Written By Emily, Latitudes ’19 Peru

How do I sum up my time in Peru so far? I would use the words: challenging, friendly, beautiful, exciting, adventurous, hard, relaxed, and unexpected. I have been volunteering with Amamaki, a non-profit based in Ollantaytambo, Peru for about two months now. Their purpose is to help empower indigenous Andean women and lift them out of poverty by helping them gain financial independence using their craft: weaving, knitting, or spinning wool. It’s an amazing cause. I work in the Marketing and Communications team, with the hope to use my photography skills and writing skills for a cause, and in some ways I have.

Life in Ollantaytambo is slow paced and quiet, very different from my group semester in India. I live and work with 7 other volunteers, most of which are from the United States, and all are female. So much female power! I work on scheduling social media posts, writing blogs, collecting content, like photos, videos, and interviews, for our website and other platforms, and other computer work. My favorite part of working with Awamaki is when I can go up into the communities of women we work with and interact with them, especially if I get to focus on photography. The computer work, on the other hand, isn’t as fulfilling or exciting.

Life in Peru is not everything I was hoping it would be. I thought I went into it with no expectations, but turns out I was expecting to be happy and love it just because of the fact I was traveling. There are a lot of parts that I love, and so many amazing experiences that I have been able to have, but I haven’t been as connected to or fulfilled by the place and the culture in Peru. I have been taught lessons that I was not expecting to learn, such as how to be okay with decisions I make, how to be in one area for an extended period of time, and how to come to peace with the fact that I may not be totally excited about everything I am experiencing. I put pressure on myself to love Peru and to be excited about it all the time, but that isn’t the reality. Accepting that fact has allowed me to enjoy my experience more though. Peru has allowed me to realize what aspects of travel I actually prioritize: culture, movement, challenge. Sadly, I have not been able to connect to the culture as much as I had hoped and there are limited opportunities to get outside of my comfort zone.

Although I wouldn’t call Peru the perfect place for me, it has taught me a lot. I have made some great friends, gained independence, come to peace with some of my problems, and had some amazing adventures. I have been incredibly lucky to be here in so many cases. I am able to take weekend trips to the Amazon, Machu Picchu, Cusco, and more. I have been able to hike in the most beautiful mountains, learn from indigenous people, and become comfortable being on my own. The beauty of the Andes alone, is enough of a reason to love living in Peru.

Some of the coolest things I have done in Peru so far are eating live termites in the Amazon Jungle, dodging a bull running through a crowd on Dia de los Compadres taking place at the most sacred church in The Sacred Valley, hiking to Machu Picchu, taking some amazing photos, and connecting with indigenous people high up in the mountains. There have been so many highlights to my experience here in Peru, and I know that I have learned and grown so much. I am excited for more amazing adventures I have planned, like a ten day trek in the Cordillera Huayhuash, hiking to Rainbow Mountain, and exploring Lima. Although Peru is not everything I had hoped for in terms of volunteering or connecting with the locals, it is no doubt an overall positive experience.

I have been challenged here in ways I could not have expected, making me learn more about myself and pushing me to become a more independent person. Part of this journey is Peru has been a discovery of myself and what I prioritize and want in life, and that is the whole purpose of traveling and of a gap year.