[singlepic=13,140,140,,right]In 2006 I took a career break and volunteered in Peru for the summer. This was the first time I really spent an extended amount of time in one place, and the experience was amazing. The culture and people of Peru touched me in a way I never expected and this led me to my next job at Cross-Cultural Solutions.
For many years, Peru has called me – whether it was the spirit of the Incas, the mystery of Machu Picchu, or the magic of the Quechuan smile, I needed to answer the call. In the summer of 2006, I did just that. But unlike other travels, where I tried to see and do as much as possible – never staying in one place for more than a few days – this time I wanted to have some roots. I really wanted to immerse myself in the culture; experience life as the locals; and maybe pick up a bit of the language.
Cusco was the perfect place. Chosen as the capital of the Incan Empire for a reason, Cusco has a spiritual essence that can’t be explained – it can only be felt. But if I was going to take so much from this beautiful culture, I also wanted to give something back. And that’s when I found Peru’s Challenge.
Peru’s Challenge is a local organization that offers a wonderful cultural and volunteer experience. Founded by Selvy and Jane, they have their finger on the pulse of the community and how best the volunteers can best help their needs.
During my time, we helped the Village of Pumamarca in the construction of the school. This project was great because we were able to work alongside the members of the community. And as it’s a sustainable project, the community is required to contribute, so even after Peru’s Challenge leaves, the village can continue to support the education of their children. In addition to painting, painting, and even more painting, we even had the chance to teach some art and gym classes. The kids were adorable, and at times mischievous, and their smiles were all the thanks we needed.
Peru’s Challenge was also terrific because it gave me the opportunity to learn more about the culture first hand. Whether we were exploring the outskirts of Cusco on horseback, taking in the beauty of the Sacred Valley, or enjoying the night life in Cusco – they were perfect guides for an inside perspective. And by living with my fellow volunteers in the village of La Rapa, we got to share our experiences together. Local traffic jams included.
And a trip to Peru would not be the same without a trek on the Inca Trail. Machu Picchu was high on my list after trekking in Nepal. Having it be a part of my volunteer experience made it even more special. After three tireless days of hiking through beautiful terrain, my tired body and weary eyes knew it was worth it after watching the sun come up on Machu Picchu.
In addition to the Incan culture of Peru, I got to see another side of it that I never imagined – the gorgeous volcanic landscape of Arequipa and the Colca Canyon. But the pinnacle of my experience was the time I got to spend with the people of Pumamarca. They touched my life in a way that Peru will always hold a special place in my heart.
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