I’ve frequently heard it said that when visiting Peru, one has to realize that Lima is not representative of the entire country. It’s easy to hear such advice, but it’s another thing to understand where it comes from. Ironically, it’s only after traveling to a few tourist hotspots that I feel I have a better understanding of at least two aspects of the country.
Peru is poor. Not in culture or beauty, in which it is incomparably rich, but in the traditional, economic sense of the word. In Lima, it’s easy to write off homeless people and low-quality housing as products of living in a city: whenever you have 9 million people living in one metropolitan area, wealth distribution is bound to be skewed. However, upon leaving the city, it rapidly becomes apparent that for the millions of people living on less than $2 USD a day, poverty is a very real issue. Relaxing in the padded seats of our air-conditioned tour bus (seriously, for anyone planning on visiting, Cruz del Sur is the way to go!), we can initially ignore the cardboard roofs and grueling agricultural work outside the windows…at least until the same scene repeats itself for the next 250km.
Peruvians have more trust in others than the US could even imagine. This doesn’t refer to the absurd confidence that leads WAC students to abandon their iPhones in the Dining Hall while they fill up on mozzarella sticks. Here, that’s the equivalence of madness (see above). Rather, I refer to trusting that most people have at least a little common sense and are generally able to make intelligent decisions. There aren’t a million rules governing what you should can and should not cannot do.
Although Lima’s insane traffic hints at this, this lack of hand-holding is most apparent at the tourist attractions. Where the beauty of a national park in the US is hampered by warning signs and security guards, the nature reserves in Peru are just that: natural. There are no signs prohibiting you from leaning over the edge of that 300 foot precipice…it’s just assumed that you’re smart enough to be cautious. Coming from a place where coffee cups have warning labels, such confidence is pretty novel.