South American life has awoken and sometimes assaulted our fragile British senses. Peruvian’s practice life in its rawest and most colourful form. Think of the ingredients of life sound, movement, touch, colour, all are enacted here with vibrancy, passion and spirit.
Occasionally, as would be understandable, the sights we have seen as we have adjusted to life in South America have challenged us. We are having a great time but the cultural differences take getting used to and so we thought that we would share some of the oddities, differences and experiences that we have had to rationalise and get used to.
First a disclaimer – what follows isn’t meant to be a slant on the Peruvian people or Peruvian way of life. The photos included in the post could be judged to be sensational and out of context. We understand that in Peru these sights and experiences are common place but for us they have positively challenged our “little British” ideology.
Since being here, I keep recalling a quote from the late Derek Jameson that my late Dad used to recount to me, “Son”, he would say, “it’s all part of life’s rich tapestry”.
It is clear that there is serious poverty in parts of Peruvian society. On a stroll through the market in Cusco we encountered frequent elderly people crouched beneath the market stalls attempting to sell handfuls of potatoes that it seemed they had grown on their own land. The types of food on some of the market stalls was alarming and we struggled to understand how anybody could think that it is usual to allow armies of flies to march at will across fresh meat. We saw full cattle heads, and bucket of raw guinea pigs or “Cuy” as the local delicasy is known. The most challenging sights were a plate of raw frogs and a filthy bucket of green slop that seemed to be a popular choice to take home in plastic pots.
Cusco was in full festival swing when we left. The annual Inti Raymi festival had happened whilst we were on the Inca Trail. Sadly the streets when we returned stunk of urine. Our guide explained that the festivals are so popular that people can’t get to the toilets despite the municipal authority laying on portable urinals. We did witness one procession which involved local marching bands. We strolled through the town as hundreds of band members assembled. Most were swilling ale in the mid morning sun, many were eating foods that looked they had been purchased at the market.
We were hung over after a night out in Cusco when we had celebrated our achievement of finally getting on the travel trail and conquering the Inca Trail. Whilst in the throng of the boozed up boisterous natives and amongst the misty air of piss, Tracy said to me “I can’t handle this” – neither could I, so we left for the more serene tourist square.
South American life can be overwhelming but nobody is forcing us to accept it and we are learning that’s its possible to escape the madness to pastures more familiar when its necessary. We can with hesitation admit that only two weeks in and we have already visited KFC!
The Walk to the Bus Station – (A Taxi Would Have Cost us 5 Soles)
Was a mistake.
We were leaving Cusco for Arequipa and we had to get to the Cruz Del Sur bus terminal. A taxi would have cost us 5 soles or £1, (its is worth remembering that part, it’s important for what follows.) Instead we decided we would walk the two miles in the dark with our backpacks to save money, we had plenty of time to kill before out 20:30 departure.
It is now clear that you have to be careful where you walk, I guess that’s no difference to being at home. The issue here is that you spend so long in the more upmarket tourist areas that you forget the poverty that is found in the surrounding areas of the city. We left the hostel following Paul’s rough account of what he had memorised from the map which was now inaccessible towards the bottom of his rucksack.
We quickly and unknowingly left the tourist zone but it became apparent as we walked past approximately five people scrummaging through a massive pile of stenching waste that our environment had changed. We were not of course going to turn back to the sanctuary of tourist ville. I knew that as long as we encountered the highway further on, it would be lit and from there it was more or less a direct mile to the station. We got to the highway which was dimly lit but the highway was flanked by industrial zones, it was clear that this wasn’t a good pace to walk at night. I decided with Tracy’s reluctant assent to carry on a bit further to see if things improved. We had to walk down a slight underpass and under a bridge. I checked behind as we approached and I intended to quicken the pace on the departure but a sight mid way through, directly under the bridge stunted our pace. There was man with his pants down taking a dump.
We got out the other side physically unscathed but mentally damaged. There was now a choice to make. I’d seen enough and knew that it was sensible to get in a taxi but you are advised against hailing a cab from the side of the road. At best there is apparently a chance you’ll be ripped off with your fare, at worst taxi kidnaps are know to happen. We were now less than half a mile from my rough estimation of where the bus station was and so I now shared Tracy’s earlier sensible reluctance and we carried on.
A short while later we walked past a car full of young adults, perhaps teenagers which was parked at the side of the road. Latin American music blared from the open drivers door upon which the driver was confidently and protectively leaning. As we passed I heard the driver mummer something in a deep menacing voice. It sounded like “Hola Pappy” or something like that. This for me was the second worst part of the journey (worst yet to come) we were both laden with our lives in two valuable back packs stuffed with more valuable contents. Tracy had earlier said that I dressed for the bus like a bank robber, I have also grown a beard and I hoped that both would be enough to suggest to out potential assailants that I was a bit handy rather than a quivering Englishman out of his depth.
The walk to the bus had take longer than we anticipated, we were now pushing time. We spent the last part to the station following huge buses which seemed to be a good indication of where we needed to be. Finally we arrived at the busy station, I walked confidently to the desk, happy that I had led us safely through the meaner streets of Cusco to be told we were at the wrong terminal.
Thankfully the man in front of us was able to translate and the reply to my pleas of “help us” came back with a strong advisory that although we were only two minutes walk from the right terminal, time was against us and we should get a taxi. We now had no choice, a taxi took us a cock stride to the right place and we paid the fare which was of course 5 Soles….
The Bus from Cusco to Arequipa
I detest sitting down in confined places for long periods of time. Welcome to the 10 hour night bus from Cusco to Arequpia. We had booked “Camma Class” VIP seats the best that we could buy as we hoped for an easy introduction into Trans South American bus travel. To keep the post short I’ll summarise.
We were on the bottom deck in a cabin style room with a door that closed. There were approximately 12 others in the cabin. The curtains were all closed as a “safety measure”. I have never know the act of closing curtains, safe? There were no windows and must worryingly of all, the pre journey video explained that the WC was for urination only. If you needed anything more, you would have to ask the driver to stop in the middle of the Andes at five thousand freezing metres above sea level. The driver was of course fully inaccessible somewhere upstairs in a place you couldn’t find. The seat was big and was made of a shiny PVC, perfect for slipping off into the footwell below. I became fully anxious, I had to endure this claustrophobic nightmare for the next ten hours, everyone around me seemed cheery and content.
Things got worse, I’m not sure if I whipped myself into a total state of angst or if it was the aircraft style meal that was served shortly after we departed but about 5 hours in, I awoke with that familiar but rarely encountered dull feeling in the pit of your stomach which indicated that I had stomach trouble. Despite my very best efforts to will myself back to sleep it was clear that I had to use the urinal only WC, I prayed that it was possible to do more. The heaters in the small cabin had been activated, it was boiling and my mouth was dry. I pulled open the velcro on the curtains and the window was impermeably frozen. My watch indicated that we were passing over 5000m. The cabin was seriously hot and stuffy my stomach was in knots and of course everyone around me was sleeping soundly.
I’ll spare the detail but for the benefit of future travellers that might get caught in my situation – you can do anything you want (multiple times if necessary) in a urinal only toilet and its preferable to trying to locate an inaccessible driver to ask him to stop repeatedly high up in the freezing Andes.
The air I breathed when alighting in Arequipa was nectar, pure nectar. I sat stunned in the bus station, my nightmare was done.
Described above are some of the obstacles we have overcome since being here. Make no mistake, we really are having a ball. If my Father-in-Law is reading please don’t show this to Tracy’s mum.
If my Mother-in Law is reading, much of the above is over exaggerated.
Love to all Paul & Tracy.