Eight months ago “river trip” meant packing a cooler and heading to San Marcos, Texas for a day of tubing, tanning, and BBQ. When I was invited to a river trip by some of the Peruvians my age who are home for the holidays I was all about it! Haha, then came the lesson in communication… the first time I was invited it was to go swimming and cook for an afternoon, the second time I was invited it was to go fishing and cook what we caught, the third time I was invited it was fishing and then a three hour hike to go camping. Needless to say I knew it was going to be one of those “go with the flow” trips.
So, I packed a little bag and met the group to head out in what I was told was going to be a mototaxi but ended up being a combi. We were on our way to Mayobamba, a little town about 30 minutes outside of Santa Cruz, but then we past Mayobamba and kept going. At that point I just smiled and embraced this trip for the adventure it was turning out to be! About ten minutes later Gino, the trip organizer, said, “We’re here!” and stopped the combi in the middle of nowhere. Laughing and confused we all piled out and followed Gino around the corner to a little campo house.
He had a friend who lived there, but happened to be out of town right now. In true Peruvian fashion the family still welcomed us, complete strangers, with open arms and invited us to sit and enjoy some fresh guava. After about an hour of conversation they let us borrow some pots and pans and led us down to the part of the river that is safe to swim in. (It is rainy season so the currents are a lot stronger in some parts of the river.)
The young man who lived in the campo house is also starting an organic lettuce business and as it turns out he is looking for some help figuring out the business side of things, so I am going to work with him! I love it when things work out like that; it makes me feel like I am in the right place.
After a little bit of a walk down to the river, everyone began collecting firewood and rocks to make a stove. I helped start the fire and then stayed out of the way! Apparently before we left we bought spaghetti, chicken, and veggies… haha, so not a fishing trip. We all dipped our feet in the river and cleaned and peeled veggies while talking about life in South America and the US. Two of the girls live in different countries, one in Chile, and the other was in Cuba.
They told me how the construction of the new roads out of Santa Cruz has led to a lot of teenagers leaving the pueblo to go study and explore the world after high school. We also talked about how the problem now is that no one returns to Santa Cruz after they leave, so even though the youth are learning abroad there is no benefit to the pueblo. If anything we are missing an age group of 18-24 year olds here in Santa Cruz and life has stayed the same here because the youth aren’t returning with the knowledge they’ve learned abroad.
It was really interesting to hear this from people who grew up in the pueblo, because it is something I noticed right off the bat when I arrived in Santa Cruz. Normally youth leave after high school and instead of returning they just send money to help their parents every month. The importance of coming back to be the change makers in the pueblo is something I am really hoping to incorporate into the business classes I am starting with the high school seniors in March.
Anyways, back to the river! After a while the girls got bored of waiting for the fire to heat up, so everyone changed into swimsuits (I didn’t get the “bring a swimsuit” memo) and jumped into the freezing river. I sat by watching for a few minutes, but being the fish that I am I couldn’t stand not joining in. Clothing and all I made the plunge! We spent hours riding the little current, swimming back upstream, and doing it all over again.
When our fingers and toes started turning into raisins we all got out and finished cooking. Lunch was delicious and afterwards we sat around the fire drying off and eating camote sancochado, sweet potatoes that you cook by literally just setting them in the fire. We also enjoyed some fresh organic lettuce with a little bit of lime and salt. I am discovering a new world of flavors in Peru… the difference between American supermarket and Peruvian street market fruits and vegetables is incredible! Organic is the way to go.
Sadly the day quickly passed and it was time to pack up and hitchhike home. That is totally normal by the way… you just kind of chill by the side of the road until you see a car headed in the direction you need to go. You pay the driver a few soles depending on how far you are going and then you’re off! We made it home safely and even though it wasn’t the fishing trip I was expecting, it was such a fun day and great to connect with Peruvians my age.