September 17, 2008
Peru - An Introduction
The Urubamba Range
I just returned from a 3-week trip to Peru, where I met up with my dad for an array of adventures. To avoid an extremely lengthy post with a hundred pictures, my avid readers can expect a series of 4 shorter posts. This first one will cover some general and often times random thoughts about my traveling experiences as a whole, including even more random pictures that do not fit into the other three topics. The remaining three posts will cover our three major sub-trips in chronological order. These sub-trips include:
1) A 4-day trek on the Inca Trail followed by a day at Machu Picchu
2) A 4-day trip to the Manu Wildlife Center in the Amazon
3) A 6-day rafting trip on the Apurimac River
A Smattering of Thoughts and Observations
Combining keen observational skills with a mild aptitude for listening, I was able to discern an interesting historical difference between the US and Peru in regards to their conquering by the Europeans. In the US, the Spaniards and British combined to perform a very effective genocide against the native people. The few remaining natives were placed on small and nearly inhospitable chunks of land and integration among the peoples was practically nonexistent.
In Peru (and South America in general), after the deaths of many but far from all native people, the Spaniards ultimately integrated with the natives, creating a mixed ethnicity that celebrates cultural practices from both origins. The reasons for this difference was never spelled out for me, but my hunch is that the extremely rugged terrain of the Andes prohibited the Spanish from an all out extermination of the local people. There were also some interesting historical dynamics that involved the Spanish 'teaming' up with one faction of the Incan Empire against the other, seemingly making integration with these 'teammates' more acceptable.
Incredibly large and intricately shaped limestone blocks at Saqsayhuaman (pronounced "Sexy Woman")
The Ruins at Ollantaytambo
Terraces at Ollantaytambo
Backing up in time, it is nearly universally accepted that the natives of all the Americas originated from the people who crossed the Bearing Straight from present day Russia into Alaska approximately 20,000 years ago. Evidence suggests that these people took 4000 to 5000 years to migrate from the Bearing Straight to Peru. Contemplating this and the fact that all the natives of the Americas were derived from the same people, I was awestruck by the diversity and cultural differences among the different groups and tribes by the time the Europeans 'discovered' them. The Incan civilization, put into chronological perspective, existed from about 800 years ago to 500 years ago. Another consequence of the rugged Andean terrain is that there remains today remote villages throughout Peru consisting of native people who are self-sufficient and have extremely little contact with the outside world.
An example of the perfectly cut granite blocks typical of temples (In the native language of Quechua, "Incas" means Children of the Sun, so not surprisingly, the fanciest remaining walls belonged to the sun temples.)
Tourism. Tourism is a catch-22, ripe with hypocrisy, and topped off with a double-edged sward. On one hand, I love being a tourist because I love to see new places and the local people who have a culture much different from my own. This helps put into perspective ones own culture and lifestyle as well as decreasing our general (and quite high) level of ignorance. On the other hand, too much tourism ultimately tends to impart the culture of the tourism group on the local group and eliminate the differences sought by people like myself in the first place. My travels to date have brought me to a very limited number of places in the world, but I'll still wager that the Cusco region of Peru (many parts of it anyway) is one of the most tourist affected destinations in the world. In conclusion, I love being a tourist while despising the affects of tourism, and I won't attempt to justify this.
Finding Jesus on one of the hills above Cusco
In general, the Peruvian people are very nice and have a positive disposition towards all the tourism. This can be easily explained by economics. In Cusco (a town of about 1/2 million people), 80 percent of the industry is a direct result of tourism. Consequently, the most popular major for college students is Tourism (they offer many programs ranging from 2 to 4+ years).
Alpaca and friend
Another interesting tidbit can be derived from the following numbers:
- Population of Peru: 29 million
- Unemployment Rate: 20%
- Number of People who Pay Taxes: 1.5 million