We asked fellow travelers and SA Expedition team members to tell us about their favorite part of Peru. Today’s post comes from our Destination Expert, Kristina Rudge.
When our travellers return home and tell us about their trip, one of the things they never fail to highlight is how important their guides were to their experience of Peru. Knowing our guides as we do, it doesn’t come as a surprise that they receive such universally warm praise, but it’s always something we love to hear about.
For me, the people I’ve met when traveling have always been key to my experience. From mountain climbing in Argentina to the deep Amazon jungle, I think that the best life-long memories are forged by the people you share the adventure with, the people you meet along the way. When people ask me what I love most about Peru, I’ll mention the stunning diversity of its landscape and gastronomy, the mysterious ancient cultures I’ve been fascinated with since childhood; even Lima – a city you could never describe as dull. But first on the list is the people themselves, without whom I’d never be able to call Peru a home. Our travellers’ tributes to our guides are a testament to the fact that the friendliness and warmth of Peruvian people is one of the country’s best attributes.
Peruvian pride in country has skyrocketed in the last decade or so, thanks to a period of political stability, economic growth, and the local gastronomy’s growing international fame. (Sadly, when it comes to the country’s most popular sport – football – locals have to look back to the 80’s for their last World Cup finals appearance, a bright spot in an otherwise dire decade). As a visitor, you’ll often be asked how long you’ve been in Peru, if you like it, and what your favourite dish is—and you’ll win hearts if you have ready answers to those questions. It’s an easy way to start a conversation, but I think it’s also a form of hospitality in its own way, a poll of foreign viewpoints: How well are we doing?
As I've considered Peru my home for the last four years, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been asked these questions by taxi drivers, waiters, shop assistants and other acquaintances on public transport, in line at the bank, or at social gatherings. My first answer keeps changing as the years go by, the second one is always the same (“yes, of course!”), and my third answer – ceviche for the first three years, became arroz con pato, a northern specialty, when I travelled to that region last December for the first time. (It turns out that these are both good answers: ceviche has been voted Peru’s most popular dish and even natives of Lima, proud of their city’s status as gastronomic capital of South America, will acknowledge that northern cuisine is at least its equal – and northerners will argue that it’s better)
As in all countries that can lay claim to a strong family tradition and sense of hospitality, many Peruvians show their affection through food and so it’s an honour to be invited to a family home. If you’re lucky enough to receive an invitation, make sure you arrive hungry. I’ve learnt over time that it’s ok to say no to a second helping, as long as you’ve eaten a respectably huge portion at the first sitting.
One of the most memorable experiences of Peruvian hospitality I’ve encountered was soon after I first arrived, when I spent a month volunteering in the town of Pisco, a seaport located 130 miles south of Lima. A magnitude 7.9 earthquake in August 2007 rendered 80% of buildings uninhabitable and government assistance was slow to arrive, if it ever arrived at all. More than a year after the earthquake, a large proportion of Pisco’s population was still living in the most basic conditions, with temporary shelters constructed out of tents, salvaged wood and cardboard, anything that could provide respite from the intense desert heat.
Our team of volunteers worked with local families each day to help clear rubble that would enable them to start the slow re-building process, or to assist with concrete mixing, bricklaying, digging foundations, etc. During the day, the families would often tell us about their experiences of the earthquake and life since then, and show their appreciation through the meals they cooked us. The level of hospitality was the same everywhere, even in homes consisting of no more than a roof of sun-damaged tarpaulin and a few pieces of rescued furniture arranged on a dirt floor.
Raul, a man we worked with for 3 days to clear the rubble of his father’s house, invited two of us to his humble home with pride to eat ceviche after his wife had gone to the special effort of buying some fresh fish for the occasion. He was shocked later when he visited the volunteer house and found out that we weren’t being put up at the nicest hotel in town, but a house with two bedrooms for 16 people and no hot water. For us, it seemed appropriate considering the work we were doing. After all, Raul had no running water at all. But, for him, it must have reflected poorly on his city that volunteers should be treated as anything less than royalty. Afterwards, he cast around for things to give us, a t-shirt and a Cristina Aguilera CD, as though he couldn’t find enough ways to thank us, but really we were the ones feeling we hadn’t done enough to deserve it.
From guides and drivers to people you meet on the street, Peruvians are anxious to share the best of their country with its visitors. So ask as many questions as you can, get them talking about food and recent history and whether pisco is Peruvian or Chilean (it’s Peruvian). The more interest you show, the more people will open up, and you’ll gain an even richer impression of what this country is about.
Keen to see Peru for yourself? Check out our Machu Picchu & Peru tours here or speak to one of our Destination Experts about crafting the bespoke vacation of your dreams.