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!