The Chicken Story
My head is spinning. In less than a month I am leaving for my fifth trip to Peru since last summer. This trip is going to be so different than the rest. This time I will be going on business.
The first time I went to Peru was with my then 74-year old dad. It was our first father-daughter vacation ever. We had such a good time tromping through the Amazonian rainforest, scaling the ruins of Machu Picchu and crossing Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world, I’m sure it won’t be our last. In the midst of my whirlwind tour with my dad, I met Juan, an Inca trail guide living in Cusco.
I returned to Peru three more times to visit Juan and we traveled throughout the country. On one of our very first dates we trekked on one of the alternative Inca trails. I’d never been trekking in my life. Heck, I’d never even been backpacking. However, it was on this particular trip that I had an experience that would completely change my life.
Our trekking party consisted of two couples: Juan and I, and his close friend Walberto and Walberto’s girlfriend, Marion. We were also accompanied by Antonio, a local campesino. He came with the horse and the mule that carried our heavy items such as the cook stove, tents, sleeping bags, and canned goods. (At one point, I was struggling so much with the effects of the 14,000 foot altitude that I actively lobbied for the horse to carry me.)
The first night we didn’t make it as far as planned because I was having such a hard time with the altitude. So, we ended up setting up camp on the farm where Antonio lives with his wife, their little boy and some sheep that the family raises.
Their living accommodations seemed quite basic by Western standards and it was evident that in spite of the influx of tourists, they didn’t have much money. On that cold, clear night, Antonio and his wife killed a chicken and cooked us a delicious fresh chicken dinner, which we ate, huddled together under our sleeping bags and blankets.
This incredible act of generosity and hospitality stunned me. Here were people who appeared to have so little, sharing so much. As a Westerner, I am accustomed to giving what I can spare – old shoes, books, clothes, a few extra dollars. But, what I have experienced time and again when I have visited Peru is that the Peruvians give you what you need, not what they can spare.
Before I returned to Peru to visit Juan that first time, we had talked about the idea of starting a travel company. But rather than join the world of conventional tourism, I decided based on this experience to shift the focus of what I wanted to do. It was no longer enough to provide the typical sterile tourist vacation. Instead, I wanted to provide my clients with a peek behind the cultural curtain so that they could learn about the people and the issues that touch their lives. In other words, I wanted to provide my clients with the possibility of having their own “chicken story” to tell their friends and family.
Sadly, things did not work out for Juan and I. So, this time I’ll be heading back to Peru with my friend, Malia, who has over 13 years experience designing and running tours all over the world. She will help make the vision I saw so clearly on that star-filled night a reality.