Colonos are on the road, doing field work, research, networking with people and helping to organise a conference.
There is a widespread notion of Peru as a dangerous place to travel in – an aggressive people with nothing to lose (or whatever “thinking” might be at the heart of the matter) just waiting to rob and “rape all the women”, as I overheard one backpacker skyping home saying, perhaps to emphasise how brave they were, having travelled in super deluxe (“the most expensive to be safe”) air-con, luggage scanning and face videoing bus services. While Peru surely has places that not even the police would want to go to, it is far from the truth that Peru is a dangerous place any more so than, say, London or Berlin. There are regions that used to be rather dodgy, where bandits or freedom fighters, or a mixture of the two, and corrupt police would pose serious threats, but Peru is a well policed and disciplined country nowadays, for better and worse.
Peruvians are a warm, sexy and happy people, if one should venture a generalisation….
That is not to say that all Peruvians are truly honest, welcoming people. Life can be hard anywhere in the world, and if life is hard it is not always easy to be a nice person. Having travelled with great pleasure off the beaten track in Peru before we were looking forward and simply deploying the strategy that “perfect paranoia is perfect awareness”: no dangling cameras, no fancy shades or expensive boots shining away. Just scroffy enough to not appear as wanna-be victims of an opportunistic robbery and just decent enough to avoid the attention of authorities. On the road we were.
The first four days we have been hanging out in Lima, meeting with friends, and been doing some work in the form of funding applications for the adventures to come; we had some food, some beers and a good laugh in Barranco, the “bohemian” quarter by the coast, kind of next to Miraflores, the upper class, smart people’s quarter. Staying in the old centre of town we enjoyed the colonial architecture and the wooden balconies that feature richly. The hotel is called Hostal Espana and used to be quite a place according to the Peru veteran, now married to a Shipibo bloke, whom we met by sharing a carro (from a “collectivo”) that took us from Huanoco to Pucallpa. There’d be all night sessions in the little cafe on the upper floor, but by the time we got there, in a quarter that has been subjected to serious gentrification (little Easter celebration left is one of the consequences that locals will fill you in on), the chairs from the cafe would be collected at 10pm to avoid delinquency that could disturb the fine travellers, either too straight to let their hair down to meet new people or too old for that sort of thing – who knows where the fun goes?
Espana, however, is a lovely building with a soul that survives and comes out in style in the face of the sometimes “slightly gloomy mood” of some of the people running it. A good place to stay in if you like the old town and given the horror of Miraflores there is only really Barranco left as an option if you want to be on the tourist track in Lima. Espana is relatively cheap for what it is in the middle of a big capital city.
People will keep telling you that this or that place is off limit for security reasons, but most of these stories are unfounded. When you out on Avenida Abancay from Espana or from Plaza de Armas you can catch a bus to La Parada, Lima’s main market, about 10-minutes away, which “is a complex slum that every year functions as an introduction to urban life for thousands of people from Lima’s hinterland”, thus inhabited by the most feared of people: the poor!
When you ask, as I had already told our travelling companion, who is new to Peru, they will tell you that “in that place they will rob you blind”, and lo and behold, but we knew that was nonsense. La Parada is one of the calmest, nicest market places I have ever been to. No threats there, unless, perhaps you walk around like a fool splahing your gear around, I wouldn’t know. Consider this: hardly any tourists go to La Parada, most of them go to town centre, Miraflores or Barranco to do their thing, so where would you hang around to rob a tourist? There were there are many and where things are expensive, or there where once in a while comes a tourist to do some cheap shopping? La parada is a nice market and the coca leaves are good quality.
What else is there to say about Lima? It is city with a soul, I find, and I like it a lot. Good feeling and nice food, such as the omnipresent ceviche (coming to rival your local sushi bar soon) and for a lunch the Pachamanca around the corner from the San Francisco convent and cathedral is in a league of its own. Six or nine soles for a three course dinner composed with great imaginative skills by the charismatic waiter and manager (is he the owner, most likely?). My favourite place in the world for lunch, perhaps!
The road is before us. We leave to go to Cusco, step by step. Local and/or regional buses to Cerro Azul, which is a beach north of Pisco. We need a swim before ascending via Ica and Nasca to Cusco – where the 2-3 hour trip from Nasca in the coastal desert up into 4390m across the first and highest pass on the route makes us slighty anticipative, yet filled with adventurous desire. It looks like it will be an amazing journey.