Diocesan Digital Media Adviser, James Atkinson is part of the group currently visiting Peru. Here he describes the long journey from Arequipa to Cabanaconde.
The journey took about 6 hours with slow traffic leaving Arequipa and a quick stop for lunch in a small town. The road wound up through the mountains, up another 1000 meters above sea level. Arequipa was 2335 meters and we’re now at 3287 meters. None of the group seem to be suffering too badly from altitude sickness, but regular cups of coca leaf tea and coca sweets certainly help relieve the symptoms.We spotted hundreds of llamas and alpacas and a couple of condors on the way (alpaca was also on the menu for lunch!) and the views were breathtaking. I spent most of the journey with my head out of the window! View more photos here.
Our destination was Mision San Felipe, another small mission church built on the outskirts of Cabanaconde. It’s a lovely church, built by St Philip’s Episcopal Church in Frisco, Texas a decade ago.
We were met by the deacon, Justo Maqque. He leads an early Sunday service each week at 7:30am for a small congregation of ten people from four local families, aged 25 upwards. There are also Bible activities for children on a Saturday afternoon.
Justo makes that incredibly long journey from his home in Arequipa and is sometimes away from his family for two weeks at a time. He shared with us the challenges the church faces in attracting more people, and even though the church is right on the doorstep of the town, it’s quite a challenge to persuade the locals to walk there, even with the offer of free breakfasts. It’s a very short distance!
Mid-week Bible study groups have to take place in the evening as most of the locals work out in the fields during the day, but as they wouldn’t make the journey if it was dark, the church goes out to the people with bible studies taking place in people’s homes.
Justo also told us about his concerns for the church’s leaking roof and water damage inside. The roof is currently covered in a tarpaulin that Justo erected himself. The rain has certainly left its mark on the interior. It would cost 4800 soles (£1000) to replace the roof with something more suitable for the climate and one of the ways the church hopes to generate more income is by opening a restaurant.
This commercial enterprise has been set up as an experiment to see if it has the potential to attract tourists. Colca Canyon is Peru’s third most visited tourist destination with 120,000 visitors annually and the church is very closely situated to a canyon viewpoint. Justo’s daughter studied hotel management and tourism in Arequipa, and we really hope the business is a success and that the money generated can go towards a new roof and the mission of the church.
Cholo the sheep tells Phil that he helps the church by maintaining the lawn free of charge.
On Saturday the group will make their way to Juliaca for the weekend, another 500 meters above sea level!