Posts Tagged ‘South America’

10 Things the Guidebook Don’t tell you About… Peru

August 19, 2013

1. Construction. Everything is in a different stage of construction, half built buildings are everywhere to the point where some cities look like they wouldn’t have existed a few months previously. Piles of rubble squat on the streets in many areas. Juliaca is basically a building site. We were told that in Bolivia you don’t have to pay tax on your house until it’s finished so many people leave their houses unfinished on purpose. I’m assuming the same goes for Peru.

2. Horn honking. Particularly in Lima honking your horn when driving is just what you do. All the time. Honk if they’re driving too slow; honk if they’re driving too fast; honk if they won’t let you through; honk to say thankyou if they do; honk if you’re sat in traffic; honk if you’re not. It’s so noisy. It’s even got to the point where the council have put up signs saying “No Honking”.

3. Queueing. They don’t do it. Don’t bother trying. They will walk in front of you even if it’s obvious you’re waiting.

4. Food portions. The USA get a raw deal it seems, people always say that they serve massive portions. In Peru, they serve MASSIVE portions. How is one person supposed to eat all that?! I’m sure it’s generosity, but I feel guilty about how much I have to leave on my plate when I’m full! It is still a full plate! Three or four people could eat one portion here and be full.

5. Tourism. In some places, like the floating islands (crazy man made islands, made out of compacted reeds in Lake Titicaca), Tourism makes up 50% of the residents’ income. It’s big money. Aguas Calientes is almost, it seems, entirely made up of shops and hotels aimed at us. Shops selling “artisan” products are everywhere and of varying quality. Saying that, it makes it easy to be a tourist here and you always feel pretty safe.

6. Bartering. Although it is entirely out of my character to do this, being embarassed and British, you really can barter here. My friend Lisa was very good at it, getting prices halved sometimes. In Ollaytatambo we wanted to buy a little jumper for a child, she quoted us too much and wouldn’t come down so we walked away. The lady actually sprinted 100m after us saying “OK ten!!” and sold it to us there on the street.

7. Native Peoples. I had the impression that most native peoples in Peru would wear normal clothes and that those in traditional dress just did it for the tourists but this is very far from the truth. Many local people still wear traditional dress and the campesinos working the fields are certainly not doing it for tourism.

8. There are inca ruins everywhere. Like, actually everywhere.

9. Collectivos. I said this about Chile too but these are amazing! Taxis that pick up other people too and cost next to nothing for very long journeys. Only thing is you often have to wait until they’re full before you can leave.

10. Couldn’t think of any more so a guy called Tom has told me: if you drink alcohol at Machu Pichu you get banned for life. Something to keep in mind!

Lost in Lima

July 28, 2013

The bustling streets of Lima seem to extend into the abyss: would-be hot-dog stands sell ‘Corn & Cheese’, peeled pineapple and churros filled with dulce de leche; buses stop and start as squashed faces stare out; traffic sprawls across all lanes, horns parping away to no avail. Getting through the street involves careful Metal Gear Solid co-ordination: make the wrong move and there could be a serious pile-up.

We were a little lost. Having spent the day in the historical centre, we had wandered slightly off the tourist trail and although it was only 3.30 it seemed Rush Hour was in full swing. In fact, it seems it’s always Rush Hour in Lima. At 10.30 when we’d taken the bus into town it had been the same – sandwiched in our tin can, my hips gripping the side of a chair, my feet finding space where they could, I felt as if I should be on my way to the office. Sat next to where I was standing a small baby perched on mum’s knee, stroking my suedette trousers consistently throughout awe-struck at the softness.

The streets remain full way into the night and early morning. It’s an energy I don’t see very often. In London the crowds are a slow moan through the grey, and although the skies here hang like film noir frames, it feels more a way of life. People zig-zag around eachother with ease and there’s a vibe to it almost, that something is happening; that wherever people are going it’ll end up better on the other side.

Wintering in La Serena

August 22, 2012

The couple to the right of me had passed out mid-empanada. Since the sun had begun to set, many of the passengers around me had gradually succumbed to the rhythms of the coach. We were travelling to La Serena – a small coastal city almost 400km north of Santiago – and I had stayed awake waiting for that first peek at the Pacific.  Most tourists visit in summer for the beach and the sun and yet here I was in winter, sunglasses in one hand, and scarf in the other. I wasn’t here to improve the tan.

It was 6pm. By this point, the pre-cordillera Andes (foothills) had begun to flatten out, and I could feel that we were getting close. And then, just before sunset, the teeth of the rocks opened up and the ocean flooded out.  First, a cove – a small white sandy beach painted turquoise by the water and then, there it was. An expanse of water stretching far into the pastel blue of the horizon – My eyes drank it all in.

Arriving in La Serena, one of the first things I wanted to do was to see it. I had met many Chileans in Santiago who holidayed and even owned second homes here so I had high expectations. Although visiting in low-season, the weather was good – My first morning, I headed into town to look around and to get supplies in preparation for a late lunch on the beach.

The city itself feels more like a town – the calm Plaza de Armas (main square) glimmers with cleanliness beneath palm trees while market traders sell the famous Chilean papaya based goods and artisanal souvenirs on the side of the street. But as you walk further into town, you’re suddenly surrounded by people – heaps of them, filling the streets with their awkward shopping bags, prams and suitcases. A shopping marathon seemed to be taking place, and I’d accidently walked in on it.

I passed shoe shop after shoe shop, eventually coming to La Recova – a spacious artisanal mall with restaurants on the top floor and below, a selection of craft and souvenir shops. It might be authentic but it doesn’t feel it. Every shop sells the same woollen jumpers and mini bottles of pisco, none of them for a reasonable price. It reminded me of a much smaller Camden Lock in London – started as a place for artisans and now a place almost solely for tourists. I still bought myself a poncho – I couldn’t help myself.

Afterward, I wandered into the Archaeological Museum, which houses lots of impressive artefacts – mainly from the Antofagasta and Tarapaca indigenous people (a map shows how many there were before the Spanish arrived). There are two mummies perfectly preserved and also a Maoi – Easter Island statue – which, if you haven’t been to Easter Island, is a sight to behold. You can get round the museum in about half an hour and your ticket (CLP600) gets you in to the other museum by the Plaza too. But I had other plans.

Heading finally to the beach, hunger in my stomach and expectation in my mind; I began to gallop along Avda. Francisco de Aguirre – the long stretch of road before the water. The basic tourist map ends at the Japanese Gardens which sit about 20-25 minutes away from the ocean, so I had to ask. I was told to just keep heading straight. The road became a mish-mash of pre-construction wasteland, mud-hut mini-markets, mechanic outlets and brand new hotels. The construction of other hotels along the road had already begun and there were many white balconied edifices at different points of creation. Advertising billboards declared ‘The best views in La Serena’.

However, from the street, blue fencing hid the mountains from view in front of plush villas and private university buildings. In clouds of dust and rolls of orange mesh, builders ran around in navy overalls, shouting, drilling and digging. Although palm trees lined the middle of the road, much of that area was still being paved and there were diggers sitting dormant in the path. A lighthouse eventually came into view and the pavement on my side ended so I began to trample over dust, plastic peligroso signs flapping from lampposts to my side.

Finally, I crossed to the ‘lighthouse’. It’s not really a lighthouse, but more, a pillar to signify your arrival at the La Serena beach. The weather had changed since I’d been walking and now grey clouds skirted around the horizon, the hills on the edge of the panorama purple under various layers of mist. The water was wild, large waves thudding against the land. But I couldn’t hear it. I could smell it, I could see it, but all I could hear was the drilling.

Around the walls at the lighthouse, teenagers on a coach trip were playing out various roles – a couple kissed, an overweight boy posed for a photo – and that serenity that I imagined from the coach returned to my dreams. The reality was this noisy, litter-strewn beach which in the summer may be worth sunbathing at, but in the winter screams of the destruction of human intervention.

To my left at this point, I heard a big screech and one boy, almost silhouetted at this time in the evening, held aloft a dead gull by its beak. Other boys gathered around him to throw sand at it, giggling, falling over themselves. The black shadow of the bird seemed to drip toward the sand. And all I could hear was drilling.

You can see an edited version of this piece at I Love Chile.