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Photo by Tom Pablo, South America Semester.

a birthday in parque de las papas

as we prepared to meet the group, I realized grace and I were running incredibly late for our hike. when we arrived at our meeting place, I was met by warm hugs and singing of happy birthday. at the end, I blew out a lighter that was placed on a jar of peanut butter, a rare find in peru. I had told my classmates I could eat a whole jar of peanut butter in one sitting on the first day of our time together, so I can’t describe to all of you how emotional that jar of peanut butter meant to me. this simple gift of peanut butter along with hand made cards written by my classmates was meant so much more to me than the gifts I might have recieved if I had been in the comfort of my own home. my mentality changed from really? I’m spending my birthday in parque de las papas? to OMG I’m spending my birthday in a place that looks like something out of narnia with 11 other people that care so much for me that they would get me a jar of peanut butter.

we set out with our guide celestino and his two dogs, both of which we weren’t technically allowed to touch for fear of rabies (we did anyway), to find the lagoon that looked like a puma. the day before, our trek was met with wind and snow, so I was in incredible spirits about the fact that it was only drizzling. along the way, we sang and exchanged riddles and banter. I couldn’t help but appreciate the fact that I was doing this amazing hike on the day I turned 18, and it hurt my head a little bit to think about what I had been doing a year earlier in the craze of senior fall.

when we returned from our excursion, I was placed into traditional quechuan clothing for my birthday celebration. my friends chuckled as I was dressed in clothing that was so different from my own. the woman who dressed me explained that this outfit was only used on special occasions like a wedding or birthday, and also explained that the amount of sparkles on the skirt and hat signified that I was very single.

all of the locals then showed us a traditional they have on birthdays where they place flowers over the birthday girl’s head and wish them success and luck in the upcoming year. I had a bit of difficulty translating their messages, but even after three days of knowing all of them, they each had something special to say to me. my classmates and instructors followed suit, and then I was sung happy birthday to in quechua. I looked visibly confused as they were shouting instructions to me in a language I did not understand that were along of lines of light the cake and then put your face in it. I kept looking to amado for confirmation as to whether I was supposed to bite the cake or have celestino smash it into my face. I finally decided to blow out the candle and smash my face into the cake, which recieved cheers from celestino so I figured I was doing something right. it didn’t taste like a potato cake thankfully.

afterwards, we feasted on trout and cuy, also known as guinea pig (it’s like chicken just harder to eat.) it was obvious that the village had spent a long time preparing this meal, and I tried to show my gratitude in my less than impressive spanish.

everyone was then placed in traditional clothing and we were sent downstairs to a room sam jokingly called la discoteca. I was led in an incredibly energetic dance and joked that I could’ve been getting married off and I would have no idea. although I consider myself an adequate dancer, I was left breathless trying to learn this type of traditional dance.
goodbyes were said, and grace and I returned back home to eat our potatoes for dinner. we returned to our room and feasted on oreos, this time with peanut butter (parent trap style). it was truly a birthday I will never forget.