The First Few Days

Text by Ian, photos by Sami

Life ain’t always sweet: a first cup of coffee in Peru
After being on a plane for the bulk of the past day or so, there was definitely an eagerness to do something to get myself moving. We flew from Washington, to El Salvador, to Cusco Peru, where we were met with hospitality. The group had gone to a local restaurant called “Organic Green” where we had a mind ful lunch filled with local and fresh ingredients so that we could touch base with our goals.

The daylight showed a busy Cusco, with plenty of people going about their lives, children playing soccer, and the hustle of the street vendors. However, the night life revealed something different.

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I went running around town that night and it became clear to me rather quickly that this was an entirely different fish tank than any other I had swam in, before. My eyes were met with things that made me realize that perhaps this experience was not going to be a colorful bead to add to a bracelet.

Traveling can provide an opportunity to see things with a fresh perspective. And although Peru is captivating with vast, colorful, and mountainous landscapes, its life struggles are still very real. Among these struggles include poverty, that we often turn a blind eye to in our modern and “civilized” world. Reading about it is one thing, seeing it and feeling it is something else entirely.

It is a sobering experience to be doing something as simple as running and be stopped in your tracks to see streets with stray and hungry dogs sleeping. To see families gathered around a pot of rice in the night, and people trying their hands at selling their hand made goods to try and earn an honest living. The streets too, are where they will sleep.

Being a student in a classroom, we often remain sheltered, even protected by the covers of our books. Upon venturing out into the international world, we see things in a fresh and raw way. Many of these things persist too, in our home country. And yet returning to the hotel that evening, it warranted a certain introspection that I had yet to experience in some time. Will our efforts make a difference? And, will telling the story of our continental neighbors inspire others to mobilize?
Or, will we continue to ignore the shadows of our existence?

Up, up and away: A breath of fresh air
This morning we were met with good weather, and a plentiful breakfast of mango juice, quinoa granola, biscuits and coffee. The guide, Giovanna had plans to bring us to a number of sacred sites around the area. Her enthusiasm and knowledge was apparent.

We boarded a bus and traveled up a mountain. At one point she had explained that one of the mountains was “hers” and how she resonated with it. She told us that the Peruvian people are often bound to a particular mountain, and the mountain bound to that person. Through their lifetime, if they are met with times of struggle or strife they could go to their mountain in search for wisdom. It is a way for the people to spiritually connect to their natural surroundings.

Through this practice they are able to stay grounded even in their peaks, and maintain hope at their lows, and in this way find balance in their lives. On top of the mountains we could see the peak of glaciers, and we learned that if we returned to that site in 15-20 years, those glaciers would be gone, revealing to the realities of climate change.

Later, we were brought to see a canyon of salt blocks. The salt, in its large and rectangular block form are worked on by the workers in the heat of the sun to prospect the salt. This work is done at an altitude well over 8,000 ft. above sea level. Table salt comes at no easy cost!

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At mid-day we were provided with lunches made by Giovanna’s husband, a chef. We sat outside and enjoyed the fresh air, good food, and company. The locals could be seen riding their mountain bikes, and it wasn’t long before we were back on the bus heading off too.

Our final destination for the day was an area site called “The Sacred Valley”. The spherical geometry of the Moray  structure has held great significance to the history and culture of the area. We learned that the structure is still used annually for musicians to gather into orchestra to play for the locals. The monument is huge, and the energy was real.

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After, we set out on a bus ride back to base. Our travels and experiences so far have been humbling in more ways than one. Although this stop is Cusco is not a central part of the study, it provides water under the bridge to help us peer into what is yet to come.

As we leave the hotel and begin the next step of the study, I cannot help to wonder. The year is now 2016, and we are still here on planet Earth. We live to see dawning of another year and many of the challenges we seek to resolve are very much intact. However with daily efforts perhaps we can see the beginning of a new chapter.
It is true that as a population we are learning more about our environment, and our impacts on it, some more sustainable than others. We see and hear about wild life threatened, environmental degradation, and climate change. We have also seen that what has happened in the last 100 years exceeds what has happened environmentally in the last 10,000, and not for the best.

And so as students now entering the international realm, we ask ourselves: What can we do to preserve our Earth? And, will our actions echo across the ages, long after we are gone? In search for answers, “TFO” steps into the unknown and heads into the Amazon rainforest.

These rainforests, although they cover only 2% of the Earth’s surface area, provide over 98% of Earth’s bio diversity. For life, there is perhaps no better sanctuary to seek answers to many of our unsolved mysteries. As we enter into the year of the monkey, we leave it to them to point us in the right direction. What we are asking for is a revolution in our way of thinking about the environment.

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