It’s taken a little bit to travel from South America, catch up at work and jump into Thanksgiving, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t have a great trip and don’t have stories to tell.
I couldn’t have traveled with a better mix of Seattle Works folks. Seriously. I see a lot of teams and most are quite great. I seldom get the chance to actually participate with them, but I also think few are put through the extremes of international travel, altitude sickness and excavating adobe mud.
All fourteen folks held in there, kept positive attitudes and were a genuine pleasure to travel with. I heart Seattle Works international volunteers.
On to the trip . . .
For starters, we landed in Lima and caught a flight to Cusco in order to acclimate to something like 12,000 feet (note, that’s just 2k less than Mt. Rainier).
Cusco is a beautiful city of around 600,000. Used to be the capital of the Inca civilization before the Spaniards took over. Most homesteads are built into the hills and literally flow down into a very vibrant town square. Don’t show up with your shoes dirty or you’ll be harassed until you finally cave in to the one sole-shoe shine.
You can find everything in Cusco from Peruvian Indian food (Indian food attempted in Peru – some ingredients can’t be found though so leaves a little to be desired) to pizzas, lots of pizzas, great Loma Soltado and high end American meals for 150 soles (think two people, great views, two top notch lamb/steak dinners and four drinks all for $50) and the Peruvian standard breakfast of rolls, butter, jam and cocoa tea (highly caffeinated, but great for altitude sickness). All good stuff.
On to Chinchero, our destination for the week. We were guests of Palino and Vilma, owners of the local weaver’s co-op and founders of the soon to be boarding home for orphaned teens. The government pays for school up to the grade 6, but continuing education is not a priority nor is it really possible for kids living in the outlying communities. Not only are they operating off of one meal a day, but it’s four hours round trip on foot to the nearest school which isn’t a great use of time when their help is needed in the fields.
Paulino and Vilma, organic farmers at heart, believe in the outlying community’s commitment to doing things by hand, but want to see the kids succeed as well. They will be hosting a dozen orphans at a time, supporting them through high school and teaching them traditional weaving techniques so that the kids might go back and share the trade with their families.
There are no written weaving instructions. The patterns are taught at a young age, passed through generations and shared at the co-op. We were treated to a dyeing and weaving demonstration our first day in the village. It literally takes one woman an entire month to weave a table runner by hand.
After lunch we took a hike and helped harvest some of the plants needed to dye the alpaca and sheep’s wool for yarn.
The second and third days we worked in Palino and Vilma’s home, excavating the back rooms recently added on for the soon to be students. We worked hard. I don’t say this lightly. I know that many o Seattle Works folks have been out on rainy days to remove many o bushels of ivy, but we were working at 12,000 feet. Even the most fit of us struggled walking the 200 steps it took to get from the weaver’s co-op to Palino and Vilma’s where the excavation was taking place.
We picked and shoveled tough mud, loaded it into wheel barrels, pushed it uphill (maybe another 100 feet of altitude gain and in case you haven’t caught on by now, every step matters . . . ) laid rock and poured cement. I was proud of our team. I worry that a few might have pushed too hard. Many were sick, some were sore, but all worked to their capacity and do so happily.
Two days of hard work resulted in an afternoon biking treat. We rode through small villages and ended at the salt mines. It was beautiful.
That evening we celebrated 3-year-old Chaska’s birthday with cuy (guinea pig prepared mostly for celebrations . . .we all had at least a bite).
The next day was a complete break from work. I’ll let others comment on the baptism of our host family’s second son and the team’s visit to the Pisaq ruins. Some of us were too sick to stand let alone be guests/tourists at anything . . .
We worked for two more days and finally left to meet the kids the rooms were meant for. This is where I got my ass kicked. I was thinking, this has been a nice trip; I’ve had a few simple lessons, good observations, but nothing mind boggling or life changing. Much too quickly thought, much less written.
It started with a funeral procession. Our van paused on the side of the road to make room for the hallow faces walking, carrying a short coffin. Everything seemed to stop as we stared at them and they stared at us. They must have kept moving though because we were jolted by the sound of drums as soon as they had passed. It was eerie; a glimpse of what lies behind the seemingly happy, welcoming faces.
We of course took no pictures of this.
Then we get to the village where families live on next to nothing but were treated like esteemed guests. The entire community banded together to organize a huge welcome for us – we ate, drank and danced. They were actually thanking us for cows sent by a previous team of volunteers. Cows that will provided them with precious protein and hope.
The next days were more touristy in nature. We hiked 10 km of the Inca trail, learned about their ways, Spanish invasion and saw what’s left and is now being restored at Machu Picchu (pronounced peak-chu, the other way means “dick” according to our guide).
Nothing like being in a sacred place to wrap up a pretty incredible trip.