Sixty percent of Peru’s population lives in poverty, making it one of the poorest countries in South America.
You will never know how poor the people of Peru are by flying directly into Lima, and then taking a hopper flight to Cusco (which most people do to get to Machu Picchu). If you travel through the country the way we did – by bus – you will clearly see that the country is in a third, and in some cases fourth, world situation.
Gruesome images of a country dominated by civil unrest (and violence) mask the covers of newspapers hanging on newsstands throughout Peru.
Often times these images, or the crowds surrounding newsstands, grab our attention. We’ve realized that Internet is not always available and not everyone has a computer; therefore most people read the actual papers.
Due to the language barrier, Brandon and I regularly search and read the local news online, using the Google Translate gadget to translate the articles from Spanish to English. Although the presentation and images aren’t the same as the newsstands, we keep up-to-date on the news – which is not always bad – mostly because we never know when it may affect our travel plans.
Lately we’ve read harrowing tales about labor protests against foreign oil companies, union group mining strikes, land wars with Chile, and violence trickling out of the jungle because guerrilla groups, such as Shining Path and the FARC, fighting to secure cocaine production and transportation. It´s amazing how the news media makes such a beautiful country appear to be so corrupt.
Peru is the world’s largest producer and exporter of cocaine (Columbia comes in at a close second.) Coca is farmed on 1/3 of the countryside, mostly in the lush jungles south of Lima. Ninety percent of it goes to the production of cocaine. You can read more about cocaine production and trafficking in Peru, here.
When you are in Peru – shoot, anywhere in South America – you can be sure someone will help you find Charlie (code name for cocaine). Men have approached Brandon and me several times on the streets. “Are you looking for Charlie? How about tattoos? Massage?” (NO, NO and NO!)
We were so annoyed by the petty street peddlers.
Coca leaves are available just about anywhere in Peru. You can purchase a bag of fresh leaves to chew or dried leaves to crumble into boiling water to make tea.
Although it does not have any caffeine, coca is traditionally used as a stimulant to overcome fatigue, headaches, hunger and thirst. It is considered particularly effective against altitude sickness. And, it is actually very healthy for you. It has a lot of minerals, including calcium, potassium and phosphorous; vitamins such as B1, B2, C, and E; and nutrients including protein and fiber. Lima was the first place we were introduced to Coca.
Lima is the capital and the largest city in Peru.
The city, divided into 43 districts, is home to nearly 30 percent (eight million) of the country’s 27 million people – three million of whom live in the shantytowns surrounding the city.
Mira Flores and Barranco, located in the heart of Lima, are known as the safest and wealthiest districts in the city, and probably Peru.
We heard many bad stories making Lima sound like a very dangerous place. Not taking any risks, we decided to stay in Mira Flores at Pariwana, a hostal located off the main square. The hostal has three stories, the first being the entrance. The second included the reception desk, dorms, and bathrooms. The third floor was on the roof. It included a communal kitchen, restaurant, bar, movie room, and had open outside spaces for lounging. It was the first place we decided to stay in a dorm – simply to stay on budget. The eight-bed dorm included us, Jesse, Nate, John and a few other smelly boys. The beds were unbelievably comfortable. We slept great!
May is one of the cooler months in Peru, and June is known to be the coldest. The chill in the air wasn’t so bad during the day, mostly at night. Luckily I had my Patagonia jacket, and Brandon brought extra sweatshirts. More importantly the hostel offered a variety of teas – including coca.
Despite it’s bad reputation, Brandon and I decided Lima is a fantastic city. Offering so many things to do and see, we ended up staying for four days, three nights.
Our favorite attractions included:
- El Parque del Amor (Love park). Located on the cliffs of Chorrillos, walking distance from the center of Mira Flores, this beautiful park overlooks the Pacific Ocean where you can see a coastline filled with fishing boats and surfers. It reminded us of the cliffs in Malibu, California. The park is surrounded by walls of romantic quotes scripted in mosaic tiles and in the center a monumental statue of two lovers embracing each other.
- Chinatown. Need new socks? Jam-packed in two-blocks, Lima’s Chinatown is the place to go for just about any product you can think of. Of course, we went there looking for authentic Chinese food. We found it all right. We each had a huge plate of veggie chifa (fried rice) for less than 10/S ($ 3.70). It was an amazing feast! Afterward, we almost lost our friends Jesse and John, in a huge pile of discount cloths.
- Historic Centre. Lima’s downtown center, with its breathtaking architecture and rich history, makes it clear why it deserves to be a Unesco World Heritage Site.
- Plaza de Armas. In the middle of the Historic Center sits Plaza de Armas. Here we did some people watching – soaking in the lively events of the day. An incredibly large wedding and a funeral took place the afternoon we were there.
- Museo de San Francisco. Famous for the catacombs containing the remains of thousands of people, the museum and its library are worth a visit. The old, rustic library contains thousands of antique documents, some dating back to the conquista. No pictures allowed.
- Magic Water Circuit at Parque de la Reserve. Honored in the Guinness Book of World Records, the Magic Water Circuit is noted as the largest water fountain park in the world. It offers thirteen impressive fountains that combine movement, lights, sounds and images. (Scroll to the bottom of this post to see a short clip of the water show.)
- The Cats of Parque Kennedy. Parque Kennedy, located in the heart of Mira Flores, is home to painters, artisans, and – from what we could see – more than 60 well fed and groomed cats. They happily roam the park, hassle free, and seem to be very much welcomed and loved by the community.
One of the highlights of our visit to Lima was Brandon being re-united with an old friend after 13 years.
Brandon met Tatiana during his freshman year of high school. They became really good friends and soon Brandon became very close to Tatiana’s father, Ivan. Ivan currently lives in Chile and works for Toyota. For months at a time he fly’s around Peru and Chile training car salesmen.
Before we left the states, Brandon (and I) started going to a yoga studio, where we met Tatiana. Brandon hadn’t seen her in almost 10 years. They picked up where they left off. She’s such a sweet and kind person. I really enjoyed meeting and getting to know her. Of course, we told her about our trip and she gave us her father’s contact information. Brandon emailed Ivan when we arrived in Lima, and it just so happened he was there too. Brandon and Ivan hadn’t seen each other in 13 years and had a lot to talk about.
Ivan came and picked us up at our hostal and took us to a really nice lunch down by the water, below Mira Flores. It was by-far the best meal we had had since we left the states – mostly because we were in great company. (Thanks again Ivan, we cannot wait to see you in Chile!)
Just six hours south of Lima (by bus) in the region of Ica, sits the Huacachina oasis and towering sand dunes as far as you can see.
The only reason to come to Huacachina is to visit the oasis and take a dune buggy ride, over the dunes, to sand board. The curvaceous mounds of soft sand and shadows from the sun and clouds are unlike anything we’ve ever seen.
The small town of maybe 100 people consists of a few hostels, travel companies and over-priced restaurants. We stayed at the Roche hostal. The name alone should give you an idea of what the place was like. It was old and dingy. Our mattress pressed firmly onto the wooden slats causing massive backaches the next day. The bathroom – if you can call it that – had missing tiles along the walls, in the shower and on the floor. There wasn’t a shower curtain, and the large window beside the shower was missing. A huge hole opened up to an old storage unit full of junk. Brandon and I decided camping on the dunes (totally legal) might have been a cleaner and nicer choice.
I was nervous about boarding down the dunes, but managed to go down a couple of times. After each hill, our driver Cique, took us to a bigger hill. Brandon couldn’t be more excited, and me, scared of the heights, totally pussed-out. Two rides was good enough for me! I opted to be the photographer using our friend, Troy’s posh Canon camera to take the photos. We weren’t able to get the photos from Troy before leaving Lima (bummer). Good thing I still snapped a few with my camera!
If you can see beyond the country’s distress, trash and pollution, you will find that its history is rich, people are spiritual and landscape is colorful.
It is an environmental masterpiece with the snow-capped Andes floating among arid coastal deserts, mountainous fishing villages and lush jungles at the Amazon basin. Brandon and I absolutely love Peru – especially after visiting Lima, Huacachina and Huanchaco – we couldn’t wait to see the rest of the country, mainly Machu Picchu.
Here are some really interesting facts about Peru that we thought you might enjoy!
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Until next time, keep shredding and living. Much love, Katie and Brandon.