By John Beckett ’20, Adrienne Cross ’20, Ali Hyland ’19, and Ally Lovick ’19
Last month, a delegation from Lakefield College School attended the Round Square Regional Conference in Lima, co-hosted by Markham College and San Sylvestre School. Representing LCS were John Beckett ’20, Adrienne Cross ’20, Ali Hyland ’19, and Ally Lovick ’19, along with Gerry and Sandra Bird. The following is a transcript of the group’s presentation about this unforgettable trip in Chapel earlier this week:
During the conference’s opening ceremony, Ally Lovick served as our school’s flag bearer, along with about 150 delegates, representing 25 Round Square Schools from North, Central and South America. That evening, we met the Markham College host families with whom we’d be billeted for the week and were taken to their homes. The students and their families were welcoming and we soon began to feel at home. In keeping with the conference theme, “Together into the Unknown,” we had been intentionally kept in the dark about what lay in store for us over the next week. We knew that it would involve the Round Square IDEALS of Internationalism, Democracy, Environmentalism, Adventure, Leadership, and Service - and that we’d be camping for a couple of days - but that was about all we’d been told.
The second day began very early when we boarded buses and travelled to the city of Chincha for Service Day. For the next day and a half, we worked in teams of about 15 people - each of which constructed a small, pre-fabricated, two-bedroom house for a family that had been displaced by a devastating earthquake that struck the community in 2007. The working conditions were challenging, as it was very hot with little shade, but all of this was forgotten when we finished the job and turned over the keys to our family, who had worked alongside us. We knew that having a safe home with a proper roof over their heads would make an incredible difference in their lives. That afternoon, we were able to unwind and enjoy adventure activities like mountain biking, zip-lining, rock-climbing, and white-water rafting.
The last half of the six-day conference featured inspiring keynote speakers, mixed discussion groups called “Barazzas,” and a lot of fun activities. But first, we were given the Sunday after the Service & Adventure Days off, to spend with our host families, who were very kind in showing us around their beautiful city of Lima, including some of its world-famous restaurants.
Another highlight of the conference was the Cultural/Environmentalism Day, when we all worked together to create a beautiful “healing garden” at an orphanage in Lima. Digging flower beds in the baked earth, carting heavy bags of soil for the beds, and gravel for the paths, along with planting the hundreds of plants we’d brought with us, was hard slogging, but by the end of the two-day project, the patch of bare ground and weeds had been transformed into a beautiful garden, complete with a small pond. We were also happy to learn that students from the host school, San Sylvestre, will visit the orphanage each week to work with the children and maintain the garden.
On the final day of the conference – after saying goodbye to the amazing friends we’d met - we headed to an airport hotel to rest before our post-conference adventure. The next morning, we took a two-hour flight to the mountainous city of Cusco, which had been the capital of the once great – but now vanished - Inca Empire, six-hundred years ago.
After meeting our guide, we boarded a van and drove along a winding road through the Sacred Valley of the Incas. We stopped occasionally to take in the breathtaking scenery, and also visited some hillside ruins overlooking the town of Pisac. When we arrived at the small resort hotel that would serve as our home base for the next couple of days, we were happy to rest and continue adjusting to the altitude, as most of us were still feeling its effects in the form of fatigue or headaches.
Over the next two days, we toured magnificent Incan ruins at Olantaytambo, visited Moray, which is a series of circular terraces that had apparently been used by the Incas as a kind of experimental farm, as well as a fascinating salt mine at Maras, where pools of groundwater were evaporated to harvest the natural salt. On our final day in the Sacred Valley, we boarded a scenic train to visit the famous Inca city of Machu Picchu. The ruins of Machu Picchu are perched high on a mountain-side, overlooking cloud forests and a winding river far below, making for what is probably the most spectacular scenery that most of us had ever seen. From our tour guide, we learned that the city had been built by the Incas around 1450 – most likely as an estate for their emperor - but that it was abandoned about a hundred years later at the time of the Spanish Conquest. Although it was known locally, it’s believed that Machu Picchu was never discovered by the Spanish during the colonial period, and in fact, remained unknown to the outside world until an American historian brought it to international attention in 1911 – giving it the not-quite-accurate nickname of “Lost City” of the Incas.
After a late-night return to Cusco, the next morning we took a short flight to Puerto Maldonado, also known as the gateway to the Amazon. After boarding a motorized canoe, our guide told us that we would soon be without wifi or cell signal for the next couple of days, and this quickly proved to be the case during the 45-minute boat ride down the muddy, Madre de Dios River. This was all but forgotten when we arrived at our destination for the final two nights of the trip, the Inkterra Reserva Amazonica Lodge, a rustic but beautiful riverside resort, surrounded by rainforest. At dusk we took a short boat cruise upriver. Using a spotlight, the guide showed us a resting family of capybaras – which at the size of a full-grown pig, are the largest rodents in the world - along with alligator-like caimans, fishing bats and water birds.
Despite the intense humidity, we emerged the next morning from our mosquito-netted beds feeling rested and ready our excursions. John and Mr. Bird opted to join a group for a long hike to a remote lake, while the girls and Mrs. Bird took a guided tour, on foot and by canoe, to learn about Amazon plants. They were able to try rainforest fruits and nuts, and to learn about the medicinal and other uses of indigenous plants. The group saw several types of monkeys, some enormous insects, a row of sleeping bats, and a variety of exotic birds - including noisy, brightly-coloured macaws along the way. Unseen, were the swirling schools of hungry piranhas that instantly devoured some leftover cake crumbs that the guide sprinkled over the surface of the dark water! After an afternoon trek through the forest canopy across elevated suspension bridges and an “Anaconda” walk through a swampy wetland, we finished the day with a guided night hike, on which we encountered a variety of nocturnal creatures - including furry, fist-sized tarantulas!
On the final morning of our trip, we returned to Puerto Maldonado for a very wet day of sightseeing and souvenir shopping. We were especially pleased to be able to buy small bottles of “dragon’s blood,” which we’d learned the day before is actually the sap of a rainforest tree. When the bark is pricked, the bright-red sap oozes out and can be applied to the skin as a natural moisturizing cream. Apparently, it can also be used to stop bleeding, heal wounds, and cure a variety of other ailments.
On the return trip to Lima, and during the long layover before our red-eye flight back to Toronto, we had the chance to reflect on the unforgettable experiences of the past two weeks.
Ali shared, “I know that I speak for the entire “Peru Crew” in saying that if you ever get the chance to attend a Round Square Regional or International Conference, make sure you jump at it! Like us, we know you’ll be forever changed by the amazing people you’ll meet, the fascinating places you’ll travel to, and the fantastic learning experience you’ll have.”