Taking a library to the Andes
For more than a decade, Daniel Fernandez-Davila carried a machete to work. Now he's added to his arsenal No. 2 pencils and a blackboard.
A native of Peru, Fernandez-Davila is an archeologist who is frequently called into the field to preside over documentaries for The Travel Channel and the British Broadcasting Corp. He's also a social studies teacher at Wayland Middle School and brings his work in the field to his lessons.
The 37-year-old Marlborough resident and married father of two recently spent two weeks in Peru scouting a pre-Inca citadel fortress as a possible film location for a Discovery Channel production tentatively titled "Ancient Bones."
Fernandez-Davila made an additional three-week excursion to the north high jungle of the Andes to bring books and school supplies to Atuen, a remote village located six hours by horse from Leymebamba, a town world-renowned for its archeological sites. Fernandez-Davila said the families welcomed his group with a big celebration and everyone was given a machete with a case that had their name carved into it.
"It's been a dream [of mine] to create some kind of library in the area so people can go and read," said Fernandez-Davila. This was his 10th visit back.
Joining Fernandez-Davila in the Andes was a group of 13 adults, including Kelly Naughton, 29, a seventh-grade social studies teacher at Wayland Middle School, and her husband, Mathew, 30, a salesman for Ajilon Finance in Boston.
Naughton said she was especially moved when she saw a table in the Atuen schoolhouse that had the words "Mi Biblioteca" (my library) written above it in cutout paper letters. The table, she said, had a cluster of 10 or so books.
"All I could picture was the library at Wayland Middle School, which is larger than their entire schoolhouse, with an extensive collection of educational resources for our kids to utilize," said Naughton. "This was quite a reality check and an emotional time for me personally."
The local group was able to add nearly 100 books to the biblioteca.
The caravan included seven guides, 20 horses, two expedition kayaks, 10 radios, and enough food for eight days. Fernandez-Davila said to reach Atuen, the group flew from Boston to Lima, drove through 500 miles of desert, 300 miles of mountains and jungle, 50 miles on off-road trails, and then hiked for eight hours. They explored Atuen for five days, then returned to Leymebamba.
Fernandez-Davila said the most difficult part of the trip took place in Lake of the Condors in Chachapoyas, as it encompassed 25 miles of muddy, rocky terrain in the northern Andes.
"We crossed the lake with kayaks and climbed through the jungle to visit the mausoleums in the cliff where archeologists found 220 mummies in 1997," said Fernandez-Davila. "It was spectacular."
Overall, everything that Fernandez-Davila planned went smoothly, though he admits there were a few problems: "We had to rescue a [wild] calf from a river; one person had altitude sickness; and we found a dead horse on the road that scared our caravan when we were in the mud the first day," said Fernandez-Davila. "But that's how you fulfill your soul and your memory."
Before moving to Massachusetts in 2002, Fernandez-Davila had been to the United States once, at the age of 10, when his father was awarded a grant to complete his doctorate in radiology. The family lived in Indianapolis for one year before returning to Lima.
"I remember there was no trash in the streets and everything, like the traffic, was very organized," said Fernandez-Davila. "It was shocking to me not seeing people begging for money." He also found it unusual to no longer hear gunshots at night, a sound he had grown accustomed to while drifting off to sleep.
As Fernandez-Davila grew older in Peru, the realities of civil war hit home, where he said friends would disappear without explanation. He recalled one afternoon in 1993 when he feared he, too, would become a casualty of Shining Path, the Maoist guerrilla organization in Peru.
During his college studies at Catholic University in Lima, Fernandez-Davila accepted a job as a surveyor. He was sent to the Andes to search for archeological remains in an area that would soon encompass electricity and a gas pipeline. The building company installing the pipeline was required to get clearance through Peru's National Institute of Culture, and Fernandez-Davila joined a crew of archeologists assigned to scout 200 kilometers of the proposed route.
"They sent us to Huanuco during the rain season, the toughest terrain in Peru," said Fernandez-Davila. "Nobody goes in during the rains, its insane; the roads are destroyed and there are landslides." Equally unnerving, said Fernandez-Davila, is that Huanuco was one of the areas infiltrated by Shining Path.
One afternoon while the group was hiking, they found themselves surrounded by villagers wielding BB guns. Fernandez-Davila said he quickly realized that his group, with their ponchos, rubber boots, and backpacks full of equipment, must have looked like members of the Shining Path.
Fernandez-Davila said a man wearing a hood to hide his face looked at their identification papers and apologized, explaining that a week prior, the Shining Path had been to the village, accused them of collaborating with police, and took three of their men away.
Over the next decade, Fernandez-Davila taught archeology at Catholic University in Peru, did odd jobs such as landscaping, and, took on various archeological assignments. Perhaps one of the most memorable was in 2000 in San Diego, Peru, a city lost in the desert. Not only did he find artifacts including evidence of a human sacrifice, he met his wife, Tara, who grew up in Westford and is a science teacher at Concord Middle School who had been awarded a study grant and chose to use it in Peru. The following year she took a leave of absence and moved in with Fernandez-Davila and his family, and in 2002 the couple relocated to Massachusetts.
Fernandez-Davila landed a job at the Walsh Middle School in Framingham, teaching social studies in its bilingual program for three years before moving to Wayland Middle School.
"Trips like this give me more material to teach innovative, hands-on creative lessons," said Fernandez-Davila of his latest excursion. Data that he collects from the field, such as landscape photography illustrating weather variations, and video footage of varied terrain, are integrated into geography lessons. When he teaches a unit on ancient civilizations, he is able to use archeological examples from Peru to illustrate and compare political structures, symbols, myths, and religions. Fernandez-Davila said he is forever complaining to his wife that he misses his old friends in Peru. But his love for learning and teaching about other cultures has kept his homesickness at bay.
"I get the same rush every time that I find a new book; the same rush of passion every time that I teach my students and I see their smiles; and the same passion when I [discover] a tomb," he said. "The day that you lose the passion for whatever you're doing, it's time to move on."
Globe correspondent Erica Hendry contributed to this report.
To suggest a People item, e-mail Lebovits@globe.com.