JOURNEYS

Journey through Peru

Wonders of Many Kinds

View of Machu Picchu. Such wonder in one moment. © Adam R. Cole 2008

A snap of a woman of Quechua culture, the people that have retained their pre-Inca way of being despite Spanish cultural assimilation; the women like this one here are most distinct with brown weathered faces, wearing long skirts, and felt hats, carrying a young child or their belongings in a specially woven ruck sack type thing that is beautifully woven full of colors. © Adam R. Cole 2008

Flying high in Miraflores. Paragliding over the top of the city. © Adam R. Cole 

The shift is so quick, so sudden that you don’t have time to process it – you just react. Step off the plane, down the moving walkway, out past the gates, and then it’s obvious you have arrived somewhere else. Taxis drivers galore wave at you and entice you to take up their offer. In that sink or swim moment, you accept an offer from one of them, the one that seems the most upstanding of the bunch – you get in taxi and off you go…the adventure has begun, this time in a Spanish land south, where a sun-worshipping people once inhabited nearly every region here and established a golden empire throughout the world, also where Spaniards came in and conquered the native peoples and recreated a community and culture that exists there today. The land that we (myself and girlfriend of five months) have landed on is Peru – we have blocked off 14 days to travel and connect with people.

We headed initially to Miraflores, the upscale cultural and business district that lies adjacent to the beach (la playa), which affords residents here a refreshing view that refreshingly affects the city vibe. A college buddy of mine had a sister who lived there, and she agreed to host us for a couple days. That college buddy, a kid who I traveled through most of America with (and the main character of the book that became of it – Crashing America), would be there during our stay (the trip to Peru was partly planned around meeting up with him). A party was going on when we walked into our host’s flat, sort of a ‘welcome to Peru’ kind of shin dig. Good times. Even with a language barrier, more for me than my girlfriend (who speaks fluent Spanish – she took it in college and lived in Mexico for a summer), it was easy to find common ground. Those that knew Spanish and English (my college buddy included) helped provide a bridge – such that the universe language of laughter was in effect. It was an amazing connection moment, to have traveled to catch up with an old friend, and make new friends from a world away.

The next day we got a bird’s eye view of the beautiful beach scene that defines Miraflores by taking flight, hiring one of the local paragliding companies to take us in the air. We launched from an open green area that is known as Parque de Amor (Park of Love – it has a huge statue of two people making out) is essentially a cliff to the beach below. You step off into nothingness and are immediately picked up by the wind – and then are treated to soaring experience, flying over the grandness of Lima’s capital area.

That first Sunday in Peru we went to church at one of the Catholic churches in Miraflores that our host attends weekly. The church was beautiful: stained glass, paintings of various Bible scenes, granite statues outside, and just a spaciousness that you could sense that only God could fill. The service was in Spanish and mostly incomprehensible to me but there was another universal (like laughter) – the communion, what Christians of all nations believe as taking the body of Christ into the soul and becoming one with Him – I accepted the wafer the priest handed me and swallowed it, meditating on the death and resurrection of the being that so many of the world consider a Savior.

* * *

Sensing a call to step foot on one of the Wonders of the World, my girlfriend and I found ourselves next on a bus (one that would last 20 hours), traveling southeast across the Andean mountain region, toward Cucso, once the capital city of the Inca Empire, and which stands as the entry point to Machu Picchu, the elaborate stone city atop a mountain. Past an endless array of mountainscapes, we arrived in Cusco in the afternoon (a day after leaving Lima). The hustle and bustle of the city nearly swallowed us upon arrival. It’s a city of narrow cobbled streets, with an endless stream of people of all types filing through the little room there is to maneuver. A taxi honked at us (usually the beckoning call of all taxis) and we hopped in, giving out a hostel name that was in our guide book.

Once there at the hostel, the taxi driver alerted some type of on-the-move travel agent of our interest to see Machu Picchu, and we had someone there to see us right after setting our bags down. We wheeled and dealed with the travel agent character, went to the Peru Rail station with him, bought tickets, worked some deal out with him to get bus tickets and passes into the area and were set for the next morning. It seemed like a hectic ordeal to get it all arranged…I was just glad that my traveling companion was an expert in Spanish.

Cusco at night is a beautiful scene with the local churches (Iglesias) lighting up the scene. They shine sort of an orange glow. The Plaza de Armas is the main feature of Cusco. In the middle is a park with benches and surrounding it on all sides are shops and restaurants. Not too far from the plaza was a local market with all kinds of goods being sold; vendors lined the streets as well. It felt like New York City (to a smaller degree) with the rush of people every direction…buying, selling…just living life. Those that stand out amongst the faces are those of Quechua culture, the people that have retained their pre-Inca way of being despite Spanish cultural assimilation; the women are most distinct with brown weathered faces, wearing long skirts, and felt hats, carrying a young child or their belongings in a specially woven ruck sack type thing that is beautifully woven full of colors. Though they are distinct, the Quechua people also blend in, filing through the market with everyone else, just trying to get some goods to keep their lives moving forward.

The clouds looming over the stone structures below made you feel as if you were in the heavens. Machu Picchu stood before us like we were in a postcard. Highly elevated, mountain tops surrounding us, it was truly a wonder how this world up here was created and sustained. We toured around the structures, peering ever-so slightly into a life that once was; there was the temple that the Inca people to worship the sun god, and what appeared to be a sun dial, and other living quarters. The picturesque essence in the scene was the greenery – just with all the stone and yet, grass, vegetation, life. I was in so much awe there, thinking about God, and how He had created this vast earth, and despite Machu Picchu being man-made, it was the natural elements that gave it such wonder, just the clouds, the mountains, the green – all in perfect harmony together.

* * *

We were on another bus the next day toward Ayacucho (16 hours away), back west near the coast, where my World Vision sponsor child, Li, was awaiting a meeting. I had chosen to support a kid in Peru (monthly contribution) once we had first started planning the visit there. Ayacucho was similar to Cusco with the narrow streets, the busyness of commerce, Colonial buildings and churches everywhere, and a central plaza area. The town was famous for being one a crucial place for Peruvian independence due to the victory achieved there in a major battle with the ruling Spaniards. That victory still plays in the hearts of the local, symbolized by the large statue of the battle’s general, Antonio José de Sucre, featured prominently in the central plaza.

Li, my six-year-old sponsor child, was excited to me when we first came in. He gave me a hug and a present, a stitched pouch type thing that had my name on it. I gave him a Mr. Potato Head (he called it Senior Papa), a number flash cards, and a coloring book. Together with his mom, a World Vision representative, and a translator – we toured around the city, played on a playground, and got some ice cream to end the day. This world seems so big sometimes…but it’s not really, if we choose to connect our hearts together. There are a lot of things that I look to Jesus Christ for and take to my soul from how He lived His life – the biggest of those is compassion.

* * *

Another bus carried us forward the next morning, heading to Lima (a 10 hour trip), in order to catch another bus toward Paramonga (4 hours north along the coast). We were to link up with an organization—Mission Center Peru—that conducted faith-infused outreaches to kids in poor neighborhoods, bringing the kids in the neighborhoods fun activities and presenting a Bible lesson to them. The organization was also a training ground for 20-somethings from all over Peru who wanted to be spiritual leaders (pastors, missionaries); the interns, as they were called, lived at a house that was Mission Center Peru, learning together and working for change out in the neighborhoods of Paramonga. We became part of their lives and their efforts for a week.

We were welcomed with open arms to Mission Center Peru. After a week of traveling the country, going from bus to bus, we were finally settled in one spot – and it was quite a blessing to get our first home-cooked meal there of the trip, a fried banana type thing with a fried egg over rice. Yum, yum. That first night there was spent wrapping gifts for the two neighborhoods that we would go visit that week. There were hundreds of toys sprawled out in the living room, soon to be delivered to bring joy to a young kid.

The Mission Center Peru family brought us to church with them that Sunday (the second day were with them), celebrating alongside those gathered the birth of Jesus Christ; there were a lot of presentations from church youth and almost an hour-plus of Peruvian style worship music. They let me say a few words to the congregation (with a translator) for which I was greatly honored – I read from a short bit from the Bible – and with the help of the translator, could feel the powerful essence of being in one accord with those gathered, feeling as if we were all one body under God. We shared a very cohesive amen.

In the week a part of Mission Center Peru, we were closely integrated into the activities of the Mission Center and the community of Paramonga. We attended the outreaches—the weekly program was officially called Metro Kidz—and were visibly able to see the joy in the kids faces as the entertaining show was presented and as they passed out the gifts and hot chocolate (a special treat at Christmas time). At one of the events I dressed up as the blue monkey, alongside the two clowns and Winnie Pooh, all of which were superstars to the kids. The neighborhoods we visited were so poor…almost like abandoned buildings…no roads, just dirt. But the kids were just as playful, just as exuberant as any kid in the world. One of the names of the neighborhood was called Nueva Esperanza, New Hope – you had a sense that by creating joy (and inspiring them with a message of God) each week (through Metro Kidz) that new hope in the kids’ lives was real and tangible.

We became very close to 20-year-olds that made up Mission Center Peru, even with the language barrier being difficult at times, just in the sharing of life, waking up and praying together, eating every meal together, and being able to teach them skills (like media). We had the opportunity on one of the days to cook for them (we chose tacos – a first for them), going into the local market, buying all the necessities, and then cooking in the house kitchen. To see there plates clean in rapid fashion was a delight. In exchange, they cooked a first for us that evening—guinea pig (a popular dish in Peru).

On an off day (no outreaches planned), I hiked up one of the local mountains with a handful of the interns. The feeling of seeing the semblance of nature, as I had at Machu Picchu, rushed back into my heart. You could see the coast, the ocean, the vast beyond of trees, and a desert type dirt landscape…all on top of the mountain. We all shared a prayer and quiet time on top of the mountain, reflecting that this earth is so big and we are so small and that we should remain appreciative and humble amongst all that God has created for us.

Christmas Eve was spent with the Mission Center Peru family, a perfect culmination to our week, because by this point, we felt like they were our family. The small gifts we had brought from the U.S. (candy, used clothing) were given out to the interns of Mission Center Peru that Christmas Eve (slightly different set of events than American tradition). It was great to see their faces light up, to give them some joy, after they had selflessly spread it to others throughout the week. We had a big Christmas feast that evening, which began in Peruvian tradition at midnight (or slightly before) – and we lit off sparklers and fireworks when the clock struck 12.

* * *

Following Christmas it was time to return to the U.S. Back on the bus, back to see my buddy in Lima one more time, and then on to the plane.

Peru and its many wonders will remain close to my heart, as so many countries do, mostly for the people. We were touched by those that opened their hearts to us and let us open ours in return. The food, at times, was amazing, the sights were picturesque, but the feeling of joy being shared…that’s priceless.