A Trip 18 Years in the Making: I Went to Peru!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

As a kid, I always told my mom I wanted an older brother. "Even if you got a brother," my mom told me, "he wouldn't be older than you." Damn you, science.

But then I found a loophole.

The summer before I started high school, my friend Emily told me about two foreign exchange students who'd been attending her church. One of them didn't have a host family yet, she said, so he was staying with the other student's host family. If he couldn't be placed with a family of his own soon, he'd be sent to another city - or even back to his home country of Peru.

"We have to take him!" I told my mom. I outlined all the reasons why we were a perfect potential host family: We had the space, & we had the time. I was going to be in high school, too, so she wouldn't have to deal with two different schools. And we'd been a little bit lonely ever since my dad died three years ago; wouldn't this be an adventure? We needed it, I insisted, & he needed us.

We met with Paolo at a local Dairy Queen. He spoke approximately no English, & as a 14-year-old almost-freshman, I had just three years of middle-school Spanish. In other words, we could barely communicate. He'd brought a book with him, a photography book about his hometown: "Es la ciudad blanca," he told us, pointing at images of grandiose white stone buildings. The White City, it was called.

He was so eager, so polite, & as soon as my mom dropped him off at his temporary host family's home, she confirmed it to me: "We have to take him."

I can't find an HS pic, but this is from Paolo's 2012 visit.
In the year Paolo lived with us, the three of us became a family - full stop. He & I argued like siblings, but we got along like siblings, too. When news reports said a serial killer was riding the rails & killing families that lived near train tracks, Paolo let me sleep on the floor of his bedroom because I was so afraid. We went to Disney World, where we tried on new accents every time we spoke to a stranger; we went to Washington, D.C., where I dared him to tell some tourist she looked like a celebrity. When he finally left to return to Peru, I cried for nearly three days straight.

Paolo got married last Saturday in his hometown of Arequipa, the White City I'd heard so much about for the last 18 years. And as he & his wife Ulda made it official, my mom, my aunt, my uncle, & I were all there to see it & to celebrate with them. After almost two decades, we made it to Peru.

We visited the top of Machu Picchu & boated across Lake Titicaca. We explored Inca ruins & petted llamas. We stayed in a hotel that used to be a monastery & another that was a mint. We drank coca tea & ate quinoa everything. And at the end of the trip, our trip culminated in a grand finale celebrating Paolo & Ulda's love. "This is my little sister!" he said as he introduced me to his friends. And when we left the wedding reception for our hotel that night, I cried again, just like that 14-year-old kid who didn't know how many years it would be before she got to see her big brother again.

I came home exhausted & battling a nasty cold, as I always seem to do when I get home from a big trip. But this was, truly, the trip of a lifetime for my mom & me, & even I, a prolific writer, can't fully express how much it all meant to me to be able to see Peru & to be there for my big brother's wedding.

If you follow me on Instagram, you've already seen a lot of these photos on my #goldbigsdoperu hashtag, but here's a more complete look. Come to think of it, maybe I don't get to call it "the trip of a lifetime" if I plan to go back as soon as humanly possible?






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