Daydreaming of trees filled with birds of every color in the spectrum and the prospect of encountering exotic, undiscovered species, I and thirty others from my school ventured into the Amazon, thrilled for the jaguars and anacondas which just had to be lurking in the shadows. But in the animals’ stead, we found only thick, goopy mud that explained why our eco-lodge had provided us with thigh-high boots before our trek.
It would have been easy to whine about the letdown, our filthy clothes, and the ten-mile hike ahead of us. Yet somehow, our slog through the mud morphed into a new adventure. The deep, thick mud around us, our former obstacle, became an interminable supply of “warrior paint” to swipe under our eyes as we marched to the end of the trail. To celebrate our finish, we lined up on both sides of the last stretch to form a raucous “spirit tunnel,” cheering on the rest of the group as they emerged from the perilous path.
So unfolded one of the many unpredictable and indelible moments of my trip to Peru during my senior year. Accompanied by thirty classmates and six teachers, I drank in the unique culture and savored unrepeatable experiences in an exploration which defied my expectations and dispelled my prior hesitations.
Although the idea of a week in an exotic country, surrounded by many familiar faces, would seem incredibly appealing to most people my age, I felt slightly apprehensive, seeing how my best friend had dropped out of the trip due to last-minute circumstances and most of the other students were a year younger than me, with pre-set cliques which would no doubt leave me awkwardly out of place.
Happily, my worries seemed ridiculous once I introduced myself to the other students and gradually adjusted to being in a big group with few inhibitions. With everyone dining together, we intermingled and chattered excitedly about our hopes for the trip and, of course, the foreign cuisine before us. Dinner in Lima involved marveling over the eye-popping food that resembled the variety of a painter’s palette as we enjoyed fresh ceviche and recoto relleno, or stuffed chile peppers. Cusco presented more adventurous delicacies, such as steaks of alpaca, the cuddly creatures we had visited only a few days before, and whole, roasted cuy, otherwise known as… guinea pig.
Away from the dining room, sharing exhilarating and challenging experiences cemented our new friendships. Whitewater river rafting kept us working together to paddle over the rough rapids, as we chanted in unison (“I don’t know what I’ve been told…”) to keep everyone paddling in the same rhythm.
On the last night, when the adventurous cuisine caught up to our stomachs, our little bottles of anti-diarrhea medication were shared freely. As I eyed the bright green pills dubiously, one of my new friends assured me brightly that it tasted “just like mint chocolate chip ice cream… only without the chocolate chips or the ice cream!” I laughed, and swallowed the tablet fearlessly.
As we clambered onto the plane returning home, I listened to everyone’s chatter about their plans to include as many Peruvian clothes and accessories as possible into their outfits on the first day back at school and smiled in contentment. Even when my anxiety about where I would fit in had melted away, I could never have dreamed of how united we would eventually become. From hiking up the laborious stone steps of Machu Picchu and salsa dancing together in a discoteca to fishing for piranhas in the Amazon and eating churros con chocolate in Lima, our collective, unforgettable experiences were made all the sweeter by each other’s company.
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