A Travellerspoint blog

AUGUST – HELPING LIVING HEART and other fun things.

up to 28th Aug 2011

August has been really busy with Living Heart trying to help them sort things out and the medics visits. There has been a bit of tension as work isn't moving on as fast as it could be. I'm getting into the finances to make sure I understand them all and looking at Gift Aid, Just Giving as well as some of the other stuff. Our new temporary administrator has started and her and I will now work closely together. She is working 3 days a week but this will make a huge difference to taking some of the regular office tasks away from Jess and allow Jess and I to get on with updating the website content, looking at fundraising etc. I have tentatively given us until the end of the month to clear most of the outstanding stuff and then Jess and I can focus on the fundraising in September. I say tentatively because during the medics visits to the mountains Jess started to feel ill again. Our doctor gave her a longer course of antibiotics but has strongly advised she needs a lot of additional tests as her health is really suffering. Sonia has really encouraged her to take time for herself and get her health back to what it should be. She is only 25 years old to be so ill is quite concerning. Whether she can get the treatment she really needs here or has to go back to Britain for a time we will have to see. Meantime because of Jess’s need to work and her enthusiasm there are tasks she can do from home and bed using her excellent creative skills. This will reduce her need to come to the office which is an hour each way for her in a collectivo as she stays in Cusco with her husband.

After the medics visits with no time off as the 5 days were over a weekend and into the following week, we were all very tired. My cough continued on after the course of antibiotics but it definitely felt easier and a full blown cold developed...again!! There had been a lot of flu around here so I suppose it was inevitable that I could pick it up. I am trying to take it easy and let my body fight it...hopefully completely this time with no lingering symptoms.

I have been out most weekends prior to the medics visits so not a lot of time to myself...nothing stressful mind you...and no late nights...I’m becoming a boring old fart...my bed looks soo inviting by about 7.30- 8pm...Well when you stay out in the sticks and it is dark at 6pm...wouldn’t you want to cuddle up in a nice warm bed...my hot water bag has been a godsend.  Sonia and I have spent quite a lot of time together. She is really good company and we really are quite alike in so many ways....I am working more than I meant to but it is OK so far and some days I do more than others so it works out not too bad. On our time off Sonia and I have visited Pisac, eaten wonderful carrot cake, with lovely coffee, bought some lovely things, visited Lucre where you get amazing duck and been to Cusco a couple of times for nice lunches. We have shared cheese and wine and generally had some lovely chats. This has been a lovely way to relax here. I have been avoiding the nightlife just because this feels nicer and has allowed me to chill more. 

I've just signed up for another little trip before I head home. One that will sort out my visa... as I am here a little too long (3 days to be exact)...I'm off to Argentina with Carol and her daughter, Lara to a ranch and horse riding for 5 days...I'm really looking forward to it.  ......Does Heather ride horses I hear you ask???? Well I have had about 6 lessons from a friend last year and really enjoyed it but as usual, life and work took over and I didn’t get back!! .....So in a mad moment of “yeah..Let’s do it” I signed up!! Because I am a friend of Carol’s, and the lady who runs it is Carol’s best friend from Wales, she has given me a discount. I’ve had to change my flights around a little (the Cusco – Lima connection) to make it as cheap as I could but otherwise I will fly with Carol and Lara.
There are a few interesting facts and discrepancies about Peruvian citizens and gringos with no citizenship. LAN airlines give incredibly cheap internal flights to Peruvian citizens...about a quarter of the price at least and access to the Inca ruins around Peru is free on Sundays to citizens. This applies to gringo citizens and Peruvian citizens. To become a gringo citizen you either need to have a business employing a certain number of local people or marry a Peruvian for at least 2 years. Some of these marriages – especially the gringo women and Peruvian men - seem a little unstable from the reports I have heard...so it is not the way to go just to get a cheap flight and free access to ruins. 

Anyway back to current time. On Sunday 14th I had the opportunity to participate in a North American ritual called “a Sweat Lodge”. This is a spiritual experience taking place inside an igloo shaped structure made from branches. There is a hole dug into the earth in the middle and placed within this are hot stones throughout the ceremony. The whole structure is covered in blankets to retain the heat creating a steam/ sauna environment. Before you enter the structure you are cleansed with the smoke of a certain plant and then have to walk around the lodge but not crossing the path between the fire outside, that is heating the stones, and the lodge. Before entering the sweat lodge you pay homage and respect to Pachamama, Mother Earth, by kneeling and kissing the earth. You then enter the lodge finding a space around the edges. The space is quite tight so I was a little worried about claustrophobia but other than a brief time after the first round of stones and steam building I was OK. I found I couldn’t straighten up properly but did find a way to be reasonably comfortable...well as good at it was going to get sitting on the hard ground!! Clothing for such a ceremony can be lightweight cotton clothes, a sarong or for 2 of us it was swimwear with a borrowed sarong. You sit directly on the earth so are quite dirty at the end as you have really sweated quite a lot. My borrowed sarong was soaking! There were 4 rounds where the door was opened up and on each occasion a certain number of the 20 stones are brought into the lodge. On each occasion a different herb is placed on top of each rock as it is placed in the hole. One of the leaders brings the rock as far as the lodge door and then this is transferred to the hole via 2 two-pronged bits of wood that should normally be deer antlers, by the other leader, who remains inside the lodge with us. Once the correct number of stones has been placed in the hole the door is closed over again and water splashed onto the stones to create the steam. During each round thanks are given to the spirits and everyone takes turns to give thanks or ask for help for their work, relationships, themselves... as guided by the main leader of the ceremony. All in all the ceremony probably lasted two-three hours. As we exited for a shower we were asked to bring along some food and share a late lunch together. What we discovered as we headed for the showers was the power had gone off so we had no hot water!!!! I just washed down but the rest decided to brave it....I have done brain freeze before in Choquequirao so was not up for a repeat session...I could wait!! Typical..as soon as we were dressed the power came back on! I did get my shower in the end just a little later.
During August Sonia found a great office so Living Heart can move into more suitable premises leaving her in peace to enjoy her house and garden. We managed to make the move on 23rd Aug. It is a lovely space..nice and bright.
I have worked between Ccatan doing my finance and the office supporting Ineke to help get things more structured and we know where we currently are..re finances one document we can all understand and general day to day stuff. Ineke has also helped me sort out the office and a number of other outstanding things.
I have found a lovely lady who does great massage so I’m really enjoying indulging in this most weeks. 
To give myself some chill-out time and time to read more I have dropped my Spanish to one day per week with more homework on the areas I feel a little less comfortable with. I am working on my vocabulary and speaking and listening wherever possible. I will be looking to continue this when I return to improve my ear and my speech so if anyone is willing to help me please let me know. 

On Monday 15th I visited Cusco to buy some contraceptive injections with money that had been kindly donated since I arrived...some of the money was for my photos which was great. I had made contact with another Scot who stays in Cusco and she took me to the local ladies clinic which is actually where we had purchased them from before...we thought she had another source. This is also an NGO and can give us them at a cheaper rate. It was more expensive than we thought but I will buy as many as I can then look for regular funding to keep it going thereafter. At the clinic I cleared them out of all their injections and discussed how I could buy more once we saw the uptake at the first of our community clinics. Fiona then took me to the local hospital to fake our need for free condoms.  We then had to sit through a Spanish lecture about not drinking too much, being promiscuous or doing drugs!!! The nurse then gave us each about 25. We did have a good giggle about this afterwards.  On a serious note condoms are not something Living Heart has pushed until now and I’ve met quite a lot of resistance until now.... Those who know me also know I will push for things I am passionate about so haven’t let this go. The reasons for the resistance are the men either won’t wait (women’s choice doesn’t exist in the remote communities..if the men decide they want it there is no stopping them) or if you give them to the men they often sell them. What we have now seen (since our medics visits) was what I feared....STDs are now in 2 of our communities...not large numbers but enough. The problem is the men are sleeping around while on the Inca trail...and also within the community!! I have strongly suggested the free condoms, I brought with me and the ones we managed to acquire in Cusco, should be part of a targeted conversation with the affected women. If they don’t use them, they don’t use them but I think we have more chance after their treatments and if they don’t have any to use they have no chance!!! They are expensive to buy here...so I’m told. 

On the weekend of 21st I received an email from Carol telling me that Peruvian Airlines had been grounded for 90 days. Further investigation showed the government were concerned with their safety standards....This is where the fun began and the joys dealing with Peruvians!! I emailed the travel agency and asked them to look into this and look for alternative flights for me. Pamela sent me one flight only! I tried e mailing her again but got no reply on Saturday. As I had to conduct everything in Spanish I was reluctant to phone. I decided to leave it until Monday as to trail to Cusco and Pamela not be there would have been a pain. As I have mentioned before, an all round trip to Cusco takes about 4-5 hours. By Monday I had received a few emails from Pamela so asked her to initiate my refund from Peruvian Airlines and look for 2 flights..i.e. a return flight too!! Sonia hadn’t heard the news either and was also booked on flights with Peruvian Airlines so after our morning meetings we set off about 1.30pm. When I arrived at the travel agency Pamela was on lunch so I spoke to her colleague, explained the problem as best I could, showed her my travel slips for both flights, i.e. including my flight to Cordoba, Argentina and asked for suitable flights. She quoted me for the next best which once we had checked the rest I agreed was the best price...what I stupidly didn’t do was check before she processed the payment was which flights she had put me on. The silly woman had booked me on flights that didn’t connect with the Argentinean flights!!!! Pamela arrived back at this point and as she was processing alternative flights I asked her to make sure I wasn’t charged twice. Her colleague was just about to leave for a late lunch.. The hunt for the authorisation code for the first lot of flights then started as the woman couldn’t remember where she had put it...10 mins later she found it in a notebook! The discussion between her and Pamela began as to how they were going to complete the transaction as my new flights were a little cheaper...$50 cheaper. The woman tried to tell Pamela to put me on a slighter later flight and charge me more!! I said no!! I now had to stay overnight in Lima with these new flights as there was no connecting flight so I wasn’t forking out any more than I needed to. I also was paying more for these flights as I had been on the cheapest airline initially. Eventually after I refused to come back and a few phone calls Pamela found a way to put through a second refund for me.... WHAT A DAY!! I’m not sure how long the refunds will take but the Peruvian Airline refund could be a least a month. I asked Pamela to send me copies of the refund e mails so I have a copy for my records and can prompt accordingly. To be fair Pamela is very nice and she wasn’t the one trying to diddle me..not impressed by her colleague though!!
It was time for something to eat and a nice glass of wine...Sonia and I went for something to eat and drink. 

On Sunday 22nd, as I had stayed at Ccatan because other plans had fallen through, Sylvia and I walked to Las Chulpas ruins. I had been interested in visiting these ruins for some time but wasn’t sure of the path. It was a lovely day and the walk and ruins were equally lovely. At night I had an invitation to a children’s theatre, housed in the same building as our new office. This was really lovely...despite the fact that I couldn’t follow all the Spanish. The children were great and it was amazing what Yeina and Nino had done in the one week since they had been opened. They had been given 3 spotlights and this made a huge difference to the atmosphere in the small theatre and stage.
They now have a lot more children wanting to join the little drama group which is great for them and their new venture.

As part of Living Heart moving forward a new logo to really give us identity was to be looked into. As it happened there was a girl in my hostel, from South Africa, who was a graphic designer. I asked her if she would be willing to create a new design for us for free. She agreed and the result was amazing!!! I had been hopeful as Debra is quite a spiritual person and felt she would develop a logo that would fit with the ethics of Living Heart.
Watch this space as the new logo will be launched in our next newsletter. (I’ll add the newsletter link to the next blog).

I’m getting back into yoga..so far just what I have on my I Pod but Yeina is starting classes in 2 weeks so looking forward to that. I have started the Salsa classes again. They are such fun..The down side is the intermediate class is at 9.30pm so finding a moto to get me back can be difficult and it takes time to slow down after it..so usually a late night for a Wednesday...Yes I now know a little salsa. As the boys have stopped coming I often have to be a man (a chico)..especially if I go a little earlier and am there for the beginner’s class. You end up giving a little tuition as you change partners. On Wednesday I met a fellow Scot called Louise from Glasgow. She has just arrived and is learning Spanish at the moment. There aren’t many Scots here so our accent stands out...Mind you I think around Urubamba I’m known as the woman with red hair that walks really fast. I often pass the locals as I walk up or down the hill to Ccatan or around Urubamba. If someone is with and I have to slow down it takes so much longer to get anywhere..At my normal pace it takes 30mins to get to the opposite end of Urubamba where I need to go for the laundry and a few other things. I do try to stay at my end which is still 20 mins down from Ccatan. I usually only take a moto if I have heavy bags or it is dark..well I walk up to about 7pm using my torch.

On Saturday 27th I experienced another first for me...a women’s circle. The date is reasonably significant as these meetings are always before a new moon. These are a partly spiritual gatherings but mostly about women getting together to share. The act of sharing in a confidential environment can be quite therapeutic. I went in with an open mind as I wasn’t sure this was something I could connect with but all in all found it a pleasant experience. The setting was stunning.... a beautiful circular wooden house set in a lovely garden in the countryside.... it was very peaceful. The meeting took place on the top floor with cushions set out in a circle around the central trunk of the house. The room was full of light and had a lovely energy. You could see the tops of the trees as you sat cross legged in the room. Everyone sat where they felt comfortable and the lady who was leading the meeting began, supported by Yeina. There were about 16 women there aged from about late 20s to early 60s, coming from as far afield as Cusco. Violetta, the leader of the group explained how the meeting would work then each lady took it in turn to take the talking stick and condor feather to tell everyone who they were, where they came from, who their parents and family were and whatever else they wanted to share. As the majority were Spanish a lot of what was shared was lost on me but I could see some had some real issues that they wanted to share as they worked through them, causing them quite a bit of anguish while they spoke. It is the one thing about a lot of women in a room together. If all are willing to participate a lot of love can be generated within a room without any words being spoken in response to what each woman wanted to share. You could feel that lovely, caring energy that day and that felt really good.  Next we were split into twos for co-counselling. This is not as you would first think as you must only listen to the other person and not respond during their time to talk. Basically a time was allocated when each person could talk and you had to give them your full attention but as I said not speak. I paired up with the only other English speaker, Maggie, a lovely Irish girl who was having a baby. As you can imagine an Irish lass and Scots one meant we hit it off very well. There were times during my listening session I found it really difficult not to offer some advice or reassurance but there is something about body language, facial expressions, taking their hands that can be so comforting. This was not a free talking session on any subject; we were given set times to talk on certain topics. Firstly we had to talk about the colour green for 2 minutes. What is surprising is Maggie and I spoke about completely different things. Next we talked for 5 minutes on responsibility. These sessions were lovely and I got a lot from them I must admit. As I said the energy in the room was so caring and lovely. After the meeting concluded we shared food that we had all brought. The whole session lasted 4 hours but in a very relaxed way. We all drifted away as we wanted which was probably for the best as where the house was situated there were not many moto taxis so it was easier in small groups. After such a session you are left feeling relaxed and in a nice place.
I hope all my readers are in an equally nice place right now...if not maybe it is time to find someone to share with.
Take care.
Until my next update, chao mis amigos. 

Posted by Heather Buc 18:18 Comments (0)


6th - 10th August 2011

I thought rather than a long spiel again I would use the summary style that I used for the Choquequirao summary.

There were 12 of us altogether, the volunteers from Boulder, Colorado: Val- the doctor, Julie- the nurse, Tana- the dispenser, organiser etc..and their 4 children. Joey and Cito, twins aged 15; Natalie and Kally (12 and 8 respectively I think)...lovely kids. Olivia was a volunteer who was finishing another volunteer post early due to the school holidays.....not to forget Martin, Rita, Jess and I from Living Heart. Due to the large number of people we had to hire a minivan for all the food, sleeping bags, mats, water, our stuff etc.
Our days started at between 5.30am to catch the bus at 6.30am or 4pm for 5pm for our further away community. This was a new one for the doctors. Added to this I had a half hour walk to bus.....there ain’t no moto-taxis at that time of the morning!
Day 1 – one community (held in Jose- Antonio’s house)
Day2-3 our 2nd community (supposed to be an overnight)
Day 4-5 3rd community (overnight essential here as 3 hours from the nearest town and 4 hours from our hostels)
We developed a great set up that meant a really smooth operation with all helping (even the children) when we were busy.
• Outside was myself..recording blood pressure and ages. When it was quieter I also did the weights...Cito helped me when it was really busy. All patients received a slip, with the relevant information, to take in with them. We didn’t record the BPs of the children; just their weights and heights. For fun I did a few towards the end of our first day and due to the cuff being too big it didn’t record...so I told them they must be dead! This resulted in a lot of hilarity. 
It also proved to be fun trying to weigh the very young..babies and children...trying to explain to the women I needed to weigh them first then both the mother and child to allow me to subtract their weight. Holding a screaming, wriggling child took quite a few attempts before I got a weight that looked reasonable..light by our standards but not by theirs. There was a lot of laughter as I asked them to peel off some of their layers. Their traditional hats, sandals and mantas (colourful blankets) add quite a bit!
Ages were also impossible to guess. After the age of about 20-25 anything you estimated was about 10-20 years out the older they got..such is the effect of a hard life and the very strong sun here!!

Inside we had 2 tables set up for examinations:
• At one table was Val (who speaks very little Spanish), Olivia (for the English to Spanish translation) and Martin (our driver who speaks Spanish and Quechua)
• At table two we had Julie who also speaks Spanish and Rita, our nurse who speaks Spanish and Quechua.
• Jess went between them both recording all the information we need for our records and Rita to follow up. The information will also help Val and Julie to decide what meds they need more or less of next time.
• At the pharmacy table Tana, who had done quite a bit of prep beforehand with pre-printed labels, had dispensing bags, tablet cutters etc at the ready. Meds were set up in their pharmacy category, i.e. antibiotics, gastrointestinal (for the stomach) etc. Her helpers were the boys and Kally who pre-packed vitamins, painkillers, antacids etc. They also helped cut in half if a lower dose was required. As Val pointed out the kids are hardy around here so where there was no suitable liquid the kids could swallow tablets. Due to the large family sizes we used colour coding on the packets so the mother knew which drug was for which child. We also used symbols of the sun and moon for day and night, and mealtimes to ensure correct spacing of doses.
• There was a small table set up for urine testing which Joey was in charge of. (He wants to be a doctor). He got very excited on our second day when he could tell a lady she was pregnant. He seemingly got the words mixed up to everyone’s amusement. 
• Natalie, Kally and any of the kids (when we were quieter and the boys weren’t needed for anything else) put tattoos on the kids, gave them pencils, lollies, toothbrushes...and at each community a selection of toys..footballs, Frisbees etc, that Tana kindly donated. They also played football with any local children that wanted to play and where there was a field.

• Day 1 and the feeling of a family setting.
o The men were really helpful to me with ensuring the elderly got faster treatment and any issues I told the team inside which person needed to push through due to very high BP or age and frailty.
o Paulo and Cristologo were great and when it was quiet I sat in the shade with the family and talked with them. They were delighted with how I had set up the printed photos of the family allowing Jose Antonio to see them while lying in his cot. 
• Meeting lots of local people who were so grateful for what we could do for them. They thanked everyone after their treatment...lots of smiles and handshakes. 
• Feeling like I was playing my part in helping these people as a pharmacist but also as a human being from elderly to young children...making people smile, treating them with respect, helping them relax, ensuring they understood and were comfortable with what they had been given (or not (if it was beyond the scope of our clinic) as the case may be).
• Teamwork ..it flowed beautifully with everyone helping each other as required.
• Being a pharmacist – showing patients inhaler technique, helping Tana with drug identification and a few other things, pointing out drug interactions (nicely) to Val, suggesting better ways to make up formulations for young ones, thinking on my feet (finding solutions when problems arose)..... 
• Improving my Spanish and even using a few Quechua words especially in the more remote communities...”samaychiy” (means to relax in Quechua ..when I was trying to get them to relax their arm to take their blood pressure...this took a few attempts I can tell you..especially with the elderly).
• What the medics have left for Rita. I had the pleasure of showing Rita how to use the BP machine (which is battery operated so we can use it anywhere as there is not electricity in every community or there may be only one plug point where there is electricity).

PROBLEMS (nothing insurmountable)...thinking on your feet really came into this section..as did peacemaker!!
• Day 2 and dismay when arrived at the second community to find no-one there....the President had forgotten the posters Rita had given him and had not told the community (only the school kids!) He wasn’t even there!! When he arrived and rounded up some patients:
o on day 1 I told him that everyone was to come early and no later than 3pm the following day. I could just see them all trickling in at 4-5pm when we really needed to get back and we all really needed to get some sleep. (We went back to our hostels that night as there was no-one after 3pm as they were all in Pisac at the market).
o I didn’t let him off the hook on day 2 either when he seemed happy we had seen about 150 people over 2 days. I told him we had seen 200 last year in one day..(too many I know but there was a point to be made)!! 
• By day 2 and everyone of us with an ailment that poor Val then treated for us!!! My cough back with a vengeance and almost stopped me from being able to assist every day...I doped up and persevered!! Jess with her ongoing intestinal issues, Rita and Martin too...Val even treated the dog at Heart’s Cafe..She seemingly does some animal diagnosis and healing in Colorado for herself as she has quite a few rescue animals, and for friends too. 
• Day 4, community 3 and no-one there!! All the men were in the mountains working or on the Inca trail..even though the posters were up. This was the first year for a medics clinic for this community.
o The headmaster hadn’t left the keys and the president was away....
 Solution: We set up outside and conducted the clinic in the fresh air until 4pm when the cold started settling in.
 We had to saw our way into a classroom after I had identified which one looked best for our clinic and overnight..that meant a lot of peeking in windows. 
 How to conduct a personal examination on a young woman with no private area??...
• Solution: the doctor and nurses visited her house with her!
 A rather inquisitive and pushy male when the doctor and nurse wanted a private conversation with the young woman and her version of events...
• Solution: Olivia distracted him for a time and I got Martin (who had been resting in the van above the community) so we had another male!
• Tension caused by various things not running to plan and someone’s need to have order and structure caused tension on most days..in Peru to have such a strict timeframe is very difficult..if not impossible!! Peruvians don’t always understand the instructions given...they tend to answer only what you specifically ask them and no more... and are much more laid back...A phrase I use a lot is” Well it’s Peru!!”  I tried to be the peacemaker to keep the doctors happy and tried to keep as much harmony in the group as possible..I wanted them to come next year!! .This proved to be particularly stressful for me over a 5 day period...as there was some problem every day and tempers took a long time to cool down!!

• Sitting talking to Paolo about her family, outside in the shade.. it felt really comfortable... I felt accepted. 
• Holding one of the babies while mum was being attended to and getting them to smile. 
• Rita standing at the edge of the playground of the school in community 2 and shouting down to the president. 
• The president of community 2 with a very large electric loudspeaker, which took 2 men to hold, while he shouted to the community that medics were here to hold a clinic. 
• Watching the volunteers kids playing with the local children... you don’t need the same language to play. 
• The queues of local children waiting to be given pencils, tattoos, toothbrushes, lollies, footballs.
• Carrying all the heavy bags of drugs and our overnight stuff down to the school. When you are at 3800m this is pretty tough!!
• Our outside clinic in community 3....what a backdrop for the clinic but we had to be careful to cover up and have hats on..sunstroke is very common here.
• In community 3 a little boy who I was about to weigh, with his feet in the wrong wellingtons (the first pair I had seen in the communities). I put the initials “I” and “D” on each for isquierda and derecha...(right and left in Spanish). I then explained to his friend, who spoke Spanish, what that meant. 
• Rita sawing off lock! 
• Our night in the 3rd community –
o Looking at the community from the top of the adjacent mountain...feeling at peace with the world up there. 
o sitting around a bonfire fuelled by sheep poo (this is what they use in the school kitchen and it doesn’t smell)
o Roasting marshmallows on sticks in front of the fire.
o Fresh trout cooked by the school cook caught by her sons for us. 
o A candle lit classroom...our clinic and bedroom for that night.
o The beautiful mountains by moonlight. 
o The children crowding around me wanting their photos taken repeatedly that night...and laughing at the results ...the beauty of a digital camera and the instant results.
o The 2 dead Andean geese hanging from the roof of our bedroom!
o The llamas in the early morning on the way to their grazing
o Watching the joy on the faces of the children in community 3 as they received some super warm clothing from Tana. ..especially the widowed cook who has a lot of children. 

Until the next instalment my friends....Buenas Noches y Adios ...

Posted by Heather Buc 19:15 Comments (0)


Sorry yet again guys. It looks like this might be the what the blog updates are like...... Nothing for you for ages then 2-3 in quick succession when I get a chance to update you.

Well first the great news. We are now registered for Gift Aid and are hoping to join Just Giving in the near future. What I have found out is, Just Giving charge charities £18 per month to use their site as well as 5% from all donations. At the moment this is prohibitive for us so I have asked them to put it on hold until we have regular fundraisers across the country.
The start of July started nice and gently as I settled into my new accommodation and got ready for the next 3 months here.
Life is a bit tougher here in Ccatan (and Peru) so missing some creature comforts like heating, hot water through the taps, easy to make meals, a microwave. My evening meals are fairly similar – usually omlette, tuna pasta, cheesy potatoes or a vegetable stir fry, with the limited choice of prods here in Urubamba unless you eat out...or maybe it’s just me! I do eat a lot of fruit though. Cereals (as in off the shelf and ready to eat cereals) don’t really exist here. I have found Corn Flakes made by Nestle but I usually eat granola with fruit and yoghurt in the morning. Yoghurt and milk are mostly UHT. You can buy fresh stuff in one outlet quite far away but there is no tuberculosis testing here I am told so will stick to UHT. From where I now stay Urubamba and the shops are an hour round trip on foot as not many moto taxis pass here. Most actually don’t know where Ccatan is so you have to give them directions as they drive. Some nights I can't be bothered cooking so just have a sandwich. That might explain the loss of weight.  Some of the clothes I brought out look ridiculous but have had some real success in the charity shops with 2 pairs of jeans costing me a total of 28 solis..about £7.50 and some T shirts – one was from Gap, each costing £1!! I’m quite chuffed with my finds, actually.  I have treated myself to some new stuff too when I was in Cusco which is an hour away in the collectivo taxis. Every time you get in these taxis mind you, you have to say a little prayer ....to please get me there in one piece..... as the driving really has to be seen to be believed. If possible I try not to watch!! This is usually when I practice my Spanish vocabulary. The scenery though all along the hour route to Cusco (and where I am now staying) is absolutely stunning. After the freak weather last month snow is still lingering on the mountains giving the landscape an even more spectacular look. In my new place regular running water would be nice. We have had no water through the day most days now. I also had a problem again with what I now think were fleas biting me. I eventually decided it was the lovely little black cat that lives here. I have had to ban it from sitting on me. I also reckon who last had my top quilt allowed the cat to sleep on it so I have now sprayed it with flea spray and all seems to be much better..no new bites for 5 days now...yey!!  Despite these things I am really enjoying Peru and have loads to do. The real plus for me in Ccatan is the quiet. You can hear the distant noises of Urubamba but generally it is just wonderfully peaceful. Everyone here is very laid back and kinda hippie like so suits me fine.  I’m also only 5 minutes from the office which is very handy; and 10 minutes more I am in the mountains so have started climbing again 3 times a week to some beautiful ruins that are there. Over a week or two I have also bought some nice pillows, blankets and a mirror to make the room feel more mine and homely.
In this wonderful place I am also finding out more about myself and that feels really good.
The weather, after the freak 5 day rain here and snow in the mountains, seems to have settled. The mornings are very cold but by 10.30-11am the sun is really hot now...too hot to sunbathe you understand (not that there is time for much of that) ..but very pleasant in the shade especially for working. We are passed the shortest day here..obviously being in the southern hemisphere everything is reversed..so the weather is improving. August is typically very windy I have been informed and already we are feeling the change so let’s see what August has to offer.

In Living Heart we are a small team but have some great ideas; so with my manager's hat on we had a 9 hour meeting which included an afternoon of prioritising all the ideas and things that have slipped by the wayside. Does this all sound familiar to all my readers who know me..I can hear the groan from you..all the way across here in Peru.  When I arrived here I knew this was where I was supposed to be at this time....weird I know, but true.  Jess and I are now working through some of this list. The first week was really big for us and we have certainly made good headway into it. Illness is still dogging a number of the team..not me so much... fortunately. My cold and cough of a month is finally easing up. Jess has discovered she has resistant Salmonella and they are giving her nightly antibiotics via an i.v. injection...can’t blame her not wanting to go into hospital. James and his girlfriend seem to have gone from one illness to the next over the last month finishing with flu for a fortnight. Hopefully all are now making a full recovery. James has only 3 weeks left before he returns to England on 16th August.
Jess and I do have to stay focussed as at the end of the following week – Saturday 6th August; Rita, Jess and I will accompany the volunteer doctors from the US to 3 different communities. ..that sounds fine I hear you say. Well actually it is 5 days on the trot of 12 hour days...Help!! In 2 of the communities we will sleep in the schools because they are too remote to travel back from. We are hoping the track, to one of the communities in particular, is reasonably passable for our minibus (as there are 12 of us including the volunteers 4 children). On the other two nights I will travel back to Ccatan so I will only get about 4-5 hours sleep before getting back up again. It should be really interesting though. I will definitely have my pharmacist hat on and have already sorted out suitable drugs from the donations that we can take to supplement the medicines they are already bringing. With the extra work requiring attention in Living Heart office, Sonia has agreed to employ a temporary administrator which will make a big difference and allow Jess and I to work on fundraising etc. We do need to get more cash in pronto to support next year until we can get regular fundraising put into place. First to support the communities we are already in but new money will allow us to offer our services to new communities and push on with our greenhouse projects making the communities more self sufficient in vegetables.
All in all I am really enjoying getting back into a routine and regular work as much as is possible here. You do have to go with the flow when something crops up and as a dear friend wrote to me recently:

Catch the moments as they fly and use them as ye ought as Rabbie Burns wisely said

That feels so apt to what I am now doing and taking all the opportunities that arise.

Posted by Heather Buc 07:15 Comments (0)


9th to 11th July - 3 days with Amazonas Explorer

I stayed at Carol and Paul’s on the Friday night. My voluntary work was put on hold to give me a rest. Carol kindly gave me a loan of a proper long sleeved top for rafting..in pink..my new colour. 
The trip was absolutely amazing ..even for me, who is a real chicken when it comes to these things. Hearing about it the night before had me a little worried but now I have been on it I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. I really feel I achieved something.  For a woman who hates water up her nose it is surprising who I got used to it and it not be a problem.

We set off at 7.30am to pick up the rest of the team. They were seasoned rafters and kayakers. I was the only novice. Even they said anything else would pale in comparison. The difference with this trip is you are completely alone for 3 days, camping at certain spots/ sandy banks along the way. There are a number of spots to choose from and with our small group of 6 we could have stopped at any of the spots. Carol and Paul always take smaller groups so it is more intimate and more fun. 

The rapids in the Apurimac are incredible with lots of different grades. Anything above 5 is considered to be too dangerous for commercial use so we walked around those. This time that was about 4 I think. Did that detract from the rapids we rafted and kayaked through..not a jot!! There were a couple that Paul and Rupert, the only kayaker, assessed to see if they wanted to run them and they did but it was too difficult for the raft. Apurimac, by the way, means “God of Light” – (Apu = God; Rimac = light).

How many rapids did we go through??? I lost count but it must have been upwards of 50 or so over the 3 days.
Every rapid had a name..Trident, Indiana Jones, Toothache, the Last Laugh, the Whale to name a few. All were very exciting and ranged mostly from a grade 2 to 4+ but even a grade 2 rapid could be tricky depending on which way you went through it. Sometimes Cali added to this excitement by encouraging us to paddle causing the raft to circle through some. The river is really fast flowing so had to react quickly. The river and rapids change all the time caused by landslides, rain and snow so the guides and Paul must reassess whether they are safe to run or we have to walk around certain rapids. You definitely needed your hard hat, life jacket and either a long sleeved (rafting) top or splash jacket. All were provided except the top of course. 

The temperature really varied. When you were in the shade compared to the sun, with the real soakings we got, you got cold quickly so again the splash jackets made a big difference. There were occasions when my teeth were chattering but soon we were in the sun again and dried out quickly!! The sun is incredibly strong so very high factor sun cream is essential as is insect repellent. At night the temperature was very pleasant so light sleeping clothes and sleeping bag are all that are required. We even slept with only the fly net on the door. The sound of the water rushing past through the night was so lovely and probably helped with my 10 hour sleep on the Sunday night, which I got right royal ripping up for. 

There are 4 things I have learnt from this trip:
Respect for the river is essential. The water is a very powerful element. Each guide gave an offering to her for a safe passage.
Teamwork and Trust are a must if you want to pass through the rapids safely; listening and responding to our guide quickly and without question. There were a couple of occasions when myself, Kurt and Ginger had to be grabbed by someone as we were thrown off balance.
Go with the flow ..the flow of the water, the instructions, any last minute changes because of the conditions. This kind of applies to anything you do out here as the elements can be unpredictable.
We had a 4 hour bus journey broken up with a visit to a local town (the one I stopped at on the way to Choquequirao) for any last minute purchases, toilet stop etc. Our lunch stop was when we reached our starting point. The food is amazing. We had quiche and salad for lunch which was just scrummy. They come well prepared with really good quality ingredients and food for breakfast, lunch, tea, a snack stop on the water and when you camp. I always love it. 
We had 3 guys helping us...well 4 if you include Paul....  Alan, Cali and Efrain (bringing the cargo raft). All helped cook, set up and clear up. Everyone gets pitched in when it comes to setting up and taking down tents etc. It’s all part of the teamwork.
Once we were all kitted out and corseted into our life jackets (as in the water they can really slip) we got our very professional safety instructions, firstly from Cali on safety and the commands and what they meant. Then Alain took over to talk about what a rescue would look like if anyone fell in the water.
The guides were brilliant, doing a great job. They take their work seriously. I think all of these guys have to be a little mad though when you see them running the rafts through what we can’t raft through.  As raft guides they have a hard seat at the back of the raft and 2 large oars to steer and row with. We assist when instructed to keep us all safe but have fun. All the guys were keen to make the trip as enjoyable as they could. There were areas to swim in the rapids or calm water, jump off rocks and take photos on the water. We even saw local men panning for gold on the last day so we pulled in to see what they have found. They had been there 15 days and found a little gold (see photos later for their largest find).
Once on the water we practiced our manoeuvres from Cali’s commands and some tried jumping in and practicing being rescued by Alan in his small, very manoeuvrable kayak. He was in charge of rescuing everyone including the cargo raft!! He really knew his stuff. I decided not to jump in and would deal with it if I needed to...nobody seemed to notice luckily.

I’ll give you a quick summary of what we had to do.
First the raft instructions –
Golden rule – always hang onto the top handle of the paddle that way you don’t hit the other person in the face and less likely to lose it.

Instructions- most are self explanatory:

Forwards, Backwards – negotiating rocks as we went through; Hard Forward (to make sure we cleared rocks as some were very close to the surface on the rapids and we glided over a few); Right Back (meant those on the left paddled forward while those on the right paddled back..you just had to remember which side you were on.)  Over to the Right (or Left) meant all those on the left threw themselves over to the right while those on the right hung on and tucked their paddle against the side so not to hit the other person in the face. This was usually when we were stuck on rocks in the middle of rapids. Secure your Foot – when difficult rapids were coming; Get Down, when basically you hung onto the rope at the side and got inside the raft quickly!!
The water could be shallow in the most unusual places and the rocks were everywhere so lots to negotiate. You needed to have total faith in your guide or you would definitely come unstuck.
Throughout the whole trip we all managed to stay in the raft but it was touch and go at some points. 
It was important to jam your outside foot under the support in front of you, or the foot stirrup if you were at the very front. This really did help you stay in the raft and under control to keep paddling. You also had to lean over the edge to get a good position to pull through with the paddle. It was important to get your body weight behind it. It also proved beneficial to change sides throughout the trip so you didn’t overtire one arm. I fell and hurt my knee on the first night so had to swap sides. This forced me to swap sides which was good.

Alain, was next with his instructions for rescue –
If you fell in the water stay calm. If you were not calm he wouldn’t come to you as you would panic and pull him in, then there would be 2 in the water and one of them would be very angry! This made me smile but you could see what he meant as he wouldn’t be able to help you then!! There were different positions for being rescued depending whether he presented you with the front or the back of his small kayak. All were practiced including being thrown a rope from the raft. It was good to see and gave us confidence if something should happen...even me who didn’t go in. What can I say the water was freezing .... I wasn’t going in unless I had to. 
I mentioned swimming above. There is a special position to adopt in these fast flowing rivers.. floating in a sitting position with your feet forward so you can push off any rocks that come your way and it also meant you didn’t get your feet stuck in the rocks on the bottom due to how shallow it could be.

• Hitting the huge rapids and being submerged on a couple of occasions. It sounds scary I know but I always felt safe as we worked well as a team.
• The force of the water when you are up at the front and even when you weren’t the raft often seemed to be side on to the rapids..our side! 
• The thrill of completing another rapid well. We always did a “high 5” with our paddles shouting “Apurimac”. 
• The areas of the rapids where you were stationery in the middle of them...weird but amazing . 
• The tranquillity of the evening with good food, a few drinks (yes we had beer, wine and Pisco Sours one night)
• The incredible stars, the half moon and the roar of the river...real food for the spirit. 
• It all felt very romantic if you had been there with a loved one. 
• Seeing the condors flying at night with the moon behind them lighting their flight...just beautiful. 
• The wonderful smooth, flowing rock structures ..they looked like Gaudi’s work. Just stunning!!
• How peaceful it was..other than the roar of the river. Being at harmony with nature.

• A long sleeved top or two. (You want something dry to put on when you stop for lunch)
• A sun hat and sunglasses. (Essential for lunch stops).
• Insect repellent. (Difficult to avoid the blighters)
• Very high factor sun cream for the bits still exposed. (I’d say minimum of 70 to be safe.)

By day 3 I had worked my way from the back to the front of the raft and we were hitting grade 4+ rapids. The big ones!!
We were submerged a couple of times, including when I was at the front and I didn’t panic. I made sure those around me were safe.
I feel alive after such a great trip and definitely relaxed.
I went to unwind and switch off and that was definitely achieved.

Visit www.amazonas-explorer.com.

To be honest this is now the 3rd trip I have taken with them..2 treks and now white water rafting....
I wouldn’t go past them. 

Until my next blog readers...Take Care, Have Fun and Live Life to the Full. 

Posted by Heather Buc 14:56 Comments (0)


30th June - 13th July

So the Nestle application had now gone and life can begin again. I have named it “Life after Nestle”.
James decided as there was a lull now for him until his greenhouse grant hopefully comes through, him and Femke would go to the jungle so he left on Thursday afternoon or that was the plan. As it turned out he couldn’t leave until the Monday because he picked up dysentery so a 10 hour bus journey was out the question. He got as far as Cusco and came back. He had been partying on Wed night and his rum and cokes had ice in them so he thinks that might have been it! Urubamba seems to be the worst for the parasites. I assume the water supply here is treated to a lesser degree but who knows. At our Friday meeting I burst into tears as they presented me with flowers to thank me for all my hard work and Sonia told me how much they loved me.  She then took Jess and I out for a celebratory meal to a very nice restaurant and some bubbly which she paid for. What a real treat.  They then persuaded me to go to Cusco and dancing with Jess and her husband for the night..well that turned out to be quite a night!! Jess had to go somewhere first so I bought a couple of things I needed, a carry out and watched television until she was ready around 10.30pm! I was nearly going to bed!! She had a bottle of wine in her by the time I met her. We went to Piscaria which had amazing Pisco cocktails. Her husband Raphael joined us there. We then went to a cool Cuban nightclub where it was happy hour and the mojitos were very nice. From there it was salsa club. By about 4am I needed to go back to my hotel so Raphael walked me back. I had to be out the hotel by 11am so went home and climbed back into bed for a few hours!! Normally I walk everywhere but, 1. I was still hung over and 2. It had been raining since Friday so I took taxis everywhere..the hour’s drive in an old collectivo which stunk of car fumes was a major struggle.  Back at the house..which was freezing because of no sun and my hangover, I went to bed for a few hours with my hot water bag. I started to feel a little better by mid afternoon.
The weather was terrible for 3-4 days and not what is expected at this time of the year. Although it is winter, it is the dry season..supposedly. This is when I have found the downside of having a central courtyard. Although the stairs and walking areas are covered the rain bounces off the railings soaking the walkways! It is also absolutely freezing. I think I am going to invest in a small heater for my room and a desk and chair so I can work in a lighter environment. I can work upstairs in the covered area where I hang my washing but often it is too windy and there is an infernal dog that keeps worrying something and whining all the time!! That with the noise of the traffic makes it less pleasant.
I relaxed on Sunday and met up with Carol and Paul for lunch. They had been in Urubamba checking out a hotel they were supposed to use. It was supposed to be finished for May and still looked like a building site so they have had to find alternate accommodation for about 30 people in 2 weeks time!!
Sonia had also suggested we all take a rest and I definitely need it. With the rain and cold weather the treks – Inca and Lares- have been closed with snow. Those set to travel only got so far before having to turn back. The weather didn’t change until Tuesday. Everyone was complaining of the cold!! I spoke to Carol and Paul and have signed up for a White Water Rafting trip for 3 days next weekend. It’s much more energetic than the one last weekend but I thought I would give it a try. There were no treks I can join that wouldn’t frustrate me Carol thought as they were too easy for me. I’d still like to redo Lares proper..the one we didn’t complete properly 2 years ago so I have suggested if there is one in September/ October to keep me in mind. Knowing I am going has brightened me up no end and will hopefully help me chill out. Being in the company of Carol and Paul is really good and usually cheers me up. Carol said she has a book of the mountain walks around Urubamba so I will copy these. I have told her about my bad sense of direction!!! I’ll maybe try and persuade some of the locals to join me.
My Spanish had been put completely on hold so I started taking lessons again. I want to do some intense Spanish over the next 2 weeks if I can with the Living Heart stuff on hold. My Spanish is definitely getting better. I managed 3 sessions that week before other things took over again. I went to the gym on Monday to help improve my upper body strength for rafting and boy did I pay for that. 3 days it took me to feel better.  On Tuesday I walked to the mountains to try and chill out and as usual ended up on a nonexistent path. I managed to pick my way back though. I looked into a desk, chair and heater but couldn’t find anything in Urubamba. I decided it was also time to find a new place to live. The constant peeping of horns (as I live on a junction that all the motos seem to travel along and peep all the time), the dogs barking and howling, the children screaming....need I go on!! I was lying in bed one morning thinking do I really want all this upheaval..am I making a mountain out of a molehill but the noise was particularly bad that day? I got up for a shower and the water pressure wasn’t high enough to kick the thermostat in so I had plenty of signs telling me now was the time to move. Ccatan is a hostal that caters for long stay residents as well as transient people. It is on the way to Living Heart offices and is in a quite area next to the mountains. It has its own grounds albeit they are a little overgrown. A bit hippie like. I visited on Wednesday and decided to move in the following week when I got back from my trip. There are upsides and downsides to it. The kitchen and my bathroom are outside. The bathroom is mine though. The room is not as nice but the quiet makes it a must to move to. I am now typing from there with a little cat sitting on my knee.  There are a few long stay guests. I have met a couple of them and it all seems lovely. If possible showers are left to the afternoon as there is lots of hot water from the extra solar heating here so some taps have hot water through them during the day. ..Lovely.  There is a lovely area under a grass pitched roof that you can work in. Periodically you hear the next door donkey let out 4-5 very loud brays but very little else disturbs you. You can hear the distant sounds of Urubamba but not enough to frustrate. This and some massages have really helped me to find my “mojo” again. I feel as if I am now on a new adventure. 
I will set up a separate blog about the trip as it deserves its own blog. 
If I had been in doubt about moving it was reinforced when I returned. Two new people had moved in while I was away. They were not particularly clean. They hid in their room and only came out when I wasn’t there. They have pinched the only mugs in the place and used a few of my things that I hadn’t started to pack. It all felt like already it wasn’t my house!
With the terrible weather and the stress I’d been under I caught a cold that is actually still not completely gone (3 weeks now). I shouldn’t complain though as I heard about the problems in one of our communities (and I am sure in others too). With the heavy snow fall – up to their waist in the high altitudes – the animals were dying in large numbers. In one community lower than ours they had lost 50% of their llamas so we suspect the tragedy will be much worse higher up. The roads are impassable so there is no way of checking. I am sure we will find out soon.

I have now brought you up-to-date. I am back with Living Heart on Friday. By that time Sonia should be back in her house and hopefully some normality will resume.

The next blog will be rafting and hopefully some more pics for you all.

Posted by Heather Buc 16:14 Comments (0)

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