The Lost World of “Piru”
For many new travelers finding a place that has yet to be stripped of its furtive nature by hoards of trekkers seeking to demystify nature has an almost mesmerizing appeal.
For almost six years now my journey across this, the third rock from the sun has taken me to some remarkably sundry places that most people can only read about. Now, I’m not an overly inward person but I’ve often wondered; does travel make a person wiser?
Experiencing so many diverse and rich cultures and topography must instill the itinerant with some higher insight about this plane of existence right? Well, I figure if any place was going to provide me the answers I sought it would be Peru.
Most people aren’t privy to the fact that Peru is a land of extreme contrasts. In one region you could have brisk weather with a majestic massif on the horizon meanwhile, the next region over is covered with the humid undergrowth of one of the densest forests in the world.
The capital of Peru, Lima was founded in 1535 by Francisco Pizarro, a Spanish conquistador who brought along with him the tastes and culture of the Spanish influence. This mixed with the indigenous Andean culture and over time produced the offspring that inhabit this truly breathtaking country.
Considering that this is predominantly a Latin culture you would think that the night life here revolves around vibrant song and colorful dance……you would think that, and you would be right. A brief walk through Lima would reveal several local and popular hotspots affectionately called Peñas. Peñas are music clubs that offer folkloric music shows, in particular Afro Peruvian and Criollo gigs.
In these upbeat scenes you usually eat Criollo fare, listen to the music, and accompany everything with generous quantities of various spirits. Some of the best Peñas in Lima are to be found in Miraflores and Barranco.
By sheer dumb luck, I just happened to stumble upon one of the best, known as Peñas Del Carajo, where unbeknownst to both my left feet participation on the dance floor is not up for negotiation. So as I attempted my best not to bastardize their saltation the venue’s host took pity on me and sent over a popular drink known as Pisco sour, which I later found out consists of grape brandy, lemon, egg white and a dash of cinnamon. Surprisingly enough, it went down smooth and went a long way towards endowing me with the Latin rhythm I was so desperately searching for. Let’s just say it was a looong night.
After a very painful morning, I decided it was time to treat my body to a little sustenance and visit a local Cevicheria. Cevicherias are host to all the customary flavors that Peruvians are famous for. One of the primary essences in Peruvian cuisine is citrus fruit brought over by those generous Spanish conquistadors of yesteryear to be included in almost every plate of ceviche, which as you know is traditionally a scrumptious medley of seafood eloquently orchestrated inside a clamshell or like. Upon finishing this amazing plethora of crustacean delight, I was presented with what is commonly referred to here as “Milk of the Tiger”. This elixir consists of the brothy run off and various herbs and spices that are left over from the exquisite presentation of the main course. Evidently if it’s done right, you combine all into a small cup and serve cold as a cure for even the most resilient of hangovers. I hadn’t been here for even twenty four hours and already I learned two things: Tiger’s milk is almost worse than the hangover itself and there exists a nearly endless variety of ceviche, contrary to the popular belief that ceviche is simply done one way.
Many of the ingredients that are used in traditional Peruvian fare comes from the surrounding forest. The Amazon rainforest houses a vast collection of fruits and vegetables that the natives harvest on a regular basis. The crops range from the potato-like Yucca plant to the Ayahuasca plants believed to possess immense healing abilities as well as very strong psychedelic properties. Needless to say, many notable scholars and scientists have been known to visit this region for research purposes.
It’s amazing to see how the people here who have built entire communities interlaced between the thick vegetation and overwhelming fauna seem to cohabitate almost effortlessly with their environment. Clearly, generations of living amid Mother Nature have endowed these people with acumen about the surrounding world and their role in it.
My final stop in this amazing countryside would take me to the city of Cusco which is the destination of origin for travelers from all corners of the world seeking a trek along the famous Incan trail of Machu Picchu which traverses the Peruvian landscape showcasing valleys lined with lush vegetation to the snowcapped mountains of the Andes looming in the horizon and onward to the ancient Incan ruins of Machu Picchu.
This ancient city is the only one on record that was never found by the conquistadors, probably because of its inclination on the map. Keep in mind that at over 11,000ft. above sea level, the air is thin and the walking is tiresome so have the foresight that I did not and pack light! If you make it through the several days hike your reward will be the truly breathtaking views of Machu Picchu which are unlike any other in the world.
Back in Cusco, the local hangout here is the city’s marketplace….it may not sound like a tour of paradise but with an array of local foods and cultural commodities that would make Ikea look like an inmate’s wardrobe it is definitely something to put on your to-do list. Be sure to pick up some coca leaves that the locals chew here to help equalize the effects of altitude sickness. They claim it also cures bad breath and acts as a mood enhancer as well.
Whether it is good or bad one thing is for sure, advice is not in short supply here and neither is hospitality. As I quickly found out, all you need to do is look like you are lost and people here will welcome you with open arms and glad tidings. Heck, if you’re as lucky as I was you may even get a free meal out of it. One thing I noticed was that no matter what region of Peru you go to you are bound to find a proud people, a knowledgeable people, and a truly rich sense of cultural accord.
The more places I go and the more I see, the more I realize that there is so much to see and do and taste and touch that “wiser” doesn’t even factor into this formula. Just when I think I understand something about the world in front of me, a place like Peru comes along and teaches me that I will never know it all and for that, I am grateful.