Category: Peru

Scars of Life

There is a song that I love that talks about how the things we suffer make us stronger. A few of the lyrics say something along the lines of “I would love to fix it all for you, but please don’t fix a thing whatever you do. Cuz these bruises make for better conversations.”  I’ve been thinking of that song a lot lately. But I think that it’s the scars, more so than the bruises, that show the lives we’ve lived. Bruises come and quickly heal, but scars stay with you for the rest of your life. Of course this means physical scars, like the one I’ve got on my knee from whitewater rafting, or the one on my ankle from the killer mosquitoes in Machu Picchu, or the one on my foot from too much dancing in cheap shoes. But the deeper scars, and the ones that show all the more life, are the ones under the surface, the ones that can’t be seen. The scars that have been left from my travels, from the places I’ve lived and the things I’ve seen and the people I’ve met. They don’t cause scars at first; at first they are wonderful, magical, and life-changing. But it’s that very life-changing aspect that causes scars later on.  It’s the separation, the tearing away from those things that I’ve grown so close to, that rips my heart and emotions apart and leaves deep, deep scars. 

It’s hard to cope with those scars. They are painful. They are there because something that touched me deeply is now no longer with me. But, as hard and as painful as it is to live with those scars, I would never choose to live life without them. Which scar would I give up? My precious host family in Costa Rica, who taught me not only about life there but about how to love others, love God, and be content with what I have? My dear students in Korea, who selflessly took time out of their insanely busy schedules to love on me, a sad and desperately homesick American very far from home? My beloved host parents in Spain, who cooked for me the best food of my life and with whom I know I’ll always have a home if I ever go back to Seville? Or perhaps I would choose to give up this most recent scar from Peru, in which the flexibility with which I came allowed me to meet some truly incredible people and see God work in ways that I have very rarely ever seen?

No, of course not. There is not a chance in the world that I would ever give up what I gained from those experiences in exchange for a pain-free, scarless existence. As the song says, they make for better conversations and richer lives. The fact remains, however, that it hurts to be always and forever separated from things and places and people that you love. But I don’t think God has given me these scars – or anyone, for that matter – to cause us pain.  If that’s what we think, we’ve just got to be missing something.  In fact, I wonder sometimes if reflecting on wonderful things from the past makes it harder for you to focus on the wonderful things of the present.  I know that’s something that I often struggle with.  The real question is not how to avoid the scars, but rather how to live life in a way that amplifies the beauty of the here and now, rather than focusing on the pining for a beauty long past.  The real question is figuring out how to use these scars of life, both the good and the bad, in a way that honors God and uses our talents and knowledge to their full potential.  Perhaps that’s where the true beauty of life lies – in learning to live in a way that does not eliminate losing things you love, but diminishes those scars because you have learned to find beauty and joy in your present state, no matter what it is.

Closing thoughts

Because I had originally bought my return trip from Lima, I had to return back there from Andahuaylas – budget airlines like Spirit don’t deal kindly with itinerary changes.  I flew into Lima early on the morning of Wednesday, June 18th.  But my flight out of the country didn’t leave until that evening, so I met my Pastor Mario (from Korea) one more time before I left.  I found it rather fitting that he was both the first person and the last person I saw on my trip.  I’m not really entirely sure why, other than the fact that he is Peruvian, and is part of the reason I thought about coming to Peru in the first place.

I left my backpack in a locker at the airport, and then he took me to the city center and we spent most of the day there together.  Had lunch at a wonderful historic old restaurant – Zamantha made such a mess, it was awesome.  We saw a diplomatic convoy arrive at the presidential palace, which was really cool.  Such pomp and circumstance!  For all of the times I’ve said that I dislike Lima, I have to admit…historic Lima is pretty incredible.  The architecture alone makes it worth the visit.  We went on a city bus tour that enabled me to see much more of the city than I would have on my own, or even if Mario was just driving me around.  We also went inside a few buildings – my favorite was the catacombs under the grand old church.  There were flocks of birds swarming the courtyard of that church outside, which would have make for a very quaint painting, but was kinda creepy in real life.  I guess it matched well with the catacombs underneath it…

But the entire day definitely has strong undercurrents of sadness in it for me.  Without looking for it or even expecting it, I was realizing that Peru, like so many other places, had stolen my heart.  Except Peru did it even more forcefully, and in even less time than other places had.  I know that I’ve said this before…but there’s something special about Peru.  I can’t quite put my finger on it, other than to say that I knew that God was with me there – it was obvious, and it was incredible.

So as I boarded the plane to head back stateside, I decided to try a different tactic to avoid reverse culture shock on my return.  If the thing I loved most about Peru was the fact that I could see God there…why not try to do the same in my day-to-day life in Atlanta?  Get away from the hustle and bustle, and take time to see God working all around me.  He is no less sovereign and no less loving at home than He is abroad.  It is just easier for us to get comfortable and miss His provision when we’re at home.  I challenge all of you to do the same – make a conscious decision to look for the ways that God is working in and guiding your life.  Ask Him to show them to you.  You may be surprised by what you find.

The diplomatic procession:

The birds that I mentioned in the cathedral courtyard:

Views from my last Lima bus tour:

Another world to fall in love with

After we finished our week in Pampachiri, and amid many tears of goodbye and countless photos and promises to keep in touch, we all headed back as a group to Andahuaylas.  Their flight was leaving early the next morning, so I only had that afternoon and evening in the city with them.  But my flight, which I had bought long before I ever thought about coming to Pampachiri, didn’t leave for another 4 days.  So I got spend a beautiful, precious three days with Ingrid and the 2 Carloses, who had also come back to Andahuaylas (Ingrid and Carlos own a restaurant there).  I had almost all of my meals with them at their restaurant, but they were obviously pretty busy during the day, so I spent a lot of the time during the day either on my own or with Carlos II and extended family.

Carlos II took me all over the city and its outskirts in the 3 days that I was there.  There was a little festival of sorts in the main plaza while we were there – that’s one of the things that I love about Latin American countries.  Every city always has its main plaza, and there is always something going on in it.  This time it was some sort of artistic exhibition – there were kids painting, and more sophisticated paintings and sculptures on display, and even groups of chefs or chefs in training or something like that who were making food art.  It was quite fascinating  – I sat there for a long time just watching them ply their craft.

I also went to a big market with Carlos II one day; we made a game of finding as many unusual fruits and vegetables and various other things for sale that we could.  I was losing until I realized that he was serious, and then I started looking in earnest.  We found spiky fruit, and vegetables that looked like little monsters – none of which I remember the names of – and alpaca meat and blocks of salt bigger than me and all sorts of fascinating things.  I particularly liked the emoliente, a hot herbal tea often sold by street vendors that is believed to have powerful medicinal properties.  It’s no wonder, too, as emoliente almost always has toasted barley, flax seed,alfalfa juice, honey or pollen, and lime juice, and sometimes plantains, aloe vera, cat’s claw and even horsetail , depending on the recipe. I’m glad I found that out after I tried it, because if I had known that I was drinking horsetail I would have been far less inclined to try it.  But I’m glad I did – it was delicious!!  Another favorite “unusual” thing that I found – and tried – was hidromiel, or mead.  If you had asked me what mead was before I came to Peru, I wouldn’t have had the slightest idea.  But now I’ll never forget – the Spanish name is much more descriptive.  It is translated literally as “honey water,” and that’s exactly what mead is – an alcoholic beverage created by fermenting honey with water.  I had hidromiel be naranja, or orange flavored mead, and it was truly quite good.  I was surprised at how much I liked it.  And of course, if I’m talking about strange new foods I encountered in Peru, I can’t leave out the chirimoya.  Chirimoya is a tropical fruit native to the Andean region, and if you’ve never tried it, it’s almost certainly unlike anything you’ve ever had before.  The white fleshy fruit fruit is soft and sweet, with an almost sherbert-like texture.  This is where its secondary name, custard apple, originated from.  I could have eaten a chirimoya every day I was there – I wish I’d discovered it earlier!  Why can’t we have exciting fruits like that in the States??

Carlos II took me to quite a few places in and around town, which various amalgamations of the extended family in tow, depending on who was able to come along.  My favorite would have to be a tie between the rocks of Campanayo, and Pacucha Lagoon.  Campanayo was pretty, but I really liked it because of its novelty factor.  There are huge rocks scattered all over the ground there.  But when you hit on them with other rocks, they ring as if you were hitting metal, not stone.  Apparently they are famous all over Peru.  But if I hadn’t gone there with a Peruvian, I never would have heard of them – that’s why I always prefer traveling with a local! 🙂  It was truly a fascinating and surreal place.  I’ve never seen anything like that.

But the other place, Pacucha Lagoon, was absolutely gorgeous.  Actually, I take back my previous comment.  It wasn’t a tie between the two.  Campanayo was unique, but it couldn’t hold a candle to Pacucha in terms of beauty or tranquility or happiness.  Pacucha Lagoon is largely considered one of the most beautiful lagoons in all of South America, and it certainly lives up to its reputation.  Vast stretches of pristine, multicolored water under brilliant blue skies, framed by gorgeous tropical foliage and punctuated either by a calm tranquility, or the peaceful chirping of birds or friendly chatter of neighbors shooting the breeze.  I went with Carlos II and a few other extended family members, and it was such a lovely and relaxing day.  They took me to a nice restaurant right on the water, and were just so kind and accepting of me.  I am sooooo grateful that I got to spend that time with them.

And just like that, my time in Andahuaylas was over.  Carlos II took me to the airport – my flight to Lima left too early in the morning, he wasn’t comfortable with me taking a cab.  He bought me emoliente to warm me up (it gets COLD in southern Peru!!), and then once we got to the airport we bought a quinoa tortilla for breakfast and manjar blanco (a sort of dulce de leche spread; very very tasty) for the road.  And then I was gone.  I actually ended up sitting on the flight next to another Peruvian who had also been on the mission trip.  So we chatted almost the entire way back; it was nice to reminisce for a little while longer about the incredible week that I had just had.  But I was definitely cognizant that it was almost time to get back to the “real world.”  This is yet another world that I am going to have to return to someday.  Hopefully much sooner rather than later.

More than just a mission trip

My adventure in Pampachiri started long before I even got to the city.  I left from Chiclayo on Saturday morning, headed for the airport in Lima.  I got there late in the evening, and settled in to spend the night in the airport.  I got an email later from a few of the other people on the team who were also camping out at the airport and trying to connect with me, but I didn’t see it until later, so I just found an isolated corner of the airport, used my backpack as a pillow and pulled my jacket over my face, and went to sleep.  Thank goodness for earplugs :). Early the next morning, I got in line to check into my flight, and finally met up with the rest of the group – it’s pretty easy to spot a large group of foreigners with extensive amounts of medical supplies in the small airport in Lima.

The flight to Andahuaylas was fairly uneventful, other than the normal chaos that comes with transporting lots of bags and people.  After we landed in Andahuaylas, we had to hang around the airport for several hours until the buses came to get us on the 3 hour trip to Pampachiri.  And when it finally did arrive, it was too big to actually make it all the way to the “airport” (I use the term loosely), so we had to bring all of our bags and the medical supplies by foot until we got to the buses.  I was very glad at that point that I had packed so lightly – my backpack that I used for the entire month was actually much smaller than most of the other personal bags for the week and a half mission trip.  Always an adventure!  I love it ^_^.  It was even more complicated because of the enormous amount of medical supplies that they brought – it was too heavy to fit in the tiny plane from Lima to Andahuaylas, so it had to be bussed in several days earlier from Lima to make sure that it got there on time.

Before I met up with the group, I had some concerns about how I would assimilate with a group of people I had never met, especially since I had missed all of the training that they had together in the States before leaving.  I needn’t have worried.  They accepted me instantly.  By the time we got to Pampachiri, I felt like I had known them all my life.  Same thing with Ingrid and Carlos (our hosts), and the other Carlos (Ingrid’s cousin).  I like to call him Carlos the Second :).  In fact, as the week, went on, I found myself spending more and more time with the Peruvians in the evening, and less with the Americans.  I loved them all, but since I got to see so much of the Americans while we were at clinic during the day, I tried to spend my time in the evenings learning from the Peruvians.  They taught me slang Spanish, and Peruvian folk songs, and all about their national and personal histories.  It was really fascinating; definitely time well spent.  I really connected with the Peruvian culture and the people that I met while I was there.  It’s definitely a place that I will be going back to.

My job as part of the mission team, since I have absolutely no medical experience and zero desire to change that fact, was serving as a Spanish-English translator.  Definitely one of the most difficult things that I’ve ever done.  I would say that my Spanish is at a pretty decent conversational level; however, speaking medical Spanish is a completely different language.  Whew.  Many of these terms I didn’t even know in English, let alone Spanish.  On several occasions every day, I found myself having to ask the doctors what a word meant in English first, before I could move over and translate it into Spanish.  And then sometimes there was an added bonus if the patient only spoke Quechua; then we had to do the same process through 2 separate translators.  Yikes.  It was quite a challenge.  But it was fun.  Of course there were some times when I wanted to give up and go home, but overall I really enjoyed it.  Something I’ve noticed about when I travel: when I’m in the States I’m happy and comfortable, but when I’m abroad I feel….fulfilled.  In a way I’ve rarely or never felt when stateside.

The daily devotionals we had as a group were also a huge encouragement to me.  I particularly liked Tuesday’s devotional, which was on the story of Jesus healing Jairus’ daughter.  The title was “seeing the unseen,” and talked about how God is working behind the scenes to put the pieces of our lives together for our good.  We may not know or see how He’s doing that, but we can be confident that He is.  As I talked about in my previous blog, my trip to Pampachiri was the culmination of weeks of God teaching me just that very thing.  As a translator, I not only got to tell people about good health and hygiene, but I also got to tell them about Jesus and what he’s done in my life.

Aside from that, my ability to communication in Spanish meant that I was also able to enjoy a traditional festival that happened while we were in town, go on a couple of hikes with Ingrid and Carlos the Second and some people from the group, and have late night discussions with Carlos and a few of the younger doctors, with me serving as a translator and lots of laughter all around.  Pampachiri was more than just a mission trip.  It was a time of relaxation and rejuvenation, an answer to my prayers that my trip be more than just sightseeing, an encouragement and affirmation of my worth as a child of God, a reminder of His fervent desire to bring more people into that family, a glimpse into the lives of some very passionate and inspiring people from several different countries, a taste of human hardship – but also grit and determination – and what I can do to lessen that hardship.  It was truly an incredible week.  I can’t wait to go back!!!

A peek behind the curtain

I have mentioned in some of my previous posts about the random and unexpected series of circumstances that caused me to serve as a translator for a medical mission trip in southern Peru, rather than spend a week in the jungle with Caro like I had originally planned.  But there is much, much more to the story than a mere series of unexpected and fortuitous coincidences.  Before I go into the details of what actually happened while I was serving in Pampachiri, I would like to first take some time to talk more in depth about how I got there. I apologize if the story is a little disjointed.  I will do my best to be coherent, but you will see that the details themselves are quite scattered, which may make it difficult to have a linear tale.

I suppose my story – at least to the depth of my knowledge – begins about 4 weeks before I left for Peru.  I was trying to figure out what to pack; although I knew that I was going to be there during the Peruvian winter, Peru is also a fairly tropical country, so I wasn’t sure how cold it was actually going to get.  I talked to a very outdoorsy friend of mine, and she said that it would be better to be safe than sorry, and recommended that I buy a nice Patagonia winter jacket.  I listened to her advice, and purchased it; it arrived just a few days before I left the country.  But for most of the trip, I was regretting bringing it.  It was not far enough along in winter to need it in the south, and as we journeyed further north, closer to the equator, it became even warmer.  I found myself frustrated with myself for packing this heavy jacket, and in the end having to lug it all around the country without ever actually needing to wear it.  But then I ended up in Pampachiri, and wouldn’t you know, it got below freezing every single night.

But wait!  I have completely skipped over one of the most exciting details – how I actually got to Pampachiri in the first place!  About halfway through our trip, both Caroline and I, independently of each other, had started to come to the same conclusion – that 5 weeks of pure sightseeing is too long.  The idea of spending an entire week in the jungle was starting to seem like not worth the effort to both of us, and I was starting to really regret having left our friends in Cusco so early.  We had pushed so hard so that we could see everything (including the jungle), but now we didn’t even want to see the jungle!  It was frustrating.  On top of that, Caro was beginning to think about leaving me and flying down to Argentina to see her fiance’s family, who live down there.  It was around this time that we arrived in Chachapoyas – I remember that we arrived on a Saturday evening.  Little did I know, but a conference called JAQ (Jesus and the Q’uran) was happening at the same time back in Atlanta at Grace Snellville, the parent church of my own church.  When we checked into the hostel in Chachapoyas and I checked my email, I had a message from a woman I’d never met.  She said that her name was Julie, and that she had met a friend of mine, Monica, who was serving at the coffee counter at JAQ.  (If you want to take the story back even further, I found out later that Monica had been volunteering at JAQ for years, but she originally asked to serve at the registration tables.  They put her at the coffee bar instead, and when she realized the opportunity that serving there gave her to meet and talk with people, she started requesting the coffee bar every time she works at JAQ.  If she hadn’t done that, she and Julia never would have met.  Isn’t it crazy how far back this story goes?!?)  But anyway, Julie and Monica met, and they started chatting about Peru.  Julie said that she was heading down there next week to serve on a medical missions trip with Grace Snellville, and Monica mentioned that I was already there.  Since she didn’t have my contact information, Julie asked to use Monica’s Facebook account to send me a message inviting me to join them as a translator (I later found out that Julie almost didn’t act on the impulse she had to write to me.  I’m so very glad that she did!).

So, switch back to me in my hostel in Chachapoyas.  I received the message from Julie, and was very excited about it.  I had originally thought that she was one of the group leaders; it turns out that she wasn’t, which makes me even happier that she chose to act on her impulse and invite me anyway.  And immediately, I started seeing how God had been working behind the scenes (although it would be weeks before I got the full picture) to get me there my entire trip.  I was looking at the calendar, and realized that if we had stayed longer in Cusco like I had originally wanted to – particularly after deciding to not go to the jungle – I would not have had time to get back to Pampachiri in time, as I was pretty far away when I got Julie’s message.  Also, I just love that Caro and I had already independently decided not to go to the jungle and to split up, pretty much just a few hours before I received Julie’s message.  So there wasn’t even a concern about leaving Caro or disappointing her by not going to the jungle with her.  Little did I know that Julie did not have regular access to internet, and I certainly did not.  But her message came in right as I was checking into a hostel that did happen to have internet, so I was able to write back immediately and get another response from her with a bit more information.  Again, if the initial communication hadn’t been so quick, I wouldn’t have had time to purchase my plane ticket and meet the team on time.

Oh, the plane ticket is another incredible example of God’s provision.  Because I was so far away from Pampachiri when I received Julie’s message, I had to take a plane down to meet the team there.  I technically could have taken a bus – and I almost did when I saw the cost of the plane ticket – but I finally decided that I simply could not handle another long-distance bus through the mountains of Peru.  So I just bit the bullet and bought the plane ticket.  Right after I bought the ticket, I checked the balance on my bank account to make sure that I had enough left to last me the rest of the trip.  Wouldn’t you know it, I had an unexpected deposit from Georgia Tech – for the exact same amount that the plane ticket had cost.  If that’s not confirmation of divine guidance, I don’t know what is :).  In my hurry, I had even originally bought a ticket for the wrong day – and was able to change it (via spotty emails in Spanish to the customer service department, since I didn’t have phone service) without getting charged any sort of fee.  I’ve never heard of an airline that doesn’t charge you to change a flight less than a week before departure.

Oh, and while I’m on the subject of numbers, I suppose I should mention my bag.  The weight limit for bringing a bag on this flight, since it was such a small plane, was pretty small.  I weighed my bag before getting to the airport, and it was half a kilo over the weight limit.  I had to bring all of my stuff with me, though, so I just went to the airport anyway.  I was planning on just begging them to let me on when I got there.  Wouldn’t you know, when the airport weighed my bag, it actually weighed almost a full kilo less than the weight limit.  And it weighed even less on my return trip, after I had bought a few souvenirs!

Pampachiri was really the summation of weeks of God gently (and sometimes not so gently) teaching me to let go and let Him lead.  Teaching me that He is looking out for me, even if I don’t know how, even if I can’t see it.  I probably wouldn’t have even considered signing up for the mission trip in the first place if I hadn’t already been in Peru – I didn’t have enough confidence in my Spanish skills to think that I would be able to translate at a medical clinic.  But because I was already in the country, I went, and I never regretted it for a second.  Pampachiri was so incredible…and seeing how God worked behind the scenes – gave me a “peek behind the curtain” – to get me there was extraordinarily humbling.  It really reminded me of why I love to travel in the first place – to learn more about myself and the world around me, and not just to learn about it, but to make a difference in it.  I’m so glad God chose to remind me – I had almost forgotten.  I’m just flabbergasted by His goodness.  Can’t wait to tell you what happened while I was there in the next installment of Sinbad’s adventures!

CouchSurfers redeemed

Our “overnight” bus to Chiclayo was really more of a half overnight bus. We left at 8:00 pm, and arrived at 4:00 in the morning. Our CouchSurfing host, Edgard, had said that he would pick us up. Unfortunately, though, I had told him we’d get there around 6:30. So we had several hours to while away in the bus station before he arrived.

Just when I had given up hope that he would come, he finally showed up. And boy,  it was worth the wait. As bad as the CouchSurfer was in Huaraz, Edgard was the total opposite. He has a large, lovely house – although he lives with his son, father, cousin, and aunt, we still had our own room all to ourselves. After letting us rest for a couple of hours, he fed us breakfast and then took us into town.

The first order of the day was to buy our bus tickets to Lima – although Caro and I were going to different places, we both had to take flights from Lima. Determined to get us the absolute best price and departure time, Edgard took us all over town to see the prices of every single bus company. Although it was tiring, it worked – I ended up paying 49 soles for a bus ticket that normally costs 110. I’m not really exactly sure why it was so cheap but hey, when fortune smiles on you don’t ask questions! 🙂  I’m used to paying more as a foreigner in Peru, so it was nice to experience the opposite for a change.

After buying our tickets, Edgard and his cousin Fernando took us out to lunch at a seafood place. They ordered a bunch of plates that they thought we should try, answered all of our questions and taught us plenty more that we didn’t even think to ask, and paid for everything. Truly swell, swell guys.

Edgard actually had to leave that evening for work in Lima. But before he left, he made sure to treat us one last time, this time to a fancy dessert. It was all made with stuff native to Peru – lúcuma ice cream and chirimoya cheesecake (both tropical fruits only grown in Peru) and pisco sour, the national drink of Peru that’s made of fermented corn and lemon juice.

Edgard had just enough time to take us there and pay for the food, and then he had to go catch his bus. So we were left on our own, enjoying the food and marveling over his hospitality. After we finished, we found a lovely little walkway in the middle of the city called the walkway of the muses. It has meandering paths and plenty of well-kept shrubbery, but it gets its name from the marble statues of the nine muses of Greek mythology. This place was also recommended to us by Edgard, and I’m really glad we found it. It’s amazing to me the things of beauty that can be literally right around the corner, but if you don’t know about it you may never find it. The only downside to the paseo de los muses was the clown that was walking around talking to people. Although for me, it was more funny than anything else – while I dislike clowns, Caro hates them, so it was rather amusing trying to distract the clown from her while she ran away and hid :D.

The next day, Thursday, we had the pleasure of seeing Robert, our friend from Chachapoyas, one last time. He was passing through Chiclayo on his way back home to Lima, so we met up with him and spent the day at the beach in Pimentel. Although it was a cloudy day, it was still fun. We walked around for a while, just seeing the sights – my favorite was watching a traditional fisherman go out into the water on his little reed boat.  After that, Robert and I started a 1-on-1 game of soccer while Caro wrote in her journal. He said that I played well, but I think he was going enormously easy on me. After a while we caught the attention of a couple of Peruvian boys, and we got a 2-on-2 game of volleyball going. Without a net it was a little strange, but I still enjoyed it. After all of the hours sitting in buses, it was really nice to do something active.

The next day, Fernando took me, Caro, and his aunt Irlanda to the ruins of Tucume and the museum of The Lord of Sipan, about 20 miles away from Chiclayo. I must admit, I think by that point I was a little spoiled. If Tucume had been the first place I’d gone to, I’m sure I would have loved it. But the fact that is already seen so many other impressive ruins I think left me a little jaded to the ruins of Tucume. I will say, however, that as interesting as all of these ruins have been, I’ve still seen all of them with a touch of sadness. The main focal point of pretty much all of these archeological sites were either temples or sacred sacrificial sites. None of these people knew the Lord. The fact that so many thousands, even millions, of people have died not even having a chance to know God really breaks my heart.

I wish there was something I could do to change that. But we can’t change the past, only work to make the future different. There is still so much darkness in Peru – “religious freedom, but spiritual oppression,” to use the term a friend coined. By the end of my time with Caro, I was really desiring to do something to change that.  And, would you believe it, but I got an opportunity to do just that before I even left the country!  Our plans changed drastically towards the end of the trip – rather than going to the jungle together, Caro flew down to Argentina and I went back down to southern Peru to translate in a medical mission trip.  It was truly the highlight of the trip – better than Machu Picchu, better than the great CouchSurfers, better than seeing Mario.  Make sure to read all of the details in my next few entries!! 🙂

Adventures in the jungle of Chachapoyas

We left Cajamarca for Chachapoyas at 4:30 in the morning. Mind you, we are not intentionally masochistic – there’s only one bus a day that leaves for Chachapoyas, and that’s the time it leaves. Apparently it leaves that early in the morning because the road is so dangerous that they have to do the entire route in the daylight.

At first I thought that was silly, but after riding that road I realized that they were totally correct. You know you’re in for a treat when they hand out barf bags to everyone before the journey begins.  Almost the entirety of the 13 hour ride is a single lane road. And not only is it incredibly windy, but one side of the road has a mountain that butts right up to the side and goes straight up, so there is zero visibility around the corners, and the other side of the road is a sheer cliff that falls away hundred of feet below. Oh, and of course there are no guard rails or street lights. That would just be silly :p. At first I wondered why the bus driver was honking his horn so often, and then I realized that was the only way to warn any potential oncoming cars that we were right around the corner. Yikes. Needless to say, I was QUITE pleased when that ride was over.

We found a hostel with Alies and Willem, a young couple from Holland who had been on the same buses and tours with us since Cajamarca. Although I saw them a lot, I didn’t really start talking to them until the bus ride to Chachapoyas. But they turned out to be really interesting; I’m glad I made the effort. Anyway, even though Caro and I were tired from the trip from Cajamarca, we decided not to take a rest, and jumped right into it the next day. We started with a tour of Kuelap, called by some a second Machu Picchu. Although it was super cool, I’m not sure I would agree with that assessment. Not because it wasn’t incredible in it’s own right, but the two are just so different it’s difficult to compare the two.

Kuelap is a pre-Incan settlement that is known for its circular buildings. They were eventually conquered by the Incans, and in some places you can actually see where the Incans imposed their own rectangular buildings over the preexisting circular structures. That was pretty cool, although it was also a stark visual image of the brutality that comes from a people conquering and imposing its own culture on another people.

The jungle-like atmosphere of Kuelap gave it a sort of eerie, otherworld sensation. Chachapoyas is considered to be a part of the amazon jungle, and the tropical plants had well overtaken the parts of the ruins that had not been excavated and taken care of. It gave the entire complex a muffled, almost dream-like quality. I really really enjoyed it. Even more so because, unlike Machu Picchu, Kuelap is not well known, and so there were very few people there.

The next day we went to Karajía and Quiocta. Karajía is a group of sarcophagus that were carved into the side of a mountain, while Quiocta is an enormous cavern about an hour outside of Chachapoyas. I really really enjoyed Quiocta. I’ve always loved rocks and caves and things underground, and Quiocta has all three.  The bats definitely freaked me out a little bit, but lucky for me bats are generally more scared of humans than the other way around :). And the mud!! Oh my word. We all had to rent knee high boots to help us trek through the thick, icky mud that was often well over a foot deep. But the closest boots they had to my size were a size and a half too big, so I kept slipping out of them. My poor feet were left with blisters that I expect will leave permanent scars. But that’s ok. It was totally worth it :). Scars show that you have lived, right?

After Quiocta, I must admit that Karajía was a bit of a disappointment. The pictures make it look fascinating, but what they don’t tell you is that the pictures were all taken with high-res and long-zoom cameras. The tombs of Karajía in real life are wayyyy up high on the side of a mountain, difficult to see and impossible to get closer to. Karajía for me was really just a scenic walk. But that’s ok, Caroline was happy, so I was happy :).

Our last day in Chachapoyas found us heading to Gocta, the 3rd largest waterfall in the world. That was by far the most exhausting of the three days – getting to Gocta requires a trek of nearly 3 hours each way, and it’s not a flat, easy trek, either. Huge inclines, steep slopes, jagged stairs, and slippery mud were all part of the package. But, while it was definitely an exhausting hike, the group we were with made it all worth it. There was Kate, the adventurous Australian with the fiery red hair who was traveling all over South America by herself. And Maribel, a native of Chiclayo who was just the sweetest thing you’ve ever met. And Javier, who was born in Lima but has spent the last 14 years in Miami. And of course, Robert. By happenstance, Robert was on the same tour as us all three days that we were in Chachapoyas. The first day I hardly spoke to him at all, but by the last day we had become friends and were talking up a storm. Aside from being just a swell guy, he was also super encouraging. By the end of the return trip from Gocta I was REALLY struggling; if it wasn’t for Robert’s encouragement I probably would have given up and asked for a horse to be sent for me. But thanks to him (and, of course, the jugo de caña, a sweet drink made from pure sugar cane that is sold on the way to Gocta to give travelers energy), I can say that I made it there and back without a horse!  Hooray!!

Although we weren’t actually at the falls for very long, Gocta itself was actually really interesting. The tremendous force of the falling water creates a windy vortex of sorts at the base of the falls. It was wild. Thirty yards away it was warm and still, but then as soon as you got closer to the falls it because super windy and very cold. Was a very unique juxtaposition of weather within a very small area of land.

Since we planned on taking a night bus to Chiclayo that evening, we had already checked out of our hostel. However, after the trek to Gocta and back, a shower was not optional, so we paid the hostel owner 5 soles each (roughly $2) to let us take a shower in the bathroom in the back. I think it was actually the owners’ home and personal bathroom. Welcome to Peru, lol. And then, it was time to catch our bus to Chiclayo! I went to the bus station with mixed feelings. By this time, I knew that Chiclayo would be my last city with Caro – we had swapped out the trip to the jungle for a medical mission trip in south Peru for me, and a trip to Argentina for her, so after Chiclayo we were going to have to split up. While I was sad to leave her, I was also super excited about the mission trip. I’ll have to leave the details of just exactly how God got me there for another time, however. That’s a story in of itself :).

The canyon of the “thin rivers”

We arrived in Cajamarca late afternoon on Thursday.  We had found a CouchSurfer to stay with there, as well – I was determined that my first exposure to CouchSurfing wouldn’t deter me from trying it again.

This was a much better experience than the first time. Hebert and his French girlfriend Anaise (who spoke impeccable Spanish – I was super impressed) were incredibly nice and accommodating. We had a lovely chat with them the night we arrived, and they gave us lots of information about the city and places to see around it. We ended up only staying two nights there because we really didn’t like the city itself, but at least the accommodation was very nice.

Nevertheless, it was still a little strange. I have decided that CouchSurfing is kind of a package deal – you get a free place to stay, and also pretty much always an interesting story, as well. With Herbert and Anaise, the weird part was that they actually hosted us not in their house, but in their office. They have a little room in the office with a bed in it where they keep their surfers, and we just hung out there after they left work and went home.  I must admit, though, the 3 deadbolts and 2 padlocks that Herbert trained me on locking before he left was a little unnerving…

The weirdest bit about the CouchSurfing experience in Cajamarca happened the afternoon before we left, when we met Aaron. Aaron is an American from Wisconsin who is traveling for like six months on a SUPER tight budget – hitch hiking and CouchSurfing all the way, basically only spending money on food. Anyway, he was waiting outside of Herbert’s office when we got back in the afternoon. Said he had been traveling with a Russian girl who had gone on ahead of him, and left a note for him to meet her there. Except she wasn’t staying with Herbert, and thus ensued a complicated endeavor to find the mysterious missing Russian girl, with Herbert calling the other CouchSurfing hosts in Cajamarca (yes, the town is small enough that he knows all of them) to try to figure out where she had gone so that Aaron could meet up with her, and with me playing translator, since Aaron doesn’t really speak any Spanish. I found it rather comical, actually, although I’m sure I wouldn’t have if I was in Aaron’s shoes.

The day after we arrived, we went on a tour of Cumbe Mayo, an ancient pre-Incan civilization. It is believed that the name “Cumbe Mayo” is derived from a quechuan phrase meaning “thin rivers,” and there is even today the remnants of a quite sophisticated drainage system that allowed water on the bottom of the channel to continue flowing while the uppermost water remained still.  However, by this point the majority of the ancient remains have disappeared, and it is mostly just a really cool canyon. But it was still fascinating, very different from most everything we had seen before. Plus we met a very friendly couple from Trujillo, George and Anita, who made me nostalgic for the lovely city I had so recently left :).

But other than Cumbe Mayo, Cajamarca didn’t have any pull for us; add to that the fact that more CouchSurfers were coming to Herbert’s house the next night from Germany, and we decided to go ahead and move on to Chachapoyas.

Going through the little tunnel to get to Cumbe Mayo:

Kids walk for hours, unaccompanied, to Cumbe Mayo because they know that tourists will be there.  They go in the hope that they will be able to pick up tips by begging or selling things or singing or taking pictures with people: 


Reconnecting with my love of travel

As I previously mentioned, instead of staying in Chavin we decided to go straight to Trujillo. We got in around 4:30 am on Monday morning; rather than mess with a CouchSurfer, we just checked into a hostel that Caro’s guide book had recommended. That was the best thing that we could have done. Due to the harrowing weekend that we had had before, I found myself at the end of my rope by Monday morning. I was this close to changing my plane ticket and returning that very day. But we were able to rest in the hostel, take it easy for a few days, and by Tuesday or Wednesday I was feeling worlds better. I’m sure that the shower – my first in 5 days – also helped enormously :).

So Monday was a pretty low-key day, basically just recuperating from the weekend. I spent a lot of time in the main square of Trujillo (which is absolutely lovely – definitely my favorite city yet), just writing, taking pictures, and talking to people. People say I look Hispanic, but I still think I stick out like a sore thumb – I’m constantly having people coming up to me trying to sell me something or ask where I’m from. This can get pretty annoying at times, but it also is an excellent way to meet people, if you choose to look at it that way.

That is, at least, how I chose to look at it, and I really did get the opportunity to meet quite a few interesting characters.  I met César, the indigenous man who was admirably persistent in trying to sell a tour to me. At first I didn’t mind talking to him, because he was keeping his distance; but over the course of the afternoon he kept coming back and getting closer and closer. When he tried to give me a kiss on the cheek even though I was obviously and quickly walking away from him was around the time that I left the plaza for the afternoon.

But not all of the people I met left a bad taste in my mouth like César did. Take Israel, for example, a cop who was stationed in the plaza that afternoon. I’m not really sure why there were so many policemen there – there was no threat of violence or unrest. Poor Israel looked so bored, I think he was just looking for an interesting distraction.  But he was very nice, and more than happy to show me where to exchange money, or find cheap artisan shops, or recommend good restaurants, or just tell me a little bit about himself. I really enjoyed talking with Israel.

I met George because he was, not surprisingly, trying to sell me something. When I made it clear that I wasn’t interested, he decided to just sit down and tell me the whole history of Peru, Trujillo, and the central plaza de armas. I suspect that he was doing it because he wanted a tip, but it was still a fascinating story. My favorite part was his description of the symbolism that the fountain in the main plaza has. The central figure is a youth holding a torch that symbolizes liberty. Around this youth, there are other figures that represent the stages of liberty – first, the oppression of the indigenous people, second, the fight to break the chains of slavery, and finally freedom in the end. In between those figures, there were also smaller ones that represented the great things of Peru, such as education and its beauty. It was really quite an impressive fountain. I love symbolism.

Monday was a much-needed day of rest, and also a reminder to me of what I love about traveling – connecting with people. But by Tuesday Caro and I were back on our whirlwind sightseeing tour. We went to two different sights on Tuesday, called Huaca de la Luna and El Brujo. They were both incredible. Constructed thousands of years ago, even before the period of the Incans, and made from simple adobe mud bricks, it’s truly amazing to me how much of these structures are still standing. The same goes for the 200 kilometer square complex of Chan Chan, which we saw the next day. Although we took tours to Huaca de la Luna and El Brujo because they were obligatory, we went on our own to Chan Chan, and spent hours wandering the complex ruins. The site itself was very impressive, but the area around it was rather strange, actually, and we spent a long time wandering the marked paths around the ruins looking for the museum that was supposedly right around the corner.  But we never found it – all of the paths just led to dead ends, so eventually we gave up and headed back into town (maybe it’s a marketing ploy to try to get you to buy a tour – only the tour guides know how to get to the museum! Hehehe…)

It was with great sadness that we left Trujillo on Thursday morning. Trujillo was by far my favorite city yet. The plaza (and city in general) was lovely, the people were friendly, and I even got to go dancing on Tuesday night! If I ever go back to Peru, Trujillo is definitely going to be one of the places that I visit. Maybe by plane this time, to avoid all of the time in buses :).

Musings on traveling

Note: I wrote this note when I first arrived in Trujillo, after the craziness of getting to Chavin de Huantar, the CouchSurfer in Huaraz, and countless hours spent in buses (see my previous post for more details about that).  I was on the verge of an emotional breakdown, and seriously considering changing my return flight and coming back early.  I even contacted several people back home via phone and instant message, because I just really needed level-headed, unbiased advice and perspectives.  But my mom in particular gave me some very wise advice, and in the end I decided to stay.  By the end of the trip, I saw God work in such an awesome way, and I was sooooo glad that hadn’t given up when it got hard.  But still, there WAS a time when it was very very hard.  These were my thoughts in the middle of that struggling.  Even though they’re not particularly happy, I think that they’re important to share, important to keep in mind when things get difficult and you want to throw in the towel.

When people see my pictures from my travels, they are often jealous of the opportunities that I’ve had. I’m sure my writing style often doesn’t help, as I generally do my best to make them as upbeat as possible and only focus on the positives.

But I think it’s important to point out that what you see in the pictures and read in the writing isn’t the whole story. What I usually try to leave out are the countless hours spent in buses, the sleepless nights in freezing rooms, the rude natives who don’t like foreigners in their country, the lonely days filled with homesickness.

Those are the details that are overwhelming me right now. The trip from Cuzco to Trujillo, where I am now, was absolutely grueling. 40+ hours in buses within the span of 3 days, and I’m absolutely exhausted. Perhaps I can chalk it up to that exhaustion, but this morning I was seriously considering changing my plane ticket and coming home early. I was just done with it all.

But (at least for now) I’ve decided not to leave early. And here is why. The only other time in my life when I was this homesick, this tired, and this just over it all was when I first arrived in Korea. And that turned out to be the single most incredible year of my entire life. The people that I met, the things that I learned about God and myself, the insights into life and fun cultural experiences that I had while in Korea are absolutely priceless and completely irreplaceable.  And I think that the same can happen in Peru.  I really believe that if I’m willing to listen, there are amazing things that God can teach me about Him, myself, and people in general while I’m here. I just need to be willing to slow down and hear what He’s trying to tell me.

So that has been my prayer since I started struggling with all of this – simply that I would be able to just be still and listen. It’s so easy to miss important life lessons because we’re too busy trying to figure out the lesson on our own, and refuse to just be still and listen to the teaching.  While I am certainly enjoying seeing the sights of Peru, this trip – and really traveling in general for me – has never been solely about being a tourist and seeing cool sights. It’s about gaining more insight into the world around me and the One who created it.  And if I can do that, I think staying here the full 3 more weeks that I have left would be worth it.  I’m excited to see what God has to teach me!