Most people can fit what they know about Peru into one paragraph, and that paragraph would be one or two sentences long. To that end, Wofford professors Nancy Mandlove and Begona Caballero-Garcia decided to educate 20 students by taking them there. Their Interim class, Lands & Peoples of Peru, returned to Spartanburg a couple of weeks ago.
“This trip to Peru was special to me for a number of reasons,” says Mandlove, who has been taking students to Spain and Latin America since 1968. “It was an extraordinary group of students, for one. They bonded with each other, looked out for each other and embraced every aspect of the trip. That included hiking at altitudes of 9,000 to 12,000 feet, survival camping in the Amazon, staying in the homes of mostly Quechua speaking people on an island in Lake Titicaca, enduring heat, cold, rain, and clouds of mosquitoes, and eating whatever came their way, from grubs and guinea pig to exotic fruits and fish. They were unfailingly enthusiastic and open to all the various people, cultures and physical environments we encountered.
“This trip was also very special to me because it was the last one I’ll do with students. I will retire at the end of this school year. Traveling and experiencing other cultures with students has been the best part of my teaching career. These trips are challenging—physically, mentally, and emotionally. It’s wonderful to see students grow in self confidence, and maturity and to open themselves to experiences, points of view, and ways of living so different from their own.”
One of those students was Nancy Rucker, a senior from Shelby, N.C. She says the trip took her to new heights, literally.
“It really was the trip of a lifetime, and I would return in a heart beat!” says Rucker.
“Picture the steepest mountains you have ever seen, and in between them are the most amazing ruins ever. While this hike was hard, it was worth every moment. The view from the top was breathtaking. Only 400 people a day are able to make this hike, and the majority of our group made it to the top. What an accomplishment.”
James Herlong, a junior from Columbia, S.C., echoes Rucker’s sentiments.
“The coolest thing that I saw was looking down onto the remaining ruins of Machu Picchu from the top of Wayna Picchu mountain,” he says. “Either that or the Gate of the Sun trail. It was really a tough task climbing either of the mountains being at that altitude, but once we were at the top it was really an amazing site. You could see the entire city, which is also one of the new wonders of the world so it made it that much more memorable that we are able to experience such a great opportunity.”
The mountains were just part of the experience, though. Amy Chalmers, a sophomore from Spartanburg, S.C., was partial to the second portion of the trip.
“We travelled around a lot, and every place we went was really different from the last,” she says. “I loved the Uros Islands on Lake Titicaca. The islands are made from reeds, and so are the houses and structures on the islands. The people there are really colorful and it was just a really cool place; unlike anywhere I've ever been.”
Let’s not forget the Amazon River. Only in Peru could an excursion along the world’s biggest river not stand out as the most memorable part of the trip.
Caballero-Garcia described the stop at Iquitos, a city of nearly 400,000 people that cannot be reached by road. It is the westernmost city on the Amazon River, which feeds into the Atlantic Ocean nearly 4,000 miles across South America.
“It was my first trip there, I loved it,” she says. “We saw so many amazing animals there. Several sloths. Many types of birds and monkeys. Even pink dolphins.”
What about piranha?
“We got in the river and swam,” she says. “They told us that piranha will only attack if you are bleeding.”
Rumor has it the girls on the trip were the first to try new things, such as eating grubs or going on bird-watching trips at six in the morning.
The ruins, reed islands and rivers were all unforgettable, but it was the people of Peru who left the biggest impression on many students.
“The people of Peru have the biggest hearts and are so genuine,” says Rucker. “Compared to the way we live in the United States, Peruvians have next to nothing -- but in their minds they have everything. I fell in love with the people of Peru and I yearn to return to work with them -- they were very impressive.”
“The people were more impressive to me than the scenery,” adds Herlong. “Every local that I met or interacted with was always extremely nice and overly friendly to us. I felt as if they were looking up to us in a way, or trying to impress us while we were visiting their country. The most impressive thing to me about the people was their ability to communicate with us. I could not believe how many people there could speak at least part of the English language, enough to communicate with us, and I am there unable to speak a bit of Spanish.”
This was a surprise to many of the students, but not to Mandlove.
“Peru has a rich cultural history and diversity, as well as some of the most beautiful land in the world,” she says. “I’ve been working with the same people in Peru for 12 years now and have established close relationships with people in the Andes and the Amazon. They look forward to the visits from Wofford students because they see that our students are eager for new experiences, open to other people and cultures, and because the students are always good-hearted and fun. These long-standing relationships also guarantee that when problems arise (and they do, sometimes), we can count on many good people to help us out.”
That being said, the pictures most people want to see from the trip are those of the landscapes unique to Peru.
“My mom made me bring a camera and I didn’t think I would use it, but I ended up taking 600 photos,” says Chris Dalton, a junior from Spartanburg. “The contrast between the Andes, Lake Titicaca and the Amazon made the trip even better than I could have hoped.”
“Words cannot describe the scenery of Peru and our pictures from the trip are unable to do the country justice,” adds Rucker. “It is impossible to not seem like a world class photographer in Peru. A person could take a disposable camera to Peru and return with pictures beautiful enough to be postcards.”