I’ll never forget Peru. It’s been two weeks since I arrived back in the states, and still, despite being busy with this semester’s classes, the memories keep flooding back. Memories like eating dinner at a restaurant in Puno and speaking Spanish with our guide; memories like climbing up a rugged jungle path to view Machu Picchu; and memories like looking out from to the top of Amantaní and seeing the snow-capped Andes peaks in the distance – guardians at the edge of Lago Titicaca.
We saw so much, heard so much, and read so much in two short weeks that I’m still trying to unpack and organize all of the experiences in my own mind. Nevertheless, I would like to use this, my sixth and final blog post for my second study abroad journey, to reflect on the significance of the H2Passport program to my own studies and understanding of the world.
I would categorize this trip as equal parts academic exploration, logistical scramble, and wonderment at the sheer natural beauty of our surroundings. The academic exploration part of the journey was something that occurred during the logistical scramble – times when we were traveling from city to city – and during down time in the early mornings and late evenings. We easily read some 300 pages (I’m estimating here) in our principle study book, The Peru Reader, and other academic journal pieces over the course of the two weeks. We discussed the readings during full-class meetings and on-site, and many of our readings and discussions were also closely related to – and helpful background info for – the on-site presentations that my classmates and I conducted at major landmarks throughout the country.
Perhaps my favorite theme from our daily readings and discussions was that of vision – and more specifically, how “seen” elements (as I termed them in my final paper for the course) can easily dominate our perception of the past. For example, it is easy to look at Baroque-era structures like the church of San Francisco de Lima (the structure at which I conducted my on-site presentation) and succumb to a simple categorization of the structure as a “high Spanish Baroque church.” Many of the scholarly articles I read on the church do so, and yet the history of the structure warrants a much more complex categorization.
In my final paper for the program, I argued that San Francisco de Lima is, in reality, an “Andean-Hybrid Baroque church” – one that is Baroque in style, but incorporates distinctly native Andean, and native Peruvian, elements as well. The main native element, then, being the quincha architectural style, which was developed by Andeans, and, coincidentally (not!), used to build almost the entirety of the San Francisco de Lima complex.
When looking at the past, it is important to realize that any structure, and any group of people, is fluid – constantly changing and evolving – in the past, just as they still are today. San Francisco de Lima was built and maintained by architects of both old world and new world origin over the course of two centuries (and impacted by three or more major earthquakes!). The Incan people and other Andean groups were ushered into the early modern age by the Spaniards, but the relationship was not one-sided. Native symbolism, in both “seen” elements (Incan cantuta flowers, masks, and serpentine throwbacks to Nazca pottery) and “unseen” elements (such as quincha building style), shows up all over Peru in colonial-era structures.
I would like to transition now to the logistical aspects of our journey. For the record, this trip consisted of six flights; three boat rides; two long bus rides (6 hours each); two train rides; and countless hiking, walking, and other bus excursions along the way. Before I ever embarked on this journey, I had worried that the logistical aspects of the trip would somehow take over my experience – that I would become caught up in some Manichean battle between trying to enjoy the beautiful landscape and trying to catch the next train, bus, or plane on the schedule. My fears were unfounded, however, as the logistical aspects of the trip turned out to be very beneficial to the overall learning experience.
I specifically enjoyed the scenery on our long bus rides from Arequipa to Puno and from Puno to Cusco. The landscape was breathtaking – I kept feeling like we were traversing Rohan from Lord of the Rings! All LOTR references aside, however, I also enjoyed the people and towns that we passed through, nestled in the Peruvian countryside.
At one point – probably half way between Arequipa and Puno – I saw a middle-aged woman carrying a large bundle on her back simply walking on the side of a mountain in the distance, no civilization, discounting wild llama populations, in sight. I wondered where she was going, and if perhaps she wondered where our bus was headed, and why we were in such a hurry.
Large towns were scarce in southern Peru, so when we finally reached the southern city of Juliaca on our way to Puno, I found myself wondering at the sudden sprawl of buildings amidst the barren, yet beautiful, landscape. We drove right through the center of town, which was bustling with people and crowded on all sides by tenement-style housing. The interesting part about Juliaca to me, however, was a small, but well kept looking university on the outskirts of town. “Learn English and get a degree in Tourism” the sign read.
A degree in tourism and a middle class job is without a doubt the Peruvian dream. Another dream – to make it all the way to the United States – is out of reach for many. One tour guide told me that he has been trying to get a visa to enter the U.S. for 25 years, so far unsuccessfully. I'm still holding out hope for that man and for all of the other hard working Peruvians of all classes. In Peru, prolific poverty and unparalleled natural beauty exist on the same plane. The only escape from poverty for the average citizen seems to be through education, and through tourism. I couldn't help but imagine, seeing that sign on the side of the road, how the United States would be different if multilingualism was a surefire necessity for economic advancement. Food for thought.
If I had to pinpoint one memory that stands out to me more than any other, it would be standing on the top of Amantaní (after a rugged hour-long climb) at the temple of the sky god. In that moment, overwhelmed by imposing storm clouds to the north; the deep blue water of Lago Titicaca lapping at the shoreline below us; and the snow-capped Andes mountain peaks in the distance; I felt like I was somehow standing at the edge of the Earth – at the edge of civilization. As we turned to go, our guide pointed to a particular grouping of peaks to the southwest. “Over there is Bolivia,” he said. For some reason that simple statement resonated with me. Here we stood, having traveled thousands of miles through the air and hundreds more on land, at the southernmost tip of Peru – and there was, well, just another COUNTRY. The world may be small in terms of global communication, but the physical landscape is vast, and I felt the vastness in that moment.
Thank you for sticking with me through this long and rambling wrap-up. I will be posting pictures from my trip on social media very soon! Lastly, I hope to study abroad one more time during my undergraduate career, perhaps long-term, and when the time comes, I will definitely be blogging about it. Until then—
Muchas gracias y saludos,
—Brock J. DeMark
29 Jan 2017