Voluntourism is an awkward word but what it means is incredible. It adds the idea of volunteering to the concept of tourism. It’s a great way to add some substance to your travels. Beyond just visiting and seeing a place foreign to you, you now have a chance to get your hands dirty and contribute to a community and a people less fortunate than you. This is a rewarding and authentic way to see the world.
I was privileged to join a number of American teens this summer as they traveled to Peru to build a classroom. There are many voluntourism companies around the world and the one we were working with is called Peru’s Challenge. In 2002 founders Jane and Selvy started a program to work with rural Peruvian communities to help them build a sustainable infrastructure. Peru’s Challenge works with the community to establish a 3-5 year plan to address education and utilities. In our case, we were helping with the education side of things by building a classroom in the small village of Miskiuno near Cusco. In other instances, Peru’s Challenge builds greenhouses, aqueducts, sewage systems and more. They also provide social services to help the community apply for government assistance, train teachers for the school, teach community members how they can use the greenhouses to grow and sell food and flowers as well as weaving and other textile skills to take products to market.
Our main objective in the two days we were back in Cusco was to get ready for the Ausangate trip. This included getting plenty of rest and getting our gear together. I needed to rent plastic mountaineering boots, crampons, an ice axe and a harness. Martin found Alfredo, a guide with Andean Destinations, who had everything I needed including a set of Asolo boots that were well worn. Nay, beaten – these boots had chunks of foam missing, delaminating Velcro, packed out liners and they stunk to high heaven. But they fit perfectly.
Dave and Martin went shopping to get our rations for the trip sorted out and now that the trip has passed, I can say they made some excellent choices. Though, most of the credit goes to our trip cook, Jose. I noticed he did some shopping along the way on the trek. Picking up fresh veggies and fruits from farm stands along the way and whipping it all up into multi-course gourmet meals each time we sat down to eat.
Instead of departing Cusco early in the morning as planned, we left late the night before for two reasons. First, the solstice celebrations were on the cusp of jamming up the city and second, the rumors of a farmers strike that we started hearing about in Patacancha were getting louder. They have been known to roll massive boulders out into the middle of the road in the wee hours of the morning just to jam things up to make their point. We wanted to avoid this so we made a late night escape out of the city to the small town of Tinki.
There are only two ways into Machu Picchu. By train and bus or by foot via the Inca Trail. We went with the former option and were on a 5.15am train from Ollantambo to the portal town of Aquas Calientes. If you’re taking the Inca Trail, there are a few options. Either way, you get off of the train or bus a few kilometers before Aquas Calientes and start walking for either 2 or 4-5 days (depending on the speed of the hiker).
Once we got off the train we dropped our stuff off at our hostel and headed up a peak called Putucusi. This is a 2,500m peak that is across the Urubamba River from Machu Picchu and offers a neat side view of the Inca city. The 500m climb is steep and it includes a number of built in log ladders that go up through the thick lush rainforest foliage covering the nearly vertical slopes. The sun was starting to appear on the opposite slopes from where we were climbing and it stayed nice and cool in the shade of the mountain under the thick canopy early in the morning.
The Lares Trek was a short and sweet start to our adventure in the Peruvian Andes. It was just three days long and with the elevation only between 3,500-4,500m it gave us a nice gentle chance to acclimatize. We started with a three hour drive with a short stop in Calca to hit the market. Our guide, Guido, suggested we get some small toys or trinkets to give to the kids we’ll come across along the way. This was good advise as it provided a chance to give the kids a bit of joy and some nice photo-ops. The trek did start on a peculiar note however… we started at a hot springs. Usually, I would think this to be something to put at the end of a trek, but we didn’t put up much of a fuss.
The next morning, Sunday, was an early one as we were due to be at the Church at 7.30 to receive the nearly 30 people, mostly kids, joining us for a hike to a beautiful waterfall up in the Andes. This was the inaugural event for the Peruvian DiscoveryBound Chapter started by Giorgio and Brenda. I met with Giorgio in January when I was last in Peru and gave him one of the DB Handbooks. He had been working to energize the Christian Science youth base by teaching Sunday School and providing Sunday School Challenge events beyond the classroom. DiscoveryBound brought the structure he was looking for and the support he needed to take it to the next level.
Arriving at 1am on Friday in Lima was no deterrent from having a full weekend. After a nice sleep to 9am, Girogio’s father gave me a ride into the shop to see the boats he was building. Two 58-foot catamarans which have taken on a nearly finished shape sat side by side. One did not yet have the roof of the main cabin and aft deck mounted yet, but I got to see that get put in place. Giorgio and a crew of about 20 men, all of whom were pulled from their specific project on either of the boats came together to lift, move, flip and place the last lid on the boat.
Double checking when departing for a trip like Peru is key. I nearly walked out of the house without my Marmot rain jacket. That would have been a bummer up on the mountain. I’m sure I could have rented one, and since I’m renting plastic boots, crampons, an ice axe and a harness as it is, they may have thrown it in for free… maybe.
But as I was doing my final FINAL sweep, I noticed I hadn’t packed my toothbrush! Agk! So, I threw it along with some paste and floss and a small bottle of Dr. Brawners in my “Toothcase” that I got from my dentist. I then promptly set it down and probably left it behind.
With nearly 24 hours of recovery after the Chachani climb, Forrest and I headed to the bus station in Arequipa at 6am to spend most of the morning on the bumpy and swervy roads to the small town of Cabanaconde on the lip of Colca Canyon. Once we arrived, we figured it was too late to head down into the canyon for a day hike, so we checked into a hostel right in the central plaza and went for a hike around town.
The next morning we packed up and made our way into the canyon expecting a long and hard day of going down and coming back up the 1000m under the pounding sun. Little did we know there was a great place to spend the night down along the river at the base of the canyon. We were happy to take our time and lounge around the spring fed pool, sleep in grass huts and make the steep and long ascent in the relatively cool hours of the morning in the shade of the eastern wall of the canyon that we were climbing.