Written by Josh Kariath, 2016 Peru: Amazon Adventure

“Remember, sharing is completely up to you. If you’d like to pass, that’s completely okay,” Steph whispered. She paused for a moment before asking her thought-provoking question: What goals and fears do we have coming into Peru? She then gently placed the carved stick into the hands of the group member to her right, folded her own together and sat quietly. This was the beginning of the first of many Circles we would take part in; a practice exercised by our group that became highly revered as our journey unfolded.

As the next several minutes elapsed, the talking stick was passed from hand to hand, inching its way closer to me. Throughout my life, I’ve always been reluctant when it came to activities such as these. I’ve never seen the value in talking about feelings and ideas. We could be doing so much more! Planning for the future, getting lost in some fun times, something else… anything else. I shifted in place, hands fidgeting, restlessly trying to come up with something to say – something that didn’t just seem like hastily planned jargon. I had to come up with a thoughtful expression of my true self. “My goal is to learn from this trip, and a fear of mine is that I come away from this trip unchanged,” I sputtered out. Pushing the talking stick into the palm of my fellow OG’er to the right, I let out a subtle sigh of relief that I no longer had to anxiously sit and wait for my turn to give the others a glimpse into who I was beyond the surface. We could move on from this deep stuff and get ready for our next exciting activity! As the talking stick bobbed around the circle, as it collected vision from the others deep into its grain, I began to feel a strange feeling of regret, of missed opportunity. I quickly shook the feeling, assuring myself that what was coming next was sure to be a blast. Eagerly anticipating the future, promptly escaping the present.


About a week passed, and through the flurry of activities, 28-hour bus ride, bagged coffee, endless Oreos, and meeting one of our partners as well as some of the kids from the area of San Roque, the memory of that first Circle faded. It seemed as though it was just a little food for thought exercise to get our minds working before delving further into our voyage. It seemed that way until after dinner one night, we gathered under the roof of the front yard at the hostel in San Roque, provided with light only from a few candles and sound from the orchestra of crickets scattered among the trees. Circle… again? Apparently this would be a recurring event over our time here. “Everyone, we would like you to share with us something that you want out of this trip. It can be anything, so if you feel like sharing, remember you’re among friends.” Steph and Victor gave us a few minutes to write down what we were going say, if we felt like saying anything at all. The door of opportunity creaked open slightly, just wide enough to really explore what I felt at my core.

As the piece made its way around the circle of palms towards my own, the angst flowed in again. The little voice in my head told me it wouldn’t be a big deal if I didn’t speak from within, it wouldn’t be a big deal to close the door again… But then something unexpected happened. One of the others, with a softened, shaky voice, shared that they had just recently experienced a tragic loss. A heavy silence swallowed the others, myself included. This person, whom I would become very close to, confided in us. This person trusted the group enough to share something very close to their heart. With that, the guarding walls came down and the realization that we truly did have one another as a source of strength and support came to light.


“I want to make an impact over our time here in Peru,” I muttered. As I went to give the piece away, I felt an overwhelming need to say one more thing. “I also want… I want to feel vulnerable,” I said, with my heart battering in my throat. It was quiet. I felt so awkward, so out of my comfort zone, so… interconnected with every one of my fellow OG’ers. Over only a few days I felt a deeply satisfying sense of solidarity with my group members, with my friends. With a claw still around my windpipe, I went on to talk about my desire for growth over this trip, to have the courage to be vulnerable. I sat in silence for a moment, staring into the dancing flame of the candle, then passed on the beautifully carved piece and sat quietly. With a crooked smile on my face, a bursting excitement grew inside me. I felt relieved, I felt unguarded, I felt present.

We made our way around the diverse lands of Peru sharing laughs, overcoming challenges, and having Circle every week. Each Circle was our time to sit and reflect on the past week, anticipate the future week, and live in the present. Each Circle was our chance to truly appreciate where we were, and what we were doing. Each Circle was our gate to sharing more about ourselves, to fuel the fire that was our friendship and what we were striving for.

June 28th was a bittersweet day indeed. Bitter in the knowing that our trip was at its final stages, that in the hours to come we would all be on flights home, our paths diverging once again. It was a sweet moment, however, knowing that we would soon be back with our loved ones, back to share all the wonder that we experienced over our time together in Peru. Sweet knowing that the incredible friends we’d made throughout our time would be interspersed around the country, perhaps the world, living their beautiful lives and touching others’ lives with the values we’ve come to identify with ever so strongly over our time with OG. June 28th brought us back to the same city we began in as timid strangers, back to the same hostel on el Segundo ovalo de Pardo, Lima. We made our way around a circle, back to the same place, but as different people. Back to the beginning.


It was time for our final Circle. This one felt much more necessary, much more powerful. The silence consumed the room, pierced only by the rhythmic voice of Steph walking us through our time together, releasing a river of memories. The talking piece felt heavier now. It felt mightier, respected. The candles burned brighter, their warmth drawing us in. We were drawn back to the moment. Grounded. Mindful.

Our last activity together was to look into the eyes of one another and try to see our reflections. With some people you couldn’t help but laugh; with others your gaze remained fixed, your face paralyzed. Some described it as an unconscious imitation, finding commonality in each other throughout the process. Others described the activity as a raw, wild, unfiltered feeling of connectedness. Overcoming the typical aversion to prolonged eye contact offered something often forgotten as well – it offered a reminder that, when you look into someone’s eyes, you can’t help but see yourself staring right back at you. It offered a reminder that we are all the same, we are all human. We all feel fear, we all feel love, we all thrive on happiness, we all crave belonging, and despite any differences… we are one.

It leaves me in awe when I think about how such a simple activity could have such a compelling force on one’s life. This trip provided us with so much more than funny stories, amazing sights, and cool Instagram photos. Every time we sat in Circle together we nourished our passion for this world and how we can help spark change. We built courage – courage to rise to challenges, courage to make a move… even if we are uncomfortable. We were grounded, reminded about the importance of mindfulness, and the importance of taking a moment to truly appreciate the present and not get too lost in the chaos of daily life.

Returning home and trying to portray all the magic experienced over our 6 weeks in Peru to friends and family has been quite difficult. When they ask how the trip was, there doesn’t seem to be enough words to describe just how it was. The only words that come to mind are: “It was the best time of my life.” Sharing photos and stories can only go so far. It’s impossible to explain the feelings experienced. Impossible to describe the feeling of exhaustion after hours of hiking through the treacherous high jungle. Impossible to describe the feeling of awe sleeping under the night sky in the Garden of Freedom, ignited periodically by the distant lightning dancing around the mountain tops. Impossible to describe the energy felt in your bones when hearing the dreams of the visionaries you met in the beautiful communities you visited. Impossible to describe the feeling of sitting around the flickering candles during Circle, drawing strength from one another.

What we do have, however, is the ability to share what we’ve learned not through words, but through example. It’s comforting to know that although we have branched back off to our own lives, we will always have our OG values as our trunk of stability. Thank you to our awesome OG leaders Steph and Victor for the INCREDIBLE ride, for the lessons, and for the everlasting friendship. Finally, thank you Steph for sharing the unforgettable experience of Circle with us.

While unpacking my things, doing a proper load of laundry for the first time in weeks, handing out gifts, and putting together photo albums, I found a stick at the bottom my bag. Steph suggested that we find a stick we might want to carve into our own talking pieces, to take back home. I found mine early on, not thinking much of it. It was just a simple stick, I didn’t think it would carry much value at all. Finding it now, I can’t help but feel so thankful I didn’t toss it into the fire like I thought I would. I’m excited to get started on my own talking piece. I’m excited to continue what we started in Peru. I’m excited to draw my own Circle.