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Adventure in Ancient Peru


by Margaret Korona Scheuber

From close encounters with mummies in Lima to the awe-inspiring ruins of Machu Picchu, our small group of 20 Northwestern alumni, spouses and friends enjoyed a weeklong adventure with the Northwestern Alumni Association’s Peru: Featuring Machu Picchu trip.

After a lecture on the history of Peru, we began our first and only full day in Lima with a whirlwind tour that included the Plaza de Armas, Lima’s central square. Inside the cathedral that borders the plaza, we surveyed intricate altars used throughout the centuries and the lovely all-mosaic chapel, which houses the tomb of Francisco Pizarro, the Spanish conquistador and founder of Lima (1535).

Because it was almost noon when we stepped from the darkness of the cathedral, we were treated to one of the daily concerts that accompany the changing of the guard at the Palacio de Gobierno. A lively march accompanied us on our amble to the Church and Convent of San Francisco. We toured the active monastery and the catacombs below the church, where an estimated 25,000 bodies were interred before the main cemetery was built.

In a way that only traveling with the NAA can offer, the most fascinating excursion in Lima took us to an atypical tourist spot — the laboratory of renowned archaeologist Guillermo Cock. In a nondescript building on a quiet suburban street, Cock studies “mummy bundles,” remains and artifacts he and his team have excavated from Puruchuco, an ancient Inca burial site five miles east of Lima. While Cock shared his theories about Incan ceremonies, nutrition and societal segmentation, we noticed the decorated skull that appeared on the cover of the May 2002 National Geographic on a shelf within arm’s reach.

We could have listened to many more of Cock’s stories, but it was time to head to the highlands. We flew to Cuzco, the ancient capital of the Incan Empire, situated at an altitude of more than 11,000 feet. We were welcomed with a cup of steaming coca tea and instructions to spend the afternoon resting to diminish altitude sickness.

Early the next morning we began our exploration of the Sacred Valley of the Incas. We were delighted by the vibrant colors and activity of the traditional market in Chinchero, a scene in stark contrast with the brown and white adobe homes that line the deserted streets outside the market.

The following day we explored our artistic inclinations in painting, ceramics or traditional flute while visiting San Blas, the artisan neighborhood of Cuzco. It was fun to participate in a creative activity among the tours and even more fun when the finished products were presented the next evening at dinner — we were a talented group!

Well before dawn on our last day in the highlands we made our way to the PeruRail station for our journey to Machu Picchu. After a three-hour train ride and one more minicoach up the steep and winding mountainside we arrived at the entrance of the “Lost City of the Incas.”

It is truly awe-inspiring to examine Machu Picchu’s thoughtfully planned layout — with agricultural sections distinct from urban sections and an advanced aqueduct system — and consider that this ancient city exists high above the valley floor, essentially saddling a narrow section of land between two mountains. And this UNESCO World Heritage Site is not completely revealed. Countless farming terraces are still hidden under thick vegetation.

Some of us climbed to the caretaker’s hut, from which the legendary photos for postcards and travel book covers are taken, and snapped our own memories.

The farewell reception and dinner, held at the gorgeous Casa García Alvarado in Lima, was a celebration of memories and new friends made throughout the week. All the travelers truly got to know each other, thanks to the small group size … and a pisco sour or two. We look forward to our next journey with the NAA!

Margaret Korona Scheuber (McC00) is an account manager with Thomson Solucient in Evanston. She and her husband, Scott Scheuber (KSM04), live in Arlington Heights, Ill.

For more information on upcoming NAA trips, call 1-800-NU-ALUMS or visit

Northwestern travelers look over the "mummy bundles" in the laboratory of Guillermo Cock. The remains were excavated from a burial site in Puruchuco, east of Lima.
Northwestern travelers look over the "mummy bundles" in the laboratory of Guillermo Cock. The remains were excavated from a burial site in Puruchuco, east of Lima. Photo by Abby Jansen
Peruvian children sell souvenirs on the roadside.
Peruvian children sell souvenirs on the roadside. Photo by Margaret Korona Scheuber
The view of Machu Picchu from the caretaker’s hut
The view of Machu Picchu from the caretaker’s hut Photo by Margaret Korona Scheuber