Volunteer Review: Amy M., Incan & Wari Archaeology in Peru
My first impression of Peru upon touchdown was ‘’wow, look at those mountains!’’. Stepping off the plane, I could immediately feel the difference in altitude between here and Lima, where we had flown from. Luckily, I never got altitude sickness like some people did. I traveled with another girl from England, who was doing the teaching project in Urubamba. I was to stay with her and her host family for one night before heading off to the Inca Project. We met Projects Abroad staff member Yessica at the airport, who was friendly and helpful, and we took a taxi with her.
My first view of Cusco yielded some fantastic sights, driving through hotch-potch buildings, some very poor, some in ruins and others looking quite luxurious! There were people everywhere shopping or standing chatting and children in school uniforms. And so many dogs! Even those with owners roam all over the streets. I visited Cusco a few times during my trip and fell in love with the place. Not the richest of cities, but full of life and happy people!
I spent a pleasant day and night with my travel companion and her “family”, who were very nice. The next morning Yessica came to pick me up in a ‘combi’ (kind of minibus) and we took the 5 hour trip to Huyro. I quickly got used to this journey, as I made the trip to Urubamba and back almost every weekend. After a couple of times I just spent the whole journey in awe of the scenery, the mountains are absolutely stunning, and especially going out of Huyro in the other direction, where a river runs through a narrow valley, and you are traveling far above.
Occasionally you get a good combi driver who plays Spanish and Peruvian upbeat music, they were the best journeys (and very occasionally you get the YMCA or other such classics!). You quickly learn to the love Grupo 5, the Peruvians’ favorite band. It is constantly on the radio and even if you don’t speak Spanish that well you find yourself singing along to the catchy tunes!
Arriving in Huyro I am struck by the complete difference to Cusco. The village is tiny, one café, two shops, a pretty plaza with a monument and a church, a couple of schools and that’s about it! Some of my best memories are in Huyro, walking through the houses with 10 children shouting ‘’Hello! Hello!’’ from doorways, repeatedly until you are out of sight. Two girls followed us one day and refused to let go of our hands! We had to run away, of course with them chasing after, laughing.
But the best time was just as we got back into Huyro from a long trip to Pisac, we were walking through the village when we suddenly found ourselves surrounded by a group of children. Thinking ‘’what’s going on?’’ we then spotted Dan, the Inca Project supervisor, who said ‘’we are at a party, want to come?’’ So we entered a tiny, tiny house, with only a few people we knew there, and were immediately handed a plate of food (chicken, pasta, rice and potatoes!) We felt so welcome and the people were so generous. Of course as soon as we’d finished eating we had to get up and dance, to some more traditional Peruvian music.
Of course the typical Inca Project day wasn’t all fun and games. Up at 7 most days, except whoever was on chicken duty had to get up at 6 to feed them. Breakfast is bread and jam and bananas, although sometimes we would have luxuries like pancakes and chocolate sauce, omelets, fried yucca or hot chocolate. The staff on the project are fantastic and are great cooks. They are all Peruvian which helps with language and understanding things. Then it was work on the land around Establo, which mostly involved watering plants (invariably ending in a – very muddy – water fight!), planting trees or machete-ing around the ‘’baby trees’’ to keep them from being swamped by the grass. It is satisfying to be there for 2 months because you see how things have grown from when you first started. Of course everyone’s favorite job (or not!) is de-corning the cobs, which can be very monotonous, but necessary for the chickens to eat. And believe me you want the chickens to eat so you can eat the chickens! The meals are mostly rice, pasta, and soup with lots of vegetables, so a bit of meat is very welcome!
I enjoyed the community work part of the project. One day we had Huyro kindergarten round to play sports on our field. We played football, tug of war, and gave them some refreshments. We also played volleyball with the mums and teachers. We played volleyball a lot, just by ourselves and occasionally with teachers or other people in Huyro. The Peruvians are VERY good at volleyball, unlike myself! We did a few projects for the local schools, such as going around to check their First Aid boxes to see if their stock needed replenishing, going to schools to put fluoride on the children’s’ teeth, some of them were so rotten, poor little things!
We also did the chicken project for two schools. We went to Quillabamba, a town about an hour from Huyro, the last town in the Andes before you reach the jungle. There we brought some chicks and set them up in the school for the children to look after them and so the school can make money from them by selling their eggs or breeding them. It is so good to help the schools because the Peruvian education system is not well funded.
However, my favorite part of the project, being an archaeologist, was the trips up the mountain to the Inca ruins. We had to walk the last leg of the journey, a very steep climb with no proper path and lots of plants in the way, very hard journeys! The ruins are nestled in different parts of the forest, sometimes small two roomed houses, sometimes larger structures, but all belonged to Inca farmers.
Our job was to clear the ruins of plants and trees, which we did using machetes. It took me a while to get used to using the machete. When I arrived the other volunteers had already been there 2 weeks, so they looked like experts compared to me! I have to say I didn’t do very well the first couple of times, but you find your technique and get used to it. Some of the staff go at it with a fury, and most of the time it didn’t take long to clear a ruin before it was on to the next one, or back down for lunch.
Occasionally we went to the Inca Trail, a long path with walls on both sides, used by the Incas as a quick road for delivering messages, to do some machete-ing. There was an Inca village a little way into the forest, which we cleared and also did some measuring of the buildings while John, the resident archaeologist, made some scale drawings. We made several visits to ruins a bit further away from Establo, such as Inka Tambo, a much better conserved area that has had some restoration work done by the INC (the Peruvian governments’ archaeological organization).
Once we climbed right to the top of the mountain above Inka Tambo, very hard work, I’ve never been so out of breath in my life! But the views from the top were spectacular and we found a rock with some Inca petriglyphs carved into it, which was exciting! The ruins we went to were already known by the Inca project staff, but they believe there are more they don’t know about. So we did some exploring in the forest some days, searching for more ruins. We saw interesting wildlife, such as huge stick insects and poisonous caterpillars! We didn’t find any ruins though, unfortunately!
Weekends were spent sight-seeing, mostly in the Cusco direction; we visited Pisac, with its huge Inca town to explore and wonderful market in the town itself. We went to Moray, an Inca agricultural site; Salineras, ancient salt planes that are still used today; Ollantaytambo, an Inca fort; and Chinchero, to name a few. I would recommend Pisac, it was fantastic, although I loved all the places we visited! Tipon was also great; little known by tourists it is very peaceful, with its ancient terraces and water channels, still with running water! That was where we tried Cuy (guinea-pig), it took a while to talk myself into it but I ate it and it was worth it! In the other direction from Cusco, we visited some hot springs, spent a night in Quillabamba and watched the Miss Andean Beauty Pageant, and I took this back route into Macchu Picchu, which was beautiful, well worth the journey!
The week before I left the project we went on an Inca Project social to Vitcos. We all piled into the combi and went on a wonderful drive through the mountains, stopping on the way to look at a massive waterfall, to Vilcabamba, where we stayed in a cute little hostel. It was freezing cold so got straight into bed after dinner. We had a fantastic day in Vitcos, the walk up to the ruin wasn’t too taxing compared to some walks we did, and we were all in high spirits. The Inca town of Vitcos is on top of a hill with amazing views into the valley all around. The buildings are immaculately kept, although of course it is only walls. We were the only tourists there, it was so peaceful! I felt really close to everyone, as you do after spending every day with them for 2 months! The Inca Project was a fantastic experience and one I would recommend to anyone who believes they can be ‘’double hard’’!
This is a personal account of one volunteer’s experience on the project and is a snapshot in time. Your experience may be different, as our projects are constantly adapting to local needs and building on accomplishments. Seasonal weather changes can also have a big impact. Find out more about what you can expect from this project, or speak to one of our friendly Program Advisors.