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Peru

Greetings from my 1st day in Ecuador having spent the last 6 weeks in Peru,
a country which I have very mixed feelings about. Whilst it is another
beautiful country with lots of great activities to do I reckon over 60% of
my dealings with Peruvians were negative unfortunately.

I spent the 1st 2 weeks in Peru in the city of Cuzco which I´m sure you´ll
all know as the centre of the Inca empire and also the nearest town of note
to Macchu Picchu. With the exception of the Iguazu Falls and to some extent
Rio its the the one place in South America that I would describe as a real
tourist honeypot, and my God the locals know it. Its the 1st place Ive been
to since Rio where most of the foreigners don't speak a word of the local
lingo and it creates a situation where you are just seen as a walking $
sign. Unfortunately I found I got into many arguments with people over money
and it was like being back in prison as there seemed to be some unwritten
rule where thou shalt not tell the truth. I could give many examples of
this, from being ripped off by the 1st Peruvian I met, to being ripped off
over the price of apples in markets but perhaps 2 stand out. 1 was after
paying some $120 or so in entrance fees to get into Macchu Picchu they then
asked you to pay $0.50 cents to use the toilet inside. Scandalous. The other
one was when a couple of kids asked me if I wanted to play football with
them, which I obviously did. After we finished the game they said now you
have to pay us $2. It´s not nice REALLY wanting to tell an 8 yr old to go
f%*k themselves but that was kind of the way you were treated by too many
Peruvians. As another traveler put it "Not that many Peruvians can speak
English but they all seem to have enough to try and fleece you".
Its the first country Ive been to in a while where you just don't feel safe
walking around and you constantly feel like you're being´sighted up as a
potential robbery victim. I did have my wallet picked when at a bus station
(tho that was mainly carelessness on my part) and the feel of every city
with the possible exception of Arequipa was just horrible. A world away from
Argentina a few months ago.

But then there are some awesome sides to Peru; as I said earlier it is a
truly beautiful country with the 3 diverse environments of the coastal
desert, the Andes and the jungle. Outside of Arequipa I climbed an awesome
sentinel like volcano called El Misti which hangs 5800m above the city. Even
tho its so high because its an active volcano it melts away all the snow so
you can climb it without equipment. Therefore I decided to do it by myself
which was in hindsight just kamikaziesque. I did eventually make it to the
summit but I didn't know the route up and so found myself scrambling up
volcanic scree for 7 hours which let me tell you at 5500m up is not fun. I
could only move for about 5-10 seconds then have to stop for a minute as the
scree was so punishing. It was great at the top seeing the active crater
although I passed out for about an hour out of sheer tiredness on the crater
edge! I also did a 3 day hike in the worlds deepest canyon (well not
technically but more or less) which perhaps wasn't quite as good as it sounds
but did manage to do one of the most famous treks in the world: the Inca Trail. It
was just awesome, I found it surprisingly easy and the scenery you see en
route is genuinely world class passing awesome ruins, cloud forest and of
course the huge Andes which rise up to over 6000m on the trail. I did it
with a great group of people, no-one above the age of 32 and jackpotted by
getting absolutely 0 Israelis.

But then when we arrived at Macchu Picchu it was something of an
anti-climax, a lad who I walked the trail with summed it up perfectly for me
when he said "From a distance it looks great but up close (and particularly
when you know a bit about it) it´s just not all that".
Macchu Picchu it's overpriced but also very overhyped too. Aside from the astronomical entrance fees
its absolutely crawling with the worst type of tourists i.e. big
Yankee and Japanese tour groups getting shepherded round.
Over 60% of the site has been rebuilt and that that hasn't is mainly just
terracing which you can see all over Peru. They don´t know what the
significance of the site was, was home to just 500 people
and they don´t even know its name (Macchu Picchu was a made up one given
by its rediscoverer Hiram Bingham). As to
quite why the Incas are so famous it really beats me. Despite being around
as late as the 16th century they didn't have the wheel, vast areas of
mathematics and the sciences and didn't even have writing! Maybe its´an
indication that I've done too much traveling but after having seen much
more impressive and more significant archaeological stuff in China, Egypt
and Central America, Macchu Picchu just seemed a bit lame in comparison to the million city of
Tikal in the middle of the Guatemalan jungle. One theory is that Yale
University where Hiram Bingham was an academic spent a fortune on
publicizing the find and therefore themselves giving it an inflated level of
importance in the archaeological world.
The Peruvian government has also
spent an absolute fortune on advertising campaigns to get people to vote for
Macchu Picchu in the 7newwonders campaign. I don´t really understand how its
a wonder as they even had a quarry on site which they didn't at Stonehenge
for example. The campaign was successful (and apparently the same thing
happened in China for the Great Wall) and in the same way that Eurovision
been ruined since they opened it up to a public vote it just goes to show
Kent Brockman was right when he said "Democracy simply doesn't work".

Rant about Macchu Picchu over what was much more ´wonderful´ were the crazy
lines over Nazca. After bizarrely watching a documentary about it presented
by one of my lecturers (Piers Vitebsky for those who know) we took a plane
up for about $40 and got to fly over them. They really are incredible as you
can only see them from the air and whilst some of the patterns are of
conventional designs such as animals others are of creatures which look
alien like and with no real explanation that sticks it really is a strange
phenomenon to behold on the desert floor below you.

After visiting an Oasis and being very hedonistic in the sand dunes for a
few days I went to an area called the Cordillera Blanca which must be one of
the most amazing mountainous areas in the world. Its got the highest
concentration of peaks above 5500m anywhere in the world (nearly 200 in a
100km x 20km area) and wherever you are you are constantly surrounded by
gorgeous snow capped mountains. I think perhaps my favorite point was where
at one stage on your right was Alpamayo which is UNESCOs official ´Most
beautiful mountain in the world´, however you can judge that and on your left
was Artiesonraju which you would all recognize as its the mountain in the
Paramount logo. Just beautiful.

When I got out the cordillera things took a turn for the worse as there was a huge national
strike in Peru which I noticed made world headlines on the BBC website. I got stuck for a few days in the middle
of nowhere and witnessed one of the most unpleasant things I've seen on my
trip where I took a Moto-taxi (like a rickshaw) to the start of the
roadblock to try and walk to the next town. After getting out and paying the
driver ´the workers´then started talking quite openly about robbing me, I
carried on walking and thankfully they let me go but when I turned round 50
yards later saw them hustle the moto taxi driver out of the vehicle and then
about 15 of them pushed it over for absolutely no reason. The driver was not
exactly the Peruvian Bill Gates and seeing all this it made me realize why
Labour didn't get back into power for so long after the 70´s. Talking to
some of the workers was interesting, the older ones seemed to have genuine
grievances about various things but the younger ones acted exactly like
groups Cardiff or Hull fans might. They were getting really pissed by 10am
and just using the strike as an excuse to harass people. Not pleasant.
Being around drunk Peruvians was often a real chore and I didn't tend to
enjoy my nights out as much as I should have done. Like Mongolians and
Maoris they just don´t seem to be able to drink, they´re alright for the 1st
couple of drinks but then seemed to be very drunk very soon after and I
watched 5 bar room fights in Peru, always over nothing.

Rereading the email I do realize it is generally pretty negative stuff and I
think the first few weeks in Peru I really wasn't too happy with the place
but it really wasn't all bad. In some places such as the famous floating
islands on Lake Titicaca the people were extremely friendly and as I said
there is a lot to do with impressive scenery. I think it would have been a
fantastic place to visit 20 or 30 years ago before tourism really took off
as it now unfortunately receives just too much and I think the people have
consequently changed in a negative way due to it, but I´m still very happy.
For the next couple of weeks I shall be in Ecuador and hopefully assuming I can
get a tour booked will be off to the Galapagos which should be incredible.

I hope you're all well, from Ecuadors lovely 3rd city of Cuenca
Barney

Posted by carlswall 05:25 Archived in Peru

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