Imagine three Californias and you visualize the size of Peru, where people already lived busy lives when Abraham left Ur of the Chaldees. The Incas were its best-known inhabitants, ruling and thriving from approximately 1,200 A.D. until the Spaniards slaughtered Tupac Amaru, the last Inca ruler, in 1572. This is the land of Machu Picchu (“ancient peak”), the lost city of the Incas, and Lake Titicaca, the world’s highest navigable lake at 12,725 feet. Peru, like Roman Gaul, is divided into three parts. Along the Pacific lies the desert coast, where one also finds most of the major cities. Moving inland, a traveler encounters “La Sierra,” the majestic highlands of the Peruvian Andes. Beyond that lies the dense Amazon jungle, which constitutes half of Peru.
Mark Lanier (my Christian lawyer colleague and employer) and I are here on business, and our destination is coastal Talara, a desert oasis and petroleum town approximately 700 miles north of Lima and about an hour’s drive south of Equador. Halfway between Talara and the border lies the port of Cabo Blanco, where was filmed the movie version of Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea.” Talara’s water supply is piped 25 miles from Rio Chira and is not suitable for drinking. We fly Aero Peru — as comfortably as sardines in a can — from Lima to Piura, a town of 324,500. Founded in 1532, Piura is known for its folk dances and black magic. There we rent a Hyundai and drive two hours up the Pan-American highway, a two-lane paved road and the major South American motor route, to Talara. That takes us through Sullana, a desert shantytown with more than 150,000 inhabitants.
We complete business a day early. Aero Peru has no empty seats from Piura to Lima, so we eagerly grab available tickets on a lesser-known alternate airline. Boarding time arrives and a ramp falls down from the plane’s rear, as if to drive a jeep inside. We climb aboard. The inside is almost totally dark, with maybe four windows and two small lights. No overhead compartments. No interior ceiling or walls. Just bare metal fuselage. As we strap in, we notice writing on the metal beside us — in Russian! Soon the two propellers of our Antonov cargo-turned-passenger plane are spinning and we head into the clouds. Mark and I were discussing divine sovereignty when we climbed aboard. The next two hours test the strength of our convictions that our lives are truly in God’s hands and that nothing can take them before he is ready.
Midway through the flight, two pretty Peruvian girls appear in starched uniforms, one bearing cardboard boxes with some type of sandwich and a cookie, the other carrying a tray of open-top plastic cups filled with what looked like yellow-green Kool-ade. They perform their job with as much dignity and pride as any counterpart on Continental or TWA — but we say “No, gracias!” to the proffered meal. The fault is not the food’s but the narrow tolerance-range of our North American digestive systems. This is not a time to experiment with the new and unknown.
It is night when we reach Lima. We descend through the clouds to what looks like eight million lights, and touch down safely at Aeropuerto Internacional Jorge Chavez. For many of our fellow-passengers, it was a typical airplane ride. We thank God for our many blessings, which are wholly undeserved.