Sunday, March 29, 2015

No, we weren't exaggerating.

As you, beloved reader, have kept up with our blog in the last 20 or so months, you may have wondered if we were exaggerating about certain things.  Like how  isolated the Mission is, for instance.  The events of the week have emphasized the reality of that particular concept.
As each group of missionaries finishes their 18-month or two-year assignment, we host a dinner for them at the mission home, lovingly prepared by Paula.
We were laughing it up with them on Monday night, telling funny stories and relishing plates of tetrazini and fresh salad washed down with Inka Kola, when the call came in.  A gigantic and deadly landslide had blocked the road to Lima.
It happened in Chosica, some 18 miles up the road from Lima, and covered two miles of the roadway.
At least nine people were killed, with more missing, and many of the humble homes were destroyed.
Well, couldn't the buses carrying the missionaries through the night to the Lima airport just use another road?  No.  There is no other road.
The Secretaries and Assistants began frantically looking for alternatives.  The only one appeared to be travel by air.
However, let me ´splain.  There are only two airports in the Mission, one in Jauja, an hour from Huancayo, and the other about seven hours north.  This is the Jauja International Airport ('international' because people from at least two other countries have landed there).
This is the runway at Jauja.
If you look closely, you will notice several things.  First, there are no runway lights.  Second, there are no electronic navigational aids whatsoever.  Third, there are openings in the fences in the distance.  Before landings and takeoffs, workers are sent on bicycles to assure that no livestock get on to the runway.  I am not making this up.
There are two flights a day, both to and from Lima, carrying 32 passengers each.
When it rains, the planes cannot come from Lima.  We are in the rainy season, and up to 50% of the flights are cancelled because of weather. 
Because of the 11,000-foot altitude of the airport, and the size of the planes, passengers are limited to 33 pounds of luggage.  Period.  This can be problematic for missionaries heading home.
With the help of the Church Area Office visa and travel guys, we were able to wangle enough tickets to get the missionaries out in two groups.  We thought.  However, though we could usually pay for overweight baggage, we could not do so for a bunch of people and expect the plane to take off.  So, we were limited as to the number of people we could put on each plane.  And meanwhile, everyone else was trying to get out of town also.  Tickets became scarce for those turned away because of luggage.
Meanwhile, just to keep us interested, fourteen new missionaries from the Missionary Training Center in Lima were scheduled to come up by bus on Tuesday afternoon.  They began sending them on the planes to JIA (Jauja International), the first ones on Wednesday.  
However, once again the weight limit thing came in to play, so most of their bags didn't accompany them.  The last two, making up the third group, dragged in on Thursday morning, so we started training a day late. 
Over the first couple of days, we were able to fly fifteen of those finishing up in three groups to Lima to catch their now-rescheduled flights home.  However, when the fourth group of six went to check in, three were turned away because of weight restrictions.  "It's either leave three behind, or no one can have more than 33 pounds.  Take it or leave it."
Three of the nice North American Sisters volunteered, and became our house guests, with their flight scheduled to Lima on Saturday afternoon.
However, a couple of brave souls in the Visas y Viajes section of the Area offices heard that there was a dirt road around the landslide, and on Friday decided to brave it to bring up the luggage left behind by the new missionaries.  They made it, but it took about 13 hours, and they told tales tales of an extremely sketchy detour, with streams to cross, slippery mud, precipices, etc. They volunteered to take the extra luggage of the three Sisters trapped in Huancayo, so that they could take the plane down on Saturday afternoon and go home.  Great!  
The next piece of (apparently) good news was that a lane of road would be open on Saturday!  Yippee!  
So, on Saturday morning, the three loaded up in Huancayo with great big smiles, ready to see their families.
OK, not so fast.  That would have been too easy.  Sure enough, when they arrived at the landslide, a detail had been left out; one lane of the road was open, but only after 8:00 PM! Yeah, but their flight didn't leave for the US until 12:35 AM that night, so all was OK, right?  Right?!  Nope.
By the time the traffic jam in the other direction had been let through and their traffic jam allowed to pass, it was 10:00 PM, and they still had to contend with the infamous Lima traffic.
Sure enough, they arrived too late for their flight.  
As this blog entry is posted, the three Sisters should be in the Lima airport, checking in for their flight north to see their families tomorrow, only five days late.  We're keeping our fingers firmly crossed.
May your landslides be small, and your Mission be easier to get to.

Dave & Paula

PS  It rained very hard on Saturday afternoon, so their flight wouldn't have gone anyway.
PSS  The office Secretaries have been given permission to sleep in tomorrow, which will only begin to correct their sleep deficit.
PSSS  Did I mention our sleep deficit?  Five trips to JIA at all times of day made sure of that.


MarlyAnn said...

Wow! We really have no idea what life is like in Peru. Thank you so much for all that you do. We'll post photos of the triumphal return tomorrow!

Andrew Corry said...

Wow, and I thought that when Elder Montgomery and I were delayed by a day it was bad. That is crazy!

From The Holy of Holies said...

Brining souls to Christ AND great stories to tell. THIS surely must be that one hundredth part that cannot be written (Jacob 3:13)!

From The Holy of Holies said...

Oh! This is Tabb, by the way!!

pyneszoo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
pyneszoo said...

Did Paula mention we were on the same flight to Salt Lake City? It was good to see her! We are in awe of all you do!!

Patti said...

The challenges about your mission are incredible all by themselves, but your retelling of them makes for some great blog reading. Thank you. Sending wishes for a week free from trauma and filled with opportunities for sleep.

Sarah said...

A friend pointed me to your blog. I served in the Lima East Mission in 2008-2009. I spent three transfers in Lima, and the rest in Huancayo (which I loved!) and Huanuco. I've enjoyed reading your blog and seeing what's going on back in Peru. Glad those missionaries finally made it home!