Why did I decide to travel to Peru alone? I was 21 and I wanted to step out of my comfort zone, broaden my horizon and travel to a place that I didn’t know much about, where I could learn and grow while giving something back in exchange.
With an open mind, I started browsing the internet to get a picture of the possibilities. Then I heard about this small organization, run by a Peruvian man and a Dutch woman, connecting volunteers from Europe to small volunteering projects in Cusco, Peru. I’ve dreamt about traveling to South America. Peru sounded mysterious— I was attracted to the idea of going to the country that was once flourishing in the Inca era. That night I couldn’t sleep, my mind was running with curiosity and the next morning I knew: Peru is the place to go. It just felt right.
A few months later, I found myself in Peru staying with a guest family and attending the Academia Latinoamericana de Español early in the morning to learn the basics of Spanish and in the evenings, getting ready to volunteer at the orphanage. It felt like stepping in a warm bath, surrounded by Peruvian people who welcomed me and explained the stories of their ancestors, and were patient with my limited knowledge of the Spanish language. Very soon my host family, the other volunteers, and even strangers at the market turned into close friendships. Even though I was traveling alone, I didn’t feel alone at all—I felt connected. And it’s this feeling of connectedness that was integral to my experience—allowing me to see in myself the things I loved about Peru. Here are top three reasons you should discover yourself in Peru.
Quick Integration into the Local Culture
When I started working at an elderly’s home and an after-school homework class – I volunteered at these two different projects, one in the morning and one in the late afternoon – I felt I was fully immersed into the local life. I moved to an apartment with other volunteers and we walked with other commuters through Cusco each morning and evening. We had a delicious desayuno (lunch) every day, sometimes cooking our own meals with fresh fruits and veggies from the small grocery store around the corner or from the market, sometimes in one of the cheap restaurants in town.
I was flowing with the rhythm of the town. Strolling the streets of the city, I learned something new every day, started discovering places off the beaten track, but also the downside of being in a developing country. I saw the huge differences between poverty and wealth, some people living on the streets and trying to get some money from tourism, other people going to universities and driving expensive cars. I learned that people didn’t always have money for a complete meal, couldn’t pay for hot water or had to work all day to take care of their family (and therefore couldn’t be home with their kids to play with them or cook for them). Although it’s confronting and hard to see, I believe it’s part of discovering yourself to realize there are so many people in the world who do not have the privilege to even think about going abroad, crossing their borders and broadening their horizon.
The Unique Connection to Nature
On the weekends, off from volunteer work, I could cross the borders of Cusco to go to the Valle Sagrado (Sacred Valley), to Lago Titicaca, took some time off from the volunteering to do a trekking to Machu Picchu and Colca Canyon, the valley where the condors live. These were wonderful experiences, I have many stories to tell. But I think the most important one is this: I felt like a piece of a puzzle falling into its place. Why?
It’s the reason I think you should go to Peru if you want to unleash your inner jungle. In Peru, the people are strongly connected to nature. They feel so grateful for everything nature is giving us, they feel part of it, they worship it. This mindset originates in the beliefs of the Incas, who honored Mother Earth, the sun, the water, everything in nature as deities. They believe that Mother Earth or Pachamama is divine, we should take care of her. This is opposed to what I feel is happening in our modern society; we take everything from the earth for granted, we use her resources until she is exhausted, we neglect and even destroy the nature around us. Instead, we should protect her and caress her as she nourishes us. This is natural to the Peruvian people, and I thought: finally, I found the culture where my heart belongs.
Get Inspired by the Old World
Something else I found inspiring was the way Incan beliefs survived while their society was subject to the coercion of the Spanish. When the Spanish conquered Peru, they forced the people in Peru into their own Christian beliefs, built churches instead of the Temples of the Sun and the Moon. But the Peruvian managed to maintain their core identity and their beliefs within the regimen they were forced into. Inside of the Qoricancha, a famous church in Cusco, you can find the temples that remained. This is one of the things I admire most: the ability to adapt to inevitable changes, without giving up your true nature.
The way Peruvian culture developed has inspired me to do the same: taking these ideas and the connection to nature always with me while living in a developing modern world. Travel broadens the mind and my time in Peru gave me a new perspective that brought me closer to myself, a self that I always carry with me, wherever I am.