Often, when we’re far away from our loved ones, we say “Don’t worry, we’re underneath the same moon.” The stars, the moon, they all shine the same no matter how far apart we are, no matter the time difference—or so we say. These are words that I said to my parents weeks ago while my mom kept tearing up, and the coalescence of ideas that I hold dear in my mind and heart each time I feel homesick. What I have come to realize in my time here, in the Sacred Valley of Peru, is that I cannot keep the promise that I made to exist beneath this shared moon, for everything is altered in the place I now call homegrown out of la Tierra y el Universo with something akin to magic. Nowhere was this more evident than in last night’s adventures, when a few of us ascended with—fatigued breath—to the Cruz that overlooks Urubamba.
As the sun began to itself descend, we began our climb, up the freshly-tared, fume-filled road to Chinchero we first climbed, then a traverse into unknown flora, and finally onto a well-defined switchback trail. It’s important to note that this was not a humans-only outing, however, for we were joined by Oso de Miedo, or Oso for short, the dog who jumped out of a street fight to follow us, earning a name only we would know. Golden light glanced off gently swaying leaves over the canal that curved up through the small chakras on the outskirts of town, and we found Oso’s presence to be a bit of a nuisance, fearful that his strides would bump us into the water. But as we climbed higher, and he began to pant harder, we realized there was something special about he who had left his home to venture up the mountain. Each step he matched with the group, exploring off into the brush and cacti as we continued, but always returning, ready to push on. We moved in the shadow of the mountain, craning our necks to attempt a view beyond the jagged overhangs. We eventually had luck not in looking up, but instead left, where rising in the distance was a monstrous creature soaring into the dimming daylight, alight with a lavender tinge that forces a catch in one’s breath. With each ever-higher switchback in that direction, we were able to watch the glacier assert it’s presence with more certainty as we attempted its domain. Eventually, we rounded the turn to come upon a glittering view of Urubamba, growing more impressive which each ray of sun lost behind the surrounding peaks. The vibrancy of colors painted something incredible across the sky, frosted with nubes and the smoke from the land-clearing fire ravaging the mountainside in the distance. We stood at the peak of our small triumph with the city on one side and the snowy giant on the other, around the ofrenda of two apples and some grapes, letting the wind whip through our hair and watching day turn to night from 3,200 meters. Oso waited patiently with us as we took photos—because how could we not—and then picked his way down with us as our flashlights shined on the now-dark trail. As we carefully made our way, I took a moment to look up from the rocky scramble and noticed a mystical, almost unnatural light illuminating the back of the peak above us. This supernatural radiance became harder and harder to see while descending into the dark trees below, but back out on the road, smelling of tar, the full moon had appeared from behind the apus (mountain gods) and was gracing the sky with its glory. It was this moonlight, on Friday the 13th nonetheless, and the way it reigned in the night sky and upon the glaciers and softer valley ridges, that made me realize I might not be under the same moon after all. This particularly moon made me believe more than ever in the life of the Andes and the beliefs of the people who have lived here for centuries. I even believed, on that magical night, in our spirit guide, which Oso could have been nothing other than, as he followed us all the way home from behind watchful eyes glinting with moonlight.
In my experience thus far, I’ve learned to work towards many grand ideas—to be satisfied in discomfort, to open my life and thoughts to a new culture and a new family, and to see with new perspectives. I’ve also learned little things, like the fact that my moon now is not quite the same as the one I are up with, how to interact with toddlers, where to buy yummy chocolate raisins and pan sin glutin, how to live out of a water bottle, and how to breath in the air like there’s no more to be had (and sometimes, at this altitude, there’s not). These lessons have come from hikes high into the mountains on the way to Cancha Cancha, time spent in Paru Paru, with Tania at Casita Huaran, and at my final destination, in the house of my host family.
Just like the night sky is different, so too is each family, and I now find myself with two little brothers, grandparents just barely in a separate space, and young parents who aren’t sure if I’m their friend or the daughter they don’t have. I hang my laundry out to dry and wake to the sound of a rooster outside my window, to later lunch with screaming children. It’s all very different than the wonderful comfort of my own family back home, but that is not to say this experience has been without wonders. In the same way that the moon is ever-beautiful, this family is as well, and I find myself thoroughly enjoying getting to know them and this new way of life. Walking to the market with them at night, through the glowing trees in La plaza de Armas, I don’t just feel like a tourist, but like someone who might just be starting to belong. I hold my brother Santi’s hand as he munches on my favorite snack, dried yucca sticks, with the other, and it’s like I have a place in this foreign world. There are frustrations of course, mostly with my self for struggling with the language, but it’s only been a few days, with each one passing better and better. I’m starting to feel confident moving around this small city, as I now know my way from my house to all the important places—instructor house, program house, cafes, markets, and so on. I found my favorite spot in my new house, in the afternoon sun of the turf, third-floor laundry area, and I’m bubbling with excitement for my internship to begin on Tuesday (Canastas Verdes, here I come!). So although this may not be my original home, and about as far from it as I can get, I feel like I am already starting to build a new life here after such a short while. I miss my own family, that’s for sure, but I know I’ll be just fine here in Urubamba—this place teeming with life and an even more living landscape—and I can’t wait to add my small piece to my new home.