Florence Vincent - General Care Projects in Peru
My first impressions of Calca and Peru
After a long journey from snowy London Heathrow via bustling JFK, I landed in sweltering Lima. I was determined to stay awake for the 55-minute flight to Cusco to enjoy the beautiful mountain scenery below me but failed, as I was fast asleep before the security announcements even began!
I woke up to the seatbelt signs being switched on for landing and spent the rest of the flight with my nose pressed against the window. Tiny villages dotted between the lush green mountains were revealed beneath a light scattering of clouds. Landing between the mountains (feeling like the wings of the plane were dangerously close to the peaks) is a moment I will never forget.
After meeting a welcoming young Peruvian from Projects Abroad at the airport I experienced the exciting yet terrifying mode of transport that is normal road travel in Peru. On arrival in Calca Nilda, my host mum, greeted me with open arms and changed my name from Florence to the endearing Florcita. After chatting to her over a cup of “mate de coca” I was told to rest and unpack. She was warm and welcoming and I realised then that the fact that I spoke Spanish quite well was an immediate advantage.
I was shown to my bedroom, which was light and spacious. The rest of the house was very simple but homely and based around a courtyard with an outhouse-type bathroom, which the other volunteer and I shared with the eight members of our family.
I was expecting the weather to be monsoonal as I was told it was the rainy season but was pleasantly surprised when I spent my first weekend exploring Calca in the sun with my host brother Luis and Kris, the other volunteer living with me.
Summer School Placement
I arrived in Peru in the summer holidays so the nurseries were closed. Instead, I worked at a summer school in Calca. We did a lot of crafts for example making butterflies out of toilet paper rolls and mini hot air balloons out of papier-mâché. I got on well with the children and being confident in Spanish was a clear asset.
Memorable moments include being taught origami by a 10 year old boy; being given a goodbye present of a banana from one of the 1st year boys and teaching the 5th years a rhythmic canon to perform in front of the school.
One of the volunteers had moved to the nutrition programme so there was only two of us with classes as big as 40. Obviously there were moments when I wanted to leave the class and cry as the classes were so huge and we did not have a “real” teacher on hand to help us but after being there for most of summer school the kids respected us as teachers, which was incredibly rewarding.
My Care Project
I spent the rest of my time at a very basic nursery in Huqqui, just outside Calca. The children were aged 2-5 and there were on average ten a day. The fact that the class size was so small meant that I could give the children the one-on-one attention they lacked and deserved.
The atmosphere at the nursery was relaxed but there was an excellent structure to every morning (registering their names; lining up outside to pray and sing; marching back inside; saying the greetings in Spanish, English and Quechua; doing the daily activity and of course lots and lots of playing!). The teacher let me do a lot of things independently and I had quite a few days where she could not come in so I had the nursery to myself!
I loved my placement, as the children were so eager to learn even though they came from the poorest of backgrounds and were up for anything. They especially loved making me lay on all the chairs in the blazing sun while they covered me with their jumpers; poked me with various bits of wood and "gave me a heart transplant" with the nurses kit they have to play with.
Aurora, the teacher, was in stitches when she came outside and saw me with all the kids on top of me pretending to cure their patient. They also enjoyed singing “Baa Baa Black Sheep” with me strumming along on the guitar!
My new Peruvian family
My whole experience would have been very different had it not been for my fantastic host family. It is hard to describe what lovely people they are, as I have never met such caring, inspirational and thoughtful people.
From day one my mother Nilda took me under her wing and treated me like her own daughter. She is a nursery teacher who has a small jewellery business on the side. She does not have her own children but treated Kris and I as her “hijitas” and also has Jose, an adopted orphan boy who joined the family a few years ago.
When I was unwell or homesick she always knew the right thing to do/say and always made sure I was okay. Apart from being incredibly caring and genuine, there was no language barrier at all between us. We spoke to each other about everything; from current affairs to such delicate subjects that we were both moved to tears. Just writing this gives me a lump in my throat so I will move on to happier tales…
With my host family I enjoyed many things I would have never experienced had I not been fully immersed into their lives. I stayed up into the early hours chatting to 22-year-old Luis; put on a mini talent show with the kids; listened contently to Nilda and her sister Eli telling hilarious stories about past volunteers; got soaked and covered in confetti from head to toe on the most fun day that was Carnival; was laughed at for my reaction of the sheer amount of food served on Good Friday lunch (twelve different plates, TWELVE!) and one of the most fun experiences I had with them were the two weddings I attended!
I can honestly say that although my family does not have the nicest living spaces, they have the biggest heart and I will miss them greatly.
Travelling around Peru after my placement
As I was volunteering for three months I had the opportunity to take two weeks off as holiday. Before Easter I went traveling with my friends Sacha and Roxane. We had condors swoop over our heads in the Colca Canyon near Arequipa; island hopped on Lake Titicaca staying at the captain´s house one night; watched the sun set over the lake’ walked across the border to Bolivia; shopped ‘till we dropped in La Paz and chilled in the beautiful plazas of Cochabamba. Not bad for a ten day road trip!
When three months were up I had a month to indulge in the rich culture and hugely varying landscapes of Peru. It was incredibly hard saying goodbye to my Peruvian family who sent me off on my way after a tear-jerking farewell dinner (so many tears were shed by all, I still get goosebumps thinking about that evening).
However, I knew that I still had a whole month of a backpacking adventure ahead of me. Sacha, a Belgian volunteer who I became close to, was to be my “traveling buddy” and we also met up with other volunteers on the way that were making their way around Peru.
I could easily write a book about this month as we saw so many places and met dozens of interesting people. We started off doing the standard “gringo trail” working our way to Lima from Cusco. Arequipa was our first destination where we ambled around the beautiful monastery. We continued to Huacachina where our time was spent relaxing by the pool and sand boarding down the dunes that surround the oasis.
Our next stop was Paracas where the proximity and beauty of the wildlife on the Islas Ballestas made me feel like I was shooting for a David Attenborough programme. From Lima we took a flight to the north coast and were beach babes in the sunny surf spot of Mancora for a few days.
After a gruelling bus ride involving breakdowns and landslides we made it to Chachapoyas, a small town in the central highlands with the fortress of Kuelap as the main attraction. We were noticeably straying from the classic tourist routes by this point and noticed a huge difference in culture and attitudes.
Our next destination along our zigzagging down the north coast was Huanchaco, near Trujillo. We visited more ruins near this area, which were very interesting as they were from cultures that I had never heard of that existed before the Incas! From there we bussed it to Huaraz, a town in the Cordillera Blanca, to do some trekking. We did a day trek that took us from 3900m to a breathtakingly beautiful glacial lake at 4600m above sea level… it was worth every step!
We arrived in Lima just about in one piece (our backpacks got left in Huaraz but THANKFULLY were put on the next bus to Lima) after an amazing month. I would like to say that I saw it all but we did not see the Amazon jungle… I’ll just have to go back!