Editor’s note: As a part of FMS’ 2017 Advent blog series, returned missioner Lee Lechtenberg shares an experience of hospitality while adventuring the Inca trail with fellow missioners in Bolivia.
Our journey began in the falling snow at the top of a mountain, trying to find the beginning of the Inca trail that would take us from the summit near La Paz (14,000 ft.) to where I lived in Carmen Pampa (8,000ft), forty miles downhill. Three of us FMS missioners, Kristen, her husband, Rick, and I, had committed ourselves to a three-day vacation hike that would lead us to villages where people spoke only Aymara and through a succession of amazing changes in climate, wildlife, and environment as we descended to ever warmer altitudes.
Eventually, we located the ancient trail marked by the paving-stone stairways and the ruins of a way-station once used by the pony-express-style relay runners called Chaskis, who were said to be so fast that they could deliver live fish from the sea up to the emperor. Then, we were on our way.
Toward evening on the first day, the trail took us to a tiny village. Exhilarated but exhausted, we received a nod to pitch our tent on the rise above the river behind the houses on the trail. After setting up, we watched a young girl drive her llamas to shelter as the evening sky clouded and threatened a storm. We were not concerned since ours was a new tent, “guaranteed” against leaking. We zipped ourselves in against the darkened sky and wind and climbed into our blankets. The wind, however, continued to build and buffeted the tent. Pelting rain started to drive right through the tent fabric in a fine mist. Puddles began to develop on the tent floor. Lightning was striking right over our heads and the thunder was all around us. We speculated we were inside the cloud at that elevation, or not far below it!
Abruptly, Rick announced that he was going to look for help. To my amazement, he climbed out of his blanket, stepped out into the storm, and zipped the tent behind him. We waited. He narrated later that he went from house to house knocking on doors and windows. Some voices, angry or frightened, yelled at him, but most did not respond. Finally he saw lights moving on the lane—two men approaching in the rain. They were returning home from a guide job.
Rick was back at the tent telling us to grab our wet blankets and follow him. He led us to a shelter lit by lantern. There, we sat shivering on a bench as a woman and her husband served us hot soup and tea. We communicated as best we could and laughed with gratitude. Then, they lead us to a low hut and beckoned us to duck through the door. We could discern by candlelight the inside walls papered in calendar pictures, newspapers and Coca cola ads. There was a bed with a thin mattress supported by rope webbing for Kristen and Rick, and a spot on the floor with blankets for me. The couple gave us their blessing and departed. I took off my wet outer clothes and slid under a mound of coarse, heavy, woven alpaca blankets. I must have had fifteen pounds of blankets on me, and it felt wonderful! We listened to the rain hitting at the two small windows and drifted to a grateful sleep.
In the crisp morning sunrise, our hosts were up and ready to walk to the fields to plant potatoes—a ritual that requires both a man and woman. One loosens and prepares the soil with a hoe. Then, with a bladed cane, the other jabs the earth and plants the potato eyes. Our hostess made us tea. We gave the couple a modest stipend—modest since, as missioners, we had little enough ourselves—and continued down the trail following them in the direction of the fields.
Thanks to Rick’s humility in begging for help, and thanks to the kindness of people who own very little, we were the strangers who were welcomed into a home when we were shivering and desperate. We never took their names or even the name of the pueblo, but I shall not forget their kindness.
Reflection question: When was the last time you asked for help in a time of need?