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Global Education

Student recounts February trip to Peru

By Sammie Levin
Published: March 2011

Along with 14 other South upperclassmen and Spanish teachers Viviana Planine and Marla Weiner,  I recently spent two and one-half weeks in Peru—or as some fondly call it, “Peraah”—on a language and community service trip.
From February 16 through March 4, we toured the country, lived with Peruvian families, took Spanish classes, worked in local orphanages, suffered excruciating stomach pains, and (most importantly) dined on fine cuisine. It was an eye-opening experience that I am sure none of us will ever forget.
In the beginning of the trip, we spent the days sightseeing and the nights staying together in hostels.
We started in Lima, walking and busing around the city, and then took a plane to Cusco and toured neighboring cities and villages.
We saw Incan ruins, learned about ancient rituals and the process of dying and weaving threads, and ate at a lot of buffets.
Since the elevation of Cusco is nearly 11,000 feet, the first few days were spent acclimating to the high altitude with the help of a plethora of medication and mate de coca (an herbal tea made using the leaves of the cocoa plant).
Some fared better than others. We kept a day-by-day log of who on the trip was still “alive”—senior Jenny Fleisher was the final survivor. “What a champ,” senior Max Levine wrote about her on his frequently updated Facebook status.
On Sunday, February 20, we went to Machu Picchu, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Words cannot really do Machu Picchu justice—even “majestic,” which almost always gets the job done, sells it short.
To get there, we took a lethal bus ride up a narrow, winding mountain. In 30 minutes, there we were, facing the beautiful, expansive “Lost City of the Incans.”
We walked throughout it as we learned about its history from our fearless guide, Percy. Despite a downpour of rain toward the end, it was amazing. That night we (sans my backpack) traveled back to Cusco to begin the homestay portion of the trip.
For the next two weeks, we stayed with families in houses spread throughout the city. There were two travelers in each house, except for Levine (“El Valiente”), who stayed alone. Senior Blair Borden and I lived with Doris, a lovely 60 year-old woman, and her 90 year-old mother—our dear abuelita—while many other students had younger kids in their houses.
Mondays through Fridays, we took Spanish classes at a nearby school for four hours in the morning. We were divided by level into classes of about two to five students each. They were very different from Spanish classes at South, in the sense that they were conducted entirely in Spanish and were based largely on casual conversations.
“My Spanish improved twofold,” senior Alex Seibel said.
After school, we would all return to our separate houses to eat lunch with our families. In Peru, the custom is to have a large lunch and small dinner. A typical lunch consisted of soup, a main course such as chicken and rice, and fruit.
After lunch, we went to orphanages for approximately three hours. We were divided among several orphanages, some for babies and young kids, and others for adolescents and young adults.
We talked with the kids, taught them English, played games with them, and got our hair braided (or put into cornrows—long hair, don’t care).
Though it was sad to be in the orphanages, many students made lasting bonds with the kids and learned a lot. “Working with the kids in the orphanages was really rewarding and forced us to learn Spanish quickly,” Borden said.
At night, we ate dinner with our families, but since dinners were small, we usually met up afterwards to eat at local cafes and restaurants. Pancakes with caramelized bananas were a group favorite.
On weekends, we did not go to school or the orphanages; instead, we went on sightseeing excursions. We visited several markets, more Incan ruins, and a farm with alpacas and llamas.
We accomplished a lot, covered significant territory, and made countless memories in our two and one-half week stay in Peru. Though there were some things we were ready to say goodbye to—like the lack of oxygen, the reckless drivers, “the trucha,” and the aggressive recruiters of InkaTeam—it was really hard to leave. I strongly recommend the trip and truly hope that I will go back sometime in the future.

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