In August 2018, the Sussex Wing Adventure Training Team ran a two-and-a-half week expedition to Peru. The Sussex Wing Peru expedition was a chance for members of 1015 Horsham Squadron to help build a new toilet block for an orphanage in Cusco, Peru, before trekking across the Andes mountains to the Machu Picchu World Heritage site.
Training and selection for the trip had begun almost a year earlier. In 2017, Sussex Wing Adventure Training team held a selection day at Crowborough Training Camp. We spent the first day doing various adventurous training activities, including wading through a river for a couple of miles, the Jacobs ladder and low ropes to test our teambuilding skills and resilience.
During the second day, we were asked to spruce up the garden and patio area for an old people’s home. This involved sanding and repainting the benches as well as scrubbing and removing moss from the paved area. This activity was designed to replicate to some extent the volunteering work we would do in the Peruvian orphanage and to make sure we were willing to do a bit of hard graft.
After the selected team members were announced there was a second training weekend in December in the bitterly cold Peak District. Here we camped for two nights, to familiarise ourselves with the tents we would be using and make sure we could put them up in the cold and dark (we arrived around 1 am and it was -2’C).
On Saturday we went mountain climbing for about 6 hours to the top of a snow-capped mountain, where we spent most of the time having a snowball fight, much to the annoyance of Fg Off Foster who was hit by a few “stray” projectiles.
We spent the second day dry stone walling, where we managed to erect about 20m of wall. It was very satisfying to be able to see the fruits of our labours and the section we built, however, our section of wall stuck out like a sore thumb as it was a little wonkier and bodged than the section done by the professionals.
A couple of fundraising days and a weekend at the Royal Naval Leadership Academy in Portsmouth followed before we were ready to leave for Peru.
We arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare, but almost all of this was filled up with distributing tents, stoves and the obligatory team t-shirt to everyone. Thanks to Fg Off Foster’s links with British Airways, we got a chance to look around the cockpit and chat to the pilot, before we were relocated to the back of the plane, past all of the luxurious business class seats to our more modest setting in economy. We arrived in Lima in the early hours and had a few hours’ sleep in a hostel before heading back to the airport for our next flight to Cusco.
After our internal flight, we spent 2 days in Cusco, acclimatising to being at 11,000 ft. and buying food and supplies for our five-day stay in the orphanage.
Our time at Azul Wasi was one of my favourite periods of the whole expedition. While it was hard work (we poured around 60 tons of concrete by hand) the atmosphere and the positivity of the children there meant it was impossible not to smile. After our 5 days were up and we had made everyone a goodbye meal of almost cottage pie (It is surprisingly difficult to find gravy and cornflower in a Peruvian supermarket), we headed back to Cusco for our second resupply.
I was a little tired to say the least on resupply day as A-Level results had just come out, and because of the time zones, the results came through at 1 in the morning. Luckily they were all good as I imagine doing clearing from South America would be rather difficult!
The next day we got a coach out to our first campsite in the Andes on our 5-day trek. It was one of the most beautiful places I have ever stayed at, and the night’s sky was absolutely breath-taking. We left the campsite at 5 am, after packing up all our tents and bags in the pitch blag and started on the Salcantay Trail, up to nearly 15,000 ft. Over the next few days, we descended into the Peruvian high jungle and the change in scenery was very dramatic. After a mud fight halfway up the mountain, we headed down to the train station that would take us to Aguas Calientes, the nearest town to Macchu Picchu.
While Macchu Picchu and Aguas were by far the most touristy places we had been on the whole trip, it didn’t detract from how magical the ruins were. When we arrived the entire site was completely blanketed in fog, but after about an hour, as if by magic the mist suddenly lifted presenting the most beautiful vista. It really is so much more beautiful than in photographs.
After our day at Machu Picchu, we prepared to head back, drying out our tents in our hostel rooms (which was rather interesting) and packing our bags. We got a train back to Cusco, from where we took a flight to Lima, and after a 10-hour layover, we finally boarded our flight back to Gatwick.
The Sussex Wing Peru Expedition was an absolutely wonderful experience and was made all the more special by the cadets and staff who made it such a positive and enjoyable attitude. I really will treasure those memories for the rest of my life.