Interview: Peru from a First-Timer’s Point of View
Paloma Bone, who works on Holbrook’s Road Scholar team as a program manager, recently traveled for the first time to Peru as a participant on RS program #3280, “Majesty and Mystery: Ancient Civilizations of Peru.” The journey began in Lima, Peru’s capital, and then to the northern towns of Chiclayo and Trujillo before continuing to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley in the south, commencing in Cusco. Here are some highlights from her trip.
Moche mural at Huaca de la Luna
What was special about the program?
The program is unique because it visits northern Peru. Most programs to Peru mainly focus on Cusco, Machu Picchu, and the Sacred Valley and they overlook the value of the north. I was really lucky that I got to experience the north because it is home to cultures that were pre-Inca, like the Moche and Chimú. There’s a lot of fertile land there. Even though it’s in a desert region, there are rivers and the ocean is nearby, which made it a good place for ancient societies to live because they could feed themselves through farming and fishing.
What are some examples of the cultural interactions you had?
In Chiclayo, we went to the Mercado de los Brujos, the Witches’ Market. That was our first experience seeing a market in Peru, and it was just a great cultural and person-to-person kind of experience. We went really early in the morning, so many of the vendors were still setting up. There were less actual buyers present so we got to talk to the vendors and take pictures. At one stall our local guide took us to, a vendor showed us several folk remedies to cure aches and pain in the body.
We also saw a weaving demonstration in the town of Chinchero in the south of Peru. We went to a weaving co-op that was run by a group of women, and they showed us how they make their livelihoods. One woman, Rosa, led the demo showing us how the wool is processed, all done completely by hand, and how the women produce their beautiful textiles: First, Rosa grated a root into water to produce detergent, and washed the wool. Then, she put the clean wool onto a spool, and had to tease the wool apart carefully to make it into thin ribbons of yarn. Next, the women brought out big pots of water, and Rosa showed us how the yarn is dyed.
According to traditional methods, the women only use natural products to color the yarn: purple corn to make purple, orange lichen to make orange, green leaves to make green, and they use a dried parasite from a cactus to make red. Finally, Rosa showed us how the women weave the yarn into patterns on the loom. Rosa told us that the women don’t use any patterns when weaving, they just rely on memory. It takes the women up to three months to make one piece from start to finish. Rosa was a comedian and throughout the demo while educating us on weaving, she also made us laugh.
View from Huayna Picchu
What was your favorite part of the trip?
Hiking to the top of Huayna Picchu [the mountain rising over Machu Picchu] was one of my favorite moments on the trip. The hike was really challenging – the trail is a switchback built by the Inca, but worth it because I got to see Machu Picchu from a distinct angle 1,000 feet above!
What recommendations do you have for first-time travelers to Peru?
My packing recommendations include walking poles, sun protection (sunscreen, sunglasses, hat, and a sun shirt if you’re particularly sensitive), and insect repellent. If your guide or group leader says put on bug spray, just do it. They probably know what they’re talking about!
Altitude sickness can be a real problem - avoid it by staying hydrated. During the program, I made sure to carry a water bottle with me and drank from it frequently.
Know that toilet paper cannot be flushed down the toilet in Peru.
At Machu Picchu, the only bathrooms are outside the park entrance, and they cost 1 sol (approximately USD $0.30) to enter each time.
Peruvians drive differently than Americans. They use their horn much more frequently to communicate to each other while driving. This means that noise from traffic can be quite loud, especially in Lima. I suggest bringing ear plugs.
Bring cash. If you want to purchase souvenirs or gifts for family and friends, it’s best to pay in cash. Vendors will accept US dollars as long as the bills are in near perfect condition, and the local currency, Nuevo Soles. You will often receive a discount from vendors for paying in cash and besides, not all vendors have credit card machines.
Lastly, try your hand at bargaining – most vendors expect it!
Photos by Paloma Bone
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