Thursday, 30 April 2009

Off to Bolivia...

This evening, on a night bus. Going to visit Lake Titicaca and the islands, which are apparently stunning.

From this week - teaching more or less successful, the usual noisy enthusiasm from the kids.

Tried to go help out at an orphanage yesterday afternoon with another volunteer, but was given pretty vague directions, and after asking several people (including one slightly crazy man) ended up at a completely different orphanage! So that wasn't entirely successful, but did at least feel like a proper adventure.

For some reason can't think of a lot else to write at the doubt the weekend will bring lots of interesting experiences.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Work and play

The last few days have been an interesting mixture of the above. Some of Wednesday's lessons were successful, others less so.

On Thursday, there was a workshop/discussion involving the teaching volunteers, the Peruvian English teachers, and the regional director of secondary education. Most of the time was taken up by a discussion between the teachers and the director, so that I in the end didn't have time to give the presentation I had been asked to prepare. I've got used to this sort of last-minute change now: whenever it happens, I just say to myself "It's Peru!". In fact, the discussion was very interesting. The teachers began by complaining that since the goverment had introduced a new area of evaluation in English (oral), they would now have to spend all their time evaluating, not teaching The director however made the very good point that an extra evaluation area does not necessarily require more time - teaching and evaluation can and should be done together. Moreover, oral skills in English are arguably the bit of the language which will be most important and useful to the kids in this area.

However, there's no denying that English doesn't have enough space in the timetable. At the moment, the schools average two hours a week (one and a half in my school). Since this consists of just one lesson, it is very difficult for the kids to make steady, consolidated progress. The teachers were asking for just a third hour. Unfortunately, it's not within the director's power to change this. It's all horribly complicated, but essentially each school has a large degree of autonomy over the teaching time in "non-core" subjects like English. So, some prioritise Quechua instead. Now, I'm all for rediscovery of cultural roots, but this just doesn't seem to make sense. Besides, as my host mother told me, most of the kids speak Quechua better than their teacher anyway.

So, that was the major work event of the last few days. On Friday, there was a volunteer "social", which involved running around Urubamba answering riddles and was a lot of fun. On Friday I also met two new English volunteers, girls from Reigate and Croydon. As if that wasn't spooky enough in itself, I have several friends in common with one of them. The Gap year world really is tiny.

We were out in Cusco on Friday night, and then on Saturday morning four of us went horse riding in the hills above the city. As this was an all-male excursion, one member of the group dubbed it "Brokeback Mountain". Two hours came in at the princely sum of S/.25 (about 6 pounds). The weather was glorious, and the views of the city stunning, so it was tempting to imagine yourself as a conquistador, exploring an unknown land. I have no doubt, however, that the Spanish were far far better horse riders than any of us (not difficult). Saturday night was again out and about in Cusco, and a lot of fun. As a result, Sunday has been a very slow day, culminating in some lesson planning this evening.

Every Monday morning, there is a patriotic ceremony at the school, involving flag-raising, singing and marching. This lasts half an hour, and therefore one of my final year classes only gets 1 hour of English a week. This annoys me quite a lot. What's more, there are rumours of a teachers' strike this Wednesday, so my teaching this week may be minimal. You can't escape the feeling here that secondary education is of secondary importance. And this is what frustrates and saddens me the most: I see bright kids in my classes every day, and I know that the chance that they will fulfil their potential is very slim indeed. For the girls, especially: marriage and childbirth happen very early here, and before they know it they'll be in a domestic role, another of the bowler-hat wearing Andean women. There are so few who break out of this.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Trek part 2

The trek ended on Saturday with a long walk through the bottom of a valley to reach the thermal springs at Lares. What most struck me when passing through these farming communities was the huge probability that the children here will never really know anything else. There is a primary school, but after that, the kids go to work - at the age of 11.

The Lares baths looked at first glance like any outdoor swimming pool, albeit an outdoor swimming pool 3 hours' drive from the nearest settlement. The water in the pools was an unappetising yellow-brown, and comes hot out of the side of the mountain. I can safely say that after two days' trekking, sliding into one of the pools at 8 in the evening was one of the best things I have done since I arrived.

So the trek as a whole was a great success. All of us felt slightly awkward at the level of service we received - mules to carry most of our luggage, cooked meals, general kindness and hospitality. Yet we paid for it, and by doing so supported the main source of income in these parts. And watching the mules climb the steep, rocky mountain paths was astonishing.

As I mentioned above, the drive back was 3 hours, during which we passed no more than 5 vehicles. I have some stunning photographs of empty valleys, huge herds of alpacas, and snowy peaks. One of the vehicles was a taxi which had half slipped into a ditch at the side of the road. We all got out to help, and with a combination of piling rocks and pushing we got it out. This was one of those places were you can't just drive on by when you see someone in trouble like that. I'm not sure the alpacas would have been very helpful.

The beginning of this week has been a bit of a sharp return to reality. Which is to say, I am still finding the teaching totally exhausting, though far from boring. I could only smile yesterday when some the girls in my top year classes asked me whether I was married. My students are also trying to teach me Quechua, though so far I have only managed "My name is", "How are you?" and "Where are you from?".

This in fact leads me on to an interesting point. For many of my students, Spanish is a second language. This sometimes becomes obvious, as yesterday, when I asked a boy a question and he replied "no sabo" to mean "I don't know". This is logical, but wrong (to know is "saber", but I don't know is "no sé"). Often, when I ask them to do a particular activity, someone will turn to their friends to explain in Quechua.

This is of course another challenge. Tomorrow I have to teach the use of "do" and "does" as auxiliaries to my fourth year students. I am beginning to think that English must be quite difficult to learn properly.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Three Danes, two Englishmen, one very good trek

I realise there's been a hideous gap in my postings to this... so to quickly catch up, on Wednesday I taught again (3 straight hours 9-11!) and had my "pub quiz" in the evening. Neither of these was a disaster, which was nice.

Thursday morning was very quiet, taken up by reading and chilling out. I am only working three days a week, and haven't yet decided whether I want to ask for one day more (four is the norm). There is a significant possibility of getting bored, but also of recovering, plannning, and doing long weekends away. In the evening, most of the volunteers went to Urubamba (the largest local town) for a traditional Peruvian meal. All the food was cooked in hot stones in the ground, and tasted delicious, apart from the odd bit of gravel. Needless to say, there were were plenty of potatoes and choclo (a type of maize which they adore here).

I stayed in a hostel Urubamba that evening, along with another volunteer from England. The reason behind this was that early on Friday morning, we set off from Urubamba on a two day guided trek to Lares, a town with famous thermal baths. With us were three volunteers from Denmark. The trek was astonishing, as much for the variety of the landscapes as for the remoteness of the places we reached.

We started by climbing up through a series of valleys, following the course of a river. As we climbed over ever-higher passes, our surroundings changed from sub-tropical vegetation to flat green meadows, to steep slopes with ever more rocks. Things that stood out were Inca ruins and a Quechua farming community. The Inca buildings were far from the usual quality - it turned out that this was because they were built in a hurry, fleeing the Spanish up into the mountains. The current famr buildings were of a very similar appearance. There was no road, no electricity here. Chickens, sheep, guinea pigs and dogs roamed wherever they wanted. We spent a very cold night at just below 4000m, sitting around a fire and listening to strange languages (for me, Quechua and Danish). The view from the campsite was astonishing- we could see down the valleys we had climbed, and towards mountains that must have been a hundred miles away.

Saturday morning was tough. We climbed to the highest mountain pass, at 4300m. The landscape was nothing but rocks - no plant could grow up there. There used to be a glacier, but as our guide explained, in 18 years it has completely disappeared. Something is clearly happening to the Earth's climate. Climbing at this altitude was tough - we had to stop pretty often just to catch our breath. I have even more respect now for people who can tackle far higher mountains, in the Andes or the Himalayas.

Hard as the ascent was, the view from the pass was more than worth it. It was a real panorama of valleys, snow-capped mountains, and lakes. We then descended through this, to have lunch in another remote village. This one received electricity and a road for the first time last year. Again, animals were everywhere. In the low, dark stone house where we ate, guinea pigs scurried all over the floor. There was one room, and as far as I could see, no proper beds. It is very difficult and a bit distressing to imagine people living their whole lives in these conditions. We all live on one planet, but there are many different worlds.

There is more to say, but I have to go now. Part 2 to follow...

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

And finally...

I have taught my first classes at my school, and they weren't a disaster! Which is in itself a relief. The school is about a 10 minute bus ride from where I live. It is small, both physically and in number of pupils (about 300). Today I taught personal pronouns to 11-12 year olds, and although I had no idea about the topic in advance, I think I managed to keep everyone relatively entertained. The kids were certainly fascinated to hear about where I came from, what it was like, etc. The teacher I am working with seems nice as well, and it's good to have her in the class to help a bit with discipline and as another pair of eyes. It looks as if my control over the subject matter taught will be limited, but I will try my best to make it relevant and interesting. To which end, I need to go and print out some worksheets for tomorrow...

But before I do that, something on the society that I promised yesterday and didn't end up writing. In this school, the major problem (so the English teacher says) is that most of the parents in the area don't see education as particularly valuable. Apparently, very few sh0w any interest in their children's progress at school. Economic conditions for farmers (i.e. most people in the area) are worsening, so they think that it is better for their children to help with the family work. Here there is no legal requirement for children to attend school. As a result, only 2 of last year's top year students went on to higher education. The rest go on to work.

There are some kids who come from Patabamba, a town in the mountains. They come on foot, and it is a 2-3 hour walk. School starts at 8, so they have to get up so early that by the time they get to school it's pretty difficult for them to give it any real attention. On a more national level, there are rumours that the government wants to privatise the entire education system, so that it is fee-paying.

I don't yet feel able to comment on what is good or bad about any of this. The situation is so different here from what I am used to that I can't judge anything.

From a non-educational perspective, there was one other thing I wanted to say. It was that watching Peruvian TV, you realise what a divided country this is (50% indigenous, 50% Hispanic). The TV programmes are clearly all made in Lima, and I have so far seen only one person on them who resembles the Peruvians I see every day here. There is a huge imbalance.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Easter Weekend part 2

Before I carry on where I left off, there was one detail about the Good Friday procession in Pisac that I forgot to mention. Towards the end of the spectacle, as the crowds converged back on the church, there were moments at which everyone in the square crossed themselves in one fluid movement. Seeing these hundreds of arms moving in unison was pretty impressive. Religion can inspire some extraordinary things (in good and bad ways of course).

Saturday night in Cusco was a night out with some other volunteers. Inevitably, at one point we ended up in an Irish pub. There, I met two guys who had gone to school at Judd (a school in Tonbridge). It seemed like a strange coincidence, but then if I am going to meet other English people out here, it is most likely going to be people from a similar background to mine. There was also an Australian woman ranting about the floods of English gap year students on this continent, and how they give the impression that they know how to handle everything the world throws at them (and of course we don't). I thought it was an unfair generalisation, but the fact is that a large number of said British teenagers, like me, were probably educated in an environment that is very far removed from the real world. So she had a point.

The rest of the evening was unremarkable - I probably had slightly too much to drink, but made to our hostel in one piece. As I mentioned before, I got up early to see the morning mass at the cathedral. It was in fact not quite what I was expecting. I hadn't realised before, but the cathedral has no organ. Instead there was a Yamaha keyboard with speakers and sound effects, and in place of a choir a group of 5 ladies with microphones. No amount of Catholic devotion can get rid of the fact that this is a developing country.

Having said that, as I left to get back to Pisac, it looked as if there were preparations for a parade/procession in the main square. That is how they do things here. I didn't stay, partly because I wanted to get on with things in Pisac, and partly because these parades have all started to merge together.

I know I have spent a lot of time talking about religion recently - I will soon have lots to say about teaching, and there are things I want to say about the society, both here in Pisac and what I can make out of Peru in general. However, for now there is the more pressing call of supper. Tomorrow, I am not starting teaching like I expected, because there is a strike. So I have time to plan some lessons, write, and sort out this pub quiz.

P.S. If anyone has seen the news about the recent Shining Path attack, don't worry - it's not the region I'm in. So much for my belief they were dead and buried. Though now they're more drug traffickers than Maoist revolutionaries.

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Easter Weekend

Yesterday was a Good Friday very different from the ones I have been used to. For a start, Mass is not celebrated in the Catholic church - instead there was a procession (what else?) in the evening, about which more later.

In the morning, I played yet more football, this time in Pisac, with some of the other volunteers, and Peruvians from the host families, including the elder brother from my own. I was not totally hopeless, but was definitely pretty breathless. It was nice just to stand in goal and look at the mountains... I will not tire of these views very quickly. The Good Friday tradition here is to eat nothing in the morning, then have an enormous lunch (los doce platos, "the twelve dishes"). We may not have had quite twelve, but I lost count. We had a vegetable soup to start, then fried fish with rice and potato, then jelly, and a maize cake, two different types of flan, and "guisado". The latter is a a hot drink with peaches in it - very tasty. Lastly there was a sort of rice pudding, which I will confess to have failed to tackle.

One thing that stood out is that table manners are pretty different here. You start to eat when you are served; there's no waiting. People will come and go from the table as they wish, and generally you eat just with the fork. All small things, but they add up to give quite a distinct impression of social norms.

Then in the evening there was the procession. It ever so slightly tacky, with purple and white balloons. But then (without wanting to offend anyone) I have come to expect this from Catholicism - a glorious disregard for "taste". It is in that way a very powerful affirmation of faith. There were three statues - one of the Virgin, one of St John the Evangelist (I think) and then a giant coffin containing the body of Jesus. These were paraded through the town, stopping at beautifully made flower carpets where the priest would say something, sing and pray.

His words were sometimes surprising... when talking about Judas and betrayal, he mentioned abortion, unsurprisingly, but then also talked about the betrayal of the workers and the poor. It was very clearly anti-globalisation, anti-technology, anti what he sarcastically called "progress". It made me think of the Liberation Theology movement famous in these parts. I don't think we're used to such a degree of politicisation in parish churches at home! Much of the procession was a jumble of noises - the band playing over the priest's singing, the emergency vehicles honking furiously in the main square at the end. The authorities are unashamedly deeply involved in religion.

Easter Saturday, by contrast, has been quiet. I had a slow start, then went into Cusco with a couple of other volunteers. My desire to try ceviche ( traditional raw seafood) has been thwarted for now, but we did catch yet another procession in the Plaza de Armas. We are staying the night, so will be around early tomorrow for the resurrection mass in the Cathedral, which should be quite something.

Ciao, as they say here, and happy Easter.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

A week already

So I've now had my first proper experience of teaching English. As I mentioned before, on Tuesday and Wednesday we were teaching basic vocabulary and phrases to local artesans. The organisation of the event was very Peruvian - i.e. it started 45 minutes late, and half as many people turned up as we were expecting. The artesans were in general quite shy, but definitely very keen to learn - it is something which has a direct impact on their lives. We taught small groups of about 5, and it was fascinating how even in 45 minute blocks, you could pick out the confident ones, the quiet ones, the ones who were shy but with an aptitude for the language. Being on the 'other side' of the classroom is very interesting, though of course I haven't seen anything yet. The real challenge starts on Monday at school. I am excited, terrified, and prepared for frustration. In a recent UN survey of the education systems in 134 countries, Peru came bottom in just about every category. Quite what the implications of that are, I will soon find out.

One real perk of the teaching this week was the fact that by way of thanks, we got to see the Chinchero Inca ruins for free. Annoyingly I didn't have my camera with me, but the stone terraces against a green mountain backdrop were, as always, awe-inspiring. Particularly good was the chance to stand on a stone platform from which the Inca used to address crowds in the field below. It was very much like the podiums used by political leaders today - though press conferences rarely happen in such dramatic settings.

On Wednesday evening, there was the weekly volunteers' pub quiz in a bar in Urubamba (one of the largest towns in the Sacred Valley). This is done by a pair of volunteers, and yesterday's was a lot of fun. However, as part of the winning team, I have been accorded the privilege of organising the questions/activities for the next one. Nothing like a bit of pressure to add to my teaching obligations!

Today, I have had a relaxed, and in retrospect, very South American day. I had a slow start to the morning, and started reading La casa verde by Mario Vargas Llosa (Peru's most famous writer). Then this afternoon I took the bus to Urubamba and played football with other volunteers and some Peruvian kids. It was great fun and I didn't embarrass myself too badly, though it has to be said that playing football at 3,000m is a bit more tiring than usual. At this rate, I will be very fit by the time I come home.

P.S. I think I have finally found somewhere where I can upload photos. Might be able to do that tomorrow.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Breaking news

Very recent update.... Alberto Fujimori, the ex-president I mentioned before, has been sentenced to 25 years in prison for human rights crimes. He's 70 years old. This is big news in Peru, and will be very divisive. Interesting times...

Festivals and teaching

Feeling quite tired this evening, so may forget some things. Be prepared for updates!

First thing to say is that I forgot to mention that on Sunday morning, although I failed to go to Mass at 4am, I did go to a later one in Quechua! Needless to say I didn't understand a word, but it was worth it to see how even in a modest church like Pisac's, they really go to town on decorations, music, palm crosses, etc.

Going to town doesn't even begin to describe the festival I saw in Cusco on Monday. It was to celebrate Jesus as "Señor de los Temblores" (Lord of the Earthquakes). According to the source of wisdom that is Wikipedia, this is because there was an earthquake in 1650, and a crucifix sent to Cusco from Spain was paraded around the town, at which point the earthquake immediately stopped.

The crucifix is about 3 metres tall, and entirely black. Every Monday before Easter, it is paraded through the city, and people throw red petals at it. It visits every church in the city, carried on the shoulders of 10 men. Officials of every sort meet it at various points, from politicians to police to the army. Then in the evening in re-enters the cathedral, by which time the main square is literally full. There are candles, music, church bells, street vendors selling food. It is, quite simply, a party atmosphere. The only thing I've ever seen like it was Easter Sunday in Florence: though here there were probably even more people.

It came as no surprise that there is no school this week. So today and tomorrow I'm teaching basic English to local artesans, to help them sell their products. Will write more on this tomorrow, but even the little I taught my groups (greetings and farewells) felt worthwhile. It is something that will genuinely help them in their daily lives.

This leads me on to my last point: I moaned about the commercialism of Cusco in my last post. However, this is probably unfair, as someone pointed out to me. Said someone has an annoying tendency to be right about these things - you know who you are!

The fact is, it's easy for the Lonely Planet backpacker crowd to criticise commercialism, spoilt beauty and loss of local character, but put yourself in the street sellers' shoes. If you had no money, wares to sell and saw a wealthy tourist coming towards you, what would you do?

Sunday, 5 April 2009

A quiet day

Since I have spent today doing very little, I have a chance to talk about the more domestic side of things. I am living with a family of four (two parents, two sons of 17 and 12) in a three bedroom house. By Peruvian standards, they are quite well off - I only have to look at the surrounding houses to see that. In one, the yard consists of a patch of dirt with a makeshift shelter of plastic, under which guinea pigs roam around.

By contrast, my family has a large TV, a computer, bikes. They run a bar which adjoins the house, from which loud cheerful music is always booming. Two things are inescapable: football and Catholicism. The walls of my room are plastered with images of players from the Cusco team (Cienciano), as well as international icons like Zidane and Beckham. I was pleasantly surprised to be able to watch the Arsenal - Man City match yesterday live on Peruvian TV. As for religion, there are posters of the Virgin Mary and Jesus, carved figures in boxes, and Bible quotations scattered through the house. Today, Palm Sunday, they got up at 4am to go to Mass.

The father is a quiet man, whereas his wife is entirely the opposite - she takes every opportunity to make conversation, which is great as otherwise it would be easy to feel very isolated. The boys are both very smiley and quite chatty once you make the effort to talk. They bicker like any set of brothers, though probably even more than I do with mine! I have already lost abysmally at chess to the younger - it never was my strong point, though I will demand a rematch to try to save my honour.

So they are relatively prosperous, but as I keep remembering, of the three bedrooms, two are taken up by volunteers, so the four of them sleep in one room. There are other reminders that this is a developing country, like the fact that all their washing is done by hand. Coming from a country where a washing machine is considered a necessity, it is a valuable (if clichéd) lesson to see that not having one is not the end of the world.

There are two more things I want to mention. The first is the Internet/computer craze. The younger of the boys in my family spends as much time playing computer games as any English kid - he is lucky enough to be able to. And then there are two types of Internet café - ones for foreigners, and ones which are always full of shouting Peruvian kids playing games on the Internet. It seems to take up most of their time.

The second thing is something my hostess said to me yesterday evening: "I've never been in a plane, but if I flew at night I'd be scared of crashing into the stars".

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Sold out?

I´ve seen two very different sides of Peru today. This morning, I got up before 5 to visit the ruins behind Pisac at sunrise. It was an hour´s steep trek in the half-light, done with very regular breaks - I haven´t fully adjusted to the altitude yet. The route went past waterfalls, Inca crop-growing terraces, and modern Quechua huts before arriving at the Intihuatana - the hitching post of the sun. It´s a stone citadel perched on a ridge between valleys. Nothing compared to Machu Picchu in size, but still breathtaking. The Inca stonework, as it is everywhere, is basically perfect. The way the stones slot together with no mortar is hugely impressive.

What made it particularly special was that there was no one else there. There was a silence that is very difficult to find in the UK: the only noises were birds and the waterfall. The same was true of the stars last night...there are few places back home were you can see so many - though of course here they´re all different.

This afternoon I´ve been in Cusco. It is a city with an extraordinary past, where Spanish colonial buildings are literally built on Inca foundations. It is beautiful, too, but so touristy it severely tries my patience. After you´ve said `No, gracias´for the thirtieth time to a street vendor or shoe shiner or Quechua woman with baby llama, it gets a bit tiresome. It makes me sad to see the traditional culture reduced to this, though I suppose since tourism is the main source of income here there´s no avoiding it.

In fact, I saw something this morning at the ruins that makes me more optmistic. As the sun rose over a ridge on the horizon, three or four Quechua women appeared on the summit above the citadel. They raised their arms, and though I was about 200 metres away I could make out the soft sound of a pipe. They were welcoming the sun god, `Inti´, in a way that probably hasn´t changed in centuries. And they can hardly have been doing it for tourists - I was the only other person there. I felt very lucky to have seen it, and happy that Andean culture is escaping total globalisation for the moment.

What else to report? The ex-president Alberto Fujimori has been on trial for the last 15 months, and is going to be sentenced next week. He is charged with organising two massacres and various other human rights abuses in the 1990s. It´s an interesting case, as although he probably did overstep the mark, he managed to restore the economy and defeat the Shining Path terrorists - both catastrophes he inherited from his predecessor, Alan García. That would be the Alan García who´s President now...

So Fujimori is a very divisive figure. The Peruvians have a wonderful habit of writing slogans in enormous letters on mountainsides, and I´ve see both for and against him so far.

That´s all for now folks... Ciao.

Friday, 3 April 2009

Day 2

Today has been dominated by pretty boring administrative things. My phone isn´t working, so had to get a Peruvian one, and then also organise everything in my room. At least now I feel like i'm properly set up for a three month stay. There is so much to see and do in this country that it's impossible to cover even half of it in that space of time, particularly since I'm working. But anyway, in the spirit of adventure I'm getting up very early tomorrow morning to go see some Inca ruins above Pisac, and avoid the crowds and the ridiculous ticket price. Am also researching treks to Machu Picchu - the Salkantay trek, which looks the best, costs about $500! Though worth it, I'm sure. And then there's Lake Titicaca, the Colca canyon (deepest in the world!), the Amazon, and countless archaeological sites. All a bit daunting really.

Next week looks like it will be really quite exciting - the Holy Week processions in Cusco apparently have to be seen to be believed.

The altititude seems to be having an effect... got surprisingly out of breath going up stairs this morning! I know I haven't said much about the family and the house yet... there is a lot to say. However I now have to go for lunch - the food here so far has been amazingly low on vegetables. Potatoes, rice, pasta, a bit of meat, and soup, but very little green stuff.

I'm not sure if I'll be posting to this every day, but since Internet costs 2 soles (40p) for an hour, price is not an issue.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

20 hours of travel later...

And here I am. Sitting in an Internet cafe in the town of Pisac, in the Sacred Valley in Peru. It has been a completely overwhelming day.

This is largely to do with the fact that the journey in total was 20 hours, of which I slept about two. It had its positives - I had an interesting chat with a Frenchman off to the Amazon, and saw two very good films (Fight Club & Witness). I promised a friend I wouldn´t be pretentious on this, but I think I can get away with saying that Fight Club is pretty unique (and very, very violent). Edward Norton and Brad Pitt were totally enthralling, and I reckon the anti-consumerist slant now seems in a perverted way to be ahead of its time.

Anyway, I ended up at Cusco airport at 9am. Met people from Projects Abroad, then was taken on a whirlwind tour of the city in a rickety old taxi. The experience was a bit like watching parts of Slumdog Millionaire through a car window. The colours of people´s clothes and the buildings is unlike anything in Britain. But then many of the buildings and roads are crumbling, and it only seems picturesque until you realise people have to live in it. There is something uncomfortably voyeuristic about this sort of trip, perhaps. Though of course I´m here to do more than just look.

A combination of altitude and interesting driving left me feeling sick on the way to the Sacred Valley, where I´ll be living. The scenery was nonetheless astonishing: steep slopes of deep green capped with glaciers. This is a rural area in the sense we can barely imagine. It is really a different world. Farm animals roam the only main road at their free will, and children walk miles home from school. The old women really do wear the traditional Andean dress - colourful striped shawl with bowler hat. Again, the buildings are at once romantic and tragic.

The family with whom I´m staying seem cheerful and welcoming, though they of course do not have the whole world to share. My teaching looks as if it will be delayed a bit due to Holy Week (which supersedes everything), but there is apparently other community work to be done.

That´s all I can remember of what I wanted to say. Must try to stay awake this evening...

P.S. the flag of Cusco, the ancient Inca capital, is exactly the same as the Gay Pride flag. I will admit it puzzled me when I first saw it on the town hall...

P.P.S. At some stage I will work out how to upload photos to this thing. Haven´t actually taken any yet.