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Faye Thompson - Incan & Wari Archaeology in Peru

A group of volunteers exploring the Peruvian landscape

I first heard about Projects Abroad at an event I went to about finding opportunities to travel abroad. I was immediately interested by the amazing variety of destinations and projects offered, but when I saw the Inca project in Peru I knew I had to go!

I’ve been interested in archaeology for years, but I’ve never found a way to actually get experience on a site before now. Not only could I explore archaeology, but I would also get the chance to visit South America and even Machu Picchu! I decided to do a High School Special Project, since I’d never travelled so far from home before and I was reassured by the prospect of being in an organised group with other people my age.

Beautiful mountain scenery in Peru

I successfully made it to Cusco without getting lost mid-flight and as soon as I arrived at the airport, I was thrilled! The views of the mountains during the flight, the heat, and even the panpipe music at the airport all contributed to my excitement, and I could finally say that I was actually in Peru! It was so warm I could hardly believe it was winter – at least until the nights.

My host family

My host family was wonderful and they enthusiastically welcomed me into their family from the moment I arrived, despite the language barrier, since my Spanish was pretty lacking on my arrival. On my first day, I was amazed at how much food I was given and I was certain I’d never be able to finish it. However, as soon as I started working on the site, I realised why there was that much! Also staying with my host family were the two other High School Special volunteers on the Inca Project, Dani and Ryno. By the end of the two weeks together, they felt like my family.

My Archaeology placement

The work on the sites was amazing. On our first week, we were finishing excavations on a small site near Pikillaqta. I quickly picked up the basics of excavating and on our first day, we found a human toe bone! During the second week, we began working at a new site, which involved a lot of weeding and clearing, and even using a machete. I was quite sorry to leave before the digging started and I’m looking forward to seeing how the dig goes through the Facebook group.

Faye feeding an Alpaca at Awana Kancha

The work was exciting, despite its difficulty, and in our breaks we were never bored. The regular volunteers enthusiastically adopted us into their group and by the end of my time there, I loved them all. I was amazed by the diversity of the volunteers. I hadn’t expected to meet so many different people, but I made so many friends from other parts of the world and I found out so much from our conversations about their lives in other countries. It was absolutely fascinating.

As well as working on the sites, we also did some workshops in the office, we cleaned the pottery found during excavations and we even had a workshop on osteology and what we can tell from bones found on the site. It was amazing!

On the High School Special Project, we also had cultural activities in the evening. It was great to have the chance to appreciate modern day Peru, as well as its history. I enjoyed seeing the influences of its past in the society around me, like the traditional clothes and Quechua, and also the offering we made on the site on the 1st of August, which is Pachamama day. We did salsa dancing, Peruvian cooking, and had a bus tour of Cusco with the other High School Special volunteers, who were absolutely lovely. We all became very close.

The weekend trip

The weekend trip was one of the highlights of my time in Peru. On the way to Machu Picchu, we had the chance to see some other amazing places. We all loved the stop at Awana Kancha to see textile crafting. We got to see the hand spun wool, the natural ways they dye it, and even the looms they hand weave the patterns onto. We even fed llamas and alpacas!

Volunteers sightseeing during their free time

We visited Pisac and the view was amazing. We also got to explore the markets at Pisac, which were beautiful. It was amazing how much there was – dreamcatchers, jewellery, paintings, empanadas, and so much fluffy alpaca wool clothing! I returned with a much fuller suitcase after my time in the markets. Ollantaytambo was incredible as well and the town was pretty. Then we got on the train to Aguascalientes!

Visiting Machu Picchu

Volunteers visiting Machu Pichu on a weekend trip

We woke up at 4:00 in the morning to begin the ascent up to Machu Picchu. The first step was queueing for the bus. As we went up, the mountains were covered in mist and at first, we could only see glimpses of the scope of the site. But as it cleared, it was utterly incredible.

The site was astounding, and the mountains and vegetation surrounding us were like a paradise from Avatar. Everything looked especially bright after the dustiness of Cusco. It took my breath away – literally, since I decided to walk up to the sun gate! It was well worth the effort for the view. Machu Picchu was truly amazing and every part as beautiful and as fascinating as it is said to be. Don’t go to Peru without visiting it!

My overall experience

I absolutely loved my time in Peru – it was the most excitingly different and beautiful place I’ve ever been and the rich culture was incredible to experience. The staff and the other volunteers were some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met and I only wish I’d been there longer! The work on the project was fascinating and it was great to discover more about archaeology and Incan history, both of which were even more exciting than I’d hoped they would be. I can’t wait to visit again!

Faye Thompson

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