January 29, 2015 Adios Peru. Hola USA.

After breakfast we boarded the bus for the airport, pausing for one last look at Puno and Lake Titicaca. The plane will take us back to Lima and the hotel where we began. We have a few hours before our farewell dinner with our tour group, so we go shopping to use up our last Sol, and to prepare for a quick getaway after dinner to meet out plane at 1:00 am.

We enjoyed the trip which fun and enriching. We had fun with our guide and the people we traveled with. There were many surprises in the things we experienced.

We expected to be awed by Manchu Picchu, and we were… but we more awed at the great connection through our faith that we felt through the extravagant devotion of the people.
The paintings from the Cusco School were a revelation. This demonstrated how two cultures mutually enriched one another and through this God brought forth a new and beautiful artistic expression of faith.

It is unusual to us to be in cities where faith is so public. Cities, streets, even businesses are named after saints. Churches and monuments to religious figures abound. People passing churches make the sign of the cross and many genuflect as well. It is overwhelming to see the number of images of the Blessed Virgin. Fiestas are robustly celebrated in connection with religious feasts and holidays. Demonstrations of faith are expected and noncontroversial. We are inspired by this, and saddened this is not more of ourexperience at home.

We were surprised by the practice here of vesting the crosses in public places.

These all challenge us to lead our communities to a more public and unapologetic expression of faith.

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Day 9. January 28, 2015. Lake Titicaca (Puno), Peru.

We woke up seeing the dawn over Lake Titicaca. It looked like it would be another fine day.

Lake Titicaca is the highest lake in South America and the highest navigable lake in the world. The water temperature is so cold all year round that it is unsuitable for sporting, except kayaking and fishing. It is ringed by hills. It took a while to realize that thehills around us are even more impressive since we are seeing them from 12,500 feet.

After breakfast we walked outside, looking at the lake and encountering close up alpaca and cuy (Guinea pigs).

Our first outing was to the floating Uros islands. This is a way of life that goes back to Pre-Incan times. The was a 25 minute boat ride from our hotel. The area we visited had 87 “islands” which are home to 3 or more families each. Each Island is man-made from a base or reed roots, tied together and topped by reeds. Each reed root is in a block of dried earth which is about 1.5 feet square. A basic island would be about 15 blocks by 30. The reeds need to be replenished by about a 3 foot layer every month since they pack down and are constantly rotting from the bottom. An island would have a life if about 30 tears. Although floating, they are anchored in the lake by 12 anchors.

When we approached the island we were met by women, colorfully dressed, who greeted us as we disembarked. The women invited us to see their small and basic homes. The reeds under our feet were squishy and it took some getting use to. There a presentation by the presidente, the leader of the families, on the construction and maintenance of the island. The women and children sang songs in native languages before inviting us to see and buy their handicrafts. Although the islanders have various ways to support themselves, tourism greatly adds to their income although it is regulated to spread the wealth among the individual islands and minimize accelerated deterioration of each island. Visits are limited to two one hour visits per month on each island. Finally we were invited to ride in their man-made reed boats to where we would meet our boat.

The lives of these people reference a ancient tradition, but they interact with the mainland and use some modern technology, including cellphones, solar panels, motorboats, and the occasional television. The complex has its own grade school, medical clinic and we even saw a floating soccer field. The interaction between islanders are limited, usually happening at church or markets on the mainland. Some islanders do end up moving to the mainland.

Since our hotel is a distance from the town, our guide had the driver take us to the city center for lunch where we explored on our own. As we were walking down the street we saw a political demonstration which had many men following a banner and chanting.

We were fortunate to come upon a shrine dedicated to the city’s patron Our Lady of Candelaria, whose feast is celebrated on February 2. The people were just finishing their novena for the day in preparation for the feast. The altar was extravagantly decorated and all the people were dressed up. When someone spotted us they came over to us, explained what was going on and gave us a small candle and a prayer card featuring their patron’s image. This feast Is a major event for the area and was declared an intangible world heritage site by UNESCO last year. It draws thousands of people from throughout the area. It is broadcasted throughout Peru. The feast goes on for many days with processions, dancing and feasting. We are sad we won’t be here to see it.

As we walked we were being strongly envouraged by people in front of the restaurants to have lunch there. We settled at one restaurant where we ate roasted alpaca.

After lunch we tried to visit the cathedral, but it was locked and we could only see the outside. We shopped some and bought food for dinner in our room.

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Day 8, January 27, 2015. Puno, Peru.

Today was a long bus travel day from Cusco to Puno. We traveled for 9 hours including stops. We passed the highest point of our trip 15,000 feet above sea level.

About 11:00 am we stopped to see Raqchi, an archeological site. It is most noted for its large temple to the creator god, built to appease him so he would check volcanic activity. Much of the rock used in the site is volcanic rock from a nearby volcano. The complex around the temple was designed and used as a midpoint between the highest and lower regions of the area. The high elevations were able to raise alpaca and llamas, but was unable to grow crops. This was opposite in lower elevations. The state built over 200 granaries to store crops from the fertile fields which were bartered for the wool and meat of the alpaca and llama.

One of the crops still being grown was lupine which has a bean which is poisonous and must be processed by soaking to remove the poison for human consumption. By soaking the bean in the man-made lake, the water absorbed the poison which was then to dip the sheep to kill vermin. Since mountain gardening involves terraces, lupine which is rich in nitrogen would be planted on the highest terrace to nitrate crops on lower terraces. This ingenuity impressed us. These techniques are stilled used by residents who live around this site.

Hours later we were in the highest regions where we saw alpaca and llama packs, as well as snow capped mountains.

We were surprised as we came to lower altitudes to spot pink flamingos!

Around 6:00 pm we arrived at our hotel which is on the shore of Lake Titicaca, the mountain lake shared with Bolivia. More on that tomorrow.

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Day 7, January 26, 2015. Cusco, Peru.

After a relaxing breakfast at our elegant hotel, we struck out to explore Cusco. We began at the Plaza de las Armas, the main square bordered by the cathedral and the Compania, a Jesuit church. These buildings stand on the foundations of Incan palaces. Incan walls and foundations can be seen as parts of buildings throughout the area, including out hotel. We would be awed by how many monumental churches occupy such a small area.

Walking to St. Peter’s Market, we passed through an arch dedicated to St. Clare. We looked forward to the market because it is a bustling and colorful place even in the morning.

Our first stop after the market was the museum in the monastery of the Mercederian order. Its greatest claim to fame is the custodia, a solid gold monstrance more than a meter high and encrusted with precious stones, including the second largest pearl in the world. Although the monstrance is the star it is a priceless collection of liturgical appointments and paintings. Unfortunately, as with most churches we would see today, photographs were not permitted, so none to post. We did take some of the monastery’s cloister.

After the museum we took a sightseeing bus tour to get oriented to the city. We were thrilled it took us to the site of an enormous statue of Jesus that looks down on the city. It was a gift after WWII by the Palestine Christian refugees in appreciation for accepting them in Cusco. The downside of the tour is we both ended up with sunburns.

Now the ecclesial tour really began, including the cathedral, the Museum of Religious Art, the (Jesuit) Compania Church and up a steep incline to St. Blaise. Sadly photographs were not permitted in any of these, but photos would not have done them justice.

In every place we were impressed by works from the Cusco School of Painting. This came about as Spaniards taught the Incans about painting, and the Incans transformed it into their own style. This resulted in traditional images taking on Incan characteristics. The paintings have vivid colors, gold leaf and other Incan motifs and influences. It also demonstrates the willingness of the Spaniards to respect Incan sensitivities in evangelization, and how successful it can be.

Today has lead us into a greater respect for the Church in Peru and insights into the challenges the Church faces with its multicultures. This day was a feast of the eyes and mind.

We have been so lucky with the weather. This is usually the rainy season in Peru but we have sunny days. We hope our luck holds out.

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Greetings from Lima, Peru.

It was a short night. We arrived at our hotel at 2 o’clock in the morning. We got up to a sumptuous hotel breakfast and had to go to the migration office because someone lost their migration card… something very important in Peru. It was 2 hours that we will never get back again, but the people were helpful and nice.

From the office we went to Plaza de las Armas, the central square in the old city. It is a beautifully landscaped plaza, bordered by the cathedral, the bishop’s palace, the governor’s palace, and the central post office. We were relieved to see such a beautiful side of Peru because the areas we had seen so far were rather run down.

We walked to the Convent of Santo Domingo and we’re able to get in the church before it closed down for the afternoon. One of the side altars was dedicated 1 of the 2 favorite saints of a Lima, Martin de Porres, who spent his life and died in this monastery. We were surprised to see his skull in a glass case on the altar. After leaving the church we took a tour of the monastery and Museum. There is a chapel in the monastery dedicated to Saint Martin in the room that served as the infirmary where he had worked. His grave in this the room contains his body but not his head. There was another chapel in the monastery, below the order’s chapter room, dedicated to Saint Rose of Lima, Lima’s other favorite saint. She dedicated her body to the monastery before she died, but her head is interred in the church of Saint Rose, built where her family home had been. You just have to love Latin American devotion! We were impressed by a 17th century library in the monastery full of ancient volumes. Father Jim was happy to see a volume of Dante’s Divine Comedy displayed in the library. Everywhere walls where covered in decorative tiles from Spain, frescoes and wood carvings.

I am encountering technical difficulties so will end part one. I will need to post photos later.


Day 6. January 25, 2015. Manchu Picchu “Lost City of the Incas”

Our wake up call was received at 4:45 am and we departed the hotel at 5:15am by bus to catch the train that would take us to the bus that would take us to Manchu Picchu. We took the VISTADOME train with ample widows to the side and above that treated us to incredible views of cloud top mountains, rushing rivers and green fields. The train track ran through a narrow valley in the Andes that had been carved out by a river. The bus then zigzagged up the steep mountain leading us to Manchu Picchu.

After passing through the entry to the site we climbed a narrow path that eventually opened up to Manchu Picchu. We had seen photos of the site but to actually see was stunning. It stands encircled by mountains. The Inca name for the site was not Manchu Picchu but is the name of the mountain… Manchu Picchu means “Old Mountain.”

There are various theories of the purpose of this site and why it was abandoned. It lies on the main trade road between Lima and Cusco so possibly it had something to do with regulating trade. Others feel its purpose was governance of the area… others that it has religious significance. There are theories why it was abandoned, but all we know it was abandoned before the conquistadors arrived. It had appeared on maps but no one except the locals knew it was there or its significance. It was referred to as “the Lost City of the Incas.”

The city was built according to how its builders saw the world and religion. The site includes two mountains – new and old – representing the contrasts which ring our lives. It has temples to the sun, moon and water. The division of the functions in the site reflects a threefold division of three animals it revered- the condor, the puma and the snake (heaven, earth and underworld). The town was mainly agricultural with terraced fields of its sloping sides, but craftspersons are also evident. All residents were expected to labor for the community, family and government (in that order).

We spent 4 hours touring the site and learning about aspects of Inca culture and belief, some that have been absorbed into the majority Catholic faith in Peru.

An interesting thing is that the name Inca comes a misunderstanding of the Spanish. Inca means “king” and would have been applied only to one person, but Spanish reference makes all Incas “kings”.

We could have spent another hour on the site after the tour, but because of the heat, blazing sun, altitude and effort of walking the site few remained. Most of our group sought out the comfort of the village below.

When we rejoined our bus we came to Cusco which will be our base (12,000 ft above see level) for the next two days. Tomorrow we spend visiting Cusco.

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