Tar Heel student-athletes are scattered all over the globe this summer, working, studying and traveling in Asia, Europe, Africa, South America and points all over the U.S. Throughout the summer, GoHeels.com will be tracking their experiences. Check back each Tuesday for updates!
• Maria Santoyo, a global studies and Spanish linguistics double major from Raleigh, served as a rowing team captain in 2013-14, when she was a senior. After graduating in May, she traveled to Peru. Read about her adventures below.
I had the privilege of spending a week traveling throughout Peru as my last vacation after graduation and before I moved down to Florida for work. The highlight of the trip was of course getting to see Machu Picchu, which was the first thing on the agenda, and it was quite the trip to get there! After three flights which landed me in Cusco, I was driven an hour and a half to the train station in Ollantaytambo, where I took a two-hour train trip to the town of Aguascalientes at the foot of the mountain. I had the rest of that night to recuperate before waking up at 5 a.m. the next day to head out!
It was a half an hour up the mountain by bus but when I finally got there and stood at 7,972 feet above sea level and watched the sun rise behind the mountains and onto the Inca ruins it was all worth it. I was incredibly inspired by the size and functionality of each and every structure and I could only imagine what the Inca people were doing on the same spot I was standing on in that moment. I explored the ruins that whole day and climbed Huayna Picchu, which is the mountain directly behind the ruins, and climbed to the "portal of the sun," from which the view was indescribable. Thanks to my Fitbit band I know that I climbed a total of 25,000 steps that day (about 12 miles) and I definitely felt it the next day!
After that I got to visit Chinchero, Ollantaytambo, Valle Sagrado, Cusco and Lima. Each town and city had its own charm but the hospitality and courtesy of the people was a constant. It was very cool to see how many people embrace their Inca heritage and still dress in the traditional clothes and speak Quechua, and I learned a lot about their unique culture. I got to enjoy a lot of quinoa-based products (from pancakes to ice cream!) since it is one of their staples, as well as some of their typical fruits like aguayamanto and pitahaya. I did not venture out to try the guinea pig, especially because they served it whole and roasted (teeth and all!), but I did try and enjoy alpaca skewers. Overall it was an amazing trip and so far out of the three wonders of the world that I have visited, Machu Picchu is by far my favorite!