I don’t want to make this a blog post like any old travel blog, because there are enough of those around, and there are people who have documented similar Peru trips with more eloquent writing and captivating tales. But I did jot down some of the things that struck me about my trip, some things that aren’t the usual “wow mountains are beautiful” thoughts. Below are some of my findings / thoughts about some things I noticed on my Peru trip. And here’s a llama.
The Rich and the Poor
The difference between the rich and the poor in the cities in Peru (Lima, Arequipa most noticeably) was massive. You can look at a beautiful house in the city with barbed wire and an electric fence surrounding it, with heavy gates and iron bars on the windows, then look across the street to where you see a shack made of scrap metal and a tarp. From Mercedes cars and brand name shoes to dirt floors and no running water, and you literally need only to look across the street. This might be the work of corruption in government, exploitation of the poor for work, or some other causes that I won’t claim to be able to explain. But it really puts in perspective the complaints about the discrepancy between rich and poor here in Canada, and the disappearance of the middle class. I don’t believe we have anything close to what they have in Peru, and I’m sure that we never will, because the government does a good job to try to protect and give opportunity to the middle class in my opinion.
Catholicism… but Why?
Peruvians are super Catholic. Most of South America is super Catholic in fact, which of course came from the Spanish when they invaded / colonized in the 13th and 14th centuries. My initial response to this was “Why?? Didn’t they come in and kill all of your people and destroy your religion? Why do you like them?” The answer is twofold. The first reason is time… it’s been many generations since the first conquistadores (conquerors) and people have learned over time to appreciate the Catholicism that was forced upon them before. The second reason, which I find way more interesting, was the way in which the Spanish convinced the native South Americans to follow them.
You’ll notice in the churches in Peru, that the vast majority are more focused on the Virgin Mary than they are on Jesus. This was odd to me, after having seen churches in Europe where there’s a huge focus on Jesus. What was explained to me is that the Spanish told the natives (Inca, mostly, in this case) was that their gods (Pachamama: Mother Earth, Inti: the sun god, etc.) were represented in Christianity, but represented differently. For example, the Virgin Mary was Mother Earth because she gave life, and this was one of the Inca’s most important gods. Instead of praying to Pachamama, they could now pray to the Virgin Mary and their prayers would still be heard. Another great example of this, which I find fascinating, is the link between the thunder god Illapa and the Catholic St. James. It’s said that during a battle, a certain Spanish conquistador riding a horse came through a city and killed hundreds of Incas. I asked how anyone could erect a statue or sanctify a man who slaughtered their people, and the answer was this: apparently, there was a great thunderstorm when the battle took place and the Incas believed / reasoned that this man was the image of Illapa, the thunder god, who punished the people for their wrongdoings.
I found this really interesting… I’m not sure if they had forced Catholic schools like the English set up in Canada and Australia, but this was some interesting knowledge to acquire.
The Indigenous People and Traditional Wares
There are indigenous people who still live in small villages in the mountains, and still keep their traditions and their clothing. It’s wonderful, and being able to see some of those people and how they go about their daily lives is great. But did I actually see that? I’d guess not. I’d guess that very few tourists have ever seen that. What we see is a dramatization, by people who might actually be authentic villagers, but they’re doing it mostly for tourist money. That’s not to say that the learning isn’t important, but we do have to consider that “authenticity” in these situations.
A good example of this is the markets. There are traditional markets in certain cities, and they’re full of stuff. Scarves, hats, gloves, paintings, everything you’d imagine seeing at a crafts market. One problem… they all have the same stuff. ALL OF THEM. The markets in Lima are the same as the ones in Cusco, which are the same as the ones in Arequipa. Same stuff, same “handmade, 100% alpaca wool” stuff. I learned from a Peruvian business owner there that they are indeed handmade, and they are indeed made in Peru, and that they’re definitely not alpaca. Well, not all of them are handmade… but when they are, it’s not in a small village in the mountains. It’s in a massive factory owned by one of two companies that share practically 100% of the market.
I think the trip helped make me aware of what’s true and not true, and that even if you speak Spanish, tourism makes a ton of money for the people and it doesn’t need to be authentic to make money. But there are two more important things that I realized. First,
EVEN IF THE MERCHANDISE IS NOT AUTHENTIC, BUYING IT STILL HELPS THE LOCALS LIVE, AND THE MEMORY OF THE COUNTRY WITH WHICH YOU’VE ASSOCIATED IT IS NO LESS MEANINGFUL.
Second, in most situations when a Canadian has the money to travel to Peru, the people selling the merchandise need the money more than you (we) do. That is to say, haggling to get something for $6 instead of $8 makes a much bigger difference in the lives of the merchant than it does to you, and it’s something to consider when shopping in those places. Of course if people are charging ridiculous prices there’s a point where it becomes unfair and exploitative, so you just need to know when you’re getting screwed vs. when you’re helping someone put food on their table.
Some Slightly More Random Thoughts
The roads in Peru… in fact the roads everywhere I’ve been, are still better than in Montreal. Basically, if a road in the world is paved, or has ever been paved, it’s better than Montreal roads. You’d think side-streets in a small town in Peru, or in Cambodia for that matter, would be bad. Nope. Montreal is still the worst.
Every city has sketchy areas, but it’s not a big deal! People warned me about the danger in Peru, and I can honestly say that at no point during my entire trip did I feel even the slightest bit uncomfortable or like I was in danger. Keep your wits about you, do some research, and you’ll know to avoid the dangerous places. It’s the same thing in any city… there are dangerous areas of Montreal too but no tourist would ever go there unless they’re clueless.
Stray dogs are super cute. Well all dogs are super cute, but the strays in Peru were super cute, and looked to be significantly healthier than some of the dogs I’ve seen on other travels. It made me think about the dog situation and whether it’s actually better to euthanize tons of animals every year to avoid the situation getting out of control. I’m kind of torn on the matter; having strays leads to more strays which leads to more strays and eventually areas of the city can become dangerous to walk your own, non-stray dog. It also means that disease can abound and can make its way to your dog, not to mention the fact that strays won’t be spayed or neutered and your dog could be at risk of getting pregnant. Still not sure where I stand, but personally I liked the fact that cute dogs roamed around all over the place and didn’t pose a threat to anyone (except for maybe eating their garbage).
That’s all for today! Hope you enjoyed 🙂