Fischers in Peru

What would you be prepared to do for a living?

09 Apr 2022

So, you find yourself in a big city, with no job.  There are no unemployment benefits, no 'safety net' -- and that's without considering the fact you're in the country illegally.  What to do?

Here in Arequipa, this Bolivian guy simply set himself up as a one-man circus in the intersection.  When the lights turned red, he'd quickly string a rope across the intersection, and... well, why don't we let the video do the talking.

And the aim?  To get the occasional coin from passing motorists!

10 Days in the Cotahuasi Canyon

01 Mar 2022

A week or two before (finally!) getting our carnets, our colleagues Brad and Gina Shaw invited us to stay with them in the Cotahuasi Canyon.  From Colorado, they have been living in the canyon for about 20 years now: discipling Christian leaders, helping establish congregations in the villages throughout the canyon, setting up a Christian radio station for the region, and much more.

So after 5 months of difficulty in getting our carnets, we were ready for a change of scenery!  On Feb. 15th we took the 8-9 hour bus trip to the canyon.  This left at about 7pm, and arrived in Cotahuasi in the dead of the night.  (Why don't the buses travel during the day?  Because most people don't want to lose a day's work while travelling.  They would rather work all day, travel all night on the bus, then get straight into another day's work at the other end.  Think on that!)

Below: Half-way stop at Chuquibamba.  The five stars on the front of our bus (left) belied the fact that the toilet was almost full to the brim, many of the seats were broken, and the ventilation system wasn't working.

As you'll gather from the photos, staying in Cotahuasi is a feast for the eyes (at least for Australians, whose concept of a mountain is more like a mere Andean foothill).  You just can't do the size of the scenery justice with a camera; no matter how many squigapixels your memory card has, you won't be able to suck enough of the view into the lens to capture the breathtaking scale of it all.  You will simply have to take our word for it, or travel there yourself one day ;-)

[Hot tip: if you want to look at a bigger version of any of photos, simply right-click the image and select 'Open image in new tab'... or something like that, depending on your operating system.]

Above:  Megan taking a breather at the side of the trail.

It wasn't all just fun play; it was fun work, too.  Or at least work that took us out of the comfort zone, and produced enough adrenalin to make it feel like fun!  Mike gave a few short Bible talks in Spanish to congregations in villages further up the canyon, and also back in the big smoke of Cotahuasi (pop. approx. 1500, we guess).  Trying not only to convey things in Spanish, but also in ways which would make sense to people living in these hard and remote areas, really was a challenge.  Mike dares to think his talks may have been moderately intelligible to the locals.

Above:  Digging into Sunday lunch after the church service in Cotahuasi.

Every weekday morning began with a time of Bible study and prayer with the Quechua brothers and any of their wives who happened to be with them at the time.  Kerry attended a few ladies' Bible studies with Gina and the rest of the women. 

Above:  Morning Bible study in Cotahuasi.  (L-R: Mike, Santiago, Faustino, and Camilo.)

Megan enjoyed wandering with us along the town's main street, browsing the shops (happily discovering a great range of colourful phone cases for her Samsung A20), and making friends with Benji the guard dog.  Kerry helped Gina in the kitchen, cooking meals for the various study groups.

Alas, not all went well for Kerry in Cotahuasi!  Aorita, the feisty green parrot from the jungle (above), enjoyed fanging Kerry's finger a beauty.  Kerry also nearly scored a scorpion sting when reaching for her towel off the rail in the bathroom; thankfully the critter's sting glanced off the side of her fingernail and only lightly scratched the skin!

Below:  The danger is real, folks...

Our visit to the village of Suni, about 2 hours' drive via 4x4 up the canyon, was visually stunning.  A torrent was thumping down the river (summer is the wet season here), waterfalls were cascading down the 1500m-high canyon walls, and everywhere were near-vertical slopes with the narrow, rough road carved carved into them.  It was easy to feel queasy looking down to the river as Brad carefully drove the Toyota alongside what were, at times, sheer drops.  Megan took it all in her stride while listening to her fave tunes in her headphones.

We arrived in Suni after dark on Sunday night, and lodged in a room on the church property.  (Many evangelical churches in the rural areas of Peru maintain a room or two for visiting teachers.)  On Monday morning we joined the church service; all the songs were sung in Quechua, most of the chatting was done in Quechua, and then our lunch itself (below) was quite Quechua too: potato and pumpkin soup flavoured with herbs and topped off with a strip of dried alpaca meat.

Above:  Megan making friends in the main street of Suni.

Below:  One of the super-hospitable Quechua ladies roasting corn as part of our lunch.  The room was fairly thick with smoke from the cooking fire!

Below:  Moon sinking behind the mountain peaks just outside Suni.

Spuds R Us

13 Feb 2022

Peru is known as the land of the potato -- and a visit to any supermarket or open air market will prove it.  The number of varieties that have been produced here over the centuries is amazing.  Here's the Mercado (Market) de San Camillo, Arequipa, with mounds of potatoes of all shapes, colours and sizes for sale in the stalls to the right-hand side of the photo.

Just the other week we noticed a most amazing and colourful variety... and we just had to buy a kilo to try:

Isn't that just the most unbelievable looking spud imaginable?!  We asked the vendor at the stall what you do with them, and she said that they're best simply sliced up and put in a stew.  So that's what we did -- and the result?  Well, this is going to sound a bit daft... but they tasted VERY potato-ish!  The potato flavour was just so intense.

In other news, allow us to introduce two new additions to our household here: Ozzy (grey) and Princess (tabby), brother and sister dynamic duo who were found dumped on the street, and rescued by a friend.  This mischievous pair are convinced that Megan is their No. 1 Human, because those other two spent the first week shoving worming medication down their throats!

Salinas Moche

01 Jan 2022

Two weeks after the exhausting trip to Maqueruyo (I spent all of Monday zonked out on the couch or in bed), I accompanied Ben on a similar ETE gig to another high-altitude town, this time the pueblo of Salinas Moche.

Road between Arequipa and Salinas Moche

Above: Journey up the mountain side between Arequipa and Salinas Moche.  Roberto (ETE coordinator) is wisely taking a back seat.

Below: Ben checking out the main plaza, Sunday morning.  The place was absolutely deserted because the night before there had been a rip-snorting fiesta going until about 3:00am.  Note the Catholic church building with Moorish-inspired touches.  Maybe Spain isn't that far away after all?

Main Plaza, Salinas Moche

At 4300m, basically the same altitude as Maqueruyo, I was expecting another bout of altitude sickness and maybe another freezing night.  But thankfully my body seems to have begun adjusting to the altitude a bit, so the headaches and appetite loss weren't anywhere near as bad.  And the weather wasn't quite so cold, which really helped!

Herd of llama, Salinas Moche.

Above: Herd of llama on the outskirts of town.

Below: Winds whipping up the salt from the dry surface of the lake.

Salt storm, Salinas Moche.

As with the trip two weeks previously, the purpose was to encourage the ETE students in the region, organise next year's course of study, and generally just have a great excuse to get together.  Most of the students live in distant villages, so meetings like these give them the chance to socialise and enjoy fellowship together.

Below: Student receiving her grades for the year.

ETE student receiving her grades for the year.

For the people in these regions, Quechua is their first language.  And so most of the discussions, the teaching, and the meetings for the weekend were conducted in Quechua.  Naturally this included the music!  Here's a video of one of the songs from the Sunday morning service:


Below: Ben serving the drinks at morning tea.

Morning tea at Salinas Moche

Sunday after lunch we headed back to Arequipa.  A few ladies hopped aboard for drop-offs to their homes along the way:

Catching a ride home, Salinas Moche.

Lots of spectacular views on the way back down:

Volcano 'El Misti'


Trip to Maqueruyo

04 Dec 2021

Last weekend Ben Marx (fellow SIM team member) and I visited Maqueruyo, a fairly remote village about 8 hours' drive away.  As the crow flies, it's about 140km from Arequipa... but we haven't seen many crows around here, and even if there were they couldn't fly in a straight line.  Here's why:

The reason for the trip was to meet with and encourage the ETE (Spanish version of TEE, 'Theological Education by Extension') students at their annual gathering in the Tisco area.  Ben drove the 4WD, a reasonably tired old Nissan.  As it wasn't a turbo model, its power dropped off as the altitude increased.  But when driving through the Andes, it's always safer to go slower than faster; after all, you never know what is around the next bend, or about to bolt across the road in front of you.

We arrived in Maqueruyo late afternoon.  Some early rains meant that there was plenty of snow on the mountains around the village.  Here is Ben (below) with one of the Peruvian TEE teachers we picked up along the way.  The church in Maqueruyo celebrated its 60th anniversary on the weekend of our visit. 

At this altitude, it's only possible to raise alpacas; nothing else except hardy grasses, lichens and mosses will grow.  One of the challenges with farming alpacas in the Andes, though, is that they are preyed upon by Andean foxes.  What to do?  Get yourself a posse of large, tough dogs.  Here (below) we have Rambo (yes, that's his name), top dog in the village.  If all that matted hair on his tail bothered him, he never showed it.  There is no such thing as a dog kennel, because the farmers don't want the dogs loafing around during the bitterly cold nights.  No, you want them on patrol, sorting those foxes out.  Rambo & Co. do a pretty good job of that.

If you're keen, it's possible to play soccer at 4400m.  I wasn't that keen, so opted for the role of Maqueruyo FC photographer instead.  Most of these guys don't get to catch up that often, so flogging a ball around a rough and sloping field is a great way to get reacquainted!

Morning tea time: a good chance to chat and catch a few rays of sunshine (whenever they managed to poke through the clouds).  An alpaca had been butchered to feed everyone for the weekend.  So whether it was breakfast, lunch or dinner, we ate alpaca and potato soup -- varied with a few different ingredients such as herbs, pasta, and some sort of flour for thickener.  The wonderful hospitality of these Quechua brothers and sisters was humbling.

A couple of the kids who accompanied mum & dad (below).  Their cheeks are burned a reddy-brown by the cold atmosphere.

Purchasing the ETE textbooks for next year, and associated paperwork:

Two mums with their charges in the Sunday morning church service (below).  By this time I was well and truly suffering with altitude sickness: ripping headache, feeling a bit sick, some dizziness, and loss of appetite.  Ben wanted to know if I was going to die on him.  "If I do," I said, "just bury me in the village cemetery down the hill!"

The scenery on the way home was something else:

Just about home (below).  The volcanoes Misti (l) and Chachani (r), with Arequipa (at a much more manageable 2300m altitude) on the other side of them.

Next trip: another ETE shindig in the town of Salinas Moche on the 17th Dec.  A lot closer to Arequipa (45km ATCF) but still pretty high at 4300m.  Stay tuned!

Opportunity in Bolivia

13 Nov 2021

This week we had to leave Peru and re-enter, in order to reboot Megan's tourist visa, as the application process for Kerry's and my carnets (residency visas) is still in progress.  (Once we get those, then we can initiate the carnet application process for Megan, as our dependent.)

So, where to travel to?  We ended up doing a quick trip to Bolivia to visit our friends in Cochabamba, Australian CMS missionaries Adrian and Anita Lovell.  Well, in reality there was nothing that 'quick' about it; travelling with the ever-shifting COVID requirements is tricky and not a little stressful.  But we got back into Peru OK, and Migraciones granted Megan another 90 days for her tourist visa, the maximum allowable.  So we are grateful for that!

The main plaza ('Plaza de Armas de 24 Septiembre'), Cochabamba:

On the return trip we stayed in a cheap hotel in the old centre of La Paz, and before turning in for the night we took a bit of a wander around the streets.  A young girl came running out of one of the handicraft shops, entreating us to enter and take a look at all the stuff for sale.  We love these kind of shops, so she didn't have to twist our arms too much ;-)

While we were fossicking around, the girl ran off to fetch her mum.  The mother came in, took one look at Megan, and then exclaimed that she too had a daughter with Down Syndrome!  Folding back the hood of the pram in the corner, she plucked out her 10-month old bub.

A sad yet wonderful conversation followed, with Rosa* pouring out her heart over everything she's been through.  As soon as the baby was born, she told us, her husband blamed her for the baby's condition, and then he simply upped and left, leaving her to fend for herself and provide for her young daughter and the newborn.  She openly shared how in Bolivia (and we guess, by extension, Peru as well) people with Down Syndrome are treated like dirt, and how the mothers of these children are likewise looked-down upon and ostracised.

We spent the next hour or so talking, sharing our experiences with each other, and offering this hard-working and dedicated mother much-needed sympathy and encouragement.  Please pray for this family, that the Lord will open their hearts to the truth about Jesus, who offers the weary and heavy-laden true rest.  And pray that we might be able to continue encouraging Rosa (we have exchanged contact details), and giving that clear account of the hope that we have.

* Name changed.

Day trip around Chachani

01 Nov 2021

November 1 in Peru is a public holiday, so SIM team members Matthias Kullen and his wife Luz Marina took us for a trip around one of the volcanos adjacent to Arequipa, the awesome Chachani (6057 metres).  We took a picnic lunch with us and visited some hot springs en route.

Vicuñas were plentiful as we made our way across the altiplano.  The one on the left has been recently shorn; vicuñas have the finest wool of all Peru's camelids (the others are the llama, the alpaca, and the guanaco).

We also had the chance to fossick through some old ruins.  Judging by the corrals, it's been an alpaca herders' camp in years past.

On the cliffs behind the ruins, a movement caught my eye: a family of viscachas was watching me from above!  The viscacha is closely related to the chinchilla, and resembles a large grey rabbit with shortened ears and a long, curled tail.

At about 1:30pm we made it to the hot springs.  Being a public holiday, it was quite packed with families enjoying the great Peruvian outdoors!  A lovely place to wade, have lunch, and hear the songs of the abundant birdlife in the surrounding trees and thickets.

Renovation or resurrection?

31 Oct 2021

This afternoon we took a walk up to the supermarket "Franco" for supplies, and from there off up to the main drag "Avenida Ejército" for other stuff.

Along the way, what did we spy but this plastic surgery clinic:

The statue in the garden in front of the clinic was quite clear in proclaiming the types of transformation the clinic could provide:

It's pretty direct, isn't it?  Submit your body to the talented scalpels behind these walls, and you too can have the sculpted, classical physique you deserve.  No different to the Australian mindset, of course -- just advertised in a different way.

The human animal is the same the world over: we obsess over our bodies.  Yet only God can provide what we really need:

"So will it be with the resurrection of the dead.  The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. ...  And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man."  (1 Cor. 15:42-44, 49)

The lost vehicles of Arequipa

25 Oct 2021

If you're a keen spannerer like me, Peru definitely presents one with some interesting opportunities.  For many years I reckon this place was a bit like Cuba, ie. lots of old vehicles lovingly tended to and kept moving, because new vehicles were impossibly expensive or just downright unobtainable.  But in recent years this has changed; new Hyundais etc. are readily available and comparitively affordable, and so the old vehicles are now, for the most part, collecting dust by the side of the road.

The old International

So above we have an old International of some kind.  I honestly don't know where you'd go to find spares... but there are enough ingenious Peruvian mechanics around the place to help out if you got desperate.  Or what about this beauty:

Ford?  Chevy?  A mixture?

It says 'GM' on the cowling... but it has old Volkswagen wheels (I think), a flathead Ford V8, a Ford-branded tray, and Ford V8 badge on the grill.  If anything, a hybrid borne of necessity -- how COOL is that?!  And yes, that's some Combi wagon there on the other side of the street.

Anyway, watch this space.  I have already started assembling a basic set of tools.  At this point in the time my spanners are disgustingly clean; hopefully this sorry state of affairs will change!

It's the little things

05 Oct 2021

One of the things we really enjoy about Peru are the local eateries.  The BBQ chicken ("pollo a la brasa") is amazing!  Let's be honest, 1/4 chicken in Australia isn't much of a meal.  But here in Peru the things are closer to the size of turkeys, and so a 1/4 chicken is actually adequate!

Then there's the "chicharron de chancho" -- deep fried chunks of pork... and for lovers of dead pig, it doesn't get any better than this.  Of course it probably takes a week off your life span with every mouthful, but who cares... there's a resurrection coming and as the good apostle put it, "nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving".

Did you notice the nice little touch on the signage, though?  Given that the animals are being cooked up and eaten with gusto, they actually seem unfeasibly happy and cheerful!


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