Usually immediately after a trip I like to jot down some of my first thoughts. I almost never write full posts though until a few weeks after a trip, and with good reason I think. Trips can be good or bad, usually a mix of both, but our feelings as we leave the place in question are almost never rational. Many times we’re still under the influence of a trip, glowing in its radiance and thinking that nothing was amiss. While that’s fine, it’s not usually accurate. The same holds true for a trip that had some hiccups; we tend to stress those bad areas too much and it takes time to consider how the trip really went, absent our emotions.
With all of that being said, I DO think there is some value in those very first impressions; thoughts and emotions raw and unpolished by the passage of time. Peru in particular has elicited some fairly strong emotions in me, a few of which I share here today.
I have to confess that my time in Peru was brief (about 8 days) and what I saw was also fairly limited to the areas surrounding Cuzco and the Sacred Valley. However, those are also the most common areas for tourists to visit so I don’t think my necessarily limited experience in Peru is a hindrance, not exactly.
Peru reminded me a lot of other South American countries I’ve visited; a mix of extreme rich and horribly poor, amazing food, interesting culture and customs, stray dogs for as far as the eye can see and an eagerness to share their country with the world. For the most part I enjoyed my time in Peru, although the homeless animals wandering every inch of the country at all hours of the day came to be just too much for me. What also became too much for me was the tourist bubble that seems to exist everywhere. In Cuzco, a large city of 400,000 people, it takes some digging (and walking) to find a reasonable restaurant that isn’t a taxi ride away and has actual food that actual Peruvians eat. Almost without exception, every restaurant within a 5-block radius of the historic areas of Cuzco has the exact same tourist menu. While common anywhere you go in the world, there’s usually more of a mix, an attempt to share a local culinary culture that was almost completely absent in Cuzco. I did have moments of foodie breakthroughs though, in particular a morning jaunt to the massive San Pedro market when the restaurant stalls are all packed with ravenous locals.
But when I ask myself whether or not I enjoyed being in the country, the answer is thoroughly ambiguous. I didn’t love it, nor did I hate it but the aspects I enjoyed the most where the ones I expected to enjoy, the historical sights.
Many people travel to Peru for one reason – Machu Picchu. You can lament that fact, say what a shame it is, but it also happens to be true. What is good is how many other places most tourists also visit along the way though; hopefully surprising them as they explore the history and culture of Peru. I confess, that’s why I was there. Machu Picchu has long been on my bucket list, and that is the sole reason why I wanted to go. The most convenient way to do it was on a 7-day tour, so that’s what I did. But I only visited Machu Picchu on my next to last day in the country. The rest of my trip was occupied with discovering a few of the many other ancient archeological wonders the country holds. Unless you’ve been there, these places are probably completely unknown to you, which is a shame. Yes, Machu Picchu is impressive, but I think it is only impressive when told in the context of the broader stories and history of the Incan Empire. Their accomplishments and traditions are fascinating, and were so powerful that their reverberations are still felt across Peru today. They are as important an ancient culture as the Greeks, Romans, Khmer and a multitude of others around the globe, and learning more about them is important for everyone to undertake. The sights ultimately are what made this trip successful for me, erasing any potentially negative aspects from my thoughts.
I was in Peru with Intrepid Travel, an adventure tour company who invited me to join them on one of their Peru itineraries. Yes, they sponsored my trip but as always my views and opinions are my own and always honest. It was only my second organized tour, and the two were so completely different from each other that I almost consider them different styles of travel. Overall, the Intrepid tour was not a bad experience, although hiccups certainly occurred, but that’s just normal in the travel experience. I’ll review them fully in a couple of weeks, but one thing did stand out that also stood out for me on my first organized tour earlier this year – the people. It’s the one aspect I would never have guessed to be critical before the trip, but my fellow travelers were an incredibly important part of my overall travel experience in Peru. There’s just something special about throwing together a small group of curious-minded strangers that is difficult to describe – it’s an emotional response. We laughed, we told stories and within just a couple of days became fast friends. Seeing Peru through their eyes brought to light aspects of being there that I would have otherwise missed; I know for a fact that traveling with them made my experiences in Peru not only more interesting, but a whole lot more fun too.
On the day I flew out of Peru I was happy to leave. I was tired of the hassle involved with daily travel life there, tired of the poverty and stray dogs and just tired! (The altitude had its merciless way with me.) But even before I left the country, I also felt the soft twinges of nostalgia. I enjoyed my time in Peru, I enjoyed meeting a lot of new people, eating some new and delicious foods, learning about the complex and colorful culture and of course seeing those oh so famous sights for myself. It was an important trip in ways I don’t think I fully understand right now, but I do firmly believe will resonate and make themselves better known in the months and even years to come.
Have you been to Peru? Did you have as hard a time reconciling your experiences there as I am currently having?