This was it. The month long trip to Peru that I had been working towards was finally here. I remember sitting in the passenger seat on the car on the M3 and even then I couldn’t get my head around the fact I was going to a completely different country on the other side of the world.
I hadn’t fully prepared myself for the extent of how much I’d change as a person, how many new things I’d do, flying, for example. The flying itself wasn’t too bad but the airport, I have never been so stressed! I somehow managed to get through three airports, yes three, and still end up in Arequipa in one piece!
We arrived at our hostel in Arequipa, located in the south of Peru at 5am Tuesday English time. We left Heathrow at 4pm Sunday. I made a discovery during this time fellow readers, turns out I can’t sleep on planes at all! Needless to say the hostel was greatly appreciated after being awake 36 hours, thanks to a 14 hour layover in Lima airport.
To be honest, I shouldn’t really complain about the layover, despite being jet lagged and tired, it was a really good opportunity to meet the group I was travelling with. We discovered how Uno can get very stressful but very funny when someone has to pick up fourteen cards when they only had one card left.
We left the hostel the next morning, feel much more refreshed, ready for an eight hour coach journey to our first camp, in the mountainous region of Cayalloma, the biggest region out of the eight in Arequipa. We were part of a programme run by Camps International, whereby you stay in ‘camps’ and help with project work in the community.
Along the way we stopped at the little markets dotted along the sides of the roads. I forgot to barter with the traders, something that is customary in Peru but I got better as the trip went on. We were about half way through the journey when someone stopped a massive grey cloud of smoke emerge from behind the landscape, turns out we’d just witnessed our first sighting of a volcano eruption! We’d only been in Peru for twelve hours and we’d seen a live volcano go off.
Cayalloma was a lovely first camp to arrive to. The local school children welcomed us with a tradition dance and got us to join in, which was memorable. For the first few days we had the camp to ourselves, as we were the first group to arrive in the summer, and it was only a stones throw away from our project work. Even the food was great, I tried most of the different foods, as it was a once in a lifetime experience, Alpaca included (and yes it did taste like chicken)!
One aspect of the community we were in was somewhat surprising. The town had a radio, but not how you’d imagine. Instead of a normal radio station, they used a megaphone to let the town know about local and national news. We only found this out at 5am when we heard the first of many news reports, certainly an event I will probably never experience again, and meant I was able to get photos like these!
After we’d got used to our early wakeup calls, we got down to some good project work. We were building a community centre for young mothers and the elderly, which consisted of a kitchen, bathrooms and a main rooms. Throughout the week we were in Cayalloma, we dug the foundations for the building using spades and pick axes, it was hard work, especially as we were still acclimatising but it was so rewarding seeing how much we were helping these communities! We were also helping to sand pieces of wood for the new playground, which was a bit less strenuous. And the fact that volcano eruptions were a regular occurrence was pretty awesome!
On our evenings off we learned Spanish, played football against the high school students and even built a fire pit in the back of the camp! We even found a little kiosk in the town which sold Oreos, crisps and other different sweets, which was nice, as it was hard being away from home and home comforts.
Before we left Cayalloma we went on a mini trek to Colca Canyon, which involved trekking for ten hours, slightly longer than expected! Despite pulling my back out halfway down the mountain, it was amazing, we saw Condor birds which have wingspans of two metres. I even conquered my fear of heights by sitting on a massive rock at almost 4000m altitude, with a huge drop down one side!
I hope this post isn’t too long, there’s just so many memories, stay tuned for week two of Peru diaries! Thanks for reading.