There certainly are things in Peru that will make you fall in love with the country, namely the nature, varied from the Andes through the coast to the jungle, the shamanic healing legacy and the variety of food, including heaps of fruits and veggies you can get. However, there are also things that will bring other emotions around: anger, repulsion, pitying. A couple of days ago I passed a year of my stay in Peru. I´ve been through all the feelings mentioned.
My second visit to Peru intended as a three month volunteering help in education turned into much more than tourism. It turned into living here, searching for work, dealing with every day issues – and the pandemic. I am grateful to my partner for all his love and help and to all the people on my way here who helped me out when needed. Though there are moments when I bow in awe of learning – through other people, through situations – there are many other moments when I struggle with the lack of ecological consciousness and general thoughtfulness and compassion for one another here.
Since my previous article on the Magic Realism (see HERE) was so successful with you, my dear readers, I am bringing you more…
First Come, First Served – Never so in Peru
Impatience is a huge issue here. It projects in the way people drive and more so when you go shopping. It is absolutely normal that you are being served or waiting to be served by a shop assistant and another person jumps in and starts asking for the thing or things they need. The shop assistant barely says, please, wait, you can see I am attending to another client. Usually, believing that the other person jumped in because they have “something quicker to deal with” to demand, they stop serving you and serve the other person. When you complain about it or question it in any way, both, the person jumping in and the shop assistant think YOU are weird and impolite!
Seriously, two thirds of the people who gained their driving licence here would not be allowed to drive in Central Europe or would lose their licence (due to the 12-point fine system) on the first day of driving over there.
The winkers are ever so uncommon to be used! A Peruvian driver is more likely to indicate with their hand stretched out of the window that they are going to turn than with the winker. Most commonly, they do not indicate at all.
Have you seen the movie Unhinged (2020) where Russell Crowe terrorizes a woman who impatiently honks at him? I don´t know what this guy would be doing in Peru where people blow their horns:
- to indicate they are behind you to prevent accidents as not many drivers use the rear-view mirror here
- when you are going too slow
- to show you that you can take over or that they are going to take over
- if they are a taxi/moto taxi/combi – just in case you wanted to use their service (which you usually don´t because if you do, you simply indicate the hitchhike with your hand)
- to greet you
- to express their interest in you
- if entering or exiting a tunnel or a turn where it is difficult to see what´s in the opposite direction
- at moments of poor visibility (fog etc.)
Cycling – and Recycling
Having said all that you can imagine cycling here – in the cities – is enormous fun! (Yes, just kidding, it is drastic.) If you multiply the constant honking of the cars at you by the fact that the roads and paths are littered with garbage, often smelly, and dead animals (birds that came to feed on food leftovers, dogs that had the same intention but died run over by cars) it is quite an experience. That is why I prefer to drive to the countryside and ride my bike there.
Waste treatment is a huge problem in Peru. The ocean at many locations (Chimbote, Lima etc.) is filled with garbage, mostly plastic and beer cans, and pollution coming from factories (mostly fish companies). As for recycling – forget about it. There generally are not many containers installed in cities. Sometimes you get to see a metallic construction where you are supposed to leave your waste – or just put it alongside your pavement, the municipality garbage van would come to pick it up at some point. However, as there is a lot of wind in the coastal areas, before the van comes, a lot of the garbage gets blown away and thus remains lying in the streets. If you ever see recycling containers, believe that it is just to show off. Eventually, a single common garbage van comes to put everything together. There is an enormous number of illegal dump sites (especially by the roads and rivers) and many people would just dump their garbage wherever. Nothing unlikely to see a parent throw an ice cream paper down on the ground when their kid is watching.
Commonly you see fires in towns and villages as some people tend to burn their garbage – ignorant of the harmful gases that this act produces. I never understood why they do it as the municipality garbage van passes more or less regularly through designated areas and is free of charge.
Having spoken about the dead animals around the roads – you also find many animal corpses at the beaches. At many places, nobody cares to clean them up, burry them in the sand. I have seen various times people lying on their blanket right next to a decaying corpse of a sea lion. Which brings me to another thing – the fishermen tend to kill these animals who come near their boats in an instinctive urge to eat the fish caught. The fishermen beat them to near death and the ocean sweeps them ashore where they exhale the last breath…
There are thousands of stray dogs and cats in the streets that some people beat, others kick, for no apparent reason. Few are those who help and feed them or give them water or care to stop their car instead of running them over.
I have been involved with an association for animal protection in Chimbote and the stories I sometimes get to hear or experience are truly sad and I would rather spare you the details. In fact, my first terrible experience with how some people treat animals in Peru was described HERE, in an article written during my first stay in Peru.
In general, the street animals feed on garbage, often fear people – as once some of them were puppies mistreated by humans or even left abandoned (and tied) by a river or a road – and die frequently with huge tumours on their bodies. It is nothing unlikely to see a family getting a puppy for Christmas or a birthday, finding out in several months that treating an animal well means a lot of care and investment and thus driving it to a dump site and leaving it there. Don’t ask me how anyone is capable of doing that, it is pretty common here, not to mention some people drowning the young ones of their pets or burning them to death. I have seen cats with their tails burned off, unable thus to move the way they normally would. I often see dogs strangled, especially puppies, because they were tied all day by the fence on a leash. Some people simply do not understand that their pet wants to move.
And don´t get me wrong – I am not talking (solely) about people who were given no schooling and education who do this. Many “educated” families would have their dogs stuck all day on the roof/terrace, not interacting with them, not taking them for a walk, simply sometimes bringing them food and cleaning their excrements there. The dogs are nervous wrecks, barking at every car that passes around the house, sad and mistreated, even though the law forbids that.
I have been a witness of a straying of a several-week old pit-bull puppy that a family of a dentist (yes, you would expect a high degree of education, logics and compassion there) left tied up all day on a leash above a staircase. The puppy was trying to get himself out of the unwanted prison-like situation and strangled itself.
If any of you feels like helping out in any way any of the associations in Peru for animal protection, please, let me know HERE, I will put you in touch with the competent people.
Swimming Pools Opened, Beaches Closed
This one is a hilarious one, hard to believe, related to Covid. Until recently we were not allowed to use private cars on Sundays (to prevent the virus spread) to go outdoors to do sports etc., while it was fine to use public taxis, where the chance of contracting the infection is much higher.
Now we are forbidden to go to the beaches on weekends, the only time most people could do it, just for fear of the concentration of people. But the public pools are open! The staff’s argument is usually: “There is chlorine in the pool.” Well, seems that they are unaware that sea (ocean) water contains large amounts of Sodium Chloride (NaCl), i.e. salt, which thus also includes Chlorine, so the argument is a pure nonsense. Moreover, salt water has been used in many worldwide cultures over centuries for disinfection and yogis use hot salt water to cleanse parts of the upper respiratory system.
The sun is the easiest source of vitamin D that helps boost the immune system. So a better idea would be, as far as the beaches (and also the businesses there which are sure to become bankrupt this year, which means more unemployed people, more poverty and thus more crime) are concerned to simply prohibit the consumption of alcohol there and guarantee social distancing by using the police resource on the beach itself and not at the entrances (where they are located now to prevent anyone from driving in). This is a more logical way that would benefit the health of Peruvians and the economy (and also tourism).
Over the period of Christmas and New Year all the beaches were closed too which pushed the generally non-sportive Peruvians to simply staying at home, drinking and having fiestas with neighbours rather than spending a healthy day at the beach, in the sun, with the happy kids bathing in the water…
Sorry – or not – that I Blocked your Seaview
So, in Europe, if you want to build your house, you need to have a project of it done and approved by the competent authority. If you, later, want to make some changes to your house, you need to go through quite a process in which everyone makes sure you do not spoil the surrounding or do not cause a damage to your neighbour. In Peru, nothing like that exists. You simply buy a land, build your house and leave the top part undone, as a construction site, a place where you can dry your clothes or have your BBQs but at the same time possibly use later to build up more floors of your house, regardless of the surroundings or the neighbours. You can block their lovely views over the ocean, you can even block the daylight coming to their windows. All is fine.
The main photograph of this article is a painting by Ernesto Arrisueño.