Tag Archives: Volunteering

Peru, Week Six

I’ve now reached the half-way point of my stay in Cusco and this week marked a bit of a turning point (which will become clear later!)

I started the week at the Hogar on Monday morning and was immediately thrown in at the deep end. The mothers had an art class, so I was left in the toy room with eight babies. For an hour!

It went surprising well, but there were some frustrating moments. For example, I got one of the babies to go to sleep, but five minutes later the Señora woke him up to give him some banana and he just cried for the next ten minutes instead. Giving all the babies banana wasn’t ideal either – a lot ended up on the floor or their hands/faces.

It was André’s first birthday, so we sang happy birthday and had cake and jelly and then I didn’t leave until 3pm because of some torrential rain.

Feliz cumpleaños André!

After a quick lunch I went to the Arariwa office and helped my colleagues by printing out Experian credit reports for them. I didn’t know it then, but it would be the last time I worked with Arariwa.

On Tuesday I was back in my Spanish school before going back to the Hogar. This time I was accompanied by a fellow Spanish student, an Australian guy called Steve. This will become more significant later…

In the afternoon, I went to Mila’s office with Paula to discuss the other prospective projects. She told us that one of the new microfinance places had fallen through, but one was still on the table, plus another opportunity had come up – an agriculture project run by an American woman (which sounded perfect for Paula).

We went to meet with Genesis, the microfinance company, and we were immediately impressed. They were professional and seemed interested in our skills, plus one of their staff (Jimmy) speaks English. I agreed to start the next day. 

On Wednesday morning all of the staff arrived promptly for 8:30am – already a welcome change from Arariwa – and everyone gathered in the upstairs meeting room. Héctor, the boss, introduced me to the room and then said a few words in honour of Jimmy’s birthday. We had cake and some other snacks and there was a tight-knit, family feel between the staff (something which they talk about often).

When it was time to get to work, I was paired with Samantha to promote the company’s loan products in San Sebastián, a community a couple of miles out of the centre. Jimmy joined us (even though he works for the consultancy part of the Genesis Finance Group, and not the microfinance business) and, as well as help me pick up what was required in the task at hand, he asked a lot of questions in a friendly interview style. Far more engaging than Arariwa.

After only an hour or so, it was my turn to approach a street vendor and explain who we were and what products we offered. I was a little reluctant but it was fine and overall it was a very positive first morning.

Lunchtime was perfectly timed so that I could watch Manchester City play Barcelona, but the less said about the match the better. I was back in the office for 4pm, but was basically just left on my own whilst the others dealt with clients downstairs. At least this place has wi-fi for those times.

On Thursday I had a Spanish lesson before going back to the Hogar with Steve. After lunch I went to the Genesis office, but it was another quiet afternoon – although we did make a quick trip to another market to visit some prospective clients. As we were leaving, the guys asked if I had my football kit with me, but unfortunately that would have to wait for another day.

Friday morning’s work was the same as the first morning, although Samantha and I split up to hand out the leaflets. We finished a little early so I went for a run in the long lunch period. I ran around the airport, which wasn’t the nicest route and was also a few kilometres longer than I had anticipated. I did manage to take a couple of nice pictures though. 

Saturday morning’s work followed an already familiar pattern as we went out to the market to hand out more leaflets.

In the evening, there was a party at the house for Guillermo’s birthday. Friends and family came round, we had a meal and drinks (including homemade pisco sours), and the birthday boy got the traditional cake-in-the-face.  

Later on, Guillermo and his friends went into the city to go dancing but I was extremely tired so I stayed home.

I was having a lie-in on Sunday until I got a message from Steve, the Australian from my Spanish school. It was quite a bombshell, as he’d attached a dozen page document outlining his plan to set up an organisation in Cusco! I’m not going to go into detail here – it deserves a post of its own – but suffice to say, a fair bit of my remaining time in Cusco will be taken up helping Steve on this project.

That afternoon we braved the rain to watch Cienciano take on Willy Serrato. The interesting thing about the away side is that they have copied the club crest and kit of my own side, Manchester City.


The game was even more one-sides than the previous one I went to. Cienciano hit the woodwork three times in the first 15 minutes and cruised to a 4-0 win. The three points gave them a cushion at them top of the league with five games left and the city’s hopes are high. 


Peru, Week Five

I went back to the Hogar on Monday because I knew that there weren’t going to be any other volunteers and they need all the help they can get. In the afternoon, I went to the Arariwa office, but like last Monday, there was basically nobody there.

Tuesday followed a similar pattern to Monday, but after work I stayed in the city to watch Peru play Chile. They’re pretty fanatical here (the previous week’s 2-2 draw vs Argentina was celebrated like a trophy) and almost all restaurants and bars had the game on – either on TV or radio. They scored a late equaliser, but still went on to lose; something they are a bit too used to. 

On Wednesday I joined Sankiyo on a long trip to a village near Urcos. We set off at 2pm by bus and then travelled the last couple of miles by motorbike. I thought he was joking when he first told me, but he borrowed it from a friend when we got to Urcos. 

The meeting followed a similar pattern to one from the previous week and dragged on even longer, so we didn’t get home until 9pm. A seven hour round trip for little reward.  

I didn’t even venture out of the house on Thursday, for two main reasons. First was because of the cold I almost certainly picked up from the kids at the Hogar; second was the weather, which has taken a turn for the worse recently:​

​​On Friday Paula and I returned to the rural village near Chinchero to make another cocina. We helped make the first one a fortnight ago, but this time it was all us! All things considered I think we can be pretty pleased with our efforts!

Saturday was a big day for Arariwa as it was their Día de Confraternizacion de la Familia Arariwa (the annual staff party). I joined them at 8:30am, after meeting up with our Spanish school at 6:30am to visit a local market (it’s only on until 8am on Saturdays). 

The staff party meant that all of Arariwa’s different offices come together for a day of fun, involving sports, food, drink and dancing. Most people brought their families and we were lucky to get some beautiful weather for the occasion. 

It was an amazing setting and we started with each office parading around while everyone else applauded. Different offices went to different amounts of effort, but one person actually dressed up as the Arariwa pig:
The main focus of the morning was the sports – football and volleyball in particular – and this was the venue:

The football was tricky for a few reasons: the pitch was very small for 6-a-side; I didn’t know the rules from the start (can only score from in the final third, can’t throw to people in certain positions etc); and my team wasn’t very good (age and temperament were against us). 

Nonetheless, our match started well enough. I set up a goal that was disallowed (and I still don’t know why) and then scored one of my own, so it was 1-0 at half-time. At this point we changed goalkeepers to accommodate Sankiyo’s late arrival and he took the blame for what happened in the second half, (which I thought was very unfair). 

A combination of fatigue and a couple of decisions going against us led to two of our players losing their heads (one was booked for retaliation) and basically giving up, so we finished as frustrated 4-1 losers. 

I was immediately called on to the volleyball court to join the girls. It seems to be a really popular sport here and I wasn’t really up to speed with all the positions and tactics, but that didn’t stop me from becoming a crowd favourite after a fun couple of minutes. 

It started with me chasing a high ball on to the adjacent football pitch to keep it alive (I ran through both crowds and about 10m on to the pitch). We won the point and everyone seemed to enjoy my enthusiasm. The next point I ended up doing a full length dive to keep the ball in the air and they loved that too. Soon after, I shouted my name as I was going for a high ball, which made everyone laugh, and then for the next couple of minutes they were all chanting my name!

We won the first match easily, but came unstuck in the second. This led to some more ill-feeling and barbed comments between the players. During our second game we had to stop as a fight broke out on the adjacent football pitch. Everyone was having a great time. 

For me, worse than losing in both sports was that I’d actually got pretty sunburnt by this point, so I was grateful when we went inside for lunch. The food was good and the beer was flowing. 

After lunch it was all about the dancing. Again, every office entered a team and they performed one after another. The outfits were all very colourful and there had clearly been a lot of effort put into the routines. 

Afterwards we went into Cusco and I got a couple of snaps of the full moon:

Peru, Week Four

This was probably the quietest week of my whole trip so far – partly by design – but I did include a video for you at the end.

As far as “work” goes, we switched to afternoons, but that didn’t mean we had any more to do. On Monday, I was alone in the office for most of the afternoon. Sankiyo (the colleague I’ve been paired with) didn’t come in at all, so I eventually left at 6:30pm having done nothing more than browse the internet.

On Tuesday, Jessenia took me and Sankiyo out for lunch – me, for helping her daughter with her English studies last week, and Sankiyo because he turned 40 over the weekend. We went to a chicharroneria because I said I liked chicharrón in Pisac last week.

Afterwards we went to a small local shop (run by an Arariwa client) and sat down to drink a beer. Four beers later, we headed home and that was my day’s “work”.


With Sankiyo and Jessenia

On Wednesday I met up with Sankiyo at 2:30pm and we travelled to Urcos. We arrived at 4:20pm (for what he assured me would be an hour-long meeting – which would allow him to attend his 7pm English class), but as it turned out, we didn’t finish until about 7:30pm and I finally got home at 9:30pm. The meeting itself was a “closure”, which meant that the group were making their final payments for the loan cycle, as well as doing all the admin for the next cycle. It was quite interesting to observe but I was nothing more than a spectator.

On Thursday I visited another project, at a Young Mothers’ Centre, or Hogar (home), where Emmanuelle was volunteering.

There are ten mothers in the early/mid-teens living there with their babies. The volunteers help out wherever they can, mainly looking after the babies while the girls do other things like go to school, learn skills or just have some time for themselves. It was an eye-opener, even without knowing the stories of the individual girls.

Although I only went to pay the centre a visit, I ended up staying for a couple of hours. 

On Friday, we had planned to go back to Chinchero to make another cocina (stove), but when that was cancelled I decided to go back to the Hogar. I was there from 9am until 2pm, at which point we all had pizza because it was the last day for all three of the other volunteers.

Aside from “work”, I had two more Spanish lessons during the week – I feel like I’ve been given a lot of the tools now, it’s just a case of putting the time in to study and practice.

I had two free mornings where I’d planned to go running, but we had no water in the house so I didn’t.

On Saturday morning I went to the city centre to watch the girls from the Hogar in a parade. There seems to be one every weekend and the effort that goes into them is really impressive, particularly with the outfits.  

I had an early start on Sunday as I went out to watch sunrise above the city. It clouded over while I was waiting for the 5:20am sunrise, but I still managed to get these pictures:
In the afternoon I went to watch Cusco’s main football team, Cienciano, after seeing the game advertised here:


Even though they’re in the second division at the moment and Real Garcilaso are in the top division, Ciencano are still the most popular side. They’re the oldest team in the country (founded as the science department of the university, hence the name, in 1901) and have won two South American trophies.

Estadio Inca Garcilaso de la Vega

The game itself was very one-sided and the away side just coming to defend – sometimes this makes for a boring spectacle but Union Huaral weren’t very good at it and Cienciano scored twice early. They could/should have scored several more goals before they finally got a third near the end – I got it on video!

In addition to the game, there were some other notable things:

We sat near the back of the west stand in front of these guys, most of whom were reporting on the match all the way through – check out the old school phone in the top right


There was a collection for a charity that I support and that Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany is a patron of: SOS Children’s Villages http://www.soschildrensvillages.org.uk

I couldn’t resist buying meat and potato on a stick from the food sellers in the stands

Peru, Week Three

As with last week, this one got better as it went on (lots of pictures below!), but Week Three in Cusco got off to a particularly strange start.

We arrived at the Arariwa office on Monday morning and gathered in the conference room with the other staff for another talk – the topic this week was “identity and self-esteem”. What we didn’t expect was that we would start with 20 minutes of stretching, followed by giving each other massages (shoulders, neck and head). Everyone was a little uncomfortable, so it nice that when the person in charge talked about grabbing your partner’s hair there were a few jokes at my expense. After that, we each stuck paper to our backs and mingled so that everyone could write “anonymous” positive comments about each other (the only one of mine I remember was deportista). 

I went to another Spanish lesson in the afternoon and Maria introduced the imperative verb form (used for giving orders/instructions). The information is coming thick and fast in these lessons and I’m not finding much time in between to study what I’ve learnt. 

On Tuesday morning, we had our much anticipated meeting with the boss, Señor Hugo, in a bid to clarify our role and decide how best we could help. We agreed that from next week we would start working mostly in the afternoons, because this is when the most important and interesting work happens (as opposed to the mornings when it’s just administration and paperwork). It’s a step in the right direction and should be more interesting, but I’m still not really sure how we can contribute. He also gave us a mandate to research different revenue streams – me using my European contacts (!) and Paula using her North American ones… does anyone have any ideas?!

I stayed on in the afternoon to accompany Sankiyo on his visit to the rural community of Andahualyillas. I was ready to leave at 1pm for the 2pm meeting, but for various reasons we set off at 2:30pm and arrived at 4pm. Neither of the two groups were particularly pleased, but Sankiyo handled it well and we collected the loan repayments we had come for. 

My role was limited to counting the money And making change, but I was also more than happy to look after this little guy for the first group leader:

He’s the size of my hand!

After the work was done, Sankiyo had an errand to run at the town’s police station, which meant we didn’t get home until 8pm. I did, however, see this arco iris:

Work was typically quiet on Wednesday morning and I had another Spanish lesson in the afternoon. In the evening, I returned to the Arariwa office to tutor the eight year old daughter of one of my  colleagues. Marcia was extremely polite and keen to learn English, but after 90 minutes I had to call it a night. She had a test the next day, so let’s hope it helped!

On Thursday I arrived in the office early and was immediately asked if I wanted to tag along with Sankiyo and Leidy to their client visits in Huaro and Urcos. The bus ride there was notable for the guy who lectured us about being eating healthily for 45 minutes. I wonder if he sold any of the ginseng products he was peddling. 

Once in Huaro, we made a few planned stops to clients who had outstanding payments, but also bumped into several other clients around town. It was nice to see that Arariwa had such a big presence in the community. 

This was my office for the day

This growling dog stood between us and our client

We also visited a local museum; so what was supposed to be a two-hour trip took more than twice as long. Rather than going back to the office, it was time for lunch, which meant I was done for the day (and the week). 

That evening I was invited to Mila’s house for dinner with Nic and the other volunteers, Paula and Emmanuelle. It was nice to have everyone together and, during the conversation around the dinner table, the possibility of helping on another project arose…

…So that’s exactly what we did on Friday. The five of us met up early and travelled to Chinchero by taxi, bus and then another taxi. We met a local family who we would be helping to build a stove for. The bricks, tiles, mud and tools were waiting for us and there was a local man with the expertise to show us how to do it. It was a very satisfying experience as we got our hands dirty (literally) for the first time in Peru. 



The family seemed appreciative of our efforts and we ate potatoes together after we’d finished. Everyone except me went home afterwards, but I decided to use my Boleto Turístico to visit Chinchero’s Parque Arqueológico. On my own and without a guide, I don’t think I got the best out of the ruins, but I did stumble across a lovely walk along an Inca trail:

On Saturday I went along to the early morning football game again. There were quite a few different players this week and the average age was bit lower. We played six-a-side, which was a bit too congested really. Because of my plans for the rest of the day, I volunteered to play in goal for the last hour or so and I managed to snap a picture:

After football I went for my first 10k run of my trip, inspired by my cousin Claire, who was running a marathon the next day (she smashed it by the way, well done Claire!)

I felt pretty tired after that but my Boleto Turístico wasn’t valid after the weekend, so I had to get out and about.  

I started at the Museo Historico Regional, which was quite interesting, particularly in respect of two main figures in Peruvian history, Túpac Amaru II and Garcilaso de la Vega

Painting that depicts the execution of Túpac Amaru in Plaza de Armas, Cusco

I moved on to the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo and realised that I don’t understand/appreciate modern art. My favourite pieces all had a clear subject:I went to Museo de Sitio de Qorikancha, but I was underwhelmed by the small museum containing fragments of artefacts and some skulls. As the sky was starting to darken, I went to the Monumento de Pachacutec:

I left early on Sunday to get to Ollantaytambo and had a nice morning stroll around the ruins. Still inspired by my recent hikes, I followed a path away from the other tourists and climbed up to get a birds eye view of the town. 

I treated myself to a meaty pizza for lunch and then headed up the other side of the valley to Pinkullyuna. 

Afterwards I wanted to go to Moray as the last thing on my ticket, but this is where my lack of planning caught up with me. I took collectivos from Ollantaytambo to Urubamba and then to Maras, but I was still 9km away. While I was contemplating what to do, I was able to get these pictures:

Plaza de Armas in Maras

Because every post needs a dog (apparently)

In the end I negotiated a taxi to take me to Moray and wait 40 minutes to bring me back again; and it worked out well: 

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. 

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.