Alright so I’m a bit late on this but then when am I not? Honestly you’ll get used to me and my stupid, hectic, unorganised life eventually. Anyway, now I’m sat on the sofa, wrapped in a fluffy blanket, all full of pizza, so what better time to do this eh?
At the end of July I packed my bags (4 of the bloody things) and popped off to Luton to catch a few flights, and somehow managed to end up in Peru – that’s at least 304 adulting points to me, thank you very much.
I promise two of those were full of all sorts of lovely donated things for the projects…even I’m not that much of an over-packer, honest.
Anyway, after much stress and all of the flying (and only throwing up once on the way into Lima) I arrived in Cusco at 6:30 IN THE MORNING!!! and it was bloody chilly. So this bloke (didn’t catch his name) picked me up from the airport and if it weren’t for the epic jet lag I may have been slightly more terrified by the journey to my host family’s house. If you’ve never been to Cusco, I warn you in advance that the drivers are properly mental. To my surprise I got there in one piece and met my host parents – Osmar and Virginia who live in a lovely pink house close to the centre of the city.
This is the view of the little courtyard in the centre of the house from the balcony just outside our bedroom. The shower was under the stairs and coming out into the courtyard after you’d finished to come back up stairs was the worst thing ever! Also water pressure is just not a thing in Peru so it’s either a freezing cold shower or an acceptably warm dribble – British showers were the one thing I missed.
I was sharing a room with two other girls; Talia and Abby. Talia was from LA and going into her first year of college to study physics, and Abby was an English teacher from Wisconsin. Talia left on the Sunday night to visit lake Titicaca for a couple of days, and Abby didn’t come back from her trip to Macchu Picchu until the Wednesday, so I had a couple of days alone to recover from the jet lag and altitude sickness – my introverted little soul was very happy.
This was our cute little bedroom, ft. my pyjamas folded up on the end of my bed by Virginia because she is the most adorable little thing in the world and I would happily let her adopt me.
As well as us three there were two boys in the house staying in the other room, they were both medical students from London, called Dan and Shaan. Dan is a vegetarian too so we braved the strange foods together and he warned me about ALL of the avocado so that was great.
Anyway, onto Sunday, and day 1 of exploring Cusco = I had my programme induction so the first task of the day was using my questionable Spanish speaking abilities to find the Maximo Nivel office. Virginia and Osmar’s granddaughter suggested the bus but that sounded a bit scary for the first day so I decided to go for a taxi. Luckily, being a white female tourist you don’t have to wait around long before someone honks their horn and pulls up next to you. Then honestly unless you’re a proper pro you just gotta use your common sense and hope they’re legit (or at least just trying to make some money and not wanting to take you off to their lair). So a few minutes and s/5 (that’s about £1.15 by the way) later after some impressive hand gestures and desperate attempts at Spanish small talk the taxi driver dropped me off on the right road, which turned out to be one of the biggest roads in the town centre, and left me to find my way. Luckily what little sense of direction I have served me well and I made it – hurrah! That’s some more adult points to add to the collection I think.
So induction happened and I met a few people who were doing different programmes, including a very cute Irish girl who I never saw again *longing sigh*. Then I went for lunch with someone else I met called Nuría – a lady from Barcelona who lives and works in London. We went for a quick lunch at a little veggie café, where I ordered a lemonade and was presented with this glorious wonder!
On day 2 I went to visit my placement for the first time; an orphanage on a near by estate called Kusi Wasi (or Casa Feliz, which translates to Happy House) which is home to around 25 young people who each have different disabilities of varying severities which affect them both mentally and physically. The youngest was an 8 year old girl called Luz and the oldest a 25 year old young man called Pablo. The home has three full time staff members and relies heavily on the support of volunteers and even some of the older children to entertain the young people in the afternoons. As soon as I arrived they were all so happy and excited, coming over to say hello and give me a hug. The whole time I was there they were all just so grateful to just have someone there that wanted to love them. They spend most of their time in one small room which doubles as their dining hall, and a small outdoor area with a minimal amount of toys. One of their favourite things to do was to put the radio on and dance to the music, always making sure all of the volunteers joined in. My usual mantra of “can’t dance, don’t dance, won’t dance” quickly went out the window when Marilia gave me that look.
When I wasn’t at placement I took the opportunity to explore the city a bit, and looked like a proper tourist the whole time with my bright orange backpack, taking photos of everything and not knowing what it was. I even went out for lunch by myself one day though, so you guessed it – more adult points to me!
This is La Plaza de Armas, the main square in the town where they were holding protests for a lot of the time I was there (I believe about teacher’s wages). Also that flag on the right was not for gay pride, but is actually the Incan flag – who knew?
and this mural, smack bang in the middle of Avenida el Sol which depicts the entire history of Peru from the beginning of Incan civilisation.
After a day of exploring and hanging out with all of the niños (children) I generally got back to the house around 6pm (that’s midnight for us lot), just in time for tea. Virginia was incredible and home cooked everything, including the time we came home and found her in the kitchen surrounded by homemade cheese! The best meal by far though was the spinach pasta – dunno about you but I didn’t know that was a thing – with a fried egg just plonked artistically on top. That is my kind of cookin’.
This was the view from our bedroom by the way…just ’cause it was nice
Then I had the best day ever when I decided to go and do some proper sight seeing and visit some historic monuments. I planned to go and see Saqsaywaman so started walking up the hill and visited a little church-type-thing on the way (I have no idea…I tried to google it…I failed), the view across Cusco was proper swanky though.
They were selling stuff everywhere – even all the way up there! Love it.
So, after a quick pit stop for photos and general touristy gazing I continued on up the hill and made it as far as the entrance gate to saqsaywaman…and that’s where my original plans were thwarted! …by a man with access to a horse. If you say the sentence, “hey, you wanna ride a horse?” you will be my friend for life. Then this random man took me in a car with his pal to a little ranch (yes this was the most anxiety inducing thing I have ever decided to do, I was momentarily afraid I was being kidnapped.) Here I was introduced to ‘the horse man’ Jesus, and my favourite part of the whole trip…
…the beautiful Divino, AKA the sassiest pony I’ve ever had the pleasure of hanging out with – he tried to kick Jesus at least three times, just because he could.
Me and Divino took a nice little stroll through the hills of Cusco where we did get to see some of Saqsayqaman and even got to stop to look around Qenko and el templo de la luna (the temple of the moon) where I paid s/5 to take a photo of this lovely little man playing his flute, which I just researched and think is called a Quena – see you’re learning things, this hasn’t been a waste of time after all.
Then I had to say goodbye to Divino but got to walk back down to the centre of the town with two people who came riding with us; Pilar and her boyfriend who’s name I can’t remember. I’ve already said that my Spanish is questionable and unfortunately so was his English, but we did have a lovely chat with what we could manage to understand. We also got to visit el Christo Blanco (or giant Jesus as I called him) on the way back down and my gay pagan ass managed not to spontaneously combust – hurrah!
Now back to Kusi Wasi, and my beautiful niños. On one of the days we had three volunteers and one of the staff members so we got to take the young people to the park. They don’t get to get out of the orphanage very often so this was a proper treat for them and we all had great fun, even if I did get stuck in the child-sized slide while Valentino giggled at me. I also managed to pull a super hero move and save little Caleb from being knocked out by a child on a swing; diving underneath him and pulling him to safety like a ninja!
There was one young person in particular who I wanted to spend so much more time with and just try to understand her and care for her. Yessica was pretty quiet for the first few days, generally just sitting in the corner with some of the older girls. Then one night at dinner she had finished eating and wouldn’t let anyone take her empty dish away and got very visibly distressed about it. From what I could gather she was almost completely non-verbal so it was difficult for her to convey what she was feeling. It turned out that the reason she was so upset was because she wanted more food but there wasn’t any. So one of the workers took her into the kitchen with her bowl and showed her the empty pot just to prove it. I wonder whether the reason for her extreme reaction was the frustration at not being able to convey what she was feeling, or perhaps relating to previous experiences before she came to the orphanage where it’s likely that food was in short supply. After dinner she came and sat next to me in the hall and was still quite upset, so I offered her a hug. We sat together for a while as she calmed down. Unfortunately I had to leave to get the bus home before she was really ready so I was worried that perhaps this might have made her more upset. I explained that I had to leave and that I would be back tomorrow, and I’m not 100% sure that she understood but she let me go and seemed ok when I left. To my surprise, the next day when I came in she headed straight for me, and spend the entire afternoon just sitting with me. It seemed that just the little bit of kindness that I showed her when she was upset was all she really needed, and she became really attached to me for the rest of the week.
Then my last day at placement came round before I even realised and I walked across the huge red bridge that made me want to die for the last time. Luckily I’d bought some mint humbugs for the plane there so I shared those round the young people and allowed them a little taste of Britain. I also confused a couple of Americans with the phrase “wanna humbug?” ’cause apparently that’s just not a thing.
We spent the rest of my last afternoon dancing and singing, and I tried to get photos with all of them, which Elizban was happy about seeing as he’d been asking all week. Then the lovely Carmen Luz did a little speech to say thank you and I really didn’t want to leave. Can I go back yet?
On the very last day I had to go to the office to check out, so with Abby and Talia I walked into town and to the office. On the way we stopped to check out this awesome waterfall that had a passage behind it.
Then on the way back I popped into the centro artesenal and bought a dream catcher and then accidentally haggled with a woman to buy a bag for s/45 instead of s/50. Woohoo!
Then that was it, I went back to the house and said goodbye to Virginia and Osmar, then made my way to the airport to start my mammoth journey home – what a week!
Now, I miss my little Niños every single day, and I hope that one day I’ll get to go back and see their grinning little faces again. In the meantime, here are a couple of fundraisers set up by other volunteers, just like me, who have fallen in love with the beautiful young people at Kusi Wasi who have the biggest hearts of anyone I’ve met.