By Trang Thomas FAPS

APS PD Tour Group to South America

The PD tour to South America was the most popular APS tour ever organised, booked out within three weeks of its announcement in APS Matters. So on 13 January, 26 very excited APS members and their partners/friends departed for Argentina.

The tour was led by Chris Carter, an archaeologist, and Isabel Stepanik, a Peru-born APS member. In Peru, we were guided by Juan, Chris' excellent business partner. Apart from exciting visits and sightseeing, we attended lectures about South American history and culture, and our members led group discussions on various psychological topics (see list below).

Buenos Aires is a vibrant city where those of us who were fans of soccer, Evita, BBQ steaks and Tango were very happy. We also had a side trip to Colonia in Uruguay which is a fascinating city with a World Heritage-listed colonial district. 

Visit to the ‘Hermilio Valdizán’ psychiatric hospital in Lima
Visit to the ‘Hermilio Valdizán’ psychiatric hospital in Lima

Flying to Lima, we had our first official visit to the Psychiatric Hospital ‘Hermilio Valdizán'. The director personally showed us various programs at the hospital. The hospitality was exceptional and we were impressed with the therapeutic programs where the involvement of the patients' family was much more valued than in Australia. A formal lunch at the hospital introduced us to local young psychologists and the national drink, Inca Cola.

Leaving Lima, we flew to Cusco, the highlight of our trip. Cusco is situated at 3,000m above sea level so we all began our preparation for dealing with altitude sickness. This did not stop us from immersing ourselves in the local culture, history and customs. A day tour through the snow-capped peaks, glaciers and mountains before descending into the Sacred Valley was spectacular.  We practiced the few Spanish phrases that Isabel has taught us in the markets where we also saw Indian women spinning and weaving Alpaca and woollen products. 

Our leader, Isabel, was then interviewed by national TV, so the whole country knew about the APS visit.  

APS with staff at the Juan Pablo II mental health clinic in Cusco
APS with staff at the Juan Pablo II mental health clinic in Cusco

In Cusco, we visited some charity organisations that run projects helping local people and a public mental health clinic.  The facilities were poor but the staff were very caring and our members were deeply impressed. Another special cultural experience was our participation in an ancient ceremony performed by two shamans who came down from the mountains specially to meet us.

Machu Picchu can be accessed only by walking (four day Inca trail from Cusco) or by train. So we took the morning train to Aguas Calientes, the town just beneath Machu Picchu.  The train travelled through some spectacular scenery following part of the route to the Sacred Valley before travelling beyond all roads into the jungle clad areas along the Urubamba River.

After a night of dancing with the local band in Aguas Calientes, we rose early next morning to be the first visitors to enter Machu Picchu.  The bus ride to the ruins was an exhilarating experience in itself.  We entered the spectacular ruins that were still shrouded in the morning mist before the sun rose and revealed the most awesome view.  After five hours of exploring this incredible Inca city, we caught our train back to Cusco.

On the train we had music; we danced and had a fashion parade, not knowing that it was to be the last train out of Machu Picchu for several months. A few hours later, the rain, storm and landslide came, flooding the train tracks, stranding about 2000 visitors who later on had to be rescued by helicopters. Travelling around Cusco, we met hundreds of frustrated tourists who now could no longer visit Machu Picchu, the main purpose of their trip to South America.  We also saw markets and shops, which we had visited a few days earlier, now submerged in water. The destruction was heart-breaking and we took up a collection of money for the flood victims, thankful that we had been incredibly fortunate in our journey.

Travel to Lake Titicaca
Travel to Lake Titicaca

We were to leave Cusco by plane but the airport was without water and our flight cancelled, so we had a long bus ride to Lake Titicaca, visiting islands that are ‘floating' on beds of reeds that grow in the shallow lake.  The inhabitants of these islands still wear traditional clothing and we had lunch on a beautiful island, with the snow-capped Bolivian Cordillera Real as a back-drop.

Flying to Arequipa, we visited the 16th century Monastery of Santa Catalina.  This is a wonderful complex covering an entire city block and is an important aspect of Peru's colonial history. Another unforgettable experience was our visit to the museum where the story of Juanita, the ice princess was presented. We were sad seeing the mummy of a young girl who was sacrificed thousands years ago on top of the snow mountain for the sake of her people. Next was a side trip to Colca, the world's deepest canyon. The scenery was spectacular as we drove past the volcano of El Misti.  We were lucky to watch some condors, the largest flying birds in the world, soaring in the sky spreading their three metre wide wings.

Finally, we crossed the border into Chile. Arica was our last stop and we said goodbye to one another. Some headed for home while others went on to an optional tour of Iguazu, the world largest water falls. We all were nervous about our very heavy luggage laden with Inca crafts, leather and alpaca jackets, rugs and jewellery.

The success of the tour is best illustrated by a few comments of participants:

"This tour was far beyond my expectations, professionally and personally ... I feel validated, I have expanded my network, I have made wonderful friends, I am invigorated" (J. Morgan, MAPS)

"The program was extremely well prepared and organised and met my expectations. There was a lot of hard work going on behind the scenes which made the trip very successful.   I am much better informed about South American culture and people. I also learnt a great deal about the innovative programmes being developed by my colleagues" (P. Cox MAPS).

"The whole thing was up to my expectation, interesting, informative, fun, time to reflect and ask questions, peer discussions excellent" (Y. Rosman MAPS)

"Best feature of the program was the informal discussions about the area of specialisations and techniques used by other psychologists. Very helpful and interesting presentations on the tour" (A. Smith MAPS)

"A very enjoyable trip ... Acquired an enormous amount of cultural relevance ... there were so many good features, each excursion, Juan, Chris, PD sessions, the many places we visited, the people, the entire trip.." (K. Simpson MAPS)

"A great opportunity to learn about a different culture with such a fascinating history, while also learning about the similarities in treatment approaches.  Discussions with other practitioners who I would otherwise never have met were also very useful in terms of clinical practice." (R. Crake MAPS)

Hopefully we will have a second tour to South America soon.

Group discussion program and speakers  

South American history and culture  Isabel Stepanik and Chris Carter 
Psychopharmacology  Alison Smith 
"A Model of Support for Parent and Partner Carers of a Person with a Mental Illness" Rosemary Stevenson
Hypnosis and EMDR  Rosemary Crake 
Research with adolescents Kate Simpson  
PTSD in refugees  Noni Dorell 
Australian indigenous remote communities  Jenny Medwell  
South American indigenous communities  Chris Carter  
Group discussion on APS, Private practice  led by Trang Thomas 
Group discussion of Medicare and clinical practice  led by Trang Thomas