Peru with a Purpose
Featured Writer: Cheryl
In February, 2010 a group of fellow post-grad classmates and I decided to spend our Spring Break doing something a little less cliché than Miami Beach and wet t-shirt contests; so we flew over 3,800 miles south to Peru to embark on a South American adventure. Not only did I have the burning desire to see Machu Picchu up close and personal, but this trip would provide the ultimate privilege of working with a small community that had been devastated by an earthquake three years prior.
Few things are more pleasant to a Canadian escaping winter than stepping off a plane and basking in the heat of a warm, tropical night. Lima was bright, busy, and fantastically loud. We arrived at our lodgings for the night and were happy to see we wouldn’t have to go far to enjoy our first night in Peru; the hostel was brimming with travelers, music and cervezas.
We had just one day to explore Peru’s capital before heading out and beginning our volunteer work. After negotiating cab rates before hopping in, we travelled to the downtown square to take in the presidential building, flea markets, and everything in between. One of the highlights of Lima is the coastline and sipping Pisco sours on restaurant balconies at the infamous Larcomar mall was in my opinion, the best way to appreciate the Pacific Ocean coast.
Interestingly, the city for which Peru’s favorite drink was named after was exactly where we were headed to begin our volunteer work. The lingering impact of the earthquake in Pisco was apparent. Rubble, damaged building, craters and cracks made travelling by rickshaw exceptionally bumpy and confusing.
For a week, we worked on a community greenhouse to set up walls, build shade structures, install a water-tank, pour concrete, and plant seedlings arranged through the local agency Awaiting Angels. Did I mention I had picked up a hammer twice before this? Besides the construction, every day we looked forward to hanging out with the local children, playing soccer, playing pranks, and exchanging language. Our lives our different, but not as much as people seem to think.
After a farewell dinner hosted by the Pisco community, our group headed out for the final “touristy” leg of trip. Sand-boarding anyone? In the middle of a desert, you can find the Huacachina Oasis where the biggest attraction is roller coaster-like dune-buggy rides complete with sand-boarding down the hills. Surprisingly, you do not end up with a mouthful of sand even when going down belly first!
A short flight later, we were in the heart of ancient Incan civilization, Cuzco, gateway to Machu Picchu. Unfortunately, for the first time in ten years (as luck would have it) a major mudslide had shut down the world heritage UNESCO site for a period of three weeks. (Insert groan of despair here). But when the Incan gods close a door they open a window; that window happened to be a series of less famous, but equally impressive ancient ruin sites collectively known as the Sacred Valley.
Sacsayhuaman (pronounced “sex-say woman”), Ollantaytambo, and Pisaq were just some of the inspiring locations we were able to glimpse into the life and intelligence of the ancient Incan peoples. Nothing made us feel more Peruvian than enjoying all these sights with the company of a few choice alpacas. On our final night, we were able to enjoy alpaca in an entirely different way at the Cicciolina restaurant. I don’t know how many people can say they have eaten cow tongue, alpaca meat, and cuy (guinea pig) all in one sitting, but I’m proudly one of them.
Like all good things, the Peruvian adventure had to come to an end, but not without new friends, cherished memories, and an affinity for Pisco sours. Next time, I’ll go when mudslide season is over.
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