Approaching the End of a Long Vacation

This is our last full day in Gatlinburg....this year. We walked the main drag of Gatlinburg, did some (MORE) souvenir shopping for the kids and grandkids, and ate dinner in town.

It's such a blessing to be married not only to a smokin' hot woman, but also to someone who's a joy to spend time with.

We've been away from home for almost three weeks--since May 11! Never done that before, I don't think. We've been to the southern hemisphere and back, seen Cusco and Machu Pichu, Saqsayhuaman and other Incan sites, crossed the Urubamba (which feeds the Amazon). We cleaned teeth and cut hair for hundreds of people. We have met and come to know so many beautiful people, new friends, many of whom live on an annual income of $800 or so a a society with no welfare or Medicare. We drank a lot of Coca tea and sweet tea. We ate alpaca. I ate--what was it?--Granadilla, that fruit with edible seeds that look like fish eggs.

We never got sick. Never got lost. Never got robbed or cheated. We gave away a little money, and tipped a LOT! I gave my first lesson and preached my first sermon to be translated into Spanish. We hiked to Grotto Falls with Aubrey, Kevin, and Rick. We enjoyed every moment. And are ALMOST ready to go back to work! :)

Just the Two of Us

Aubrey and Kevin left us Monday, and Rick left today. So for the rest of the week it's just the two of us. We're having a fine time, going to the bookstore and Dixie Stampede Thursday. Yesterday we discovered the Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort of Gatlinburg, which is where we plan to stay next year, hopefully with the whole family!

OCD Crops Up, Even on Vacation

Saw this t-shirt in a Gatlinburg shop today. It will surprise no one who knows me, but I can't stand it when printed materials (billboards, magazine ads, headlines, t-shirts, whatever) contain spelling and grammatical errors.

In case you're wondering, it SHOULD read: "Better to have loved and lost, THAN to have spent the rest of my life with that psycho." Made me wanna post a sign next to it: "Better to wear this old ratty t-shirt I'm wearing THAN to give my money to people who can't be bothered to proofread."

Gatlinburg and Grotto Falls

It is soooooo nice to be here in Gatlinburg with Aubrey, Kevin, and Rick! To be showered, teeth brushed, had good American (Starbucks) coffee....ahhhhh!

Out the door of our condo, we've met a little friend everyone but me calls "Ricky Raccoon." I don't understand. His name is Rocky. Why can't they see that?

After everyone showered and dressed, we headed into the Smoky Mountains National Park and drove the Roaring Fork Motor Trail to the trailhead for Grotto Falls, about a six-mile round-trip hike to the falls and back. I LOVE the Smokies. Even after the grandeur of Machu Pichu, there's still nothing like the beauty and tranquility of these woods. Things just feel right in the Smokies, for me. I feel more like myself when I'm there.

Back in the U.S.A.

Home sweet home. After thirty-one hours straight of travel, from 11:30 a.m. Friday when we left our hotel in Cusco to 8:30 p.m. tonight (Saturday), when we arrived at the condo in Gatlinburg, we are so glad to be back in the U.S., and even more so to be back with Aubrey and Kevin and Rick for the weekend!

How to Survive a Ten-Hour Layover in Lima

We survived! Ten hours in the Lima airport between our flight from Cusco and our flight to Atlanta. It actually wasn't too bad at all, not nearly as bad as I had expected. The keys:

10. Surrender all illusions of control. Control is an unrealistic expectation for air travelers.

9. Get a free luggage cart and (instead of paying something like $5 an hour (US) for a luggage locker), find a spot to camp out in the food court with your luggage.

8. Take turns browsing the shops while your spouse watches the luggage. Listen to every music sample on the CD kiosk. Buy a couple Mac/iPhone magazines--in English, no less! Sniff the leather in the leather shop. Pick up some Starbucks. Find a store that sells Diet Mountain Dew, baby!

7. Get your wife a shampoo and blow dry, and a manicure at the spa in the terminal. That'll kill a couple hours. Then get a manicure and pedicure--and shave!--yourself at the spa in the terminal, for a total of $30 (US).

6. Read.

5. Exchange any Peruvian currency you have left.

4. Give money away. The money exchange people won't exchange coins anyway, so survey the people in the airport and find children, service employees, etc., you can give your money to.

3. Eat. There's a McDonald's, Papa John's, and Dunkin Donuts in the terminal. Have at it.

2. Get in line at the check-in counter two-and-a-half hours before your flight is scheduled to depart (they won't let you check into a flight until two hours before departure time), to check your bags and feel amazingly light and free for the last couple hours.

1. Pray. For everything you can think of. For people you observe. For the people you left behind. For the flights ahead. For your friends and family back home. And more. The airport chapel seemed to be functioning as more of a chat room for a few men, maybe employees, I dunno, but it was nothing special anyway. So prayer walking, prayer journalling, and other forms of praying were the order of the day. After all, there is no more constructive way to spend a ten-hour layover, in Lima or anywhere, than to get some face time with God!

Machu Pichu, Baby!

We saw Machu Pichu today. Words fail.

Amazing. Beautiful. Hot. Exhausting.

We left Cusco at 4:30 a.m. in a car. With a maniac at the wheel. We had to dodge stones, big and little, scattered in the roadway every so often by the strikers of the previous two days. But he got us to the train JUST on time; we boarded at Ollantaytambo station, around 6 or 6:15. Then an hour and a half of train ride, through absolutely beautiful country. When we thought we had arrived at Machu Pichu, we hadn't. We got onto a bus, and it took us up the mountain for 20 minutes or so. Then we thought we were at Machu Pichu. We weren't. We joined our group and our guide led us up roughly a bajillion steps to the top, where this sight greeted us:

But that was just the beginning. Within a few minutes, our guide took us to the point where we could take this view:

No matter how iconic it is, no matter how many photos I've seen before, it's nonetheless breathtaking to see it in person. Sheesh. Did I mention that words fail?

Machu Pichu (the phrase means, "Old Peak") is one of the most familiar symbols of the Inca Empire.The Incas started building it around AD 1430, but it was abandoned roughly a hundred years later, at the time of the Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire. Though the Spaniards never laid eyes on the site (apparently never even knew about it), the Incas abandoned it to move further away from the conquistadors. It was "discovered" in 1911 by Hiram Bingham, an American historian.

The guide said no more than eight hundred people lived in Machu Pichu at its peak. Though other theories have been advanced, he said it was a sort of university for noble Incas...they were sent there to be educated in the traditions and teachings of the Incas. It seems so strange that it was so relatively small, and its lifetime as a city was so short. It's just too majestic and impressive to be such a modest flash-in-the-pan, as cities and civilizations go.

But the accomplishment of those who built it is a monument. The stonework is breathtaking in quality AND in scope. I mean, look at the terraces they built, stone by stone:

They go on and on. And they've lasted most of a millenium (in fact, farmers throughout Peru--in Arequipa, for example--still use the terraces AND the irrigation canals the Incas created!).

Those Incas sure were hardy types, I'll tell you that: climbing step after step, even up to an archaeological platform, said our guide, on the highest peak (some of our group took the trek up there....I would have gone, too, if it hadn't been so...vertical). And the Incan trail--oh, my (you can actually see the trail in the upper left portion of the photo above, if you can look closely enough). I would have loved to have hiked to the gates of Machu Pichu (the two flat-topped columns in the far upper left in the pic below, in which you can likewis discern the Incan trail, slicing the top third of the photo), but Robin was tired...and I didn't want to leave her waiting the hour or two it would have taken....and, okay, I was tired, too.

Instead, we rode the bus back down the mountain to the Hanaqpachu Inn for lunch by the Urubamba River (pic below is the view from our table), and then shopped for souvenirs until our train left.

An exhausting day, but so exciting and rewarding, even after a total two hours in a car, four-and-a-half hours by train, an hour in a bus, and a few hours of walking up and down steep stone stairways. And, all that to travel a mere fifty miles from Cusco, when it's all said and done.

What a blessing this day--this whole trip has been! Even in the midst of this tribute to an ancient culture, a people who worshiped nature, and who even today inspire many to emulate their religion, it was impossible to escape the grandeur of Yahweh's Creation! It reminded me of the juxtaposition we witnessed yesterday when we saw a statue of Christ (modeled after the Rio de Janeiro statue) overlooking Cusco a stone's throw from the Sacred Valley:

Maravilla del Mundo

We were not disappointed by our tour of Cusco today. We began at the Santo Domingo Convent, which actually houses one of the ancient and sacred sites of the Incas, Qorikancha ((from the Quechua words meaning "Golden Courtyard"). Originally named Inti Kancha ("Temple of the Sun"), this was the most important temple in the Inca Empire, dedicated primarily to Inti, the Sun God. The walls and floors were once covered in sheets of gold and silver, and the courtyard was filled with golden statues. The Church of Santo Domingo was built on the site, using the ruined foundations of the temple that was flattened by the Spanish in the seventeenth century; while earthquakes in 1560 and 1860 (I think) destroyed colonial structures, the Incan construction survived fabulously.

We proceeded next to the Cathedral of Cusco, on the main square. On the way there, we encountered a couple children who obviously wanted us to take their picture and pay them for we did. Then I noticed the mother and an infant on the other side of the alley and so took their picture....and paid them.

We couldn't take photos inside the cathedral, so had to content ourselves with the exterior.

But it was fascinating, from the solid silver of the main altar to the stories of the Inca workmen who incorporated their nature-worship themes into the art and sculpture and design of the cathedral's interior (like the Virgin Mary statue robed in the shape of a mountain, and the black Christ--"Lord of the Earthquake"--who resembles the native people, not the Spaniards).

From the cathedral, we rode to the famous "Saqsayhuaman" (pronounced much like "sexy woman," and a woman we met on the tour could not quite get it right, habitually calling the place, "Sexy Mama"), the sacred valley of the Incas, with monolithic stone constructions on two peaks flanking a broad valley.

I hiked to the top of one of the hills, and from there the view is not only breathtaking, but the design of Saqsayhuaman, perhaps shaped to resemble lightning, is much clearer.

The Sacred Valley is the site, every June (around the summer solstice) of a "Festival of the Sun," replicating the Incan rites and attended in droves by nature-lovers and pantheists and others interested in nature religions.

We also visited Tambomachay (or "Baths of the Inca")...

and Q'enqo, similarly striking sites of Incan construction:

In addition to sitting on the "throne" at Q'enqo, it was fun slipping through the narrow passage in the rock there, too. Reminded me of Hezekiah's tunnel in Jerusalem. Except it wasn't underground. And there was no spring running through it. And it wasn't pitch black. And it was in Peru, not Israel. But other than that, it was JUST like it.

Cusco! (May 20, 2009)

We made it to Cuzco! Flew out of Arequipa at 6:40 a.m., stopped in Juliaca to pick up more passengers and landed in Cuzco around 8:30 a.m. We checked into our hotel (the Hotel Villa de la Hermoza; the above photo is the Pachachuteq Monument, just around the corner from our hotel), had breakfast, and then headed out to walk to the city center....but after about half a block, decided we were too tired and too winded (our altitude nearly doubled, from Arequipa's 7,000 feet to Cuzco's approx. 12,000 feet). So we headed back to the hotel and laid down for an early siesta.

After showers, we headed back out to walk the Avenidas el Sol, the main street of the city (if you look real close at the photo below, you'll notice a motorbike parked in the CENTER lane of the street....that's how they roll in Cuzco. The parking is in the center lane, not against the curb. Both directions, too).

We stopped and sat on a bench by the beautiful gardens in the shadow of the Santo Domingo convent.

Then we continued to the main square of the city, the Plaza de Armas....

where we sat for a half hour or more before enjoying a wonderful dinner at the Inka Grill.

Robin and I both tasted alpaca for the first time, in our appetizer. After dinner, we browsed the shops around the square, asking for vicuna, and eventually found one out-of-the-way shop that had only one pair of gloves and one matching (small) scarf....for $100 (US) for the gloves, and $300 for the scarf! We put them back, but did find a pair of alpaca gloves for Miles at that shop.

On the walk back to the hotel, we stopped into an evangelical church service on the Avenidas el Sol, and sang "Here I Am to Worship" in Spanish, and a couple other songs we didn't know, before leaving early and coming back to the hotel.

So we've come this far. The city tour tomorrow should be fun, and then it's Machu Pichu on Thursday!

Second Clinic

This was our last day in Arequipa (me and Robin; the rest of the team will remain to do a few more clinics). Our clinic today was in Alto Cayma, after breakfast with the team at Hotel Yanahuara.

The clinic was held in a school run by a pastor, and a whole lot of school kids lined up for cleanings and haircuts.

It was another day of joy and heartbreak, giving and receiving. I managed to snap a few shots of Deanna Maxwell cleaning a mother's teeth, while her little girl just wanted to see what was going on in there! It was a sweet moment.

The day ended with a lovely birthday celebration for Luis, the church administrator. His son, who is in chef's school, prepared an amazing meal for us all, and Fio served it in style!

Robin and I leave before dawn tomorrow for Cuzco. Right now the strike is still on, but the word is that it does not affect our flight to Cuzco nor our transportation from the airport to the hotel. So we've extended our stay by one day, paid $600+ to change our flights home from Thursday to Friday, so we still should get to see Machu Pichu. Cuzco, at least.

The Lord's Day in Arequipa

What a privilege it was to preach this morning in Restoracion Church, the "city church" Don and Christie founded in Arequipa. I spoke on "How to Get Back Up When Life Knocks You Down," from 2 Corinthians 4:8-18....and went 40-45 minutes! Yikes! I didn't intend to go that long. I had asked Robin to give me a high sign when I needed to wrap it up...and she did, for a solid ten minutes, she said! I never saw her. Praise God, nobody ran me out of town on a rail.

After church, we had lunch and lay down for siestas, and then headed to the Seventh of June pueblo for a children's service, which started outside with singing, and then reassembled inside, where both the teens from Villa del Triunfo and the women presented a dance and Robin gave an object testimony.

The day's worship concluded at the Villa church, where we worshiped, the women and youth reprised their dance offerings, and Don presented graduation certificates to those who had completed the year-long discipleship class.
We caught two parades in the course of this day, one in the morning on our walk through the Yanahuara Square to the hotel (we also walked about 50 minutes from the hotel to the city church in Parcapata!), with uniforms and flags. Don thought it might be something like flag day, but someone told our team it happens every Sunday. The other parade was led by the Catholic priest (and statue of the virgin--whatever virgin that village honors) as they walked from house to house through a pueblo between Villa and Seventh of June, blessing the homes along the way, from all appearances. It blocked the street so we had to wait until the homes were blessed and the crowd then emptied into a festival in the village park area.

First Clinic (May 16, 2009)

Our first clinic was today in Villa del Triunfo. Vic, Dianna, and I cleaned teeth, Dee shampooed and cut hair, and Robin and Linda cut hair, all day long--sixty-two heads, I think the count was! (Oh, and as pictured, Fio, the daughter of the church's administrator, Luis, and women's leader, Yvonne, also pitched in later in the day when she got off work!) And over 140 people had their teeth cleaned.

We found out tonight that there is a strike scheduled in Cuzco and Machu Pichu for Tuesday and Wednesday, which would prevent us from being able to fly to Cuzco Tuesday as we had planned and see Machu Pichu on Wednesday. Don is working with the travel agent to see what we can do, maybe stay an extra day and do Machu Pichu on Thursday. We'll see.

Arequipa (May 15, 2009)

Our Cobblestone team arrived safe and sound this morning! It was so great to see everyone! We joined them for lunch and then went together to the pueblo to orient everyone and get set up for our first clinic, tomorrow.

Afterward we all ate together at a chicken rotisserie place. Looks like Deanna was hiding behind Warren.

After that late dinner, I was so proud of Linda Lance who, though exhausted from a long day-and-a-half of travel, returned to Don and Christie's home with them to cut and highlight Giannina's hair. Giannina had been so looking forward to this, and Linda was so gracious in meeting her heart's desire!

I played a crucial role, too. I was in charge of dogsitting for Sheila, Don and Christie's boxer pup. It was a heavy responsibility, but I discharged it well. 

Arequipa (May 14, 2009)

Today we went to the market with Don and Christie, to buy shampoo and supplies for the clinics, as well as a pair of shoes for one of the sponsored children. Don snapped a picture of me next to a pig carcass (I'm on the right).

The people here win me over. Such sweet spirits. I love the custom of the children and women of greeting everyone with a welcome and a kiss when they arrive, and then usually "ciao!" and a kiss when they leave. And such beautiful faces, usually caramel complexions.

I deeply appreciate Don and Christie's ministry here. They work tirelessly, and their efforts are transformative in the lives of their people.

We ate with Don and Christie at Maya del Sol (I think) restaurant, in the courtyard under an umbrella while enjoying a trio of musicians, and a couple who performed traditional Peruvian dances. Lovely.

I also had the privilege this evening of accompanying Don and Gianni (pictured with his wife, Giannina, below) on visitation in the Villa del Triunfo.

The first home we visited was two block rooms with a small open passage between. When we arrived, the woman was cooking on an open fire. We sat out there while Don and Gianni talked with the man of the house. Then we walked around (it seemed) to the other side of the hill to the house where Juana (I think) lives with her two daughters, maybe six years old and eighteen months. It was a one-room, concrete floor, corrugated tin-roofed house, with one bed, one small table, one chair, and a two-burner camp stove.

Then we went back to the church and I talked briefly with Gianni while Don worked in his office. At 7:30 began the youth meeting, and three beautiful teens attended. Simultaneously, Robin went with Christie to the English class.