Finding Bliss In Hualcayan, Peru
The air is cold and clear at night. Small, white puffs of smoke float drearily away from my lips, relenting to the frigid temperature. As I stare up at the brightly dotted night sky, I see something that grips my senses: The moon rising over a mountain peak. The mountains are a darker shade of grey against the backdrop of the night sky, their silhouettes whispering ancient knowledge of peoples and places of the past. A slight breeze, rustling the leaves in a nearby tree, gives the notion that these ancient giants are sighing. Perhaps, in their inability to reveal these ancient truths to those who are unwilling to listen. They are so large, and I am so small.
Closing my eyes, I take a deep breath, taking in the sounds and the smells of the night air. The distant waterfall splashes to a crest and spills forth from the mountain. It collects and travels through the village, converting its sounds to the trickling of water running through an ancient canal. The smell of burning firewood dominates the frigid breeze and filters through my nose, instantly warming my thoughts. I open my eyes slowly, my surroundings coming into clear focus.
I am standing high atop the Andes Mountains in a small village called Hualcayan, located in central Peru. This place has invigorated me with strength. Not so much physical strength, but a newly found strength of heart and of will. It is not something I can easily comprehend. But I know it is there, because I can sense it.
Archaeology has always been a fascination of mine so it only made sense to incorporate it into my first real adventure abroad. I decided to enroll in an archaeological field school and spend a month in a place that was only familiar to me on maps and televisions specials. My journey was not limited to just Hualcayan. I also saw the 18th-century San Francisco Monastery in Lima, the quaint, and often times chaotic markets of Caraz and the beautiful teal lagoons and exhilarating night life in Huaraz. It was in Hulacayan, though, that I found what I was looking for.
“Daniel!” Her voice echoes in the stillness of the dark, breaking my concentration.
“Are you ready?” she asks, puzzling over my awe stricken expression.
“I most definitely am,” I reply, not hiding the large smile that has shot across my face.
Tonight is the Quinceañera of the daughter of Hualcayan’s President. It is a celebration of her fifteenth birthday and an important marker for her entrance into adulthood. Despite not being a true member of the community, the President has politely invited everyone from the field school to attend, and I am excited to go.
The short, brisk walk across the ragged soccer field lands us all in the middle of a courtyard to the President’s home. We are surrounded by a thick, sun-dried, brick wall. A group of locals talking enthusiastically around a large fire, while a band hurries to set up their instruments. As the music starts, the rain does as well. The dance floor remains empty as most run for cover, hiding their bodies from the icy sting of falling water. This is not exactly the type of party I had in mind.
And then, slowly, something happens. Despite the rain and despite the cold, people start filling in the dance floor. The music picks up, and soon there is a large mixture of field school participants and villagers dancing together in a whirlwind circle of stamping feet.
As soon as I place my empty plate on the chair next to me, a petite Peruvian girl with dark hair and mischief in her eyes takes hold of my hands. Despite my best pseudo-Spanish rebuts, I am unwillingly thrust into the vibrating crowd. As I helplessly try to keep in time with the up-tempo salsa music, I look out across the courtyard, and all I see are faces.
Faces of people that are foreign to me. Faces of people I have created a lasting friendship with. Faces that I have seen tears, frustration, despair and even anger in. But in this single moment of two cultures merging into one, these same faces are all covered with glowing smiles.
The music lasts well into the night and I slowly make my way back across the muddy field. The breeze breaks across my face as the music fades into the distance. I stare up at the mountains once again and it feels like, they too, are now smiling; possibly in acknowledgment of my newly acquired understanding. And I think to myself, “This place is beautiful.”
By Daniel Kazmaier
[Photos by the Author]
About the Author Daniel lives and works in Maryland. He often finds himself enjoying the outdoors, whether it be during work or for leisure. However, he currently finds himself wandering through the world and through life. While doing so, he figures he should take a few notes along the way. Much like his writing, his blog is also a work in progress. To contact Daniel, email him at: [email protected].