Ah yes! I’m in Peru
I haven’t been back in Peru for a while – and a few things have been making me remember its idiosyncrasies and make me say ‘Ah yes, Im in Peru’
1. Peruvians are friendly and fun.
I was reminded of this straight away. Only just over the border and the bus had been double booked, so me and Little O had no seats for the next 4 hours. We complained, the rest of the bus complained on our behalf. I noticed that many of the offenders were wearing sunglasses – and it was not sunny. The bus had been double booked to a group of jolly trippers on their way back from Guayaquil after some mass eye operations by Cuban doctors. If you ever get into the sitution where someone is sitting in your seat, its best to stubbornly brandish your ticket with its seat number. The man with the improved vision in my seat was not planning on moving. But after lots of pressure from the other passengers, he finally gave in. I did feel a bit guilty and expected daggers from him for the rest of the trip. But no! He’s Peruvian after all. Instead he struck up a friendly conversation and (along with THREE other passengers) bought Little O a cup of jello. No hard feelings at all.
At a side street in Mancora, Little O liked the look of a scruffy ‘menu’ place. It had a dirt floor, a curtain screening off the toilet, some wobbly plastic tables and a small boy with an impressive toy car. It seemed to also be the only place with O’s favourite chicken soup on the menu so I reluctantly went in expecting to be dissatisfied.
The soup was very tasty, the main was ‘sudado de pescado’, a kind of clear fish soup and absolutely delicious. It cost around $2 and no, our bellies were fine afterwards. Then I remembered – Its Peru! – all the food is good. Even in the one-house hamlet in the mountains of Chachapoyas the woman did something with her dish of potatoes and beans to make it tasty. There’s no doubt about it, Peru food sometimes has too much rice and potatoes – but it is the best on the continent.
3. Peruvian sales technique
It took three major pharmacies in the large city of Chiclayo before one assistant admitted that yes, they did have vitamins for children. Sales technique and the hard sell are alien concepts in this country. A conversation you might have in oooh I don’t know, Cusco on entering a stationery shop:
Me: Good morning. Do you have any pens?
Shop person: Pens? What color?
Me: Black if you have it.
Shop person: No sorry no pens
Me: But what about all those boxes of black pens there?
Shop person: Oh they aren’t the ones you want
Me: (frustrated its true). Please can I buy one of those black pens you have on sale right there.
Shop person: Oh allright then, if you insist.
Really, my Spanish is fine. This doesn’t happen anywhere else – and I have had this conversation a surprising number of times in Peru.
It’s true that the problem with Chachapoyas is the lack of airport. It’s difficult to get there without a 10 hour bus journey on, what I was told, is a bad road. I was dreading it.
But then we got on the bus and I remembered – ahh, Peruvian buses, lovely! Semi-Cama equates to business class on planes, Cama means you can lie down flat. There was a movie, snacks, smooth driving, and a nice lady asking if we wanted alcohol and cotton wool?! ( I found out later this was for travel sickness / ear popping at altitude) – and the buses are non stop. O loves having his own bed on a bus with pillow and blankets. Peru buses are great.
I know a man called Al. He lives in Cusco now, but used to be a gardener in a zoo in the USA. He sells bags for yoga mats – the person who sews them is a policeman who does sewing in his spare time. Cusco, especially, is wonderful for this odd mixture of people finding a place for themselves in Peru.
6. Electric shocks
Even after a year away from Peru, I still put my hand on the glass when closing a taxi door. Why? Because most taxis in Peru will give you an electric shock. Its not a big shock but enough to make you drop your shopping. You have been warned.
7. Small change, what small change?
Nobody ever has any change. Hold on to your change as much as you can. Say you have a 10 sol note and two sols in change. You want to buy a snack that costs 2 soles. The woman in the shop looks at you suspiciously when you say ‘No, sorry no change’, but there’s no way on earth you are handing over your last bits of change. For some reason changing a 10 sol note is nigh on impossible. I think the bus drivers have all the change hidden under their floorboards.
8. Peruvian bargaining.
‘How much is that fake alpaca sweater?’ you ask. ‘ 35 soles….’ The price seems reasonable, so you make the motions to buy it. ‘…but I’ll sell it for 33’ – great you think, I was going to pay 35 but if you want me to pay less…. no problem. Really, if you’ve ever spent time in South East Asia, you’ll find Peruvians a pushover.
The taxi driver muttered under his breath as he did yet another diversion to avoid the crowds. The Virgin was in town and the streets were full of devoted schoolchildren. This particular little figure of a virgin lives in a remote mountain village and only comes out once a year. If you didn’t turn out to see it, you were surely not a proper Catholic. The streets were lined with people and banners and the taxi drivers were having a hard time. This was in Trujillo and was a typical day in Peru where there seems to be an endless list of parades and festivals filling up the main squares.
Travelling to the main square of Cusco one day we were again delayed by a colorful parade. It was the annual celebration of one of the city’s neighborhoods (or barrios). There were brass bands and exuberant dancers; so exuberant the band members had to run to keep up with them. In Peru you are never far away from a parade or a festival. Even if there isnt a parade on the day you are in town, if you head to an open space you are sure to find groupd of people practicing their dances for the upcoming one.
Is it really necessary to point out the truly spectacular scenery all over Peru? Lush cloud forest, vast desert and the majestic Andes all around you. A short jaunt out of Cusco takes you past adobe villages, locals farming as they have for centuries on the steep sides of the mountains, and the snow capped sacred mountains (or apus) in the distance – and I’m blown away all over again. Or how about the wild empty coast in the north, with off-the-beaten-track beaches only known to fishermen, surfers and bored passengers staring out of the bus.