Matt Pendle as he appeared in Wivenhoe Youth TheatreMatt Pendle’s Gap Year adventures in Peru – starting in February 2005

‘After a mammoth 1 1/2 day flight, which crossed 3 continents, and five lines of longitude, I arrived in Peru absolutely exhausted. But why was I there, and what was I going to do?  

Having studied for 3 intensive years, firstly for GCSE’s, then for AS levels, and finally for A levels, my brain had finally given up, and had decided that it wasn’t going to work any more. I therefore had little choice but to take a gap year. I really didn’t want to spend it sat at home in front of the television, so after a talk at my school by a gap year organisation, and a few hours on the Internet, I had found what I wanted to do, an Inca project in Peru.

imageThis basically involved clearing Inca terraces of vegetation, and then rebuilding them, in an attempt to preserve them for future generations. Admittedly this could have easily gotten monotonous, but the work was interspersed with walks up mountains to old Inca sites, helping to coach football to the local children during their summer holiday, and a social event with the other volunteers, and all in my first week!

imageIn the following weeks, I worked with the other volunteers on a dental campaign, helping to improve dental hygiene in the local communities, helped to build a wall around a school, and built a path in the back garden of where I was staying, or rather I built a wonderful step to finish the path, though unfortunately is had to be demolished, since due to a small error in my calculations I had built it right in the way of where the back door opened. I must admit it felt like being back in technology lessons.

It wasn’t all work though. At the weekends the volunteers were left to their own devices, and we normally headed into Cusco to spend the weekend shopping, visiting museums, and dare I say it, sampling the local night life.

There is a lot lot more that I could say about Peru, from the wonderful climate, to the very friendly people, but hopefully I have conveyed to you some of what a gap year can offer.’

Matt Pendle 

Some sample’s of Matt’s diary:  20th March 2005 

Well there goes yet another week. I seriously can’t believe that I’ve been here 4 weeks already, the time has just flown past, and according to everyone it will only shoot past faster. This means that I really really need to start planning what I will do in my free travel time, else I’ll be there with nothing to do.

imageRight, enough ranting about the speed of time, what have I been up too this week? For a change I actually did some hard labour, as myself and seven other volunteers went to Media Luna to help build a wall around the school grounds. Media Luna is situated about 5 minutes outside of Urabamba, which in turn is situated about an hour and a half away from Zurite. This meant that we had to stay in a hostel in Urabamba. The hostel was very nice, the beds comfortable, and private showers, the only problem with it was that it was 100% vegetarian, and the portions were very small, meaning that by Thursday we were desperate for some meat, and a full sized meal.

The building itself involved moving vast quantities of boulders (I exaggerate not), and digging trenches through very very rocky ground. Thankfully though we only spent half the day working, the morning, and after that the rest of the day was ours. By the end of the week we had managed to finish two trenches, and foundations for the wall were being laid in one of the trenches.

There’s not much more to say about the Media Luna project, except that on Wednesday night, all the volunteers went to the local, �The Muse Too�, for the weekly pub quiz, in which my team came second by 1 point. The quiz was extremely good fun, as your end score wasn’t based solely on your ability to correctly answer the questions, but also on your ability to suck up to the judges by plying them with drink and cigarettes.

After the quiz and a quick arm wrestling competition in which I lost miserably, but apparently that was due to my technique rather than my actual ability, myself Ben, Alex and Beth headed back to the hostel in the pitch black. Thankfully Ben had his torch, so we were saved from plunging of the side of a cliff. Unfortunately for me though, Alex, Beth, and Ben were in a different room from me, and I forgot to get the key for my room off of the guy who had it. I therefore made puppy dog eyes, and pleaded with them to let me crash in their room until the others came back. Temporarily at least Sinne hadn’t returned from the pub, so I crashed on his bed till he came back and pushed me onto the floor. At 4:30 the others returned, and I was able to go to bed properly. Needless to say we were all late to work Thursday morning, but miraculously only by about 30 minutes, except for David, a hard drinking Bavarian, who we left in bed, and he was still there when we returned about 2 o’clock.

imageOn Friday we visited 3 sites, one Inca, one Colonial, and one Wari, a civilisation that predated the Incas. The colonial site was a church built by the Peruvians for the Spanish, and had various depictions on the walls of heaven and hell, which were pretty impressive, but they were in the process of restoration, so some parts were obscured by scaffolding, and also I wasn�t allowed to take photos, so hopefully my memory will serve. The second site, the Wari one called Pikillacta, was a collection of ruins, but unfortunately the process of maintenance and restoration had only just begun, so most of the site was still overgrown. The final site however was absolutely amazing. It was an old Inca temple called Tip�n which was basically a load of terraces through which the Incas had diverted two streams, so that the whole site had running water through it. It was beautiful, and hopefully our terraces will look something like it when we are finished. Oh yes before I forget, I had Cuy (guinea-pig) again for lunch, and then some of us visited the owners house were the live guinea-pigs were kept, and where I learnt some interesting facts about the Guinea-pig trade. This particular woman killed 35 a day, the males when they are 8 months old, and the females around the one year stage, when they have had three litters of mini-pigs. Finally, to buy a guinea-pig costs 10 soles, so we will shortly be setting up our own guinea-pig farm.

Friday evening was also really good. We arrived in Cusco, and the lads went for a pizza which was really really good, after which we all met up in a relaxed bar called Mandela’s, from where we went to a couple of clubs. I was the last to leave by quite a way I think, and I eventually got to bed around 6 in the morning, just as one of the other volunteers was getting up, to catch a train to start his period of travel. I think I had time to say goodbye before I fell asleep. I didn’t sleep for long, as I had arranged to go on a walk of Cusco on Saturday with a couple of the other volunteers, and they got me up and out of the hostel by 10:00. I should have stayed in bed as I still had alcohol coursing through my veins, and I was really tired, so I didn’t take much heed of the longest Inca wall still in existence in Cusco, nor the Santo Domingo Church Museum, nor the Inca museum. I collapsed into a cafe for lunch, and then crawled into bed where I slept till 6:00 in the evening, although I didn’t get up till 7:30, when I showered, went for some food, and unsurprisingly had an earlyish night.

imageWith regards to what I eat. The staple food of the Peruvians is Rice, with the odd bit of pasta thrown in. At the house, we tend to have spaghetti bolognaise, or some other mince dish with rice, and normally the meal is started with a soup. There is always plenty, and if I do get hungry there is normally fruit or bread available. When I’m in Cusco the meals vary between the very cheap chicken and chips, pizza, which they do very well over here, pork and rice, sandwiches, and last night I had Mexican, so pretty much anything when I’m in Cusco.

26th March, 2005

Well this week has been fairly relaxed, since its close to Easter, and there have been lots of parades, and days off.  On Monday there was a procession in Zurite and Cusco. Whilst we had the option to go to Cusco, I decided to stay in Zurite and watch and un-tourisised parade. It started with Mass in the semi-refurbished church, which will look amazing when finished, and then spilled out into the street with Jesus on the Cross being paraded around the village for several hours. I think I got some good photos, but I confess I didn’t watch the entire parade, as it did go on for hours.

imageOn Tuesday we were back up the terraces, although to a slightly different part of Condor, the difference being that there was even more vegetation to cull than normal, they do like to make us work, I’m not sure I quite agree with this whole work ethic thing but ho hum. We came back to Zurite for lunch, and then helped Tila, the new cook, prepare food for the social on Wednesday with the Urabambians. Tuesday evening was spent in the normal way of card playing, watching films, and reading, so not the most exciting thing I’ve ever done.

Wednesday was the social, and I was issued with a clipboard, a pen, a list of names, a shirt, trousers, and a tie, so that I looked properly official and told to make sure everyone arrived safely…I might be exaggerating slightly about the shirt, trousers and tie. Given that there were 30 of them coming, I don’t think that losing 2 along the way was too big a deal. The first part of the social was to take the Urabambians on a tour of Condor. However, I ducked out of it, and instead went into the kitchen to help Tila, by peeling tomatoes, and very important job, and personally I felt that I rose to the challenge.

When they returned from Condor, we had a quick snack, and then went down to the stadium to play Ceasar�s football team, Ceasar being the Godfather of Zurite. Seeing as my foot balling skills are next to zero, I played volleyball, and to my surprise discovered that my volleyball skills are next to zero as well. This doesn’t bode well in a country that is fanatical about football, and its national sport is apparently volleyball. After that everybody came back to have lunch, and I discovered that we had lost the football 3:2, and that every player in the losing team had to pay 2 Sol to the winning team, so I was actually quite glad I hadn’t played.  Then myself and Sinne decided to walk to Izcuchaca, a 30 minute bus ride away, but a 2hr 20 min walk away. It was quite a pleasant walk, and about two thirds of the way there we were stopped by a farmer, who wanted us to go over and join him. We unsurprisingly declined, so he sent his two children over to us with an armful of freshly cooked potatoes. We were a little stunned, but said thank you and then carried on our merry way, but this time with rations.

By the time we got to Izcuchaca, we had time for only 10 minutes on the Internet, before the last bus back to Zurite left. Thankfully we got back before dinner, I had begun to get worried that I wasn’t going to be fed, but since I was, I was able to spend the rest of the evening relaxing.

Thursday was another free day, like Monday, so Sinne persuaded me to climb the highest mountain in the local chain. It was a 2hr 30min climb through constant cloud cover, and rain so to say that the views from the top were spectacular would be a slight exaggeration as we could see nothing. When we got back at about 1:30 we discovered the other lads were on the verge of going to Cusco, and that the girls had already left for Pisac, which meant I had the house almost to myself, so I slobbed out in front of the television, and watched films for the remainder of the day.

Friday we also had free, so we left for Cusco, and amazingly we arrived. That’s about all that happened on Friday.

Well that was my less than exciting week, but it was still enjoyable, especially Thursday afternoon.

Matt Pendle   

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