Why I love Lima and Cuzco, Peru

As a child, I vaguely remember my father sitting in bed after dinner with a National Geographic magazine, reading about the Nazca Lines of Peru. I remember the yellow border of the book as I stared at the lines etched in the earth. This is one of my earliest memories that I am happy to have never forgotten. I recall the intrigue and sense of awe I felt as perhaps I picked up on my father’s sentiment towards these geoglyphs. I knew it was very important. I must have been about three or four at the time.

For this reason, when I was given the gift of choosing a destination for a family vacation after graduating university, I jumped at the opportunity to see Peru. Even though there were a few hiccups along the way, it was the most fun I have ever had on vacation. My father was hilarious which made for a good travel companion. We were always relaxed and made fun of the bad moments. I don’t remember ever laughing so much.

We arrived in the capital Lima a little after midnight. Our hotel was downtown Miraflores which is an affluent district that had many nightclubs, malls and restaurants. We traveled in July which was winter in the southern hemisphere. I was not very accustomed to the cold so it took some getting used to the temperature, which could drop as low as zero at night.

Miraflores was beautiful. It was another world far removed from the US centered way of life I was accustomed to. I had not realized it then but the Caribbean broadcasts so much from the United States, it was strange to see that it’s influence was not so far reaching. Lima was different at a glance. It was the first time I had been to a country where it was the norm to put fried eggs on hamburgers. Not sure how I feel about that to date.

Peruvians are among the most special people I have ever encountered. They are extremely calm, centered and a humble people. I had imagined all Spanish speaking countries to be boisterous and full of life as is the stereotype, but they were noticeably self-contained. The couples held hands in the street almost as if every day were Valentines Day. The fact that I noticed this made me wonder why it was not like that everywhere else. I sometimes passed time in the square looking at people skateboard and ride bikes. It was an amazing, up-beat city.

Next stop was Cuzco, a city nestled high in the Peruvian Andes mountain range. It is approximately 11,200 feet above sea level. Cuzco was the capital of the Inca Empire. It is a mystical place where Mother Earth or Pachamama as they call her, is worshiped as a Goddess along with others representing the sun, moon and stars, just to name a few. There are so many beautiful concepts that are part of everyday life.

The city itself is laid out in the shape of a Puma, one of the revered animals in Inca society. To listen to one of the guides speak about their ancestors will transport you to a time when religious and spiritual beliefs were directly connected to the earth and universe at large. The sense of tranquility is like no other place I have been. However there is a bit of sadness attached to their past. I have seen many temples and tombs destroyed by the conquistadors who arrived from Spain. The museums hold relics that show the diseases that the Incans contracted on their arrival. The Spaniards basically decimated their entire civilization, taking their gold and other precious commodities. Luckily, Machu-Picchu was not destroyed because it was hidden high up in the mountains and remained undiscovered.

On a brighter note, I will never forget the color of the sky. It was usually a deep azure blue, at any given time of day. On arrival at our lodging, we were offered coca-tea as is customary to help relieve altitude sickness. Coca leaves are legal and are not treated as a drug. It has a variety of medicinal properties such as the opening of the diaphragm, which makes it easier to breathe and therefore work for longer periods of time at these high altitudes. It is a part of everyday life especially since many people work in agriculture and have been doing so for thousands of years.

At this height, it is quite natural to feel light headed and even sick. I was easily winded having to walk anywhere along the many cobble-stone hills in the city. However the locals, no matter the age seemed to have no problem running uphill, putting us outsiders to shame. Oxygen bars selling flavored oxygen and portable canisters were readily available for purchase, for those having trouble acclimatizing.

Many women in Cuzco wear traditional Peruvian clothing, which consists of bright rainbow colors, (much like their flag) beautifully draped. They would often be seen sitting with their children or grandchildren on the sides of the ancient streets selling coca leaves, flowers and other goods such as corn. They also take their pet llamas for walks and ask for a little money for a photograph. If you like leather goods, semi-precious stones, fossils and other ancient relics, Cuzco is definitely the place to visit.

I was told that many live without water heaters and even electricity. I found this hard to believe since it was so cold. However in-spite of this, the people of Cuzco are kind and honest to a fault. I remember looking at a vendor close his stall for the night; there were no doors, glasses or walls to keep people from entering. Instead, he simply placed a piece of cloth in front the entrance, as if to say ‘do not enter’. All his stock was left in plain sight for anyone to steal if they wished. It made me feel concerned since tourism can sometimes have a negative impact. I trust that most people would view this as a gem, more so than an opportunity.

This show of honesty and trust in others has profoundly changed my life. It has made me aware that it’s not just, a dog-eat-dog world. Many people in Cuzco live without the modern comforts we all seem to depend on, however they are more morally sound than most. For many reasons such as the historical background, mystical nature and humility of the people, Peru is perhaps the most amazing place I have ever visited and would I love to return some day. I will write more about it in another post. Thanks for reading. Have a great day!

Ground Zero: Hiroshima

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park

On August 6th 1945, a single atomic bomb was dropped at around 8:15 am, on the thriving city of Hiroshima. It was chosen as a means of slowing down Japan’s economy and displaying what atomic weapons can achieve. The bomb, ‘little boy’ was detonated at 600 meters above the city. It was the first time such a formidable weapon was used against a city and its residents. A large number of persons perished below the mushroom cloud and the ones who had survived the explosion would go on to suffer in unimaginable ways.

I was up at the crack of dawn in order to catch the first train out of Kyoto. It would take some time in transit from station to station so I made it my duty to be up as early as possible. At this point, my feet hurt and my body was sore from all the running around I had been doing. On arriving in Hiroshima, it was hard to believe that an atomic bomb had once devastated this city. There were no signs of hardship or destruction but for one building that was purposely left for the sake of memory. The Atomic Bomb Domb curiously maintained it’s skeletal structure even though it sat almost below the point of detonation.

Peace Memorial Park was designed as a means of remembering the victims that lost their lives on that tragic day. I must say, nothing is as I imagined it would be. The city was beautiful, quiet, peaceful and bordered by large rivers. The atmosphere was serene as an overwhelming silence and a sense of sadness loomed over the park. I tried to imagine what it was like when the bomb was dropped.

There were a number of shrines in place to give a brief history of what happened. Some shrines were constructed for the children who had died since there were thousands in the city volunteering at the time of the blast. The choice of words expressed woe and a great need for peace and comfort for their souls. In essence the park I suppose, also served as a great cemetery. Thousands of origami-paper cranes can be seen at the back of this Goddess in the photo. There is a saying that folding a thousand will grant you one wish. The cranes are then burnt so that the wishes can return to the source.

Peace Memorial Park also houses a museum. The museum is unlike any I have visited. It serves not only to exhibit a collection of materials such as melted iron, petrified glass, tattered clothes and other things that were twisted by the sheer heat but also as a way of telling people’s stories and sharing memories linked to the bombing. Being in that museum was like an emotional roller-coaster that evoked empathy by the choice of materials on display. You tend to realize that every individual affected had a unique story, whether it was a wallet in the showcase or a child’s lunchbox. Many such stories were on display for all to read. The experience can also be likened to visiting a horror-house at a theme park. Some walls were laden with photos of persons in agony with melted skin, eyes popping out and horrific things that I cannot forget. There were human shadows etched in stone, as bodies literally vaporized in the blast.

I know now that I did not posses the imagination to understand the various levels at which they were capable of suffering. The initial explosion was just the beginning of the despair for those who survived. Many people were forced to look at their loved ones suffer and ultimately die in agony, unable to help in any way. The burnt people cried for water and when it rained, many drank the black- radioactive water which caused a plethora of other diseases and complications. Many developed chronic ailments that seemed to be passed on to other generations. The A-bomb diseases only added another angle to the already starving, homeless, grieving persons. Many became depressed and lost their zeal to go on living after witnessing such horror. Another disturbing installation at the museum was the artwork created by people who survived the bombing. I could not believe my eyes. Some of those child-like drawings simply portrayed hell on earth.

Interestingly enough, the over arching theme that Hiroshima has come to represent from all that I read and witnessed; is the need for peace at all costs. I expected to see some signs of animosity towards the ones who dropped the bomb but there was no evidence of any finger pointing or hatred. This is what makes Hiroshima spectacular to me, the outlook of the people. The Japanese continue mourn the loss of its people every day as fresh flowers decorate the shrines and cenotaph. Every year on the 6th of August, Hiroshima celebrates with 1 minute’s silence at 8:15 am and continues to pray for and promote World Peace.

Osaka!

“It’s the possibility of having a dream come through that makes life interesting”

Paulo Coelho

Ever since I was a child, I had been drawn to the peculiarities and otherworldly aspects of Japanese culture. Needless to say, I spent many years researching the intricacies of this profound land and its people. Research literally came in the form of reading as much as possible, however I also looked at a tonne of anime and read manga. After some 30 years, I was finally able to visit, the stars had aligned and my tickets were bought. I always viewed Japanese culture as one of the leading, prominent cultures of the world as it is noticeably imbued with a profound sense of living and doing things. The striking differences are the things that make Japan unique. I must say, it is perhaps my favorite culture as I have always had a sort of reverence for their way of life.

On arriving in Osaka, one of the first things I noticed as I got off the plane was the fact that Kansai Airport was decorated from top to bottom with Nintendo characters. They were all there. Mario, Luigi, Yoshi, Princess Peach, Kooper… all my childhood friends greeting me as I entered the arrival terminal. I felt as if I had died and gone to heaven. It’s no secret that I love playing video games, in fact the first one I had ever received was Super Mario World, when I was just five years old. At the risk of sounding like a super fan-girl, I had even gotten a tattoo to commemorate this great video game when I was a teenager, as a means of remembering my amazing childhood. Needless to say, it all came full circle for me the moment I stepped off that plane.

On another note, one of the best investments I made was buying the JR-Rail Pass. This 7-day pass allows foreigners to travel liberally across all of Japan on all but two of their Shinkansen Bullet Trains. While it felt a bit costly to put out almost three hundred dollars ahead of time, I was extremely relieved to have had this pass during my stay. I was able to reserve seats on trains, avoid long ques and zip by, simply by showing my pass. The staff members were always cordial, helpful and often bowed as I passed by. I was also allowed access to certain subway lines, buses and even a JR-Boat in the Hiroshima Prefecture. At the end of the day I saved a lot of money with this pass for the long distances I had traveled. The train stations, while complex I admit, were quite easy to navigate. I think people are a lot more intimidated than they ought to be about getting around in Japan. I suppose the language difference and script can make it a bit tricky.

It became obvious that everything I heard about Japanese culture was not just ‘some myth’. The Japanese are indeed, deeply traditional and their society, highly structured yet a sense of light hardheartedness was tangible in the atmosphere. When in a new place, I suppose it’s only natural to notice the way people dress and carry themselves. Japan was fun and flawless. It was only when I was walking through the streets that I recalled the fact that Tokyo was a known fashion capital of the world, and rightfully so. I saw some of the most beautiful and interesting clothing I had ever laid eyes on. Some styles were westernized while others were reminiscent of their ancient heritage, such as baggy Samuari pants. I was also drawn to the care taken to create hairstyles.

Their hairstyles and dress were straight out of a Japanese Anime as it is common for men to sport exotic colors such as pink, green, blue and red hair in a variety of ways. It was like living art. I was in awe of everything I was experiencing for the first time. I felt comfortable as I also noticed that Japanese people were aware that it was rude to stare, there was little to no prolonged eye-contact during my stay. I have traveled quite extensively and for the most part I have noticed that when people are curious, they show it…but not here. Good etiquette and discipline were the basis of every interaction.

Walking through Osaka at night can feel like a movie. Huge neon lights adorned the main streets as hundreds of arcades, toy machines and small dimly lit restaurants were pretty as a picture. It was a bustling city. I was astounded at how quaint certain backstreets appeared as many retained their traditional architectural styles. It was like being transported into the distant past. The juxtaposition of the ancient past and modern times make Japan incredibly unique. Their culture is very much alive and well. Another remarkable thing I noticed was that the streets were also spotless. Not a single piece of trash could be found littering the sidewalk.

My Airbnb in Osaka was equally unique. It was a Sailor Moon themed apartment strategically placed near to the train station. It was quite small but very functional. The use of its limited space and the placement of everything was well executed. My little studio, while very compact, was warm and well equipped with everything needed for a comfortable few-days. I could make myself breakfast and even turn up the heat so as not to freeze to death while I slept. I had all that I could possibly need.

Osaka is known as the kitchen of Japan, needless to say, one can spend a lot of time discovering amazing street foods by simply getting lost or taking a walk to the local market. I highly recommend it as a destination of discovery.