I feel like I start every blog with "this is one of the best things I did in South America...", and this intro shall be no different. However, I would argue that my time spent with Pisco Sin Fronteras may be one of the best things that I have ever done. We heard from a few people that PSF was a brilliant and rewarding experience. I was hoping to do something somewhat meaningful while away so working with PSF seemed perfect. I felt doing something good may ease away some of the awful deeds that were done to my soul in the previous months.
From Huacachina, we headed to Pisco. Pisco is not somewhere I would really recommend to travel to unless going to work with PSF (however, PSF is now defunct so....I guess I would not recommend Pisco). I feel bad not recommending Pisco as it holds such a nice place in my heart.
On the 5th of August 2007, Pisco was rocked by a 8.0 magnitude earthquake that destroyed 80% of the homes in Pisco, thousands injured and over 500 people lost their lives. A year after the disaster, many NGOs had pulled out but a group of international volunteers and some local pisqueno's founded Pisco Sin Fronteras. PSF builds houses for the community and works hard with community development.
I was not sure what to expect when we arrived at the volunteer house. When we arrived at the guesthouse we were greeted by about six girls who sang some weird PSF related song to us. It was a welcome song. I cannot really remember it because I was so confused as to what was going on. I was fearing that we stumbled across some sort of musical cult. I cannot even remember who the girls were that sang the song. I was so perplexed. I am pretty sure the more the song went on, the closer I backed towards the taxi. Measuring up my get away. Thankfully, everyone was amazing and it was just an odd start. We were met by the volunteer coordinator, Yuliya who had bright pink hair. As we walked around, I saw loads of people sitting around a fire and several girls playing with a hula hoop. I am unsure why I felt the need to point out that I saw people playing with a hula hoop but I did. I could never use a hula hoop. I think a guy will always look weird while using a hula hoop. A relevant string of sentences. The volunteer house was fairly huge. I was up in the penthouse. When we were told that we were in the penthouse, I was quite excited. The PSF was not my idea of a traditional penthouse. Infact, it was sort of a hole however was still nicer than the staff room in the Wild Rover, La Paz. The hole very quickly felt like home. The people who we shared the penthouse with were awesome. I feel like I have so much to say but do not know where to start.
I shall begin with the day to day activities. Breakfast is served at around 7.30-8.15. Generally, everyone volunteers to do one cooking job and two cleaning jobs a week. So, the breakfast team would serve breakfast. Hmm, I better make this more interesting pretty soon. After breakfast and multiple rock paper scissors competitions to see who cleans up, the morning meeting happens. The morning meeting was maybe the only thing about PSF I did not like. People made announcements and stuff. Usually the announcements were fairly pointless and people moaning about unimportant things. If you made morning announcements moaning about stuff and you thought it was important, maybe it was. In most cases it was not. Right after the meeting, you head off to work.
The first piece of work that I did was with FMB. I am unsure what it stands for. I think it was "Furious Modular Builders" but do not quote me. In FMB, it was our job to build the panels for the modular houses. The walls of the house are wooden panels. Usually, you need to work in FMB before getting the opportunity to get on site and build a house. I found working in FMB first invaluable, just so you can get comfortable with the tools and the panels. The group that I did FMB with was amazing. The team all became very good friends which made going to work tonnes of fun. A good pal of mine who I worked with in FMB, Nick, raised money from friends and family back home to build a house. I was fortunate enough to be asked to be apart of his project. The family that were selected to have the house built for them really needed it. There was a huge family packed into a tiny tiny house. The house could not have been bigger than a standard bedroom size. The site that we built on was just down the road from the place that they were currently residing. The family always cooked us epic meals which was lovely. We would eat them on the site. However, there are hundreds of stray dogs in Pisco and many of them chose our site as a toilet so eating our lunch surrounded by dog shit was not great but you get used to it.
Time ticked away and I began to fall in love with the place. I just started making new friends and everyday just became so much fun. Such a good group. So many like minded people. We partied hard but worked even harder. We would go out some nights, not get back till 4 or so and drag ourselves to work and do it all again later on in the week. It was so brilliant. It is 200% the highlight of my South American trip, and I had some amazing highs. It got even better mid way through our first week, when many of the long stays left. Long stays did not really talk that much to us, not out of snobbery but because they were going soon and you get so jaded with saying goodbyes that you don't really bother. A similiar thing happens to everyone, as I was coming to the end of my term, I was less eager to talk to all the new people as you couldnt be bothered. Towards the end of my time, i didnt really know that many people, well, I knew them but the people I hung around with, my crew, if you will, were mostly gone. You just dont really invest yourself in getting to know new people that much. It sounds bad but saying goodbye sucks and I said goodbye to a lot of special people during my stay. Like, everyone does really. It is probably more down to feeling comfortable in PSF rather than other people leaving, to be fair.
When it came to the construction of the house. I had not a breeze what to do but we had people jump on and off the site to assist with any questions. The construction of the house was one of the most tiring and stressful things I have ever done but easily the most rewarding. From levelling the ground, to pouring the concrete, throwing up the walls, putting on the roof, fitting windows and doors, to painting the guy. I got to do it all. From the very beginning to the very end. It was such a bonding experience with the team. By the time the house was finished, the team felt like best friends. For that brief time in a small part of Peru, I suppose we were. The moment where we handed the keys to the family was insane. The family now have a house. Within minutes, the family broke the door which sullied the occasion slightly but we fixed it later. Our project was called "Free House". It was called this because we began encountering problems along the way (as you do) which was almost impossible to fix without better equipment and or building experience. We found ourselves often shrugging and saying "Its a free House....they cannot complain". It was a joke just incase you think we built a family a terrible house....well, sort of a joke.
You will see that I convinced my team to paint the house green. Come on, Ireland. I cannot remember my argument why the house was green but I did not tell everyone that I just wanted a green house for Ireland until the house was half painted. Half the team were Irish though so it was fair enough....actually more of the team were American but we were hardly going to paint the house in the American flag. A massive eagle would have been brilliant though if not slightly threatening. I would not mess with the family who had a massive eagle painted on their house. I still think about the experience of building a house and no matter what mood I am in, those moments cheer me up. There were times where I wanted to take a blowtorch to the house and rip it piece by piece apart but even those low moments were amazing in hindsight. As I mentioned earlier, the moment where the family received the keys was mind blowing. Sure, there is a section of the floor with a dip and the house is green but it is still a house for a family that had nothing. We all have those moments where we doubt the choices that we made. Would things have been better if I stayed in Ireland and work on my career? I just think about those days working in Pisco and I instantly feel vindicated. It is nice to think that after my South American trip that I left something more than just time spent.
There was plenty more amazing moments in Pisco aside from building the houses. The social aspect of it was brilliant. PSF always organized fun ways to raise funds for different projects or even just broken equipment in the volunteer house. One of the more memorable fund raising events was an auction. Basically, people auctioned off different things. Volunteers auctioned items from hand made bracelets to wallets made from juice cartons. As the night goes on, the auction gets a lot more interesting. I won two auctions. Everyone was doing Movember (you grow a moustache for November in case you live under a rock!) The auction was at the end of November and all the participants were going to dye their moustaches. I paid good money to chose what color they go. I had a few drinks during the auction so paying good money for this seemed like a great idea. Hey, it is for a good cause. That is what I told myself the next day anyway. I, of course, chose the Mo's to go green white and gold. The best thing I bought at the auction and maybe the best thing I have ever bought was to get my closest pal in PSF, Nick, to be my bitch for a week. This meant whatever I said, he did. If you remember, Nick was the dude who raised the money for the house he built. I was determined to make him my bitch as the benefits of having a slave working on the site with me was great. It started rather tamely with me asking Nick to just get me drinks and stuff but it soon escalated. Haha, poor Nick. There was a party one night in the PSF house and I made him get the attention of the party, jump up on a table, put a broom between his legs and go "Weeeeee, I am a witch" and then when everyone looks at him puzzled, he would have to say "sorry....I thought that would be funny." At a morning announcement, surrounded by people making "important" announcements, he had to stand up and say "I went horse riding without a saddle before.....I think I preferred it." Ah, it was so enjoyable to have that much power. Nick was to have his revenge though.
I also auctioned something of mine off at the auction. My body hair. Well, I auctioned the ability to wax my chest. As I mentioned earlier, I had a few too many drinks so this seemed like a great idea. Everyone got very excited about the whole idea and I raised a good bit of cash from other volunteers and people back home. It probably says a lot about how people see me that everyone was so willing to raise money to see me in such pain. The waxing was to be done at the end of the week that Nick was my bitch because obviously I could just make him do it instead of me. After a week of Nick being my bitch. He was ready for his revenge and boy did he get it. He organized the entire waxing. It was a sick experience. I had to stay upstairs and wait to be called. I entered the room where everyone was standing holding candles and peaceful music was playing. It seemed rather pleasant. As I lay down, my hands were cuffed behind a chair and the lights began flashing with the song from Requiem For A Dream playing loudly.
Strip by the strip, the hair came off. It was so so painful. I have maximum respect for any ladies who do that. Woof, I shall not be doing that again. I will always remember the sadistic look Nick gave me before whipping off his strip of wax. It was terrifying. That someone could be capable of such evil. I was pretty happy with the finished product at the end of it. Nice smooth chest and it looked pretty good. What happened the following few days did not look pretty good. In fact, it looked fairly horrific. I had an allergic reaction to the wax strips and broke out in the most viscous acne on my chest. Unlike anything I have ever seen. It was rather unpleasant. It was a few weeks before I began sunbathing again. Para Los Ninos (for the kids in spanish) everyone told me. I am still unsure if it was worth it. It was so sore and not a single child thanked me. Ungracious bastards. I should have had a statue erected in my hairless honor. A public holiday in my name at the very least but nothing. My dream to have a public holiday in my name will have to continue.
My time was rapidly coming to an end in PSF. I was the last one remaining in the volunteer house out of all my traveling Irish comrades but just could not bring myself to leave. I said I would fly from Lima to Colombia to be with them for Christmas. If it was not for Christmas, I wonder would I have ever left? I also developed a relationship with a girl while there who over a year later, is now my girlfriend. Madness but we can get to that later. As much as I say that it was different project related things that made me stay in PSF, it was probably just because I liked this girl so much. I will deny it underoath. I will just say someone else wrote this paragraph. The author of this paragraph is a filthy liar and quite possibly a racist. Brian is hilarious. Oh, he speaks some truth. I suppose this paragraph teaches us that just because liars lie, they can sometimes tell the truth when it comes to my comedic skill. A modern day adaptation of "the boy who cried wolf" you could argue. What the hell are we talking about?
I was offered one final opportunity before I left which I had to take. I made very good friends with a local Piscan, Martin. Martin often came around to our site where we would chat for hours. One day, he described in detail about what it was like when the earthquake struck. It sounded insane and Martin himself sounded so heroic in helping other locals. He was just an awesome dude. His mother was moving back to Pisco but had nowhere to live as their house was destroyed in the earthquake. Joy and Anna (two of my favorite people in PSF, Joy is the other half by the way) raised money to build Martins mother a house. Even that sentence gives me goosebumps. Human kindness can really move you at times. The opportunity to build a house with some of my favorite volunteers for a family member of one of my friends was too big too pass up. Unfortunately, the project suffered several delays and I was unable to finish the project but I was there for the begins of it. The construction of that house was so fun. We must have had hundreds of bizarre in jokes even only after a few days. I count down the days until I return to Pisco to see Martin and the finished house.
It was incredibly sad to say goodbye to everyone when my time came to leave. I began to feel somewhat jaded at the end of my time because I was constantly saying goodbye to people that I became so fond of. I did not think I would be as sad to leave as I was. Usually, when it is time to move on, you are sad to say goodbye by so excited for the next place. My next place was the Carribean coast in Colombia, what was not to look forward to? I just knew that I was leaving something very special and a place that I will remember and cherish for the rest of my life. I said goodbye to everyone. It was particularly sad saying goodbye to Anna and Joy. Would I ever see them again? We planned to but you always make plans to see people again and so rarely can you while traveling. Thankfully Joy came up to Colombia with me and I have spent several evenings in Anna's kitchen eating her baked goods so it ended up OK!
So, just under two months, one and a half houses built, begun the construction of a park, countless hangovers, one waxed upper body, so many new friendships created and thousands of memories formed. It was an amazing experience and I loved every minute of it. Pisco and Piso Sin Fronteras, voy a volver y te quiero.