Monday, March 14, 2011

Machu Picchu and coming home

I want to make mention again of how well organized the campaign was and how easy Barton, Matt and Gary made it to come down to Peru and work. From shuttling us around town to exchanging money to negotiating taxi fares to making sure we had good coffee, they took good care of us. I feel like the unsung heroes of the missionary team though are the wives, Allison, Charla and Jen. Besides providing support for their husbands and taking care of kids, they made sure all of us ate well. The best meal by far the whole week was a bit of South American home-cooking Wednesday night at the Kizer home. Allison made Brazilian beef stroganoff.

Allison and Cole Kizer

We completed the last day of the campaign Thursday. Just as the crowd had increased the previous two days, the line on the sidewalk in the rain Thursday morning was the longest of all. The people who came mainly were the poor who had limited access to other healthcare. They didn’t mind the long waits. For many, it was their only chance to see a doctor or physical therapist, get an eye check or get a pair of glasses. One man said he had never in his life had anyone pay so much attention to him. When it was all over, we had seen over 900 patients. There were 400 bible studies done on site while people waited to see the doctors. When we left, the guys were still tallying the number of follow-up bible studies that had been scheduled. Rick and Jason P. were running the numbers at the Lima airport last night and incredibly, the two of them dispensed over 1,000 pairs of glasses. And as important as those numbers are for this first campaign in Cusco, I agree with what Matt said the other night: the true impact of this campaign will truly be seen in the weeks and months to come. We are all anxious to find out how many the church had in attendance this morning.

Two of our oldest patients. He was 92, she was 86.

Three o’clock came awfully early Friday morning. It seemed we had barely just gotten into our beds after the post-campaign banquet Thursday night complete with Cusqenian musicians and costumed dancers. Dennis Williams made a lasting image when one of the dancers pulled him up to dance. He dropped the walking stick and showed everyone his moves! Classic! But the highlight of my evening was getting to Skype with Tiff and the girls. We all held it together until someone got teary-eyed—me, of course. After all the festivities were done and we got 4-5 hours of sleep, we dragged ourselves out of bed for a two hour bus-ride to Ollantaytambo and a one and a half hour train ride along the Urubamba river to Machu Picchu town. The train roughly follows the Inca Trail which hikers traverse over the course of 4 days. The Urubamba is the wildest water I have ever seen apart from something on Discovery channel. It was very high and muddy as this is the end of the rainy season. Most of the rapids we saw along the way didn’t seem like they would fall into the usual whitewater classification. They looked simply unsurvivable. As we traveled north, the mountainous terrain also transformed. No longer at the 11,000+ altitude of Cusco, the air became saturated with moisture and the alpine peaks flanking us grew discretely greener as we slipped into the jungle. We reached our destination, Machu Picchu town, small and nestled between sheer green cliff faces, their peaks shrouded in mist thousands of feet high on the banks of the wild Urubamba.


Urubamba River and suspension bridge. Yikes!

The boys.

Socrates was our tour guide for Machu Picchu. He has a tourism degree and speaks three languages. He’s a very smart guy. After being amazed at the ingenuity of his Inca ancestors, it’s apparent their intelligence has been passed down through the generations. We hiked from the train across Machu Picchu town to meet the bus that finally would take us precariously up the mountain to the deserted Inca city. The bus ride to the top provided breath-taking views of the misty mountains and heart-stopping moments along the steep, narrow, graveled road with switchback after switchback. Occasionally we would meet another bus coming down the mountain and in order for them to get by on this road barely big enough for ONE bus, we would be completely scraping against the cliff or else our tires would be hanging off the mountain on the other side! The buses were literally inches apart when they passed each other.

From the window of the bus.

"So-crates" like from "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure"-- oh never mind. . .

We reached the top where in 1911, Yale explorer Hiram Bingham met a local family who casually led the American up an impossible number of steps to the abandoned city in the mist which had lain perfectly preserved under the jungle vegetation for nearly 500 years. I wondered if Bingham had the same experience we did because as we ascended to the peak of the city near the watch tower, due to the mist and clouds we could really only see the walls and the stone path which we were following and a number of grassy tiers on which the Inca had farmed. We could see nothing of the city below or the surrounding mountaintops. There were llamas grazing nearby, indifferent to our presence; their nonchalance suggested the fact that Machu Picchu is the most heavily visited tourist site in South America. Finally, the shroud parted and below us lay the most brilliantly designed and intricately constructed city of perfectly interlocked, polished, granite blocks. We spent the next several hours climbing and descending the steep stone pathways of Machu Picchu, which was just as mystic as anything I had read about it. Why did the Inca leave so suddenly? No one really knows. In fact, the real name of the city is unknown. Machu Picchu, which simply means “Old Mountain,” was apparently the name by which the local inhabitants called it when Bingham arrived there. It’s authenticity makes it easier than any place I’ve ever been to completely imagine what it must have been like to actually live in that place 500 years ago. We timed our descent just right and made it down to our bus just before a heavy rain shower began which lasted the rest of the afternoon. After an amazing experience, and after lunch back in town, we all got back on the train to begin the long trip back to Cusco. I had begun to love the folks on this mission like a family at this point, but I was so exhausted that the thought of talking and socializing on the train just made me ill. I get like that sometimes. Anyway, it was truly a relief when my seat on the train was with three French Canadian high school students from Quebec who I couldn’t even understand! Perfect! The motion of the train and the sound of light-hearted French conversation and laughter lulled me to sleep. I hope I didn’t disgust those kids too much with all the snoring and drooling I probably did. At the time though, I was just too tired to care.

Saturday was our last day in Cusco. Our flight to Lima took off at 3:30 pm which gave plenty of time for the walk that I usually take on the first day I arrive in a new place abroad. I typically take a map, walk until I get totally turned around and lost, and then work my way back out again. Usually during that process I find my way to the highest point in town and take pictures of the city. I’ve done this ever since my first trip to Europe and it’s one of my favorite ways to get intimately acquainted with a new place. I always see things on that walk that I remember forever. This walk I will always remember was the start of the stomachache that I thought was just heartburn from breakfast. I pushed harder and harder to the top of the hill near the Jesus Christ statue that overlooks Cusco. I was winded (the additional 3,000 feet of altitude in Cusco really increases the level of physical exertion compared to Machu Picchu) but I kept pushing. I got my pictures of the city, and at the top of the hill, I bought the most delicious cup of freshly squeezed orange juice. After that hit my stomach, I knew something was definitely wrong. I had an unsettling premonition of what was to come next, and in a way, I was glad it didn’t hit during the work week or, Heaven forbid, up at Machu Picchu—the Inca had no perfectly preserved stone outhouses. The middle of this story is edited for the reader’s sensitivity. . . At the airport I had to sit in the floor at the ticket counter and at security because I was so dehydrated and dizzy. There was no t.p. in the airport restroom either. I was just “lucky” that Mike Clelland found a slightly used roll on one of the seats down by our gate. It’s not uncommon, I am told, for people to carry their own toilet paper rolls with them. Lesson learned. I seriously contemplated not getting on the plane and going to the emergency room or whatever passed for an emergency room in Cusco. My plan was, once I got there, to call up the MedJet assist that we purchased and then fly non-stop by private jet back to Birmingham. That way I’d get an i.v., a faster trip home to my girls while completely bypassing our 8 hour lay-over in Lima! But in the end, I thought the prospect of visiting a foreign emergency room speaking barely any Spanish seemed even riskier than trying to fly. I was blessed that my friends took such good care of me, my fever broke and my symptoms calmed while we sat at the Lima airport. I had until almost midnight to work on rehydration and I thank God for Mario, the American Airlines ticket agent that was kind enough to put me in the exit row by the window! With the extra leg room and a Phenergan from Rick (it’s good to travel with doctors, by the way), I slept all the way to Miami.

The Cusco flag from the Plaza.

I can’t even describe the homecoming welcome I got at Birmingham, but I will say, it was quite a scene. There were lots of passengers both jealous and adoring my sweet girls who just about knocked me down hugging and kissing me when I came out. “DADDYYYYY!!!”

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