Category: Machu Picchu
My volunteer vacation: Almost live from Peru!

Sept. 10, 2010

Machu Picchu yesterday.  I had a moment where I stood on the edge of the world looking at the mountains and I was overwhelmed and in awe.  I was on some seps that I snuck off to, all by myself, off the path the tour was taking.

I hope the power of this moment lasts with me forever.


My volunteer vacation: Almost live from Peru!

Sept. 7, 2010

  • stick a fork in us, we are DONE.  the place looks great and we survived the fumes!  we literally jumped for joy.  next up: greenhouse!
  • more good eatin´and more good laughin´.  and some good tunes, today.  i discovered a 70´s cover album in the cabinet.  hello donna summer en espanol.
  • we had some free time after painting today since a storm rolled in.  Dave and i played 2 on 1 basketball with Cristopher.  he wanted it that way, crazy kid.  he´s got some moves, i tell ya.  a few others joined in and we rocked out on the court.  i learned that the rule is when you´re tired…you just leave.  so our game dwindled and grew a few times, and Dave really bonded with a little future NBA star, Marcello.  they played one on one for quite a while.
  • a clarification from a previous email:  the alpaca sanctuary is called Awanna Kancha.  Confusion beacuse we discovered this crazy awesome ¨popcorn¨called Cancha.  the way it is made is a SCIENCE.  they stop the kernel from popping JUUUUST before it actually turns into a big white puffy piece of popcorn.  so you eat the seeds and inside it´s fluffy.  science, i tell you.  anyway, so we started calling the sanctuary ¨i wanna cancha¨ instead of Awanna Kancha.
  • meaghan and i just came from playing hangman with some of the girls.  it´s a good way for them to practice the alphabet in english.  however, they are little tricksters and were using their crayons when we were doing colors.  sneaky sneaky.
  • tomorrow is Rondocon stove building.  ie, clay, mud, clay and dirtiness.  heck yizzah.

i want a cancha!


Our Volunteer Vacation in Peru, Part 2

Stephen Hauge was kind enough to share his story of high adventure, investigation and discovery while on a Globe Aware volunteer vacation to Peru. This is Part Two (CLICK HERE for Part One). For more volunteer vacation stories, information and travel opportunities, be sure to check back or, even better, subscribe to Globe Aware‘s RSS (Real Simple Syndication) feed by entering your email address in the Volunteer Vacations RSS Feed form in the right column.

cuzco-peru-volunteer-vacationsOn the first Sunday, we visited the Incan ruins at Tipon (a spiritual place with terraced fields and rock water courses, perched on a mountaintop and reached only by numerous switchbacks) and Pikilacta (a more ruined location yet with a long highway down the middle of “town”). Everywhere stones were piled in different arrangements, and one had to use one’s imagination to envision the purposes of the past.

On another day we visited a hillside overlooking Cuzco, overseen by a smaller version of the Brazilian Jesus, with outstretched arms. To his side was an Incan sanctuary and temple called Sacsayhuaman, again with marvelously intact and tight-fitting boulders in walls over 360 meters in length.

Our other trip was to a llama/alpaca/vicuna zoo where we were able to feed grasses to these distinctive white, brown and black animals before proceeding to a retail outlet that offered products from their wool.

We ostensibly were there to lend a hand (actually, both hands and legs and sinews and . . .) to whatever projects needed to be done. Rob Underhill, a dentist, had a specific skill that could be leveraged, so his family rose every morning at 5:30 to be driven into the upland villages to minister to the locals.

On one day we went with them, driving over passes through the lovely land, which stretched out in quilt patterns around us. Twice we had to get out of the van due to the rutty road, but we achieved our destination. Our job was to “build a stove,” while the dentist ministered to 30-35 locals, cleaning where he could – giving novocaine and pulling teeth where he had to – passing on mouths that were too far gone. One boy had a piece of sugar cane right through the center of his tooth, so both came out when the tooth was removed.

Building the stove required the kids (and the dauntless Meg!) to stomp dirt with water into mud and mix in straw for adobe bricks while John, Ram and I cut lengths of rebar (metal rods) with a dull blade. When we were done, we were informed the lengths were too long so we operated again (ah, for the maxim of measure twice and cut once). Otherwise John and I lugged professionally-made bricks on our back from a nearby site to form the base of the stove. In time it was made, though it had to dry before we could add the stovepipe to channel the smoke out of the house (this had to be done the following day). Throughout, locals came to the dentist – the field hands leaving their tools stuck in the ground – while other locals helped with the stove. It was a nice coming together of the “village.”

At the alburgue, our projects were primarily manual labor — moving large rocks, clearing and centralizing debris, knocking down a wall with a pickaxe and chopping down its poles with an axe (we sharpened it in a nearby carpentry shop). The first Monday, after 2.5 hours of this, I was so physically exhausted, I caught a nap after lunch. I had forgotten the altitude (above 10,000 feet), and we had simply gone after each task at full bore.

At the same time Meg, Sangeeta and the boys created several walkways of stone in our overall beautification project.

Had we discussed in advance what skills we had and how they could be leveraged (like the dentist’s), we may have been more productive. Perhaps next time.

Machu Picchu
Our major trip, at the end of our stay, was to Machu Picchu. As landslides had devastated the railroad and tumbled the rails into the turbulent Rio Urubamba alongside, operations had been shut down for almost two months as the Peruvian Department of Interior (so to speak) frantically rebuilt the railway and retaining walls (often using large rocks in wired cubes, which I first saw in Jackson Hole 20 years ago). The key length of track was re-opened only two days before we were due to take it, so we were marvelously lucky. From Cuzco it was a van drive of 90 minutes, followed by a two-hour, 20-kilometer train ride, made more glamorous because a kind woman attendant, taken by John’s and my twinship (as she had had an ex-boyfriend who was a twin), allowed us to occupy the paneled car, instead of a regular one.

We arrived in the town below Machu Picchu and were met by our landlord, who escorted us to the hotel. Since it was dinner time, we went to Indio Feliz, which turned out to be a highlight of the trip — marvelous food; a nice ambience with the packed house, low-slung ceiling and business cards stapled to the walls; solicitous hosts (when I told the male owner that everything was “formidable” – with a French accent, as he was French – he appeared overcome with gratitude). I had a superb French onion soup, chicken with mango, orange pie (alas, the promised ice cream was absent), and a Fanta orange soda – all for $25 (including tax and tip). And management threw in freshly made, warm garlic potato chips as well as keepsake small pots with the restaurant’s name as their “business card.”

Hector, our guide, arrived early in the meal to discuss arrangements for the following day. We proposed a schedule; he told us the schedule, which we duly accepted.

Accordingly, we were up at 4:45 a.m. for “breakfast” at 5:00 and in line at 5:15 so we could see the dawn rise. What proactive timing you may assume until you saw the line of 150 fellow tourists already ahead of us and waiting for the modern 28-passenger buses that left at 5:30 and every five minutes thereafter. Thus, over the roiling Rio Urubamba gorge and up a steep set of switchbacks, we arrived at Machu Picchu, the only unlooted Incan site, re-found in 1911 by Yale professor Hiram Bingham. Mist covered everything. Fortunately Hector had a “back story” to tell so we listened as the mist wore off, and we saw an amazing collection of steep terraces, rock structures, and seemingly endless, connected buildings, all amid steep mountains that the Incans worshipped as divine beings. Although the site was used primarily for spiritual and astronomic purposes and housed only 500 souls, its building is a remarkable accomplishment. Hector said granite from the “quarry” at the site was often used and the actual construction went on for over a century – one could well believe it. The Spaniards supposedly were unaware of the site so never attacked it, but as it had no military value, one could agree. Nevertheless, it is rightfully deemed one of the modern Seven

Wonders of the World
After the informative two-hour tour (and the sight of llamas acting as grass mowers), we returned to the buses, the drive down, the train and the bus back to Cuzco. The only break was at Ollantaytambo, where we had lunch (I had a trout ceviche in honor of Camden’s birthday), and John and I looked quickly at an impregnable fortress there, built of ramped terraces and stone bulwarks, where the Incans thwarted Pizarro’s 1536 attempt to defeat them.

Overall Perceptions
Peru is a lovely country, with soaring mountains and colorful, rocky hillsides — but the poor are everywhere evident, always walking, often carrying something. Red mud brick buildings with red tile roofs dot the landscape. The food is filling if simple, though perhaps too reliant on the staples of potato, rice and bread. Everyone looks the same: short, dark hair, dark eyes, and the older folks are old before their time. Yet, like the mountains, the people are rocky and resilient.


Our Volunteer Vacation in Peru, Part 1

Stephen Hauge was kind enough to share his story of high adventure, investigation and discovery while on a Globe Aware volunteer vacation to Peru. Enjoy Part One, Part Two is soon to follow so be sure to check back or, even better, subscribe to Globe Aware‘s RSS (Real Simple Syndication) feed by entering your email address in the Volunteer Vacations RSS Feed form in the right column.

A Trip to Peru
Your dauntless explorer and guide has returned from a 10-day sojourn to Peru, in the company of John, Meg and David, under the aegis of Globe Aware. Unlike the daily narration and multiple dispatches for my recent trips to Egypt and China, I will tell this adventure in one comprehensive perspective.

On Friday, March 26, I flew from Newark to Lima, fortunately a direct flight though of 3760 miles, and passed the time by looking at information on Peru and by reading The Prisoner of Zenda (which Humphrey Fry had read to John and me in eighth grade at St. Bernard’s). Lima, the capital, accounts for 25% of the 28 million inhabitants in Peru, where the Andes mountains, the second highest range in the world, take up 40% of the country. In 1532 the conquistadors arrived and began Peru’s 300 years as a Spanish colony. In 1824 Spain was finally defeated, and in 1980 democracy came to Peru.

Arriving about 10 p.m., taxiing to a local motel, sleeping until the 4:45 a.m. wake-up call, missing breakfast (which began at 6:00 – ugh) to taxi back to the airport, I flew 80 minutes on the 7:00 LAN Air to Cuzco — capital of the Incan civilization, a holy city, and probably the tourist center in the country. I arrived and settled in to await the arrival of John, Meg and David, who were on the 8:30 flight. With their arrival and that of our coordinator Rocio, we bundled into a taxi and drove to the alburgue, where we would stay for our visit.

On Sunday, Ram, Sangeeta and Nikhil Prasad – friends of John, Meg and David – arrived, and on Monday so did the Underhill family (Rob, Juliet, Zoey and Bailey).

The Alburgue and Kids
As you will see in the slides, the alburgue was an attractive school-like complex with bunk-bed rooms, several meeting rooms, a large dining hall, an outside concrete basketball floor that doubled for soccer, and further space for a carpentry shop. The tourist volunteers shared a bathroom that had good hot water (though non-potable water).
The purpose of the alburgue was to house boys and girls (our group were 7 -17 years of age, speaking little English) from neighboring communities and thus enable their access to education, medical care and some job training. Their parents paid in potatoes for their kids to learn – first Spanish rather than Quechua, their native tongue which was considered lower than Spanish; then, some academic and vocational skills that would enable the kids to get jobs and rise from the subsistence farming of their parents.
The kids were an interesting mix of older boys and generally middle-aged girls, who got on well. They had a natural cheerfulness and eagerness to learn and to play.
We played soccer and volleyball with them (after buying nets for both) as well as Bingo (Meg’s superb idea) and created an art project (Sangeeta’s idea). (Many of us had brought a broad range of “supplies” for the kids.) One would have thought the boys too “old’ for these activities, as well as a game of Facts in Five where they had to put the Spanish and the English word in each box – but they seemed to enjoy themselves tremendously.

On the last night before the kids went home for a few days of Easter break, they offered a dance recital. This consisted of the girls, in groups, singing and dancing. The boys had one dance number, which consisted more of abashed shuffling to music. At the end (after Meg got everyone up and dancing to some “line” music), each kid presented a thank you card and a hug to a member of the volunteers – a touching moment.

Alicia created our meals at the auberge, solid and tasty food – breakfast cereal (Corn Flakes) and milk and fruit for breakfast; delicious soups, diced tomatoes and avocados as a salad, and similar dishes for lunch (the large meal of the day); and fewer dishes, like potato latkes, for dinner. One marvel was fried chicken (though only 1.5 pieces a person) when we returned from our trip to the uplands. Potatoes, rice and bread appeared with high frequency, and we tried for the first time local drinks like a grape-colored corn beverage and watermelon juice. The highlight meal was Easter lunch, when we had three soups, fish, rice pudding and sauce, and stewed apples.
The two special off-campus meals were the three-course meal near Machu Picchu (see below) and on our last night an excellent dinner (I tried the alpaca) at the Inka Grill on the market square.

We went several times into Cuzco, once guided by Lucia. Highlights were numerous small shops reflecting the numerous entrepreneurial folks in the city (at one Rocio bought rubber shoe soles and yarn for the kids to fashion slip-ons); the market square covered with booths and colorful ground cloths spread with opportunities for the tourist or native (prices were low as discretionary spending seemed low as well); four churches, which were filled, as we arrived on Palm Sunday. Several had tall, ornamental chancels, and were highly decorated throughout. At one the padre blessed us by slinging holy water at the congregation. Another time a black Jesus was brought outside of its “cathedral” and carried through the streets while locals celebrated by throwing red fuscias upon it.

Walls from Incan times were still in evidence, with the boulders so tight-fitting that there was no room between them, even for a slip of paper.
Twice we sat on a balcony overlooking the square and had snacks while watching the scene unfold below us. One was often aware of the street sellers, struggling to get passers-by interested in their wares – not dissimilar from those in Victorian England. Young bootblacks offered to polish shoes for one sol ($0.35). How little times have changed.

To be continued …