Blindly, we got into the car with the license plate which matched our instructions. Besides knowing that we were going somewhere about four hours away towards the Brazilian border and we were going to be helping build cabins, we had no clue what we were in for – it was all part of the adventure.
We got this crazy idea of trying to find a ‘Work Away’ in the Amazon jungle after a big night out in Cusco, “we need to get out of this city!” That’s not to say we didn’t like Cusco, because we really did, but we are nature lovers and it was time to get out of the hustle and bustle for awhile.
For those of you who don’t know, Work Away is a website which connects businesses and backpackers. Businesses which need help find volunteers on this site and in return the volunteers get accommodation and usually food as well for free. Some of the positions are specific, such as yoga instructor or teacher, but many are hostel workers or gardening or basic construction.
We found a match for us, four hours from Cusco there was a family (the husband is originally from Canada while the wife is from Peru) who was starting a business of Eco-Lodges right in the heart of the jungle. They wanted some construction help as well as help with taking some pictures. We didn’t really know more than that, but agreed to come for a week minimum and they arranged for a car to pick us up a couple days later.
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The driver was crazy to say the least. The highway zig-zagged back and forth climbing a huge mountain, and I think this made our driver believe he was in a video game as he sped around each corner as fast as he could overtaking every single car and truck on blind corners. Frightened , I asked in my best Spanish “mas lento por favor” which means “more slow please.” He listened luckily and we survived another treacherous drive.
It was incredible how the landscape turned from snowy mountain peaks to dense jungle in a matter or minutes as we began to decline the other side of the mountain. The humidity was fresh and our lungs felt the relief of a lower altitude.
When we arrived we were greeted by our hosts, three big dogs, and a couple local workers. The area was indeed in the jungle, and right next to two rivers and their intersection. There was one large wooden cabin which was finished and would be where we slept, three unfinished cabins which we would be helping out with, as well as a sheltered area where there was a small kitchen and various animals such as chickens and rabbits and cats. This was going to be our home for the next week at least.
Over the next couple of days we got used to life out there. We would get up early and work for an hour or so before breakfast. A lady cooked all of the meals for us and the other local workers, and they were amazing! Usually the meals consisted of rice, beans or lentils, eggs, soup, pasta and then a couple times a week we would get fish or chicken. Although they sound like simple dishes, the cook was really good and made everything wonderfully, it was also nice not having to cook for ourselves or find a restaurant for every meal. We were served three large meals a day along with juice and tea.
After breakfast we would work for a couple more hours and then shower and clean up before lunch. The work we did was cleaning and sanding wooden beams in the cabin, it was easy and I didn’t mind it at all.
The afternoons were the best though, we just could relax. With no Internet or electricity we had to rely on each other’s company and books. We went for many nature walks in the area and took a ton of pictures. It was so calm being away from the city and other backpackers – it was just us, our hosts, and a few local workers and it was the perfect break after 7 months of traveling and hostels.
Our hosts left to Cusco for a few days leaving us with the construction workers, who spoke no English – we really got to practice our Spanish to say the least. The workers were so kind regardless of any language barrier. They also stayed at the worksite overnight in a sheltered area whereas we stayed in the one completed cabin. One day we bused into the nearest town just to check our emails and we brought them back beers and chocolate. We made a little fire pit and had a fire and beers that night with them, it was great.
On the Sunday it was Mother’s Day and all the workers left for the day off, except for one – Gambino. He was the oldest and he was the one who always seemed to look after the place. He had the biggest smile and despite us not always understanding, he continually tried to talk to us. He would come get us for meals and make sure we got served first, he would look for wildlife and whenever he found something he would run as fast as he could to come and find us to show us.
Gambino stayed with us on Mother’s Day so it was just us three, he took us fishing all day! He showed us how to dig for worms to use as bait and then took us to the good fishing spot. We only caught four very small fish but we fried them up and ate them anyway. It was great. He continually told us he was going to be sad when we left.
When our hosts came back they had a few extra family members, two six weeks old puppies and the tiniest kitten. Now there were three rabbits, four cats, five dogs, and a couple dozen chickens. The animals kept us very busy over our stay as well. We played with them almost constantly, it made me miss my dogs at home.
Overall we ended up staying 11 days. We could’ve probably stayed longer but we realised that our visas in Peru would be up fairly quickly so we decided to get a move on. I think that a Work Away is a great experience while on long term travel as it creates a routine and a sense of normalcy in your life – something that seems to always be missing when you are on the go so often. It also makes you appreciate traveling again, after being in one place for a while you start to crave traveling again and gain a new found gratitude for life on the road (which can easily be taken for granted after so many months.) We even loved just being disconnected from the Internet for so long, it felt refreshing to not have to check Facebook, emails, or anything and just be.
It was our first Work Away experience but I don’t think it’ll be our last.
Shout out to Camanti Lodge hosts and workers for such a great time!