Monday, 23 April 2012

Living the high life: GapBreak volunteers arrive in Cusco, Peru

PROJECT: Teaching & Building
WRITTEN BY: Lauren Collee

Dear amigos, hola from Cusco! Summing up our first week is going to be a serious challenge. Deep breath…

The voyage here was an experience in itself. Whenever anyone mentions ´Santiago´in conversation, we cant help but shiver at the memory of 10 hours spent trying to sleep on the airport floor.. but then again, nothings better for group bonding than seeing each other in feotal position with beanies covering our eyes and a small puddle of drool in clear view of passing travellers (Jack..). But 2 flights later, we touched down in Cusco as the sun was rising over the mountains. Any sneaky photos out of the plane window will not do that view justice.

We all felt a bit heroic surviving the journey, and the epic landscape was not doing anything to diminish our egos. This city literally looks like someone has just cut out a slab of the mountains and poured civilization into the gap – in any direction you look there are rooftops dripping down the mountain sides, and women in traditional dress with huge, colourful bundles that put our backpack struggles to shame. Poor Jacinta was the first to make the trip to the clinic, and spent the first 24 hours under Dr. victors care (airport food), but the rest of us spent the day resting, happily drugged up on coca tea, exploring our beautiful sharehouse and talking to the cooks (Evanjelica and Ramiro), who, despite the language barrier, we would declare our love for by the end of the week.

From then on, we settled into a routine of waking up at 7.30 for an incredible breakfast, and heading into the city centre for a few hours before our 4 hours of Spanish lessons in the afternoon. Given that we are living in ´Peru Time´ now, the halfway break (usually spent being slaughtered by our Spanish teachers in foosball) stretched out, and 4 hours was always closer to 3. Even so, a huge and incredibly dinner was always welcome after struggling through words like ´reloj´ which seem physically impossible to pronounce.

With Arlich and Selvy as our guides, and mime as our main mode of communication, we are slowly getting to know Cusco. We have been weaving our way through the cobbled streets and grassy valleys on foot, en autobus, on horseback. The latter came about as we were approached (looking seriously inconspicuous in our fanny packs and zip off trousers – thanks sam..) quite shadily by a man who plonked us on a horse each with no helmets and sent us off through the muddy paths of sacsayhuaman. Apart from the beautiful temple del sol and Arlich´s incan tales, the highlight of that experience would have to be seeing Charlie ´chazmoney´ Martin take off on the other side of the barbed wire fence; a lone rider pursued by the Peruvian guides.

Fortunately for our poor backsides, our main mode of transport is not horseback, but bus.. although the latter gives us the bigger adrenaline rush. Peruvians like to experiment with how many people can fit into one mini-van, and how many cars can fit on a road with no lanes. After 6 days, we are proud to say that none of us even flinch when we find a sweaty armpit in our face, or when the bus takes off with the door still open, or when a passing car misses us by an inch.

There have been too many funny incidents this week to put into words, but I don’t think any of us will easily forget the moment that Lucy Holm found the ipod connector cord, or any of Chazmoney´s golden quotes at dinner time, including but not limited to “im a bottom man” (he claims to have been talking about bunkbeds). On Friday night, we discovered the joys of early salsa at Cusco´s diskotekas, and found that altitude and alcohol are an interesting mix. Needless to say, it was an emotional goodbye to that beautiful house and our darling Evanjelica, who left us with many hugs, an invitation to her house, and two golden words of wisdom: 1, wear lots of clothes, and 2, practice our Spanish. After the second, she pointed at Lucy Holm and said “maybe not lucy”, bringing back memories of her slip-up on the bus on Friday night “un perro espanol” (one dog Spanish), which caused a few sniggers among the locals.

Finally, we find ourselves settled into the families who have adopted us for the next 3 months. l I have never received such a warm welcome or such a massive lunch as I did yesterday. When the soup was brought out, Sarah and I slurped it up hungrily, only to find that it was the entrĂ©e to a massive chicken pasta dish. Mi estomago punished me last night for finishing the whole 2 plates. There are things that will take some getting used to, like the dogs lurking on every corner which we try to convince ourselves are harmless, and the lukewarm shower which gives off small electric shocks every now and again, but those are small prices to pay for the incredible hospitality we have received. Tomorrow we begin our placement at the school – with the help of a dictionary and lots of mime, I managed to gather from my host mum that this initiation will involve lots of confetti… apart from that, none of us have any idea what to expect, but that’s exactly what has made this week so exciting.

Lauren Collee


  1. Keep up the great writing Lauren... you are putting us all right there on the Cuzco hills with you... keep that tummy in good working order.!

  2. Thanks so much for your post. Your wonderful writing enables us 'stay-at-homes' to get some sort of a feel for the wonderful time you are having. Thank you Melissa Fairbairn x

  3. Sounds amazing Lauren...I can imagine that there must be many amusing situations with the language!!
    I hope that the first day of your school placement went well. I'm sure the kids would have been entertained if nothing else.

  4. What an adventure! Your blog makes me want to be there. Looking forward to the next installment.
    Rhonda Chapman

  5. Lauren the language thing is a family trait, last time in Italy I got a glass of milk instead of a Latte. Really good to hear the news, look forward to the next installment!

  6. Donella Cheetham26 April 2012 at 11:21

    Lauren this is my fifth attempt as am not au fait with blogging however I loved your summary and laughed out loud in parts - am looking forward to the next instalment

  7. When's the next installment? I'm missing my weekend fix of mountain air. By the way I read that when you come back down to sea level from these mountain regions you feel superhuman because of all the extra red blood cells you've produced to compensate for the lower oxygen.

  8. Laurenzo! It seems we might struggle to maintain your crazy rep... Keep the updates flowing so we may learn xx

  9. What you’ve done becomes the judge of what you’re going to do – especially in other people’s minds. When you’re traveling, you are what you are right there and then. People don’t have your past to hold against you. No yesterdays on the road.