Tom Bennett - General Teaching Projects in Peru
I flew into Cusco on an internal flight from Lima high up in the Andes. It was pretty spectacular flying over the Andes, and Cusco itself is surrounded on all sides by the mountains. I was met at the airport by one of the Projects Abroad staff, and we took a taxi to Urubamba where Projects Abroad have their Peru office. We then continued on to Ollantaytambo where I'm based (avoiding the rocks laid across the road at various points, which had been carefully placed a day before as part of a ´general protest against transport´).
Ollantay, as it is known, is quite something, surrounded on all sides by high mountains (or hills as they call them here). Pretty much all the buildings are traditional mud-brick structures separated by narrow cobbled streets... not a stretch of tarmac to be seen! The streets are mostly occupied by the local population of stray dogs, children and farmers herding their bulls. The Inca ruins sit up on the mountainside overlooking the town and are visited by a daily dose of tourists. I met my host Lola, and her daughter Carmen... the house is very traditional. The rooms open out onto a courtyard. My room is upstairs and opens out onto a kind of balcony-walkway.
I spent my first weekend in the small town of ´Paucartambo´at the ´fiesta de Carmen´, a traditional Peruvian festival. I went with Anna (the other Projects Abroad volunteer staying at Lola´s) and Carmen (who acted as our guide, most useful!).
Paucartambo is a 3 hour minibus ride from Cusco, (Cusco itself is 2-3 hours drive from Ollantay), along a very dusty mountain dirt-track. It was pretty hairy looking out from inside the minibus, when barely a metre to our left was a sheer drop!
The fiesta got underway on Saturday afternoon, when ´the Carmen´ was brought out from the church, (accompanied by a band, military presence and the carnival of elaborately-dressed locals), to begin its day-long tour of the town. I was really impressed by the effort that had clearly gone into preparing the event, especially the costumes.
The streets were packed with people, but I saw surprisingly few other gringos or tourists. There was much dancing in the streets throughout the day and well into the evening. The dances were inspired by everything from the fever of malaria sufferers, to the antics of the Spanish and Chileans. On top of this there were various groups of costume-clan Peruvians running around the place, various brass bands and plenty of street-sellers/stalls.
We spent most of the day watching the dances and exploring the town. One of the later dances seemed to consist mostly of dressed-up Peruvians lashing each other's feet with whips! I'm sure no one was hurt. When the dancing moved into a sort of village hall, it became very akin to ´English Morris dancing´. Most of the singing was in ´Quechua´ the Andean language.
At midnight we took a minibus to ´tres cruses´ a further two hours towards the Jungle, where the Andes meets the Amazon. I was pretty shattered and slept though it all apparently... At 4 am, we left the comfort of the minibus to sit outside and await the sunrise. Despite the freezing cold, the sunrise was well worth it, and probably the most spectacular I've seen. Unfortunately we couldn't see the jungle basin bellow, as there was a thick mist, but it was still an awesome sight and a great introduction to my time in Peru!