Peru explored

Library program to highlight local travelers’ trip to South America.

By: Kara Fitzpatrick
   After hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu on her 25th wedding anniversary, Peru native Marty Hayden realized the experience of visiting the ancient ruins was one to be shared. And so, the Princeton High School Spanish teacher began organizing an annual trip to Peru with her students.
   But soon after, some of Ms. Hayden’s friends realized they too wanted the pleasure of visiting the South American country with someone who was born there and is knowledgeable about Peruvian life and culture.
   "I always felt I needed to show (Machu Picchu) to my students and then, of course, came my friends," said Ms. Hayden, who lives in Cranbury.
   Last summer, that wish became a reality for 18 Cranbury residents as they traveled to Peru and participated in an adventure that included not just the popular tourist sites, but also the homes, shops and pastimes of Peruvian residents.
   The travelers will share slides and stories from a journey that traveler Pari Stave called "an amazing life experience" during a program at the Cranbury Public Library tonight (Friday).
   For 10 days, spanning from the end of July to August, some area residents traveled to the South American country under the guidance of Ms. Hayden.
   "Every year, I take some of my students to Peru on a trip," Ms. Hayden said. "My friends would ask, ‘when are you going to take us?’ I decided to take them up on it and I organized the trip."
   The group — some friends, some friends of friends — trekked throughout the country, visiting cities such as Lima and Cuzco and viewing famous historic sites like Machu Picchu, the Sacred Valley of the Incas and Ollantaytambo — a fortress built by the Incas.
   "It was my first time in South America, as I think it was for many of us," said Ms. Stave. "It struck me — why don’t we go to South America more often? It’s just so accessible. The plane ride is an overnight trip, you basically go to sleep and you wake up in Peru."
   Ms. Stave said visiting the ancient city of Machu Picchu was, for her, the most meaningful part of the trip, aside from the bonding that occurred within the group. Machu Picchu "is a very spiritual place, it’s so overwhelmingly beautiful," Ms. Stave said.
   In addition, Ms. Stave said staying in a town in the river valley of the Andes Mountains, sleeping in a hotel that was once a monastery and visiting the studio of artist Pablo Seminario were fascinating experiences.
   Although the group visited some of the most sought after tourist spots in the country, Ms. Hayden said she aimed to create a one-of-kind experience when designing the itinerary. As with all of her tours to Peru, showing the travelers everyday life was paramount.
   "Being from Peru, I like to organize my own tours — my favorite restaurants, hotels," Ms. Hayden said.
   Ms. Hayden was born in Lima and lived there until age 18, when she came to America as an exchange student.
   In order to infuse the local character that she is so familiar with, Ms. Hayden typically brings her groups to visit with her family, who still reside in Lima.
   Despite the ambitious agenda, the travelers did have some time to relax and participate in other, more spontaneous, activities.
   "Something we became interested in was looking at the night sky," Ms. Stave recalled, adding that at the higher altitude and with minimal light pollution, the view of the stars was remarkable. "That was really a revelation for all of us," she said.
   Both Ms. Hayden and Ms. Stave said the personal connections made among members of the group was meaningful.
   "We ended up with a very nice group of people," Ms. Hayden said. "We had a great time."
   And the fun is likely not over yet. Ms. Hayden said she and her fellow travelers hope to share another adventure in the future.
   "We just enjoy each other’s company a lot," she said, adding that the next trip could see the group back in Peru, or on an entirely different continent, experiencing Italy perhaps.
   Residents will be able to see slides and listen to a discussion of the travelers’ experiences at tonight’s event, 7 p.m. at the Cranbury Public Library, 23 North Main St.
   For more information, call the library at (609) 655-0555.