Saturday, 26 November 2011

#2 30b430 - Teach some English

When I was putting together my #30b430 list, one of the things which was really easy to add to it was some voluntary work. In the past some of the best experiences I have had on my travels have been working on projects alongside local people and other volunteers, so I knew it was definitely something I wanted to do again. I also like to feel as though I am doing something, however small, to help people in the country I am visiting. Travelling has thousands of benefits but a big one for me is that is really makes me appreciate life at home. While the UK is by no means perfect, I like living in a country where healthcare and education (minus the soon-to-become-a-reality extortionate university fees) are free. It´s heartbreaking to see old people here who are forced to beg on the streets and mothers who can´t afford to feed their children.
After making the decision to slow things down and stay around in Arequipa for a while I came across Traveller Not Tourist, an organisation which runs two projects in the city: an orphanage and an after-school programme where volunteers teach English and play with the children. I signed up to do two weeks at the school and was asked to take on the adults class.
At first I was a little disappointed as I´d had images of being surrounded by lots of cute kids in a Mary Poppins-esque manner (I even had the songs ready and everything). But then I remembered that the whole point in voluntary work is to go where you are needed, so I agreed to run the class. In hindsight this was definitely the best option. I really enjoyed my time with the adults, who were aged 17 to 22, and feel like they were probably able to benefit more from the short time I was able to spend at the school.
The Traveller Not Tourist School is located in the community of Flora Tristan, an under-resourced area on the outskirts of the city.  As most of my students worked or studied at university there were only a couple of regulars who came every day, while others just turned up every now and again, which could make lesson planning quite difficult. However there were usually a few of extra guests in the classes, including babies, dogs and even a monkey!

Some of my additional students.

My two weeks at the school flew by and I enjoyed planning lessons for the group and thinking up new games. It was also definitely a challenge for my Spanish as I tried to explain new rules and vocab.

Another brilliant lesson plan...

By the time I left I was fairly confident that my intermediate student had a good grasp of the past tense and that my beginners had been successfully introduced to the language. It would have been great to have been able to stay longer but unfortunately Machu Picchu was calling me.
Volunteering enabled me to meet some fantastic people, many of whom were really committed to the projects and had given months - and in one case more than a year - to ensure its success. As well as the day-to-day running of the school I also saw how hard the volunteers worked to ensure other projects could take place. They included three children receiving scholarships from the organisation to study at a private school, a fundraising football match and a meeting for parents about health and hygiene.

Some of the niƱos who attend the school.

Another highlight of my time in Arequipa was living with the other volunteers in a shared house. While on one hand this was like stepping back in time to my student days (think dirty dishes on the sink etc.), it was also incredibly fun. We had lots of great moments in the house - many of which revolved around food - and also explored the city (mainly it´s restaurants). As many of you have already heard I was also introduced to The World´s Best Lemon Meringue Pie. Does anyone see a food theme here?    

One of the downsides of communal living...

...but there are many, many, more good times.

(Including discovering The World`s Best Lemon Meringue Pie!)
All in all it was a fantastic experience and although I´ll be ticking it off my list I really hope I´ll get the chance to do some more voluntary work before my trip is over.
For more information about Traveller Not Tourist visit

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Rules of the road

 As far as I can tell you can use your horn to say any of the following things on the roads in Peru:
1. Watch out, I'm behind you.
2. Get out of my way.
3. Hurry up.
4. Slow down.
5. (To pedestrians) Don't cross.
6. (To pedestrians) Cross.
So pretty much for any occasion...
The roads in Arequipa are interesting to say the least. I've tried hard to see whether drivers do follow any rules but as far as I can see people seem to make up their own. These include cars lining up side by side to turn left onto a main road (rather than waiting behind each other); pulling out of junctions directly into oncoming traffic and veering around buses which stop frequently for passengers who flag them down (no bus stops here for mean drivers to sail past).
I am assuming that there is some kind of seatbelt law, as many of the drivers wear their seatbelts draped across their chests but not actually plugged it - as though they are merely a fashion accessory rather than a potentially life-saving device.
Being settled in one place for a couple of weeks means I have been able to experience a lot more of the day to day life in Peru and one of my favourite parts of the day is the journey to and from school.
The bus we take is an old yellow school bus from America. After flagging it down, the next task is to squeeze yourself into a spot. Usually all of the seats are taken so the trick is to try and wedge yourself in as securely as possible, as the bus drivers have a tendency to carry out emergency stops (either to pick up a passenger or as a result of another car pulling in front of them.)
Standing for the duration of the journey isn't too bad for someone short like me. For once in my life I'm about 'average' height here in Peru. But for one of our volunteers who is 6ft 7ins, it can get a bit uncomfortable as he has to stand with his neck at an angle for the whole journey.
The ride to school costs 20p and usually takes about 45 minutes. However it's good to allow more time as it's not unusual for the bus to stop to fill up with petrol on the way, often only about 40 soles worth (less than 10 pounds).
I love people watching during the journey. The bus is always filled with excited school children, who like to shout 'hello, goodbye' at us; women carrying huge bags from the market, with their babies strapped to their backs in colourful blankets and people in smart suits going to and from their jobs in the city. We've already met a few characters, including a man who requested that the bus driver changed the cheesy Latino pop music for his Mick Jagger album before proceeding to tell us, in the Queen's English, how Mick had changed his life.
After two weeks something tells me that I'll never be able to figure out what the official rules of the road are here but I've definitely had fun trying to work it out.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

A is for Arequipa

One of the suggestions on my list - by someone who is clearly trying to prolong my fun - is to visit places which begin with letters of the alphabet (in order). I guess it will be quite a while before I can officially tick this one off, but I'm kicking it off with Arequipa.

As soon as I arrived in Peru's second largest city I loved it. I love Plaza de Armas, the main square in front of the cathedral, which is always filled with people no matter what time of day it is. I love the fact that wherever you are you can catch a glimpse of one of the three volcanoes, El Misti (5,822m), Chachani (6,075m) and Pichu Pichu (5,571m), which dominate the skyline (for comparison the UK's highest mountain Ben Nevis stands at 1,344m.) I love the friendliness of the people. I love the men who polish shoes in the square and the others who sit with their typewriters, writing letters for people. I could sit and watch them all day.

My favourite place in Arequipa, Plaza de Armas.

Pretty hard to miss Misti.
Old School letter writing.

I also love the food here. As soon as I arrived I was lucky to meet two Canadian foodies Chris and Mark (who I must give a shout out to, as unfortunately by the time they read this they'll be back at their desks - sorry boys!). In the space of two days the three of us managed to eat our way through some of the most delicious food, usually at the recommendation of the locals. They ranged from rocoto relleno, chillies stuffed with meat (hot!) to chupe de camarones, shrimp soup. Sunday's special in Arequipa is adobo, pork which is marinated overnight before being cooked with spices in a clay pan and served in a gravy. It may be a world away from Yorkshire puddings but if you don't get there early they'll be sold out by lunchtime. I'm starting to get slightly worried about fitting into that bridesmaid's dress in April!

And so it begins, with rocoto relleno...

Eating my way around Arequipa with Mark and Chris.

But the thing I love most about Arequipa is the weather. I have finally found somewhere warm, where I don't have to live in the one hoody I brought with me, and I don't intend to leave for some time...

Sunday, 6 November 2011

The journey so far...

Like many countries in South America, the diversity of Peru amazes me. In the two weeks since I have been here I have spent time in big cities, experienced the wildlife on remote islands, been sand boarding down huge dunes in the desert and almost been pushed down a canyon by a mule.

Here are the highlights so far:

Islas de Ballestas

Nicknamed 'the poor man's Galapagos', I was expecting my trip to the islands to be a knocked-down version of a David Attenborough programme, with maybe the odd chance of seeing a bird or two.

But having managed to keep my stomach on the boat on the way over, I was rewarded with scenes which looked as though we had arrived on a film set. As we approached the islands pelicans flew alongside our boat and overhead thousands of birds filled the sky. It really was an amazing sight, which is impossible to capture in a photograph.

As we got closer to the islands we saw lots of Humboldt penguins bumbling along and, my favourite, huge colonies of sea lions which were sprawled out in the sun, looking perfectly satisfied with their lot in life.

Cute little guys.

Life is good.


Built as a resort for the Peruvian elite, this oasis is now famous for the sand boarding trips locals offer on the huge sand dunes which surround the two tiny streets which form the town.

Crammed into a dune buggy which the driver drove at breakneck speed over the massive dunes was scary enough for me. Battling up the steep slopes before flying down the other side was like being on a rollercoaster - without feeling as safe.

So when the time came to try the sand boarding (like snow boarding, but with sand - you get the picture) I opted for the easiest way to get down to the bottom which was to lay down on the board and slide down. At least it seemed like the best option. It was only as I was hurtling down the first dune that I realised a) you needed to keep every bit of you on the board or else suffer some severe friction burns and b) your only `brakes` were your feet. Needless to say I was the only person screaming.

It`s a hard job, but someone`s got to hang out here.

Woohoo, I survived!

Colca Canyon

Goodbye beautiful shoes...

...hello ugly hiking boots.

What the tour advertisement said: `On the third day you will get up at 8am and after breakfast you will take a leisurely 25 minute walk to the town.`
Translation: `On the third day you will get up at 5am. You will then walk up the side of a steep canyon for three hours. Along the way the sun will rise and as you bake in the heat a passing mule may try to knock you over the edge. You will arrive at the top of the canyon at 8am and, only then, will we give you breakfast.`

In all honesty, although the trek was not what I thought I`d signed up for, the canyon is absolutely beautiful. Day one of the trek was all downhill as we made our way into one of the world`s deepest canyons (3191m). The stony paths were pretty steep and, of course, I was the first one to fall. Most of the walking was finished by lunchtime and we had our meals and stayed overnight with a family who live in the canyon. For the first time on the trip so far I had my own room, which was bliss - even if it didn`t have any electricity.

The second day included another three hour hike, which ended in a pretty oasis. But it was the final day which was the toughest (and the most unexpected on my part!). We set off at 5am, just as the sun was rising and battled our way up very steep paths which zig-zagged up the canyon. Not only was the trek made more tricky by the altitude, which made it hard to breath, but there was also the hazards of passing mules to watch out for. Everything which is brought into the canyon arrives by mule so we got used to listening out for the clattering of hooves as they raced down the paths. They were usually accompanied by local men, with radios slung across their chests, as their own personal walkmen.

The trip was also my first chance to see some of the more traditional way of life in Peru. At many of the places we stopped women dressed in beautifully coloured outfits, with young children strapped to their backs with blankets, sold hats, scarves and toys they had made.

The beautiful Colca Canyon.

Not bad to have climbed a canyon by 8am. Who said I wasn`t a morning person?!

Shaken and stirred

When the table first started to shake at my hostel in Huacachina it took a second for me to process what was going on. At first I thought it was just a lorry going by until I realise we were in the middle of a desert and there was unlikely to be any heavy traffic passing through.

In the time it took me to compute that the ground beneath me was also swaying from side to side I heard the staff at our hostel shouting `earthquake`in Spanish and everyone ran for the door. Unlike you would expect back at home, there was no orders to follow, it was every man for himself, so we followed suit. Outside mothers were screaming, children were crying and tourists stood around looking dazed.

After 30 seconds or so the movement stopped and everyone stood shell-shocked for a minute. It was at that moment that one of the downsides of travelling alone really hit me. All around me people were reassuring each other and all I could think as I felt my heart racing was that I really needed a hug.

Legs shaking, we went back into the building. Although the staff assured us earthquakes were normal in the area, they too seemed shocked by the force of it. One member of staff shook his head and said to me: `We thought it was going to be a big one`.

It turns out the earthquake measure 6.9 Richter scale and a number of buildings in nearby Ica were damaged. Fortunately Huacachina was not affected too badly. However the concern felt by locals is understandable given the devastating earthquakes the country has seen in recent years. In 2007 80 percent of the nearby city of Pisco was destroyed in a huge earthquake, which measured 8.0, and much of it has still not been rebuilt.

Julio, who worked at my hostel, told me the experience had changed his view of life. He had lived with his grandmother but their house was destroyed during the earthquake and now he works in Huacachina and sends money home for his brothers and sisters.

He said: `Nature is more powerful that all of us. It can change your life in a second. Before I was always looking to the past or to the future but now I live for today. As long as life is tranquillo, I am happy.`

Sometimes it take someone else to put things into perspective.