I feel like I should talk a bit about the volunteer work I was given the opportunity to do, as it really made my trip and was brilliant to actually see what these NGOs do rather than just giving someone a fiver towards some charity for running 26.2 miles every April and not knowing what it’s actually going towards.
It all started when I was playing on my computer at the ultimate gringo hangout – the California Café in Huaraz, a town in the Peruvian Andes and the centre of all adventure sports and trekking and climbing. It was a Friday, day of the weekly Mega Frisbee game, and I was waiting for Hannes to come back from packing so we could head up towards Laguna 69. Then the Ultimate Frisbee players all came in to meet – including a pair, an American called Jim and an English girl called Katherine – who volunteer for Jim’s NGO, Changes For New Hope. Two English girls in a remote mountain town, we heard each other’s accents and decided we had more than enough in common to start a conversation.
She told me briefly about the work they do, then offered me to join them that afternoon to teach kids English and play games with them. Moments after they’d been swept away to play Giant Frisbee, Hannes came back, packed, checked out and ready to go to Laguna 69. “Hannes, slight change of plan, we’re gonna stick around here for a few days to play with kids…” Grimace as I wait for him to get mad. But he doesn’t – he just gives me a tiny guilt trip about his specially packed hiking bag and says he’d love to do some volunteering. Phew. So we have a cheeky menu del dia lunch (two courses and a drink for about $2) next door to the California Café and come back as if we didn’t just eat somewhere else while leaving our bags under their care.
When the Crazy Frisbee crew got back, sunburned and sweaty, we nicked some of their freebie lunch and went on our way to our first volunteering session. It was a great start to our volunteering – they were the sweetest kids. As we walked up the hill to the meeting place they all ran down to greet us with an enthusiastic hug and a snotty-faced kiss. We spent the afternoon learning to count, practising colours and learning words like up, down, in and out in English using a parachute, then a young boy took my camera and started playing photographer.
He actually got some really good shots. Hannes also entrusted the kid with his giant SLR, which was brave! There were a couple of not-so-good things about the group session, and that was seeing the cages full of guinea pigs in the house (for dinner) and having a cactus stem thrown at me, covering me head to toe in cactus juice. It wasn’t one of our kids, of course.
Later on we went for dinner (after Hannes and I ran around in the rain trying to find accommodation) at Gustavo’s pizzeria. Hannes and I then went for a drink at Coca Bar where the ugly barman made me a free drink of maracuya and coca liqueur, it was a bit gross.
Saturday morning we checked out of the crappy hostel and moved into Gustavo’s house – he’s turning it into a hostel and because it’s not ready yet he let us stay for £2 a night. It was the ultimate student house – the smell of smelly boys, weed being smoked in the bedroom and a kitchen with that permanent unidentifiable smell. We had another volunteering session at 9am, a different group of kids, but just as lovely – they also ran down for snotty kisses and gave me gifts of a cactus leaf and a plastic Barbie shoe the moment we arrived. We spent the morning making awesome shapes with Play-Doh (the kids had never seen it before and promptly mixed the colours…) and pencil holders with papier mache, an activity as messy as it sounds, though not as messy as the mango-eating session afterwards – smush it against your face was the method the kids thought best.
Straight from there we went to the second group of the day, down the hill a bit, to a house someone had lent us for the session. One of the kids brought a puppy from her home down to the session, and as Katherine tried to pick fleas out of its fur it farted constantly, which the kids found pretty hilarious. So did we, actually. After the messy session of colouring in and playing with cornflour, we discovered that no one in this neighbourhood wanted the dog either, and the kid was just going to put it down and leave it. We pleaded round the houses for someone to give it a home but no one was interested. It was pretty sad, as the puppy will probably die on the streets.
The evening consisted of writing the blog, eating chicken and chips and having an early night, as the next morning we were all getting up (me, Hannes, Katherine, Lucas and Gustavo) at 5.30am for Laguna 69!