So Much More than Llamas!
I first visited Peru on a backpacking trip in 2006. I was lucky to travel with a Peruvian who had family around the country which meant we got to see things that others don’t. I was even luckier to land a dream job in Peru seven years later and live there for a year. I lived in the capital city of Lima but traveled often to the Cusco region for work. Peru is one of the most diverse countries in the world in every sense of the word: geographically, ecologically, culturally, linguistically… and I feel so fortunate to have experienced much of it. If you follow our blog, you may have seen that many of my posts relate to my experiences in Peru (e.g. the language, the politics, the scenery). Today, exactly one year since I last left Peru, I will share some of what I love most about it.
Favourite City: Lima
Many travellers disregard Lima as just that grey and chaotic stopover en route to another destination. With several months of fog each year and 9 million people, I can understand why one might get that impression, but Lima has so much to offer that it merits more than a stopover. It is a city of unique neighbourhoods offering a range of sites for history lovers (cathedrals, catacombs, pyramids!), cultural activities like open-air concerts and dozens of unique museums, great beaches for surfers, and it’s the culinary capital of South America! Peru is a country in flux, where the rigid hierarchies of its past are being challenged by modern approaches to equality, and where demands for cultural recognition battle for air time with the demands of a booming economy. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Lima, a city of contrast where all the beautiful and difficult aspects of Peru’s diversity come together.
Favourite Town: Rural Paruro
One of the most incredible places I’ve ever been is a small community in the province of Paruro, near Cusco. Since the community participated in the research I was doing on Intercultural Bilingual Education, I can’t give the actual name. It is deep in the Andes mountains and is divided into 4 sections – one at the top of the mountain, one in the middle, and two on the valley floor. Only the middle section can be accessed by car on a dirt road that dangerously winds around lush, green mountains. The community members are Quechua, and they continue the sociocultural and religious practices of their ancestors which focus on a belief in Pachamama (Mother Earth) and the Apus (mountain spirits). Their commitment to taking care of the land and each other was as beautiful as the landscape.
Favourite Food: Causa Limeña
It’s almost impossible to choose just one favourite Peruvian food. Not only is Peru home to hundreds of unique Amazon fruits and 4000 kinds of potatoes, it has also become the gastronomic heart of South America where flavours from all over the world come together. But I miss Causa Limeña the most. Served cold, it’s a casserole made with mashed yellow potatoes, spiced with ají and limón, layered with tomatoes, avocados, and shredded chicken, and often topped with hard-boiled egg and purple olives. It may sound strange but it comes together in a delicious way that’s almost impossible to replicate without authentic ingredients.
Favourite Drink: Sours
Pisco is Peru’s beloved alcohol. Made from distilled grapes, it’s blended with simple syrup, lemon, ice, and bitters to make the famous Pisco Sour. But Peruvians love to create, and today you can find sours made with many Peruvian fruits – like aguaymanto (gooseberry), chirimoya (custard apple), and maracuyá (passion fruit). Try some of the many choices at the colonial-mansion-turned-psychedelic-restobar Ayahuasca in the Barranco neighborhood of Lima. But as a Peruvian taxi driver once told me, when it comes to pisco sours, have only one or two “or you’ll end up dancing alone”.
Favourite Beach: Máncora
My first trip to Peru ended with a few days on the beach in Máncora on the northern coast. Although there are many beach towns all the way up the coast from Lima, Máncora is sunny almost all year round, has good size waves for surfers, and accommodations of all varieties, making it a fan favourite.
Peru’s music is as diverse as every other aspect of the country. From the sweet melodies of the panpipe in Andean Huayno music, to the infectious rhythms of the Afro-Peruvian cajón, from the traditional charango-playing Jaime Guardia to the psychedelic electro-beats of Dengue Dengue Dengue, it’s impossible to pick one favourite. While Floricielo‘s folkloric love songs accompanied me on every bus and taxi ride through Cusco, and the language-saving rap of the Kukama children inspired me through difficult days, I’m choosing to feature a video from Bareto, a band famous for remaking versions of cumbia classics, and their song Camaleón about deceptive politicians:
Favourite Bargain: Food
I realize that my “favourite bargain” is always some kind of food, but grocery shopping in Peru is a foodie’s delight. We could often come home from the market with several bags full of food that we got for the equivalent of a few dollars. We could get granadillas, one of my favourite Peruvian fruits, for only a few cents – I saw one in Vancouver the other day going for $4!
Favourite Tourist Activity: Exploring the Amazon
Although there are several problems with increased tourism and industry in the Amazon, including environmental destruction and cultural disruption of the communities there, I am grateful to have explored this incredible part of the world. On a four day visit on my first trip to Peru, we fed parrots, fished for piranhas, held monkeys, saw pink dolphins, ate unnamed fruits, and even tasted alligator! Our guides were incredibly knowledgeable and respectful of the environment, and the experience of living in a wooden bungalow on stilts alongside the most important river system in the world, hours by boat from modern civilization, was unforgettable.
Favourite Piece of History: The Peruvian Hairless Dog
The Peruvian Hairless Dog is an ancient breed. Ceramic figures of these dogs have been found from as far back as 750 C.E. and the famous Nazca lines include a dog believed to be this variety. As its name suggests, it is hairless, but it often has a tuft of wiry hair on its head. Although many consider them to be ugly, their history of survival is rather incredible. The Spanish colonizers of Peru tried to wipe out the hairless dog but a few survived in rural areas where locals believed they had mystical value. Today they are found all over and are a symbol of Peruvian resilience.
Most incredible moment: Arriving at Machu Picchu
I had dreamed of visiting the famous Incan ruins of Machu Picchu for many years. After a difficult four day hike up the steep stone steps of the Inca Trail in the high altitude of the Andes, waking up on the last day at 4am to make it just in time to watch the sun rise over Machu Picchu was more than worth it. I didn’t know at the time the role that Peru would play in my life in the years to come, but it was a feeling of awe and elation that I will never forget.