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Social observations of urban and rural Peru

I’m four seven weeks late to write this, but I’ve come to learn that life gets in the way like that sometimes. My 10-day trip to Peru … well it was a 10-day trip to Peru. Lima, Cusco, the Andes, Machu Picchu — the story is in the pictures, and we have thousands of them. My observations, however, didn’t translate quite well to film.

Lima is a magnificent city, one that often gets unnecessary flack from travelers for “being empty” of value for tourists. I disagree wholeheartedly, as the Peruvian capital is one of the greatest places I’ve had the pleasure of visiting. The diversity is incredible — Miraflores, Barranco are very progressive, while La Victoria and the historic city center can be quite dangerous. One memory that strikes me is, while touring the museums and cathedrals near the Capitol and Congress, we came across an elderly woman, nude, walking down a crowded street. No one stopped or even glanced at her, and when my friends did, they were scolded by a Peruvian woman voicing her disdain for the Chinese. Two things to note: poverty is rampant and mental illness is widespread in Peru, and everyone seemingly hates the Chinese. “Move over Chinese food,” “You have such squinty eyes,” and those sorts of comments came flying as we walked throughout the city. As it was explained to me by my Asian-American travel companions, Chinese nationals typically enter these foreign countries, refuse to assimilate with the native culture or language and proceed to undercut local businesses.

The people were happy. So many public displays of affection, and so many young Peruvians! I didn’t receive as warm a welcome from strangers as I expected, as they were so involved with each other to bother. The Parque del Amor – on every bench leading to the Larcomar, there were couples of all ages locked together, staring into the black Pacific. It was beautiful; I could feel the heart of the city. I would very much like to return to Lima at some point, maybe in a decade or so when the massive construction project of Parque Lincoln along the coast is complete.

Cusco is a different story. From the moment we arrived, I just didn’t feel exactly .. right. The city is no doubt built for tourism, and as such it loses that native authenticity. Prostitutes fronting massage parlors on the main strand, poor locals whoring their Quechua attire and children to trick foreigners into taking pictures of them — it felt like someone had squeezed the soul out of the region and left its inhabitants the scraps of a once vibrant and powerful culture. The markets west of the Plaza de las Armas, however, were about as real as it gets. Goat heads, gutted pigs and llama fetuses all hanging amidst flies and rotting cow ribs – that’s where it’s at.

I’ve all but forgotten the agony of our trek, the food poisoning that later ensued and the constant runs to the toilet at Machu Picchu. We have pictures for that. If there’s one single moment I want to remember though, it’s the few hours we spent traveling from Aguas Calientes back to Cusco by train and taxi.

After an hour-long ride on a rail car filled with obnoxious, xenophobic Europeans of the dirty hippy breed, we gutted our bowels in this shack and got in a cab (Getting really over the anti-American sentiment when traveling). Over the course of the next two hours, we followed the Urubamba River through rural Peru. The towns were deserted, the streets were empty and the stars were the brightest I have ever seen. We flew down winding roads with our windows down, breathing in air that had yet been spoiled by tourism — I was, for the first time in months, genuinely happy. It reminded me of home, the long nights driving back and forth between Albemarle and Salisbury. We passed farmers sleeping in their fields, worn-down futbol stadiums radiating life. That moment, when I leaned out my window and let the river breeze slap my face as I stared at the Southern Cross — that was what it was all about. I felt alive, like a kid again, and every second of pain it took to get there was worth it.

The trip deterred Corey’s plan of going to India, and for a few weeks it certainly made me appreciate my South Los Angeles home. But staring at the painting of Cusco’s cobblestone streets and adobe roofs that now hangs on my wall, I’m getting the itch again. Santiago? Stockholm? PNG? I miss Havana though, and even pictures of Auckland can sometimes, just sometimes, hit me where it hurts. All I really know is that I’ve been blessed with opportunities to see the world over these past two years. God help me if I ever become too jaded to see that.

Published inGlobalSocioeconomic and Race RelationsTravel