Lesson #29: Where you are in the world matters greatly
As desert turns to mountains and my spot on the Yungay express gets a bit more bouncy, I am left staring out the window as the Cordierlla Blanca takes shape outside, awe struck by my love for this incredible country.
Peru. I studied abroad here three years ago and this place left an impression on me that I found hard to identify. As my first solo extended stay in a foreign country I attributed the almost spiritual feeling to the timing of the experience in my personal life history. The timing was crucial, after three years at college in the town next to where I grew up I needed a change of pace, I needed to taste independence in the same way that my friends already had by leaving home, I yearned to grow in new ways that Massachusetts no longer allowed me to do.
My first trip to Peru was about me, as selfish as that may sound, a twenty year old figuring out who she is outside of the world that raised her. I left home with an insatiable desire to learn more about myself and my time in Peru helped me do just that.
Three years later and I am back, this time with a much more self assured idea of who I am, with more confidence in my ability to thrive in situations far removed from my comfort zone, and a deep rooted understanding that for the current moment I must pursue my child like curiosity about the world.
Now as I look around I think less about myself and more about the land that I am in, and for the first time it really hits me how incredible this country is. How quite possibly my previous experience had equal parts to do with the personal timing of the adventure and the actual place where I started this whole lifestyle that I have no intention of quitting anytime soon.
So what is it about Peru? A place of extremes: world’s biggest, most complex, deepest… The second highest mountain range in the world, the highest navigable lake, the deepest canon, the best left point break for surfers, one of the most ancient and complex world cultures, a food scene that is absolutely booming, the largest desert city, the only major world city that is not accessible by road, a place where superlatives explode but yet that’s not the essence of what makes this country incredible.
Could it be the food then? The tantalizing synthesis of Asian cooking techniques and century old Andean ingredients, such as quinoa and potatoes (yes, potatoes originated in Peru not Ireland). Purchase a street snack, a stuffed potato of succulent braised beef, finely diced peppers and onions, and a couple salty olives for a mere dollar and easily call it lunch. Originally elevated by Peruvian born Gaston Acurio as a new world cuisine to watch, complex Peruvian plates leaves the country with a lot to be proud of.
Yet as anyone who has ever tried to subsist alone on good dining knows it’s not quite enough, or we would all long ago have put down the self help books and simply run to any pizzeria in Italy to find happiness. Could it be the people then? Plagued with a tumultuous past Peruvians have continued onwards and upwards despite recent episodes of genocide, corrupt political leaders, and an ongoing struggle for indigenous rights and equality among Peru’s statistically powerful (though not politically powerful) Quechua and Aymara speaking inhabitants. A place that has overcome so much means that it’s people are strong, resilient, and hopeful that with a whole lot of hard work things will improve. A place where resilience is palpable and a hearty laugh has been known to cure some pretty deep wounds.
Yes, I have met some wonderful people while I’ve been here, but there are also wonderful people in Thailand yet it didn’t leave the same impression on me. Perhaps then it is the obvious factor that strikes a traveler upon initial arrival in Peru, history. You’ve seen pictures of Machu Picchu you’ve heard of the Inca’s. Do you know how far back the history goes though? To the civilizations of the Wari, Chimu, Moche, cultures that preceded the Inca’s and set the stage for their grand advancements. Peoples that left a huge cultural stamp on the country of Peru, cultural influences that can still quite easily be seen today. However more important than cultural contributions there is a pride here that lies in the past, a pride that creates a sturdy foundation for which the future has grown from.
I don’t mean to sit here doing un-commissioned work for the tourism board of Peru, I am simply struck by how much a place can affect you. Unsure of the certain elements that give a place that undeniable energy, what I do know is that where you are does matter. Places can either fuel you or drain you. So many of us strive to make the most out of wherever we are in the world, often because circumstance has placed us there. However, why do we feel such a burden to prove to ourselves that we can thrive anywhere?
Twice now I have been to this country and felt a certain energy within myself that I find hard to explain, a calm, a settled contentment, an effortless optimism. I was just in Ecuador, a country that possesses many of the same factors as Peru and yet I didn’t feel the same. How you feel in a certain place is one of those things that can’t be intellectually analyzed and explained, sometimes all of the factors are there and yet you don’t feel settled. Find a place that connects to you, for whatever the reasons may be. The people, the landscape, the history, the cuisine and go, find the places that fuel you.