By: Will McCall, `19 & Alex Galik, `19
We started our two-day hike in a small town called Huilloc, which was high in the mountains with a sparse population. There, before starting our journey up the Andes, we learned to make traditional bracelets out of beads and cloth. After struggling with this for over an hour, everybody successfully finished, and we were allowed to stand up, where the blood flow to our legs returned to normal. All of the hard work that we put in gave us a new appreciation for the amazing work ethic of the people that live in the village and do this kind of work every day. Next, we began our six-hour hike up to the top of a mountain. After pointing our heads towards our eventual goal at the top of the mountain, we stopped after three hours to eat lunch, and all of us were stunned by the beautiful view that we had missed while we were too focused on walking to the top. From this experience, I learned that sometimes we miss the big picture by getting too caught up in what is directly in front of us; this applies literally and metaphorically. After getting a delicious lunch, I started to look out more and appreciate the view of the small towns under us, which were hidden behind trees, and snuggled tightly in the valleys between the mountains. Throughout this trip, my definition of poverty has changed, as we have seen a population that can not compete with our own country’s capacity to produce material goods, but is nonetheless filled with joy and purpose every day. It was also from my vantage point that I realized that despite man’s attempt to control nature, we are only guests here on a huge planet with an unbridled capacity to harm and hurt us at its own leisure. When we finished our hike for that day, we arrived in a flat area where we could camp for the night. We bundled up as the temperature dropped below freezing. After a nice dinner, we were ready for a few creepy ghost stories, and after that we sat for a while and looked at the stars we saw beautiful views of the milky way. While getting through the night was difficult due to how cold it was, we all made it through ok, and we all feel better for having had the experience. Sleeping on the ground in the cold allowed me to put the conveniences in my life into perspective.
After sleeping under the stars, we all woke up to a very wintery landscape. Frost coated the ground, and we were reluctant to forgo the warmth of our sleeping bags. After some packing, we continued on our way to Ollantaytambo. After some hours of downhill hiking with sporadic uphill sections thrown in, we arrived at Pumamarka, a pre-incan site with amazing vistas of the valley. We took this opportunity to rest before continuing onwards and to reflect on our journey thus far. Upon noticing our camping chefs preparing lunch for us on a field below, we gained a new appreciation for all the locals who had helped us during many parts of this trip. Between our homestay families hosting us, artisans helping us as we staggered through learning their crafts, and our camping chaperones setting up our campsites and providing us with four meals during our hike, we have been helped tremendously by the locals of Peru. Even random passers by and farmers were always very friendly and willing to help us with the challenges we faced the day before the hike.
Finally, it was time to complete the last part of our hike. We walked along the wall of a valley until we reached Ollantaytambo, ready to meet our transportation to Piscacucho. We all felt very accomplished upon completing the hike. It was a very new experience for me, as I had never hiked so far or slept outside in a tent. In the end it was worth it, and the experience further strengthened our relationships with each other.