A dusty Combi hurtled down the winding mountain roads of Peru, jampacked with 10 backpackers and their gear. It was seven hours from 2012 and as the mountains rose and fell with each peak, I felt dwarfed by the landscape. If the world really will ends this year, then my decision to backpack through Peru was the right one. Seize the moments and all that.
I had joined a group a fellow couchsurfers ringing in the new year in Lunahuana, a small town off the southern coast of Peru, renowned for its Pisco distilleries and adventure sports; alcohol and thrills, the perfect way to usher in the new year.
As we disembarked at our campgrounds, the air around us had already turned festive. Yellow balloons (the traditional New Years color here in Peru) and streamers were strung up all around, and salsa music was blasting through the strategically placed speakers. We ran off the claustrophobic van like kids at summer camp, and went about pitching our tent, and meeting our neighboring campers. The group agreed on a plan to have lunch in town, just a few minutes walk down the dusty main road, and then go river rafting down the local rapids.
We scampered down the road, stopping to take pictures of the old ruins on the wayside, and admiring the distinctive necks on the local chickens. Then we settled down to eat at a local eatery, with advertisements for Peruvian delicacies like lomo saltado and cuy (Guinea Pig). We dug into each plate, washing it down with pitchers of Chifa, a purple drink distilled from wheat, and Inca Kola, the Peruvian coke alternative, with a cult following.
After savoring each bite, we headed towards the river to meet our rafting instructors. Although the water looked choppy, and we had heard some horror stories before we left, the ride was mostly uneventful, with the requisite amount of drenching waves every few minutes. Ready to head back to the campsite to begin the real festivities, we ripped off our lifejackets and headed ashore.
Back at the campgrounds, as the light was starting to fade, the group quickly went about changing into dry clothes and breaking out the alcohol. As the pisco started flowing and the campfire was crackling, we began to toast 2012 as it started in everyone's home country. We cheered to Australia, Lithuania and New York before celebrating the last hour of 2011 in Peru.
The salsa rythyms were blasting and everyone was gearing up for a wild night. As the last minute approached, we ran to the campsite lodge where locals had already starting celebrating the nuevo ano, Peruvian style. Music was blasting, fireworks were fired off, confetti and balloons were thrown in the air, and women in wild headdresses sprayed us with silly string. The countdown began and "3, 2, 1, Feliz Anos!" reverberated through the hall as strangers kissed strangers and both new and old friends embraced. The new year had come, and we welcomed 2012 with a Latin fervor.