Chimbote Week 1

Belk loves an old school backblast, so we’re going to treat this like a week-long workout. Take notes, new school F3.

First, YHC is going to provide the essential particulars (who, where and when). Then, YHC is going to describe The Thang. Then, YHC is going to deliver the Naked Man Moleskine. This way the impatient (Dredd) can skip ahead and the thoughtful (Topham) can read every word thoroughly. Because YHC is an excellent and thoughtful tour guide, and because this backblast is going to be impossibly long, he has even provided clickable links right here at the top.

Want to just read The Thang? Click.
More interested in the amusing anecdotes and gentle, man-to-man heckling? Click.
Want a quick multimedia treatment because you don’t like to read? Click.
Seeking a bit more meaning and and want to read YHC’s sentimental closing? Click.
Finally — already read this and just want to see a loop of Topham dancing? Clickety Click.

Here we go.

Where: Chimbote, Peru
When: 1/26/19 – 2/2/2019

The Pax:

GOP: fearless leader and local celebrity. 3x veteran.
JRR Tolkien: AKA Fighting Mongol. AKA El Chino Guapo. Boundless enthusiasm. Easily distracted. 2x veteran.
Fruit of the Loom: The only real contractor here. 3x veteran.
Belk: AKA Cuy. AKA Stubborn Mini Horse. YHC for this backblast. FNG.
Blue Tornado: FNG in November, DoReMi told him this was F3 initiation. FNG.
Checkpoint: Precise. Exacting. Man of innumerable name combinations. 2x veteran.
Cougar: AKA Puma. Representative of the executive workout. Pinata riot expert. 2x veteran.
Dredd: Thought this was a Spanish immersion course. Does not let facts interfere with good stories. 3x veteran.
Evil Scout: Voice of Millennials. Skinny clamdiggers. War baby and songbird. FNG.
Monkey Feet
: AKA El Mono Malo. Brought several razors and hot wax with him. 2x veteran.
Matlock: Leader of the most effective house building team. Emergency source of Gold Bond. 2x veteran.
Dozer: Also knows how to build things. 2x veteran.
Sir Topham Hat: AKA Rojo. Impeccable latin dancer. 2x veteran.
Shredder: Unfair chickenfighter. Roofdog bait. FNG.
Tooltime: Half man, half machine. Gasthaus representative. Overly concerned with hair. FNG.
Witch Doctor: “Dispensary.” MSG Lover. FNG.

16 Men launched — not just into the gloom, but into another hemisphere — to work hard on all three Fs.

The Thang:

Friday 1/25/2019: The Launch

  • Circle up at CLT airport. Board flight to Miami.
  • Arrive in Miami. Eat fast. Wait for Dredd, Matlock, LatePoint, and YHC to sprint across 2 miles of terminal to make the flight seconds before the door closes. 
  • Arrive in Lima. Load 15 men and 2000 lbs (really) of bags into a 10-person van. Head to hostel.

Saturday 1/26/2019: One Day In Lima

  • Run to the Christ of the Pacific Statue. Wait for Blue Tornado, who probably would have arrived sooner but was himself waiting for YHC.   
  • Engage in activities like waiting for enough wind to hang glide, meandering around town, or drinking Pisco Sours next to the Chili’s at the Mall (aka the “Gringo Honey Pot”).
  • Dinner at a fine local establishment

Sunday 1/27/2019: – Desert, followed by more desert, followed by arrival in Chimbote

  • Wake up, grab 2000 lbs of gear, head to bus station.
  • Get on bus. Drive for 30 minutes on bus, then drive by bus station one more time for some reason, then drive some more.
  • Enjoy 2 hours of extreme desert
  • Notice that the Air Conditioning is broken
  • Continue on bus for another 6 hours anyway
  • Arrive in Chimbote!
  • Attend Mass
  • Get settled, meet a few folks at the parish, hit the sack.

Monday 1/28/2019: Day 1 Chimbote: Orientation and ACAF

  • First Chimbote Workout
  • ACAF Tour, including bakery, trade and cooking school and ACAF administrative offices

Tuesday 1/29/2019: Day 2 Chimbote: Demo Day

  • Second Chimbote Workout
  • Devotional #1
  • Break into 5-man teams and head to our 3 sites
  • Meet our host families and begin demolition of current homes
  • Return home, enjoy Rooftop

Wednesday 1/30/2019: Day 3 Chimbote: Start Building

  • Third Chimbote Workout
  • Devotional #2
  • Head back to sites and begin construction. If you are YHC’s team, also finish construction (but remember that it’s not a competition).
  • Return home, recover, enjoy rooftop.

Thursday 1/31/2019: Day 4 Chimbote: Climb that Nearby Mountain; Go to the Beach

  • Fourth Chimbote Workout
  • Devotional #3
  • Drive over to Montana La Paz; Climb it.
  • Head to the Beach to Serve Families
  • Return home, recover, enjoy rooftop.

Friday 2/1/2019: Day 5 Chimbote: Commissioning of the Homes; Pinata Riot

  • Fifth Chimbote Workout
  • Devotional #4
  • Return to Homes for Commissioning Ceremonies
  • Light Chimbote Sightseeing
  • Throw party involving making the concrete surface as slick as possible, then enticing children to fight over candy on it.

Saturday 2/2/2019: The Long Journey Home

  • Sixth Chimbote Workout (Local Q)
  • Gather belongings, head to Bus
  • Return to Lima (with Air Conditioning this time)
  • Have dinner at Lima Airport
  • Board plane, fly for a while, arrive in Charlotte

Naked Man Moleskine.

Before YHC stepped up to the computer to start writing this Backblast (only a couple of weeks late), I took a few moments to read Slaughter’s backblast from last year. This immediately made me feel better, because I noticed that he too didn’t post it until February 16th. I was beating myself up for waiting so long, but now that I’m writing I realize that the effect of the trip is just now sinking in, and knocking this out earlier would have diminished the impact.

Or, it’s just late. But I Like the excuse above, so let’s go with that.

The trip to Peru may best be characterized as three distinct events:

  1. The travel and short visit to Lima;
  2. The journey to and experience of Chimbote;
  3. The return and re-engagement at home in the US.

The Launch

The journey began at the Charlotte airport with 12 men — soon to be joined by Monkey Feet, Dozer, and PumaCougar who were already enjoying a visit to Machu Pichu — dropping about 1500 pounds of extra baggage on the plane.

All was well until, during the layover in Miami, 4 travellers who considered themselves savvy frequent fliers decided it was critical to use a $10 coupon at a restaurant fully a mile away from our gate. While sitting there, enjoying drinks, we heard our names called in both Spanish and English, we knew we may be in trouble, so Dredd, Matlock, Checkpoint, and YHC ran as quickly as we could and barely made the flight. What would the trip be without a little kickoff drama?

Thankfully, we all made it safely to Lima, loaded up a 10-man van with 15 men and a crapton of luggage and made to Hostel Gemina, our resting place for 2 nights in Lima.

We had exactly one day in the big city, so we set out to make the most of it. An early run to the Christ of the Pacific statue was Job 1. 

YHC barely made it up there alive, reminded that he probably should have trained for this trip. YHC wonders if there is some sort of free workout group in Charlotte that he could attend regularly so as to be better prepared next year.

We cleaned up afterwards and had killer lunch together, joined by our 3 missing compatriots who told us tales of Machu Picchu and Ecotourism over a few Peruvian beers. Wasting no time, we all went back and took only the shortest of naps before heading out into the city. Checkpoint was reportedly milling about the hang gliding spot for hours waiting for the wind to pick up, concerned that fleeting moments may go to waste. Meanwhile, Topham and YHC walked to the local mall overlooking the Lima cliffs and enjoyed high quality pisco sours made with only the freshest raw eggs. Never mind that there was a Chili’s and a Banana Republic within 50 yards; we were enjoying the resplendence of Liman cosmopolitan extravagance.

Our dinner location was chosen by GOP on the advice of Santa Claus, who was loitering in the coffee shop just outside our hotel.

We are not sure where this alleged Santa came from but this Santa enjoys organ meat, which was the featured protein of almost every dish on the menu. My takeaway from this experience is that if one meets Santa Claus in Lima, he may be an impostor and one should not accept his culinary recommendations.

The travel to and mini-vacation in Lima was a treat. It was a chance to spend time with old friends that are missed and new friends who are just starting their F3 journey. Blue Tornado just started F3 in November; talk about jumping in with both feet.   It is a special thing to see men find a shared personal connection so quickly.

Chimbote

Settled in country and our hunger sated with the organs of all the finest Peruvian creatures, we checked out of our hotel and headed out on the bus to Chimbote. YHC has been to Peru before but was unprepared for the expanse of the Peruvian desert. One photo does it because it was about 8 hours of this:

That is all fine and well, as we had each others’ company and I had been told the bus seats were super comfortable. Unfortunately, the AC went out at about hour 2, and the remaining 6 hours brought the desert inside to us.

All of that was quickly forgotten when we arrived at the Parish. YHC was amazed at the reception of our crew on arrival. One step out of the fan and we were treated by hugs, music, and genuine smiles that one doesn’t see every day in Charlotte. Chants of “Rudy” and “El Chino Guapo” started right away and periodically returned for 6 days. It was healing for the soul. In particular, GOP was greeted like a returning hero; it was only days later that I fully understood why: because he is.

YHC could go through the ins and outs of each of our 6 days in Chimbote, and would have 3 stories a day for each day — and I’d enjoy writing them. These are selected highlights.

The workouts happened every morning; this is the price of admission for an F3-led mission trip. The leadership exhibited by our men — and the local men — was nothing short of the most inspiring thing I’ve seen in workout launches in my 7+ years in F3. On the first morning, we might have had about 20 or so, led by one of us. By the last day, we had 80+ and the entire workout was lead by Peaches, a local Peruvian who showed the same clarity of character and effort we seek in every Q here in the US. Not every man was in shape (Tortuga and Belk). Not every man showed up on time (workouts seem have more of a “rolling start” in Peru). Not every man had proper shoes. Hell, not every man was a man (we had a few ladies join us — and they did get nicknames, FiA readers). It was still an F3 workout, and just like here it is the great equalizer: nobody gives a shit where you work, where you came from, or what language you speak; just that you show up and work. It is a thing of beauty, gentlemen.

In service to the host families. After we filled our mornings with F3 we spent our days doing the core mission work: building houses. We split into 3 groups of 5 and took on the demolition and reconstruction of 3 homes in a nearby barrio. Words cannot be minced: it was tough driving into that community on the first workday. While Peru is in much better shape than it was even 10 years ago, these shanty towns — built in the middle of a desert with no running water, sewer, drainage, or basic safety — are a brutal introduction to 3rd world living conditions so far removed from our own. We found a lot of things there: backyards used as toilets and as playgrounds for toddlers; collapsing thatch huts unable to protect their inhabitants; dangerous waste and trash threatening the locals with disease and infection; families living on $5-7 a day.

We found a lot more out there, though. We found kids full of joy despite every reason for despair. We found mothers and fathers hustling and struggling for their families. We found friends among those families and the construction workers we were paired with. We found deeper fellowship with our small groups.

How, you might ask, did this fellowship present itself? Well of course, by grown men hilariously harassing each other in the midst of hard work. YHC’s main experience in a work crew was with Group #1 (so numbered due to its effectiveness). Led by Matlock, group 1 finished nearly all of its work in 1 day. This is probably due to Monkey Feet’s physical prowess, as Dredd spent most of the time practicing his spanish with our interpreter, Matlock kept checking the foundation bricks for level, Witch Doctor dispensed unknown substances to everyone who had an ache, itch, or fleeting concern; YHC was in the back petting the host family’s Cuys. GOP and Tolkien were in their element in this phase, bouncing from site to site to entertain the kids, force us to limbo, and otherwise capture and amplify every positive moment. This may or may not have been a ploy by GOP and Tolkien to avoid work.

In our small groups, we shared many many laughs and special moments with each other, our contractor crews, and with our host families. One group tore down the wrong house, only to watch a kind aunt gift the new home to the family, while ACAF found a way to build a 2nd home. Another group’s feisty Madre worked harder than any of our guys to make her new home happen. At the commissioning of the homes at the end of the trip we watched that fellowship play out 3 times in the same way — Gringos, professionals, and host families coming together in friendship and service. 

 

 

We filled the rest of our time making some great memories. There is so much to say about our time in Chimbote beyond workouts and house-building it’s tough to pick only a few stories. Slaughter wisely devoted an entire section to “What Else We Did” in last year’s backblast. This is the lightning round version:

  • We routinely Peru-named or renamed each other. Cougar = Puma. Monkey Feet = Mono Malo. Tolkien = El Chino Guapo. Topham = Roja. Checkpoint = {InsertInsultHere}Point. YHC may or may not have been occasionally called “Cuy.”
  • We toured ACAF’s carpentry, cooking, school support, and social services offices, where we were served giant F3 cakes and where Witch Doctor was forced to use MSG in a spontaneous cooking class.
  • We were treated to a dinner by ACAF’s cooking school, punctuated by dancing by none other than Checkpoint and Evil Scout
  • We hiked a big ass mountain
  • We hosted our families at the beach, where Shredder and Dozer perfected their chicken-fighting technique
  • We painted murals, led in no small part by artist and resident Yogi monkey feet
  • We enjoyed the musical stylings of Evil Scout, who got his hands on a guitar
  • We were instructed by grey-hairs Dozer and Fruit of the Loom, who YHC is pretty sure were the only people qualified to build anything
  • We told local children numerous apocryphal explanations for Tooltime’s implant, ranging from bullet to matrix plug to phone jack
  • It goes without saying: #roofdogs

Saying Goodbye and Returning Home

Our journey to Chimbote ended a lot like it started: with music and smiles with a splash of uncertainty.

To close the week we threw a party for about 200 folks at the parish, and it was a scene of with a hundred stories on its own. More traditional Peruvian dancing, this time featuring Topham and Shredder? Check. Water balloon fight? Check. Limbo? Check? Tolkien racing around instructing the rest of us on how to have fun properly, while basking in the adulation of locals and chants of “El Chino Guapo?” Check. Dredd on the dance floor himself? Check. A pinata dance that descended into violent, 10-year old stoked mayhem that nearly claimed the lives of half of our crew? Check.

The next morning, we attended mass where we were met by our families with letters of support and gratitude, all set to the unusual church hymns of Simon and Garfunkel and the Beatles. I would guess that most of us have rarely felt more fulfilled or more thankful ourselves.

Much of this calls for some rest — and we were tired.

But this story isn’t quite over with the return trip; in fact, this story isn’t going to be over for a long time. It took me a couple of weeks to tackle this backblast, and not just because I kept kicking the can. This trip was one of the most emotionally, physically, and spiritually challenging undertakings of my life.

For a moment, think about what we experienced: We learned things about each other than were sometimes hilarious, sometimes joyous, and sometimes the most painful moments of our lives.

We witnessed abject poverty and the conditions for total despair, but saw the people living in it full of hope, joy and faith. We experienced physical exhaustion, uncertainty, moments of deep meaning, profound friendship, stories of loss, gratitude, and 14 other emotions I can’t even think of right now. It was a crucible, and one can’t emerge unchanged.

In the two weeks since we’ve come home, I find myself thinking about each of these men — my brothers — and how much they strengthened me. I find myself talking to God in ways that I haven’t in years. I find myself thinking about my fortune and misfortune in a completely new context. The change this kind of trip instigates is measured in drops over years, not a sea change all at once, and I look forward to watching the transformation accumulate among us.

One feeling is paramount, and is a good way to wrap this up: gratitude. Gratitude to Waypoint and Friends of Chimbote, Katie, the interpreting staff and ACAF for making it happen. Gratitude to our families who supported our time away from home. Gratitude to our leaders and the leaders they lead — especially our trip leader GOP. Gratitude to F3’s leadership and the hundreds of men who push us all a little harder.  Gratitude to the men and women that I have failed to mention here in Charlotte and in Peru. Gratitude to God for giving us the means and opportunity to take this trip.

SYITG, with gratitude.

Belk

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