23 November 2012

Adios Peru

So, after 555 days it’s time to leave Cusco and Peru.

This has been the first stop on my ten-year global odyssey, working as project manager, South America for UK charity Globalteer. My job was to oversee all Globalteer projects in South America, which meant managing Picaflor House, Globalteer's project for underprivileged children in the small town of Oropesa, not far from Cusco, and coordinating the independent projects partnered with Globalteer in Peru and in Colombia. My responsibilities included such diverse duties as fundraising and social media marketing, staff and volunteer management, accounts and general administration, as well as teaching classes in English and Art.

It has been an extremely rewarding job and I am very proud of the progress made at Picaflor House under my management. I can’t take all the credit, of course, as I've had the support of a small but dedicated staff and Picaflor House has played host to some magnificent volunteers, all of whom contributed hugely to the success and growth of the project.

A few months ago, when I was writing Picaflor’s annual report, we interviewed some of our children to get their impressions. Their feedback was heartwarming. They spoke of the beauty and colour of our flower gardens; of how much easier their schoolwork was because of the extra support and tuition provided by our Picaflor House staff; of their love for our classes in arts and crafts – they are very creative; of the usefulness of learning English from native speakers; and of the fun they had on the days when we played games and sports, allowing our kids just to be kids.

Peru is an incredibly vibrant country to live in. It is a country rich in traditional festivals and colourful events, treating the visitor to a visual symphony of colour, energetic traditional dancing in the streets, delicious morsels of native cuisine and humbling displays of religious fervour. From the frequent booming of fireworks and barking of dogs, the almost deafening cacophony of seemingly constant music, the lung-busting challenges of life at high altitude, the impressive Inca ruins that dot the beautiful mountainsides of the Andes, to the incredible biodiversity of the Amazon jungle, and the tempting array of traditional arts and crafts for sale, Peru has it all.

I have taken full advantage of my 18 months to see and experience as much of the country and the culture as I could. I sweated in the jungle of the Manu Biosphere. I hauled my aching leg muscles up the thousands of steps at Machu Picchu. I marvelled at the soaring flight of the huge condors at Colca Canyon and I met the original Paddington Bear in the sanctuary of the Chappari Nature Reserve. I sailed the sparkling blue waters of Lake Titicaca and bounced as I walked on the floating man-made reed islands of Uros. I visited more churches and cathedrals than I ever had in my life before, and was enthralled by their magnificence and their architecture. I was fascinated by mummies and lines at Nazca, and captivated by ancient pyramids and glorious grave goods in the north of Peru.

I also explored a little of the rest of South America. The frequent need for new visas led to three trips to Bolivia, a couple of long weekends in the sleepy lakeside resort town of Copacabana and a ten-day tour that included the mesmerising salt flats at Uyuni and the superlative scenery of the Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa further south, the picturesque capital of Sucre and bustling metropolis of La Paz. And I survived the heart-stopping road trip down Bolivia’s notorious Death Road.

I loved the wonderful week I spent in Medellin, Colombia, visiting Globalteer’s partner projects and exploring that vibrant city. As well as my meetings with enchanting Colombian children and hard-working project staff, the highlights were my visit to the lush tropical paradise of the botanical gardens and the art, in particular the voluminous bronze figures of Colombia’s famous artist, Ferdinand Botero.

It has been an incredible 18 months. When I came to Peru, I really had little idea what to expect but my new life has exceeded all my expectations. I have met some wonderful people, I have seen amazing landscapes and architecture, animals and birds. Each and every day has brought some new sight, smell, taste or unique experience, and I have felt more alive than I have in many years. Thank you, Peru. I hope we meet again one day.
With my co-workers Luis, Johan and Sarah at Picaflor House

With our Picaflor kids, on my birthday

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