Monday 3 February 2020

International Cooking Lessons in Huaraz

Having just finished a fairly intensive degree I'd decided that it would be good for me to take a short break to practice Spanish, which I'd been learning on and off over the last several years. Instead of travelling aimlessly, looking to find myself I decided to be useful and volunteer, perhaps teaching and using my high level of Maths training. Arriving in Huaraz at Seeds I expected that I would just be spending my days with the kids, teaching Maths or English. I never expected that after school was finished I would be giving and attending cooking classes with the local Peruvians and other international volunteers.

Seeds offers English classes 4 nights a week to adults which is a great way for the volunteers to meet the locals. Conversations are often in English, Spanish and Spanglish which offers  good opportunities to practice the language. The classes happen in the evenings, after school, so the topic of conversation among the hungry students often turns to food. During a couple of classes we made ourselves so hungry that we went out walking around Huaraz to buy fresh bread and picarones (Peruvian doughnuts in syrup). 

I happened to be at Seeds during Thanksgiving so the American volunteers suggested we cook a thanksgiving dinner with the students from the English class, ensuring of course that the conversation was (mainly) in English since it was of course still an English lesson. Although the menu planning was led by the Americans, since no one else in their right mind would think to combine camote (sweet potato) with marshmallows, most of the cooking was done by the locals and an Englishman. The volunteers went shopping at lunchtime to the local markets, with one of the students, to hunt for bargains. Although we struggled to find cranberries (arandanos rojos), despite coming close with arandanos (blueberries) and or cherries, we did find a turkey and most of the trimmings. We hit a slight problem with the Seed's oven which didn't have a temperature control and was a bit small for the turkey but were rescued, once again by one of the locals who lived nearby and who's oven we borrowed before carrying the hot turkey a few blocks, just before dinner.

After the success of the thanksgiving dinner, the Peruvians riposted with a couple more Peruvian meals including aji gallina (chicken with yellow chilli and rice), papas rellenas (stuffed, fried potato balls), papas a la Huancaina (sliced potatoes with yellow chilli cream) and yuca frita (fried cassava, like potato but more fibrous) with a red pepper cream. While there was of course a chef-in-charge (thanks Sergio!), everyone joined in with the cooking offering contrasting advice on the correct method or the correct type of potato to use (Peru has over 4000 (yes, thousand) varieties of potato in common use, and God help you if you serve the wrong sort for that dish to a Peruvian).

Since returning home a few weeks ago I have already made aji gallina and pisco sours to try to revive some of those experiences. However it wasn't quite the same without the market shopping experience or the friendly sword fights with spatulas in the kitchen with Sergio. I'm sure I will be back in the next couple of years to buy some more ingredients and learn more recipes!

Monday 18 November 2019

From Japan to Peru

According to Webster’s dictionary, a volunteer is… just kidding. But in all seriousness, I never thought my life would fit my presumed mold of an international volunteer. I’m a 28-year-old military wife with an established nursing career and 2-year-old son, living in Japan. Despite my momentously blessed life, something was still missing. Enter Seeds of Hope.

For the last two weeks, I woke up each morning to the noisy city of Huaraz, took in the breathtaking mountain views while strolling to breakfast, and returned to Seeds for the morning session. For a few hours, I’d help some teens with their various homework and practice conversing with them in Spanish. Later, the volunteers and I would break for lunch and enjoy the local food at one of the many cafes nearby. By mid-afternoon, the younger children would arrive at Seeds and spend time on their homework. Afterwards, we’d provide a snack and spend time playing. This all sounds so standardized, but each of my days here stood out in its own uniqueness as I developed relationships with the kids each day.
Let me tell you: these kids are something else. That’s the only way to describe it. They’re so silly, energetic, and inquisitive. The girls would spend hours watching videos of my son and the boys constantly asked me to translate their Spanish into Japanese. Due to my attachments and self-admitted “mom guilt”, I could only spend two short weeks with these kids. Though the time flew by (you know what they say about having fun), these two weeks have been so monumentally fulfilling in every way.
If something is missing in your life, you might just find it here at Seeds of Hope. Meanwhile, you’ll provide children and teens with a much-needed professor, role model, and friend. If you can’t donate your time, please consider a financial donation (of any size!) to help support these kids in their conquest of obtaining an education and breaking the cycle of poverty. You won’t regret it!

Friday 9 March 2018

Things to do in Huaráz and the Surrounding Areas

As a volunteer with Seeds of Hope, most of your weekends will be free, in the hopes that you will explore the surrounding areas and delve into authentic Peruvian culture. Many travelers know Huaráz to be the nature capital of Perú; they are not wrong! Huaráz is a great home base for many day treks, and is a convenient starting point for many multi-day treks. However, Huaráz offers many opportunities for cultural immersion, as well.

Many of the previous volunteers at Seeds of Hope have frequented all (or most) of these beautiful locations: Lagunas de Llanganuco, Laguna 69 (and Laguna 68), Laguna Churup, Laguna Shallap, Glacier Pastoruri, and Laguna Parón. These glacial lakes can all be reached in a day’s trek, and the scenery is absolutely gorgeous!

Laguna 69

 The Lagunas de Llanganuco are two gorgeous mountain lakes that sit near the base of Mount Huascarán, and can be visited year-round (note that the lake changes colors based on the time of year and the sun’s positioning); you can also visit these lakes as a stop before hiking to the famed Laguna 69. Laguna 69 is the most popular day-trek in the Andes mountains, due to its almost unbelievable turquoise color and spectacular backdrop; you will also pass by Laguna 68 during your trek to Laguna 69. 

Laguna Churup
The trek to Laguna Churup is slightly technical (as you must climb several steep rock faces and cross a river in order to reach the laguna), but it is well-worth the effort expended! Laguna Parón is easier (it is considered a great accommodation hike) and many believe it to be the most beautiful lake in the Cordillera Blanca, as it is surrounded by glaciers on three sides. The walk to Glacier Pastoruri (the largest tropical glacier and an international symbol of climate change) can be accomplished in thirty minutes. Lastly, while it is possible to reach Laguna Shallap in a day-trek, many volunteers opt to bring sleeping bags and sleep at the campsite, then return to Huaráz the following day.

Santa Cruz trek
Sometimes, volunteers have free time either before or after their placement. During that time, several previous volunteers have decided to complete a multi-day trek. Some of the most popular multi-day treks include Huayhuash circuit, Santa Cruz trek, Ishinca trek, Quilcayhuanca trek, and the Cayesh trek. The first two hikes are the most well-known; depending on your fitness level, the Huayhuash circuit can take between seven to twelve days, while the Santa Cruz trek can be accomplished in two to four days. For most participants, we recommend that you hire a guide for the trek; however, if you have wilderness experience, it is possible to complete the hike without a guide, as the trails are well-marked (during the dry season). For more information about a volunteer’s experience with the self-supported Huayhuash trek, read this:

Huayhuash circuit

Lastly, as Huaráz is surrounded by the Cordillera Blanca, there are many nevados to climb! Some of the most popular peaks to conquer are Pisco, Urus, Alpamayo, and Huascarán. If you elect to climb a mountain during your free time, it is imperative that you hire a guide, as the snow/ice conditions can – and do – change frequently.

If outdoors-y stuff really isn’t your thing, there is still plenty to do in Huaráz! For instance, there are many outdoor markets (such as the mercado central), with vendors selling anything that you could ever imagine. Some vendors offer live guinea pigs, while others try to convince you that you need to purchase their cow intestines. Others are selling peeled garlic, while others hawk clothing with misspelled English words. 

Produce stand at Mercado Central

Right outside of Huaráz, you can visit the Templo de Wilkawain, and soak in natural hot springs at the baños termales de Monterrey. You could also take a day trip to view the strange-looking puya raymondi plant. Additionally, there is a cool pottery market in nearby Taricá, and the pre-Incan ruins at Chavín de Huantar are only a day trip away. Or you could just hop on a random combi, and explore the pueblito where you end up!

Chavín de Huantar - cabeza clava  
Dirt roads outside of Huaráz
For those who have a strong desire to escape the mountain scenery, you can visit the beaches of Trujillo during a long weekend, where the surfing is great! Additionally, there is always something to do in the capital city of Lima.

Adventure awaits!

Thursday 1 March 2018

A Day in the Life of a Seeds of Hope Volunteer

 It’s eight o’clock in the morning, and your alarm sounds. You excitedly roll out of bed, anxious for the fun activities that await you today.

On the gas-powered stove, water is already boiled, and available for you to use in your morning tea or oatmeal. If you prefer a heartier breakfast, the kitchen is available for you to cook eggs, or anything else that your stomach desires. Outside of the apartment, the street vendors are setting up their carts for the day, but you can purchase a glass of quinoa porridge, or a slice of peeled fruit for S/. 1 (less than 50¢ USD) before their supplies dwindle.

At 8:50am, the volunteers leave the volunteer apartment to begin the ten-minute stroll to the center. If you choose to sleep late, you can purchase an egg sandwich (or a slice of peeled fruit) on the way to the school for S/. 1 (less than 50¢ USD).

Upon arriving at the school, you will help arrange the classrooms in preparation for the day’s lesson (or homework help). Older students will trickle in one by one, and attempt to engage you in tournaments of UNO! in a valiant attempt to distract you from the academic advances that are planned for the day. After roughly thirty minutes of recreo (during which the students arrive), students go to their assigned classroom, where you will either help students with their homework, or provide extra help for subjects such as reading or mathematics. Two hours of homework help (or additional practice) will fly by, and soon enough, it will be recreo time once more!

Following this period of recreo, students will wash their hands, pray a short prayer (remember, Peru is a Catholic country), and then you will distribute a nutritious meal. After consuming their snack, the students will brush their teeth, and help clean up the school before departing for the day.  

By the time that every student has left the school, it is noon-thirty, and your stomach is growling. While walking back to the volunteer apartment, you can purchase a small serving street food to tide over your stomach until you can either round up another volunteer to accompany you to lunch at the market, or until you can prepare a sandwich or something else easy for lunch. In Peru, lunch is considered the most important meal of the day. Many restaurants (and market stands) will offer a fixed two or three course menu for S/. 5 to S/. 7 (around $2 USD). Once your stomach is satisfied, you will have about an hour of free time to check social media, read, update your blog, or whatever other activities you enjoy. Some volunteers choose to go to the gym; others prefer to wander around the city in search of the perfect photograph; still others elect to go shopping for dinner supplies (or purchase souvenirs at the local artisan market).

Upon conclusion of free time around 2:45pm, it is time to walk to the school once more. This ten minute walk is accomplished rather quickly, which is a good thing, as several younger students are already waiting for you at the entrance to the building! Upon unlocking the door, the children will once more engage you in card games, followed by homework help and supplemental lessons, then recreo. This group of children is more rambunctious than the morning group; however, their energy is infectious! Despite any communication issues that stem from speaking different languages, volunteers frequently report smiling so much that their face hurts!

After serving a nutritious meal to this group of younger students, the evening will be yours to spend as you please. Generally speaking, the volunteers leave the school around 6:15pm, and return to the volunteer apartment to cook dinner (or frequent one of the local gringo hangouts for dinner). We recommend that you get a good night’s sleep, because tomorrow, you get to do it all over again!