Tuesday 28th October: arrived in Arequipa.
Just gone 1am the bus pulled into Arequipa bus station. The taxi man, Miguel, was waiting for me with a 'Kate Feamley' sign and I was so relieved to have arrived on time with no problems. Miguel took me to the house where all the other volunteers were staying, I briefly met my new roommate, a lovely young Canadian girl called Quentin and went straight to bed.
In the morning, I headed to the 'traveller not tourist' office to discuss which of the 3 projects I'd be working on. The charity runs 3 projects; a community classroom (Villa Chachani), the construction of a new school (Flora Tristan) and the orphanage (Casa Hogar). Villa Chachani is in a very deprived community on the outskirts of Arequipa, where the charity runs a type of afterschool classroom from 3.30pm until 5pm where children can voluntarily come to learn English. Flora Tristan is the construction of a new school on a donated piece of land close to the classroom in Chachani, as the current one is getting too small for the amount of children who come to the classes.
Casa Hogar is an orphanage set up in 2006 by a couple called Jay and Luis, Jay is from Sheffield and Luis is from Peru. However, I didn't get to meet them as they were both in the UK, as Jay was heavily pregnant. The orphanage receives no funding and relies solely on donations. It works with the government who sends them children (but no money) which have been abandoned or judged to be at risk from their parents, who may be prostitutes, alcoholics, drug addicts or thieves. Some children have even been found abandoned on the streets.
You needed to stay for at least a month to work at the orphanage, I was originally only staying for 15 days, but explained how much I loved working with children and as they were desperate for help Lilia (the lady who runs the orphanage) agreed to let me do it and I was over the moon. With the rest of the day free, I had a wander around the city where I would be living for the next few weeks, as the weather was fantastic with glorious sunshine and clear blue skies every day.
Arequipa is home to the world's deepest canyons and known as the White City because of its grand colonial buildings built from an off-white volcanic rock. The square, ´Plaza del Armas´, was probably the nicest I'd seen in South America, with it's huge cathedral overlooking the central square and fountains. As well as the volcanoes of El Misti 5822m and Chachani 6075m looming in the background (which I later climbed).
The many cobbled streets were swarmed with tiny yellow taxis, pomping their horns at every opportunity, with women crowding the pavements in illuminous jackets with mobile phones chained to them (you could pay to use the phones per call, while they were still attached to the women - not a very private conversation?!). There was an impressive range of restaurants, most offering traditional Peruvian cuisine such as roasted guinea pig (served whole with head!), grilled alpaca steaks and quinoa. As well as an immense fruit and veg market which sold frog juice! You chose your frog out of a small tank, while they skinned it, blended it and served it in front of you - YUK! It's supposed to have numerous health giving benefits, another volunteer, Sarah, tried it, but luckily I wasn't there when she did.
That evening, I meet all the other volunteers at the weekly meeting at the house to discuss the 3 projects. It was a really friendly house of about 12 volunteers in total, with some more staying in hostels and apartments. There were people from Canada, New Zealand, America, England, France and a young Peruvian girl who was the secretary for the charity.
Wednesday 29th October: my first day at Casa Hogar.
We left at 8am to get the ´combi´ to the orphanage which is an experience in itself! They don't have public buses in Peru, but 'combi' vans - a Toyota minivan with the destination written in the window, whilst a local hangs out of the side door shouting where the minibus is heading and collects your 70cent (12p) for the ride, but don't expect a seat… They cram as many people into them as possible and it's worse than the London tube at rush hour.
After my somewhat claustrophobic journey, I arrived at the orphanage and was introduced to Lilia who explained the objectives and mission of Casa Hogar to me in Spanish (she didn't speak English). Some of which I understood but Sarah, another volunteer who was the project co-ordinator helping for 3 months, explained the rest to me.
There were 15 children at the orphanage between the ages of 1 - 10 years old, and 3 babies. It's run by a Spanish lady called Lilia, and four full-time volunteers (they only get food and board for their work there), who are known as 'tias' to the children (Spanish word for aunt). All of them live in the orphanage and one has an 11 year-old daughter who also lives with them.
It was a small building where the children ´top and tailed´ in their metal bunk beds, one room for the boys, one for the girls and a separate room for the 3 babies. Generally, you spent the morning cleaning, washing and looking after the little ones, while the older ones were at school. The children arrived back from school about 1.30pm, lunch was served, then it was play or homework time (the older children got so much homework!), until dinner at 6pm-ish and bed at 7pm.
I was introduced as Tia Kate (Aunt Kate) and all the children looked intrigued as I joined them, some were really welcoming and affectionate, whilst others were more timid and looked all coy. There weren't many toys to play with, in fact hardly any, there were some in Lilia´s office, but you had to request permission to use them so generally you had to make your own games… and imagination to keep the children entertained.
I spent my first day hand washing clothes (a long task when you have no washing machine) and trying to remember the children's names - Jose, Joseph, Jorge and Jhon can be confusing, especially with the Spanish pronunciations. Wishing I´d brushed up on my basic Spanish before I came away, as understanding the children (and tias) was quite difficult at first. However, with overly exaggerated gestures and some requested translations from the bilingual volunteers, I managed to get by.
Thursday 30th October: there was a new girl at the orphanage.
I headed to the orphanage with two other volunteers and it was another very crampt ´combi´ journey. In fact, when the bus stopped it was so packed none of us thought we could fit on, yet, somehow all three of us got shoved on, as well as another man and I couldn't see a thing. Luckily, the other volunteers knew where to get off and for the whole journey I was close to suffocation in another man's armpit - really!
I spent the day looking after Juan de Dios (John of God), a cute little boy with curly afro hair and a small mole in the middle of his forehead. He looked about 18 months old, they didn´t know his exact age, as he was found in a crowded house in a drug bust and no one claimed to be his parents, so he was handed to Casa Hogar by child protection services. There was also Yonayker, a 7 year old boy, who ran away when he witnessed his mother poison and kill his younger brother with rat poison. Baby Valery, whose mother gave her up to Casa Hogar soon after she was born. As well as a number of siblings, Beatriz and Carlos, Mauricio and Joseph, Jhon and Jose, and Jorge, Ana Maria and Mari Cielo who's disorganized, young mother couldn't look after them properly.
That day, one of the three babies was taken home by his new parents, and in the afternoon the orphanage received a new 6 year old girl called Nicole. Her mother had given her and her siblings out to various people; Nicole was given to her aunt, but handed to the orphanage when her school noticed she was getting physically abused. I stayed to help with dinner and helped put the younger girls to bed (some of the children fall asleep at dinner literally with their heads on their plates), before washing up and leaving about 7pm.
Friday 31st October: Halloween celebrations at the hostel and back at the house.
We'd organized a surprise Halloween party at Casa Hogar and at the house in the evening. It was really cheap to hire a costume and Halloween was clearly a very big thing in Arequipa, but you can dress up in anything. There was a large fancy dress market with everything from Pink Panther to pirates, Spongebob Square Pants and all sorts of Halloween costumes. I ended up being a gladiator, as the Goofy I was considering just wasn't practical for a night out in the bars (how would I hold and drink my drink?! As well as suffocating in the heat!).
We headed to the orphanage with our costumes, face paints and lots of party treats. We did a buffet with party bags and loads of Halloween decorations, then seated the children in rows as we entered the room in our costumes which they absolutely loved! They all had to say who and what we were, we then covered them all in face paints and played some games, before putting them all to bed after dinner - many of them fell asleep at the table clearly exhausted from the excitement of the day!
Back at the house, we had a Halloween party that evening and everyone had really made an effort - there was Shrek, Minnie Mouse, Spongebob Square Pants, Scooby Doo, Rambo, Pink Panther, Batman, Superman, Garfield and some very scary Halloween costumes. We played a few drinking games then headed out to some bars in town. The streets were absolutely packed, some people were in fancy dress, but definitely no Shreks, Pink Panthers or Spongebob Square Pants, and as gringos we got even more attention.
One of the guys with us was from Arequipa and took us to a club called Jambos. We had to order our drinks at the door and were then taken to a VIP area and people stared as the gringos in fancy dress wandered in. Everyone was really friendly though and kept asking to take photos of us, and thankfully the DJ played some music from home (instead of terrible Peruvian salsa!).
Saturday 1st November: booked Chachani hike.
I headed into town to book a trek to one of the volcanos with James and Sarah. It was a toss up between El Misti at 5822m and Chachani at a towering 6075m, both of which are dormant volcanos in Arequipa. We decided to attempt Chachani and hired a guide and all the necessary equipment (ice pick, walkng sticks, crampons, waterproofs and thermals) for the following day.
We were told we would set off walking at 2.30am on the second day and it was going to very, very cold so we went to the market to buy some wooly long johns and snacks for what was going to be a very difficult trek. I made us all a round of sandwiches and had a much needed early night before our mammoth climb the next day.
Sunday 2nd November: we got to base camp.
Our guide arrived at 8.30am to pick us up, he was a really friendly guy called Roy (strange name for a Peruvian man, but means shepherd in Spanish apparently). I had been awake for most of the night with stomach cramps and felt TERRIBLE! Then, the guide gave me some size 5 1/2 walking boots, when I'd ordered a size 7. So all in all not the best start to the day, but luckily he had some more in the jeep which were just a fit. We loaded our rucksacks on the roof and went to pick a young couple, Tim and Rachael, up from a hostel, as there were 5 of us doing the trek.
After a few hours drive, we started the very, VERY bumpy ride up the mountain and it made me feel sick. It was baking hot, but we couldn't open the windows as the roads were so dusty, as we swerved and bumped all the way to base camp. We arrived around mid-day, left the jeep and walked the final part to where we would be camping for the night. We were all struggling, at such a high altitude there was hardly any oxygen in the air and the heat was dehydrating us even more. We were told to sip water regularly and only eat small snacks to prevent altitude sickness - and I definately didn't want to get that again!
Our rucksacks were also really heavy, as we had to carry 5 litres of water each, a sleeping bag, roll mat, snacks, clothing and our tent. It took us about an hour to get to our camp site which was nothing more than a tiny cleared area on the mountainside. There was no toilet, water supply or anything! Just a small flat-ish area with a stone wall constructed a couple of feet high around it. James, Sarah and myself put our tiny tent up for the three of us to share and climbed in, as the wind was picking up and it was getting really cold.
Roy made us a cream potatoe soup about 5pm and gave us an altitude sickness tablet to take and I was hoping I wouldn't have a repeat of the Inca Trail, as there wasn't even a squat toilet at this 'campsite'. By now it was freeeeeezing, so I put my wooley long johns, thermal trousers, 2 pairs of socks, vest, t-shirt, fleece and second fleece on for bed. This made the Inca Trail look like a walk in the park! Base Camp was 5,500m and the air was painfully thin, which made it near impossible to sleep. The wind was banging on the side of the tent, as we all struggled to get to sleep on a slant on a hard, stone floor. I woke several times in the night totally dehydrated, praying I wouldn't need a wee and have to leave the tent in the windy, cold darkness.
Monday 3rd November: the hardest thing I have EVER done in my life.
It was an early 2.30am wake up, it was pitch black and absolutely freezing. We had a cup of coca tea, got wrapped up and put our head torches on ready to start the very steep climb. The five of us and Roy, all set off in silence, already it felt like there was no oxygen in the air as the cold wind battered our cheeks. Shortly after setting off, Sarah had to turn back and go back to camp as she couldn't keep up with the group. It was a difficult climb and Roy told us we couldn't keep stopping as we needed to move slow and steady to acclimatise.
After an hour or so, we reached the first peak at 5,650m, it was still pitch black and my water bottle had begun to freeze. We carried on walking steadily across the mountain side and it looked like we were on another planet - it was a rocky and fine, gravelly surface which came away from under your feet and made climbing even harder. As well as random layers of tall icicles on the mountainside that the guide had to hack through with the ice pick for us.
The sun began to rise and gradually we began to see more of the volcano and the ridiculously high summit of Chachani in front of us. I've a fear of heights and the narrow path and ground sliding away from under my feet made me really nervous, but I wanted to make the top. By early morning, it was much hotter, and the high altitude made the sun very intense and the air incredibly thin. We were trying our hardest to keep going, but we needed frequent breaks as we were struggling to breathe, as we walked slowly along in complete silence - it was so hard to walk, never mind talk!
Roy marched on ahead and I was rather surprised we didn't have two guides on such a difficult hike. There were now four of us and Tim was really struggling to keep walking and was beginning to fall asleep. The lack of oxygen was making him dizzy, but we weren't supposed to sit down as many trekkers have stopped for a break and fallen asleep for hours on the mountainside and gotten badly burnt.
The climb was getting steeper and steeper, and the summit of Chachani looked like it was miles away. Not only that, once we had reached the top we had to find the energy to walk all the way back to base camp. We tried to carry on, but Tim was stumbling and slurring his words and looked like he really couldn't carry on. We called Roy over, who at this point had marched on quite far ahead (I didn't like him, he was a CRAP guide!). "Ok, we'll leave him' announced Roy. As there was only one guide the three of us left had to carry on, leaving Tim on the mountainside. We were all a bit concerned and hoped he'd be ok, as it would be hours before we would pass him again, but with only one guide we didn't have a choice.
We got to 5,800m and had another 2,075m to climb to the peak of Chachani. It was already 8.30am and Roy had said we would be back at base camp for 11am, but that was not going to happen. It was the most difficult and physically demanding thing I have EVER done in my life - the Peruvian army had walked the same route the day before for training. The last part of the trek from 5900m to 6075m was very, very steep, intensely hot and utterly EXHAUSTING!! There were several moments when I thought I couldn't go on, and after 6 agonishing hours, I reached the summit of Chachani.
I collapsed to the ground for half an hour, not sure how I would muster the energy to walk all the way back. The altitude sickness meant I coud only eat very little and it was like walking with a bad hangover - I felt sick, utterly dehydrated with a pounding headache AND felt like I couldn't breathe. Rachael and myself had made the peak, Tim was asleep somewhere far back and James was still a long way off making the top. Roy instructed us to start walking back, I was really struggling and despite the accomplishement of reaching the top (very few people actually make the summit), I vowed I would never do anything like that again.
Roy marched on so far ahead he was completely out of view (he seemed annoyed that we were taking a long time), Rachel was far ahead of me and James was behind yet to make the top. My legs felt weak and as I climbed across two rocks I fell off the path and was clinging to the mountainside, but the gravel just kept coming away from under my feet and I couldn't pull myself back up. I was petrified - hanging on, crying and shouting for help like a nutter. I couldn't even see Roy he was so far ahead and worried he wouldn't hear me.
He must of heard me and began to head back - not in a rush though. I was very relieved to see him, but at the same time wanted to smack him in the face. He was obviously very annoyed we were taking longer than anticipated (although from what I had read about the climb, his predictions were totally unrealistic). He growled at me, "I mean how slow do you want me to walk?", pulled me back up onto the path, then marched back on ahead - IDIOT!! I mean it was pointless him getting back to camp before us, as he would only have to wait for us all to return.
I carried on for about an hour more, got to the other side of the mountain and could't see Roy or anyone. I didn't have a clue which path to take and was beginning to wonder if the trek had really been worth the blood, sweat and tears. I shouted out for Roy a few times and could just see him waving at the bottom of the mountain in the distance - I was P*SSED OFF!! He was our guide and should have been looking after us. Unknown to all of us at this point, James had reached the summit and vomitted, had no water left and was having hallucinations he was so exhausted.
I carried further down the mountain towards where I could see Roy, it was a very steep decent and I kept falling over because my legs were so weak. All my water had gone and I was that dehydrated I could hardly speak. Eventually, I reached Roy at the bottom and was very relieved to see Tim sat there with Rachael. We took a break, then set off again and about 4 hours later eventually arrived back at the camp.
I could have cried tears of joy that the climb was finally over and we waited at camp for James to return after Roy went to look for him. I had a TERRIBLE migraine from the altitude and crawled up in a ball on the ground unable to open my eyes or speak. A couple of hours later, Roy appeared back at camp and told us James was nearly back - he had seen him and left him again.
James eventually got back and rightfully had a go a Roy, asking him what his problem was? Roy could see James was in a bad way coming back down the mountain, but offered him no water and continued to march on ahead. I was in tears at this point because my head was hurting so much, Roy took my pulse and told me it was low and we needed to get me back to the jeep. We packed up camp and walked another difficult 45 minutes to where the jeep was waiting. Note to self: I cannot handle altitude!!! It was another bumpy two-hour drive down the mountain and finally my headache got better as we descended down to the bottom. Although, I was very proud to have trekked to the top of a 6,075m volcano (2000m higher than Machu Picchu), I would NEVER do it again!
Tuesday 4th November: an 'interesting' ride on the combi.
I had to make my way to the orphanage on my own. The combi was the most packed EVER and there was blatantly no room for me, but I got pulled on board and it was too crampt to even close the door. I was just inside the van and actually had my bum hanging out the side door in my ill-fitting Peruvian combat trousers I'd bought in Cusco. I couldn't see a thing, yet you're supposed to yell out 'baha' when your ready to get off. I knew my stop was called la Posta, so I asked "Donde es la posta?" (my Spanish is poor but I think that means 'where is La Posta?') and about 10 minutes later the money collector thankfully yelled at me to get off.
I had another great day at the orphanage and spent most of the afternoon helping the older children with homework, had dinner with them and then helped put the girls to bed about 7pm. I caught the combi back to the house, just in time for the 8pm weekly meeting and Dominos Pizza (yes - they have a Dominos Pizza in Peru and it tastes just as good!).
Wednesday 5th November: it was Sarahs 21st birthday.
It was Sarah's 21st birthday, she was a volunteer who had been the project co-ordinator for the orphanage since June. At the orphanage, it was also Yonayker's birthday on Sunday and Beatrix's birthday the week before (they'd forgotten it), so we had a triple birthday party at Casa Hogar. We spent hours getting the room ready with balloons, ribbons, streamers, a buffet, party hats and a clown at 4.30pm, all of which was a complete surprise for the children.
The children absolutely LOVED it! The clown made everyone laugh (and the two younger boys, Mauricio and Jhon, cry!). The clown got me up dancing with him at the front of the room, much to the everyone's amusement, then did some very impressive magic tricks producing a rabbit and a pigeon which the children couldn't leave alone. After a lot of tidying up (god knows how the children slept after cake and sweets just before bed?!), we left about 7.30pm and headed to 'Taco and Tequilla", a local Mexican to continue the celebrations for Sarah's 21st.
Thursday 6th November: more fun at the orphanage.
As I arrived at the orphanage, a couple of the children grabbed my hands and took me into Lillia's office asking me something in Spanish. I couldn't understand, so asked Sarah to translate and they were asking for the bird the clown had brought the day before. At the party, when the clown had finished his act he took the pigeon into Lillia's office to box the poor thing up and the children were still looking for it - bless! I tried to explain the bird had gone home with the clown and took them up to the play area on the roof (the orphanage is so small, the play area is on the roof). With very little toys we played tig (echo in Spanish), football and horseriding with the children taking it in turn to have piggy backs - tiring, but very rewarding work.
I stayed late again to give Gladys a hand in the kitchen. Gladys is a young lady and one of the full-time tia's who is in charge of the kitchen and cooks ALL the meals. She never stops and cooks the most amazing and healthy food for the children with a 3 course lunch every day. They are encouraged to have seconds (which a lot of them do!) and Lillia likes them to have different meals every day so they don't get bored of their food. Gladys never stops, still working in the kitchen as the other tia's sit down with the children at meal times, so I stayed late most nights to help her clear up and wash the pots.
Friday 7th November: heads and shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes...
The children at Casa Hogar were really keen to learn English and loved to sing, so I taught them "heads and shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes' complete with the actions ;) The children picked it up really well and one of the tia's, Eughene, asked me to write the whole song down for her so she could learn it too, as none of the tia's spoke very good English.
I stayed late again to help Gladys in the kichen which she clearly appreciated - there was a lot of pots, pans, cutlery and crockery to wash after feeding 18 hungry mouths plus the tias. Some of the children fell asleep at the table as usual, so I scooped them up and helped put them to bed, before heading up the dark, dusty road to get the combi home, with Lillia insisting one of the tias walked me to the bus stop.
To celebrate Sarah's birthday, we all met at the house for a couple of hours drinking (we played the 'ring of fire' game which is LETHAL!), then headed to Deja Vu 'nightclub'. It was no where near as busy as the Friday before on Halloween, but we have a great night and it was so much easier dancing without a gladiator costume on! Finishing the night with an El Turko chicken kebab, which is too conveniently right across the road from Deja Vu.
Saturday 8th November: lunch at Casa Hogar.
The orphanage struggles for helpers at the weekend, so despite the late night (you never speak to the children about things such as nightclubs, alcohol, etc) I went in to help and spent the morning in the kitchen preparing lunch with Gladys. The lunch the children have is an adult-sized portion of soup to start, then main course, some even have seconds and I couldn't understand where they put it all, especially the little 3 year olds.
At each meal the children would say grace and I would mumble on in Spanish pretending I knew what they were saying. That day they invited me for lunch, which was really tasty - we had quinoa soup, then vegetables, rice and chicken for main. They eat potatoes, rice and vegetables together in Peru and it is sooo filling! The children are not allowed to have their drink until they have finished it all and I couldn't understand how they did it as my potatoes and rice got lodged in my throat, as I struggled to finish it all to set a good example.
Sunday 2nd November: white water rafting.
We headed to Bothy hostel to get picked up by our white water rafting company, as I'd booked to go with Ian and Ari, two other volunteers, from the house. I don't like heights and I don't like water, I'd done rock climbing and lots of trekking up mountains (still not cured my fear of heights though!) and the white water rafting was a chance to address my other fear. Apparently, the rapids were only a grade 2, so as we arrived at Rio Chill river I was looking forward to getting on the water.
There were six of us with two guides, Jose and Paul, and two boats. Jose gave us a rundown of how to white water raft and what their instructions meant, as well as a few scary stories about people getting sandwiched against rocks, a Japanese guy who nearly strangled from the safety rope and broken bones and teeth from the paddles... I was beginning to get a bit nervous.
The three of us and our guide, Paul, loaded our raft in to the water and had a practice run - it was more difficult than I thought. You had to sit right on the edge of the raft and try to wedge your feet under to stop yourself getting plunged in off the inflated sides. I was a bit nervous, but Paul was really friendly and enthusiastic, and with 15 years experience clearly knew what he was doing so at least I felt confident in his ability.
After the practice run, we set off to hit the stronger rapids and it was quite an adrenaline rush. The river was really rocky and rougher than i'd imagined, and we all had to dive in the boat at one point as we headed under a low branch. We then pulled the raft over to the side for a breather, as we were about to go into grade 3 rapids. What?! We were told grade 2 and these were tough enough?! The raft in front went first and the girl sat in my position got catapulted straight out, as they hit a large rock on the left - great?!
We set off and sure enough we hit the large rock I was thrown straight up in the air and out of the raft. It was really rocky and I was struggling to hold onto my paddle and lie on my back as they told us to do in the safety demo (your told to lie on your back to prevent your legs from hitting the rocks as the current is so strong). It was too rough though, then there was a drop in the rapids and I kept going under swallowing half the river with me.
Finally, the guide threw the safety rope and I got pulled inside as we all piled on the left of the raft to prevent it from going further downstream. I was a bit shaken and just lay on the side of the raft absolutely sodden wet through. Paul apologised he couldn't throw the safety rope sooner as I was about to get sandwiched between the raft and rock, so he had to manouver the raft first (he later told me, a girl with another guide company had fallen out at the same point, got cruched between the boat and the rock and they had to cut through the bottom of the raft to get her out the water - so I think I got off pretty lightly!).
We set off again, Paul was a great guide and Ian and Ari had rafted a lot before, so I was definately the weakest link, but we did well nonetheless. We then got to grade 4 rapids?! Grade 6 is for professionals only and grade 5 is for experinced rafters, so grade 4 was rough and bloody looked it! Especially when you've never been before and just been thrown down a rocky river face. We pulled in for a short break, then boarded back in the raft to hit the smashing grade 4's.
I was nervous as hell and wedged my feet under the sides as much as I possibly could. We hit the grade 4 rapids, as Paul bellowed commands from the back and I perched on the edge trying my best not to fall in again. Paul congratulated us as we passed through no problem - the raft had flipped upside down on that part of the river with the last two groups he had taken (he rightfully told us this afterwards!). After a couple of hours we finished on the river and I was so relieved to have not got dunked again (typically I was the only one on the raft to go in).
Monday 10th November: another birthday dinner at Taco and Tequillas.
I headed to Casa Hogar and managed to fit my bum in the bus this time. I had another enjoyable day of renditions of 'heads and shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes', horse galloping on the roof (trying to stop the children from fighting over whose turn it was next), den building and nose wiping. There was another birthday at the house, Jame's 30th, so we went to Taco and Tequillas that night for another cheap Mexican meal downed with a couple of tequillas and a scrumptious banoffee pie Quentin had made.
Tuesday 11th November: I improved my Spanish vocabulary (a bit!)
I was supposed to be leaving the next day to go to Santiago to get my flight to New Zealand to catch up with Ellie. However, there were problems with the buses and they weren't running (no surprise there!), so I had to leave a few days later on Saturday. I had to get a bus to Tacna on the border, then a taxi across the border to Arica in Chile, as I had booked a cheap internal flight from Arica to Santiago (it was only 80 quid and saved another 3 day bus journey). But, at least I could look forward to a few extra days at the orphanage with the children before catching up with Ellie in Auckland after her trip to Fiji.
I spent the afternoon at Casa Hogar colouring with the children who seemed rather impressed with my illustration of a horse. Gradually, I was improving my Spanish learning the vocabularly for pig, king, rabbit, horse and sword as they asked me to draw various pictures for them to colour in, causing arguments at the table as they fought for the limited number of small plastic chairs to sit on. I stayed to help with dinner and had to drink the warm, porridgey drink they have before bed to set a good example, before saying good night and heading back to the house for the weekly meeting.
Wednesday 12th November: went shopping for the orphanage.
I went shopping in the morning to get the orphanage some presents for when I left on Friday. I decided to get them a ball (the other one went over the wall and was too small to play football properly with anyway), a jigsaw, some books (they LOVE to read), a times table and alphabet to help with homework and lots of Disney DVDs (only 65p on the market), as well as some chocolates for the tias.
I spent the rest of the day at the orphanage and everyone at the house had a night out at the local go-karting place. It was really cheap and good fun! We had a few dissasterous games of pool (we were all very poor players), then after a few beers some of us decided to go to Arequipa's only nightclub - Deja Vu (there's not a great selection of bars in Arequipa). There was a band on playing covers of Robbie Williams, REM and other 90's tunes, which was really good fun - especially after a few mojitos!
Thursday 13th November: pancake baking at the orphanage.
I went to the bus station to check the buses and apparently they were running ok again (phew!) and spent my penultimate day at the orphanage (no talk of last nights disco to them though!). We made some pancakes with the older girls which went down a treat at dinner time, before I rushed off to pick my washing up from the local laundrette, arriving typically on the last minute at 7.59pm and it had already closed - boo! Another day in dirty clothes and an early night back at the house.
Friday 14th November: my last day at Casa Hogar :(
I spent the morning packing and headed to Casa Hogar for my last day at the orphanage :( It was also the last day for Sarah, the project co-ordinator, who had been there since June, and an aussie couple who had been helping at Casa Hogar for the past month. We took cakes and treats for the children and I took my bag of presents to give to them before I left.
The tias had prepared us a 'thank you' lunch, which Gladys had clearly put a lot of effort into making. We had soup, followed by a traditional Peruvian recipe of potatoe (non-surprisingly!) with some delicious spicy chicken with black olives, rice and a jelly drink?! In Peru, they serve heavily diluted jelly as a drink - bit yuk, but I needed to drink it to dislodge the potatoe and rice in my throat.
In the afternoon, the children performed a play for us which they had created themselves. They had gone to so much effort, there was a banner up saying 'Feliz Viaje Tios, Thank You' (Happy Travels Tias) and a poster with a message on from each of the children. Tia Lillia made us each a cocktail (pisco with milk and chocolate, tasted bit like Baileys) and said a speech, saying some very sincere things about each of us, clearly very grateful for our help.
The children then performed a number of small plays and two boys, Jose and Carlos, sang 'heads and shoulders' for Tia Kate which I was really touched by. Nicole, a 6 year old girl, who had only come to the orphanage a few weeks ago, got up and sang a song about how her mother was the best mother in the world and looked really emotional with tears in her eyes as she sang. It was quite moving to watch such a young girl get choked up with emotion beyond her years and to still manage to sing the whole song through, whilst most of the volunteers broke down in tears as they watched.
The children then grabbed hold of everyone, to get up and dance to a traditional Spanish song. Nicole grasped my hand and it was upsetting to think this was the last time I would see them all. We had a hot chocolate and croissant, then it was time to say goodnight and goodbye. The children all clung on, giving hugs and I was trying my best not to get upset. Tia Gladys thanked me for all my help in the kitchen, Tia Eughene for teaching her 'heads and shoulders', then Tia Maria said something really sincerely to me in Spanish (which I really wish I could have understood) and gave me an embracing hug.
I gave my leaving gifts to Tia Lillia and she took my email address to keep in touch, telling me that although I was there a short time, I had worked so hard for the children and that was all that mattered which meant a lot. She kissed me and gave me a big motherly hug and I left so glad I'd done something so worthwhile and rewarding - definately one of the highlights of my travels so far!
I went for my exit interview with the secretary of the charity, and told them how much I'd enjoyed it and headed back to the house as it was mine and Sarah's last night so we were all going out. We had another game of 'ring of fire' and headed to... Deja Vu! It was really busy with some mad strob lighting going on, so we all had a good dance and stumbled into El Turko at the end of the night, where a kind man bought me a kebab and the staff gave me a free ice cream - so all in all a great last night in Arequipa!
Saturday 15th November: left Arequipa with a terrible hangover.
I had to be up at 7am for my taxi to the bus station and I had only got in bed at 3am. I had a disgusting hangover - beer, mojitos, kebab and ice cream was NOT a good idea. Despite the late night (or early morning?!), everyone got up to wish me well which was really nice and it was hard saying goodbye to my new friends. I bought some christmas postcards the children had designed to raise money for the orphanage and fell out the door clutching a large bottle of water and my rucksack. The very last thing I felt like was a hot, sweaty 8 hour bus journey and border crossing.
I was so dehydrated (that bloody altitude - it was like Cusco again!), but felt that sick I was struggling to drink my water. I got to the station, the woman on the bus counter spoke not a single word of English and all I understood was 'aqui' (here), so I waited there and hoped my 8.45am bus would turn up soon. I bought an orange juice but couldn't even manage to drink that, so just sat in the waiting room suffering in my self-inflicted pain.
It got to 8.40am and I was getting worried as there was no sign of a bus. I went back to the woman and she pointed to the other side of the bus station, so I grabbed my belongings and ran best I could with a 20kg Berghaus. There were two buses being loaded, but I couldn't see any marked for Tacna and asked a local woman as best I could in my broken Spanish if she was waiting for a bus to Tacna. She didn't understand, but another man seemed to and indicated he was also waiting. The bus turned up just before 9am (buses in South America have worse punctuality than me!) and I was definately not the only person waiting as hoards of people with excessive baggage lunged forward. My rucksack got flung underneath and I boarded another minging bus. I thought the Lima bus was bad, but at least it had a toilet. When they said this was economy class they meant it. There were more people than seats, no toilet, no air-con and I had the hangover from HELL as I clutched a plastic bag I felt that sick.
I tried to slide my window open desperate for some fresh air, but it wouldn't budge. I must have looked desperate as a young Peruvian girl tried to help, but she couldn't open it either and looked at me saying 'oh, ohhhh'. My thoughts exactly! Great! No air-con and a window I couldn't even open. The best I could do was try and fall asleep, but a big sweaty Peruvian man sat down next to me and I was squashed up against the window feeling really claustrophobic.
The bus set off and about half an hour later pulled in for a roadside check. All the other vehicles seemed to be moving on much quicker, but we spent a good 15 minutes there. Then… the bus turned around and it appeared we were heading straight back to Arequipa. What?! I had a flight at 7.30am the next morning and needed to get across the border today! If I didn't, I would have to pay for another flight to Santiago and the next available flight to Auckland was the 14th December if I missed this one!!!!!
As I'd guessed, we were on our way back to Arequipa and pulled back into the bus station, exactly where we'd started, about an hour later. I asked the man sat behind me what was wrong, 'otro caro' he replied. We were changing buses, but thankfully there was another waiting and I was just hoping this one got us to Tacna. There was a surge of people onto the next bus, I didn't even seen my rucksack get transferred across and we were back on the road.
We successfully passed the roadside check and kept stopping at numerous places as more and more people got on the bus standing in the aisle. Thankfully, one of the sunroofs was open, but the other was jammed shut and the bus was getting sweatier and smellier. About midday, we pulled in at some form of 'border control'. There was a sign indicating no fruit and not wanting a repeat episode of the papaya incident, I dumped my apples and figs in the wheelie bin.
I was bursting for a pee and the coach guard pointed me towards a rock - there were no toilets. It was a good job, I had told him I was going as when I emerged from behind the rock, the coach had set off and the guard was stood in the doorway looking for me. I ran towards the coach, he spotted me and instructed me to jump on as it was still moving. Everyone stared at the only gringo on the bus, as I got pulled back on board (how do other travellers get about?) and sandwiched myself back into my seat.
I wasn't feeling very well at all, there had been a bug going round the house and I think I'd got it with the double whammy of a hangover as well. I had aches and pains, absolutely no appetite (very unusual for me!) and a dodgy stomach. The driver was clearly on a mission to make up time, as we sped down the highway, passing a turned over articulated lorry on route. As we arrived at Mocqueya to pick up more passengers, people piled on the bus selling stinky Peruvian fare and it was nearly enough to push me over the edge as I clutched my plastic bag.
I deliberately stared out of the window holding my nose trying not to see or smell any of it, as I heard 'chancho' being called out by one of the food sellers. Indeed the word I had learnt just a few days earlier at the orphanage which meant pig! Eugh!!! The woman was holding a bag of pig's trotters for sale!! When was this circus going to end?! There were people shoving past the poor passengers with no seat in the aisle, thrusting all sorts of foul-smelling meat 'delicacies' which everyone was buying, apart from me.
We set off again and somehow I managed to sleep most of the way, arriving just 45 minutes later at Tacna then planned. I needed to cross the border to Arica in Chile, which you could only do by combi (not ideal with a huge rucksack) and I'd had my fair share of combi journeys during the past few weeks, or taxi, which was more expensive but far more comfortable. A German guy asked me how I was getting across the border and at the same time we were approached by a taxi man who seemed legit with his identity card round his neck, so we decided to go with him. He took us to an office where we bought our ticket and then waited in his car for him to get two other people, as he would only leave once he had a full car. The German guy was getting very impatient, I was just relieved to be off the bus and then a text come through from my Nana which cheered me up no end - the wonders of modern technology! Eventually the driver returned with a Chilean couple who would also be travelling with us and we set off for Arica.
We got our exit stamps from Peru at Tacna (I had flashbacks of when we were there on the 3 day Lima bus journey and the Peruvian lady was handing all our passports out), got back in the taxi and went to get our entry stamps to Chile. I still felt dreadful, but was so grateful to have made it across the border as we pulled into Arica about an hour and a half later. The Chilean couple were dropped off at their house and the driver took me and the German guy to the bus station.
As it was getting late and the German guy had no accommodation sorted, he decided to come with me and we caught another taxi to the hostel I had pre-booked. However, the driver didn't know where it was, and frustratingly we drove around and around in the dark and I was wondering if we'd ever find it. Eventually, we found the hostel - it would have taken 3 minutes MAX to walk as it was literally two streets across from the station. The driver tried to charge us $10 (we'd previously agreed $5) as he'd drove around so much, which wasn't our fault so I refused to pay anymore.
This was not the end of the drama. We got to the hostel, Tres Soles, which I'd been recommended by some Irish girls in Cusco as they told me the owner was really hospitable and looked after you just like your dad?! They were so right. It was a small, homely hostel owned by a gentle 60-ish year old man called Luis, with brown leather sandals and socks who spoke excellent English. As we arrived, his daughter came to answer the door in her slippers and they were so welcoming. There was no room for the German guy, except a twin room with 2 single beds and he asked if I minded sharing. Er yes! I was ill and tired and all I wanted was a good night's sleep in my own space.
I stared at the girl inferring I definately did NOT want to share a room. Thankfully, she sorted me out with my own room and the German guy ended up leaving that evening to get an overnight bus to his next destination anyway. I needed some Chilean pesos to pay for the room and my taxi to the airport the next morning, so headed out to find an ATM. There was one at a nearby bank, one in the shopping centre and two in the bus station. The one at the bank was out of order and both the one in the shopping centre and ones at the bus station would not accept my card. It was nearly 10pm, I had an early start, had not eaten a scrap all day and just wanted to shower and get in bed. I spoke to the lovely Luis and he agreed to accept my American dollars I was carrying for emergencies, so I went to bed hoping tomorrow would be an easier day.
Sunday 16th November: goodbye South America.
Luis woke me at 6.45am, offering to make me breakfast (I was still too ill to eat) and took me to the airport with another young Irish couple getting the same flight. He took us to the airport in his old burgundy Toyota minivan, shook my hand, wished me a safe journey and handed me some dollars back telling me the lift to the airport had cost less with other passengers - bless him!
It was a low-cost airline, but the flight was really good and I arrived on time at Santiago... with an 11 hour wait for my flight to Auckland. The internet cafe was closed (I was planning an 11 hour stint on facebook), so I sat in a cafe and spent the rest of the day writing my blog and day-dreaming. My 11.30pm flight left on time for Auckland, I wished goodbye to South America and lost a day of my life due to the time difference, excited to eventually catch up with my travelling buddy after more than 3 weeks apart!