Peru is one of the six birthplaces of civilization, and many Indigenous peoples have thrived in this place which is unique in geography, landscape and climates
More than twelve hours after leaving Cuenca, I arrive in Peru and the transit town of Chiclayo. The streets are dusty, the building announce a clear transition from the more colonial Ecuador. All in all, it reminds me of some parts of India, minus the cows and goats populating the streets.
The driving also takes me back to some parts of Asia where pedestrians are at the very bottom of the hierarchy. Trying not get run over, I walk the streets of Chiclayo for the two days that separate me from my Lima-bound trip. Already, I know that my experience of Peru will be short-lived. I have to rush a little and will try to make the most of it. Inside of me, a mix of excitement and impatience. Excitement for the things I will have a chance to see, as well as for the adventurous scheduling I will have to follow. Impatience because I don't have much time here. I cannot help thinking: Ya! Ya! -A fairly restless, impatient "Already! Already!" we would express as "Come one! Come on!"
Another night bus later, I reach Lima where I pay a visit to yet another good friend. She has married a Peruano and they live here, with their two adorable little girls. Upon my arrival, we all set out for lunch, and they treat me to traditional Peruvian food, while tipping me on the country and its culture. After lunch, we take a walk around the somewhat bohemian neighborhood of Barranco, where they live, and we treat ourselves to artisanal ice cream. The day is fast gone, and it awakens my desire for family life.
Comes weekdays, everybody is back to work, school, or in the arms of the nanny. I decide to explore the little bit of Lima I will have a chance to see in such short time. First, I visit Miraflores, and some of its many touristic handicrafts shops. Later, I visit the colonial center of the city, which seems quite small in comparison to that of Quito or even Cuenca. It is nevertheless beautiful, and notably the Government Palace!
Finally, on the advice of my friend, I pay a visit to the Larco Museum. The place exhibits many great artefacts of the Inca culture, and it teaches me a great deal about the famous Indigenous people. Peru is one of the six birthplaces of civilization, and many Indigenous peoples have thrived in this place which is unique in geography, landscape and climates. Ultimately, the Inca people unified the entire Western coast of the continent under a great empire, though it collapsed barely over a century later, on account of civil wars, the Spanish conquest, and the diseases that came with the Europeans.
At Museo Larco, I can appreciate many great artefacts: pottery, garnement, ornaments, weaponry... Many a piece represent the polytheists beliefs of the ancient tribes of Peru, and notably their belief in a three-layered world: the sky for the gods, earth for the living and the underworld for the dead. A world of three dimensions, represented by the condor, the jaguar and the snake.
The museum also displays the only recordings of the Incas, organized in knots along colored strings. And not yet deciphered! Something deciphered would be, similarly to what I have learned in Ecuador, the hidden symbols the Incas have added to Christian representations in order for their faith to survive.
In just a few days, Peru has proven to be passionating. I have to say goodbye now, to my friend and her lovely family, but I leave with excitement for I will learn a great deal on this country!
Our twenty-two hour our bus ride is nearly turning into a twenty-four hour commute when we find ourself blocked on the road. We soon learn that the road is blocked by a protest. Having experienced protests in Latin America before, I know better than to wait for the road to open. I grab my bags, walk through the protest line, and catch a taxi for the five remaining minutes until Cusco. I arrange for a trip to Machu Picchu the next two days.
In the morning, I leave the hotel for a day that will promise to be memorable. An hour and a half after the meeting time, the agency is ready to leave. Around us, agents from other companies are desperately calling for their customers and I soon understand how poor the organization will be here. We leave for the six hour bus journey to which we add nearly two additional hours blocked by another protest. Ya! Ya!
When we arrive to the hydroelectric station, I do not waste any time and begin the two hour walk along the train tracks. Upon my arrival in Aguas Calientes, I am greeted by another chaos of agents calling for customers all over the place.
The following morning, I hike the strenuous path up to Machu Picchu, to the sound of countless buses promising a big old crowd at the gate. Protests having prevented travelers to reach the site on the previous days, I was told I should expect the crowd to be greater than the usual five thousand daily visitors. Another thing I was told is that protests take place every month around Cusco.
When I finally enter the site, I instantly forget about the struggle. Machu Picchu earns its status as Wonder of the World, and it leaves you breathless at first glance. Built in the most unlikely of place, an abrupt and earthquake sensitive mountain called Machu Picchu (or 'Old Mountain), the city which name remains unknown is a true testimony of the masteries that granted the Incas an empire. Beyond their famous road building skills, the Incas showed great knowledge of water management. At Machu Picchu, irrigation systems carved into the stone still provide water from the nearby stream. Also, the construction of the site in terraces, most of which are still overgrown with jungle in the lower part of the mountain, not only allow the city to survive earthquake. It drains water during the season of heavy rains.
For a few hours, I join a group for a visit of the beautiful city. Between agricultural and residential parts, through squares and temples, we learn about this place which is believed to have been an elite education center, strategically placed, only a ten day walk from the Inca capital: Cusco.
We visit some of the monuments: a temple with three windows, one for each layer of the world; the famous throne; the sacred stone, shaped like the mountain on its background; the temple of the condor with stones naturally shaped like wings…
Everything in Machu Picchu seems to have been built around nature. For instance, walls embrasse stones that were too big to take out. Also, the very city is located so that its sunrise peak through a V-shaped mountain top on one solstice, through the opening of the Inca trail atop another mountain for the other solstice.
It has been concluded that Machu Picchu was abandoned before its construction could be completed, and most likely due to a breakout of diseases. The Inca emperor Pachacuti (allegedly) will never have his city, though on the other hand, neither was it ever found and destroyed by the conquistadores.
My visit of this place, discovered in nineteen eleven by Hiram Bingham, comes to an end on a sad anecdote. In nineteen seventy-eight, the Peruvian president/dictator invited the king and queen of Spain for a visit of Machu Picchu. A monument of the main square was then taken down for their helicopter to be able to land...
I take a last mental picture of this wonderful place and start heading back for the endless journey to Cusco: an hour to walk down, two along the train tracks, and six hours on a bus. Add to this the mess of a crowd with confused tourists and agents screaming names near the buses, and the threat of more protest... Ya! Ya!
Built in the most unlikely of place, an abrupt and earthquake sensitive mountain called Machu Picchu (or 'Old Mountain), the city which name remains unknown is a true testimony of the masteries that granted the Incas an empire
I join a tour to lake Titicaca. The people on the lake are of two origins, we are told, they are either Quechua or they are Aymara
My commute to Puno teaches me the great hierarchy of Peruvian optimism: "It is six hours to Puno" says the hostel receptionist in Cusco. "The trip takes seven hours" says the lady at the ticket booth. "Puno" says the sign at the entrance of the city, eight and a half hour later. The road has taken us through the beautiful golden fields of the high plateau but still: Ya! Ya! Ya!
I am in Puno for two nights and a day only. My visit is obvious! In the morning, I join a tour to lake Titicaca. The people on the lake are of two origins, we are told, they are either Quechua or they are Aymara. Our first stop is to the floating islands of Los Uros, where the people are Aymara. They live mainly off the culture of totora, the search of eggs, and fishing. A little off tourism too. Totora is the aquatic plant they use for anything from building houses and chairs to feeding fire or eating. And because it is full of calcium, it keeps their teeth strong. Perhaps more importantly, totora is what they use to build the islands themselves. They confront the cold of lake Titicaca to cut out chunks of its roots and make a floating base on which they add layers upon layers of the plant. It can take up to two years for the two meters thick floating island to be built! In the event of a conflict, the island can be sawed in separate parts and floated away from one another. As for procreation, the youth is expected to find a partner from another island, in order to avoid consanguinity.
On the island, the guide argues that for him, the pre-Inca tribes are more interesting than the Incas. He tells us many a tribe settled around this lake and goes into more details when it comes to the Uros. An Indigenous people that can be found in Bolivia and Colombia also, though under different names. In Colombia, they are called Arahuacos, a name I have heard in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.
Many a theory exist on the origin of the floating islands. The version the guide announces as the most commonly accepted is that the Uros, victims of the cannibal habits of Caribbean tribes, fled further south. They endured the cold of the Andes and settled in the mountains of Peru, on the edge of the Amazon. For an unknown reason, perhaps disease, they fled further and reached the convenient shores of Titi Kaka. They lived among the many different peoples of the lake for a while until, probably due to conflicts with the other communities or the threat of the conquistadores and their disease, they fled again. Onto the lake this time. According to this theory, the first Uros on the lake were a single family on a barge.
After Los Uros, we sail out of the bay of Puno and onto the greater part of the lake. We reach the island of Taquiles, where an Aymara community lives. "That is the only place in Peru where men sew as well," says the guide, "they wear traditional clothes with hats which color will tell you that they are single or married."
The path to the village, atop that natural island, is not strenuous. The altitude on the other hand, it captures my breath in a blink. Slowly, slowly.
The views from the island are breathtaking. From here, I can grasp the immensity of lago Titi Kaka. It looks infinite! I turn around and walk around the village, observing the people who go about their business. They are obviously shy about the presence of tourists, as our guide has explained. Now he tells us a little more about the daily life of all these islands, each ruled by a mayor for a year at a time. He explains how recently women have started being mayors too, and how the community takes care of itself. Only once did the government introduce the police, on one of the natural island. After the policemen caused more problem than they solved, the local community got together and voted to expulse the policemen.
Unfortunately, my experience of the island and the lake has to end on a frustrating note. And yet again, it comes from my peers. On the way to Taquiles, the guide has warned us that the people are not as approachable as those of the Uros islands. He explained we should not take pictures of them without asking for permission, which should be obvious anyway. They will get offended, he said, especially because one of their beliefs is that photographs capture their soul. But nothing seems to be able to stop Pasty Mcwhite does it? As I walk around the main square, I can see tourists take stolen pictures of the villagers. I find myself ashamed and wondering: how superior can they feel to be so disrespectful? How entitled? And how would they feel if tourists in Europe entered the church during mass to spit on the cross?
No wonder I have heard of locals in Peru and Bolivia throwing stones at tourists who take pictures without consent.
Leaving Puno, I can only hope that, unlike when I arrived two days before, no car will come crashing into the bus. The driving here is sportive to say the least, and yet it has been but one of the impressions the country gave me. The few, that is to say. I feel like I passed through Peru like a rocket!
Peru, in any case, it has marked a clear transition from the North-Western part of the continent. For the beautiful landscape of Titi Kaka, the rich and beautiful history on the one hand... for the dusty streets of Chiclayo, the reckless driving on the other... I can say the country has left me both awestruck and uneasy.
Whenever I enjoyed the famous chichas, the lomo saltado, the chifa restaurants; whenever I realized how the country seemed chaotic but alive, joyful; I felt it has opened a door on a completely different world. A world which can play hard to get at times.
I think back on my trip to Machu Picchu and wonder: maybe I have experienced here the worst organization of all places I have been. Be them agencies or protesters, everybody wants a piece of the cake. And what cake! One of the six birthplaces of civilization, with incredible history, breathtaking landscapes and no less than a Wonder of the World.
Maybe I am right and people are taking on more than they can handle... maybe they are simply coping as best they can with what they are given to handle. Or yet, maybe I am the one who was too nervous, impatient, excited... Most likely the truth is made of the three.
If there is one level Peru is no different than other countries however, it is for its people's struggle with politics and greed. I have heard the mention of passed dictators and current trials of politicians. Don't we all struggle with politics and greed?
And yet, in the middle of this, I was thinking impatiently: Ya! Ya! Is it really fair? I think not. But on the bright side, I realize now, I have started thinking in Spanish.
Peru, in any case, it has marked a clear transition from the North-Western part of the continent. For the beautiful landscape of Titi Kaka, the rich and beautiful history on the one hand... for the dusty streets of Chiclayo, the reckless driving on the other... I can say the country has left me both awestruck and uneasy