Climbing High in Peru

Stone arch at Taquile Island, 14,000 ft.

As I explore the high places in Peru I hear the John Denver song “Rocky Mountain High” playing in my head. I find the thin and dry air invigorating after I finally adjust to the altitude and climate. Compared to humid and sea-level Lima, these areas Ian and I have explored are energizing. Last year’s adventure in Cabanaconde and the Colca Canyon had the same effect. Add to it the majesty of the Andes, a big sky, llamas and alpacas, the wild flowers and herbs and the colorful native people. One of the joys of such travel are the serendipitous events that occur along the way, and we had a few as we visited Juliaca, Puno and Lake Titicaca in the alti plano of Peru (high plains at 12,500+ feet) this past March.

The trip began smoothly with a comfortable fight from Lima to Juliaca. I made a friend on the flight, and she helped us climb onto a local combi bus for the ride into Puno toward our hotel on the lake. Little did we know it would take 2 hours and give us a free tour of the cities of Juliaca and Puno! Then, to top it off, the lovely Elvita gave me her shawl which I had admired during our time chatting at the luggage claim. What do you say to such a gift? The colors were perfect for the clothes I had brought and useful for the cooler weather.  I have her address and hope the thank you card gets to her in Puno. This was just one of our many blessings and surprises, along with pigs floating on islands, towel sculptures, quinoa and muña tea.

Wearing the shawl given to me by Elvita as I hold someone's future dinner

We planned the trip to visit a church and mission in Juliaca and also to have a vacation alongside Lake Titicaca, the world’s highest navigable lake. Having chosen our hotel from the internet, we were thrilled that it sat alongside the lake with sheep, pigs and alpaca all pasturing in the foreground and alongside the restaurant. Gardens surrounded the entrance with flowering shrubs, herbs and topiary trimmed into the shapes of cats, birds and mysterious creatures. Outside our window, storms crossed over the lake providing colorful skies and cloud formations. Everyday we returned to a clean room with our towels artfully folded into animal shapes (How could I not tip the maid?).

Towel sculptures greeted us each day upon our return!

The churches we visited were lively and full of people of all ages. Using contemporary music and Anglican traditional liturgy, the worship was joyful and lively. I loved having whole families worshiping together and casual conversation afterwards. Yes, I practiced my Spanish all week!

Worship in the chapel at Tariachi

Our boat ride out onto Lake Titicaca during the week was the highlight of our trip. The tourist trade is a major source of income for the local people, so Ian and I enjoyed supporting them. The pottery and woven scarf/table runner are lovely reminders of our time away and the creativity of the people of the high plains.

Our guide explained the construction of the reed islands while a local woman demonstrated the many uses of the reeds. Using the totora reeds to make crisscrossed layers over the root structures, these people work for a year to create a new island. Up to ten families live on each one, and when the numbers grow, they all help build a new one. Each island lasts about 50 years and new layers of reeds are added every three months or so. They visit each other easily using reed, rowing and small motor boats. There is no electricity, but we did see some solar panels. Food consists of fish, the young reed shoots (good source of iodine), ducks, pigs (which live on little floating islands of their own) and supplies brought in from Puno. Some tourists spend the night on an island, but I wondered what you did from 5 p.m. until 9 a.m. the next morning staying in a grass hut close by everyone else? Campfire songs? Dancing? Eating, no doubt. I imagine the water bed effect and quiet is wonderful for sleep!

Walking on the floating islands reminds me of waterbeds!

Colors and textures enhance a simple life

As we left the island of Santa Maria, we continued to look onto the other islands and watch the lake traffic go by. Imagine attending a floating school!

Floating School among the Uros Islands

We continued in our comfortable motor boat on to the island of Taquile. This is one of the rock islands of the lake where people have been living for centuries. The Quechua people inhabit this island where they farm and sell beautifully knitted and woven articles to the tourists. One workshop is called “Knitting Men” because it is mainly the men who knit. Walking from the dock on up the Incan stone paths, we met the local people dressed in their colorful outfits. The colors and styles told whether they were married or single. On this island there is no divorce. Young couples live together in a type of trial marriage, and then marry if all seems to go well. The community is supportive of families and they work as a collective to sell their beautiful crafts.

We bought a lovely scarf which I will use as a table runner. Made from wool and alpaca, the colors remind me of the flowers covering the island of Taquile. We enjoyed the local trout for lunch and then headed down the many stone steps to the harbor on the far side of the island.

Woven scarf and pottery from Puno

Having a lunch of trout and potatoes on our island visit

Every bend in the path afforded a view of the lake or a farm with its fields, sheep, a few pigs and ducks. Flowers bloomed everywhere! We noticed imported eucalyptus trees growing in hedges and wondered why anyone would import these thirsty trees to this lovely island?

Farms on Taquile Island

We returned to our hotel that night, tired, but full of new images of Peru and the satisfaction of a day on the water cruising through varying weather, from  bright sun on the Uros to bucketing rain on Taquile.  After months in the Lima desert, a good thunderstorm provided a simple thrill! We capped off the perfect day with a Pisco Sour by the log fire in the hotel: my kind of vacation!

Our final day was a relaxing one for Ian and me. We visited a British ship named the Yavari, docked a mile or so from the hotel. It had been built in England in the 1860s and then sailed to Chile where it was dismantled, loaded up onto mules and trekked over to Lake Titicaca. The overland trek took six years.

The Yavari, brought over the Andes in the 1860s

Ian at the helm of the Yavari ship which floats in Lake Titicaca

The boat was reassembled and used on the lake for years to keep the borders secure and patrol the lake. The people in charge of it hope to get the ship up to code and take it out onto Lake Titicaca for tourist cruises. Having enjoyed the tour and feeling patriotic, Ian bought the hat and I got the t-shirt–all for a good cause. You can also spend the night in one of the cabins and have breakfast the next morning–all for $45! Maybe next time.

Muña tea, great for respiration and digestion

I'd like a hobby farm!

Visiting Lake Titicaca had been on our agenda for a year or so, and the trip proved to be everything we had hoped for–beautiful scenery, a church visit, new cultures, and time to relax. The elevation was an adjustment, but with the help of coca tea, muña tea and a few ibuprofen, we adjusted. Next year? Perhaps the Amazon!

Enjoy the slideshow of our adventure.

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Cats, Cats, Millions of Cats

How to adopt a street cat in Lima, Peru

I kept hearing the  refrain from Wanda Gag’s children’s book Millions of Cats as I walked through the park and saw all the varieties of feral cats tucked into flower beds, sleeping under bushes and begging for food.

Wikipedia says: Millions of Cats is a picture book written and illustrated by Wanda Gág in 1928. The book won a Newbery Honor award in 1929, one of the few picture books to do so. Millions of Cats is the oldest American picture book still in print.

The hand-lettered text tells the story of an elderly couple who realize that they are very lonely. The wife wants a cat to love, so her husband sets off in search of a beautiful one to bring home to her. After traveling far away from home, he finds a hillside covered in “…hundreds of cats, thousands of cats, millions and billions and trillions of cats…” This rhythmic phrase is repeated several other times throughout the story.

The man wants to bring home the most beautiful of all the cats, but he’s unable to decide. Each seems lovely, so he walks back home with all of the cats following him. His wife is dismayed when he arrives, realizing immediately what her husband overlooked: they won’t be able to feed and care for billions and trillions of cats. The wife suggests letting the cats decide which one should stay with them, asking “Which one of you is the prettiest?” This question incites an enormous catfight, frightening the old man and woman so that they ran back into the house. Soon, all is quiet outside. When they venture out, there is no sign of the cats: they’d apparently eaten each other up in their jealous fury. Then, the old man notices one skinny cat hiding in a patch of tall grass. It had survived because it didn’t consider itself pretty, so the other cats hadn’t attacked it.

The couple take the cat into their home, feed it and bathe it, watching it grow sleek and beautiful as the days pass: exactly the kind of cat they wanted.

Wanda Gag pioneered the double-page spread in this book. “She used both pages to move the story forward, putting them together with art that sweeps across the entire page spread: her favourite illustration fell in the centre of the book – with the old man carrying cats against the rolling hills.”

Cleo when she first came from LA in July 2011

Cleo after six months with us in Lima, Peru

We have our own street cat from Los Angeles, Cleo, and she represents all that a cat can be: friendly, at times crazy and great company. She will go back and forth with us between here and the U.S. As much as we’d love a Lima street cat, we can’t afford to ferry two cats back and forth. When Cleo is naughty, I threaten to drop her off to stay with her cousins in Parque Kennedy. I wonder how she would fare?  They are a motley crew, but some are very winsome! Here they are in their special protected environment in Miraflores, Peru.




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Comings and Goings in England

David, Kath, Chris, Natasha and Joe--First Cousins

Ian and I returned to London in February to celebrate his father’s life of 94 years. He had died in January, so we traveled to London to gather with close family to give thanks for his full and productive life. While there, we celebrated and toasted on the Saturday and then spent the other days connecting with family, walking down familiar streets and exploring new haunts around London. For our last day, Ian and I traveled to the city of Worcester to meet with members of that diocese who are coming down to Peru in March. A companion diocese, they have been supporting the work of the Anglican church in Peru for over 20 years.

A Place I Would Love to Call Home.

During our week-long visit, my daughter Katherine and I took a day to explore the Holland Park area of London, an area filled with lovely terraced houses, tree lined streets and a wooded park. Most of the trees were bare since it was still February, but primroses, crocuses and snowdrops appeared in various  beds along the walkways.  We loved the enclosed children’s park with its sign stating that adults must be accompanied by children. Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, would appreciate this site! We peeked in to see recently constructed forts and a mother and child exploring together on the grey February morning.

Kath in Holland Park with Pathways and Mossy Trees

Gate into Nature: No Adults Without Children! Richard Louv Rejoices!

We continued to explore the acres of the park and headed toward a Japanese Garden with its ducks, peacocks and Koi pond and found the Walking Man statue.

Peacock in the Japanese Garden

Walking Man by Sean Henry

After our walk through the park we headed back onto the streets on our way to find a print shop on Portobello Road and a lunch spot where we caught up with Ian. That evening we celebrated Joe’s arrival from NYC at David’s pub, the Ladywell Tavern. Great food and atmosphere following a day of exploration.

David and Joe, Cousins Toasting

A Door with Purpose: Facilitating Deliveries

One afternoon, Ian and I visited our old parish in Parson’s Green, St. Dionis Church. We knocked on the door and were met by the vicar’s wife who took us inside to see the church. We loved seeing the signs of life, including an Alpha banner and evidence of programs going on during the week.

On our last day, we traveled up to Worcester Cathedral via a dependable English train. We enjoyed meeting with the folk there to plan their March visit and to see the ancient 11th century cathedral.   After a week in England, we had to pack up our things and return to Peru taking back loose tea and oatcakes and cans of Mamade for English marmelade. It had been a good visit.

Reflecting over our time in England, I would like to think that Ian’s father was  pleased,  perhaps grinning from ear to ear to see us gathered together to celebrate his generous life.  It is always a poignant time when Ian and I return to England because we are family, but also just visitors who come and go according to the celebrations and major events. I am thankful for significant birthdays, funerals and weddings; they bring us together.

We Lived on the Top Two Floors at #16 Parsons Green.

Up the Aisle of St. Dionis Church in Parsons Green, London, our Parish 1976-78

Ian and I After Following a Path to a Good Little Cafe

A Long Walk Up the Aisle of Worcester Cathedral

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Sunday Walk Along the Malecon

Here in Lima the coast is called the malecon. I walk ten minutes down our street and come to this incredible system of parks that run up the coastline for miles. To get to the beach, I have to walk down a series of steps that is an excellent workout both up and down. I did not choose to descend today, but other days I have headed down to watch the surfers and dip my toes into the ocean.

Here is what I enjoyed today, a sunny day about 75 degrees F. People were out with their families, their bikes and skateboards, and their dogs–all enjoying the summer weather and the sunset.

Parapenting in the mist over the Pacific Ocean

Looking across the park down onto the Pacific as the sun sets

Skateboard Park displaying lots of talent

Ready to roll!

North America's favorite dog--Yellow Lab and the Peruvian Inca dog--Hairless!

Looking across the ravine to the drumming circle behnd the trees--great beat!

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Sunsetting over the parks.

Sunsetting over the parks.

The cloud hovered over the Pacific as the sun set.

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January 30, 2012 · 12:44 am

Household Repairs in Peru

When something breaks in Peru you have choices, just like in the U.S.  It just may take longer.  You can buy a replacement, hire a repairman, or you can look for the parts and fix it yourself. For instance, today I am waiting in the apartment in hopes that the Bosch repair man will come to replace the glass stove top recently broken by a very apologetic house guest. A phone call promised his arrival between 9 a.m.  and 1 p.m. today. The part is large and fragile, not something we wanted to carry on a bus. Update: he came and repaired it by 11:30.

Replaced glass stove cover

Since Ian is very handy at fixing things, we usually try to repair things ourselves. When the toilet seat’s hinge broke this week, we knew we had to get it fixed. More house guests are on the way! We have learned, though, that it helps to turn problem solving into adventures by combining  the quest with explorations and serendipity. They usually involve finding an interesting cafe or lunch spot along the way.

Yesterday we headed out to the equivalent of Home Depot: Sodimac, a large box hardware store that mimics Home Depot in many ways–size, helpful employees and lots of choice. We climbed off the #17 bus and walked alongside the busy highway to Sodimac. Past the chemical smells and bustling aisles, we found the toilet seat aisle. A new seat cost just over $10, not a bad choice, but in the next aisle we found several styles of white plastic toilet lid screws. Ian had brought the broken part to match up. Lo and behold, the same make was right there in front of us; so for around three dollars we had the necessary part. We put back the replacement seat and went with the plastic screw, hoping it would fit.

Fixed toilet lid-yeah Ian!

While there we picked up a few other needs: a water jug to keep filtered water in the fridge, one of those long handled butane lighters, an under-the- rug mat to keep a scatter rug from scattering, plastic picture hooks to stick onto the plaster wall, and stones to put in the potted plants to keep Cleo from digging.  Work done, we headed back to the bus and onto our reward for all of our hard work and saved cash–hamburgers at Tanta, a favorite Peruvian restaurant on the #17 bus route.

Ian and I miss grilling good hamburgers here in Lima, but we have found three Peruvian restaurants that make good ones. Since grocery store ground beef is finely ground and too lean, my hamburgers on the grill fall apart and don’t cook well. We have given up and just go out for the good burger when we have a beef craving.  I love the side salads they put onto the plate, and if asked, they will double up on salad and omit the fries. I also like to think these burgers have less calories than the 1,700 calorie TGI Friday’s and Chili’s hamburgers. Both of those chains exist within a ten minute walk from the apartment. Along with the Starbucks and Pinkberry’s, that makes our Ovalo (roundabout) a little North American ghetto!

Working off  our hamburger fix, we walked back toward the apartment through the lovely olive tree park filled with meandering sidewalks, a bird sanctuary, and green scummy ponds (its only drawback). After carrying the heavy bag filled with garden stones, we decided to take a break at Pinkberry where the frozen yoghurt is tart and refreshing on a hot summer’s afternoon. Our daughter had introduced us to Pinkberry in LA, and now we enjoy an occasional treat here in Lima.

Finally home, we worked on our repairs. The toilet screw solved the lid problem perfectly–yeah Ian!  The mat fit under the sliding rug and kept us from slipping on it.

Cleo looking at her pile of dirt and stones

The stones looked great in the potted plants, but Cleo later dug into them and scattered them all over the tiles. We need rocks! The picture is hanging on the plaster wall and water is chilling in the fridge. Later we will start the grill and light the candles with the butane gizmo. Thank you repairman, Ian and Sodimac for solving our household problems!


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To Everything There is a Season

Christmas towels, tea cozy and mug are tucked away for another year.

Putting away the Christmas decorations is like saying goodbye to family after a lovely visit. Though sad, I realize that it is time to move on. I had been upbeat and energized as I looked forward to our visiting together, but now I tuck away the memories and decorations into tissues to rest for another year. I sweep away the pine needles, caress and wrap up Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus, and stash away the Christmas mugs. I clean the house to prepare for the new.

Christmas reflections

Decorating in January is tricky; it is not the time for flowers and pastels, but dried arrangements prove too drab. Potted plants and sprouting bulbs do the trick for me. That’s easy here in the southern hemisphere where it’s mid-summer and everything is growing!

Norfolk pine with ornaments

Fresh starts and growth. We all make new year’s resolutions of some sort. Perhaps they are implicit or nestled into the back corners of our minds, but they exist. Most of us want to improve in some way: lose weight, learn a new skill, be more patient, tidy or confident. We want to accomplish something. For me, it is setting up a Godly Play training session here in Lima in a year’s time. Talking with a young woman the other day, I also realized how important girlfriends are to my life. I want to cultivate those friendships a bit more. Beauty and creativity are important to me, too, and I want to foster those. I am thinking of dipping into Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way again.  Exercise keeps me energized and more upbeat, so I plan to visit the gym 2-3 times a week and get stronger. I want to write more, too, because that centers me and fulfills a deep need. And I’d like to finish the Old Testament before Easter. Those are today’s thoughts….

Hand carved wooden nativity figures along with clay John the Baptist and random angel.

Arpillera nativity scene

Ian and I loved being with our kids over the holidays. It is always a joy to revisit our family traditions even in new locations: making hard spice candy with Katherine in Los Angeles and opening packages on Christmas morning in Houston with Joe. We loved being with the future inlaws, Katherine’s husband Sam and Joe’s fiance Virginia. We celebrated and played together.  And it was good, very good. Welcome new year!

Joe and Virginia in Houston

Polly and Ian with Sam and Katherine in LA

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