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Comprising Spagus (derived from Asparagus), or Cam. Previously rural banker and farmer that has decided to ditch his tie and gumboots in exchange for a backpack and shaved head. Partnered with Shroom (derived from Mushroom), or Cat. Formally a country/city/country girl that has left behind the world of policy consulting and has ditched her high heels for some comfortable (yet stylish) footwear to support a wee bit of globetrotting through 2010 and 2011. We hope you enjoy following the travels of SpaguShroom through Europe, North America and South America!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Pisco, PERU - Week 6

Early this week Cam returned to the doctor for his final blood tests and was glad to discover that he is clear of Typhoid, although he weighed-in 7 kgs lighter as a result. Thankfully the drugs did their thing and we will both get tested when we return to New Zealand to ensure all is well.
On another happy note I was very stoked to receive the ‘Volunteer of the Week’ award. I was chosen from 60 other volunteers for my project management role when Cam was sick. A very pleasant surprise and a cherry on the top for all the hard work we have done. A reward that we can both be proud of considering he prepared my job and tool list daily!

Our main task for the week was constructing a new fence measuring (8mx18m) for the family. Their old fence was barely standing and mostly rotten with weeds growing through it. We quickly ripped this away and erected the new one constructed of estera (woven bamboo material) and thin poles. We also installed a new wooden door giving access to the yard making the final result look very tidy indeed. Using flattened bottle caps and recycled screws we fastened black tarpaulin to the outside of the fence to provide additional privacy for the family. This is a standard fence design in Pisco, which is more like a wall.

We whipped it up fairly quickly and finished off other odd jobs on the house for our final day of work. Cam installed the hand basin, connected power to the toilet and laundry area we levelled and cleared the remainder of the section to leave them with a thorough and tidy job.

On Friday evening the volunteers that had worked on the project took some beer around to Victor’s to celebrate with the family. We had a great time sitting back and admiring our handy work as well as singing and dancing to YMCA and other such hits. It was the perfect way to end the project but also very sad to say goodbye to such a special family.

Over the past week we learnt how much they struggle financially, for example Victor had no cash to replace the empty gas bottle to cook our lunch -we did a whip around to collect the $15 NZD. But the family’s constant happiness and optimism leads you to forget that they really are living tightly. It really makes you think and we will remember this when we return to the rat-race of life at home. We have it so sweet.
On our last day at PSF Cam and I conducted the morning meeting and said our goodbye speeches. I can clearly remember my first day at PSF 6 weeks ago where people stood to say their goodbyes and about how the experiences had changed their lives. We can now fully relate. We have been very fortunate to begin and complete a project with a family during our time here. It is the type of experience many volunteers wish for as a lot of the projects at PSF are not family based. It was sad to say goodbye to our friends but we know that we will be seeing some of them in the near future - either in NZ or on some other trip around the world.
We leave Pisco with full and happy hearts. We have had the most amazing experience and learnt so many new skills and not to mention a lot more about ourselves. We would highly recommend volunteering at PSF to anyone thinking of visiting Peru.
On Saturday we caught up on admin, washed our whole wardrobes and just enjoyed having no responsibilities for the day. Sunday morning we hit the road, first to Ica and then on to Cuzco. 18 hour bus journey. Bring it on.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Pisco, PERU - Week 5

Our week has flown by yet again. With full days of work in the sun (temperatures now in the early 30s) we often crash fairly early to rise again around 6am and then do it all again.
We continued to make progress at Victor’s - although the house itself is complete we worked on the shower, toilet and laundry. The concrete floor of the shower and toilet was laid on Monday along with concrete tiles for the laundry area. The next day we were pleased to see it had dried well and that the shower drains perfectly! We then laid bricks around the base of the shower and toilet area. It looks fantastic and it was nice to sit back for the day and leave the experts to it - having two boys with previous brick-laying experience do the job.

Cam visited the doctor again during the week, he is still on the antibiotics and will return next week for blood tests but he is feeling much better. On Wednesday he returned to work and resumed his role as project manager. I was more than happy to step down, as the plumbing needed to be completed and the walls and roof constructed. At the end of the week we felt relieved to leave Victor’s with a completed toilet, shower and laundry area (very few people own washing machines but Pilar uses this to generate income for the family). We had a couple of issues but we muddled through and got there in the end. We were rewarded with an incredible sense of satisfaction as the family gathered in excitement to see their working toilet and shower - a basic amenity that we take for granted which will now change their daily lives. We were also able to deliver the good news from management that the family would be receiving a new fence for their property. They are concerned that the toilet and other fixtures may be stolen as their current fence is barely functional. We have a tight budget but the remainder will come from a few of us chipping in to complete the fence next week, our last task before we move on from PSF.

On Friday we worked at the Ludoteca- a child care facility which PSF has received a grant to run. It was passport day - where volunteers present information about their country to the kids and they have their ‘passports’ stamped. We therefore did Kiwi day with a fellow NZ volunteer. This involved telling the kids about NZ, ‘stamping’ their passports (with a red and blue crayon), playing rugby and making poi which naturally turned into weapons. It was a fun but slightly exhausting day.

I have also become involved in a public health project for PSF. Similar in nature to the work I do at home, I have been researching the sexual education and health services available in Pisco. PSF is looking at obtaining funding to assist in sexual education (and eventually wider public health) services. During the week I spoke with the Red Cross, an HIV Counsellor and the local obstetrician. Pisco is a very poor city and a symptom of this is a high rate of teenage pregnancy (11% of 14 year olds have children), high levels of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. With a macho society and a high religious population, there are more barriers than usual facing this project. I hope to continue to remain involved once I leave PSF.
We have grown very close with Victor’s family and on Friday evening Cam & I were invited to celebrate Martin’s 13th birthday. We shared dinner and cake with the family and gave Martin a present- a tool belt (builder’s apron) with a new hammer. It was just delightful to see his excitement and to spend time relaxing with the family. They are patient with our pigeon Spanish but we managed to muddle through conversation and had many laughs along the way. We feel incredibly privileged to have this experience, it is something we will treasure forever and is certainly a high point of our trip.

The weekend was spent relaxing, purchasing materials for our upcoming week at work and planning the remainder of our trip. We intend to leave PSF and continue our travels at the end of the coming week. It will be difficult to leave as we have had such a wonderful time but the gringo trail awaits!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Pisco, PERU - Week 4

Our fourth week at PSF provided new challenges for us both. We returned to Victor’s home to continue the project and to lift his modular home onto the new pad of concrete. Gathering a large group of volunteers we managed to move it in two pieces. Many hands made the actual shifting of the building light work but the real test was joining it back together without destroying the thin wood that it is constructed from.

We also cut a new window, constructed and hung a new door and rewired the home. It was fiddly work and took longer than we expected. But as the week flew by we got on with the job and enjoyed spending more time with the family and eating more delicious Peruvian cooking for lunch.

By the time Thursday rocked around Cam was still feeling very unwell and it was time to visit the doctor. Thinking it was once again Giardia he had a test done and purchased the antibiotics to treat it. However later that afternoon he was called in for further tests and a doctor’s visit to discover he has Typhoid. Typhoid is commonly found in this part of South America and is transmitted through faecal contaminated food and water. Although we had the prevention shot before we left NZ we have since found this is only 50-70% effective. For the remainder of the week Cam had to lay very low - sleeping a lot, trying to remain rehydrated and letting the drugs do their thing. He will return to the doctor next week.
At times like this home and the comfort of reliable treatment (in english) feels very far away. However we feel very supported at PSF, Cam had a Spanish friend escort him to the doctor and we are able to talk to a couple of others here who have had Typhoid before.
As Cam is off work indefinitely I took over as project manager. This is particularly difficult having no construction knowledge apart from what I have learnt here so far. But we continued on and with the help of the skilled people here at PSF (and Cam’s detailed drawings and job lists) we managed to install the plumbing for a toilet, shower and laundry block for the family. They currently do not have these facilities so it is a great pleasure to be able to provide this in addition to the renovations to their house. I spent one and a half days with a plumber who set up the pipes underground but the installing of the toilet, shower and laundry is up to me. Next week should be interesting.

Saturday night was our Mexi-80s party. It was a fantastic night including a feed of Mexican, Sangria and even a giant PiƱata. There were some brilliant costumes and we had a great time dancing and kicking back after a tough week. Obviously Cam took it easy but managed to dress up and hang around before the others went out into town.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Pisco, PERU - Week 3

Our third week at PSF was one of hard physical labour resulting in calloused hands, sore muscles and two very tired workers by week’s end.
Monday got off to a great start with Cam and his team beginning a new project near Pisco beach. Prior to the earthquake the beach front was an area of prime real estate, however it has since become a place where the poorest families live and the wealthier people have fled in fear of another quake and tsunami.
Victor, wife Pilar and their 3 children live in a 8m x 4m modular home on their section which also contains a half demolished brick home. When the earthquake occurred the family lost most of their (brick) home; only the front half remains with a roof and three walls.

At the time of the quake Victor’s family took refuge further inland while Victor stayed with the house to protect it from looters. Unfortunately the looters held him up at knife point - the kitchen sink and stove was stolen. Victor has a sick elderly mother who is currently in hospital recovering from a heart attack. When she is released from hospital she will need to live with Victor for full time care. Both parents work incredibly hard to make ends meet but work in Pisco is very limited. They have spent all their money on medical bills and cannot afford to make alterations to accommodate Victor’s mother.
Victor came to PSF asking for help to expand their home and approval for assistance was granted by PSF on Christmas eve. The plan is to relocate their current modular home onto a concrete pad and join this with the remainder of the house that still stands, creating a whole room for his mother to live.
Our first job was to level the sloping section and then pour a concrete pad (12m x 4m). Through moving 150 wheelbarrows of back-breaking fill we managed to level the ground and pour the concrete. Next week we will move the home and hopefully continue to make their home more liveable.

Although the work was hard it was an absolute pleasure for both of us to be on the project. They are the most lovely caring family that your heart just breaks to hear their story. Victor and his son Martin helped us each day along with the neighbours kids’ ranging in ages from 5-12. We were treated to an amazing feast each day for lunch which we sat down and enjoyed with his family. Speaking very clear Spanish we heard his story and learnt more about the Pisco area.

The last two days of our week were spent on other projects as we waited for the concrete pad to harden sufficiently. Cam was driver for the day which includes taking the clunky PSF truck around the city delivering people and equipment to various work sites. Driving here in Pisco is no mean feat; it takes incredible courage as there are no lanes, no speedlimit and instead the horn is used when approaching an intersection, merging or for any other purpose where we would expect a rule.
I took part in cooking again, our team of 3 very capable girls decided to go where no PSF cooking team has succeeded before and make pizza for 45 people. We have a budget of NZ$1.50 per person (which is not a lot even for here) and with one oven and limited pizza making ingredients available such as flour and cheese - many believed we were destined to fail. However, they were all wrong and we came through delivering a range of hot gourmet pizzas served on time and exactly on budget. A very satisfying day’s work indeed.

Our last day of the week was spent on the French School Project, which is a cafeteria and toilet block funded by a French organisation at a local school. Our task was to make form boards for concrete walls. Such fiddley work in ensuring the wall is straight, I will never look at a concrete wall the same way again. It was good experience for us both and I got to use a jackhammer. Excellent.

After our half-day of work on Saturday around 25 volunteers relocated ourselves to the beach in Paracas. The beach is stunning chilly blue waters boarded by stark golden sand cliffs and no sign of civilisation. As the sun set we put up our giant tarp tent, made a fire and cooked up delicious ratatouille and baked potatoes, followed by smores.

We woke to a baking hot day where we made the most of the cool Pacific, ate fresh muscles and generally relaxed our weary bodies. Unfortunately Cam spent most of the time between the tent and the porta-loo, the dreaded Pisco Belly was back with a vengeance.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Pisco, PERU - Week 2 (December 27 - January 2)

Our second week at PSF got-off to a weak start but Cam managed to pull himself out of bed for work on Tuesday. Through comparing symptoms with others we treated him for Giardia and within a few days he was back to normal.
With only a three-day working week we did a mixture of jobs between us. Two days were spent back at El Molino continuing to construct a secure fence and prepare a roof for Juan. I also had my first experience of cooking dinner for everyone - with only 30 people it was a fairly easy task and went well. But after purchasing meat at the market we have decided to eat vegetarian while we are here at Pisco. The hygiene conditions are appalling and the cuts of meat so bad that we are better off not to eat it and to see if this settles the Pisco Belly that continues to plague us.
During the week many volunteers including several long-termers left PSF to return home or continue their travels. Leaving for New Year seemed to be a natural break for many and we were sad to see our friends go. Life at PSF is very condensed compared to that of the real world. We spend a huge amount of time with everyone whether its working, eating or partying and therefore friendships are formed very fast. In January the number of volunteers is expected to hugely increase so we are looking forward to the influx of new skills and energy arriving at PSF.
Friday off work we spent the day settling into our new home. We moved from the main PSF building to the School House which is a far quieter establishment where the oldies hang out! We are glad to escape and have some space. The house sleeps 30 but there are currently only around seven of us, it even includes a small patch of grass which is very rare in dusty Pisco.
New Years Eve was a fairly quiet affair as there was only 25 of us remaining at PSF. We had dinner at the house before heading to the beach for a display of pyrotechnic excellence. A team of volunteers had spent the day constructing a 3-D heart made from scrap wood. We wrote messages of our 2010 angst and put these inside the heart before it was lit with several hundred dollars worth of fireworks.

Later we returned to the house for our own countdown and to once again watch the entire city of Pisco burst into firework brilliance. We had a pretty early one and managed to sleep through the blasting street parties that continued through till the next morning. Peruvians know how to party and love their loud staticy music, a lot.
The 1st as usual was a nothing day. On the 2nd we ventured outside of Pisco, taking a boat trip to Ballestas Island which is known as ‘mini-golapagos’. On route to the Island we saw the ancient giant Candelabra etched into stone beneath the sand. We saw a range of wildlife including sea lions, dolphins, penguins and various sea birds.

The afternoon was spent exploring Paracas National Reserve which is basically one massive desert leading to a fairly impressive coast line. It was nice to get away and even better to breathe some fresh air - with the constant dust, rubbish and ineffective sewerage system here we will never again take fresh air for granted.

We arrived home from our day-trip to a backyard BBQ of fresh fish, salads, beer and later marshmallows by the fire. A great end to the weekend and a pleasant start to 2011.
Feliz ano nuevo a todos!