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.