Monthly Archives: September 2016

Peru, Week Two

This blog is a little bit back to front, chronologically, but as my weekend exploits dominate this post, I’ll start there. 


On Friday I met up with Paula and Emmanuelle (she’s volunteering in another local project) at lunchtime and we each bought a Boleto Turistico that’s valid for ten days and 14 sites. 

We booked on to a guided tour for that afternoon, which started at Qorikancha (an extra S/15) in the town centre and then took us by bus to four other sites: Saqsayhuaman, Q’enqo, Puka Pukara and Tambomachay. 

View from Qorikancha on to Jardin Sagrado and Av El Sol

Our guide, Carlos, explaining that Cusco is the centre of the world

Shapes in the night sky

View from Q’enqo over a cloudy Cusco

Sunset from Puka Pukara


On Saturday I joined Emmanuelle, a keen hiker, on a trip to Tipón. After the 40 minute public bus journey from Cusco to Choquepata, most people get a bus or taxi up to Tipón itself, but we decided to walk up to the entrance to the Parque Arqueológico. Once there, we took our time exploring the site, as opposed to the organised tour groups who had to rush around. 

The view as we walked up to Tipón

On Sunday, I met up with Emmanuelle again and we made an early start as we set off for Pisac at 7am. We were at the entrance to this Parque Arqueológico for 8:15am and barely saw another person on the hike until 11am. It was a beautiful walk in the Sacred Valley and made me think I should do this sort of thing more often. 

This little guy joined us for nearly four hours

Once we got back to the town, we had lunch in Pisac’s famous market and then found a bar to try the local speciality, chicha morada, before heading home for a well earned rest.


Unfortunately, there isn’t much to say about my volunteering at Arariwa in Cusco yet. Paula and I haven’t really got started and it’s hard to see how it’s going to change much – even though we’re here for nine and three months respectively. 

Still, on Monday we were invited to a talk about food and healthy eating for the office staff (most of whom I hadn’t seen before). It lasted for two hours (a good challenge for my Spanish ear) and it seems like it’s the third talk of six – so I know what to expect on the next few Monday mornings.

On Wednesday I took the opportunity to go with Paula and Rosario to visit a potential new client. Nothing really happened but it was good to be out of the office for the first time and interesting to see where he lived.
Paula and I spoke to Mila – who’s helping to coordinate our volunteering project – about our first couple of weeks and we’ve arranged a meeting with el jefe for next week. Fingers crossed it helps!

Spanish classes

This week I had three 2-hour classes: on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. I really like the classes here – they’re varied, challenging and the teachers are both good (Maria and Laura alternate by the week). 

For the linguists out there, I’ve been working on three different forms of the past tense as well as direct/indirect object pronouns.


I ran to and from Mila’s office for Wednesday’s meeting and it was a little traumatic because I was chased by a group of dogs for about 100m! I’d seen them before and they ignored me, but this time a little one didn’t like the look of me and got excited, then all the others joined in. 

On Saturday, I joined about 15 guys (including some from Arariwa) at 7:30am for their weekly 5-a-side football game. We started with two teams of 5, which increased as more people arrived until we had enough for three teams of 5; then the winning team stayed on the pitch, while the losing team replaced was replaced by the resting team.

A lot of the players were, how should I say, past their prime (my 40 year old colleague was calling them papi), but there was some reasonable talent on display. My team finished unbeaten (and therefore didn’t have a break), even though I consciously didn’t break into a sprint during the 90 minutes (I figure my 20 year head start was enough of an advantage). 


My first week in Cusco, Peru

I think it makes sense to start by answering this question: 

What am I doing in Cusco?

I’m in Cusco for 12 weeks (until 2nd December) to volunteer on a microfinance project with an organisation called Asociación Arariwa. There are two things in that sentence I want to address:

1) Microfinance. I became interested in this field after discovering Kiva in 2014. My simple definition of microfinance is it’s the provision of financial services (such as the facility to borrow or save money) to those who don’t ordinarily have access to them (usually, but not always, in developing countries). 

If you want to know more and have a spare 16 minutes, I encourage you to watch this video, which talks about microfinance in action. 

2) Asociación Arariwa. The volunteering agency I registered with works with this microfinance organisation, which also happens to be partnered with Kiva. You can read a bit about Arariwa here

My first week in Cusco

It’s been a change of pace in Cusco and in some ways it’s been back to square one – meeting new people, getting used to new surroundings etc. 

After I arrived in the middle of Sunday night/Monday morning, I was picked up by Mila and Marilyn and taken to my new home. I’ll be living with Marilyn and her 22 year old son Guillermo until December, whilst Mila is my new volunteer coordinator. I was exhausted so I just slept for the rest of the morning. 

Marilyn served lunch at about 1pm, something I’ll get used to as three meals a day are included in my homestay package. I can’t remember what I ate, but I remember having seconds. 

In the afternoon, Guillermo played the role of tour guide as we took the bus into the city’s historic centre. I think he showed me plenty of the important landmarks which helped me to get my bearings, although there were times when he may just have been chasing Pokémon. 

We covered quite a lot of ground and when we returned and had dinner I was ready for an early night. 

On Tuesday morning, I had my orientation at 8am for my volunteer placement. Marilyn accompanied me to Mila’s house (five minutes on the bus), which doubles as the office of Pro Peru Service Corps. The orientation consisted of a 45 minute PowerPoint presentation, led by Mila and assisted by Nico the accountant (and the tech guy I think). Mila gave me an overview of Peru, Cusco and the projects Pro Peru supports and she confirmed I’d be working with Arariwa. I’ll have to wait and see how I’ll fit into the organisation, but my provisional hours are 8:30am-1:30pm, Monday to Thursday. 

After that I was free until lunch so I went into the centre and joined the 10am walking tour. Walking tours are one of my favourite things to do when I visit a new city and I’m constantly impressed with the guides. This one was no different as Marco gave an interesting account of Cusqueñan history. 

My walking tour group


Casa Cartagena, where Che Guevara allegedly stayed

On the way home I stumbled across this protest march

To give you an idea of the geography of the city, here is a map with a few places marked:

The blue dot is my homestay (next to the airport), the yellow star is Pro Peru’s office, Asociación Arariwa is where I’ll be working and the Centro Historico is the area that all the tourists go when they visit (Plaza de Armas is the main square, about 5km from my new home)


I was back home for lunch at 1pm and then excitedly turned on the TV to watch my first City match of the season. Unfortunately the match was postponed instead (and the rescheduled game the next day wasn’t shown on the three sports channels we have). 

At 4pm I was back in the centre of town for my first Spanish lesson, but unfortunately my teacher, Laura, was about 45 minutes late. When she arrived I did a quick test, which proved I’ve only learnt the most basic Spanish grammar, and then we talked until 6pm. Laura confirmed my subsequent lessons would be one-to-one, rather than with Paula, the other new volunteer at Arariwa, because my level of Spanish is higher. 

On Wednesday, I arrived at the office with Mila at 8:30am as arranged, but we had to wait in reception for 45 minutes before Freddy arrived. He explained that the man I would be working with was on holiday until the following day, so I should come back then. 

I took the opportunity to have another wander around town, before going home for lunch and a siesta! 

My first proper Spanish lesson was at 5pm with Maria, the school’s other teacher. Her approach was very different to all my previous lessons because we spent almost the whole two hours chatting. It’s probably exactly what I need, but I felt quite fatigued afterwards. 

On Thursday I returned to the office and was introduced to Sankiyo Sanchez. He gave me an overview of how the communal banking groups work and what his role is – exclusively in Spanish, so I didn’t understand it all – but he didn’t really say what I would be doing. The people in the office seemed very nice and they liked the fact I was able to help them with the printer.

At 11:30am Sankiyo said that we were done for the day, so I decided to go for my first run in Peru. 3km was enough to shake away some cobwebs and then it was time for lunch and another siesta. 

At 5pm I had another Spanish lesson and this time there was a specific grammar focus within the conversation.

After the class I ate out for the first time because I was staying in the centre to meet up with Jasmine and Lizie from the Globetrotting for Good group I met in my sixth week in Bolivia. 

Jasmine, Lizie and me

It was great to see them both again – Jasmine was coming to the end of her trip, but Lizie is from Cusco and we agreed to meet up again. 

On Friday I had a rare lie-in and lazy morning. After lunch I met up with Paula and we talked about our first impressions of Arariwa, amongst other things. We also visited Real Plaza (a mall/shopping centre) and Museo Inka, before retiring to a bar in Plaza de Armas where we got a window seat to watch the parade around the plaza. 

For some reason, my weekend was all about dogs. On Saturday morning I was out and about early to help Lizie vaccinating dogs against rabies (a government initiative). I wasn’t sure how I could help, but went along anyway. 

I joined Lizie and several others at 8am in a small park in the middle of the Zaguan del Cielo neighbourhood. There were lots of dogs around, but we needed ones with owners. The first hour was very quiet, so some people left to knock on some doors. The pace picked up and we ended up vaccinating 80 dogs by 12pm. My role was solely to take the owner and dog’s details down after the vaccinations had been administered. 

On Sunday I accepted an invitation to a dog shelter in Chimpahuaylla, which is where Paula’s housemate Steph has been volunteering. I arrived just before 11am, but had to wait 45 minutes (a familiar feeling) before Paula and Steph showed up. 

I learned that the shelter had only been set up a month before and Steph has worked tirelessly in that time. Sunday was the official opening so at about 12pm they had a small ceremony in which they said some nice words, took some pictures, smashed a bottle of champagne and cut a ribbon. 

And that was my first week. I’m hoping that I’ll get more involved in the microfinance project soon, but so far my first impressions of Cusco are really positive. 

La Paz to Cusco (via Isla del Sol)

The Bolivia Hop bus picked me up at 06:30 at my hostel in La Paz with four others – Annika, an American Swede, and three English guys on a day trip. I sat next to Annika on the bus and chatted about Up Close until they put Back to the Future on!

We arrived at Copacabana, which is on the shore of Lake Titicaca (the world’s highest navigable lake) just before midday. That gave us time to grab some lunch and see the derby highlights before catching the boat over to Isla del Sol.

Copacabana from the boat

The boat trip was a breezy 75 minutes (which only gave the English daytrippers just an hour on the island before making the five hour journey back to La Paz!) and dropped us with our bags at the bottom of a very steep hill.

Annika and I had been chatting to a Dutch couple and we found a good hostel for 30Bs (£3) each. After soaking up a bit of sun, the four of us went in search of food and drink. We had a bite to eat at our first stop before continuing up to the crest of the hill where we found a fantastic mirador for the sunset.

I had the local speciality trucha for dinner, which was also amazing – I should get fish more often.

For various reasons we were all really tired, so we got an early night with an eye on seeing sunrise in the morning.

On Sunday morning, I was up and awake well ahead of the 6:40am sunrise and it didn’t disappoint:

Breakfast lived up to the previous night’s fare and gave us the energy to embark on a trek across the island.

Donkeys everywhere on Isla del Sol

Maikel, me, Annika & Gina

After about 14km around the island, Annika and I were back at the main harbour for the 3:30pm boat back to Copacabana. From there, our bus was waiting to take us into Peru.

Everything went smoothly at the border crossing and we were soon on our way. The plan was to travel for about three hours and then stop at a restaurant in Puno for dinner, but the guide explained that wouldn’t be possible. This was because there were some planned strikes that would be affecting the roads from midnight, so we couldn’t afford to stop in case we got caught by them. This meant getting to Cusco early (the normal ETA is 6am, which is when I was being met at the bus station), rather than getting held up until 3-4pm by the blockades. I was pretty impressed that they managed to arrange a pizza delivery to the bus, so we still got fed without stopping.

In the end we arrived in Cusco at 2:30am. The bus company arranged taxis for everyone, so I went to a hostel to steal some wifi and wait until a slightly more respectable time to go to the bus station for my scheduled pick-up.

All that means that I’m about to start the next part of my journey. I’ll be moving into my homestay home, finding out more about my new volunteering project at Asociación Arariwa and discovering what it’s like to live in a South American city.

Bolivia, Week Eight and time to say goodbye

I thought about a few ways of writing this blog post, but in the end I’ve decided to do a separate review of my time in Bolivia and just stick with a chronological account of my last week here – starting with a special Sunday in La Paz. 

Sunday 4th September in La Paz was El Día del Peatón (The Day of the Pedestrian), which meant that no cars were allowed on the roads between 9am and 5pm – amazingly this applied to the whole city, including all the way out to Jupapina, 45 minutes from the centre. 

For us this meant that there was no Porvenir session, so Justa accompanied Lizzie, Lucy, Malte and I into the city (via the teleférico). She guided us through the empty streets towards the centre, pointing out lots of places that had shaped her life in La Paz – mostly focused on music. 

When we reached the city’s main street, El Prado, it was full of life. There were stalls selling all manner of things, which I suppose isn’t uncommon, but there was also music and impromptu football games, art classes, skate parks, trampolines and lots more. Four of us stepped into a football game with some teenagers and despite my and Justa’s best efforts to make it a close game, Malte ensured that we won with a couple of fierce finishes (“they need to learn how to lose”). 

Afterwards, Malte left us to go into El Alto, so I spent the rest of the day with the three girls. We decided to do the Red Cap Walking Tour and even Justa learned a thing or two. We had lunch at a fancy vegetarian place and then spent a pretty unsuccessful hour browsing the market. As 5pm approached we returned to El Prado and enjoyed the unique atmosphere of the day. 

Monday started with my penultimate Spanish lesson and then we spent the rest of the day preparing for the week ahead. I made some paper aeroplanes for the Children’s Centre and covered a balloon in papier-mache to make a head for the Albergue. We also went to the local florist to buy plants for a new garden at the Albergue. 

I had another Spanish lesson on Tuesday morning and this concluded my 20-hour package in Bolivia. My final ciao to Sergio was the first of the week’s goodbyes. 

Nikki and I gave an English class in the afternoon and we spent much of it preparing for Thursday, when the students would be conversing with some real English speakers (the other volunteers).  

At the Albergue we split the group of girls into two – half of them started outside in the garden and half made papier-mache heads in the classroom (they switched roles half way through). I stayed inside the whole time as the papier-mache expert (despite my familial horticultural support). 

In the evening we all went to the stunning home of Raul and Fabiola (parents of Maria Paz from Porvenir) for a pizza party. And it wasn’t just any pizza; it was homemade on their indoor BBQ and absolutely delicious. Raul even accommodated Lucy’s veganism! For dessert we had a sweet pizza, with toppings including peanut butter and chocolate!

During the night I found out that Bell is desperate to be mentioned in my blog, so this sentence is just for her. 

Oh yeah, Tuesday was also my birthday! At the end of the night I was treated to a chorus of Feliz Cumpleaños and presented with a Bolivian football shirt from the gang – thanks guys! 

The Mendozas also brought a cake with (lots of) candles and this was the result:

Wednesday was my last day at Centro Infantil and everyone there made it very special for me. In the middle of the morning, everyone gathered together and I was brought to the front. The Tías then led the children in a song while they all waved at me. It brought a tear to my eye (not the first time I’ve said that in this blog). Then Lionel was the first class representative to step forward, hand me a card and give me a big hug. His classmates followed and I was quickly overwhelmed by them climbing all over me! There was brief lull as they dispersed before children from the other four classes came forward and repeated the routine – card, hugs, climbing! I was really touched by the reactions of the children and the words of the Tías.

Our best laid plans for Wednesday afternoon at the Albergue changed when we learned that a Bolivian dance company would be performing for the children instead. We played football and volleyball for almost an hour while they got ready and then we were treated to the show. It was a bit surreal for the most part, although the Michael Jackson medley at the end was decent. 

I had a rare lie-in on Thursday morning, but I was up and at it by 9am ahead of my last English class. We set the children up in a kind of speed-dating format and asked them to find out things about each other and the guest volunteers. 

For the boys session at the Albergue, we spent the first hour outside in the garden. 

Then we went into the classroom and the boys papier-mache’d balloons, ready to paint them as heads next week. Before I left, I got some handmade leaving presents: a giraffe from the boys’ class and two tiny shoes from the girls (the blue one representing Bolivar and the yellow one for The Strongest, the two biggest football teams in La Paz). 

That night we went into San Miguel for dinner at the Taj Mahal restaurant. The food was excellent and I even treated myself to a beer. 

When I woke up on Friday, it finally dawned on me that I was leaving Up Close and Jupapina in a matter of hours (Saturday would be a 6am start in La Paz, so I decided to stay in a hostel in the city on Friday night).

I spent the morning hurriedly packing my things, before it was time to go to Porvenir. In some ways it was a standard session, but it was tinged with sadness. We made up for it with lots of pictures (on various phones, so more pictures may follow) and Facebook friend requests. 

In the evening, I made my way into the city by bus (another sign of how far I’d come – the opposite journey on arrival cost me 70Bs, but this time it was 2.60Bs). I dropped off my bags in the hostel and met up with Justa for my last night in La Paz. We stayed out late for dinner and a few drinks and it was a really nice way to end the week. 

Bolivia, Week Seven

It’s the end of week seven and, with just one week in Bolivia to go, the goodbyes have already begun. I don’t want to jump too far ahead though, so I’ll run through what I’d call a typical week at Up Close Bolivia (I feel like I’ve been here long enough to say that).

Monday started with a Spanish lesson, after which I went on my longest run to date – a huge 4.2km (this is after working out that I can get the 2 boliviano (20p) bus into the next town, Mallasa, and run downhill all the way back!)

One of my favourite things about this place is that it’s quite common to see someone I know when I’m walking down the street. Whilst on my run, I heard a child’s voice from behind me shout “Hola Tío!”, which is what they call me at the Children’s Centre (tío = uncle). I didn’t see who it was, but my money is on a boy called Lionel (as an aside, I think I’ve met three Neymars, two Sergios and just one Lionel).

Tuesday involved another busy morning of last-minute lesson planning before the English class at the Hermann Gmeiner School. Once again it wasn’t quite up to my CELTA-standards, but I’m sure some of the students learned about places in the city.

At the Albergue we made and decorated paper aeroplanes for 90 minutes, before going outside to put them to the test. This activity was inspired by one of the books that Globetrotting for Good donated – it featured countless designs with step-by-step instructions and I’d say it was a success.

I was back at the Children’s Centre on Wednesday and I was assigned to help Giovanna with her pre-infant class. It’s a sign of how far I’ve come – and how much they trust me – that I was left alone with the class while Giovanna went home to get something she’d forgotten. I remember a time, I think it was in week two, when Maribel tried to move me from kitchen duty to the pre-infant class for the first time and Giovanna asked for Laura instead. Now look at me:

The volunteer-led organised activity was about traditional Bolivian instruments – the zampona, tarka, quena, charango and wancara to name five. Later in the morning, each class took centre stage and “performed” a “dance” for the others – this was them taking putting their new sound system into use, after it was donated by Globetrotting for Good last week.

At the Albergue we played volleyball for the first hour – the girls’ team outnumbered the boys’ team by 2 to 1, but it was a reasonably close game. We played football in the second hour and I was impressed again by the way the mixed teams (gender and age) played together.

In the evening we all went into La Paz for some Mexican food. It was great and a welcome break from the chicken/rice/veg that I’ve become accustomed to having far too often.

Thursday was another busy day with a Spanish class followed by another English class. In the latter, we recapped some of the previous lessons and had a discussion about what they wanted to learn in the next few weeks.

Back at the Albergue, it was the boys’ turn to make paper aeroplanes. They spent more time making and less time decorating than the girls, so when we went outside there were more successes (although the planes often still needed an adult’s throw to do them justice).

On Thursday evening, we planned the next week’s activities for the Children’s Centre, Children’s Home and Porvenir and then on Friday morning we got together to discuss the English classes. After all the planning, it was time to get back to Porvenir and we had another fun session. The dynamics between the children continue to evolve as they become more comfortable with their surroundings, each other and sharing the toys, balls etc. Towards the end, Malte got involved in a game of football with a father/son combo (Ivar and Kevin) and ended up exhausted – he needs to learn how to conserve energy and let the children win occasionally!

We returned to Porvenir on Saturday morning for my penultimate session and this is when my upcoming departure started to become real. Several of the parents said that they wouldn’t be able to make it to next Friday’s session, my last, so we had to say ciao for the final time. It was actually Lizzie’s last session, as she leaves the day before me, so at the end we were both presented with Fundacion Porvenir badges as a thank you and took plenty of photos (to follow).

On Saturday evening we had a party to jointly mark the departure of Alison and Helene, the campsite workaways, and me and Lizzie (even though we have another week to go). Emma rolled out one of her trademark quizzes for the occasion and it quickly became apparent that it was a quiz with a twist. Although there were points on offer for the five rounds of general knowledge questions, they paled in comparison with the points to be had by bribing the quizmaster – Emma was open to all manner of flattery, as well as being willing to give bonus points for enthusiastic singing, impressions and dancing.

The night concluded as all despedidas do, with some kind words from the hosts followed by the leavers answering Bell’s infamous final question: how has Bolivia changed you? I’ll be writing another blog post next week to sum up my time here, so I’ll cover my answer then.

Having said all that, I’ve still got another week in Bolivia, so let’s see what week eight has in store…