Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Long Journey Home...

On Monday morning, we woke up early to confirm all the details for our long journey home. The tourist office in Puno was very helpful! We confirmed flights, found shuttles, and got some directions for around town. We found out on our first day in Peru that the one agency we used to book a few flights and bus rides was not always that accurate ( We arrived at the airport two hours before our first flight only to find out that it didn't exist and the next flight was not for five more hours! Luckily the AeroCondor people were incredibly helpful and switched us to another airline... we ran through the airport to catch our flight, setting off metal detectors, paying airport taxes, and scrambling across the tarmac. This time we found out that our flight was two hours later than expected! So, we had a few extra hours in Puno to look around.

We were blessed with incredibly beautiful weather... perfect for photography. The clouds were amazing and left Cathy and I gazing up and tripping over our feet much of the time.

Both Cathy and I have dozens of pictures of this cathedral on the central plaza (Plaza de Armas). It had incredibly intricate baroque detail on the outside. Within was quite sparse. Several caretakers were sweeping the wooden floors and moving pews following Sundays services.

Cathy, of course, also made friends with everyone in the square and outside the cathedral.

From the cathedral, we made our way to an internet cafe, grabbed some yogurt for lunch, stopped in another plaza to eat, and then headed for the Artisan's market near the lake.

After finding a few last minute gifts, we headed out to the pier for a last look at the lake.

Our journey home was interesting... to say the least. We made our way by shuttle to Juliaca, a much more industrial city about 45 minutes from Puno, to the international airport. Along the way we befriended Tom, a young man from Canada is was cutting his two month journey about a month short due to illness. His girlfriend had already flown home after the first week in Peru. This was not a good omen... as the bus wound its way up the mountainside out of Puno, my altitude sickness changed into something entirely different. Some 24-hour flu was apparently going through the tourists in Puno and hit me just as we began this journey. Luckily I did make it to bathrooms when needed and was able to sleep for most of the flights.

Of course, when we arrived in Lima our flight to the states was delayed for two hours. Our 11:30 pm red-eye became an early morning flight. I believe Jim was the one detained by security on this leg of the flight. I just had to pay a small fee since I had neglected to save the small piece of paper that I received in customs on the way into the country. We did board the plane in plenty of time... plenty of time for an emergency medical landing in Ecuador. Just an hour or so outside of Lima a woman began having heart palpitations and panic attacks. She was forced to leave the plane in Ecuador. Since we landed heavy with most of our fuel, we our plane had to be inspected before we could take off again. An hour and a half later, we were finally in the air to Houston.

By this time, Cathy was beginning to feel sick. Luckily she would have a few seats to lie down on for the flight to Chicago. Before that flight, though, we had to make our way through customs again and this time I was pulled aside to have my bags checked. I had bought a bag of quinua at a market in Aguas Calientes. Quinua is apparently a legume and some type of superfood that is incredibly healthy, but difficult to get through customs. The TSA people were going to sift through it all (it looks like rice) to make sure that there were no seeds or bugs. Unfortunately our next flight (we had already been rebooked twice due to delays) was about to take off... so, leaving my quinua behind we made our way to our final uneventful flight to Chicago.

It has been difficult being home... so much to transition back into. It is very hard to focus. Plus, there is so much to process from the trip and so little time to do so. I would prefer vacations that were less of a whirlwind, that involved some type of educational component, that were a bit more grounded in the reality of the place where I am visiting. I have come to the conclusion, though, that if I were to wait for the perfect travel experience I would never end up going anywhere. A whirlwind week in Peru is better than never experiencing that beautiful and at all.

I believe that living globally is important for me... I will never be able to live as a global Christian with a theology that truly reflects global Christianity (even if it is just a dim reflection) without experiencing other cultures and other parts of the world. Granted, you don't need to travel around the world for such experiences. And there is always the inherent danger of traveling as a consumer rather than one who is there to learn and experience. Experience itself can become a commodity for consumption rather than an opening up of oneself for change. Yet, as a tactile learner, I find that traveling like this leaves an indelible mark on me. Somehow geography becomes real and tangible... not just geographic placement on a map, but the relationship of one country to another, the geographic history of time and place, the topography and how that impacts economies and cultures. All of that becomes more real and lives more deeply within me through these experiences. For me, these travels are a tremendous gift, both expanding my understanding of the world and recognizing the limits of my own place within it.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Lake Titicaca

The name sounds better if you pronounce it like the locals... think Hebrew with the "c" in the back of the throat.

We arrived in Puno and headed to our hostel, El Manzano (The Apple). It was a true hostel, versus the small hotels we were staying in before. Small rooms surrounding an open courtyard with an apple tree. The bathroom was down the hall with limited hot water... turns out a bit more limited than we expected which would have been all right had the weather been a bit warmer. Did I mention that I wore most of my clothes everyday during the trip? Sweaters, sweatshirts, jackets, t-shirts... layers and layers. Long underwear to bed under flannel pajamas. Few of the rooms had heat and the ice cold shower did not help at all!

But I digress... we headed to the main square for dinner and a little blogging then an early night. We had another early morning ahead of us. A boat ride on the Lake Titicaca... the sacred lake of the Inkas and the highest navigatable lake in the world. The boat made its way out into the reeds that filled one portion of the lake. Slowly we made our way down an open channel until we came upon a lagoon surrounded by a small village of floating islands.

The Uros Islands are literally built upon the reeds in the middle of the lake. Layer upon layer of reeds laying a foundation for a village of reed huts and watch towers.

The islands originally served as a hideout from the Inkan forces that were conquering the area surrounding the lake. Our guide was intentional about reminded us that the Inkans were not the only people or even the first people to inhabit Peru. There were others before them and those on the Uros Islands are remnants of these people.

We stepped off the boat onto the spongy surface of the island. The women were in beautifully colorful outfits and welcomed us with open arms.

We received a short lecture on the history of the island. During the presentation, one of the women came over and sat next to me and began sewing a beautiful tapestry. She was so incredibly friendly. Where do they get that? The ability to reach out over and over again to us tourists who make our way into their homes to gawk, take pictures, buy trinkets, and consume their lives? Where do they get that? But they did... they opened their hearts and their homes. They were beautiful in that way. A hospitality that I have never possessed. I realize it is not as simple as that. We provide money for their economy... they gain as well as give. Yet still... I can learn from them.

From this first island, we boarded a reed boat to sail across the lagoon to one more small village.

A group of women and girls sang to us as we left the island. I realize it was a complete tourist fabrication, but it seemed magical nonetheless and sometimes I think allowing yourself live in the magical moment is not such a bad thing.

From there we sailed out for another 90 minutes to Taquile Island. I didn't see much of the island. The altitude sickness nearly took me out as we climbed the steep rocky path to the plaza at the top of the island. But the views were incredible.

Beautiful archways marked the entrances to the plaza and the city. Some were topped with crosses. Others with various local symbols.

There was a small church. A cultural center with a photographic exhibit. An artisan's market. You'll have to check out Cathy's blog for more about all of that. I simply sat on the stone wall at the edge of the plaza, gazing out at the lake or watching the people in the square.

A lunch of typical Peruvian food at a small restaurant. And, of course, the hike back down the hill. I had a nice long talk with Alan, our tour guide. Cathy befriended a few more of the locals... and took lots of pictures. We climbed back on the boat for a long ride home. Tomorrow we would have a few hours to explore the city and then begin the long adventure home. And what an adventure it was!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Inka Express

After hiking all morning in Machu Picchu, we returned to the little town of Aguas Calientes for some final picture taking, some shopping, and coffee before boarding the Backpacker train to Cusco. For a few brief moments we thought we would be joined by a very nice guy from Argentina named Jose, but just before leaving he was asked to change seats with a woman who wanted to be in the same car as her grown children. Cathy is convinced he is the one that got away for me and will be posting his picture on various travel sites in her tireless attempts to help me find the perfect guy.

We returned to Cusco for a brief night of sleep in our home away from home in Peru, the Hotel Belvidere (or the Quri Inn, depending on who you ask). The Hotel was in a nice little plaza with a pizza place playing Bossa Nova, an internet cafe, and a small market. We were up again early in the morning for our adventure on the Inka Express. Cathy shares the tale of our near mishap that morning in her blog.

The Inka Express took us on a 10 hour bus ride south through Peru to Lake Titicaca. The views were breathtaking and the stops fascinating... even if the tour guide was a little stingy with free time and a little overly generous with the information he had to share with us!

Our first stop was in Andahualilillas to see the "Sistine Chapel" of the Americas. The beautiful interior was in the midst of restoration.

I was more fascinated by the exterior. So different from the cathedral and large churches in Cusco. This church was in a little village in the midst of nowhere with incredible murals and a floor to ceiling altar covered in gold leaf. A much simpler exterior. The next church would strike me as even more amazing. Raqchi (also in the middle of nowhere) is a little town set next to the ruins of a huge ancient Inkan worship site.

This was the center wall of a huge temple several stories tall. The roof sloped down on either side and was supported by giant columns that no longer exist. It is said to be the site of Wiracocha's palace, the creator God of the Inkans. It may seem strange for three Covenant pastors to travel to the ancient temples of foreign gods. I was taught as a young Christian that there would be evil spirits in such a place that might possess you or lead you astray. Instead, these sites serve to open my eyes to the beauty of God's creation, especially in an through all of humanity, even if in veiled form. My faith and the one I have faith in are strong enough to learn from other religions without feeling threatened. In addition, though, there is a sense of loss at these sites, religions and cultures that disappeared... perhaps religions and cultures that might have brought new expressions of the Christian faith.

As mentioned above, adjacent to these huge stone walls was a small village and we were lucky enough to arrive just in time to witness one of the festivals taking place at the Catholic Church. The church itself was one of the most beautiful I have ever seen... I loved the natural stonework.

The festival itself was in celebration of the Virgin Mary. The priest led a procession around the town square, stopping at each corner for a blessing.

Yes, the priest was American... from Boston. He has been serving in Peru for most of his life. I had mixed feelings watching all the people of the village following him around the square. I am amazed at his commitment and calling to this place. I wonder when someone from within the village itself might rise up to lead the people themselves.

The Peruvians were in beautiful, colorful costumes carrying elaborately decorated floats bearing the Virgin.

Given a choice, I would have stayed much longer. They had just processed the Virgin back into the church and now the young people were gathering to dance in the square. Alas, the pitfalls of being on a guided tour. Instead, we made our way up to the highest point of our trip, La Raya at 4313 meters above sea level.

The views along the way were spectacular. Ragged mountain peaks covered in snow. Sweeping plains filled with herds of llamas (YES! Llamas!) Small villages. Spectacular!

There were a few more stops... a lunch buffet in one town and an archeological museum in another... before we finally came upon the delta of Lake Titicaca and began our descent into the town of Puno. Past the giant statue of the puma on the mountainside , though the bustling city, into the bus station on the shores of the lake. That night would be spent in one of our more interesting accommodations, but that story will have to wait for another day.

What I loved about the tour... though I hate pulling up to a small town along with several other big tour buses to consume a village, we saw places we probably would have never seen on our own. I love being surprised by beauty. I still remember rounding a corner in Paris one night and coming upon the Hotel D'Ville all lit up. I remember finding St. Chapelle and climbing up into its amazing stained glass chapel. And I will probably always remember this part of the trip, especially Raqchi where we stumbled upon a community celebrating in worship to God, full of joy and exploding with color in the midst of a desert landscape. While the Holy Spirit is always with us, I love to think of the Spirit bursting into our lives in unexpected moments like this... full of joy and exploding with color. And I am challenged by the call to be those moments of joy and color for those who live continually in a desert landscape.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Climbing Wayna Picchu...

We are sitting in a dark little internet place (I don´t think I would call it a cafe...) catching up a bit before we take the shuttle to Juliaca and begin our long journey home. It has been an amazing adventure... though, and I will share this now that the trip is almost over, I have struggled with altitude sickness for most of the trip. Just headaches and nauseau, but enough to keep meet at a much slower pace than I would like! Believe it or not, Machu Picchu was the best portion of the trip being a bit lower in the Andes. It is set in the midst of mountainous jungle and we, being slightly crazy, decided to hike up to one of the high peaks overlooking the ruins. What is nice about being slightly crazy is the fact that you meet other slightly crazy people to bond with along the way... a young woman from Iceland and her family who sang songs at the top of the mountain. A couple that were engaged in one of the buildings at the top. The all-American snack team... a father and three grown sons who pulled out pringles, m&m´s, a jar of jelly and wheat bread, twizzlers, and just about any other type of junk food you could find... all carried to the top of the mountain. And two young Australian guys who literally ran to the top and back... sweating beer, they later told us. We would run into these people and others throughout the trip. Cathy and Jim are great at making friends with just about anyone!
Below are a few pictures from the hike to give you an idea of just how crazy we were!
Did I mention we had to get in line at 5:15 am to catch the first buses up the mountain.

View of Machu Picchu. The mountain in the background is Wayna Picchu, the destination of our hike.

View of the mountains in the morning.

Some of the thousands of stairs we climbed to reach the peak. It was all stone stairways that wound up the side of the mountain.

The beautiful views along the way.

We made it to the top!

View of Machu Picchu.

The ruins at the top of Wayan Picchu.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Machu Picchu

I wish I had a bit more time to reflect in my blog on this trip, but that will have to come later. Internet access has been limited by slow computers and long days of travel and sightseeing.

We arrived in Aguas Calientes (now Machu Picchu Pueblo) on Thursday, a town nestled in a little valley up and down a river just outside of and several steep switchbacks down from the ruins of Machu Picchu. After dropping our bags, we headed out to the ruins at about 11:00 am.
As the bus climbed up the mountainside I was struck again by how crazy this all is.
I never would have dreamt that the little girl I was would be the woman who has been trekking around Peru this fall.

It still doesnt seem real to me. As you near the sight, suddenly, sitting on the side of the mountain you see terraces with rock walls and then the walls of several small buildings clustered together. You catch glimpses of this over and over, building your anticipation until you finally pull into the parking lot. Then, through the gates, and a hike up to the funerary hut that provides a panoramic view of the ruins laid out on the mesa before you.
A central plaza with a few llamas grazing.

A few small temples along the ridge. A quarry of stone.

And my favorite, the hitching post of the sun.

If ever you believed that colonists were civilizing the world... or that the world continues to evolve, a sight like Machu Picchu or Tikal (Mayan ruins in Northern Guatemala that we visited last year), a sight like this gives you pause.

Apparently there is a sundial set within the ruins that can point not just to north, but also to magnetic north. As much as the people of Peru might have learned from Spanish Colonists, that much knowledge was probably lost in the process as well.

Advanced civilizations have arisen throughout time. Most have fallen or disappeared in mysterious circumstances or in the midst of war. If ever we felt that we were indestructible as a nation, a sight like this gives you pause. They had conquered much of South America. Ruled a tremendous, wealthy empire. And with the might of foreign germs going before them, they fell to the Spanish Colonists. An entire civilization was "civilized".

There are signs of the culture hidden within the Catholic Cathedrals and in many of the festivals and rituals of the people. There is a desire to restore and recover what was lost. One can never go back and recreate from the old. One can only rebuild from what one has been given, seeking to reclaim what was lost and allow it to be more fully intergrated into what has become.

I guess I had a little time for reflection after all...

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

A few pictures of Cusco...

The internet cafe across from our hostal is a bit slow uploading and it is getting late. We leave at 6:00 am on a train for Aguas Calientes and a day in Machu Picchu. But, here are a few photos of this amazing city.

We saw an archway over a street in the distance. Through the arch was this view. We never made it to these churches, but it gives you as sense of the city with the red clay tiled roofs climbing up into the hills surrounding the city.

The city was rebuilt by Spanish colonists right on top of the anciet Inkan city. Throughout the city you can see the stonework of the original Inkan foundations.

This morning we hiked up the hill to San Blas, the name of the church and the artisan´s district surrounding it. The church has an immense, intricately carved pulpit. Carved into the base are several ¨heretical¨ figures such as Martin Luther, Zwingli, and Henry VIII holding it up in great agony.

We have spent both afternoons and one evening in the central plaza, the Plaza de Armas. On one end is the great cathedral... this picture, though, it of the CompaƱia de Jesus. We were sitting on a tiny balcony in a coffee shop overlooking the plaza as the sun set over the square.

These next two pictures are of the main cathedral on the square. As you can tell from this photo, I spend a lot of our trip looking up. I love the intricate carvings at the tops of all the churches.

Fewer adventures today. I feel like we saw very little of the city, but our time here has come to a close. The next pictures should be of Machu Picchu.

Let the adventures begin...

Well... we are here! At 11,000 feet in Cusco, the ancient Inkan capital of Peru. So far we have met a Norwegian business man who works with oil rigs, a Peruvian industrial engineer who works for a sustainable development corporation, a couple from England who work for a non-profit organization, and a young Peruvian man who is starting his own hostel... our first stop in Peru. He has renovated an old building in the warehouse district adjacent to the Lima airport. His mother makes the breakfasts. His friend drives the cab that picks people up at the airport. He designed the logo.. a trekking Inkan. And made sure the rooms were fairly large and the beds very comfortable. It was a quick night. We were up early to catch a flight to Cuzco. Found out upon arriving that our flight didn´t exist. And after some polite persistent requests on our part were put on another flight that had us running through the Lima airport and out on the tarmac... the last ones on the plane. We arrived an hour and a half earlier than expected! Our taxi driver was great... he insisted that we change hostels. We were a little leery at first, but are happy with our choice. A little cheaper, but only a few blocks from the Plaza de Armas, the central square. I´ll try to post pictures later. Or you can click on the ¨Cathy´s Pressed¨link to the right for pictures and many more details. We have a full day wandering around Cusco today and then tomorrow we are off to Machu Picchu!

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

A Gendered Society

This past week I have been reading Julie Ingersoll’s Evangelical Christian Women: War Stories in the Gender Battles. The title betrays Ingersoll’s bias… one I probably share a bit more than I’d like to admit. I have my own war stories to tell. Much of the sociological information was familiar to me, but the analysis was interesting… and challenging. Ingersoll explores how gender is constructed in the evangelical world. Now before you start arguing about gender, creation, and biological differences between men and women, let me state that I agree that there are differences. I also believe that gender is more than our biological differences. It is also a social construction… the way we live out and interpret those differences. The values we place on them. How we structure economies and societies around them.

Ingersoll describes the gendered nature of the evangelical world… the segregated small groups, the men’s and women’s ministries, the gender-specific social events. She goes into great detail describing a Christian bookstore with its Victorian knick-knacks designed to harken back to an imaginary time when gender roles were so much clearer. With its “Jesus loves Me” plaques with sports figures for the boys and angels for the girls. The books for women that deal with relationships, healing the pasts, building friendships. The books for men that talk about leadership and servanthood. Ingersoll argues that within the evangelical culture, the gendered body has become something symbolic. And the pressure to conform to gender roles, both explicit and subtle, can been extremely powerful and at times extremely wounding.

How does this gendered-society impact women clergy? We can see from other studies (ie. Clergy Women by Zikmund. Lummis and Chang) the pressure clergy women are under to be good Christians by fulfilling traditional roles as a wife and mother as well as fulfilling their duties as a pastor. And that these expectations are significantly different than that of clergy men. We also see differences in how congregations expect women to lead and how they interpret the ways they leave. While a majority of male and female clergy feel that they are democratic rather than directive leaders, congregations feel that their male clergy are more directive and female clergy are more democratic.

I am raising questions that I don’t have answers to. One’s I’ll probably continue to explore in this blog in the next few months. But for now, that will have to wait. You can anticipate the next blogs to take a turn in another direction… reflections on my upcoming trip to Peru. Maybe when I return you’ll have some additional insights into all of this to help guide my way.