Various solutions have been posed as to the problem of the depreciated value of American currency in Europe and the subsequent high cost of traveling abroad. My solution? Go to South America! This summer I had the experience of a lifetime in the small South American country of Peru. Along with five other students from my high school and three adult chaperones I traveled to a small city in northern Peru for a service and cultural emersion experience like no other. And the price was right. The currency exchange rate was a fantastic one American dollar to three Peruvian sole.
Peru is a nation in poverty, but one that is on its way to improvement. New industries and tourism are predicted to help this nation grow over the course of the next decades and improve the quality of life for its inhabitants. The capital, Lima, is a busy “Americanized” and tourist-filled city with five-star restaurants, hotels and casinos. Then there is famous Machu Picchu in the south, the ancient ruins of an Incan civilization. Along with its beautiful beaches, Peru has much to boast of as far as tourist attractions.
Our route, however, only passed through Lima and never came close to Machu Picchu. We spent our time in arid northern Peru in the small, and poor, city/town of Chulucanas. There are few paved roads in Chulucanas. Blocks are made up of rows of shacks made of a mix of concrete, brick, adobe, sometimes even just sticks. However, Chulucanas, like the rest of the country, is a city of hope. Everywhere brightly painted walls encourage citizens to beautify their city and welcome tourists. And there is beauty. A lovely plaza in the center of the town is a social center with wonderful gardens and not a speck of trash. The people themselves are beautiful. They were incredibly welcoming, friendly, fun-loving, and more than anything, excited that we were there to learn about their culture.
During the mornings, the group of us would leave the city and go out into more remote villages where we painted two schools, a chapel, and visited the people. It was in these more remote areas where we met the greatest poverty, and the greatest kindness. The people insisted on giving us a meal wherever we went and no matter how little they appeared to have. People said things to us like “Thank you so much for coming. No one ever comes and visits us.” I saw my very first working one-room school house in one of these villages. A tiny room held about 25 students ranging from the age of five to fifteen. Students do not have books and have very few supplies. Each has only one copybook and a pencil and meticulously copies the lessons the lone teacher writes on the blackboard. Their penmanship and neatness, needless to say, is flawless.
Like any trip where one is confronted with such poverty, scenes like these imprinted themselves on my mind and are both painful and inspiring. I made friends both my age, older and younger who I greatly miss and think about often. Peru will forever hold a piece of my heart and I look forward to the day when I’ll be able to return. It is a country of beautiful landscapes, excellent dancing, delicious food, and, above all, incredible people.
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