June 10, 2006

Day 1: Cuzco

After arriving in the capital city of Lima, Peru, students took a short flight to the city of Cuzco. Once the capital of the famous Inca Empire, Cuzco is a UNESCO World Heritage Site recognized for its historic architecture and archeology. At 11,000 feet (3360 meters) above sea level, Cuzco provides students an opportunity to begin acclimating to the new altitude. In the afternoon, students visited the nearby Inca ruins of Sacsahuaman, Kenko, Puka Pukara and Tambomachay.

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Live field report

Dispatch 1 // June 10, 2006 // Andrew Johnson // Age: 16 // Greenwich High School

When you're with a group of blind kids, every time we visit a site all hands are on deck It’s 10:20 at night; the only thing keeping me going is a double espresso and coca leaf tea. (editors note: coca leaf tea is non-narcotic and is the standard welcoming beverage for travelers arriving at high elevations such as Cusco) The rest of the team is sound asleep trying to calibrate their bodies to the 10,500 foot elevation of Cuscu, Peru. I’m thinking about how long the day was, how little sleep people got, the many different connecting flights people took to get here, and about the work that we still need to do to get to Machu Picchu. But most of all I’m thinking that we made it. It’s so cool being here in Peru where everything starts. We made it and it took a lot of hard work and we are finally here.

I met Erik last summer and he told me about this incredible experience that was planned to take place in Peru. The problem was my sophomore year finals fell on the exact dates of the trip. While the rest of the leading the way team was busy making preparations for the adventure, I had written it off as impossible for me. After the new year I was reinvigorated and went on a mission to convince my teachers to let me take my finals early. Success. Erik and I exchanged emails and thus began a rapid flurry of essays, recommendations, and scheduling to make it all happen. I’m the stowaway of the crew. I finally got a chance to meet everyone in Colorado during a weekend retreat, and during those 48 hours we really connected and began coming together as team. I remember going home from that retreat thinking for the first time that we had a chance of making it to Machu Picchu.

Annie Berberet and Charlotte Dawson high up in the Andes. The next time we met was in the Houston airport on Friday, June 9. It was like no time had passed since we last saw each other. We were all excited and ready to go to Peru and had no idea how hard getting there would prove to be. In Houston we ran from one end of the terminal to the other after a last minute gate change. I grabbed Greg’s arm and with a jumble of bodies and canes hitting each other we sprinted from gate 9 to gate 20. Arriving in Lima almost 7 hours later the weather was colder than I imagined and the hallways were narrower; seemingly making it harder to navigate. From plane to terminal, to bus, to hotel, to bus, back to terminal, back to the plane, we took a quick 1 hour ride to Cusco.

Ryan Charlston describes the view from Saqsayhuaman down to Cusco. Andrew Johnson and Alysha Jeans pretend to listen. Stepping out of the plane onto the stairway, my first sensation was “This is not so hard, 10,500 feet, I can do this. I thought I’d be gasping for air.” Thirty minutes later I was panting like a dog and chugging water like a Clydesdale. The day flew by, but three things stand out in my mind, the food, the people, and the Sun Temple. The food because everything was delicious and fresh, the people because my Spanish training allowed me to interact with them, and the Incan Sun Temple because I got the chance to feel and touch something that I had only read about in my history texts.

Tomorrow were off for an acclimatization hike in Incan ruins, visit the sacred valley, and haggle for souvenirs at the Pisac Market.

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Letters of Support

Congratulation to all of you on your upcoming journey. As a Cingular Summit winner, I had the honor to meet Eric Weihenmayer. He is an awesome man. I trust that you will have a great time. Be safe, and remember that no matter the challege, you are being guided by a man who help you get through any situation.

Wishing you the best,
Jon Bargas

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