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As I adjust back into my normal life in the United States, I am continuously met with the question, “How was your trip?” To anyone who will listen, I have beamed about the wonder of seeing Inca ruins up close. I have gone on about the complexities of rural tourism in Chinchero, about the cobblestone Cusco streets, and about what guinea pig really tasted like.

Language is a beautiful tool. It allows me to document things, like this trip, and it also allowed me to speak to rural farmers in Chinchero in their native tongue. Yet, there is so much that I feel will never be adequately said. What word in the English language would allow me to express the brilliance of seeing Machu Picchu at sunrise, the way that the sun peeked through fog, illuminating the UNESCO site? What could I use to describe the joy in my heart to connect on a deeper level with my new friends? Does “sad” truly encompass the weight I felt taking off from Cusco, wondering how my time in ACE went so fast?

Here are a few times from my experience that deserve an attempt at explaining the humble magic of the moment.

group of students sitting at colorful table preparing to eat
My lovely friends I ate lunch with.

1.    Sitting around a local family’s table and eating lunch as a group 
As a part of our community engagement, we ate lunch at a local family’s house. They cooked simple, delicious staples like rice, lentils, vegetables, quinoa, corn, and hot tea. The families warmly welcomed us into their homes, and we graciously ate the food —  working all day makes for hungry young adults. Sitting closely together at the table, we passed around hand sanitizer and the silverware. Each of us, with mud on our clothes, dirt streaks on our faces, and sunburnt noses, gently laughed and talked about our day. Often when we were done eating, we sat at the table and sipped tea, and a few other members of the group offered to do the dishes. There was a simplicity of the moment – the delicious, filling food, and the warm souls surrounding me.

2.    Handshakes with school children  
The school that we worked with in Pongobamba was a great experience. The children are full of life and a joy to spend time with. However, after simple introductions, my communication with the children slowed to a halt – I speak minimal Spanish. I had feelings of jealousy when I watched other members in my group have lengthy conversations with the children, as they learned about the child’s home life or things that they enjoyed. I still enjoyed games of soccer with the children, and I began to give fist bumps to one child who showed a likeness towards me. Eventually we came up with a handshake. For the rest of the day when they came near me, we exchanged our handshake and we both laughed and smiled.

overlook of sky and water
The beautiful view I got to see everyday at work.

3.    Working with locals in the community 
We worked with many folks in the community to help them complete their environmental projects. It was exciting to do manual labor and to see the progress. It was easy to be grateful about working in Peru, all I had to do was look at the beautiful landscape surrounding me and the majestic Andes Mountains on the horizon. One of the project leaders from the community told us that if he had the choice to live anywhere in the world, he would choose exactly here. Because of what he said, he helped to shine light and insight on the love that these people have for the region.

overlook of beautiful sky at sunset
Sunset at the Plaza de Armas

4.     People (and puppy!) watching in the Plaza De Armas of Cusco 
Because our lodging was located in such close proximity to the Plaza De Armas, I spent a lot of time walking through and sitting on the steps of the historic churches. Early one morning of the second week, I was working out in a small, flat area tucked on the side of the square. I heard a marching band get progressively louder, and I watched an organized group of soldiers march proudly through the streets. I was witnessing displays of Peruvian patriotism – the next day was their Independence Day. Another time, I saw a group of musicians from a school. They sat on the steps in front of the famous Cathedral of Cusco and performed candidly as a group. Other times I saw artists painting the beautiful sights, tourists from all over the world, puppies chasing each other, and women dressed in formal clothing with alpacas for the photo-op. I saw couples sharing loving moments, I saw children in awe at the architecture, but as a whole, I saw the Incan capital city create memories that will last a lifetime.

group doing team huddle with their hands and smiling
Our first day together I didn’t know how close we would get.

5.    Late nights in the hotel courtyard
“Who has a deck of cards?” we asked, “Don’t forget the speaker!” Snuggled in layers of sweatshirts and fuzzy socks, thanks to the winter season in Peru, we would meet at the tables in the hotel’s courtyard where we were staying. We brought out bars of chocolate from the market to share with the group. We sipped cartons of mango juice as music hummed in the background and cards were passed around the table. When the game had been exhausted, and when our sugar cravings were filled, we sleepily said our goodnights and walked back to our rooms. Tomorrow morning, we would wake up and head to work. Tomorrow after dinner we would return to the market for more chocolate. And tomorrow night we would play cards again.

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