The daunting part of this trip is the 220KM drive. It takes about 6 hours. Sounds like a long time for that drive, and it is. If you look on Google Maps and plot the drive between Cusco and Quillabamba, you'll see what the twists and turns of the road look like - there are so many switchbacks going up and down that the mapmakers can't get them any closer together. Hna J was looking forward to this trip, because we've heard so much about Quillabamba - but she was NOT looking forward to the drive, and with good reason.
We had a couple choices on getting there: we can take a "combi" or van - that is cheap, but you literally have no control over anything. First they pack every seat full, and most people have bundles of stuff that are jammed inside, or lashed on the roof, and the drivers are in a race to see how fast they an get there. Definitely not the experience that Hna J could endure. The other choice is to go by car. The cars are usually a Toyota Yaris - the "big" car here, but small in the US. There are 4 seats for sale at 40 Soles each, and you don't get to choose your seatmates or have any control over the driver - but there is another option - you can buy all the seats for 160 Soles or about $50, which we did. To further assure whatever comfort and enjoyment we could get, I made up a 6-item list that the driver had to agree to - which basically stipulated that no speeding or unsafe driving was allowed, he would stop whenever we wanted, and that safety was the highest priority, not speed. I took a taxi to where the cars to Quillabamba are based (different destinations have different bases around Cusco), made a deal with a driver whom I felt would stick to my rules, and we headed back to our apt to pick up Hna J and our luggage. Our driver Rento turned out to be a very good choice, and we will use him again for other trips. He was incentivized by the small stack of US $1 bills I laid on the dash as a "propina" or tip, with the threat to take them away if he didn't drive safely. To his credit, he did an outstanding job and earned his propina.
We made our first stop at Ollantaytambo, which is about 80KM away. We have been to Ollyt before, and it is one of our favorite places in the Sacred Valley. We weren't sure whether the first of 2 funerals we saw along the way were omens or not. Following the funeral in the church, the pallbearers carry the casket to the cemetery, with all the family and friends in procession with colorful flowers. There is usually a small band playing, and all the traffic stops, and the onlookers pause in respect.
Immediately after leaving Oyyt, we start on the twisties. This is a view looking back where we have just driven. This drive is rated as one of the most scenic in South America, and its certainly earns that rating. The road is newly paved and in good condition, but there's no other way besides the hairpin turns to gain or descend in elevation. From Cusco, we start out at 11,000ft, drop to 9,000ft, ascend to 14,200ft, then descend to 7,000ft in Quillabamba. This would be a fantastic motorcycle road, I would love to make this drive on my C14 with a few friends, but this won't be happening, unfortunately. The views are spectacular, and these photos are only a few of the nearly 80 that I took along the drive down and back.
No, that isn't fog, those are clouds that the road disappears into. The temps went from very pleasant, to near freezing at the top of the Abra Malaga pass at 4,316 meters (14,200ft).
The pass is 14,200 ft, and people live at 14,000 ft. Don't ask me why they choose to live here, the land is pretty barren, the climate is harsh. But the hardy Chechua people have been living here for 1500 years or so, and they have adapted very well. A little bit can be grown at this altitude, but it's not very productive, and a number of sheep graze on the hillsides. A little creek provides water, there's no electricity.
Now the adventures really start! About 1/3 the way down the other side, the highway was completely blocked by a fresh landslide. This isn't the rainy season when the ground gets saturated, so there was no evident reason for this to happen - but it does frequently when you cut a road across the sides of steep mountains. This slide had happened only about 30 minutes before we got there. No one was caught in it, thankfully, there were about 20 cars ahead of us - most of which had passed us since Oytt. What to do? The road is completely blocked, and traffic going both ways is stopped. In the US, this would call for a major emergency reponse, and it would take days to clear. Not in Peru! About 30 men with their bare hands and only a couple pry bars and shovels were starting to level out the rocks to make a passage. About an hour after we got there, they had it done.
There were only a couple of cops there, and they started letting cars over it. There were a few tippy and unstable places through the rocks, but they were soon stabilized with strategically placed flat rocks, the hillside above is shale. About a dozen cars and trucks were let through one way, then they were stopped and a dozen from the other direction were allowed to go over. A line of volunteer spotters were ready to help if needed. Here, Rento and Hna J get through while I went ahead to photograph.
Here's a look up at the slide area. these are the rocks that DIDN'T come down with this slide. You can see a few that are bigger than our car just hanging there. Luckily everything was stable while we got through. Those daily prayers, and those of our family and friends, really pay off.
Well like everywhere, there are a few cheaters. By the time we were moving, there were about 100 cars backed up behind us. A few tried to scoot by in the other lane to the head of the queue. The other drivers were honking and yelling at them for not waiting their turn. The best part was when they finally got to the head of the line, one of the cops was waiting for them, and he yanked their drivers license, and made them back all the way to the end of the queue. Of course everyone was really cheering now. Don't know if these guys were embarrased, but their plan didn't work out.
Finally down the other side, and about 5 hours into the trip, Hna J had reached her limit. We stopped in Santa Maria for a break and a drink. She took 1 dramamine before we started, and another along the way, and she really wasn't feeling very well, but she took it like the trooper she is.
We arrive safely in Quillabamba, check into our hotel, and decide to get a bite to eat. This photo pretty well sums up the day - I thought it was a fantastic drive with great views and sights - and Hna J just had to endure it.
The next morning we start to work! Our first stop with Elders Falslev and Montero is at the home of Hno. Jayo, whose family runs a C-store and restaurant. After our cita, we step outside for a guy photo. A beautiful day here, but there are mosquitos and other little biting things, so we're doped up with DEET. Flowers are blooming, but you can see the dry hills in the background. In a couple of months, the rainy season will begin, and everything greens up.
Hna J makes a new friend. Hna. Petronila and her family operate a nice restaurant and party destination on the edge of town - they even have a Go-Kart track. The day was so pleasant that we just sat outside, and enjoyed the beautiful day, along with some cool drinks. Her son Percy is getting married next month, and we updated their family tree with approved names for him to take to the temple.
When Hna J was offered some fresh fruit from Hna Petronilla's trees - that grow right in her front yard - she didn't hesitate, and Hna Petronila sent us away with a couple bags full. These are a variety of citrus, like oranges, but they still have some green when ripe, and are very tasty and juicy. Bananas are ripening as well, but unfortunately the mangos are still about a month from being ready.
There are 2 sets of Hermanas serving in QB, and they joined us for a visit to the home of Hna. Mery. Along with Hna J are Hnas Solar, Rengifo, Robinson, and Bazo.
The young missionaries have to be in their apartments by 9:00pm, but that rule doesn't apply to us, so we were able to stay late with the delightful Huaypar family. We were outside in their courtyard on a warm evening. They were totally hilarious and enjoyed our visit so much. While I work the computer, Hna J gets a Chechua lesson - along with stomping cockroaches. It was nonstop action til about 10:15 pm - and we did get a lot of work done for them, despite 4 of them hollering at me at the same time, and Hna. Maribel sneakily tapping my "delete" key when she didn't agree with the information provided by the others.
Well, here's the result. 3 generations of smiling faces and a big family Fan Chart extending for several generations, and many temple ordinances approved and sent. We really feel welcome and appreciated here, and are glad to be able to help.
The Zone Leaders, Elders Bird and Salazar had 3 full days of appointments set for us. We'd start between 9 and 11 am, and work solid through til 9pm - or 10:15. We started this day with a delightful visit to the home of Hna Zulma and Hno. Hebert, one of the stalwart families of members in QB. They have 1 son in the US, another studying to be a doctor, and a daughter who's a nurse. And they have a BIG family tree from which Hna Zulma is ready to push the button and send family names to the temple.
Hna. Constanza is a "pension" for Elders Falslev and Montero, meaning that she provides meals for them twice a day. She has been doing this service for many years - she is paid for the food that is purchased - but prepares it as a calling and service. The elders who have pensioned here for many years insist she is one of the best in the mission. Well, when you get a big glass of freshly squeezed tasty sweet orange juice to start with (not the Sunny D in a box that we have in Cusco), who wouldn't be happy about that? In case you can't tell, she just served a couple (large) glasses to us as we were helping her with her Historia Familiar work.
Next to the home of Hno Ronal and Hna Yanet, who served us more fresh fruit drinks. They watch a video while Hna Yanet holds one of their twins, just born 2 months ago.
Hna J. gets to hold the little girl, who is exactly the age of our newest granddaughter Eden, whom Hna J has not even been able to hold yet - though we have seen some very cute pictures and video. Hna J. did get a little emotional here as she realized the sacrifice she's making while being away from her own grandchildren - but realizes it's only for a short time.
Elders Salazar and Bird accompany us to the edge of town, and we all climb on a combi that runs the "B" route from one side of town to the other. About 80 centimos, or about 25 cents each. Not the greatest for comfort, but they do get us moved around fairly quickly, and are quite cheap. How the drivers make any money, I can't figure out, but there are lots of them making a living this way.
After a rather warm - it was right on the edge of hot, but not quite - morning, we arranged to exchange with another set of Elders for our afternoon appointments at Misky's, a heladeria (ice cream store) at a convenient location in town. I wonder why the elders suggested this place? Probably they knew that Elder J would spring for "cremoladas" all around. These are local fruit and ice cream drinks and are only 2 Soles or 63 cents each, so they didn't break the bank. The missionaries don't have very much extra cash for treats like this, so they always like it when we come to town.
Here's the freezer full of tubs of helados, each in a different flavor. Which one is the best? Unfortunately, we didn't get to stay in QB long enough to sample them all, but we did detour to Misky's once a day to get some cremoladas to cool down, and sometimes a quick lunch of other sandwiches from their menu.
Quillabamba is the land of hard-cab mototaxis, and there are hundreds of them. Each city has its different "signature" taxi vehicles: In Cusco, every car is a taxi, but there are no mototaxis. In Puerto Maldonado, there are hardcabs, 3-wheel motos, motorcycles, and a few cars. In QB, there are no 3-wheel motos, and the cars are not taxis, there are a few combis. These are actually nearly comfortable for 2 passengers, they get around quickly and cheaply, and if the weather is nice, they are quite pleasant to ride in. Don't try to squeeze us + 2 elders in one of these though.
Our last night in QB, we were invited to present Historia Familiar in their Seminary class. Seminary is held once a week in the evening. Hna J instructs about the "why" of HF, its scriptural and historical background. She did a very good job, with only a little help from the Elders. He had everyone's attention, and actually spoke a little Espanol, interspersed with laughs, and English. She spoke with the Spirit and everyone understood her message.
Hna. Marita is the usual instructor in the class, and she graciously allowed us to present this evening. She was a willing participant, and a good example of how important family information can be preserved on familysearch.org. Her information was quite complete, and she's ready to send family names to the temple system.
We brought treats for the class: a delicious torta chocolate (cake), from a local shop that was reported to make very good cakes, and the report was correct. Also two 2.5 liters of soda. Between the class members, Elders Montero and Falslev, and a few members who were at the capilla, its was all gone very quickly.
Our trip to Quillabamba was very memorable and productive. We were so delighted to meet wonderful members and friends there, and as usual, the missionaries were extremely helpful. We had meetings with 11 families, plus the Seminary class. Given our remaining time of service, it's questionable if we will make it to QB again, we hope so, but with the travel schedule we have for the areas of the mission that we still need to visit before year's end, we may not get the chance. If not we have wonderful memories, and hopefully our work here will benefit the members, and help them increase their love for their families and the Gospel.
Our driver Rento was willing to pick us up in QB on Friday morning and bring us back to Cusco. He made a very early-morning trip down from Cusco with a car full of passengers, and was ready to pick us up at our hotel at exactly 10:00 in the morning. I think he anticipated another nice propina, which he surely earned for his careful and safe driving all the way back. 6 hours, including a lunch stop in Urubamba. It was a beautiful day, and I took lots of pictures of the spectacular landscapes all the way back. Again, Hna had her maximum dose of twisty roads. I had Hna J take a picture of us as he dropped us off in front of our apartment in Cusco. We'll be calling him again to take us to Abancay at the end of this month.