Monday, March 2, 2009

Peru: In Summary

I'm looking at my notes that I took throughout the week of traveling in Peru and remembering the things my friends and I did and saw there. I had originally planned to do post-travel blogs on the daily activities like I had with the Galapagos, but I don't really want to do that anymore. I'm tired, sick, and since I already did a few blogs on the road, I feel like it would just be redundant.

Instead, I'm just going to write a little about the country itself, and what it was like. Above are a few pictures from Lima, Cuzco, Ullantaytambo, and Machu Picchu. The images should speak for themselves, but in case you can't see it clearly enough, Peru is a beautiful country. I feel like you could spend weeks there and still have more to see. We were there a little under two weeks, nearly traveling every day or seeing the city for a day, and we barely scratched the surface. We still didn't get to see places like Mancora, Trujillo, Huaraz, Ica, Nazca, or the amazing sand dunes in the south.

It seems as though everywhere we went we found friendly people, and in many ways, friendlier than many I've met in Ecuador. Maybe it's because they get so many more tourists in Peru and they are just used to dealing with it, but they genuinely seemed happy to show you around and introduce you to their culture. On our first day in Lima we were down by the Presidential palace and about to cross a bridge into a dangerous part of the city. I had my camera around my neck and an old man warned me to take it off or they'd cut my throat, as he motioned with the thumb across the head. Maybe it'd be alarming to hear that, but I was more relieved that someone would warn me about it than the fact that it was dangerous.

While trying to book a trip to Lake Titicaca from Cuzco, we were told to avoid local buses because they were more dangerous. I told the tour agent that we lived in Ecuador and took local buses all the time, and were we in any more danger than that, and he leveled with us and said no. Still, out of convenience we went with a tourist bus, which isn't available in Ecuador. We wound up having to take a night bus back from Lake Titicaca to Cuzco to catch a flight, and you might be thinking that I'm crazy for taking a night bus again, but our options were limited. We just didn't have enough time. But the only bad part about it was the lack of sleep and heat in the bus. That and getting in at 4:30 a.m.

In Peru the culture is very proud of the indigenous history and Incan roots. I think it's safe to say that it's not the same in Ecuador. If anything, people marginalize the indigenous and take more pride in the colonial roots to Spain. It's sad because there are so many interesting rituals and parts of the culture that don't get exposed as much as they should. Everyone is proud of it in Peru, on the other hand. I think I heard that in Cuzco 80% of the population has traces to the Incans.

I was a bit disheartened at how touristy the Machu Picchu area was, even though it couldn't ruin the thrill of being there. It was expensive and we had to eat bread and fruit for a few days as a result, but it was worth it to be there. There's a reason so many tourists go there. It's a place everyone should be so lucky to go to.

In Ecuador, you rarely have people hassling you to go to their restaurant or hostel, but in Peru you get bombarded by people every three steps, which gets very annoying very fast. Again, that probably just has to do with how many tourists go there each day and the competition for the businesses. Peru is a huge country and a large portion of the income derives from tourism. That's partly why you also see tourism police, who deal strictly with things related to tourists.

The food in Peru was good, but not great in our experience, mostly because we couldn't afford to eat very well anyway. We did try the ceviche, however, which is different from the ceviche in Ecuador. It was delicious, and extremely spicy with their aji. The prices were a bit annoying at times because of the conversions. $1 is equivalent to about 3 soles, but for some reason prices were usually listed in U.S. dollars. If you tried to pay in soles, the staff would have to figure out how much that was and just add on time. And once they did that, it was expected that you had exact change.

This created a lot of problems for us because we usually wanted to pay separately, especially in the hostels. I found it amazing that a hostel had no more than 5 soles in change. Even the ticket distributors for Machu Picchu, who deal with hundreds of tourists each day, had no change to give out. It also bothered me that we were expected to pay in dollars, considering we were in Peru and you usually pay with the countries currency. Even the ATMs gave you the choice of soles or dollars. The exchange rate caused me to run to the ATM several times throughout the trip.

Even with the minor annoyances, it was a great trip and a great country. I would definitely go back there some day when I have more money and time. There's so much to see, and after meeting other travelers and hearing about places they'd found, I know there's more out there worth doing. Also, being so close to Bolivia and not getting in just irks me, and I want to get down there when I can also. Our reason for not getting to Bolivia was partly a lack of time, and partly because U.S. citizens now need to pay $135 to enter the country. Since we were traveling on the cheap, it wouldn't make sense to dish out that kind of cash for one day.

Even though I'd been there for just under two weeks, I would now consider Peru to be one of my favorite places. I've seen that everyone down here thinks their country, city, or neighborhood is better off than someone else's. Ecuadorians always say Colombia and Peru is more dangerous than Ecuador. Peruvians say the same about Ecuador and Colombia. I don't know what Colombians say, but I've heard from people who have been there that it's safer than both countries. So it's just a matter of person experience and finding a good place to travel in. It's a big world and there's a lot to see.

Above: Machu Picchu, Ullantaytambo, Cuzco, Lima

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