feel like I missed anything.  We had a full day in a truly unique and beautiful place.  I have to say, it was also very enjoyable to eat a huge three-course dinner in a nice restaurant by the Urubamba River before heading back to Cusco by train and bus to pack and prepare for our flights back to the U.S..

Learning about the traditions and lives of the Inca people was a fitting way to end my research because of the great importance of nature in Inca culture.  The Incas understood the vast importance of ecology and the ways in which humans both impact and are impacted by their surroundings.  Peru’s natural environment is rich and varied, and many of its ecosystems are quite fragile.  They reflect environmental change rapidly and those changes have major impacts on all the humans, plants animals, and microorganisms that compose the ecosystem.  In Peru it is both important and relatively easy to study climate change.  Our observations of the rapidity and severity of change in Peru's mountains makes it easy to understand the need and urgency of conservation and action on climate change.

I hope to return to Peru and other Andean countries in the future, and I hope with all of my heart that the unique environments that I was so lucky to explore will still be there in a healthy and vibrant condition in the future.  Until then, I will continue to explore and care for the North Cascades.

Thanks for following my posts.  I hope that they have inspired an interest in exploring some of the world's high mountain environments and an advocacy for climate change research and preservation efforts!

Ciao,  Elsa

– Elsa Balton, Kodner Laboratory and American Alpine Institute Research Assistant


Elsa's past blog postings on the Cusco area and on the Cordillera Blanca High Altitude Research Expedition of which she was a member can be found here:

Information on the American Alpine Institute's support of a variety of important research projects in mountain environments can be found here

Information on the annual research expedition can be found here


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