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Always room for change

I have grown quite a bit since I got to Paraaa… not physically, I think I have maybe shrunk (If that was even possible!)( as I was already very small) but my friends and colleagues say that I have changed and developed a lot for the better. Yes, WIN! It has been fantastic to have been surrounded non-stop for 10 months by such an abundance of cultures, languages, various ways of living and thinking. And travelling is not the same as living with a group of people for nearly a year, but I have also managed to travel a fair amount since being here – a generous amount of holiday time and many incredible places so nearby! I have worked with fantastic children who have the most beautiful smiles ever but the most worrying and mouth-opening impoverished backgrounds – and developed my teaching skills along the way. Many of the kids I will miss so much, them climbing all over me, laughing at my ridiculousness and constantly asking me to take out my piercings! I want to smuggle some in my suitcase to call my own, but this I will not do!

And I now have an infinite number of super cool, interesting and beautiful friends all over the world, who have treated me like family and I know, will continue to. I can´t wait to be reunited with them in the future and to go and visit them, reflect on our time in Peru and what we can do together, travelling, living together or whatever it may be. I feel fairly selfish to be enjoying this opportunity for free when most of the world have never left their country, and guilty from learning so much, and not really making that much of a real difference, after all 10 months is hardly anytime. But I urge everyone to grab an opportunity like this if they get the chance. So there have been an infinity of positives that everyone involved in the organisation have shared and helped create, but like life, and everything there were also some aggravating moments with simple, everyday things…like living conditions, contract breachments and at times the lack of professionalism from the ones in charge. They really form a tiny part of my whole stay here but I find that it is important to share the frustrations that many volunteers went through, that weren´t visibly resolved, or resolved in ways that didn´t seem to change much.

As we all know, SKIP is run by the help of volunteers and without that help it would be nothing. But not according to the ex-coordinator of human resources, apparently “The volunteers do not matter, as long as there is poverty, SKIP will exist.” But how would an NGO not completely crumble without it´s volunteers? In NGOs all around the world, working towards equality and worldwide issues, there needs to be an equilibrium… and to achieve this the vital ingredients include flexibility, communication, openness to constructive criticism and ideas that the workers bring, and a central belief in democracy. Up at the office, when we are working directly with the children and parents we are a fantastic team, and if there is imbalance it gets noticed immediately and a meeting will be held and things always got better again. And with such movement of volunteers, some being here for 2 weeks and some for 2 years, it can be hard keeping the balance. But the problems rooted more from higher up…the people we hardly ever saw, who would appear at times to have follow up meetings or come to set new rules after hearing things that passed through the grapevine. With such distance from these bosses, and no answers to our questions we started to feel powerless, drowned out and ignored, planting a feeling of exploitation among the workers.

With many of the volunteers paying a hefty sum of money in order to volunteer here, and no awareness of where most of this money goes, assumptions can easily made imagining where this money is ending up – the lack of transparency could be easily resolved if volunteers were told how much it costs to run the organizations for a year and where their’ donations’ were going to, or they could feel it was being mismanaged. The average British volunteer pays 400 pounds a month, whereas a whole apartment by the beach can be easily found for 128 pounds a month. Expanding on what that includes: In the volunteer house this can include a shared or if you´re lucky, a private room. Shared bathrooms with hot water, a kitchen shared with 20 people, and wifi. In your own apartment you can find your own room, a living room, your own bathroom with hot water, personal kitchen, wifi and drinking water…oh and a sea view.

So The 400 pounds is for fairly basic living conditions, and in addition doesn’t include drinking water( which is really an essential) and the only cleaning product provided is bleach and most of the time washing up soap. I agree completely that the majority of this sum should go straight towards the SKIP centre and not spent on home luxuries for the spoilt gringos, but some of it should maybe go towards important jobs around the house of volunteers. For example when I had just arrived the bathroom I shared with 9 other people had a leaky toilet. This meant that the whole time the floor had about an inch of toilet water covering all of it, and this wasn´t fixed for a good month or so. Other examples could be a volunteer whose bed was completely broken and wasn´t replaced for 5 months. There are rooms with no glass in the windows or without curtains, privacy can be important to some people! And with no talk of how the money gets divided up and where it gets spent, volunteers quickly make assumptions or become frustrated.

We are all human, everyone makes mistakes, and no one can be truly professional all the time. Time needs to be taken in making decisions and also situations reviewed after a change, and there is always space for apologies. I highly disagree with the practice of confrontation about issues with workers when they are ill or have been drinking, as none of these times is going to get a good response. I think accusing volunteers of lying or suggesting that they are delusional is inflammatory. Shouting at your workers is a no no for me, discussing is better. Creating random rules in fits of anger based on emotions and for not feeling included in decision making can make bosses unpopular and unapproachable. Even when rules only influence the people living in the house, there have been cases where the volunteers themselves had no say in that decision making process – as if we are children incapable of regulating ourselves.

One situation that happened to me was that when I arrived I understood that all my travel costs were included in my contract. But a possible mistake made by the organisation providing my money (Not SKIP) was they had not taken into account the money needed to make trips to the nearest border to renew my tourist VISA which is a 12 hour journey ONE WAY! Needing an overnight stay – explain as it could be just an hour away) My sending organisation prides themselves on making these worldwide volunteering opportunities available to everyone, if you have no money they make it possible for you to travel and work in other countries. But without that extra money to renew your visa what are you supposed to do if you rely entirely on that money? The bosses’ solution was initially; “well….you should have emergency medical money in case of a situation where you’d need to seek medical attention, so use that. And if you didn’t come with that then you’d be fairly stupid.” But this amount of money adds up when you are a long-term volunteer like me and have to renew your visa 3 times during your stay here. Thankfully they then agreed to reimburse half of the amount, but that could still make it impossible for some people and what would they do if they had no one they could borrow money from? Also the SKIP info on the website said that long term volunteers could get a year long visa…which was not explained well, as this visa is only for people staying over a year and even these volunteers did not have one

Another mistake made by the sending organisation was a confusion in holiday time -contact with our sending organisation and our ambiguously worded contract lead us to believe we would have 20 days of additional holiday time… but instead we got told 3 months after we arrived that those 20 days were not agreed upon and were caused by a miscommunication, and that in order to keep the holiday time stated in our contract, we would have to forfeit all of the standard school holidays and stay at the house during our 3 week Christmas break to clean and paint the volunteer house. During all of this, the sending organization decided to ignore the majority of emails we sent them to solve the problem, and went behind our backs to communicate with SKIP instead. The problem was not that we were pissed off about not getting our holiday time. It was the way it was discussed, or not. Anything we said was ignored and we would get short simple replies not explaining the situation and confusing us. Many emails were sent, but non replied.. Unaware that it was being spoken about between the two organizations, unaware that they had even taken our questions into account, the two organisations settled things without us knowing and without playing any part in it, only being truly ignored. Though it was a good solution in the end, we did not get our ´extra´ holiday but we were not forced to stay the whole of the Christmas vacations. I reckon I have it fairly clear now, after my 9 months and 2 weeks of being here…it all boils down to a degree of a lack of flexibility and some heavy-handed treatment; a grass-roots organisation should not act like a multi-national corporation – responding to errors with lawyer-like formality and lack of personal tact. Instead of communicating with volunteers about problems in person, strongly worded emails and warnings would be sent. Threatening the termination of the contract of the volunteer was a common occurrence and volunteers given warnings would have no chance to defend themselves or give their side of the story. All these things get noticed and talked about between volunteers, affecting everyone living in the volunteer house and those living outside. We had meeting between the volunteers talking about each personal problem that was either recognized by the others or not to come to a decision on what to do, how to be heard and respected without offending the bosses or being rude! We came to the decision that a letter signed by each of us would work the most effectively.. So a letter was composed and signed and given to the bosses. Or managers or whatever A meeting was held between all the coordinators but sadly no feedback came to the volunteers. . Volunteers become unhappy, and feel insignificant and unappreciated… and during my time here 7 volunteers have left before their contract ended. These come down to different and personal reasons but I am fairly sure most admitted to not liking the way the NGO was run and this contributed to their reasons for leaving early.

But this is not to say that I am not grateful for the amazing time I have had here, and all that I have learnt, and I also know that that SKIP and my sending organisation and EVS are all doing fantastic work…but not always to the satisfaction of the customer , as these amazing people are giving up their time to contribute to the work of an NGO! And those reading may think that this is a complaint about the smallest things in comparison to the lives the people we work with live, but helping volunteers feel valued and listened to means they in turn give a much better service to those they work with, and changes still need to be considered. And things have changed a lot, one boss left which really made things a lot better but had the unfortunate effect of making  the work load for others impossible. Another boss decided to move into the house, which I found an improvement, not much changed but it meant she was less of a backstage stranger and easier to approach about problems we found occurring. To have gained this amazing opportunity has been a dream come true and I sincerely think that everyone between 18 and 30 years old who have never been able to work away like this should check out the Erasmus plus scheme that the European Voluntary Service will be merging with for this year. Think carefully about where you are going and why, read about other volunteer experiences and what you can contribute. And don’t be silenced into submission! This is not a diatribe against SKIP, but hopefully what will be taken as constructive   feedback, as in every workplace, volunteers included or not, there is always room for change and improvement.

 

 

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Not long to go now!

Such a strange feeling, to look back on your time in a place and realise that a whole 9 months have passed. All years are like that, tiempo es raro… when I first arrived here I settled in so quickly I soon began to feel like I had been there for months when in reality it was a few weeks. Then I wrote a list down of the  foreigners that I had worked with since I arrived. In total it sums up to a whopping 72 so far. WOW! And that is discluding the Peruvians that have worked in SKIP too. And then it kicked in how long I have been here. And I seriously believe that I could stay away from England for the rest of my life…but knowing that my flight home is in one month has made me think about England a lot, miss it, miss my bed, my friends, my mum, my cat! The food…and the more I think about it the more I want the time to fly but it only goes slower and slower. And the fact is I should be living it up here in my last month! Should be pushing England back and shouting “VIVA PERU!”.

And I have been out a lot, but I do not agree that that counts as making the most of my time here, sure I can go out and get drunk and dance with my friends but I should also be scooting around seeing everything I still have to see, and meeting the last handful of great people before jumping on my plane. There are a tonne of places in Trujillo that I still have never been to, and I can hear the ticking.

Easter happened to be my last free holiday time here, so I made the decicion to go back to Huaraz. Only going for 2 days was no where near enough – especially after going and thinking that it was the most beautiful place I have ever been! So off I went, accompanied by nearly all the other volunteers! And we had some great times… this time I had packed the right clothes and was READY to do some serious hiking, horse riding, glacier trekking and MORE! MY friend V wanted to come but had rad the weather forcast and found out that it was going to rain for the whole time we were planning on going. So we went and she made the plan that if it rained she would jump right on the first bus back to Trujillo and head up North to the beach. Lucky that she came, as we lucked out with the weather and it was super duper sunny for the whole 5 days we were there.

I even got sunstroke! Or mildly anyway, hiking up to Lake Churup. The son of the owner of our hostel had mentioned that it was around 1 hour away in a car, and 30 minutes walking to get to a beautiful lake. We managed to get some taxies for 200 soles and I was outraged. 200 soles for a few hours?! What a joke! So I was determined to make my own way there, I was certain there would be a bus or a village nearby and that I coudl get there for a few soles. I looked and asked around but no responded how I wanted them to! We managed to bargain down a taxi to 150 soles and we were off. About 2 minutes into the journey we were turning up a bumpy, dirt track and up through hamlets, intense quinoa growing and donkies and pigs everywhere ❤ So after an hour of driving up this track I started to feel that it was worth the 150 soles we were splitting between 4. I love exploring places which require travelling for time on dusty tracks….you know it is going to be 100% worth it. So we carried on driving, our bags were in the boot and the door of the boot would dramatically lift right up when we went over bumps! So we kept looking back to check all our things were still there, and we were driving for at least another 40 minutes when the engline started smoking, we were driving through serious puddles in an average car. But we were soo high up and so far away from Huaraz I had faith that we would get there. We drove past some real posh hotels too,right up in the middle of nowhere, with spectacular views of all around, hammocks to chill in looking out at these views, llamas in their gardens…paradise! After a while more we finally got there. It made me laugh that the driver thought that the walk up could be done in an hour!!! Anyway we got there, and it was coldddd, after driving up and up. And then we were off! Super steep climb in at least 4000 metres up. The first few minutes were very challenging. You heart feels like it is about to explode and I developed a pretty nasty wheeze! But I had been in huaraz for 3 days so I had climatized more than I had for Lago 69. At one point a friend had to sit down and rest as he got completely dizzy and had no idea where he was!

the hike up

the hike up, by the side of a water fall!

But once you get into your rhythm it gets easier. And I have to say, It has to be the winner…of the best views I have ever seen on a walk. We could see the snowey peak we were headed to most of the time, and when ever we turned back we could see an infinate number of miles over the hills. And the reason we all decided we wanted to go was: because it was supposidly an amazing walk, not crazy popular like many things are in Huaraz, and parts of the walk had rope to climb up the rocks! YESSS! The rock climbing was insane, totally dangerous, with the rock not attached to the rock in enough places, leaving you to swing around if you lost footing. A man in front of us dislocated his arm loosing his grip by smashing his arm against the rock. dscn1732-640x480There was no one to help, no signal, only a long climb down if you broke something. It was difficult too, I am pretty nimble being small but my heart was in my mouth and my feet slipped off and along rocks, and as my sweaty palms slid down the metal cable, getting cut and leaving drips of blood on the path. And the climb is quite a substantial climb, I loved it! But I was very worried about how I would get down!

I was one of the last to arrive at the lake and sat down to make a sandwich next to a dog/wolf that liked the cheese more than me. And a friend decided crazily to have a dip in the icy water…

10246505_541496049301610_394910884740772150_nWe were not there for long, I could feel my headache developing so I decided to chew some coca leaves with the lime but it was too discusting so I quickly spat it out. And the others follwed the crazy guy who swam in the lake further up, in hope of finding another way down. Me and 2 others did not want to risk it so we headed on down to the dangerous way down, which with one slip could send you plummiting a good 50 meters down the rocks! The others found a path and ended up getting down before us after all! And a friend did have quite a painful fall but no bones were broken. And when I got back to the hostel at 8pm the guy there was like “WOW, you took that long walking up there and back?! You only just got back now?”. But there is no wayyyyy on earth even the most experienced walker from huaraz could walk up there in 30 minutes! Maybe an hour if they ran!

The next day I was hoping to go to Pastoruri to see the glacier… But with the snow retreat of 15% since 1970 I decided against it! Friends had been and had different views, but one said that it was in fact very sad, to see a receeding glacier. Plus another told me that a few years ago you could go skiing there, walk on the glacier and visit snow caves and that now you can only go and stand and look at the snow, and watch chunks of ice dramatically falling away from the glacier so I decided no. With 260 glaciers in the Cordierras Blancas, there must be so much melting. The mountains that I see and think are beautifully snowey are in fact a very very sad sight.

3a1b122247a204394b077d2d853a7c64_510x280The next 2 days were spent attempting to get to Chavin de Huantar, the Chavins were a major pre-inca culture. It is actaully crazy how the whole world know about the incas but they were actaully one of the shortest living ancient cultures and how there are such incredible cultures that lived in Peru, ruins still standing, untouched and unknown by many…for example Marcahuamachuco, an archeological site of pre-incan ruins only 4 hours from Trujillo. Although less well-known than other sites, it is considered significant and has been referred to by archaeologists as “The machu picchuof the North” and “The Jewel of La Libertad” and it was amazing. In another holiday we also got a taxi up a dusty track for around an hour, bits of land slide on the road and half the road fallen down the mountain in the heavy rains! And no one else was there, we had the whoel sight to ourselfs and it was bigger than MP with views that drown your importance)

Marcahuamachuco

Marcahuamachuco

Anyway back to Huaraz, so one day got on a combie and they said they would take us to a place called Yungay and from there we could get another combie to Chavin. LIES, in fact they took us in the other direction for a whole hour and a half, and left us in Yungay with no time to head back to Huaraz and to Chavin. So pissed off we decided what to do. We ended up going to Laguna Chinancocha, where V had been the day before on the way to Lago 69, and where I had already been last year. But oh well, it was super beautiful and we went on the lake on a boat for a quid, and saw a llama…and my friend nearly swam but then didn´t have the balls!

Then we headed down to Yungay which has Huascaran, Peru’s highest mountain, no more than 15 km east away! It is 6,768 metres above sea level! On May 31, 1970 the Ancash earthquake caused a substantial part of the north side of a mountain, to collapse and an unstable mass of glacial ice about 800 meters across at the top of Huascarán to fall. This avelanche completely buried the town of Yungay, killing 20,000 people. More than 50 million cubic meters of debris slid approximately 15 kilometers downhill at an angle of about 14 degrees, and apparently speeds between 200 km/h to 400 km/h were achieved 😮 Only 92 people survived, most of whom were in the cemetery and stadium at the time, as these zones were the highest in town. The only things that partly survived were: part of the cemetry and the jesus statue that looks up to the mountain.

Yungay covered by avalanche

ç Yungay covered by avalanche

So we made it to the “national cementry” which was beautiful, full of roses and plants and so peaceful. With the mountain looming in the background, accessorised with a rainbow that must have been there for the whole time we were in the old Yungay.

The next day we decided to try again, Chavin. Got a shared car there, paying 25 soles each so I knew it was going to be a journey and a half. And it was incredible! 3 hours of stunning scenery, and not a soul in sight. I was worried about coming back, we only passed 2 cars and 1 combie in the whole 3 hours. The first bit was through country where you could see the snowy (or not so snowy!) peaks, and then we were on the other side of the river and driving through hills and hills of hills, no animals or ANYTHING in sight, not even trees. And then it was down and into a canyon, and then a lake came into sight and some more snow, and we passes a combie that had broken down so we got out a few minutes and sat overlooking the lake and the mountains behind it, and nothing else, no buildings or rubbish or noise anywhere. Then we went down and down and down on a dusty unmade road, so far down I thought we would finally reach the earth´s core! And after 3 hours we got to Chavin, to realise that the sight was shut…DUHHHH MONDAY! So then we went back to Huaraz after climbing a hill. True though, not everything works out perfectly how you want them to. And if you try to save money too much – it doesn´t always work! And we could have easily been stuck in Chavin all night as it was sooo far away from everywhere and missed our bus. But thankfully we didn´t and I was able to go to work after an 8 hour bus journey back and 1 hours sleep at home!

 

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Club Vacacional (Holiday Club)

Club Vocacional has turned out to be how I thought SKIP would always be. Fun, games, non-formal educational activities and teaching the kids how to swim!! Plus there was a big change round of teachers as we usually have 9 groups of primary but for holiday club there are less families involved and therefore less groups, only 5, but bigger groups than normal.

And, the best bit a of news I have is…I got promoted! This next bit is all about before CV! So I used to be an assistant, I had assisted 4 teachers up until CV. The first teacher I worked alongside with was M, who was a nursery teacher and had it all under her belt and I felt very useless while assisting her! But I learnt a lot from her, probably the most, and got to know the kids really well in the month she was volunteering at SKIP. She was so great that in less than a month she had gotten to know the kids like the back of her hand and had written a word document describing each child and where they were at with each subject and how they worked best, what there strenghts and weakness were, everything improtant!

Next I was assisting A, from Urguay, she was lovely but had never taught before and although she had a daughter of her own, she had trouble controling our group of 12 young children from 7 to 8 years old. Plus there was a language barrier between us, so I couldnt really help her while in the classroom, but I was itching to help her and share the ideas I had from M’s teaching that worked so well.

So A’s and myself had many a meeting with the primary coordinater, with a translater usually to help so I could share my ideas and to share my knowledge about the kids. She took this advise very well and our classes improved with regular meetings between us, plus she was good at thinking of new and creative ways of learning so it worked out teaching with her but she was only here for a month also.

So before I knew it I was working with C, a young university student from Trujillo, and a part time model. C had come to volunteer as part of her university course and had very little teaching experiance too, as well as a very peruvian appoach to teaching. Teaching with her at first was fairly difficult. She would do things that were obviously not encouraged in any way shape or form at SKIP with no idea why we would discourage it. And by this time my Spanish was improving so I could communicate to her during the lessons what I though was going wrong and what might work, but she rarely took my advise and the lessons kept being shit. I would constantly be suggesting different teaching methods or asking her to not use her white stick she had found to whack the table to get them all to be quiet. We had barely any control and the kids weren’t learning anything, or if they were it would be one child at a time learning. As  the weeks went on more problems surfaced and many more meetings were had. I was, with agreement, given more than half the work load, previuosly the teachers I worked along side with prepared it all. But with Carolina the work loads seemed to be too much for her, and she’d only ever plan one activity each class when all the children were working at different levels. She clamed she had read the word document with the descriptions of all the children, but was only coming up with very simple worksheets, that she had found on the interent, and it just wasn’t good work for the kids. Lessons would over run, or under run, the kids would go crazy in all the dead time we had and we had no way of dicipling them, lots of children can’t read or write but she didn’t keep that in mind, and the older ones would finish in 5 minutes and that’s not an exaggeration!

Or at times she would only have one activity planned and just be teaching the younger ones how to do it and leaving the others to run wild around the class. So I then prepared the maths work and also the work for one child with learning disabilities. At first it was hard but it was a lot better than having Carolina sort all the work. So her lessons still went over and still she would only prepare one thing for all, but at least half the work met the abilities of the children. It is a great challenge having so many abilities in one class.

So after all this palavor I had a lovely conversation with the primary coordinator in which she explained that my spanish had improved so much in the past months and how she thought it would be best if I took the class from now on with an assistant of my own, either for the holiday club or for after when we started back at regular SKIP. I was a bit overwhelmed and didn’t think my Spanish was perfect for teaching but I’d had enough of being frustrated, but I said I’d think about it. For CV I was teaching alongside F, the fabulous English Coordinator, who is training to be a teacher and had great classroom behaviour control skills and J, another of the Trujillanan chicas doing their uni course! So teaching with F was great, lesson plans were quick and easy to think of. Thank god for the internet, so many amazing resources and fun learning activities up there! I introduced a bit of science, got them all growing their own plant, and watering it every day. I time table was different to normal, everyone had Enlgish everyday, plus valores (morals). We had a class of 22 but it was great to always have a big group and made group activities easy, and we had some new children, and everyone in our group was pretty smart and everyone through CV said our group were the best. YES!

Teaching with J was also okay, when we were teaching togther those were the days of comunicacion, sport, art, music and english, so J would plan the comunicacion part and then we’d just keep the kids calm as we went to and from each different class. The problem for CV the curriculm for comunicacion was to watch short videos with a different theme each week. J and myself had very different ideas on how to take on a theme and so many times she’d pick a video that was a bit to factual and boring for the children. But the main thing that spoilt our time teaching was that the internet at SKIP doesn’t really work. Every morning before we started we would turn on the computer and start loading the videa. 20 minutes later after the children had read, the video would have only loaded 2 minutes, and when played would keep stopping and was very blurry. Along with this the reflection of the windows meant the video could hardly been seen, playing or not. This lead the kids to get very wiggly and restless and would usually result in us going back to the classroom and doing some drawing or something.

But the themes for everything else worked very well, it was fun to have a different topic every week, kept the ball rolling and kept everyone enthusicatic. The way it was ran the whole time was a lot more relaxed and we could add topics and things onto the curriculm if we wanted, and we bounced off each others ideas a lot and had a lot of sharing activities going on, unlike usual. The music lessons were classic. Ran by my favorite Italian who is actually a grandpa at heart and very pernikity about his routine, the classes were hilarious. These classes included education about recycling and reusing and using recycled goods to play music. The kids got it, but as soon as they were given a bottle/rubbish to play from the volunteer house bin, they made so much noise as soon as given them it was impossoble to do anything. Over this the Italian would be screaming over them and shouting “ay” again and again, trying to get them to calm down and stop making noise, much to my amusement! At first I just sat there and laughed as the kids were just no way ever going to listen. This went on the whole time, it got slightly better towards the end of CV but only so much that they were then all making noise that started at the same time! But it was great fun, and some guitars were brought in for the last few classes and private concerts given! Plus I taught some girls in my class how to head bang. That was well good!FIN_2201

Along with music we also went to the local outdoor swimming pool each friday morning for 3 hours. Many of the children had never been to a swimming pool and all of them did not know how to swim, so learning how to must have been nerve racking but they all loved it. This is the swimming pool I blogged about a while back, and it is lovely. But as we were with the primary children we went into the shallower pool, which goes up to your waist and is long and thin. At first it was riduculous, a million volunteers sat by the side watching out for drowners while only 4 people were in the pool teaching swimming or faciclitaing games in the water. But obviously you can never have too many volunteers looking out for people struggling, especially as some of our kids are so boystrous and wouldnt think twice about pushing their Friends head under the water. And in addition being in the pool for the 3 hours was nothing to be jealous of as the water was freezing, at 9am! As the mornings would go on the sun would come out and heat us up a bit but by the end of the 3 hours everyone ould be shivering and with wrinkly feet! There was some definate injustice going on though, with there being 2 shallow pools right next to each other. one of them for us that the local swimming pool had very kindly let us use for free, 3 hours every Friday for primary and 3 hours every Monday morning for secondary. But the other pool had paid lessons going on in it, that I do beleive were only 1 sol per a class anyway, but thats the extent of the families we work withs poverty. But the clearness of the water was evident beyond belief. Our side was murky water, that hadnt been emptied for a while, and there was no way in the 6 weeks we could ever see the bottom. And the residents of El Porvenir that were that slight bit richer had a pool with crystal clear water, every week, without fault. And the kids did notice and it was embarrasing to answer them.  Heres a link to another volunteers blog which is amazing, and written in a completely different style, more sofisticated! But she writes perfectly about being a gringa living in peru, and about the swimming pool injusticies! Check it out here! 

In the classroom we introduced new behaviour management stratagies where we would draw a thermometre on the board and the temperature would rise as the noise volume rose, although our class were the best behaved we still had probems with the noise level and having to shout! This worked really well as it taught them to work as a team, and they could see it slowly rising up and up, and when it got to the top they would lose their half and hour play time, or be kept back to be told off! And thankfully this only hapened a couple of times and each time the whole class would be dead silent the whole time and their Little faces were so serious! They definately did not like missing their patio time!FIN_2272

So by the end of the 6 weeks everyone was positively shattered, with a rotaing and bimonthly curriculm and having to teach everyday was tiring! So the last day we had a party for the whole of primary, this was after a trip to the beach! (It was amazing to be able to take some kids to the beach for the first time ever, and the mothers were sooo afraid of letting thier kids go for a whole day, and before we set off were constantly grabbing our arms and asking us to have our eyes on their kids all the time so they wouldnt drown!) This was held in the patio where they have play time, and we made a tunnel of arms for the people who were graduating to secondary to run through. Afterwards everyone got a certificate and given a balloon twisted into an animal, Minerva managed to make about 100! And then the faces paints came out and all the kids wanted one, so we started on the long process of painting everyones face with very por quality materials and so it was hard not to laugh at their faces in the end! And then the food and drink came out. The kids stayed at a distance as it was al being bought out and layed in the table. And the rules were then explained many times that they were t come up one by one and collect a reasonable amount of food and sit down. Before we knew it the table was surrounded by a swarm of children and it was literally survival of the fittest. Kids were scooping food off the tables with their arms and collecting it in their t shirts, their bags, any place they could find. Some were running around finding plastic bags to load…and while this was going on they were cramming it into their mouths, crumbs crumbling out and the floor was a carpet of biscuits and crackers, lollys, and crisps! It was a true beauty to see and made us all laugh a lot.FIN_2441

After the food frenzie we had a dance, managed to borrow C’s bass speakers to blast out the pop songs of Peru…the kids loved it and the girls so young dance so sexily it’s kinda scary! And that was the end of CV. And the kids even helped clean up, sweeping and collecting the ridiculous amount of rubbish and food on the floor! And that was the end of CV, a tiring, creative and SUPER FUN!FIN_2375

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Visa run #2

Back to Ecuador. 3 months later, as the last time I was only given 3 months…when I was hoping for 6. As I was also hoping when I entered the country. It seems to be up to how migration are feeling that day and what they want to give you. But this time I was to travel with 3 other volunteers, 3 Spanyards who were to look after me, keep me safe, and hopefully help me get 6 months instead of 3 so I wouldn’t have to make the trip again.
We set off on a Thursday night, after work and with an hour to pack and eat, and then off we were, on the 12 hour bus journey up to Tumbes, the nearest big city to the border with Ecuador. I got placed next to Adri, as we were travelling with Mar and Vero who are good friends, so they sat together. And so me and Adri spoke for about 10 minutes which must have been the longest time we’ve ever spoken to each other in the 4 months we’ve spent together!

The plans had been left up to Mar, as she had an idea in mind from her previous Visa run. I had been told that we would be staying on a beach, maybe camping, and that I would be giving Mar a haircut. She had also sent round a page on facebook that was for a party in Tumbes on Saturday night, in a club with an outdoor swimming pool and everything, so things were looking hopeful! Anyway I was up to go with the flow and so didn’t think much about anything or plan anything!

The bus journey seemed to pass quite quickly, and I guess I managed to sleep a bit or it wouldn’t have felt like that! Got to Tumbes in good time, it was 7am and we decided to walk to the bus station where we knew buses went direct to Ecuador, and we found it and got our tickets and then went for some breakfast. By this point I knew that we were heading for Machala, which was just across the border and I had now seen it on a map so I was a bit clearer about where we were going, and by this time we so much nearer, just a few hours away so it was materialising as a plan.

After brekki we hopped on  the bus, passed migration and carried on for about 2 hours. Dropped off at a roundabout and told to get a bus for 25 cents, I got a grilled banana with cheese in the middle of it… Oh yes please! And then we sat down and had a cold beer (this was at 11am, good going so far with the Spanish!) while Mar made a call. We then decided it could be a good idea to buy some food to have on the island encase the food there was super expensive, and just because it’s nice to have some food. So we went to ‘choppin’ said in a Spanish accent. I was completely confused at first as I’d forgotten the name of the city we were headed for so I then thought it was called ‘choppin’ Turned out that we were going SHOPPING! And I was very embarrassed. So we got some food, and Adri got enough food for a year and we were all laughing at him but then we ended up eating it all :p

From choppin we took a bus into the center of Machala all the way to the pier, and then hopped on a tiny ferry to head across the river to to Jambeli, the island. As soon as I got off the boat I could sense that Jambeli’s time had passed. And as we walked down the entrance promenade and to the sea I immediately noticed how many of the buildings were uninhabited and empty or falling down. And as we walked we passed another grilled banana with cheese and I knew I was going to be okay.
We soon found a hostel and chucked the bags down, and peeled off our sticky clothes from the super humidity, and went to the beach. Cloudy but around 30 degrees, and with a warm sea, and a beach with no one in sight. Que rico! And no pebbles in the sea or on the beach like Huanchaco! After a swim and a nap on the beach, we got awoken by the sea attempting to eat us and so we went back and went to find food. After settling on a place that we seemed to have all to ourselves, I decided to go off on my own to study the serious situation of this place, and to marvel at the crumbling, dilapidation of everything.

not my photo!

not my photo!

And it didn’t feel like that old of a place. With hardly a heart of a village, and just a few locals around, and no tourists it was eerily quite but in an intriguing way. I wondered down until the path was so eroded I couldn’t physically go any further, and found some people replacing sand bags that had been washed away with half of their hotel. And there were many wooden houses, that were super grand but had just been abandoned and were falling through. And on top of this, many many signs for hospedajes but non open, and so many bars and restaurants. I’d say about half of these were still open – and I can not think of how they have enough customers to survive. As I was walking back to eat with the others I found myself chatting to a very chatty Argentinian called Cosme. As all Argentinians he was super talkative and before I knew it I was using his insect repellent. He was 20 too and had never seen the sea before he arrived in Lima a few months before. He’s been in Jambeli for just under a week and was staying with a local fisherman and was helping him fish everyday. So he went off to cook and eat his freshly caught fish, and I headed back to the others…who had pretty much finished our meal without me!
But there was still a smidgen and we had ordered Ecuadorian Cheviche, which arrived luke warm but so DELICIOUS! And there is different beer in Ecuador too, which is wayyyy tastier and COLD! Instead of the usual warm Pilsen you can find in all parts of Peru. After dinner we had an early night as were were shattered after all our travelling. And as we went to sleep I asked the Span to wake me up in the morning at the same time as them. ‘Si, si’ they said. But they never did.

So when I woke up the next day on my own I was a little but annoyed, but I decided that if I couldn’t see them then I’d have to take the key and do my own thing and hope they didn’t need to get into the room any time soon. I decided to walk up the beach to find a nice spot for a morning dip and to read my book. As I was walking past fallen down hotels and houses on stilts that a few locals lived in, guess who ran past? Cosme! We said our good mornings and he ran on ahead. I soon came across a beach shack, abandoned I think but it’s hard to tell with beach dens like this as they’re so salty. But I’m pretty sure It was now no one’s hangout, and there were 2 hammocks, some washed up beach chairs and a chain of found shoes hanging up as decoration. Walking further along I walked past a house which was such a mess in its outside area. Chickens here there and everywhere and sea junk…probably what Sue and my house would be like if it was there! And leading out of the house and onto the beach was a tunnel made of drift wood, and the sides filled with drift items, chairs, trunks, wood, and strange items. And I am so sad that I didn’t have a camera, because it was just my kind of place, Jambeli in general.

As I walked further along I found myself walking with Cosme. We walked right up and on and on until I thought maybe I shouldn’t be walking away from civilisation on a deserted beach with a guy I had only met the day before. So we turned and headed back. And walked right past Jambeli and to the other side of deserted-ness, and carried on. I got a good vibe from him and we were having great conversations and I hadn’t really spoken much at all up till this point so I was happy to have a good heart to heart. Walking back we walked past a sea museum, that looked so cool and it wasn’t even properly falling apart, but sadly it was shut. It even had a whale jaw in the garden! And a notice on the gate saying “Prohibido tumbar cocos!” meaning “It’s prohibited to throw coconuts!”.

And it was getting hot by this time, as we’d been walking for about an hour and it was getting to midday, so we went for a swim. After this we headed back, and we were obviously very different but we had a lot of similarities in our outlook in life and how were were brought up, plus Cosme had been missing like minding people to talk to since he’s been in Jambeli, so he was very happy to chat away. But after all that time with him I needed a break, so we went our separate ways, me to nap in a hammock and him to fish.
This is when we all ate Adri’s food, for lunch. We had a tuna, lettuce, tomato, almond and raisin salad. And although I never ever liked tuna after I sicked it all up when I was 4 from eating too many tuna sandwiches, I decided the time had come again to finally try it. And I loved it. After that came more beach and reading and relaxing and dozing in hammocks and then back to the same restaurant right in the sea front, with only the sand bags protecting us from the tide. That night Cosme came to find me to show me all his photos that he’d taken while working in the Amazon near Cuzco, but he finally went off to eat his din din and left me in peace! That night we did not sleep too well. The bar next to our hostel had 2 people drinking in it, and dancing. Although there was only 2 people, they still were blasting out the music on the biggest speakers ever, and it was bad Latin pop that we all hate. We hoped that from our room we wouldn’t be able to hear it,and that as there was only 2 people they’d be considerate and maybe turn it down a bit but no. In our room we could hear every single word and I’m surprised the beds weren’t vibrating from the music!!
The next day was stared with a coffee and the boat trip back to the mainland. And then we were hoping that by a form a miracle there would be a bus direct from Machala to Trujillo. But there wasn’t so we got a bus to Tumbes again. Crossing the border was busy, such long queues, and I knew as soon as I walked in the office that I wasn’t going to get the 6 months I wanted. Behind the desk were 2 workers but also a scary looking man that I’m sure I remember from the last time, standing behind them and watching over everything they did. We waited in the queue for ages and Vero went up first to get her 6 months. They immediately said no, although she had a plane ticket back to Spain in only 5 months. She managed to bribe them into giving her 120 days but it was still short so pretty pointless. Next was Mar who needed just over 3 months also and they refused to give her it. Then it was me and they refused to give me 6 too, but at least they didn’t ban me from Peru like they said they would the last time! Mar tried to convince them but they weren’t having any of it and so we all left in bad spirits back to Tumbes.
To make things even worse, when we arrived into Tumbes there weren’t any bus’ for ages…and we needed to get one quick as 3 of us had work in the morning at 7am! Turned out we had to wait for 3 hours, that the bus company told us would be 2 until 2 had passed and then it turned out to be 3. We boarded and there were no curtains, and it was like a furnace in there…no windows that opened and a greenhouse effect going on. Soon we were on the road though and it was okay and the seats went back far enough. Our stop in Mancora was to let more people board. Although the bus was completely full already and no one had got off. So on got on about 30 more people who sat on the floor and in the stair way and lying on the floor. When we had arrived into Trujillo, Adri was the only one awake. The bus company had said they were going to stop in Trujillo and that they were going into the center. The bus was stopped by a roundabout on the outskirts, and we were wondering whether we should get off or what. But as were collecting ourselves and after it had been stopped for under a minute, the door shut and off the bus went. We were banging and hollering and swearing but on and on the bus went, out of Trujillo. Finally they decided to stop and we got off in the middle of nowhere by the side of a bypass. The pulled away with the Spans screaming and cussing away at them. We then had to pay loads to get a taxi back, and I tell you, it was a right good job that someone was awake or we could have woken up in Lima!!! And plus it was great that we were in a group and not alone when we’d gotten off the bus as it was a pretty dangerous part, in the early hours, and if you didn’t have that money you would have had to wait a good few hours for a combie. When we finally got home I slept for an hour and then got up to teach.

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Chimbote

Went to Chimbote for a weekend, and stayed in a tent on the beach of Besique. Wasn’t sure if it would be possible, but as Chimbote isn’t a major tourist destination I didn’t want to stay there long and camping on a beach sounded LUSH. Ended up having to stay in Chimbote one night as got into Chimbote too late to get a combie to the beach which was half an hour away…and a taxi was 90 soles or something ridiculous like that. I couldn’t really believe that there the combies stopped so early and kept asking people in Chimbote if there was a combie and if people lived there…But when I got there the next day I could see why. It is a beach, and there’s nothing nearby except dusty desert mountains, and a few

houses, and some restaurants. Really beautiful beach and nice to be on a different beach compared to Huanchaco! With not many people on it, and no tourists. And the part of the beach that I ended up staying on had hardly no one one it. DSC00951By nightfall I decided to stay on the beach, there were 2 other groups of people that had arrived during the sunset and so I decided it would be safe enough. And it was and it was very lovely to stay on the beach, except I had really really BAD sunburn, and so the sand I thought would be very comfy and mold to my shape, was the most uncomfortable. But I did get some sleep, and one of the restaurants was still open (everyone leaves at around 6pm and everything closes) where the workers were drinking and having their own party, but managed to get some chips and a beer!

Finding the perfect camping spot

Finding the perfect camping spot

 

Sunset!

Sunset!

 

 

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Chiclayo and The New Year by Sue Balcomb

Which doctors in Chiclayo

Witch doctors in Chiclayo

Chiclayo – Peru’s 4th biggest city was our next stop – on retrieving my rucksack from the luggage store I found it was completely sodden – luckily only with water – but it made it difficult to carry. Relying on my 13 year old guide book we made our way to the town centre – to look for the Hotel Royal – described as old and run down, but overlooking the plaza. However, it had been converted into a pricey department store – so Kat went off to find somewhere else cheap enough for us! She did find somewhere that was small and dusty, but the room was not ready for us so we headed off to the market area, finding a much cheaper, balconied hospedaje on the way – ‘muy peligroso’- very dangerous, said our original hotel owners, but we moved there anyway!

The hostel's lovely nativity scene

The hostel’s lovely nativity scene

The busy street below our room became very busy in the evening with ‘ambulantes’ – street traders, with a variety of goods from piles of yellow knickersDSC00797 ( good luck for the New Year – we tried but couldn’t find any big enough to fit me – the Peruvians are quite small!) boxes of puppies, and fake plastic cockroaches. A couple of young lads set up a small PA system and performed Michael Jackson impersonations. We walked up to the market, people all fascinated with Kat’s hair – is it a wig? Is it natural? and had fried cheese turnover (like a cheese churro!! SO GOOD) and a maize drink called ‘Champu’ and our evening meal was sorted.
We took a shared taxi the next day to Lambayeque to visit the Bruning Museum – full of amazing treasures from the 1987 discovered Royal Moche tomb – the Lord of Sipan. This dark museum was full of displays of the tombs of priests and priestesses, usually buried with a couple of sacrifices, some with their feet cut off, some with a headless llama. The burial process included several layers of goods buried with them – incredible gold necklaces (one with beads the shape of peanuts!) gold plated copper tunics, headdresses, intricate woven shell necklaces, elaborate nose rings, big fat ear plugs.

A burial mask

A burial mask

We took a minibus from here out to Tucume – a huge desert area of 26 pyramids, occupied from 800 – 1532 by various civilisations – Lamabayeque, Chimu and Inca. Not much of it has been excavated, but freizes have been found showing bird-men and other mythological creatures, and shells have been found from Ecuador and lapis lazuli from Chile – so the people here must have been travellers too.

The Huacas down below...looking like sand dunes

The Huacas down below…looking like sand dunes

Hardly anyone else was on this enormous site, which is also being created as a bio reserve – we saw a vermillion fly catcher and Kat got munched by invisible flies.

Tomb displayed how it was discovered

Tomb displayed how it was discovered

 

Ancient flutes made out of bone - super chevere

Ancient flutes made out of bone – super chevere

 

Knots in string - how the incas sent messages

Knots in string – how the incas sent messages

 

Incas snorting, think it's probably coke?

Incas snorting, think it’s probably coke?

 

Snorting pallet and tube!

Snorting pallet and tube!

Then it was back to Trujillo and to the beach village of Huanchaco. I came here 23 years ago, and it was tiny and undeveloped – we came to see the reed boats and the Huacas – the Temples of the Sun and the Moon. On my visit all that time ago, the tombs were just uninteresting piles of dusty adobe bricks in the desert, with loads of pottery shards lying in the sand and dodgy looking guys trying to sell you tomb robbed goods. It was amazing to come back, after they have managed to excavate part of it – the temples are made of millions of adobe bricks, lots of them with markings on that some speculate to be the hallmarks of the workers that made them – maybe the workers were taxed a certain number of bricks, and this was proof they had paid! Inside the huacas are a myriad of rooms in which they found ceramics, gold and silver, and polychrome friezes of things like spiders, slaves being led along with ropes round their necks– seven different levels all built on top of one another. It was amazing to think this had all been uncovered since I had last been here!

THe start of NYENew Year’s Eve was spent in Huanchaco – with a group of friends we drank far too many shots of tequila before we strolled the two blocks to the sea front which was heaving with people, the beach was full of tents and mini bonfires – a great atmosphere and a load of wild conversations – makes me grin to think of some of the revelations and sharing! It was four when I stumbled back to my room, with my jean turn-ups full of sand and a yellow lei around my neck, and memories to bring back to rainy England.

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Bagua Grande

As soon as we landed in Tarapoto we hopped on a combie to Bagua Grande, rucksacks on top and tied on with netting, as usual. The ride was long and hot and squashed, and the combie started smelling as the time went on. It was sunset by the time we arrived and we walked into the plaza de armas looking for a bed. We went into the first hostel we found, just off the square and the guy who was temporarily on the desk was drunk as a skunk, so when we asked how much it was and he said 20 soles, it was sold. The room was big and had 3 beds and it had no window…which could have been a problem but it was actually an asset! We threw down our bags and went and had a smoothie, wondered around the square, had some typical dinner and went to bed. The next day we were off again, on our first actual coach (not combie) to Chiclayo. The journey was once again stunning. Through valley after dry valley, with rivers of the purest blue water running though mountains of dry dust, no greenery to be seen and no habitation. It was one of the cheaper journeys we took, but the seats felt like such luxury after such hard combie seats, and they RECLINED! And we watched a movie, had our lunch bought to us, and the journey went surprisingly fast.

Bus journeys are usually the worst, you don’t want to think about them and you always wish they’re just over and done with, or wish that you didn’t have to travel to get somewhere else . But I have to say that the bus journeys in Peru have been some of the best parts of my travels. I was angry when I let myself doze – missing out on the scenery. So amazingly alluring, always taking my breath and I have thought so many times during journeys in Peru ‘This is the most beautiful place I have ever been.’ At points in journeys you’re so high up you think you could just step out the bus and fly. Or right at the base of the mountains, following the meanders of turquoise rivers that I have wanted to transform into a fish and jump out the bus into the river and SWIM! And this just makes for such a nice change than being on a mega bus for 10 hours flying down the M65, because the M65 for Peruvians IS the Andes!