Sunday, 26 October 2014


 Now I do apoligise for taking an absurdly long time to finish my blog. I am really sorry. I wrote the start of this closer to when I actually got home, so I'll just leave it how it was.

 So I've been home for about a month now and it is the strangest thing. It is so amazing to see all my family and friends, but it does not feel like I have been away at all. If you'd told me the morning after I got home that it was all just a dream I probably would have believed you. But then I look back at the photos and realise that no, it really did have that hectic and incredible and unbelievably life-inspiring year of my life that I will never forget.

 I feel like a part of me has been ripped out and stayed all those miles away in Peru. It actually pains me to think that that beautiful part of my life is now over, and that I have to now face reality and go back to the ordinary world that everyone else is so bizarrely used to. I sometimes have to pinch myself that it actually happened, that it's over, and that I don't see our gorgeous children every day to look after. Some people think it's just one of those volunteering things you do for a couple of weeks or a month and have loads and loads of fun and then go home and it was amazing. They can't even try to understand and what I'm trying to emphasise here is that those children and babies we looked after almost every day for over 10 months - that's over 300 individual days - became genuinely like our own children. And then we had to go and leave them there in the aldea in a place that is miles and miles away from where I am now. Imagine having to leave your children, but 60 of your children, all of whom you love to pieces (even though you hate them sometimes...), all of whom you have gotten to know individually and can tell which toddler is crying just from a wail through the window. Having to leave them with the thought that you most likely will never see them again, or at least not until they are grown up children and adults and they do not remember you. I am heartbroken not to be with them right this second and to know that I won't be with them next week, or next month, or even next year, either.

 I miss the weirdest things about being in Peru. I miss speaking in Spanish 24/7, dreaming in Spanish and laughing in Spanish with friends that understand and speak our bizarre version of Espanglish with us. I still come out with an occasional "como?" when I don't hear what someone has said. It has been engrained into me the language and culture and way of life of a completely polar-different continent and country, and I have no way of trying to express that to anyone from the Western world who has not had that same experience. I miss the food (even the mass quantities of rice!), the traditional dishes - ceviche, cabrito, pescado sudado, aji de gallina, chicharrones, lomo saltado. I miss the biscuits and chocolates (classic sweet tooth that's me all over) - Casino biscuits, Sublime, Vizzio, the delight that is manjar blanco and the vast array of fruits we can get from giggly wee Sylvia in the little corner shop across the road from the aldea! I even sort of miss the cold showers and the cockroaches and the daily intrusions from children through the windows that never seem to shut properly.

 Most of all though I miss just being in the aldea. I miss having the the Tias there as a wealth of knowledge that I can talk to about anything, from babies to how to make our favourite food to whether we've met any cute Peruvian boys recently (Tia Flor...). I miss our little girlies in the morning where we'd draw and watch cartoons and play with Barbies and teach Jandi to walk and to say something that actually resembles a word instead of just "bubaaah!" and "popoooow!". We'd deal with tantrums and jealousy (yes, even in 2 year olds...) and dancing babies and scribbled drawings and insect-in-mouth incidents and being told to lift each toddler up and spin them round and round, and then start again with another one, over and over again. I miss our wee pequeñitos (4-5 year olds) who came in to draw on a bit of paper or make a little toilet roll fish with you and then ended up plotting some evil plan against you in the corner. They'd drive me crazy sometimes but I loved every second of it. I miss the older kids who were so much fun just to chat with. It was like having a huge family of brothers and sisters always available to talk to, something I really miss. You could never feel alone in the aldea and that's the beauty of it.

 I cannot get over the kindness of strangers in South America. It is nothing like the looks you get here in the UK. Over there everyone will look at you with some sort of weird curiosity, sometimes whispering to their neighbour "look, there's two gringas over there!", but they are always willing to help out with whatever issue you have and are always wanting to know what brings you to their country and how you have come to know their language so well. I can remember so many times on the combi or on a bus somewhere that I have chatted to the person next to me the whole journey, about the naughty wee child in front or the town or city you're travelling to, because they just so happened to have lived there their whole life and could tell you how to get to your hostel and where is the best place to eat that night. It is a wonderful thing being able to have a conversation with a local person who has a wealth of useful information at their fingertips. In the UK and the Western world we do not appreciate the knowledge of everyone around us, and I wish that people were more friendly on the street and in public transport instead of the steady glares I sometimes get whenever I get on the bus. I could rant on for hours about this topic because it's something that really bugs me, but I'll spare you the boredom and stop now!

 Something I should say about the aldea is that all the houses have been bulldozed and new ones have been bult to replace them. They kept mentioning this when we were there but we never saw anything come of it, so apparently they eventually got round to it! Classic mañana mañana lifestyle. It's really sad to think that our little volunteer house that kind of encompassed everything all the previous Project Trust volunteers have ever done is now gone. But I do feel priveliged that we were the last ones to live there and have that experience in the aldea. This year's volunteers Amber and Tory will undoubtedly have a very different year to Amy and mine's and the volunteers before us, but that is not a bad thing! They'll be able to shape the project into something else, and that's something I'm actually kind of jealous of!!
Here's a link to Tory's blog:

 I have learnt so many things about myself that I never thought would be possible. I found out that I actually do like (and love) every type of eggs, beans, raw red onion, chicken liver and kidneys, yuca (cassava), mutton, and camomile and lemongrass tea. Okay, not just food...
I have become so much more aware of the little things in life that we take for granted and that we should stop and appreciate more often. We actually have a decent plumbing system. We have teachers and an education system that does educate us, and the vast majority of us have the possibility of going to university and getting a better job than becoming a street seller. We have homeless people, yes, but these homeless people are not nearly as bad off as those in Peru and South America, living in the middle of the marketplace covered in foodscraps and 6 year old boys and girls trying to sell you chicle (chewing gum) or sugared peanuts. We have friends and family and people around us supporting us all the time - in Peru children would come to the aldea with nothing or little, and have to start all over: the aldea is all they have. But these are the lucky ones - there will always be more children who are homeless and hungry and on the streets with nothing. That's something I really want to help tackle in the future.

 Whenever anyone mentions anything about Peru or South America I feel a little tug on my heartstrings, and I just want to say I've been there, I know what it's like there, I want to tell everyone everything about what I've done in the past year and never shut up about it. That is what Debriefing was really good for. Some of the Peru girls came up to Coll again and we were able to just chat about our respective years alongside fellow Honduras, Botswana, Nepal, Cambodia and Sri Lanka volunteers. Even though some of their years were vastly different to everything we had done, there were still things in common and it's amazing how much we were able to compare our years. Even though the majority of them taught in primary and/or secondary schools and lived with a host family throughout the year whereas we were in social care projects living in our workplace, even though some projects were entirely rural and others in big cities, there are always similarities between each and every Project Trust year abroad. Debriefing also allowed us to give feedback to the staff so that they know how to improve the process for volunteers in years to come. We found out about ways to keep on spreading the word about the amazing things they do (eg. doing school talks and Global Citizenship sessions), and how to keep in touch with the Project Trust family for years and years to come.

 This will be my last blog post, and I just want to say that although I have sometimes (like now) been very delayed in writing posts, I have thoroughly enjoyed writing down some of my thoughts and experiences for everyone else to see, especially in a year that has completely changed me for the better. I would strongly recommend anyone going away on a big trip like this to write a blog. It is a fantastic thing I have now, that I love to be able to look back on and see how much my opinions have altered during the course of the 2 years I've had it.

 So goodbye for now, and thanks for being loyal readers over the last year or so!! Chau xoxo

 "The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page" Saint Augustine

"The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others." Mahatma Gandhi

They were having SO much fun that day!!

Jandi doesn't like having a painted hand!
Jandi's typical toy of choice

Esmeralda and Margarita <3

Luis Fernando, Amy and Elvia

classic hospital trips with Dina

Estrella <3

Birthday parties

Tia Carla <3

All the amazing Tias and the direccion staff


So at the end of July this year, from all the way down in southern Bolivia, I made my way up to Lima (in Peru), a total of around 36 hours travelling within about 2 days. The most concentrated bit of very long-distance travel I have ever and probably will ever do for a long time. Although this sounds like a horrific journey I was well used to long bus journeys by then and it wasn't actually that bad. A 30 hour bus ride no, doesn't sound that comfortable but I was lucky enough to have a nice Canadian guy sat next to me who I chatted to the whole way.

Once I got to Lima I spent a day basking in the delights of non bus-constricted freedom and the next day I took a flight to the jungle city of Iquitos. This was my first experience of the Amazon jungle and it is unlike anything I have ever seen before. That is no understatement - there is no way to prepare anyone for that first wave of heat and humidity and jungly-ness you can get in places very little travelled in the world. I feel priveliged to have been able to have even a tiny glimpse into their world and way of life. I had waay too little time there (less than a week) and it is definitely a big place on my to-go list in the future (I've already started planning my next South American adventures). Iquitos is just such a bizarre and unique place.

my first glimpse of the Amazon!
Iquitos' mototaxi madness
So as soon as I got there I booked myself onto a 4 day jungle trip and my first glimpse into jungle life was when we were about to get onto our boat - we saw a guy coming off his boat carrying two maaassive catfish and a baby crocodile and saying to his mates, "vamos a comer cocodrilo!" (We're going to eat crocodile!) So after the boat trip down the Amazon we arrived at our lodge - it's on stilts for when wet season comes and the river rises. It was such a basic place, but it totally got you into the jungle way of life!

The Amazon jungle
I love hammocks...
Our lodge
 The first day we went on a walk with our guide Pecho who showed us all these medicinal jungle plants that the locals still use to cure illnesses and pains. There is a tree there that produces poisonous sap that can blind you if it gets in your eyes or kill you if you consume it. They used to put it in their arrows to kill animals they shoot but it has since been made illegal because of people polluting rivers with it so as to kill the fish, which then killed a lot of other animals. We also saw rubber trees and garlic trees whose leaves smelt soo strongly of garlic! Apparently that's a good natural mosquito repellant - as well as rubbing termites all over you...Pecho told us loads of interesting information about the natives and what they do since they don't have any outside doctors come into their tribes. They use many different trees' bark to make teas/infusions to cure stomach aches, diahorrea, arthritis etc. There was even one that pregnant women drink in the last few months of pregnancy that is meant to make the birth go smoothly!

In the evening we went looking for caimans after the sun had set. I had no idea how Pecho was spotting them in the complete pitch blackness but apparently he was looking for reflections off his headtorch of their eyes, which come up bright yellow when you shine the torch from really close to your eye. So he managed to capture (and then release of course) two small caimans, both 6 or 7 months old he said, and we held them and it was really scary having those teeth so close to my flesh haha!

On the second day we went pirahna fishing in the morning and then for lunch ate the catfish that we had caught ourselves made into ceviche - Peru's national dish (raw fish marinated in lime juice with onions and chillies). It was SO delicious. Ceviche has grown on me so much since I first tried it last year!!
Fishing was really fun and Pecho said we were possibly the best group in a long time, in terms of the variety of fish we caught - we got red pirahna, white pirahna, a sardine, a barracuda, and three different types of catfish!!
Our guide Pecho having just caught a huge catfish!
I caught a massive "barracuda" with huge teeth
All the fish we caught!!
After we went fishing we had the opportunity to see some grey or pink river dolphins. Unfortunately we had to wait for ages and ages to see some since they are so timid and wouldn't come anywhere near us. We couldn't move towards them either because the roar from the boat's engine would scare them away and even if we moved closer to them then they would move back the same amount, always keeping the same distance away. But eventually they were relatively close to us and Pecho said we could get in the water if we wanted, to have a "shower". This must have been the most hilarious part of the whole jungle trip, it was soo funny! The three of us just casually jumped off a tiny wooden boat into the Amazon river, in amongst pink river dolphins and shampooed our hair. Oh how I wish I had a photo!! It was so much fun though and an experience that will stay in my mind for a very long time!

Pink river dolphin (top right corner)
 Later on that day we went to visit a local village in the surrounding area which was really interesting. All the houses are on stilts, of course, and you could see where last year's water had come up to. Apparently some years they have to raise the houses higher because otherwise they'd get flooded! There is no school for the children during the wet season either because it's too dangerous. During dry season (at the moment) they still have to get a boat a wee while along the river to the school which caters for the large surrounding area. We met Pecho's wife and three-month old son who is the cutest wee thing ever, little chubby Alex Junior! It's kinda strange though because all the girlfriends/wives seem to be really, really young in comparison to the men they are with. Pecho's wife looked only about 15 or 16 to me, and he must have been about 25. I think it's just a part of the tradition there though and us Westerners just aren't used to seeing it!
Local village
 That evening we went in our little boat looking for snakes in the trees by the river. Pecho managed to spot one boa constrictor, high up in the trees, so we all clambered out the boat onto the riverbank. It was so difficult to spot it was so well concealed!! I asked if we could maybe take it down since 'd seen photos of people holding snakes and I love snakes, but he said well yes, we could, but it could kill us, so...

2 metre long boa constrictor
The 3rd day we went on a boat trip looking for birds and monkeys and things. After a wee bit we got out and continued walking through the jungle which was so intense. Really hard work to get through all the undergrowth especially in such high temperatures and humidity. But it was amazing, we saw beautiful blue and yellow parrots called Guacamayos, the same ones that are in the film Rio!! Pecho also spotted a huge black bird with a red neck called a Horned Screamer on the riverbank, such a beautiful bird. We also managed to catch some glimpses of squirrel monkeys, there were looads of them in the trees right above our heads, all around us, they were so cute! It was so hard to get a pic of them since they moved about so much though. On the way back to the lodge we also saw a sloth in the trees, apparently this was really lucky because of course they are nocturnal and are always sleeping, and also it was rare to see one in a tree right by the edge of the river!!

Guacamayos in their nest
Horned Screamer
Squirrel monkey (top left)
After lunch on the 3rd day we set off to go camping. This was the most fun and most authentically jungly part of the trip....obviously!! We walked for a bit til we got to our campsite, basically just a bare area of ground with a few trees and next to a lake. Pecho and the other guide set to work finding branches and roots of specific types to hang up our hammocks while we stood feeling rather useless. It was amazing to see how they could construct a hammock frame between two trees - they took this type of root and stretched it high up between two trees, for the waterproof cover to hang over. Then tied the hammock up between the two trees and held it open using various straight branches so that the inside of the hammock was extremely spacious! It was so impressive, they were doing all this very fast and pitch blackness as well by this time, only using headtorches to find everything. The next challenge was to get a fire going. I have no idea how they did it but they managed to construct something resembling what Shrek used in the movie to roast some rats haha. We had such a delicious dinner of spaghetti and tomato sauce and boiled egg, I think I must've been starving because it can't have been as good as I remember haha! After dinner we went on a night walk looking for spiders and all things nasty. We saw a huge scorpion spider - apparently it was poisonous - and also a tarantula, both hiding in the giant roots of a massive tree. The roots themselves came up to about hip height! We also saw a few frogs and lots of scorpions, and a wee rodent thing up in the trees, it didn't hang around long though. Now I have to tell you about something that is so so horrible and that I really don't like having to write about again. So we knew Pecho looked for caimans and snakes and everything by looking for reflections from their eyes, so we set about with our torches looking for reflections on the ground and the trees and everywhere...and saw hundred and hundreds of tiny reflections, little pin prick dots that shine bright white or yellow or blue sometimes. Turns out they're all spiders. ALL of them. Millions and millions of spiders, anywhere you looked there were tiny dots that were the spiders' eyes!! Such a horrible thought thinking how many there were around us. Ewww. Disgusting! We tried to convince ourselves it was just water droplets though haha. After we got back from the night walk we just went straight to bed, not much else to do anyway! Had a very scary trip to the bathroom... Then got in my hammock which was so unbelievably cosy and soo comfortable. I slept so well that night!

Fan that Pecho made us out of reeds!
Our hammocks in the making
dinner cooking
Scorpion spider
One of the many scorpions
The next morning we were woken very early by birds and monkeys and such making noises from the treetops, and we set off back to the lodge. Then we jumped into the river as soon as we could. It was actually one of the most amazing feelings, jumping into a river after having spent so long in a hot, humid, sweaty jungle. I must have felt the cleanest person ever after that (even though there were leaves and twigs and stuff in the river with us). The wee boy that lives at the lodge (or is there pretty much constantly anyway) came and joined us and was taking pictures with my camera (..which I took off him rather quickly, what with him being about 4 years old and in close proximity of water), hilarious. Then after lunch we headed back on the boat to Nauta where it was a bit of a nightmare since the boat ran out of fuel and we had to get a mototaxi from a random place by the riverside to where we waited for a car that would take us back to Iquitos, all a bit crazy and unorganised in the end. But then again that's just Peru for you!!

Genevieve, myself and Siobhan after arriving back from camping
"showering" in the river
arrival back to civilisation of some sort
Now I know I have talked and talked about the jungle and I do apologise but I just find it such an amazing and enthralling place to be. I wish I was back there right now, even amidst all the mosquitos! Sorry for all the blabbing and the mass of photos, WELL DONE for having got this far haha. Sorry also for the huuge delay in all my posts. I am almost done with everything now. Had to do it all in order y'know.

Will post the last one soon (aah, scary thinking it'll be the last). Mucho amor,

Heather xoxo