Wednesday, August 6, 2008

To Speak of the Chacras

i am sorry that i have not been very faithful in updating lately. There is really no legitimate excuse… and it looks like i will not get very close to caught up to the end of the trip before i make it home.

So if there is any interest whatsoever… i suppose that i will continue the blog at least until i finish an overview of my time in Peru after i get home.

i’m going to try really hard for this update to be less than 700 pages long. Please forgive me if i fail in the matter.

i think i’m going to continue with Choco pictures for a little while… this post is going to be a photo essay detailing a little bit of the work done in the fields around Choco. i traveled to fields with Juana Lupaca Blanco on two separate occasions and tried to document the goings on. This series is almost a month and a half old now… so my memory might be a little bit hazy (and i’m not going to go back and read through my notes on the occasions right now)… but i think i won’t be lying to you… too much.

But before i go there… i thought that i would provide a picture of the overly kind missionaries with whom i have been staying in Trujillo. So here, ladies and gentlemen, are Eric and Lora Karraker… or Lora and Eric Karraker, as they appear in this picture.

So… Choco is located in the bottom of a canyon. The village itself fills the only nearly-flat ground in the area, and is braced on all sides by near-vertical cliffs. The fields, then, are often a fairly long walk away, cut out into the mountainsides in the form of terraces.

In this picture, Juana’s donkeys are on their way to one of her fields. The donkeys are necessary to transport whatever is harvested back to her house… and on particularly long trips are occasionally ridden for a while.

Upon arriving at her field on this particular day, we began by collecting the two mature avocados in her tree. We started by throwing rocks at them to knock them down… but after i notched a direct hit to no avail, we decided to try a different tactic. Juana saw a 12-15 foot tree branch a short distance away and charged off to bring it back.

Upon arriving, we quickly were able to use it to knock the avocados down. She kind of liked the thing, though, and so decided to hide it so that she would be able to use it in the future. She climbed up to the edge of one of her terraces and lowered it out of view down the other side.

After collecting the avocados and hiding the branch, Juana began picking cactus fruit—tuna. Here she holds out a peeled tuna for me. Yum.

Juana finished off the day by harvesting some corn. She first picked the ears off of the stalks, and then cut the stalks down to take back to her home to feed to her donkeys and sheep.

And i suppose that a fitting close would be a portrait of Juana in her field… so here you go.

Very well… in a few hours i will be leaving Trujillo for Lima, where i will arrive fairly early in the morning tomorrow. i will be spending three days and two nights in Lima before flying back to the states. i hope to get one more update written… but i don’t know how much freedom i will have to do so in Lima. So this may be the last one before i get home.

To all who have faithfully followed this blog… i hope you know that i have appreciated your interest, even that of those who have lurked but not commented.

And… i’m not kidding. Buy me coffee when i get home :-)

Would that i were two, he said, a dark and snowy night.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

To Speak of Great Mystery

i’m going to be honest… before i get to the actual business of writing this update… i feel like you need to know that i am sitting at Pastor Tito’s house… and the TV is on… and i’m listening to music currently, so i didn’t hear the dialogue… but the man in the Uncle Sam costume—complete with dollar store hat… elastic string under the chin? Oh yes…--just went off on the two men in the clown costumes. And this is a serious show. A very serious show. i can tell you that the girl in the orange vest is the good little girl who gets caught up in all kinds of trouble (after about two minutes of occasionally glancing at the screen) precisely because she is wearing an orange vest that is not so fantastic by most modern American standards… kind of the “Not-in-Prada-but-still-looks-cute” effect… the Princess Buttercup image, if i may. The girl with the small mole a couple inches from the corner of her mouth is obviously the deceitful, manipulative arch-villainness, because she has a mole a couple of inches from the corner of her mouth. And the guy who stuck a revolver in his pants is nothing but trouble.

i just thought that you needed to know what was up in the world of Peruvian television tonight—but don’t worry… i assure you that Revolver Man is well-intentioned… he probably wants to protect Cute Innocent Girl’s honor, but it’s all going to backfire because Gandhi wouldn’t stand for such methods.

So all that said… it looks like the Great Mystery referred to in my title is not Peruvian television. Which is kind of a shame.

Instead, i am… temporarily? permanently?... indefinitely, to be sure, reverting from my leap into the realm of fresh material to old stuff… where in this case old means pictures taken five weeks ago. Admittedly… some of the last pictures that i have taken… but… that is certainly much more my fault than their’s.

No, but the mystery is indeed profound. For i am speaking of Christ and the church.

Am i at times inflammatory in my posts? This may be one of those posts that is potentially inflammatory. Hear my heart stronger than my words, i ask.

Which is a long way of saying… i do not know the extent of my readership very well… and perhaps some of my readership does not know me very well. i caution all to not take this post as my overall opinion of Catholicism, or as a generalization that describes an attitude that i take towards all Catholics, but rather as a description—and yes, a criticism—of a particular form of Catholicism that i encountered on a particular day in a particular place, namely June 26, 2008 in Choco, Castilla, Arequipa, Peru. If, based on my statements here, you think that i would criticize some other manifestation of Catholicism that you can think of… well… i probably would, and i am unashamed of that.

The day was June 26. It was a Thursday.

i had been in Choco since Monday.

i started slow… i needed some time to adjust to the new culture of the secluded, more closed village that Choco is… but after some adjustment i began to take pictures much more prolifically than at any other point previously in my trip—and certainly more prolifically than any at any other point successively in my trip. i usually spent my morning reclined against some rocks as John Piper brought the heat through my mp3 player before returning to town for some lunch and the pursuit of some activity with which to fill my afternoon.

This day i was kind of short on ideas. i was still kind of tired from all of the change that i had been subjected to over the past week… so i wanted to do something fairly sedentary and local.

As i sat against the wall of the City Council building in the town plaza, i heard the unmistakable sound of the Choco band. Imagine a drunk middle school marching band with instruments made out of tin. But maybe more exciting than that. If anything could possibly be more exciting than that. The percussion marks time ad libitum and molto rubato… if i may do such harm to the word rubato. And i sometimes wondered how much libit-ing they were doing and how much it was purely unintentional.

But it is the Choco band, and we love them when we’re not trying to sleep. They’re usually more drunk than normal at 1:30am, and that makes their music even more… endearing?

But it was the Choco marching band… so something exciting was happening. Because nothing happens in Choco that isn’t exciting. And i’m trying really hard not to use really dark examples. Especially since Jami Layman isn’t a regular reader of this blog.

But it was the Choco marching band… and they came into view. And behind them the men were in suits. The women were in the beautiful and elaborate traditional Quechua dresses that i have found nowhere but in a few villages near Cabanaconde.

A solemn procession it was. First into town hall for a few minutes… and then towards the cathedral. And the doors opened.

i lived in Choco for a month in 2006… and really wanted to find a way to get into the cathedral. i never succeeded.

But here was my chance.

i’ve never fancied myself to be a wedding photographer. i shot one wedding last summer… Chad McMath and Emily (formerly) Reagan… and while they don’t seem to hate me now, meaning i probably didn’t do an exceptionally horrible job… i know that weddings are probably not my forte (although if you need a wedding photographer you just might be able to talk me into it these days… if i ever end up with a working lens again). But this day—from the back row, because i wasn’t feeling very assertive—i was a wedding photographer. Get excited.

i’m going to present my documentation of the wedding in two parts. This update will include the ceremony and the procession, and the next update (that i devote to old pictures) will include the reception.

Does that structure sound surprisingly western for a small village in the middle of the Andes? It did to me, too.

His name was Abrahan Vilcape Quiquea. Her name was Victoria Monica… and she had a last name, too. But i don’t remember it.

His father was one of the preeminent men of the town. That is why the wedding took place in the cathedral and was officiated by a priest—who had to be paid to come in from Arequipa, six hours of driving and seven miles of walking distant. i believe that most marriages in Choco are more along the lines of common law marriages… perhaps there is a smally ceremony of some sort within the community… but basically the man and the woman move in together and everybody recognizes them as married. Choco is not a very religious village… but i think that there is a lot of prestige associated with having been married in the church.

So i stepped into the cathedral… and gave my eyes a few minutes to adjust to the dim light. To my right were a few rows of pews and an elaborate altar that occupied the entire back wall, as well as many smaller altars along the other walls. To my left was a dusty storage area. The whitewash hadn’t made it that far.

The doors of the cathedral are only opened two or three times i year, i have been told.

The ceremony began with the ceremonious (fitting, eh?) signing of several papers as the assembly sat solemnly and quietly.

As this happened, i shot a few pictures of the interior of the church… such as this.

Perhaps i will be criticized for using this word… but i do not quite know what else to use, and i am unashamed of using it… but this would be one of the several idols found along the walls of the cathedral.

Besides the obvious fact that this is an idol in what presumes to be a house of worship to God… this pains me for another strong reason as well. And obviously this reason is vastly subordinate to the robbed worship of God… but i think that it is relevant nevertheless.

You’re not going to find anybody in Choco who looks like this man. Not remotely.

Wait. i lied. If i’m in Choco… then you will. i am kind of a spitting image of this man, in fact. He’s a bit more obviously Spanish, whereas i am perhaps subtly Swiss… however… this is a white guy with a beard. He has more facial hair than all men and women of Choco combined.

And what have the Spanish been to these people but oppression? Condescension. Mockery.

As the liturgy of the service progressed, the people mumbled through rote prayers and statements of faith with reluctance and hesitation that i have never remotely seen in an American church… and i have seen very reluctant and hesitant American churches.

These people were not talking to their God. The god that they were talking to was white. He has a beard, just like the idols of the saints. The god that they were talking to speaks Spanish. The god that they were talking to hates their Quechua language and encourages them to pretend not to speak it so assertively that they had me fooled for the whole month that i spent with them in 2006. The god that they were talking to wants their money. That way he can have gold-plated altars in locked up cathedrals. The god that they were talking to was not their God. The god that they were talking to was not my God. The god that they were talking to was not any sort of God. The god that they were talking to was dead, was the hellish spiritual reality manifested physically in five centuries of Spanish oppression.

Would that at least they had a conception of a God who cared about people who have dark skin, too.

But the service began, all the same.

The priest, as i said, had been brought in from out of town. He was a big-city priest. Probably about as conservative as they come. So if you take what he had to say and add hundreds of years of isolation and the variation that comes with such isolation and the syncretism that is characteristic of local people… then you will have the typical religion of local people… when they care enough to think about religion at all. Which honestly is not very often for the people of Choco.

“Before we begin this holy service of matrimony, let us confess our sins” said the priest.

i was floored. This was more orthodox theology than i have ever encountered in Catholic Peru before… and we had hardly even started.

“Pray with me.” He said.

“Dear saints, dear blessed Virgin Mother, we have sinned. Make us good people, so that we will sin no more. Amen.”

Nevermore will i be able to hear a Peruvian tell me that they don’t pray to Mary or the saints. i have strong enough objections to any sort of concept of praying “through” Mary and the saints or asking them to pray for us… very strong objections to such a practice… but there is no way you can paint what happened to open this service—with a very conservative priest from the big city, mind you—in such a light. That prayer was to the saints and to Mary, it asked them to bring about an end.

And what was that end? A righteousness of our own. This is not the gospel. This is not Christianity. Christianity is this: yes, we have sinned, and that God demands of us a righteousness that is not our own, and that we are utterly incapable of offering such a righteousness, and so we are under His wrath and fully deserving of hell at this very moment. But against this desert of wrath and hell, the righteousness of God is revealed… a righteousness that is not our own is given to us, not that we might attain to merit or that we might prove good enough to counteract the immense weight of sin, but that the righteousness of Christ is counted to us and our sin is counted to Him and we are made new beings. If we are going to be confessing sin, we would be well advised not to ask that our flesh would yield works of righteousness. If you want apples to come from where a fig tree is planted, you’re going to have to do more than ask the fig tree to give you apples. You would be wise to kill that fig tree and uproot it and dispose of it and plant an apple tree in its place. The whole organism has to change… and there will be no boasting by the fig tree or by the soil that now you have your apples. No… the gospel of which i am not ashamed, the gospel for which Paul was in chains and for which i may one day be given the honor of joining him there, the gospel that all who have received have been commanded to share is one of grace and not of works of the law. If you want to work for your eternal reward apart from faith, then by all means do so… but i warn you that whatever does not proceed from faith is sin, the wages of sin is death, and to him who works, his wages are not counted to him as grace, but as wages… so you will get those wages for which you worked, and those wages will be death.

But to him who does not work, but who believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith will be counted to him as righteousness. Fall on Christ. Don’t ask yourself or Mary or saints or even Jesus Himself to help you earn a righteousness of your own. You will just be collecting filthy rags.

i would call that a lengthy aside… but the gospel of Jesus Christ is never an aside.

But i know that it is time to get back to the wedding (this is going to be sosososo long… do you see why i decided to break it into two updates?).

And so this is some people kissing. Wahoo! (?) (eek… i’m sorry.)

Had i mentioned the Choco marching band? Well check it out! Here they are standing in the back of the cathedral, randomly playing when they are not supposed to play and randomly not playing when they are supposed to play!

i think that people in Choco hate birds.

After the ceremony, Abrahan and Monica worked their way toward the door of the cathedral. As they donned their bread breastplates (please comment with your opinion of what a bread breastplate at a wedding symbolizes, if you are bold enough), the kind people of Choco unloaded on them with large quantities of rice. i stopped my 50 down to f/. 10 and contented myself with shooting them instead of assailing them with bird-killer.

And from the cathedral they walked in regal procession across town to somebody’s house, where the reception took place. The bird extermination program continued fervently.

And with that i think i am going to conclude this update… five and a half pages is enough, don’t you suppose?

A spot known, a claim absurd, a tree grown, it thus was heard, face of stone, the chosen word.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

To Speak of Yacila

And so i returned to Trujillo.

i feel like i could end up having a lot to say in this update.

Which means that probably i will try to say those things that i have to say, and then fail in the process.

On the upside (hopefully it’s an upside?), i have a few pictures that are newer than a month old for this update, definitely giving it a trump card over most of my updates lately.

Don’t get too excited, though… they won’t be anything to write home about.

Unless you are me… in which case that is exactly what you are doing right now.

So get excited, mom…

Mmm… where should i start. i will start tangible. That way i can make sure i say those tangible things that should be said before i get so convoluted in abstraction that i forgot what tangible things i wanted to say.

i will start by saying that i traveled from Piura to Yacila. Getting to Yacila consisted of catching a one hour bus to the town of Paita, and then a 15 or 20 minute taxi (unless it is a 40 minute taxi, which it can at times easily be… but that is a different story entirely) to Yacila.

Yacila is a fishing town. It is not a large town by any stretch of the imagination, but neither is it small. i would estimate—without having consulted the trusted goodness of—that its population is in the area of 400-500. Its economy is completely dependent upon fishing.

The taxi dropped me off on the beach. i threw my backpack—a much lighter backpack than i have had the pleasure of hauling around for most of the trip… the joys of packing for only three days—on my shoulder and… went somewhere. Most of the somewheres i went for the first five minutes ended up being nowheres… but i soon found a somewhere that seemed to work, and there i went.

Yacila is built around a small beach. On the south end the beach is braced by a cliff that rises about 80 feet vertically out of the ocean. There is no access to this cliff, though, because the fishing industry has developed the area immediately next to the cliff. This left north as my only option.

The beach stretches probably about a quarter of a mile. The southern half is filled with small private fishing boats, while the northern half is actually gratuitous recreational beach. The ocean is clogged with more boats just a short distance away. The ones in the water look more comfortable than the ones on land.

Imposing rock structures seemed to block my passage on the north end of the beach. Frustrated that i could find no easy way over them, i was contemplating a long hike around them—a particularly frustrating contemplation because i wasn’t eager to carry my backpack too far, for at this point in the trip i have degenerated into a bit of a pansy—when i saw that there was actually a fairly large opening in the towering spires… a sort of natural door.

i turned around from the other side of the door to take this picture back towards Yacila… and i apologize that once more i have a terrible selection of Yacila pictures… i didn’t do a very exhaustive documentary of the area… i have struggled even to take pictures at all lately… but here is one.

45 minutes—and two more surprising “doors” in seemingly impassable rock structures—later i found myself faced with what seemed to be a fairly decent, fairly remote beach. i pitched my tent and pulled out my tripod for a few pictures.

i didn’t understand why at the time… but my camera adamantly refused to make anything remotely approaching an appropriate exposure with my 18-200mm lens… the lens that i probably take at least 80% of my pictures with, and probably 99% of my landscape pictures with. After a little bit of playing with manual exposure—underexposing horrifically from what the auto-exposure meter suggested—i managed to get an exposure that didn’t make me want to throw up. i framed this scene looking back towards Yacila… which includes your friendly 80 foot cliff and fishing fleet, but not Yacila itself. Fear the angry waves of rising tide.

i feel like this picture is kind of a two-year regression in photographic merit… but it communicates the point that i want to communicate here. My friendly beach was also filled with friendly crabs… teeming with them, in fact. i don’t know how to explain it… but if they were of such a mind, they could easily have eaten me in less than 15 minutes, i think, if they worked together hard enough. This picture doesn’t exactly scream “TEEMING!”… but at least it has a few crabs in it. That’s better than i can say of the pictures that don’t have crabs in them. It would be embarrassing to try to use one of those to make a point about crabs.

Finally… this is the picture that struck me with a terrible clarity of why i couldn’t get pictures to expose properly off of my 18-200…

This picture kind of makes me angry. i want to throw something expensive—anything expensive—at something hard—anything hard—when i look at it. But i usually decide not to, because i’m just a poor college student who emptied his bank account so he could be alone for three months. The future is indeed bright for me, my friends.

And it is still a pretty picture… and that’s nice… i like pretty pictures and all… it’s just not a good picture. What i saw was a good picture, what i took was a bad picture, and for once it wasn’t my fault.

i would prefer that it was my fault.

i stopped down to f/. 20.0 and framed a composition that balanced the driftwood and the small ridge that marks the high-tide line against the cliff in the background, sure to include a little bit of the ocean for context. i was careful to stay at 90 degrees off axis from the sun in order to use my polarizer filter to greatest effect. With an aperture of f/. 20, the picture would be acceptably sharp from three feet to infinity… which is nice, since that’s kind of what i was going for.

Unless crabs have eaten both of your eyes, this picture is not sharp. Oh, it’s sharp enough at three feet… but at infinity… well… f/. 20? i may as well have used f/. 5.0.

Wait… f/. 5.0? That seems like exactly what my shutter speed was set for, even if my aperture was set to f/. 20 (which should require a substantially longer shutter speed). i did some checking… and sure enough, it appears that my 18-200 now takes all pictures at f/. 5.0, whether i have aperture set to something different or not. This may or may not ever be solved… but i can promise you that unless God decides to bring healing to my lens, it won’t happen here in Peru. Which means that not only am i tremendously unmotivated, but i also don’t have the lens that i take probably at least 80% of my pictures with. Don’t expect many more pictures from this trip… which is pathetic, since i’ve only taken around 6600 during the whole trip. Which is not many when you consider that i was hoping to take 15,000. i guess that’s what happens when you take the month of July off.

My fragile psyche was not helped by the revelation of the death of my lens. i threw my stuff in my backpack and went back to Yacila, where i spent the next two nights in a hotel room… not doing much of anything. Sounds like the rest of the past month of this trip.

From Yacila to Piura, from Piura to Trujillo… where now i write from the ever-hospitably opened home of Pastor Tito Sevilla, with whom i have worked extensively in the past.

i’ll be here for a little over a week. i currently tentatively hope to travel to Lima on the evening of August 6—to arrive on the morning of August 7—to take three days of retrospection and vision-seeking before returning back to the states on August 10. Hopefully i’ll update two or three more times before returning home… and if there is any continuing interest whatsoever… then i will continue my blog at least until i work through the photo sets that i have picked out. i probably have a good six or seven left—well… good isn’t guaranteed to be an appropriate adjective… but the point stands, i suppose.

And will there be any additional new material in that time?

The short answer is that i wouldn’t bank on it.

But perhaps you’re not content to settle for the short answer. If you are… then i suppose that you can stop reading now. But i have a small feeling that perhaps people who have already gone through the trouble to read all of this have expectations of a little bit more on the point than that. For those of whom this is true… you are, as always, invited and welcomed to read on, but by no means compelled or obligated to do so.

i’m not going to get into all of specifics that i could relate, because i think that many of them would not belong on a forum so public as this even if i could reduce them to words in such a manner as they deserve… but i will say that this has been a very difficult summer for me personally in a number of different ways… which has caused me to focus on points in my life other than photography, consequentially leaving over little passion or energy or inspiration or motivation for photography. i wish this was not so, but i do not regret it.

But further… as i have had a little bit of contact with other people that i know in the past month… and as i have communicated with people that i know who have just returned from fairly long trips overseas… i have become more and more convinced that the difficulties of the solitary photographer overseas are not limited to the emotional strain of being alone. i suppose that i am kind of getting at this point backwards… that most people would recognize the logistical struggles and then be caugh off guard by the emotional struggles… but i was more prepared for the emotional struggles—as pertains only to photography—than the logistical struggles.

My photography for this trip was dual in vision. i desired to take fine art landscape pictures and socially relevant photojournalistic pictures. i have largely failed on both counts.

My vision for fine art landscape pictures involved remoteness. i desired to go into the mountains to places to which other people do not go, places that are remote, difficult to access, and beautiful… and there to take most of my landscape work. But traveling alone… that is extremely difficult. A very confident, fit, well-adjusted backpacker/photographer could still do it, i suppose… and while i am in decent shape, i have greatly lacked confidence and have not adjusted well to being alone this trip. So i am unable to get very remote, which has made it difficult—though not impossible—to get the landscape photos that i desired.

As for the socially relevant photojournalistic photos… my vision from these pertained to extremely remote mountain settlements—much more remote than Choco—and these didn’t work out for much the same reason as my landscape photos… or to pretty rough urban areas… and i tried to make a list of things that seemed like better ideas than going to rough urban areas alone and waving around a big camera. The list went something like as follows: Get in a hugging match with a boa constrictor. Practice my fire-breathing act at a gas station. While on foot, play chicken with a semi. Juggle running chainsaws. Drink lots of battery acid. i couldn’t think of anything else.

So… i’ve been struggling to take pictures… and for many more reasons than those. Those are just a few. Now my lens with the widest range of uses is stuck at an aperture that i use for almost nothing and home is crawling into sight… so don’t bank on any new work before i get home.

All of that said… it would be a lie to say that i do not greatly enjoy taking pictures.

And i think that i am going to here conclude, for now… no pictures from Choco… because the next pictures that i’m going to post from Choco are a series… and it is going to be a long series. A series, in fact, so long that i just decided that i am going to cut it in half… the first half will consist of four pictures, the second of five. Get excited. The subject matter is unexpected.

And as a parting word of advice—you just knew that i wouldn’t get away without a Choco picture, eh?—don’t ever let those nasty llamas of Choco even think about biting your feet.

But yet those trees are weak and small, and what proof that they shall grow at all?

Friday, July 25, 2008

To Speak of Piura

Well... there's not much to say about Piura... which is fitting since i don't have much time in which to say it.

But i thought that i would get a quick update up before i ran off again... and maybe when i come back i will have a legitimate update for the first time in... what... a month? Five weeks?

i haven't felt tremendous for most of the time that i've been in Piura... so i've come to know my hotel room pretty well. Lots of reading and John Piper-listening and writing, i suppose.

i return home in 16 days... so hopefully i can take about 8,500 pictures in that time.

Well... that's one way of saying i'm not going to come remotely close to my goal of 15,000 pictures this summer. That's what happens when you pretty much stop taking pictures halfway through a trip, i suppose, though.

Regardless... i'm at least going to try to take a few more meaningful pictures. Wake up, sam!

That said... i suppose i'll include a picture in this update... if only because the theory was that i would keep a blog that i could put pictures on... so if i'm not putting pictures on it, it kind of defeats the purpose.

So this is just another river picture from Choco. It's a little bit darker in mood than many of my other river pictures... but i guess i kind of like it.

And now i must do some packing... i am going to travel to the town of Paita this afternoon after eating lunch with an acquaintance from the states, and from Paita will either travel a few miles north to the town of Esmeralda or south to the town of Yasila (currently i'm leaning towards Yasila a little bit), from which i will hike about 30 or 45 minutes out of town, pitch my tent, and camp where the cliffs fall into the ocean. If i can't get decent/average/not terrible pictures there... then i may be a lost cause.

Very well... i wish you all the best.

And i am gladdened by such discussion of inconvenience.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

To Speak of the North

Weary and—in a strange way, i suppose—wary do i approach this update.

Reasons myriad for hesitancy… perhaps i am intimidated to further endeavour to convey my opinions or feelings about Choco. Perhaps i am uncertain of what i have to say for myself as pertains to the week and a half which has passed since my last update.

Out of the loop, out of words, out of rhythm, out of touch… out of inspiration, out of confidence, out of assertiveness… out of balance, out of passion… out of excuses.

i suppose that as a simple exercise by which to try to begin to open my mind to the prospect of writing once more… i will detail the time since my last update.

It will do no good to try to talk at any greater length about the time before the AweStar team came… that was never any subject matter to begin with, and then i wrote page after page about them… so i will start with last Sunday… July 13, perhaps?

i suppose that for those who don’t know what “the AweStar team” is, the previous paragraph could seem a little bit confusing… so while i feel like just about everybody who comments on my blog knows about AweStar and the AweStar teams and such… i feel like i have been told that there are others who read without commenting who may not know.


Excuse me… did i say that? You don’t actually have to comment… but i would certainly be thrilled if you did. Even if (particularly if?) i have no idea whatsoever who you are.

All those tangents covered… AweStar Ministries is a mission organization based in Tulsa, Oklahoma. i have worked with them extensively in the past, and they had a team in Peru this summer. This team was led by two of my closest friends, Brent Higgins and Kristen Lockwood (until August 2, when she becomes Kristen Adams… but even when she’s Kristen Adams she will continue to be one of my closest friends, i hear), and included a number of other people with whom i am good friends.

So on Sunday (July 13) i woke up at 3:30am to meet this team at the bus station. i spent the next week following them around and translating for them as they worked with Pastor Tito Sevilla in pursuing the building of a foundation upon which to start a church in Huamachuco.

On Wednesday the team and i left Huamachuco for Trujillo, where they worked for another several days, and on Sunday (July 20) we parted ways—the AweStar team to Guayaquil, Ecuador, en route to the USA, i to Piura in order to… uhhh…. I’m still working on that one.

For a more detailed blow-by-blow account of my time with the AweStar team, go to, click Trip Updates, and click Peru.

My aim is not—and never has been, i feel, although at times perhaps my practice has been—to give a blow-by-blow account… but rather a taste of my personal impressions and feelings as this summer passes. So i will provide a couple of those… and maybe eventually come back for more specific anecdotes from this past week and a half… or possibly i will just leave this time never to return. i do not know. Maybe you do. If you do, then you are quite gifted.

Every morning i would wake up to get coffee with the leaders of the team. Sometimes all that we were able to scrape up was very shady Nescafe (Brent and i are world-famous Nescafe lovers) instant coffee… sometimes we would stumble upon gourmet cafes with fine coffees… but regardless of the quality of the liquid in front of me, the company was always of the finest caliber. Such times were true blessings to me… to have the company of Brent, Kristen, and at times Laura Oksol and Tyler Martin, two other of my friends with whom i have shared experiences overseas prior to this trip and who helped lead the Peru team, was tremendously refreshing. An unpretencious, vulnerable time when no airs needed to be put up, when we could speak our hearts—no matter how sober or how lighthearted—and know that they would be received by other hearts who shared the same desires and the same burdens and the same passions.

As pertains day-to-day affairs involving the rest of the students as well… i merely made it my goal to make things as easy for the leaders as i could… sometimes that meant that i was translating, sometimes it meant that i was arguing with Peruvians, sometimes it meant that i was eavesdropping on Spanish conversations, sometimes it meant that i was talking through Scripture passages with students, sometimes it meant finding a corner and making myself as non-present as possible… and never did i do well enough what i was asked to do… but perhaps my presence was a means by which a Peruvian will have inherited the Kingdom of Heaven during the past week and a half… or perhaps a means by which such a thing will happen ten years for now… or perhaps a means by which a student on the team was affected in such a way that leads a revival among an African tribe in 25 years… i will never know as long as i live, i desire only that i would be faithful with the time and opportunities given to me.

On my first day with the team i was asked by Brent to talk about what i have experienced so far this summer… i threw together a PowerPoint that included about 85 of my pictures, stuck some Aradhna in a playlist on iTunes… and proceeded to ramble for perhaps an hour and a half.

Certainly longer than i had expected to spend… but somehow it seems that most of the people on the team feel that they profited from it… some may even have enjoyed it. i am not quite sure how… but i know that having people who cared what i had to say—or at the very least pretended very well to care what i had to say—was a real blessing to me.

i have been struggling to take pictures lately. Really struggling… it has been three and a half weeks since i last took pictures with any sort of consistency. Consequently… i once more don’t really have any fresh material to add. i don’t even know how much fresh material i will have before i come back to the USA in 19 days. This is not how i would have chosen for things to go… and yet it seems to be the way that things have gone, so i will try to be faithful with what is left to me… But i can only force things so far.

So back to Choco, i suppose…

i said that this post would be reserved for some close portrait work… which i suppose is easy enough for me. This portrait series was all taken during preparations for the party. Hopefully you don’t hate them.

This man’s name escapes me… but he was one of the men who worked on erecting the… big thing that they built. i’m still not quite sure what to call it.

And… the same thing, in fact, could be said of this man. So i offer another typical Choco-ite.

When in doubt, shoot the kids… so was one of the themes of my slide show for the AweStar team. Beginning to lose inspiration with the adults, i turned to the kids… so quick to drop their self-conscious airs and acct in the relaxed and dynamic way of one with nothing to prove.

And that, i suppose, is where i’m going to leave things for this update… Mediocre, i feel… but at least an update. i’ll try to do better next time, but i make no promises.

For there’s nowhere here, but there it was.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

To Speak of Chifas and Choco

The paro is over.

i begin writing this from my new hotel room a few blocks away from the old one. i’m saving $10 by staying here tonight. i may be here tomorrow night, as well. If that is the case… i’ll save $20 on the deal.

It seems like hauling all of my gear across town was a lot of work to go to a vastly inferior hotel room with a public bathroom… but as i told my brother… $15 is three days’ worth of budget for me these days, so Abraham Lincoln may well cry because of how tightly i pinch pennies…

But the paro is over.

For three days the city was down… lots of time with little to do but think and write… and walk around town trying to find a shop into which i could sneak for some ice cream. It’s a Lamborgini Casino ice cream sandwich (chocolate chip ice cream… satisfactory for the purpose for which it is claimed) for breakfast these days with a Sublime (chocolate ice cream, covered in chocolate with a few nuts in the outer chocolate) for afternoon snack.

And of course there’s other food, too… but ice cream is just kind of a really big deal, you know?

But dinner is different. i actually get real food for dinner, you may be surprised to hear.

i do not know why it is… but there is a very large Chinese population in Peru. i haven’t observed such a thriving Chinese population in any of the other Latin American countries in which i have spent time. As a result, there is a fairly large concentration of restaurants called chifas. Chifas aren’t usually Chinese restaurants like we normally think of them. Most chifas have a limited menu that includes some fried rice dishes, some noodle dishes, and maybe a few other simple items… but i have found myself fairly addicted to them.

Will this post be inflammatory? i imagine it probably could be if it is not read gracefully. So if you’re looking for a reason to say angry and negative things about me… well… if you don’t already have a reason, you’re not very good at looking… and so i’ll do you a favor by warning you that if you really want such a reason, you can probably read this post and call me an arrogant racist. Which would probably make me laugh more than it would offend me, because i think that to do so would completely miss what i am saying… but if you want to do so, i suppose that that is your prerogative.

Because i have really come to feel that Latin American culture is generally tremendously racist. i feel like i need to be careful in drawing out comparisons with American culture lest i seem to suggest that i think American culture is ideal… or even any better at all… but i think that people who have followed this blog or who know me very well know that i have some reasonably choice words for American culture, also. So if i could ask anything of my reader, it would be to read this post—really to read anything that i ever write—within the context of everything else that you have divined about me from things that i have said in the past, from where i spend my time and my money, from what you have seen to be desires, and what you have come to see as my character—or lack thereof.

And so rather than reading my statement that Latin American culture is generally tremendously racist as bigoted, self-righteous condemnation, i ask that you instead read it as an effort at an objective statement from a man of unclean lips from a people of unclean lips.

All of which is to say… chifas tend to be kind of on the outside of culture here in Peru. They tend to have successful enough businesses… but i have found that often the owners seem very withdrawn, are seldom interacted with by the clientele—as opposed to the tremendous socializing common with Peruvian owners of Peruvian restaurants—and seem to be on the outside looking in at Peruvian culture very often.

And as i said earlier… i have found myself to be fairly addicted to chifas. When i get into a new town… i look for four things. Most people would look for something like… a place to buy water, a good hotel, maybe a restaurant, and a hospital… or a set of things like that.

i look for a place to buy ice cream, an internet café, a chifa, and a backup ice cream supply. From there, i keep track of any and all additional ice cream supply places. Huamachuco has been hard since everything has been closed… but i know of three stores that sell ice cream, i have seen another store that hasn’t been open since i got here, but that i’m optimistic may carry the stuff, and i have a part of town that i think may offer another store or two.

But if chifas are going to be on the level of ice cream and internet cafés… they must be a pretty big deal.

And there are a few reasons for this… the food is generally pretty good—if you like fried rice—it’s generally very inexpensive—a property of being a little bit outside of the local culture, i think—and… i think i just feel a comfort level at places that are, while fairly integrated into the culture, still very much on the outside looking in.

The paro shut down the whole city of Huamachuco.

My chifa (Chifa Nueva China) never closed.

i ate dinner there on Tuesday night. And on Wednesday. And on Thursday. And i ate lunch there on Friday. And i’m about to eat dinner there tonight… tonight being Friday.

The proprietor is a Chinese man. He stands at the front of the restaurant. He wears a wool beanie with a symbol resembling a Nike swoosh with two hooks stacked on top of each other instead of just one hook.

As i paid on Thursday night, he tried to make some small talk with me. He doesn’t speak very good Spanish. But yes… i’m traveling alone, although a group of friends will be here in the next day or two. Yes… i enjoy Huamachuco. i’ll see you tomorrow, friend.

i walked in this afternoon for lunch, and his normally stern face broke open into a warm smile. He shook my hand, and i asked him what his name is.


“What is your name?”

After some back and forth, he understood my question. He pointed to his chest. “Poso!”

His smile came back… bigger than ever, and his hand shot out again.

We were just two outsiders settling in for another afternoon in the rioting town of Huamachuco.

And as a further note on the paro…

The grand finale was this afternoon. The strikers all assembled in the plaza de armas—about two blocks from my hotel—and had… what kind of looked to me a little bit like a high school pep rally.

According to—an amazing source of information, it is an exhaustive database of all known cities in the world, including coordinates, elevations, and populations—Huamachuco has a population of 7,000. i would estimate that between 2,500 and 3,000 people were gathered at the plaza today.

A platform was set up and fiery speakers spewed passion and vitriol into microphones.

Again… perhaps i condemn myself by commenting on such things as this, as i have never had a hard day in my pampered American life… but it never ceases to amaze me how easy it is to stir a mass of people into a frenzy. And certainly… this wasn’t exactly the most frenzied frenzy of which i have ever heard. There was no violence or anything…

But it seems to me that if you have a crowd of people who think that they are poor… all you have to do to win their hearts is first tell them that they are in fact poor, and then criticize the status quo as much as possible in every way. Alternatives, solutions, defense for criticism of the status quo… these things are all optional.

And talk about fighting. The crowds love when you talk about fighting.

One of the chants that i heard today said:

“Only if the people fight will the government listen to them!”

It works a lot better in Spanish… i promise.

The president of Peru is a man named Alan Garcia. No president of any country is ever popular after he or she has been in office for nine months or a year. Garcia is around year two of this stint as president.

He ran against a man named Moises Ollanta Humala.

i do not profess to be an expert on Peruvian politics… so some of you may even know more about the dynamics of the 2006 election than i do… but allow me to give my impressions, which may be as ignorant as the rest of the things that i say.

From what i gathered, Ollanta made Hugo Chavez look like a US-loving capitalist. He had no extensive education or experience in political matters. He was very militant. He was indigenous. And because he was indigenous and militant, he won the heart of the campesino populations of Peru. Probably most of the places in which i have spent time in voted overwhelmingly for Ollanta.

Peru is a very fragmented society. i haven’t looked at the actual numbers in quite some time… so i may be a little bit off… but about 22 million people or so live in Peru. Of those, over 10 million, i believe, live in or immediately around Lima, the capital city. Over a million live in Arequipa, and the cities of Trujillo and Cusco have populations numbering in the hundreds of thousands. The urban population of Peru is really quite urban… over half of the population lives in two cities. The rural population of Peru is really quite rural… endless villages have no road to them, economies—while certainly increasingly globalized… think MP3 players and DVD players 15 miles from the nearest road—are largely fundamentally still based upon subsistence agriculture and are locally self-sufficient. There is a huge gap between the city people and the country people… and so when there is an election, you can imagine that people who live within 20 miles of the capital city will win, and people who live farther than 20 miles of the capital city will be very angry.

Huamachuco was, i’m sure, overwhelmingly in support of Ollanta. And during politically charged events like this, people don’t tend to forget that they supported Ollanta.

So the fact that they are unhappy and the fact that Alan is president (i don’t know why everybody refers to him by his first name…) become connected in their minds, and the demonstration takes on a decidedly anti-Alan bent.

One chant that i heard for a while translates to something like this:

“Hey Alan, listen! The people find you to be repugnant!”

i was very impressed at their vocabulary that they were using the word repugnant. It was really in a different tense… something like, “The people repugn you!”… but… maybe i’m wrong, but i don’t think that repugn is a verb in English—although i may start using it as one—hence my more licentious translation.

But… again… it just makes me wonder what the people want.

First off… again… i’m no expert of Peruvian politics… but i’m pretty sure Alan (this term) has been one of the best presidents Peru has had in a while. Even if he had to return to Peru from exile to run. (Yes… the election came down to a runoff between the militant, socialist, uneducated Ollanta and the disgraced, exiled Alan Garcia…)

The last president was a man named Toledo. Upon being elected, he went to Machu Picchu and sacrificed a llama to the sun god, i hear. Oh yes… i feel competence coming on. In 2002 i watched him give a speech. He was wearing his pajamas. His hair was disheveled. A Peruvian standing next to me said “That is our president. He embarrasses us”. Toledo was not a success story.

The election that put Toledo in office was between Alan and Toledo. It was forced on the spur of the moment. The previous president was a man named Alberto Fujimori. He had just started his third term, and was generally popular. He had spent his first two terms turning around Peru’s economy after its catastrophic crash at the hands of the previous president. But on a diplomatic trip to Japan—where much of his extended family is—he faxed his resignation back to Peru. There had been a large amount of scandal—Nixon-esque, it seems to me at times—around him for a few months, and he decided to get out while he could. Fujimori wasn’t exactly a model president.

The president before him was Alan Garcia. Our friend! Basically… the entire Peruvian economy crashed and burned and he was exiled. That presidency wasn’t much of a success either…

But from what i have gathered… the economy has been improving under Alan this term. Peru recently established an equivalent of the EPA. Peru recently hosted a meeting of the heads of state of a number of Spanish-speaking countries. Alan really hasn’t been doing too badly… to my knowledge.

But Ollanta was their man, because he was indigenous himself and because he used the fighting rhetoric that the poor so love to hear.

However… i listen to people talking here… or to people red-facedly screaming into a microphone… and they talk about wanting to be like America, to have freedom… but i tell you that most assuredly that is not what they really think that they want.

i spent my previous post discussing briefly why i feel that that is not what they want. But i now say that that is not what they even think that they want. They think that they think that they want it… but it’s not what they want.

It is so easy to understand to rise of totalitarian socialist/communist/fascist dictators. Rhetoric without reason.

Again… i feel reluctant to say what i feel on some aspects of this issue… because i do not intend to say that Peruvians are lazy. i know that probably somewhere between 99-100% of the people that were gathered in that plaza are harder workers than me. But my failures do not diminish the natural human tendency to want to get something for nothing. They only serve as evidence of it.

They demand that the government “catch them up” with people from America or even from the city. They fancy that people in America each have small farms and trek from chacra to chacra every day harvesting their potatoes and corn and quinoa just like people do here. And what i’m saying isn’t intended to belittle their way of life—to the contrary… those who know find that i admire it greatly—but instead to point out that they are trying to live in the protection of the good aspects of another completely different economic structure without changing their way of life at all… and the American economic structure simply does not seem to admit the small farming way of life. We’re an economy of cash and capital with a poverty of time, relationships, and independence. They’re an economy of time, relationships, and independence with a poverty of cash and capital. Who’s poor? Nobody is! We all are!

But… the easiest way to win the heart of a people is to try to offer them both. And so politician after politician taking up populist causes promises to take that money from those nasty, lazy rich people and redistribute it to you poor farmers so that you can have cars and computers and TVs and Nike shoes and digital cameras like they do… and so that is what people expect from the government, i think. That the government will leave those aspects of their life that they like—the independence, the time, the relationships, for example—untouched while subsidizing their cravings for more industrialized goods… which i argued in my previous post will never satisfy them no matter how much they think they want them.

And again… my goal is not to criticize the way of life of the campesinos here… it just bothers me to hear the phrase “extrema pobreza” used so many times.

Extreme poverty.

Oh… and it’s so easy to be arrogant here. And it’s so easy to stand on my velvet pedestal of American citizenship, having never lived a hard day of my life, and romanticize what probably is a very hard life.

But i think that if some of these people were to travel a little bit more… if they were to travel to their very own capital city of Lima and look at the endless shanty towns on the outskirts of the city… they would get a better feel for what extrema pobreza really is. i have seen some extrema pobreza… and i have friends who have worked in extrema pobreza… and i don’t see it here. i was told that Choco was a place of extrema pobreza. i simply don’t believe it.

The people here have meaningful work. They have food. They have shelter. They have independence. They have time. They have friends. They have recreation. They don’t have much cash… but their economy really has no use for cash. They personally have plenty of use for cash, yes, i’m sure. But their economy, the entire social structure on a macro-level… doesn’t really have use for cash. It is funny to me… i think subsistence farming economies might be the purest form of socialism that this world has seen… and that may be a vastly ignorant assessment from an outsider… but there is local independence, there is minimal social stratification, exchanges of goods take place on a personal relationship level much more than on a distant business level… and everywhere in the world that has this pure socialistic order seems to clamor for a large-scale, militant, inevitably corrupt, abusive socialism.

From this velvet pedestal it is easy to romanticize their way of life… but i think that it is much more beautiful than they realize. And i think that this velvet pedestal comes with some pretty big shackles of its own.

Whew… i hate economy and politics. i’ll finally stop pouring forth my ignorance like a fire hydrant in a high school parking lot… and move on to my first photo essay from Choco.

My first picture has very little to do with anything else that i’m going to talk about… but i feel like it would be criminal to forego its inclusion. And if i did something criminal… then i would be qualified to run for political office in a Latin American country (ouch… i know… that was low… i’m feeling just a little bit cynical these days. On the upside… whenever i feel bad about the election in the US this year [which happens to be every time i think about it, actually], i just think about Latin American politics, and suddenly i feel so much better.).

But… When i got to Choco on Monday, June 23, the town was preparing for its annual party—a five day affair beginning on Tuesday, June 24 involving lots of drinking, some pseudo-dancing, lots more drinking, a seemingly quite inebriated marching band, and culminating in a bullfight on Saturday, June 28.

So on Tuesday morning i hiked a short distance upstream to spend some time reading and studying. And what? Las Llamas de Choco! AAAAAHHHHHHH!!!! THIS IS SO EXCITING!

i lived in Choco for a month in 2006 without seeing a single llama… but the llama owners came down from many miles upstream to enjoy the festivities and could hardly leave their llamas alone.

So fear not… i did get a llama picture up.

This update is so long… i’m going to break down what i was going to do for my Choco half of the update into two sections. i have an essay devoted to preparations for the fiesta, and i am going to break it down into an essay focused on some of the work that was done, which will be included in this update, and an essay focused on some portraiture of some of the people of Choco as the preparations were being made, which will be included in the next update. Sorry, Julie… no Juana or Ruly in this or the next update… eventually there will be a bit of Juana, though, and i’ll email you a Ruly picture or two when i make it back to the states.

This man’s name is Jesus. No, not that Jesus… but he is a very nice man.

He was in Choco in 2006 when i came, and is one of the soccer players. He might be my favorite Choco native.

For you see… he just seems to be a happy man. In 2006 he became nicknamed “The Pirate” within about 2.3 minutes of our team meeting him. But he is a very happy pirate.

i have never found a bigger smile in all of Peru. And not only is it a big smile, but they are big, white teeth. Except for right in front. That is big, black not-tooth. If i was casting a movie about Peruvian pirates, he would be the first person i called, and he would smile a lot—because that is what he does—and show off that missing tooth and those great pearly whites.

He’s not smiling in this picture though… that’s because he’s working on digging a post hole out of the middle of the street in Choco’s main plaza. This post hole would hold—oh the shock!—a post that would support the… altar/shrine/trifold presentation?/platform for the celebration of Choco that was under construction.

i don’t know this man’s name. If i had a wider angle lens (maybe even Philip’s 16-35 would have done the trick… i think it would have done lots of tricks on this trip though :-D) i would have been able to include more of what he is actually doing… but i still like the picture. This man is tying the Peruvian flag to a pole that will be attached to the altar/shrine/trifold presentation?. And looking at me like i am very very strange.

i think he’s probably right.

Choco called in a traditional band from Cabanaconde. They played two songs, and they played them a lot. They sang a lot better when they were sober… but i didn’t experience that very often, so i can’t be positive.

“Dime amorcita, cual es tu problema? Me haces mucho daño!”

“Tell me, my little love, what is your problem? You do me a lot of damage!”

This line was sung many, many times. And sometimes very, very inebriatedly. i am sorry for making up words like “inebriatedly”.

So here they are likely talking about which of their two songs to play while in the background locals get ready to do some hardcore dancing. No, not that kind of hardcore dancing… these people basically hold hands and walk in a circle. It’s very exciting.

Finally… as things began to get a little bit closer to completion, the bread bouquets came out. Bread bouquets? Oh yes… they’re a big deal in Choco. Get a nice bouquet of flowers together (i think it’s classy that Choco-ites have the sense to grow some flowers with their more practical vegetation. Definitely a positive in my book), stick some skewers in, and add a few pieces of bread.

Here, some locals reclaim some of the bread from a bouquet that was apparently over-breaded.

And welcome to Choco, my friends… i will be in Choco for probably at least five or six more updates… and i won’t even include most of my best pictures, i’m sure.

Coffee, i’m telling you…

And here is to successful boycotts…

Thursday, July 10, 2008

To Speak of Cabanaconde

i am a little bit unsure of how to handle the remaining months of updates. i haven’t written a real update in almost three weeks… and those three weeks have perhaps been the densest, perhaps been the most intense, perhaps been the most emotionally charged, perhaps been the most remote, perhaps been the most detailed, perhaps been the most elaborate weeks of my trip to this point.

So obviously i would be a great fool to try to pack everything from those weeks into one update.

i think how i am going to try to manage this, then, is to write my updates in dual. i will describe the present as i have sought to do since the beginning of my trip… but also i will break my three weeks down into a series of miniature photo essays describing stories, which will perhaps leave out a few of the more aesthetically pleasing pictures, in order to at least provide a glimpse of some of the experiences that i have met.

i am a compulsive disclaim-er. So i would not be myself if i did not disclaim the next indefinite number of posts obsessively.

You will likely find some very large holes in some of my photo essays. i warn you beforehand… there will be a photo essay over the bullfight in Choco on June 28… but there won’t be any pictures of bullfighting. These three weeks have demanded a lot of me… i dare say more emotionally than physically… and so as a result my photography became tremendously volatile. Some days i took pictures that i number as among my best with surprising frequency. Other days… i couldn’t even look at my camera. So expect a lot of variation in quality.

And expect perhaps a slightly volatile writing style. i am still trying to get my mind around the past three weeks… and not doing such a good job of it. So if i sound a little bit bipolar at times… well… please be patient with me. Perhaps as weeks and months provide a buffer of experience and perspective to separate me from the blinding intensity of the moment i will acquire a more balanced and fair and realistic and consistent vision of what my time in Cabanaconde, Choco, Mina, Chachas, and Andagua held for me.

And obviously… don’t assume that i am writing an exhaustive account of what happened over the past three weeks. In fact… don’t assume that i’m hitting the important points or the high points. i tell you beforehand… i’m not going to. The most significant moments are probably those that i will fail to mention altogether. This will merely be an account of a few experiences that were typical of life over the three weeks that i was gone from the outside world…

But of course to say that these experiences were typical of life over those three weeks really doesn’t mean anything at all. All that it means is that these experiences are what i want you to think that life was like. i took enough pictures (around 2,150) that i could paint these three weeks in whatever way i want. And it is impossible for me to present anything without painting these three weeks in some light or another. So if you want a more holistic view of how these three weeks have been—or how the trip in general ends up—i’m afraid that you’ll just have to buy me coffee on an afternoon or evening when you have a few free hours and let me tell you my impressions in person.

Am i shameless? i think that i am. But i’m completely not kidding. i will definitely talk about my trip and show pictures at the cost of some coffee. No matter who you are.

So after that brief (hahahaha…) disclaimer… i suppose i’ll actually update you as to what has happened since my last update.

i’ll give the very quick overview of the past three weeks of my life for those who have no idea whatsoever about what it is that i am talking.

i suppose that i will start on Saturday, June 21 in Arequipa. i caught a six hour bus to the town of Cabanaconde on one side of the Colca Canyon. Then i caught a two hour truck to the bottom of the Colca Canyon. Then i backpacked to a village called Choco, where i lived for eight days. Then i trekked to a village called Mina, where i lived for a day and a half. Then i trekked over two high passes to the village of Chachas, with a brief hitchhiking detour. Then i hitchhiked to the town of Andagua. Then i caught a 10 hour bus to Arequipa. i spent the day in Arequipa before catching a 15 hour bus to Lima. i then caught a 10 hour bus to Trujillo. i then caught a 7 hour bus to Huamachuco. That is where i am now.

And that makes the three weeks seem so simple. i kind of like it.

i haven’t taken any pictures since Saturday in Andagua. i also haven’t been anywhere but inside of buses since then… so that shouldn’t be too surprising. As a result… i obviously don’t have any new work to put in this part of the update. That will change with my next update, i’m sure.

i arrived in Huamachuco last night at about 8:00. i don’t really know anything about Huamachuco yet… but i’ll pretend briefly. Huamachuco is a city of several to many thousand people. It is located at about 10,500 feet in the Andes of northern Peru. The people generally seem to speak Spanish, which is very fortunate for me. If they spoke Mandarin Chinese or Mandika or any other language starting with “Mand…” i would be in serious trouble.

i am in a much wetter part of Peru. It rained during part of the bus ride in last night. At times i could see a light dusting of snow on the roofs of houses… but that was at a higher elevation than i am at right now. The clouds are heavy and sincere.

Today is the day of the “paro”. Everything is closed down and people are marching through the streets in protest of… life, i suppose? It seems to be a little bit of a general populist strike… a strike in which people say “We’re not happy, but we’re not really sure why! We think we want more money… but what we know for sure is that we’re not happy. So we’re going to protest so maybe you will see our dismay and fix things for us.”

We’re not sure who the “you” is who would fix things… but presumably it is the government… and from what i have gathered in talking with people… the government would fix things by turning Peru into USA South. i feel like this probably isn’t actually what they want, although they think it is. Certainly there are many aspects of life in the US that would be an incontrovertible upgrade over conditions here in Peru… but i assure you that if they all started earning twenty times as much money and lived in bigger houses and gave all farming responsibilities to agricultural industries and all had cars and dogs and 2.3 kids… they would find that they would find that they still wouldn’t be happy. Social or economic status is never going to make them happy—there will always be somebody above them, and if there is no longer anybody above them then they’ll just get bored and find the whole world petty. A place is never going to make them happy—they’ll probably like it for the first week or two, and then find that this new place is filled with problems of its own. There is a natural urge in humans to seek wealth and to seek the perfect location. The problem is that there isn’t wealth on earth enough to satisfy their desires. The problem is that there isn’t a place on earth good enough to fulfill their hopes. The problem isn’t that they desire too much—or that you desire too much, my American friend. The problem is that they try to fulfill their great desires with small and petty things like money and places. What good is money? What good is a place? They were made for a purpose that is high and that is noble and that is rich and that is beautiful… and until their eyes have been open to this purpose such that their lives are unselfconsciously poured out as offerings before the great God who created them, they will always find that there’s not enough money to meet their desires and that there are flaws with the place in which they live.

Which is not to say that they are wrong to seek for and to fight for social justice and improved living conditions. But if that is where they stop… if they seek for and fight for social justice and improved living conditions and nothing greater… they will find that all the social justice and all the improved living conditions will only leave them burnt out, disappointed, and disenchanted. Rather, they stand before a God who will “render to each one according to his deeds. To those who by persistence in well-doing seek for glory, honor, and immortality, He will give eternal life”. Why settle only for seeking for social justice and improved living conditions when you could first seek for glory, honor, and immortality? Would that their eyes be opened and that they would be granted the grace to see the richness of the glory of God and the satisfaction that only comes from joyfully selling all to buy that field of the kingdom that the treasure might be theirs.

Very well… enough about Huamachuco and small aspirations and unsatisfied people (are there any other type?).

i left Arequipa on the evening of Saturday, June 21. i think the bus actually left at 1am of Sunday, June 22.

The ride to Cabanaconde is always a fun one. The road goes over a pass that is around 15,500 feet high. All through the trip the bus stops to pick up new passengers. Two years ago i counted around 225 people on our 60 passenger bus. But i couldn’t count the people who crawled into the luggage space under the bus. And there were many of them.

This trip wasn’t so intense…but the aisle was packed.

i arrived at around 7am and settled into my hotel room… it was nice to fall into a nap for the remainder of the morning before taking the afternoon and evening to stretch my legs and walk around Cabanaconde for a little while.

Cabanaconde is located at around 10,500 feet on the side of the Colca Canyon. It is the access point for a number of villages on the other side of the canyon, villages to which there are no roads. Villages like Llanca, Ucuchachas, Mina… and Choco. Choco was my first destination.

There is ice cream in Cabanaconde. This is very important.

i spent the evening on top of a small hill just outside of town. i took a pretty fair number of pictures… 200 maybe?

But i’m just going to put two in this update.

Why? i suppose so that you’ll buy my coffee when i get back so you can see the rest?

i just can’t leave that alone, can i?

i suppose that i’ll start with an overview of the town.

Sunrise and sunset while deep in a canyon tend not to be particularly impressive in and of themselves… so it is necessary to be a little bit more creative. i tried a few ideas to preserve some element of drama and dynamism in my sunset pictures… i will leave for you to judge if they worked or not (and i will also tell you that i didn’t include my best pictures in this update… coffee? [actually… i haven’t included many of my best pictures all trip long. Coffee isn’t the only reason… the main reason is because i’m trying to tell stories, not to show off my photography, and so i try to include pictures that advance the cause of telling a story.]).

So this is Cabanaconde. i waited until the sun had set and darkness had begun to settle into the valley. As dusk fell, lights began to come on in town. i framed the picture with three elements in mind: i included a rock to anchor the foreground and hold in the lower right corner of the frame… and was unsure if it would be visible or not, but hoped that i would get a result similar to this from it. Subtle but present. i held the artificially lit town of Cabanaconde in the mid-left of the frame as the main interest. Finally, i included the barely visible snow-capped summits in the upper left as a final counterpoint to the town and to provide a sense of place. The summits are part of the volcanic triumvirate of Hualca Hualca, Sabanacaya, and Ampato. For Philip… the EXIF data is: ISO 200, f/. 9, 8 seconds. Since i know you love landscape photography so much… Also… the PJ a few posts ago wasn’t you, i’m afraid… it would be a friend of mine named PJ Accetturo. You should facebook him… i think that you would appreciate his photography and i think that he would appreciate your photography. His name is Peter Accetturo on facebook. Also, anybody else that wants to facebook PJ should do so. He’s a good guy, no matter what kind of horrible things Jordan Kilmer might say about him. And since they’re both in North Africa together right now, they can’t read my blog, and since they can’t read my blog, i can talk about them in front of the whole world. Speaking of which… all are invited to pray for PJ and Jordan—as well as a number of other close friends of mine—who are in North Africa right now… as well as other friends that i have in Chile, South Asia, and Peru. They are doing real work that yields real fruit, and i think that you would find being a part of what their work to be real and satisfying and worthwhile. One of my close friends, Brittany DiSalvo, told me yesterday that she thinks that praying for her friends who are overseas is possibly affecting her more than it is affecting them. Rest assured that your prayers do affect those of us who are overseas… but perhaps you would find that those prayers also change you.

Around ten or twelve years ago Sabancaya erupted, depositing dark ash on the summit of Ampato. The dark ash expedited the melting of snow on Ampato, revealing mountainside that had been obscured for hundreds of years. A climbing expedition stumbled across a perfectly preserved young lady… an Inca who had been offered as a human sacrifice at over 20,000 feet of elevation some 500 years earlier. The story was covered fairly extensively, even earning at least one full length article in National Geographic.

Finally… when i struggle to put together a meaningful composition, you may have noticed that i try to find a way to stick myself in the frame to include a human presence to add a little bit of life to the scene.

But i also find that just standing in place and smiling like a moron (although i am pretty good at doing things like a moron, if i may say so myself) just isn’t very satisfying.

Plus it doesn’t make my hair do cool things for other people to make fun of.

So… sometimes i think that maybe i could jump instead of standing in place.

And i promise you that if you were to stand and watch me take some of these self-portraits… you would immediately admit me to a mental institution for life. But every once in a while… one works out well enough… and so i am willing to subject myself to such absurdities if it gets me what i want.

The practice generally consists of me finding a low place to put the tripod, composing a pleasant but static and uninspiring fine art landscape scene with some sort of interesting light, setting my camera to a remote setting with a self-timer, activating the remote, and timing a jump that will hopefully not look utterly moronic.

Sometimes i get lucky with my timing. And sometimes my hair flies powerfully into the air. That yields pictures like this… and with this i leave you.

And what terrifying hope do we in frailty embrace.