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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.

Cuzco

Tuesday night, after we finalized the tickets for Cusco, Carlos and I went down stairs to finish packing. I loaded my backpack full of extra socks, a pair of shorts, pants, and sweatshirts. When Carlos ran across the street to grab a couple of things from his house around midnight, I went to bed.

My alarm went off Wednesday morning at 3:45. Carlos's light was already on. Apparently he hadn't slept at all. I'm not sure if it was because of excitement or anxiety, but he was pretty tired. After we ate some cold pizza for breakfast, we went upstairs and woke up Christian, who then drove us to the airport for our five o'clock flight. We barely caught our plane. They were making last calls at the gate when we arrived. But we made it.

It was a quiet flight. I slept through take off, and most of the rest of the trip. I woke up just in time to catch a glimpse of the snow-capped crests of the Andes poking through the clouds. Those mountains make our sierras look like foothills. It was an absolutely incredible view.

When we landed, around 7:30, Urias, a friend of Christian's and a pastor here in Cusco, picked us up. He helped us load our bags into a taxi, and we drove to his house, rain streaking across the windshield.

At Urias's house, we were greeted with two fresh cups of mate de coca caliente, a tea made from coca leaves which is used to fight altitude sickness. After traveling from zero feet above sea level to more than 10,000 feet above sea level in a matter of a couple hours, we more than appreciated this, although Carlos said that after drinking it he couldn't see straigt. After all, it's made the same plant that cocaine is derived from. Anyway, after spending a little time with Urias, Carlos and I went upstairs to our room and finished off the night's sleep.

We woke up just before 2:00, and went downstairs to find Josue, Vani, Urias's niece, and her friend Mariana, a visitor from Argentina, finishing lunch. They were quick to serve us, and the girls offered to take us to the Plaza de Armas in Cusco that afternoon.

As we road the bus with our new friends, I was blown away by the scenery. Huge green hills for miles, covered by huge rain clouds. But when we arrived at the main square, I was breathless, and not simply because of the altitude. The cathedral of Cusco was directly in front of us, with the main protestant church directly to our right, both built in the old Spanish style. Vani was quick to point out that much of the downtown area was built on the same foundation that the Inca empire was built on.

We followed Mariana and Vani through downtown, climbing and winding through the cobblestone streets, walking past the huge square stones that the Incas had set in place so long ago. They showed us some of the important tourist sites, including the Piedra de Doce Angulos, La Puma, and El Serpiente, all rocks or patterns of rocks found in the Incan walls lining the streets.

Once the girls had finished what they needed to do in the Plaza, we walked with them back to the bus stop, and then returned to the Plaza ourselves to wait for Urias. We spent some time looking in different shops, trying to find a beanie for me. I was freezing. I had seriously underestimated how cold Cusco would be.

Here, it rains at any moment, almost every day. I believe, yesterday was the first time I have felt rain since last summer, more than six months ago. It was a welcome feeling. I've found that rain brings a cleansing, a release of some sort. It lifts the spirits. It washes away the old. It provides a space for the new, brings relief. And it's a comfort now as it taps our roof while I write.

After returning to the Plaza in the rain, Carlos and looked for a dry place to sit and wait for Urias. We ended up finding a Starbucks on the second floor of a hostel with balconies looking out over the square. From our table we had an incredible view of the cathedral. With the whole square lit up, lights twinkling in the rain, wet stonework shining, and warm coffee in hand, I'm not sure I've yet felt that relaxed during my time here. Carlos and I spent the hour talking about the last few weeks in Santa Rosa, about what I'll be doing when I get home, and looking forward to our time at Machu Picchu.

Around 8:00, we met Urias and planned out the rest of our stay. Tomorrow we travel by train to Aguas Caliente where we'll visit The Sacred Valley, stay the night, and the next day head on to Machu Picchu. We're both really looking forward to the adventure.

But, in typical fashion, we had our own sort of adventure on our way back to Urias's house. When we boarded the bus, it was nearly empty, and since our stop was the final stop on the route, we took a spot in the back. The bus soon filled up, so full that we couldn't move. Then we saw flashing lights. Behind us. Red and blue. The bus got pulled over. The traffic cop kept us all there for a good ten minutes. Eventually he let us go, but it gave a good laugh. Carlos said that something like that had to happen after our last trip.

When we got back, we ate a quick dinner with our friends, Vani and Josias. Tomorrow, we wake up at 6:00, and leave Cusco for Aguas Calientes at 8:00. So, for now, it's time for bed.

(This post was written on Wednesday night, but posted on Thursday, when we had internet.)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Amistad

In the United States, February 14th has become a strange phenomenon, a day when prices at restaurants triple, when the pressure is on to be romantic, a day that singles dread. It's almost a perversion of it's original significance. The love that we ought to celebrate on Saint Valentine's day is not only romantic, eros love, but the love of friends and the love of Christ, unconditional agape love.

In Peru, Saint Valentine's day has several names. For some, it is El Dia de San Valentin, but I have rarely heard it called this. Others call it El Dia del Amor. But most simply refer to the day as El Dia de la Amistad. The Day of Friendship.

Today, Carlos and I decided to spend the day together, enjoying our friendship, getting to know each other better, taking a break from ministry, resting. We left the apartment early and set out for Chorrillos. We used the Muni system to get to the coast where we climbed a hill to see another large cross. We then walked along the ridge, the ocean below on our right, and the city on our left, to El Cristo Pacifico. This giant Jesus was a gift from Brazil to Peru several years ago, and he stands at the crest of the hill, looking out of Chorrillos towards Lima, arms opened wide.

After taking pictures with Jesus, we walked back to the cross and down the hill. We made our way down to the beach, and worked through the throngs of people on vacation. Apparently the Peruvian President declared today a national holiday so he could take his wife out to dinner. On the beach we were surrounded by colorful umbrellas, kids running around in their underwear, splashing in the water and throwing mud. We walked all the way along the beach from Chorrillos to Mira Flores, and then climbed the cliffs to look for lunch.

When we got back to the apartment, Christen and Christian were home. We shared an iced coffee and an afternoon together upstairs. Then, as we started to talk about leaving for our five day vacation tomorrow, we realized that Carlos has never been to Machu Picchu or Cuzco. So, we offered to change Christian's ticket to Carlos's name.

We made a few phone calls and sent a few emails, and thought we could make the change for $17.70. But when Christian and Carlos went to the airport to finalize it, the office was closed because the President was on a date. They were sent to another travel office across town. There, they were told that the change would cost $100.00, not $17.70. But, finally, we made the change. Tomorrow, I leave with Carlos for Cuzco. We plan to spending the first day acclimating to the altitude in La Plaza de Armas, and then travel to Machu Picchu later in the week.

Carlos is very excited. He just ran across the street to start packing--at 10:00 pm. Our plane leaves at 5:00 am, and I still have clothes drying on the roof. But, we'll wake up early, finish packing, and head out on our adventure together.

On this Dia de la Amistad, I am very thankful for his friendship, for his support during my time here. Without him on this trip, I'm not sure where I would be. He has been such a blessing during these past few weeks, and I'm glad that I get to share these next few days with him in Cuzco.

I am also very thankful for my friends and family back home who have supported me during this trip, who have spent time praying for me, who have sent encouragement through emails, who love me so well. Without you, this trip would have been impossible. There is no way I am here alone. Thank you for being with me constantly. And feliz Dia de la Amistad.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Hands and Feet

We had a slow start today. Last night we were surprised by a late night party downstairs. It was Christian's tio's birthday, and they were celebrating with dancing, music, a live band. It was fun to listen to as I tried to sleep, but they didn't get started until 11:00. It was after 1:30 when I finally fell asleep.

I woke up around 8:00 this morning and took a quick shower and headed upstairs. Christen and I had planned to leave for El Refugio where Doris also runs another ministry called Casa de Misercodia, House of Hope. But, Christen had also been serenaded by tio's celebrations, and didn't wake up until after 10:00.

After we ate breakfast, Christen got an email that was marked "urgent" from a friend in the child welfare department. She gave her friend a call and found out that she was working with a 19 year old girl who's 3 year old daughter was in the hospital with uncontrollable seizures. The baby was the result of incest, the child of the young woman's father. Maritsa, the young woman, has realized that she needs help with the child, but does not want to give up her baby. Christen let her friend know that she would talk with Doris and find out if there is room in one of her houses, possibly in Pachacutec. Please be praying for Maritsa and her child as they go through this process.

Eventually, Christen and I made it to El Refugio. We were greeted with warm hugs and smiles from the young men and women at Casa de Misercordia, where Doris, Julisa, and their staff welcome disabled people from around the Lima area once a week, and offer them a bath, a warm meal, occupational therapy, and the love of Jesus. I enjoyed sitting with Davico as he colored a picture of a spaceship, and taking pictures with Miriam, who I later found out was the mother of my little friend, Samuel, whom I met on my first visit to El Refugio.

But the most beautiful person in the room was a young woman, 12 years of age, who had a much older Spirit. I watched as she sat with Tonio, a large man in his thirties. Tonio is both deaf and blind. This young woman had met Tonio at Casa de Misercordia where she sometimes helps her older sister, Dina, who volunteers there, and had learned that she could interpret for him. She spoke sign language to him by placing her tiny hand in his and signing while he felt her movements. Tonio had learned sign language before he went blind, and could communicate perfectly. He asked us if he could go and buy ice cream for everyone, so I accompanied him and his young friend across the street where we purchased a liter of helado, and returned to the house to share with our friends.

As we were getting ready to leave, I was asked to help take another one of our friends home. I walked to the corner with Dina to catch a cab. We stopped more than ten taxis, and every time Dina told them where we needed to go, they sped away. Finally we found someone who would take us to Magaly's part of town.

Magaly is 37 years old and weighs about 40 pounds. She was raped by her brothers and has two children by them. Growing up, she lived in a one room house without a single window. Having been confined to a bed in that windowless room for years, Magaly loves to sit and look out the window, wearing a smile on her face as she watches the world go by. When Dina and I pulled up in the cab, I went inside and carried Magaly out to the taxi. We also took with us Dina's sister and Tonio. We dropped Tonio off along the way, and then arrived at Magaly's house.

Magaly lives on the second floor of what looked like an auto shop. It smelled like oil and gasoline. There was hardly room for me to carry her up the stairs. At the top of the stairs, I walked through her family's kitchen to their bedroom, and set Magaly down on the bed, making sure that she was facing the window. Her mother thanked us profusely, and sent us on our way.

From there I headed back to San Martin to meet Carlos. We took off right away for Santa Rosa, the apartment complex where we've been doing contact work for the last few weeks. Tonight, those kids got their first taste of Young Life club.

We arrived at the house where we were having club and helped Don Coco and his wife move furniture and decorate. They are a very generous couple who met the Lord through their son, Chiki, who first heard the gospel at Young Life and now works with a club in Chorrillos. Soon, everything was set. We practiced skits, and set out to find our kids.

Luckily, they're easy to find. They were all at the soccer field. We let them finish their game, then corralled them up three flights of stairs to their very first club. We started the night with a surprise guest appearance by Jason Mraz, who led the club in singing his very own hit, "I'm Yours." Then we performed a classic Young Life sketch known as "The Contagious Ward." After several more songs and a few other skits, Diana shared the first club talk in Santa Rosa. She shared from Galatians 4:20, letting kids know that even when everything in their lives falls apart, Jesus wants to make them into a new creation, giving them a second chance.

I have no idea how many kids showed up tonight. All I know is that we barely fit in that living room, and that the kids had a blast. After we chased them out of the apartment, they stuck around with us downstairs for a long time after club, taking pictures with friends and playing more games. They are all looking forward to the All-Area beach trip in two weeks, and can't wait until the next club.

Thank you for joining us in prayer for this club. It has truly been an honor to be a part of the beginning of something new. We are excited to be Christ's hands and feet in this neighborhood, going where he would go, doing what he would do. Carrying the hurting, listening to the lonely. Playing soccer. Fearlessly proclaiming his name. But if we are to be Christ's hands and feet, we must remember that our task is not easy, but can be incredibly painful. Christ's hands were pierced. A nail was driven through his feet. Please continue to pray for these leaders, that they would be given strength and wisdom as they follow Jesus and love kids the way that he would love them--unconditionally and sacrificially.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

History and Frisbee

The last couple of days have been good, though they've had their ups and downs. It's been difficult to sit down and write, with all the coming and going, but finally, here's an update.

Monday, I woke up with a terrible stomach ache. I'm still not sure what caused it. It may have been undercooked chicken or possibly the fresh vegetables in a salad I had eaten the day before. Either way, I woke up suddenly and ran to the bathroom. Luckily it was nothing like the ceviche I had a few weeks ago. After a few hours--rather than days--I was feeling better, but exhausted. I spent the rest of the day resting in the apartment and recovering.

Tuesday, Carlos, Diana, Michael, Edson, and I went to La Punta in Callao. We took a tour at La Fuerta Felipe, the site of the final battle for Peruvian independence, May 2, 1866. Incidentally, it was also the site of the battle that finally expelled Spain from all of South America. It was interesting to see the parallels between their national pride and ours. I can compare it in many ways to Williamsburg, Virginia, where Revolutionary life is reenacted everyday. It could also be compared to the passion with which we reenact the Civil War. The soldiers at La Punta still wear the traditional uniform of independence, while the rest of the military now wears typical camouflage fatigues. Interestingly, their fort was originally built by the Spaniards, and in the shape of a pentagon. During the battle, forces from Chile, Ecuador, and Argentina rallied with Peru and drove Spain from their stronghold.

Today, the fort is used as a museum, commemorating the battle for independence and several other key battles in Peruvian history. The tour led us past tanks of several different eras, statues of war heroes, and a statue commemorating the unnamed soldier. At the far side of the pentagon-shaped fort, closest to the Pacific Ocean, was La Puerta de Perdon, the Gate of Forgiveness. I could imagine the Spanish soldiers marching through the gate after surrendering. It's an interesting concept, forgiveness, especially in war. Perhaps it is one that we need to practice.

That night, Carlos and I waited up for Christen and Christian to get home. They landed around 1:00 am and arrived at the apartment shortly after 2:00. We helped them carry their luggage, full of donations from the US, up the three flights of stairs to their home. We sat with them as they shared stories from the Young Life All Staff Conference in Florida and from their week with Christen's uncle and aunt in New Jersey, finally going to bed around 4:00. It's good to have them home.

Yesterday, Wednesday, we all slept in as much as we could, though most of us were awakened by the rooster next door around 8:00. We took it easy that morning, resting, reading, napping. Eventually, we went to the market and bought groceries for the week, and prepared lunch together.

That afternoon I had been invited to play Ultimate Frisbee with one of Christen's American friends, Erin. Samuel was also planning on going, so I met him half way to Erin's house, and from Erin's house we left for the US Embassy, apparently the only place you can play real, non-Peruvian Ultimate Frisbee in Lima.

The Embassy might be the strangest building I have ever seen. Nothing about it says "America" or "Peru." It is several stories tall, decorated with large tiles on all sides, very few windows. What windows there are are very small. Either way, we didn't go inside. We took a side entrance and met the other Frisbee players on the field out back.

It was really good to get out, to play, to run. To be with Americans. To speak English. The Embassy is an interesting place and mix of cultures, both American and otherwise. The mixture of Spanish and English was entertaining to say the least. It made it fairly easy to tell who really lived in Peru, who lived in Peruvian communities, and who worked primarily with Americans.

More than anything it was fun to meet other Americans, hear their stories, learn what brought them to Peru. There were Andy and Emily, who had both separately come to Peru simply to live abroad and ended up working together. Emily had heard of both Young Life and Athletes in Action at her church in Cleveland. There was Jonathan from Pueblo, Colorado, who worked with Partners in Health, fighting drug-resistant Tuberculosis in and around Lima. There was Josh, the human smile and former Marine who had been in Sudan during the Referendum. People's stories were incredible.

Then there was Fred, the Peruvian national, who had big dreams for Ultimate in Peru. He wanted to run Frisbee camps that taught healthy conflict resolution and peacemaking. He was the first true die-hard Frisbee player I have ever met. And he lived up to all of the stereotypes. He was a very intense player, very laid-back individual. All about the soul of the person and the heart of the game.

In the end, I think what I appreciated most was the simplicity of playing a game, of running, throwing, diving. Friendly competition. A piece of home. Inside the Embassy there was a certain sort of peace, a familiarity. A certain amount of silence, which I've found to be rare in Lima. More than anything, I think what I appreciated most was the gathering of people with the shared experience of living away from home. Everyone had a reason they are here. Everyone had a story to tell.

Today, Carlos and I are taking the morning slow. We're preparing for our first Young Life club tomorrow in Santa Rosa. This club is taking off fast, and we're anticipating about thirty kids at our first meeting. We're working on putting together Young Life necklaces that Christen brought back from the conference for the girls. This afternoon we'll head out to do some contact work, and then see where we go from there.

Tonight, please join us in praying for our first club in Santa Rosa. We are really looking forward to tomorrow. Pray Ephesians 6:19-20 over us, that we would fearlessly make known the gospel of Christ whenever we open our mouths.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Treasure

Today was the big day. But Carlos and I woke up late after our big day yesterday, and rushed out of the house around 7:30 without breakfast. We made it to Santa Rosa just in time to meet the kids at our usual gathering place, the cross in the middle of the Santa Rosa apartment complex.

Everyone gathered at the cross wearing their polos blancos, their white shirts. It wasn't long until our little army had assembled and we where headed to the Parque Santa Cruz where we were to meet the other teams and begin the treasure hunt.

We were the last team to arrive, and the second to arrive wearing white, but we were the first to leave. Mi amigo, Chino, won the first game and gave us a head start. Our clue led us to the Puente Trujillo in downtown Lima, where we ran to the Plaza de Armas, the main square, home to the governor's palace. There we were made to march in triple file as a small band.

Our next clue sent us running several blocks to one of the supermarkets in the downtown area. There, our task was to give hugs to strangers on the street. Kids held signs that read, "Regalame un abrazo," which in English reads, "Give me a hug."

From there we split up into four taxis and rushed to our next destination. There, kids had to wash windshields for taxi drivers before we could get our next clue, which led us to a park where we would wait for the rest of the groups and eat a small lunch before completing the second half of our quest. Our team from Santa Rosa arrived at the checkpoint in second place.

After lunch, we once again won the first contest and left with a head start. This time, we commandeered a comvee that took us nonstop to a destination where our task was to complete a Sudoku puzzle. Our head start was soon lost, due to too many people working on one Sudoku at a time, but we eventually corrected our mistakes, and raced the other teams to the next location.

The next clue led us to a library where we had to complete a numbers pyramid. This took us no time at all, and we were back in second place, trailing San Martin by only five minutes.

But then we were directed towards the Metro, which is a lot like San Francisco's Muni. We ended up having to wait at the station for the next tram, and the other teams caught up while San Martin moved ahead.

Once we got off the Metro, it became a foot race through Mira Flores. Really, more of a cross country race. And the kids were tired. Still, we consistently beat out the team behind us by mere seconds, and arrived at the final destination just behind San Martin. Everyone else arrived in a matter of minutes, and the hunt was on. In the end, the team from San Martin ended up finding the treasure.

After the hunt, we let the kids relax and play in the water for a while. Then, we gathered everyone together and had a typical Young Life club, with songs, games, and a talk. Alberto came to give the talk, and brought his son, Fabio. He shared about how Jesus knows us, how he knows our stories, our lives, and that Jesus knows us regardless of whether or not we know him. It was a message that was good for the Santa Rosa kids to hear as they are being introduced to this thing called Young Life.

Just before club, while we were playing on the beach, Fabio asked me to build a sandcastle with him. But, because he was afraid of the water, we stayed up where the sand was pretty dry. While I was playing with Fabio, I was able to talk some with Alberto. We spent time sharing what we are seeing God doing in Young Life, both in Peru and in California. It was good to see that he and Fabio were doing well.

After club, we spent more time resting by the beach, and eventually loaded the kids onto a bus and drove them home. It was a long day, but it was a lot of fun. Lot's of strong quality time spent running through the streets of Lima with our young friends. We'll all be sore tomorrow, but it will have been more than worth it. If you ask me, that quality time was the real treasure we were looking for today. I'm glad we found it.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Relaxation

Today was my first real day off. I definitely needed the rest, the time to let down and relax. So, what I did was this.

I woke up at 4:00 am and left the house around 5:00 with Carlos. We walked in the silence of the morning to the Avenida Peru, the main street running through our area, where we boarded a bus headed out of town. Our plan for the day was to get out of Lima. We wanted to make it to Huacachina, a desert oasis about three hours outside of town.

That's where our adventure began. About fifteen minutes into that bus ride, as I was falling asleep standing up, someone shouted, "Fuego!" The bus was on fire. I could see the smoke coming up from one side and in through a window. One young man, in his hurried panic, jumped out of the bus through that same window.

It turned out that the fire wasn't that big, and that it was a common occurrence for that bus. Nonetheless, we got back on once the fire was put out, and laughed about the guy that had been dumb enough to jump out over the fire.

Five minutes later, it caught fire again.

We got our money back that time.

From there, we took a series of comvees until we were quite aways out of Lima, and quite lost. Carlos didn't let on though.

We ended up driving through the countryside for some way, passing chicken farms on the coast that resembled a Peruvian version of the turkey farm around the corner from my childhood home, and cotton fields that reminded me of driving south on the 41 towards Pismo. Cliffs and view that challenged those of Highway 1. Vineyards and cornfields everywhere.

We ended up meeting a little old man on his way to Ica, the city where we needed to get to in order to go to Huacachina. I didn't catch the viejito's name, but he wore a black felt hat and a huge smile. He carried two stringed instruments with him, and talked in a heavy Castilian accent. His friendliness reminded me of my grandpa and how he was always willing to engage and help a stranger. He was more than happy to share taxis and busses with us the rest of the way. And the truth is, if it wasn't for him, we may have never made it.

Once we arrived in Ica and thanked the little old man, we took a moto-taxi, a three-wheeled motorcycle with a covered back bench-seat, and arrived in Huacachina around 11:30.

Once in Huacachina, a place famous for it's dune buggies and sandboarding, we took the first tour we could find. It wasn't long before we were racing over the dunes, holding on for dear life. Carlos's expressions were absolutely priceless. For a guy that was pretty calm when the bus caught fire, he was pretty uncomfortable fishtailing through the sand.

At the top of one of the dunes I got the chance to get my snowboarding fix for the month, something to hold me over until March. The tour guide wasn't too eager to let me go down standing up, but I talked him into it on one of the shorter slopes. Tons of fun.

We shared our tour with a man who had moved to Peru from Berkeley, California. He was very interested in hearing about how old California was doing, and went on and on about how he got out just in time. He didn't have too many nice things to say about my home, but to be honest, more than anything, that made me miss home all the more.

After the tour, Carlos and I grabbed a quick lunch by the lagoon and realized that we were too tired to hit the beach today. I reminded him that we are going to the beach tomorrow with the treasure hunt, and soon our minds were made up to head home.

The trip home was much less eventful. I fell asleep for the first hour or so. When I woke up, I heard English. Three Canadians had boarded the bus and were trying to figure out why the 7up they had bought tasted like fruit juice. It may have had something to do with the fact that whoever had sold it to them had "recycled" the bottle and filled it with fruit juice. When they started asking each other questions about how much they had been charged for the bus fare, I jumped in. The best part was, they were all shocked that I spoke English. Their tickets all said 10 soles, but they had each been charged 15. I asked Carlos to take a look at it. He confronted the conductor, but it turns out that what he did was legal, sort of like the tax collectors in the New Testament. So that's how I explained it. I told them it was a tax, and left it at that.

Anyway, it turned out that they had been in South America for about a month, mostly between Ecuador and Peru. They were on their way back towards Lima from Cusco and Huacachina. They had recently run into a streak of bad luck, including a fishing trip that took them into restricted military areas and resulted in their cameras being confiscated. So, we helped them find their stop, and sent them on their way.

Now, just after 9:00, I'm back at the apartment. Carlos had to run over to Santa Rosa tonight. We're both looking forward to the big treasure hunt tomorrow. But today was a great way to get away, relax, and spend some time enjoying ourselves.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Chinatown

Today Carlos and I went on a treasure hunt of our own in preparation for the busqueda del tesoro that we're putting on for our Young Life kids this Saturday. Skipping breakfast in order to get a head start, we spent the morning searching Lima's Chinatown for just the right prize to award Saturday's winners. We had hoped to find a place that would do some custom printing on water bottles so that we could give away Young Life prizes, but had no such luck. Everywhere we went either couldn't do it in time or was too expensive.

Chinatown was very interesting though. This part of downtown Lima is almost entirely small shops that specialize in one thing or another--plastic products, printing, ripping off Disney, and so on. It used to be that the population in this area was primarily Chinese, though from what I saw today they have become fairly well assimilated. The streets are closed to motor traffic, except for the occasional motorcycle, and are filled with pedestrians from sidewalk to sidewalk.

It's a fairly loud part of town, with that many people. But as we came out of one of the stores, there was a strange silence. Then a man started shouting. I couldn't make out what he was saying through his slurred speech, but it was something about your mother. He stumbled as he walked. And he kept yelling. People were silent, and stared. I'd be lying if I said it didn't make me uncomfortable. But more than anything I felt sorrow. Here was this many that clearly needed help of some sort, and no one to give it to him. I don't know if he was mentally ill or if there was a spiritual oppression, or if he was just drunk, but no one did anything to help him. And I felt paralyzed, too. There was nothing I could do. And so I did all I could do, and prayed that God would give him a family member or a friend that could intervene and provide for his needs. This is one of those things that will stick with me for a while.

After he stumbled on, we continued our search, but as I said, we didn't find anything that would work. We finished our morning by walking through the main plaza and taking a few pictures, and then returned to our apartment. We grabbed a quick lunch and then prepared to head to Santa Rosa to ask for parents' permission to take their kids on the treasure hunt.

In Santa Rosa, we found our kids playing soccer, as usual. This time I had brought a guitar that I borrowed from a Young Life leader in San Martin de Porres. Kids gathered around right away and we enjoyed ourselves singing in the park in the middle of the apartment buildings. As Carlos and the other leaders left with kids to find their parents, I stayed back with the group and began teaching a little bit of guitar. We started with the G chord today. Maybe soon we'll move on to D.

Tonight I came back to the apartment early and called home. It was good to see and talk with my family. It's good to be in a completely other hemisphere and still be so close to home.

For now, I'm waiting up until Carlos gets home. Then I'm off to bed. Tomorrow we're taking a day to travel and to have some fun. I'm not exactly sure where we're going, but I've been told that it's near the beach and that we're sandboarding and riding the dune buggies. It sounds like loads of fun. Mostly, I'm looking forward to taking a day off and resting.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Sandlot

Remember the scene where the big-time jocks interrupt the game, riding their bikes into the infield? When the catcher, Ham Porter, and the head jock face off in a contest of insults, and Porter shuts him up with, "You play ball like a girl!" Remember that scene? And then how the boys challenged a real team to a real game on a real field, and beat them? I watched that scene today.

Well, not exactly. Over the past couple of days when Carlos and I have gone to Santa Rosa, we've found the boys we've been hanging out with playing soccer on the big dirt field at the end of the block. They've been challenging a real team to a game every day. The first day we watched, they lost 6-1. Today, they were ahead most of the game, 2-1 at the beginning of the second half, and lost in the final five minutes, 4-3. But their cheer section is growing. We got to meet several more kids today who came out to watch their friends play.

Maybe the coolest thing that happened was that the other team's coach recognized the kids' potential. He realized that his team that has been training for some time now should have lost. After the game, he called a couple of our new friends aside and offered to work with them, to help coach their team before the next tournament. I had wondered why these boys didn't play last Sunday. It looks like they'll have a shot next time.

It's a slow night around the apartment. Carlos just went to pick up a few ingredients that we need to make dinner. Not much else happening. I'm realizing that I am very tired. I slept most of the morning today and could still use more rest. Hopefully I'll get that in the next couple of days.