In June of 2013, we assembled for our 5th Annual Leadership Expedition team for a 12-day adventure in the Peruvian Andes. Our plan was to rendezvous in the mountain city of Cusco and explore the surrounding areas. We would then depart for a very remote and isolated part of the Inca Trail where we would focus on building our “Philosophies of Engagement” while taking part in community service in a the local Chillipahua Village. Finally, our trek would take us to the fascinating Machu Picchu settlement located on a mountain ridge high above the Sacred Valley and Rio Urubamba.
Travel to Peru is very easy for Americans – six hours from most departure points such as Houston, Atlanta, and Miami. We were fortunate to have two team members join us from Israel – one traveling from Israel directly, so it was nice to have the “short” hop for a change. Arriving in Lima, one is immediately greeted by the wonderful people of Peru. We met our local guides including our long time friend Julio and our new and soon to be long time friend Sheila. A quick overnight and it was off to Cusco in the morning.
Cusco is a beautiful city located at 11,240’ and the site of the historic capital of the Inca Empire. The region actually predates the Inca having been occupied by the Killke before and we were able to see ruins of temples from this period. Situated in our hotel near the Plaza de Armas, we had the perfect “home base” for our exploration. Our team visited sites such as the Qorikancha (the Golden Enclosure) which is the site of an ancient temple from an early civilization, the Temple of the Sun (built by the Incas in the 1400’s), and the subsequent Spanish cathedral Santo Domingo del Cusco (built in the 1600’s). This site reminds you of Rome with a history of time literally built upon each other.
On the first evening of our adventure in Cusco, each member of our team was given “the envelop”. Indeed, this difficult message requires that each member of the team consider what it would be like if they only had 30 days to live.
Visualizing their family and friends gathering around them, they are requested by their loved one’s to write down their “Philosophy of Engagement” or their personal philosophy for living an exceptional life–the life of a leader.
This begins the “inner journey” of our adventure.
Our “outer journey” then continued into the local region of the Sacred Valley where we visited sites such as Moray. Moray is a unique archeological complex named from the Quechua word “Aymoray” which is related to the harvest of corn. With a large number of concentric farming terraces, it is believed to have been an experimental farming center during Incan times.
We then visited the town of Ollantaytambo which is a tremendous example of Incan urban planning, preserved to this day.
For lunch, we received an amazing gift, the opportunity to visit the home of famous Peruvian painter: KinKuya and his wife Aida in Calca. While we toured the grounds and were amazed at the paintings, Aida was preparing a wonderful meal for us. Truly a memorable day!
After all of this, our expedition now turned to the backcountry. We loaded our packs and headed out for the Inca Trail. We wouldn’t see another soul except for local villagers for the next six days. Our journey started off right, with a morning climb up from the Rio Huarocondo to the pass at 12,500’. As we reached the top of the pass, our team was astounded to find that our local chef Juan and his team had a dining tent already set up with a fantastic lunch prepped and ready. Yes, we were going to be well fed on the journey!
After lunch the trail wound high along the ridge line offering amazing views of the steep drop to the valley floor below. The scenery was amazing including great views of the Sacred Valley. At the end of the day we dropped down to the village of Chillipahua – our home for the next two days.
In this village is a small school with about 15 children as students. The next day we performed our community service which included painting the school and delivering the supplies that we brought for the kids. In return, the village joined us for an amazing meal cooked on a fire of hot rocks that were covered with grasses, tarps, and dirt to make a really efficient oven! The nights activities concluded with a fire and coca leaf readings by our Shaman who joined us for the journey.
We left Chillipahua and our new friends for the high country the next morning. Hiking up the trail to the San Cristobal pass at 14,800’, we were pleased to learn more about Quechuan culture from Julio as well as gaining the opportunity to deliver an “Incan baptism” to our team members. At the top of the pass, we decided we were too close to 15,000’ not to climb a little higher so we did. It was surprising to come to the top of a ridge and find four horses staring back at us.
Descending down the pass to the Rio Cachikata, we were once again greeted by Juan and the team for lunch. While lunch rolled in, so did a storm. The rest of our day was going to be greeted with sleet and snow along with some hard rain. These are the moments in an expedition where you find out what you and your team are made of. This team jelled together amazingly. Cold, drenched, and thoroughly muddy, the team rolled into camp at Ancashcocha in great spirits.
After a brief clearing where we were able to study the Southern Cross and hemisphere in general, it was off to sleep and more snow. We awoke in the morning to snow and ice on the tents, a rarity for this time of year and area.
The sun quickly fought off the clouds and warmed the day as we descended the Rio Silke down a steep canyon with many fantastic waterfalls. At the base of the canyon, we reached our first significant village in days and camped on their local football pitch. It was great to hang out with the local kids and relax in warm weather.
The next morning, we continued down the Sacred Valley to the Rio Urubamba where we camped along the rail road tracks running from Cusco to Aquas Calientes. The local campsite actually had hot showers and a sauna so the team was able to clean up and relax. The next morning we boarded the train to Aquas Calientes and immediately trekked up to Machu Picchu. It was a bit of a culture shock to be back in mobile range and in range of tourists. However, we immediately commenced a climb of Machu Picchu mountain, which rises steeply straight above the site. This mountain is where most of the classic pictures of Machu Picchu are taken. Quite a workout and quite spectacular views.
After descending, we spent the remainder of the day at the site exploring the amazing architecture and scientific accomplishments of the Incas. As the sun started to set, we literally had the whole site to ourselves (well, us and the llamas–which are often in heat! An interesting scene to say the least!).
Descending at the end of the day, we spent the evening in Aquas Calientes with a nice dinner and some evening shopping.
The next day we returned to Cusco via train and bus. A farewell dinner in the plaza and some final packing completed, we wrapped up our Philosophy of Engagement discussions which focused on our most valued beliefs, principles, attitudes, perspectives, rules, standards, qualities, and virtues that each of us have acquired in our lives. We then committed to our single acts of change upon return home.
Then it was a flight back to Lima, a great day with Sheila in town, dinner on the ocean at La Rosa Nautica, and then flights back to the US (and beyond).
Once again, an amazing journey for our team. Many thanks to Julio, Shelia, Juan, and the team. And to our expedition team of Bruce, Maya, Ora, Lori, Mary, Weston, and Mike – thank you for another adventure of a lifetime! We will definitely be scheduling trips to Peru in 2014 and encourage anyone interested to contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on engaging this amazing outer and inner journey!