I departed for my adventure on July 1 from San Antonio. I managed to just make my connection in Houston to catch up with the rest of the team coming from the Houston area. We arrived into Lima at 10 pm and it took about 2 hours to clear passport control, get bags and clear customs. So we arrived at our hotel, Casa Kolping in the Magdalena area of Lima at around midnight. Just FYI a single room here costs about $16. A triple costs about $36. The hotel was fine as far as clean and in a good area of Lima. But the bed was as hard as a rock so I didn’t sleep much that first short night. Additionally, we were on the 3rd floor of course and there are not elevators so it is haul stuff up and then back down.
Lima itself never sleeps. There is traffic and noise always. We passed some road construction and the barrels used to mark the area are actual barrels (the kind that stuff comes in), with a reflective stripe glued or painted on. Construction is also occurring on nearly every block in Lima. It is a rapidly growing city. There are already an estimated 9 million people in Lima but 15 million electricity meters are read each month.
We got up Saturday morning and prepared for the next step in our adventure. The hotel had a lovely garden that we noticed in the morning while eating what would be our standard breakfast fare, coffee and rolls with butter. The coffee was typical for Peru. A very strong liquid coffee is in one small pot and hot water in another. To make a cup of coffee you put a tablespoon or two of the coffee into a cup and top it up with water.
After breakfast a couple of us went for a short walk to the store and around the block. The store in this area was very nice and similar to a very small store in the US.
After our walk, we began our education. Sara and Rusty provided the majority of our education on Peru while a leader of the Presbyterian church in Lima provided some history of the church there. First we learned about the water in Peru and its affect on populations. Over 1/3 of the people of Peru live in Lima but there is very little water. The majority of water that falls in Peru as either rain or snow falls in the Andes and flows east into the Amazon area. It is expected because of this that Lima will be one of the first cities to begin to de-populate due to lack of water. Additionally, water is poor quality all over Peru and is unsafe to drink. We also learned about the Time of Terror and the affect on people. The Communist Party of Peru, know as the Shining Path launched internal conflict in Peru in 1980 attempting to establish a dictatorship using brutality and fear. Many people fled their villages in fear for their lives creating many of the shantytowns around Lima and other large cities. Our education ended with a story about Brother Mouse and Brother Elephant. Brother Elephant and Brother Mouse were best friends. Brother Elephant wanted to throw a party so he invited many friends including Brother Mouse. Everyone danced until late in the night and fell asleep. Brother Elephant said goodbye to all his friends in the morning but Brother Mouse was missing. Brother Elephant finally found Brother Mouse trampled on the floor. The story is meant to describe American short-term missionaries. They come in, dance and save the day but the people left behind feel trampled and worn. We were taught to focus each day on the people and the relationships. The work was second. To be successful over the long term we needed to take it slow and steady with patience and love.
Our goal is not to do something fast and furious that the people of the church can do themselves. They are very capable of building chairs. Most people have built their own chairs. Our goal was to work side by side in communion on a project that would help the church grow in both numbers and faith with each other. We would be used to challenge the church, men and women, to commit to the church and its growth and to become people who were right with God, right with the church, right with each other, and right with the world.
We headed back to the Lima airport to catch our flight to Cusco. Our flight was delayed so it took some extra time to get there. We didn’t arrive at Hotel “San Juan Masias” until nearly 5 pm. Everyone was at least on the second floor but there were already people suffering the effects of high altitude. The altitude in Cusco is 11,200 feet. Fortunately I felt fine, I just found myself more easily winded.
We wandered around for a while looking for a restaurant that could accommodate us all as we were so late. I think this wore everyone down but we did finally get to a place that had nice soups and simple main courses. I had a nice dinner of asparagus soup and fried trout. Dinner was where the high altitude casualties started and they continued for the next two days. Some had vomiting or extreme fatigue, headaches and dizziness. You can buy small bottles of oxygen there that can be used similar to an inhaler. Several people needed these.
We also met Manuel and Urpi at dinner. Manuel would help us with translation and Urpi would be our chief healer and head the kitchen. Urpi is short for Uripicha which means heart if the dove. Urpi showed time and time again that she was one of the most beautiful people, inside and out, that I have ever met. Her food was nourishing, healthy and good and the love that went into it could not have been greater. She coached many of the illest team member how to breathe and take care of them selves.
Our hotel was simple but clean with heat and hot running water. The hotel is run by Dominican nuns on the grounds of a busy private school. It is also near to the Plaza De Armas, the central plaza in the area. I slept much better and felt well rested for the next day’s adventure.
We were up early for our 5-hour bus ride to Ayaviri. Our goal was to get there by noon to celebrate the end of worship. However you can’t predict the travels from Cusco to Ayaviri for several reasons including the continuing affects of altitude on some of our members, the winding road, and the traffic. We had a member get sick very early in the ride so we took an early break to rest and stretch our legs. We also took this at the lowest altitude on the ride, maybe 9000 feet to allow everyone a few extra molecules of oxygen. Urpi lead us in some nice breathing exercises before we piled back on the bus.
The ride was both windy and winding. And of course it was beautiful. The green we experienced on our Christmas trip where we traveled the same route was replaced with gold and brown of winter. But the mountains were still majestic and beautiful. We saw a fox with about an hour of travel left. He was up in the high flats. We later learned that once the fox ran across the road, the driver slowed down because the fox was telling the driver there was danger from the wind. And there were very substantial winds including swirling winds near to Ayaviri. There were several birds we had seen before plus a new one I had not seen.
We made it to Ayaviri safely, 48 hours after we began our travels. One small snag was that because we were late, we went straight to the church and the bus had been paid to deliver us to one place so we had to offload all of our things from the bus and store them before we could join church. We were about a ½ hour late but the church was still waiting. We did our greetings and all introduced ourselves. We would start and end each day with greetings for the rest of the trip. The church members did as well and then we spent the next 30 minutes saying hello to everyone. This illustrated the point that hello comes first and work comes second.
The kitchen and bathrooms
After church we ate pasta with carrots, onions, garlic, and chicken with the church members. The food was surprisingly good but in portions enough to feed two at least. Several of us weren’t very hungry due to travel weariness and fatigue. Two church members have cars and offered to take all of our things to the church. Two of us went in the first cars of things to help unload. We were the healthiest feeling ones. I was in a car fully loaded with luggage with 4 adults and three kids. It was like a clown commercial where you just keep stuffing people and things in. Others came by Tuk-Tuk, a small three wheeled motorcycle car than can carry three people if they like each other. Our hotel was the “Hotel Lumonosa”. It had no heat and extremely limited-to-no hot water. It was located on the square though and clean. Oh and of course half of us were on the third floor again and of course there is not an elevator.
Those who were well and adventurous wandered around the square before dinner. We met a couple of young leaders of a Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) who were leading a group of students in a mission in the villages for two weeks. This group has been working in the region for several years. They were staying at a dorm owned by the Catholic Church and it was just across the square from our hotel. One of the leaders of the group had been a college basketball player. I was extremely short in comparison. Talking to them touched my heart and brightened my day.
Some of the table and chair parts
We ate dinner in town, the only night we did so. We had semolina soup for an appetizer followed by an omelet and potato and rice. I passed on the omelet. We went back to church for an evening worship where there was a great deal of singing and praying all in in Quechua and Spanish. The keyboard player, Antonio, plays only the chords for each song. Sometimes he plays them at the right time but it is happy music anyway. Middle C has fallen off the keyboard he uses.
I entertained Abigail, a four year old girl in the church, with a sticky note. I am certain she had never seen such a thing. We stuck it to our noses and chins and after the sticky wore off we folded it into a fortune teller. We had a devotion and then the challenge began. Antonio, the keyboard player, is also the master carpenter. He designed the chairs and had all the parts milled. He spoke to the congregation and indicated that he and others were somewhat afraid of us. That broke our heart. We want to serve and love, not inspire fear. We had our work cut out, not just physical labor but acts of love. The leaders of the church Moses and Aaron (yes that is correct, Aaron is the Pastor and Moses is the elected lay elder) issued a challenge to the members of the church. The challenge was that we weren’t there to work alone. This was the project of the church and the members were expected to be with us and participate in the building of the chairs and tables. The challenge had a hidden meaning as well. The church has struggled in recent years with attendance and participation. This project was an attempt to start new and fresh and to bring members back fully to the church. Moses and Aaron are strong Godly men trying to guide and lead thier flock to be stronger Christians. They are truly men who are chasing God’s heart and growing n faith and love. I am blessed to have met them.
We finally headed back to the hotel. The sun had long since set and it was below freezing. It is winter there right now and we were at 13,000 feet. Everything was cold. Our rooms, our beds, our clothes…..
Written by Kimber Hamilton, Ayaviri adventurer