Monday, January 30, 2012

Volunteering at PSF, part three

Missed part one? Or part two?

There is another side to PSF as well, which is an integral part of the experience. I’m talking about the social elements. The people around you have a huge bearing on your life so the communal side of things has a big bearing on the experience you have. I had an incredible experience and much of the credit goes to the people I was working and living with.

It’s no stretch to say I made lifelong friends in the two and a bit weeks I was there. Of course, this is true of travelling anywhere. But with PSF, there’s such a diverse range of talented people who share a similar mind-set that it’s easy to make real connections. Never before have I seen so many good people gathered together in one place. There are also plenty of opportunities to be social.

The living arrangements promote it. There are two buildings which house the volunteers. All meals are served at one, which has a large courtyard. This courtyard also hosts a meeting every morning. At night, there is generally a fire in a barrel to huddle around with a cold litre of cerveza. During the day, some sort of productivity is always going on in the courtyard. The whole place hums with activity the whole time. It’s a set-up which encourages interaction.

PSF’ers are the thing-doing type. The second day I was there we had a day off due to a Peruvian national holiday. We went to the beach and had a bonfire with beers. It was a great way to meet some people and get to the talking.

Something which happens fairly regularly is a trip to Huacacina, one of the nearby towns. The ‘main’ draws is sandboarding. This is basically like snowboarding but on sand. Around 20 of us went out there on the last weekend I was in Peru and it was massive. It started off with a mini-bus ride for an hour and a half to Huacacina. There was a lot of rum involved. The vibe was festive.

Upon arrival we checked into the hostal and proceeded to continue making merry next to the pool. It was mid-afternoon and we already had a good glazing. We kept up the pre-gaming at a good rate for a few hours until it was dark and late and time to go to the nightclub. Fortunately, this was adjacent to the hostal. What else could we do but go in and tear it a new one?

The next day was an exercise in agony. However the weather was good and there was a pool to laze around so not everything was mislaid. Calming recovery beers were drunk in this ideal locale (never doubt the power of a recovery beer). Later we went out to sandboard.

Sandboarding is fun and I would recommend it to a friend. First you get into a massive souped-up dune buggy and drive madly around the dunes. Then you find a good steep one and drive to the top. Next you strap a waxed piece of wood to your feet. Alternatively, you can lie down on said wood. Then you do your best to get to the bottom of the dune stylishly or at least upright.

My penchant for nudity kicked in at this point and I stripped off to do a ‘winner takes all’ high risk run on the last hill. Fortunately I made it down in one smooth, unbroken ride. There should even be a video of it somewhere (although I’ve never seen it) as I was followed by a lucky fella with a camera strapped to his head. Afterwards, everyone thought it would be a great joke to make me wait a long time for my clothes to come down. To be fair, it was. Getting back was eventful as the buggy got stuck at the bottom of a bowl of sand. We got it out eventually but it was negligible for a while.

We rushed back to PSF to go to a birthday party. With 80-odd people in PSF there tends to be one or two a week. This one was great, with lots of games and food and laughter. It was set up so that to get a drink you had to complete a challenge. It was a great night and the ideal end to the weekend.

There were two bars in town that the volunteers went to: Mystica and the other one (the name escapes me but I remember the floodlights). Both were good for a laugh although the volunteers tended to make up most of the customers when we went. I remember one night on the way to Mystica I asked the driver of the tuk-tuk (basically a three wheeled motorbike rigged up to carry some people) if I could take the controls. I was surprised to be allowed, considering I was slurring drunk. After we arrived at the bar and dropped off the other volunteers he let me take it for a lap. When we swapped bars I again asked successfully. I was properly sloshed by this stage and just gave it full noise over a speedbump into an intersection. The other volunteers on the back were terrified but I was delighted.

Another interesting but horrible social event we attended was a real-life cockfight. After pantomiming the actions of 2 roosters fighting to the tuk-tuk driver (including foot actions) we made it to a little concrete coliseum with a sandy arena in the middle. Two birds were being prepared, which meant having blades ties onto the backs of their feet. Then they were placed to face each other, separated by a flimsy plastic barrier. This was removed and the birds eyed each other up. One of them made a crowing noise. Then there was a blur of motion. Around a second later one of the birds was only good for use in soup. This cock fighting was serious stuff and I didn’t enjoy it. It was a bit brutal for my tastes. Having said that it is an important part of Peruvian culture and I’m glad I went along. We must have watched about six or seven rounds before we’d seen enough.

That’s a taste of the social scene at PSF. There’s so much more to it than that though. It’s an important element of what makes PSF such a great experience. I was surprised at how sad I was to be leaving after only two and a half weeks. But I had a flight to catch so leave I did, going through a protest and then getting on a bus to Ica. From Ica I managed to catch a bus directly to Santiago in Chile. It was 54 hours of cramped, unreclining, hostile, and distinctly non-English-speaking hell. I was the only Gringo on the bus and everyone else made sure I knew I wasn’t welcome. But I got to Santiago with a night to spare, cleaned my bike and caught my plane so it all ended okay.

Now you've read the words, why not donate to the cause? Don't be tight, they need that tenner more than you do.

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