Open MInd, Open Heart - My Family Travels

After 27 hours on an airplane, bus, car, and feet we arrived in the low valleys of Lunahuana, Peru. We were eighteen teenagers meeting for the first time, embarking on a journey that would open our change our lives.

The first night was full of awkward silence, mostly due to utter exhaustion. At sundown, we retired to beautiful handmade hammocks. They were very comfortable IF you figured out how to lie in them. Some of us ended up on the floor the first night, but we eventually got used to our hovering beds. With practice came skill, and with skill came comfort.

â–º  Quarter Finalist 2011 Teen Travel Writing Scholarship

We awoke with the morning sun to a traditional Peruvian breakfast of bread, fresh juice and caramel strawberry crepes! Once were satiated and rested, we put on our hiking boots and headed to the market. We were immersed with typical Peruvian culture and saw new and exotic things. The fruit was fresh, colorful, and local. More importantly, it was incredibly tasty! From the cactus fruit to the passion fruit, I was in awe!

After a late lunch, we walked to the village where we met some local children. It wasn’t long before we were playing soccer together. With a simple smile and the passing of a soccer ball, a language barrier was brought down by a common sport. We were able to communicate and connect with the children on a level that required no words.

When we came back to camp, we enjoyed an authentic Peruvian meal that ended with chocotejos, a traditional dessert (and possibly the best part of the trip). After dinner we stargazed. The rural sky was pitch black and bursting with shooting stars and bright constellations. It was exciting to see the infamous Southern Cross pointing towards the South Pole – only visible in the southern hemisphere. By the end of the third, we had truly gotten to know each and the awkward silence had ceased. Our late night laughter echoed through the valley.

Each day, we worked in a school with adorable children eager to learn! When asked what they wanted to learn, they all cheered, "Ingles! Ingles!" In this three-room school, we found a group of children just like us in spirit. They were small and innocent with eyes sparkling with imagination. These children, who seemingly had close to nothing, waited in anticipation to learn from total strangers. Their excitement over learning from foreign teenagers made us fall in love with each and every one of them. Its incredible how much we take the basic privilege of school for granted.

Speaking of taking things for granted; showers. We didn’t have running water. We kept putting off the issue of bathing. After a few days, we agreed it was needed and the river was our best bet. Being early winter in Peru, the water was freezing cold. As we stood at the river’s edge in total darkness we began to have second thoughts. Once we were submerged, it felt good to be clean and it was actually quite an exciting experience. Being together helped, despite the temperature. Well, you know what they say; the group that bathes in a river, together, stays together.

After nine days, our time in Peru was coming to an end. Though it was short, it was an experience I would never forget. It taught me to take chances, indulge in the exotic, and use my education in the fullest way possible. I am so lucky to have been a part of something that not only bettered the lives of Peruvian children, but also bettered my own life.

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