I decided to do a bit of reflecting about the things like I like most about Peru. Some of the things I am most grateful for. I don’t think this is an exhaustive list by any means. Nor is it in any particular order. They are just some things I want to express gratitude for.
#1 The Food
Yes it’s true, I’ve been sick a lot in Peru. No doubt because of some of the food I’ve eaten. With that being said however, not all food in Peru makes me sick. And a lot of it is really, really delicious. The food in the Sierra is simple and filling. It, at times, can be lacking in vegetables, but in general it is always good. The thing I appreciate most about lunches in Peru is that it almost always come with soup. The soups are delicious and are a good addition to any lunch. Now, lunch without soup doesn’t feel complete. Food on the coast is delicious also. Before coming to Peru I was not a big seafood guy. But now, I really appreciate a fresh and well made ceviche.
#2 The Language, Specifically the Slang
Learning Spanish has easily been one of my favorite things about my time in Peru. Before coming I studied Spanish quite a bit. I also had the privilege of living in Costa Rica and learning Spanish there. So I came to the country with a pretty good base. My first language proficiency interview pegged me at intermediate-middle. My second put me two levels higher at advanced-low. At the close of my service I will take another interview. I have a feeling I will bump another level or two.
The Peruvian slang is my favorite part about the language. I really enjoy learning from friends and community members in order to insert more of the slang they use into my rhetoric. I have found out that Peruvians love this. They think is hilarious when you use a uniquely ‘slangy’ term or phrase. Learning another language from a book or professor is very helpful, but learning the slang, the flow, the construction of conversation and humor from the ‘streets’ adds so much color and energy to your daily interactions.
#3 Amazing Rock Climbing
I came to Peru with a small carry-on bag of climbing gear. A rope, harness, climbing shoes, quickdraws and some trad gear. I knew there was rock to be climbed in Peru. Thing was, I had no idea if I was going to end up anywhere close to said rock. In my mind I would at least be able to take some vacations to climb if I ended up far away. Little did I know that I would end up living in the heart of the Peruvian rock climbing and mountaineering. Better yet, that there would be rocks in my community where I could boulder and put up first ascents. The climbing in Peru is world class. The granite of the Cordillera Blanca is bullet hard, technical and stunning. The volcanic rock of Hatun Machay and Inkawaqanka is some of the most aesthetically pleasing rock I’ve ever seen. Not to mention the movement it creates. The flow state one finds themselves in as they strategically move themselves over rock cannot be replaced.
#4 Homes in the Sierra
I really love the homes in Peru. The thing I love most about them is that they always include some sort of outdoor patio or backyard. A lot of times, the rooms of the house are centered around this patio. This architecture is mostly a result of needing a space to dry clothes after they’ve been washed. Another thing I enjoy are the giant sinks, often outdoors also, that a lot of the house have. These mostly get used to wash clothes, but they are even better for having a space for washing gear (i.e. tents, climbing ropes, tarps etc). Many homes will also have some sort of green space or garden. Most families in my community have their larger chacra or farm separate from the house. But within the home is often a space for other plants and flowers.
#5 The Greetings
In small communities like mine greeting people is commonplace. If you walk past a person it expected to greet them. It could be a wave, a head nod or something verbal like “buenas noches”. It would be strange if you didn’t do this. In bigger cities, such as Lima or even my capital city of Huaraz, people rarely greet one another in passing. There’s a sort of blasé attitude that comes with bigger cities. People are moving too fast and care too little about greeting other humans around them. I like the greetings because it seems to promote a sense of community. It’s almost like a respect thing. Like I see you and you see me, I acknowledge you and your presence. Not every greeting needs to be this big important thing. In fact, it becomes so common that you don’t even realize you’re doing it at times. But other times it’s a nice way to exchange a smile or start a conversation.
I also really enjoy the amount of words Peruvians use, often in place of someone’s real name, for greeting someone. For instance, in the school setting everyone is “profesor” or “profesora“. In a small community like Matacoto, you often find people greeting others with regards to familial ties; for example, cuñado/a (brother/sister-in-law), primo/a (cousin), tío/a (uncle/aunt). A lot of times I even just use vecino (neighbor).
#6 Transport & Moving Around
Don’t get me wrong, a lot of times moving around Peru can be extremely uncomfortable and entirely inefficient. But it is almost always available and always cheap. The amount of buses running to and fro all across Peru is incredible. If you can afford flying, there are airports in almost all of the country’s major travel destinations. If bought well in advance, domestic flights within Peru can be found really cheap. The longer bus trips are usually pretty comfortable, safe, and come with food (as long as you pay a little extra, but still cheap). In cities it feels like everyone is a taxi driver. Someone is always available to give you a ride. This might not be the safest thing all the time, but I have yet to have a problem. *knock on wood*. If you don’t travel with a taxi or moto-taxi, there are always public buses and combis, which are essentially shared vans. You might get stuffed in like sardines, but you will get to where you need to be, and often, for less than a dollar.
#7 Lack of Stigma About Picking Your Nose
I cannot count the amount of people I have witnessed shamelessly picking their nose in Peru. It’s great. I have always been a supporter of picking noses. In fact, I’m doing it right now. Many of you probably have seen me doing it. There is something unique about picking your nose that just cannot be offered by blowing it. The quality of ‘work’ you can get done picking will almost always be better than blowing your nose. Unless maybe you’re really sick and your nose is constantly running. There’s a lot of dirt roads where I live. This means a lot of dust from cars and wind and even walking. This dust builds up in your nostrils as you breathe. Sure you could blow it it. But digging around and pulling out a big, brown/black booger is way more enjoyable.
#8 The Porch & Plaza Sitting
A lot of Peruvians love to sit. You see this in small communities like where I live and in big cities. Most every town has a plaza. If people are not sitting in it, they are probably sitting on their porch. There are a couple houses in Matacoto where everyday, between 3-5pm, multiple neighbors come out to sit with each other. Why? Just to spend time and converse. There is something really nice about having nothing else to do than to sit and watch. And if there are others, to sit and talk. A lot of older people can be seen doing this. Watching the world go by and greeting their neighbors. A lot of young people do it also. You see young couples and families enjoying the plazas all over Peru. The kids run around and play and the adults gossip about stuff. I sit a lot with the other members of Matacoto. I sit a lot when I travel around Peru also. It is a great way to get a feel for the city you’re in and for the people that occupy it.
#9 The Early Wake Up calls
Don’t get me wrong. I sometimes despise early wake up calls like every other person who just wants to remain in their warm an cozy bed. But for the most part, living in Peru has gotten me waking up earlier in the morning than ever before. My body now wakes up on its own between 7 and 8 am. Unless if I went to bed really late the night prior. Waking up early in the countryside is beautiful. Sometimes a low fog hangs over the valley. The mountains are almost always clear and visible. A morning dew glistens on all the plants and makes the air smell damp. Roosters are crowing (which I used to dislike). Burning wood can be smelt from people cooking their breakfasts.
The day is starting and people are already on the move. Early for me is probably a bit late for some of the others who live in Matacoto. They rise and get to work on their farms or bring food to the provincial city to sell in the market. I have always said that if I could only see either sunrises or sunsets for the rest of my life that I would choose sunrises. There’s something special about them. A new day, and normally, if I am up that early, a new adventure. Some of my favorite things to do in the whole world or best started early, like skiing, hiking, camping, rock climbing etc.
#10 Sharing is Caring
The amount of sharing that goes on in Peru is pretty different than what I was used to coming from the states. In all my years of learning Spanish, “to share” was compartir. When I got to Peru however, I learned the more culturally appropriate term to be invitar, which literally means “to invite”. This gets used in a whole boat load of contexts. Sometimes it gets used to invite someone to an event for example. But most of the time it feels like it gets used for sharing. Invitame (share with me), te invito (I share with you), invita a ella (share with her). To invitar in Peruvian culture is very important. For example, I go and buy an ice cream bar after lunch sometimes. To just buy one is strange. It’s better is to buy 2-3, maybe even 5 to share with people that will be in your vicinity when you’re enjoying yours. To eat alone is considered selfish. I’ve been called out multiple times by one specific community member for eating alone and not sharing. Invitaring happens a lot when drinking soda also. Peruvians love soda. It’s common to buy a bottle and share it with friends. At my school, someone will buy a bottle and invitar colleagues as they come passing by throughout the day. Same with beer, except this doesn’t go down at the school obviously. The amount of times I have been invitared beer is impossible to count. “Un vaso no más” they say. “Just one cup”.
If you go to someones house, chances are they will invite you to eat or at least drink something. If you don’t want it or just literally ate 5 seconds before its expected that you finish your drink or plate of food. The Peruvian sharing culture is really nice, I like it a lot. It builds community and makes one feel included. And if you’re the one doing the invitaring, it makes you feel happy and like you have something of value to offer someone else. Something that normally makes them smile and improves their day in that moment.