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Peru trip update

 Peru trip update
The Inca ruins at Machu Piccu.
Thursday 16th July 2009 by C. Freeman

The World Challenge students are all safe and well in Peru, immersing themselves in the culture and breath-taking scenery. They are more than halfway through their month-long adventure, which has given them some amazing experiences.

Mr Nicholls's group has already been on their main trek, which consisted of four days' walking and camping in extreme conditions. The first night they stopped at an altitude of 4,400m at the foot of Salkantay glacier.

He said: 'The place where we camped was in a hollow between two snow-capped mountains. Once the sun went down it was extremely cold but the sight of these two mountains in the bright moonlight was unforgettable… The second spectacular reward came on day four when, after trekking through high mountains, we started to descend through what looked like jungle but was actually a huge cloud forest.

'Suddenly the forest cleared revealing an Inca ruin and as we looked across the valley at the tree-covered mountain on the other side we saw the Lost City of the Incas; the citadel of Machu Picchu. It was an almost spiritual experience to just stand there and see this sight that less than a hundred years ago was just virgin jungle. The following day we visited the actual Machu Picchu site itself. It is no surprise that it is a World Heritage site. Absolutely stunning.'

As well as the trek, Mr Nicholls's party have found time for white-water rafting down the Urubamba River and they are now working on a community project, painting one of the newly-established libraries on a permanent island in Lake Titicaca and doing some English teaching.

Mr Nicholls emailed: 'We visited some remarkable floating islands on the Lake. Whole communities live on islands that are built on a couple of metres of peat topped off with a couple of metres of reeds. Apparently they last about 20 years before the peat gets too thin and the whole island sinks, but by that time the people will have built a new island. The wonderful thing is that if you fall out with the people on the next island, you just loosen your anchors and get a motor boat to tow your island somewhere else. If you don´t get on with your immediate neighbours you can just cut your island in half with a huge saw and go and live somewhere else.'

The groups, led by Mr Nicholls and Mrs Watts and leaders from World Challenge, met up in Cusco to swap stories of their adventures. Mrs Watts's group taught English in a school just outside Puno which had fairly basic facilities: She said: 'The students used their sense of humour to deal with the toilet facilities (a hole in the floor) and lack of washing during the four days we were at the school. They learned a new sense of empathy for a developing country and now appreciate the wonders of running water!'

Her team are now in Cusco preparing for a week of small acclimatisation treks through the Inca ruins before they embark on their larger expedition. The students have immersed themselves into the challenges fully, with members of both parties sampling the local cuisine of roasted guinea pig, though Mr Nicholls noted: 'Joe Hadden said he enjoyed it but would have preferred it if they had served it without the eyes, snout and teeth!'

The parties are both having unforgettable experiences, summed up by Mrs Watts: 'This has been the best ´residential´ I have ever been on, all the students agree! We have seen the night sky in the desert, billions of stars and the Milky Way like we have never seen before. We have experienced local customs (David Edwards eating a guinea pig was an indescribable joy to watch) and have learned so much about ourselves in such a small amount of time. The students are in high spirits and enjoying the experience of being in a completely different culture.'

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