Peru: first impressions in a land of contrasts

Posted on
Oct 17, 2011

I am jumping around in time, because I can’t let another day go by without telling you about Peru. My tales from Florida, from New York, from Philly (including the best cupcake I have ever had),  and from our road trip to Ashland will all have to wait.

Our trip to Peru was one of contrasts. We landed in Lima and spent a few days there. Our hosts were gracious, and people were absurdly friendly. Even the cabby who ripped us off (yes, there was one) though a liar and a cretin, was not that much of a jerk. It felt remarkably safe, and people seemed to be enthused – or, at least, not thoroughly annoyed – by tourists. It was a delightful change of pace.

I found the city to be at a crossroads – both striving to preserve its past and ready to launch into the future.

We visited Huaca Pucllana, an ancient ceremonial spot dating back to the 5th century …

And met with internet entrepreneurs and small business-owners trying to improve their online marketing strategies …

I struggled through with my mediocre Spanish, but the extreme hospitality and friendliness of many people I met made it easy to get by. I had a Spanish phrasebook with me – one so absurd, that it served more as a conversation piece than anything else.

“I do not think you should use some of these phrases,” a Peruvian colleague of my husband suggested. “While it is Spanish, these aren’t things people say.”

And while I’m sure he’s right, I can’t believe I never had the opportunity to ask, “How much is this table?” and “Can you please leave? I have an early flight in the morning.”

From there we headed to Cuzco. High up in the Andean mountains, I sat in the lobby of a posh hotel, sipping mate de coca – a tea derived from leaves of the coca plant (yes, that plant) that’s been consumed by locals for centuries to combat altitude sickness. We ate traditional cuisine like llama and cuy (guinea pig) in a swank Italian-Peruvian fusion restaurant. We took two tours – an expensive one that included fantastic food and a cozy train ride to Macchu Picchu, and an absurdly cheap one that took us through mountain villages on bumpy roads.

Mate de coca. It tasted a lot like green tea.

We spoke to tour guide who told me that he chastised Spanish tourists whenever he got them (“They don’t like me very much,” he said), and that many people in Peru felt similarly to him. But when I asked what the predominant religion was, he looked at me as though I were nuts.

“Catholic,” he said. Obviously. Hate the Spanish, but keep their religion.

The contrasts of the country followed me everywhere. I expressed concern about the poverty of the villages, and yet found myself haggling over what would amount to a few dollars or cents.

And then we went back to Lima, and back home.

While I had one of the best trips of my life, I spent more than one night crying in my hotel room (in case you weren’t aware, this is what privileged white women do when faced with worldly problems like child labor and teenage pregnancy. We cry in our hotel rooms at night, and then we feel better because HEY WE CRIED SO WE OBVIOUSLY CARE and then we can go back to doing absolutely NOTHING to make the world a better place and not feel guilty about it).

It was my first time in Peru, and my first time in South America. And while I felt like I returned home with my eyes slightly more open, with my mind slightly more aware of the goings-on beyond my borders, I feel it pertinent to note that this photo was among those I took during my trip. Despite everything I saw, it still makes me cackle like a madwoman.

That’s right: Wiener University. I’ve got to hand it to Peru: it made me laugh, it made me cry, it made me think (and then it made me not think). There’s little else you can ask of a destination.

Leave a Comment

  • Janine

    Loved your write-up. I am so excited to go in a few weeks. I am in the stage of struggling on what to pack.

  • Amazing- I have family that intends to travel to Peru soon. My Brother in law’s mom lives there so they are going to visit. I have to pass this on to my sister in law who has never been there yet.

  • Sheri

    I have been several times. the look that you get when you are in Mira Flores (where they stick the tourists before sending off to Cuzco) is the very best of Lima. The poverty is striking. My family, friends and church are trying to make a difference – but there is so much to overcome. crying seems just as effective.
    Machu Picu & the ruins are amazing!

  • Ooh! I wanna go to Peru too! And yeah, sometimes we don’t realize how lucky we actually are.

  • Molly

    (in case you weren’t aware, this is what privileged white women do when faced with worldly problems like child labor and teenage pregnancy. We cry in our hotel rooms at night, and then we feel better because HEY WE CRIED SO WE OBVIOUSLY CARE and then we can go back to doing absolutely NOTHING to make the world a better place and not feel guilty about it)

    That. Make me feel like a piece of shit, why don’t you?

    Excuse me, I’m off to pretend to start a non-profit that donates solar coffee-bean dryers to mountainous villages.

    • Everywhereist

      If you do, I promise to tweet about it.

  • I went to Peru a few years ago. I also laughed and cried, had an amazing time and can’t wait to go back. Love the “Weiner University” photo.

    Oh and I’ll tweet about Molly as well when she starts her non-profit!
    Anything to help…..

  • Summer

    Love the comment about crying in your hotel room and feeling better (as though you were helping) because you cried. So brutally honest! I can relate!

  • A true land of contrasts!!! I can attest to that. Accurate note.

More from The Blog

On Instagram @theeverywhereist

  • 9 foods we ate in Japan that I'm missing now:
1) Sushi! 
2) Kaiseki (a multi-course meal with tons of delicious little plates)
3) Croissants (Japanese bakeries seem to have mastered them) 
4) Okonomiyaki (multi-layered pancakes with noodles and all sorts of stuff)
5) Takoyaki (octopus balls) 
6) Ramen (so many styles, all so good) 
7) Yakiniku (grill your own meats!)
8) Tempura (so light and crispy) 
9) Onigiri (Geraldine was crazy for these - the best ones came from 7-11 of all places) 
#foodsofjapan #randtookthis #latergram #tastebudsforeverspoiled
  • Geraldine bought this frickin' adorable tea cup in Tokyo and I'm kinda jealous (even though everyone knows cups that hold hot liquids need handles!). #studioghibli #totorotea #randtookthis
  • Sayonara Japan. We loved you so much, we're already planning ways to come back. Thanks to @nicelleh & @wescarr for insisting we go, and for being our tour guides. #randtookthis #randaldineselfie #selfiesonaplane
  • It's not often you get to meet up with friends at Tokyo Station on the way to Narita, but we lucked out. Thanks @benhuh @emilyphuh for the great lunch and amazing company. #randtookthis #lastdayofvacation #selfiesatthetrain
  • That's no way to describe how stunning the ryokan & onsen is here. Maybe these 7 photos will help. It's definitely modern, but the landscape, the food, the lobby, the architecture, the service... everything is just spot on. And we even get to wear yukatas! #randtookthis #hoshiniya #karuizawa #beautifulhotels
  • Karuizawa has its own creamery, and they make both matcha and black sesame gelato. It's frickin' tasty. Who cares if we have to wear coats to eat it. #icecreamtime #lastdayofvacation #nagaifarm
  • Waiting for the bus. With a friend. 
#randtookthis #totorotime
  • This stone church in Karuizawa was designed by an American architect, Kendrick Kellogg, and serves as a popular wedding facility. Fascinatingly, it has no right angles in the design (though Geraldine spent most of our visit trying to claim that angles on exit signs or edges of photos inside technically violated this rule). #randtookthis #stonebuildings #curvyarchitecture
  • We have been incredibly lucky to stay at many beautiful hotels around the world (mostly thanks to generous conference organizers). But, #hoshiniya in Karuizawa almost certainly belongs in the top 3. Every detail is stunning here. It's almost sad to walk out of the resort! #randtookthis #randaldineselfie
  • My favorite train food yet - an ikura box! We've got 6 hours on the Shinkansen today (Hiroshima➡️Kobe➡️Tokyo➡️Karuizawa) so needed a particularly large portion of train bento and snacks. Luckily, Hiroshima station, despite a smaller selection than most, delivered. 
#randtookthis #trainbento #ikura #snackboxofchampions

All Over The Place

Pre-order my book now and I promise I'll never ask you for anything again.

Pre-Order Now!