Cusco: Home Sweet Home to Someone Since 900 AD

On our trip to South America, the three Carvers were hosted in ways that made us grateful and humble.  When we arrived in Santiago, Mandy Arriagada Dolz and her family took us in with laughter, with adventure, and with an open home.  When we arrived in Peru, our guide Fino greeted us at the airport and left us, caked with dirt and smelling faintly of fish (have I mentioned the fish before?) at the airport a week later.

Believe it or not, we watched for about ten minutes as a minibus tried to make a u-turn on this street. Here, you'd call it a "3-Point" turn. There, I lost track at about "42-Point" turn. The guy had persistence though....

So when we arrived in Cusco (or Cuzco, or Qosqo, or, gee, I don’t know…just about anything seems to work…), we experienced a bit of a culture shock when we realized that we were on our own for three days in South America.  No one to make sopapillas for us because we said we liked them.  No one to come knocking at our door at 4:30 wondering if we want to go bird watching.  Just the three of us, free to roam South America’s oldest continually-inhabited city.

You can read more about this fascinating city by clicking here, but the skinny is this: it was once the capital of the Inca Empire; when the Spanish Conquistadores came rolling into town in November of 1533 (led by everyone’s favorite missionary, Francisco Pizarro), they set about knocking down as much of the Incan architecture as possible and replacing it all with European style.  One particularly interesting fact is that when the city was struck by a major earthquake in 1950, much of the colonial construction was destroyed, but the remaining Inca walls stood firm.  In fact, some previously unknown Inca structures were revealed by the quake’s devastation.

Because it’s so old, the town has a tight-knit and charming feel to it – at least the portions were were able to see.  We were fascinated by the narrow, narrow streets; we were challenged by the hills to climb (especially when you consider the fact that the city itself sits at about 10,800 feet above sea level – Pittsburgh is 1,223 and Denver is 5,280); and we really, really enjoyed the opportunity to sample some of the Peruvian cooking.

Inside Cusco's main Artesan's Shop

I know, when you think “Carvers”, you think “shopping”.  OK, probably not so much.  But we did spend an enjoyable day wandering in and out of the city’s marketplaces encountering wonderful crafts and beautiful artistry.

We were able to worship on Sunday morning in the Cathedral, located on the City’s main square (the Plaza de Armas).  As was the case in Chile, we didn’t understand much of the language, but we enjoyed the rhythm of the Lord’s Prayer, appreciated the passing of the peace, and hummed along to Pescador de Hombres (by clicking on this link, you can get a chance to listen to it, as we did, in the original Spanish).

The Cathedral in Cusco. After worship, we were treated to a parade - evidently a run-up to the "Fiestas Patrias" - Independence Day is on July 28th.

One interesting thing that happened in Cusco: we went through all our luggage, which was, frankly, a wreck following a week in the jungle.  I had placed a small brown envelope with some Tylenol in a place that was accessible in case of altitude sickness.  However, the humidity of the jungle had its way with both the envelope and the Tylenol, and so as we were preparing to go to the airport, I discovered in my carry on a small brown envelope filled with white powder.  Yeah, that’s something you want to have with you when you’re clearing customs in Miami.  Yikes.  I’m switching to gel caps on all my future trips to the jungle, just to be sure.

Chowtime! That's "Quinua con Queso" for Sharon; Pumpkin Stew for Ariel, and Cuy (Guinea Pig) for me. Look...he's smiling at you....

Cusco was also our jumping off place for Machu Picchu, but there’s more about that in the days to come.

Flirting With the Devils…

Faithful readers of these pages may remember that not long ago, I managed to catch a fine-looking fish in the Tambopata River in Peru.

This one didn't get away!

In case you’re new, or perhaps it simply slipped your mind, here’s a little reminder…

It was a real hoot passing the digital camera around to the various guides and boat drivers connected with the lodge and park in Peru.  Clearly, they thought the fish was something wonderful.  And because most of them grew up in that area, and many of them live there year round, there was one question that came back more than any other: “What did you do with the fish?”  To a man (yes, they were all men), the boatmen were shocked that I would return such a delicacy to the water. The guides, on the other hand, wanted to be certain that I didn’t try to eat the fish.

Scarlet Macaws, Green Mealy Parrots, Yellow-Crowned Parrots, Blue-Headed Parrots, and Chestnut-Fronted Macaws gather around the world's largest clay lick

A Dusky Titi Monkey enjoys the larvae living inside bamboo

It’s not because the Tiger Catfish/Barred Sorubim is so rare or endangered.  No, there are plenty to be found in Amazonia, and they are said to be delicious.  The problem is that at that point, the Tambopata River is full of mercury, a deadly toxin.

The Tambopata is an amazingly beautiful and rich ecosystem.  It supports a wide variety of life, much of which we got to see, and a bit of which is pictured throughout this posting.  There are mammals and birds and insects – an incredible array of flora and fauna.  In fact, Peru is the nation with the second-greatest diversity of birds on the planet.  Unfortunately for many of those animals, the river system is also rich in gold.  Specifically, there are vast quantities of alluvial gold – “gold dust” – to be found in the sand and silt of the riverbeds.

The Tayra, a member of the weasel family, slinks furtively through the forest

Ariel and Dave climbing INSIDE a giant fig tree

In a previous posting I mentioned the color of the river – a chocolatey brown.  Part of that is due to natural sedimentation that occurs as rainwater erodes the banks.  Much of it, especially in the Malinoswki River, (which feeds into the Tambopata) comes from the one- or two-man mining operations that occur with alarming frequency.  The miners anchor a small barge/raft over the river bottom and dredge up the silt from the bottom – clouding the water.  Then, they pour the silt over a carpet-like filter, and the minerals in the silt adhere to the fibers of the carpet. At the end of the day, the carpet is washed in a 50 gallon drum containing mercury.  The gold dust bonds with the mercury, and then is purified into 24 karat gold…while tons of mercury ends up in the river (more than 80,000 pounds of mercury are used in mining operations in the Peruvian state of Madre de Dios each year, with an untold amount ending up in the rivers).  To learn more about the ways that alluvial gold is extracted from the rivers,click here.

One of many mining operations we saw on the Tambopata River

The people who live along these Peruvian rivers use the water for everything: they eat the fish from the rivers, they wash in the water, bathe in it, cook with it, and drink it…mercury and all.  While not all of the locals are aware of the adverse effects of mercury in the water, awareness is growing (see this article from PBS that has more information about the dangers of mercury to the local populations).  In fact, while staying at the Tambopata Research Center, we met a Stanford student who was working to develop educational materials for the local population.

In spite of the efforts of environmentalists and health professionals, the mining continues.  Why?  Because gold costs more than $1100 per ounce.  A miner working the rivers (with mercury and carpet and a barge) can make hundreds of dollars in a day.  The average household income in Peru is hard to determine, but most of what I could find indicated that it was about $5000/year.  The rush for gold is killing the environment and endangering the humans…but we just can’t stop looking for it.

I’m not bashing Peruvians here – I have increasingly understood in recent years how tempting it is to choose the evil that wants to destroy us.  Heck, at least in Peru, it makes some sort of (short-term) economic sense: if I mine the alluvial gold today, my family can eat.  I don’t, then we starve…  But so often we see people choosing the evil that destroys them and it doesn’t seem to make sense at all…we nurture our hatreds, even when they rob us of joy.  We cultivate our lusts, even when we know that they damage our sense of reality.  We continue to give in to our addictions, even though they will kill us.

As I wandered through South America, I had an ancient copy of The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.  It’s one of those classics that I’ve been meaning to read.  This seemed like a good time.  As I neared the end of the trip and the end of the novel, I was struck by a conversation between young Lise and Alyosha.  Lise describes a dream:

“I must tell you a funny dream that I had.  I sometimes dream of devils.  It’s night, I am in my room with a candle and suddenly there are devils all over the place, in all the corners, under the table.  And they open the doors, there’s a crowd of them behind the doors and they want to come and grab me. And they are just coming, just grabbing me.  But I suddenly cross myself and they all draw back, though they don’t go away altogether.  They stand at the doors and in the corners, waiting.  And suddenly I have a frightful longing to revile God aloud, and so I begin. And then they come crowding back to me, delighted, and grab me again and I cross myself again and they all draw back.  It’s awful fun, it takes one’s breath away.”

(Book XI, chapter 3)

Dostoyevsky has captured the human condition: we are in love with the powers that will destroy us.  It may be hunger for power, or for money, or for ease or satisfaction…but each day, each of us must choose how we will relate to those devils that would crush us.  Later in the book, Alyosha will demonstrate time and time again that it is within our power to choose to embrace the Holy and reject the profane…but those choices are often neither instinctual nor easy.

I wear a small gold band on my finger.  I wonder where the gold came from.  I hope to God it wasn’t from a river in Peru.  Regardless of where it came from, I will choose today to use it as a reminder to pray for those who face temptation from any source – and to remind myself that, in the words of Martin Luther,

And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,

We will not fear, for God hath willed his truth to triumph through us.

The prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for him;

His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure:

One little word shall fell him.

The Pablo Principle

Bundled up for the ride upriver

When we arrived in Puerto Maldonado, the Tambopata River was an angry brown slurry.  Heavy rains upstream in recent days had caused a remarkable rise in the water level (I guess that part of the world is still on the Army Corps of Engineers “to do” list in terms of dams).  In fact, a couple we met who was leaving the rain forest said that the river rose ten or twelve feet in just a few hours while they were there.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, we got on the motorized canoe for the journey upriver.  Our first stop was at the Refugio Amazonas, about a four hour journey.  After spending the night, we got back on board the canoe and continued deeper into the jungle.  After about two and a half hours, we arrived at a checkpoint at the confluence f the Malinoswki  and Tambopata Rivers.  We signed into the National Reserve, and a young man clambered on board and sat up in front next to Fino.  “Who’s he?” my wife asked.  “He is here to help the driver – to look for things in the river that could damage the boat.”

Pablo, the man of the hour for the trip back downriver

Good to know.  I’m all for that – bringing the latest in safety equipment onboard is something I support.  But as the afternoon wore on, it became apparent that the young man, Pablo, was, well, apparently useless.  He slumped in the front seat, or he chatted with Fino, or he looked around at the birds that we passed…the thing is, he did a lot of things – but communicating with the driver was apparently not one of them.  We steamed along at a pretty good clip (I’m going to say that the canoe itself seemed to be about thirty feet long and had an 80 horsepower outboard engine on it).   Four hours later, when we arrived at the Tambopata Research Center, Pablo did climb out and tie up the canoe.  Sharon said to me, “What did we bring him along for? He didn’t do anything.”  And she was correct.

By and large, the week we were there was cold but dry.  Each day, we noticed the level of the river dropped by about eight or ten inches.  That means that when we headed back down the river, what had been a swollen torrent was now a rather sluggish, if steady, flow.  And while the drive upstream had been a straight shot, the lower water levels revealed all sorts of sand bars and stumps sticking out of the water.  Pablo spent well over half the trip standing on the bow of the canoe – sometimes he worked with an oar to bring us against the current; other times he used a long stick to check the depth of the water; and once or twice he stuck his feet out to kick us away from a pile of debris.  In short, there was no way that we’d have made it back down the river without a second pair of eyes and hands in the front of the boat.

That got me to thinking about the wisdom of José, our boat driver.  While we really didn’t need Pablo at all on Saturday, by the time Wednesday rolled around, the river had dropped three feet and the entire landscape had changed.  José was prepared for challenges that did not yet exist, and that made our ride better and safer.  As I reflected on that, I wondered how much of that is true in my own life.  To be sure, one can take this to extremes and worry about all sorts of details and pressures that may or may not ever occur, but on a basic level, is seems to me that a part of my Christian discipleship is preparing for the obstacles that I may very well encounter at some point in my journey, even if they are not currently a threat to me.  I want to be the person who is able to, for instance, give money to someone who needs it.  So I need to live on less than I earn and have a little on hand in case the opportunity presents itself to me.  I want to be a person who is wise – and so I spend a little time each day in the company of authors and speakers who are models for me.

"I don't care if it rains or freezes..."

I hope I remember all sorts of things about this trip – the bird life, the fishing, the time we nearly froze to death in the rain forest…but I also hope to remember the lesson I learned from Pablo and José.  I hope that I can be a person who is inwardly prepared for the things that the day might bring me…that I might have a reservoir of faith and hope that will allow me to steer clear of any snares or temptations that might threaten my voyage, or present an obstacle to someone with whom I share the journey.  I am grateful for all those Pablos who have ridden with me so far, and hope that I can offer that to someone else in the days to come.

The Razor-Billed Curassow is a rare bird that we happened upon as we motored upstream

Capybara were a common sight on the river drives.

The Tiebreaker!

Spending some time on the mighty Tambopatas River in Peru

I may have mentioned something in a previous post about fishing…well, to date in South America, we’ve had one round to the fish (in Chile) and another to me (in Peru).  Needless to say, I was eager to break the tie!

Wednesday, we took a motorized canoe from the Tambopatas National Reserve (river fishing prohibited) to the Refugio Amazonas (fishing permitted).  When we got to the “port”, lo and behold, we had about 45 minutes before our next scheduled activity.  I just happened to have my telescopic fishing rod handy.  And my friend Fino, quickly becoming my very own Sancho Panza, just happened to have a piece of meat on hand.  The ladies went up to the lodge, while we decided to wet a line and see if we could break a tie.

Fino took the camera, and of course he took some photos of a bird.  You’ll see that later.  At any rate, before long, I found myself screaming “Hey, Fino, forget the bird, check this out!”

"I got one!"

I was using a piece of beef and about a #10 hook on 12 lb test, and I want to tell you, the reel just screamed!  I had forgotten to bring wire leaders, so I was afraid that the fish might have teeth and bite through the line.  But I had to play it, because it was really a fighter.  Those readers who have been steelhead fishing will know what I mean.  I fought the fish for about ten minutes.

He's just about played out...

We had a battle back and forth, and unlike a steelie, this guy never jumped or showed himself.  I had no idea what I was dealing with – only that my heart was racing and the adrenaline was really flowing.  I couldn’t believe it – I was catching a decent fish (I hoped) in the rain forest!  Finally, I landed him.  This is a good picture, but it doesn’t do the fish justice.  He was a real beauty!

This one didn't get away!

When we showed the photo around the lodge, the guides disagreed as to what to call it.  Some said it was a Docella, while others called it a Mota.  When I get decent internet, I’ll check it out.  It is a catfish, of course – about three feet long, and weighing 5 or 6 pounds.  It was an awesome feeling to bring him in, and then watch him swim away.  After doing so, I said to Fino – I mean Sancho Panza – “Wow, now I am really disappointed that Sharon and Ariel didn´t come along.  Well, they didn’t think I’d catch anything.”  Sancho/Fino laughed and confessed, “Dave, I didn’t think you would catch anything either!”  Of course that doubt didn’t stop him from taking my camera and showing the other guides what I had landed!

Later on, I did bring in  one more small fish – another variety of catfish called a Bagre that the locals eat pretty frequently.  This one was only about 8 inches long.  But it was a fish.  And it was the jungle.

The final fish of the trip...this trip, anyway!

You know, just before catching the big fish, someone said to me, “Dave, that’s too bad that you didn’t get to fish more on this trip – the lodge screwed up when they promised you fishing time in the Reserve.”  And yes, they did.  But here’s the deal: even if I hadn’t had the chance to fish after catching the first one, it would have been great.  Because I didn’t come to fish.  I came hoping to fish. And really, that’s what the trip is about: hoping.  Waiting for a chance.  Trying your luck.  And maybe, just maybe, you get to bring one in.

I keep saying that my fishing informs my faith.  It does!  Walking as a Christian is a lot like fishing.  Most of the time, what I hope for in my life, in your life, in the lives of the kids at the Open Door – well, most of my wildest dreams don’t come true.  I screw up.  People let each other down.  We fail, and we sin, and we are bruised and damaged people.  But a life of faith is a life of hope – a life that says, “Yes, that’s where we are.  And that’s what has happened so far.  But do you know what?  The trip isn’t over yet.  One more cast.  One more conversation.  One more try.”

And sometimes, well, sometimes it works.  Sometimes you bring in one that makes  Sancho and the other guys smile.  One that brings joy to your heart.  And that one is worth a lot of time sitting watching, waiting, hoping, and praying.

I hope you catch one today, my friend!

Los Peces: 1; Dave: 1

Well, well, well… As the title of the blog indicates, my second attempt at practicing the piscine arts in the Southern Hemisphere met with a little more success than did my first.  One of the reasons that I chose the adventure in the rain forest was that it promised a day of fishing.  I assumed that meant that the guide would provide all the equipment, etc., but just in case, I packed my trusty telescopic rod and a few essentials.  Good thing for me – because the local guide had no idea about any promises for fishing.  In fact, fishing on the Tambopatas River inside the Tambopatas Reserve is strictly forbidden.  Dang!

Yet our stalwart guide, Fino, a good natured, extremely knowledgeable, and good-humored Brazilian, was eager to see my dream of fishing in the jungle come to fruition.  To that end, we wrangled a couple of hours on a small pond.

Allow me to set the stage.  First, there are my fishing companions.  As I have mentioned, Fino was there.

My pessimistic companion…

As I also mentioned, he was loyal and well-intentioned, but not very optimistic or encouraging.  In fact, after getting me set up with the bait, etc, he went off bird hunting, leaving me alone…

But I wasn´t the only fisherman there.  For instance, there was a beautiful Green and Rufous Kingfisher who, at first, was having a lot better luck than I was.

Female Kingfisher

Not far away, a White Caiman watched with some interest.  Later, in fact, he would profit from my extra bait.  In the trees, a group of howler monkeys had better things to do than watch this gringo with the odd equipment.

The competition for the fish was, shall we say, fierce!

I put a fresh piece of meat on the hook, cast my line, and waited.  After a few false alarms, there was nothing for twenty minutes.  I wish I could say that I was paying total attention to my line and concentrating fully, but, well, you see, that Kingfisher was so beautiful, and I thought that I saw a few turtles, and there was an owl there, too…so I had my back turned.  When I looked again, my pole was dancing…and then I started dancing.  I reeled in my line, and then when I saw the fish, I called for Fino.  I am not used to fish with teeth!

A toothy monster from the jungle…a Huasaco, according to Fino

You wanna be careful unhooking this one, señor…

True, it’s not a giant fish, and true, it wasn’t the fight of a lifetime, but the thing was, I was fishing in the jungle…and I caught something! It was a thrill to me – and a surprise to Fino!

After I released this giant back into his natural habitat, we headed back to the lodge for some well-deserved tea (and to show a few pictures!).  Turns out that there were a few friends waiting for us there!

After I released this giant back into his natural habitat, we headed back to the lodge for some well-deserved tea (and to show a few pictures!).  Turns out that there were a few friends waiting for us there!  A few Scarlet Macaws have taken to visiting the Tambopatas Research Center, and they apparently like to get to know the guests.  It was a treat to see these wonderful animals up close and personal.

 

 

 

 

 

Ariel getting friendly with the locals…

A couple of new friends welcome me to the jungle…

So I had achieved my dream to fish in the Amazonian  jungle…but it was a tie – the fish and I had each pitched a shut-out once.  Would there be another opportunity?  Or was I destined to fish like a world cup soccer game…long and ending in a tie?  Tune in tomorrow for another update!

Cusco Calling!

Greetings from a sunny Cusco, Peru!  We arrived via a very interesting route…

I woke at 5:30 and walked about a kilometer or two to the “port” – the dock used by the lodge in the jungle where we spent the night.  I was able to fish for an hour or so.  Then the rest of the group joined me and we canoed downriver several hours to the “port” of Puerto Maldonado.  There, we boarded a bus and drove for 45 minutes or so over roads that would make a Malawian proud.  Upon arrival in town, we headed to the airport, where we got onboard an Airbus jet – still caked with the mud of a showerless week in the jungle (for 2 of us…).  A 30 minute flight to the Cusco airport, a shuttle to the hotel, and here we are – having enjoyed an alpaca steak for dinner.

I will try to post some photos of the rain forest tomorrow, but we wanted to tell you about some highlights of our last full day in the jungle.  We woke at 4:30 and went to the clay lick, where we were treated to an awesome display of avian beauty.  After a breakfast of pancakes and eggs, we headed to the port for our ride from Tambotas Research Center to Refugio Amazonas.  En route, we encountered a troupe of howler monkeys – a species we´d heard all week, but not seen.  The ride downriver was much warmer than the one earlier in the week, and we saw the red and green macaw, which eluded us upstream.  While traveling, we enjoyed a lunch of baked chicken and rice wrapped in a banana leaf,  Upon arrival at Refugio, Sharon and Ariel relaxed while I tried to fish for an hour or so.

Then, we were treated to a nice hike – maybe two miles? – and had the chance to be paddled around an  oxbow lake.  This was truly a highlight of the trip for us as we were surrounded by beauty – the call of the toucan, seeing several new species of birds, witnessing a fight between two black caymans (caymen?), and visiting a tree that was the most interesting we’ve ever seen.  It will get its own post soon.  After a delicious dinner, we patrolled the grounds looking for armadillo, and fell into bed at 9, exhausted but happy.

One realization voiced by Ariel, but shared by us all, is a gnawing discomfort with being tourists instead of guests.  Arriving at an airport looking for a sign with our name on it, dodging the circus of cab drivers and vendors, being oriented to a place by people that we have hired to be nice to us…that´s not our idea of travel.  We have come to very much appreciate the places in the world where we are greeted by friends and treated as members of the family, and are grateful that there are so many of those places.  Perhaps after this trip, there will be a few more like that.

I hope to be able to post a few photos tomorrow.  In the meantime, thanks for your prayers and friendship.  ¡Hasta luego!

Ode To a Chestnut on the Ground

It occurs to me that I will probably not have access to the internet while in Peru.  If that´s the case, then I´ll take this time to share with you a few thoughts and images from Chile.  You´ll remember that we visited the home of Pablo Neruda (see my post Being Indiana Jones Isn´t Cheap).

As I read through his work, this one tugged at my heart as I consider the ¨work¨ of Sabbatical and the opportunity – nay, the task – of wonder.  The Lord has given us time, space, and others…do we reflect on the ways in which we are called to allow ourselves to be planted, to develop, and to grow?  I hope that you enjoy this poem, and that you find time to take a walk today and find your own chestnut and compose your own ode.

Ode To a Chestnut on the Ground
by Pablo Neruda

The home of Pablo Neruda on Isla Negra

From bristly foliage
you fell
complete, polished wood, gleaming mahogany,
as perfect
as a violin newly
born of the treetops,
that falling
offers its sealed-in gifts,
the hidden sweetness
that grew in secret
amid birds and leaves,
a model of form,
kin to wood and flour,
an oval instrument
that holds within it
intact delight, an edible rose.
In the heights you abandoned
the sea-urchin burr
that parted its spines
in the light of the chestnut tree;
through that slit
you glimpsed the world,
birds
bursting with syllables,
starry
dew
below,

The entry to Neruda's home with a view of the Pacific

the heads of boys
and girls,
grasses stirring restlessly,
smoke rising, rising.
You made your decision,
chestnut, and leaped to earth,
burnished and ready,
firm and smooth
as the small breasts
of the islands of America.
You fell,
you struck
the ground,
but
nothing happened,
the grass
still stirred, the old
chestnut sighed with the mouths
of a forest of trees,
a red leaf of autumn fell,
resolutely, the hours marched on
across the earth.

Inside Neruda´s home, where one of us pretended not to understand the sign that said "No Fotos". Hmmmm.

Because you are
only
a seed,
chestnut tree, autumn, earth,
water, heights, silence
prepared the germ,
the floury density,
the maternal eyelids
that buried will again
open toward the heights
the simple majesty of foliage,
the dark damp plan
of new roots,
the ancient but new dimensions
of another chestnut tree in the earth.