The following story was written by student Lindsey Earl about her reflections on the Peru Democracy and Human Rights summer trip. 

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There I was, sitting on ledge overlooking one the most world-renowned archeological sites in the world.

Each day for the entire month of June, I thought our study abroad group had reached the pinnacle of the trip, and would never see anything more beautiful. Each day, I was proven wrong.

“This trip…will continue teaching participants about life years after it is over.”— Lindsey Earl

I sat reflecting on the trip as I observed the brilliantly white, Machu Picchu clouds shift and rapidly transform over the mountain-tops. In a way, our experience was like the clouds—mesmerizing and ever-changing. The past month, our eight-person group had experienced more than most people would in a year.

Throughout my life, I have invented a term to describe moments when I am involved in something so strange or incredible that I wonder what I would have thought about it if I had a vision of it a year ago. This I have dubbed “retrospective flashbacks.” Basically, the Peru Democracy & Human Rights trip was a series of retrospective flashbacks. As a sat overlooking the Machu Picchu sanctuary, I ran through them in my mind.

Retrospective flashback number one: I sat with a group of Peruvian students from four universities playing the card game UNO in a hostel in Villa El Salvador. There were no bilingual folks present to help, so I conjured rudimentary Spanish to communicate. When I had a single card left, I yelled, “ONE!!” and we all laughed—a language unhindered by language or culture.

Retrospective flashback number two: I was sitting alone on a roof in the middle of a gorgeous, Andean mountain valley. I looked around in a circular-fashion and spotted a few, small homes dotting the hillside. This was a rural community called Huaquicha. A member of Inti-killa, climbed a ladder and joined me on the roof. He handed me a metal chisel, drew a circle on the roof, and said, “hit it.” So, without questions, I set to work chiseling a hole in the roof to make room for a solar panel.

Retrospective flashback number three: I was in a giant parliamentary hall dressed in clothing as formal as my suitcase offered me. Across from us was a young congressperson named Alberto de Belaunde. A classmate asked about the Peruvian police force, and Belaunde told us he has a great interest in the USA Black Lives Matter movement and had been following it for years.

Retrospective flashback number four: We buckle-up in a strange, metal shell of a car. It jolts to life and we take off scaling a 500-foot-tall white, sand dune. When we reach the top, I see the sand dunes extend for miles. Without warning, our driver slammed on the gas and we hurled downward and upward, skidding across the sand. Suddenly he comes to a stop on top of a dune and hands us a snowboard and instructs us to slide down the dune on our bellies.

Retrospective flashback number five: We arrived at an indigenous community called Misminay near Cusco. As I got out of the van, I realized the locals are waiting for us, dressed in colorful garb. As I approached, they took my hand and tied on a hand-made bracelet. They began to play flute, clapped, sang, and led us to the center on town.

Retrospective flashback number six: Huffing and puffing, I willed my legs to continue scaling the stone steps that seem unending. I accidentally kicked a pebble which fell off the path. I looked down and realized it was a 400-foot drop. I stopped to regain my breath and stability, and quickly Professor Parodi caught up. We begin a series of breathing and power-stance rituals that helped us gain 3,000 feet elevation and summit Machu Picchu mountain.

As I sit surveying the Machu Picchu clouds, I determine that each moment of the trip, whether challenging, discomforting, empowering, or awe-inspiring is a lesson in and of itself.

This trip is a different type of academic course; it is one which is applicable, unforgettable, and will continue teaching participants about life years after it is over.

– Lindsey Earl