Volunteer work with animal protection in Peru - February until July 2017
After graduating from secondary school, I knew that I wanted to go abroad, preferably to South America to improve my Spanish skills. After being accepted to an apprenticeship in January, I wanted to make my plans a reality as soon as possible. At first, I did not really have a plan to which country I wanted to go to and which project I wanted to volunteer for but with South America Inside, I quickly found just the right fit for me. And so it was that I chose the project animal
welfare protection in Peru, a country with great biodiversity. Just one month later, I started my adventure. I lived in the middle of Cusco, the main town of the Incas, and spent five wonderful months at the local zoo, that belongs to the national university of San Antonio del Cusco. During my time there, I learnt to love the country and its people.
Getting there was a little bit of an adventure, and two hours layover at the Lima airport are definitely too short. During that time, I not only had to go through immigration, pick up my luggage and leave the terminal, I also had to recheck my luggage, go through security again and find my gate. I got there five minutes prior to the boarding call, and only because I informed the people at check-in about my time issue and did not have to wait in any lines.
When I finally got to Cusco, I was picked up at the airport by two lovely women that took me to my host family´s house. My first day I was allowed to just relax and adjust to the height, because 3500m definitely steal your breath in the beginning, without even doing anything. The next day I was accompanied to the zoo that was located only three walking minutes away. In the afternoon, I got a little city tour to see at least the most important places. Even though I originally decided against a Spanish course, I quickly realized that I had trouble expressing myself even though I understood almost everything. That is why I took a three-week course, which made all the difference.
Now it´s time to talk about the project. The zoo is rather small and is part of the university grounds. It does not have too many visitors, which I believe is due to the location where most people would not expect a zoo. Since the park is so small, the compounds are also very limited in their size. This was one aspect, visitors kept commenting on but I could quieten them down by explaining that the zoo is moving to the outskirts of the town so that the animals have enough room. Furthermore, the zoo puts a lot of love and care into the animals, that all originate in Peru, for example the condor, bears and parrots. There is also a llama running around the property, and even though many people negate that they actually do spit, I have seen this one done it several times.
Part of my job was washing the feeding dishes, cutting fruit for the animals and cleaning their compounds. The fruit is delivered every other day and is of such good quality, that even the zoo staff can eat from it. On a normal day, I worked around four hours. Firstly, all the animals that spend the night in a heated area are brought back to their normal compound, including 18 turtles and an Iguana. Afterwards, I washed the feeding dishes, and cleaned the compounds. After getting that done, I usually prepared and distributed the food for the animals. If I had more time, I swept the walkways, washed the linen that functions as a little hideaway for some animals, or made little repairs.
Especially the monkeys in the park are very spoilt, they often get little treats such as nuts or cookies made from quinoa, flour and many vitamins. Normally, volunteers in this project only stay for around one to two weeks, which is why I later had a higher position and much more responsibilities. The zoo director trusted me so much, that she sometimes left the park for a couple of hours, leaving me with the responsibility. Moreover, I instructed all the new incoming volunteers and helped them which was also due to the fact that most of the zoo staff did not speak English, while a lot of volunteers, especially Americans, did not speak any Spanish.
I liked Peru and especially Cusco a lot. During my time there, I experienced many great things and got to visit amazing places, for example Machu Picchu, the lake Titicaca and even the jungle. Sadly, I did not make it to the desert. My host family was very nice and now I can proudly say that I have a second family in Peru. I met many people during my time in Cusco and made new friends, not only other volunteers but also cusqueños. A great tip is the language school in the center of Cusco, that does not only offer language classes in German and Spanish but also other activities, for example going to the cinema, game nights, karaoke, or other things. You do not have to be enrolled in the classes in order to participate so that Peruvians and Germans can interact and learn their languages from each other. Peru is a very welcoming country, like almost all countries in Latin-American. All the people are very friendly but also very polite. You should watch what you´re saying and you will seldom hear a Peruvian cuss, even the younger people.
I can highly recommend volunteering in Peru. I almost only made good experiences and looking past some minor things, the zoo project is very recommendable as well. I loved being there and always felt well taken care off and thus spent some exciting and great months in the heart of the old Inca Empire.