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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Through the Window

Yesterday was a good day. Christen and I spent all morning baking lemon squares so she would be ready to be a good Peruvian host on her birthday, today. It's important to offer guests something to eat, and so I squeezed about a million limes, because there are no lemons here, and we baked a full three batches.

About midmorning we heard the vacuum cleaner start downstairs. Carlos had started cleaning the apartment. I went down to see what he was doing, and told him not to worry about it, that I'd be sure to clean it today after I packed. But he kept on cleaning.

That afternoon Christen asked me to go to Magdalena with her and run some errands, pick up a copy of their marriage license, check out a pool she might join, and wait for an hour while she got a massage to help deal with the pain she's still feeling from the accident. I wasn't too sure I wanted to go. I really wanted to get over to Santa Rosa to say goodbye to all the kids from club. But she said we could stop at Starbucks and debrief my time here a little. And rest in the air conditioning. So I agreed. I really needed the debrief time. And the air conditioning.

So we got the marriage license after a number of hassles. February 28 is April 15 in Peru. The town hall was full of people trying to pay their taxes last minute. Luckily we didn't have to wait in the DMV-style line, but it still took some figuring out.

After that we took a cab to the swim club. It looked nice enough. The smell of chlorine greeted us as we walked in. The pool appeared clean, and the bathrooms were spotless. Plus, they had a gym. And apparently their swim instructors are also physical therapists, which will help as Christen continues to recover. It looked like that would work out for her and Christian.

From there we walked. And walked. And walked a little more. We looked at all the old houses in Magdalena, stopped and looked at the ruins in the middle of town, and discussed the challenges and lessons I've encountered here as we walked.

Eventually we came to Starbucks. But Christen was late to her appointment, and so she left me there and continued walking the three more blocks to the health spa. I got a drink, and sat down in a comfy chair. It was about then that I realized Christen still had my book that I had brought along to read. So I pulled out my iPod and listened to about an hour's worth of Mumford & Sons, reflecting on my time in Peru, preparing myself for the trip home.

I then went and met Christen, and we caught a cab back to San Martin. It was about dinner time, and Christian was supposed to be at home preparing our evening meal. When we arrived we headed straight to the third floor. But when we got there, Christian was just starting to cook, and Christen already had guests over for her birthday. A little panicked, and out of eggs because of our baking that morning, he asked me to go down to my refrigerator and bring him one so he could finish dinner.

Carlos had left sometime that afternoon, and took the keys with him, and still wasn't home. So, I climbed in through the window. Halfway through the window, the lights came on. And all the kids from Santa Rosa shouted, "Sorpresa!"

Christen and all her friends from upstairs came down, bringing the lemon squares. The kids served soda, cookies, watermelon, and took pictures. Later, the San Martin kids came up as well. When the apartment was absolutely full, we all sat down, and sang club songs.

The leaders took time to express their thanks, which must also be extended to those who helped in supporting this trip. The kids presented me with a card they had made and all signed. Nayeli was especially excited to give it to me, because she had fooled one of her friends into thinking it was my birthday, and so the last page was full of happy birthday wishes.

At the end of the night, I said goodbye to Emilio, Reynato, Nayeli, Jesus, Samuel, Janet, Molina, Edson, Erin, Marcelo, Pedro, Chapado, and my countless other friends that had filled my house and my time here in Peru.

This morning, as I look out through the window, autumn has definitely come to Lima. The air is cool, the sun a little softer. It's the feeling of camp ending, of school starting. The sound of school busses in the morning. The smell of grapes drying on the ground. But tonight I head back to spring.

As I clean the apartment this morning, as I wash sheets and stuff my clothes in my bag, as I continue to reflect on my time here, I'm full of excitement. Excitement to be heading home, to be with family, to see my Young Life kids in Fowler tomorrow night, to visit friends, to be looking ahead, planning a trip to Mongolia, moving into the future.

I'm full of sadness, leaving these kids, this life, these friends behind, even though I always knew it was always temporary, wondering when I'll be able to come back.

I'm full of pain and loneliness from the challenges faced during this time, from the first hour all the way through, from death to pain to isolation.

I'm full of joy and gladness because of the grace that God has given, because of the lives he's impacting in this city, because of the friendship and the family of Young Life here in Lima.

And I'm full of gratitude. All that I have seen, all that I have learned, all that I have experienced has only been possible because of the generosity and the faith of others. Thank you for this opportunity, for this window into the world.

I look forward to continuing to share the lessons learned in Lima as I come home.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Kingdom

Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.

“Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’

“But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.

“Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.

--Matthew 22:1-10

This passage has been on my mind the past few days. I think it is the only way to truly describe Christen and Christian's Peruvian wedding.

I'm sure the town hall in Magdalena had never seen a crowd gather like that which gathered for the civil ceremony on Friday morning. Friends from Young Life lined the walls. Christian's mother and siblings squeezed in through the back door as the ceremony started. Friends from El Refugio worked in the background to serve cookies and soda. But in the seats, in the place of honor, were the orphans from INABIF, their caregivers, and our disabled friends from Casa de Misercordia.

Christen said that she didn't think anyone came better dressed than Davico, who wore a worn out dress shirt and old pants with a winning smile.

Christen later told me about some of the family tensions that arose at the reception, how tempers flared, how some of her friends were mistreated, how relatives stormed out. How they had expected 130 guests and only 70 made it to the banquet. How Christen and Christian were left cleaning up the tables, still wearing their wedding clothes, after everyone had gone to bed. Of course, every large family gathering has moments of tension and conflict. But these were in the extreme. But even this is part of the Kingdom. The Kingdom doesn't come without pain. It comes to alleviate pain. The process itself, the Kingdom coming, may yet be painful.

But on Friday, the Kingdom came. It was visible among us, in our friends, and in the lives of Christen and Christian as they shared Christ through sharing their lives.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Closing In

This has been one of the longest and shortest weeks of my time here in Lima. Full of wedding planning, distractions, trips to Santa Rosa, and a day at the beach, I'm really not sure what I can compare it to.

Last Monday, after returning from Cuzco, I spent the morning teaching English at El Refugio. But, being so exhausted, I forgot to bring the key to the closet where Doris keeps all of her English supplies, and since it was Doris's day off, I didn't have access to any books in English or to the white boards the kids love so much.

So, with Lukas, my youngest student, I talked about colors, something we had already gone over. But this time, we made a treasure hunt out of it by going into the backyard and searching for things that were green, his favorite color. When he found something, he would tell me what it was in Spanish, and I would tell him in English.

That plan didn't work so well with the twins. They weren't so much into playing games as they were into fighting with each other. Our lesson was pretty short, and I ended up having to send them back upstairs to their German lesson, which is much less fun, not because it's German, but because there are less games.

Julio, though, was a sweetheart. He was disappointed that we didn't have any English books to read, but he agreed to read to me from one of his favorite books in Spanish. He crawled up on my lap and read "Oliver and Company," the print edition of the Disney remake of the Dickens classic.

Rahel and Angel were even more understanding. Being the oldest, and having spent a lot of time with them, I knew they could understand much more than the other kids. I offered to read to them from the only English book I had with me, my Bible. I let them pick their favorite story so they would have a general idea of what was going on since biblical language isn't the easiest to follow. They chose the story of Joseph and his brightly colored coat.

We talked about how we treat our brothers and sisters. We talked about dreams. We talked about ways that God speaks to us, that sometimes he uses dreams, or friends, or the bible. We talked about the languages God knows, both English and Spanish, and every other language, and that he speaks to each of us in a language that we understand.

Then that afternoon I went shopping with Christian and Samuel for things they needed for the wedding on Friday. Lots of party stuff, boxes of water, sodas. Bug spray. But nothing can be that easy in Peru. Once we had crossed everything off our list except the six boxes of water we needed, the power went out at the market, and none of the large stores would let anyone in. No one could do any business. After wandering around a while, we found a small stand that had four boxes and could get two more. So we waited there for a while until they brought two more boxes from one of the nearby grocery stores, and then headed home.

Tuesday, I spent the day in Magdalena with Samuel, Janet, Erin, and Pepe. Erin and Pepe belong to a sort of country club in the city that has tennis courts, rec fields, and a swimming pool, and they invited us to spend the day with them relaxing. Samuel and I played the tennis match of the year, Peru v. USA. Peru emerged victorious. The truth is, it wasn't even close. Samuel is pretty good. But it was good to get out and do something fun, something different.

We then spent the afternoon by the pool, swimming a little, napping a lot. I was still pretty tired from the long weekend and from the tennis match. I woke up after a couple hours, and we headed to the shade to play Manzanas con Manzanas. It was a good Spanish vocabulary lesson, and a lot of fun, taking me back to the high school youth group days of my junior year.

After that, we headed back to San Martin for Christian's grandma's birthday. The party started around 3:00, and in typical Peruvian fashion we showed up right on time at 6:30. The band was already playing, food being served. The apartment had grown hot and Christen and Christian were moving fans around trying to get more air in. Luckily, the party was just downstairs, so we could escape to the third floor, to the breeze, and to the quiet.

The next couple days I spent a lot of time here in the apartment, resting, recovering, recuperating. I've spent a lot of time thinking about my time here in Peru, a lot of time thinking about coming home. A lot of time reading. Watching Netflix. Listening to music. Looking for perspective.

Friday came, and I was up early to head to El Refugio to help with Casa de Misercordia as they got ready to head to the wedding. I hadn't slept much at all the night before, and passed out on the couch once I got there. Luckily they had more help than they had expected, and didn't need me too much. I sat with Miriam and Davico as Magaly got her weekly bath. Then Daniel came and I helped him move a table and some sodas to the town hall where the wedding was to be held. After that, we returned to pick up Christen, who came down the stairs in her wedding dress, ready to go.

The second time we arrived at the town hall, the room where we were having the wedding had filled up. It was full of Christian and Christen's friends from Young Life, Frontline, El Refugio, and other ministries they are involved in. Christian's family was there, as well as several friends from San Martin.

Soon, a city official came out of an office at the back of the room and announced that the wedding would begin. She stood at the table in the center of the room with Christian, and Christen walked in with Luis, her acting father in Peru. He gave the bride away, and left her standing at the table with Christian. The clerk explained the significance of the marriage contract and allowed Christen and Christian each to share what it meant to them, that they were glad to have been able to share their religious ceremony with their family in the States and that it meant a lot to be able to share their civil ceremony with their Peruvian family. They then signed the contract, and the clerk presented them as man and wife.

Christen had warned me that it would seem weird, having a ceremony for signing a piece of paper, essentially like our marriage licenses back home. But it made a lot of sense. That's the way they do things here, and if they are going to live here and be a part of this culture, they needed to do things they way they ought to be done in this culture, which includes being married in this culture, in this context, in this community. After the document was signed, we served soda and cookies and took pictures with the bride and groom holding their marriage document.

After the wedding, I was wiped. Christen ended up finding a ride back to San Martin for me, and I stayed there the rest of the day, not able to go out to the reception. We're still looking into ways to get me more sleep, but that may not happen too soon.

Yesterday, after resting all afternoon and evening on Friday, I went with Young Life Lima to spend the day at the beach. We left around mid morning for an hour and a half drive up the coast to a huge beach where we spent the remainder of the morning playing games in the sand. Lots of mud, lots of sand. Lots of water and laughter. My favorite game was the Human Sandcastle. The guys ran to the water, jumped in, and ran back to be covered in sand by the girls. They then arranged themselves in a giant human sandcastle, with bonus points for a fountain. Incredible.

After lunch, we let the kids entertain themselves for a little while, and I went for a walk down the beach. It was good to get away into some quiet for a little while. When I came back, I joined a soccer game, which later became a volleyball game, and then sat on the edge of the water watching kids build sandcastles. Simple joys.

After all this, we gathered everyone together and had club. I wouldn't recommend trying to pull off club on a hot day in the sun on the beach, with the surf crashing in the background and the distraction of digging in the sand at everyone's fingertips, but they made it work. We sang several club songs, played a couple of games, and Edson shared a message. After this we gave kids time to change and loaded the busses. All in all, a good day.

Today, I've been recovering. Though I covered myself with sunscreen that claimed 100SPF, I burned pretty badly yesterday. I've been in and out of the shower, spreading aloe over my shoulders, trying not to touch anything. Lots of Ibuprofen. And rest.

With only three days left here, I'm beginning to say my goodbyes, starting to pack, getting ready for the move home. Lots of preparation, which is where this whole thing started. Tomorrow I'll go to El Refugio to see the kids one last time. Tuesday, I'll start cleaning the apartment and try to make it over to Santa Rosa to say goodbye. Wednesday is Christen's birthday, and my last day to pack and clean the apartment. That night I board the plane home, and land in San Francisco around 11:30 on Thursday morning. And then life goes on.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Clarity

Our last night in Cuzco was a lot of fun. Carlos and I wandered around the downtown area for a couple hours, discovering how big the city really is. After a while we went to my favorite Starbucks in the world, the one with the view of the cathedral, and used the free Internet to answer emails, post blogs, download pictures. We spent a lot of time looking through the photos of Machu Picchu, reliving our day there.

Later that night we met up with Celeste, a friend of Christen's that lives in Cuzco. Celeste founded the first school for people with disability in the municipality of Cuzco. She took us to one of her favorite places for dinner, and shared with us about what exactly she does, the challenges she faces, both with work and as a single Christian woman in a foreign country. After dinner she showed us around the real Cuzco, taking us to a neighborhood near the Plaza where she used to live.

It was good to get out of the main square, to see life away from tourism. Once we were a few blocks away, we could see that things were changing. The darkness, the heaviness I had sensed in the square was lifting. She explained that while many of the urban poor relied on the generosity or the excess of tourists, Cuzco also was home to universities and hospitals and banks and other jobs that don't rely directly on tourism. She explained that through her work at the school for the disabled she was able to see the economic situation of the city more clearly, as disability does not discriminate between the haves and the have-nots. She explained that at times the community is very strong, and that she has often felt supported and loved by her neighbors. We saw the community as Celeste was greeted several times on the street by old friends. She took us into her favorite bar just to see what local band was playing. It turned out to be a blues trio. She knew the bassist from living in Cuzco, and the guitarist from when she first moved to Peru and lived in Uruambu.

It helped to gain some clarity about life in Cuzco. But I still can't deny the sense of darkness that surrounds the urban poor and the people of the countryside that are so dependent on tourism. For instance, on days like today, when all the trains are canceled because of heavy rain, business halts. And these five months of rain are unpredictable. And I still can't imagine the emotional impact tourism has on those who do not have the luxury, the ability to travel themselves.

This was our last early morning for a while. We were up at 5:00 to catch our 7:30 flight. The pastor and his family had arranged for a friend of theirs to drive us to the airport in his taxi. The whole family, came downstairs to say goodbye. I was sorry to have to go. That had been so generous towards us. Such an incredible family.

At the airport, Carlos and I boarded the plane and found our seats next to the emergency exits over the wings. I had the window seat. As we pulled out onto the runway, I found myself running through the take off procedure my dad had taught me as a kid, back when we used to fly the blue pick up to school.

Flaps down.

Ease the throttle forward.

Pull back on the yoke.

Right now, Carlos and I are flying about the clouds over the Andes, hoping that they'll appear through clear patches. Every now and then we see a snowy peak, but mostly white below and blue above. We're on our way back to Lima, hoping for a day of rest, looking through pictures, sharing with friends. Luckily, we haven't had any adventures today. We just hope it stays that way.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

A Different Cloud

We woke up at 4:00am to the sounds of a nearby discoteca. Michel Telo's "Ai Se Au Te Pego," and the Watichurros, "Tirate un Paso." Still half asleep, we packed our things, our clothes still damp, and headed to the train station. Time for another adventure.

The thing was, I could buy my return ticket ahead of time, and it would be the same price, regardless of when I bought it, so we had reserved a spot for me on the 5:05 train to Ollantaytambo. But Carlos, because he is a Peruvian national, could purchase a return ticket at the station for only S/. 10, a mere fraction of what a ticket costs for an extranjero. But, we were told that the train was already full, and I wasn't allowed to change trains. We planned on me waiting for Carlos in Ollantaytambo for a couple of hours, unless he could somehow get on the train. By the grace of God, we had been given misinformation, and Carlos was able to board the half-full train.

But because Carlos is a national and could purchase the discounted ticket, we had to ride in separate cars. I had boarded before him, and had no idea whether or not he was on the train with me. Luckily, I found space to relax. There were only about ten people in my rail car, and so after we pulled out of the station, I moved to an open seat with a window, and fell asleep to the peace of trains, their inherent music, the rhythm of the wheels clicking along the tracks, the whistle sounding a sorrowful melody.

When I awoke and rejoined the symphony, now bolstered by the sounds of foreign languages and laughter, I sat making movies in my mind about the different passengers. It turned out that I was in the same car with the Americans that I had met yesterday, the New Yorkers. I was disappointed almost right away. Any film about them would be too predictable, like the Titanic. You know the ship sinks. I got tired of counting cliches--"All I want is a bagel," or "I think I'll live in Portland for a while"--and began to listen a little more closely.

These New Yorkers had spent the last several weeks traveling south from Ecuador to Arequipa, and were now on their way back. They talked about looking for jobs when they get home, maybe. But they would only take the offers if the job took them to Hawaii, Boston, Portland. They complained about the Peruvians that had served them meals, about how they were victims of racism because the Peruvians could travel much cheaper. They were still in a cloud. They had been traveling, seeing the world, but couldn't see the world around them.

They didn't see the rugged farms, the land to which these people are tied. They didn't see the leathered hands and faces. They didn't see the smiles--because they were few. They didn't see the boy that crept out of the bushes while the train was stopped, begging for bread. They didn't see the child defecating on the sidewalk as people walked by. They had come to see Machu Picchu, but to everything else, their eyes were closed.

Just before I left for this excursion, I watched a clip of a film titled "The Motorcycle Diaries." The film chronicles the early years of Che Guevara's travels through South America. In the clip we watched, Guevara was traveling from Machu Picchu, through Cuzco, to Lima. Along the way, he met a couple that was camping in the countryside. As they told their story, they revealed that they had been unable to find work, and so they joined the Communist party, which had promised them jobs. But, the powers at the time exiled them for their new allegiance. They traveled through the rough landscape in search of work that was blind to politics, probably some mining operation, but whatever it was, they knew it would pay poorly and be extremely dangerous. After they had told their story, they asked Guevara, "Are you looking for work, too?" "No," he replied. "Then why are you traveling?" they asked. Guevara hesitated, and then told the truth. "I travel just to travel."

On the tour bus yesterday, the guide explained that there are two sources of income in Cuzco: the Cusquena distillery and tourism. It was then that I started to realize how hard these people's lives are. They live to serve the wealthy, those who can afford to travel just to travel, for purposes other than work. I can't imagine how difficult it must be to watch the wealthy of the world pass through, not giving you a second thought, how humiliating it must be to be invisible to people like the New Yorkers.

They don't see the darkness, the hardness in the faces of the Cusquenos. These are a people that are dependent upon the excess of the other. And there's an oppression in that. The darkness in the eyes of the women and children that dress up in traditional costume and beg for money, the hardness in the faces of the shop owners. A certain joylessness. A loneliness.

Yet there seems to be something spiritual in this oppression as well. I sense, especially in the countryside, that there is something passed down from the pagan culture of the Incas, a dark, heavy cloud. I sense that there is still some fear, some deeply rooted fear, of Pachamama, or of some other local deity, of the world around them, or of life itself. A certain defeat. A heavy darkness. A hopelessness. A dark cloud.

But there's something different in the house of Urias's friend, the pastor. There's light there, real joy. They gather as a family. There's something different about Vani, Josue, and Mariana. They care for each other. They joke. They laugh. There's an incredible amount of light in their eyes. No clouds there. I'm so grateful that they have shared that light with us this week. And I'm grateful that they live here in this city, sharing that light with those they meet.

I'm glad that I'm not a New Yorker or a Che Guevara. I'm glad I have a purpose, that I'm not traveling just to travel. I have a purpose. I'm glad to serve the people I meet. I'm engaging and learning a new culture. I'm here to love the kids in Santa Rosa with the love of Christ, to serve the disabled with the hands and feet of Christ.

I can't imagine traveling without a purpose. And a purpose can be as simple as seeing something created, some amazing sight. You can travel to learn a culture, history, geology, any number of things. But if you close your eyes to the world around you, if you don't take in the full experience, if people aren't a priority, you're not really traveling. You're sightseeing.
But every time I travel to a place simply to see the view, I remind myself that God made the mountains, the sky, the intricate natural setting, but that his greatest creation is walking next to me, or begging for bread, or thinking about moving to Portland.

Among the Clouds

We caught the train early this morning. It was still dark in Ollantaytambo. We boarded right on schedule, and pulled out of the station, headed to Machu Picchu. The train ride was absolutely incredible. Sights I could never have imagined. As the sun came up, we passed through the jungle, steep cliffs on both sides and a raging river to our right, rain splashing against the windows overhead. I couldn't help but think I was dreaming. Or on a ride at Disneyland. Absolutely surreal. Adding to this feeling of wonderment, the rail car was filled with the sounds of traditional Andean music. If only I had been able to stay awake for the whole trip. We were pretty tired, and I slept for about half of the journey.

When we arrived in Aguas Calientes, the last town before the climb to Machu Picchu, we were completely awestruck. Surrounding the whole town were giant green towers, covered in vegetation. They called them mountains, but I've never seen mountains that were so extreme. It was still early in the day at that point, but we wanted to spend as much time at Machu Picchu as possible, so we hurried to find the hostel that Urias had recommended, called "Hostal Namber One," bought our tickets to enter the ancient city of the Incas, and set out on foot.

I don't believe I have ever set out on a more difficult hike. The closest thing I can compare it to is hiking to Nevada Falls via the Mist Trail in Yosemite. Miles and miles of stairs. But that's only the hike from Aguas Calientes to the base of Machu Picchu. Carlos and I also opted to summit the mountain of Machu Picchu, which nearly doubled the distance we climbed, all of it nearly vertical. We had hoped to climb Wuaynapicchu, the famous mountain in all the pictures, but they have a permit system for that similar to our system for Half Dome, and the trail was already full for the day. So we climbed Machu Picchu instead.

As we headed to the base of the mountain, we caught our first glimpse of the city of Machu Picchu. But it was only a glimpse. We were up among the clouds, which obscured about half of the ruins, adding a sense of mystery.

We made it about half way up Machu Picchu when it started to rain. But we pressed on. Vani had loaned us a couple of rain panchos, but we ended up pretty wet. Several times one or the other of us wanted to turn back. But, we're both pretty stubborn once we set a goal, and struggled up the serpentine steps, through the rain, through the clouds.

Finally, we made it. We came over crest and saw the rainbow colored flag of Cuzco, shrouded in the mist, waving in the wind. There was a small hut where we were able to dry off a bit. Once it stopped raining, we, and the other few adventurers who had endured the climb set out to the very top, where the flag was, to await the appearance of Wuaynapicchu. But she was shy today, and preferred to hide behind her veil. A couple times she began to peek through, but was quickly covered up.

All we could see for miles was a sea of clouds, both above and below. But we had made it. We summited Machu Picchu. And so we rested in the peace on the top of that mountain, in the strange solitude provided by the heavy mist, and enjoyed the company of our fellow strugglers.

Just about the time Carlos and I were ready to make our descent, it seemed that all the clouds came down to meet us. It rained the whole way down, the water turning the Incan Serpentine a bright blue. Hiking in the calm of the storm, in the quiet but not silent peace of the raindrops, I was struck every second by the beauty of God's creation. Every time we would stop, I'd point something out, saying, "Mi Padre lo hizo."

By the time we made it down the mountain, we were soaked and starving. We decided to take a break and eat a quick lunch, and find some hot coffee. At lunch we encountered a strange mix of cultures, mostly South American, with a few Americans and Europeans here and there. Pretty typical of places like Machu Picchu. But I got the chance to see a little bit of how American tourists are seen around the world. The New Yorkers I met spent the whole time complaining about the rain, about the service, about how bored they were, about how there was nothing for them to do in Aguas Calientes. I was glad I was having more fun for them, but sorry for them at the same time. I'm not sure how you can experience something like Machu Picchu, like a rainy day in the Andes, and not absolutely love it.

It rained all through lunch, and all through the rest of the day as we explored the ruins of the ancient city. We first set out for the Temple of Three Windows, and then to the Hitching Post of the Sun. Carlos and I tried to share what we knew about each place, as if we were both knowledgeable tour guides, even though we had only heard about several of the sites in grade school or researched them online.

As we descended from the Hitching Post, we discovered alpacas grazing in the main lawn, soaked like hairy sponges. We walked past them to the Ceremonial Rock at the base of Wuaynapicchu, where we found shelter in a small hut for a little while and tried to warm up as more clouds blew through the city.

After a while we moved on toward the Temple of the Sun. We took our time walking along this side of the city, taking pictures when the rain let up now and then. We probably walked through every building. Every structure is absolutely incredible. I can't even begin to imagine how the ancient people were able to move such great stones and set them so exactly in place. Absolutely incredible, like a giant stone puzzle.

After we had explored the city, we climbed back up to first viewpoint, to the entrance of the city. We were among a very few people left among the ruins. Most people had descended out of the clouds. But we still had an hour before we had to leave. We figured we couldn't get any wetter or any colder, and so we waited for Wuaynapicchu to lift her veil. Every time we thought we just might see the whole mountain at once, another cloud crept in, shrouding the ruins, or blurring the peak. We sat, staring at the clouds, at the ruins, and the wonder and glory of our God for the whole hour, through the rain and through the wind, in the calm. Then, we heard the whistles. Machu Picchu was closing. We waited until we were asked to leave, and still Wuaynapicchu remained hidden. But was we turned and walked away, heading down toward the gate, Carlos shouted, "Travis, mira!"

I turned, and there she was, Wuaynapicchu, full of glory, clear as day, the ruins in plain sight. I ran back, snapped the pictures I had searching and waiting for all day. When the security guards came and asked us to leave a second time, we were sad to go, sad to leave such an incredible place, such an amazing display of the glory of God, but content, knowing that we could leave the city in the clouds having done everything we had wanted to do and seen everything we had wanted to see.

We descended from the cloud into more rain on our way back to Aguas Calientes. As we made our way down the slick stone stairs and along the angry, swelling river, we were both looking forward to the agua caliente that the hostel advertised, as well as a good hot meal. When we got back to the hostel, I downloaded pictures while Carlos took a shower. When he came out of the bathroom, he was shivering. Apparently there was no agua caliente in Aguas Calientes. But luckily that was the extent of our typical adventures for the day.

Since we were both pretty tired, we found a restaurant that didn't serve pizza or fake Mexican food, and shared a meal together, and then headed to bed early. Another early morning tomorrow. Another train ride. And back to Cuzco.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Sacred Valley

We woke up early again this morning, but not quite as early. Vani had breakfast ready for us when we came downstairs, a simple spread of bread and meats. She then walked us to the bus station and sent us into town.

Once we arrived in Cuzco, we headed towards the Plaza de Armas where we waited for Urias's friend who had booked our trip for us. She showed up fifteen minutes past eight o'clock, and walked us to the next bus, which she had asked to wait for us. As soon as we boarded we were on our way.

Our first stop on our way through the Sacred Valley was Pisaq. There we wandered through the market, and found a hill that looked out over the small town. After taking a few pictures there we hurried back to the bus.

After the town of Pisaq, we drove up the mountain side to the ruins of Pisaq, where we took pictures of the ancient Incan terraces. Our guide explained that all that is left of the Inca empire is the temples and the places where the rulers lived. Their caste system dictated where they could live, the upper classes living higher on the mountain, the lower in the valleys.

From there we drove through the rain, through a green Yosemite, to our lunch destination. We were split up into smaller groups to eat lunch at various restaurants. Carlos and I were sent to a buffet that offered typical Peruvian dishes such as yucca, anticuchos, ceviche, and papas fritas. We were also offered pisco sour, the national beverage of Peru.

After an hour for lunch, and several trips to the buffet, we met back up with our group and headed on to our final destination for the day, Ollantaytambo. At least, that's where we think we are. The truth is we don't even know. Carlos has asked several people where we are, and we can't understand anyone when they try and tell us. But we're here, wherever here is, somewhere in the Sacred Valley. Here, we climbed the ruins in this small town, which our guide described as a living piece of the Inca empire, and were amazed by the scenery, refreshed by the rain, and warmed by the sun.

Around 4:00 our bus left us here, and the plan had been to take the train to Aguas Calientes tonight at 7:00. But that's not the way things work for Carlos and I. That is, they never go quite according to plan. We got a call from Urias, who told us that something had gone wrong with our train tickets, or that the system had backed up, and we wouldn't be able to leave until tomorrow morning at 5:00 am at the earliest. So, as our bus pulled out of town, we began looking for a hostel for the night.

We were lucky to find one quickly. We're staying just off the main square, in a room with two beds, hot water, free internet, and all for S/. 50, which translates into English to about $20. Considering the other few places we looked were asking three times that, we're doing pretty good.

Tomorrow, if all goes according to our new plan, we'll leave wherever it is we are and head to Machu Picchu. Words can't express how excited we are.