From the Amazon of the north down to the southern Andes, in the past two weeks we have literally crossed the entirety of Peru in preparation for Operation Groundswell’s second year in this incredible country. Bridging on our success from last year, we anxiously await participants and can hardly hold in our excitement for what is to come!

Our journey began on a 3 day ferry ride up the Amazon River to Iquitos. A concrete jungle of over 400,000 people, it is set in the middle of the Amazon Rainforest and serves as base camp for this year´s Amazon Adventure trip.  Our partners and friends were incredibly excited to see us again, however the city itself is in a state of disaster unlike they have seen in over 40 years.  We visited the barrio of El Porvenir to find the park we built with them underwater and make shift boardwalks connecting houses, many people having already deserted their homes until the water level drops. But we know these people and their resiliency, and were not surprised to find smiles and business as usual with the families left. The children in the community asked for all our volunteers by name and eagerly await our new group in July! We were lucky enough to be there for Labour Day and participated in a parade of all of the youth groups in Iquitos (although neither of us were on stilts like our friends from El Porvenir).

Our partners at KALLPA Iquitos, a local NGO working in community development  in the area, are looking at expanding their success in El Porvenir to the other eight barrios in the region, and we are excited to be part of the project. The water level will be back to normal when we return in July. We will see, however, if our projects will turn from community development to disaster relief in light of the massive clean up that will ensue once waters recede.

Our other main partner in Iquitos is Mayantu, a collective of University students from the National University of the Amazonias. This year we will return to Meliton Carbajal, where we successfully built a water tank and filtration system in the small jungle community last year. This year, it will be to help build ecologically friendly bathrooms with the residents.  Participants last year made a strong connection with the community, and are waiting with open arms to have us back again!

Aside from our planned projects, we met a friend working with a community where we will go on an excursion into the Amazon, visited other interesting projects in the area,  friends and family, animal refuges and natural reserves, and have much more planned!

Our time in Iquitos was over before Mikel even had time to wrestle anacondas, as we traveled to the other end of the country, up into the Andes to the Incan capital of Cusco. With it’s cobblestone streets, women in traditional dress of sierra, cold nights and hot sunny days, it is a truly another world! Our friends outside the city at Sembrando Semillas con Yoga anticipate our arrival in less than two weeks time. During our visit, even after just stepping into their finca we felt the immediate calm and tranquility of the place where we will take part in yoga, meditation, and planning workshops for local children as part of their alternative education program.

In between meeting partners, we took a day trip up to Maska, where we will be visiting the surrounding sacred valley and learning about the traditional way of life of the Quechua people. We piled into a colectivo heading up to the village to meet a family who has lived there for centuries. A group of brothers have invited us to stay a night out on their farm, offereing to teach us about the medicinal plants of the area, spiritual ceremonies, and practices in the Andes.

To finish off our Mind and Body precon, we went even higher into the mountains to the Cuatro Lagos (four lakes) region of Sagaragá. Again working with KALLPA, we will be living and working in the small village of Chaway.

Originally planning to work on their “Healthy Homes” project, they have asked if we would help repair an old playground in the village currently unsafe for the children to use. Along with the playground, we will be working on “Right to Play” workshops. The community leaders, family, and children, who are usually quite reserved when it comes to the (very few) foreigners who pass through, have opened their homes to us and wait for our arrival. As well as taking part in the work on the playground, they also want to share their way of life, fishing and farming, and show us around the beautiful region. Though the city of Cusco and the surrounding area is very pretty as well, it is important for us to get off the “Gringo trail” and visit real people from the Andes living their traditional lives as they have for centuries!

Whilst scouring the cities for local hotspots, traveling by boat, bus, and airplane, running from meeting to meeting, we are both realizing how truly lucky we are to have this opportunity, and hope that participants will feel the same way! We have had overwhelmingly warm welcomes by every single partner, and are constantly reminded how awe-inspiring this country truly is!

Today we head back to Lima, the coastal capital, to anxiously await the Mind and Body Group’s arrival in just four days time!

Until then!

Nos vemos pronto amigos!

Mikel y Laura