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by Christina Dominguez

        Stellan huffed and puffed up the rocky hill. The sun was hitting him directly and he was sweating, but luckily there was a small breeze. The grass under his feet was a mixture of dried, tough and vibrant green moisture-rich that the local wildlife enjoyed grazing on. He wiped the sweat off his brow and looked to his left, spotting a few llamas feeding. It was quite the sight to see. He gazed behind him, and he was amazed how high they had climbed from the road below.  

        “Everything okay?” asked a voice above him.  

        He glanced up and saw his fiancée, Samara, looking down at him with her pack strapped tightly on her back.  

        “Yes, I’m good. Just not used to the altitude,” he exhaled. “…or the beauty.”   

        Samara smiled, delighted to hear he was at least enjoying the hike.  

        “Good. We’re almost there,” she pointed out excitedly.  

        She glanced down at Stellan and chuckled proudly. She had to give him credit. For a man who was not one with nature, he was sure putting great effort in this hike.  

        Samara was born in Texas, but her mother came from Lima, Peru. After high school, she began working as a tour guide in the city. Lima received plenty of excited tourists who craved the local cuisine or wanted to experience their country’s greatest treasure known as Machu Picchu. There, Samara’s mother met her father, a tourist from Kansas. They married and moved to Texas for his work. Samara was born on American soil, but her parents had flown to Peru almost every summer for vacation for as long as she could remember. Her abuela left Lima after her daughter had gone to America and moved to the hills where she could be close with nature, much like how she grew up. Samara had always loved to visit her abuela. Through her, she learned how to cook, sew and weave fabrics, and take care of llama and cuyes, also known as guinea pigs. Her abuela also taught her some Quechua, her own mother’s language, and culture from life in the Andes.   

        However, after Samara went off to college, she began neglecting her annual trips to visit her abuela. Now, it was more of an every-three-to-four-years trip. Then two years ago, she met Stellan. He was the owner of a club and restaurant in San Antonio. She was hired as the general manager for the restaurant and after working hard for quite some time, he finally slowed down and noticed her. There was some immediate attraction. She was pleasantly surprised to find out how close they were in age. Like her, he had worked hard and studied the business and invested into ownership with the help of his family. And then they were engaged, and she had suggested the trip to introduce him to her abuela. She stressed that it was important to her for them to meet. He quickly agreed, willing to do anything for her. She also suggested that he try the local cuisine and possibly become inspired for new dishes to bring to the restaurant.  

        After struggling with the last few steps, Samara spotted her abuela’s property. Her lips curved at the sight of the wooden fencing. Within its boundaries walked more llamas of all colors, grazing in the pasture peacefully.  

        “We’re here!” she shouted down to him.  

        Stellan pushed himself to soldier on and finish the distance between them. His legs felt sore by the time he made that final step onto the flattened ground. Then, he sighed and let himself be captivated by the property. Some people would have seen a simple farmland with wooden stables, but he was awed at this farm in the Andes. Even in a high point, it thrived with foliage and what appeared to be crops in the distance. The air was crisp with a cool breeze which felt healing to his hot skin and his tired lungs. In that moment, the whole arduous climb had been worth it. The clouds were thin, but fluffy like cotton balls stretched and flattened and the vast blue sky felt bigger somehow.  Samara pointed to the llamas, which made him smile. They were quickly becoming one of his favorite things about Peru. She gestured for him to follow her, and he did. He stepped slowly, taking it all in.  

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