Volunteer Review: Daniella F., Incan & Wari Archaeology in Peru
As I want to study archaeology and anthropology at university, the High School Special Archaeology Project seemed the perfect fit for me. On this project, I would be able to get some first-hand experience of archaeology, while also having activities planned for me so that I would never feel overwhelmed by being in a new environment on my own. The reasons I chose to go to Peru over Romania are many. First of all, the chance to go to South America was one that I wanted to jump at. Taking part on a dig on an Incan site was a unique opportunity and it really did live up to expectations.
Going all the way to Peru for the first time by myself was daunting, as it would be for anyone traveling by herself for the first time. Luckily, Projects Abroad put me in touch with another girl who would be on my project with me. We both felt better having someone to travel with, as we were both nervous to go all that way by ourselves. We bonded very quickly and are still good friends!
When we arrived, we were taken to our host family’s house and given time to settle in. Our host family was so welcoming and was always happy to help us with anything and involve us in family activities. After a while of settling in, one of the Projects Abroad staff picked us up and we went to the office to sort out some admin. After this, we went into the center of Cusco and were shown around the central square, which was beautiful. When we went to the square, we saw the teachers protesting outside the Cathedral. We were told that the teachers had been on strike for several weeks and it was interesting to find out over the course of my visit that if they continue to strike for 70 days, then the school year is canceled. Learning about the cultural and political differences between Peru and the UK was very interesting.
My Archaeology placement
The day after we arrived, Dan the Archaeology Supervisor took us to see the sites where we would be working for the next few days. Dan was absolutely amazing throughout our whole trip and he really looked after us. He made sure that we had the amazing time that we did. The site where we worked was on top of a hill and the view of a beautiful river and mountains was amazing. We also went to an Incan trading post that was previously a Wari aqueduct and it was interesting to see how intact that particular part of the structure was.
Our first day on site was on the Tuesday. We had to get up quite early to get to the bus stop where we met the other volunteers who were on the regular Archaeology Project. We all got on so well and this made working on the site so much fun. After a half an hour bus ride, we arrived at the site and started working. The three of us who were on the High School Special Project worked together, removing earth and stones from a wall so that the whole of that unit was exposed and fully excavated. Dan showed us how to use all the tools and every time we filled our buckets with earth, we went to empty them out. Our first day was a lot more fun than I thought it would be and it went so much faster than I had expected, which is a sign that we were having a good time!
As I hurt my wrist from putting too much pressure on it on the first day, on the second day I went to a different unit and got to experience another side to archaeology. Here, as most of the ceramics had been exposed, we spent the day mapping where the ceramics were in the unit, lifting them carefully off the ground and into a plastic bag, and cleaning the area using large paintbrushes. Whilst cleaning the unit, I found a small piece of ceramic, which made me feel very proud! It was very interesting to do something different from the first day, as I got to see the archaeology process at a later stage.
The last site day of the week consisted of returning to the first unit I had worked on and cleaning it up, as well as helping finish up the other units. After this, this particular site was pretty much completed and it was really nice joining the project when the excavation was coming to an end.
Every evening, we had activities arranged for us, from salsa dancing to cooking to sports. We did all of these activities with people who were on other High School Special Projects. This way we got to meet other people our age, who we really bonded with and are still friends with! Dan also took us to some more archaeological sites, just the three of us, and it was so lovely to see so much of Cusco’s rich history right in front of us.
One of my favorite activities was definitely the salsa dancing, as we all had such a good time and it was very funny as well! On the first Friday, we took an open top bus tour of Cusco and the surrounding mountains, which was so much fun. The scenery was amazing and although it was cold, we had music playing and we cuddled up to each other, which made us all feel better!
My trip to Machu Picchu
On the middle weekend of my trip in Cusco, all of us who were on the High School Special made our way to one of the new wonders of the world, Machu Picchu. The Saturday was spent visiting several incredible archaeological sites as we made our way towards Machu Picchu.
Our first stop was at a place called Awana Kancha, where three local communities come together to weave traditional knitwear which they sell. There was also a llama and alpaca sanctuary. The llamas and alpacas were so adorable and I think I have so many photos that it’s hard to know which are the best! Next, we visited a site called Pisaq where we saw the terraces where food was cultivated and the different sectors of the site where different sorts of people lived, all the way up to the religious sector at the top. At the top, the views were absolutely incredible. We also explored the market in the town of Pisaq, which was so colorful and vibrant, making it so much fun to walk around and explore.
Our last stop of the day was at Ollantaytambo. This was similar to Pisaq in terms of its use, but the terraces were steeper and the view at the top in the religious sector was breath taking. After looking around Ollantaytambo, we had our evening meal before taking the two-hour train journey to the town of Aguas Calientes, from which we would get the bus up to Machu Picchu the next morning.
After getting up at 4:15 am and waiting for approximately one hour for the bus, we had made it to Machu Picchu. We initially had a guided tour around the complex and it was amazing to see the clouds slowly disappear over the course of a few hours to expose the beautiful view and mountains beyond. Machu Picchu really is as incredible as I’d imagined. It is so large and so intact that it is understandable why so many people want to experience its beauty.
During our two-hour tour, our guide took us around the complex, explaining the use of different areas, the history of Machu Picchu, and the history of its discovery as an overgrown abandoned Incan royal palace to the famous attraction it is today. After our tour, we were able to explore more of the complex on our own. This was when we went to see the famous view of Machu Picchu, and take the photo that you must take if you go there. We started to climb the trail up to the sun gate where the view is apparently incredible. Some of us only made it half way, as it was very hot compared to Cusco.
After our visit to Machu Picchu, we returned to Aguas Calientes where we had an afternoon of relaxing after getting up so early. I went out to explore the town, which although teeming with tourists, still managed to retain its character and charm.
Living with my host family
Throughout my stay in Cusco, my host family could not have been more lovely and accommodating. We had such lovely conversations over meal times as we got to know more about them and the local culture, and we told them about us and our culture. They made lunch for us when we went to the site for both weeks and were very accommodating if we didn’t like something that they had made.
In the second week when they had family round for a cousin’s birthday, they included us in the celebrations and introduced us to their family. This was so nice and definitely made me feel very welcome and included. All in all, I can say that any reservations I had about staying with a local family were not needed, as I felt so at home.
My overall experience
I can safely say that my time in Cusco is one that I will never forget. The friends I made and the people I met will stay with me for a long time. All of the Projects Abroad staff, especially Dan, were always there to help us out, make sure we felt comfortable, and were willing to accommodate anything we wanted to do – including going to a chocolate museum! Going on the High School Special Archaeology Project was such a great decision, and I would like to thank Projects Abroad for making my stay and experience in Cusco an unforgettable one.
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.