Little did we know that we would fall in love with Ayacucho and the many treasures of Peru when we were first planning our independent study there. We had planned for months and studied about the area, but it wasn’t until we arrived and got to see the beauty of the Andes Mountains and got to know the wonderful people that we fell in love with Ayacucho! It’s one thing to read about a place and a completely different thing to experience it and the people that live there!
We were all Bonner Scholar students at Berea College and at the time wanted to complete one of our ‘summers of service’ volunteering at medical and dental clinics in another country. We thought if we were going to complete a summer of service in Ayacucho, we might as well also complete an independent study there so we all decided focus on a different subject. I decided to shadow a dentist at the Centro de Salud in the San Juan Bautista district of Ayacucho while another one of my fellow Bonner’s decided to concentrate within the laboratory of that Centro de Salud, while my other friends shadowed doctors. From the moment we flew into Ayacucho, and viewed the Andes Mountains from the window of the plane I was in love with the thought of our upcoming adventures in a new place of the world! With Ayacucho’s elevation
of 9,000 feet above sea level we had to get accustomed to the elevation before exerting ourselves as there is less oxygen at such high elevations. This was my first time at such high altitudes and I was excited until we tried playing soccer with a group of people and I had to take many breaks even though I was in very good physical shape and ran all the time, I just couldn’t at this altitude as I hadn’t adjusted to the elevation just yet.
We spent the next 2 months living in Ayacucho, working at the local clinic and experiencing the culture! It was an amazing experience and not only did I learn a tremendous amount about Peru, but I also learned so much about myself. I started to learn more Spanish from my daily interactions at the clinic and with locals in the community where we were living. I absolutely loved our weekend trips to different parts of the countryside. Ayacucho is such a beautiful colonial city as it hasn’t changed a huge amount due to it’s location high in the Andes Mountains, but also due to its history with the Shining Path, that led a resistance against the Peruvian Government in the 1980’s. Even though the resistance organization has now since faded once the leader was captured and put in jail, the region still remains one of the poorest in Peru with its cultural independent spirit, along with unique festivals of which it is said to have one for each day of the year. I experienced many of those fun festivals over a 2 month period. My favorite was the firework celebration where they set off fireworks in the street and the running of the bulls festival, also known as jalatoro or pascuatoro. Both festivals were incredibly fun!
Ayacucho has churches located throughout all parts of the city and they are actually known as the City of Churches. They have 33 churches within the mountainous city, one for each year of Jesus’ life. They have one of the largest Holy Week of Easter celebrations in Peru known as ‘Semana Santa’. Peru is well known for the Inca culture, but prior to the Inca culture, there was the Wari Culture, and you can easily make a day trip to see the Wari ruins and remains which are located about 25 km north of Ayacucho. Ayacucho’s name comes from Quechua, one of the indigenous languages spoken in Peru and many individuals from Ayacucho, especially individuals from the surrounding countryside speak Quechua as their primary language and not Spanish. Ayacucho comes from the Quechua words ‘aya’ (death or soul) and ‘cucho’ (corner), in which it was renamed in 1825 after the Battle of
Ayacucho that took place in 1824. Ayacucho is the city that gave Peru it’s independence from Spain. The Battle of Ayacucho and of Peru’s independence was fought in the region surrounding Ayacucho so the city is well known throughout Peru. There is even a statue within the Plaza Mayor of Ayacucho that showcases Antonio José de Sucre, the lieutenant of Simón Bolívar, on horseback leading the battle of Peruvian independence.
If you have the opportunity to visit Ayacucho, please go and don’t miss out on such a culturally rich and important part of Peruvian history! There are many more treasures of traveling to encounter in this region of Peru!