As I ready myself for the sojourn to Peru, I’ve been thinking a lot about the past. There is history in every location and it’s often historical sites that lure tourists: buildings and monuments of a time long ago, museums packed with art and artifacts of previous lives. Of course every city, every society, every family and every person is imprinted with the past. As individuals we will be bringing our luggage and our baggage, full of preconceived notions, memories and patterns of behavior.
Yet most of the places my travels have taken me to are also modern. The passage of time shows in their ever-evolving languages, their new constructions, their attitudes. The Internet, TV and movies, the ease of modern travel and the popularity of foreign cuisine have made us more connected to and aware of other cultures. Major world cities, while each retaining their own personalities, have even begun to look more alike. It’s as easy to find a McDonald’s in New York as it is in London or Paris. And globalization is evident nearly everywhere.
But we are traveling to a place where the past is still very much present – or more present than in any location I’ve been to. The villagers still speak Quechua, derived from the ancestral language of the Inca. The Andeans still live much as they did centuries ago, farming potatoes and quinoa, observing religious rites that have been passed down through the years and raising families without Facebook. The inhabitants of the Sacred Valley live a simple, agrarian life nearly untouched by the rest of the world. Many still wear traditional garb, uninfluenced by world fashion trends, although I hear that baseball caps are popular among men and jeans have made their way to closets.
All of this stands to reason in a place that is remote. The Sacred Valley is tucked away in the formidable Andes mountain range. It is isolated by geography. Ollantaytambo (the village where we will spend most of our trip) apparently has an internet cafe and many of the homes now have plumbing and electricity, but otherwise remains primitive, for lack of a better word. While this might make some nervous, it’s this aspect of the trip that I find one of the most exciting – as well as somewhat terrifying. Living a simpler life – a past life – and going off the grid may present a great challenge to me and the students (what on earth will we do without our electronic limbs- our cell phones?!), it also stands to be our greatest reward.
The past will be a present.