Apu or spirit of the mountains is a term tossed around quite a bit in Peru. Our guide Enrique helped explain its Inca origins and importance but until we actually drove through the Sacred Valley, I don’t think many of us truly grasped the power and magic of the area. The Peruvian Andes afford a celestial fortress of protection to all who safely navigate her narrow, hairpin turns and bouldered skin. Stretching to a height of 20,000 feet, this is the heartland of the Inca empire.
As I’ve learned this week, the indigenous tribes of this rugged utopia have thrived here for centuries. Far from primitive, their collective minds achieved greatness by practicing three guiding principles: love, learn and serve. This holy belief system is still alive and well today as demonstrated by rural farming communities throughout the Sacred Valley. We visited one called Huila Huila.
As soon as the gates opened, a stampede of tiny, smiling faces rushed us to wrap our wrists in knitted bracelets and escort us to the school auditorium. I was smitten from the start.
Over their school uniforms, some of the children wore crisp white t-shirts donated by Vantage Adventures Cares: a pilot program that aims to enlighten travelers with truly local culture, one that helps to foster personal connections by offering a level of intimacy rarely considered by other tour companies.
Once our group settled, the children proceeded to show off their talents through song, poetry and… jump roping. Teachers and staff beamed with pride. Heads of community shared the microphone to repeat words of welcome and appreciation in Spanish, easily translated by our guide.
A retired theoretical physicist-turned-magician from our group reciprocated the joy with some simple street magic, a rope trick that boggled the brains of 100 or more well-behaved bambinos, let alone the adults. A few minutes later, a communal lunch of roasted guinea pig and tasty cooked potatoes, rice and carrots cemented the kinship.
Our visit concluded with a tour of bare school rooms lacking basic needs like electricity, computers and heat, a standard of living lower than most in Peru, but still clean and organized. Yes, these kind souls are poor in material but rich in a spirit, customs and beliefs. Not only are they the descendants of a superior and influential Inca civilization but strong as the Apu that surrounds them.
*This trip wouldn’t be possible without Boston-based Vantage Adventures.