August 10, 2013 by Alex Johannigman
7/19, Machu Picchu
Wow, today was an eventful day! We started with yet another early morning, leaving the hostel before 4am so we could catch our 6am train to Machu Picchu. On the drive there, our bus driver earned equal parts respect and fear from me. We drove down narrow roads that were often just feet away from the edge of a steep cliff. Many of the roads weren’t even paved (we off-roaded in a bus!). As we approached the train station we found ourselves driving head on towards and 18-wheeler on one of these narrow, unpaved, one lane roads on the edge of a cliff. The 18-wheeler didn’t look like it was about to stop any time soon, so to avoid being hit the bus driver threw us in reverse, going backwards down the road, in the dark, until a point where the road was wide enough for the big truck to pass us.
On the train to Machu Picchu I enjoyed more Inca Kola and I played a nearly flawless game of gin with 3 of my fellow pilgrims. After the train we had to take another bus to actually get to Machu Picchu before we could begin touring the site and taking a ridiculous number of pictures. After touring most of the area, our guide directed us to a place where we could celebrate mass without getting in anyone’s way. As exciting as it was to celebrate mass at one of the wonders of the world, the fun turned to trouble as we tried to leave the room where we had mass. Some of the uniformed guards told us we had to leave Machu Picchu because they thought we were having a religious ceremony without permission, which our guide had told us we had. Unfortunately, he had left us when we started mass so we had no one to verify that since we didn’t have anything in writing. So, not wanting to cause any trouble, we started to exit so we could talk to whoever was in charge about letting us stay. But on our way out, we were told that it had been resolved and we were free to go.
Then, as a small group of us started walking up the path to the top of one of the mountains, we were intercepted by the authorities again who said they had to escort us out and that the police were on their way! Yong asked them to just take her since she was the leader of our group, but they weren’t convinced that she was actually our leader and insisted that Brother Gabriel come too since he looked like trouble in his gray Franciscan habit. The rest of us continued up the trail while Yong, Brother Gabriel, and several others who had broken off to leave the site early were detained, searched, and interrogated at the entrance. Apparently they thought we were part of some Buddhist group that had been putting up offensive flags around Machu Picchu recently. After an hour of looking through their cameras and asking questions, the Peruvian police were finally convinced that we were who we said we were and let them go.
Meanwhile, the climb to the Sun Gate was incredible, and I got some great pictures of the view. We enjoyed it so much up there, that we had to race down the mountain since we were running late and were probably going to miss our scheduled time to catch the bus back down from Machu Picchu. We were ten minutes late, but we still managed to share a bus with the group because the bus line was so long and they had been waiting in it while we were racing back. Brother Gabriel, Yong, Stephanie, and Chris decided to walk down the hill instead of taking the shuttle, which was awesome but not something that I had the energy for at that point.
Once we got off the shuttle bus and ate our long awaited lunch, a few of us decided to go to a hot springs to dip our tired feet in some warm water. Unfortunately, after we had already paid we were told we couldn’t get in without swim suits, and we couldn’t get a refund. The good news is that we were able to make up the difference by haggling souvenir vendors to sell us souvenirs for a fraction of their initial cost.
After a happy hour with some very strong local drinks, we headed back on the train. Jeffrey and I danced a lot and kept everyone entertained as we thought about Catholic song parody lyrics to pop songs that we could sing and dance to once we got to Rio. Some of the better ones were the Francis Slide (Kneel to the left, kneel to the right, genuflect one time, genuflect now yall, everybody sign of peace!), and a cheesy parody to Macklemore’s Thrift Shop that went a little like this:
7/20, Comunita Cenacolo Orphanage
Today was without a doubt the highlight of my trip so far, and probably will end up being the best part of the pilgrimage for me overall. This morning we flew back to Lima and then drove to an orphanage well outside the part of Lima where we spent most of our first day in Peru. Upon arriving, we were greeted by a couple of the missionaries who have committed years of their lives to serving with Comunita Cenacolo at the orphanage. It only took a few moments after being formally welcomed for us to begin to meet several of the children there, who were beyond excited to see us.
One of the first things we did at the orphanage was eat lunch with the children and missionaries and share our life experiences with them. We talked about our pilgrimage so far. Some of them shared why they decided to give their time and energy to the community there. We joked around with the kids and played games with them. After lunch we broke up into smaller groups and I found myself in the kitchen doing dishes with a bunch of girls who were probably around 6-8 years old on average. They kept teasing me in Spanish after they found out how broken my Spanish was and how little I actually understood. It’s also possible that they were making fun of how good I was at drying the dishes, I’m not sure. They were also completely convinced that Jeffrey and I were brothers, because almost every one of them pointed at the two of us and asked “hermanos?”
After doing dishes and spending some time blowing up balloons for decorations for the big 30th anniversary of their religious community the next day, we celebrated mass with the children and missionaries. I have never in my life felt more like we were truly “celebrating” the mass than I did today, though I imagine getting to World Youth Day may also set a new record. We sang and danced and praised God and it was amazing.
Most of the time after mass was spent playing games, mostly soccer, with the kids until we had to leave. Justin, one of the kids at the orphanage, thought my camera was the coolest thing ever and asked if I could take pictures of him to look at and if he could take pictures of himself to look at too. It was too funny! We also gave them bubbles to play with and did face painting.
After saying goodbye to the children and missionaries, I reflected upon my day and thought about how much peace and joy was at that place. It was ironic that many of us entered that orphanage thinking that we would be bringing joy to a place normally filled with the despair that we assume comes with poverty and not having parents. Our culture has taught many of us, myself included, that those kids have nothing. But I found out that in reality, those kids have absolutely everything. They have a community that loves them. They have friends that care for them. They have the joy and peace that comes from knowing Jesus Christ. There was more happiness in that orphanage than I had ever seen while in college among my fellow Rice students who were all blessed with intelligence and were pursuing very lucrative careers in their futures, or with my co-workers who all have successful careers with large paychecks right now.
Every pilgrim that I talked to on the bus ride back to our hostel in Peru told me that they thought they got way more from the kids than they could have ever given them. My perspective on life was changed forever because of those kids, and I hope they know that the difference we made in their lives today was nothing compared to what they gave us.