The Selfie-Stick Wars

By Lucy Benson and Elizabeth Mann

CAUTION! The following post contains photographic information that could be frightening, disturbing, or even applicable to viewers like you. Thank you!


Since its declaration as a new UNESCO Wonder of the World, Machu Picchu has seen a sharp increase of visitors as well as price. This increase in price is preventing most Peruvians from attending their own national park. This raises concern because these parks depend on the support of both westerners and Peruvian natives. If Peruvians do not feel that they have a relationship with national parks such as Machu Picchu or other environmental protection agencies, including portions of the rainforest, it would hardly be surprising if they allowed miners to demolish their lands.

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Due to the trampling feet of thousands of tourists each day, officials at Machu Picchu are debating whether or not to close a substantial portion of the site. This would no longer allow guests to have an interactive experience with the ruins; instead the tourists would only be permitted to view Machu Picchu from hundreds of feet away. In our opinion, this would subtract from the magic and emotion that Machu Picchu can provide, but it would be beneficial as it would save this historical site from damage. What is your opinion of the closure, and the massive crowds which can be seen at most historical sites? Please write in the comment section below, we would love to hear from you.

Here is our experience:

Continue reading “The Selfie-Stick Wars”

More from Machu Picchu

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photo by Sami


Coming from a family of outdoors enthusiasts who love to hike, I have gotten to see many amazing sights in nature growing up.  However, the hike up the Intipunku, or Puerta del Sol, trail at Machu Picchu was absolutely the most breathtaking hike I have ever gone on.  The weather changed quickly as we rose to the top, with clouds rushing up out of the valley.  When the view was clear, we could slowly see Machu Picchu getting farther and farther away from us as the air became more refreshing.

Though the hike was a little tiring because of the high altitude, the view of Machu Picchu and the surrounding valley from the top were unbeatable.  We were able to take some time for personal reflection among the clouds, lush vegetation, and ancient ruins – and we could not be more thankful for that.


Getting up at 4:30 is never easy, yet knowing the good to that is to come is enough to pull you straight up to your feet. The plan is to ride a bus to the mountains of Machu Picchu, and that is exactly what we did.

Our first stop was to a town called “Ojanta y Tambo” which translates to “a town to relax and enjoy”. We walked around for a short while to study the architecture, and learned that the town was built for the Incas to have a place to relax amidst their advents.

Shortly after we boarded a train that would streamline us to our final destination. During the ride, it was brought to our attention by Dr. Scullion to notice the ascending of trees up the side of mountains. We learned that the trees were migrating up the side as a result of climate change. Who would have thought trees to be so intelligent?

When we arrived to Machu Picchu, we didn’t hesitate to begin the ascent to the top where we could see the “Sun Gate”. We were all reminded of the challenges of hiking in the altitude. Once we got to the top though, it was all worth it. There might be some merit to the saying that the best view is from the top.

Upon descending there were still a few landmarks that could be seen.

We were guided through the maze of many of of the ruins in the mountains. Amidst the ruins was a temple called “The Temple of Condor,” Giovanna explained that the Condor, or vulture is representative of raising the soul and spirit to the celestial realm. There was once a time when the condors flew freely in the mountains. And now, they have been hunted for the value of their feathers which are thought to have powerful energetic properties.

Peru In Panorama: Cusco to Machu Picchu

Lacking the expertise of the many photographers in the forest online, I’ve armed myself with only an iPhone to record my trip. To my surprise, I’ve captured many more scenes in more detail than I had initially anticipated. One of my favorite tools has been the panoramic feature, allowing me to immerse the viewer slighltly more to these incredible scenes which all forms of media hopelessly fail to represent.

Cusco, the Sacred Valley, Chinchero, Moray, and Machu Picchu in panoramic:

















The First Few Days

Text by Ian, photos by Sami

Life ain’t always sweet: a first cup of coffee in Peru
After being on a plane for the bulk of the past day or so, there was definitely an eagerness to do something to get myself moving. We flew from Washington, to El Salvador, to Cusco Peru, where we were met with hospitality. The group had gone to a local restaurant called “Organic Green” where we had a mind ful lunch filled with local and fresh ingredients so that we could touch base with our goals.

The daylight showed a busy Cusco, with plenty of people going about their lives, children playing soccer, and the hustle of the street vendors. However, the night life revealed something different.

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I went running around town that night and it became clear to me rather quickly that this was an entirely different fish tank than any other I had swam in, before. My eyes were met with things that made me realize that perhaps this experience was not going to be a colorful bead to add to a bracelet.

Traveling can provide an opportunity to see things with a fresh perspective. And although Peru is captivating with vast, colorful, and mountainous landscapes, its life struggles are still very real. Among these struggles include poverty, that we often turn a blind eye to in our modern and “civilized” world. Reading about it is one thing, seeing it and feeling it is something else entirely.

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Traditional Weaving and Community with Balcon del Inka

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Lucy Benson (second from the left) and Danielle Fatzinger (second from the right) with two women from Balcon del Inka. Photo by Jason Scullion.

In the Sacred Valley outside Cusco, 14 Quechuan women of the town of Chinchero run El Balcón del Inka, an association of textile artisans that have formed a partnership with local tour guides. They demonstrate traditional processes of creating woven textiles, including spinning and naturally dying both alpaca and sheep yarn.

The women of Balcón del Inka come from 13 different families within the community. They formed the association seven years ago when they recognized the increased tourism to Cusco and the Sacred Valley as a business opportunity.  Each of the women sells their products individually within the on-site group market.

The philosophy of working together comes from the age old belief in ayni, or “I will help you now because you will help me later.”

Upon arriving on site, the class took some time to admire the Inca ruins of the palace of Tupac Yupanqui, Inca ruler and son of the famed Pachacuteq. From there, we went up a slope to the welcoming sound of the women singing a traditional Quechuan song.

Photo by Lucy Benson.

The demonstration of the process of weaving was detailed, educational, and funny. The class sat in amazement as white, handspun thread was dyed using plants and bugs from the surrounding area. Cochinilla, a small bug found on prickly pear leaves, can be used to make 24 different colors, including red, pink, orange, and purple.

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Photo by Elizabeth Mann.
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Photo by Elizabeth Mann.

The patterns used on their products include universal weaving patterns as well as patterns from their community. They also add woven borders to many products, which is a technique not found in other communities.

The women started learning to weave around the age of 7 by making belts and bracelets. By the age of 15 or 16, they can make table runners and other more advanced products. In their community, women are the ones that weave, but in other communities, both men and women participate in the weaving.

The same system of teaching is used today with children that wish to learn, but as a result of increase global influences and the resulting rapid modernization, many children do not wish to learn.

Unfortunately, disinterest amongst the younger generation is not the only threat to the cultural traditions of the women of Chinchero. Over the next seven years, an international airport will be constructed in the town that will likely lead to further industrial development, disruptive air traffic, and sound pollution.

We asked the women about their feelings surrounding the construction of the airport. The women’s responses expressed concern about negative environmental impacts that could affect their connection to the land, their families’ farms, and their sources of material for dying.

The threats facing El Balcón del Inka mirror those facing native communities throughout Peru and the larger Andean region. Pressures of a globalizing economy often demand a lifestyle incompatible with traditional cultures and livelihoods, which forces many people to adapt in order to survive.

Seeing the traditional weaving techniques showed us how strong, creative, and resilient the people are in native communities. Given the current and coming threats to their lifestyle, we find ourselves concerned about their fate and agitated at the way Western ideas of modernization and development are often imposed on communities like Chinchero.

Perceptions of street vendors

As a tourist, one of the things you always keep in mind is buying souvenirs for your loved ones. I am not an exception to that.

While at one of the tourist attractions, El Cristo Blanco, I couldn’t resist to take a look at some of the merchandise found at the site. A group of street vendors were sitting next to the site, offering their beautifully crafted souvenirs to the tourists. I settled for one of the vendors, an old but friendly lady.


This wasn’t the first time I have seen vendors of this nature taking to the streets to sell their merchandise. Since our arrival at Cusco, I have noticed a great number of vendors casually sitting on the street, selling their products to hungry tourists; a sight that is equally beautiful and depressing.

I was curious to know where the merchandise originated. I asked the lady, and her response was quite surprising to me. As it turns out, most the merchandise sold by these street vendors is made by the vendors themselves. This includes bracelets, wooden flutes, and knitted goods, among many others.

However, I noticed that among these items, you can also find very detailed replicas of statues that represent the culture and religion of Cusco. I asked the lady if she or her family had sculptured these items, but her answer was no.

It so happens that these replicas are factory made, and the vendors buy them to resell them. The lady added that most of these factories are owned by either family members or friends of the family, rather than a multi-national corporation.

Learning the source of these items made me feel more at ease with the idea of buying souvenirs from street vendors—and being a tourist.


Some first impressions



That equation probably looks as confusing as some of us feel from jetlag and altitude sickness. Have you ever felt like altitude entered your soul like lead? Maybe it’s just me!

IMG_6141We drink a lot of water and Mate Coca. The Coca leaves (the tea helps relieve altitude sickness) float in the tea cup and we have some time to reflect. Cusco is shockingly comfortable to me. I’m not sure why. It is a city built into the hills. There are lots of brick buildings and this reminds me of my house, but not of a city. So what exactly is it? We certainly do not have the traditional Incan rock walls lining streets back home, which are wicked cool by the way.

But for now, the equation consists of the numbers of our flights and after much travel, Spanish chatting, throwing up, and temporarily misplaced luggage we finally reach our equal sign: we are in Peru.


My first impressions of this trip were really formed while sitting in the airport in San Salvador, feeling the sun on my face for the first time in months and trying to wrap my mind around the fact that I was in a different country. I’ve been on so many planes in my life, but there was something mesmerizing about flying into another country for the first time. Everything was so surreally picturesque through the tiny airplane window. The clouds were perfectly fluffy on top, flat on the bottom, levitating over the landscape like a Dali painting. I couldn’t help feeling like an alien.

The feeling intensified upon entering Lima – I saw familiar things, but they were just different enough to disorient and overwhelm me. It was only once we had arrived in Cusco that I felt my sense of adventure begin to awaken, and I felt less like an alien wandering the winding cobblestone streets.



The excitement for what was to come overshadowed the grueling experience of a long day of traveling. It first began to feel like reality as we flew from Lima to Cusco, over the majestic and diverse Andes mountains. The landscape was unlike anything that could be seen in the States. Nestled in the heart of the beautiful Andes mountains among the steep cliffs, exposed rock and scattered vegetation, the city looked just how I wanted it to.

It was a pleasant mix of more old than new; Spanish colonial architecture on top of massive stone Inca ruins. Among the crumbling infrastructure and poor neighborhoods, the narrow cobblestone alleyways and unexpected wide expanses of mountain landscapes above the shallow city skyline were awe-worthy and inviting. Everywhere we looked, there was an image worth capturing. I felt that I was in the perfect place as the sun soothed my exhausted body and the cool breeze made me feel more awake than I have felt in ages, even after only an hour of sleep the night before.

Hotel balcony view after arrival
Hotel balcony view after arrival


Eat Food, Be Merry

By Sami

I wasn’t sure what to expect when we flew into Cusco this morning at 10:15. My roommate Lucy and I woke up at 5:28 to prepare our bags and get ready to fly out from Lima; we schlepped out of our room and across the bridge to the airport, meeting up with the rest of the Forest Online team. We checked our bags and headed over to the cafeteria before we headed to go through security and board our flight at 8:00.

I hit up the Dunkin Donuts for coffee, Boston crème pie donuts, and double chocolate donuts with Jason while Lucy and the others opted for Starbucks, Subway, McDonalds, or a panería for breakfast. The cafeteria was fascinating, as none of us expected to see so many American food chains occupying the Peruvian airport. I personally felt that the airport—granted, as an international airport there is an obligation to cater to the communication needs of the international travelers—was overwhelmed by American consumerism. So when we arrived in Cusco, I wasn’t sure whether to look forward to traditional Peruvian landscapes or an inundation of American culture into Peruvian culture.

After landing and hunting our luggage down, the Forest Online and our tour guide, Giovanna, shimmied over to Hotel San Juan de Dios, and set off to fill our yearning bellies. We went to Greens, an organic and fresh food based restaurant that has been in existence for the past nine years in Plaza de Armas. There, in a refreshingly calm, yet bustling room, we feasted.

After ordering a variety of beverages, such as mango passionfruit lemongrass smoothies, bottled water, and coca tea, we received an appetizer of carrot sticks an hummus. The carrots were crunchily sweet goodness that paired well with the smooth, slightly spicy hummus. The hummus was particularly interesting, because it was spiced with flavor, but it was not a burning heat in your mouth.


There was a selection of three different side dishes, which were provided to us prior to the main dish. The crema del día was a lovely pumpkin puree, with bits of greens blended in—I ordered and devoured this. There was a quinoa soup, sopa de quinua orgánica, mixed in with seasonal vegetables. The final option was an absolutely gorgeous ensalada greens: avocado, mango, mixed greens, cucumber, and oranges beautifully married together in a mandarine vinaigrette.

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As a main dish, my famished belly led my brain to believe that I needed to take the opportunity to try alpaca for the first time in my life. This was not a choice that I regret. The alpaca marinada en ají panca a la plancha was wonderfully tender. The ratatouille which the grilled tenderloin rested upon was easy on the sauce, but bold in spices. Even after discussing the texture with the others who tried the dish, there is no simple way to describe the texture. It was like a tender mixture of bison and pork, with a richly pungent smell that permeated and enhanced the rest of the dish.


The other entrees were equally as impressive. The vegetarian spaghetti con verduras grilladas smelled wonderfully well-seasoned and the noodles were very good. Pollo tikka was a grilled chicken breast served over brown rice and vegetables, which was quite popular on the table. The last entrée offered as a choice was trucha del valle sagrado a la plancha, a grilled sacred valley trout, served with a quinoa taboulé. When I sampled, the trout seemed to be seasoned with a lemon pepper seasoning, but one can never be too sure.


We’re here!


The team landed in Lima this evening after a long day of travel. We’re in a hotel next to the airport tonight, then off to Cusco tomorrow. Updates to follow!


Interested in our itinerary? Here’s a sneak peek:

  • Departure: 10:10 am on Saturday, January 2nd
  • January 3: 8:40 am flight to Cusco and explore city
  • January 4: Visit the Sacred Valley
  • January 5: Machu Picchu
  • January 6: 12 hour bus ride to Puerto Maldonado
  • January 7-8: Stay in local hostel and tour the city/meet with people
  • January 8: truck and boat ride to Las Piedras Amazon Center
  • January 9-13: Forest Online site visits and data collection
  • January 14-17: meet with Future Leaders to talk about storytelling and brainstorm about opportunities and challenges for conservation
  • January 18-21: Wrap up fieldwork
  • January 22: leave Puerto Maldonado 12:55 pm flight to Lima
  • January 23: 3:40 am departure

What’s this all about? Check out the intro post

From Maryland to Peru

This January, a team of twelve students and two instructors will leave the state of Old Bay and journey to the invaluable rainforest of Peru to study conservation and ecotourism–and write all about the expedition.


In the meantime, we’ve been studying and writing about 58 acres near campus–the Singleton-Mathews property, which we’ve decided is “McDaniel’s best kept secret.” You can learn about its history, its natural attributes, and its potentials here. Recently approved for a new re-forestation project in cooperation with the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, the Singleton-Mathews property is an interesting local microcosm of the larger international issues we’ll be exploring with ARCAmazon, home to over 12,000 acres set aside for research and conservation in the Las Piedras region of Peru.

20Whether it’s in the rolling hills of Maryland, or amidst the towering trees of the Peruvian Amazon, we’re working to bring awareness about the beauty and the importance of the world around us. Bookmark this page to stay up to date with our travels!

ARCAmazon–our destination–is home to over 11,000 acres set aside for research and conservation

Note: Many of the awesome photos of the Amazon on this site are featured courtesy of award-winning photographer, Thomas Haney, who guest-lectured for our course. More of his photographs can be viewed at his website.