One of the greatest advantages of volunteering with HOOP in Arequipa is without a doubt the amazing landscape that surrounds the city, and provides you with many possibilities for weekend trips and exciting places to explore. The national Peruvian holiday in late July, ‘El día de la Independencia’, and the following lesson-free week presented us with enough time for even greater travels and the chance of a mini break that was very welcomed.
We had just had our international week at school which involved a great deal of organisation and planning of fun and creative activities. It was combined with our annual medical campaign, where young medical students from Lima came to Arequipa to give workshops, provide free medical advice and perform different medical tests for the families living in the community of Flora Tristán. All in all, it was a wonderfully successful week full of new challenges, surprises and accomplishments.
So the following week we set out to embark on a slightly bigger journey to San Pedro de Atacama in the Chilean desert. The prospect of a 16-hour long bus journey was slightly daunting, and it turned out to be not as easy as we had originally thought. For someone who was not yet fully accustomed to the South American style of traveling in buses for hours and hours, this was to be a unique experience. But in the end it all paid off.
After some confusion about bus schedules and night buses we finally made it to Calama, Chile, at 8 o’clock in the morning of the following day where we then waited for the next bus that would take us to San Pedro. Even though we were tired and slightly exhausted, the view from the bus on the way further into the desert was too amazing to pass by with eyes closed. Eventually, as if out of nowhere, a few houses popped up in the far distance and we finally arrived at the bus station in the middle of the dry and dusty Atacama Desert. As we only had a little less than three days, we had to carefully think about what to prioritize and what we really wanted to see. We eventually decided to do some stargazing at night, go to Valle de la Luna and on the last day visit the highest geysers in the world. All of these tours did not disappoint at all and we found ourselves taking hundreds of pictures of the breath taking landscapes we were taken to. The stargazing is very popular and almost a must if you go to the Atacama Desert, as it is one of the best places on earth to see the Milky Way, and even Mars and Jupiter. The simple beauty of the dark sky filled with bright stars was therefore one of the indisputable highlights of our trip.
Our journey back to Arequipa was smooth and left us tired but pleased we had done the trip. The great thing about working as a volunteer with HOOP is that you are a valued part of a constantly developing, expanding and growing organization that deeply cares about the people living in Flora Tristán. So upon our return to Arequipa we felt excited and happy to be back with all the new impressions and experiences to share and talk about. You start missing the kids in school a lot quicker than one might like to admit, and a trip like this gives you the perfect opportunity to reflect on your work as a volunteer and as a valued member of HOOP. The fact that we were so excited to go on our trip, but then also equally excited to come back to Arequipa only confirms that we have made the right decision to come here as volunteers.
Words and pics by Linda van Delft