Part 2 – Peru
So I promised to give you the weekend to recover from our lengthy part 1 Ecuador wrap up, and now that you have here is part 2 – Peru. Not quite as long as currently there is one less camp but equally chock block full of incredible project work efforts, outcomes and fun times. So without further adieu…
Our newest destination, Peru is already making a name for itself. When you see the photos you will see why. Our very first season saw three teams representing four schools making the long journey out here and being well and truly rewarded for the effort. Machu Picchu charmed as she always does and the cities of Cusco and Arequipa provided the colonial wow factor Latin America is famous for. Next year we look forward to over 400 volunteers working with us during team season and we are busy looking for a new community to help so we can share the love and hard work of so many enthusiastic adventurers. Our three current camps and communities were blown away by what each group managed to achieve in such a short time and can’t imagine what will be accomplished next year.
What can we say? The highlight at this camp was definitely the best school principal ever. He danced with our students and his own, more than pitched in on project work and those crazy jokes and stories… well let’s just say Camp Cusco never lacked entertainment. The Principal’s smile and genuine warmth is what attracted us to working with this bright and cheerful community in the first place. Bunking out in the school in the evenings and tucking in to some great food each day made the tough work of constructing a stone wall bareable. The school sits on a corner that is being increasingly used as locals, visitors and construction workers travel further up into the valley. For the safety of the students (and their footballs and volleyballs) the wall will eventually wrap around the entire roadside perimeter. Building the perimeter wall is an epic job, one we knew we would never be able to complete in just a few weeks. Making a stone wall is no easy feat. First you have to source, clean and sort the rocks, not to mention lug them over to the construction area for use. Then there is all of the cement mixing and everything that entails. Putting the rocks into place is also difficult as you need to plan ahead and think quickly to ensure everything is going to fit together properly. Despite the challenges, our teams took to stone walling like an Inca to a panpipe. We were able to accomplish close to double what the Principal expected. At the end of the season we arranged for the job to be completed, employing a couple of local maestros to finish what we started. When we visited last week, there were only a few meters to go before it would reach the edge of the entrance gate. What a difference it is making already, we can’t wait to see the finished product.
The welcoming parade for each group was also pretty amazing. Some of our teams didn’t quite know how to respond to such a formal welcome and stood rather frozen watching the teachers and students performing. However, they soon shrugged off their reservations and got stuck in to dressing up in ponchos and brightly coloured hats, dancing around in the dust with the best of the locals.
Our efforts in Camp Colca centered on the three schools: kindergarten, primary and secondary. Each one had some problems that needed addressing. In the kindergarten, the classrooms and playground were flooding during downpours so we put on our plumbers belt and fixed the drainage system. In the primary school we built a whole new kitchen and refurbished one of the classrooms. The new kitchen means that the children will be able to enjoy a cooked lunch at school super important when the days are chilly and you haven’t had much for breakfast. Over in the secondary school it was time to refit the ICT lab and do some other general maintenance, including replacing two leaky cielings.
The kitchen was a major project and involved teams clearing the land, digging and creating foundations, laying bricks and raising all of the supports. Another team built the roof and rendered the walls. Each team worked in collaboration with local builders, who passed on their skills allowing each team to fully involve themselves in the project work. Between the three projects, we’re guessing some of our volunteers gained enough skills that they could almost return home and build their own house. Oh, and run a surrounding farm. Let’s not forget learning how to prepare the fields using an ox drawn plough. Funny, funny times there.
The community around Camp Colca are legendary and with Camp Manger Lily running the show, there was never a dull moment. From a weekly street stall where students could purchase traditional gifts directly from their makers, to food tasting events and learning (or attempting to learn) how to spin wool by hand there was always something fun to look forward to each day. The end of the week dance party became legendary within the community. Families were more than happy to donate bits and pieces to see our teams dress up and learn some traditional dance moves and generally have a raucous time with the local children. There’s something about Peruvians in the Andes they love to dance. All that movement surely keeps them nice and warm when the sun sets.
So for any of you still in doubt as to the extremes of climate and environment in Peru, 24 hours here on the lake will set you straight. Sunburn in the day, hypothermia at night. Camp Titicaca is all about preparation and layering. Stunning blue skies during the day and a sun so warm you want to run thrashing into the lake to cool off. But beware the late afternoon. As the sun sets, the reality of living at over 3,800m begins to set in. Come sunset, it’s time to wriggle into those thermals, beanies, down jackets and gloves and pull on a couple of pairs of socks as you rush to queue up for some hot chocolate. A week at the lake is unforgettable. Sunsets and sunrises are things of postcards and the view out over the lake past the islands to Bolivia is awe-inspiring.
But aside from being a Geography teachers dream, Lake Titicaca is also home to some of the toughest living in Peru. Communities dot its shores trying to eck out a living growing whatever they can in such harsh conditions. General diets are poor leading to malnutrition in children and adults alike. Potato and rice are present at almost every meal and fresh vegetables and greens are rare. So whilst this year our priority was to help the community improve their basic sanitation needs, by building toilets and showers, next season we hope to work on a greenhouse. Creating a garden where the community can learn to grow more diverse crops is the start of an important long term project that will result in the community eating a more balanced diet. This will have a real impact on the general health and well-being of all who live there well into the future.
The production from start to finish of four bathrooms this season was ambitious, but we dream as big as the blue skies are wide out here on the lake. Our teams helped through each step, even having a say in the design of the structures. Making adobe (mud) bricks is epic work. Not only do you have to mix the mud and stomp it into moulds, you then have to wait for them to cure over a few days before you can use them. Teams laid concrete slabs, dug massive holes for the septic tanks and spent countless hours in the sun carting and laying the brinks once they were finally dry. Whilst we didn’t quite finish all four bathrooms the trusty locals are busy finishing off the job. Last week we went into town to purchase the doors and windows so they are getting super close to finished. We will be sure to post some pics of the first flush.
One of the highlights during each groups visit to the lake was the day tour out on the Lake itself, visiting the floating islands of Urcos. I’m not sure that all of our students were quite able to believe that the islands were hand-made and floating there with fully constructed houses and even villages built on top of them.
The other treat that some silly chickens missed out on as they continued to snooze on the bus, was a soak in the hot-springs on the way to Camp Titicaca. About halfway between Cusco and Juliaca is the La Raya pass, at 4,313m it’s the highest point on the journey. Right by its side are the hot-springs where you can lounge back and relax, soaking in the warm water and the towering Andres that surround you.
Two awards were given out at the lake. One was the futility award which was frustratingly given out twice in one week. Both times it was given to a pair of students who had spent the entire day digging a hole only to discover that an impossible rock prevented them from digging to the required depth necessary for the septic tank installation. Thankfully, our volunteers are very resilient and were back at it the next day looking for a more suitable spot. The second award, somewhat related to the first, was more comical and was presented by the last team at Titicaca to our assistant Christopher. He was ceremoniously awarded the sh#t doesn’t go uphill award after the team overheard him saying just that to our maestro Basilio, trying to explain in not so great Spanish why it was best to put the septic tank down from the loo, rather than up. The catch phrase stuck quickly, and whenever there was a why question asked, a chorus of because. could be heard.
A final mention has to go out to Sonya for the best ever quinoa coated chicken strips. Sonya is one our gems, discovered through a friend of a friend as is always the case in these parts. The god-daughter of one of the locals, Sonya lives in the next village and is actually quite famous having won a regional and then a national cooking competition. You can even see footage of her on YouTube being interviewed. Her regional prize involved flying to Lima and staying in a rather fancy hotel for two weeks: two things she never dreamed of doing. Her parents were so fearful of the giant flying birds overhead they begged her not to go, or at least to catch the bus. Ever the adventurer, Sonya did what many of you did, grabbed her teddy bear, took a deep breath and got on the plane. She dreams of one day opening her own restaurant on the shores of the lake and we can’t wait her food is THE BEST, but for now we are going to be selfish and keep her on as a full time employee. We hope that feeding all of our volunteers will mean that one day they will all come back and visit her restaurant, or at least tell their friends to.
And now for some envy inciting photos of our expeditions in Peru.
And the ever impressive Machu Picchu
So that is definitely a very long wrap, but hopefully a great overview of all the work and fun our teams were immersed in. Stay tuned for the results of our Camp Ecuador photo comp and some updates on project progress. I’m especailly looking forward to the new water system being turned on at Maqui and hearing the first flush of the loos at Titicaca. And be sure to keep your eyes out for our very first Camp Latin America newsletter… coming soon to an inbox near you. Ciao, ciao xx