The Adventures of April

We shall not cease from exploration - And the end of all our exploring - Will be to arrive where we started - And know the place for the first time. -- T.S. Eliot

Monday, April 23, 2007


My boss at the Foreign Agricultural Service has repeatedly said that the worst day in the field is better than the best day in the office. It wasn't until this week that I got to experience the truth of this adage! My boss, Gene, Gaspar (the highest FSN, Foreign Service National, i.e. Peruvian in the office) and I went to Ayacucho for the week to meet with the agricultural ministers there to see how our programs were functioning and where we could be of additional assistance.

Day 1 - Monday

It is a seven hour drive to Ayacucho. The first three hours are along the coast south of Lima. Hot and lifeless sand dunes and desert stretch for miles and miles. Once you reach Pisco, you turn and drive directly into the interior through the Andes. Most of this area was entirely off limits until a few years. Terrorism inflicted by the Shining Path and the Senderos left the area depopulated with bodies of victims lying by the road. More than 70,000 people were killed in the violence that lasted until the 90s and ended with the capture of Guzman, their leader. Now the area is dramatically safer otherwise we would not have ventured in!

Once we were headed inland, we began climbing very quickly. The highest point we reached was 15,600 ft. This number means nothing to me, so let me give you some context. The highest point in the contiguous 48 states is Mount Whitney which only rises to 14,505 ft! Mount McKinley in Alaska goes to 20,320 ft. Mount Everest is 29,028 ft. So, we climbed from sea level (0 ft.) to halfway up Mount Everest in a manner of 1 1/2 hours. Needless to say, I had a raging headache and some difficultly putting my thoughts together due to the lack of oxygen!

My boss' brother was in town and accompanied us for the first part of the trip. He was an interesting character and was just like the John Candy character Uncle Buck. As you can imagine, traveling around Peru with Uncle Buck has its humorous moments.

Day 2 - Tuesday
On Tuesday we headed south. An entourage of about 15 Peruvians in three vehicles arrived to accompany us; it's a big deal when visitors from the US Embassy come to the area. We stopped at several projects that our office had funded, including three little cheese factories. They served us fresh cheese, yogurt, manjar blanco (caramel), indigenous potatoes, choclo (indigenous corn), and bread. It was delicious!

Gene and I rode horses to check out a dam that had been recently constructed to irrigate the valley. The situation was immediately funny to me. People gathered around to see the two gringos ride horses. They gave us the slowest horses and no combination of sounds would make my horse speed up. Gene joked that we were riding through the shire - the little farms, rivers, stone fences and whatnot certainly looked like a place Frodo Baggins might hang out!

Day 3 - Wednesday

On Wednesday we headed to the North. Part of the day included a beautiful hike to a pre-Incan site. From that height I could see the valley for miles and miles; one river flowed to the Pacific, the other to the Atlantic. Ayacucho is renowned for its musicians, and so at the end of the day one of our travel companions invited us to his house for some excellent guitar playing.

Day 4 - Thursday

We spent the day driving back to Lima. Once again I enjoyed the dramatic views of the rapidly changing scenery. We stopped at a hacienda Gaspar had interned at and had an amazing traditional Peruvian lunch.

It was a wonderful trip and I learned a lot!


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