I went on a CVIP trail-building trip to Torres del Paine in 2007. I had the opportunity to work in a stunning physical environment with a wonderful group of volunteers and park staff. It was a truly memorable experience.
Conservation Volunteers International Program (CVIP) operates entirely with hard working board members who donate their time and money to lead trips of volunteers to help preserve and protect Yosemite National Park in California, Machu Picchu in Peru, and Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia, Chile. The work that the volunteers have performed in these parks have made significant improvements to the environment, enhancing visitor safety, and reducing the impact that heavy visitation has produced. This organization has been recognized by the US State Department as contributing to, and fostering, excellent relationships between our host governments and the US. Our volunteers take pride that they are acting as Goodwill Ambassadors while helping preserve three of the most incredible parks in the world.
I travelled to Torres del Paine with Conservation VIP and had the trip of a lifetime. The beauty of mountains and clouds in southern Patagonia is breathtaking. We worked full days repairing and rerouting trails to protect the popular park from erosion. Conservation VIP was well prepared with tools in place and a plans to make good use of volunteers with varying abilities. All the volunteers were friendly with common interests in the wilderness environment. I certainly enjoyed everyone on the team, as well as our meals and sightseeing time together.
I volunteered on a 10 day trip to Machu Picchu with Conservation VIP in November 2011. It was a wonderful adventure for me personally, because I had always, since childhood, wanted to see Machu Picchu and learn about the Inca and walk the Inca trails. The adventure aspect was enhanced greatly for me, however, by being able to spend several days right up at Machu Picchu itself working to preserve the rock walls from damage due to lichens and weeds. We worked around the sanctuary also for several more days doing trail work, planting trees, working in the orchid and butterfly sanctuaries and repainting monuments that help denote the sanctuary lands surrounding Machu Picchu. We were able to make a personal connection with the park rangers and local people and work side by side with those who daily maintain and protect the monument. When I look back on the trip I realize that the most important thing for me was not just seeing the city but being able to give something back to this world heritage monument and to play a small role personally to help in preserving it for the next hundred years. In our work we also were able to learn the history of the Inca civilization and to get oriented for working at Machu Picchu by seeing other ruins remaining in the sacred valley of the Inca. It was an eye-opener to me to see how much work needs to be done to protect the monuments and how little the local people have in the way of tools and money to accomplish major ongoing maintenance of these ruins and restoration of these Inca sites.
CVIP’s mission is to bring small groups of volunteers to work alongside park personnelto conserve natural and cultural resources in places like Torres del Paine National Park in Chile, and in Machu Picchu Sanctuary in Peru. In addition to trail restoration, volunteers at Machu Picchu work to clean the extensive stone walls and terraces of lichens, mosses, and grout-crumbling weeds. The Sanctuary is woefully understaffed to handle this work on its own. We spent five days scraping lichens and moss off the building and terrace walls and pulling weeds from the mortar between stones to slow the deterioration of this magnificent edifice. The tools are nothing more than wooden sticks and brushes. The work is tedious but the psychological and emotional rewards are tremendous. On a personal level, as I scraped and brushed smooth the rock, I couldn’t help thinking about the Inca hands that formed these walls half a millennium ago, and the sophisticated civilization that conceived of this fantastic place. At the end of the day, after all the other visitors had been bused back down the mountain, we volunteers were led on a private tour of the Sacred City. This is a much richer archeological and cultural experience than a half day visit with a tour group.
I learned of CVIP through my former employers newsletter, the National park Service morning report. I called CVIP and after a short conversation where they described what the program was about, I told them I'd participate. Not only did I become involved in almost every aspect of their field work; surveys, archeological stabilization, trail clearing, BUT I was tasked to help another volunteer who was involved with technical rescue back in CA. As I had mountain rescue experience in my NPS career (34 yrs) I worked with him and we taught these skills to some eighteen workers from three diffrerent agencies all having responsibility for Machu Picchu and surrounding areas ranger operations. In doing this we gave them a greater ability to help others (injured, stranded tourists and workers) and gave them the ability to more safely do their very dangerous jobs. This also is applicable to safeguarding archeological workers who must be rope-protected, belayed, while they explore cliffside ruins. We brought these agencies together to obtain greater capabilities. Our training allowed the whole community to better appreciate the skills, and abilities of the rangers, fire departments and police of MP and Aquas Calientes. Rick and Rich facilitated the donation of over $18,000 worth of donations of ropes, hardware, personal protection gear, etc. from three different major climbing gear companies. This equipment was left divided between the rescue agencies at MP which facilitated their repeated monthly practice sessions. In this way, increasing the protection abilities helps protect those who protect the visitor and the environment that we all enjoy.
I did two volunteer trips with CVIP to Tores del Paine in Patagonia, and enjoyed both outdoor trips. Being able to contribute in a meaningful way gave a purpose to my trips. Of particular interest was the fact that several hikers passing us by while we were working on the trails joined in for several horus of work themselves. Many gave us thanks for our work.
We volunteered to go to Torres del Paine to work on trails. Our experience was outstanding. We worked in conjunction with another group that was building a bridge. Our contribution was to develop the entrance to the new bridge north side from the existing trail. I was very impressed with the CVIP leader who schooled us on trail building that will last. I was proud of our 20 foot approach to the bridge and felt good that it would be there for a long time. Another notable contribution was the construction of a water diversion. Before our work a small stream was cascading down the trail causing a very muddy and erosive environment at the trail low point. We constructed a protected diversion lined with rock and a rock bridge over the diversion. By the time we finished the project the trail had dried out and other members of our crew had made the trail more accessible correcting erosion and overgrowth. Besides the great feeling of contributing to the park, we enjoyed daily outstanding vistas of this wonderful mountainous terrain. The overnight accommodations in the refugio were relaxing and allowed us to meet a number of international hikers. Overall a great way to volunteer and a wonderful experience.
This organization is lead by "real" people---people who are down to earth, know how to lead volunteers, and most importantly, know how to do the work that needed to get done. In fact, several of our crew leaders had spent years working for public land agencies in the US. I went on two trips--Torres del Paine and Machu Picchu. Both were wonderful. The settings were both world class. Getting to work with local ranges was pretty cool. But there just aren't words to describe the feeling of working on the Inca Trail, or under the towers at Torres del Paine. Memories of a lifetime, for sure. I have recommended these trips to several friends
I have volunteered with Conservation VIP at Machu Piccu and Torres del Pines, in the south of Chile. My experiences far exceeded anything I would likely run into on a guided tour. The work was fun and the other participants interesting. Through relationships with locals, I was provided an insight that would otherwise be unavailable. I would heartily recommend, and would like to hear of further expeditions.