time flies in cusco - nearly 2 months already.
05/04/2010 - 25/05/2010 20 °C
I can not believe how fast time has gone since arriving here in Cusco. I´m sure its mainly down to being so busy and having a lot of fun.
My first week in cusco was nice, staying in the family home of the director of Aldea Yanapay. Got a chance to try some traditional peruvian dishes and spanish conversation... Admittedly my life did turn into one big game of shirades as my spanish was not really past the ¿como te llamas? stage but we had fun trying to understand each other.
From the first day at the project, I knew I would enjoy it here. The school is incredible and though very basic when compared to schools we are used to, this does not hold the kids back. Its an afterschool project which runs from 3-7pm. Each afternoon is split into 3 - the first part the kids are split into different classrooms where they can either get help with any homework they may have, get tutored on specifics eg maths, literature etc, do art or have fun with some educational games.
Next up comes the circle of expression, where all the kids aged 5-12 are gathered in the courtyard and listen attentively to the topic of the day. Yuri (the creator of Aldea Yanapay) chats to all the children about a host topics that usually get omitted from a typical childs education. A glaring ommision in my opinion, but probably because children are not given enough credit to understand the seemingly more complex issues that lie outside the comfort of curriculum. The topics always have a strong moral focus, including issues like racism, religion, sexism, domestic violence, social responsibility. The children are always encouraged to participate in the conversations, and they come up with a lot of interesting, clever and funny comments.
After the circle, the kids seperate into different classes determined by their age. This is where the volunteers teach the children about the theme of the week, and then at the end of the week whatever the class has been learning is presented to the rest of the school in the show. When I first started the theme was usually a different country each week, with one Guayana Francessa one week and Finlandia the next. Its usually just as interesting for the volunteers as the children as we learn about country we previously knew little about. As an example, in the show when we were presenting Finlandia - the kids created a map of scandinavia and labelled key details about Finland, Capital, Currency, traditional food, language, religion etc. Then we finished the show with a basic version of Finnish Folk dancing!!
Volunteering with Yanapay is a lot of fun, and with a lot of volunteers all staying in the hostel its a close a friendly community. There´s always a birthday, leaving do or some reason to have fun. I´ve met so many nice people through yanapay, far too many too mention but you all know who you are. Some people from england who i´ll make sure to meet up with, and others from around the world who provide the perfect excuse for a good holiday!!
Every friday there is a volunteer party in the restaurant,always with a fancy dress theme. There´s been 80´s, country & western, amcient civilisations, but my favourite was cartoons. A bunch of us got together and went as the Simpsons (or people looking like they had jaundice!). Every week is fun and going out with a whole group is always fun (other than when someone lets off a tear gas canister, which happened in one club we went to. Not a pleasant experience...though it did clear the sinuses!)
On the 15th May, there was the Yanapay Festival - organised to create awareness of the project with the local people and also show them what it does in the community. There was many volunteer hours put into the festival - with organisation, promotion, ticket selling and setting up of the festival (nearly everthing was hand made).
The festival had a stage for music and entertainment, a games area, food, football and volleyball tournaments. I worked on one f the seven games stalls, which was the tin can alley. Although the cans were replaced with plastic bottles (as each stall had a value and ours was recycling). The whole day went really well, with all the hard work payig off. A lot of Cusqueñas attended the event (which was obviously the main aim although anyone was welcome) and enjoyed the day. Hopefully the increased awareness will help support the project, especially with its next venture - the Casa Cultural. A place where children, family, adults can go once they leave the Yanapay school system which stops at the age of 12 (as in Cusco, children over this age attend ordinary school in the afternoons).
Whilst in Cusco i´ve been taking Spanish classes with another project called fairplay. This employs single mothers as its teachers and at the end of each week I pay my money directly to my teacher. The classes are all one on one lessons, and despite being extremely slow when it comes to languages (i´m still learning english) i´m at least progressing!! I can now just about get my point across in spanish and have some sort of broken conversation - which is all I wanted to achieve, especially so I can be of more use when in the Yanapay school.
Living in Cusco, leaves me very spoilt - with an incredible backdrop to wake up to every single morning. There´s a lot of great sights around the city and whenever there´s some time its so good to go and explore. There´s a lot of Inca ruins in the surrounding hills and one of the main sights is Sacsayhuamán (basically pronounced Sexy Woman...do you think the Incas knew the a lot of english speaking tourists would come one day!). I have been reliably informed however that the name actually means Full (well fed) Condor - thats where my understanding comes to an end.
As well as the sights there´s some great restaurants, for supreme value for money. the best has to be Tio Juans which is about 20 mins outside of Cusco, a little ranch set in the hills - what better way to eat your food! Plus they have volleyball...what better way is there to help the mountain of food digest!
Since I´ve been here, I´ve been on just one lengthy road trip (saving the rest for after Yanapay). I went with one fellow volunteer who I´ve been spending a lot of time with. Jana is a lovely german girl who was just as keen as me to check out what the Oasis of Huacachina and its opportunities of sandboarding had to offer... So off on an overnight 15hr bus journey we went (not so bad considering the views along the route).
You arrive in Ica - a town with notable signs of recovery from the 2007 earthquake. Then its a 15min taxi journey into the desert and oasis. As if all the travelling was not enough we actually spent the first day on a extra 2 hr journey to the coast so we could visit the beach of Paracas...and I swam in the Pacific for the first time in my life.
Huacachina is a nutural oasis but has been developed a lot for tourism. However when we were there, tourism was sparse (quite nice really). As if the tranquil oasis and its palm trees was not enough, the skyscraping sand dunes just behind were nothing but spectaclar.
....and its up those sandunes where you head when taking part in sandboarding!! For just 30 Soles (about 7 pounds!) we went out into the desert in a sand buggy for over 2 hrs - to throw ourselves over steep edges whilst laying down head first on snowboard. It was incredible, the views, the speeds, the screams, the sand in the teeth, the sand in...well absolutely everywhere (still finding it).
We went out in a group of 8, with a guide who bombs it over the dunes taking you to photo points, sunset points and most importantly slopes.
I went first on the supposedly non scary beginners slope. It was incredible but the best was definitely the last slope that seemed to go on for ever.
Despite what was close to a 40hr round trip after the road works on the way back (and the bus company choosing to play celine dions greatest hits at full volume, followed by a spanish dubbed south korean tv series at 6am) it was well worth the weekend away. As much for the company as all the entertainment (not celine dion). As it went went well we´ve decided to continue our travels together and in a couple of weeks, we´ll be leaving Yanapay to explore S.America together for 2-3 months. Lake Titicaca, Bolivia, the jungle, Salt flats, Chile and lots of other amazing things await. I for one am looking forward to it all....My plan is then to return for a month at the end of my S.American stay and volunteer with Yanapay before heading back to the US!
I´ll try to write my next blog a little quicker!!