As I begin my final preparations to leave Peru, I start thinking back on the 2 months I have spent here and what I have learned about the country and the people. My diary is full of interesting little facts and figures picked up along my way.
Being part of a tour group is obviously a great way to hear the best bits, but also talking to local people has produced some great stories!
Here are some of the things I learned about Peru:
- The city of Lima is divided into districts. Each district has its own "governor" and its own taxes. So, the wealthy districts, because they pay higher taxes, obviously have better public services, are cleaner and safer, while the poorer districts are destined to remain filthy, dangerous and full of crime. Its a bit sad that they cant work out a system where they look after each other.
- There is a 70% unemployment rate in Lima, thats UNemployment. Even the people who can afford to go to college find it extremely difficult to find jobs related to their field when they graduate so they end up being taxi drivers.
- Anyone can be a taxi driver in Peru. All you have to do is pull into a garage, buy a white plastic sign saying "Taxi" and off you go! This is why the taxi drivers are completely crazy and nearly run tourists down trying to get their attention on the street. The competition is FIERCE!
- The average monthly wage in Peru is US$100. I think for teachers, its $200. Obviously, doctors and specialised professions earn more again. Pretty crap though!
- The Peruvians claim to kiss more passionately than the French and have a very raunchy monument to attest to this on the beachfront in Miraflores, Lima
- Inka Cola, which is a yellow fizzy drink that you see everywhere here, became so popular at one point that it started outselling Coca-Cola, so the Coca-Cola corporation had to buy out Inka Cola, and that is why there is so much advertising for Inka Cola here in Peru.
- Peru is the home of the potato, and they claim to have over 4000 different kinds.
- Peruvians are very very superstitious and, especially in the mountains, they take their pagan heritage very seriously. When you drive through the Andes, you can see these little mounds of rocks everywhere, usually constructed with a large stone on the bottom and increasingly smaller ones on top of that. These are little offerings to Mother Earth (or Pachamama). Its very bizarre when you suddenly come across an entire field full of these little mounds. Every year, I think in August, the Andeans have a special harvest festival where they celebrate the year they have just had and pray for a good year to come. They give coca leaves and other foods to Mother Earth to please her. What strikes you is that this isnt just something that the older people believe in, the young people are very respectful of the traditions as well, and there is a strange marriage between the Peruvians religious Catholic beliefs and their ancient pagan ones. They dont seem to see any conflict there.
- Most Peruvians guides that I have met are very anxious to stress that there is a history in Peru that pre-dates the Incas. They seem frustrated that everyone focuses on the Incan history alone.
- The ordinary Peruvian people have no appreciation of their own culture. This is something I have been told and then began to take note of. There is no funding for Arts here and the people have very little pride in their heritage. Most of the people here have very little education, and those who do have had to work very hard to get it. It made me feel very guilty about my own blaze attitude to my education at home.
- There is huge corruption in the cities here - the police, the banks - because everyone is on such a shit wage, they are easily corruptible. This can be a nightmare for tourists. Thank God, I didnt experience this first hand (apart from getting some fake dollars from an ATM in Lima) but I have heard some terrible stories from both Peruvians and tourists about what goes on.
- 90% of the Peruvians I met are lovely, helpful people - they smile all the time and just want you to see the best of their country. The other 10% i have met are some of the rudest, shiftiest looking gangsters (and that includes some kids) that I have ever seen. You can see that they despise you because they think you are rich.
- It is a country of a thousand landscapes! I have never seen such beauty. It has miles of gorgeous pacific coastline, desert, jungle (which I didnt make it to), enormous mountains - the scenery changes all the time with the light. A lot of it is very unspoiled yet and it takes your breath away.
- Lots of Peruvian cars are imported from Japan - cars which are put off the road over there are bought very cheaply here. So, most of the taxis are beat up little suzukis and mitsubishis.
- Because Peru can experience a lot of earthquakes, a lot of the buildings are constructed from a material called adoebe, which bends under pressure instead of crumbling. So, if your on the coast and you feel the earth moving get your ass to a buildling made from adoebe. They are usualy marked with a green sign!
- If you dont finish your food here, you get dirty looks. They dont waste food here, but the portions are huge. For the last two weeks, with my schizo digestive system, I wasnt really finishing anything, so I was getting a LOT of black looks as I paid my bill!
- The word "gringo" orignated during the construction of the Panama canal - the American workers used to wear a type of green uniform, and the locals began a sort of chant "green go"...which i supose eventually morphed into "gringo".
- On the Inka Trail a few years ago (well, more than 10 I think), a group of 4 guys (2 Spanish and 2 American) set off to do the trail on their own (you were allowed to back then). In the place where Camp 2 is now situated, they too decided to bunk down for the night. A couple of days later, just two of the guys arrived back (cant remember which nationality) and they were asked by control officers where the other two from their party were. They said that they had lingered to take pictures and would follow shortly. Five days later the two guys had not reached the end of the trail, and a search party went out to find them. They were found murdered in that valley. The story has it that the four took some sort of Peruvian drug and two of them turned on the others and killed them. Our guide told us (the day after we camped there, thank god!) that tourists have claimed to hear a baby crying in the valley at night, and also someone trying to open the zips on their tent. Different groups of tourists have claimed to hear these same things....which is very creepy. So, the guides believe that the valley is still haunted by the ghosts of these two backpackers. SPOOOKY!
- They cannot fathom a girl travelling alone at 26. People get ready for marriage in their teens here, im told. They think that I cannot find a husband and want to know why my friends wont travel with me. Some of them have even asked if there is something wrong with me! Very perceptive lot, the Peruvians.