By Sarah Hahn, Awamaki  Health Volunteer

There is nothing like leaving a place to make you appreciate it. As I prepare for my departure in 4 days, I am overwhelmed by the true splendor and sheer amazingness of Peru! Peru has deeply enchanted my heart and soul. I mean really, what more could you expect from a country that contains desert, the Andes mountains, the Amazon jungle, and everything in between. Just in the country of Peru (about 3 times the size of California), there are 87 different ecosystems (out of a total of 104 ecosystem worldwide). There are deserts, beaches, mountains, jungles, cloud forests, and highland plains. The altitude ranges from sea level to 6,768 m at the top of the Huascaran Mountain.  Alpacas, llamas, and condors represent some of the unique animal life in addition to the soaring asparagus-like spikes of the Puya Raimondii plant, the disappearing Queñual trees, and the medicinal plants of the Amazon. Farmers harvest the land high in the Andes using techniques and irrigation canals left behind by the Incans. Rain and snow melt from the Andes works its way to the lower altitude desert and supplies irrigation for these farmlands year round. The humidity of the Amazon is picked up by wind current and produces heavy rains as it climbs the Andes, accounting for the 3-4 month long rainy season. Simply just driving from town to town, endlessly magnificent and varying views await.

            Yet Peru is not simply just a country full of magnificent mountains and varying climates, but when you trek around the Andes, ancient Incan culture thrives amidst the mountaintops and fertile valleys. 45% of Peru’s 28 million citizens are of indigenous blood and living in the Peruvian highlands. A hike in the Andes is truly a miraculous thing. As you trek  along with mountains jutting up around you, you pass through small plots of farmland, get up close and personal with cows, sheep, llamas, pigs, and alpacas that may be blocking your trail, and greet locals dressed in knee length skirts, beautifully women red shawls, and hats decorated with beads, sequins and flowers. Men wearing red woven ponchos and equally decorative hats heard horses, llamas, and cattle up and down the hill. Women trek long distances with large satchels strapped to their backs and children learn Spanish and Quechua in the local school. Communities live in extreme isolation, surviving through farming and selling their exquisite weavings.

            When you look down on Ollantaytambo from the Incan ruins above, you see a flourishing community thriving in a surviving Inca city. Much of the cobblestone and stone work of the city and the ruins that remain on all sides of the city are remnants of the Incans. The city is surrounded by chakras, small farms, and incredible mountains. Veronica mountain, covered in snow and often shrouded in clouds, stand majestically watching over the town.  In the week leading up to my departure, a town wide volleyball tournament is underway. As I join in the festivities playing for the Awamaki team, I am awarded of view of the true community that is Ollantaytambo. Watching the games is heartwarming experience as the crowd laughs, screams, and applauds the players. It feels like a big family is sitting in the square playing a well loved sport. It is easy to forget that this country is “developing” or “third world.” The uniqueness, the culture, the climate, the mountains, the community, and the tradition all make the wonder and magnificence of Peru that is impossible to convey with words or photos.

Sarah Hahn is a health volunteer from Denver, CO.