Why did you choose this program?
I chose the Rustic Pathways program of Sacred Valley Service because it allowed me to immerse myself in an entirely new culture on a continent I had never been to. Additionally, I was able to benefit to the future success of a community in the Peruvian Andes through volunteering and participating in community service. Peru was always a country I wanted to visit and specifically see the ruins at Macchu Picchu and the Sacred Valley Service allowed me to do just that. Also, you're able to travel with kids from all across the country and network new friendships.
What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?
Since I was on a program with kids ages 13-18 led by group leaders of around age 25, all of the logistics were organized by the leaders. Though, when we were at our community service camp sites, you had the responsibility of unpacking your bags and moving your bag in between the luggage tent and your tent for clothing and other amenities.
During the community service days, you had to organize yourself accordingly due to weather conditions and also make sure to bring a lot of water because of the rigorous manual labor combined with mountain heat of the Andes.
When we had free time in city markets in cities like Cuzco and Ollantaytambo, the leaders allowed you to walk alone or with a group around the city/town. You were responsible to organize a time frame where you could return on time at the spot where the leaders told you to go.
What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?
A piece of advice I would give to someone going on the trip is to enjoy and savor every moment.
From exploring Macchu Picchu to breaking apart rocks on a mountainside, you will probably never have those exact experiences again.
The trip allowed you to experience being a tourist and being a worker. The tourist part allowed us to explore the cobblestone streets of Cuzco and look at the variations of Incan to Spanish architecture. We got to hike up to temples in the Andes and experience white water rafting on the Urumbamba River.
The country is so vast and there are so many attractions to see for all types of people; the shoppers can go to dashing artisanal markets located in almost every Peruvian city, the tourists can walk down and explore ground level the ruins of Macchu Picchu.
The last thing I want to mention is about the work. You usually work about 6-7 hour days for 5 days. It is hard breaking apart rocks with axes and shoveling dirt in the mountains but in the end, you feel so much better and you realize that what you are doing gives so much to a community.
One day, we went down into the town and watched a soccer tournament on a dirt path. Being only in Peru once, we begged the organizer to let our team (full of Americans) play in the tournament. Eventually, the organizer accepted and we got to play with a dozen Peruvian teams in the town of Soccma.
By the end of the night, it was pitch black and we ended up winning the tournament. While playing, we saw so many of the fellow workers who helped us with the manual labor. It was great to interact with them and be able to take part in an activity that brings their community together (around 100 people were watching). That was one of the moments I took for granted the most, the opportunity to play soccer with Peruvians on a dirt road with a hundred spectators, that was an experience that I will never forget.
What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?
On the two week program, I'm going to give a summary of my favorite day; the trek and touring of Macchu Picchu.
We had a 4:15 wake up and we left the hotel around 5. We had the opportunity to hike up the mountain on rock-made stairs; it was awesome. It poured as we trekked up and we eventually made it to the summit. A few minutes after arrival, the clouds cleared and we got to view the marvelous wonder that was formerly the city of the Incans. We walked around the hilltop surrounding the UNESCO world heritage site and took pictures.
Then, we got a tour through the ruins and got to explore the religious and residential sections of the city. After, we got to walk around freely and explore either more of the ruins or go to a hilltop and view the ruins from above. Then, we took a bus down to Aguas Calients (Macchupicchu Town) and had a 5 hour free block of time. This allowed me to go shop in the gigantic market and go try some of the local restaurants. At the end of the day, we took a picturesque train ride back to Ollantaytambo through the alpine villages of the Andes and under Veronica Peak.
Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it and/or how did your views on the issue change?
My biggest fear of going on the trip to Peru was the fact that I barely knew any Spanish. In the community service areas we worked, the language was Quecha which none of us knew but in the larger cities and towns, the main language was Spanish. Most of the people in my group had taken Spanish and knew how to get by in the language. Myself taking Latin, I could barely keep up a few sentences. My first day in the market, I had no idea how to ask for anything and constantly needed help from my group leaders to create understanding between myself and the shop owner.
Luckily, one of my great friends on the trip turned out to be fluent in Spanish and helped me throughout the markets and taught me how to communicate in Spanish. The days when we went to the market, we both would talk (I doing my best) in Spanish most of the time. By the end of the trip, I knew how to barter in Spanish and name most of the products I had bought in Peru.