September 19, 2012 by hattersleysmith
Outskirts of Lima
Bustling, dusty shanty towns sprawl and cling to hillsides overlooking the beautiful colonnades, squares, cathedrals of vast colonial cities, Pacific spray crashes against long pebble beaches before they dune into baking desert which eventually twists itself into rich agricultural valleys, caught between jagged mountains wound round by single-track roads. The earth rises and rises to the Andes where vast lakes are inhabited by floating islands and great volcanic mountains, wrinkled with ancient Inca terraces, dip to become cloud forest as cloud forest becomes jungle.
Peru is a country of many faces, faces I was lucky enough to experience when travelling there with my family this summer. Needless to say, I adore Peru. If I don’t find myself striding through cosmopolitan London next year with a graduate job, I most definitely intend to return, teach English, pick up fluent Spanish and soak in the energy of this astounding place. We started in the misty capital, Lima, travelling through Chincha, Nazca, Arequipa (the most exquisite city) on to the Colca Canyon, Lake Titicaca, Cusco, Machu Picchu and then to the Amazon Rainforest for three intense days in the jungle (see my latest ten minute documentary at the bottom of this post). Temperatures ranged from 30 to -15 degrees Celsius. We saw Inca ruins, watched condors, visited convents, local markets, burial grounds, cathedrals, museums, ate alpaca, lomo saltado, guinea pig, bought patterned knitwear, rugs, jewellery, climbed rocks, saw the Nazca lines, stood in awe over a wonder of the world, tripped over swarming lines of poisonous ants and screamed at tarantulas.
We rose early, we slept little, we travelled far, we ate lots, we saw more.
Peru is a country bursting with life. The local people are arrayed in the brightest colours, bumbling down vibrant streets, buzzing with markets, street vendors, women herding children, children herding llamas. The air, filled with pan-pipes, Spanish, bargaining, jostles over cobbles. Fiestas, demonstrations, independence, VIVA LA DEMOCRATICA. And all this soaked in the vibrant heritage of Wari, Inca and Spanish colonial, back-dropped with the nation’s indescribably diverse geography.
Children at the Sunday Market
A Monkey in the Rainforest
Yet it’s bizarre, because reminders of death are also everywhere. In England the dead are relegated to cemeteries and graveyards and only occasionally do they crop up in conversation, accompanied by embarrassed silence or awkward sympathy. In Peru death couldn’t be more overt. Ancient bones of emperors and lords, dug up by grave-robbers seeking gold, jut from the road-side sand; casual femurs, scraps of mummified cloth, fragments of skull, bleached by the winter sun decorate the banks, only to be stirred by the wind from passing trucks. Huge catacombs are open for public perusal, rows on rows of grinning skeletons, heaps of knuckles, lines of tibia in open tombs behind rails. Juanita, the corpse of a little girl believed to have been a human sacrifice to Pacha Kamaq, still curls in foetal position in the cold and dark in Arequipa. That’s not even to mention all the deadly snakes and spiders and malarial mosquitos in the jungle…
The Amazon Jungle
This is a nation of contrasts, of a fertile and destructive earth, of desert and rainforest, sun and water, rich and poor, ancient and modern, life and death, for the Peruvians they all go hand in hand.
I cannot wait to travel back to this incredible place soon and hope with all my heart and soul that it’s not spoiled too soon. Tourism is inevitable as the world gets smaller and more and more people seek adventure in far off and exciting places, I just hope it’ll happen gradually so that the country can adjust in its own time. With all its natural resources and vibrant culture, in twenty years South America is going to be huge, attracting business and tourism alike to settle in this glorious land. Let’s hope to Pacha Kamaq it keeps its values, traditions and intriguing heritage untainted.
Overlooking the Colca Canyon
I cherished every moment we spent travelling in Peru and emerged from the jungle full of ideas and absolutely shattered beyond recognition. Below is a link to a short ten-minute film I’ve just launched, documenting the travails of a very tired Smith family as we concluded our tour in the rainforest…