Saturday, June 13, 2015

Week 22

Finally, a bit of time to catch up over the past 3 weeks.  With travel to different areas of the mission, our Historia Familiar work, and prepping for the big Cusco Feria (fair) next week, we've had lots of new experiences.  Here are a few:

 One afternoon, we needed to go to the downtown area.  Instead of our usual 12-15  minute taxi ride, Hna J said:  "lets walk".  So we started off with a big set of stairs, over 200 steps.  Not much if you're at normal elevations, but try it at 11,000+ feet.

 Here's the view from the top of the stairs.  The Mall is directly in the center, and our apt building is the white building just to the right, we live on the 3rd floor.

 This has to be the narrowest sidewalk in the world!  The street and buildings were built way before there were cars, and it's barely wide enough for 1 lane and about a foot on the side.  Hna. J claims dominance, and 2 other pedestrians dart out into the street and loop around her just in time to avoid the oncoming car.  Driving (and walking here) is a game of inches.

 From an elevated street, we got a look down at one of the many local markets.  Some are in designated areas, others (like this one) just set up wherever they decide to and start selling.  Always colorful and a lot to choose from.  The citrus and bananas come from the "jungle" which is downhill from Cusco, but surprisingly not that far away, and still at a rather high elevation.

 For those of you who don't believe it, there really is a post office in Cusco.  How it works, we really don't know, it's kind of like a black hole:  everything goes in but nothing comes out.  Our package to McCall and her new soon-to-be daughter has been in route for nearly a month, but hasn't arrived yet.  For all we know, it's still sitting in here.

 After being on our mission for 5 months (can you believe it?), we have a new travel strategy:  We go to the warm places of the mission during the cold season, and the cold places of the mission during the warm season - Hna J. strongly approves.  We scheduled a long working weekend in Urubamba.  It's only 1.5 hours away, and only 2,000 ft lower in elevation, but the difference in climate is striking, as shown by Hna's light sweater (not even needed) and these bright blooming flowers - which she is always attracted to.

 Palm trees at 9,400ft?  Yes, believe it.  Here is the main square in Urubamba - always called the Plaza de Armas in every city.  I can turn the other direction and see a glacier at 14,000 feet.  Peru is the land of contrasts without doubt.

 We make new friends on a "combi", or 12-15 passenger van.  These little girls were friendly and giggling, especially when they saw my camera.  We're on our way to Ollantaytambo (try to pronounce that!), 30 minutes away.  The fare?  1.5 Soles per person, or $0.50.  So for 3 of us (we took Hna Crump on a "split", I gave the driver a 5 Sole coin, and got change back.  I can't figure out how that business model works, but it sure makes for cheap transportation.  The way the combi's work:  They park at a designated location, open the doors, start yelling the destination, and people pile in until all the seats are filled, then they close the doors and take off.  If anyone needs to get off along the way, they just shout to the driver and he stops.  If anyone is standing by the side of the road, he stops and picks them up.  They squeeze in, sardine-style.  The record so far?  23 people in a 15 passenger combi.

 We met so many delightful people and members in Urubamba and Ollantaytambo.  Here are elders Jensen - who looks exactly like me 44 years ago - and Elder Bravo with our new friend Apolinar.  He's got a garden and orchard right inside his courtyard - wish we could do that at home.  He had a bad fall when he was a child, and his grandmother (who was raising him), couldn't afford to take him to a doctor, so he's needed crutches ever since.  But he gets around, we saw him at the bus station, church, and on the streets - what a wonderful man, and always cheerful.

 One of our families has a bakery, cafe, and an oven-for-hire.  For a few Soles, you can bring your bread, potatoes, chickens, guinea pigs, or whatever's for dinner to them, and they will custom-cook it for you.  This is an igloo-shaped oven, make of thick stone and concrete.  They build a fire in one corner, and the half-dome shape of it radiates the heat all around and really does a good job, much like a pizza oven.  If I can figure out how to duplicate this on a small and portable scale, it'll be the next Volcano cooker.

 We arrive in Urubamba with Hna Crump, and there are kids in colorful native dress, waiting to help us with a picture.  It only costs 1 Sole each, so it's totally worth it for this memory.

 Our first stop in Ollantaytambo was at the shop of Hermano (brother) Hernan.  He's a talented jeweler (note the starburst necklace with amber inset on Hna).  He also retails locally made crafts from other local artists, like the doll Hna J. is holding - the granddaughters are going to get some fun, but late Christmas presents!

 There are some famous and extensive Inca ruins at Ollantaytambo.  These are part of the national park network, and it costs 40 Soles to get in.  The deal is that 4 sites are included, but you have to go to them all in 2 days.  We couldn't fit this into our schedule, so we just took pictures, and will go in for a closer look next trip, when we can also see the ruins at Pisac.

 On the other side of the hill, there are some more structures built.  Olly is about halfway between Cusco and Macchu Picchu, so my guess is that these were houses or apartments where you could stay on the journey, sort of like the early version of bed and breakfast.  The roofs (made of logs and thatch) are long gone, but the buildings themselves survive in pretty good shape, considering they are about 500 years old.

 Whenever we are out, I bring along my iPad to entertain the little kids while we're talking about Historia Familiar with the rest of the family.  The "Buttons" app, which contains hundreds of sounds, short phrases, and gags is especially popular.  It also serves to entertain the elders.

 Back in Cusco, we got to meet again with one of our favorite families (well now the list is about 6 dozen), Mario and Maria.  Their daughter is serving a mission in Chile, and will be coming home in August, after serving 18 months.  They're excited go to the new temple in Trujillo, Peru with her when she returns, and they now have many family names to take with them when they go.

Twice a week, all the Latin missionaries get English lessons.  It's a priority for President Harbertson, he (very wisely) wants all the native Spanish speakers to go home at least at a basic conversational lever with English - it's so much an advantage in their education and employment.  Nearly every one of them is as good in Ingles as I am in Espanol, and most of them are much better!  That's due to their young minds and capability for learning, which unfortunately doesn't come as easy for us oldsters.  It was also Hna Valenzuela's cumpleano (birthday) and just after this photo, she got got the cake in her face, courtesy of Hna Hollingshead.  Evidently this is a Latin tradition.  I think it would be a good custom to bring back to the US!  Everyone got a big slice of cake afterwards, though a few were a little misshapen.

 It seems that there's a festival going on every few weeks.  We got back to town just in time for Corpus Cristi.  In this festival, the "saints", which are larger-than-life replicas of religious figures are dressed in finery and carried from their usual resting places in the several Catholic churches in town into the main Plaza de Armas.  They are really heavy, and are carried by men from each of the churches.  It's an honor to do this, and carrying the heavy load is part of their penance.  It seems like everyone in the city comes to this, and the square was jammed.  We went with Elder and Hermana Rhoades.  It was a delight to see the sights, sounds, and colors.  We're not really "crowd" people, but this experience was totally worth it.

 Here's a shot of the steps to the main cathedral, jammed with people and a few of the saints at the top.  I estimate about 30,000 people in the square and side streets.

 Dancer are everywhere in colorful costumes.  They dance in large groups, and practice for this for several weeks before.  Think of a downsized Mardi Gras, with the people much more orderly.  At least til the evening when it gets dark, and the drinking starts - by then we were long gone.

There were street vendors everywhere, selling everything from chairs to balloons to pictures, and of course:  food of all types. Here the Hnas are being offered some traditional lunches.  It looked to be delicious, but it's classified as "street food", and the missionaries are warned (wisely by Hna. Harbertson) to avoid it, which we did.

 There were also tasty-looking chunks of fried cui (guinea pig).  We passed on these also.

 Well, if I get busted, I'm going in style.  These lovely "policias" were part of the large contingent that was there to keep order, and were happy to pose for a quick picture.

 Elder Rhoades is always friendly and engaging.  He saw these 2 lovely women coming, in identical shawls, and stopped them to talk and ask for a picture.  They were happy to do so, and then asked him to send them a copy, to which he was pleased to take their names, phone numbers, and email, and have the pictures personally delivered by a pair of young missionaries.

 Dancers everywhere in colorful and traditional costumes - this troupe including masks.

 Bands everywhere.  These dudes look really sharp, and can play some good music - and very loudly.

 I got to meet some new Hermanas - who called me "Papi", and they were happy to pose for a pic with me.

 There was enough of a police presence to assure order, so many that most of them had time to pose for pictures.  Some of their uniforms are almost as colorful as the dancers.

 Well, not as colorful or lively as these young dancers.  The whole procession was moving pretty slowly, so to speed up the event, we walked  - I should say squeezed - around the square counter to the direction of the dancers and procession.

 Here's one of the saints being carried.  The whole structure is really heavy, and is mounted on long timbers.  There are at least 2 dozen men carrying it, and they each have 70 - 90 lbs.  There are also "directors" out in front to lead them, but they can only keep in moving in the general direction, as we found out.  There is a stand following that the younger boys carry, and its used to set the saint on when they rest - which is frequently, given that it takes at least 2 hours to make it once around the square.

 We finally made it mostly around the square, though it was as totally crowded, as seen here.  When we thought we had made it around, there were more people and more saints.  We were able to bypass this one, but there was an opportunity to take this pic over the top of the crowd.

 We had nearly made it out of the square, saw a "hole" in front of this group (note their bare feet, also part of the penance).  I got blocked trying to make it across, and took a step back and got this photo, then smashed into the crowd to avoid the carriers.  I barely made it.  Elder Rhoades wasn't so lucky.  His backpack strap got speared by one of the timberss, and he was dragged about 6 feet before he could disengage! 

 The Hermanas were right behind us, and got "moshed", literally carried by the crush of people for several feet, I saw it, and thought they would be terrified, but they actually thought it was fun!

 There is a traditional meal that goes with this festival, called "chiriuchu".  We didn't get any from the street vendors, but the 4 of us stopped at a restaurant on the walk out, where we shared a plate.  It's got greens, veggies, quinoa, bread, sausage, chicken, corn, and of course - what's that leg sticking out?  It's cui, of course!  We did a quick count and figuring the number of people at the festival, and the number of plates consumed, about 20,000 cui died to bring you this festival.  That's not counting the chickens either.

 In preparation for the Feria (think State Fair), where we will have a booth highlighting the work of records preservation being done by the Haslers, and our Historia Familiar work.  Elder Hasler and I took a trip across town to the Feria grounds to check out our booth space.  There was a strike and demonstration going on downtown (not uncommon here), so we took a wide circle to avoid it.  We were on a side street when the taxi was hit with a loud BANG!  We thought we were being attacked by the strikers, but within a minute or so we discovered that it was only a soccer ball that had been kicked from an elevated field across the street.  I didn't know a ball could make such an impact, but it sure did the job on this windshield.  A couple motorcycle cops came to assess the damage.  We just got out, paid the driver, and walked the rest of the way back.  Like I say:  every day in Cusco is a new adventure!

After a long week of work, travel (and of course a few hours at the festival), we got together with the other 2 senior couples serving in Cusco:  the Rhoades and Haslers.  We dearly love them, they are our mentors, and our work would be much more challenging without their assistance.  Elder Rhoades knows where everything can be found or fixed in the city.  Elder Hasler has spent about 15 years in Peru in a mining career, as well as a missionary, and knows how to negotiate the bureaucracies to get things done.  The Hermanas are dear to Hna. J, and offer her the opportunity to share experiences, talk about families, and of course have some "girl talk".  We're a long way from home and our family and friends, but with these wonderful couples near us, we don't feel so isolated and remote.  The Cusco Mission is certainly blessed for their service.  The Sandbergs, whom we don't get to see very often, since their assignment is in Abancay, are going home at the end of this month, and we will surely miss them. 

BTW:  The lunch we had at Uchu Peruvian Steakhouse was outstanding, and could have been served at any fine restaurant that we have been in the world.

In addition to our usual work, we're in full preparation mode for the Feria which starts on the 20th, and runs through the end of June.  Don't expect to see much more from us til that's over, but we'll provide a full report.

July promises to hold more grand experiences, as we're planning a return trip to Puerto Maldonado, one of Hna J's favorite places in the mission - actually anyplace it is warm is on her favorites list.  We love our work, and we love you all.  we're so excited that a new granddaughter is coming to McCall and Neil any day now.  We will miss being near for that blessed event, but with the miracle of technology, we'll get to see her soon.  

Let us hear from you, remember it's as easy as dialing a local Farmington number:  801-447-5060.