Visit to Cota Cota
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.