Tuesday, June 21, 2005

 Peru - what a country 

Cindy and I returned from Peru back on June 1, and we're just now getting used to the idea of actually being back in the states. Part of the reason for the delay was that we also took a trip to California just a week after our return.

A 3-week trip to a foreign country, especially a new one, can be a disorienting experience. I've had the good fortune of traveling quite a bit in my life, but I would have to say that this trip to Peru was perhaps the most life-changing one I've ever done. Not even my 5-week trip to the then-Soviet Union back in 1989 affected me like this. (Admittedly, it's hard to get myself back in the same mindframe as I was 16 years ago, so take this for what it's worth.)

Otorongo Lake, Manu National Park, Peru
Peru is an amazing place. A country about the size of California, Oregon, Washington, and Arizona put together, it's also about as diverse as that assemblage, if not moreso. We got to see both the driest and the wettest parts of the country, as well as the lowest and the highest. I'd say we also saw some of the saddest and the most glorious parts as well. Lima. Cuzco. Sacsayhuaman. Atalaya. Fitzcarrald. Manu. Macchu Pichu. Huaraz. Llanganuco. Santa Cruz. On our last day of the trip, both Cindy and I remarked how mind-boggled we were, at all we'd done and seen. Even with as much as we did, we only scratched the surface of what there was to do in Peru. We could easily schedule another 3-week trip there, going to completely different destinations, and be just as entranced by it all as this one. And we could probably do one more after that too.

We played the role of simple gringo tourists for the most part, but oddly enough, I didn't resist. I usually chafe at the idea of looking so..."typical", but I think this time, I recognized how silly it would be to pretend to be something that I so obviously wasn't, which was a savvy traveler who could talk it up with the locals wherever he went. I do aspire to that, but I sure ain't there yet, and acknowledging that turned out to be a huge relief. I carried my digital camera visibly everywhere I went (and took close to 1000 pictures for the trip), and even my binocs, in case I saw a neat bird. To my benefit, the Peruvians we met were completely unassuming, which made it easy for me to take on this role.

Plaza de Armas, Cuzco, Peru
But what did we see though? We spent a total of about 6 days in Cuzco (enchanting), a day at Macchu Pichu (as spectacular as all the photos you ever see), 4 days on a trek in the high Andes (now those are mountains), and 5 days in and around the Amazon (I lack the words to describe the majesty of it). Many animals and birds, many Incan and pre-Incan artifacts and ruins, many interesting people and musicians and tour guides and townsfolk, many sketchy roads, and many roads that were far better than I would have expected. Take a peek at my Peruvian photo galleries to sample some of the sights and scenes we encountered.

The thing that was so altering for me (and for Cindy as well) was seeing such a different manner of existence that, although hectic in its own way, seemed more grounded and earthy than much of modern life in the US. Even though we were just tourists for the most part, it was easy, especially in Huaraz, for us to get a feel for the pace and style of life for many Peruvians. They do work hard, as hard as anyone I've seen, but there's something different about the nature of it that is so different from life here in the US. The culture is changing, especially in the face of technological advancement, but perhaps as an outsider it was easier for me to see how things have not changed, because I can see how the same technology (and economy) result in very different effects between there and here.

We flew American Airlines, who offered direct flights between Lima and Dallas. As such, the flight is full of Americans, and both Cindy and I looked at those fellow Americans quite differently on the return as compared to our departure. Suddenly, Americans seemed unusually verbose and chatty, and well, distracted. America is so full of distraction, of sensory overload, of advertising and video games and reality shows and DVDs and pop music and pimped-up cars and huge airports and interstate highways and intensive cattle ranching. In the course of one day we returned to this state of existence from having lived in something far less....intense in the previous few weeks. Again, I don't mean to suggest that life in Peru is sedate and low-key, because it really isn't. But even in the urban areas we spent time in, Peru was just easier to accept, to grok. California, by way of comparison, is practically inscrutable.

Trekking in the Andes, Peru
In short, we loved it. We want to go back. We recommend that you go there if you ever get the chance, especially to Macchu Pichu. (It sounds trite, but it really is everything you might imagine it to be.) Learn some Spanish before you go - not because you absolutely have to, but because you will appreciate your time there all the more. And there is much to appreciate.

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