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Travel and Transformation: A Memoir of Peru

Preparing to Travel Abroad

Adrienne sitting on the airport floor
“Slowly finding out that the airport floor is my friend and not my enemy. Two hours into our 10 hour layover I had given up worrying about the germs taking over me and my pillow.”

Planes are THE most intriguing invention mankind has accomplished. Getting on the plane was the moment I realized I was actually going to Peru.

Preparation for Peru consisted of a lot of fundraising, doctor’s appointments, worrying if the clothes I was packing were appropriate for the weather and culture, and signing multiple documents saying I understood I could be held for ransom. I traveled, along with some of the most inspiring students and teachers I have ever met, as part of a group from Mount Wachusett Community College. The travel time to Peru was a total of about 26 hours. We had an initial flight to Panama and then another to Lima. From Lima to Cusco (where we were going) was only an hour flight, but the layover was 10 long hours. I never understood how people were so willing to LAY on an airport floor. I learned that day. I was the first to lie down … and the last one to get up off that floor.

Discovering a New Culture as a College Student

MWCC Student Adrienne and Peruvian man
“Being blessed during our welcoming ceremony. We were able to have some personal items blessed to protect us. The coco leaves in my hands were to represent Mother Earth and the Mountains.”

Walking out of the airport in Cusco to meet with our spectacular guide, Cassandra, we came upon the conclusion that Peruvians do not believe pedestrians have the right of way. The bus we took to Sacred Valley was very comfortable and the driver, Juan Carlo, was very sweet. But we also found out that there are no guide rails on the side of the cliffs and that when taking a turn around a corner on the cliffs you drive as close to the edge as humanly possible. It was quite entertaining to see everyone all frantic as I acted like I was not afraid at all. However, deep down inside all I could imagine was my mother having to fly to Cusco to get my body from the bottom of a cliff. This kind of driving is normal in Peru.

Pile of colorful trinkets and candies
“Each item represents a specific part of the earth and is blessed. It is then wrapped, tied, and put into the fire as a sacrifice. You are not allowed to watch the gift to Mother Earth burn and it is said that if Mother Earth does not accept the sacrifice then the ash will be black. If the ash is white then She has accepted it and heard our prayers and intentions.”

The “retreat” in Sacred Valley, Sach’a Munay, was the most beautiful, earthy, comforting retreat I have ever seen in my life. There were endless gardens, mountains surrounding everywhere you turned, hammocks, multiple places for yoga, a sweat lodge, teepees, and their own enormous compost pile that they use to fertilize all their homegrown food. There were holes in the sides of the mountains which were actually ancient graves. There were loving dogs everywhere that just wanted to rub against your leg, and the workers were constantly making sure all our needs were met.

If you are not a native in Peru you cannot drink the tap water, and toilet paper down the drains is always a big no-no. Their septic systems are not developed like in other countries. I realized that there also were not a lot of actual bathrooms in the homes and most people used outhouse-like lavatories. Brushing your teeth became more of a task than it needed to be when you have to use a glass of water from the filtered water bubbler. Also, having retainers added more work on top of that.

Making Friends: Connecting With Fellow Students & the People of Peru

Group of MWCC Student Travelers in Machu Picchu
“My favorite photo. We are exuding with pure happiness. These are the students and teachers whom I traveled with. They each shared their own beautiful stories and are courageous and inspiring individuals. We had just finished a long day of exploring Machu Picchu. There were times where it was almost impossible to continue on but we each pushed one another and made it through TOGETHER!”

The people I opened up to and told my deepest fears to were people I had never met before and probably would not have met if it was not for this trip. We students made sure to connect a few times before the trip and try to get to know one another but we were nothing more than students at the same college. During the trip, each one of us connected on an individual, personal level and I will forever be grateful to have met them.

A Donkey
“The animals are not groomed like the animals at home. This Donkey belonged to a family in the mountains on a sacred lake. The Donkeys are tied and do not have a lot of lead to walk around and usually stand in the same spot for long periods of time. The lake is believed to have “birthed” the Moon and the Sun.”

Cassandra had us do reflections, after dinner, about each day and what we liked most, what we would gain from the experience, and what we would like to carry on with us after the trip. Not only were the days positively impacting each one of us but they were also positively impacting the lives of the people we came into contact with and that was a humbling thing to witness. The children at the schools were so curious and grateful to see us there that they would leave their classrooms to come ask questions or watch what we were painting. We were able to bring some art supplies to one of the schools and the children showed pure, genuine gratitude.

The children in Peru live such simple but different lives than the children here. There are so many standards, roles, rights and wrongs here that children cannot just be children. Kids in Peru get an education and are able to have time to be a child without having a cell phone, tablet, computer, etc. They were so much more intrigued in human interaction. Watching the children play soccer with my peers (who I can now call my “friends”) was another humbling experience.

There was a language barrier, yet we were still able to connect with them, enjoy time with them, and show them that we are all the same in some way, shape, or form. I was also able to “teach” some of the students English. I overheard one of the teachers trying to say “book.” I peeked into the class to see the children struggle to repeat her. She asked me to come in and join her in her lesson. This made the children more interested in learning basic English words and as a-soon-to-be teacher, again, this was very fun for me.

The natives in Peru all have very similar features. It was not like the U.S. where no two people look alike and there are many different races. To me, everyone looked the same. The women who made the table throws, bags, sweaters, etc. all had Inca clothes on. These clothes were colorful and filled with beautiful patterns. Each color and pattern meant something for the Incas. This told other Incas where they were from and essentially what their name was.

There was a woman at a little zoo we stopped at on the last day that had on the most colorful clothes I had seen yet. She was sitting on the floor weaving away at a table throw. Her fingers moved so fast throw each and every miniscule thread. Women usually learn to do this when they are just five years old and each pattern is like a math problem. They remember these patterns so precisely they could do it with their eyes closed. I remember thinking how beautiful the piece was that she was making and then realizing that this is their life. That is what they do for a living and have always done.

Developing a New Life Perspective While Visiting a Foreign Country

“Ruins where Incas had moved boulders from mountain to mountain through small pathways. We still do not know how these boulders were moved as they are so heavy and too big to be pushed through the small paths.”

In Peru, there are no worries about how many people like you, or your photo on Instagram. No iPhones at age five and no tablets for infants. There are no Starbucks for wifi or McDonald’s for a midnight snack. We think they are poor and live sad, unfulfilled lives when we are the ones who are sad and not living to our fullest potential when we spend every second of our spare time on social media.

Hand holding cocoa leaves in front of Machu Picch
“Coco leaves are a sacred plant to the Incas and were used to bless the land and people. Breathing out onto the leaves and releasing all of your positive intentions for yourself, others, the mountains, and Mother Earth is practiced multiple times a day. Later you put them in your mouth and eat them slowly.”

Peru is definitely not as developed as we are, and children are definitely not raised the same. We also most certainly do not have the same breathtaking mountainous view everyday (where I live, at least) but the people are happy. They are living the purest form of life; eating fruits and vegetables from their home grown gardens, fish from their sacred lakes, and being the most kind hearted people they can be. Peru is not only beautiful with so many places to explore but the people are kind and welcoming. When I was in the marketplace, there were two different people who gave me free stuff as a thank you for visiting. I did not know what to say to them; they hugged me and smiled.

On the last night, we had our final reflection. I realized that this trip was not only to help other in Peru and support a community but it was to help myself and learn what I am here to do. I overcame my fear of heights while in Peru as we stood at a cliff over spectacular Machu Picchu. I connected with individuals that were on journeys of their own. And I realized that the first world issues we encounter daily do not matter. I learned to let my mind and body relax and become present in time. I learned to be mindful of others and the situations they may be going throw. Last, but not least, I am grateful to have learned that there are an endless amount of good things to be happy about.

My trip to Peru with my peers and teachers is something I will always treasure and hold close to my heart for the rest of my time. I cannot thank the teachers enough who put this together and made it possible. Thank you for letting share my thoughts, feelings, and experiences.

Adrienne Bourque SelfieAbout the Author: Adrienne Bourque ‘19 is an Early Childhood Education Major. She traveled to Peru in May as part of Mount Wachusett Community College’s annual service learning trip.