Monday, February 22, 2010

Updog, Hammerdo, and Jesus

We're home from Peru (well, most of us anyways...more on that in a bit) and it was a completely fabulous trip! Our group of 16 was great! No one got (very) lost, there was no arguing, and no real complaining. Perfect :)
We left Boston around noon on Sunday, stopped in Atlanta, and arrived in Lima around 11pm. After clearing customs we had quite a while before our flight at 7am. (BTW, there is no time change between home and Peru). We spent roughly 5 hours in the waiting area of the airport while they cleaned the floors. We stood right outside the door for a few minutes to get some warm, fresh air. As soon as I stepped outside, I took in a deep breath and relished the smell. It smelled like Foreign Country. You know what I mean if you've smelled it. Foreign air just has a different smell...sort of like a suitcase and adventure...its just plain different and I love it.
After a long night, we finally made it to Iquitos by 9am and were greeted by Osmar from YWAM and realized just how hot Peru can get. It was still early in the morning and we were already sweating. During the 15 minute bus ride to the base we got our first glimpse of Peru. It was all smaller and dirtier that I expected, but I was already in love. The motocarros buzzing all around, people selling fruits and foods from roadside stands, the short colorful houses passing by. Like the smell of the air, it all shouted "Foreign" and I was so excited. One of the first things I noticed was that amazing colors everywhere. The houses, buses, motorcars, everything was bright colored. Blues, yellows, oranges, greens. Love Love Love.

The base is a 3-story house that wasn't all that bad. Yes, there were some really big cockroaches, as we found out (Thanks to a scream of bloody murder at 3am). A lizard lived under the 'Amazon' poster in the dining room (he was little). And no, toilet paper couldn't be flushed (the toilet did flush counter-clockwise, though!). But we had good food waiting for us at every meal, foam mattresses, big windows to let in the air, and a few fans around to help cool down. Lulu made us good food at every meal, although it was American, not Peruvian. My bed was top bunk in the corner of the room, right by a huge window with a great view. Looking down, there was a beautiful bush with yellow flowers. Looking out, I looked over tin roofs to the busy street and vast green horizon. After the second day, I was used to the strange noises that came through said window and slept through most of it. By "strange" I mean roosters crowing at all times of the day, dogs barking, children playing and the army recruits chanting. Yep. We were right across the street from the Army training grounds and they were up at 4 every morning.
Every day, we would do 2-3 ministries, mostly with children. Every place we went, we had at least one hundred children watching (not to mention their parents and grandparents). Our program consisted of face painting (on hands), skits, puppets and a preaching. Osmar (our guide) also played Spanish CDs to bring people in, along with silly games and songs. We would generally show up in the middle of a neighborhood, ask to use the space outside someones home, and set up shop. We would go out and invite people to come, although most of them just came when they saw a group of white people walking by. (There were so many little things that went on, so many stories, so those will come in a post later this week. Today will just give you a taste of what our life was like last week). Once people adjusted to us, mainly the kids, they would crowd around us and jump close to take a picture when we held up our camera.
During face painting, in one neighborhood in particular, I had little hands trying to push closer than the others for their turn. Little sweaty bodies pushed again mine and others hoping to get picked first. With only muy pequeno Espanol under my belt, I pretty much just took a hand and painted whatever came to mind as quickly as I could. Incidentally, I now know how to say dog, boat, frog, flower, rainbow and ball in Spanish.
We did two night-time church ministries. One right in the second neighborhood we visited, the other at Ozzy's home church. For churches our program was a little different. We had music, dances, the healer skit, a personal testimony and a longer preaching. I'll share the details of these later. Suffice it to say that the churches were at the top of my list of favorite things about Peru (And its a very long list!).

We got around Iquitos two ways: Motortaxi and Bus. We all fell in love with motortaxis. They're not like the rickshaws we've seen in other places. These are motorcycles in the front with a covered bench in the back. Essentially, a motorized, over sized tricycle. They travel about 30 kph (roughly 20mph), which feels pretty fast when you're crammed in an open-sided vehicle within touching distance of other vehicles. In fact, I almost tipped over in one when we hit a big ditch after a rainstorm. Rules of the road don't apply too much here, although I was pleasantly surprised to learn they do obey traffic lights (this wasn't the case in Taiwan, so I wasn't sure).
There's nothing like the gentle swaying and bouncing of the taxi as the city flashes by and the wind and dust blow in your face. Cooling and relaxing, even though I probably should have been afraid, at least a little bit. These drivers were just as crazy as any other foreign country I've been to. Zooming past other vehicles, using the opposite lane as a passing lane no matter what was coming at us, getting within a centimeter of the curb or another vehicle. Yet, despite the precarious nature of the driving, I was totally at ease sitting back and enjoying the craziness. Besides, they drive these things everyday, right?
We took buses a few times, as it was cheaper and safer at times. The buses had wooden floors and sides covered in metal. In the front, right behind the driver, was a big mechanical thing. We think it was the exhaust system. Bus drivers were just as crazy as motorcar drivers. They just drove a bigger vehicle.
We also took a boat on the river(s) a few times. Our part of Iquitos sat along the Rio Nanay (Nah-ny) The first time we took the boat, we were headed to a village along the Amazon. We loaded onto a long, skinny blue boat with a red tip and thatched roof. We had to carefully balance who sat on which side so we wouldn't tip. As we moved towards the Amazon River, you could physically see the line where it changed. Because of currents and silt and whatnot, the Nanay looks black while the Amazon is brown. They don't slowly fade into each other but abruptly break along a clear line. It was so strange and so cool to see.

Motoring along, we saw a dolphin, although there is some debate over the color. Because it happened so fast, we have no photographic evidence to settle it. Our day in the jungle was pretty awesome. We were the first Americans to visit this tribe. As far as we know, anyways. It was a first for YWAM too. When we got off the boat, we were greeted by a man with a machete working the fields. This village is small and fairly new, about 2 years old. There were only about 3 homes, along with a small school. They are in the process of building a big concrete school building. It was about a 15 minute hike to the heart of the village where we spent the day.

Walking through the jungle was surreal. Huge plants all around us. It was like living in Honey I Shrunk the Kids. There were birds (and monkeys?) making noise all around us. The center of the village had a big dirt patch, where we set up the volleyball net we brought for them, and a small vegetable garden, along with a hut and the school(s). I got to use the "jungle bathroom" here, which was not good, but better than I expected. It was really cool to be there for the start of this village and to think that by us blazing the way for others, this village could become a Christian village and spread throughout Peru.

We spent our last day as tourists. We went to two villages that have maintained their heritage and native traditions for tourists. We got see their native dress, songs and dances, and even got to dance with them. It was great! Even had traditional paint on our face and got to shoot a huge blowgun at the second one. From there we went to two different animal preserve-type places. I got to hold an Anaconda, a prehistoric turtle, and a sloth. Pet an anteater (so strange looking!). Saw a jaguar, butterflies and a capybara. I was almost attacked by a monkey. It was a pretty cool day :) Earlier in the week we also saw (and got to feed) alligators and paiche, a huge Amazonian fish that is a delicacy in the region.

I also ate some really good and really strange foods on this trip (mostly on our last night). Tried two new fruits: Sapote (Sa-po-tay) and Aguaje (A-gua-hay). Sapote is the size of a small melon and cut into wedges. You eat the orange, sweet pumpkiny fruit off the hard center. Aguaje was about the size of a kiwi with deep red scales. You bought it peeled so it looked bright orange. It had a very large pit in the middle. You use your teeth to peel off a chunk, then strip the orange part off and discard the white left behind, like an inside out orange...sorta. It had a very unique taste that took a few bites to get used to, a little like a carrot, I guess.

We went out to eat on our last night at a floating restaurant. We had delicious camu camu juice. Its yummy, pink and frothy. Tastes a bit like berries and melon, that's the closest I can get. So yummy! We went through at least 15 pitchers. We were also greeted with these corn-nut things. They were kind of roasted corn with a soft center, like popped popcorn still in the kernel, or something. Really hard to explain. Delicious and unavailable anywhere else, sadly. We were treated to a tasting of several things. First up was a dish that I don't know the name of. It consisted of a chicken leg surrounded by rice that had been wrapped in banana leaves for cooking. The rice had a light green color and a slightly tangy lime-ish flavor. The chicken was insanely tender and delicious.

Next up was one of my favorites, the piranha. I'm not a big fish person, but this was sooo good! It was very flavorful without being fishy. The only downside was the fine bones that would stab you if you weren't aware. Then we had cecina. Fried rice with jungle pork. It was good, but not my favorite. The pork tasted good, but was really really salty. We tried the plantain ball made of smushed plantains and pork fat. Really really good. Almost like mashed potatoes. I tried some of Ryan's alligator nuggets. It was so good! Like chewy, salty chicken nuggets. Made me wish I had ordered that :) We also got to try the drink I had read about, Inca Kola. yummy, neon-yellow soda that taste like bubblegum. So fun!

We also tried grub (el sury) that night. They were little ones. Not so great, though not as bad as I expected. Chewy, kinda squishy with juice. Can't explain the taste except to say not so good. The next morning I tried a large grub, which tasted better. Still chewy and squishy, but there was more meat to it than the little ones. I wouldn't say it was my new favorite food or anything, but I would eat it again. My last new food of the trip was a roasted seed on a stick. It looked kinda like little brains. They were good. Crunchy. Tasted like roasted nuts. Osmar couldn't remember what fruit they were from.

We made it through the entire trip with no injuries or problems until the way home. We were sitting in the Lima airport killing time before flying back to the states. After three hours, we got our things together to check in for our next flight and one of our girls realized she left her passport on the plane from Iquitos to Lima. Right up until 5 minutes before our flight took off, they were trying to get it back or use her ID to get her on the flight, but no luck. She had to stay behind with Ryan. Because this all happened at midnight Sunday morning, they had to hang out at the airport until Monday morning when the embassy opened so she could get a new temporary passport. They should be getting on a flight around 1am Tuesday.

I absolutely loved this trip. The sights and smells of the city, the faces and hearts of the people, the adventure of taxis, bridges and food. Traveling around the city got me thinking, though. Iquitos isn't a very big tourist spot. When they come, they stay around the plaza and maybe venture down the river to the tourist spots we went to. But Osmar told us they pretty much stay right by the plaza. No where else is very touristy. During our time in Iquitos, we only drove through the plaza on our way to other places, but I could tell that if thats the Peru you see, you completely miss it. The regular people aren't in the plaza. They're in the villages 5 minutes and a world away. They aren't shopping in these stores or buying ice cream. They're doing laundry and talking with neighbors on their dusty roads. They shop at their neighbors home-store.

I felt blessed the entire week that I got to meet these people, to see the way they really live, to experience the real Iquitos when so many people come and miss it. I guess that's one of the differences between travel and missions, and I don't think I'd change it.

Well, I think that's it for now. I'll give more details and real stories in a few days, all of it by the weekend, I hope. Hope you enjoyed this super long post!

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