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 …


1 Comment
  1. […] 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 […]

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