Volunteering in Venezuela [Part 2] - Aldeas de Paz
This is the second hub in my series about my travels to Venezuela to do voluntary work with children. The music to listen along with is a song that reminds me of my trip because I sung it a lot very loudly, trying to rap like Kanye. I listened to it when I was sunbathing, trying to sleep, reading in a hammock, pretty much every available moment. And when I hear it now I just grin like a fool. So listen to it while you're reading about Aldeas de Paz!
Aldeas de Paz - The Foundation
Aldeas de Paz is the name of the NGO (non-governmental organization) that I was volunteering for in Santa Elena, Venezuela. The site itself we referred to as ‘the Foundation’ which I will continue to do so throughout. I remember when we first arrived I was absolutely stunned by how beautiful it was. The view was phenomenal and it was sad when I realised it had started to become ordinary to me. In these photos you can see how far we could see across the Gran Sabana. How many people can say they have that view when they step out of their bedroom? The village of Santa Elena itself was at the bottom of the mountain and we were living a fair way up it. It took about 45 minutes for us to walk into town. I always ended up having to walk back up the mountain to the foundation in the midday sun and I always got laughed at because I get asthmatic and kept having to stop. It was even more unpleasant than the times I walked down in the pouring rain and thunderstorm.
Everything was really open; the walls didn’t reach the ceiling in the bedrooms, and the kitchen and eating area was basically outdoors, all open plan. It had a roof and walls (obviously) but it was still outdoors. I’m not explaining this well. Check the photos, maybe they will make more sense of what I am trying to say. Finally there was the hammock area, which was my favourite place to go, and possibly my favourite place in the world! The back door in my bedroom opened out directly onto the hammocks and consequently many nights I found myself getting out of bed and sleeping in a hammock instead. I’d just sit in a hammock, wide awake, and be asleep within five minutes! Good times. The bathrooms had saloon-type doors (like you see in old Western films) so any manner of animals could just wander in. Seriously. One of the guys had been using the bathroom only to turn round and find a frog staring back at him. I found paw prints going up the side of the shower cubicle and was at a loss to work out what kind of animal (rather than bugs) could actually walk up walls.
A Co-operative Living Environment
At Aldeas de Paz we lived in what was called a co-operative living environment whereby we all had to chip in with the cooking, cleaning and sometimes gardening. We had a rota so we all knew when we would be cooking, and what we were cleaning for that week. I love cooking, so I didn’t mind doing that a couple of times a week. It’s weird, when I’m at home, if I found a bug in a potato or tomato I would throw it out (as I imagine a lot of people would), but in Venezuela I’d find a bug in something I’d just cut it out and carry on!
A lot of vegetables we used were ones grown on the foundation and the guy running Aldeas de Paz insisted on only buying food produced in Venezuela. This did lead to a lot of us going to the supermarkets in Santa Elena and buying crisps, chocolate, Coke and cheese, oddly enough. The locals all ate this weird white cheese (I’m fairly sure it wasn’t from a cow … or a goat) that I (and many others) thought was ridiculously horrible. It was really salty and, well, just gross. So we used to buy regular yellow cheese, very expensive yellow cheese, to make pizza, put on pasta etc. They also only bought powdered milk at the foundation so we could only eat cereal if someone had previously gone out and bought regular milk. We had to make coffee on the stove. Real South American coffee! At home I drink instant coffee, so it was really weird having to make coffee on the stove and then filter it into a cup. This was a particularly interesting experience since the pans didn’t have proper handles, just weird grabby things at the side, which inevitably meant that I burnt myself many many times. As I’ve started writing about it I’ve realised how much I actually miss that coffee!
You can learn more about volunteering and Venezuela in: Walking with Lions by Alistair Mirfin
Other Hubs in my Venezuela Series
- Volunteering in Venezuela [Part 1] - The Long Journey
My journey from England to Venezuela was quite the mission. Click here to hear about how I got to Santa Elena!
- Volunteering in Venezuela [Part 3] - Santa Elena
This is the third in my series of hubs about when I was volunteering in Venezuela. This hub is concentrating on the town of Santa Elena, where we were staying, and the different things we did there.
- Volunteering in Venezuela [Part 4] - The Invasion
When I was volunteering in Venezuela we were working with kids from what was known as The Invasion. This hub is about their lives and what it was like working with them!
- Volunteering in Venezuela [Part 5] - Manak-Kru
This is the final part of my Venezuela series. We volunteered with children in an indigenous village nearby called Manak-Kru, using a mobile school.