My journey to Perú began as a vision back in November, just as the early, cold days of the Maine winter began to set in across the campus of Bates College. While some people decide to go abroad during their college years to “find themselves” and broaden their horizons, I chose to take the semester off from school to immerse myself in a different culture and acquire a new language. My mother was forced to flee the island of Cuba with her family in 1960 and because of this I have always been surrounded by both Latin American language and cuisine. In a sense, I chose to flee as well. I chose to flee the winter, the daily grind of classes, papers, and finals in search of something different. It’s safe to say that I’ve found just what I was searching for.
It would be unjust to say that I’ve completely fled the grind of classes and papers. For the first six weeks of my journey I was living with my relatives in Lima, a mega-city rife with some of the largest economic disparity in the world. I would take Spanish classes in the morning, explore the historic center of Lima in the afternoons, and teach English to children ranging from the ages of 10-15 in the evenings. Most of my exploration required riding a Combi (bus), sometimes without doors, to the outskirts of town in order to walk through village markets and voraciously practice my Spanish with anyone who would speak with me. I then moved to Cuzco, a city high above the clouds, clocking in at roughly 11,000 feet above sea level. While I’ve had my fair share of nosebleeds, the feeling of waking up and going to bed in the highest continuously inhabited city in the Americas is unparalleled. I will be here for the next eight weeks, taking Spanish classes and working with Máximo Nivel, an organization dedicated to offering volunteer opportunities ranging from teaching English to disenfranchised children to jungle conservation in the Amazon. I am currently spearheading a project through the Cuzco Tourism Board and Máximo Nivel, aiming to teach English to taxi drivers within the city limits, with hopes to spread the initiative to other cities in South America.
My time here hasn’t been all work, though. I spent four days in the quaint, northern surf-town of Máncora, lying under the equatorial sun, sipping the national drink of pisco sours and eating as much fresh seafood and Céviche as I could stomach before heading off into the Andes. Various day-hikes around Cuzco, such as that to the Cristo Blanco, a statue from Palestinian Christians erected to represent their gratitude to Cusqueñans for offering safe-harbor in 1945, prepared me for the mountain called Huayna Picchu. Towering above the Incan stronghold of Macchu Picchu, Huayna Picchu requires you to hike near-vertical stairs for 50 minutes in order to gain an unobstructed view of the ancient city and the Urubamba River below. Slippery stones and steel cables drilled into the bedrock delineate the path up the mountain. It is said that the top of the mountain is where the High Priest resided, and I also got to visit the Temple of the Moon, carved into the hillside below.
As I write this I am preparing for a 3-day backpacking trip into and out of the second deepest canyon in the world, Colca Canyon, twice the depth of our very own Grand Canyon. While I miss the comfort, knowledge and friendships that Bates has and still provides me with, I know that many more adventures await.