When we first signed up for this trip, we all discussed the things we were most excited for. Machu Picchu, the Galápagos Islands, and rafting the Amazon were some of the group’s most anticipated activities. However, if you asked our group what our most memorable experience was thus far, I’m confident most would answer our stay with the Llama Pack Project.

Our experience began with a grueling hike to Cancha Cancha, a rural village located high in the Andes mountains. As we walked beside a pack of llamas, the great Andes mountains towered over us. The contrast between the green, vibrant vegetation and the rocky glaciers on the tips of each peak captivated the eyes of the entire group, including those who’ve had extensive hiking experience. We were met in Cancha Cancha by the local people who graciously welcomed us into their homes and cooked us a meal like no other. As we huddled in their houses trying to stay warm, we drank coca tea and ate an unruly amount of potatoes. We learned about Pacha Mama, who they worship as Mother Earth, the provider of all life. As we hiked back down, we all had a new found respect for how they live in harmony with the Earth and the generosity they showed a group of strangers.

Volunteering in Peru

For the following days, we camped in tents on the site of the Llama Pack Project base camp. The Llama Pack Project is an NGO whose mission is to reintroduce llamas as the primary pack animal in the Andes. Unfortunately, over the years, donkeys and horses have become more popular due to their ability to carry heavier loads. However, horses and donkeys don’t have padded feet like llamas, so their traffic around the Andes is causing the vegetation to be ruined. The local people who live in the high Andes and the people who started the Llama Pack Project are working to bring attention to this issue and restore the environmental and cultural significance of the llamas.

Volunteering in Peru

As soon as we arrived at the base camp, we got straight to work. We were tasked with building roads on the surrounding steep mountains. Although the group had only known each other for a couple days, we worked like we had known each other for years. Our teamwork impressed a lot of people, even ourselves. Some of us carried wheelbarrows full of heavy rocks while others dug into the mountain with their pick axes. During our breaks we took in the incredible view and ate some of the best food known to man.

Volunteering in Peru

We worked relentlessly for three days, and to be honest, it wasn’t always fun. It was hot, the work was brutal, and the elevation caused all of us to breathe a lot harder than we thought ever possible. I don’t think any of us miss the hard, manual labor of the experience. But what we do miss is how great we felt doing it. For many of us, it felt like the first time where our volunteer work was making a noticeable difference. It was inspiring to see how much we could accomplish together and it was so special to see how the local village so readily welcomed us into their homes and kitchens. The impact of that experience will last a life time and we could only hope that we could do as much for the locals as they did for us over those 3 days. But perhaps the most moving part about that experience is that despite the language and cultural barrier, despite the drastically different lifestyles, we understood one another and we all realized that we really aren’t all that different.

Volunteering in Peru

After we finished our road project on our last night of our stay there, we watched the sunset as a group. The sky was a blazing orange and it felt like the perfect way to end such an incredible experience. As the sun was setting, we saw a majestic condor, one of the most scared animals in Peruvian culture, gliding against the horizon in the Sacred Valley of the Andes. And although the condor disappeared into the sunset sky, what remained was the profound impact we received from those people and memories that we will all cherish for the rest of our lives.

Written by Sydney Davis

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Author Pacific Discovery Outreach Posted

Category South America Departure Spring 2022