Field Trips and Spanish Ships

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Growing up, I remember enjoying going on many field trips with our local home school support group. We toured science museums, plant nurseries, and the municipal water treatment plant.

When I started homeschooling my kids, homeschooling had gone mainstream, I felt confident in our ability to succeed in learning at home, and I didn’t really feel the need for a support group for our day-to-day endeavors.

We did join a co-op last fall for one semester, and that was a great experience. As a group, we enjoyed wonderful field trips to such exciting places as a planetarium and a frontier museum that recreated farms and buildings from different time periods in American history. I was grateful for the opportunity to see places I wouldn’t have otherwise known about or thought of visiting.

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Most of our field trips, however, have been of the DIY variety. (In fact, one of our favorite field trips was to an actual field. We checked out a nature backpack from our local library, which included passes to all the state parks, laminated cards describing numerous varieties of native flora and fauna, a butterfly net, and a mesh cage for bugs. The kids loved it.)

Moving to a different country, however, has taken our exploring to a whole new level. Even the most mundane experiences seem exciting and novel. But one adventure that our family particularly enjoyed was our trip to the mountain city of Cajamarca.

Located in the foothills of the Andes Mountains a few hours away from our coastal hometown in northern Peru, Cajamarca is a colorful, vibrant town that reflects both ancient Incan roots and Spanish colonial influence. Plaques and monuments abound, explaining the history of this colonial town that manifests “La ciudad del encuentro de dos mundos” (“The city of the encounter of two worlds”).

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Spanish conquistadors came across this thriving Incan city in the 1500s. The resulting culture clash ended in the surrender of the Incan troops and the death of their leader, Atahualpa.

Various plaques throughout the city commemorating the bravery of the Inca warriors and the audacity of the Spanish soldiers tell only part of the story. We looked up more details about the conflict to learn more about the origins and development of this beautiful city.

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Since our own ancestors were probably fleeing to Holland or elsewhere at the time to escape the persecution of the very same Spanish Inquisition that was trying to “convert” the Incas, we certainly felt sympathy for the defeated cause. However, even though they may have been underdogs in this conflict, their civilization was no paragon of virtue, and the Incas were no shrinking violets themselves. Atahualpa, who had a ten-year-old “wife,” had just consolidated his empire by engineering and winning a bloody civil war against his brother. When the Spanish condemned Atahualpa to death, after staging a mock trial accusing him of idol worship and murdering his brother, Atahualpa chose strangulation over burning to death, due to his religious beliefs about the afterlife.

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It was a sobering reminder that history is often fraught with complexity. There wasn’t really a clear side to root for, but we were grateful for the chance to learn from the events of the past. We were also very happy for the opportunity to experience both the extraordinary invigoration of soaking in Inca baths fed by natural hot springs and the soaring beauty of the Spanish cathedrals.

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My kids had heard it many times, but I couldn’t resist trotting out one of my grandfather’s classic jokes, eminently suitable for the occasion:

Why are Peruvians so bright?

Because they are of Incan descent!

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Photo Credit: Photos courtesy of author.

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