Update from Aaron Schwartz - Peru
By Aaron Schwartz
As we walked by fields of purple flowers, the warm scent of eucalyptus heavy in the air, the distant rumble of thunder sounded like a tease, as though the clouds, too, were chuckling in delight at the beauty of this afternoon. The sun shone brightly, the grey thunderheads above distant mountains, and Chad and I continued our stroll through the rural outskirts of Urubamba.
While Urubamba feels very much like a miniature city – mototaxis whirring by, narrow streets of connected houses and shops, and sidewalks filled with people – a ten-minute walk brings one to neat rows of farms, crumbling stone walls with cacti emerging from their cracks, the sound of water trickling down narrow irrigation canals, and oxen abound; it is not uncommon to stumble upon Inca ruins, and in turn, allow one to feel like a modern day Indiana Jones. This is typical countryside here, and each week, Chad and I have been exploring more of it, step by step. It has quickly become clear why the Inca called this place the Sacred Valley.
Before we knew it, the distant, innocent rain clouds were upon us. The sun was not completely obscured, however, and it seemed that the clouds focused beams of sunlight onto a distant rocky peak – a trick of the sky to further accentuate the beauty of this place. A light drizzle turned into a steady rain, and we soon found ourselves in a downpour. We ran back down the dirt road looking for shelter. There! In that store! After we spent a minute or two waiting, drenched, in the tiny convenience store, the owner hurried in, along with two other Peruvians seeking shelter from the rain. When the owner saw us awkwardly standing there, she looked up at us, a huge grin on her face, and waved us to some seats around a table. ¡Sientate! ¡Sientate! Sit down! Sit down! We sat down. After a few brief moments of silence, the conversation started. And long after the rain stopped, it continued. Where are you from? What brings you to Urubamba? How do you like it here? Chad and I asked just as many questions. What are your names? Have you ever hiked up the mountain to “Los Dos Torres”? Have you ever heard of ProPeru? We talked and smiled and laughed. Soon, we were being taught greetings and phrases in Quechua, the indigenous language of the Incas that is still widely spoken in the rural areas of Peru. Chad and I received tips on hiking, and we learned that the owner of the store would be coming down to the ProPeru office the coming Monday to buy a new water filter. Strangers had quickly become friends, and Chad and I knew that we would soon be returning to have another talk in our favorite new store.
As we walked back to our homes on the damp trail, I realized that there was more to the beauty of this place than meets the eye. Here in Peru, there is not just a natural beauty - terraced farmland, sweeping vistas of snowcapped mountains, flowers of all shades and scents – but a human beauty as well. I’m not talking about physical appearances. I’m talking about the warmth and love, the genuine kindness and dignified humility, of so many of the people that I’ve encountered here. I see it in the affection in which a passing by Peruvian will say “Buenos Dias” as much as I feel it in the enthusiastic embrace of a cousin whom I am meeting for the first time. During my volunteer work, the Peruvians that I’ve encountered have not only warmly welcomed me into their homes, but given me food, drink and discussion.
We happened to run into the other Peruvians who sat with us in the store for a second time on the road back to Urubamba. We learned that they were both heading to a festival at which their children were performing. As we talked to them in the store, they did not seem worried about being late to the festival, but talked and smiled in such a relaxed manner that it seemed as though the store was exactly where they had meant to be. Indeed, one of the most incredible characteristics of Peruvian life that I’ve encountered during two months in the Sacred Valley is the relaxed sense of time and place here. Many of the Peruvians I’ve met aren’t driven by their watches or their jobs, but move as the current of their day takes them. From what I’ve noticed, time is not an enemy here, and from my host family and Peruvian friends, I’ve learned that a common pastime is nothing more than sitting around and talking for hours. It is such a simple and beautiful characteristic– to embrace the power of conversations and personal interactions, and to live each second to its fullest rather than using one’s time to worry about the future.
A chance rainstorm allowed Chad and me to meet new friends, learn some new words in Quechua and share a truly Peruvian moment. But more than just “expecting the unexpected” here, I’ve been trying to “embrace the unexpected” - living in the present as many of the Peruvians I’ve met do to gain the most out of every moment and every new experience. I encounter incredible new people, places, ideas, and foods daily, and each is a new opportunity to discover the simple beauty all around me here in Peru.