The adventure begins with a slight misadventure as is often the case. After needling Lori for not having as yet procured her Nexus card, which resulted in having to wait at least two minutes in line clearing customs to the US (we were transiting to Peru via Miami), we were pulled aside for a “routine check” which had us apprehended and sitting in a segregated US customs area that I´m certain has been viewed by not many. We sat, and sat, and sat. Close to half an hour dragged by with me looking at my watch every twelve seconds or so, imagining in my optimistic fashion what we would do when we missed our flight.There were two other apparent spies or smugglers ahead of us and the procedure enforced by this clean cut customs agent that could have been direct from Hollywood castings (military haircut, steel grey eyes, no affect, ramrod posture) involved opening the hand luggage of the victim, going through a dozen questionnaires, examining each sundry item in his bag and then another dozen questionnaires. He would then return to his desk and, like a third grade teacher, review each answer, make notational comments awhile letting us sit and stew. Eventually, the first traveler was allowed clearance and rather than call the next guy in line, Sgt. Steel called Lori and I to the counter; he was polite, courteous and quick. We were done in a minute and then had half an hour to get to the gate.
So that ended up OK. Flight in was fine and on board I was finally able to reconcile the difference between the anticipated length of flight to Lima versus the two hour compensation I`d included for time zones. Apparently I was the one in the zone – Lima and Montreal are in the same longitude, hence same time.
So a five hour overnight at the Lima airport (there are probably better airports to hang out in for the night but there was no reasonable way get to one of them given the time constraints) was followed by an hour long flight over the Andes and a smooth landing at 12,000 feet. The descent was fairly rapid since when you’re flying at 38,000 feet, getting to 12,000 is a lot quicker than dropping to sea level. Disembarking was easy and unique in a sense of sense. I’ve climbed down the ladder of hundreds of planes and have also climbed down the gangplank of dozens of boats. For the first time deplaning felt like deboating. The thinness of oxygen left me feeling like I had sea legs, the airport floor felt like it was moving beneath me, but after two minutes I stabilized. There is a condition that affects 30% of visitors to upper Peru. It is known as Siroche which sounds more romantic than Altitude Sickness. While I escaped cleanhanded, Lori did not fare so well. Fortunately all is fine now but two days of intense headaches, nausea, exhaustion, vomiting, racing heart and shortness of breath is not the most fun way to start a vacation.
We were picked up at the airport by the head of the volunteer organization. There are two units working in tandem. The local one is called Maximo Nevel, or Maximum Level. They operate in and around central America with half a dozen placements in Costa Rica, Peru and Guatemala (Trev, we could have worked together!). The organization with which we booked is called International Volunteer Headquarters (IHVQ) and is based in New Zealand. It is a global network that hooks up with local agencies like Max Niv. IHVQ is 5 years old and already has 5,000 plus volunteers sent on missions to about 60 countries. It is the product of a recent university graduate named Daniel Radcliffe. (Insert your own joke about his wizardry here). The accommodations are well above sparse and being married seems to result in us being assigned the best room in the house. It was the same in both India and Viet Nam. Many of the 11 other volunteers are students, most based in Australia. There are a few of us older folk here but age truly makes no difference as the camaraderie spans generation. The biggest difference is that we don’t go out partying until 3 in the morning and come home smashed like a few of the others do. Not that I wouldn’t were I physically capable – and in fact I’d probably be proud of how the death certificate would read.
With Lori in full recoup mode yesterday, I spent the afternoon walking through Cusco. My first disappointment was being unable to spend the $400 that I’d put aside for use in the super store that the town was named for. I thought that it was only a translation spelling mistake. Undeterred, I visited this incredible church.
Built by the Spaniards on the ruins of a famous Inca temple (actually, they weren’t ruins until the Spaniards demolished the building to build their church).
Darn fine people those conquistadors. In order to appease the natives, the Spaniards incorporated certain elements of Incan tradition into the artwork. For example, there is a picture of the Last Supper featuring JC and the holy 12. The main meal was cuy, which is how one says guinea pig around here. The platter showed a barbequed splayed guinea pig with Peter, Judas, Paul and the rest of them eager to dig in. Since the Last Supper is arguably a seder, I a bowl of matzoh ball soup would have been more appropriate but try selling that to the local archbishop. Another interesting feature was the use of semi-naked women as part of the design. One in particular was reminiscent of Marilyn Monroe,
which to me has been the only draw to date that I’ve ever seen to get me to join the Roman Catholic Church. The interior work was heavily laden with silver and gold (stolen from the Incas) and was mostly European baroque and rococo in appearance. Again, while imposing, majestic and awe inspiring, the underlying message and ethos of the church is still, in my opinion one of the most powerfully negative and demonic forces ever foisted on the planet. They do it so well, too.
Other sites included a marvelous stone measuring about 6 feet across known as the 12 angle rock.It seems that somebody had to keep chipping away to make a mistake fit, but they gave it a fancy name and now tourists gawk.
Women actually walk around in the classic Peruvian garb. Half try to sell knickknacks to the tourists, the other half just look embarrassed by their sisters’ behaviour.
The architecture is pretty amazing here. A mix of colonial style with incredible local carving.
Placement began today. Lori will be working at an orphanage assisting the director and once again proving that sainthood is just around the corner for her. Given the previous placements and the fact that she’s been married to me for 30 years qualifies here ahead of most others on the list.
I upped for construction work and will be helping in the building of a small school for those in need. To get to our site a half hour bus ride up higher into the Andes is required. The bus driver is also the local delivery guy, witness the stack of eggs next to him.
I tried to pay with one but the guy had a better sense of humour than me. He said that he couldn’t take a yolk. The environment I will be building in is certainly challenging but the rewards are overwhelming.