In Huascaron National Park in the Cordillera Blanca mountain range of Peru, we embarked on our 5 day trek. Reaching an altitude of over 15,000 ft, we hiked through sunshine, rain, and snow. Reaching the “most beautiful campsite in the world” on our second day of trekking, we were surrounded on all sides by mountains and glaciers. The pale blue glacial lakes contrasted the dark peaks of mountains, giving the valley an otherworldly feeling. Our both physically and mentally challenging trek, the hardest of the semester, took us to new heights and tested our perseverance as we immersed ourselves in the beauty of nature.
Our day hike to Laguna Churup helped us acclimatize and prepare for the five day Santa Cruz trek. As we hiked along a ridge to the huge lake, we were completely surrounded by waterfalls, rock faces, and shrubbery. We reached the laguna and stood in awe of a vast glacier in front of us. The scenery was captivating as we ate lunch, reflected on the semester, and took many photos. We then headed back down the ridge to Huaraz, where we packed and prepared for the Santa Cruz trek.
Welcome to Peru! Our first stop in Peru after crossing the border, Tumbes, was also the first place Pizarro, the ancient Spanish conquistador, landed to begin his conquest of the Incan empire. Although we only spent one night in Tumbes, we were stunned by the loudness of the city and the immense heat of the coast. In the heart of the city, we explored a heightened level of hustle and bustle, with tuktuks and street meats everywhere. Even though our time in Tumbes was short, it left an impression on each of us.
In Cayambe we stayed at Hacienda Guachala, a hacienda turned hostel, where we learned about the colonial hacienda system and how it still affects large parts of Ecuador. While at Guachala we visited a large rose plantation just down the road. 80% of the roses grown in the plantation are exported to other countries, most notably the United States, Russia, and parts of Europe. Since the 1970s, rose plantations owned by wealthy third parties have been cropping up around Ecuador. Ecuador hosts the ideal weather for growing roses with 12 hours of sunlight and warm equatorial weather every day. Our exploration of the rose plantation taught us about the most beautiful backbone of Ecuador’s economy.
The El Altar trek in Ecuador is known for its steep climbs and impressive views. Our three day trek consisted of many physical challenges as we hiked up a mountain with packs on our backs. The second day of our trek took us to new heights as we hiked to a stunning volcano lake where we ate lunch and took many photos. The first of many, this trek tested our mental and physical capabilities as we immersed ourselves in nature. The El Altar trek rewarded our efforts with its mesmerizing rivers and captivating landscapes.
Agualongo, a small town in the hillside of the Andes Mountains, is home to approximately 40 families, including my host parents Rosa and Alberto, their children, and their grandchildren. Despite the language barrier, Rosa and Alberto welcomed us into their home with warm hearts and lots of food. I learned about their lives working at one of the largest haciendas in Ecuador and I played many games with their grandchildren. Despite being faced with hardship throughout their lives, Rosa and Alberto are extremely passionate about their children’s education both in school and in life. All the children and grandchildren have special jobs helping out on their family farm and cleaning up around the house. I deeply enjoyed connecting with my host family and I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to learn about how their lifestyle differs from my own.
Alina, the five year old granddaughter of Rosa and Alberto, was initially shy, hiding behind her mother. After a few days, she started opening up to me, holding my hand and playing with me in the sand and mud. We connected through our mud balls and our walks around the family farm.
The twins, Chari and Roni, are loud. They constantly wanted to show us new parts of the farm and all the animals. They love playing with the “pollitos” and doing cartwheels on the dirt floor. Their energy was contagious as we played soccer and cards with them.
Rosa and Alberto are two of the warmest, most accepting people I’ve ever met. They immediately embraced our weird quirks – 7 cups of coffee at breakfast and going to bed at 9:30pm. We also welcomed their lifestyle differences by attempting to speak Spanish and consuming rice and beans at every meal. We helped out around their farm and had many conversations with them about their busy lives.
Rosa and Alberto both embody a strong work ethic. On their farm, Rosa wakes up at 5:30am to feed the chickens and cows. Then she walks around the corn fields, watering and tending to the corn and beans. She ends her day by making dinner for her entire family as well as her adult daughter who has five children – enough food for 12 people each night. Alberto hops onto his motorcycle every morning at 7:00am to head to the hacienda, where he works as a blacksmith. He constantly pushes his children to succeed in school so that they do not have to work on the hacienda as he does. Together, Rosa and Alberto strive to give their children every opportunity for success.
Otavalo is known for its boisterous markets and crowded streets. In Otavalo we had lots of time to explore the city and the culture of the Kichwa people. We took a tour of the works of Tenaz, a famous indigenous mural painter who dedicates his work to the indigenous people and visited a ‘living museum’ of Kichwa culture. We also roamed the markets, bargaining for alpaca sweaters and bracelets. Our exploration of the Kichwa culture through both Tenaz’s art and the history of the city set up our time with our indigenous homestay families in Agualongo, where we learned about indigenous customs even more.