I’ve been having some technical difficulties here with the internet so had to skip posting last night — having spent nearly an hour trying to hold on to a Skype connection so I could talk to my husband at the end of the day. Finally in exasperation, I reminded him, “Well, I’m in Peru, after all,” and we laughed. It’s so easy, when you’re wired (sort of) and have access to Skype (sort of) to forget that you’re hooked into Third World services nonetheless.
Anyway. Day Four of the Motherless Daughters/Parentless Parents/Trekking for Kids trek to Peru. Which was yesterday. We began the day with a guided tour of some Cuzco highlights, starting at the Sacsayhuaman Incan ruins on a hill overlooking Cuzco. (That’s pronounced just like “sexy woman” except with the emphasis on the fourth syllable instead of the third.) Sacsayhuaman was used as a ceremonial center where human sacrifices were performed before the Spaniards arrived, according to our very knowledgeable-yet-slightly-exasperated-by-our-slow-and-relaxed-pace tour guide, Elizabeth.
We stood on a large grassy area she said had once been covered with sand–try to imagine lugging all those bags of sands from the coast up to 11,000 feet when your only beasts of burden were llamas — as we looked at what was left of the building foundations and then walked up a steep set of stone stairs (still challenging for those not yet acclimated to the altitude) to a mesa where we saw slides carved into the rocks that Elizabeth said had once been used as an Incan children’s playground.
Then we took a short detour through a tunnel carved through the rocks before circling back to our bus, which brought us back into the city to the next stop, what’s known as the Korikancha, or Temple of the Sun. Much like the Colosseum in Rome, it sits right in the middle of a busy thoroughfare, in this case Avenida Sol. (Sun Avenue.) Cuzco was once the capital of the Inca Empire and the Korikancha was its holiest site. So when the Spanish conquerors arrived, they naturally built a cathedral right on top of it, because history teaches us that the best way to conquer a people is to build your religious center right on top of theirs. Getting all 20 of us from the bus into the Koricancha with anything that approximated speed was an exercise in futility for Elizabeth, and prompted our TFK trek co-leader Cindy to liken it to herding butterflies.
I have now dubbed her and her co-leader Bridgit “Las Reinas de las Mariposas,” or Queens of the Butterflies. Nonetheless, we straggled into the Korikancha and spent some time looking at the results of the civil engineering marvels that were the Incas, whose stone walls fit together like puzzle pieces so intricately and with such planning that they survived two major earthquakes in 1650 and 1950 with almost no damage while the Colonial buildings in the city completely collapsed.
After the Korikancha it was back to our hotel for lunch and to prepare the backpacks for the kids at Ninos del Sol. All together our group raised about $29,000 for the orphanage, which will help them build a greenhouse, install solar water heaters, buy transportation for getting the 23 kids who live there two and from school, buy laptops for the three children who are in college, and purchase basic supplies for the kids such as kitchenware, clothing, and bedding, and sports equipments. It was almost a two-hour drive to Urubamba through the Sacred Valley, passing snow-capped Andean peaks.
When our bus finally traveled up a narrow dirt road to the orphanage gate the children came up one by one to introduce themselves and give us welcome hugs. It was such a sweet introduction to the place, a compound that was a former healing retreat center and now functions as both an orphanage and a B and B for those who want to receive healing work from co-directors Avishai and Viviana or want to volunteer with the kids. The children range in age from 7 to about 20 and have been together for many years, forming their own large family. About three years ago the woman who brought them together and raised them, Mama Kia, died and Avishai and Viviana took on the responsibility of the orphanage so the kids could stay together.
Their philosophy–that every child deserves to live in a beautiful place and have a family, but also must contribute to the communal effort of being part of a large family and treat others with compassion and respect, makes theirs a unique place, and I would venture a guess that this is the only orphanage in Peru that has yoga and meditation rooms and also has Shabbat dinners every Friday night. Avishai was raised on a kibbutz in the Galil region of Israel so communal living is a known concept to him — and in one of the most extraordinary coincidences of my life, he is the best friend of our very dear friend Avri in Topanga. I actually met Avishai at Avri’s house a few years back, before he took over the orphanage, and I invite anyone reading this blog to calculate the odds of the only person I knew in the entire country of Peru being the director of the orphanage that Trekking for Kids selected for our group’s service work. Anyway. I could go on and on about how exceptional this orphanage is, and how off the charts amazing Viviana and Avishai are with the kids, but you can see for yourself at their website, www.ninosdelsol.org. (I would link to it directly if I knew how to do it on my iPad. I’m blogging just from an iPad and a wireless keyboard here in Peru and such functions are not obvious.) Here are some photos from our first day at Ninos del Sol, including a group shot with the kids in our very spiffy green bamboo TFK T-shirts.