Cultural Musings from Peru

One of my favorite things to do is to take in all of the little cultural musings that make a place a place. Taking in the nuances of a place helps me to consider what makes it unique. Reflecting on how it compares to “home” encourages some critical thinking about why things are the way they are in each place, what I can learn, what I would change, how am I now changed. It also keeps the experiences alive, so when I think of a story or look at a picture, I can feel the memory. (*uses of the word “they” in this post are obviously generalizations and I don’t mean to speak for an entire country. It’d be like someone visiting the States and saying, “they” seem to like Starbucks.)

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And so here are some of the nuances I noticed in Peru:

– Even more so than other South American countries, there seemed to be a great amount of curiosity and concern about my solita status (single and traveling solo).

“Solita?” Si. 

“No estás casado?” (You’re not married?) Nope. 

“Tienes hijos?” (Do you have kids?) No again. 

“No te gusta hijos??” (You don’t like kids?) Yes, I love kids. I have an awesome nephew. 

Sometimes this was followed by a marriage proposal.

– I did notice the machísmo factor a bit in Peru. Particularly when I was traveling with my friend, the men always addressed him and only him. That being said, the people in Peru were lovely. I was by myself much of the time and was treated with great respect and friendliness.

– There seems to be a love of volleyball and it wasn’t uncommon to see a makeshift volleyball court set up in the middle of the street in the market. Of course the love of fútbol/soccer is most prevalent and you can find a game almost anywhere.

– There are handicraft markets everywhere, really beautiful things made of alpaca and llama and the more rare and soft vicuña. When not making money from handicrafts, it is common for them to ask if you would like to take a picture of a woman or children and their llama and pay a small fee for it.

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– Other odd services you can pay for on the street are the opportunity to weigh yourself on a scale should you need to immediately know your weight and also rows of men at typewriters, at the ready to whip up a document for you. It is hard to walk a block without getting at least 2 or 3 offers for a massage.

– Trying to get my hair highlighted was an experience that took several hours, 4 women pulling my hair in several directions after a huge conversation on approach and it resulted in about 10 highlights. The only time they spoke to me the entire time was to ask one question, “Do you like to dance?”

– There were little differences with the Spanish like the way they approach you. They often asked, as directly translated, “what land do you come from?” In other language news, it was very common to see pictures painted on walls that said, “Vote like this:” and then there would be a symbol. Presumably everyone who can vote cannot read and this helps with that. There are also a lot of people speaking Quechua, and it is not uncommon for people to refer to themselves as Incan, or descending from the Incas.

– The most common way to get around is on moto or three wheeled motos. If you don’t have a moto, never fear, there are vans that fly down the road, fling their doors open just long enough for you to jump in and then zoom away. “Sube! Sube! Sube!” (Get in!) It’s not the smoothest ride, but is actually pretty efficient. If this does not meet your needs, you will notice that every taxi that passes every person will honk at said person, in case they need a ride and do not know it until they hear this honking. And there are A LOT of taxis.

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– Unfortunately the developing country status did mean that it was a very regular thing to be approached for money and gifts. Mothers would often send their kids running over begging “Dame plata” o “Regálame.” (Give me money or give me a gift). That and the amount of trash made me really sad.

– The traditional dress has to be one of my favorite characteristics. So many of the women, more so outside of cities, wear these colorful sweaters and skirts that balloon out, with a cross between a cowboy hat and a top hat, and often with braided hair and a child slung over their shoulder in a colorful wrap of sorts.

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– It is not the easiest to eat healthy; there is a lot of fried food and they put MSG on almost everything unless you tell them it will kill you. In a typical restaurant it is normal to find a menu of the day that includes ceviche (and it is amazing there), a typical main dish involving salted beef and rice or something similar, and maybe a postre as well (dessert!) for pretty cheap.

– You can balance this out with all of the fresh fruit juices and smoothies. The markets have a smoothie/fresh juice section and a lot of restaurants have fresh juices as well where you can make your own combinations. The pineapple juice is my favorite, sweeter than candy. I miss the juices immensely.

– They also have medicinal herb and tea shops. I was sick in the mountains and found one such shop. I told them I had a sore throat and cough. After a few minutes I was given a personalized concoction of teas, herbs and honey. It tasted pretty good…and helped! My friend noticed a live frog being blended into a smoothie and decided it had to be a part of his exotic food resume. He said it wasn’t bad and I just took his word for it. There are all sorts of other sacred plant remedies that are amazingly good for your health: noni (pictured below), moringa, uña de gato, maca… I miss having such direct access to all of that. I felt amazing!

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– There’s a lot of “spirituality tourism” as more and more people are coming to seek out experiences with shamans in the jungle taking ayuhuasca, san pedro, and other sacred plants. There are powerful, healing traditions to experience in the Amazon however the right setting and people are crucial components to honoring the tradition, the plants and yourself. To me this should not be just another tourist activity.

– It is very popular to decorate your car dashboard, most often with rosaries and pictures of saints and cloth and beads. I don’t think I was in a taxi or car without a decorated dashboard.

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– In other religious news, this Catholic country embraced me in a special way. Many times I was asked how old I was (often after the “solita” conversation) and when I answered, “33” that was met with pure excitement and the exclamation, “33! Like Christ!”. At least it got me out of the “so why are you 33 and single?” conversation.

There is so much that I still want to see and experience in Peru, and I know it is a place where I will return. The mountains are the most stunning mountains I have seen, the jungle is a whole world in and of itself, and the coast is lined with surf breaks. I can’t recommend Peru highly enough. (pictured below: traditional reed fishing boats still used in Trujillo)

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