Peru ECS | Amaru Homestays
As we woke up to the sounds of car horns outside our Cusco hotel window, we began the final steps of packing up our belongings. We excitedly boarded the bus to head to our next destination: Amaru. After piling our backpacks and several 20-liter boxes of water into a van, we began our windy travel through the steep mountains.
Our first stop of the day was a scenic overlook at the meeting place of the Urubamba and Pisac Valleys. We were about halfway into our hour-long drive to a school outside of Amaru when we took a brief break to stretch our legs, snap a couple pictures, and take in the sounds of the rushing rivers below.
We unloaded ourselves outside of the gate of a collegio or high school near Amaru in the Pisac district. Following our extensive conversations completely in Spanish with current students we had a group game of volleyball before parting ways as we embarked on our final stretch to Amaru. This school served as secondary education for Dayana. Dayana has been spending time with us the past few days in Cusco, and Amaru is her village. Her father, Ysidro, would be the one to receive us, and every one of our homestay families is related to Dayana’s mother and father as brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Dayana has shared her life story with us as she was the first girl of the Amaru village to attend and graduate from college. I found her story of perseverance astonishing and inspiring, and I looked forward to seeing what her home life was like before Cusco.
Traditional music echoed in the cool mountain air from drums and pan flutes as we were welcomed formally to the village we would call home for the next three days. One by one, we received a necklace containing flowers from Ysidro, Dayana’s dad, before getting flower petals placed on our heads. After a group introduction, we sat down for a traditional lunch in Amaru consisting of dehydrated potato soup, other types of potatoes, quinoa, fresh salad, and corn patty tortillas. For me, this was the freshest and most authentic meal I have ever had, and there was little left on our plates in the end.
We then met or homestay families, and each mother and father proceeded to put unique clothing made by the mother on each of the students that would be staying with them. The girls received traditional hats, skirts, and shawls while the boys received traditional hats and ponchos. It became evident very quickly that strenuous activity would be far more difficult with our intricate clothing.
In order to learn about the traditional and still currently used techniques of agriculture, we headed to the hillside to watch and attempt to learn the techniques of a foot plow. The students and villagers laughed as we tried to replicate their demonstration of simultaneously jumping and balancing on a small plank of wood while holding onto a handle. In what probably seemed like an excessive amount of time to the men, we finished a small plot, turning over the soil which is generally done in the wetter months like March.
In an intense game of soccer or fútbol as it is called, students quickly grew tired in our tradition clothing and the elevation of 12,500 feet, both of which were unfamiliar circumstances to a soccer game for us.
Following a close loss to the Amaru players, we headed back to Ysidro’s house and outside meeting area that served as our home base. To show our gratitude to the families receiving us we gave a presentation on American history and culture accompanied by the Colorado flag, a presentation about Indians, and pictures of Colorado attractions and mountains. Thanks to our two Chinese students, CiCi and Jack, the Amaru people also learned about Chinese culture. My favorite part was singing “America The Beautiful” along with a fellow singer, Hannah. And the group sang “Imagine” to Annika’s ukulele accompaniment. At the end of our presentation, we gifted the villagers a volleyball, soccer, and football (yes, American, which we got the chance to teach them about) as well as a suitcase full of school supplies. Ysidro thanked us for our presentation and showed immense gratitude for the school supplies that would serve as a tremendous help to all of the children.
In stark contrast to yesterday morning, Sarah, my homestay partner, and I awoke to the clear sound of birds chirping and a river outside our wooden door flowing. As Sarah put it, we went to bed with the moon and woke up with the sun. I think this is a nice break from our lives at home where we always rely on alarm clocks, while here we depend solely on nature. This helps us understand not only what it was like for the Incas and other civilizations, but also the lives of the Amaru villagers to this day.
After breakfast, we visited our fourth and final school of this trip for primary school students, and we got the chance to exchange the names of colors in Quechua and English before teaching them some American games and playing soccer. The school sits in the heart of the village, and right next to the soccer field were two cows munching away on some grass (now that’s not something you see every day in the US).
The weather was much rainier then we had anticipated, so we headed back to our main meeting area to have some down time and pass a football. In Amaru, I have seen more mud than I have ever seen in my life (sorry, moms, our shoes aren’t exactly coming back clean). Later, I was astounded to watch the mothers do traditional weaving demonstrations which are how they make homemade belts, table runners, and scarves.
Around dusk, Dayana’s father and brother gave us a presentation on traditional music equipped with a PVC pipe flute and handmade drum. They then shared the modern music they use for celebrations and crop planting on drums accompanied with wood blocks, and an accordion. This music still maintains their traditional roots by utilizing Quechua lyrics and traditional dancing. For both types of music, our mamas along with some of their daughters showed us how to dance and utilize our traditional clothing to spin around majestically.
We headed home after dinner, and Sarah and I got the chance to converse with our family about their lives here in the mountains, and we told them about the US. I was left emotional when our Moma gave each of us handmade bracelets as a memento of this experience. I put my head on my pillow with happiness in my heart, but also with a touch of sadness as tomorrow would be our goodbyes. Nevertheless, we will be returning back to our technological and interconnected lives with a newfound respect and appreciation for cultures different from our own, and many stories to tell.