Fischers in Peru

You know you're in a different country when...

12 Jun 2022

We've been here about 9 months now, and still the surprises keep on popping up.  When we were taking a break a few weeks ago in Mollendo down on the coast, this pedestrian crossing sign caught our eye:

The sign reads, "For you it's a minute, for me it's my life," i.e. please show a bit of patience, give way to the dog (?).  We're still wondering what rights actual pedestrians might have!

Then there's this arrangement just down the road from where we live, which is a sure sign that the local goverment's powers to resume land for public works are certainly limited:

That's right... the local govt. wanted to put a road and footpath through -- but apparently these property owners wouldn't budge.  So we've had to do this many times: the footpath ends, we clamber down to the road, make sure we're not about to get creamed by a vehicle bowling down the hill, then duck around the corner, clamber back up to the footpath, and continue on our merry way!

Our third (and final) surprise for this post is the soup we shared yesterday with the church that meets at Uchumayo.  See if you can guess what part of the sheep is visible in Megan's bowl:

That's right: "caldo de cabeza de cordero", otherwise known as sheep's head soup!  As they say around these parts, "¡Provecho!" (= Bon appetite)  And for the record, Megan polished off that soup completely, sheep's ear and all.  She's clearly a better Peruvian than her lily-livered parents ;-)

Visit to Chucurana

06 Jun 2022

Well it's Monday... the day after the weekend before.  And what a full-on weekend it's been: another trip out into the sierra with Ben to join in one of the ETE* gatherings, this time in Arequipa's Department of Tisco.  The small settlement where we all gathered is called Chucurana, which I just couldn't find on the map, but once we got back I managed to retrace our journey on Google Maps and here it is:

Anyway, after loading up the Hilux we choofed out of town on Friday morning, going via Chivay in the Colca canyon, then on to the township of Tisco itself, before heading off into the Andean backblocks to find this place that wasn't on the map (Google doesn't know everything, you see; but the locals know all about it).  The town of Tisco is quite remote, and only has about a population of a few hundred. 

Below: the cathedral in Tisco.

So why meet in Chucurana?  Because it is a central location to which everyone could travel.  They came on foot, on horseback, on donkeyback, in tired old (and I mean old) Toyota Coronas, and (in a couple of cases) by 4WD.

Below: waiting patiently in the parking lot.

Below: meeting just before lunch on the Saturday.  The students prefer to pose for photographs holding their Bibles or text books, as this is a way of proclaiming their faith even in a photo.

Below: mountain range outside Chucurana.  Notice the ice on the mountainside; the nights here fall well below zero.  Ben and I slept fully clothed, sleeping bags, thick wool blankets, beanies etc.  The locals simply use alpaca skins for mattresses, and a few blankets; clearly they're made of tougher stuff than Ben and me!

On Saturday morning everyone went off visiting surrounding houses and settlements to share the gospel with whoever they could find.  With the ETE director and another student, Ben and I took the Hilux out to a small farmlet: a stone-walled hut and a corral full of alpacas.

Below: house and corral seen from the top of the rocky outcrop behind.

While up on the outcrop, it wasn't long before the usual wildlife started appearing; you just have to sit quietly for a couple of minutes.  Viscachas are abundant.  Here's a baby viscacha, sunning itself on the rock:

Adult viscacha, below.  Definitely one of the coolest tails in the animal kingdom.

And while up on the outcrop, what did I find lying on the ground surface but fragments of an obsidian spear head (below).  Hunting around these parts has clearly been going on for a long time!

The ETE meetings were wound up with a church service on Sunday morning.  We sang and prayed in Spanish and Quechua, Ben preached from Acts 16, I gave a short word of encouragement and greetings on your behalf from Australia, and then the brothers and sisters spent some time sharing their struggles and needs for prayer. 

There were some heartbreaking moments as stories of suffering and persecution were heard.  Please keep the believers of Tisco in your prayers.  One church pastor has been hit with several vexatious lawsuits at once by another villager; the machinery of shame can be a devastating weapon in small communities especially.  Please pray for justice for our brother (Luke 18:7-8) in particular, and for the continued growth of the church in the Departamento de Tisco.

*ETE is the Peruvian equivalent of TEE, 'Theological Education by Extension'.

Cars, licences, and 'The System'

11 May 2022

Well as they say, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy -- and Mike too.  So a 2-3 months back I managed to snaffle a 1967 Ford Fairlane here in Arequipa.  Much, much cheaper and easier getting one here in South America than Australia, that's for sure ;-)

And what a magnificent tank it is!  It is so utterly Peruvian it's ridiculous... no end of small fixes, codges, hacks, work-arounds... call them what you will, but in the 55 years since rolling off the production line (probably in Mexico or Argentina; I'm still trying to find someone who can decipher the chassis number) it has been coaxed along with the bare minimum of expense.  So, when a fuse blows, what do you do?  Get some thin copper wire wound between the terminals.  Or when the indicator stalk breaks off, what do you do?  Just mount a switch on the dashboard.  And when all the other things like horn, windscreen squirter, hazard lights, etc. drop off the perch... yes, more switches on the dashboard!  And if the heater dies, yes just rip it out and throw it away.  A minimalist South American-built Ford is my dream car!

Yes, the original 289 V8 is once again purring like a Peruvian panther.  As you can see in the shot above, I had to pull the water pump for a recon. job.  The ignition system was a bit ropey too, but I've found THE shop here in Arequipa which stocks most of the critical bits for old American tanks, so we're in clover.

But there's no point in having a tank if one doesn't have a licence to drive the thing, is there.  So yesterday saw me going for my driven test, the last step in getting my Peruvian drivers licence.  Did we mention that things are very different here in Peru?  So this driving test is run on a sort of mini course, complete with tiny little roads and tiny little intersections.  And you drive tiny little cars (some Chevrolet the size of a roller skate) and have to park them in impossibly tiny little parking spaces.

Which of course was my undoing yesterday.  The parking thing is the very last hurdle you have to clear -- and I was doing well until that last hurdle.  Now in my 4 hours of lessons prior to the test, not once did I touch any of the cones or barriers.  But suddenly, at the very last moment, I touched one and a rather unkind and savage alarm went off... and it was all over red rover.  Grrr... now I have no way of proving this, but I am fairly sure that the parking space I was directed to was significantly smaller than the others.  Which, I am told, is typical; the system is designed to fail people most of the time.  So you have to go and pay for another test on another day, etc.  So I'm booked in for next week.  <sigh>

Well, all play and no work makes Jack a frivolous boy.  So after the failed ordeal yesterday at getting my licence, it was off to the Tuesday night lecture at the theol. college with SIM colleague Ben Marx.  Ben had coaxed me into preparing a 15-minute mini-lecture on an aspect of the resurrection.  So I delivered my first little Spanish spiel to the students on 1 Cor. 15: 3-5, exploring how Jesus' resurrection "on the third day" is "according to the Scriptures".  I mean, there's no Bible verse per se that says that the Messiah will rise on the third day.  So in what sense is the third day dealt with in the Old Testament Scriptures?  Well, you can have a crack at answering that yourself, and in a future post I'll share the guts of what I said to the students.

In the meantime, let's rejoice in this: that the resurrection of Jesus the Christ is indeed "according to the Scriptures"; that the Grand Expectation of all the OT Scriptures has been fully met and fulfilled in Jesus.  Christ is risen; and so we know that our work in the Lord is not in vain (1 Cor. 15:58).  And that means it's GAME ON!

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.


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