By Emily Jump, Latin America Programs
The first change I notice upon landing in the Andes is an obvious one – at these heights, I feel the thin atmosphere in my lungs and muscles with every exertion. Some people possess what seems like a superpower– for these lucky few, acclimating to altitude happens instantly, effortlessly. For me, altitude presents a challenge. The first change I feel at 11,000 feet is a physical one, and I am forced to slow my pace.
This first change leads to a second, less obvious result – a shift in perspective. As I take time to climb the many steep Inca stairways one encounters in the Peruvian Andes, I pause to rest and to breathe deeply. In these moments, even as my heart races, I sense my mind quieting. I begin to see and notice the world around me with new sight. It is as if this slowness to adapt brings its own subtle gift from the mountains – immersion in a different kind of time, and the chance to switch off my city self and begin to reconnect with my senses. It is as if the Andes enforce a kind of meditation, with each mind-clearing deep breath. I feel gratitude to the mountains for this humbling and renewing experience each time I return to Peru. Here, I must listen rather than speak.
These are the moments I feel reconnected – not only to myself, and to each cell in my body, but also to the people who call this enchanting country home. The people of the Andes know how important it is to take time to stop, to slow down, and to honor and respect the Apus, or spirits of the mountains. It is a sacred connection between those who make their home in the Andes, and the Apus who shape every aspect of life there. The people of the Andes, our friends and partners, are the living embodiment of this connection. As we make space and time for laughter and connection, I remember that it is possible to slow the hum of our busy lives, discover deep spiritual and human connection, and reexamine our purpose here in the shadows of the Apus.
Images courtesy of Jay Waltmunson Photography and Riveted Kids
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