Duncan Hewitt - Archaeology, Inca Project in Peru
Before I left for Peru I was quite apprehensive about what it would be like - I had visions of arriving in an unknown city, lost, all alone, and not really knowing what to do. However, it was nothing like that at all, and my time in Peru was just incredible.
I was met on landing in Cusco, after a breathtaking flight over the Andes, by Projects Abroad staff who took me first to the local Projects Abroad office and then to my host family's house, where I then met all the other volunteers. I very soon felt at home there, in this amazingly different environment. The balance between being abandoned in an unknown culture, and westernised pampering, was perfect - the volunteers were basically left to immerse themselves in Peruvian life, while at the same time, if things went wrong, the Projects Abroad staff were right there on hand to deal with it. The other volunteers were great too, especially if you just felt a bit down or home sick.
The town we lived in for the Inca Project, Pisac, is in a stunningly beautiful location in the Sacred Valley - huge steep sided mountains rising up on each side for as far as you can see. The town is quite small, but thriving - the main plaza and the vibrant daily market are the lifeblood of the community. On Sundays there is an extra large market, famed throughout the land, and of course the tourists flock to it in their droves. Above the town there are some of the most amazing Inca ruins and terraces in the region, reachable by a stunning climb from the town. They are perched majestically overlooking the Sacred Valley, amongst steep sided crags and generally inhospitable landscape, but on first arriving at the magnificent temple of the sun, it is difficult not to be awestruck by both the choice of location and the unbelievable architectural skill of the Incas.
As well as working on a variety of astonishingly impressive Inca ruins - cleaning, digging, repairing etc. with the project we also went on treks and visited remote communities regularly - in the three months I was there we went on several day treks, as well as a two day and a four day trek, through wild and beautiful landscape that you would never have visited otherwise. The great thing about the project was the fact that you got to visit ruins and countryside that is off the tourist trail, and you realise how much there is to see and understand about the country and the people.
As a volunteer, living with the locals, you begin to perceive so much more than you do as a tourist - you start to understand the whole thing at a different level - it is your home too, as you see the coach-loads of tourists visiting week after week, watch the gradually changing seasons and weather, take part in fiestas and local traditions with your family, and catch the bus every morning, standing crammed in next to an native Indian lady with a box of chickens, or a little man who chats away to you in cheerful unintelligible Spanish. The experience of living in such a vibrant and lovely community was incredible, the people were wonderful, and it was amazing to be so immersed in a culture so different from our own.