Huntington Teachers and Students Travel to Peru
A group of Huntington High School teachers and students traveled to Peru during the district’s mid-winter vacation for a week filled with educational adventure and historical and cultural exploration.
The strictly private journey was not sponsored or underwritten by the school district in any way. The teenagers – 36 in all – traveled with art/photography teacher Pam Piffard and social studies teacher Camille Tedeschi, who have led similar trips for many years. There were four additional adult chaperones, including Huntington teachers Erik Bruckbauer and Peter Crugnale.
The group traveled with Education First, an experienced tour company. Students seek out Ms. Tedeschi or Ms. Piffard to indicate interest in the annual trips or just to obtain more information. Past excursions have been made to countries in Europe and South America, but this year’s trek was something very special, according to those who participated.
“Who else could say that they were in water up to their waist in the Amazon jungle feeding bananas to monkeys?” asked Julie Gray, one of the three dozen students on the trip.
“This has been my favorite trip in the past six years,” Ms. Tedeschi said. “The destination was awesome and the group of student travelers was even more amazing. What a great trip with a great group.”
The excursion included stops in Cuzco, Pisac, Machu Picchu and Puerto Maldonado. “The diverse lands of the Incan empire were united by a strong government, a common language, and an impressive communication system,” Ms. Tedeschi said about the areas visited by the Huntington group. “Religious practices influenced much of daily life.”
Machu Picchu, which is located 7,000 feet above sea level, proved to be a fascinating place. “It was abandoned for some 300 years before the ruins were rediscovered in 1911 by Hiram Bingham,” Ms. Tedeschi said. “We took a guided excursion of Machu Picchu. We saw remnants of temples and terraces that have yet to reveal the true purpose of Machu Picchu. We also hiked to the Sun Gate as a group and saw spectacular views of the Incan trails and mountains.”
Center of the Inca Empire
In Cuzco, the travelers toured an area that served as the administrative, religious, and ceremonial center of the Inca Empire. The group was smack in the heart of the Andean highlands. “We visited Korikancha Temple, the cathedral, Sacsayhuaman fortress, the ruins at Kenko and Tambomachay,” Ms. Tedeschi said.
One of the most interesting stops on the tour came at Pisac at the entrance to the Sacred Valley. It’s a traditional Indian market town and students “had a tremendous amount of fun shopping and spending their Nuevos Sols, which contributed to the local economy,” Ms. Tedeschi said. The group also visited Ollantaytambo, which is the oldest continuously occupied settlement in the Americas.
The travelers concluded their adventure in Puerto Maldonado, the capital of the Madres de Dios region. Located in the Amazon Rainforest at the confluence of the Tambopata and Madre de Dios Rivers, it’s a small frontier town founded more than 100 years ago. The town’s history includes logging, gold prospecting and oil exploration.
“We flew to Puerto Maldonado and then transferred to a river boat that brought us to an area lodge,” Ms. Tedeschi said. “We stayed at a camp-style accommodation in huts in the jungle. There was only electricity for three hours a day. The lodge provided unparalleled access to Peru’s incredible biodiversity.”
The Huntington contingent enjoyed a boat ride and hike to Monkey Island, where students were able to feed monkeys in their natural habitat, bird watch and take in the surrounding nature.”
Hiked in the Jungle
“It was amazing,” Ms. Tedeschi said. “We took a boat ride at night to look for Cayman and view the stars in the peace of the night. The next day we hiked in the jungle, swung from vines and watched Cayman feed on fish in the wild. It was an exciting trip that involved a lot of adventure and great memories.”
While visiting Peru, the Huntington travelers celebrated two birthdays, which was exciting for the group. Gilda Goldental-Stoecker turned 16 in the Amazon and Kaylyn Johnston turned 17 in the jungle. “I know these are birthdays they will never forget,” Ms. Tedeschi said.
Two sets of siblings made the trek. Claire and Matt Beach and Marie and Beth Coneys enjoyed the sights and sounds together. Trip participants came back with a plethora of personal and group memories.
“The students were able to experience and explore the culture and history of Peru while gaining firsthand knowledge of the past,” Ms. Tedeschi said. “Even though this is not a school sponsored trip, it is educational and students take away knowledge that cannot be taught in a classroom.”
Mr. Crugnale enjoyed the tour and interacting with the students on it so much that it made it a little easier for him to be away from his own children during the school vacation break.
Ms. Piffard thought it was a great trip, too. “These kids were truly raised wonderful and respectful, while being adventurous and kind,” she said. “Each and every one of the kids made us proud.”
There’s something about being in a place physically that cannot be duplicated at home. “There are no words that can actually describe the experience of Machu Picchu and the photographs, as amazing as they are, still do not capture the extraordinary experience and beauty of the site,” Ms. Tedeschi said.
“The trip included some of the best sights I have ever seen in my life,” student traveler Melanie Grossman said. “I couldn’t have asked to visit anywhere better. I am thankful for the teachers who made this trip happen!”
Natural Beauty of Jungle
“Traveling to Peru was an extremely memorable experience,” Mr. Bruckbauer said. “It’s difficult to describe the feelings you have while hiking through the natural beauty of Machu Picchu and the Amazon jungle. It’s truly breathtaking. It was made all the more special by sharing it with the greatest mix of students I’ve ever been associated with. They demonstrated perseverance and teamwork to conquer a most challenging environment. I will never forget this group or our experiences together.”
The travelers are still talking about the trip weeks after returning to the United States. “Peru 2012 has been one of the best trips of my life,” Ms. Tedeschi said. “I loved being in Peru and I absolutely adored all 36 students that we traveled with. This group of students was special in their own way and having experienced a wonder of the world together, we will all hold a special place for each other in our hearts and in the future. The memoires that are made during our travels are unforgettable.”