Spring break trip with a purpose: Peru

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Hanna Daniels

A large, yellow smiley face flag swung in the warm Peruvian breeze, greeting my group outside of the Cusco airport. A stark contrast to the 200 inches of snow received in Marquette, 60 degrees and sunny felt like a dream. A group of 22 NMU students and myself traveled to Cusco, Peru for an immersive cultural and volunteer experience during spring break through the Superior Edge program.

Our orientation leaders informed us of Peruvian culture, such as their relaxed and outgoing nature. The ladies in our group were forewarned that men calling us by adjectives with “ita” at the end was not to be considered offensive, but endearing. It is not uncommon for Peruvians to be late to a meeting or gathering; they are all on “Peruvian time.” My four years of Spanish would finally come in handy, as it is the official language in Peru.

We worked with an animal rehabilitation program called Colitas Sin Techo, Tails Without Homes, to build a fence around a dog shelter — creating a larger space for the dogs to roam. The first two afternoons of volunteering consisted of physical labor, such as ripping down a rock wall, making new holes for fence posts and installing a chain link fence. Breaks were spent in a small area with the dogs, where about 20 of them sat lazily in the sun. Wednesday, where we spent the entire day volunteering, was divided into two parts: one half of the day working at the dog shelter in the morning, then and the other half was working with a dog campaign in downtown Cusco.

Over 200 cats and dogs were brought by their owners to the campaign we worked at with a Peruvian veterinarian. This day was so influential because most Peruvians cannot afford to bring their pets to the vet. We measured their height and weight, cleaned their matted and flea-covered fur and provided them with vaccines and medicine. Everything was supervised by a Peruvian veterinarian.

The volunteer work was undoubtedly rewarding but our excursions were the cherry on top, including hiking Rainbow Mountain on Sunday, horseback riding on Monday morning and ziplining in Sacred Valley on Tuesday morning. After volunteering for a full day on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday was reserved for exploring Machu Picchu.

Rainbow Mountain, erected at a proud 16,000 feet above sea level, was unlike anything I’ve ever hiked before. I turned my buzzing alarm off at 3:30 a.m. and readied myself for pickup a half-hour later. We hadn’t been in Cusco for even a day, so we lost the chance to adjust to the altitude, which typically takes up to two weeks. The “we’re all in this together” mentality pushed the group through the arduous hike. There were horses available to rent for 20 soles (1 USD = 3.2 soles) if we didn’t think we could make the hike, but they only went about three quarters of the hike. If you wanted to get to the top, you had to get yourself there. Within the first two minutes I felt my heartbeat pounding in my head. Rest stops were frequent, but simply drinking water wasn’t easy, as I had to hold my breath to get the water down. Not only was the altitude an obstacle, but the hike became extremely steep as we neared the top of the mountain. At some point my mind and body went into on autopilot mode, right foot, left foot. Slowly but surely, we began to see the rainbow colors appear and I couldn’t believe my eyes. The top was incredibly cold and windy but it didn’t matter in the slightest. Feelings of immense accomplishment and happiness overcame me. We rewarded ourselves with a ridiculous amount of pictures, including a group photo with the Northern flag, which is something I will cherish for life.

This trip was definitely one of a lifetime. We had a lot of highs,Cusco sits at 11,000 feet above sea level, and some lows, inevitable altitude sickness, but the group all bonded over the uncertainty of a foreign country. Voluntourism, tourism by volunteering, is great way to travel. The locals were so grateful for the work we did, offering discounts at shops. If any Wildcats are looking to travel and step out of their comfort zone, I highly recommend one of Northern’s service projects. It was so rewarding to represent NMU and give back to the place that gave us new friendships and memories we will cherish for a lifetime.