Wednesday, July 6, 2011

La costa

So this past Saturday Chris, Brigitte, her twin sister Kristen, Michelle, and Gracie began our epic three week adventure.  Peru´s geography is divided into three sections la costa (the coast), la sierra (the mountains), and la selva (the jungle/ rainforest). I hope to update my blog as we travel through these three radically different parts of Peru which seem to serve as a microcosm of the world. This morning we arrived in the mountain town of Arequipa (after a 10 hour over night busride.. .rough!), but we have spent the past four days traveling south along Peru´s coast.

July 2nd: Chinca
I didn´t experience culture shock when I came to Peru to stay in Lima, yet leaving Lima to go to other parts of Peru has always unsettled me. The inequality within just one country is startling. On one hand, there is the meticulously groomed Parque Kennedy down the street from luxury hostels and an upscale mall in Lima. On the other hand, colored shanty towns made out of scrap metal huddle together on the dusty hills surrounding the city. The smell of these places- reeking of urine, decay, and fish- is unforgettable. Even when passing the places in bus, the poverty becomes intimate and offensive, invading your personal space and surrounding you.

Yet despite the facade of poverty, these areas are culturally rich. Earlier in the semester we visited Villa Salvador, a migrant town outside Lima that had developed into an organized community with various cultural groups. In Chinca, afro-peruvian music echoes down the streets and through the cotton fields. When we were in Chinca we visited the family of one of my professors who was famous for their role in the afro-peruvian music scene. Pictures of musicians and dancers lined the walls of their brightly colored house. The family invited us to play music on the cajones (percussion boxes often used in flamenco or even acoustic music), and later some of their friends from the town came and performed music and dance for us. Later, when we went out to eat dinner at one of the only restaurants in the small town, some of the musicians were gathered outside, still beating the cajones and singining and laughing happily. There seemed to be little the town would rather do on a Saturday night than chill out, drink a beer, and play some soulful music.

July 3rd and 4th: Paracas
The next day we travelled to Paracas, another coastal town. It also happens to be the setting in a short story we read earlier in the semester called ¨Con Jimmy en Paracas¨ by Peruvian author Alfredo Bryce Echenique. . We visited one of the luxury hotels there because it was the only place with an ATM, and we quickly identified it as the type of atmosphere where the story took place. The hotel was gorgeous, but it was so removed from the reality of the rest of the Peru. I felt like Manolo, the protagonist of Bryce Echenique´s story, who felt uncomfortable and unworthy amidst the rich businessmen who were staying in the hotel.

Later, we walked along the beach, passing along a bottle of some of the sweet wine made nearby in Ica. We made pasta for dinner and then went to bed early so we could get up the next day for our tours. At 8am we left the hostel to go on a boat tour of the Islas Ballestas. We saw the candelabra, an ancient drawing on a sand dune on one of the islands (which seemed rather fake, in all honesty). The rocky islands were absolutely gorgeous, however. They were covered in birds, penguins, and sea lions; although the birds definitely dominated the space. They cackled at the boat as we drove by and some of them later flew away in smokey Vs to search for food. Most importantly, they pooped. The yellow rocks were inundated in white bird poop that dripped from the top of the rocks. The poop, called guano and tradicionally exported for fertilizer, was the basis of the Peruvian economy in the early 19th century. My professor spent almost every day in my Estado y Sociedad en el PerĂº class talking about the role of guano in building the state of PerĂº (through the collection of taxes) and facilitating the development of a proyecto nacional. Finally I had gotten to see the famous bird poop itself... even though today it is not harvested to the same extent as before because it is not as effective as it was once believed to be.

After the boat tour we went on another tour to see the desert surrounding the small fishing town. We spent the day with some other tourists, including a pair of  British lasses. We ended up celebrating Independence Day with the British.

July 5th: Nazca
El mono (the monkey).
Image from
After hearing that prices to see the Nazca lines by helicopter/ plane had doubled thanks to an accident that had occured a few months prior, the majority of our group decided to pay a taxi driver to take us to see the lines from three miradores. The Nazca lines are a series of mysterious lines and figures (that form firgures like a monkey, a tree, a 5-legged dog, and a crocodile) in the middle of the desert of Nazca. They were believed to be made over two thousand years ago and little is known about their origin. Some speculate that the lines were used for astronomical purposes (like to mark Winter Solstice) to help with agriculture, others, like my history teacher, say that they were sacred paths that the populators would walk in hopes that the ceremonios walk would bring water to the region.

However, my favorite part of the day was sand-boarding. We went in a dune buggie into the immense, desolate deserts of Nazca to ride along the dunes and test our skill sand boarding down the hills (and we suceeded). On the way to the dunes, we stopped at an aqueducts, a cemetary (with bright white, sand blasted bones lying about), and recently discovered pyramids in the desert.

However, climbing up the dunes to ride the sand board down again and again and spending the night on a bus has left me completely exhausted. I´m off for the night, though I hope to update the post later with some of my own pictures.