Peru – The Land of the Inkas

Posted 28 Feb 2011

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OK,

It’s just not ideal to have a blog per country. We have so much to write about and the content is quite interesting. However, due to some setbacks, we are not always able to update our site.

Here comes the last 6 weeks, a Peru-oriented version, in a compressed format:

Having had a really good time in Ecuador -including the New Years celebrations-, the time had come to jump to Peru in mid January.

North Coast & the Interior before Lima

This part of our trip was probably the highlight of Peru, as it included non-touristy routes, beach time and few motorcycle problems. We met our first helicopter pilot friend in this leg of the trip, our first flat tire of the trip -my first ever- occurred all here.

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Lima

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Let’s say the obvious right from the start, to avoid any misunderstandings: The capital city of any Latin American country -as we have repeatedly found out over and over again in our trip- is not something we’re enthusiastically looking forward to visit. The traffic is so intensely wild that we constantly feel we’re in a bull-fighting arena, with the only difference being that each and every driver in the entire country is a matador, with the only goal of killing us -the 2 gringo motorcyclists-, or the lone bull.

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Lima was by far, the wildest and craziest city, even by Latin America standards.

A local DJ friend of ours explained this situation very wisely, stating:

“Peru has a huge foreign population, living as residents of Lima. They have access to all the expensive and luxury stuff, that locals can only dream of. As a result, they feel like slaves in their own land. This is not at a level of ‘declaring all foreigners as enemies’, however, they want to even the playing field at every chance that they get. The streets and traffic is one such place where everyone is technically equal, and the police does not care too much about the small violations that happen, such as a big truck suddenly changing lanes, totally intentionally, knowing that we are on the next lane. Such moves of course result in us, having to change to a non-existent lane, which in our case was the un-finished pavement.

I can slightly understand this, as it’s their country and we’re riding an expensive-looking, loaded, shiny motorbike. However, they need to start learning the difference between the arrogant and rich foreign residents vs. enthusiastic backpacker. Otherwise, they will not be able to evolve to be the next capital of tourism, famous worldwide.

Cusco

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Being the country with Machu Picchu, Peru has been one of the milestones of our entire Latin America trip, since from the start. Cusco, -the ultra-touristic Inka city- is quite a beautiful place, located between mountains, connecting the entire world to the lost(!) Inka city of Machu Picchu. There is something magical about this town. Just being here makes you feel special. The cobble-stoned streets are narrow, the lunch menus are cheap -you just have to walk 3 blocks away from the usual touristic town center-, the sidewalks are full of locals trying to sell you whatever is the deal of the day, including massage therapies, salsa lessons, historic and scenic tours, hand-made garments and of course illegal drugs. If you can walk a straight line without being offered a gem, you consider yourself quite lucky. The local people literally jump in front of you, to be able to offer you their products and services.

This is sometimes touchy, as we see elders sitting by the sidewalk, trying to save the day on whatever profit can be made by selling gum, cigarettes and napkins; all fitting into one small box, same size as a food service tray. That’s the ugly price a touristic town has to pay, resulting in high poverty.
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Machu Picchu

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With so much attention, it is just impossible for Machu Picchu and its surroundings not to be a tourist trap. However, as soon as you enter the ruins, your whole idea changes. No picture can do any justice to this gigantic piece of old land. You start having an idea as to what life meant to our ancestors. Having to build a city far away from attention, to avoid invaders is probably not something we’re used to thinking of in our lives. Fighting the nature, and making it behave exactly to your requirements takes so much time and human power. After all, tasks such as carrying stones, breaking them in the correct shape, making steps to the peaks of the mountains, using special-cut, cubic-shaped rocks to build a second layer next to a steep rocky hill -essentially creating a walkable path on a the face of a steep, solid rock hill that is otherwise impassable- are only possible if you have enough man power and time.

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Our daily worries and issues are simply nothing compared to these standards. The area around Machu Picchu is so rich with all these known and -yet- undiscovered sites that, you just hope Peru will have enough funds to uncover all these ancient cities, which may shed some light on how life was before we knew it. Maybe then we can take example from some of the experiences our ancestors had, and use them positively to realize our own dreams.

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After all, is that not what life is all about? Doing something useful for the next generation, so that they don’t need to spend the same time as we did, rather learn from the experiences we had.

Is Peru the country to live in?

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One of the goals of our Latin America trip was to find a place to live, with enough advantages to fit our lifestyles, receiving enough sun and having more energetic people walking on the streets. After all, Vancouver was technically one of the world’s ‘best cities to live’, so by definition, the task was tough.

Although Miraflores section of Lima came very close to stealing our hearts, our final decision was that, despite all its amenities, it lacked the human factor. That’s a factor that we can not negotiate on. If we’re not treated as human beings in the service sector, be it a line-up for tickets, or a need to park our bikes at a parking lot, or the need to use a washroom in a restaurant, or simply the repairing of some parts of our bikes, we will not want to spend any more time there.

Peru is such a place. Even when you pay for it, you are not guaranteed to receive the service you deserve. This makes you feel stupid and used. Call it what you want. Some call it “Latin American way of life”, some call it “Tranquilo amigo”, however I call it “Lack of honest and clean business in Latin America”.

Sure, there are lots of people who don’t fit this definition. They actually go far above and beyond to make you feel you’re the most-valued person on the planet. However, they are pretty less in numbers, and they unfortunately do not represent the majority.

My theory on the lack of ‘Honest and Clean Business’ in Latin America

As if my theories needed re-assurance, our last day in Peru confirmed all our findings about ‘honest and clean business’ concept, or lack of it thereof.

We arrived in Puna -a small town near the magnificent Lake Titicaca-, and found a nice-looking hostel. After checking out the room, we negotiated on the price, and agreed on paying 30 soles per night. After staying 2 nights, just before leaving, we tried to settle the bill, and as we did not have exact change, we paid the receptionist 100 soles. After 10 minutes of rushing around to get the right amount back to us, they gave us 20 soles, re-starting the whole negotiations, expecting us to pay 40 soles/night. Regardless to say, it took another 5 minutes of negotiations until we received the correct amount back.

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All these examples teach you one thing: Act according to their standards. Treat everyone as if they are going to cheat you. I understand, not everyone is created equal, and there are many exceptions that break the rule. However, the majority sets the rule, and if you don’t play the game with those rules, you end up feeling stupid. As a result, we always ask for the price of even the smallest service we will receive.

Again, in Puno, we wanted to use a public washroom. The price -as written on the wall- was 30 centavos, which I re-confirmed by asking the attendant before receiving the service, just to make sure we would not have a surprise at the end. When Seniz wanted to pay the 60 centavos, she found out that she only had 5 soles, and not the exact change. When Seniz gave the 5 soles to the attendant, she simply chose to wait, without even attempting to give the change in return. When asked, she gave half the required amount, and upon second questioning, she gave the right amount back.

I don’t believe this is something that can be explained with ‘poverty’ or ‘poor locals vs the rich gringos’ theory. After all, we are doing a business, and at the end of the negotiations, everybody is agreeing on the middle point which technically makes both parties happy. At this point, you expect people to be worthy of their words, and keep to the agreement.

There is no such thing as ‘honest and clean business’ in many countries of Latin America, proven over and over again. Just to refresh our memories, for example, one of the discotecas we played in Colombia’s wonderful small town of Chiquinquira had tried to pay us 50% of the agreed price, at the end of our DJ performance. Upon further negotiations, we had had to settle for the 75% of the originally-agreed-price, as well as being forced to pay for the 4 bottles of water we had consumed during the performance.

Do you see a pattern here? Again, negotiation at the end, after everything was agreed upon.

Peru is the number #1 country in this Wall of Shame. I will keep updating this special report, as we cross to the other countries.

Suffice to say, we paid our first bribe in this country, following a false accusation from a police. The price was 2 apples and 3 cigarettes for us, however we heard lots of other not-so-happily-ending stories, involving a couple hundred soles each time, from many other motorbikers.

Final Update Before Closing our Peru Chapter

We do not like sharing negative experiences on our blog. After all, we know we are not on an all-expenses-paid vacation, using 5-star resorts every day. We do not want that luxury experience either. Our goal is to share the lives of the locals, and increase our knowledge of the traditions of the folks living in this part of the world. We feel privileged to be accepted as their guests to their hostels, or customers to their restaurants, etc… We try to share our nice experiences as much as possible. However, the not-so-good experiences also need to be shared, so that we can all benefit from them.

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The people of Peru are generally happy people when not interacting with the tourists. This is noticed even more when you get out the big cities, like Lima or Cusco. The motorcycle travel gives us that luxury: having a chance to stop at any town by the road, as we please. We take pictures, talk to the shepherds, play with the llamas, make friends with the kids. This gives us the chance to capture the true aspect of their lives. However, we still need to pay attention to the level of friendship we are showing. In many instances, the kids who play with us, end up asking for money, at the end of our interaction with them. This totally spoils the moment, and all of a sudden we understand how they see us: the money source, who have so much to give away, after all they are gringos with the nice motorbikes, jackets and helmets.

The elders teach the kids to behave this way. It does not escape our attention that, when we are talking to a group of kids, the mother of one of the kids calls her son, tells something, and all of a sudden, the entire mood changes. The next thing you hear from the kid is how poor they are, and how badly in need they are for better education, food, etc…

The ‘begging’ is taught to the kids, so that they know how to get the most out of tourists. When they are about to ask for money, they know how to behave; with a completely different, sorrowful mood, their speech becomes weak, trying to show how poor they are, setting the stage for the ultimate question.

I don’t believe this is how Peru will advance to the next level. With our a couple soles paid as “gifts” to these kids, I believe we will be doing more harm than good. After all, a life can not be lived on “gifts”.

Honesty, hard-work and other positive attributes seem to be lacking hugely, and future does not seem so bright for these otherwise nice folks, whose ancestors Inkas once ruled the Americas.

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