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Two Dragons welcome the sunrise with an improvised dance atop the Andes. Photo by Ryan Gasper.

4 Days

Asuncion de Quiquibe. A pueblo of 33 families. 40 years old. Accessible by boat and walking. And I think the most different place I have ever visited in my life.

At night, stars light every part of the sky, forming a dome that feels as if it encases the whole world. The Milky Way stretches across the black like a path of sprinkled powder. The last generator shuts off before midnight, and the town falls dark. Complete darkness, in this time and age, is beautiful. I wasn’t even sure if it was still possible.

So much of the town and the accompanying way of life defied the possibility and norms that have been set and defined by my lifetime. To collect firewood, we walked through the Amazon jungle. On the way to my host family’s field, we could pick chocolate, mandarinos, bananas, grapefruit and more from passing trees. Juice could be made from collected sugar cane in 20 minutes.

But the practices of the people struck me more. The almost complete self-sufficiency with which the people of Quiquibe live is shocking coming from 21st century culture of the United States. They are able to grown their own fruits and vegetables; harvest their own fruit and sugar. Within their town, the people can create and find almost everything they need except for rope, salt and a few other items. Their way of life is not borne out of an increasingly glorified self-sufficiency culture as in my country, but because it is the only way possible for them to live. And coming from my family, in my town, I struggled to wrap my mind around it. For the mat on the kitchen floor of my host family’s house, the question is not which Pottery Barn was it bought from, but which local plant was it woven from.

To me, the smallest items in Quiquibe could make every difference between their life and mine pop into sudden constrast. To what I have experienced in my lifetime, their pueblo is unique. I don’t mean to over-glorify the town or the people with only painting a black and white picture of their lifestyle. As with all places in the world, there are struggles and differences and inherent power structures that don’t benefit all. But the overall impression I took away was appreciation for their approach to life.

I absorbed and processed these differences in only 4 days — all the time we had there. Before this gap year and this program, I would never have believed in the power of 96 hours. In highschool, 4 days represented only a tiny repition of a cycle I had been following for 4 years, in which each day never seemed to change. But that I could visit such a people and place in only 4 days speaks to how much is possible in a lifetime of days. And that is something I want to carry with me for the rest of my life.