Now that my long stay in Peru is pretty much at an end, I’ve had a think back through all my experiences of everyday life in the country, and compiled two lists. Tomorrow I’ll rant about what I hate about Peru, but, for now, here are a few things I will look back on fondly about the country.
- The weather is usually brilliant
Now this requires a couple of caveats. The weather varies quite a lot depending on where you are in the country. Peru is basically split into three regions: the coastal desert, the eastern rainforest, and the high Andean plateau in between. While the coast is generally plagued by sea fog for most of the year, and the rainforest is hot, humid and, well, rainy, the mountainous centre is generally very sunny, dry and never overwhelmingly hot thanks to the high altitude. Of course, there is also a pretty nasty miserable season at the start of the year, but two months of near incessant rain is probably a price worth paying for ten months of sunshine!
- People generally are honest and friendly
Again, there are exceptions. I’ve been short changed a few times, occasionally people have tried to cheat and deceive me, there are plenty of counterfeit notes circulating, and let’s not even get started on the landlord who refused to pay back my deposit…
But such things are a reality of life in the developing world, and besides they are exceptions to the overarching rule: that the people of Peru are generally rather honest folk who will treat us foreigners with the same respect they afford their compatriots.
- Relatively little crime and violence
Again, Peru is a step ahead of many developing countries, particularly some of its Latin American neighbours, in that violence and crime are very much under control.
Let me put this in perspective by comparing Peru to a Latin American country at the opposite end of the security scale, Honduras. One tourist I met in Ayacucho had worked there for a couple of years, and she told me how she had once been robbed at gun point, and eventually forced to leave the country after the government was toppled in a coup. Apparently violent crime is a fairly regular occurrence over there, and in other Latin American countries like Colombia and Venezuela. People were warned not to carry valuables, to travel in groups and be very careful at night.
Not so in Peru. I can’t think of a single time since I’ve been here I’ve felt in real danger, no matter what poverty stricken area. In Ayacucho- itself a city with a violent history- I spent half an hour walking through one of the most deprived areas of the city late at night on my own, and yet I felt safe in the knowledge no one was going to jump out of the shadows and rob me. Of course, you might say that that was a bit naive and careless of me, and as a tall 22 year old male I’m inevitably going to feel a bit more invulnerable than most. But my point is that Peru is a fairly safe place to be if you behave sensibly.
- The cost of living is very low
The price of things in Peru varies rather a lot. Some things cost as much or even more than I’m used to in the UK, but generally the cost of living is significantly less, especially in smaller cities. Accommodation costs a fraction of what it does in the UK- I’ve been paying the equivalent of £50 a month to stay in a hotel room right in the city centre. It didn’t have a kitchen, but saying as I could eat at a food stall on the street for about 50p every night I didn’t really care!
- Amazing landscapes
In the high Andean interior of Peru, pretty much every town or city is going to be set spectacularly amidst the mountains- certainly all the ones I visited were. In Arequipa there are two huge snow capped volcanoes towering over the city. Cusco and the nearby settlements reminded me of Alpine towns, surrounded as they were by green hillsides and rocky peaks. Ayacucho sits nestled inside a bowl, encircled by a high ridge on one side and swooping hills on the other. For Europeans like myself accustomed to living in flat, featureless metropolises, it makes for quite a change.
- The Incas
Think Peru and surely one of the first things to come to mind will be the Incas. They may be long gone by now- brutally wiped out by the Spanish Conquistadors centuries ago- but the spectacular ruins of their former empire remain.
Some would argue that a trip to the country that doesn’t take in Machu Picchu is a waste of time. In my controversial opinion I’d suggest it’s not necessarily worth the significant hassle and expense of getting there, especially when you factor in the hordes of tourists that will be admiring the site alongside you, and the host of other Inca ruins on offer nearby. That said, it’s a pretty awe inspiring place, especially if you can imagine what it must have been like back in its pre conquistador heyday.
- Inability of locals to pronounce my name
You might think my single syllable name might not be too difficult to pronounce, but to the people of Peru it certainly seems to be. Over the months I’ve been called Grem, Greck, Gram, Grom, Breg, even Schweg. Seriously. Of course, this might not seem like a particularly good thing about life in Peru, but it never fails to amuse me.
- Always either a celebration or protest occurring
It seems that, in some towns and cities, there’s always something going on in the main square. Fireworks, parades, music concerts, flower art, brass bands, big protests…
One day back in June, I was busy selling pancakes in the street when a huge line containing about 500 people marched past. There were clowns, people on stilts, huge wall sized banners, countless balloons and placards, and even a marching band. But this wasn’t a celebration- the somewhat mundane reality was they were merely encouraging people to give blood. Yep, that’s how that sort of thing is done in Peru.
- Churros and other street food
If there’s one good thing I’d like to bring home from Peru and make popular in the UK, it’s churros-fried tubes of dough with caramel in the middle, served warm and sprinkled with sugar. They cost about 15p, and apparently they’re popular all over Latin America. By happy coincidence, there were stalls selling them right where I get off the bus home from work in Arequipa. It was like the food Gods were smiling down on me, beckoning me to consumeth many a churro during my Peruvian odyssey. And consumeth I did.
Y’know, because they just look cute.
- Lots of impressive architecture
While the Incas got the ball rolling with their spectacular monuments to the Gods, their demise certainly didn’t mark the end of grand building projects in Peru. The Spanish Conquistadors took over where the Incas left off building their own very different places of worship- churches.
Now I don’t like spending my time in those houses of indoctrination (don’t send me hate mail angry Christians, ’twas just an opinion), but I can certainly see their architectural merit. Particularly in Arequipa, where most of the oldest buildings were built from white volcanic stone, some of the grand old religious buildings were unlike anything I’d ever seen in Europe. The beautiful Plaza de Armas, with its huge cathedral and arcaded buildings, was probably my highlight of urban Peru.
- Football mad
Football is big all over Latin America, and thankfully for me Peru is no exception. Despite being on the other side of the world, I was able to watch more English football here than I could back in England, and I had plenty of opportunities to play too. In fact, no matter how little Spanish you speak, you can always get a conversation started in Peru if you know a bit about football. Just randomly reeling off the names of a few clubs and players would usually suffice for me.
It helps, of course, when one of your favourite old players was once the captain and star player of the Peruvian national team. Literally the first Peruvian person I met after arriving in the country, a man who didn’t even like football, mentioned mutual Newcastle and Peru hero Nolberto Solano, which was a great start to my time here!