First blog of the year and what post could be better than one that features llamas?
At the end of 2016, Claudia, who is currently studying medicine in Sydney, was fortunate enough to visit Cusco in Peru and volunteer with International Volunteer HQ/Maximo Nivel and provide service to Medical at Centro de Salud Dignidad Nacional.
Below, she gives you a run-down of her experience, including her trek to Machu Picchu and where to eat and what to do if you end up exploring that part of the world!
Late last year, I organized a volunteering project through the New Zealand based company International Volunteer Headquarters and completed the project with their South American partners, Maximo Nivel. I chose to complete the “Medical Project” and was assigned to provide 40 hours service in a clinic located within a community of great need: Medical at Centro de Salud Dignidad Nacional.
Before my trip, I had only ever experienced first world healthcare and it was a striking contrast to see how things worked in this third world location. Patients only presented at the clinic once an illness was very developed, the medical system ran only on paper and without computers and medical professionals were in great shortage. I had many roles within the clinic, including helping out in triage, completing paperwork for each patient and door-to-door knocking at the homes of locals, offering vaccinations to children who would otherwise not be vaccinated against diseases we have seen wiped out in the Western World.
What to do in Cusco, Peru
On top of the incredible experience of volunteering, there was so much to enjoy about Cusco.
- Walk up Rainbow Mountain: My first weekend in Cusco, I walked to the top of Vinicuca Mountain, also known as ‘Rainbow Mountain’. The walk proved to be a challenge, as the peak was at 5200m altitude, but it was worth it to see the natural marvel that is the colourful mountain at the top.
- Quad bikes in Maras: On my second weekend, a group of friends and I went adventuring on quad bikes to Maras, a town in the Sacred Valley about 40km North of Cusco. Here, we visited the salt evaporation ponds, an architectural marvel that was constructed in the Inca era and is used as a source of salt to this day. I organized both of these day trips through American Inca Trail and I would recommend them to anyone venturing through Cusco.
- Green Point vegan restaurant: Staying in San Blas, well known for its boutique clothing and food stores, I found Green Point, the only 100% vegan restaurant in Cusco that served the most amazing food (I’m vegetarian, so was very happy to find something like this). I ate there every night and can now personally recommend every dish on the menu. If you ever make it there, you MUST try the chocolate cookie they have available to take away – it is insanely good.
- Other highlights included the many shops selling vibrantly coloured mats, llama emblazoned clothing (think “the Emperor’s New Groove” style), funky tourist gifts and llamas walking around the streets!
In my final week, I had no volunteering and had planned a 4-day trek to Machu Picchu with Loki hostel. A number of treks up Machu Picchu are available, however, I chose the Inka Jungle Trek as it looked like a lot of fun and was recommended to me by some friends.
On the first day, we mountain biked from the top of Abra Malaga (4,200m altitude) for three hours until we reached the jungle town of Santa Maria, where we then went rafting down the rapids and spent the night.
The second day, we walked a section of the Inka Trail, completing a total of 16km, and finishing at the Santa Theresa hot springs.
On the morning of the third day, we zip lined 150m above the rivers and jungle followed by walking the train tracks to the town of Aguas Calientes in the afternoon.
The fourth and final day, we woke up at 4:30am to make our way up to Machu Picchu. Reaching Machu Picchu was a seriously cool experience. If you didn’t already know, it is one of the Seven Wonders of the World and I recommend everybody visit if they ever find themselves in Peru!
When booking my trip, I decided to purchase a ticket to walk the neighboring mountain, Huayna Picchu, as once you are at the top of this, you can overlook the ruins of Machu Picchu. With the rain pouring down, I was super close to flagging the difficult walk up…but I pulled out my plastic poncho and got myself to the top! Unfortunately, I couldn’t see the view through the fog and rain, but it was incredible being up that high – and I developed a massive appreciation for the ancient civilizations that built the narrow, near-vertical steps into the mountain, without the assistance of modern tools. Builders these days have it easy in comparison.
All in all, I would recommend going to Cusco and trekking Machu Picchu! And would do some volunteering, if you can, while you’re at it. Any help makes a massive difference to the impoverished towns in the area.