Since I’ve Come to Peru #3

Since I’ve come to Peru, I’ve seen the Andes rising through the clouds, the city of Cusco tucked between mountains, and defined by narrow, cobbled streets, vibrant with colored textiles—rugs, shawls, hats, bags—and busy with tourists wandering and wondering about its complex history. I’ve seen colonial cathedrals and Incan ruins—the giant boulders of Saksayhuaman, the Temple of the Condor—all rock wings and curves—at Machu Picchu, the organic architecture of Pisac, the terraces of Moray. I’ve seen the Rio Urubamba, pale green and churning through the Sacred Valley. I’ve seen beyond the mountains and into my own heart.

Since I’ve come to Peru, I’ve heard the lilt of Andean flutes, the boom of fireworks, the screech of sirens and car horns, the tinkle of sheep bells, the church bells tolling 7, 10, midnight, the rush of the Urubamba and its many aqueducts, the shrill call of swallows swooping along the mountainside, the sweet song of the Andean wren filling a wooded path. I’ve heard the ancient Quechua language, the Shaman’s incantations, the silence at my core.

Since I’ve come to Peru, I’ve smelled Palo Santo burning in the tiendas in Arin and eucalyptus perfuming the air at Saksayhuaman. I have inhaled the heady smell of wet earth on farms, in fields, beside the waterfall as it misted me. I’ve smelled my own sweat and sour breath after vomiting for hours from altitude sickness. I’ve smelled mint and lavender and ginger, balms for my tired self.

Since I’ve come to Peru, I’ve tasted too much salt, quinoa in all its variety. I’ve nibbled on guinea pig and eaten seventeen kinds of potatoes. I’ve tasted barley soda and muña tea. I’ve tasted pumpkin soup, four different ways and loved them all. I’ve chewed coca leaves and sipped on coca tea. I’ve tasted the subtlest mint, brewed with ginger for tea and blended in a sweet potato mash.

Since I’ve come to Peru, I’ve felt sick and vibrant, strong and out of breath, alone and in good company. I’ve felt connected to the mountains and to my fellow travelers. I’ve felt wonder and awe at the engineering brilliance of the Incas and sadness that they and their ways were destroyed by the Conquistadors. I’ve felt curiosity about how the world might have looked if they had dominated.

Since I’ve come to Peru, I’ve learned to appreciate the spaces in between, the spaces between the mountains where the river flows and the Incans flourished, the spaces between the rocks that the Incas filled with soil to create the citadel masterpiece of Machu Picchu, and the dark spaces between the wisps of white Milky Way where they saw their constellations and the uninterrupted connection between earth and sky,. I’ve learned that I have lived my life in the in between spaces, ever intent on creating meaning and intention, on seeing negative space as full of possibility, as vital to the whole as what it connects.

—Annie Hampford, Connecticut

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