Joseph Court - Incan & Wari Archaeology in Peru
Worn out from a long delay at Lima airport, I arrived in Cusco one rainy May afternoon. The rain stopped for good after a few days, to be replaced by the Peruvian winter climate I soon became familiar with: freezing cold in the shade, baking heat under the Andean sun.
I was picked up and given a car tour of Cusco by Hugo, one of the Projects Abroad team. Despite the entertaining commentary and new sights, at this stage all I wanted was to lie down. Before sending me to bed, my host family made me feel at home with a boiling hot mug of mate, a kind of herbal tea served just about everywhere and one of many tastes of Peru I have since come to miss.
My Teaching placement
The next day, I was shown around the placement for my first project (I did Teaching, followed by Archaeology) by Jessie, the supervisor for Teaching volunteers. No amount of lesson preparation and game ideas could have prepared me for the kids’ excitement at having an English gringo for a teacher. I was swamped every single day of my three weeks with group hugs and questions about my country, language, and family.
The work itself was very rewarding. I was assistant to the school’s English teacher and as well as helping out with things like pronunciation and vocabulary in classes (sometimes even the teacher would learn new things from me), I was tasked with writing up a small booklet of English exercises, as the school didn't yet have its own textbooks. This ensured that, although I wasn't on the project for as long as some of the other volunteers, I was able to help in a lasting way, something Projects Abroad is rightly keen on.
My Archaeology placement
Once my time at my Teaching placement was up, I moved to a new house much nearer the Archaeology Project, but unfortunately also much further from the city centre. On my first day, Dan, the Archaeology Supervisor, showed us around the dig site - his office. What a site it was! We were excavating a small Inca complex next to a much larger settlement built by the Wari, a pre-Inca culture. Built on a hill above a lake, it was stunning and as good an introduction as any to the Inca hallmarks of enduring construction techniques, inescapable religious features, and structures that adapt to the landscape rather than modifying it.
We did a great range of activities on the Archaeology Project. The on-site digging, cleaning, and measuring that we did made up the bulk of the work, and were for most of us the main draw of the project. Uncovering even a small fragment of ceramic, let alone an entire collapsed wall, as we did, is really exciting. Take my word for it. We also learned a lot about the archaeological process through presentations and workshops.
My free time
Cusco is a fantastic city to explore, on your own or with friends. The centre is a fascinating and very beautiful mix of Spanish architecture and Inca stonework, with a great selection of museums. The people of Cusco are really big on the local history - most brand and street names have something to do with the Incas - which makes it a very interesting place to be as a tourist. The people are really friendly and love to find out about foreigners, though you will get a lot more out of your time there if you speak some Spanish. There are certainly plenty of opportunities to practise (particularly with your host family) and Projects Abroad offers lessons for beginners.
It's well known that prices in South America are extremely low, which is nice on nights out or when stuffing yourself with the local food. Provided you attend the weekly office-run social events (things like film nights and cooking classes), you'll make friends with the other volunteers extremely quickly. Though some projects leave volunteers with more free time than others, whatever you choose to do you shouldn't have to miss much. Getting to your destinations is easy once you've figured out the comprehensive but confusing bus system and taxis are extremely cheap if you're stuck.
Weekends are always free and volunteers often use them to travel outside the city. Hikes like Rainbow Mountain are breath-taking - breath-taking in their beauty, but also because doing any exercise at Andean altitudes will leave you panting. No trip to Cusco would be complete without a visit to Machu Picchu (it is as amazing as it looks in photographs and is much bigger), but there are loads of great sites to see in the Sacred Valley area too.
Lastly, should anything bad happen to you in your destination, one of the Projects Abroad team will be able to help right away and there’s an always-active emergency number to call too. I can personally vouch for the team’s efficiency and patience. When I was ill, they helped out so much with transport, organisation, and just general support.
Between my project work and my spare time in Cusco, I had a varied, memorable, and extremely fun time with Projects Abroad, and I am sure you will too!