Category Archives: Peru

Pink tide

Leaving Latin America, I want to comment on a phenomenon that seems to be sweeping this part of the world. It is the so called pink tide, the simultaneous occurrence of a left swing in the politics of the most countries on this continent. It is pink of course because bloody red is somehow appropriated by the communists, whereas the socialists can be safely painted in pink. Latin America has been under robust American control for many years, belonged to the immediate American sphere of interests. But especially in the most recent years, after the end of the Cold War, the situation here changed radically and one after another pieces of the domino fell as socialist or left-wing presidents won elections.

There are 12 independent countries in South America. Today there are left-wing governments in 9 of them, and Michelle Bachelet just won the first round in presidential election in Chile and is likely to win the second, making it 10 out of 12.

This is how it looks:

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The Islands of Lake Titicaca

The universal need to feel special presupposes that the attention we receive was somehow earned by us. Such is the effect of the Western individualism on travel. A tourist affected by this individualism looks for the experiences that would appear to be linked to the tourist in an intimate, personal, authentic way.

While researching Lake Titicaca online, I compared two routes: the islands Uros – Amantaní – Taquile on the Peruvian side versus the islands of the Sun and the Moon in Bolivia. Internet seemed to suggest that the Bolivian side is way more “touristic”, while the Peruvian side offers an “authentic” experience, in particular if one stays with the local indigenous family on the Amantaní island. So I decided to experience this. On a night bus I came from Cusco to Puno and immediately in the morning took a boat towards the floating islands of Uros.
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Don’t go to Machu Picchu

Visiting Machu Picchu is an absurd experience.

Two reasons for it.

Reason nr 1

It is absurdly difficult to organise a visit there. You cannot buy an entrance ticket via the website – you can only see how many tickets are left for a particular date and as you refresh the page, how they disappear. There are 2500 tickets allocated for each date and they sell several days in advance in peak season. You can buy a ticket from Europe, but then you are obliged to take the whole package, including also the train tickets, possibly an hotel in Aguas Calientes and certainly a sizeable intermediary fee. I decided to organise it all on the spot. So on a sunny morning I went to the Department of Culture in Cusco and bought an entrance ticket there – for a date 4 days ahead; then bought a train ticket – at 100 dollars very expensive for South America. You cannot reach Aguas Calientes, which is a start off point for Machu Picchu, in any other reasonable way except by train. True, I saw a helicopter pad in Aguas Calientes, if you’re feeling splashy. Therefore the two rail companies serving the line have a nice oligopolistic situation which allows them to charge nice oligopolistic prices. Admittedly when you ride the train on a narrow one line track sandwiched between the steep mountainside and the Urubamba river down below, you have trouble imagining how a road could fit in there.

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Satisfied Falcon

Sacsaywaman, Satisfied Falcon, in the times of the Incas was the most important temple which crowned their sacred universe.

We see today only a small part of the complex, maybe 20%, as all of the smaller stones were plundered to build other buildings in Cusco. Only the three massive walls remain. These were not taken part simply because the Spaniards had no idea how to transport the gigantic stones of which they are made. In Inca times the complex rose many more levels up and featured several giant rounded towers.

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Peruvian food

What do we normally associate with Peru?
The Inca civilisation and its apotheosis, Machu Picchu.
Nazca lines for archeology lovers.
Politics aficionados may remember the communist rebels of Sendero Luminoso and the President Alberto Fujimori who crushed it.
There is also Lake Titicaca (although half of it is in fact in Bolivia.)
That is probably about it in the popular consciousness.

And yet probably the most bright experience of today’s Peru is altogether different. Peru is the gastronomic eldorado of South America. Its kitchen is considered the best in the continent. In Peru the gastronomic traditions of all kinds of immigrants – from Asia, Europe, Africa – have mixed democratically with the traditions and knowledge of the locals. All of these traditions together with the availability of ingedients from every thinkable climate zone – as Peru possesses jungles, mountains, deserts, ocean, rivers and everything in between – gives rise to unusual, creative dishes.

I promised myself to take a pic of every dish I eat, but have to admit the defeat of this undertaking. Seriously, every time the food came in front of me, the need to picture it got completely forgotten! I tried even to apply some NLP tricks to remember about it, but to no avail.

Still in a couple of cases I managed to make the following pics.

Perhaps the most impressive Peruvian dish is cuy, which is roasted guinea pig. I must say I felt some pangs of consciousness before eating it at first. The waiter even asked me if I wanted to get it together with the head on the plate or without. I decided that if I commit the crime already, should go full at it – please bring the head!

Guinea pigs are very quick to reproduce and are easy to prepare, so cuy has become the national dish of the Andes. It is so popular that on the many paintings of the Last Supper by the painters of the Cuscan school cuy regularly appears in front of Jesus, along with corn and yucca. Cuy turned out to be really tasty – very tender pink meat, something between rabbit and quail. The meat also has no cholesterol, so apparently is quite healthy too. I am surprised it is not eaten more widely in other parts of the world.

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The imperial capital

I came to Cusco early in the morning from Arequipa. Immediately I was struck by Cusco’s magnificent natural setting and its unusual streets.

Cusco lies in a narrow valley surrounded by an amphitheatre of mountain slopes. It was conceived and implemented in the form of a lying puma. The head of puma corresponded to the Sacsaywaman temple on a hill. The puma even had teeth – the walls of Sacsaywaman – and an eye – a circular main tower of that temple.

The view over Cusco from a church on the hill:

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(A light) earthquake in Arequipa

Arequipa is the White City of the colonial Spanish administration. After the bloody Indian uprising in the 18th century, which almost took Cusco, the Spaniards no longer felt safe there. The fact that Arequipa is 1000 metres lower than Cusco didn’t hurt.

I chose Arequipa as a base for some unusual trips, which were still to be determined at that point, and also simply because its name sounded exotic and exciting to me. At that time I didn’t yet know that my trip out of Arequipa would be to the Colca Canyon. I was also considering the ascent of the Misti volcano, which is considered technically easy, but the weather conditions at the time were not favourable (although the local tour agencies would be ready to go in any weather). Also I realised that while the basic mountaineering equipment could be lent by the agency, the ascent would also require some seriously warm clothes, as it snows on the top and the temperature can easily go below zero, which is not fun when you have to spend a night in the camp on the volcano. I didn’t have such clothes and didn’t feel like buying them thus increasing my luggage. I must admit that the clothes would come in handy on the cold Lake Titicaca.

From any point in Arequipa one can see the two neighbouring volcanos – Misti

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Life on the road

My journey started exactly a month ago, on 5 July. Here are some observations on the everyday life on the road during this month.

One of the loveliest aspects of life on the road in Latin America is of course the chance to practice Spanish.

In Yucatan and Guatemala to understand what people say was actually very easy – I guess the reason was that Spanish was not native for many of them. It’s a good way to get into the groove.

In Peru, especially in Lima, I realised in my first days that I had almost no idea what people were saying – so fast and so particular was their speech. But over time I got used to it. In Arequipa, Cusco and Puno things were a lot easier – a lot slower pace, a lot easier to understand and to speak. It is of course the best way to improve your skill, to immerse yourself in the language.

In Latin America they use a lot of words and expressions which are understandable, but to which I am not used: disculpe to say excuse me, con mucho gusto! to say you’re welcome, any young man is addressed as jóven, generally any person at any moment is addressed to as amigo. It’s fun and it makes you feel like you’ve touched a living language.

Money matters
Major mixing of banknotes and coins in my purse: euros, dollars, quetzals, nuevos soles, pesos, bolivianos, laris, and even some Estonian sents as a memento…

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Descending Earth’s deepest canyon

Welcome to the Colca canyon, the deepest canyon in the world. Its maximum depth reaches 4160 metres, which is about twice the depth of the Grand Canyon.

Yet again I have to get up at 2.30 am for a 3 am departure. In reality the minivan arrives only around 4, after a couple of calls to the company’s mobile number – although this by now appears a standard operating procedure in these parts 🙂 In the minivan a guide called Pepe greets me. Pepe will turn out quite a character. We are 14 in total in this group: France, Germany, Spain, Switzerland, USA, Mexico, Peru and Estonia are represented. Pepe refers to us by country: “Hey, Germany!” “¡España!” For obvious reasons I cannot remember the three hours it takes to reach Chivay. After breakfast in Chivay we start our way on the picturesque road along the canyon, which brings us to the Cruz del Condor viewpoint. During this time Pepe starts playing various extracts from the rock scene of the nineties, and more than that, sings along with full voice!

First impressions from the canyon:

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Flight over Lima

A TACA plane brings me from Guatemala City via Salvador (ahh the giant waves of the Pacific below!) to Lima, Peru.

Conquistadores founded Lima in January, when the sun is shining and the sky is clear. However most of the year Lima is covered with thick fog, called garua. This gives the city a rather melancholic character. I was lucky though – my first full day was sunny. Later the fog took over.

During colonial times Lima was the most important city in South America, the capital of the vice-kingdom. Mighty galleons full of cargo left from here to Spain. Today though Rio and Buenos Aires have a strong image in our consciousness, while Lima has no particular associations. To me it appeared rather similar to Buenos Aires, a huge Latin megapolis demonstrating a sharp social divide.

Some photos from a walk around Lima. Plaza de Armas, the main square:

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