SPECIAL REPORTS

Peru in Focus

So many blends of life, nature

A view from above in Paramonga, proof that anywhere in Peru you can find beauty. © Adam R. Cole 2008

Machu Picchu is one of the mosted noted wonders of Peru. © Adam R. Cole 2008

The country is a blend of landscapes: coastal, mountains, jungle. Its urban centers brim with intensity in the mix of the market exchange, people moving from place to place, and the natural flow of life in motion. The people here are display a unique history and heritage either stemming from two the once-dominant Incas or from when the Spanish set precedence over this land. Though there is diversity, there is unity. Like the marketplace full of faces and wares, Peru harnesses it all, and creates an attachment in those who visit to that unique history and heritage.

So much of this land here is open space, uninhabited by man, left available for nature to display it’s magnificence. The mountain landscapes stretch everywhere the mind can wander. In passing from one city to another, one gets a full view of the multitude of valleys filled with greenery and an almost artistic arrangement of trees.

Though not as majestic as the array of mountain and tree layers matted against perfect blue skies, city life presents its own beauty. One is presented with a symphony of urban sights and sounds: taxis honk without ceasing to gather up the next customer; the streets are filled with vendors, selling everything from candy to grilled chicken, calling to those that pass to buy something; a flute or some other type of instrument, in addition to music from shops and cars can always be heard. The shops line the street such that whatever you need is often just a few steps away. The central plaza is a characteristic of most cities in Peru, a place to relax with loved ones in an open setting, dotted with trees; sitting there in such a plaza ones feels a strikingly connected to the cuidad (city), can almost feel its pulse as its vibrantly beats throughout the day. There is a general togetherness created in the closeness of everything and the local essence of the shops and restaurants – everything here is a ‘mom and pop’ operation.

The indigenous Quechua-speaking people, primarily of Inca heritage, give the places and the spaces here a unique look and feel. The women dress in sweater shawls, long skirts, and felt hats, carrying their children or just general goods around in special woven sacks with a rainbow of colors. Men wear similar leather hats and rusty jeans, resembling the rural life that they hail from. The faces of these indigenous people are weathered, a result of the tireless work they do in the countryside. They walk amongst their more modernized countrymen, yet appear to be clutching to their way of life, perhaps by choice, perhaps just because that’s all they know.

Christmas is a special time of year here, where in most of the neighborhoods the local churches and community organizations provide hot chocolate (a special blend of melted chocolate bars and condensed milk). On Christmas Eve, presents are distributed and families dine together on a meal at midnight, or just slightly before. When the clock strikes 12, the skies light ablaze with fireworks. The sounds of celebration fill the sky and the night. Feliz Navidad!

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As with so many cities in the world, each place in Peru tells a unique story and each place has something that makes it unique. An experience in Peru centers initially around Lima, the capital and hub for international travelers. It claims the nuances of any big city with a plethora of shops, restaurants, and office towers, yet also is complimented by colonial architecture, to include a multitude of churches. Here, upscale meets urban humbleness. Dine at a exquisite bistro or get served street side. Shop outdoors in one of the street side markets or go to shop with fine artisan crafts. Nightlife is always abuzz here, as the sky town lights up with discothèques, casinos and bars. Tamer travelers can sip on a café con leche (milk), one of the staple drinks here, at a local café and watch the people go by.

Within Lima, to the outer edges, is an upscale cultural district, bordering la playa (beach). It is an enchanting place full of life and full of scenic splendor, due its perched position above the ocean. A steep cliff separates the core of Mira Flores and the beach below, thus keeping it distinctly urban and not just another beachside town. is part of an urban world, yet has a view from above of sands and ocean below. Thus, the best view is from above, way above actually. Take a flight…para-glide with one of the local companies and you have the best glance at it all. It’s amazing to be in the air, so free, and peer at the world below, full of buildings and beach beauty.

Visitors to Peru seeking wonder of the country’s Inca heritage must make a visit to Machu Picchu, the elaborate stone city atop a mountain. Most travelers stop in Cusco on the way there, which was once was the capital of the Inca empire. Cusco is a place of much hustle and bustle, whose narrow cobbled city streets are filled with cars and pedestrians, its side walks cluttered with vendors, with marketplaces full of all types of wares. Colonial buildings and a multitude of churches give the city character. The city opens up to a central meeting space called the Plaza de Armas, which has at its center a park type area with benches and is surrounded on all sides by shops and restaurants. The honking of taxis, the constant flow of people in and out of shops, keeps up late into the night, but when it is halted, the doors of the stores close, the place looks like a ghost town. But in the early morning, the locals rise, get a special fruit juice (mixed with vitamins and such) from a local street vendor, and grab a newspaper (periodico) and the hustle and bustle slowly but surely gets into full swing.

Machu Picchu is truly the wonder it is billed to be, if nothing else for the scenic display at the top, the way the clouds rush over the mountains…and how through the mountain scene, there is green pasture – the Incas made an unbelievable array of terraces for farming. Such mix of the elements makes the blocks displayed here almost an after-thought; however, the stone block structures too are deserving of amazement, purely for its construction that is literally in the heavens. One has to marvel how a group of people were able to make such structures in such an elevated and difficult terrain; the mountain stands 7,110 feet above sea level. They say the purpose was to be close to the gods – they mainly worshipped what they believe to be the sun god. While that may have been their cultural/religious methodology, one does feel close to God up there – a silent prayer is a natural inclination at that altitude, just to give glory to the Creator for His creation.

Similar to Cusco but much toned down on the hustle and bustle is Ayacucho, known as the City of Churches (Ciudad de las Iglesias); there are said to be 33 churches housed here, the total being representative of the number of years that Jesus walked with earth. The city has a quaint feel with architecture that resembles Cusco, including a plaza de armas that is very is the perfect place to relax midday. Unlike Cusco, nestled within the Andean mountains, Ayaucho is closer to the coast and the weather is reflected in that aspect. Sunshine and warm temperatures bless most days, making the wealth of ice cream parlors in the central area a nice stop. The city has a lot of history as well. The town was famous for being one a crucial place for Peruvian independence due to the victory achieved there in a major battle with the ruling Spaniards. That victory still plays in the hearts of the local, symbolized by the large statue of the battle’s general, Antonio José de Sucre, featured prominently in the central plaza.

A coastal destination worth seeing is Paramonga, lying to the north of Lima. One can find the beach here in a quiet, sort of off the beaten path form. The beach sits next to a mountain that is more like a huge hill; a short hike to the top provides overlook of the city and all the surrounding nature. There is also a famous fortress here, built for theh Chimor Empire, the ruling native people prior to the Incas, that used was used both as a military outpost and a temple. Within Paramonga, is a food market that represents everything Peru has to offer, including guinea pig. Like most of Peru, downtown Paramonga is full of shops, street vendors, and resting spots in center square that offer a much-needed respite from hectic nature of urban life. Sugar cane is produced in the country areas that lie close to the center. If you are lucky, you may find a sugar cane truck stopped for a moment and grab a stalk – peel it and bit into the sweet taste of sugar cane.

Anywhere you go in Peru, you will find the amazing blend of scenery and urban life, where you can interact with the locals at the market or trail off to be by yourself in nature. People are always coming and going – so watch your step and hang on for the ride. The food is tasty as long as your taste buds are open for anything. People here smile often and want to know where you’re from and at least have a small conversation. The friendly nature of Peru is contagious and makes a departure hard on the heart.