A week after returning from Peru, I’m still struggling to put my experiences from the past six weeks into words. In fact, I’m not even sure I can organize the experiences into cohesive thoughts inside my head. I wish I could blame this haze on jet lag, but alas, Peru is a mere one hour ahead of Colorado. Perhaps the five nights of no sleep preceding the trip home or the ten hours of nausea inducing bus time sent me into this funk. Or perhaps it was the 30 days of living at 15,026 feet with no connection to the outside world. Let’s just say hiking down from basecamp to see a man taking two pigs for a walk on leashes through the city streets was nothing less than a shock.
My time in Peru was incomparable to any trip I’ve ever taken. Past travels to Beijing and Honduras can’t even cast a shadow on the sights of the third world Peru revealed. Tin roofs held down not by nails, but rocks. Once brightly colored homes now crumbling, collapsed, and tinted black by a thick coat of exhaust from the highway. Children who leap into your arms, enveloping your tired, sweaty body in the most sincere of hugs when your van pulls into their village. Here’s a secret: what they were really looking for was a bar of chocolate, not a hug. If you want hugs, always carry extra candy.
My experience with Peruvian culture was more or less limited to five days. The remainder of my time was spent high in the mountains, removed from the world. I may as well have been in Colorado, or Alaska, or on Mars. However, these five days were rich with learning. I learned of the local food, from seeing it raw and freshly killed, hanging in a market, to the choncho (roasted pig) and beef hearts that filled my plate. The mountains only brought me closer to this encounter with fresh food, when I killed a chicken. As an avid meat eater, I decided I should understand the process and emotions involved in slaughtering an animal. Needless to say, it was not an easy task, and the hours surrounding the event were filled with me crying.
The memories that most stand out in my mind as I reflect upon my travels revolve around people. Our team was unlike any group I’ve traveled with before. Each member hailed from a different background, be it upbringing, beliefs, life experiences, or type of climbing. Our eclectic group covered the full spectrum of rock climbing – alpinists, ice and mixed climbers, a boulderer, and a sport climber. This combination could have been a recipe for disaster, with conflicting goals and interests. However, our group got along splendidly, supporting one another, laughing, playing pranks, and surviving without the slightest upset or tension within the group dynamics, a feat I’ve heard is relatively rare in the world of expeditions. I’m pleased to have had the opportunity to learn among this unique group of people who I may not have had the chance to get to know at home.
Not only were the characters within my group remarkable, but the locals with whom I was able to interact were simply the kindest and most welcoming people I’ve ever encountered. Warm smiles reveal the sincerest of joys, despite a life of hard work and few comforts. Many of the local women still dress in traditional clothes, with brightly colored skirts and tall hats. The majority of these street vendors prefer not to have their photo taken. However, after a bit of coaxing, they’ll allow for a quick shot, and are then eager to see the result on the camera screen. In one instance, after I finally convinced one woman to let me take her photo, her friends swarmed my camera, pointing and giggling and asking me to take their photos. This led to some sort of chain reaction photo shoot down the street as the laughter and excitement spread.
Unlike Spain and other spanish speaking countries I’ve visited, very few Peruvians speak english. I was forced to speak spanish to vendors, children, and banks where our credit cards were eaten by the ATM. In one embarrassing incidence in which I tried to ask a child how many brothers and sisters she had, I asked how many children she had. She responded very nonchalantly and without even cracking a smile, “zero”. Whoops.
Stories of basecamp to come soon!