Shenfield High School

Sat/Sunday) Day one - Flights, flights and flights

Day one was a story of flying and lots of it! 11 hours to Bogota, 3 hours to Lima, 1 hour 30 mins to Cusco. We arrived at our Hostel a little weary 25 hours after assembling at Heathrow. No sooner had we arrived we were whisked off for lunch in this beautifully quaint restaurant. The walk through Cusco was equally as impressive, crystal clear skies with the sun beating down. The scenery was a mix of Barcelona and Chamonix with hints of South American influence. The food was top drawer and I imagine the same setting in London would have cost you the earth. On return the leaders were briefed whilst the kids got some much deserved down time and a shower! We were handed out itinerary, it was a serious 4 weeks ahead of us. Some of the treks, camps and projects were sure to make for an unforgettable experience. As we thought bedtime was upon us, we were whisked back off for yet more food! Barely a scrap was eaten, with the scene similar to the opening of Saving Private Ryan! We headed on back and zzzzzzzzzzz. 

Monday) Day 2 - Camp, project, scenery

A much needed shower and I was up and ready by 6:30am! Breakfast was served and a coffee with cacao leaves kicked any altitude sickness right in the proverbial, until we started walking that was... It's hard to describe the effects of altitude but with Cusco 3400m above sea level, the simplest uphill walk meant a minimum HR of 140. We headed to our first camp which was a further 300 meters higher and boy could you feel it. Although you could taste the cleanliness (weird but true) it was difficult to catch your breath when on the move. Never have you seen such clear skies with the most breath-taking backdrop. Snow topped mountains and views for miles, with temperatures hovering in the mid 20's, perfect. The walk to our project was only 20 minutes but the terrain meant it was arduous. Downhill on variable ground, with a stiff climb on the return leg and after 7 hours graft it is surely going to be hard work. There are 3 projects Camps are currently working on in conjunction with the local community. The first and probably hardest in terms on energy expenditure was digging the foundations for the water pipe. The second is building a dining room for the school which is expanding next year and the last is building a toilet block. So there is plenty that we can do over the next 5 days to try and make a difference. 7pm came and dinner was spag Bol it was very good and much needed! A few card games in the dining room (mud hut) and off to try and get some shut eye.

Tuesday) Day 3 - Welcome, Graft, Progress

An interesting night full of noises and other alarming sounds. I awoke without an alarm and after feeling fairly fresh, Cam, James and I went for a jog! 25 minutes, first part down, okay... First 10 meters back up, wow! We walked the incline and jogged the flats and were back in time for 7pm breakfast. A couple of pancakes later and we were off to the project site where a day of hard labour was in store. We were welcomed by the school with a ceremonial giving of flowers and badges. Our lot didn't quite know what to do with themselves but enjoyed welcome, I think... We broke up into 2 groups and luckily for me I wasn't in the 'hole'! My group were in charge of the dining hall project and it was hard graft but very enjoyable. We filled in the 6ft foundations with a layer of rocks and then a layer of cement. Half transported the rocks and put them in, the others made the cement. We did this for 4 hours and boy was it hard work!! By the time we started working the sun popped out and it soon started to heat up. It was about 22 degrees but felt more like 30 at altitude. Lunch came and went and we swapped over, an afternoon in the hole it was! It will be hard to describe what working in the hole is like, you can guess from the pictures. The ground is rock solid and you have to go 3ft down and 2ft across. There are no diggers or electronic machinery, just you, a pick axe and a shovel that you repeatedly hammer the ground with. This continued for 2 hours although it felt like 10... We assembled for the walk back and began the trek back to camp and after that day it was a trek! We made it to the top, where a well-earned shower awaited us (well a bucket of luke warm water in a partially built cabin). I hand washed some clothes and by the time I finished, dinner was ready. It was gun, chicken, rice and potato, carb heavy! I got into my tent and put my head to the pillow.... Zzzzzzzzz 

It was 7pm!!! 

Wednesday) Day 4 - Aches, Pains and the hole! 

We awoke to the sun peeping through the clouds and a scorcher was in prospect. The group were a little weary after their first day of graft. Everyone managed to get their aches and pains up in time for breakfast. Fresh fruit, cereal and bread was the perfect start to what was going to be another hard day. Browny or Beefy as he is referred too (as a result of his uncanny resemblance to the golfer) informed us that he had volunteered us for a full day in the hole!!! I ate for 3 and we headed down to camp for a day in the dirt. On arrival we split into teams and I made an 'elite' squad whom I was confident would work hard for the duration, so Lewis, Cam and I got to it! We worked solidly until lunch with a few rest breaks for much needed fluid intake. Lunch broke the monotony of digging with some impromptu Volleyball! The local children were having a PE lesson and it finished with a game of Volleyball. It wasn't long before I managed to get a team involved and it was Peru vs England! We played for about 40 mins and the teams were not at all fair (the picture sums it up!). The other group who we are in camp with strengthened the locals and that's where I bowed out. Back to the hole for the final few hours that felt like days... Hands, back, arms, head, everything was aching and the group was being frazzled by the baking sun. I was so desperate for a shower that I pretty much ran back up to camp. Southers was with me and one point I didn't think either of us would make it, exhausted is an understatement. A quick shower and everything was right in the world. We threw a tennis ball around for a while before dinner and that was me done! Dinner was so good, chicken fajitas with all the trimmings including homemade guacamole!! No sooner had I taken my last mouthful my head hit the pillow and it was another early night. Nights in camp are very cold with temps dropping below freezing and with it getting dark before 7, a warm sleeping bag is by far the best option! 

 

 

Thursday) Day 5 - Frosty, Mini trek, chills

I awoke to freezing conditions outside the tent, with a heavy ground frost. It was cloudy and visibility was low, getting out of the tent was not fun! After 2 days of hard work we had a day off of project work and looking at the group it was probably a good thing! Breakfast was a Peruvian doughnut type thing and was okay. We packed our day sacks and headed off on our mini trek. Our destination was the Amara ruins about 1hr away. The walk took us through a beautiful little village that lead to the spectacular view at the top. The Amara ruins were built by the Incas over 400 years ago and were revolutionary at that time. Each platform had its own micro climate and they tested which crops grew best on each level. The Peruvians discovered the site in the 1930's with many of the tested formulas used now. The walk back down was brief for some of us as it seemed the last groups illness had finally struck!! Nico the leader from the Dukeries school was first to fall as the sickness kicked in. A few others started to feel it and the afternoon of leisure couldn't have been timed better. After doing a bit of washing and helping out with dinner it was my favourite time of the day, food. Today was Peru's 'Independence Day' and marked 195 years of the Countries separation from Spain. They had been preparing the meals all day and there was a feast!! We ate like champions and washed it down with some Inca cola (yellow coke that tastes like iron bru with lots of sugar!!). The night ended with a few more feeling the effects of the altitude and heat combo. A quick cup of magic tea and we put them to bed, hoping for a speedy recovery. 

Friday) Day 6 - Sickness, Community, Digging 

The day we have all been waiting for, well mainly me. Breakfast was Scrambled egg and little bits of bacon, it was so good! I gauged, probably a little too much after my 5th portion I was done. As we finished breakfast it was apparent we were a few down! 8 to be precise as a sickness bug swept the camp. The walk down to project was brief as we took the steeper route, perfect preparation for the upcoming trek. Today we had been informed that the surrounding communities were coming down to lend a hand. And boy did they, it was a sight to behold as over 200 people descended on us! Each individual was given the task of digging 5 meters across and 3ft down, basically what 3 of us did in a day! We were shown the map that highlighted their overall aim and our 3 days’ work looked a mere dot on the page! After another hard, hard days digging Cam joined me on the fast walk up the hill, it never gets easier. First up means first in the shower, easily the best/worst part of the day. They were warm and the feeling of removing the endless amounts of dirt was sensational. No sooner had we showered dinner was ready and it was homemade burgers, sweet potato wedges and salad. I feasted (as usual) and after we sat and caught up with the new group who had just arrived. They had been to both Camp Colca and Lake Titicaca and raved about them, so even after the impending trek we still had lots to look forward to. It seems to be getting colder each night and so the sleeping bag it was! 

 

Saturday) Day 7 - Bricks, Baking, Barbers

Today was our last day on project and it was met with a contrast of emotions. After being joined by another group it was apparent that this camp was the hardest of them all. It was hot during the days and the walk to and from camp was very steep and very hard work. However with the trek only 2 days away it can only have helped getting us physically and mentally prepared. Breakfast was a disappointment and after 2 lowly pancakes we trotted on down. We were based in the school today and in charge of the dining hall and toilet projects. A spanner in the works (no delivery of water) meant that we moved bricks from one end of the site up to the hall. In 4 hours we moved over 400 mud bricks weighing about 15kg each. The last 2 days in the hole were difficult but this seemed equally as tough, especially as the sun was beating down on us. As we were heading off tomorrow we finished at 12:30 which was a relief! Cam and I scaled the mountain of a walk home for the final time which meant a hot shower. By the time everyone got back I was out and ready to wash my clothes in prep for Cusco. As everyone returned, lunch was served and it was much needed! After scoffing our faces the Abson-Bennett's barbers opened! I gave Sid, Aaron and Lewis a trim and that saw the end of the charge on my razor. As we packed and took in the last of the spectacular views, our bracelet making class was upon us. Some managed better than others and by the time we had threaded half way the other group came in for dinner. We joined soon after they finished and by the time you know it bedtime was upon us.

Sunday - Day 8 - Adios, Cusco, Prep

We awoke early to ensure we were packed and ready to leave. Breakfast was the worst yet, porridge that was not particularly great. I swallowed a couple of bowls and after a few goodbyes we jumped on the coach. Camp one was complete and not without its highs and lows. Project work was hard graft and from what we heard the hardest out of all the camps. The staff were great with Boris in particular the highlight for me. We arrived in Cusco and back to where it began a week ago! On arrival we were briefed by 'Simba' our trek leader and it sounded incredible. He was a massive character and one that would definitely motivate the group. We headed off for some lunch and then had a guided tour around the town the square in particular is beautiful. We met for dinner at 6 and then went back to pack our 7kg duffle bags that we would use for the trek. Bedtime was upon us in preparation for the 2:45am wake up. 

Monday - Day 9 -Trek, disaster, illness 

As our alarms buzzed we awoke with a spring in our step. A quick clean of the teeth and we jumped onto the minibuses for the 3 1/2 hour journey to base camp. After a rather hairy last hour or so we arrived to freezing conditions. We jumped off the bus and the 5 minute walk to the hut for breakfast took your breath away. This is when disaster struck and the news was broken. Two of the boys from another school had broken the rules and in a pretty big way. I was the lucky one that had to escort them back to Cusco, it was a long day. As their situation was resolved I joined the group that were a day behind us for dinner. After eating the same meal I ate the previous night I headed off to sleep. Lucky for me I could join this group and get to the start of the trek the next morning. 

Tuesday - Day 10 - Inca, Horses, Struggle

After being up all night throwing up I was awake for my 2:45 alarm. I had no choice but to start the trek as Martin one of the trek leaders had stayed behind to help me catch up. Into the bus I got and began the long trip to base camp, remarkably I wasn't sick on the bumpy and very windy tracks. As I was a day behind Martin and I hopped on a horse for the first part. We reached the peak height for the trek 4630m and boy was it high. Due to the steepness at some points and because my legs and backside killed I walked. In total I did about half on foot and I was greeted by some spectacular views at the top. Naively I thought that camp one was just after, how wrong was I! We continued on for what seemed like forever and to make things worse I still couldn't hold down any food or water. After a quick 30 minute power nap we made it to camp 1 and what I was sure was me done! I tried to eat lunch but was unsuccessful, so I slept for about an hour to try and pick myself up for another 3 hours walking. Martin awoke me and somehow I dragged myself down to the bottom of the mountain. We got a car to camp two as there was not enough time in the day to walk. In total we walked 27km over the toughest terrain of the trek and we were exhausted. I was greeted with a hug from the group and before I could fill them in on events, I passed out in my tent. I managed some dinner which was the first substance, aside from 2 cereal bars I managed all trek. A tent had never felt so good.

Weds Day 11 - Team, Steep, Llaqtapata Lodge

After sleeping from the moment I arrived in camp I felt 1000% times better, even if the wake up time was 5:30am. I showered, in baby and deodorising wipes and felt a little more human. Breakfast was an omelette, toast and some fruit, it went down a treat. Today was a half day after copious amounts of walking the previous two days. It took us 5 and a half hours to reach camp 3 all of which was steeply uphill. It was boiling and there was no wind as we were covered by the jungle canopy either side. However it was all worthwhile once we reached Llaqtapata Lodge, it was sensational. We could see the back of Machu Picchu and for miles around, the views were incredible. We arrived about 2 O'clock and had some down time before lunch at 3:30. We took in some of the views and sat in the restaurant and had a quiz to keep our brains ticking over. The restaurant overlooked our surroundings and you would struggle to find a better setting. Dinner came and went as we headed to sleep ready for our final days trek before the main event, Machu Picchu. 

Thursday - Day 12 - Steep, River, Base Camp

Another early wake up and it was the worst breakfast of the week. For our final days trek we had 16km to walk the first of which was directly downhill. We descended 900 meters in just under 2 hours in the heat of the jungle. The group were in good spirits despite the temperature steadily increasing. As we reached the bottom and began to walk alongside the river, Simba lead us towards a shallow part. The next hour will live long in the memory and after having no shower for the previous 4 days, the freezing cold water under the baking hot sun was the perfect antidote. I used the crystal clear water to remove the endless dirt from my body and it felt incredible. The rest of the group had followed suit and by the time we started walking my finger nails were clean and hands wrinkly!!! We had lunch early by the hydroelectric plant before embarking on our final push towards base camp. The terrain for once was kind and only a subtle incline for the remainder. We were walking alongside the railway and despite the strikes we saw the odd one pass. As we approached camp the side of Machu Picchu was in view and the excitement of what to come was palpable. 

Friday - Day 13 - Queue, Machu Picchu, complete

The day had come!! The one that we had all been waiting for was finally here and it started with a 2am wake up! Simba our trek leader who was equally as odd as me (not my words) wanted to be sure we were front of the first check point. Due to the volume of people that come visit the iconic site everyday (Up to 5,000) there are two checkpoints. The first at the bottom of the mountain opens at 5am, the final one at the top at 6am. So by the time we had the earliest of breakfasts we walked to the first check point to begin the two hour vigil. As the time approached we began preparing for the race to the top. Layers of clothes protecting us from the bugs and mosquitos were removed and passports were at the ready. The gates opened and we were through, it was pitch black and only 450meters up the steep steps stood between us and the top. So Lewis, Cam, Sam and ginger James made a dash for it, hoping to be the first of many thousands through the gates of Machu Picchu. Less than half way up we were all struggling with the steepness of the hill and the height of the constant steps. Sweat was pouring from us as we looked to beat the first buses to the top (they left at 5:30am and took around 20 mins). Simba was leading the charge and both he James and Sam made it to the top in 40 mins. Lewis and I followed a couple of minutes later and we had done it, first in the queue! As the crowds grew (in 20 minutes the line was hundreds and hundreds long) 6am came and our tickets were checked, we sprinted the final few steps to reach the top and there it was. The adrenaline and excitement had reached fever pitch and some high pitched screams and shouts were let out as we were greeted by the most incredible scenery. It is one thing seeing it on postcards and in various pictures on the Internet. However nothing prepares you for the moment you see it for real and it felt like we had it to ourselves which made it that little bit more special. We raced around trying to find the best view, eventually finding 'the spot'. With sweat dripping from us still, our first pictures were taken. After the standard photos we took some time to take in our surroundings whilst it was still quiet. As the remainder of the group came through the doors, the sun was just about to rise above us, it is these special moments you will remember for a very long time. We had a tour and found out some interesting information about the site, the whole place is even more remarkable when you hear its history. After our tour we headed for the exit and our time was up. The site is much bigger in real life and it took a couple of hours to view it properly. As we waited for our bus down we enjoyed a snack and a coffee in the restaurant, watching the crowds continue to grow and grow. We collected our bags and headed off on the sickest train back through the jungle. With glass panels everywhere the views of the landscape were fantastic, although most were far too tired to keep their eyes awake long enough (me included). We jumped off and onto a bus heading towards our final camp and bed was in sight! 40 mins later we arrived to this secluded village and what looked a perfect spot for some much needed R&R. We had a bite to eat and 18 hours after we awoke, the day was done. 

Day 14 - Lie in, Clean, Pottery

A much needed lie in as we arrived in for breakfast just after 8 to some delicious pancakes! As the group headed off for a chocolate making class, I used the time to do some washing and get sun burnt. Lunch came and went before we headed off for our pottery making class. The group designed their own coasters and had a go at making a pot on the machine. Dinner came and went as another group joined us the groups started to mingle. I headed to bed for another early start, 5:00am ready for our 10 hour coach journey to Lake Titicaca. 

Day 15 - Coach, Coach, Titicaca

Day 15 saw us take a 10 hour bus journey from Urubamba to Lake Titicaca. We went via a 'hot spring' not what you would expect. We arrived to some beautiful scenery at the world’s highest lake! 

Day 16 - Boat, Taquile, Beach   

Day 16 started with a customary early wake up, which actually had started to feel normal. Today we were off to the 'island' for an overnight stay on the beach. As we set off the weather couldn't have been better, calm seas and blue skies meant for a smooth ride. Half way into our journey we stopped off to have a look at the 'floating island' and it was mind boggling. A group off 5 families had set up residence on an island made of reeds and this was in the middle of the lake. We had a demonstration of how it was put together, it was incredible viewing. They are self-sufficient and the children leave for school on the boat every day!! We had a look around and some bought some souvenirs before saying our goodbyes. We hopped back on board and headed to our final destination Taquile Island. We summited (it wasn't high but sounds good) and had lunch overlooking the vast expanse of water, still trying to fathom how it was a lake. On the menu was fresh trout and omelette for the veggies (and me) and it went down a treat. After a brief nosy around we headed to our private beach for the evening about 45 minutes away. As we meandered around the south side of the island we enjoyed some spectacular views that were reminiscent of those from Mamma Mia. We reached camp and unloaded our bags from the boat and set up our tents. A couple of hours to kill before dinner in a restaurant of type meant only one thing, quiz. Dinner was hamburger and chips it went down a treat, even if we were under the smallest of lights! As we finished the pitch black began to scare a few (with a bit of help from me) with thunder and lightning over Bolivia. The views were so clear and the lake so vast that it joined Peru with neighbouring Bolivia and in the day you could see the snow topped mountains. 

Day 17 - Uncomfortable, Cold, Volleyball

I awoke from the island feeling battered and bruised. It was 5:15 and I felt as if I had not slept a wink, who knew sleeping on sand could be so uncomfortable? I dragged myself out into the cold to pack away my tent and enjoy the beautiful views. I strolled up to breakfast and enjoyed multiple pancakes, coffee and more pancakes. The weather was calm and so the ride home was smooth which was a god send with some very tired bodies kicking around. As we returned we made the most of the sunshine, washing clothes and playing volleyball. To make the games interesting and competitive we (I) placed some consequences on each game for the losers. As we were next to such a huge lake it seemed silly not to use it! Game one, losers knee deep and stay there for 3 mins, game two knee deep and put your head under. The final game (I hadn't lost yet) a full on sit down, I was close to this but not quite close enough!! We sat down for some lunch and I braved the showers hoping for a little bit of hot water. I was rewarded with 3 minutes of utter joy, it is amazing how much you crave hot water, especially when temperatures outside are pretty cold. After lunch we started to prepare for our Olympics against fellow campers 'Mayu'. We split into 3 groups and came up with; a team flag, team mascot, team song and a cheerleading routine. The day flew by as the group enjoyed the task, working well together on something that wasn't digging. As dinner came and went I had my latest night to date, enjoying the company of the 'Mayu' group and in particular their rather aesthetically pleasing group leader! We played cards, tipping point and the chase, before retiring about 9:30, so rock and roll! 

Day 18 - Project, Olympics, Team

As we thought a lie in was upon us we were informed that our breakfast was at 6:30! As our Olympics were this afternoon we needed to put a shift in before. The project site was about a 40 minute walk away and we were on route by 7:30am. As we approached a fork in the road we split into two groups and went to different sites. My group were in charge of building a wall for the barn that would separate the animals from the main house and keep them warm in the freezing temperatures. With only a day left to complete this we put it in to ensure that it would get done. 9 layers of bricks later it was complete, standing 1m 80cm tall and ready for the roof to be attached. We left feeling very satisfied knowing that in that 4 hours we had gone some way to helping this family. I pretty much sprinted back to camp to ensure that elusive hot shower and I was richly rewarded, removing the endless amounts of dust and mud from my limbs. Lunch was average and crying out for some Pasatta!! I did some more washing as we awaited the start of the Olympics. 4pm came and another team had arrived in camp, 'Tika' joined the party and the games were a 3 way contest. 5 games would decide the camp winners and to our horror not the 5 games that had previously been played! The line-up was; pass the orange (with your neck), hula hooping (multiple limbs), sack race, blind eating and the brutal finale musical pillows. Although each game was played in good spirit (unlike previous days) the end game was still incredibly violent, with what seemed like people's lives depending on that pillow!! Our mates 'Mayu' were crowned champions and we sat down for dinner with temperatures plunging outside. Chicken fajitas went down a treat as I joined the other group leaders and settled in for our customary games. We were treated to a cinnamon infused hot chocolate, which went down a treat before the cold became too much and we headed to bed about half 8. 

 

 

 

Day 19 - lie in, project, camp fire 

Breakfast was a barmy 7:30 which meant a lie in of sorts. Today was a full day of project work and so we set off on the 40 minute walk to the final house on the list. We were in charge of building the foundations for the barn and greenhouse. We decided to outline their expectations and aimed to finish that as quickly as possible in the race for a hot shower. We split into two groups and the lads took the harder plot as we had to dig the foundations for the barn before laying the stone. The ground was solid rock and it meant for a long first hour, once complete it meant we could start the real life game of Tetris and start laying the rocks. As this game of patience continued we started to mix the mud and water which would act as the concrete. By lunch we had finished the first layer of mud and our 2pm aim was just about in reach. A 15 minute turnaround and we were back to it, finishing the last layer of mud by 10 past and the race was on. Over the mountain and far away we ran and the shower was more than worth it. After drinking only a litre of water all day I paid the price on return with mother of all headaches. I tried sleeping it off but to no avail and although it was bae's final night I couldn't muster a late finish. A few of the lads stayed up with their respective bae's and it was with sorrow in our heart that we were leaving the group, especially as the boys were left with so many unanswered questions!! 

Day 20 - Colca, Long, Perspective 

Day 20 was another travel day which saw us make the 7 hour round trip to Colca, our final camp. I awoke still feeing rather average and my brown wee suggested I was severely dehydrated! Lots of water on a long bus ride not ideal but very necessary. The journey took us past some spectacular viewing points as we climbed to just over 5,000m above sea level. As we descended it was clear that our bodies had adapted to the lack of oxygen with no complaints of altitude sickness. We approached camp and were greeted with another special welcome. Pinchello is a small town on the famous condor route, its inhabitants are very poor with very little tourism coming to their village. The project manager explained their plight and you couldn't help but be inspired to help. Camps were at the heart of 3 major projects in the village; firstly a new dining hall for the secondary school, this was complete. Secondly a new dining hall for the nursery which was also complete. Finally they were building a Cultural House and viewing point to try and attract more tourists to their village. This along with relaying the irrigation pipe alongside the house would be us for the next 5 days. Dinner came and went with burgers going down a treat and an early night to ensure we can put in 100% tomorrow

Day 21 - New project, Wind, Awards 

Our last camp seems to be the most chilled out yet and with only us here, breakfast was at 8 o'clock. Today was our first day on project and it wasn't much fun! My group were in charge of digging out four inches of concrete so the new irrigation pipe could be laid. We had a 20kg sledgehammer and the trusty pick axe, it was bone breaking work. We had about 10 meters to finish which we completed by 3pm, 5 hours after we first started. As we were about to leave a delivery of 600 bricks, 30 bags of cement and endless metal rods appeared. We helped unload and eventually finished weary in the gale force wind about 4:30. The weather here is strange and you could set your watch by it, the mornings are glorious and not a cloud in the sky. As the day progressed the breeze picks up through the canyon and by mid-afternoon it is about 30mph. It brings the temperature down markedly and makes working on the site almost impossible due to the amount of dust fling about. A much needed warm shower (with a bucket) cleared the pores and we were ready for dinner. As Cam, Sam and Harlene were leaving us tomorrow we decided to have our awards evening a few days early. Us leaders sat and discussed who should win what and I was of course elaborate in my presentation of each. With not much to do in camp after dark and no other groups to socialise with, bedtime was upon us. 

Day 22 - Goodbyes, Crafts, Will Ferrell

Day 22 and somehow it was time to say goodbye to three of my muchachos! Having to get back for their A2 results Harlene, Cam and Sam were whisked off to Arequipa to catch their flights. With heavy hearts the group said their goodbyes as they drove off into the distance. However just before they left a little love note arrived from the other group for CTB! With a smile the size of Peru on his face they finally departed. We carried on with our mornings work and broke for lunch a tired and dusty bunch after filling in the irrigation pipe the dirt we dug out only yesterday! We had the afternoon to ourselves as unloading the lorry had taken longer than expected. Coupled with the fact there isn't too much more project work we can do as most of it has been finished. Martine our camp leader organised a craft fair at 4pm in which the locals set up their stalls full of ponchos, jumpers, hats, gloves etc. All of it was handmade and I gave in and bought a poncho as they are the perfect cotching attire. A few of the group dressed up in the towns traditional clothes and looked sick, a few pictures later and it was shower time. I think this is the one thing I have missed the most and definitely take for granted. Hot water is at a premium here, whereas back home it's so readily available. Dinner was chilli con carne and I managed to dig out some spice, boy did it taste good! As the kids went to their dorms still mourning the loss of the departed, we stayed in the dining hall and watched half of Talladega Nights before retiring ourselves. 

Day 23 - Earthquake, Trek, Condors

Day 23 started very strangely after a rather eventful evening! Having been briefed on the possibility of an earthquake and seeing lots of posters explaining what to do in the event of one, you don't actually expect one! Having not had one all summer one hit at 10:02pm with the epicentre 32km away in Chivas. The tremor lasted for about 10 seconds and was fairly violent and awoke most from their slumber. As the day progressed we found out that it was fairly severe and measured 5.6 on the Richter scale. We drove through Chivas on the way up and it really wasn't far, probably an hour by bus. Nevertheless everyone in camp was okay and our little village was intact, unfortunately I'm not sure the same could be said about Chivas. We rose early for breakfast as this morning we were off on the infamous condor trek along the canyon. We packed a snack and off we set a little later than planned at 7:30, this would later bite us in the butt. We were told it was about 2 and a half hours by foot, it took closer to 4 as the terrain and heat got the better of some. The peak time at the viewpoint was 8-10am and we arrived at 10:45. As we approached we could see about 10-15 condors circling the viewing point, it was a sight to behold. Having seen these amazing creatures close up, it was a special sight to see them in their natural environment. There sheer size meant you could see their shadows below on the mountain. As we reached the viewing point (late) they had made off to their nests and so we took a moment to enjoy our surroundings. The canyon was huge with the landscape similar to that of a desert, with thousands of Cacti and baron land for miles. We ate our lunch as the odd Condor teased us by flying overhead, before heading back to camp. By now the temperature had increased and with no wind the walk home was hot!! We eventually made it back by 2pm with a couple of the slower members of the group struggling to keep pace. In total we walk 19.4km or 11.9 miles which was the equivalent to one day of the trek. It was a fantastic way to spend the dreaded Monday morning! On return we ate soup and garlic bread before having the afternoon off to ensure the kids rooms were tidy and clothes washed/semi packed. I made use of the time by writing a few match reports before dinner came and went. We watched another 40 mins of the movie before hitting the hay very tired after an energy sapping day. 

Day 24 - Shovel, Celebration, Basketball

Day 24 was the day of eating as I enjoyed my most fruitful day yet! Pancakes were my favourite breakfast and they were so good, I managed a record 8 with toffee sauce and I was done. This prepared me for close to 4 hours of shovelling dirt as we filled in the remaining areas of the irrigation pipe. It was a warm morning and the 30+ meters of piping we laid needed to be completely covered to ensure it wouldn't get broken. As 11am struck the deputy head of the village came to thank us for our hard work and said a few words. Our elected spokesman Southers said a few words and it was made official by Inca cola and cactus juice all round! We continued until lunch trying to ensure the pipe was at pavement level so it doesn't sink in the rainy season. Lunch was the best yet with some Chinese style rice and veg, i had 3 plates as I continued my excellent run of form. We let lunch settle before playing what I am sure was the highest game of basketball ever played? The setting was perfect and although it was blowing a gale, it was thoroughly enjoyable. We played an inter-school format first to one basket, which was ideal as the altitude meant for lots of heavy breathing! We headed back for a shower with clear lungs and a spring in our step and as I waited that extra half an hour, the water was the warmest yet. Dinner was again a triumph but not before we finished our film, finally! Our meal was essentially chicken and chips with veg and it was enjoyed by all. Two helpings was enough and with some cake to wash it down I was sure to pay for my consumption!! We were informed that the other group were no longer coming yet despite this another early night it was with very little to do in the evenings. 

Day 25 - Last day, Canyon, Camp Fire

Our last day was a mixture of sadness and excitement with the latter more prevalent in my case. After 3 and a half weeks I was ready to get home despite having an incredible time. The morning saw us complete our last hours of project work and it was a relief to finish. The work in Colca was hard work and not particularly fun but you had to look at the bigger picture. This would have taken the local 'maestros' weeks to compete what we as a team could do in a day and without our monetary input, it wouldn't have happened at all. We broke for lunch with a sense of satisfaction after 12 long days of hard graft. The afternoon took us to the Canyon viewpoint 20 mins down the mountain and it was a great view although extremely windy. A few snaps were taken before we headed back for a shower and to pack!! Our coach was leaving at 6 the following day due to the earthquake and the damage it left, the excitement was building. 

Day 26 - Early, Excitement, Arequipa

Not often I am excited for a 4:45 alarm but today was one. The earliest of egg breakfasts and we were off, saying our last goodbyes to the ever so friendly Colca staff. The journey took a mere 5 hours and we arrived to hot water and Wi-Fi. As the group went off into town I paid my debts and headed back for that elusive hot running water. After showering I enjoyed the balcony before heading off for some Wi-Fi. 3 and half hours later it was time for dinner and it was a day of catch-up! Never has time gone so fast, dinner was average as we had the final sleep in Peru before our mammoth 24 hour return journey home. 

Day 27/28 - Flights, flights, flights 

And so our time is nearly over and it's just the small matter of 2 connecting flights, a 9 hour stop over and 10 hour flight to negotiate! The stopover was painful but we made it and home had never felt so close. 

Summary - Final thoughts 

So 28 days in country has come to an end and what a journey it’s been. So many highs and very few lows, which in 4 weeks and when in such close proximity is quite remarkable. The main highlight of course was Machu Picchu, the place is quite simply astonishing. However what was equally as enjoyable was the trek itself, 5 days of wonder and discovery on a journey for which you couldn't wait to reach the end goal. The trek team were amazing and without doubt enhanced our experience 1000 times. Their knowledge, passion and energy was something to behold and the group fed off that. Days were long and arduous with a 25km second day over variable terrain, hiking up and down up to a 1000+ meters. The scenery on route was memorable, ice glaciers on day one, incredible camp day 3 and washing in the river on route day 4. Day 5 was the easiest in terms of terrain, however after the previous 4 days it was the thought of that end goal along with the togetherness of the group that got everyone to base camp. The run up to beat the buses and be one of the first in was down to pure adrenaline. If you tried to recreate that at home, at 5am in the dark without that outcome it simply wouldn't happen. It is hard to describe the feeling as you walk/run around the corner and you are greeted by that view you have seen on postcards or on the Internet. In real life it takes your breath away and for that first 10 minutes it seemed like it was our own private tour. As the rest of our group made it up, they too got to experience that real sense of achievement and I couldn't be prouder of them all. The sun rose on us as we were taking in the views, lifetimes of memories right there. 

 

The remainder of the trip could have been a dull affair in comparison. It wasn't and credit must go to Camps for a fantastic itinerary. All of the camps were top draw and catered for your needs, as bucket showers and tissue bins became the norm.  Camp Titicaca was a highlight but maybe that is because we made allies with another group, I feel that was a very important step and enhanced everyone's enjoyment. Other groups were not as approachable and in fact damn right rude, this definitely made some evenings less than enjoyable. I still cannot fathom why you would be so obtrusive, especially the teachers who are giving up their holiday to provide such opportunities. These poor attitudes almost certainly reflected the behaviour of their groups and the amount they chose to interact. Camp Maras will be remembered for the people as well as the incredible views. The group were able to interact with the locals and some including me fell in love with the children. The distinct lack of anything we find meaningful was heart-warming, phones, computers and expensive trainers were know where to be seen. They were happy with a bike tyre, stick and a flat football, it was all they needed. It was these such moments that may cause some to rethink their priorities or at least be more thankful for what they have. 

Project work was hard but for me the most rewarding part of the trip. There are not many opportunities that you get in life to make a real difference to someone else's existence. However this was certainly one of those rare occasions as people far less fortunate than you not only wanted your help, but needed it. Each project had a similar theme with each camp stationed in a poor town that had very little. Whether it be digging to lay a new irrigation pipe or building a barn to house their livelihood, every brick laid and inch dug was making a difference. Going from camp to camp was a great way of seeing the extent to which each group had made their own little difference. By the time we arrived in Colca our final Camp projects for 2016 were finished and you could see the difference it was going to make. 

Finally the main and most enjoyable part for me was the group. Three schools put together and all meeting at Heathrow for the first time. It could have been a long 4 weeks, especially as we had heard that some group leaders hadn't got on with each other. Lucky for us we had Adam who’s calm yet authoritative persona meant for a smooth ride. He was approachable and full of stories, the kids warmed to him quickly as did us staff. Many schools and teachers shy away from such trips as they become harder to organise and with so much red tape it's easy to see why. However all of that hard work and nervous energy prior to departure pales in to insignificance when you get a trip like this. Behaviour impeccable, attitudes good, opinions changed, goals achieved for many. Two other easy going adults who had also taken 4 weeks out of their holiday meant we had the strongest of teams. I can't wait for the next journey as Cambodia 2017 fast approaches, I just hope the kid’s take as much out of it as I have. 

 

Partnerships