during which I have been on the Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu. The trek itself was stunning, moving from highlands to glaciers to cloud forest. Machu Picchu is one of those places which no amount of over-hyping can spoil. Arriving in the early morning, when the peaks are surrounded with mist, was breathtaking. The fact that we were there on the June solstice was particularly special, as we saw the sun shine through a window in a temple to form a perfectly aligned rectangle on a rock. We also climbed Wayna Picchu, which is the mountain behind the ruins. The stairs are original Inca, and terrifyingly steep, but the view from the top is worth it all. Machu Picchu suddenly seems very distant, and you understand how it went so long without being discovered by foreigners - there is nothing obvious about its location.
Our tour group was a lot of fun too. I went with another volunteer, and there were also two Spanish girls, two Basques (emphatically NOT Spanish!!), an Irish guy, a Belgian couple and a Puerto Rican, a real character named Ricardo. We were lucky in several ways - our guide was good, and the food was excellent. All in all, a very successful trip!
Other things to report - I have just one week left as a volunteer, after which I plan to head north through Peru to Ecuador, and then fly to Cuba, for 3 or 4 weeks probably. I'll be back home on the 13th of August. I had my last lessons with some classes yesterday, and at the end of them, a boy got up and said some words about how grateful they were for my teaching, and how much they had enjoyed it. Say what you will about Peruvian education, the kids are nearly always impeccably polite and very kind. I was really quite moved.
Tomorrow is Inti Raymi, the biggest festival of the year in Cusco (which is saying something). I'm heading up there this evening to catch the start of the party, and then will watch all the celebrations tomorrow. I in fact only have one day of teaching left (next Wednesday), so am considering going away for the weekend and then coming back to say goodbye. It will be sad to leave my family after three months, but I have a lot to look forward to. I met a friend from London in Cusco yesterday, and his stories of travelling made me quite jealous. Time to get on the road, I think.
P.S. Should mention that I have new photos up, as always at http://picasaweb.google.com/paulmerchant1