And so my adventure begins. Having bid my mother a fond farewell at Gatwick airport, I began to dip my toes into the icy water of independence. Icy not in an unpleasant form but icy because it is refreshing, risky, unusual. The journey went well. I spent the whole extravaganza in an state of intense anxiety as I muddled my way through 3 separate flights. Horrific. All was saved by the absolute fittie next to me who kindly tolerated my presence for the duration of the 12 hour flight from Madrid to Cuzco. Whoever you are, you smelt amazing and obeyed cabin etiquette to a T. I will say though that your taste in music was iffy, don’t get me wrong I love a bit of JB but to keep up a constant playlist for the entire flight was really a little beyond appreciation. My friend, you are an addict.
The plan for the next two months is to work as a volunteer for Camps International, a program which predominantly focuses on improving the daily lives of people in rural communities. Some of the initiatives that the Peruvian branch include English teaching, building facilities such as classrooms and lavatories, and helping to improve food production. My first two days in Peru have been spent getting used to the altitude in Cuzco, exploring the ancient city and getting to know my other eager volunteers.
As somebody that likes to pride themselves on being fairly fit and strong, getting around has been disconcerting. Not only is Cuzco full of hills but also the high altitude means climbing a flight of stairs goes from a painless inconvenience to a breathless test of endurance. Fortunately it only takes around 48 hours to feel normal again. Hydration and sleep are the key. I thought I’d be struggling with the 5 hour time difference but it turns out if you just sleep when everybody else does you soon get into the swing of things.
Today I did a lightning tour of Cuzco, taking in the Plaza de Armas, Qoricancha and Santa Domingo and el mercado de San Sebastian. Surprisingly my Spanish is holding up, it turns out that confident miming and disjointed words get you places. The city itself is charming with its narrow streets, reckless drivers (who incidentally have no qualms about accelerating towards pedestrians) and busy shops. The colours are amazing, not only from the flowers that line the streets but also from the intricately patterned alpaca-wool embroidery. It is difficult to determine whether the locals are so friendly because tourism is the beating heart of the Peruvian economy or because they are naturally disposed that way. I prefer to believe the latter. I love the women and children. There’s a real warmth that seems to radiate, they want to share this place with outsiders.
This struck me as interesting given that the history of South America is one that depicts the harm that outsiders can cause. Take Qoricancha as an example. This was formerly one of the most important Inca temples here in Cuzco which was believed to be the very centre of the world. When the Spanish arrived it was partially destroyed and promptly squashed by the Catholic cathedral built on top. These are people who have been imposed upon by outsiders and yet they still seem so keen to welcome and share. I look forward to learning more about this intriguing dynamic.
Tomorrow we leave for the community of Camp Moray where we will be staying in tents, helping to improve the sanitary infrastructure of the area. No wifi for a while but I’m looking forward to the freedom of a wire-free life for a couple of days. Slightly disconcerted by one thing though: camping.