Updated: Apr 2, 2020
Machu Picchu, World Class Cuisine, the Nazca Lines, Cute Alpacas, a Diverse Eco System;
These are all things that Peru is known for, but as we found, the true wonder of Peru are its people.
"What God reaffirmed to me in this trip was that when you are looking for opportunities to spread love, he will provide them in the right time and place with the right people".
Peru has always had a special place in my heart. It has given me numerous adventures, epic encounters, and newfound humility and gratitude. It was the location of my very first mission trip. In 2007, I joined a medical mission team from Alabama to deliver medical supplies to a remote village in the Andes Mountains for my first two weeks in Peru. The people in this village spoke Quechua, but I was able to communicate somewhat effectively with them in Spanish (my first language).
It took 3 whole days of driving along treacherous mountain cliffs to reach this village, which for some of the villagers would be the first time seeing people other than their own. It was not for the faint of heart. The mission team leader, Vial, who had been leading trips all over the world for years, later told me that this was one of the most dangerous routes they had ever traveled through. He said, "If you can survive this trip, you can go anywhere". Quite the icebreaker for my first mission ever!
After this mission I joined another team in the city of Ica which had been ravaged by a 7.9 magnitude earthquake. There I assisted in organizing and dispersing the medication supplies and changing wound dressings for the kids in the village. It was very humbling to see individual families who lost everything living in little straw huts in the dessert. This left an imprint in my heart forever. I remember when I got back home, walked inside my home, dropped my luggage and just started crying my eyes out. It put everything in perspective.
Fast forward to 2014
Before we had Will, Matt and I tried to take as many epic anniversary trips as possible knowing that we would be more limited once we had kids. In 2014 we decided to take a self-guided tour of Peru. Knowing we would be there for 2 weeks, I wanted to take an opportunity to do a little mission work on the side. What God reaffirmed to me in this trip was that when you are looking for opportunities to spread love, he will provide them in the right time and place with the right people. While we did do as many of the typical “must-see” locations and sights as we could, our greatest adventure came when we happened upon a tiny restaurant for lunch.
The stage was set for fate
We had just taken a bus from Arequipa to Cusco and went into a hostel near the center of town to book the next week of our stay there. Upon our arrival we dropped our things off in our room and asked for recommendations for lunch. The manager was quick to recommend a family-owned place just around the corner called Seledonia's Mesa, claiming they had amazing Peruvian dishes.
Entering the restaurant, which was made up of a one-room, 10’x12’ dining area and a small kitchen, we were greeted by our hostess and waitress. The waitress at this restaurant was a sweet 10-year-old girl, named Merel. She was quite the professional, offering us menus, drinks, and telling us about the specials of the day. Matt ordered his favorite, arroz chaufa (a Peruvian take on Chinese fried rice). I ordered a vegetarian panini and we shared a dessert. We were the only ones dining there and from time to time, Merel and her mother, Seledonia (the chef), would come by to check on us and ask if we liked the food. We had a pleasant chat with them and made an instant connection. My first impression was that these were just good people. We had a delicious meal that was everything we were told it would be and more.
As we said our goodbyes, and started making our way back, there happened to be a hostel next door to the restaurant that had a beautiful garden veranda. It peaked my interest so we went over to check it out. Before we could get into the garden area, Merel approached us. In a very coy and shy manner, that only a 10-year-old girl can manage, she said she had spoken with her mom and wanted to invite us to stay with them for our time in Cusco.
We were taken aback. Our first thoughts were ones of disbelief then of caution, and finally of humility. Staying with strangers is not something we are accustomed to. As I was questioning Merel, about whether or not her parents had approved this invitation, in walked Seledonia. The sincerity in her smile started to melt away the hesitations. I began realizing, that they were not joking about having us stay in their home. She insisted we take a tour of the living quarters.
We agreed to take the tour of their home, which happened to be a 2-step walk past the restaurant dining room and up a flight of stairs. Their home was just above their restaurant. They offered us the kids’ room which was rather large and had its own bathroom. The home was one filled with a sense of family, food, and love. To our surprise and with little hesitation, we agreed to stay with them. She never once mentioned any payment arrangements but we insisted on paying her our hotel fee and canceling the one we had just booked. Even then, she insisted on not taking payment. She was purely just offering her hospitality with no strings attached. We knew we would repay her anyway by the end of our trip, so we transferred our bags and settled in. Something about it just felt right and safe. Like it was meant to happen. And it was.
The best decision in Peru.
We spent quality time with them, watching Seledonia do her magic in the kitchen, learning about the city from people that have always lived there, and seeing how a true Peruvian restaurant operates. We spent each morning having a home-cooked breakfast with their family of 5 before the two oldest kids went off to school. We went to the local market for fresh produce with Seledonia and spent evenings with the family in the kitchen sharing laughs and making memories. We felt as if we had known them our entire lives. The connection was deep and instantaneous.
Some of the highlights included Matt, who has always been great with kids, connecting with their youngest son Matias. It could not have been more fitting that they shared different versions of the same name, because they were instant friends from day one. Matt caught this sweet moment one night when Merel asked me to pray with her (pic below).
We shared many great moments with this sweet family and on our last night, they invited us to go dancing with them. We had a blast! In the end, we left them our monetary appreciation with some books and toys for the kids and a Bible for Merel. It was a path God intended for us to cross.
Everywhere we went in Peru the people were welcoming, friendly, and an overall joy to be around. As we look back on pictures and videos we took while visiting, it is always the people that we look back on with the most fondness. In each area and city we visited, we had great experiences with different people that enriched our trip so much. This family, however, will always stand out above others for the deep connection we made with them in such a short period of time. Their pure hospitality to us as strangers left a life long impression in our hearts and we are eternally grateful for their generosity and acceptance.
2014 Trip highlights
To view more pictures from 2014, scroll through these.
2006 Trip highlights
To view more pictures from 2006, scroll through these.
Without ANY hesitation, I encourage you to visit Seledonia's Mesa to eat delicious local cuisines and possibly meet the sweetest Peruvian family. Below are some landmarks we visited and recommend going to if you are planning a trip to Peru.
Thinking of visiting Peru?
Here are tips for your trip:
1. Must-visit spots include: Lima, Machu Picchu, Cusco, the Colca Caynon, Nasca Lines, Areqipa, Puno.
2. Take the bus between locations. The locals utilize the Peruvian equivalent of Greyhound buses to get around the country. Spring for the First-Class ticket. It is well worth the little extra cost for a much better experience.
4. The food! Peru has been awarded for the best culinary destination in the world. If you don't do anything in Peru, eat their amazing food! These are some of the top recommended restaurants: Central, Maido, and Astrid y Gastón. Each exemplifies different aspects of Peru’s diverse culture, gastronomy, and culinary creativity.
5. Find out where the locals spend their time and spend your time there. Ask the local shop owner where they eat, what bars are good, and where the best place to dance is.
Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or drop a comment below!