Vu Tran: Being without taught me awareness of what I have

In my daily routine I often forget about how fortunate I am to have certain luxuries such as running water, electricity and a fast Internet connection. To us, such  amenities may seem expected because we live in a developed country. However, during my recent 45-day adventure to Peru, I had an enlightening experience.

I had grown so accustomed to living comfortably (as much as I can on a college-student budget) that I used to take many amenities for granted.

Looking back, I was ignorant and wasteful of resources. For example, I would leave the water running sometimes while I was brushing my teeth instead of being mindful and turning off the faucet when I did not need it.

My perspectives changed the moment I arrived in the small and pristine town of Chachapoyas, Peru. The isolated town is deep within the Andes Mountains at an elevation of 7,657 feet. It can only be accessed via ground transportation because there’s no airport in the city and flying is too dangerous because of the high altitude and wind currents.

One can either brace for a 22-hour bus ride from Lima, the capital, or fly to a closer town and take up to a 12-hour bus ride. I decided to try the former option because it seemed like a more interesting experience to tell my friends.

I was in Chachapoyas for my anthropology master’s thesis research, but it became an enlightening journey I will always remember and hold dear.

I received the complete traveler’s experience, including unfriendly rat visitors at night, and being squished in a rundown Toyota sedan’s backseat with four other locals and bags of cabbages during a bumpy one-hour drive down a mountain. I’d do them all over again, though, if I had the opportunity to return to Peru.

Chachapoyas has nearly all the basic amenities you’d see in any urban area but to a lesser standard. However, surrounding rural places I visited such as Kuelap, an impressive archaeological site, and San Jerónimo, a tiny village to the north, did not. People there live in modest homes with simple furnishings. They are self-sufficient and make almost everything from scratch, while I struggled with the thought of not getting a hot shower for several days.

As much as I wanted to enjoy these experiences, I had a difficult time at first because I’d been so spoiled at home. Compared to these wonderful people, I felt prissy and useless for not knowing basic skills required for living in those rural areas. Fortunately, everyone was understanding and patient enough to deal with my lack of survival skills.

I met several genuine and incredible people during my random mini-adventures in Peru. Since I made an effort to speak Spanish and adapt to my circumstances, the locals were welcoming and I felt more competent as time passed. Everywhere I went, people were kind and helpful even though I was an outsider  — a gringo — who spoke only broken Spanish. I even befriended French backpackers at a hostel in Lima who had visited my hometown in Vietnam.

My Peru trip taught me to always appreciate what I have regardless of my circumstances and to cherish the friendships I make in life.

These situations also reinforced that I should enjoy the present as it happens instead of trying to record everything on my phone. We often become unaware of our surroundings when we are so engulfed into our daily routine of waking up, going directly to work or school, and returning home exhausted.

It’s crucial to take a step back, breathe, and appreciate everyone and everything around us. Be grateful for the present because the past has already happened and the future is uncertain. As cheesy as that sounds, I personally needed to take those steps to value what I have: simple amenities, supportive friends, and an experience of a lifetime.

My journey to Peru — and its unexpected lessons — turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

Vu Tran is an anthropology graduate student in UCF’s College of Sciences and a recipient of the UCF Order of Pegasus for academic achievement. She can be reached at [email protected]. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

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