Well, changes happen - and missionaries come and go. This time, its the Sandbergs, who have finished their 18 month service (they served their entire time in Abancay, about 80KM northwest of Cusco) are on their way home to California. We were able to intercept them on their way through, and have them at our guests for dinner. The Hermanas are enjoying a nice meal on their side of the table at our favorite restaurant in Cusco, named "UCHU". It really is good food there, and would be considered outstanding cuisine anywhere in the world. Elder Sandberg and I had our own conversation going on on our side. We will miss the Sandbergs, and unfortunately, there is no incoming mission couple to replace them. So if you're wondering what to do for the next year or 18 months, there's an opening in Abancay.
We enjoy the time we spend with the other mission couples, and if it looks like we spend all of our time together eating, you're only about half right. Here's Hermanas Rhoades and Johnson in front of our favorite seafood restaurant in Cusco. They do a good job of preparing that comes from the water - but you can keep the cerviche - all sushi lovers should know what this is - raw fish that's soaked in lemon juice until it gets lemony, don't call it cooked. The leftover brine is called "leche de tigre" or tiger's milk. I pass on that also, though Hermana J will try a little bit of it on occasion.
Here's the Hermanas on their way to an appointment. These are Hermanas Guzman and Wight, with Hna J, who are watching the oncoming traffic closely for a chance to dart across. In Cusco, pedestrians definitely do NOT have the right of way, and you better be careful, especially if there's a bus coming. We're headed towards the main square, Plaza de Armas, to visit a family who lives a couple blocks up the street to the left.
The Elders spend so much time working hard that they take every break they can for a nap. Elders Lundell and Solano, along with 4 others, have just carried all the furnishings from the Sandberg's apartment in Abancay from the moving truck outside, up to our spare bedroom. Since we have an extra, the mission is storing the furniture there instead of a warehouse. Unfortunately -- their nice sofas and recliner were so big that they wouldn't fit down our narrow hallway on the other side of our living room, so we had to exchange our rather small items, for their big items. And I sure do enjoy that recliner!
Hermana Avelina is quite a musician and singer. She and her esposo live about 5KM down the main street from us, and we are able to visit them to help with their Historia Familiar. Not only do they both play several instruments, but they sing in Spanish and Chechua. During the recent visit of Pres. Uchdorf to Cusco, they were part of the Chechua choir that sang during his fireside. Hna Avelina is nearly blind, but that doesn't seem to hinder her musical abilities. We get serenaded every time we come to visit, and that's always a highlight. Her voice is extraordinary. So many of the people here are talented in many ways.
Since the Hasler's have been on their well-deserved break back to New Mexico (after extending their mission twice - for a total of 3 years), we volunteered to travel to Urubamba to "chaperone" the district meeting, so it doesn't look like a double date. The district meeting starts at 6pm on Mondays, after the missionaries "P-day", for preparation. This is the only time during the week that they get to read and send emails home, wash their clothes, clean their apartment, and have a partial day for recreation and diversion, before getting back to work that evening. The district meetings are well planned and conducted by Elder Jensen, the district leader, and we enjoy participating. There's prayers, a spiritual thought, instruction - this week on referral follow-up from the Feria, reporting and accountability. After this meeting, we took them to a Polleria (chicken restaurant) for "pollo abraso" or spit-roasted chicken. It's very tasty, and you can order either a whole, 1/2, 1/4, or 1/8, and you get fries with it. Can you tell that Elder's favorite vegetable is ketchup?
We stayed 2 nights in Urubamba, at a nice hotel that's right next to the church. That enables us to work for the next 2 days in this area. Tuesday morning we got an early combi (van) to Ollantaytambo, for a meeting with Hermano Hernan or "Cunyaki" in his jewelry and craft shop. He makes very lovely jewelry from local stones and metals, Hna J has a nice necklace that he made. He also sells locally made crafts, and we bought some dolls for the granddaughters. I put my WiFi phone against the window to get a good signal, open up the laptop, and we're connected to FamilySearch.org (espanol version) and in business. He's just pushed the button, and sent names of his grandparents to the temple system for ordinances. The cable from the computer goes to my battery-powered printer on the floor. He was so delighted that he took us next door to the Chocolate Museum (every town should have one) where his wife works, and treated us to locally brewed chocolate caliente, and delicious chocolate croissants. Then we had to come back to his store and pick out a few macrame bracelets and another handmade necklace! Hermanas Crump and Hinostroza are our guides and translators for the day, and we had a delightful time with them.
At the other end of the Sacred Valley is Huayabamba, and Hno. Policarpo and his family. The afternoon was so perfect and warm that he just pulled out some chairs into his courtyard, I put the WiFi phone on top of a nearby adobe wall, and we had an enjoyable and very productive 2 hour Historia Familiar meeting. It was the perfect setting for a family photo, which we printed in 8.5x11, and presented them with it. This town is in a narrow valley between mountains on either side. The shaded side has ancient terraces all the way up that used to be farmed by the Incas, but are not used these days. You can see some of the high Andes peaks in the background - some of which have snow year round, and even glaciers. We're at 9,400 ft here, the peaks are 14,000+.
We heard some chirping around the corner, and thought it was some chicks, but when we looked, it was their guinea pigs. They are raised like chickens, and eat mostly greens, grow quite fast, and are quite profitable, as "cui" is a delicacy here, and is eaten at celebrations and special occasions. Hard to believe this cute little guy will be lunch someday.
When I say that there's an adventure every day here, its no exaggeration: First on this trip, I left my hat in the taxi when we got out at the hotel in Urubamba, and in a minute it was gone. We looked in several spots where the taxis and combis wait for passengers, but couldn't find that taxi, so the driver got a nice hat as a tip. I'm pretty bummed about it, because it was by "signature" hat here, and a good OR gore-tex that I bought in Jackson Hole just for this mission. Bought another one the next day in Ollantaytambo, locally made, about the same look (wide brim to keep the sun off my face and neck), same color, and less than $7, so I won't care if I lose that one.
Next, I left my iPhone on the combi when we got off in Huayabamba, discovered that about 5 minutes after we got off. I usually do a self pat-down whenever we leave or move, just to check and verify that all my hardware is accounted for, and this time it paid off. Ran back and he wasn't there, so I was totally bummed. When I'd given it up as lost, I remembered I have the "find my iPhone" app on my iPad, and was able to get that up. I found that the iPhone was still in town, a little ways away, so we started toward it. Then I saw that the phone was moving, and was sure I'd lost it for good. I heard a vehicle around the corner and started running to catch it, and it was the combi, the driver had heard the buzz when I pinged it, and was looking for me. I gave him a nice tip and was really glad to get it back.
Speaking of lunch someday, we heard some real squawking the next morning walking over to meet the Elders at the church, and found a bag of chickens headed to the market. A couple of cockfights were going on inside the bag.
At the other end of town, after a ride in moto taxis (3-wheeled motorcycles with a canopy) we had a delightful morning meeting with Raul and Maria. They both have a great love for their families, as evidenced by the volume of Historia Familiar work they had prepared and waiting for us to input. Not only are they musicians as well (Hna J bought a couple of their CD's of traditional Andean pipe and string music - very relaxing and pleasant), but Raul also makes the instruments he plays, as well as sells them. Unfortunately, I have no musical talent, so the 10-string charango wasn't of interest to me, but the pipes could be pretty simple to play. But I'd much rather listen to someone who has real talent play them.
Want to know why the buildings and temples built by the Incas are still standing after 500+ years? Well, first they were marvelous engineers and builders, and they built out of stone, not wood. Here's a lintel over the door of an adobe building, built about 1960, and you can see what the termites have done to the wood. In order of durability: wood, adobe (above the wood), brick, then the ultimate: fitted Inca stones.
Anywhere there's a street is a good place for a market. They set up about anywhere, some are there just for a day, others are permanent, and there is always a good selection of local produce and vegetables available - very inexpensive as well. Which you can consider good in that it doesn't cost very much to buy food, but on the other hand, the growers and sellers don't make very much. Anyway, farming is an ancient tradition and livelihood, and they seem to make a living doing it. The farmland here is quite fertile, but due to the terrain, it's not in very big plots, and thus almost all the farm labor is by hand, with minimal mechanization. Here, labor is cheap and undervalued, and that cycle keeps a majority of the people at the lower end of the economic scale. But they are happy, and love their traditions and their families.
Lower down the valley about 100KM, is Quillabamba, where they grow cocoa, coffee, bananas, plantanos (plantains) and avacados (paltas). That's on our list to visit in August when still relativel cool for the hot areas (now we know the lay of the land, we shedule to the hot areas when its cold in Cusco. The Heramanas who get assigned to the hot areas in the bug seasons get pretty bitten up, but we have some heavy-duty repellent that works quite well when applied strategially sand in liberal amounts
Wednesday night after we finished our appointments, we tried to get a taxi back to Cusco at 8pm. No luck, as the drivers can't make the 1.5 hour drive and find passengers who want to go to Urubamba that late at night. One guy offered to drive us for 100 Soles, but that was way too much. So the Elders helped me haul our luggage about 4 blocks to the combi stands, and we found one going to Cusco, but he didn't have a roof rack for our suitcases, so he was going to charge us for 2 extra seats for the bags. After about a half-hour he decided he didn't have enough passengers to make the trip, so he found us another combi who actually was going to Cusco, and we moved our bags and after about 15 minutes got under way. I'm pretty sure I got overcharged by that guy when we got into Cusco late at night. When I asked "quanto" - how much - he replied in some words that I didn't understand, probably Chechua, but by that time we were just glad to be close to home. One more taxi ride with us and our bags squeezed into a little car, and we were finally at our apartment about 10:30pm.
Also: earlier that day, Hna J counted a new record for squeezing people in a combi: 28 in a 15 passenger van. Say goodbye to any personal space you think you might have.
Back in Cusco, on Saturday we made a 1-hour walk from our apartment to the Plaza de Armas, dodging cars and buses all the way, and met up with the Rhoades for lunch. Afterwards, Elder Rhoades suggested a visit to Quoricancha, just a couple of blocks away, and we were excited to go, as we had walked past it many times, but hadn't taken the time go go in and look around. This was the most sacred temple of the Incas, and at the time that the Spaniards arrived, it was layered in gold. As you might imagine, the first thing they did was strip all the gold off, melt it down, and send it back to Spain. Then using the Incas that they had basically enslaved, the Spaniards forced them to tear down their temple, and build a cathedral over its foundation. There's very little of the original structure visible, but you can see some in the gray stone on the right. This was made out of the fitted stones, with their very best workmanship. That part of it has survived for at least 5 centuries, and many earthquakes. There was a big earthquake in 1950 that knocked a significant portion of the cathedral down, but the Inca foundation held with almost no visible effect. The cathedral has been since rebuilt, and not very well, but there are some lovely artifacts, paintings, and history inside. No photos allowed inside, which I observed, but most people didn't.
Some of the outer Inca walls still remain. This was taken from the opposite side, and a small portion of the rounded dark gray Inca wall can barely be seen on the left. The grounds and building are fairly well maintained (since they do charge admission, at least some of the money goes for upkeep) and its quite interesting to see the contrast between ancient and old.
Hna. J always takes time to smell the roses. She really enjoys the local plants and flowers, many of which we don't get to see back home.
We close this week with another adventure: We were in a taxi, bumping along the rough streets, when the ride got extra bumpy. It didn't take the driver too long to figure out that he had a flat tire, so we got out, paid a partial fare, and walked the rest of the way to our meeting. It was a beautiful warm day, so we were glad to walk together. Along the way, we got a phone call that our meeting had been delayed, so we had some extra time, got to our meeting place, found a bus bench with some shade, and bought a helado (ice cream) from a local vendor, and had a few minutes to relax and enjoy the day.
Our love and best wishes to all of you.