Yesterday we travelled--with Bishop Alejandro, his English-speaking grown son, and Fr Victor as our most excellent driver--from Arequipa to Cabanaconde, more than six hours in a modestly comfortable but smallish Chevy van. This entailed views of wild vicuña herds, desert landscapes resembling parts of Utah and Nevada, herds of alpaca and sheep under professional oversight, crossing the crest of the Andes as 15,000 feet, stopping for some coca leaf tea (it alleviates the symptoms of altitude sickness), spying a settlement far, far below the mountain road we were traversing and being told it was our lunch destination (and then waiting nearly an hour for us to actually arrive there), ordering (and enjoying) grilled alpaca for lunch (no, it doesn't taste like chicken), driving along the world famous Colca Canyon, and generally taking in some of the most spectacular scenery on which I have ever set my eyes.
Upon arrival at the mission in Cabanaconde (which Bishop Alejandro himself founded some 15 years ago), we had a serious discussion of his missionary vision for the region-cum-diocese of Arequipa. My observation is that he is really hitting the ground running, and was effectively already the bishop of this area some good while before he was consecrated last Saturday. Our quarters for the night were right there on the grounds, where volunteers over the years have build a small guest house that is not fancy, but gets the job done. The main challenge was dealing with the nighttime and morning chill, as temps dropped into the 30s, and nothing there (or in the whole rest of the country, so far as I can tell) is heated.
Before hitting the road this morning (at about 10), we celebrated the Eucharist together, with Bishop Alejandro presiding and preaching, using the Peruvian liturgy that has been expertly crafted by Bishop Bill Godfrey. Then we were taken to an overlook area where we could get a panoramic view of some of the most rugged and gorgeous territory I have ever seen, and could scarcely begin to imagine, let alone describe. It amazes me that human beings have actually lived here for hundreds of years. Then it was back in the van and a reverse of most of yesterday's route, stopping again for lunch in Chivay, and again enjoying alpaca, this time in sandwich form. It was just past sunset when we pulled into the city of Juliaca, which, like much of Peru, is a dynamic stew of "first world" and "third world" elements. We stopped by the parish of Sancta Maria Magdalena, met the local deacon, and again had a deep discussion about mission strategy. Then, after checking in at our hotel, we (the seven of us, now including Deacon Justo) drove a short while through traffic congested by an armada of three-wheeled taxis to a mall food court, where we were able to choose from an array for our dinner. Three days ago, I hadn't even heard of Juliaca, Peru. Tonight, I found myself eating mediocre fast Chinese food in an ambience that, at first glance, could be mistaken for any number of American settings in the recent era before malls were eclipsed by strip malls.