Thank God it's Friday

18th August 2006 at 01:00
Monday My Lima school's GCSE geography field trip to the Andean town of Huaraz is to be delayed by a day. Today is Labour Day and the "official"

feeling is that our route will be blocked by street processions. The "unofficial" feeling is that today is a public holiday.

Tuesday I do a head count and find that we've two extra passengers. We are to be joined by a photographer - whose brief it is to produce a souvenir DVD for the students - and one of the school's security guards, charged with making sure that the stars of the DVD are at all times safe.

As the bus winds its way up and away from Lima, the number of police patrol vehicles we pass arouses my curiosity. At times, I am sure we are being tailed. Later we are treated to a police escort to the hotel. I know the driver's had his seat belt on and it is impossible to speed on these steep slopes. So what do the police want with us? It transpires that a privileged and pampered pupil's father is a buddy of the chief commissioner of Ancash, who in turn owes Daddy a favour. He will provide Newton College students with around the clock security - or rather, his men will sleep outside the hotel in their patrol car.

Wednesday We awake to the sound of gunfire. Perhaps we do need police protection after all. The shots however are in celebration, for today is the day Huaraz pays homage to its patron, El Senor de la Soledad, with music, dancing and much drinking. It would seem it wasn't Monday's processions we needed to worry about. We will undertake our urban study regardless, but allow for an exaggerated pedestrian count and drunken responses to the questionnaire. The police are informed at breakfast of our intended movements and all of Peru is informed later when ATV interviews the pupils about why they are doing schoolwork on a public holiday. That evening, the pupils get their time off when a power cut forces them to abandon follow-up work.

Thursday We walk to 4,200m to study glacial landforms in "Parque Nacional Huascaran". I encourage the pupils to drink copious cups of coca leaf tea to combat the effects of altitude (although any sickness the students suffer is more likely to be caused by the mountains of junk food they've packed). The coca leaf is also used to produce cocaine, so I am a little concerned about how my actions fit into the school's policy on drugs.

All pupils and police make it safely up and down again, but on our journey back to the hotel the bus window is smashed by local kids throwing stones.

The driver and police set off in hot pursuit, leaving us parked on the side of the road in the dark and unable to shut the door because the driver has the keys. What happened to round the clock security when we need it?

Friday A nine-hour trip back to Lima and time for me to reflect. I've felt like a VIP (with a camera in my face and security by my side), not a geography teacher this week. Like all divas, I'll be expecting this on all school excursions from now on.

Alison Roberts is a geography teacher at Newton College, an international school in Lima, Peru

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