Road-tripping in Perú

Three weeks ago, I spent seven crazy, sleep-deprived days flying and driving around southern Perú with nine other friends. I could probably write a 50-page essay on my impressions, but I will try to sum it up crudely in a few words:

llamas-donkeys-bowler hats-ponchos-coca leaf tea-Inka heritage-ceviche-income disparity-tourism-poverty-agriculture-Andes-desert-terraces-writing on mountainsides-generous people-promising path to development-Lima < Cuzco

Even today, most Peruvian women of non-European descent (i.e. indigenous) wear knee-length skirts–even in the cold, even when they’re farming in the fields. Why? Because Peruvian women were traditionally judged by the size and strength of their calves, as an indication of how capable they would be as farmers, and therefore as good wives. The farms I saw while driving around Lima and Cuzco had tractors, yokes with oxen, and everything in between–but most of the manual work still seemed to be done by women.

In the cities, tourism was certainly a big industry–in Cuzco, it accounted for 60-95% of jobs, depending on who you asked–and not everyone was happy about it. Judging by the graffiti, some Peruvians felt like they were sell-outs, catering to foreigners instead of preserving traditional occupations. But tourism revenue can also have its benefits: when my friends and I were walking by the historic center of Cuzco (the traditional seat of the Inca civilization, and a city which, by the way, is much more impressive than most parts of Lima, the capital), we were approached by two siblings, trying to sell us hand puppets that their mother had made.

After one of us caved in and bought a few, things got more interesting. The boy, 7, told us that he wanted to be a musician, architect, scientist, chemical engineer, and writer (in roughly that order) and was better at multiplication than we were at that age. (We decided to motivate him by buying a bottle of Coke and some mints for a little experiment. It was a bit anti-climatic; I think he almost expected the mini-explosion…) As for his younger sister, she told us about how she’ll be performing Gangnam Style in her first-grade class. This is a city in the middle of nowhere, between the towering Andes and the Amazon. The tourists brought McDonalds, and the internet brought Gangnam Style; I’m thankful the government (and likely private funding) brought decent schools.

To give you an idea of how little of Perú I saw (and how much remains to be seen.) Most of my travels revolved around Lima, Cuzco, and Paracas.

To give you an idea of how little of Perú I saw (and how much remains to be seen.) Most of my travels revolved around Lima, Cuzco, and Paracas.

I can go on, about how the residents of Cuzco still seem proud and a bit resentful of the Spanish conquest, even 500 years later, while the residents of Lima seem to have forgotten … or of how we saw someone unloading alpaca stomachs from an unrefrigerated truck, still dripping blood, into the main bazaar in Cuzco … or of how we ran into a herd of lambs crossing the road near Moray (close to Cuzco). But instead, I’ll just show a few of the thousands of photos I took in this warm, photogenic country.

Flowers with the Catedral peaking through, at the Plaza de Armas, Cuzco. As simple as it was, I was elated to see such color after the gray fall/winter at Stanford.

Flowers with the Catedral peaking through, at the Plaza de Armas, Cuzco. As simple as it was, I was elated to see such color after the gray fall/winter at Stanford.

The historic center of Cuzco, Perú (Plaza de Armas)

The historic center of Cuzco, Perú (Plaza de Armas)

A beautiful courtyard in Cuzco. The storeowner decorated it himself; unfortunately, the squalid room where his family was watching TV behind me didn't look nearly as clean or beautiful.

A beautiful courtyard in Cuzco. The storeowner decorated it himself; unfortunately, the squalid room where his family was watching TV behind me didn’t look nearly as clean or beautiful.

The Plaza in Cuzco at night.

The Plaza in Cuzco at night.

A man dressed up as an Inca king posing for photos in Cuzco.

A man dressed up as an Inca king posing for photos in Cuzco.

The outskirts of Perú; poverty that was in clear contrast to the clean, well-restored historic quarter. The neighboring hillsides were all covered in eucalyptus, fast-growing but sucking the soils dry.

The outskirts of Cuzco: poverty that was in clear contrast to the clean, well-restored historic quarter. The neighboring hillsides were all covered in eucalyptus, fast-growing but sucking the soils dry.

Donkeys munching on succulents by the roadside near Moray, Perú.

Donkeys munching on succulents by the roadside near Moray, Perú.

Moray with the snowy Andes in the background. It was springtime at this point.

Moray, about 1.5 hours driving from Cuzco. The Incas used this site to experiment with agriculture at different elevations & temperatures. As we descended down to the center, we started peeling off our jackets--pretty incredible for a many hundreds-year-old experiment..

Moray, about 1.5 hours driving from Cuzco. The Incas used this site to experiment with agriculture at different elevations & temperatures. As we descended down to the center, we started peeling off our jackets–pretty incredible for a many hundreds-year-old experiment.

A salt mine near Cuzco. Saline water from hot springs flows into a canal and gets distributed to each of these pools, which are owned by members of a communal enterprise. The salt is collected after the water evaporates and then sold. I'm still not sure what else besides salt is there, but it tastes pretty good!

A salt mine near Cuzco. Saline water from hot springs flows into a canal and gets distributed to each of these pools, which are owned by members of a communal enterprise. The salt is collected after the water evaporates and then sold. I’m still not sure what else besides salt is there, but it tastes pretty good!

Standing on the salt mines. For some reason, the white sides reminded me of white-washed walls in Greece and the Middle East.

Standing on the salt mines. For some reason, the white sides reminded me of white-washed walls in Greece and the Middle East.

Next post–Machu Picchu, Lima, and Paracas. Next time I visit–the Amazon (Puerto Maldonado) and areas further inland and to the north. I’d love to hear about other places as well though!

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About Development_Tango

Every nation's refugee. But more specifically, an open-minded French- and Russian-speaking former Moldovan-Ukrainian jumping between New York and California. Who hugs trees but tries to be logical about it. And wants to heal this broken planet by helping others help themselves.

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