Peru – Surprised at No Surprise

Upon returning to Argentina after two months in Australia and only days later heading up into the north of Peru for two months, I was expecting some sort of adjustment period to the culture and the way that life runs in this new country that I had never visited. Instead, I felt completely comfortable and everything appeared to be normal to me. This was my surprise.

The lack of surprise at life in this culture is something that I attribute in part to my two years of living in the north of Argentina which has a remote similarity to this part of Peru. Also my recent travels through Bolivia revealed places very similar to here in Peru which may have also helped even though I had never lived in these places but only seen them in passing.

So after almost two months of being here and with virtually nothing that has caused me to be surprised, I would like to share a little about the life that now seems to be so very normal for me. As we have lived both in the city and the country, they needed to be treated apart, since each lifestyle is quite distinct.

City Life
Living in the city provides the services of water in taps frequently cut off for large portions of the day. We have access to taxis, wading through the clusters of cars that have gathered to seek us out for the meagre fare that they are asking. There are streets full of people trying to sell us things, and homeless and sick people begging for money everywhere. Crowds are everywhere and finding a quiet spot is very difficult.

Most homes are finished on the front, but on the inside and out the back there are various stages of being unfinished from no tiles on the walls to piles of sand on the floors waiting to be used for concrete and great gaps in the walls. The common house in the city is simple, with concrete floors and basic beds made of steel or rough wood. Kitchens mostly sport gas stoves and it is always exciting to find that a place has a fridge. Furniture is sparse and generally only the most necessary of items. A television can be found in virtually every home, even in the poverty stricken areas.

Security has been an issue too, with us living in one place where even taxi drivers refused to enter, leaving us to walk down the narrow alleyway alone. Not once however did we even encounter a situation that was even slightly disconcerting. Being guests in a home in the area gave us a “street cred” that meant everyone left us alone.

The city also has given us access to the markets and many other places for shopping and food. Not that we have bought very much, but it has been fun wandering around and looking at all of the things for sale. In having lived in virtually every corner of the city now, we are getting to know the whole place really well.

Country Life
Some of our time has been in the outskirts of the city too, in outlying towns more than anything. In these places the services are somewhat greatly diminished. Homes have earthen floors and wooden or coal stoves only, toilets are holes in the ground, water flows a couple of hours a day or comes from a common well and is used to fill up big drums of water designed to last the whole day.

Most places are unfinished and very simple. Construction is primarily by adobe brick and many times is not covered over. Spiders and bugs make their homes in the gaps between the bricks so care needs to be taken when leaning on the walls, as it does too when leaning on painted walls. The paint most frequently used is simply a calcium based paint that is like a powder, rubbing off onto anyone that leans upon it. Still, we keep leaning and only think about it afterward when we have racing stripes down our sides.

Repairs are only made if there is no way it cannot be delayed any longer, so many things hang or are tied up with string or anything handy. Animals live in and around the homes, often wandering through the earthen floors of the kitchens looking for scraps to eat. Pigs in pens made from sticks tied together, donkeys standing tied up outside the home with a cart parked near them, and turkeys courting each other in the yard are all common sights.

Life in General
In the homes, our beds are often just mattresses lain on the floor with privacy generally being hard to find anywhere. Everyone is all together in the same room or place and lives around each other. At times, because I am the only male, I have been able to enjoy a room of my own.

The entire countryside here is basically a desert. The only rain that appears is a super-light mist that lasts an hour maximum. Sunshine lights up every day and makes everything dusty and dry. The whole thought of getting wet just does not enter your head here, and there are some children that have never experienced true rain. We are told that every 10 or so years the Nino Effect brings some brief days of torrents of rain before everything is completely dry again.

It has been an interesting experience to live here amongst the different people that we have visited, and to experience life as they understand it. There are moments of reflection upon the life of luxury in Australia that I left behind, of instant hot water to the tap (all our showers are cold), of water that never stops running, of homes with windows and insulation in the walls, of wooden doors (ours are sheets) and carpeted floors.

But that reflection remains only a moment. Soon I am rejoicing that life can be so simple and yet so full. That so many things I thought were necessary were really only unnecessary trimmings. And I sit back and enjoy the tranquility and slower pace of life that is here, having time to chat and enjoy the company of people at all moments of the day and not just during the times that I was able to squeeze them into my schedule.