Volunteer Review: Joanna B., Rainforest Conservation in Peru
Hi my name is Joanna B., I’m 24 years old and on a career break from London and I’d like to share with you my experience in Peru, teaching, working on the Conservation project in the Rainforest and traveling. I hope after reading my story you will be inspired and eager to create an experience of your own, in Peru of course!
When I first contacted Projects Abroad I was fed up and bored with my job and knew that I needed to get away. I’d had a Projects Abroad brochure under my bed gathering dust since I was 18, so I dug it out and before I knew it I was attending one of their free open days. Talking to the other volunteers and asking questions put my mind at rest and made me sure that I was ready to go for it.
I began preparing about 6 months before I was due to leave which gave me lots of time to fully prepare, physically at least. In the lead up to my trip Projects Abroad kept me fully updated and I even got my own personal web page with lots of info and tips to prepare me even further.
So there I was 5th August 07 waiting for my luggage at a chaotic Cusco airport. I stepped outside to be greeted by a stampede of taxi drivers, totally overwhelmed I saw a Projects Abroad sign waving at me, finally something familiar and I felt safe already. Hannah, an employee of the Urubamba Office met me and escorted me to a taxi. 2 hours later we were in Urubamba a town in the Sacred Valley and my home for the next 4 months. My host family greeted me with a warm hug and a smile, though there was one problem we couldn’t communicate! I spoke pigeon Spanish and they spoke virtually no English - this was going to be tough. If I couldn’t communicate at home how on earth was I going to teach the kids at school!
So my first full day in Urubamba and at my school, nervous would be an understatement. Firstly I was accompanied by my host mum to the Projects Abroad office where I was given my teaching pack and an introduced to everyone. Next I was taken to my school General Ollanta. I walked through the gates to find hundreds of Peruvian kids in their blue uniforms running around, and yes it was break time. As I made my way through the playground to find the English teacher I could feel hundreds of Peruvian eyes starring at me. I remember being totally blown away by the whole scene. I was introduced to the English Teacher Elizabeth, we hit it off straight away and the fact she spoke English was a plus. As I introduced myself I remember thinking this is real, I’m really doing this.
Day by day I settled more and more into the lifestyle and my surroundings and soon I had a routine, a bunch of great new friends and my confidence was soaring in the classroom.
I was always kept busy. Don’t be fooled, teaching is hard work and there is lots of preparation to do. Everyday I was at the office either talking to the teaching supervisor, planning lessons or picking up resources. As well as this we also had monthly teacher meetings where all the English teachers from around the Sacred Valley gathered and the teaching volunteers would deliver a presentation in Spanish on a teaching topic. Luckily all the teachers had a great sense of humor so it was good fun and the teaching supervisor was always on hand to help me out.
Projects Abroad also runs afternoon classes for students who wanted extra English tuition. I volunteered and taught the 2nd graders every Monday and Wednesday for 2 hours. This was great experience as it was just me one on one with the kids and I was in charge (most of the time). I also got to experiment with different teaching methods.
A week before my placement was up I took a week off work (which every teaching volunteer is entitled to after working 10 weeks) and headed off to Lake Titicaca and Bolivia to stay the night on the Isla Del Sol with a bunch of other volunteers. The sunsets were out of this world and the trip also gave me my first taste of Peruvian roads!
The months whizzed past and before I knew it I was saying goodbye to Urubamba and all my lovely students, my amazing family and friends. After an emotional goodbye I headed off for the airport and a few hours later I was in Puerto Maldonado ready for my next challenge of working in on the Conservation Project at the Taricaya reserve for a week.
I was met by the project manager, Richard and taken to the port where I was introduced to the other volunteers. We boarded the Taricaya boat and an hour and a half later we were pulling into the reserve where more volunteers and staff were waiting to greet me. What a different world I had stepped into, from the mountains to the rainforest and the change of climate was a shock. A tropical climate definitely did not do my hair any favors; this is not a place for mascara and GHD’s ladies. I thought a week would go so slowly, how wrong I was.
After adjusting to the fact I’d be sharing a lodge with no privacy, no hot water and plenty of creepy crawlies for company, I felt at home. The other volunteers and staff made me feel so welcome and what a friendly bunch they really were! I was surprised how quickly I settled in and felt liberated that I was able to go back to basics. I didn’t even miss the internet or my hair straighteners!
Every evening a rota was drawn up to inform me of my duties for the next day. A normal day consisted of waking up at 5am (not as bad as it sounds as I went to bed at around 9pm because it was pitch black and sweltering) and conducting morning observations at one of various platforms scattered around the reserve. I returned at 7ish and breakfast was ready, followed by free time until around 9ish. Lunch was normally at around 12ish then more free time until 2:30 when afternoon observations took place. Dinner was at 7ish and then the evening was spent chilling out with the other volunteers. Every weekend we would go Puerto itself and hit the various clubs and markets.
The week whizzed by and before I knew it was a Sunday and I was saying goodbye to all my new friends, both of the animal and human kind. I headed back to Cusco to begin my 3 weeks of travel time. There was a lot to cram in but I spent a few days in Cusco and Urubamba (just can’t keep away) with my family and friends.
In my 3 weeks I got to see quite a lot but still it was not enough time, I could easily have spent at least 3 months just traveling! I bet any volunteer would back me up on that one. My first few days were spent in Cusco, I bought myself a boleto touristico (tourist ticket) and made the most of it before I set off on the 4 day classic Inca Trail (booking in advance is recommended). A few of my friends took the train up there but that’s no fun, its much more worth it if you go on the trek. It was tiring but you will appreciate Machu Picchu a lot more once you finally make it there. It was spectacular and just how I imagined it to be from all the pictures. I said my final goodbyes to my family and friends and had one final farewell party in Cusco and Urubamba.
I then began my journey to Lima via Arequipa and Nazca. At that time I was traveling with a fellow volunteer, my boyfriend and friend who both came out from London. The only way to really travel around Peru is by coach. At any bus station you will be bombarded with people shouting over each other “Lima Lima Lima” or “Arequipa Arequipa Arequipa”, quite funny but can be scary first off. Choose your coach companies wisely or else you could be in for the long haul stuck on an in-direct coach that takes 5-6 hours longer than a direct coach, I talk from experience. When buying tickets they all say that they are direct, use you common sense if it seems too good to be true then it is. Sometimes it is worth paying a b it more to ensure you have a comfortable, speedy and safe journey.
Arequipa is a beautiful place, well worth a stop over. While you are there it would be rude not to visit the Colca Canyon (deeper than the Grand Canyon) and see the condors. Nazca was home to the famous Nazca Lines and ancient cemetery, its one of a kind and not to be missed. In Nazca I had the opportunity to spend a night in a hotel with a pool as the climate so warm, a nice way to chill out after 3 weeks on the go!
Lima is an interesting place BIG is an understatement. Again take time to soak up the environment and see the coast.
To sum up Peru was the most amazing 4 months of my life and I envy anyone is yet to visit this spectacular, breathtaking place. I wish I could turn back time and do it all again (who knows maybe I will). All I can say is don’t think twice, if your feet are itching go, go, go!
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.