A Travellerspoint blog


Tuesday 10th May

This day started ultra early. My alarm was set for 4.45am. At 5am Rita called me (I think to check I was up!) As she doesn’t speak any English and was speaking Spanish particularly quickly, I thought we had got the times wrong. Once I left the house at 5.30am with packed breakfast and lunch I phoned Rita to confirm the times which were as I had originally thought. I needed to be on the 6am bus from Urubamba. I reached the bus station in good time with 10 mins to spare. Obviously at that time of the morning (it’s still pitch black), there were no moto-taxis I had to walk. They were shouting for the Cusco- Calca bus. This was the one I needed and needless to say the ticket office wasn’t open I just had to get on the bus. I was the only one on it so wondered how long it would sit before leaving..I needn’t have worried. It left about 10 to 6 (so mental note when I finally go I will need to be early), catching a local out who jumped on as we left the station. It wasn’t long before the bus was full to bursting as normal with lots of stops on the way. En route we also picked up Rita, the local nurse so we chatted along the way as best we could. My picnic breakfast of fruit (which I had cut up the night before, put in a sealable dish with some lime juice, adding the yoghurt and granola that morning) worked a real treat so I know this will work when I officially start. In Calca the school director/ one of the teachers of the school boarded the bus. He seemed a really nice man..very softly spoken and a really caring guy. We reached Pisac around 7am and walked to the place where the collectivo taxi was to collect us. We waited about 15 mins until the estate car/ taxi arrived. Interestingly enough 11 of us got into this car. Some got out before we reached our more remote destination. They were also teachers but going to a different school. It was cheaper for them to get this collectivo and walk the last stretch than get a personal taxi. When we finally arrived (about 30-40mins later) the temperature difference was considerable..(mental note ..more clothes required up here). At this altitude (over 4000m) Sonia was concerned I would have problems but I didn’t think I would, having done really high altitude treks before..I was pleased to see I was absolutely fine. We walked down into the school via the kitchen. We popped in to see the cook (a local woman with her youngest on her back). She was clearing up from breakfast and starting work on lunch, with her husband helping. He was cleaning the potatoes. The stove was a small wooden stove with 2 very large cooking pots on it. We went to the teacher’s common room for a hot drink before Rita and the director caught up with forthcoming events and what supplies were running low. He then took us around the classes to introduce me which was lovely. The school has been open since 2004 and has over 75 pupils and 5 teachers. One of the teachers comes from Cusco so stays up there is a small, very humble dwelling all week. In the first class he took me into (grade 3) the bowls were sitting on the tables for their main meals - breakfast and lunch. The children were so enthusiastic, especially when he said to them I was coming to take an art class with them which was just lovely, but I had to qualify the timescales to say it might be a month or so before I came back. They sang me a lovely song at full volume. This probably wouldn’t have happened before as they were so listless from lack of food and generally malnourished. The difference LH are seeing in the projects is amazing and heart-warming. I then visited each class in turn. In the next class (grade 4) 2 of the boys recited and acted out a poem. I have no idea what they said but it was great to watch. As I visited each class I took photos. In the first grade class they nearly bowled me over to look at their photo so I took a photo of each table in turn so they could see themselves more clearly. Seeing themselves on a camera is a real novelty and treat for these kids. The pre-school and grades below grade 3 can still only speak Quechua so I am not sure yet if I can get involved. I feel even if I introduce colours and drawing or colouring/ sticking etc I could still do something with them but I will need to see what the director thinks come the time. What was really interesting was the large room/ museum dedicated to the old customs and implements..really fascinating and very important to the families to maintain their culture. One of the issues can be if, before certain families get their money from the harvests they cannot buy the jotter or pencil to allow the child to go to school. This is essential for all children to attend school. To ensure the parents still take responsibility for this LH give the director of each school a supply to use at their discretion so the child doesn’t miss any schooling. This has happened in the past when the family couldn’t afford the jotters for a month or so.
Rita and I then proceeded to walk downhill for 2 hours to Jose Antonio’s house. Along the way Rita gave me a lesson on the number of useful plants at the side of the road that could be used for, colic, inflammation, anxiety to the antibacterial properties of mint... all interesting stuff what I could follow. We passed a lot of women working in the fields..the men were home weaving , Rita told me; and pregnant women carrying heavy loads. I must admit I had to ask what age some of the women were and if Rita was correct I had overestimated there age by at least 20 years. I suppose that is what living in the hard sun here will do for you.

Soon we reached Jose Antonio’s house. I was taken into one of the building where a small area had been sectioned off with hessian bags. Behind which was a bed with a sheepskin, mattress and lots of padding to help prevent bedsores with a lot of covers to prevent him getting cold. The little soul was lying with his head sticking out – his head arched back. He had been suffering with a cold all week and with lying in the same position one of the issues was getting his bowels to work the way they should. Despite all his problems he really was a cheery wee soul. He now lives at home and is much happier following over 2 years in a clinic that was over crowded and could do no more for him. The family were really keen to get him back home and had approached Living Heart who had been doing work in the village nearby. They visited their home and could see the lovely fabrics and articles he was making . They arranged to sell them in the cafe and seem to go very well really allowing him and his family to build their business and pay the expenses to keep Jose Antonio at home. They are just so lovely and caring of their son. He is one of 3 children..the youngest one. LH also arranged for Rita to learn how to carry out the physiotherapy to support the family at home each week. Rita visits once a week and does physio with him encouraging him to strengthen and straighten out his hands and legs. When Rita is not there the parents do these exercises with him. To encourage him they use dolls, a soft ball to squeeze and try to kick... anything that will get him to do the exercises. The pet cat, Percy, is also great therapy. Rita also massages a liniment into his hands and feet. She has seen a marked improvement in his hands (which were permanently curled before) and his legs (also permanently in a crossed position). What I saw were slightly more relaxed hands and his legs in a slightly straighter position. His legs are such that he will never be able to walk but the therapies certainly help. While the initial assessment and setting up of an area for Rita to work with Jose Antonio, in the main area of the room where his cot, 2 sewing machines and articles ready to be sold were hanging,; Crisologo, Jose Antonio’s father took me to his weaving room where 6 looms stood. He proceeded to show me how one of them worked (interestingly enough this was the very design I had bought the previous Saturday – a scarf). He asked me if I wanted to try. I quickly refused.I’d hate to think what kind of mess I would have made of this very intricate and labour intensive work. Each row would take about 5-10 seconds as he adjusted, checked and ensured it was absolutely what he wanted before he moved on. He was pressing peddles with his feet, pulling on wool and lines above his head, while working with a bone devise to adjust and firm up every row..incredible to watch!! He then proceeded to explain to me what each design (usually 2 or 3 significant symbols) on each loom meant. In a different building they dyed all the wool. I had assumed it was alpaca but he said it was sheep wool, very finely spun. We then went back inside to watch and support Rita with Jose Antonio. Our support was one of encouragement when he did an exercise right or to encourage him to do it in the first place. I took a number of photographs which he really enjoyed looking at. His father spent time with him on his knee and this was a joy to watch. When we were finished Pedro wanted me to have a gift and gave me a bracelet. I also bought a couple to bring home. As we headed for the door Jose Antonio, being carried by his father, seemingly indicated he wanted me to have something from him. He gestured to his parents he wanted me to have a lovely little pin cushion. I will treasure these forever!!
Outside in the small yard I had seen a strange tripod and had wondered what it was. They proceeded to tell me it was made specifically by Crisologo for Jose Antonio. His mother proceeded to pull out the sling they had made with hessian and woven straps to hold and support him. Once set up, they put Jose Antonio in it to show me how it worked. Percy, the kitten proceeded to climb up to the point and sat there. Pedro had made this for him to help encourage him to feel for the ground. It was just at a height that his feet just touched the ground. This also allowed him to be outside with his brother and sister while they played. It was brilliant! While I took photos Jose Antonio got really excited because Percy was there. You could see how Percy could obviously play a big part in his therapy as he would try to reach for him, lift his head to look at him etc. Jose Antonio is just such a darling little boy, the love and care the family have for him and what they are doing to ensure he gets the correct food (there is a special diet sheet on the wall in his room) is just humbling. The family need 350 solis a month for Jose's special diet and treatments. LH sell his designs from the cafe with a note about how this will help Jose Antonio.
What was particularly poignant for me was, in this very macho society, to meet such a mild mannered, doting father of a disabled child who would do anything to make sure all his family were looked after....Real heart-warming stuff. 
I want to print some of the pics and send them with Rita. Jose Antonio seemed to get such pleasure from seeing them. I would also like to visit again once my Spanish is a lot better.
I also have some ideas I will share with the LH group, on Friday, re a couple of easy designs that I think would sell well, how to market his current stock to potentially encourage further sales and a slightly more radical idea of how Crisologo could raise his profile and increase his sales of stock. My Spanish wasn't good enough to suggest this during my visit.

All in all I had a really good day with Rita but it has made me more aware of how much I must work on my Spanish as it was so frustrating not fully understanding the school director or Pedro! I will discuss what will be best re when to start and which schools at my next meeting on Friday but I think the thoughts are I will start at the school nearer Urubamba as their Spanish is much better, and break me in slowly. I’ll need to look into what I want to do with them first and get in my supplies. Elise, my Spanish teacher has offered to help me prepare and practice for the classes which is great.

If you want to see more of what Living Heart stand for and do you can visit them at ...www.livingheartperu.org. We currently working on getting a justgiving website set up so if you would like to support this amazing cause watch this space.


Posted by Heather Buc 15:46 Comments (0)


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I had forgotten to tell you about a funny incident on the way back to Sonia’s house last week. As I do when I am walking along I wish everyone a good day. This old lady shouted to me from her doorway and came running down the hill. I stopped and waited. She shouted something at me then thrust her mobile phone and a piece of paper with a number on it. I put the number in the phone, pressed save and asked her for the name. I thought she wanted to save the number in her phone and didn’t know how.....WRONG!! She then shouted at the top of her voice (about 2 inches from my ear) “LLAMAR, LLAMAR”. This means “ to call” in Spanish. I duly redialled the number and handed her the phone. (She obviously couldn’t read). She walked away, listening to the phone and talking to a younger lady outside the house at the top of the hill ...I had obviously, now done, what she had wanted. I had to walk away before I could burst out laughing. It was such a comical scene and still makes me laugh when I think of it.

I’m starting to settle in now. I’m finding my way around Urubamba, buying a few things for the house...whistling kettle and a glass jug, to boil and cool water. This will save in so many ways carrying water bottles from the shops (some way away), the environmental impact of all that plastic waste, and even though the cost is minimal it adds up when you drink as much as I do...so it just made sense!
On Saturday Maureen took me to Ollantaytambo to Living Heart’s Cafe. I met Sabrina who runs the cafe and will be one of the trustees of LH. The food was an absolute delight so I’ll definitely be making a regular trip back there. While there, there was a wall dedicated to the young boy, Jose Antonia, I mentioned earlier who has neurological problems and needs a nurse to give him physio each week. He is one of three children, and his father weaves some beautiful pieces that you can buy, to help them support the cost of looking after him each week. I bought 3 different pieces, all of which I had been looking for anyway so I left delighted. There is also an amazing Inca site at Ollantaytambo so that will be worth a look one weekend. Unfortunately you need to pay a considerable amount but the ticket lets you into a couple of others all on the same day (one in Urubamba) so I’ll need to wait until I am ready to do a bumper Inca session one day.
That night us 5 girls decided not to waste a Saturday night so had 2 beers and 2 of us crocheted!! Now that’s what you call hitting the high life on a Saturday night!! I haven’t crocheted in years and one of the girls is creating her own designs to sell in Urubamba. She showed me a few new stitches and gave me some wool to start me off. I’m now crocheting myself a pair of slippers...well my feet are freezing!! It’s coming into winter here. On Sunday I walked into Urubamba, about 30 mins from the house, to buy some more wool. It was a lovely day so it seemed a shame to waste it by catching a moto-taxi at the bottom of the road. I had taken my crocheting with me and sat in the main Plaza and crocheted there. It was very pleasant. An older gentleman sat down near me and started chatting. He was a German Peruvian and had taken up the plight of the local “Indians” in the mountains to get them spinning wheels to help them earn more money from their Alpaca wool. He had sourced a supply in New Zealand, then met a Scotsman who had offered to design a spinning wheel they could make in Peru at a 1/10th of the cost. He then offered to come and build them. They thought they had funding from the Scottish government but this has now been pulled so he is petitioning them to ask them to follow through on their promised funding. I have his details but haven’t contacted him yet. The conversation with Miguel started with him wishing me a Happy Mothering Sunday making the assumption I was one, which I confirmed I was. Mothering Sunday in Peru is a really big thing. Mothers give to mothers and when they go into a shop they get confetti in their hair or little presents. It is very much a family day. I saw lots of families out and about and women with confetti in their hair.

On Monday I tried an advanced Spanish class but Elise felt (and I agreed) it was a little further on than I was. Although I knew all the grammar they were learning my overall talking and listening skills are far behind them. After an hour I left with my notes and homework. I thought it best to take time and work on it alone , then pick up with Elise later..the beauty of living together. We have now agreed and I have started with a private lesson, working with the beginner’s class to fill in the gaps in my vocabulary, plus working on my listening and speaking. So far this is working well.
I am now finding my way around Urubamba and after my initial misgivings I’m thinking I could make this work. Most things can be purchased in the market here or shops around but there are some things I will need to get from Cusco, plus I am missing the buzz of Cusco actually. Maureen has offered me a room in her house here in Urubamba but I think I will need to find something in the town. It is also a long way out of Urubamba so when it gets dark about 5pm you must have a torch after the moto-taxi takes you as far as it can. This is a 5 minute walk up little lanes, crossing rivers and not an easy trail. Most of the roads here are dirt tracks so you are permanently covered in dust. I’m thinking I can stay in Urubamba through the week and some weekends go into Cusco to meet up with the ex-pats and get supplies etc. Maureen has offered me the use of the room she rents there if she is not using it or I can look for a cheap hostal for the weekend. This feels like a good compromise. I had originally thought about moving back to Cusco but realistically that’s a lot of travel every day, plus my Spanish class and work is in Urubamba so this makes way more sense. The Dutch girls and I spoke about looking for a house big enough for us all and then I will be much nearer the centre for the internet and not walking the 20-30mins to the bus station at 5am!! That was when I headed off to the remote village school...there ain't no moto-taxis at 5am and this is when I will need to set off to get to the remote villages possibly once or twice a week.
I have just secured a room in a new house for 2 months (I hope) in the heart of Urubamba..much better for internet cafes and everything here. The couple are setting it up to start their own volunteering program where they support young volunteers and organise Spanish lessons, Salsa etc for them, supporting them if they have difficulties etc all for a small fee. I can stay as long as there is space. The problem is I am in a twin room. The rent is a little higher as it is fully furnished so the Dutch girls have chosen not to take it. Personally for the little extra I think that will be great and I have a new bed...not on the floor and not requiring me to buy anything except towels and food. I will need to visit Cusco to collect supplies and towels as there is nothing in Urubamba.
I have been shown some great second hand shops today in Urubamba, as there are no new shops. I managed to find a pair of Tommy Hilfiger jeans – tight, but I'm sure they will slacken and will do for running around in when my other pair are at the laundry. I got them for 10 solis... £2.50. How could I refuse :-)) Some of my clothes are now hanging on me even though I am eating..probably cause I’m eating less chocolate :-)).
I have now attended 2 classes a day in Spanish for the last 2 days. I'm not sure if my Spanish is getting better but I have lots of homework and will keep plugging away. I’m being a model student..so I’m told :-)) After my 8am meeting with LH tomorrow...eeek.... I have 2 afternoon classes so plenty of work for the weekend....What fun :-))
Once I have clarified some of the facts re my day out with Rita (that should be tomorrow) I'll post my next blog...Other than that....


Posted by Heather Buc 16:39 Comments (0)


Well a nice early start as we had to be left for 7.30am this morning. Although I’d better get used to this as it looks like it will either be 5am or 6am start for reaching the schools! The 30 min walk to Sonia’s house and the office was really lovely although I will need to rethink my attire for the early mornings...beautiful as it was, it felt like a crisp autumn morning...so a little cool!! By 9.30 – 10am it is really warm so layering will be essential in the valley. In the remote villages we will have to see. I had an hour to kill before my meeting so Maureen pointed me in the direction of some ruins. She had advised me to bring my laptop for the day and as I set off I realised I should have left it with her at this point...too late... I Iugged it up the mountainside and back! The views from the top were incredible and gave me a great view of the expanse of Urubamba. The main centre is quite compact but the houses (like Cusco) spread out across the valley. There are in excess of 8,000 people in Urubamba.
I was advised not to be late so made sure I took a few pics then headed back. Sonia’s house was amazing. Everyone rents here, I discovered, and Sonia rents this beautiful house and space from a German family. This meeting was with Sonia, Rita and Maureen and happens every Friday. I have now been invited to this meeting once we had established that the teaching was one part of what I would like to get involved in. Sonia and I instantly hit it off. She had her 80th birthday the other day. We are both Taureans and speak it like it is. I think we will get on like a house on fire. The meeting was still in progress and I was further down the agenda. It was conducted in Spanish, mostly, for Rita and arrangements were being made for when things would be delivered to the various projects etc to make sure they were using the taxi (and bearing the cost) in the most efficient way possible. I could pick up some of the conversation but not all. What was really interesting was the problem they were having with one of the projects who were not taking their responsibilities seriously. They were a really remote village and because of this Sonia would provide the food at the cafe they just had to collect it. Twice now they have not turned up. When this happens to ensure there is no waste she will give it to one of the other projects. She has had meetings with this village to understand why they do not turn up at the agreed time and has tried to influence the women that for the sake of their children, that they should find a way to make this happen (when the men were not taking their responsibilities seriously). Sonia only starts projects where there is real malnutrition in the villages. They are trying once more to see if they will follow through this time! If they still do not fulfil their side of the agreement she will have to sadly pull out. It beggars belief that they would look a gift horse in the mouth!
There are supposedly over 200 NGOs in the area but most of these are allegedly skimming something off the top for themselves. This is not the case with Living Heart. For Sonia the intentions have to be right first..I.e. the heart has to be true..the actions will follow....WOW...WHAT A WOMAN!
When it came to me and what I would do, Rita felt I should be all about the arts. Her ideas were about painting and making flowers etc by using card etc. I think we need to think bigger and I’d like to use fables e.g. the wind and the sun.. act this out, draw etc. I’d like to use themes and as the natural elements are at the heart of the Quechua culture, I think this will be where I want to start, and then look at their 5 senses. I think this will be acceptable. As it turned out it was more how quickly I could start than how good was my Spanish! I’ve asked for 2 weeks to work on my Spanish, visit the schools and get a plan and supplies together. It looks like I will be working in 2-3 schools, one or two in remote villages – with a 5am start (eek) and one just outside Urubamba. The school closer to Urubamba was the one I couldn’t understand why LH was involved but Sonia explained this is the school capturing 2-3 remotes areas above Urubamba which have no road system to reach them so the kids walk down to school each day! ...............NOW I UNDERSTAND!! The classes will probably be from year 3 which covers ages 7-9 up to year 5. Before this they are not learning Spanish but I think there may be things we can do so we will see!! 
Next Tuesday (10th) I will leave Urubamba at 6am and meet Rita to pick up the collectivo taxi with the teachers and visit one of the more remote villages. This will give me a feel for what the area is like, what they have, meet the kids. James has left some good notes too which will be really helpful. I will see if there are natural things we can use round about. The main reason for Rita’s visit that day is not the remote village (which we will then leave) and walk 2 hours down to a small house where Rita is doing some physiotherapy on a young disabled boy! Living Heart is looking after 2 such boys – one near (in Peruvian terms!) the remote village, and one near Ollantaytambo. This boy seemingly had no mattress and was tied to the bed frame to stop him hurting himself..with no food, while his mother tried to sell Chicha in the local market for food! LH has bought him a mattress and sends him food from the cafe when the nurse visits. I really want to meet these young boys as it seems they have had a very hard life so far. I’ll let you know how I get on!!
From our first meeting I have a project – a competition to try and win a prize for extra funding to sustain and grow the current projects; and what we are trying to do for the future. Greenhouses are to be established where there is enough soil to make these communities sustainable and could be the more short –term goal.. Longer term LH are looking into hydroponics units for the more remote communities with poorer soil.
NGOs in the past seem to have had very short – term views, e.g. setting up greenhouses which is brilliant but without instruction on how to look after these plastic shelters and no funding to support repairs for these so a number of years on they have now disintegrated. Others have built communal kitchens but no utensils or funding to allow them to use them; and built library buildings but not given them any books!!! DUH!!!

To help sustain Living Heart Sonia is setting up a number of trustees to make the NGO more robust. Her name and reputation in the area is recognised as one to trust and admire (especially considering her age). Her role now is moving towards networking and really acting as ambassador – the face of Living Heart. A number of people who visit the cafe in Ollantaytambo want to meet Sonia to discuss what they can do to help. This is exactly the way it should be. As you can see I am really, really excited about all of this...plenty for me to get my teeth into. I think I will be in the schools 3-4 days and the other working on other things. We can see how that goes. Now I must look over this competition and work on my Spanish.

Posted by Heather Buc 14:37 Comments (0)


Cusco to Choquequirao

This is the first of the 3 sections. I’m not sure when the next one will be ready but I will drip feed you!
First a wee bit about the tour company I have now used for the last 2 years. The tour company I use is Amazonas Explorers, who deal in more extreme challenges from treks to downhill cycling to white water rafting, although they do the Inca trail too. What did I like about this company?? Their values...they pay their porters, cooks etc a fair wage (not the case in many of the tour operators allegedly) and look after them like family including holding parties to get them and their families together. Last year one of the porters crushed his knee so couldn’t work. Carol and Paul put together food parcels, gave them some of the clothes I had left for the little ones and helped set them up until he could recover. They are also involved in a re-forestation project in the Cusco area called “1% for the planet” which means they give back 1% for everyone that uses them, to plant trees each year, to offset the greenhouse effect of your travel..Excellent!! This helps the environment, helps stabilise the mountainsides and reintroduces birds and wildlife that has been lost from these areas over the years.

As per the schedule we were collected a little before 8am to set off on our trek. On our minibus were all the trekkers, Chino and Jose (our trainee guide), Pedro our cook and Maxi, our assistant cook (they train for 3 years). We meet the rest of the team at camp and for the first full day of walking. I thought I’d get the “permission to use them in pictures” question out of the way, in case Carol and Paul want to use any of my pics. Paula was least keen but not completely averse. With 3 lawyers aboard I’d better keep myself right. As we left Cusco we drove up a steep hill full of houses which housed a lot of people from the villages. In this area it is cheap to buy and build. A plot is supposedly $4000 and to build $2000. However it is a very unstable area as there was no scrub only brown earth and landslides are not uncommon. As we drove along Chino spoke about his ambitions..to make this his last year as a guide and open a restaurant with a plot with chickens and guinea pigs. Guinea pigs are so important to this population as so much of the guinea pig is used for various things not just as a delicacy to eat. The blood is used to ward off bad spirits in the body, the urine is used in creams..seemingly very good for sunburn (think I’ll give that one a bye!)The faeces are excellent manure for the crops. Chickens and eggs are part of the stable diet here so always required. As we drove out of Cusco we pass a bungee jump..again unless you have a death wish not to be entertained!! Health and Safety ain’t big on the agenda here! Poroy valley on the outskirts is green and fertile growing maize, oranges, carrots and potatoes. Driving along it is frightening how many small children were walking to school, alone, right on the edge of this road, I’d say as young as 4, and this is the main route out of Cusco to Lima so very busy . Along the way we stopped in Anta, a bustling little town with a big market and very strange taxis (although I have now seen them in a lot of the smaller pueblos (including Urubamba) – little motor bike two- seater taxis, called moto-taxis; very brightly painted and covered over to keep the passengers dry. This was where Pedro and Maxi went off to buy some supplies they still needed for the trip including fresh bread rolls. While they were buying we went for a wander. I asked Chino if he would help me buy a job lot of toothbrushes and toothpaste to hand out which he did – 20 all in all at a cost of 40p for a toothbrush and toothpaste so not bad. We bought most of them in the local market. Now, this shop just shows you how to pack as much as possible into as small a space as possible! While in Anta we all used the toilets. It was one of the delightful ones where you balance over the hole in the ground, washed down with buckets of water. You paid 50 centimos and that got you toilet paper. Nowhere to wash your hands so thank goodness for hand gel... personally I’m happier behind a bush! Back on the bus we headed off again through Limatambo – a very fertile area in Sacred Valley. Here I saw the first big tractors, just like home. Having a tractor seemingly depended on the size of the farm and if the farmland was flat enough, which made sense. There was a lot of maize growing here. Crop rotation was part of their strategy to refresh the soil. There were obviously lots of small holdings around nestled in the mountains. As we drove along it was not unusual to see a lady walking along with one or two cows, possibly to new grazing or to sell. Selling cows in calf is big business here according to Chino, whose family are farmers. Chino had been unsure of how long our journey would take as the road was still under repair from being washed away in last year’s heavy rains. Fortunately there were two lanes open, albeit very rough surfaces as the road was not completely finished. Did our driver slow down when we hit this rough surface...no chance!! Did he overtake safely??? Well if overtaking on corners is something you consider safe then yes!! He didn’t do it a lot but being up front you saw everything! It was incredible to watch him at one point when he had lost one of his CDs (not my taste in music). It had fallen on the floor and he fished around trying to find it and drive at the same time. I asked Jose to help him!! We now passed into another department – another district under a different police department. This proved to be interesting as this was the second time the police had pulled us over to check all our documents and to make sure everything was above board, the bus has legal tyres and all the proper documentation etc. This second inspection took much longer (about 30mins) so we got out the bus once we realised this would take some time. These inspections have become much more rigorous after a fatal accident with a bus of tourists a number of years ago. As tourism is such a big part of the income for this country (for Cusco about 90%) they can’t afford bad publicity.
Soon we reached the incredible Inca carved boulder at Sahuite, 2 hours from Cusco. The way in was a bit ropy as the road was in particularly bad repair. There were lots of men, women and children working on it. The Sahuite rock has many animal, plant and town figures carved in it, including pumas, monkeys, llamas and toads. It depicts the Inca empire. This was definitely a sacred site with an offering place which was facing the jungle. The reason for this is currently thought to be because of the importance of coca leaves to the Incas. Coca leaves have 21 properties – 18 alkaloids the rest are vitamins and minerals, including Fluoride. The coca leaves needed to be sourced from the jungle – a very dangerous place with only about 20% of people surviving the trek and returning.
At the site we had lunch of chicken, sweet potatoes and veg – cold of course with Coke and Inka Kola (similar to cream soda someone said. I quite like it) all full fat of course. We sat out in the sun, as it was not worth putting up tents and we celebrated John’s 40th Birthday. We also got our snacks here. At this point I seemed to have become the go- between, between Chino and the group. He asked if we could give a donation to the road workers as they don’t get paid for this work. Although I find that hard to believe, we did. At the site there was a woman, her young son, 5 month baby and pet llama. Chino was giving the llama coke from a cup! The little boy had a bottle too. We gave them some food we had left (but not sweets as dental problems are an issue). Chino did say Coca leaves were supposed to strengthen their teeth but I can’t say I have seen any sign of that so far.
Back on the bus we headed for Cachora, a further 2 hours on the bus. As is the norm in these remote areas the roads are tortuous so I was glad I was at the front and as the heat of the day rose I needed an open window. We drove through much more prosperous areas than I had previously seen but this is all part of Sacred Valley so much more fertile. To give us a little walk we walked from the top of the hill and trekked downhill to our campsite for about 2 hours. Due to our speed it only took us about 1.5 hours. It was a beautiful day and we had to change tracks a couple of times as the route had disappeared with previous mudslides. Today though the ground was very dry so very dusty ... not a good idea to walk directly behind one of the team. No surprise.. but this is where the delights of the mosquitoes started – on day 1 – on our walk and in our campsite. The locals had the right idea. I spotted smoke in one of the fields on the way and Chino said they set these small fires to help keep the mossies away while they work. They just had to be careful it didn’t get out of control! As we walked I also noticed some areas of my feet (getting very hot) required more tape. This is my solution to no blisters and so far it has worked for me. Even John was borrowing tape by the third day.
When we reached the village we walked through to the far side admiring the amazing view in front of us – the spectacular view of snow - capped mountains in the distance. Cachora is high above the River Apurimac canyon. It is becoming much busier with the Choq trek becoming more well known so new houses were popping up due to the increased tourism. We were camping just below the village in a beautiful sheltered area just above the farmer’s house. Another group appeared but were staying in the village. They were also going to Choquequirao. As we had time to kill before tea we mulled around, except Paula who never seemed to get enough walking so went off on her own. While walking Paula listens to audio books all the time. She has 3 I Pods loaded with them.
Each evening we had a brief of what the next day would be like, start times etc. It was to be a tough one with 6 hours in the morning all downhill. When I am carrying so much water my preference is definitely downhill. With so many sharp inclines and declines I also wore my knee supports on the heavy walking days. We were to be up at 6am and ready to leave for 7am. We were all in bed for 8pm. At tea that night John was presented with a chocolate birthday cake and we all sang happy birthday. He was tickled pink!

Day 2 -21st April: CACHORA –APURIMAC – Sta ROSA:
I’m giving you the benefit of the dates but to be honest we hadn’t a clue what day or date it was most of the time. You definitely lose all sense of real time on the treks.
After a breakfast of omlette we set off. It was really misty so nothing to see to begin with. According to the itinerary we should descend 1600m into the Apurimac canyon, and cross the roaring river and climb up to camp at Santa Rosa. However I’m not sure how but it was 2.5 hours uphill first!! I felt really light-headed so really struggled big time. All I can say is it was a good job I had walking poles as they really kept me upright. I couldn’t believe I felt like this already!! The rest were off at pace so I was left well behind with Jose. I felt terrible and began to wonder if I had bitten off more than I could chew!! Once we reached a certain point where the rest were waiting (maybe an hour into the trek) I decided to eat a lot of the high calorie items in my snack bag. I mentioned to Chino that I would need more for breakfast to prevent this happening again. He should then pick that up with Pedro..it was debatable that that ever happened! Once fed I started to feel better. I was starting to get used to the heat (a little) plus it was downhill from there until our lunch point. We arrived half an hour earlier than expected so we had to wait on lunch which wasn’t a problem. At our snack point that morning the mist had cleared and we were in a real tropical, stunning landscape. On the way down we could hear crickets. These had to be the noisiest, biggest crickets I had ever heard..the noise was deafening at times. Needless to say the mossies were also there...take as read they were there pretty much every day!! If doing one of these treks I think nothing less than 100% DEET will do, as some of us found out with weaker solutions, plus the wee buggers bite through your clothes! After lunch Bruce was violently sick and looked awful. He blamed it on the juice initially which we had at lunch. It was very nice and sweet – giving us much needed sugar. We also had soup, followed by beefburger with rice. A funny combo I know but believe me you eat everything! Coming down the mountains in this heat I found my toes getting really hot so I took my boots and socks off and rested my feet on my boots. It really helped even if I did risk mossy bites. After lunch we dropped down for another 30 mins, crossed a suspension bridge then ascended the other side for 3 hours. It was particularly steep but OK. Bruce was sick again on the way up and we were really worried about him. Chino took his rucksack for him. I thought I was carrying Motilium in my bag but wasn’t. Once at the campsite I gave him a tablet and one the next morning. He seemed fine after that but in hindsight I think it was sunstroke as he didn’t have a hat on that day. Mike was also struggling that day and had given his bag to Jose. He felt his sugar levels were too low so on future days he made up a sweet concoction to drink that seemed to help. As we came into the Sta Rosa site we came across a local man with a problem with his mule... the rope, tied around its neck, had got stuck in one of its back hooves and he couldn’t get it off. Chino, who loves horses, went to help. They covered the mule’s eyes to stop it panicking and then cut the rope with Chino’s penknife. This allowed them to release it from its foot. Sta Rosa was an amazing site not far below Choquequirao. You could buy drinks there and a local brew but one look at the brown sludge and you had second thoughts! As the afternoon wore on, though, the site really filled up until it was absolutely heaving. The rest were mostly students as it was Easter break. Normally this site was empty. You really had to watch where you were walking as the tents were tightly packed. This wouldn’t be allowed at home I can tell you, but here if there was a space and you could get the tent up, that was fine. As you would expect, the students were particularly noisy with lots of screeching from the girls, but to be honest I slept out through it. As I had been particularly warm in my sleeping bag the night before I decided to sleep in my cotton sleeping bag liner with my sleeping bag over the top. This was much better. I was asleep for 9pm. I also opted to set my alarm for half an hour before expected to get up as the turnaround in the morning was too tight, by the time you pack up all your stuff. As it turns out everyone was up before the call in the mornings. During the night obviously some of the students had used our portaloo so it was overflowing ...nice!! Not pleasant to use that morning!

Day 3 - 22nd April: ARRIVE CHOQUEQUIRAO:

I slept a lot better with only the liner and sleeping bag as an extra layer if needed. Breakfast was much better too. We had loads of fruit, granola, cornflakes and yoghurt, with toast and jam…mmmm!
By 7am we were on the move again with a very steep uphill climb for 4 hours. With more to eat I was feeling much better and ready for the walk. The trail felt very like the Inca trail – very tropical and stunning views. Again we had mist which meant it kept the temperature lower. When we eventually emerged above the mist, at our snack point, the views were incredible. From here we could see our campsite on the next mountain, 3 hours from here. There was also sheer Inca terraces just in view…..WOW!!! It was unbelievable. More of Choquequirao materialized as we walked round creating such an amazing spectacle with the vastness of it and thoughts of “How the hell did they ever build this????” Beautiful butterflies (hermosas mariposas) fluttered around us as we walked it was so peaceful and really beautiful. It felt so surreal. We passed a couple of amazing waterfalls too that I thought we could return too but soon realised that would require walking back for another hour…so possibly not! We had left the students behind and came across another group – looked like a family with some on horseback. Soon we reached our campsite with the most incredible views. We were perched on the edge of the mountain. Our tents were at a bit of an angle (as happened on a lot of nights and sites) so I found it best to put my holdall at the bottom of my mat so when I was in my sleeping bag my feet were up against the holdall and I wasn’t disappearing out the bottom of the tent! Through the night though I found myself curled at the bottom of the mat, next to my holdall and had to inch my way back up (like a worm) to where I should be. When we arrived, as usual we were too early for lunch so lay in the sun once we had our tents sorted, which was lovely. For lunch we had stuffed avocado with chicken and veg, extra veg on the side, bread and crisps with chichi (fruit drink) to drink. According to Chino the groups would normally stop 30+ times on the way to the site whereas we only stopped 5 times. We all decided about 2pm to head up to Choquequirao (except Mike) as it was such a beautiful afternoon. This was to be an exploratory afternoon with the history lesson the nest day. It was breathtaking when we got up there. WOW..again!!! We felt so high… accentuated by the fact we could see 2 condors flying below through the mountains. There are 2 high vantage points at Choquequirao. One is the offering place and we headed up there first after a short look around the plaza area. Up at the offering place we were alone. Chino, Jose and John started playing Frisbee. This was an unusual Frisbee – it was crocheted and brilliant as so soft. I am trying to get some for the schools I will be working in. We spent some time in the huge offering place taking photographs, and just chilling. I decided it was the ideal spot to do a few “Sun Salutations” and Paula joined me for a couple. We then headed down and we chose to go to the second peak where the granaries were. Here I saw a local man strimming .. must have been the highest strimmer I have seen at 3,100m! He proceeded to chat to me for a few mins before I joined the rest at the top. The climbs to these points were very steep but the views were utterly incredible. We had been warned to come down from Choquequirao by about 4pm as the path was a little dangerous and certainly would be worse in the dark. It was steep and winding with different routes coming off it. Back at camp there were huge sinks so I decided to wash some clothes and hang them over the fence and the branches of the trees. You can’t be bashful on these treks so knickers the lot got hung out! I had some amazing pictures today so was feeling good. The one thing about this area is the cloud cover comes in fast. It can be clear and cloud over again in a matter of a minute so you can’t waste time taking pictures.
At this site there was also a toilet block..basic but there. The toilets flushed but you took up your own loo roll and washed your hands when you got back down to the site. It was a short walk to the toilets. There was also a shower. What I discovered was it was a cold shower. With the intense heat of the day I thought bugger it I am having a shower and washing my hair. OMG!!!! Talk about brain freeze!! It was cold.

The next instalment will follow at some point..Photos are up to this point.

Posted by Heather Buc 14:33 Comments (0)


OK so a few things that happened before I left Cusco. First there was another incident in the hostel last night. This time it was a couple of nurses from Denmark whom I had met before my trek. They have left their jobs for 3 months to tour South America. They had spent time in Cusco after, visiting Northern Peru, visiting Machu Picchu and other sites. While I was on my trek they had visited Lake Titicaca and Bolivia – Coca Cabana. They still had 3 weeks left but I noticed one was limping very badly. She had fallen the day before. By the afternoon they had to call a doctor and were taken to a private hospital where they discovered she has fractured a bone in her ankle and is now in plaster for the next 4 weeks! She is going home and the other nurse is continuing on alone. She is not too bitter though,as she feels she has at least had a good trip so far and seen many things...lovely girl and very much the optimist.
I was also looking for a way to bring out money more securely for my long stay and had opted for a FairFX travel card. I decided it was time to experiment with it at a cash machine before I left Cusco, and before I really needed it. I was pleasantly surprised that it worked extremely well. The one thing I thought was good about the ATM was it kept making a shrill noise even though I had taken my card and money. When I counted the money I realised there was $20 short but it had got stuck in the machine and until I took it out the noise didn’t stop....GREAT! I also chose to play really safe and use an ATM in the bank as there are police that stand at the doors so it feels a lot safer. When I was looking for an ATM, the other night that took Mastercard (most here are Visa) I noticed guys watching me so knew this wasn’t safe. This I feel is a good card to carry safely – loaded with dollars, only costing $2 to take out money and no interest. You can also use it to pay at restaurants etc if you so wish.
I had also put some more laundry in to get washed beforehand. Unfortunatley the one I liked was closed so I had used one further up the street. It was a young girl who seemed to be doing everything herself. I had agreed to collect it at 10am the next morning but when I went to collect it, it wasn’t ready. I had to come back in 50 mins. I realised she hadn’t given me my slip/ receipt back to collect my washing, as I walked away, so I went back to get it and had to shout through the back for 5 mins before she reappeared. She seemed under P. I’m glad i did this because when I went back at 11.30am I discovered she had closed the doors! I stood banging on the door for 5 mins again before an elderly lady appeared and the young girl. I was starting to worry I would leave Cusco without my jeans and hoodies so wasn’t happy. Anyway all was well but I won’t use her again if I’m back in Cusco.
So back to my transfer to Urubamba Braulio (the young Peruvian whom Paul had helped many years ago) came to collect me. Not so young now as he is 35years old with 2 girls of 13 and 2. He had a new taxi and was obviously very proud of it as he drove very safely and slowly at times...very unlike the Peruvian drivers!! We had a lovely chat all the way to Urubamba and as he didn’t speak any English we did it in Spanish..most of which I understood which was good. As I had managed to buy some toiletries and things for my stay I struggled to get everything back into the original bags so I now had 3 bags, one containing my laptop and big rucksack....
What can I say...I’m a woman with needs!!!! 
This number of bags proved interesting when we got to Maureen’s as we had to walk up little tracks to get to her house and the wheels of the holdalls were struggling to keep them upright. Braulio was great as he helped us up to the house. I must say the drive from Cusco was just lovely, with the mountains and such a beautiful day. Braulio also offered to stop a few times for photos but I didn’t want to put him out...a really lovely guy!

The weather in Urubamba is much warmer than Cusco where the weather had been beautiful the last 2 days. Before that some big drenching showers during the day before the sun came back out. At night though it could be cold so I needed my puffy jacket. Here you could instantly feel the difference so possibly shorts if in the valley and my hoody as a back up at night but certainly not my down jacket. In bed lightweight covers are all that will be required.
Maureen’s house is set back from the main town and in a stunning setting. I'm not sure how long I will be here but it may not be very long. I am on a mattress on the floor in her treatment room which is absolutely fine. All Peruvian floors are either tiled or wood. The house by Peruvian standards is quite a big house..very basic but absolutely great. The toilet doesn't flush but a bucket of water does the trick. Maureen took me into town that night to help me get my bearings a little and I also found a lovely bakery , an excellent pizza place, laundry etc. I’m not sure where I’ll get my internet connection yet as I am using Maureen’s dongle to connect but I’ll investigate tomorrow. Tomorrow I will meet with Sonia and Rita, the nurse. My Spanish will be assessed and decide from there what my next steps will be....eeek it feels like an exam and I am a little worried..but it will be what it will be. . I also met James, the other volunteer here just before he left for England for an interview for a bursary later in the year. He will be back in a week. This charity doesn’t have the personnel to take on a lot of volunteers and needs them to be self sufficient so tend to opt for older ones. Sonia feels it is really important for the children to get exposure to other cultures and subjects they wouldn’t ordinarily get. The teachers need to stick to the basics to help the children. I am really looking forward to meeting her. She seems to have a real business acumen and had a number of different businesses in Britain before she moved out here and fell in love with the place.
That afternoon I chose to sit outside at Maureen’s as it was so lovely. There is no garden as such just wild flowers but at her front door the sun was just hitting it nicely. The gate from her “garden” was open and as I sat typing I watched local women passing with dried eucalyptus branches, dried grass for the guinea pigs, a couple of cows being herded down...quite fascinating actually! It just made you feel at peace with the place.
Re the photos I have posted on the blog.. apologies. For some reason they have loaded out of sync!! I'll try and put some detail behind them with the relevant day as I haven’t found a way to move them around. I started to put some detail on them the other night in the internet cafe but what I didn’t realise was they closed at 9pm and switched me off..so I lost my 30 mins work!!

Posted by Heather Buc 14:29 Comments (0)

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