People of Peru

Good people I have met in Peru

My last days in Peru, sitting on a beach in the small town of Pacasmayo thinking of the people I have met in the last three months and getting distracted by the people, mostly families, around me. I love the way they play. There is a young father next to me helping his young children (maybe 2 and 4) dig the proverbial hole in the sand. He is having as much fun as they are, digging and fetching water from the sea. No pressure, just being together. Now Mom and Grandma have arrived with food.

The water is cold, but some venture out past the waves where the water is still shallow. This is surfing country.

During the first month while travelling with Eduardo, we had some good guides of all ages: from early 20’s to an erudite man in his 60’s. If I were to judge Peruvians by their guides I’d say they are polite, reserved, and proud. When required, they can be authoritative. I didn’t hear much humour from any of them.

For the most part, our Airbnb hosts have been welcoming, rather quiet, helpful, but not imposing.

Sometimes, Peruvians can be quite loud, but I have never found it overwhelming, except for their continuous honking of car horns. Reminds me of Cairo.

I have been lucky to know some Peruvians more personally. In the café where I was volunteering, there were two charming young people helping out.

The young man, I will call Daniel, usually works on cruise ships six or seven months at a time. As a bar waiter, he makes very good money. He is helping his family and has bought a modest home for them; he has sent his three siblings to post-secondary studies, and helps with his niece’s education.

It was his mother who invited me to spend the weekend at their farm. It was a pleasure to see her in the country with her family and animals. They live in a large three bedroom adobe house with a dirt floor. Their humble generosity impressed me. I wonder how many Canadians invite foreign visitors into their homes. This is a picture of her granddaughter.

The young lady at the café was very attentive towards me. Almost every day, she would bring me a fruit or some little gift. She was a good worker, in fact she had two jobs to help finance her university education. Here she is visiting her Grandmother.

At the school where I have been teaching English this past month, the teacher are an interesting mix of people. There is the coquette who tells everyone all her problems, the handsome gentleman who practises his English with me, the loving grade six teacher, the exhausted grade one teacher. We meet every day in a lean-to beside the food kiosk and sit on tiny, old chairs during the break. Teachers in Peru are generally underpaid for the work they do. They earn around $400 a month. A primary school teacher usually stays with the same class from grades 1 to 6. She/he will teach all the subjects. They have great influence, therefore, over their charges. The principal at this school drives a small motorcycle. He works both shifts: primary classes from 7:30 to 12:30, and secondary students (in the same classes on the same little chairs)from 12:30 to 6:30pm. He also takes courses on the weekend. When I asked him if they paid him double, he just laughed.

The one thing that is remarkably different from Canada is the number of children you see everywhere. Peruvians are very family oriented. We regularly see children and teenagers walking with a grandparent. Families often consist of three generations. And like everywhere poor people usually have more children than their wealthier neighbours.

At the school assembly this past Wednesday before the Easter weekend, many mothers of our students came to the celebrations. Most brought preschoolers with them. Babies are carried in a cloth on the mother’s back.

The children at this primary school are fairly lively (undisciplined, in plain English). It is often challenging to teach them, especially as classes are large, usually around thirty students, and for some unexplainable reason, each class gets English, all three 45 minute periods, once a week. That adds up to 2hours and 15 minutes. I challenge anyone to devise meaningful, fun classes in a foreign language for this amount of time. Pedagogically it would make more sense to see them three times a week for 45 minutes, but I can’t convince anyone of this.

The only other volunteer at the moment, is Micha (Profesor Mica). He is a loving, cheerful person. The children adore him. Everyday they run to meet him and shower him with hugs. He is also a good flat-mate. I was lucky to find him and his organization, LCQC (lcqcperu.org).

My Spanish teacher, Rita, is a wonderful person. Her paternal grandfather was Japanese. Her mother, now in her 80’s was a teacher. All their children are professionals. Rita is a very strong woman and a great language teacher. She has a 16 year old daughter who is the centre of her life. They have a loving, cheerful relationship. I will miss them.

This is my last week at the school, then a few days in Lima before heading home. Back to my comfy home, family and friends!

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Cusco and Machu Pichu

Machu Picchu is the most visited archaeological site in South America, and the gateway is the beautiful city of Cusco. Please forgive me if I don’t know where to start…

First, I must say that the Incas and the peoples who preceded them left awe-inspiring constructions all over Peru. The Incas conquered and administered a large region from Quito Ecuador to Santiago, Chile for a relatively short period of time. Their rule was brutally overturned by the Spanish conquistadors.

Eduardo and I had been visiting Southern Peru and La Paz, Bolivia for almost three weeks before we arrived in Cusco. We were amazed by the agricultural terraces that are still used today to facilitate the growing of crops at higher altitudes and lower temperatures than would otherwise be possible.

Our knowledgeable Airbnb hostess in Cusco suggested we visit some of the surrounding sites and museums before we go to Machu Picchu. Each one was like a delicious appetizer with exotic names:

Sasaywaman just outside Cusco and the site of a terrible massacre.

Q’enqo where mummies were kept, displayed and revered.

Pukapukar, the Red Fort, an outlook point along the Inca road.

Tambomachay where pure water still runs through stone Inca baths.

Salinas is a series of more than 1,000 salt pans on a terraced mountainside that has been productive since Inca times.

Chincero a pretty little town high up in the Andes (3762 metres) where one can check out the market, the colonial church built on Inca ruina, and great mountain views.

Moray where the Inca built experimental terraces in huge deep circles in order to discover and develop crops that could be grown at different temperatures as the lower levels would be hotter than the upper levels.

It was these incredible structures that have withstood centuries of earthquakes, and demonstrate highly scientific thinking and skilled workmanship that impressed us throughout Peru and more specifically in and around Cusco.

At the same time, it was sad to think how the Spanish invaded, destroyed, and looted these lands and the people. Today we see a beautiful country that has poor infrastructure and is polluted beyond belief. Nevertheless, the people endure. Around Cusco, traditional cultures seem to be thriving although poverty is overwhelmong.

Our trip to to Machu Picchu was organized by a tour agency with a private guide. We were driven to Ollantaytambo where we hiked up to some ancient ruins called Pumamarka. These structures predated the Incas, we were told. It was a short hike up, a good thing for me as I quickly get out of breath at these altitudes. The purpose of the ruins is unknown; our guide suggested it might have been a kind of retirement home! They must have had better lungs than me! Then a nice walk down into Ollantaytambo where there are magnificient ruins on the side of the mountain. I kept wondering how Machu Picchu was going to impress me more than this site.

We ate lunch in a restaurant founded by a German woman who uses the profits to fund a pre-school for poor rural children. There they are fed and taught basic Spanish (Their mother tongue is Quechua.) so they don’t fall behind once they start school.

Then we took the fabled (and expensive) train to Aguas Calientes for a good night’s sleep in a rather ritzy hotel. A good massage got rid of the day’s aches, for tommorow we must be ready for the great Mach Picchu!

Next day, up at 4:30, breakfast, bus to Machu Picchu in order to be there for dawn.

I wasn’t hopeful as it was cloudy, but our guide promised us that foggy mornings were the best. He was right! Machu Picchu revealed itself to us gradually as the mists rose. The sun came out, and we enjoyed all the nooks and crannies without too many tourists. February is low-season for tourists precisely because it is the rainy season.

At 10 am we dashed over to the base of Huayna Picchu, the huge 300 metre high monticule that dominates one end of Machu Picchu. Fortunately, the irregular steps up to the top were mainly in the shade. It took us two hours to ascend. We stopped often to catch our breath and enjoy the view. We took a few pictures at the top to celebrate our victory and view Machu Picchu below us. Then a careful one hour descent. I was glad to have a walking pole as my old knees were complaining.

By 2pm we were back in Aguas Calientes having lunch overlooking the rushing waters of the Urubamba River before taking the train back to Urubamba and a car on to Cusco.

This is a trip we will not forget.

Peru/ Bolivia

Week two in Peru and into Bolivia

Arequipa is a big city, about one million people. The historical centre is nice, but the rest is blah. We did a four hour city tour… boring… but we did find out why they have so many ceramic bulls. They have a bull fighting tradition: bull against bull. “So we don’t kill the bulls like the Spanish,” the guide explained. But when questioned about the losing bull, as the winner is the one which wears the other out by sticking his horn into the poor loser, the guide admitted that he was taken to the slaughter house!

Another interesting but (for me) rather horrifying place was the Monastery of Santa Catalina. A rich widow founded the huge convent and then charged exorbitant fees for families to send a chosen daughter to become a nun. The poor chosen, twelve year old had to keep silence and couldn’t see her family during her four year noviciate. When she she became a full-fledged nun she would live in a house on the property sometimes with another nun or a boarder and would have three or four servants ( local indigenous women) to do the work while she prayed seven hours a day! Some lived well into their hundreds, while one self-flagellating saint died at the age of 33. The idea crossed my irreverent mind that she might have been trying to commit suicide. As for the boarders, they would be admitted at the age of three and would study the womanly arts of singing and embroidery until she was ready to be married at the age of twelve.

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Our day trip to the Kolka Canyon and Valley was amazing. Early in the day there was snow on the mountains. We saw vicuñas, the wild ancestor of the llama, condors twice; once very close over our heads. Incredible ancient terraces that produce food at over 5000 metres. The people built the walls of the highest terraces with black stones to hold the heat, and when possible, in the shape of a huge amphi-theatre which also protected the plants.

Our Airbnb was a great apartment with a roof-top patio and a great host. His favourite restaurant, ZigZag is pricey and just down the street from us, so we treated ourselves to a wonderful dinner. Although Peru is known for its fine cuisine, it is not commonly served. Most places fry a perfectly good piece of fish or meat and plop it on a huge pile of white rice and french fries!

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We got the impression from Lonely Planet that Puno was a small, ramshackle town. Small, it is not, with a population of over 200,000. We had a very interesting day visiting the floating islands of Uros on Lake Titikaka, and the real island of Taquile. On the floating islands, we saw how people live, how the island is built and maintained. Quite amazing! On beautiful Taquile Island, we walked UP to the town centre and visited their textile store. they are well known for the hats the men knit. So, we crossed the boarder and went to Copacabana, Bolivia which is a tiny, picturesque town on the south end of Lake Titikaka. We wandered around during the afternoon overlay and checked out our hotel where we will stay on the way back. Very cute, good view of the lake, and serves good food!


Then on, mostly in the dark to La Paz which, I think deserves its own blog!

See you soon, Val

Peru: Week One

 

Peru, Week one, January 18, 2018, Thursday, 7:30 AM, Arequipa

Our first week in Peru has been busy: Lima 3 days, Paracas 1, Huacachina/Ica 1, Nazca 1, and now we have landed in Arequipa early in the morning after an all-night bus trip. We were lucky to have a rather luxurious bus with big comfy reclining seats and even a duvet to keep warm.

My first impressions are that Peruvians are polite, friendly people, a little on the quiet side. The countryside has been coastal so far. It is a narrow stretch of desert between the Pacific and the mountains. The towns are small, dusty, rather poor, but each centre has something of interest.

Obviously tourism plays a large part in the economy, but there is a thriving farming area around Ica because of ancient aqueduct systems built by the Nazca people. Today there are vineyards, fruits, and vegetables using the same ancient aquaducts.

Peruvian cuisine is very tasty with many spicy dishes. We have enjoyed the ceviche that they serve with different kinds of corn kernels and slices of sweet potato. It sounds weird but it quickly becomes addictive! We also enjoy the wonderful fruit juices: orange, mango, lulo, pineapple, passionfruit, (our favourite) watermelon, and more. We are starting to explore the chicha which is an ancient, slightly fermented drink made of almost anything that ferments!

What surprised us most is the size of the servings. They are huge! So we usually share an appetizer and one main dish with a little dessert. There is also a plethora of sweets often with chocolate and/or manjar blanco, which we call the cajeta in Mexico and dulce de leche in most other countries. I’ve noticed it’s becoming more popular in Canada lately.

Highlights in Lima: the Puk Llama ( a huge archeological site) Where I got off to a great introductory sunburn ( no hat, no sunscreen). DUH!

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The wonderful murals in Barranco. The National Museum of Archeology and the Larco Museum. On our final day we just enjoyed visiting a market and then taking a very crowded mini train into the historic center. After three days of walking we a good massage helped loosen our sore muscles.( 40 soles for 1hour, about $15)

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In Paracas, six hours south of Lima by bus, we went out in a small speedboat to see the animal life on the Ballestas Islands (really just big rocks). They look white from a distance as they are covered by thousands of birds which produce large quantities of guano. But a few penguins and see lions don’t seem to mind the mess or the smell!

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Moving on the next day to Huacachina: Lots of towns here in Peru have the word Hua in them. It means place, and it makes things rather confusing as there are so many Huas. Here all the young’uns went sand-boarding on the huge dunes. They put arborite on the bottom and then wax it. If you have money a dune buggy will take you for a speedy ride up, but many people just climb up in their big boots and their board on their back. I can only imagine how difficult it must be as we trudged up this soft, fine sand in bare feet, and it was exhausting and hot too. On the ridge we watched the boarders and waited for the sunset as the wind came up and sand insinuated itself everywhere: eyes, hair, ears, clothes. I worried most about my camera.

Huacachina is really a little suburb for tourists surrounding a tiny natural lake outside of the rather prosperous town of Ica, the home of the famous Tejas candy. Tejas are mainly manjar blanco with nuts or dried fruit and covered with a plain sugar coating or chocolate for a fancier version. Very rich but no gluten!

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They make Pisco and a rather sweet wine in this area. Also, there is a busy mining industry I am told.

Continuing south along the coast is Nazca named after the Nazca people who lived here from about 200 BC to 700 A.D. Over this 1000 year period, they created the Nasca lines which are considered one of the world’s marvels. Straight lines and figures go for kilometres on the flat, rocky desert. They had to have great mathematical knowledge to make them as you can’t really see the full figure from the ground. We did a 30 minute flight in a small Cesna over the lines which are truly amazing. There are many theories how and why they were made which include conjunctures of extra-terrestrials.

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Today we are in Arequipa, perhaps Peru’s prettiest city which is inland at an altitude of 2300 meters. It is warm and sunny this morning. I had my breakfast on a second floor veranda overlooking the Plaza Major.

I think I will go and wake up Eduardo; he was grumpy this morning as he didn’t sleep well on the bus, and he forgot his phone plugged into the wall of our last hotel, nine hours back. I left my sunglasses on the table in a restaurant yesterday. Fortunately I got them back! (So I am keeping my mouth shut!)

Hasta la próxima.