If someone had told me six months ago that Id be spending the entire month of July in Peru with friends, I probably would have had a good laugh.
Chris Schiedel is half-Peruvian. His mother, Ana Baldeon, was born and raised in Perus capital city, Lima. Ana Baldeon had long planned to take her son to Peru before he graduated so that he could learn more about his roots and work on his Spanish.
When she heard that I also took Spanish in school, Baldeon extended the invitation to me. After the proper arrangements were made, I set out on July 1st for a month-long trip to Peru with them.
The first two weeks we lived in an apartment with a family friend, Diana Cruz, and her daughter, Natalia. Every weekday Chris and I attended El Sol, a school designed to teach foreigners the language and culture of Peru. We had grammar and conversation classes for four hours in the morning with a few other teenagers. Though the classes were hard, by the end of the two weeks, my conversational Spanish had improved significantly and I was able to use it in everyday situations.
My favorite part of El Sol was afternoon activities. Chris and I learned some salsa moves and Peruvian cooking techniques with the schools other students. The cooking class was a new experience for me as my only previous culinary endeavors had been PB&J sandwiches, Chris said. Im proud to say that my resum is a little more impressive now.
When the two weeks of school were over, we moved out of Cruzs apartment and into a hotel close to El Sol. Chris dad, Kevin Schiedel, joined us there, as did Chris aunts, uncle, and cousin.
After showing the newcomers around Lima for a few days, we all flew to Cusco, a town high up in the Andes Mountains. The drastic 11,000-foot height difference between Lima and Cusco can cause altitude sickness, so we had to go straight from the airport to our hotel to rest.
During the next few days, we visited many Incan temples and fortresses surrounding the city, most notably the newly crowned Wonder of the World, Machu Picchu. I was amazed by the sheer size and location of Machu Picchu; I had not pictured the gigantic ruins to be at the top of such steep mountains.
The ancient city was also surprisingly well preserved. The rock walls were so tightly constructed that it is impossible for plants to grow between the cracks.
I cant imagine the amount of patience the Incans must have had to carve each individual rock, Chris said.
After our visit to Machu Picchu, we returned to Lima so that one of Chris aunts and his cousin could fly back home. Then the remaining relatives and I took an eight-hour bus ride to San Ramon, the Baldeon familys hometown. We only spent a couple days there, but we got to enjoy the spectacular rainforest scenery and even swim under a waterfall.
Finally, it was time to drive back to Lima and recuperate for a few days before heading home on the 29th. It was an exhausting but unforgettable trip, and I would love to return to Peru again some day. The culture is intriguing, the people are friendly, and, as Chris observed, the food cant be beat.
Rebecca Newsham is an intern with The Alexandria Times and a rising senior at T.C. Williams High School.