Every evening during retreats we pass around a pile of question cards for each participant to answer. Some are philosophical, some are introspective and some are about the activities of the day. On the evening of our last day in Paruro, I received the card “Give one word to describe the theme of today.”
We spent three blissful days living off of the grid in the Peruvian Andes. Our guide and host, Alain, was gracious and accommodating to our group of eleven. He welcomed us into his family’s home in the small town of Paruro.
Paruro is completely void of tourists. Our group were the only “gringos”, or white people, in the province and were actually an attraction to the town children. We were completely surrounded by the Apus, or sacred mountains, of the Andes. This quaint town was nestled in the folds of nature and we would pass over rivers littered with sheep on our way through the streets at any given moment.
Our stay with his beautiful family included making chicha, a traditional corn beer, potatoes in a huatia (adobe brick oven we built), our own bread in the community oven and traditional cuy (guinea pig).
These different dishes were all made completely from scratch. We saw each process through the picking of each ingredient (and guinea pigs) all the way to our plates that evening. Each of these took up a full day of our work and energy, and when it finally came time to eat, we had never tasted anything better. Although we had both a vegetarian and vegan on the retreat, every single participant worked with the cuy and participated in eating it on the evening of our last day. This was a truly enriching process that opened a lot of our eyes to how our food is created and made for us.
The stay at the farm helped us to open our minds to new experiences and allowed us to go back to the roots we all share. Our gracious hosts spoke only Spanish and Quechua, the native language in the Andes. This was an experience for all of us to improve upon our Spanish and miming skills! Each meal was a feast that sent us all into food comas, and each hike was a glance into a beautiful wilderness not many of us are accustomed to. We worked hard with the community and were gifted the opportunity of bonding with the neighbors and participating in traditional dances and games. Often we would be followed by groups of children wanting to touch us and speak with us, and at one point Lainie even taught them how to high-five! Perhaps next year when Project World School returns they will remember and reciprocate the high-fives?
We slept early and rose early. We gained a new respect for our food and for cultures different from our own. We were honored with the company of our hosts, and each and every one of us fell in love with our time and experience in Paruro.