Mario, the Peruvian shepherd boy
We’re in Peru’s Sacred Valley, mountain biking along a shepherd’s path. Now and then we glide through a village with red-tile roofs, skirting the occasional braying donkey.
Our particular Classic Family Journey to Peru and Machu Picchu consists of five families with kids aged 8-16 and a great group of parents. We’re ably escorted by two full-time local guides: Franklin, who tends to care for the adults, and Edit, who nurtures the kids while we’re walking, rafting, exploring ruins, and enjoying meals. On this ride, four exceptional biking guides have joined us. Two of them, Russo and Eduardo, are Peruvian national champions…just the sort of fascinating people you hope to run into on a family adventure vacation.
Suddenly, I hear footsteps coming up quickly behind me. Since I thought we were the only people on this part of the trail—and I’m on a bike—I’m surprised. No doubt this happens regularly in Manhattan, where bikers share space with runners in Central Park, but not on a walking tour of Peru.
I turn to look and a little boy in long pants, a colorful sweater and plastic sandals races past me, carrying a stick and a slingshot. The next time I see him he’s herding a flock of sheep, shooting little pebbles at the stragglers to keep them in line. I wave an “Hola” in greeting, and he stops and smiles. My oldest son, Jack (11), stops too, introducing himself in the very beginning Spanish he’s learning in school. It turns out the boy’s name is Mario and he’s nine years old. His parents are shepherds and he’s learning to be one, too.
Jack asks me to take off the daypack I’m wearing. From it, he digs out a pack of Trident and holds it up to Mario. “Chicle? Gum?” Mario gives him a huge grin and they each pop a stick into their mouths. Jack hops back on his bike, and he and Mario take off down the trail together, until Mario eventually peels off to chase down the sheep. You know that feeling when all’s right with the world and you step back—at least momentarily—to contemplate how lucky you are? That’s the feeling I had then…and still do, just recalling it.
If you’d like to share a moment from one of your family trips that’s really stayed with you, I’d love to hear it. Just send along your story to firstname.lastname@example.org.