Monday, April 23, 2012

Welcome to the Jungle

Despite our harrowing ride to and from Villa Carmen, we had a wonderful week volunteering here. We were excited to meet up with our new friend Nicole who we had met on our trip to the Salt Flats and volunteer coordinator at Villa Carmen. After spending the last 6 weeks or so in cities, it was nice to take a break and be one with nature and breathe some fresh air.

Us with Nicole

Our abode for the week and where we ate all our meals with the other folks

Villa Carmen is located just over a kilometer from the town of Pilcopata. There are several cabins and a main one where communal meals are eaten, overlooking the lush jungle. Several animals live here, including 5 macaws, 3 dogs, tons of chickens running around and hanging out in trees, and a boa constrictor that was MIA. Two of the macaws, Emma the Red and Emma the Blue (also affectionately known as Bebe) unfortunately cannot fly and are the more friendly of the two. Periodically you would hear one of them squawk "Hola!" or some other phrase in Spanish.

Sam with Bebe
Emma the Red
There are numerous trails where one can go hiking (and Sam and I actually hiked several of them). Additionally, there are some of the biggest bugs I have ever seen, including huge moths and cockroaches, rhinoceros beetles, spiders, and ants (including the massive bullet ant whose bite apparently hurts still hours later). And of course a nice assortment of biting mosquitoes and flies. We learned several days into the trip that there are flies that carry Leishmaniasis, aka flesh eating bacteria (Sam and I will be keeping an eye out on our bug bites and any unusual lesions for the next few months).

Rhinoceros beetle 
We were not entirely sure what of our volunteer work would consist of, but we were happy to help out however needed. Who would have thought that this would be a more educational and productive WWOOF experience than our one in Argentina? One of the projects at Villa Carmen is sustainable agriculture, and we were able to help with their Mandala-style garden where everything is laid out in harmonious circles.  Our work included hauling rocks to build an island for the duck pond (and we got to watch the hired workers lay down the pipe leading from a stream to the pond and fill up with water--it was really cool to see the process unfold), shoveling sand & rocks and building paths connecting the other ponds, sawing bamboo to build structures to contain the gardens, and planting seeds in the garden.

The beautiful path we built
Duck pond all filled in!

Additionally, on our last day we got to help clear one of the paths using machetes to hack down invading plants. Overall, very tiring work, especially with the hot sun beating on your back, but also very satisfying.

Clearing out the path

Although we spent a good amount of time doing manual labor, there was also a lot of time to relax. There were always lots of people around, including a graduate student from Wakeforest studying how palms grow at different altitudes and an undergrad from the University of Washington doing his semester abroad, so we people to talk to and to eat meals with, which is nice when we're moving around so much and often just have each other for entertainment. Meals were provided, and we a glimpse of the local cuisine. HUGE meals with rice served at every one (including breakfast--one morning breakfast was rice and beef stew) and a bowl of soup with the main course at lunch. The cook, Luz, did make very tasty meals and were generally very varied, from spaghetti with meat sauce to chicken with cheese cooked inside.

Overall, it was a great experience, and nice to do something off the beaten path!

More Pictures:
2012.4 Villa Carmen, Peru

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