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Cayman is remarkably rich in musical and dramatic talent for such a small island. There are only 60,000 of us tops, yet there are dozens of shows, dances, and musical events each week. Far too many for us to go to everything. So we typically tend to prioritize those events that involve friends, colleagues and students.

A few weeks back we saw a production of Annie put on by the middle and elementary students of Cayman International and several other schools on the island. At the best of times the musical is a silly little bit of fluff that glamourizes the hard-luck life of an orphan that is adopted by a billionaire. Tell that story to any one of the 30 million refugee children in the world and see what kind of reaction you get. Swimming upstream against that improbable script is a tough slog at best, but the kids did a wonderful job, and we had a very pleasant evening, despite the first-world/third-world disconnect.

The following weekend we went to see Grease, which despite its enduring popularity neither of had ever seen. This was an older group of students, high school and some recent graduates, and the song and dance routines had considerably better polish. Again, the score doesn’t rise to the level of Richard Rogers or Leonard Bernstein, but it was a fun evening, and the players’ spunky enthusiasm compensated for the limitations of the production.

We topped that off with an evening at the Westin Hotel on Seven Mile Beach that hosted the local orchestra and choir doing an evening of Broadway musicals. There was no shortage of excellent music at this event, and the choir was in excellent voice going through a repertoire of songs from West Side Story, Phantom of the Opera, South Pacific and The Wizard of Oz. They sang and played for over two hours and the quality, especially in the solo performances, was most impressive for an assembly of volunteers, some of who were friends and colleagues from CIS.

With just a few weeks left before the end of the year, there are still a number of events coming up that look to be equally enjoyable, if somewhat tiring. Island life has its limitations, but a lack of music and drama is not one of them.

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Last evening we had the great joy of attending the Golden Apple Awards to see our dear Ms. Nimmi Sekhar accept her Lifetime Achievement Award for Excellence in Education. A gala, black tie event, it was held at the Ritz Carlton and Nimmi was supported by about forty or so family and friends from CIS. At the ceremony, Nimmi was honoured for her contributions to education over her thirty three years as a teacher, tutor, and administrator.

Nimmi began her teaching career in India, following her graduation with a Master’s degree in English Literature. Nimmi and her husband then moved to Jamaica, where Dr. Sekhar set up his practice. After a two year stint in academic support in Jamaica, she and her husband moved to Cayman Brac, where Nimmi began volunteering in a government school which led quickly to a full time teaching position in the Brac. When she and her husband moved to Grand Cayman, Nimmi supported the existing government schools by tutoring students with moderate to profound special educational needs.

In April of 1990, Nimmi teamed up with Dr Elizabeth Faulkner, a child psychologist working with special needs children and adults. Sensing a need that was not being met in the government school, Nimmi and Dr. Faulkner borrowed $60,000 to set up a school to meet the needs of these special kids. In 1994 Nimmi became the first Administrator of the newly founded Faulkner Academy. International School Services bought the school when Dr. Faulkner wished to retire, but Nimmi stayed on as an administrator of the renamed Cayman International School where she has served up until the present as our Vice-Principal and facilities manager.

Nimmi’s love of teaching and educating others is renowned here in Cayman and her commitment to excellence in education has impacted the lives of many students and the community as a whole, including Daniel Nicholson-Gardner, one of my many favourites. All who have been through CIS know her as an understanding, kind-hearted and selfless leader and friend and are constantly in awe of her determination and persistence.

It was wonderful to spend an evening with colleagues and friends all dressed in their finest for an evening that began with a reception prior to the awards ceremony. In fine Indian tradition, following the ceremony, Dr Sekhar hosted the entire group of Nimmi’s friends, family, and colleagues to a dinner in Camana Bay. We loved the opportunity to celebrate not only Nimmi but educators in general and we look forward to even more events next month to mark the end of an era at CIS.

Referred to by the Incas as the “The Navel of the World,” Cusco, the Imperial city of the Incas was developed as a complex urban center and served as the capital of the vast Incan Empire. The historic religious and government buildings were surrounded by the exclusive homes for royal families, centers for favoured artisans, numerous and spacious plazas and graceful fountains.

The capital of the Incas astonished the Spanish invaders by the beauty of its buidings and the length and regularity of its streets. The great square, now the Plaza d’Armas, was surrounded by several palaces, since each Incan king built a new palace for himself. However, their admiration did not keep the Spanish from sacking much of the Inca city in 1535. Pizarro’s troops lost no time in plundering the Incan palaces of their contents, as well as destroying the religious artifacts. That turmoil is ancient history now, and Cusco became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983, its remaining historic buildings now designated as having enduring architectural value.

On our return from Machu Picchu, we had a leisurely two days in Cusco just enjoying the sights, sounds and foods of Peru and even did a bit of shopping in the bright, colourful San Pedro market. We stayed at a little hotel on Calle Neuva Alta in the historic district, and were able to walk everywhere we wanted to with little trouble. The streets were lined with little shops with quaint cul-de-sacs leading to market squares lining both sides of the streets.

Declared by the constitution as the historical capital of Peru, Cusco has become a major tourist destination in its own right, hosting nearly 2 million visitors a year. Coffee shops, many with balconies overlooking the squares or plazas were everywhere, and the vibe was pleasant and friendly with none of the frantic aggression that you sometimes encounter in the East. The air was cool and required a jacket, but that just seemed to make the city more cosy. It was the perfect place to finish our first trip to South America. We promised ourselves that this would not be the last.

We have been most fortunate to have lived in Europe and Southeast Asia, which afforded us many opportunities for travel. As a result, there aren’t many things that remain on our “bucket list” of sights to see in the world. However, one of those things has long been Machu Picchu.

Machu Picchu is probably the most amazing site of the Inca Empire at its height, justifiably famous for its beauty and inaccessibility. Its giant walls, terraces and ramps seem as if they have been cut naturally in the continuous rock escarpments. At just under 8,000 feet above sea-level, the site is in the middle of a tropical mountain rainforest, surrounded by even higher peaks in an extraordinarily beautiful and breathtaking setting.

There are approximately 200 structures each with religious, ceremonial, astronomical, agricultural and residential purposes built on the side of a steep mountain and reinforced by stone terraces. The city is divided into lower and upper areas, separating the farming from residential areas, with a large open square between the two. The massive architecture of Machu Picchu blends exceptionally well with the stunning natural environment, which is intricately linked by an extensive road and trail system, irrigation canals and agricultural terraces bear witness to longstanding human use. The fact that the rugged topography makes some areas difficult to access has resulted in a unique mix of developed areas and diverse natural habitats.

Adding to its aura and charm are the legends surrounding both its building and its abandonment. Hiram Bingham, who discovered the site in 1911, wasn’t even looking for it, and when he came across it he quickly moved on, thinking it to be of particular significance. Local farmers has known about it for years are we happily working its ancient terraces exercising squatter’s rights and avoiding government notice and taxes. Having failed to find the fabled El Dorado of legend, Bingham returned to the site and began excavations. It was only then that the true genius of the site began to emerge from the overgrown ruins.

The site is now almost completed restored and well preserved by the Peruvian government who recognize its worth not only for its historical significance, but for the powerful draw on tourists. We woke early and were up in time to catch the 7:00 a.m. train for the 90 minute journey to Agua Calientes. There we were met by a guide who ushered on to a bus for the 20 minute, death defying trip on mountain switch-backs to the gates of the fabled site. Our guide explained that he had been required to take a four year certificate course in the geography, history, and agriculture of Peru in order to be certified for Machu Picchu. He knew everything about the site, and was an excellent guide for our tour.

Built without the use of mortar, or even metal tools, Machu Picchu remains one of the world’s engineering marvels. Adding to its mystery is the fact that it was abandoned, most likely around 1570, for no apparent reason. There is no damage to indicate that it was invaded, and indeed it had no strategic value to the invading Spanish. The most likely explanation is that the residents of Machu Picchu left their secluded enclave to assist a neighbouring village to ward off an attack by the Spanish and were all slaughtered in the effort, leaving Machu Picchu undefended except for its inaccessibility until it was rediscovered 100 years ago.

 

After our lovely Sunday in Lima, we were refreshed and excited to get going on the rest of our trip in Peru. Our early morning flight on Monday to Cusco went smoothly over the Andes Mountains, and we were able to book a cab at the airport to take us on our almost two hour road trip to our next landing spot. Cusco is at  about 11,000 feet above sea level, so we were not feeling particularly comfortable, despite the cocao tea. We were happy for the slow descent into the town of Ollantaytambo and the Sacred Valley at a mere 9,000 feet.

Just to put that in perspective, there are 25 mountain peaks in Peru that are over 20,000 feet, and many hundreds over 10,000. Cusco is actually on the jungle side of the Andes and in Peruvian terms, is no more than a foothill. Incredibly, though we were only just over 200 miles from the Pacific, all the rivers flow into the Amazon from here and out into the Atlantic, a journey of more than 4,000 miles. Even this far away, the snow melt from the Andes produced rivers of considerable volume and speed

The road trip down through these foothills was most pleasant and scenic. We stopped for the occasional picture of llamas and alpacas, and the locals in their colourful dress, but we were eager to arrive at our destination in order to confirm our tickets and contact our tour guide for Machu Picchu for the following and didn’t dawdle much.

Ollantaytambo was a delight. An original Inca village, there were still the remains of buildings perched high on the surrounding hills, and the village itself was a marvel of cobblestone streets and stone walls. Water coursed through the streets in stone channels less than a foot wide and deep, and the city plaza was alive with colour and noise.

The Parwa Guest House was down the side of one of the narrow walled streets that intersect this village, and our host, Jorge, was most welcoming and kind. Our room was small, with barely room for the queen sized bed, but there was internet and quite a nice ensuite bathroom, so really everything we needed. Jorge was most persistent and helpful in making contact with our tour guide for the next day, and with that down, we went out for astroll to the train station to secure our tickets for the following morning.

On the way back to town we stopped for a meal beside one the many streams that irrigate this little village. For the second time I was intrigued but refrained from the alpaca on the menu and opted for something more familiar. We stuck with the bottled water as well, not wanting to jeopardize our trip to Machu Picchu with someting too exotic.

After a quick stop at the guest house to freshen up, we headed out the the main plaza to take in the evening sights. There were lots of tourists and plenty of locals in town. Ollantaymbo is one of only two or three jumping off points for Macchu Picchu, and by all accounts the nicest of the three. Urubamba, furthest away is the starting point for the train, but is mostly an industrial and commercial centre without much local flavour. Agua Calientes, the end point of the train and the beginning of the bus trip on to the site itself, is tourist central, with all the tackiness that such a designation implies.

 

After our trip to Machu Picchu, we took another day at Ollantaytambo to take in the sights. We also needed a day of rest to recover from our climb up Machu Picchu and a nasty little stomach bug that Pam had picked up along the way. More on Machu Picchu tomorrow.

One of the key factors in UNESCOs designation of the center of Lima as a World Heritage Site is the profusion of ornate balconies that brings to the city center a sense of harmony and beauty. These balconies not only bring light and air to the graceful homes of the city, they are also a window into the history of the country.

The noble and wealthy European immigrants who arrived in the capital built their houses with similar styles to the Spanish and Moorish architecture of their roots. In North Africa and the Middle East it was not culturally acceptable for women to walk out in the streets. The balcony provided fresh air and warmth as well as protection from the rain while women of nobility and wealth could discreetly observe the comings and goings of the city without leaving their homes.

The luxury and ostentation of these beautiful balconies are unique, never repeating the same pattern. While some balconies are open and without enclosures, others are closed or built into corners. Many were built with trusses that contributed to the passage of light and air, while offering the necessary privacy to prying eyes from the street.

Many balconies in Lima were built in the Renaissance, Baroque, Neo-Baroque and Neoclassical styles and had Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Moorish, Andalusian and Caribbean influences. The Renaissance idea that the nobility of a building characterized a city’s grandiosity permeates Lima’s architecture. The Baroque architecture of this period, characterized by exuberance and heavy ornamentation, is prevalent as well. In the 18th century, the Rococo style came to Lima as a result of French influence. This style embraced ornamentation and playful themes.

Our own interest and enthusiasm led us to inquire at one lovely building if we might have a closer look. Our impertinence was rewarded with a personal guided tour that ended at a rooftop cupola. We were delighted to find a nesting condor in this space who didn’t seem to mind sharing his view of the entire city!

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