Location: Ollantaytambo

Throughout our careers as students, we are given the same prompt over and over: to write about a meaningful experience in our lives. Constantly, I found myself embellishing my “life-changing” and “awe-inspiring” experiences with exaggerations and the general bull-crap one would expect from a high school student assigned with such a writing task. Now, I no longer have to hash out the same spiel about how great experience was while feeling the guilt of the dishonesty in my writing. Finally, I can tell the simple truth. Lifeworks Peru has been amazing. Fun. Eye-opening. Or so far at least.

This morning began similarly to the others in Ollantaytambo. I arrived at our 8 o’clock breakfast slightly late (as usual) and sipped my tea in a sort-of distanced silence that is generally associated with early mornings. However, things picked up once all of us arrived at our different sites for work. Today, we divided and conquered, as we split into two groups to help out some local schools in the Sacred Valley. My half (dubbed “Group Puma”) headed to a small, mountain-buried school surrounded by stunning vistas. We began by completely emptying a room that served as a half kitchen-half cafeteria of all furniture. From there we began sanding. And we did a lot of sanding. From the walls of the vacant room to the benches and tables we moved outside, our group scrubbed it all with the rough, black sandpaper, hand-ripped by Ronald. The work proved satisfying, as our time was filled with great conversations, peaceful singing to Louise’s music, and, of course, dust fights, which left us caked in a layer of green by lunchtime.

However, before our food and siesta filled break, disaster struck. As we looked to the mountainside at the stark, beautiful view that served as a perfect background for our work, we noticed that something was off. Smoke was billowing into the air, and too much for it to be natural. The side of one of the mountains was on fire, and with the wind rising, there was a dangerous chance of it spreading. We could do nothing but look on in a mesmerized horror as the fire streaked across the side of the mountain in a line of shimmering destruction. We continued working, but Ronald stepped up and left to help. Although he did not jump into a phone booth and slip into a brightly colored costume, he was a hero in our eyes, as he joined the local Peruvian farmers in an attempt to fight the fire.

The rest of the day continued as usual, and I mean that in the best of ways. We spent our lunch talking and eating before our long awaited siesta time, we sanded some more and painted with primer, and finished the day with a hearty dinner and some shopping. Things were good. At the end of the day, I found I had made a few discoveries: 1) I will never get tired of staring at the endless Peruvian mountainside, especially when it is on fire, 2) I will never be as cool as Frankie, a young Peruvian boy, who can spin a top into his palm and keep it there for as long as it turns, and 3) I will always cherish the memories I have made so far on this Lifeworks trip.