A Travellerspoint blog

January 2010

Disaster relief in Cuzco

all seasons in one day 18 °C

So I travelled into the Sacred Valley, the surrounding regions of Cuzco yesterday with some other volunteers from Aldea Yanapay. It was crazy what we saw. The bridge to Pisac one of the towns in the valley had totally collapsed. To get further into the valley we had to take a motor taxi and then walk accross a footbridge further down. Once we got across the river we were able to take more buses to get to Calca, Urubamba and finally Ollantaytambo. I photographed everything I saw on the way and I couldn't believe the level of devastation. All these towns are stationed along the river and because of the torential rain it has caused mas flooding of the region. Although the level of water has now regressed somewhat it has completely flattened houses, buildings, flooded crops and thus destroyed peoples livelihoods. We visited a small community of people somewhere between Urubamba & Ollantaytambo, an area which we were told had not recieved much aid. We took them vegetables, pasta, rice and chicken. To get to the community we had to walk down the trainline that serves Machu Picchu. Anyone who says the rail line will be up and running in a few weeks is lying. It is completely covered in places by mud and debris and water in some places. We stayed to talk to the people who are all living in tents set just up on the hills from the river. The tents were quite basic aid tents and only some of which we saw had mattresses and blankets inside them. All the people there seemed amazingly upbeat, the children were all running around and playing. We stayed to help cook dinner pealing potatos, carrots and peas. On our way back to Cuzco it started to rain again and didn't stop until way past midnight. I can't help but feel devastated for those people that have lost everything and are now living in tents beside the river which took away their homes. We are trying to raise as much money as possible to help with the relief effort. If you are reading this and feel at all touched by the story please make a small donation. Foreign currency goes a long way here, to feed one homeless person in the valley is £1 per day, a tent costs £35, mattressess are £20 and blankets are £3. There are now two websites we are working with to do this: http://www.mysmallhelp.org/index.php or http://www.desanagiving.org/ Thanks x x.
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Posted by amanda_w24 16:42 Archived in Peru Tagged volunteer Comments (0)

A state of emergency

Flash floods, mudslides and landslides!

storm 10 °C

Ok so I was a little down last week about the rain but I thought I was being kind of pathetic, until yesterday that was! We were informed yesterday that the surrounding areas of Cusco have been almost destroyed by flashfloods, mudslides and landslides! The heavy rain and the river in the Sacred Valley has destroyed many people’s homes in Cusco area. The river in the sacred valley is growing and growing every day, slowly and slowly people are losing everything, homes, farming products, animals. The trail to Machu Picchu has been shut and over 2,000 people had to be emergency evacuated as the trainline that runs back from the trek to Cusco collapsed. The government yesterday announced that Cusco is in a state of emergency and advices against travel here until further notice. I just want to stress that things here in the city are mostly safe. At the moment I am trying to work out what to do or where to go next but the plan is to leave on Sunday. I feel bad leaving the volunteer organisation early but I also have to think about my safety I should have some more definite plans in the next couple of days.

Posted by amanda_w24 06:34 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Aldea Yanapay

Otra forma de vivir

rain

Aldea Yanapay is the volunteer organisation that I am working with for a month here in Cusco. Yanapay have a hostel (where I am currently living) and a restaurant who's profits go towards funding the school project. The Yanapay school is an after school club for the children of Cusco where they do a variety of different activites. For the first hour and a half the kids either do their homework, making use of the library and the materials. They also receive another type of education based on the arts (theatre, music, painting, etc). After the first hour and a half they have the 'Human Circle' where everyone sits around and the directors Yuri and Juan talk to the children about issues central to the Yanapay ideology. The Yanapay ideology is based on values, principles and love and fundamental to the project is the idea of responsible love. Many of the children come from difficult backgrounds and Yanapay is a place where they can come to learn new skills that will help them in the future but also to learn important social skills and to teach them about things such as respect, morals and values. The second hour and a half is more geered towards this and the children are divided into classes to learn about other topics that are important in today's world: world cultures and religions, ecology and reading.

Nothing could have prepared me for the shock I recieved on the first day. Things at Yanapay are very disorganised and basically you just have to throw yourself in at the deep end. This week I have been helping out in the art classes for the first half of school and helping in English class the second part. At the end of the week on Friday they do a show where they do some sort of short performance to show the rest of the school what they have done that week. It was a good week and I felt a lot better by the end but it was really tough. The children are draining, and not being able to communicate properlly with them is difficult. The other difficulty at the moment is it is the rainy season and I have never seen anything like it. Being cold and wet and living in a hostel that doesn't always have proper running water is kinda misserable. But it isn't all bad and working with the children is rewarding and I do feel like I am doing something worthwhilel.
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Posted by amanda_w24 06:27 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Adventures in the desert

San Pedro, Sandboarding and the Valley of the moon!

sunny 28 °C

After leaving Bahia, Sophia and I continued on our road trip north through the desert, with overnight stops in Antofagasta, Calama and San Pedro. Antofagasta is the second largest city in Chile (after Santiago) and I found it quite charming. This may have been as both Sophia and I received presents from admirers while we were sunbathing on the beach which we both found rather amusing. Having been in South America for a month and a half now, I have become quite accustomed to being leered at on a daily basis. Not subtly either, one thing is for sure the men certainly are not shy about vocalising their opinions here and rather surprisingly the comments come from men of all ages and types. It also doesn’t seem to matter if the men are leering in front of their wives, girlfriends or families either which can be rather cringe worthy also. So as usual Sophia and I are minding our own business, chatting on the beach whilst sunning ourselves and a man approaches us and hands Sophia a rose made out of paper attached to a wilted flower stem and me a love note written on the back of a completos (a Chilean hot dog) wrapper. Five minutes later he came back with a completos and handed it to me. Unfortunately the man was rather less than desirable, lacking a full set of teeth and spoke so badly neither Sophia or I could understand a word he was saying but hey I was quite flattered anyway I mean whoever turned down a free hot dog eh?!

So onto Calama. This is where my friend Sophia is based for work and I was rather intrigued to see the place merely from the reactions that it has proved in all the Chileans we have met on our trip so far. ‘Calama?’ they all say whilst grimacing, ‘but why? Its so ugly?’ The Loney Planet Guide to Chile also describes Calama as ‘an expensive, brash and somewhat narrow-minded mining city’. I didn’t get to see much of the place but it did perfectly as an overnight stop to wash some clothes, drink a couple of pisco sours with Sophia’s friends and get a good night’s sleep!

San Pedro de Atacama is a little tourist town in the middle of the desert an hour from Calama and what a quaint little place it is. The town is absolutely tiny you can walk around it in less than 10 minutes but it is a great base for activities like visiting geysers, volcanoes, trekking, sand boarding and visiting thermal pools. Being limited on time meant we could only pick two activities but we chose to visit some thermal pools on the first day and to go sand boarding on the second. If I had to pick a favourite it would have to be the thermal pools for me. Just for the record sand boarding sounds a lot more fun than it is. I have never been an adventure sports kinda gal but there is still a big part of me that would really love to be good at things like surfing, snowboarding etc but it just ain’t gonna happen. I spent pretty much the whole time sliding around on my bum, with cramp in my legs and ended up being covered head to toe in sand. Not really my cup of tea but the views from the top of the sand dunes were worth it!
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After the sand boarding finished (much to my relief!) our tour guide drove us out to another place called the Valley of the Moon to watch the sunset over the mountains and volcanoes and it really is a quite spectacular place. The rock formations all look like dinosaurs to me and there really is something quite otherworldly about the place.
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San Pedro also has quite a special nightlife which was also another highlight. Everything is very relaxed and there are lots of nice outdoor restaurants and bars to while away a few hours sitting around a bonfire bonding with complete strangers and drinking even more pisco sours!

So that leads me to where I am now after a 3 week road trip in Chile: exhausted but happy, tanned compared to my usual reflective white skin, a few pounds heavier from overindulging in meat, red wine and of course pisco, still even after 3 showers covered in dust and sand, smelling like a bonfire and with drier skin than I could ever imagine! I was warned before coming here that the Atacama is the driest desert in the world but I never really knew quite what to expect. I have been very fortunate to have met and interacted with a lot of the locals and go to places a bit off the beaten track and for that reason have had a real Chilean experience. Now I am taking an overnight bus to the Chilean – Peruvian border and then have to take another bus from the border to Cusco which will be my new home for a month. Hopefully I will survive the bus journey and I am currently taking bets on how long it will take me to get there, i’ve been told it could take anywhere between 24 and 36 hours. I rather hope it is the former but I am quite accustomed to Latino time now and so I am not holding my breath!

Posted by amanda_w24 14:51 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

The Dakar

Motor racing in the Atacama Desert!

sunny 30 °C

After the craziness of New Year, I have been road tripping through Chile for almost two weeks now this is basically what I have been up to:

2nd Jan – set off for the Chilean coast, Vina del Mar (3 nights). Ate lots of seafood empanadas and visited Valpariso the twin city to Vina, a quaint little run down city with lots of coloured houses.

5th – Said goodbye to Ricardo and Jen, Sophia and I set off for the North for 3 nights in La Serena. Visited the Punta Chorus National Park saw Dolphins, Sea lions, Seals and Penguins!

8th – Drove to Bahia Ingesa 3 nights camping on the beach......
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Bahia is a small tourist town on the Northern Chilean coast popular for surfers and my absolute favourite place in Chile so far. Sophia had kindly arranged for us to camp in front of her friend’s house, on a beautiful sandy beach less than 10 meters from the sea. It was quite simply spectacular! I love camping anyway but there is something quite special about camping on a white sandy beach and waking up to the sound of waves lapping the shore in the morning. Another thing quite special about this place that I have never observed before it is a place where the desert and the sea meet. The Atacama Desert is the driest desert in the world and starts from La Serena (N.Chilean coast ~5 hours north of Santiago) and stretches all the way north into Peru. It is quite strange for me that one minute you can be sunbathing on a beautiful beach and a five minute drive inland and you reach rolling desert hills – amazing. One of my favourite things about travelling is the surprises you get from being in the right place at the right time. After arriving in Bahia we learnt that the Dakar was taking place in the desert 20 km from Bahia and we were invited to go along with a group of Sophia’s friends. I am not familiar with Motor racing but in the racing world apparently it is a big deal. It is named the Dakar because it previously took place in Dakar in Africa but they are unable to host it in the Sahara anymore and so last year it was moved to Chile and is set to stay here. It is basically a motor race through the desert for motorcycles, cars and small trucks. However the interesting thing about the race is that there is no set route, they are given certain marker points and they have to use their GPS systems to find the best way through the desert. Now here is the fun part, the spectators are not given any precise information about the location of the race so if you want to observe it it’s a bit of a guessing game. Not being a fan of motor racing I wasn’t sure quite what to expect but was more than happy to go along for the ride and boy was it a ride to remember. We set off early on the morning of the 10th in Sophia’s truck. Unfortunately however there was some confusion and we realised that the truck was not actually four wheel drive and so we wouldn’t actually be able to drive it into the desert. There was a bit of a panic but we got lucky and managed to hitch a ride with a fearless Chilean who had a four wheel drive and two spare seats in the back. It seems no GPS system for a Chilean is required. I’m not quite sure how but it seems that they have some internal radar they all know exactly where to go to get to the best spot to observe the passing vehicles. It was all rather tense, dramatic and exciting. To try to paint a picture you have scorching desert, blue sky, hundreds of trucks doted all over the desert, people on motorbikes and quad bikes, people camped out with tents, BBQ’s going, music blasting out from cars – oh and as you can imagine the odd rescue mission or two. People tend to get a little overexcited and it’s not uncommon for some trucks to roll. We saw one of these rescue missions taking place – I don’t need to describe it the picture says it all but everyone got out safely and they managed to get the truck upright eventually!

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As we were racing over sand dunes at what felt like more than 100km/hr it really was quite terrifying, thrilling and comical all at the same time. The drama was further intensified by a running commentary of the race being blasted from the car stereo, accompanied by music that sounded like it would be appropriate in a Star Wars film or a Sony Playstation game. While all this was taking place I couldn’t help but feel like I was in a real life version of Mario Karts hence the comical part.

Even stranger was the fact in the middle of the desert we managed to run into the people that had invited us along. There were about 5 cars or so full of people we had met the previous night that had all gone separately to the race and turned up at the same spot at the same time within about 15 mins or so of each other, strange. After about 5 mins of being there the promotional team for the race arrived so we realised we had picked the correct spot to observe the race and the wait began. It was only about half an hour until the first motorbike sped past and then the party began. Out came the beers, the picnic and the factor 50 sunblock. The thing about being in the desert is that everything is so huge and you feel so small. It was really quite comical to see vehicles going past in the distance that looked like toy cars. As I have previously written the Chileans are really so very welcoming but also have a great sense of adventure. It was altogether a fantastic day and I can’t quite believe how lucky we were to be in the right place at the right time and to know the correct people – what an experience!
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Posted by amanda_w24 17:38 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

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