Thursday, 24 April 2008

This morning we were once again lazy. We didn’t eat breakfast until 9, stuffing ourselves, knowing we may not eat again until dinner on this travel day. Our guide, the same Michael we had met several days before when he picked us up at the Cusco train station, picked us up at 11:30 to take us to the airport. As we drove to the airport, Michael shared his story with us. He told us about a fight he had with his drunken father when he was just fourteen. “My father drank too much alcohol,” he said, “he was fighting with my mother and I stood in between them, so it was me fighting my father. I remember, he was on the ground and I was holding a heavy rock over his head, I wanted to kill him,” he said. Clay and I were rapt as he went on, he did not kill his father but ran out of the house and to a nearby park. He began punching a tree, angry at God and the world. Michael became convinced there could not be a God.

Three years passed and nothing much had changed at home. As he was walking down a street one day, he passed a church and for some reason was drawn inside. They were singing the song that goes, “My Jesus, my savior, Lord there is none like you . . .” Michael sang these words to us from the front seat, the melody and words familiar, it is the same song we sing at our church back home. Suddenly the pastor told everyone to stop singing, that there was someone in their midst who did not believe in God. Someone who had fought with his father, who had beaten a tree with his fists in anger at God. “The pastor was crying,” said Michael, who was blown away that this stranger knew so much about him, “And then the pastor said, ‘that boy’s name is Michael. He is here today.’” After that Michael was convinced there was indeed a God, and he had sought Michael out. What an incredible testimony he has. He was beaming as he talked, trying to explain in English how he feels, having Jesus in his heart and life. He talked of future plans, wanting to start an orphanage in Cusco someday. His story was a real gift, as we set out on the last part of our journeys. We exchanged emails and look forward to hearing about what happens in his future.

Our flight to Arequipa went smoothly, and we were met by our guide, Nancy, who was set to take us on a four hour city tour before we went to our hotel. We took a deep breath and ventured into the city, it was already 3pm, we were getting a late start with no lunch in our bellies, but we’d only be in Arequipa this one afternoon and we wanted to take advantage of our time here. Clay had bought a pack of peanut M&M’s and some pizza flavored crackers for the plane ride, which we’d shared in absence of any plane snacks, we’d be okay for awhile.

First we drove up high above the city so we could look down on it, at old terraced fields in the surrounding countryside and the sprawling town. We walked around a small garden, admiring the beautiful bougainvilleas, small papaya, peppers, and a large avocado tree. I’ve had some of the best avocados in my life while in South America, especially Peru. We saw volcanoes all around us, Nancy pointed out one called “Misty”. It sounds like a nice girl’s name, I think volcanoes should have names that sound a little scarier. As we headed back down the hill, Nancy talked about how Arequipa has a lot of seismic activity, there are at least eight tremors a day and the city has often been partially destroyed by earthquakes. The last major volcanic eruption occurred about 500 years ago, these days the volcanoes are still considered active, but only spew a bit of fire or smoke occasionally. I thought the city was a little too close for comfort to these fire spewers, but secretly hoped we’d have a little earthquake while we were there. Just enough to write home about, no death or destruction. Just a little shaking under the feet.

Our next stop was Ganahuana Square and a church at one side of the square. An ancient man was playing violin very badly, sitting on some stone steps. I don’t think he really knew how, but we gave him a couple of coins anyway, for the effort. The church was our first look at the Peruvian version of Baroque, the front façade was intricately carved with local flowers and animals like the puma, as well as figures of saints. We went inside and walked up the quiet aisle, it was very simple inside with no gold or silver, just pictures and statues (maybe better referred to as “images”, they are mostly carved from wood, covered in plaster and painted, then dressed in ornate gowns). After leaving the church, we walked across the square and bought some bread in a small store to munch on. Three pieces of delicious bread cost half a solé, about 15 cents total.

The city of Arequipa has been called the “white city”. This was originally because the first Spanish settlers forced the darker skinned inhabitants to the outskirts of the city, so when anyone visited, they saw only white faces in the town. Today, it refers more to the white volcanic stone, also called “sillar”, which many of the buildings in town are built from. It is a heavy stone, so is generally only used for the first floor of structures. On the outskirts of the city there are places where people mine the volcanic stone. You can buy 500 large cut stones for 600-700 solés, about two hundred dollars. It is hard work, for not much money.

Our next destination was a museum devoted to Juanita, the Ice Maiden, a mummy of a young Incan girl discovered on top of the nearby volcano Ampato. Juanita is unique because when she was discovered, she still had all her internal organs, skin, and hair. She was not dehydrated, like other mummies that have been discovered, and has proven very valuable to scientists trying to discover more about the Inca people. She was so well preserved because she was at such a high altitude, her body was frozen the night she was killed. She was discovered by an anthropologist when an adjacent volcano began to erupt, melting the snow that had encased Juanita for so long. The ice around her burial chamber melted and she actually fell down a steep incline, where she lay exposed for just fifteen days before being discovered. Because of the exposure, the skin on her face was gone, but the rest, still wrapped tightly in clothes, remained.

She was a human sacrifice, offered by the Incas to the gods. She was 12 or 13 years old. The guide explained that human sacrifices were chosen at a very early age from royal families. They were taken away from their families and sent to special schools where they were taught religion and their purpose in life. The child must have no blemish, they must be a perfect offering. So interesting, this idea of a sacrifice being necessary. For the Incas, it was to quell the anger of their gods. For Christians, it is a substitute required to cover their own sins. So many religions require a sacrifice, the value of human life is so great, to be regarded as a proper substitute or gift to the gods. The idea that the sacrifice must be perfect carries over as well.

We reached the final room, where a mummy was kept in a glass freezer case, it was sobering and sad. The mummy we saw was not Juanita, it was a different girl, her body was bent into the lotus position, she still had skin on her arm and we could see her dark hair tied behind her head. The skin from her face was gone, her teeth remained, her eye sockets were empty and staring. Scientists have discovered that the children, after hiking hundreds and hundreds of miles from Cusco to their designated sacrifice spot, were given coca tea as a sedative, then given a single blow to the head that killed them. I thought our boys would be scared, but after watching a film that explained it all, and walking through many rooms at the museum that displayed burial clothes and items buried along with the sacrifices, they were well-prepared for what they saw.

When we left the museum it was dark outside, yet we had one more stop to make before heading to the hotel. We went to the Monasterio de Santa Catalina (it’s actually a convent). It was founded in 1579, and it is a beautiful place to wander after dark. We learned about the lives of the women who once lived here, it was customary that the rich would enter their second born daughter into the convent at the age of twelve or thirteen, paying a hefty dowry to buy her a spot. The girl would be a novice for up to four years, before she could be declared a nun. We walked through novice rooms, where each girl had her own room, and a private kitchen. Beautiful rooms with white plastered walls, and perhaps a musical instrument like a harp. The families believed that by having a daughter at the convent, their salvation was guaranteed, so there was a lot of pressure put on the girl to stay at the convent, even if it wasn’t what she wanted.

A lot of money was spent preparing her rooms once she became a nun as well. Yet another reason fathers told their daughters “too bad” if they said they didn’t want to stay. Nun’s rooms had sitting rooms as well as kitchens, they also had servants to help with their work. It was definitely a place for rich daughters, and while they couldn’t leave the confines of the convent property, there was plenty of space to walk about. It was like a small city, with streets winding their way around the nun’s “cells”. In one area there were giant pots, split in half, and lying on their sides. A small waterway ran across the tops of these pots, with little spigots feeding into them, and a hole at the bottom to let the water drain away. They were used for doing laundry. A carrot was put in the hole in the pot to keep the water from draining. I found this system of doing laundry fascinating, being in my washing machine deprived state for so long.

Candles were lit in many of the cells, fires blazed, making things appear cozy inside, our footsteps echoed on the cobblestones as we continued our tour. The women who once lived here were illiterate, the way they learned more about their religion were from the paintings on the walls, still hanging, illuminating the life of Christ and other Bible stories. The masses were in Latin, the women couldn’t understand a word of it. I wondered how much they understood about what they had dedicated their lives to.

In one window a nun’s white habit was hanging, I could almost picture a quiet woman moving about, getting ready for bed. Nowadays there are only about 25 nuns living on the premises, and they don’t live in private cells anymore. Around 1870 the pope declared that convents could no longer take dowries, that nuns should live in a communal place, that all their belongings were to be shared amongst each other, and the work should be shared as well. The cells were abandoned, one of the chapels was turned into a communal kitchen, and another chapel was turned into a communal sleeping hall. Today it is mostly just a place to wander and wonder, hushed and beautiful.

After leaving the convent, we headed to the hotel. Nancy said she thought we should save the town square and cathedral tour until the morning, and I had to agree. The kids were really tired, and hungry. So were Clay and I. We ate a big dinner at the hotel, we aren’t located close to the town square and did not have the energy to venture back out. We left the stuffed animals in the backpacks, it’s best not to spread out when we’ll be leaving after just one night. Traveling this way has its advantages, we almost always know where our things are, packing up is easy when you never really unpack.


Friday, 25 April 2008

After breakfast we were picked up by Nancy and the driver and continued the tour we cut short the night before. We passed a statue of two bulls fighting and Nancy explained that bull fighting is different here in Arequipa than in Spain. Two bulls fight each other, with no conquistador, and eventually one bull turns around and runs away. That retreating bull is declared the loser, the other the winner. It is a less bloody entertainment than the Spanish version, where the bull dies after being stabbed repeatedly by the conquistador.

We took a look in the big cathedral in the main square, it was enormous. Like many of the structures, it had been damaged by an earthquake and the towers had been restored, as well as the interior. Large canvases hung on the walls, most from the Cusco school of painters, but Nancy showed us one painting of the Virgin Mary that was much different. Most pictures of the virgin, especially in Europe, show her as tall and thin. This picture showed a triangular shaped virgin, just like a mountain. Her skin was dark, and on her head was a crown that looked just like a sun. A nod to the Incas the Spanish were trying to get into their churches.

We arrived at the church just as it was opening, we had to find the woman with the keys to open up the sacristy. Nancy really wanted us to see this small room, and once we entered we knew why. The walls and ceilings were completely covered in brightly painted murals and designs. Nancy explained that they were painted by young men, who were sent to the Amazon jungle to do missionary work after finishing their schooling and before becoming priests or monks. The walls resembled the jungle, trees and vines climbing up the walls with brightly colored birds and monkeys peering from behind leaves. Pictures of the four gospel writers adorned the ceiling, it was a bright room and it was hard to decide where to look, there was so much to see. Once the entire cathedral was painted this way, but the paintings (which weren’t frescoes, but just paint on top of plaster) were destroyed in an earthquake, and only the sacristy remains painted. Frankly, I thought this was probably for the best. I couldn’t imagine what the entire church would have looked like, painted so brightly, it would have been overwhelming.

Back in the main square, we saw a man on a park bench typing on an old typewriter that was balanced on his lap. Nancy explained that people sometimes need legal documents typed up, but don’t have computers or typewriters, so this man saw an opportunity to make some money in the square. People know if they need something typed, they can find him there. After checking out an old Jesuit school and church (the Jesuits were expelled from the city long ago), we began our drive into Colca Canyon. We’ll spend one night at Colca Lodge, see the canyon and condors the next day and then drive back to Arequipa for a night, before proceeding to Lima. Clay and I repeat these itineraries to each other, trying to get our heads around them. It didn’t make much sense when we saw it all on paper, but as we drive the miles, look at the maps, live the days, it’s all starting to come together.

As we drove out of town Nancy pointed out town squares and other central meeting spots where workers are picked up for day labor by the wealthy people in town. She said they work from 7 in the morning to 5 at night, for 15 to 20 solés (5 to 7 dollars) a day. We saw some of the worst poverty we’ve seen on the trip as we continued to pass tiny homes with no windows because of the cold. Just a tin roof and crumbling rock walls, their lives spilling into the yard where laundry and rusty tools and sometimes a few broken toys could be found. Some homes clung to the hillside near the rock quarries, people eked out their livings here digging up sillar stone to sell. It was a hard life, and I felt crummy in our nice van with our backpacks at our feet, looking out at their poor lives from the comfort of my own blessed one. I know I will pray harder, and more sincerely, for the poor in this world, after seeing them. And take the opportunities given to me to help those we can, now that there are real faces and places behind the word “poor.”

Clay had the perfect description of the landscape as we left the towns behind and entered what looked like a high altitude desert. He said the hills looked like they had been in the water too long, all puckered and wrinkled on the sides. Every once in a while we got glimpses of snow covered mountains, we continued to climb up and up, passing scrubby fields with no trees or agriculture. It looked very barren. Crawling up the hillsides in some places were crumpling stone walls, in other places these walls were built in the shapes of circles or squares. Old corrals used to keep llamas and alpacas, sheep and donkeys safe at night from the puma and foxes that might kill them. Some corrals are still used today, stones stacked on top of each other to from the walls. From a distance, they look so fragile, set against the giant, vast landscape.

We passed into a wildlife reserve, where vicuñas  roam wild and free. The vicuñas have never been domesticated, we’ve seen these little deer-like critters in Chile and on the way to Machu Picchu. They are considered very valuable because of their soft wool, they were once killed for their soft coats. Nancy said a shawl made from vicuna wool can cost $1,500! Today they are trying to protect the vicuna, but the area in the park is vast and the individuals paid to work in the park ride bicycles and aren’t paid much. Once every two years the people in the park capture the vicuñas  the way people once did long ago, making a ring around them and closing in until they have one, then shearing their wool. I’d love to see this happening, I bet it isn’t easy.

We passed some llamas with ribbons in their hair, looking like dogs fresh back from the groomers. Locals nearby in traditional dress hoped tourists would stop and pay a few solés to have their pictures taken. Locals also waited at all the lookout points, selling textiles, jewelry, stuffed alpacas. We stopped at one lookout where a woman cut up different kinds of prickly pear for us to sample. The green was very sour, the red was sweet, and the yellow tasted kind of like a melon. I had no idea there were so many different kinds of prickly pears! The women were sitting next to small tables where they were selling various souvenirs, and they were also busily weaving long chains, string tied to their toes and their belts so they could hold it taut as they wove pretty patterns. I had to buy one (at five solés, it wasn’t much of an investment), maybe I’ll use it to hold my glasses, or as a bookmark. I will always think of those women’s toes when I see my black and white bit of woven ribbon.

We stopped again at the highest elevation point we’ve encountered so far, 4,910 meters, or almost 16,000 feet. All around the point were small stacks of rocks. They looked kind of like small drizzle sand castles except made from rocks. The Incas once built these memorials each time they worshipped their gods at high points, today tourists build them because they look cool. Perhaps locals still build them for the traditional reasons. I was reminded how Abraham once built stacks of rocks as altars, memorials of conversations and covenants he had with God.

At yet another stop along the way, Nancy showed us the yareta plant. This is a green, rounded plant that grows among the rocks. It is very hard, it hurts your toe if you kick it. At first I thought it was just a green moss that grew in a thin layer on the tops of the rocks, but realized as I picked at it with a stick that it is a solid layer of hard plant.

We got our first glimpse of the hotel after four hours of driving, our plan was to enjoy the Colca Lodge in the afternoon, and the next day drive the final two hours to get to the condor viewing spot. Our hotel lay at the bottom of a valley, we passed an old Incan bridge as we rounded the top of the canyon and made our way down, bouncing and bumping on the rocky road. As we filled out the paperwork and checked in, we noticed two alpacas out back, one of them leaping in a field of red quinua. When it finally leaped out, it looked around, as if to say “I’m cool, I’m cool,” its hair hanging in dreads over its eyes.

The hotel had three hot springs, heavenly. As soon as we put our backpacks down we all changed into swimsuits and headed to the pools. The spring itself was 80 degrees Celsius, it sent wafts of steam rising into the air. It fed the three pools, each a slightly different temperature. I know there will be times next year, in the middle of the school year when there are a thousand things going on at once, that I will wish I was back on this trip. At a particular moment and time. This will be one of the times I long for.

I swam slowly and sluggishly back and forth in the warm water, while a creek burbled through the canyon and two horses whinnied to each other on the other side. The sky was blue, crops grew along the terraces, it was a peaceful moment. The kids played some sort of game that involved jumping in and out of the pools, getting themselves cold and then warming up again. Clay stayed until his fingers puckered like the hills we passed earlier that day, then headed back to the room, but I stayed. Oh, how I love hanging out in warm water, like one huge bathtub.

Eventually we all got out, ran up the path to the rooms in air that now felt cold to our wet bodies, changed into dry clothes, and played. Alayna fiddled with the camera, learning how to use the macro mode so she could take close up pictures of flowers, blades of grass, and a wispy feather. Nate and Benji ran around with sticks, narrating a never ending story, paying no heed to passing tourists. Clay read his book, I read my book, all was well with our world. We battled a bus load of pushy Polish people in the buffet line at dinner, and went to bed early. We’ll meet Nancy at 6 tomorrow morning, and begin our drive to see the condors.


Saturday, 26 April 2008

We rose early, wiped the sleep from our eyes, ate some breakfast and headed out by 6:30am. Our first stop was a nearby village, where we admired a small church damaged in an earthquake back in 2001. We came back out in the town’s main square, where a group of girls were dancing around a fountain in their traditional dresses, spinning and twirling to show off the intricate embroidery. The women of the town set up tables all around the square, selling the same dolls, hats, belts, and stuffed llamas we’ve seen all along our own Inca Trail. On one side of the square a woman held a hawk on her arm, another held an owl, still another stood by the side of a llama, all dolled up for pictures. It was awful early for all this. Several tour busses, also on their way to see the condors, had stopped at the square. It’s always a little easier to hide in obscurity amongst other tourists, we gave a few coins to the dancing girls but passed on acquiring anymore souvenirs.

There are two styles of hats we saw in this valley, both remnants of the colonial era. The women of the valley wear embroidered hats with round brims, beaded ribbons around the crowns. Those of the canyon wear hats where the brim bends down in the front, curving over their foreheads, also heavily embroidered. While we saw them for sale at every tourist vendor sight, we also saw them on the heads of women walking to and fro on the dusty road, going about their everyday business. It is something they wear often, not just when dressing up for tourists.

Nancy educated us about condors as we continued to drive to the viewing spot. Juveniles are brown, until about eight years of age when their feathers turn black and white and they are considered adults. The males have a crest on their head, the female does not. A condor can go three months without eating food, but if they have babies they must feed them every day. They are scavengers, eating dead carcasses other animals, or the elements, have killed. Their wingspan can get to more than ten feet across, and they have lived 80 years in captivity. Scientists estimate they live about 35 years in the wild, but locals insist they can live a hundred years.

We passed through a village that has a festival each year where they tie a condor onto a bull’s back, symbolizing the tenuous relationship of the Spaniards and the Incas. Some of the small villages we passed through still practice animal sacrifices during their special festivals. The Spaniards put an end to human sacrifices, and also to a practice called skull deformation, where the Incas would bind the heads of babies to either make them long and conical, or short and wide.

We made a bathroom stop, and as we were leaving noticed a small girl sitting next to her mother, who was selling, you’ve got it, dolls, hats, belts, and stuffed llamas. The little girl was so cute, all bundled up with chubby cheeks, staring at us so complacently. She was two. We offered her an apple from our previous day’s box lunch, and she broke out into a huge grin and waved as we pulled away, holding her apple in her tiny hand. What a good little girl, sitting so quietly next to her mother, or grandmother, observing the world passing by.

Nancy pulled pictures out of her bag. Of a condor on a bull’s back, and of skulls that have been molded into strange shapes. She showed us pictures of the condors, females and males and juveniles, so we’d know what we were looking at once we arrived. And finally, we did arrive. It was just 9am, and we had done and learned so much already. Busses choked the skinny road, our driver let us off and we hurried to an overlook, where we could already see some condors gliding near the cliff.

We joined the gawking crowd and watched open-mouthed as they soared. They were enormous. Some seemed to show off, gliding right over our heads. They didn’t flap their wings, but rode on thermals, adjusting their tail feathers ever so slightly to change direction. Sometimes they would crook the ends of their wing feathers up, like a proper old lady drinking tea with an extended pinkie finger. They reminded me of the kids, riding a wave into shore on their boogie boards, it looked like so much fun, I wished I had wings.

After about five minutes the condors moved on, we waited patiently awhile and then walked down to a different viewing point with fewer crowds. We watched some hawks and buzzards, birds that would have looked big and impressive if we weren’t comparing them to the condor’s size. The kids fiddled with the binoculars, we lolled on the stone walls, wondering where the condors had gone. About twenty minutes later, they reappeared, all at once. I counted eleven at one time, all swooping and soaring, some came right up to us, and then dove down. One did something like a barrel roll, tipping one wing and spiraling down out of sight. Somewhere in the rock crevices, there were nests and babies. Some of the birds flew with outstretched feet, ready to grab something.

Eventually they disappeared again, and we made our way back to the car. We were lucky, we had seen many condors. Nancy said it doesn’t always happen like that. On the way back along the road we had traversed, we stopped to see some old pre-Incan tombs. They were nestled high on a cliff, road workers had found bones buried in the cave that had been sealed up with rocks. Faded red ran down the cliff, they speculate the tombs were once painted.

While we may or may not remember those tombs, I know we won’t forget “Harold”. When we got out of the car to see the tomb, a three-year old boy in a Mickey Mouse hat, all bundled in three layers and a jacket, walked barefoot on the narrow stone wall that separated us from the canyon below. His mother watched from nearby, sitting by a blanket with her goods spread out before her. Harold was not at all shy, like most of the kids we’ve met along our way. He plopped down next to Alayna and grinned, then pointed to the hillside and said “tuna” over and over again, the Quechua word for “prickly pear”. It was his favorite word, “tuna, tuna, tuna” he said over and over as he continued to point.

We gave him another apple we’d saved back from our box lunches the day before, he grinned and said “tuna”. “No, manzana,” we corrected him, using the Spanish word for apple, but he stubbornly said “tuna”, pointing his finger at us, then hiding the apple behind his back, in case we thought about taking it back from him. He took off his hat and pointed to Mickey Mouse, then unzipped his jacket, pulled up one of his shirts, and showed us the puppy stitched on his second shirt. “Puppy” we said. “Tuna,” he insisted. What a cutie pie, we were all charmed by this chubby cheeked little boy. We finally said goodbye and he walked back along the thin rock wall to his mom, clutching his apple in his hand and taking big bites of his “tuna”.

We passed several groups of animals being herded down the road, mostly cows or sheep. One boy rode on the back of a donkey and herded sheep, swinging a rope in one hand and hitting the sheep on the legs and butts to keep them in line. He was maybe ten years old, I thought about what a ball our boys would have, riding on the back of a donkey and herding sheep. We passed a small city of a thousand people. Most of the houses had tin roofs since they last longer, the traditional thatch roofs have to be replaced every two years or so. The town had a small primary school, a church, and a soccer field, the necessities of any small town.

We passed lots of stone corrals making shapes on the vast hillsides. In one town we paid a few solés to take a picture of Nate with an adult buzzard on his head, and a picture of Benji with a juvenile buzzard on his head. Alayna was content to pet the baby alpaca, festooned with ribbons in her ears. We drove behind a small pickup truck loaded down with fruits and vegetables. Mounted on the top of the truck was a megaphone, so workers in the fields could be alerted of their approach. Like an ice cream truck, I imagined farm hands leaping and jumping down the rows of barley or quinoa to the fruit and vegetable truck, like a bunch of excited kids.

We stopped in a small town for lunch, eating across from a giant cross, emblazoned on a hillside. Once again, the Incan and Christian symbols are combined, a cross on a mountain. Mountains, which were gods to the Incas. Our stomachs full, we dozed for the three hours it took to get back to Arequipa, the kids in the backseat playing DS until we made them stop, then staring out the window or reading.

Once back at the hotel, we decided to get the kids out to stretch their legs after all that time cooped up in the car. We walked to a nearby park, just a few blocks away. The boys threw a ball around, and the kids were just starting a game of tag when an old woman came by, blowing a whistle and shouting “Salida!” Exit. We noticed a stream of people heading out of the park and decided we better follow them. We noticed a bride and groom getting their pictures taken, and three men were setting up with guitars in the park, which must have been rented for a wedding reception. At the exit, we noticed a fancy old Ford car all decorated with flowers and a “Just Married” sign on the back. Oh well, I guess we could give up our park for the new bride and groom.

We walked back to the hotel, waited around until 7 when the restaurant opened, and had some dinner. I am only a little sheepish about eating at our hotel for every meal while in Arequipa, instead of getting in a cab and eating downtown, exploring on our own this “white city”. We are weary sometimes, and a little “home cookin’”, a familiar menu in a hotel we know, it is a good thing at this point in the trip.


Sunday, 27 April 2008

This morning I wanted to get the kids outside for a bit since we would be traveling and having a city tour in Lima later. We weren’t getting picked up until noon, so after breakfast we got all packed up and headed back to the park for another try. Clay stayed behind to do some work on the pictures for the web site. This time we walked to a park across the street from the one we’d visited yesterday, it had been closed but we could tell from quite a distance that it was now open. Before we even saw the parks, we heard a roar, like the sound of a big crowd cheering. We got closer and saw a group of what looked like boy scouts, all in uniform, assembled around some flags in the park that we had to exit yesterday.

We walked across the street to the other park, and encountered tons of families, enjoying their Sunday. Kids were running everywhere, and in the middle there were tables and tents set up with women selling all sorts of desserts. Maybe it was a bake sale, maybe it was a cake contest, I had no idea what they were trying to tell me as we wandered past. I just smiled and moved on, I have to say what meager Spanish I’ve learned was no help to me. We headed to the back of the park, where we’d seen some cages the day before with monkeys swinging around in them. We watched the monkeys for a long time. We were saddened at first by their conditions, especially Alayna the monkey fan. Two or three monkeys were kept in each wire, rectangular cage. They each had one swing hanging, a perch they could climb onto up high, and some lettuce and carrots scattered on the bottom of the cage, mingled with monkey poo. I was fascinated with the way these poor creatures entertained themselves, and how they revealed their personalities in just the short time we were there.

One monkey was just a big, begging oaf, we took to calling him “Chet”, the character in the Hardy Boys books that is always described as “stout”. He hung on the front of the cage and reached his black paw out to the watching crowd, begging for a little snack. One person handed him an orange slice while we were there, he eyed our water bottle with great interest as we put it to our lips. Another monkey spent all his time with the pieces of buckets that probably once held the food and water in his cage. He would climb into the bigger part of the bucket, and then try and pull the smaller portion onto the other side so he would be hidden. He never did achieve this feat, but it was fun watching how his mind worked as he tried to figure it out. He also spent some time reaching a paw into the spider monkey’s cage, trying to snatch food out of their tiny little paws. The spider monkeys were a hoot, they spent all their time rolling around on the floor of their cage, wrestling, they reminded me of the boys on the hotel beds, tumbling around.

We got some ice cream before we left the park, it was only 15 cents for each one. They weren’t what I expected, though they looked like a commercial ice cream bar on the picture, when the woman reached into her cooler and pulled them out, they were only loosely wrapped in a plastic that she pulled off as she handed one to each kid. I hoped their stomachs would be okay. As the ice cream woman made change for my 10 solé bill, a policeman standing next to her had a long, one-sided conversation with me. I kept saying “no entiendo”, but he either didn’t understand that I didn’t understand, or didn’t care. I assumed he wasn’t telling me anything too important, and I gradually drifted off with the kids in tow. We got plenty of stares as we left the park, we were the only gringos in sight, and I felt a little like the monkeys must have. We definitely didn’t “belong”, but I was glad we’d taken an hour to get out into the city one last time, and hoped the walking would drain some of the energy that might get pent up on the plane ride.

We got back in time to all tell Clay at once about the monkeys and the boys scouts and the ice cream, his eyes darting back and forth, trying to follow it all. Then it was time to go downstairs with our bags and meet Nancy to go to the airport. Poor Benji keeps trying to get it straight, “Are we leaving? Are we coming back here? Where are we going? What are we doing?” Lima, here we come. We’ll have less than twenty four hours to get a snapshot of this next city, before taking to the skies again and going to Ecuador, our last country!