Sunday, October 23, 2016

Peru Trip, Day 8, The mountain road

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Sleeping in an airport turned out to be a little less enjoyable than you might expect it to be. Unlike airports in the U.S. that ensure an armrest separates each and every seat, the Lima airport has benches you can lie down on. This gives the impression that you can sleep on them. That impression would be wrong. Of course, the problem lies not with the benches themselves, but with the loudspeaker cranked to 11 that constantly reminds passengers to check the monitors for up-to-date flight information, pages individuals to come to a specific gate, and warns people that their gate has changed. Thus, every one or two minutes my pathetic attempt at sleeping was interrupted by a booming voice that might as well have been saying, "You should have gotten a hotel." The shorts I was wearing from the day before did not protect me from the air conditioning, and my yellow towel made for a poor blindfold. I would have to be completely exhausted before I could sleep in that airport. By the time we returned just two days later, I would be. Santos, on the other hand, somehow managed to get a little more sleep than I did, perhaps because he was wearing pants and had a nice jacket to keep him warm.

The closer it got to our airplane's departure time, the more we came to realize that our flight would be delayed. With little else to do, I texted my wife to let her know how things were progressing until I found out our flight was pushed back to 11:05 am. Had we known, we probably would have gotten a hotel. Hindsight is always 20/20.

The flight to Cusco lasted about an hour, and when we approached for landing we could see mountains on our left and on our right. The air was cooler there due to the altitude, and even while we were in the airport we could feel the lightheadedness that comes from being up so high. People talk about how difficult it is for sports teams to adjust to the altitude when playing in Denver, Colorado, the Mile High City. Cusco is over two miles high.

Pastor Jarvis from Tingo MarĂ­a had found out that Santos and I were going to Machu Picchu, so he called some people he knew who agreed to pick us up and set us up with accommodations if we agreed to visit their church in Santa Teresa and preach. I wasn't sure where the church was at, but I knew it would be a ways away from Cusco. Pedro, a church leader in Santa Teresa, met us in the airport and arranged for a taxi to take us to Santa Teresa. Although our last full meal was lunch the day before, we opted to hold off on eating until we were away from Cusco. Before long the three of us were piled into a car and heading north by northwest out of the city.

After about an hour and a half we stopped outside of Ollantaytambo for some lunch. It was here that our driver gave us some advice we neither understood nor followed. He explained that we would be heading high up into the mountains and come down the other side. He recommended we take something to sleep, but not having anything with which to knock ourselves out and wanting to see all that we could see, we politely declined the offer and loaded back into the car for what would be the worst drive of our lives.

Up until this point the road had been fairly straight. Upon leaving Ollantaytambo, we began our ascent into the mountains. Roads in the mountains cannot be straight without carving long tunnels through solid rock. Rather, they zig zag back and forth all the way up, frequently at short intervals. Because our driver was getting paid for the job and not by the hour, he had no incentive to take it slow around the curves. The effect was immediate: conversation died, Santos and I braced ourselves against the door, ceiling, head rest—whatever we could hang onto, and our heads and stomachs began acting in ways we had never felt before. The sudden silence made me realize that our driver had a music playlist consisting of about eight songs on repeat. I imagine the experience was not too far off from being trapped on a tilt-a-whirl for about three hours.

It was not long before Santos, riding in the back, announced his intention of being sick. Our driver was neither surprised nor concerned. He instructed me to open the glovebox where I found a large stash of plastic bags. He then told me to pass one back to Santos. It seems he was used to this sort of thing, and he said that he felt sorry for people from the coast who had to take a trip into the mountains. At the end, he said, "Salen blanquitos," meaning they get out of the vehicle "very pale," and that in a country where most people have darker skin.

Santos became very sick, but somehow I managed to retain my afternoon meal for the whole trip. I even managed to record a few videos on my phone, not because I wanted to remember the trip, but because I feared we would soon careen off the edge of the mountain. The driver was passing vehicles while approaching blind turns, drifting from one lane to the other, and pushing 80km/hr in areas clearly marked for 30km/hr. If we didn't survive I hoped the footage would somehow make it back to my loved ones so they could understand how we ended up at the bottom of a ravine.

By the time we made it to the top of the mountain Santos had spent nearly all he had left. By this point we had made it to 4300 meters above sea level, almost 2.7 miles high. We saw a heard of llamas that would have been cute in almost any other venue but the one we were at, and we had to push through the cloud-covered road down the other side of the mountains.

Santos finally passed out, probably from exhaustion, and I even dozed off once or twice. We finally arrived at our destination around 6:15, giving us just enough time to settle into our room at a hostal, get our Bibles out, and head to the church so I could preach. Santos looked like a broken man, and I was so exhausted from the car ride, lack of sleep, and missed meals that I wasn't sure how well I would actually do preaching that evening.

We walked to the church where we met a small gathering of believers who were very excited to have us. After some singing, Santos and I were introduced, we greeted them, and I preached. I've never felt so weak and inadequate, but they received us warmly and thanked us for coming. By 11 pm we were back to our hostel. We were weak, tired, and humbled by the mighty hand of our God. And tomorrow we were getting up early to go to Machu Picchu. God would humble us even more before the trip was out, in ways we couldn't even anticipate.

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