Friday, March 2, 2007

Final Observations on Peru

Well, we spent more time in Peru than we initially anticipated, but it was well worth the time. When we included Peru on our RTW itinerary, it was mostly due to other friends' experiences and a desire to see Macchu Picchu. But I think after 2+ weeks here, Peru will be a special place for me. The people have been interesting, kind and generous. The scenery is fantastic, from desert to mountains. And we didn't even experience the rainforest and good beaches! And their hold on their history and past is fascinating. A few other random thoughts from our time here:

1. Learn Spanish! Though we were told this by a friend (Chris Clark, you were right!), we thought, well, we're just in South America for a month, we can't learn all the languages of the countries we'll be visiting, and, frankly, I don't think we would have had time in the last two months even if we had wanted to. But we would have had a richer experience, being able to talk to people and get off the beaten path.

2. There is no "@" sign on the Spanish keyboard, which makes emailing difficult at first. If you come, just know to hold down the "Alt" key then use the number pad to hit "6" then "4". It will save you some initial frustration and heartache.

3. It's not necessarily a good idea to eat cheap street food for dinner after an expensive lunch on a tour. You'll likely end up losing time, energy, and money later on medicine and doctors!

4. Set menus will almost always have a chicken (pollo) and beef option: bistec (the most generic term), lomo and chuleto. Avoid the chuleto. It's a weird, tough cut of meat.

5. While we heard some stories of petty theft, I have felt incredibly safe while in Peru. While we still try and be smart and cautious, I've found it easy and comfortable to get around and be in the cities.

6. One of my favorite things about Peru has been the public spaces in each town, almost always called Plaza de Armas. Unlike many places in America, these public spaces are really used by the citizens, especially in smaller cities, but also in Miraflores. In the early evening, you can watch families walking the plaza for a pleasant constitutional, teenagers flirting, little kids playing with puppies and old men sitting and talking in shady places. They are vibrant places, and some of my favorite times have been when Tyler and I just sat and took in the scene.

7. However, I don't want to whitewash the fact that there is poverty. While sitting in the squares, young boys are running around trying to shine shoes and young girls are selling balloons and tchotchkes to children not much younger than themselves. And the housing standards vary widely. We've seen everything from brick or cinderblocks to locally made sod-type bricks and even rattan-type sheets used for walls and roofing. Most houses and buildings also have this halfway finished look about them, with rebar sticking out of the roof or a half build upstairs, with room made with the rattan wall material. We don't know if it's optimism for building in the future or a belief in a future need for more room or what. (We tried to ask one of our tour guides, but the question didn't even make sense to him.) And there have been some really tragic ghetto areas, particularly outside of Lima where I've thought when seeing it from the bus window that it can't possibly be a home only to a moment later seeing a woman hanging laundry or children running around the dusty yards.

8. Don't try to explain jokes that depend on a play between English and Spanish to native Spanish speakers. When Tyler and I were in Lima, we saw a closed "ferreteria," and initially thought it was a store of ferrets and ferret supplies, fascinating but sort of disgusting. The next day when we saw an open ferreteria, we saw it was actually the equivalent of a hardware store. When we tried to share this with our hostel owner, we got the half-hearted laugh of someone who doesn't understand but doesn't want to try and break the barrier to get it.

9. This will probably not solely be a Peruvian observation, but take advantage of good bathrooms when you find them. It's a happy day for Tyler and I when we find a bathroom with a toilet with a seat, toilet paper, soap AND towels to dry your hands with! Actually, pretty much having a seat is a sign that we should go ahead and use the facilities. Also, you can't flush toilet paper or anything down the toilet in South America. While it was strange at first, I imagine now I'll be in bathrooms around the world, looking for the trashcan to put it in.

10. While ATMS are widely available and a good way to get cash on the road, one small inconvenience is that it tends to spit out $100 sole bills which no one wants to break. And sometimes can't break, so you end up spending more time than you'd care to trying to figure out when to spend them to get smaller bills. And you might end up wandering around all day unable to buy small things until you've had dinner and gotten smaller bills!

The other thing I've learned at this early stage of our trip is that a large part of the art of travel is the ability to amuse yourself waiting for and riding on transportation. That and the ability to embrace ambiguity and chaos. The bus stops for 20 minutes and you don't know why? An extra chance to enjoy the scenery. On a bus back to a city you're returning to but don't know where exactly you'll end up? Figure that either it will hit the major square in town or you'll be able to find a taxi to the main square and you can make your way from there.

Two quick notes:

While 30 days seemed quite luxurious for this part of our trip, hitting three countries and making the mileage between Lima, Peru and Santiago, Chile now means that we have to make up some serious time to do half the things we’d hoped to do in Bolivia and get to Chile for our flight to Easter Island. So we’ll likely be blogging less between the 17 and 24 hour busrides and four day salt flat desert tour in Bolivia.

Also—we still want to get our pictures up. We got them downloaded to a CD today and want to get them on Shutterfly. We’ll post a link once we finally have a chance to upload them (i.e., find an internet café where it won’t take too many hours).

Now to Bolivia, where we've had to truncate our trip to include only Copacabana, Isla del Sol, maybe Sorada, Uyuni, and the salt flats in the south. Then on to Chile!


Rick said...

Sarah, I enjoyed you're random thoughts. But, "don't try and explain jokes" and "take advantage of good bathrooms" ...don't these hold true no matter where you are? Oh, and you forgot; always floss.

Sarah said...

True enough. I suppose having Tyler come up to me beaming saying, 'Honey, you should really re-think going to the bathroom here. They have a seat AND paper AND soap AND towels! Really!' made it stand out in my mind!

I had a couple other thoughts after posting that, but after a 1.5 hour boat ride, a 4 hour bus ride and an imminent 9 hour bus ride, my mind is a bit frazzled!

ambika said...

Someone needs to start a blog called 'Ferreteria.' That's better than Asfart, Denmark.