There are some aspects of life in Peru which I have grown to despise in my time here. While some are trivial, others are far less so. Here follows a list of things I certainly won’t miss after I depart.
- Constantly a source of fascination
The average height of people is Peru is shorter than almost anywhere else in the world, excluding Africa (I could probably count on one hand the number of people I´ve seen that I´d class as tall in my time here). Therefore, I expected that people would see me and my lanky frame and instantly treat me as a God.
Alas, no. For many Peruvians my height is simply a source of amusement. I have become accustomed to people laughing and pointing and talking about me very indiscreetly as I walk past them in the street. While many people wouldn´t mind and might perhaps even enjoy the attention, I am not many people. I just wish that people could register their surprise and amusement with my height without making a deal of it. And speaking of things I find rude…
When I sold pancakes, as I did two or three times a week, it amazed me how many people would fail to ask politely or thank me for my service. Some people wouldn’t say a thing- they’d just walk up, point at what they wanted, then paid for it and walked away. Similarly, the children I´ve worked with over the last six months tended to demand things rather than say por favor– though obviously that is more excusable given their age.
I had neighbours who blasted out their crappy Spanish power ballads at half six in the morning. When we played football on Friday afternoon’s people would casually stroll across the middle of the pitch while we were playing, apparently oblivious to our presence. And don´t get me started on people calling me Gringo, which happened with irritating regularity…
Peruvian people- well, men- don’t seem to have any qualms about clearing their throat very noisily and hockling on the floor in public. It’s a pretty disgusting spectacle.
Without wanting to go all hippyish, it can sometimes be maddening how little the people of Peru seem to care about the environment. Back when I was in Arequipa, my walk to work every day involved passing a large, smelly pile of rubbish that the locals had created by the side of the road. In my three months in the city no one came to move it, and my guess is it´ll still be there today. It was also frustratingly common to see people throwing bits of rubbish on the floor in public as though it was a perfectly normal thing to do. But I suppose that for many Peruvians that’s exactly what it is. Disposing of litter properly just doesn´t seem to be a concern.
When you live in the developed world it’s easy to take tap water for granted. After all, it’s available for free everywhere, and unless you’re a seriously old codger that has been the case for your whole life.
In Peru, like most developing countries, tap water isn’t safe for consumption. You have to go to the shops every few days and stock up on bottled water, which is a pain. And while it’s hardly exactly extortionate, the costs certainly add up over time. And even if you do feel like running the risk of illness by drinking straight from the taps, you’ll have to get used to them regularly running dry.
- The hoards of stray dogs
Now, I like dogs. They´re great. But the amount of stray dogs on the streets of Peru is just silly. In the city centres there are a few- like the one I saw yesterday morning trotting along the street with a bag of rubbish in its mouth- but it´s only when you get into the suburbs where it gets out of hand. They patrol the streets in huge mobs, scavenging for food and getting in the way of traffic. At night, the constant sound of barking emanating from all around dominates. The situation is out of hand, and something needs to be done about it before the dogs rise up as one and take over the country.
- Very religious
This one’s very much a matter of opinion. If like me you’re non religious, you´ll quickly tire of how devoutly Catholic Peru is: all the religious paraphernalia, the people doing the sign of the cross whenever they pass a church, of which there are many… Damn those conquistadors and their evangelism.
- Tight clothes
There seems to be something of a fashion amongst Peruvian women to wear very tight clothes. Let´s just say that some of them really ought to know better…
- The buses (and their pollution)
Taking the bus in Peru is often a pretty miserable experience. First of all, the buses themselves all seem to have been in service since the Spaniards were still in power. They’re minibus sized little rust buckets that are long overdue a date with the scrapheap, with none existent suspension and head room a dwarf would complain about, and the thick black fumes pouring out of the exhausts probably account for a large proportion of the world’s greenhouse gases.
Though buses are frequent, there are never enough- public transport is presumably the only affordable means of transport for many Peruvians. This means that at peak times, the buses are horribly overfilled- apparently the only occasions new passengers aren´t allowed on is when there is no space to squeeze them in. Though that doesn´t necessarily stop them- the other day I was on a bus so packed full that the conductor was hanging out of the open door to create space.
The conductors are my other, more trivial, gripe. They never bloody shut up, which is particularly annoying because many of them apparently were never taught how to speak properly. They stand there by the door babbling like auctioneers to prospective passengers on the pavements: “Bahabahaschweeschweeschweepassapassapassalaalaalaalaalaa”…
- Local music and the radio
Another problem with riding the buses is that they are almost always playing the radio very loudly, and in my very humble opinion traditional Peruvian music is about as pleasant to the ear as a cat in a blender…
- Formality of greetings
Back home in Britain, when I meet somebody for the first time I might shake their hand, and every other time I meet them a simple wave or smile will suffice as a greeting (unless I´ve been drinking, in which case I´m more inclined to hug people…). Not in Peru. Every time I meet anybody I have to shake hands (men) or kiss cheeks (women), no matter whether I´ve seen the person a million times before, and probably even if they have some sort of mega contagious disease. I find the whole routine pompous, unnecessary and awkward.
- Lack of English speakers
Bit of a trivial one, this. You´d think the whole of Peru would´ve tried to learn to speak English before I arrived, but sadly not. Only a very small minority of Peruvians speak English, and the rest, believe it or not, expected me to know Spanish. The cheek of them! On the other hand, in a sense this was a blessing, as it forced me to speak Spanish all the time.
- Constant beeping on streets
In Britain, the car horn is something that is useful solely in emergencies and occasional fits of road rage. You could sit by the side of a busy road for an hour and not here a single beep. In Peru, on the other hand, the horn would seem to be an integral feature of the car. Sit by the side of a busy road for an hour here, and not only will you lose count of the beeps, you´ll be driven to insanity. People use the horn for anything and everything: announcing their arrival at a cross roads (of which there are many on the gridded streets), sitting in a traffic jam, telling the driver in front he´s too slow. Sometimes drivers beep for no discernible reason. It´s quite possibly the thing I hate the most about this country.
- Police carrying guns
I realise that armed police are hardly uncommon around the world, so this is something that many people would not bat an eyelid over. But in the UK- or at least the part I’m from- you virtually never come across police carrying anything more threatening than a truncheon, so to see every single on duty Peruvian policeman with a gun in their holster is a tad disconcerting for me. Also, I heard while I was in Ayacucho that a young protestor was shot in the neck during a demonstration, and it makes me wonder if arming the police causes more problems than it solves…
- Gap between rich and poor
Peru may be a poor country, but there are plenty of wealthy Peruvians too, and sometimes seeing the proximity of wealth to poverty could be quite unsettling.
Take the following example. In Arequipa, me and my fellow volunteers would sometimes go to a local nightclub occasionally, full of wealthy locals and foreign tourists having a good time. But as soon as we returned to the streets at closing time, we would be met by the opposite extreme of life in Peru: poor old ladies, sometimes even children, selling food, sweets, cigarettes and whatnot in the cold of the middle of the night, just to scrape a living. Even though I’m not responsible for their plight, it was impossible not to feel guilty.
I know, of course, that the gulf between the rich and poor is an unavoidable fact of life in every country on earth, and something that will no doubt persist for as long as humans inhabit this planet. But in a country like Peru, where the poor really are struggling just to survive, the inequality feels so much worse.
- Terrible state of the streets
Apparently 90% of the roads in Peru are unpaved. The majority of the roads I have come across are paved, but some of them are in such bad condition that they really ought to just tear them up and start again. I wonder how long some have them have gone without maintenance? I’m guessing decades in some cases. The pavements are no better- I’m amazed I’ve lasted six months here without breaking an ankle, given the amount of random holes in the floor and protruding bits of metal there are.
Now that’s quite a long list of complaints. Reading all that you may well come to the conclusion that I really don’t like Peru and I’ve had a miserable time here, but of course that’s not true. I’ve come to accept most of these things over time- though admittedly some still bug me as much today as they did when I arrived- and in the overall scheme of things most of them are fairly unimportant.
Besides, perhaps it’s a bit harsh to complain about such things- after all, Peru is a developing country, and things will surely improve as the country grows more prosperous and society develops. Maybe if I return in fifty years time people´s manners will be much improved, the streets will all have been repaved and the canine rebellion will have been averted.