Eleanor Fry - Archaeology, Inca Project in Peru
When I reached Cusco after my flight from Lima, one of the staff from the Projects Abroad office came and picked me up. Then, after a brief visit to the office, I got to meet my family: my 'mum & dad', Mabel & Justo, and my brothers, Keny & Jose, and my sister Geraldine. I lived with the family and my other English housemate Simon, in Pisac, a town in the Sacred Valley.
During the week I worked with a group of biologists who were studying the effect of tourism on the plants and animals at the huge site of Sacsayhuaman (say sexy woman with a Jamaican accent and its just about right!), and dug at an excavation on the same site, I also had Spanish and history lessons. When I arrived I had taught myself enough Spanish to just about be able to say 'yes', 'no', 'please' and 'thank you', but that was it. By the end of my trip, I could hold a conversation with my family, joking about the 'gringo' tourists. Remember: when you are a volunteer, you are definitely NOT a tourist! It's a matter of pride. Your town becomes your home, not just somewhere to visit and see the sites, but somewhere where you greet friends in the street, and the guy collecting money on the bus knows exactly where you want to get off without you saying anything.
At the time there were plenty of other volunteers, both from Projects Abroad and other organizations, staying nearby, which was great when you felt like being a tourist, or needed a hug because you were homesick. Not that that happened very often, the family I stayed with was absolutely amazing, and were determined to make me feel at home (and that I should learn some of the local language - Quechua!).
We took a trip to Lake Titicaca. I would count that as one of the best weekends of my life. It was simply amazing. We caught a coach to Puno, and found a hostel. Then on the Saturday we went on a boat trip to Taquile, and the Uros Islands. If you go nowhere else in Peru, go there. It was incredible; I can't describe it more, go yourself and see. The other thing that the volunteers were good at was partying, and nights out in Cusco (and, bizarrely, Urubamba, which is tiny), were a regular occurrence. Just don't let yourself drink too much; hangovers at an altitude of around 3000 meters are not much fun!
As part of the program we camped in the cloud forest (muchos mosquitos!) where the current Inca Projects take place. We spent a day walking the mountains, past the locals (who thought we were mad), to some ruins at the top of one of the passes. We also took various other trips to museums, to a school to paint, and to fiestas. There seems to be a fiesta every other week! I had my birthday in Peru, and after eating a feast of roast duck prepared by my host-mum (but my brother cooked pudding-lemon meringue), we went to the square to watch the fireworks; it was the feast of the assumption, and the whole town turned out into the square to watch the display, and to laugh at the firemen who had to be called when the sparks set 'the tree' alight.'The tree' is famous; it even has a mention in the Rough Guide!
What's the food like? Well, loads of potatoes! Fried platanos (banana) goes very well with fried egg & rice; quinoa soup; guinea-pig (very, very rich taste, and they serve them whole!), and alpaca were all consumed at some point. At one meal I had rice, potato, yam and pasta all on the same plate. Don't go to Peru if you're trying to cut your carbs!
But, before I finish, a trip to Peru is not complete with out seeing Machu Picchu. I went on my last weekend, with one other volunteer. We got up horribly early, to catch the first bus up the hill, and managed to see the site with hardly any touristas. I started a conversation with one of the archaeologists working there, who, when I explained that I was an archaeologist, gave me a free tour of the site (in Spanish - not for the faint-hearted!), including the bits not many people see. Thank you whoever you are!
In all, my trip was amazing, I cried when I had to go home, and I still miss the people, and animals (namely 'my' dog Moda) I met there. Hopefully I will go back and visit one day, and drink Pisco Sour with my family again, and see the mountains and the ruins, and all the things I didn't have time for. And the staff at Projects Abroad helped to make it one of the best experiences of my life so far. (They didn't ask me to say that, it's true!)