Volunteer Review: Ike C., Incan & Wari Archaeology in Peru
My name is Ike C. and for three months I had the opportunity to live and work in Peru. I graduated high school in 2008 and then took a gap year before attending Davidson College. I have always had a passion for history which comes alive when I am able to put the history I have learned with a building or a place. Because of this, I knew I wanted to do some archaeological work during my gap year.
There are sites all around the world, however, most have been worked on for hundreds of years and are often in volatile regions. Peru and the Incan ruins were an obvious choice for me because in some places the ruins have never been touched and the country is safe. I therefore embarked on a journey of a lifetime: Inca Project followed by a month-long teaching placement.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived in Peru. Even so, the small town of Huyro nestled in the Andes was not the first picture in my head. Before I was able to see the town of Huyro where I would be spending two months, I was taken over the mountains to a town an hour outside of Cusco called Urubamba. The roads in Peru twist and turn through the mountains and for the most part are one, to one and a half lanes of gravel with few side railings. The views are fantastic, but the trip can be nerve racking at times. This scenic trip led to the El Stablo, my home in the town of Huyro.
El Stablo used to be a horse stable, but was converted into a very comfortable house. It is in the middle of the valley enclosed by banana trees, a river, and many neighbors.
A typical week consisted of various types of work. We worked in El Stablo on Mondays, while on Tuesdays and Thursdays we walked up the mountain and cleaned ruins. On Wednesdays we did community work and then the boys played soccer at the school in the evenings, while the girls played volleyball. Friday mornings we had to clean El Stablo and we had the afternoons off. Usually, volunteers left for either Cusco or somewhere else where we would spend the weekend. Chores were given to everyone during the week, so dishes had to be done for every meal Monday through Friday morning and every morning someone had to wake up early to feed the chickens.
Work in El Stablo involved watering plants, planting banana trees, clearing weeds, and taking the kernels off the corn cobs. Most of the time, watering the plants turned into a water fight which would sometimes lead to a mud fight. The river where we got the water from became a strategic position that had to be held at all costs, and by the end most people ended up being dunked in the river. Planting the bananas and clearing the weeds was pretty straightforward. We were working on a reforestation project on the grounds, so we had to make sure the weeds weren’t preventing the plants from growing and occasionally we put more trees in to be planted.
The corn was used to feed the chickens and was grown on the property. The corn was left to dry and then we knocked the kernels off with our thumbs, another corn cob, or – a method developed by a certain volunteer – a tea spoon. The first couple of times I worked with the corn I had blisters on my thumbs. Taking the corn off the cob was an emotional rollercoaster, a term coined by a previous volunteer. This saying proved true because you never knew what kind of corn you were going to get. You could get one with hard kernels, sharp kernels, or nice soft kernels that came off nice and easy. Nevertheless, the company of the supervisor and of the other volunteers always made corn work fun.
Going up the mountain was my favorite part of my time in Huyro. We would go up the mountain and clear the ruins, map them, or look for new ruins. We never found any new ruins while I was there, but soon after I left new ruins were found. Working with the ruins was a lot of fun. Some of them hadn’t been touched since the Incas’ used them, and Projects Abroad is making sure to preserve them and treat them with respect. One would think that preserving Incan ruins would be a top priority for the responsible government bodies; however, this is unfortunately not always the case.
Two of the best moments for me in Peru were when we found a ceramic piece on the mountain and at another time some hieroglyphs on the Inca Trail by Inca Tambo. This shows how raw these ruins are. The supervisor was feeling around a hole where a rock used to make pottery had been found by the archaeologist, and sure enough he found five or six pieces of a ceramic pot. The hieroglyphs were found by the archaeologist on the Inca trail. We were looking for ruins above Inca Tambo when the archaeologist found carvings in a rock. It was amazing to be a part of these two finds: to see and feel the past come alive.
Community work was both fun and meaningful. During my stay, we ended up doing a lot of painting. We painted the kindergarten and the Huyro police station. We also helped make swimming lanes for a swimming competition. Working at the kindergarten was particularly fun. The kids were great and always wanted to play. Whenever I sat down to rest, waves of kids would come and tackle me until I lifted them up in the air. As I was laying down having some water, one particular kindergartener would not stop touching my arm. Then he said something in Spanish and the supervisor started laughing. Turns out the kid said I was like his dog because I was big and hairy!
One day we had all the kindergarteners over at El Stablo to play on the soccer field and have some snacks. It was great fun. We played football, volleyball, and had a massive tug of war battle. The parents ended up having the most fun and took over the soccer field and the volleyball court playing with each other and the volunteers. I don’t think I would have enjoyed Peru as much as I did if Dan, the supervisor, wasn’t such a good guy. He and I got along great. I don’t know how he does it, but he gets along with everyone. He’s a fun guy to be around, but at the same time he’s always looking out for the volunteers making sure they’re alright. One day a Dutch volunteer was home feeling sick and Dan asked if she wanted some Dutch chocolate. The girl almost disregarded the comment and halfheartedly said yes. Dan came back from his room with a bag of Dutch chocolates and told the volunteer to send him some more when she got home. She had the biggest smile on her face and she ended up sending him some more chocolate.
We came up with various ways to entertain ourselves and the staff who worked with us. One night we found some clothes belonging to Raul, one of the people working at El Stablo, and made a corn cob Raul complete with a volleyball head. We carried him around the house and took funny pictures of him. Franklin, or Franklenstein, who drove our van, was always a laugh. He would always pronounce words with a “ch” at the end. So boy became boych etc. The people of Huyro were so warm and open; I just wish I could have spoken Spanish better.
An interesting Peruvian oddity I will always remember was the evolution of my name. No one in Huyro could pronounce Ike so my name turned into Iche. Everyone in Huyro called me Iche. The staff and the town’s people would call me Iche. In fact, it was strange when during my subsequent teaching placement in Urubamba some of my students could pronounce my name correctly, and even stranger when I went back to Texas and no one called me Iche. The evolution of my name didn’t stop there. It further evolved into Iche boych thanks to Dan and his Irish penchant for calling people by their name followed by boy and Franklenstein’s inability to not pronounce words without putting a “ch” at the end. It’s now a nice memory of my time in Peru.
I will cherish the time I spent in Huyro for the rest of my life. Nowhere else was I called Iche, or will be again. That was the charm of the town. Weekends were spent visiting big Incan Ruins, including Machu Pichu, Moray, Pisaq, or relaxing in Cusco with volunteers from other projects. It’s easy to interact with other volunteers and I ended up hanging out mostly with the teaching volunteers on the weekends, which facilitated my transition when I started the teaching program.
The Huyro charm isn’t for everyone. The hikes up the mountain could be tough, and the internet was slow. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t have changed a minute of it and the Inca Project will always remain in the heart of the grateful Iche.
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.