by Crooked Trails participant, Sarah Mackay
I was one of the fortunate travelers to join the Crooked Trails Family Program to Peru in August. We were a multigenerational group of nine that included a grandmother, her grandchild and twins; all of us with the hopes of exploring and getting to know Peru. We took a train, a plane and many buses to see four cities and one village in ten days. We traveled in and around this beautiful country that is brimming with a vibrant and rich culture that begs to be explored.
I eagerly adopted Crooked Trails’ philosophy of allowing the country to guide my experience and while the program would follow the itinerary, we were encouraged to be open to the unexpected. On my adventure to Peru I was looking for the unexpected and was moved and invigorated by the glimpses into Peru. As Chris Mackay, cofounder of Crooked Trails said to me one day, “It’s hard to take a bad photograph in Peru”. I quickly realized that I would have many images to capture, such as the woman cooking potatoes in a field as our host Paulino kindly asked her to allow us to sample them. The children and parents we met in Usabamba, a village at 13,000 feet into the Andes Mountains, gave me a refreshing perspective on what it means to be a community of families. I felt humbled watching the children line-up to receive the school supplies we brought to share. There were so many more moments, such as seeing Peruvian children herd pigs and their piglets down a steep hill towards the river below against a backdrop of Inca stone steps.
At the beginning of our program we spent a couple of days in Lima, the major city of Peru, and then flew into Cusco, which lies at 12,000 feet. Many of us felt the challenges of less oxygen, but acclimated quickly enough to walk the stone streets built by the Incas and visit such sites as Sacsayhuaman, the fortress built above Cusco. That same day, we went horseback riding in the hills just outside Cusco. During the ride, we dismounted our horses to see ruins and learn of some Peruvian history. The guide explained to us how Peruvians praise their Apos (spirits), only I thought he said apples; it was funny and yet it was telling how easily I misinterpreted his words. I began to ask myself how do we begin to understand one another’s cultures; how do we find common ground and connect?
There were astonishing Inca ruins around every corner, each with a history and brilliance of its own. In our ten-day trip we would visit the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu where we walked through, around and on top of ruins that the Incas built over 600 years ago; stones that were precise and fit perfectly into one another, a puzzle of perfection.
A highlight of the program was our three-day stay with our homestay family. We were given the rare opportunity of getting to know Paulino, Vilma, their four children and their extended family. The food was excellent and I think I had seconds at every meal! What impressed me the most about our homestay family was their ability to connect and share their lives with the many visitors they receive throughout the year. They were adding on an orphanage to house almost 30 children. During our stay with them, we watched a presentation of the textiles they create with patience and great talent. Their woven textiles are created using their environment of plants, animals and insects. Needless to say, all nine of us purchased and carried home many woven Peruvian treasures.
Each of us perceives new experiences and environments with the backdrop of our daily lives in mind. It would be impossible to suspend our beliefs, culture and history in order to completely immerse ourselves in a new culture; however, we can use what we know from our daily lives to weave in the new and connect, bridging the cultural gap for as long as possible. One morning, during our home stay in Chinchero, a town which lies in the Sacred Valley about an hour drive from Cusco, I took a run on the Inca Trail where I waved to a local farmer, came nose to snout with a sweet, rather large pig, and met a Peruvian family of six who were taking a rest on the trail and offered me some local vegetables and fruit. I practically wept at the beauty and stillness of what I saw on the trail. I could almost believe that I had suspended time for a brief moment.
I was pursuing and found an experience in Crooked Trails where I could connect with the local Peruvians, be somewhere that was different from my own world and absorb the colorful and multifaceted culture that I’ve only begun to know and yet have already fallen in love with.
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