It’s been two weeks since I arrived in Peru, and seeing that I am now in Ecuador I thought it was about time to fill you in on recent events. I will try and keep any comments about scenery and places to a minimum so not to bore anyone, but if anybody wants to know more, then I could easily bore your glass eye to sleep with my Peruvian conversations!
The actual flight from Costa Rica to Peru was a little nerve-wrecking as for some reason I was only given a standby ticket for the 2nd leg of the journey from Bogotá, Columbia, even though I bought my ticket 8 months ago. Even without a valid ticket, I still managed to go past all the security checks unquestioned. The Colombian army guards manning the security checkpoints seemed more interested in my opinions on Wayne Rooney's World Cup red card and Peter Crouch’s robot dancing. I would never have thought such dancing would attract such a varied international audience! In the end I had no problems making my connecting flight.
Peru is famous for many things, most notably the birthplace of the humble potato and also home to the once formidable Inca Empire. Although I already knew this, I was shocked at how different the country, the capital Lima in particular was, to my preconceived perceptions. I always thought Lima was a place of shanty towns and street children, and a place where Posh Spice waded through garbage in her designer cloths, all in the name of charity. How wrong was I! The city centre is as developed as an in America and Europe and the fashion (of the women especially) would not look out of place in either New York or London. The city centre is spotlessly clean, with no signs of shanty towns and poverty, and in the whole of my two weeks here, I only saw four street children. Of these four though, one threw a stone at me, and another spat in my direction. With that kind of ratio I am glad I didn’t see anymore! I have no doubt that Lima is indeed full of poverty but the government has done an excellent job of hiding it from the tourist’s attention.
Different to other countries I have visited is the female-only traffic police. The male officers were all sacked for being corrupt and accepting too many bribes. I must say it’s a strange sight seeing women officers with immaculate hair and make-up, and figure hugging trousers walking around with loaded pistols!
Of my time in Peru I only had two full days in Lima. Highlights included touring the city, visiting famous historical sites like the San Francisco Monastery, where you get to walk through the catacombs still containing the skeletons of deceased inhabitants of past years. A little on the eerie side! I also spent the day at the beach amongst the affluent surfers and took my first ever steps in the Pacific Ocean. As I did though I was hit by a rogue wave engulfing my legs and shorts with water. The next hour was spent trying to stop people thinking that I had wet myself!
Most of my time in Peru was spent in and around the city of Cusco, the centre of the Inca empire. Here I had the pleasure of visiting such sites as the Sacred Valley, Maras Saltmines, Ollantayambo and the most famous of them all, Macchu Picchu. Macchu Picchu is more spectacular than any photograph portrays, although I have to admit feeling a little let down and betrayed upon learning that between 50%-65% of the ruins has been re-built since being discovered in 1909. I felt a little out of place as well, wearing only flip-flops, shorts and t-shirt when everybody else was dressed in full hiking gear.
Even though the for-mentioned places were well worth the visit, the highlight for me was the small town of Pisaq, famous for the huge variety of souvenirs that can be found. As I didn’t have any intention of buying souvenirs I headed off in search of the local brew Chicha, made from fermented maize, which I eventually found at the back of a random persons house where I was led through the house a bedroom at the back, which was full of roaming guinea pigs. I don’t know what the owners of the house were more shocked about, the fact a Gringo was drinking in their house, or that it was only 10 o’clock in the morning! While here I also purchased some home-brewed sugar cane spirit. I can only imagine what the rest of my tour group must have thought when we departed an hour later. They all returned with your typical carved and knitted souvenirs. I on the other hand returned with a plastic bottle of homemade liquor, half-cut and with ghastly bloodshot eyes!!
While in Casco I thought it was high time I tried the local delicacy guinea pig ¡, which had a similar taste to turkey. I also had the pleasure of eating cow intestines, which I accidentally ordered after not understanding the Spanish menu.
The only disappointment during my time in Peru was the return flight from Cusco. As I had arrived at the airport much earlier than I had to do (at least I wasn’t stingy enough to sleep at the airport the night before like I normally do!), I was put on an earlier flight, which true to my luck with public transport had engine trouble as we prepared to take-off and led to a lovely five hour delay. To make matters worse, as way of compensation we were treated to five solid hours of Rolf Harris and Animal Hospital. What an insult!
Cusco is located 3,500 metres above sea level and every guidebook you read warns you of the dangers of altitude sickness. In my personal experience, altitude sickness is highly under-rated as the symptoms are exactly the same as if enjoying a few beers on a sunny afternoon – light headedness, not being able to put one foot in front of the other, and finding everything ridiculously funny. You really can’t complain!
I only had a couple of complaints during my time in Peru. The first is the people’s love of Celine Dion panpipe music, which you can’t go more than 20 metres without being played somewhere. Secondly are the scary numbers of wild, aggressive dogs that roam the streets, especially in the more rural areas. One even came into the Internet cafe I was in and urinated down the side of my computer desk. I will forgive such things though as contrary to every other country in the world, Peru has shunned both McDonald's and Coca-Cola for home-grown brands, including the aptly named Inca Kola, which made me want to vomit upon tasting. Give me the real thing any day!