Fischers in Peru

Workshop in Tarucani

26 Apr 2024

The ETE ('Educación Teológica por Extensión') program has gotten off to a bit of a different start this year.  The usual progam organisers/ leaders, Roberto and René, are out of travelling action.  Roberto is slowly recovering from an operation he had a couple of months ago.  I visited him last week to see how he was going, and it's fair to say the poor bloke has had the stuffing knocked out of him (he could really use your prayers).  And René, like the vast majority of Peruvian pastors, isn't paid for his work and so he has to get an income from elsewhere -- in his case, farming the land.  So he's off somewhere in the countryside herding alpacas and all that sort of thing.

So basically that means that I was wondering how yesterday's mid-week workshop at the estancia of Patimayo might go.  I needn't have worried; René had organised people to (i) act as coordinator and (ii) deliver the training material.   I was able to deliver a short study on Jesus' parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (see Luke 18:9-14), how it fits into its context (18:15-25), and what the implications are for all people generally, and also for us as followers of Jesus.

Above: main plaza of Quinsachata, between Tarucani and Patimayo.

Below: yours truly leading the morning study/ devotional on Luke 18.  And the hat?  Well it was about zero deg. C and I happen to value comfort above appearance.

Now, where is Patimayo?  Well, north-east of Tarucani -- which kind of sounds like a frontier town in the 1800's wild west.  But in fact it's a neat, orderly quiet sort of place which even sports a shop for abarrotes (groceries).  Twenty minutes further on you get to Patimayo, which is just a few houses and alpaca corrals.

Above:  Herd of alpacas in Patimayo, just itching to get out the corral gate for a day's feeding.

So why have an ETE workshop in Patimayo?  Because it's a geographically central location for that IEP (Iglésia Evangélica Peruana) parish, and so it means that most students can make it there without too much travel (be that on foot, on motorcycle, or codging rides with local traffic).

Above:  Hermana (sister) Antonieta leading the Thursday afternoon service in the chapel.

Thursday evening was the usual session of traditional music and singing by these Quechua Christians.  Some songs were in Spanish, others in Quechua, but it was all heartfelt and great to participate in.  Different people stood up to bring greetings from their families and churches, to thank all involved in organising the workshop.  So much of this would sound repetitive and even unnecessary to you or me, but it is the Quechua way.  They really are into honouring others in a way that the average Australian certainly isn't.

Below: tuning up for the evening's music session.

As my first highland trip for our second 2-year stint in Peru, the altitude knocked me about a bit, but I was kind of expecting that.  I wasn't the only one; Jimmy (Peruvian pastor mate) was also struggling with a low-grade headache.  But we kept our fluids up (lots of maté, the traditonal herbal tea) and popped a few aspirin which always seem to help.

Below: Jimmy (right) chewing the ministry fat with an IEP pastor.


Below: the unlucky alpaca which got turned into soup for everyone (and guess who got the bones).

On the way back this morning, we caught some stunning views of Laguna Salinas.  It's now full of water after the summer rains, and has heaps of flamingos wading around.  The Peruvian Andes really are spectacular; every ridge you come over, every valley you drive down, every river you cross, every town or settlement you come to... just wonderful.  (Hint: if you want to see any of the images in these blog posts in more detail, just right-click and select 'Open image in new tab' or the equivalent.)

Above: crossing over from Laguna Salinas to the valley where Tarucani and Patimayo are.

Below:  Looking east across Laguna Salinas to the active volcano Ubinas.

The gentle subject of huaycos...

17 Apr 2024

If you do a lot of travelling in el campo ('the countryside') here in Peru, you really should be doing it in a 4WD.

Above: The mighty Hilux in the Paracas desert, on our way back from the Feb. 2023 SIM 'Spiritual Life Conference' in Lima.

Now we Australians are fairly familiar with 4-wheel driving; it's part of what we do.  I spent some of my youth on the farm putting the old '72 Landrover through its paces on the steep shaley hills in the bush backblock, and like most of us I've had the pleasure of digging out a few thoroughly bogged 4WD's (and one bus here in Peru, but that's another story).  So whether it's 'bush bashing' or going on off-road holidays or getting around on the land, we Australians feel pretty familiar with the Australian terrain.

The danger, we have discovered, is when you get into unfamiliar terrain with a 4WD.  Like the Andes mountains, for example.  It's easy to see the dirt roads, the river crossings, and the semi-desert countryside as something we understand, and therefore we just assume we know what we're doing.  But therein lies the trap!  Because Peru has one thing we don't really get in Australia: the huayco (pronounced 'wai-co'), aka the landslide.

We came across this landslide (below) while taking a break down Quillabamba way last October, out the back of Cusco towards the jungle.  It was on a dirt road that winds up the mountains a few kilometres east of the famous Machu Picchu.  Now, thanks to a load of unseasonal rain, a few landslides had started happening.  And so it was that we came across this beauty:

Now, yours truly took one look at this and said, "No worries, we can get over that!" and then hopped out of the car, levelled it off a bit by pulling a few rocks and small boulders out of the way, popped the Hilux into low range 4WD, and over we went.  But a couple of bends later, we found that the road was completely washed away -- and there was no getting around that!

And then it dawned on me the dangerous situation we were in.  There were small rocks still trickling down from the mountain slopes above, and we needed to get out of there.  With Kerry guiding me, I managed to keep clear of the soft edges and do a 15-point turn in the Hilux, and then we headed back to the landslide we had just crossed.  This time I got Kerry and Megan to get out of the car while I drove it back over the pile of mud and rocks.

But as I was crossing it this time, the boulders under the rear wheels suddenly slipped sideways, and for a moment there I thought I was going over the edge and into the river a hundred meters (or so) below.  But thankfully (very thankfully) the rocks stopped rolling, and I got the Hilux over the pile and back onto the road.  Kerry and Megan clambered back in, and we headed back the way we had come.  A few minutes later Kerry asked, "That was a close one, was it?"  "Yeah," I said with the usual degree of Australian understatement about these things, "it was a bit ropey!"

A month or so ago there was this landslide (video below) in Peru.  You just won't believe the violence and power of these things until you see the video.  Thankfully both truck drivers survived, but their trucks were utterly trashed.

So anyway, now that we're a bit wiser about travelling in Peru, we can travel a bit more safely.  Just remember: the real danger is the danger you don't recognise. ;-)

Workshop in Paquenta

03 Nov 2023

Hot on the heels of the last ETE (Educación Teológica por Extensión) workshop in Chivay, the weekend of 13-15 October saw us in the village of Paquenta.  Where is this?  Well... it's out the back of Cota Cota, which is out the back of Tisco, which is out the back of Chivay, which is out the back of Arequipa.  You get the drift.  On the way there was a fair bit of wet weather blowing through, and we even copped a bit of snow:

This has to be the most remote location I've been to with René and Roberto: a gathering of houses and huts in a shallow valley.  There are quite a few buildings in the village, but most of them aren't occupied.  Only a few families live there; about 5 of these people are ETE students.

Below: A frosty Saturday morning in Paquenta.  The peaks on the horizon rise to over 5000m.

René got the Saturday workshop up and running with the 5 Paquenta students and another 6 or so joining from Cota Cota and Tisco.  As a group we worked our way through a text from the Gospel of Matthew, helping the students to analyse the text, explore its context, and figure out how you'd prepare a teaching session based on it.

For me it's been a real eye-opener to see how René patiently, clearly, and methodically explains things.  Now this is not because the students are dumb; far from it, there are some very sharp tools in this shed!  But most people in these areas have very little (if any) formal education, and the many benefits schooling can bring.  This means there isn't much you can assume when taking these classes.  So, while you and I might find a given method for analysing a text fairly straight forward, well... can you imagine how you'd go if you'd never done this before?

One thing you can assume, though, is that everyone knows how to play football.  Paquenta FC was quickly formed and the game kicked off:

As you can see not much quarter was given, and Peruvian footy passions were well-stirred.  I was happy to be team photographer and marvel (as usual) at the fitness of these people who can slam a ball around at 4400m for 45 minutes and not really get that puffed.

On the way back to Arequipa I had the usual stimulating conversation with René and Roberto about the challenges of delivering Christian education in the rural backblocks.  It was a strange consolation to realise that, even though Roberto and René have been doing the ETE gig for decades now, and they have all the advantages that come with being a part of the culture they're working in, at the same time they keenly feel the challenges too.  As an outsider with a different perspective, but with the same desire to help train competent and effective teachers of the Bible in these churches, these guys are more than happy to toss stuff around and let this greenhorn join in the action.

As we were stumping our way across the pitch black plaza to our sleeping quarters late on Saturday evening, a couple of the brothers cautioned me not to trip across a huge rock which is still embedded in the plaza surface.  You can see where it's situated, right in front of the flag pole:

I haven't yet asked anyone about this, but it's got me wondering: Why, in an otherwise flat, clear and level plaza, would you leave a rock like this sitting there?  Maybe it was too big to move... but no, moving rocks is one thing the locals are very good at, and access to heavy machinery isn't that far away.

So what is it doing there?  My suspicion is that it's a huaca -- a sort of sacred object in the Quechua scheme of things that is/ was believed to have supernatural properties.  One thing the Spanish were keen to do when they colonised Peru was obliterate all these remnants of Inca religion.  I've read how the Catholic establishment was frustrated by the fact that while many of these sacred objects still existed in plain sight, only the locals knew which rocks were huacas and they weren't about to let the Spaniards in on the secret!

On the way back home, as we chatted about ETE training and the associated issues, the landscape of the altiplano did its usual breathtaking thing...

Above: a couple of tetchy vicuñas.  Below: a llama.  Even though you can be standing quite close to them, they have perfected the art of (seemingly) not paying you any attention while they gaze off into the distance.

Below: a rain storm bringing another dumping of snow and ice somewhere.

ETE trip to Chivay, Tisco, & Cota Cota

11 Oct 2023

Now that the winter chill is retreating, trips out in the sierra are possible once again.  Not even the ETE (Educación Teológica por Extensión) diehards Roberto and René want to do trips during the winter, and the students are certainly happy to stay closer to home.  The streams freeze over, and while there isn't much snow (that falls mainly during the warmer wet season, December to February), it's just bone cold.

A couple of weeks ago Ben and I went to Chivay (about 3 hours from Arequipa along sealed highways) for one of the ETE meetings.  Not many students attended this time; it can be a bit hit-and-miss, as often the students get saddled with last minute family obligations, farming responsibilities, or even have to attend to community work organised by their local alcalde (village leader).  And when the alcalde pronounces that it will be a weekend of working on the local roads, for example, then everyone has to drop whatever else they're doing, and they all head out -- husbands, wives, children, the lot! -- to work on the roads.  Shovels, rakes, baskets for shifting gravel and earth, and babies bundled on the backs of the mothers.  That's how public works get done in many of the villages of the campo (country areas) in Peru.

Anyway, by Saturday afternoon only about 12 or so students had managed to turn up, but that was all that René needed to get the progam happening.  After organising the dates and locations for some of next year's classes, René got a good class exercise going: asking the students to form groups of 3 or so, they had to study Matthew 16:13-23 -- the episode where Peter confesses Jesus as the Christ (Messiah), then Jesus declares that Peter will be the rock on which the church is built, but finally Jesus has to rebuke Peter for his refusal to accept that Jesus must suffer and die in Jerusalem.  Their task was to decide what the text was saying in its context, and then prepare a brief outline of how they would teach from the passage, and finally each group reported back to the whole class to explain and justify their conclusions.

Above: a number of the church people presenting a short play on how we could better prioritise our time.  Various social media platforms were presented as thieves of time that could be spent more profitably for the cause of the gospel.  Some problems are the same no matter where you live in the world!

Of course, for many Protestant Christians here in Peru, this text in Matthew is often seen as 'Catholic' text for establishing Peter as the first pope -- and as such, it's a text they tend to skip over or avoid altogether.  Yet, whatever our Christian denomination or persuasion, the text of the Bible is simply the text of the Bible, and we need to read it as such without fear nor favour.  René, you cunning strategist!

Ben and I each joined different groups, and our role was to help the students ask questions (because good questions are like keys which unlock meaning) and consider a text they weren't that used to thinking about.  We had to be careful not to push our own views of the text, but rather let the students do the work.  And work they did!  With a bit of prompting and encouragement they started to take in the wider context, to think about Jesus' purposes as the Christ, and what Peter and the disciples were thinking (or not thinking, as the case may be).  After about 30 minutes' discussion and pondering, the students reported back and, as usually happens when people study a the text on its own terms, each group came up with quite similar ways of summarising the text and its parts, and how they would teach from it.  Good job!

Above: René and Ben having a chat.  Notice how the church has plenty of warm cushions and woven coverings on the benches, and blankets available for people to use during the service.

On Sunday morning René and I left Ben in Chivay (he'd taken his own 4WD), and we headed north to Cota Cota via Tisco to pick up Benigno, his wife and a co-worker.  They had just spent a month in Cota Cota running classes and exams on behalf of IBSA, one of the Bible colleges in Arequipa.  Then it was back to Callalli (pronounced 'cul-yali') where we dropped off René who wanted to catch up with some believers there.

Above: 180 degree streetscape in Tisco.  The altitude, the silence... it's hard to beat.

One excellent thing about this trip was that, as we travelled, René and I got to spend a few hours chewing over the challenges of pastoral training and support in these areas.  I told him that I thought his class exercise was top-shelf: in the one exercise the students had got to think about and practice (i) reading the text in its context in Matthew, (ii) the process of interpreting the text, (iii) how the text applied to their own situation, and (iv) how they might structure a sermon or talk based on the text.  This really is the bread and butter of church pastoral work.  As René and I talked, we came up with a number of future possibilities for encouraging and supporting church pastors, teachers and elders in the sierra.  To quote Big Kev, I'm excited!

Above: For some reason Ben is looking happy in a rather protracted planning session (dates and localities of future ETE workshops).  It would be easy to complain that these sessions take far too long, but the Quechua way is to discuss and run absolutely everything past absolutely everyone, so that everyone feels like they own the decision.  And that means the students are far more likely to turn up when the time for the workshop arrives, of course ;-)

It was on the way home after dropping René off in Callalli that we came across an utterly destroyed vehicle smashed into an embankment.  Ben (who had headed back from Chivay earlier in the day) later told me that when he went past there had been a huge crowd gathered and a few very badly injured (if not dead) people had been pulled out.  Accidents like these are so common in the Andes; some people drive without any sense of fear or responsibility, overtaking at full speed around blind curves and putting everyone in danger.   Trucks reguarly engage in this deadly game of roulette, too.   We came around one bend on the way to Chivay and were greeted with two trucks and one car, all 3-abreast coming around the bend; there was nothing for me to do but hit the brakes, hit the horn, flash the lights, and squeeze over as far to the right as we could.  You really do have to be on your toes.  It's such a shame, because most of the Andean highways are superbly engineered and would be considered safe roads anywhere else, but the impatient and reckless driving habits of some of the locals are the real danger.

Anway, it was good to get back to Arequipa after nearly 12 hours of driving.  This coming weekend is another ETE workshop somewhere north of Cota Cota.  Looking forward to it!

Ten Days in the Cotahuasi Canyon

26 Jun 2023

Many of us will have heard of the Colca Canyon, with its condor viewing experience that draws tourists from all over the world (well, that's assuming you don't have a pandemic happening, or nationwide rioting for that matter).  But to the north there is another canyon -- much deeper, wider, but less well-known: the Cotahuasi Canyon.

SIM workers Brad and Gina Shaw have been living in the Cotahuasi Canyon for over 20 years, helping establish the church, setting up a radio station, providing health care, and much more besides.  Most recently the Shaws and the Cotahuasi church have been hosting a Bible translation team from the Quechua mission AIDIA, who are working on translating the Bible into the 'La Union' Quechua dialect.

Last week we spent ten days in Cotahuasi, with Mike teaching the Bible overview course, Kerry helping out Gina with the huge amount of hospitality the Shaws provide, and us accompanying Brad on a couple of radio 'reconnaissance' trips to different villages in the canyon.  We also took a couple of days off to visit some hot springs and the awesome Sipia waterfall.

Below: Bible overview course in full swing.

Above: a couple of ladies having a 'Berean moment' (see Acts 17:11) in the IEP church in Huillac, Cotahuasi Canyon.

It is about an 8-hour drive to get to the Cotahuasi Canyon.  This takes you across the 4500m altiplano until you come to the rim of the canyon, which is about 2 miles deep.  (The Grand Canyon, by comparison, is a mere 1 mile deep.)  Within the canyon it's another climate: relatively warm, there are trees in abundance, farms, livestock, flowing water.  But up on the rim and across the altiplano it's cold, dry, icy, minimal vegetation (if not just bare dirt), and the air is thin.  The canyon and the surrounding altiplano feel like completely different worlds.

Below: Coropuna, 2nd-highest mountain in Peru (6377m).  From Arequipa you have to drive around the western side of Coropuna to get to Cotahuasi.  As you drive around the mountain, you get to see some of the glaciers that are coming off its flanks.

Above: Brad (l) and Fredy (r) helping a local get his radio reception sorted in the village of Cochapampa.

Below: Police station, Pampamarca.

Above: Majes valley.  There are many river valleys like this along the Pacific coast of Peru.  These areas rarely get any rainfall, but they do have permanent rivers that come down from the Andes.  Rice, wheat, oats, corn, peppers -- a whole variety of crops are harvested.  Human habitation of these valleys goes back a long way; many have areas where you can find petroglyphs (carvings on rock surfaces) and hunter-gatherer stone tools.

Below: church lunch after the Sunday service, Cotahuasi.  The ladies had got together the night before and peeled a mountain of potatoes, cut up about 10 chickens, and had everything cooking while the service was underway.


Visits to Cota Cota & Pachachaca

05 Jun 2023

We're now into winter here (southern hemisphere), and therefore the coldest months of the year are just ahead of us.  The ETE (Educación Teológica por Extensión) directors, René and Roberto, aren't total gluttons for punishment, so the previous two weekends (26-28 May to Cota Cota, and 2-4 June to Pachachaca) will be the last trips until September -- because in the Andes during winter it does get a bit nippy...

At about 5:00am it starts to get light, but there is little ice to be seen.  But by 7:00am each morning, this stream at Pachachaca was iced-over.   Not having a thermometer handy, I don't know how cold it actually was, but the last time I had felt such biting cold was when I lived in Canberra back in the late 80's, when -7.0 °C was common in August.  So I'd guess that a crisp June morning in Pachachaca is around -5.0 °C.

At 8:00am, René and a couple of the other men decided it was time for a shave and a freshen-up.  Down to the stream they went, just below the icy section (above).  With a bar of soap and a disposable razor, faces were shaved and hair got washed.  Talk about tough men!  I asked René how on earth he managed with the cold.  The secret, he said, was that if you are washing your face or upper body, is that you must keep your socks and boots on -- because if you do this bare-footed, all the energy from your body will immediately drain straight into the ground and you'll come down with an illness.  Likewise, he said, if you're washing your feet then you must make sure that your upper body is clothed and dry, to prevent immediate loss of energy or your 'vitality'.

That's just one example of the kind of health lore that many Peruvians subscribe to.  Of course, my reaction as a Euro-Australian was to think that energy flows and all that sort of thing are a bit on the 'alternative' side.  That they may be.  But never having bathed in a freezing Andean stream, I'd still be inclined to take René's advice anyway!  I might be 'Euro' in origin, but I'm definitely not one of the those Scandinavian ice-breaking skinny-dippers.

Driving back to Arequipa, René and the other brothers and sisters in the Hilux also had some conversations about the health benefits of drinking urine -- specifically that of donkeys and llamas.  The urine has to be fresh, I was assured, and it's good for curing diabetes and also COVID.  Stifling my cynicism, I asked whether the flavour was an issue.  René paused for just a second, and then said that the flavour wasn't important when you had such effective medicine.  Clearly we are from different planets.

Now it would be easy for me to guffaw at such ideas (and believe me, when it comes to donkey's urine, I do have a laugh -- inwardly!).  But here's the thing: if you're from a culture which has, since time immemorial, had to survive in such a hard and sparse landscape, what are you going to do for medicine, and how are you going to think about maintaining your health?  And these days, even when Western medical technology is available, it's simply not accessible for most Peruvians due to the cost.  So maybe I'd just better keep my guffawing to myself.

You also know you're on another planet when, above the doorway you have just entered, you are greeted by two dessicated hawks:

The building we were staying in belonged to the Pachachaca/Tisco municipality and not the church.  I asked my Quechua friends about the dead birds, and they weren't sure -- but it is something to do with keeping evil spirits out of the building.  Maybe some Australians aren't that different; horseshoes above doorways, anyone?  Anyway, one thing was certain: it had been very bad luck for the hawks.

None of the houses in these altitudes have any form of heating.  There are no trees (it's too high for trees or bushes to grow, at around 4.500 metres) and therefore no wood to spare for burning, and so the only fuel available is dried llama/alpaca dung.  But there's only enough of that for cooking.  During the daytime the sun gives plenty of warmth, but the during the nights you just have to rug up.  For most people, that means a mattress of alpaca hides.

Yes they smell fairly musty, but I can also tell you they are warm and very comfortable.  I use a sleeping bag on these trips, but you also have to add a couple of thick blankets over the top, and sleep fully clothed.  (That's my stylish frazada there with the zebras on it.)

Below: students warming up in the morning sun.

For lighting at night, many huts and houses now use solar panels and LED bulbs.  The municipal building has its own generator available, so here are a bunch of the guys figuring out how to get it running:

I would have thought they'd be dab hands at rigging all this up, but the extension lead without any plug and two bare wires did present a challenge.  After yours truly, with some experience at 'home wiring' (ahem) had a crack at it, we had ourselves some light and the meetings and classes could begin.

Above:  René (left) and Nelsondavid (right) selling course books to a student for the next term of study. 

On the Saturday morning of each of the trips, the students would head out into the surrounding countryside to visit the farms and share the Christian message.  It wasn't just 'Bible bashing', as we might call it; I was impressed with how René, for example, knew pretty-well everyone courtesy of his last 40 or so years of visiting these communities.  "And how is your mother?" "Ah, your uncle used to attend the church in Chivay, didn't he?"  Genuine concern for people's welfare alongside clear and succinct explanation of the gospel were the order of the day, along with an invitation to that evening's church service. 

Above: the IEP church building in Cota Cota.  Note the loudspeaker poking out of the building above the doorway.  It is common practice to broadcast a church service to the whole village or town.  We might look sideways at this, but the fact is that the local municipality and other community organisations do the very same thing.  It's just an effective way to let the whole community know something, and it doesn't seem to raise any eyebrows.

On the way back from Cota Cota (last weekend in May), Roberto directed me along some little-used tracks which took us out near the Condoroma dam.  Along the way, he and René reminisced how as younger men they used to go along these tracks on foot.  It would take them days to get anywhere.  Then motorcycles became the preferred mode of transport.  And now, finally, they were doing it in comfort in a 4x4!

Above (centre of picture): pre-Inca fort, supposed to be about 1100 years old.  It's situated on a hill in the centre of a valley, and has commanding views in all directions.

The drives home on these trips are always an education for me -- be it learning about the benefits of llama's urine, or reflecting on the weekend's services and classes, or discussing the challenges many of these believers face in their traditional Quechua communities.  And as the scenery rolls past... well, there is always a lot to be thankful for.

Day trip to Laguna Salinas

21 May 2023

After getting through a rotten bout of gastro (probably 'norovirus', if you're keen you can look it up), we'd had to cancel a trip to Puno, which was a bit of a let-down.  So yesterday we thought we'd take a trip up to Laguna Salinas, about 2.5 hours' drive from home on the other side of the mountains, just so we could have a picnic and take a break.  Mike has already been there a couple of times (see blog entries below on earlier ETE trips), but this was Kerry and Megan's first chance to see the amazing scenery and the wildlife too.

It was a super-clear day, and as we drove up the slopes between Picchu Picchu and the volcano Misti, we had a superb view of the city behind us.  You always know when you're getting above 3-3500 meters because the Hilux starts running out of puff... so just keep the RPM up so that the turbo can pack enough air into the motor.

Once up at the lake, we made our way around the western shore until we came to the town of Salinas Huito.  We had pit stop and Kerry got chatting to a couple of the locals.

Then we headed back south to the other town on the lake shore, Salinas Moche.  On the way we stopped at an old chapel, 'Santuario Virgen de la Asunta'.  According to the lintel over the main doorway, it was built in the 1860s (couldn't quite make out the last number, either an 8 or a 9).  It certainly is in an amazing location.

In the background you can see the active volcano Ubinas.  On the way around to Salinas Moche, Kerry tried a spot of flamingo photography, but they are cautious birds so unless you have a camera with a good telephoto lens it's not exactly a slam dunk.

We got to Salinas Moche a bit after midday, and to our delight realised we'd jagged the one Saturday of the year that they have their community parade!  Everyone was out in their finest garb, and every community group was respresented in the parade: the school teachers, classes of students, the local health clinic staff, the artesan group... even a bunch of welders carrying their welding gear went marching past, which really warmed Mike's heart.  Every community group got honoured, the band was going full tilt and it was heaps of fun.  

And the final group in the parade were none other than the local IEP (Iglesia Evangelica del Perú) congregation.  Good on them for not hiding under a rock!  Video here.

As the afternoon chill started to descend, we pointed the Hilux back towards Arequipa and enjoyed seeing Misti from angles we're not accustomed to.  It really is a huge mountain, and lots of snow and ice on it this time of year.

Meetings in Salinas Huito

24 Apr 2023

Salinas Huito is a small town on the edge of a high-altitude salt lake, named Laguna de Salinas, or the 'lake of salt'.  We have similar kinds of lakes in Australia, which like Laguna de Salinas are dry for most of the year, but when the rains arrive life just teems.  Unlike salt lakes in Australia, though, the altitude of Laguna de Salinas is about 4,300 metres, which means oxygen levels are getting down to about 1/2 those of sea level -- so that takes some getting used to.  On top of that, the nights are often below zero, even in summer.

Above:  Wary vicuña resting on the lake shore, Laguna de Salinas.

Last weekend (22-23 April, 2023) I drove with Peruvian pastor mate Edgar to Salinas Huito for an ETE (Educación Teológica por Extensión) gathering.  Students from Salinas Huito and Salinas Moche (the town on the other side of the lake), as well as a few from further afield, got together to organise their studies for the next semester.

On the Sunday morning I was invited to preach (typically I know nothing of these plans until I turn up; it's all organised in a 'seat of the pants' kind of style).  In many ways I would rather hear our Quechua brothers teach from the Scriptures, but (i) they insist, (ii) I need to learn to relate to them, and (iii) I should model what we're trying to teach and get across.  So on these occasions I cave in and inflict my basic (but improving) Spanish upon them.  It's not like Spanish is their preferred language, anyway (they much prefer to chat with each other in Quechua), but that's our only common language, so Spanish it is.

I spoke from Revelation 7; "That sounds a bit ambitious," you say.  But (i) it's a great passage about God's age-old purpose of having a chosen people from every tongue, nation, tribe, people and language (v.9) who declare the glory of the One who has redeemed them, and (ii) it helps our Quechua brothers and sisters see how passages which are normally clouded with hocus-pocus interpretations are, in fact, clear declarations of what it means to live as God's people in a world which stands against them.

"Not many in that church service," I hear you think.  You're right; that was because the local authorities had called a community meeting for Sunday morning, and they issue fines to anyone who doesn't attend!  While I can't comment for sure on this instance, it has to be said that this is how Christians in these remote communities are often treated; things are often quite deliberately stacked against them.

We've just got through a very good wet season (normally Dec--Mar.) here in Peru, and so there has been plenty of water finding its way into Laguna de Salinas.  This, in turn, means there is plenty of wildlife on the water: flamingos, geese, and ducks in abundance.

Above:  The green pasture of Laguna de Salinas, with the active volcano Ubinas in the distance.  For years it's been throwing up a column of ash and shaking the land with its rumblings, but for the moment it's gone quiet.  Who knows how long that will last?

Below:  A pair of geese with this year's offspring, heading off to the water before the bloke with the camera got any closer.

With summer and autumn being the wet season here, it's also the warmer weather.  Still below zero at night, and plenty of frost on the cars in the morning.  When I muttered something about the cold to one of our Quechua sisters, she said, "Hah!  You should have been here last July!"  Um, no thanks; it was cold enough sleeping fully clothed, with beanie and gloves, and two thick blankets over my sleeping bag.

Below:  A peak to the north of the lake, with permanent ice stuck to its sides.

Edgar himself was so glad to be able to come along on the trip.  Pastoring a church in Arequipa, but originally from a rural community outside Cusco, he really enjoyed the opportunity to mix again with Quechua believers.

Below:  ETE director René (left), Daniel (Presbyterian missionary from Korea, center), and Edgar (right), organising something or other.

Above:  Evening light across the lake.  For me, it was a strange thing to consider that at the lakeside were were above the clouds, but still had peaks higher than us.  In the distance are the peaks known as Picchu Picchu, rising to about 5,600m, with Arequipa over the other side, about 3,300m below.  Everything was cold, beautiful, and silent.

Sunday after lunch we wound our way back to Arequipa -- a 3-hour trip which takes you down from 4,300m to 2,300m.  It really is a 'vertical' landscape.

We had the usual load of folks to drop off at their farms on the way home, which took us on some less-used tracks around the lake (below).  Edgar got home about as tired as I did, but already asking when the next trip might be, and could he come along?  Well, of course he can!

Visit to Cota Cota

03 Mar 2023

Have you ever heard of Cota Cota?  That's OK, most Peruvians haven't either.  It's out the back of Tisco, which is out the back of Chivay, which is out the back of Arequipa.  A population of only a few hundred.  Cold, remote, and at about 4400 metres it's double the altitude of Arequipa, and so unless you're a local you'll find it easy to run out of puff.

On the upside, it takes about 5 hours' drive through the usual breathtaking Andean scenery to get there.  And it was where IBSA (one of Arequipa's three theological colleges) ran a week of classes and presented certificates to about 18 students from the area.  So it was that last Tuesday and Wednesday Ben (SIM colleague), Jimmy (Peruvian pastor mate here in Arequipa) and myself lobbed into town.

Below: main plaza in Cota Cota.

While we don't have any direct role in this program (yet?), it's a great chance to meet the students, have conversations with them, get a feel for what the needs and opportunities might be, and grow in our appreciation of chuños (potatos which are freeze-dried in the soil during winter) and alpaca soup!

Below: Mike and Ben chewing on some roast lamb while discussing the Trinity (no, really) with some of the faculty and students.  Caption competition for this photo is now open.

The Wednesday night was the graduation service.  For me, a 1.5 hour-long service is fine; but to be honest, four hours is another matter.  There were lots of speeches, and long lists of people to thank.  At first I found myself muttering under my breath that it was going on way too long.  But in a culture which puts a far greater premium on honour than we Australians do, thanking everyone is very important.  Add to that the fact that this was the once-in-a-year chance for the students to get together, receive their certificates, and celebrate their hard work... well, seen from that angle maybe four hours wasn't that unreasonable.  Just about everyone had something to say and plenty of people to thank.  It's the way they do things around here, and if the outsider can find 5 minutes to stop muttering and belt up and listen, he or she just might learn something ;-)

Below: the 18th speech (estimate only) for the evening, this time from the local alcalde (town mayor).

Above: the students with their hard-earned certificates.

At about midnight we finally got to hit the hay.  Ben and Jimmy were fine, but I copped a bout of soroche (altitude sickness) and ended up getting very little sleep.  This is the way it is with soroche; some trips you're fine, other trips you're not.  There are all sorts of medications available, but I haven't had much joy with any of them.  I find that my own little concoction of aspirin and caffeine pills deals with most of it, but of course the caffeine isn't much good for sleeping.  So essentially I'm faced with a choice: either a sleepless night with a thumping headache, or a sleepless night courtesy of the caffeine.  I think I prefer the latter!

Below: being summer here it's the wet season, so the lakes are full and the pastures green.

Above: well-fed beast on the Cota Cota football field.

Thursday morning breakfast was fried trout (there are plenty farmed in the streams and rivers around the southern Andes), and then we fired up the Hilux and headed back home.  I plan to be back in Cota Cota next May, this time as part of ETE (theological extension program).  It will be good to catch up with everyone and see how they're getting along with their studies, their Christian service, and life in general.

Trip into the north of Peru

29 Jan 2023

January arrived, the month of our team conference, but after that came the opportunity to take some time off.  For us Fischers, that can only mean one thing: a road trip!

We packed up the Hilux, and in convoy with colleagues Ben and Daniela and their 4 lads, our first day's journey got us to Nazca, where we lodged for a couple of days.  Nazca, of course, is most famous for its geoglyphs -- enormous designs drawn into the desert surface centuries ago by the now vanished 'Nazca culture'.  We had seen some of these last year while on the way to pick up our daughter Jocelyn from Lima (there is a high viewing tower outside Nazca), so instead Kerry, Megan and I trooped about 20 kms out of town to see a partially-excavated ancient cemetery.

The dead were buried wrapped up in a bundle, and seated upright.  As you can see, the person in the photo above had an impressive set of dreadlocks, all preserved in the arid desert climate.

From Nazca we drove up to the 'Kawai' campsite, about 1 hour south of Lima, where we had our annual SIM conference/ retreat for about 5 days.  This gave us the chance to catch up with the rest of the SIM team from other parts of Peru, and this year's speaker encouraged us from Psalm 119 with some great insights into the chapter.

Ben and tribe headed back south to Arequipa, while we Fischers pointed the Hilux north towards Cajamarca, via the coastal city of Trujillo.  North of Lima there is the 'Fortress of Paramonga', another pre-Inca site.  We climbed to the top and took in the lush countryside of the surrounding river plain.

We stayed in Trujillo for a couple of days, and (of course) visited yet another pre-Inca site.  There are many old mud brick pyramids dotted along the coast and in the river valleys.  This one is called 'El Brujo' (translated, 'the wizard').  Because most of these pyramids went through stages of development over the centuries of their use, excavations have been able to reveal the superbly well-preserved ealier pyramids still inside the weathered outer structure.

Like many of these 'pyramid cultures' of the Americas (e.g. the Aztecs of Mexico), human sacrifice (typically of captured enemy warriors, it seems) was practiced.  In the picture above you can see the main figure holding the head of a decapitated victim.  On a nearby part of the 'El Brujo' site, burial pits containing the bones of hundreds of sacrifical victims have been excavated.

Trujillo is also well-known for its surfing culture -- but using traditional 'boards' made out of bundles of reeds:

After Trujillo it was on to Cajamarca -- a most significant city in the history of Peru.  It was here, in a terrifying and bold move, that the conquistador Francisco Pizarro captured the Inca emperor Atahualpa.  Now being held hostage, and realising that the Spaniards were particularly interested in gold, Atahualpa offered to fill a room with gold to buy his freedom.  This was duly done, but by then the Spaniards were convinced (so they said) that Atahualpa had been plotting against them, and so they then executed him on the charge of treason.

The room in which Atahualpa was held prisoner survives to this day, close to the centre of the city:

Some other photos from around Cajamarca during our stay there:

After Cajamarca we headed south to visit the national park of Huascarán -- the highest mountain in Peru.  We wound our way through stunning mountain scenery and beautiful little villages, driving along tortuous roads with innumberable hairpin bends -- some so tight that a 3-point turn was needed.  After a long day's drive we were only about 1 hour short of Tauca, our stop for the night before reaching Huascarán, when we were confronted with this:

This landslide wasn't going to be cleared overnight, so with only about a week left of our time off, Mike had to pull off a 15-point turn (estimate only) and we pointed the Hilux back the way we had come.  Maybe we'll get to see Huascarán another time ;-)  This turned out to be the first forced change of route for the trip -- but all it did was reveal yet more wonders of this spectacular country:

Old Inca terraces in the morning sun:

Video footage of driving Andean roads:


Then we turned south and started heading back home to Arequipa.  We went to pass through Ica (on the way to Nazca) but the protesters there had barricaded the highway, so we had to take our second forced detour: through the desert of the Paracas national park.  Once again the Hilux (by now nicknamed 'Burrito', or 'little donkey') acquitted itself magnificently, coping with the sandy tracks across the dunes and taking us through the breathtaking desert valleys.  We even saw flamingos in the saltwater lagoons along the ocean's edge!

We managed to slip around to the south of Ica and then it was on to Nazca, our last stop before home.  Because of all the protests and blockades which have been going on for weeks and weeks now, it was impossible to find diesel in Nazca.  So we decided to keep on heading south, in the hope that we'd find a more remote grifo (service station) with some diesel to spare.  On we drove, watching the fuel gauge needle dropping lower and lower, until it was at about 1/8... at which point we were seriously considering just stopping in the next coastal town and camping on the beach.

But then at a town called Tupac Amaru (named after another Inca emperor) we found this grifo receiving a fresh load of fuel:

Well that was a relief!  So, with landslides, blockades and fuel shortages behind us, it was on to Camana, the last coastal town before heading inland to Arequipa.  Just one snag: the blockade in Camana had not been removed, as we'd been led to believe.  So we spent a tense 30 minutes or so waiting with unbelievably long columns of trucks, to see if the police could get things open again.  Thankfully they did!  The police in Peru generally have a bad public reputation, but at times like this everyone is grateful for how skilfully they handle these worked-up protesters.

So we got back home with a filthy Hilux and a much greater understanding and appreciation of Peru: its history, its geography, its people, its needs.  And Megan was thrilled to see the cats Princesa and Ozzy again.

Now we turn our minds again to helping meet the training needs of pastors here.


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