Volunteer stories : Maddie B., Incan & Wari Archaeology in Peru
In the summer of 2014, I travelled to Huyro, Peru, to take part in the Inca & Archaeology Short-term special project. I was nervous; I’ve never flown by myself before, I was going to have to meet new people, my Spanish was very basic.
But, despite my anxiety, the decision to go to Peru was the best decision I’ve made my life, thus far. I can honestly say I had the most amazing, unforgettable experience, and all the vaccination injections beforehand were more than worth it!
Arriving in Cusco
Before I even got to Peru, I had spoken to three of the seven volunteers who would volunteer on the same project. We kept in contact via email and Facebook as Projects Abroad had helped us get in touch. I found this extremely helpful; I already felt like I knew the people I’d be sharing this once-in-a-lifetime experience with.
Moreover, I would be travelling with another English girl – we were getting the same flights! This meant we met up before hand, and both of us felt less daunted by the three planes we had to catch and the flight connections. In hindsight, we had nothing to worry about; the airports were easy to get around and I found I had no problems at all.
I would also add that the plane from Lima to Cusco flies over the most breath-taking terrain I’d ever seen – grab the window seat! I couldn’t stop taking pictures of the stunning mountains and the sea of clouds (don’t forget your camera).
When we arrived in Cusco, we were picked up by Hugo, who took us to the hostel we’d be staying in for two nights, before taking the hair-raising mini bus journey to the archaeological placement. Here we met the other volunteers, and settled in. We came from all over the world: England, New Zealand, Canada, America, Belgium, etc. We were soon engaged in some friendly banter, debating whether it was ‘crisps’ or ‘chips’ and who spelt things the right way! I would say the Brits won, but then, I’m bias.
My time in Peru
The few days in Cusco were spent hopping from one archaeological site to another, and experiencing as much of the historical city as we could. We explored Sacsayhuaman (say Sexy Woman and you’re about right on the pronunciation), watched a local Peruvian dance show, marvelled at Tambo Machay and Puka Pukara, trekked up Ollantaytambo and hiked through the mind boggling Pisac ruins – my favourite site, and I would argue on a par with Machu Picchu.
We ate traditional dishes (mainly consisting of chicken and chips – yum) and even got to visit a textile-making factory, with llamas, and as an added bonus we got to feed them. This soon turned into the challenge of who could take the best ‘llama selfie’ with hilarious results.
At my placement
We arrived at El Establo at 6pm. It was dark, it was humid, and there was a bat called Steven flying around our room (who flew out after we left him in peace). We were definitely not in Cusco anymore, and I found myself thinking about home for the first time since I’d arrived.
However, as it is often said, first impressions are usually wrong, and this was unquestionably the case. In the morning Dan gave us a tour, and I suddenly realised how lucky I was to be on such a fantastic project. The surroundings were beautiful, the people were extremely friendly, and the excitement of what would await us all overpowered any small doubts I’d had the night before. The food was delicious as Isa is a great cook, and one night we even made pizzas together.
Even as 2 Week Special volunteers (we called ourselves ‘Tweekers’) we were absorbed into the main volunteer group straight away. I found there was the right balance of support and independence. After being split into three groups, we were allocated one of three activities every day; two groups travelled up the mountain (one to excavate and one to explore, looking for more ruins), and the last to stay at Establo and carry out chores, such as tree clearing and helping at the brick factory.
Excavating was awesome – even with no previous experience we were handed trowels and brushes, given our own squared section, and set off digging. I found some pottery pieces, and Zenobio, the head archaeologist, discovered a huge piece, which would’ve been the side of a pot containing coffee beans.
In addition, the exploration up the mountain really felt like we could’ve been in an Indiana Jones movie; we had to make our own path with machetes through the jungle, always on the lookout for signs of Incan life. It was tough – 2,000 steps alone to the first excavation site, but the challenge just made the experience sweeter.
On one particular day, Américo, who led us for the explorations and drove the bus, pretended he’d lost his keys up the mountain, so we all thought we’d have to sit there for hours whilst someone came to rescue us, or went back up the mountain to find them. He even pretended to ring Establo, before telling us he was joking – I must admit, I would’ve loved to have seen our faces. To get him back, the next day we pretended that a volunteer had cut his head by using ketchup from lunch, and then ran down the mountain when we heard the explorers making their way back to us.
Unfortunately, they came back too early, and caught us running. We only scared them for a second because we couldn’t stop laughing at our own terrible acting skills!
I have so many incredible stories from my short time in Peru that I haven’t even scratched the surface. The trip to Machu Picchu was so fantastic – I still can’t believe I got to see this amazing place.
Furthermore, I will always remember watching the World Cup semi-final in Peru, taking the chilli challenge, bonfire nights, the makeshift barbers, the spiders bigger than my hand, the sublime chocolate bars, the Festival of St. Carmen, the picarones, the caramel spread, the cold showers after ditch clearing, the attempt to learn Dutch, the attempt to learn some Quechua, the football pitch in the middle of the jungle, the walk to Aguas Calientes along the railway, the Inca Cola, dressing up as ‘gringos’, Uncle Jorge, helping the children in the stimulation centre, carrying a thousand bricks, the archaeological baptism, trying guinea pig, trying alpaca, trying cocoa leaves and finally learning the funniest card game ever created: Irish Slam.
So, what are you waiting for? Get booking!
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