Travel Blog 2.1: Camp Colca

Now that I have returned to Arequipa, I can now amuse you all with tales of canyons, condors, fiestas and fevers.

There was little time to rest our tired muscles after the trials of Moray. Straight back to work were we, this time helping to build a computer room for the school as well as repairing an enormous greenhouse. Crack went the whip as we wheeled rocks from one end of the village to another, dismantled beams, hammered wood, hand-mixed cement, were chased by sheep, made doors, repaired windows and sawed planks. We are really starting to get the hang of this whole construction business now and it was truly rewarding to receive the odd approving nod from the locals in recognition of our industriousness. I must take this opportunity to thank my partner in crime, Brooke. Brooke is a paragon of good, old-fashioned American enthusiasm and it is her can-do attitude that has seen me through the tough times.

And the end of each day, I was pleased to observe my increasingly toned arms in the mirror as I prepared for my bucket shower, new and improved now that we were staying in a hostel rather than a tent. No more icy breeze for me.

I prefer the little village of Pinchollo with its cleaner streets, colourful houses and healthier street dogs to the muddy, more agricultural Moray. It is nice not to feel quite so cut off from the connected world though wifi has still yet to touch this region.

There is a downside to all this. We have greatly missed all the sun in Moray, so much so that I think it made us ill. Either that or the water. Gradually one by one we Europeans (evidently weaker of constitution than our American teammates) fell fowl of a mysterious stomach infection whose symptoms included (in order of appearance) worrying internal gurglings, nausea, fever and diarrhoea resulting in terrible dehydration. I was lucky enough to walk in on the first victim. The comedy value of my day greatly improved when, upon my return to my room, a discovered one girl passed out on the floor, lying in a pool of her own, watery excrement. Fortunately she had a sense of humour. The rest of us weren’t laughing long as one by one we fell at the wayside, greatly slowing our progress with the projects. We even had another girl go to the hospital after a scarily long spell of unconsciousness which we now know was due to dehydration.

It was my turn next. What began with the familiar indications of cold or flu quickly escalated. Soon I was sweltering in my sleeping bag whilst my toes were strangely cold, driven half insane by bizarre, nonsensical dreams. The following night brought new troubles as I rushed in and out of the bathroom – a routine punctuated by groans and pleas for deliverance. Without a doubt one of the worst nights of my life. Unfortunately this struck the night before a 5 hour coach journey to Arequipa…I have never been more grateful in my life for the fact that I managed to control my stomach during this time. At least I can tick the classic traveller’s stomach difficulties off my list of authentic experiences.

The highlight of the last 10 days simply must be the Cruz del Condor. We set off at 7:30am for our “2 hour” (4 hour) trek to see the worlds largest bird in its natural habitat. On the way we saw wild horses, ate Cactus fruits and peered up at active volcanoes. We were not disappointed. In the end we got so close to the Condors that we could see the fluttering of their feathers. However, I did wish at the time that certain members of our group wouldn’t be quite so disrespectful to natures rights. I do not think obnoxious pseudo-cameramen should be allowed to test nature’s boundaries to such an extent that these majestic creatures at times appeared discomposed and uncomfortable. Otherwise, the views were incredible and the birds were on flying form. I just wish tourism could be more regulated so that creatures like the condors, ancient features of the landscape, can live in peace.

The last 10 days were also an opportunity to more closely observe rural, Peruvian life. Sunday was carnival day, a celebration of the regional representation of the Virgin Mary. After assisting in the erection of an enormous tree in the central Plaza, we were duly invited to partake in Chicken soup in a villager’s house which made my rope burns slightly more bearable. I am learning that hospitality is as integral a part of Peruvian culture as Alpaca wool.

The party that evening was unlike anything I have hitherto experienced. Picture an assortment of traditionally and contemporarily dressed Peruvians combined with goofy tunes with ill-fitting beats blasting out into the Plaza. The entire village must have been there, young and old were barely distinguishable in the thick dark and mist which enveloped the scene. Amidst all this stood the the fruit of our morning’s labours. The idea is that each member of the crowd takes a turn at hacking at the tree trunk with an axe. According to tradition, whoever fells the tree must cover the cost of next year’s tree as well as paying for the food and band.

It was a sight to behold with rings of people dancing around the tree; elderly women opening bottles with their teeth and young mothers with babies strapped to their backs taking their turn with the axe. Of course it had to be Jake, a member of our team, who felled the tree. Next thing I new I was engaged in some drunken, on-stage translation of Jake’s victory speech. I had never regretted learning Spanish until that moment.

I feel a little uneasy at Jake’s actions. This was not our fiesta. These were not our traditions. Who were we to interfere in a culture not our own? He had better repay the people adequately or I shall surely be on his case.

For now, I’m off to Lake Titicaca. See you in a bit.

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