There is nothing remotely deep or dark about Peru. It’s a country of joyful people, colourful dancing and stunning scenery. Not to mention the wealth of history and culture which has left incredible marks on the land (in case you hadn’t made the connection I’m referring to Machu Picchu and other similarly amazing ruins from the Inca people and other civilisations).
I was 16 when I traveled to Peru with a group of peers, some of whom I knew and others I had barely met. Our trip was not only about travel, in fact it was much more about mission work. In my unreligious eyes however, it was about volunteering, having a little positive impact on someone else’s life, doing something good, and immersing myself in another culture.
We started out in Lima staying in a basic guest house. From there we explored the capital city under the supervision of a teacher and two ridiculously lovely consecrated women – Ada and Mapi. Both are from Peru originally but have been living in Manchester for the past few years. What I remember of Lima is vague since my memory barely stretches back to breakfast never mind 2012! However, I have the urge to go back which means I must have enjoyed the expansive museums of culture old and new, history good and bad. I must have enjoyed the hearty Peruvian cooking and energetic dancing after dinner involving scissors, fire and people chasing each other with pieces of string dangling from their behinds (I wont explain). And I must have enjoyed the slower, more haphazard way of life while we tried to source various bits to take with us up to the mountains of Huaraz.
After one bus strike and another two days waiting for the next 10 hour ride up to Huaraz, we settled into our new accomodation. It was a relatively large room, with nothing in it. Perfect for 9 teenage girls to roll out their sleeping bags side by side and plump up some piles of clothes for pillows. The next morning was utterly freezing until the sun came up and warmed the air at over 10,000ft above sea level. To fend off the slight nausea that comes with living so high in the mountains we took to drinking copious amounts of mate de coca tea – yep, that’s stewed cocaine leaves (you can buy teabags too and they work wonders for a hangover!) We began our work of continuing the building of a church, helping out the elderly in the community, and holding a few fun educational afternoons with the local children. The welcome we received everywhere we went was second to none. Smiling faces, cups of tea, hot meals and an eagerness to share with us their culture and happiness. I had never felt more fulfilled in my life. The simplicity of bathing in a mountain river, cooking over fire, sleeping on the floor and spending days just doing things for other people was so brilliant and clarifying.
Back in Lima, our work revolved around visiting the homes of people identified by the community leaders as struggling, and delivering to them a large box of foodstuffs donated by our friends and families back home. I’ve included a picture below of one of the shanty towns we visited, and while the mish mash of corrugated iron and other random materials doesn’t look like the basis for “conventional” houses, they certainly had the welcoming and cosy atmosphere of homes, created by the warm smile of their inhabitants.
We were nearing the end of our trip and our small piece of work was finished, so we caught a flight up to the north of Peru to a small town called Cuzco, which I’m sure you’ve heard of. The town was bustling, set high up in the mountains with stunning scenery all around and gorgeous craft markets for perusing (get it…peru…sing…). It was from here that we made our way to the quaint tourist train that takes you almost all the way up to the sacred site of Machu Picchu. The most vivid memory I have from that day is joining the trail of people walking up a dirt track, round the edge of a grassy cliff, and finally, very suddenly, coming round the bend to be treated with that most iconic, incredible sight. It was exactly like the post cards. The crazy ruins on a mountain top with bold green mountain peaks making for a striking backdrop. Up close, the joins between the immense stone slabs were impeccable – the ultimate dry stone walling! Sitting amoungst the ruins was totally surreal, like someone had dropped you off in the middle of nowhere where you discovered a forgotten village, but you could still vividly imagine how daily life was. And you can completely understand the ancient religion of those people. They worshipped the sun and the earth, which in turn gave them fine things, luscious crops, and the most beautiful surroundings to live in.
Back in Cuzco we spent the evening in Paddy’s Irish Pub which is the self-proclaimed ‘Highest pub in the World…probably’ at over 11,000ft. The high altitude makes for a cheap night and knowing where you are in the world makes it all the more fun.
I’ll be back for the view and I’ll be back for the people and the culture…and maybe next time I’ll get the chance to try some rotisserie guinea pig!