Last month I was living in no other place than South America’s Peru. Together with two girls from college, I took my medical elective in a town called Arequipa, or ‘The White City’. The organisation that makes all of this possible is Work The World, which is UK based. They organise healthcare electives in Africa, Asia and South America. After hesitating whether we’d apply for an internship in The Philippines or in Peru, we finally made a decision and went for Peru!
There was one barrier though - the language! It was necessary to take a five day intensive Spanish course before starting our placement, since practically nobody speaks English in Peru. When we applied for the elective we weren’t really worried our lack of Spanish skills to be a problem, and just followed our yolo programmed minds. However, I'll admit that with our take off to Peru coming closer and closer, we began to think more and more about the what if’s. We quickly installed Duolingo (an app to learn Spanish step by step), which was when realisation kicked in. We would never ever master the Spanish language before our intensive course would start!
Luckily, our teachers were really friendly and patient. We learned that most students have rusty Spanish before their arrival in Peru! You can imagine our relief. I was surprised by how quickly we adapted to the language. It was getting easier and easier to understand Spanish speaking people. And yes, it was finally possible to make ourselves clear by the time we started the placement!
When it came to my placement I did rounds on gynaecology and helped whenever I could, watched some echo’s, deliveries and a cesarean. There were so many interesting cases! I went to the operation room every day, and during my second week of placement I also visited the emergency department where my friends were placed.
We were in the hospital every day from 8 am to 1 pm, and went out afterwards into town for drinks or sightseeing together with the other housemates. The thing I like about Work The World is that there is room enough during your stay to do some trips or to get lost in town, because you can go to the hospital whenever you like and as long as you want to. Even at night!
Here are some of my favourite restaurants and bars that are worth a visit when in Arequipa:
❥ Chaqchao: a cosy chocolate bar. Try their banana-chocolate smoothie or a good ol' hot chocolate. You can even take chocolate making courses here!
❥ Ecobar Vino: nice wine bar with friendly owners!
❥ Inkari & Mixtos: two great rooftop restaurants located in the same street.
❥ Museo del Pisco: NOT A MUSEUM! I entered this establishment with the words ‘we would like to do the tour’. You should have seen their faces! Beautiful café with the possibility of eating tapas. You can taste Pisco (typical Peruvian alcohol, similar to tequila) here if you ask.
The perfect words to describe my time in Peru are eye-opening, boundary pushing, and magnificent.
In my time at the hospital I got to see with my own eyes what healthcare is like on the other side of the world. I saw how doctors, nurses, midwifes and med students like me gave their all trying to heal people, even though they don’t always have the high tech equipment that ought to be accessible to everyone. Sometimes I talked with the patients about their anxieties and their hope for the future. It’s something that I could only imagine myself by watching movies or documentaries. But the real deal is far from the things you see on television, lying in the couch. So yes, I did learn a lot and I grew as a person.
Would I do it all over again, knowing what I know now? I wouldn’t hesitate a second. These are once in a lifetime chances we should take!
Now that you know more about my placement with WTW, I’d like to take you with me on one of the weekend excursions we did! We did three in total; Puno & Titicaca lake, Cuzco & Machu Picchu, and Colca Canyon. I’ll tell you something more about the first two in the upcoming weeks - we can’t wait to show you the beautiful pictures we shot!
Colca Canyon is the second largest canyon in the world. You can go hiking in it from the top to the bottom and back, but it was our last weekend in Peru and we were too lazy for that. Oops. Instead, we did a tour with stops in several little villages around the canyon. On the way, llamas and other animals walked freely around so of course we stopped to take some snaps! We slept in a hotel that night without warm water or heating, so weren't in the best mood come morning. On the program that day we spotted condors flying over the canyon! We were hoping for the best since we heard it’s possible we wouldn’t even get a glimpse of them. Luckily the odds were in our favour: I think we saw at least 20!
This canyon is really a must-do when in the neighbourhood of Arequipa. It’s not that far by bus (3.5 hours) and definitely worth it, but if you’re in a good condition I would recommend you the hike instead of a guided tour. It’s gonna be way more memorable!