When my parents planned a family vacation to Peru, my first thought was that my “vacation” would be nothing more than day after day of touring crumbling old cities and ancient archeological sites.
So I was pleasantly surprised when I learned that, while a visit to Machu Picchu was part of the plan (I mean, how can you go to Peru and not visit the site?), the itinerary was also packed with whitewater rafting, mountain biking, painting pottery with a famous artist and other cool activities. But as much as I was looking forward to the adventuresome aspects of the trip, I never could have anticipated that my most lasting memory—and one that would shape how I saw the world for years to come— would be a chance encounter on a mountain trail.
While mountain biking through Peru’s Sacred Valley, we came across a shepherd boy moving his herd of sheep down the path. We waved and said, “Hola.” Armed with only limited Spanish and a backpack that contained a pack of Trident, I held out my gum and asked, “chiclé?” His eyes widened, and he gave me a big smile as he accepted the gum.
I learned that he was my age, his name was Mario, and he was in charge of his family’s sheep herd. He used the slingshot he carried in his back pocket to keep wayward animals with the herd. That was as far as we got, but the encounter made me realize two things. The first is that I needed to improve my Spanish (inspired by the encounter, I’m now in my fourth year of high school Spanish). And second: travel is about so much more than just seeing sites. It’s about connecting with people.
Oh, and Machu Picchu? That was pretty cool, too.