Adventures in Peru – Part One

Introduction

SGW’s old friend, climbing mentor, and contributor, Allen Lai, has recently returned from a trip to Peru. We are pleased to present Part One of his adventure here.

The Incas

The Inca empire stretched across western South America in the 15th century. At the time it was the largest empire in the world, and yet it only flourished for a short time roughly from 1400 to 1533. The Incas were conquerors, architects, engineers, and astronomers. Although they numbered only about 100,000 people they ruled over an empire of about 10 million which was made up of many ethnic groups. Sadly, all it took was a small group of Spanish Conquistadors to bring the whole empire crumbling down. Unlike any other civilisation, the Incas did not have any written language so it made studying their heritage very interesting.

Peru today

My interest in Peru started long before I knew of the existence of Machu Picchu. It was a book written in 1950 by the Norwegian explorer, Thor Heyerdahl, the Kon Tiki Expedition. Heyerdahl believed that the Polynesian people originated with the Incas that sailed across the Pacific Ocean in balsa wood rafts. In his book, he wrote about the Inca culture and civilisation which was fascinating.

The bibles of my younger day. The stuff of a young man’s dreams
The route of the Kon Tiki. They challenged themselves and the Pacific Ocean
The Kon Tiki – the balsa wood raft survived the crossing and is now sitting in the Kon Tiki museum, Oslo, Norway

Finally, this year, I got the chance to tour this marvelous country. What I wasn’t expecting was that it would turn out to be the journey of a lifetime. As we were staying at over 10,000 feet above sea level for longer periods, we were expected to deal with altitude sickness. What we didn’t expect was during the time of our visit there was political turmoil. Long periods of corruption, inflation and a downturn in the economy lead the people of Peru to stand up and voice their discontent about the government, and the president.

As a result, we were met with all kinds of obstacles, rallies, roadblocks, and the closure of train services and airports. Two days after we left the country there was a coup and President Castillo was arrested. As I am writing this now, Peru has declared a nationwide state of emergency as widespread violence went out of control. So, here is our day-to-day encounter in this beautiful country.

Lima

We arrived in Lima at 2 am. Once again Air Canada messed up our travel itinerary. As a result, we had to spend one more night in the hotel. Fortunately, our tour operator, Gogo, stepped in and covered the cost of the extra night at the hotel which was not cheap as it was a five-star Sheraton in downtown Lima.

We woke up in the early hours to noisy street sounds. Every driver in the city seemed to be proficient with their gas pedals and horns but with the congested traffic, no one seems to be going anywhere.

Outside my hotel is the department of Justice, there was a heavy police presence 24/7
A regular scene everywhere we went
Our hashtag photo…
Saint Martin Square
St Martin Square. So named after the Peruvian man noted for his kindness, nursing of the sick, obedience, and charity. He’s the patron saint of social justice, racial harmony, and mix-race people

After breakfast, we drove to Saint Martin Square where there was a huge protest rally in progress. Hundreds of anti-government protesters had taken to the streets, demanding the resignation of the president. There were clashes between the police and protesters and as a result, many roads were blocked and traffic was a mess. At the same time, the OAS (The Council of Organisations of American States) was there to investigate the allegations regarding the president.

The protest rally at the square, even though it was peaceful the tension was high

The protesters were peaceful but tensions were running high, we took a few quick photographs and slipped away. General Jose de San Martin was a key leader in Peru’s independence in 1821. The square is surrounded by buildings influenced by French architecture.

It was interesting to see this ruin in the downtown area. It was a fried chicken restaurant that burned down. As the city insisted that the building be restored in the same design as it was built no one was interested
Chinatown
Chinatown, one of the largest in South America

 

Our next stop was Chinatown. Usually, I don’t like to visit Chinatowns overseas but with nearly 1% of the population and an estimated 5% of Peruvians having Chinese roots it was worth a visit. Sure enough, I was not disappointed. It covered quite an area and despite of COVID, the place was packed. Many of the restaurants looked like what we had in Hong Kong in the 60s, but don’t expect anyone to speak Chinese. Most vendors and shoppers don’t even look Chinese. As for the food they offer, well, I don’t know, it’s different but I wasn’t tempted to try any of it.

Familiar Chinese food. A middle-class event in Peru
The shops look very much like those we would see in Hong Kong

One thing that was interesting though, in general people go to Chinatowns because the goods there are cheap. However, this is not the case in Lima. I was surprised to see that their prices matched those to be found in Toronto and yet, the average income in Peru may be only a third or fourth when compared with those living in Canada. Hence, dining in Chinatown is a middle-class thing.

The Basilica Cathedral

A short walk away we found the Basilica Cathedral and the president’s residence. However, due to the current unrest, the whole area was fenced off with a heavy police presence.

The square in front of the Cathedral was closed off
Casa de Aliaga

Further down the road, we visited the Casa de Aliaga, a 16th-century mansion that has now been turned into a museum. It is still lived in by the 16th generation of the family. It was quite an eye-opener and well worth a visit.

The Casa de Aliaga, 1 16th-century mansion, now a museum which is still occupied by the 16th generation of the family
Much of the furniture is original and still in good condition
We saw many portrates of the family
A Surprise Dinner

That evening, what a surprise! We were taken to a Chinese restaurant! It was not just any Chinese restaurant but the best one in Lima where all the high-ranking officials, consulate staff, and important people dined. We had Maca, Peruvian Ginseng soup, purple corn juice, Sapo fish, a very rare but extremely tasty and pricey local fish, and other gourmet dishes. Being from Toronto we are used to good Chinese food, and yet, tonight we were all blown away by this excellent banquet.

The surprise dinner at the best Chinese restaurant in Lima. It is frequented by diplomats, government officials, and the rich and famous. On this occasion, we were the only customers and we noticed that they have a room dedicated to Hong Kong
The ten-course meal, the quality was comparable to Chinese restaurants in Canada
Impressions

Throughout the day what impressed me most was the people, from the local guide, the driver, the people at the hotel, and in the streets including the police and even the protesters. They all had a certain vibrancy in them. Living a tough life as they do, they manage to remain cheerful and happy, something that we could all learn from.

Even on the first day, I felt the Peruvians were honest, down-to-earth simple people. It was easy to love them, as soon as you make eye contact there was a ready smile

On the outskirts of the city, perched high up on the hill, are the poor man’s squatter areas

The next day we were flying to Lake Titicaca, which is 11,150 feet above sea level. We were excited and had lots of expectations for the next part of our journey

Conclusion

It is sad to see any country in turmoil and it can only be hoped that the political situation in Peru will be resolved quickly. SGW is grateful that Allen and his companion were able to visit the country and leave safely. We look forward to the next part of his trip.

Thank you for visiting Stewart Goes Walkies. I hope you enjoyed this post. Please feel free to leave a comment and, if you would like us to publish an adventure of yours, you can contact us here:

 

 

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Published by stewartgoeswalkies

Happily married man to a wonderful lady. Living in Hong Kong. In my younger days I enjoyed hiking, camping and rock climbing. I've trekked in the Himalayas and climbed Mt. Kinabalu in East Malaysia.

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