Sitting next to a pile of luggage in the back of a 10-seater van as we wound our way up and up through the Andes Mountains, I hoped nobody would turn around and notice my eyes were closed. I might have been able to pass my shuttered state off as jet lag -- after all, I had just arrived to Peru by plane a few hours prior. But it wasn't a lack of sleep that kept me in this state; it was the fear of looking out the window at the rocky chasm just inches from our van's tires.
Our driver was a true professional, snaking the vehicle along a dirt path that came death-defyingly close to the ridge at rapid pace. But me? I was just an amateur passenger, a first-time visitor who wanted to take it all in but instead found myself squeezing my eyelids shut and grasping the vinyl seating until my knuckles turned translucent white.
Without warning, our van skidded to a stop. Gripping the seat even tighter, I opened my eyes just in time to see the door fly open. Out of a cloud of red dust appeared a woman dressed in a rainbow of woven colors, her outfit capped with a flat-top hat that looked like a cupcake paper turned upside-down. In a wrap on her back she carried a baby that couldn't possibly have been older than nine months. As the woman took a seat in the van, another member of our tour group asked if she might snap a picture, raising her camera and pointing to it. The woman didn't understand the request in English or Spanish, but smiled warmly and nodded at the hand gestures. As it turns out, this was no ordinary hitchhiker; this woman was from the Amaru community, the Andean village we were on our way to visit.