Alicia Mulholland - General Care Projects in Peru
First impressions of Urubamba and Peru
“You have a lot of travelling ahead of you,” exclaimed the gentleman taking my luggage off me at London airport. Not really knowing what I was letting myself in for I was seriously considering turning back and just going home. But something kept pushing me on. The appeal of Peru was just too enticing.
After a long yet somewhat stress-free bout of travelling, I touched down in Cusco to be greeted by a smiley, friendly, welcoming member of the Projects Abroad team. I will admit driving through the hills of the vast Sacred Valley along with the jet lag, altitude sickness and sadness to be so far from home, terrified me. Nothing could have prepared me for this and what my eyes were seeing.
Everything really did seem so different to Ireland and I found it difficult to take in the new culture. However, the friendliness of the locals, allure of the colourful clothes and feeling the sun on my skin made my first impressions, lasting impressions. The rush of emotions that I felt when I got to Urubamba will never match any other adrenalin rush I have ever had.
My Peruvian Host Family
It came to the time to meet my host family in Urubamba, and I honestly did not know what to expect. Although the family were more than accommodating, my complete lack of Spanish made my first few hours rather uncomfortable. For this reason, I strongly advise any potential volunteers to learn as much of the language as possible beforehand. You will be really grateful for it. Nevertheless, the Spanish-English dictionary that I had brought along with me proved to be very useful, and I managed to have a nice chat with my host parents and learn a bit about them.
Over the next few days, my Spanish was improving immensely and I grew so close to my host family. By this stage, I had been introduced to my host brothers, host aunt, host cousins and even my host pets! It really was one big happy household! Staying with a host family was by far the best bit of my stay in Peru. The laughs we had, secrets we shared and things we learned from each other made it a thoroughly enjoyable and memorable experience.
Never in my life did I think I would be eating guinea pig with the heads still on for dinner and birthday cake for breakfast! Despite my preconceptions, the food was delicious and always freshly prepared. My bedroom was spacious and clean, and I was even able to watch DVDs whenever I wanted. The luke warm shower and being awakened by the rooster every morning at 5am were difficult to adjust to, but all part of the once in a lifetime experience.
My favourite memory from staying with the host family in Peru, is definitely my birthday celebrations. The whole family, plus some extended family were present, along with a few Projects Abroad members and volunteers. My host mother went all out and made a fabulous three course meal. We had beer and cake (both of which are amazing in Peru by the way) and my host father even handpicked me some fresh flowers. All of the guests sang ´Feliz Cumpleanos´ to me and we made a toast. It was such a warming feeling, being so far from my own family in Ireland, yet still having one of the best birthdays ever.
Myself and a number of other volunteers headed into town to experience Cusco’s nightlife. Cusco is a town that knows how to party, celebrations often carrying on until 7 am the next morning. On one occasion, I even dressed up in typical Dutch clothing and walked around the Plaza in celebration of Queen´s Day in the Netherlands - such good fun!
My Care Placement in Yucay
I was filled with nervous excitement on the morning of my first day at placement in the nearby village of Yucay. Prior to this, I had heard a great deal about ´colectivos´ but had no idea what they were. It really sank in with me that I was in a totally different world to home when the over-used mini van stuffed with locals and their sacks of vegetables pulled up to take me to work. Although a bumpy ride, it was so much fun and I could not wait to tell people at home about it. Of course, I had a Projects Abroad team member with me throughout my first day for moral support.
To be honest I felt quite lost for the first few days at my school, but only because of the language barrier. I felt helpless when the children were more than willing to strike up a conversation with me, and I couldn´t reciprocate whatsoever. However, I really did pick up more and more words and phrases every day. By the end of my placement, I was having full scale conversations with the children about all sorts of topics. The children are all beautiful. Their kindness, affection, and zero fear of us ´gringos´ made me fall in love with them, which made having to leave my placement very difficult.
My most memorable moments from volunteering in Yucay include teaching the children ´The Wheels on the Bus’ in English, the girls rushing to put plaits in my hair at playtime (one day I went home with a full head of flowers and bugs!), and even getting to learn some dances typical to Peru, so that the children could perform them for Mother´s Day. The staff and parents at my school were more than kind to me, and it was honestly a wonderful, joyous experience that I will remember forever.
Travelling around Peru
Whilst in Peru, myself and some other volunteers travelled to Lake Titicaca and Macchu Picchu. Both stunning sights that I would highly recommend, and so easy to do! We also trekked the Inca ruins of the Sacred Valley inexpensively thanks to the ´tourist ticket´ we purchased in Cusco. Furthermore, we took regular trips to the vibrant market in Pisac, where haggling is a form of entertainment.
As I write this, I am in a hot but lively hostel in Santa Marta, Colombia. I will be travelling around South America for another three months. Due to the fact that I absolutely fell in love with Peru, it´s people, it´s culture, it´s food, it´s weather, it´s nightlife and, of course, it´s out-of-this-world scenery, I am going back there in one week. I intend to travel to the mysterious Nazca lines, the adventurous Huacachina, and the breath-taking Colca Canyon. I know I will enjoy every minute of it because not only are the people always so willing to help, but Peru is so accessible, despite what any guidebook tells you. At this point in time, I still have quite a lot of backpacking ahead of me, but I can assure you that Peru, along with all of the experiences I had there, will wipe out all the rest in terms of what I have enjoyed the most. I fear I will never want to go home!
This volunteer story may include references to working in or with orphanages. Find out more about Projects Abroad's current approach to volunteering in orphanages and our focus on community-based care for children.