Cotton-Eyed Goodbyes from Peru

What an incredible and truly rewarding experience these past six weeks have been! It is true what they say—you really do gain the most valuable knowledge, meet so many individuals with diverse backgrounds, and have the most eye opening experiences when exploring another country.  I cannot think of a better way to have done this than with Operation Groundswell (OG) and the eleven strong willed and passionate individuals I shared the journey with. We first started the trip as strangers but definitely left as friends.

Our Huacachina reunion felt as if we had been apart for much longer than just eight days! Everyone arrived eager to share different adventure stories, show off their souvenirs, and of course, our hair trenzas.

After a family lunch and some exploring, we returned to our hostel to do the closing evaluations of the trip.  It was nice to reflect back on all of the exciting activities we somehow managed to squeeze in, along with all of our volunteer-related accomplishments.  I think I speak for all of the ladies and, of course Mikel, when I say I would challenge anyone to do as much, see as much, and make as many real community connections as our group has in the past six weeks without the support and guidance that comes with a well-planned OG trip.

In true OG style we finished off our first evening together with a gnarly sand boarding experience which really gave us a taste of what this desert oasis town has to offer.  Jumping over and tumbling down the massive sand dunes, we were a little concerned that we would never be able to convince Steph to return to Canada.  Apparently she loved the sand as much as the snow and her boarding skills clearly transferred over!  A few well-worth-it bumps and aches later, we finished with a wild ride as the sun was setting behind the dunes.

Our evening was filled with some well needed relaxation and a deserved Pisco Sour or two.  If you were lucky, you may have witnessed a rare occurrence— myself on the dance floor!  Our bonding continued throughout the next day as we shared yet another delicious breakfast and gathered around the pool to reflect on the things we liked, disliked, would change or keep the same about our entire experience.  This was such a great exercise as it allowed everyone to openly discuss the good and the bad, in addition to better ways to deal with issues that may arise in the future. It was also designed to help our trip leaders create better projects for the future (as if that’s even possible)!

To start our night we gathered in a circle and took turns sharing a compliment, a favorite story, or moment about each individual.  It was hard to fight back tears as the conversation progressed, the laughter escalated, and we realized how much we had grown to know and appreciate one another.

Disorientation included some conversations that were a little bit heavier than most of us were prepared for. The idea of actually being home was too close.  To prepare for the assimilation back into our home country, the leaders discussed the concept of reverse culture shock and how to deal with its signs and symptoms.  We talked about the importance of a story, and how the way it is told can create an impact or perception that can be helpful or harmful based on the nature of the storyteller.  It closed with an opening of our letters we had written to ourselves in the first weeks about our aspirations for the trip.  Looking back at what I wrote then, the trip surpassed my every expectation.

For the perfect end to the day we trekked up to the top of the sand dune behind our hostel.  The view and sunset were absolutely breathtaking.  The highlight, for me at least, was dashing down the dune with the girls which I can only describe as what I imagine moon jumping would feel like.

Disorientation in the desert near the desert oasis, Huacachina!
Our disorientation in the desert near the desert oasis of Huacachina

The bus journey back to Lima was shorter than expected and definitely friendlier on our bodies than the previous ride to Cusco.  Our last hours were filled with the usual laughs accompanied with goodbyes that were bittersweet. We were excited for one another to return to our families and share the adventures of the weeks gone by, but so sad to leave the people with whom we had become so comfortable.  Not to worry though, these bonds will not soon be broken and a reunion is already in the works!

Much love and a safe return to all,
Laura Chubb, Newfoundland, Canada