Monday, 25 August 2014

Cusco, Arequipa and Lake Titicaca


Soo our first bit of travelling started with a very long journey all the way from Trujillo to Cusco - so an overnight bus to Lima and then over 24 hours to Cusco from there. Not very enjoyable, but what can you do! When we got to Cusco we could really feel the altitude (it's at about 3,400 m above sea level) - we were completely out of breath after walking up a flight of stairs!! It didn't help that our hostel was at the top of a very steep hill which half the taxis just didn't bother going up so just left us
at the bottom. Not very fun.

So we stayed a few days in Cusco city to acclimatize to the altitude before we went on our Machu Picchu trip. We weren't doing the actual Inca trail, you need to book that at least 6 months in advance and we didn't know when we would be in Cusco at that time!! So this was a different trip organised by our hostel. It was 4 days long, the first day was biking downhill a looong way (they took us up really high to start, 4,200 m) and then we stopped for lunch and afterwards had a horrible sweaty walk up in the jungle to where we were going to stay for the night.We stayed with a local family who cooked our meals for us - we also had coca tea made with just hot water and coca leaves, really yummy actually. They also had a pet parrot and coati which were hilarious to watch!!

with all the bikes

coca tea!

the parrot landed on Amy's hair...hahaha

The whole group
Day 2 was our first day of walking - we were to walk a part of the authentic Inca trail!! Our guide told us about the Incas and Cusco along the way which was really interesting. He also played pan pipes along the actual Inca Trail which was just so classicly Peruvian haha. Then we went to the thermal baths which were sooo lovely and relaxing, especially after having walked all day to get there.

walking the Inca trail

Day 3 we chose to go ziplining over the valleys which was SO much fun, I would recomment it to anyone it gives you such an adrenaline rush! Going upside down is by far the best. Takes a bit of courage to do it for the first time though!! After that we continued trekking, but this time along the train tracks for about 3 hours that eventually lead us to the town of Aguas Calientes, or Machu Picchu town. After we arrived there we just relaxed, had dinner and went out shopping to buy some souvenirs!

Ziplining upside down with Amy

Walking along the train tracks to Aguas Calientes
Day 4 was the day we went to Machu Picchu. We had timed it to be on Machu Picchu for Amy's birthday, 30 June, so we got the bus up to the entrance instead of walking up through the jungle (which everyone else said was horrible). When we first got there it was really foggy and we literally could not see a thing. Later we realised we had been at the bit everyone gets the famous photo from but we had no idea because we were surrounded by all this fog! Machu Picchu is incredible, once it finally cleared up (which was the most amazing part, realising we'd been so close to it all along) you could really tell how huge it all is. What none of the photos can show either is that there are loads of massive beautiful mountains round about Machu Picchu that are just as stunning in their own right. So obviouly we got our typical photo at Machu Picchu, kept on taking photos until they were all the same haha and then went back down to catch our train back to Cusco.

How the day started out!

Our amazing group we did the trip with

"That" Machu Picchu photo

Machu Picchu in its own glory

Arequipa and Cotahuasi

From Cusco we went to Arequipa - Most people go to Arequipa and see the Colca Canyon, the more famous one, but we decided we wanted to see the Cotahuasi Canyon, which is supposedly the deepest in the world! So we took an overnight bus from Arequipa to Cotahuasi and this must be the worst bus I have ever been on. 10 hours on a non-paved road, bouncing and bumping the whole way. No sleep whatsoever. Nightmare journey. But once we got there it was nice. Cotahuasi is a really small town in the mountains, so beautiful, hardly any tourists. Completely off the beaten track. We had heard about the local bus that goes past the canyon and so we got up at a reasonable time (these buses tend to arrive at totally useless time like 3am so you have to end up paying for a night in a hostel as well) and assumed we'd get it. Turns out the bus left at 6am and that was the only one. So we called up our taxi driver from the night before who'd been friendly and left his number and asked him if he'd kindly take us to the canyon and back. We ended up having the most hilarious day out. Our taxi driver-come-tour guide called Gherard ran ahead of us all the time on the wee path and we had no chance of keeping up, he lay down on the canyon edge to look down into it and was just so hilarious to be with. We had a lot of fun that day. It was also really nice because we were the only people there. Absolutely empty apart from us and Gherard!

Cotahuasi Plaza de Armas

Gherard hilariously leaning into the canyon

Amy in the vast empty landscape

Cotahuasi Canyon

Amy and I

Gherard again...
After we got back to Cotahuasi town we went on a litle walk to find a lake that some people had told us about. When we eventually got there it has to be one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. I think it was the fact that it was so absolutely dead silent - all you could hear was the water, the birds and a far away rush of a canyon waterfall somewhere. Amazingly beautiful place.

Lake Titicaca

From Arequipa we went to Puno, on the edge of the world's highest lake - Lake Titicaca. We took a day trip to visit the lake, the Uros islands and Taquile Island. So the lake itself is so so beautiful and bright and blue and it's so sunny and gorgeous! When we got to the Uros islands it was so weird, they are so strange but so fascinating. They're made completely out of reeds that grow in the lake and they somehow float on top of the water. Each island is absolutely tiny and a small community lives on each one - everyone just walks about in bare feet on the reeds underneath them and there were adorable little kids in traditional dress, even the tiniest ones. Amy was even made to try on the traditional dress, it was hilarious, the woman just kind of came up to her and started dressing her up. So she got the full lot: a little waistcoat, massive yellow skirt, a bowler's hat and hair in pigtails with pom poms tied onto them!

Amy and I on Lake Titicaca

Uros Island
Amy in her traditional gear!

Local guy demonstrating how the islands are built

Uros Islands
After the Uros Islands we went to Taquile Island which is so so beautiful, and a "normal" island instead of the floating Uros! It's so interesting because they have their own Taquile people who don't tend to marry outside of the island and so their culture and traditions have been really well preserved. For example, the type of skirts that the women wear tell you whether or not they are married: brightly coloured skirts are for the single women and married women wear darker colours. The men, too, wear different coloured hats to show their marital status - red hats with a white tip (meaning purity) are for single men whereas fully red ones are for married men. Children wear red hats with a brown tip - meaning fertility and Pachamama (Mother Earth). Taquile's chiefs even wear multi-coloured hats which are really cool haha.

Amy and I on Taquile Island

Taquile Island

Lake Titicaca is split across the border between Peru and Bolivia, so after seeing it from the Peruvian side we crossed the border into Copacabana on the Bolivian side. From there we went to see Isla del Sol (Island of the sun) which was also really pretty.

On Isla del Sol

Friday, 8 August 2014

Leaving the aldea :( (plus lots of aldea photos)

Leaving the aldea was really, really difficult. I know it sounds silly but it hadn't even occured to us that leaving the aldea was a possibility - we'd been there so long it was hard to imagine living anywhere else. So the day before we left we had our despedida - kind of like a leaving party - so the whole aldea had lunch outside together which was so lovely (especially since it was our favourite aji de gallina). It's always nice having lunch outside with everyone - to be able to spend time with all the kids together instead of all separately in the casas. So that was cute. Our wee baby Jandi kept running up to us and standing between our knees the whole time. I think that really made it hit home how long we'd been there because she's still really nervous around a lot of the kids and adults in the aldea that she doesn't know, but she's just spent so much time with us in our house. After having lunch the aldea staff all called us up and made what was a really emotional speech for us - saying how much work we've done and how we've helped them, how we've become such a part of the family that the aldea is. It was so sad, Amy and I were sobbing our eyes out it mustn't have been a nice sight. And we hadn't even left by that point!

Our despedida

Our despedida

With the directora

the whole aldea!

The day we left was possibly the hardest day in my life. We had to say goobye to Jandi, Fatima and Estrella, the three litte ones we looked after every morning for the majority of the year. That was really difficut, especially because they couldn't understand what was going on. Fatima kept saying to us can I come to your house, can I draw, can I do jigsaws, like we always did with them. That was probaly the most difficult part. It was also really hard to leave behind our Tia Carla, she's in the house directly opposite from our house so we saw her loads and she would always come over and ask for plastic bags (chicaaaas! quiero bolsas!) haha or just to have a wee chat with us. We miss her loads, her happy smiling personality, the way she is constantly in a good mood and laughing and having a joke with the kids.

Now that we've left I can see how much a part of the aldea we had become. I didn't see it then but now looking back on it more from an outsider's view I can see how much had changed since when we arrived back in August last year which seems like a complete lifetime ago, not just a year. I hadn't realised how comfortable I had become with looking after little children, 1, 2, or 3 years old - before I came I'd had no experience whatsoever of looking after wee ones.

About a month before we left we decided we wanted to make a tree with all the kids' hands painted on it, to stick up in our house. That was really good fun to do with all the kids, starting with the very littlest ones (it tickled some of their hands, cutest thing ever) up to the 17 and 18 year olds. It also meant we could spend some time with each and every child individually before we left the aldea, which was really nice.

Amy painting wee Jandi's hand!
putting Jandi's hand on the tree!
our tree before most of the kids' hands

We also had a Hawaiian themed week with the kids. We printed out tiki masks for the 4-5 year olds to colour in and we had a little sort of party in the house with them. That was really fun. They all love to draw and colour in and they also loved running about with their masks on (they got jelly out of it too, kids love jelly). We had a big hoola hoop so they all had bags of fun with that as well. We'd put decorations up and we had coconuts and grass skirts and it realy felt like Hawaii. Only problem was that none of the kids knew where Hawaii was or that these kinds of things are meant to be typically Hawaiian. We still had fun though!!

the kids colouring in their tiki masks

Renzo with his tiki mask

all the wee ones with their finished tiki masks!!

Alex having fun with the hoola hoop

The aldea also celebrated father's day so there were big celebations for that. The whole main office staff and the tias along with Amy and I had a nice meal together in the main hall and we celebrated and sort of congratulated all the male staff. There are 7 out of around 20 in total, including all the tias as well - so they work in the library, the storeroom, the guard at the main gate,or just general maintenance of the aldea. Then later on there was a big show with the whole aldea where every house put on a dance performance. That was really fun to watch (thankfully not participate in).

meal with all the admin staff and tias

casa 5's hilarious dance

casa 10 did a rendition of "Grease"

after lunch with Luis and Nicolas

Now that we've been away travelling it feels like our 10 months in the aldea was our year and now we're just kind of in limbo before we go home. It's a strange feeling, not having a home to go back to and constantly packing in and out of our big rucksacks (that is something I will definitely not miss!). I can't wait to go home and see all my friends and famiy that I've been missing so much for so long but I already miss the aldea and the kids so much it's unreal and I know I'm going to miss the general hustle and bustle of hectic Peruvian life. I love travelling by mototaxi when we can, that's definitely one of the truly South American things that you just don't get anything like  back home. They're like little motorbikes with a trailer/seat thing attatched to the back that take you everywhere just like taxis do (for a lot cheaper). Except half the time you're falling out because there's no sides to hold you in or you're worrying about your bag because it's behind the seat where you can't keep an eye on it and it's completely open to the people walking about right next to it. It's such a fun ride, I will never forget my first mototaxi experience. It's just one of the things you have to do if you're in South America at any point. I will also miss the food loads. I've acquired such a Peruvian taste for food. I am in love with ceviche, Peru's national dish which is raw fish marinated in Peruvian limes, chillies and onions. It is so beautiful oh my gosh.

Talking of food we looove this dish called aji de gallina. It's like shredded chicken in a pepper sauce, so yummy. So we decided we wanted to learn how to make it so we asked our lovely Tia Carla if she would teach us! It was so much fun, I love cooking so I really wanted to be able to make some traditional Peruvian food for when I got home - starting with this!

Tia Carla showing us how to prepare aji de gallina

the finished dish!
To finish I'll just leave you all with some photos of the aldea - sorry I've not been very good at uploading lots of photos up until now!!

(sorry half the photos are of Amy and not me, I was the one taking the photos!!)

Amy with Jandi and Matias

Amy with Matias and Renzo

Luis, Nicolas, Renzo and Matias when we went to the pool with the whole aldea

Amy with Matias at the pool - he was so scared to go in!!

Jandi with her adorable wee bib - meaning "do you want to play with me? go on, say yes!!"

what we spent our mornings doing with the wee ones - plastic bricks and barbies featured a lot

Amy with the little ones in the aldea pool during summertime

Me with Alfredo, Jandi, Fatima, Matias and Renzo

Fatima and Matias drinking their water which they would constantly ask for ("aaguaa!! quiero aaaagua!")

I'm so sorry I've not written about so many things that have happened. I only realise I've forgotten everything when I go through my photos and realise I've not put any of them up!! I'll try to cover as much as possible now though!

So for Valentine's Day we made little hearts with the 4-5 year olds for them to colour in and then we had a treasure hunt where they had to look for hearts we'd stuck up around the house.

A few weeks later we made little crowns and then fish made from toilet rolls. Even though it's a nightmare to have paintbrushes in 4 year olds' hands and going everywhere, they really love to paint so we always tried as much as possible to make sure they were able to do things on their own and didn't need too much of our help, they didn't get paint ALL over their clothes and that of course they had fun!!

Luis painting his crown

Matias and Alex with their finished crowns

Andrea and Alex with their fish

We also went to Huanchaco beach with the whole aldea during the summer holidays (December - March) which was really good fun. It's always good for the kids to get out of the aldea, expecially the ones that don't go out to go to school or anything. They enjoyed themselves so much, especially the wee ones of course.
(unfortunately it wasn't a very sunny day :( )

Renzo and Andrea at the beach

Fatima being adorable

some of the older kids stuck in the sand! (Miriam, Alondra, Junior, Kristell and Raquel)

 Other photos from our day to day aldea life...

Jandi being a wee cutie
Me and Matias (not looking very happy actually haha)

Me with Analy

Fatima is extraordinarily ticklish

Estrella, Jandi, Renzo and Fatima
Jandi and Renzo are possibly two of the cutest wee kids ever. They're both in casa 2 together, the only 2 little ones and they're literally like brother and sister. Renzo really looks out for Jandi which is the most adorable thing. She's always happy when he's around and they could play together for hours!!
Jandi and Renzo
One day in the aldea we looked out the window and saw all the little ones having a massive grass fight outside, throwing all the freshly cut grass at each other haha, it was hilarious. It's lucky hayfever doesn't really exist in Peru otherwise everyone would have been going mental!!

when they realised we were watching them...they turned on us

For Mother's Day we made little ice-lolly stick things for the kids to give to their tias.

Another day we made some dreamcatchers with the older girls which was so much fun and we all got a pretty dreamcatcher out of it! It was actually really easy to do once you get the hang of it.

Other aldea photos...

Estrella and Fatima

Me with Jandi
having fun with Alex (6) and Matias (3)


Me with Fatima

Renzo and Leonel
A few weeks before we left the aldea we got quite a few new kids in. We got a new 3 year old boy called Juan David along with his big sisters Marilu (11), Janeth (13), and Vicki (14). Also a new little 2 year old boy called Ricardo (plus 2 older sisters aged 5 and 8) so they both joined in with our morning baby sessions with the other 1-2 year olds (Jandi, Fatima and Estrella). It was strange having little boys in the house since our drawers are all full of barbies and girly things to play with! (we had to root around for some cars).

Fatima, Ricardo, Estrella

Estrella, Fatima and Ricardo (they don't know how to smile properly)

Alex happy with his drawing in my scrapbook

Amy and I

Estrella modelling in front of our tree of hands (not quite finished)

About a week before we left the aldea wee Jandi had her nose bitten by something, she had an allergic reaction to whatever it was and her nose turned into a giant red tomato. It was absolutely hilarious just seeing her so small and oblivious to what had happened to her and everyone laughing at how adorably funny it was.

Ricardo and Jandi drawing (with her massive red nose of course)

Amy, Amelia, Me and Cass in Huanchaco after we'd left the aldea