During the spring break of my 2014 spring semester, I got the exciting chance to be part of the international service team at my school! Six other students and I made a trip to Peru with the goal of installing a solar electric system in Corpani Peñas, a village located high in the mountains of Peru with no access to electricity. After weeks of installation training and preparation, we were heading to South America, ready for the many adventures ahead!
For most of the trip, we stayed in Urubamba, Peru. The city is located in the Sacred Valley of the Incas, with magnificent, green mountains surrounding it. Here, we tried foods like lomo saltado, a tasty Peruvian dish with potato, beef, rice, and onions, and ceviche rich with seafood from the coast. We had the chance to hike up one of the nearby mountains on what is locally known as the “cross hike,” which consisted of trailing up a path overgrown with plants and shaky rocks until, at last, reaching the top, where a giant cross overlooks the entire town and surrounding valley. It was a view like nothing I had ever seen before!
Installing the solar panels gave us the opportunity to stay a couple days in the village of Corpani Peñas. The people living in the village spoke in Quechua, with only a few individuals
knowing any Spanish. Quechua is an indigenous language, once the official language of the Incas, and now stands as the official language of Peru, in addition to Spanish. This was a language I had never heard of before, and was fascinated by hearing it spoken so much around me! On one of the nights spent here, we were treated by the head of the village to a special dinner where we were served cuy, a popular dish in Peru. Cuy, as odd as it may sound to us in the United States, is essentially cooked guinea pig! With hesitancy and curiosity, we gratefully ate the dish, which the village only prepares on special occasions. After a few cautious bites, the whole team was pleasantly surprised by the delicious meal.
The solar electric installation process was successful, despite there being several slight bumps in the road. It took the whole team and community members to brainstorm when materials failed to work, but teamwork and determination allowed us to pull through!
Following our stay there, we traveled to Ollantaytambo, a historic site of Incan ruins in another part of the Sacred Valley. Our guide told us the history behind some of the ruins, like how the giant terraces built along the side of the mountain were used for agriculture, and how some of the buildings were used as storehouses for food and seeds. Some of the structures, our guide shared with us, have archeologists and scientists still puzzled as to how the Incas were able to construct them, for example, walls built with massive, finely carved rocks all perfectly placed to fit like a puzzle, and packed together so closely, not even a pin can squeeze through! Viewing this historic site and hearing some of its history was incredible!
Our final stop of the trip, only a few hours before heading to the airport, was to the famous city of Cusco, once the capital city of the Incan Empire! Cusco is home to some amazing churches and buildings that were constructed after the Spanish conquest. We visited the Plaza de San Francisco, and made our way around the nearby market, where all sorts of clothing, jewelry, and foods were being sold. Knowing Spanish definitely came in handy here when bargaining for prices! What really caught my eye were the beautiful scarves being sold at one of the stands, stitched with vibrant colors and made from alpaca wool, a material commonly used in Peru.
At the conclusion of the trip, I boarded the plane back to the United States carrying so many great memories with me. From the food, to the breathtaking sights, to the welcoming people we met, this trip to Peru was full of new and exciting experiences that helped me learn about a culture and history I had never been exposed to before. Traveling is a perfect opportunity to open up your mind about the world, and if it’s something you’d like to do, too, a great way to do that is through programs at your school or in your community!