Our trip left the UK on July 16th 2016 and we returned, fitter and leaner on August 13th 2016. The trip had been organised in November 2014 and all the students had been fundraising since then to pay for their expedition.
Many of the students had raised all of the money themselves through a variety of means – discos, quiz nights, bag packs at local supermarkets, car washes, talent shows, car boot sales and beauty nights to name a few. This was a great and consistent effort to raise this much money.
The purpose of the trip was to do voluntary work with impoverished communities to improve their quality of life. In addition, the students also walked the very challenging 80km Salkantay trail to Machu Picchu. This was the expedition part of the trip.
We took 28 students (from Years 11, 12 and 13) and two staff. We had a Camps International leader with us at all times, who looked after our safety and first aid. Stephen was great and particularly good at supporting the students who had difficulties on the trek due to blisters and those who were suffering with the altitude. In addition, Camps International employed lots of locals to support the students in camp (cooks, security, local liaison officers etc..). We always felt well looked after and supported.
We flew Heathrow to Bogota, Colombia then to Lima and finally in to Cuzco, Peru. After a night there at 3,300m above sea level we headed to Camp Moray. This was a tented camp near a small village and out project work whilst there (for 5 days) was to help build outside toilet blocks as none of the houses had them. We also worked at planting tree seedlings (thousands of them!!) which would eventually create shade and hold moisture in the soil to help the planting of other crops.
Whilst there we shared the Camp with a school from Leicester and naturally that resulted in a football match or two! Our team eventually triumphed winning 10 – 7 on aggregate.
We had been told that the temperatures would drop when night time came and frequently we had frost on our tents first thing in the morning. Day time temperatures reached the low 20 degree C.
After leaving Moray we went back to Cuzco to prepare for the start of the Salkantay trek.
Day 1 started at 3,900m above sea level and went as high as 4,600m (More than 15,000ft above sea level) The mountains were stunningly beautiful but the trek was really steep and the altitude made breathing really difficult – it was like breathing through a straw! That night we camped in tents and the temperature dropped to well below freezing. We walked for about 10 hours that day
Day 2 was a long (25kms) walk down to the jungle – we saw wild tobacco, passion fruit and avocados growing. An 8-hour day that saw us finish just as the light faded.
Day 3 was a steep ascent for about 5 hours to a camp site that overlooked a distant Machu Picchu. The scenery was spectacular.
Day 4 was along the train tracks to Aguas Calientas to the foot of Machu Picchu – this lasted about 7 hours.
Day 5 started at 2.30 am with a very early breakfast to allow us to be at the front of the queue to allow us to climb the 2,000 steps (450m of vertical ascent). The gates opened at 5am and our guide said we had to do this in less than 60 minutes. This was because the tourist buses were allowed on the road at 5.30am and it took 30 minutes on the long winding road to the top.
About 10 students opted for the bus journey up due to severe blisters or illness and about 20 of us climbed the steps. It was one of the physically hardest things I’ve done in decades (I am 50!!) But we all made it up inside the hour. The effort to get to Machu Picchu was immense but it was so worth it – it really was everything we hoped it would be. A stunning Inca ruin that revealed itself as the sun rose. For many it was a lifetimes ambition achieved.
After a few days of recovery we moved on to Camp Titicaca which was on the banks of the highest navigable lake in the world. We could see Bolivia in the far distance. The voluntary project work we did there involved making hand made brick animal shelters (to stop them freezing to death in the night) and small greenhouses to help improve the diet of the locals. The students worked incredibly hard in difficult conditions to improve the lot of an impoverished community. As we left the Camp leader told us we had been the happiest and hardest working school that had visited that summer. That made me very proud of the students.
Whilst we visited the famous floating reed islands that are inhabited by small family groups and we camped on the island of Taquille
Our final Camp was in the small village of Madrigal which is in the vast Colca Canyon. There we made fantastic progress digging foundations and building walls at a children’s nursery. We shifted tons of soil, rocks and hand made bricks. We went to a local school and helped teach the younger students some English and the John Port students really enjoyed that. The night before we left we were challenged to a game of football against the locals but we couldn’t match their skills, loosing 5 – 0. The cry from the watching John Port fans was ‘Its just the altitude, its just the altitude…’ made me laugh.
Finally it was back to Cuzco, Lima, Bogota, Heathrow and finally home. An amazing trip that none of us will forget. The students were outstanding and a great credit to the school. They worked incredibly hard on the project work, showed great determination on the walk and were great fun to be with.
The team are now busy planning their next expedition with Camps for 2018.
Huge thank you to Team Qocha for sharing their story.