The Hills Are Alive…

with the sound of happy MAC aspirantes (trainees).

So this past week, all of the trainees went off to various parts of Perú for Field Based Training.  All of the MAC volunteers, myself included, left the overcast and dusty skies of Chaclacayo to head to the fresh, clear skies of the city of Jauja, in the province of Junín.

We left early Monday morning on the swankiest bus I have ever been on, to start our ~7 hour journey to Jauja.

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My seat on our Cruz del Sur bus, complete with my own personal touchscreen.

There is only one road from Lima to Jauja, and it is a steep, windy one that curves its way up one side of a mountain range and then down the other.  At its summit, the road is the highest in all of Perú, meaning altitude sickness is a definitive concern, but also that you get a close-up of some gorgeous snow-capped peaks.

Snow-capped peak at the top of the mountain range.
Snow-capped peak at the top of the mountain range.

Fortunately, the altitude didn’t give me any problems during the journey (or for the rest of the week, for that matter), and we arrived safely and without incident around 3pm.  Upon arrival we checked into our hostel, and then I went out to grab a snack with some volunteers; we got a giant avocado and 7 pieces of bread to share for the equivalent of $0.66.

The next day was when the fun began, because we kicked off the day by going to a nearby school to teach a 30 minute class about some environmental theme.  I had a fantastic group of third graders to whom I taught the life cycle of a frog.  They were surprisingly attentive, and got me very excited to work in the schools when I eventually get to my site.

Fellow Trainee Peter and I with our class of 3rd Graders.
Fellow Trainee Peter and I with our class of 3rd Graders.

After class, I played soccer with a bunch of the kids during their recreo (recess) and showed them how my waterproof camera worked (they were pretty amazed).  After classes, we headed over to a PCV’s house for a delicious lunch, after which we met up with his local Club Ambiental (environmental club) to go plant some TREES!  I paired up with an awesome kid named Luis (who happened to be the PCV’s host-cousin), and we planted 3 trees up on the hill.  We were a killer tree planting team, and we named each of our trees after different Avengers (Hulk, Captain America, y Iron Man).

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Luis and I with our second tree, Captain America.

After tree planting, we headed back to Jauja where we went out on the street for dinner.  A few of us found a great pizza place where I shared a delicious Napolitana Pizza with another trainee.

We started off the next day exploring the local Feria, which is basically a giant market that happens every Wednesday and Sunday.  I talked with a few vendors and some kids to learn a bit more about Jauja, bought some fruit, and also bought a trompo, which is basically a wooden top that all the kids play with.

Mi trompo
Mi trompo

Later in the morning, we headed to the pueblo of Sincos to listen to a presentation about compost and then help another PCV with a compost/vivero (tree nursery) project in a local school.  Our group worked to make a box for the compost as well as to prepare two camas (beds) for the future trees.  It was hard work, tearing out grass and picking the soil, but it was super fun to be doing some manual labor.  After we finished, we lunched at the volunteers house before heading out to the town of Tunanmarca to visit a small museum and some pre-Incan ruins.

Getting to the ruins involved a short bus ride up a small hill, and then a short hike up to the entrance.  In order to enter the ruins, our guide had to perform a really cool ceremony where he asked permission from Mama Patsa y Tayta Inti (Mother Earth and Father Sun, in Quechua) to enter the ruins.  After the ceremony, we all had to deposit a stone that we brought up the mountain with us in a small pile.

The ruins themselves were gorgeous, and the view from the hilltop was incredible.  It was amazing to walk around and touch the stone houses that had been built stone by stone several thousand years earlier.

The ruins were truly incredible, and you could feel nothing but peace walking through them, with beautiful scenery all around.  My time up there, among the history, will be something to cherish.

The next morning we all headed out to a nearby town called Concepción, to visit their “Relleno Sanitario”, aka a landfill.  One of Perú’s biggest challenges is solid waste management, and so it was nice to visit one of the few sanitary landfills in all of Perú, that will hopefully eventually serve as a model for other towns and cities across the nation.  The landfill serves about 25,000 people in the area, and is remarkable in that they separate organic and inorganic materials.  Organic materials are used to make compost on the premises which is either sold to local farmers or used to fertilize the áreas verdes (green areas) of the town, while inorganic materials are either recycled or buried.

After we finished touring the landfill, we returned to Jauja where we had lunch together with some other MAC volunteers from Jauja.  One of the volunteers was actually from Lancaster, so it was cool chatting him a bit about Pennsylvania stuff.  I actually sat next to his socio (in-country partner) Oscar, who was a guardaparque (park guard) with SERNANP (think USFW) in the Reserva Nacional de Junín.  I talked with him in-depth about my research experience with invasive species in college, and then talked with him at length about SERNANP’s efforts with the Lake Junín Giant Frog, which is in-danger of extinction.  I had heard about the frog when I first found out I was going to Perú, so it was amazing to be able to talk with someone who worked directly with them.  I’m hoping I’ll be able to make my way over to the reserve at some point during service to help out with the project a bit.

After lunch, and a brief presentation by Oscar about all of their projects in the Junín National Reserve, we headed to a nearby Lake to do some bird watching (there were flamingos, irises, and many other avifauna).  While everyone else was walking around looking at birds, I hung out on the shore to talk with the PCV from PA about his work with the Lake Junín Giant Frog, since I still had a ton of questions.  While this was going on, a few trainees and facilitators decided to cross a small land-bridge across a portion of the lake.  Not everyone made it across safely, as the lake claimed 3 victims (you can see the aftermath of one fall in the picture below).

The aftermath of Jon falling in the lake.
The aftermath of Jon falling in the lake.

When everyone had safely reunited, we took our first group photo with all of the MAC staff (we look pretty good).  And before heading out, being the good little environmental guardian that I am, I picked up a few plastic bottles that were lying around on the ground.

For my last night in Jauja, I ate lots and lots and lots of food and sweets, since it would be a while since I would find them so cheap.  On our last morning in Jauja, we went to the municipality for a presentation on solid waste management by the Director of the Environment for Jauja.  It was really interesting, since they were implementing their first ever recycling program that very Monday, and so the information he shared could be really helpful for starting up recycling efforts in site.

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Pre-final presentation selfie in Jauja.

All in all, FBT in Jauja was absolutely incredible, and it was very nice to get away for a few days and see a different part of Perú.  After this short trip, I’m extremely excited to get to my site in a few months time and get started (we find out our sites this coming Wednesday morning!).  The return journey was fun, and filled with lots of word games since our touchscreens were not functioning.  I was sad to leave Jauja only to return to little old Chaclacayo, but we were gifted with a surpise snow squall on the drive home that made everything cooler (literally and figuratively).

Until later this week (when I’ll be updating with a post about my PCV site)!

MGB

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2 thoughts on “The Hills Are Alive…

  1. Hi Mark! Love reading about your adventures and all the good things you’re doing there! You’re an excellent writer! Enjoy every minute, do lots of good, and look to God for all your strength. Praying for you and your team! (We miss you at the kennel) – love, Sue

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