“The poet cannot be separated from place. Even placelessness becomes a place. The world of conjecture, scholarship, and philosophical discourse is a place or a series of places, based on land and how one lives off that land.”—Joy Harjo How We Became Human
For this post I've decided to publish portions of my journal, a true experiment of being "in place" in Peru. Most of this is made up of moments. Most of it, is not completely articulated, but the experiment has led me back to moments of pure experience. Indeed, there was a lot that happened that I did not write down, or thoughts I had that I could not put into words, but here are some...Thank you for reading!
I am trying to collect what it means to be in Abancay--In Peru-- but my last day and a half is muddled with airplanes and a bus ride up and down mountains I can still feel inside my head.
Disembarking the plane, Lima looks like any other airport, but by 3 am, you notice everything and nothing. Dunkin Donuts tastes the same, but the girls at the counter didn’t know how to brew coffee so it was slightly worse, meaning more acidic. After a sleepless 20 hours, any coffee was welcome.
I slept on the trip to Cusco. And then we were in winter.
Watching the dawn spread over Cusco was like seeing the world wake up for the first time. Our first sights of Peru were small adobe structures—most unfinished— the side walls painted with whitewash powder called Yeso, cobblestone roads, dogs curled up in the streets and people that should be pictured in travel magazines carrying produce in colorful woven mantas, opening up the doors to little bodegas and car horns beeping.
Cusco is a city about 11,000 feet high, and the lights in the sunrise show dirt roads winding the cliffsides and little houses built all the way up the hills. There’s a strange bungee jump at the edge of the city, just off the road, a tall white arch looking out over the Andes, and across the street, a woman walking with her cows into the fields.
The Andes are nothing like I expected. They are pinnacled palisades that go on for hundreds of miles. Many of them are snowcapped, over 17,000 feet there is always snow. (The tallest is Nevado Huascarán is over 22,000 feet but is in northern Peru), All of the mountains are homes. Farms cover them, some terraced, but some just woven over the mountains in strange patchwork shapes.
In the sunrise, the people are already working. Work here is a different world than I am used to seeing. Survival is growing your own food. Leading livestock, carrying bundles of produce…
I could barely keep my eyes open, but I think nothing can compare to that dream drive through the Andes. The valleys are so deep and pitted and the peaks are so tall, I can barely comprehend. People have spent thousands of years walking up and down these mountains.
The snow-caps in the distance are indescribable giants; they are so high, the sun falls over them like a blanket. I remember crooked fields and boulders, deep canyons dividing towns, rivers deeper than farmland, people dressed in so many colors they look like birds sitting on the edges of the cliffs.
The highest point of the bus ride we drove up to 17,000 feet.
Finally, we saw Ampay, the titan volcano crowned with a glacier, that watches over the city of Abancay thousands of feet below.
Abancay is a valley of small hills, tight roads, and white roofs, and I can’t wait to see what else.
Our hotel in Abancay is the Dona Paula, a 2 (used to be 3) star hotel downtown next to the green ‘high security’ penitentiary marked with tall palm-like trees and a bust of Francisco Pizarro (?) and a shambled Christian Mission. The high security is lookout towers on each corner and barbed wire along the open roof. It doesn’t look un-secure, to be fair, but my first thought on seeing its location was how the prisoners must feel to be in an open courtyard and hear all of downtown Abancay going on around their walls.
There are stray dogs everywhere, they are calm until nighttime and then the dog wars break out, and then non-stop barking.
At night random singing came from the mission with walls falling down letting the voices out into the streets of Abancay and the hotel windows
There are men on motorcycles delivering propane tanks. We saw one with at least six strapped to his bike. Its danger and strangeness gives me a momentary panic for him, but he’s not the last that we see.
Rosa lives in a simple but beautiful, rose-colored house on the top of a hill. She built it herself, and is constantly improving it. Her kitchen is on her half-enclosed porch and her yard is a terraced garden full of flowers and vegetables that was built after a storm-induced landslide. It’s a simple, but beautiful place. Her porch overlooks the neighborhood of Villa Gloria and all of the stars in the Southern Hemisphere. From there, I saw the Southern Cross for the first time. How strange that I’ve never seen these stars before.
Rosa made her globally famous stew, that warms the heart and readies the traveler for adventure. She's so amazing. I loved seeing her wall of pictures. We also met Rut, who is also immediately lovely, and I think we'll be friends. She works for AIDIA and is on the board for “4 The Love of Kids”. I also loved Rosa’s impression of my cousin Jeff who came here several year ago!
After dinner we went to Luz de Esperanza to meet the girls who live in the home, only to find that there was a wedding going on! The church was just down the street, a small tented structure in a stony alley. We didn’t mean to crash the wedding, but there was really no way around it. There were so many beautiful smiles and hugs from strangers. It was very welcoming. The little girls wore white communion dresses and the church, though the floor was dirt and it was filled with red and white lawn chairs, was decorated in pink, purple, and white streamers and flowers.
The market at Las Americas smells like green, rain, and land. The piles of potatoes and onions and sacks of rice and grain. The cart with tiny boiled quail eggs. You can see immediately that there is not much tourism in Abancay. Right now, I feel like the only one. There are tables of plucked chickens with their feet still attached, which makes them look like little taloned aliens. Chicken feet are very large when you are actually forced to look at them.
Debbie bought a cilantro and parsley from an elderly and deaf Quechua woman who was sitting in a pile of herbs. Her whole face lit up as she dug through the piles of leaves to find the best parcels for us. It’s incredible to me that this is how most of the people make a living. Day after day after day. In a way, it’s incredibly self-sufficient—relying on the land, and the farms—but so full of struggle that I’ve never even tried to imagine.
It’s easy to feel the mountains here. Any step over any hill takes air from my brain. I’m waiting to get acclimated, but right now, most of the days have been so dreamlike.
I saw a little boy playing pogs on the sidewalk--the cling, cling, cling of light metal on concrete.
We also went out for coffee and dessert. I was very interested in the coffee, because it is this super concentrated milk—distilled into a highly concentrated syrup. I know that Peru is in the coffee belt and that coffee is one of its major crops. The coffee is served in a tiny vial and poured into a cup of hot water where it swirls like little clouds of ink. I loved it!
We met Larry and Debbie’s friends at a restaurant called Villa Valencia for lunch. It’s a restaurant in Abancay that is famous for its beauty and its noodles.
This restaurant is distinctly proud of their noodles, which is interesting to me, because everything on the menu is from Abancay. The noodles were delicious and we also tried a sweet drink made out of purple corn meal.
The mountains here are so enormous that when the sun sets here, the sky doesn’t blush with color or send alpenglows over the peaks. Rather it seems like the Andes are swallowed by the sunlight. I love colorful sunsets, but this is my new favorite thing.
After lunch, Larry, Rut, Uncle George and I went to El Mirador. I wasn’t sure what it was, to be honest, but its a little zoo in the mountains with a park and a lake. Mirador is a ‘lookout’ and this one looks perfectly over Abancay. The gateway is this little yellow arch with beautiful panther gargoyles. It was sad to see the animals in cages, but some of them seem more like pets. Some of them have too little cages. They have condors, and pumas, two of the symbolic animals of Peruvian mythology. The pumas have two fences on their cages. One is about five feet tall and apparently this was the first fence…until a little boy got his arm taken off. Now the fence is about 30 feet tall. We saw little tiny grey deer that are native to the Andes, vicunas, and llamas. One llama was uncaged and stayed in a strange little patch of dirt next to one of the vicuna cages.
He just wanted to be fed and pet all day long. We saw grey eagles, monkeys, and a macaw. There was a little pond with siren sculptures and a long wooden bridge. There was a strange cement slide and a field with a group of boys playing futbol looking out over the Andes.
The mirador, was the surreal cap to the adventure. It’s a ledge that looks out over the city underneath a gigantic white cross.
Luz de Esperanza is blue on the outside with blue stained glass on the front door window: little diamonds cross-hatched by metal, not a signature of affluence, but a simple display of beauty. Inside the walls are a bright olive green, and there are sofas set aside for company and Debbie says, English classes. This is evidenced by the tiny whiteboard hanging on one wall. There is one bedroom on that floor and downstairs is a kitchen with one very long table, two stoves sitting next to each other, each attached to a propane tank, houseflies circle the kitchen like a tornado of miniature vultures. The sounds in the house are scattered between little girls cooking, cleaning, and studying.
Once they realized we were there, they converged all at once, and I recognize them as the little girls who greeted us outside of the wedding last night. They give hugs with gigantic smiles and quiet, “Hermana” in my ear, the way of familiar greeting in Peru, hermana and hermano, brother and sister, from the instant you meet.
The youngest girls are Nicole and Sadie who are 10. The next three have just returned from school. They wear uniforms, pleated skirts and white collared button-ups. Karen and Cassandra are 11 and Nilda is 17. These three remember some English from Debbie’s classes a few years before and they are as excited and nervous to test their English as I am with my Spanish.
I’m not a language teacher by trade, but I have taken the Teaching English as a Second Language course and the most difficult and important part of that course was the emphasis on nonverbal conversation. Curiosity—second to connection/comfort— is probably the key of conversation for both parties. Especially for these girls, who know a language barrier does not exclude friendship.
Iyossy is the eldest of the six. She is the big sister, the second mother, the overcomer. Meeting Iyossy next to her sisters is seeing a heroine in the middle of her story. At once, you know she will succeed, but she doesn’t seem to know it yet.
Iyossy is one of the first scholarship recipients of “4 the Love of Kids” organization and she is studying English. She speaks with assurance and confidence and good humor—with extraordinary curiosity.
Larry and Debbie, their mission teams, and others spent years working on this building. It was a two room structure, and is now a four story home, with room for at least ten kids. The pastors are husband and wife, Henry and Natty, and they have three kids of their own. Their oldest, David, has cerebral palsy, and their youngest are George and Natalie, three and two years old, respectively. Henry and Natty have been trying to develop Luz de Esperanza and foster the growth of their church. Henry teaches Art classes at a university and his paintings in the house are very nicely crafted. Though, I have to say I really admire the home that they have provided for these girls— it’s a little strange for me to see an artist whose first passion isn’t art. It’s something that I need to really think about. Natty's sister, Ursula, is very kind and always working at the house with the girls.
Sometime this afternoon, Uncle George and I went with Larry to Villa Victoria, a neighborhood down the street that we need to see. We stopped at a bodega to buy a handful of cookies, (galletas), to hand out to little kids who live there. Villa Victoria is only a five minute walk, up a street that overlooks a red- roofed hospital. It is a little village on a hill, one or two paths wide. One side of it flows a little river, that pools a little at the top of the hill and trickles down one side of the neighborhood. Larry says that this river is the neighborhoods water source and also their sewage source. They dump their waste in the same water they drink, cook with, wash their clothes in, and bathe in; and they’ve done this for centuries. There are little chuspees (sp) flies everywhere.
There are very few people out now, but we pass a few kids on their way to school.
The houses have open-air windows, very few doors. Most of the homes are one-room, made from very old adobe—crumbling—or planks formed into makeshift walls.
Finally, one little girl is playing at the entrance to her house. Her mom, is working just outside the door.
“Te gusta galletas?” Larry asked. Shyly she says, no. But these are cookies and she is like, 6, so we smile in disbelief, and her mother laughs as she finally, shyly takes them.
At the top of the hill, there is a cow feeding on the tall grass and the river winds down from the mountain watering lush grass and a field of corona de cristos, their blossoms drying out as the seasons wane. These are the plants that draw the most beautiful hummingbirds—green and blue shimmering, and we wait for a while to see if they apparate in this place of despairing beauty.
As we walk back down the hill, the children are coming back from school. We give the cookies away to little kids playing, two boys are washing their sneakers using cloudy water from a metal basin. They do it expertly, dipping a brush in the water and snapping their wrist so that the water drips off and then scrubbing it brisk strokes across their shoes. Clean shoes are a point of pride in Peru. Old sneakers can always look new. The boys don’t want to talk to us, but they accept the cookies and our company.
On the way back down, the first little girl in a pink shirt comes running up behind us and presents a beautiful manta, hand-woven with blues pinks and yellows, large roses, and asks if we want to buy it. She bargains with us speaking so softly that we had a hard time hearing her, but she is holding the manta in front of her like a golden blanket, like a magic carpet, and indeed, it is.
That evening, Iyossy went with us to Rosa’s for dinner. Anne, and Rut also joined us. Anne is from Germany and works at AIDIA (or with AID)A) and lived in the same apartment as Larry and Debbie. She’s very inspiring. She has a backpack camping ministry for children. She raises her own money and lives in Abancay alone.
From what I can tell, Iyossy doesn’t get to have nights like this often, and before dinner I sat with her on Rosa’s porch, we stared straight into the Southern Cross and she said that she had never heard of constellations. I tell her that the stars have had shapes for centuries, recognizable points in the sky. “The stars are different here, from the stars in North America,” I said, and explained what I meant. “I’ve never seen the stars in this sky,” I say, and, as much as I love constellations, I suddenly wish I had seen a sky without them, an endless blanket of light without shapes that don’t make sense.
Iyossy’s favorite books are The Chronicles of Narnia. Her favorite characters are Peter and Lucy: the brave and the hopeful. Lucy and Peter were my favorites too, and I still empathize with them more than any other book characters I’ve read.
Most children and young adult books are set in a fantasy world because they allow the young readers to deal with emotional issues outside of reality. They eventually need to be able to connect that education to the real world, but fantasy creates a safe space.
Later, Uncle George asked me what books I would send to Iyossy. I told him maybe I will write one. Maybe something that will help the girls learn English.
The first line perhaps: “There is a little girl in Villa Victoria that sells magic carpets.”
AIDIA is a yellow hacienda in Villa Gloria by Rosa’s house. Inside it is shaded by avocado trees. We started the morning with a staff devotion, prayer meeting. We sang worship songs in Quechua, and the language is so so beautiful. Then we sat in small groups to pray together.
Pastor Luis gave us a tour of the premises, and we were able to see the different ministries all contained in the organization.
I was more impressed with their multi-faceted ministry than I ever imagined. They are supported by Wycliffe, a Bible- translation organization, and have been working on a Quechua Bible translation since 2010. The New Testament is completed and they are working on the Old Testament now, currently, the book of Job. They have a literacy education program that goes into the campo towns to educate locals about Jesus, and also about hygiene and preventative abuse which is evidently, a huge problem in Peru. They have a pre-school on-site and are adding classes year-by-year as an outreach to Abancay itself.
Pastor Luis said that they have an off-site church building ministry and train pastors to go to remote communities for the purpose of outreach and church building. So far they have done extremely well with this. All of their ministries and their affiliated ministries are growing, and I think that is so amazing.
We saw a toddler in the street carrying a carving knife that was half her size.
Today we went to the Cascadas on Ampay with the girls from Luz de Esperanza, Rosa, Rut, and Parker. They get an outing like this only when Larry and Debbie visit, every few years. Being there on the mountain with them made it even more beautiful.
We stopped on the way, at a place where you can step out of the van and look out over the Andes and down to the river in a valley 2000 feet below. The horizon is only mountains, awash with sun and clouds.
I can't help but think that this is the fabled pterodactyl country and even in the high mountains they would be wicked hard to spot. There’s always some truth in fables.
Closer to the cascadas, Ampay’s glacier is directly overhead, and we are about 12000 feet high. It’s the most beautiful volcano I’ve ever seen. The basalt palisades are blackened from lava or smoke and the cascadas fall in a golden sulfur-etched streak falling from the glacier melt at the top across the road and all the way down the mountain.
Apparently the rainy season brings floods down the mountain and the road is un-passable. The road itself is also incredible. That high up, there’s only room for one car, and most of the road is along the edge of a cliff. We went through three tunnels, carved onto the side of Ampay, one of them is on a fault-line—sort of unbelievable. As we hiked back, we could see them from the opposite side, the van, a tiny white speck leaving us behind.
The little girls today were the flowers and lightning of Ampay. They picked bouquets of wildflowers from cliff sides and laughed until their cheeks burned purple. I love them, and I love their happiness.
Back at Luz de Esperanza they brought me their English books and they showed me all their lessons and how much they wanted to learn English. I had so much fun, and I learned as they learned.
This evening I went with Deb to a 'girls' night'. Rut, Parker, Anne, Maribel, Dinah, Julie, Debbie & I, made for a fun, multi-lingual/cultural puddle of laughter. We played Bible character charades (way too difficult...in my opinion because the Bible characters have different names in Spanish, and guessing in multiple languages means speaking way too fast) and then "forehead" (or some version of the game), where we guess the characters on the card taped to our head. It was really, really fun and I love that I am able to see people here in their normal environment, having friends, playing games, and making memories.
Today was our last day in Abancay and I am feeling a bit overwhelmed. Saying goodbye to the children was very sad.
Today was also very special. When we got to Luz de Esperanza, a girl named Marcielo was waiting at the door for Larry and Debbie. She is 14 and used to live in the home, but now lives with her family again. She is working as a seamstress, learning to make dresses, and that she really likes the job. She also loves painting and music—"metal"—she said, her lips curve slyly. She’s a beautiful girl with the smile of an angel, and any life that she has now is full of struggle. She was wearing a red coat, and a beautiful purse (that she bought for herself) and brown wedge heels. Her hair was ‘up’, and she looked so adult, her very best.
I went on a walk in the soft rain with Marcielo and Larry. We walked down the street and up a dirt road near the church. There was a woman at a corner with a large stock pot of milk and a paper list in her hands. She apparently distributes donated milk by cupfuls to the poorest of the poor, who are on a list to receive donations based on how many kids they have to nourish. She rings a bell, and the women come with their children to the corner to pick up their rations.
Marcielo, Larry and I waited to watch, and we studied drying Corona de Cristo’s for green and blue picaflors (hummingbirds) and Marcielo told us about her job, about her school, and how not all was perfect, but that this was a happy, special day.
Today Abancay was buried in the clouds. It rained all day and the mountains, so tall above had totally vanished. The neblinas were fog and cottonballs.
The end of the day was unforgettable. Iyossy had a special request for us to gather together in the front room. Shamir (a cousin) had his guitar and Nilda and Iyossy sat together and in English sang the song “Hosanna” by Hillsong. If there was nothing else (and there was so much) this moment was the moment that revealed how powerful it is for someone to see their dreams realized, and how simple those dreams can be. I will never ever forget her voice, how even and how true it filled the room. Debbie told me later that this was Iyossy’s favorite song, before she could speak English, and before she knew what all the words meant. It was extraordinarily powerful that her gift to us was not some long speech in our language or an explanation of plans or life or thanks, but a song to give glory to God and share the love with all of her family and friends.
I found a portal in Cusco today. I saw the street sign “Portal de Carizozo” and an archway of light between pillars. Right after I took the picture, someone told us that the wall is 500 years old.
Cusco is beautiful. It looks like an old European/Spanish city and is bizarrely tourist-focused after spending a week in Abancay. Each plaza has two stone cathedrals, and the center has an Inca fountain.
The Inca history we’ve learned is very random. There is a bust of Pizarro in front of the penetentiary in Abancay. The people are Quechua, the king is the Inca. The modern Peruvian way of life is not too far off of the ancients. In the museum we toured there was an ancient hand plow with the label, “Still in use today.” The cities, like Cusco, were once gilded with gold. Some Inca treasure was never found. The Mayans brought chocolate to the Inca. The Sacred Valley was the Inca’s special haven. Cities in the mountains that are ruins now like Machu Picchu and Chochiquirao were built by hand and special stone masons. It took weeks to make a single stone brick. The Quechuans worshipped the Mountains as well as the celestial Sun and Moon.
They considered it punishable to look directly at the sun and looked at it through a reflection pool. They had the Pacha mama and Patcha Kamaq (Patcha Papa) as the symbol of the Earth and Sky and the animals which symbolize life are the Condor: Heavens, Puma: Life, and Anaconda: Underworld.
Apparently there is a park in Lima called: “Cat Park” where there are tons of cats. The cats beg for French Fries, bother tourists and pee in the grass. No dogs in sight.
Traveling to Machu Picchu was a dream. Even the part of waking up at 4 am to meet a bus to take us to the Inca Rail was like taking a portal to a fantasy. Uncle George and I had time for about 4 ounces of coca tea, but no coffee. The bus ride was only 25 minutes through a sleeping Cusco, and we stepped out of the bus straight onto the train at Pomoy.
The train itself was a luxury rail, even the least expensive seats had little tables and comfortable chairs. It was like being on the Hogwarts Express (without the tiny sleeper rooms) and it was indeed, just as exciting, or more so.
We could not have gone back to sleep even if we’d wanted to, it was too exciting. Instead we watched Peru pass by us and talked about Peru and many other things.
The train sped Northwest of Cusco, behind the Sacred Valley, and closer than ever to the glaciered peaks we have seen in the distance. The small towns are not awake yet, and the fading starlight illuminates layers of frost on the fields.
Our seat-mates arrive as we stop at the train station of Ollantamtaybambo. They are two sisters from New York City, native to Costa Rica. One of them is a chef who has been living and training in Peru.
The sun rises on farmlands, little cities on cliffs, oxen moving plows, men threshing fields. We cross a river and follow it into the valley of Aguas Calientes, a tiny town built on the hills and bridges of a valley directly under Machu Picchu. It would have been really beautiful but suddenly there are hundreds of people.
We file onto another bus that takes us higher and higher into mountains of unbelievable beauty. Literally, unbelievable. I thought I could try to write about it, but it would be like trying to describe every color of a rainbow and their perfect prisms.
The mountains of this valley are half-swallowed by the sun, and ridged with the Inca trail, converging on this one sacred city. Terraces appear on the mountain the bus is climbing, above the first sight of the ruins, bottom to top. There is nothing like the sudden appearance of something you’ve wanted your whole life to see, but we hadn’t even begun to see.
Hundreds of people started the tour with us, and when we climbed the first set of steps we could see the city of Machu Picchu behind us, a perfect ruin, overlooking a great valley, shadowed
itself by the peak of Wayna Picchu and her own sacred spaces high above the city: the observatory and the priest houses.
At the first lookout, a British girl in our group asked me to take a picture of her and her boyfriend, and before I knew it he was kneeling down with a ring. Uncle George got it on video, and I took pictures. Even that magic seems surreal now.
The tour guide took us around the agricultural terraces first, and showed us the grand peak of Machu Picchu which is the mountain next to the city. The Inca trail crosses over the face of Machu Picchu. On one side is the Sun Gate and the other is the Inca bridge.
The city of Machu Picchu was abandoned—unfinished—in the 1500s, because it was a sacred city the Inca did not want to be discovered by the Spanish Conquistadors. We didn’t get much of its history today. Our guide didn’t know. He did know about all the different sites of the city. The food stores, the stables, the houses, and schools. We saw, the main temple and the Sun temple, the three windows: symbolic of the three most important pillars of Inca culture: Family, Love, and Faith (I think). We saw the sacred stone carving of Putucusi Mountain, the mountain directly across from the city. We were hurried past the incredible sun-dial (but got to go back and admire it later that afternoon) and walked across the plazas and the drinking water acequias.
After a great lunch of ice cream and beef jerky, Uncle George and I decided to do the walk again. We hiked up the first set of steps past the farming terraces and then took the path to the Inca Bridge. The trail took us through a forested path on the side of the mountain to the palisade of Machu Picchu mountain and a door that blocked the rest of the Inca Trail. The bridge was a pile of wood that crossed over the cliff miles above ground.
The trails on this mountain are extremely dangerous. There are no guardrails and no safety bars. One slip of a shoe could lead to a fall of at least three thousand feet.
Apparently someone died only a few days after we visited.
We had lots of time, and didn’t want to spend the day in Aguas Calientes. As we hiked back to the ruins, Uncle George and I decided to stop on a quiet lookout point. There were grassy terraces and some boulders that sat on the tree-line. We chose a boulder to sit on and admired Machu Picchu city in front of us. I will never forget this hour. The afternoon sun was washing the peaks and the city was emptying the tourists. I could have stared at it forever. It was perfect. I knew Machu Picchu was going to be spectacular, but I didn’t realize it would take my breath away.
Pablo Neruda maybe said it best, “Machu Picchu is a trip to the serenity of the soul, to the eternal fusion with the cosmos; where we feel our fragility. It is one of the greatest marvels of South America. A resting place of butterflies in the epicenter of the great circle of life. One more miracle.” — “The Heights of Machu Picchu”
I won’t lie that I looked for hours for pterodactyls…the fabled reptilian albatross of the Andes, that I have defended on several occasions. I did not see any, but I hold to my belief that if there were any place in the world to see them, it would be here in these mountains and they would not be easy to see.
After we finally ripped ourselves out of the dream and onto the bus, Uncle George and I drank Coca-Pisco Sours in a little restaurant that forgot to serve us, and got back on the train.
The train took us to the Ollantaytambo station and from there we got on a bus. The bus driver dropped off his wife somewhere off course and I was afraid to fall asleep when he said he didn’t know we were going to Cusco.
Finally, at one a.m.: Cusco.
Sunday, we drove to Urubamba in the Sacred Valley to meet with Hector and Maritza who are the parents of the Gilasole (sunflower) orphanage.
The drive to the Sacred Valley was amazing. There are flatlands, and rolling hills and just beyond, gigantic, glacier-clad mountains. The city of Urubamba is a long arm that winds around the base of a small mountain that looks unimpressive at first glance compared to the glacial- snow-caps of the titan mountains behind it. At closer glance, the closer mountain is ridged with ancient Incan farming terraces climbing up and down and around it.
Gilasole is a large property with about 30 boys—perfectly behaved and perfectly self-sufficient. The premises of the orphanage is in the foothills of the Sacred Valley next to the Urubamba River. The yard looks out to a line of gorgeous snow-capped peaks, and a farm where they grow their own crops, have a futbol field and a garden.
We were able to talk to two of the boys to hear their stories and their plans for continuing their education. One of them wants to be an archeologist to study the Inca and the other wants to be a computer engineer. If there is anything I’ve learned, I know that people who are given an opportunity they are brave enough to take, they will exceed all of their own expectations.
Our last day in Cusco we went shopping in the market and stumbled by accident into a coffee museum. Museo de Cafe to be exact. They had a beautiful wall display of coffee regions and how coffee is the 2nd major export of Peru. It was very interesting and the self-guided tour ended in a beautiful little cafe that looked out over the San Francisco Plaza. We bought some coffee on our way out and then Uncle George told the manager that I was a coffee master at Starbucks and had studied coffee growth and regions. The manager was very excited, and gave me a free shot of espresso, told me about the company. On a whim, Larry and Debbie decided to give the manager the organization card to give to the owner, in case they would want to partner with 4 the Love of Kids to start a coffee shop or give back to the community. The manager said that he would give the card to the owner, and then looked up and said, “Oh there he is now.”
This was one last affirmation of how God works in unexpected ways. The owner of the cafe is this incredibly educated man who studied and lived in the United States, wants to start a cafe in the US and owns his coffee plantation in the jungle region of Peru, grows his own coffee, and wants to give back to the community. “4 the Love of Kids” is exactly the kind of organization he wants to support. He invited a correspondence and offered to take us to his plantation……maybe next summer. Already planning.