Monday, September 3, 2007

The Best Kept Secret

The news that I was going to Peru was met with perplexity, disbelief, excitement and (in one loving case) grave concern. It is for this reason that I feel the need to set the record straight about Peru.

To begin with, if I had to recommend to someone the best five trips to take, Peru would be one of them. It’s one of the best vacations spots in the world.

To proceed in some sort of chronological order, it would be fair to mention that Taca is an excellent airline, safe, punctual, courteous and organized. I only wish some of the US airlines could hold a candle to the way we were treated flying this one.

Lima - a city I was a number of times suggested to skip - is absolutely charming. It is a shopping Mecca for anyone interested in arts and crafts, textiles, antiques, clothes, jewelry or silver. I am a notorious non-shopper, and felt myself barely resisting the impulse to buy everything in sight. (I was only partially successful).

We visited Cusco, a destination that would hold your attention regardless of your travel preferences, with its hiking, history, shopping, museums, architecture, restaurants and nightlife.

Peru in general is a culinary paradise. I read in a recent article in the New York Times that Peruvian food ranks among the best on Earth, and yet was still surprised by its uniqueness, breadth and subtle flavors. Peru has a notable variety of potatoes which they typically dry in the sun before cooking; grains (among them choclo, giant corn, and the ultra delicious, ultra good for you super grain, quinoa), chili peppers such as aji which they de-vein and de-seed so dishes are flavorful but never hot, chupes (soups), chifa (a ubiquitous mix of Chinese and Peruvian cuisine), cebiche (which they spell with a "b"), tiraditos, fresh seafood, stews, meats, and the widest variety of fruits you could imagine. It's also where Pisco is from, which according to Rudyard Kipling "is compounded of cherub's wings, the glory of a tropical dawn, the red clouds of sunset and the fragments of lost epics by dead masters."

We visited multiple Inca ruins (Tambo Machay, Sacsayhuaman, Puca Pucara, Q’enko, and Pisac in the Sacred Valley, among many others), sites so impossible to conceive - even as you stare at them - that one understands why so many people, beginning with the Spaniards who colonized the region, believed that they were not built by man but by beings from outer space.

In the list of The Seven Wonders, Machu Picchu deserves to be number one. I could spend weeks among its stone walls, exploring the views from each terrace, rock, ledge and window. It is man made, but God had a heavy hand in it, because its breathtaking beauty lies half in its construction, half in its absolutely inspired, otherworldly setting. Like the moon, it defies description. You can't capture it in photographs. You have to be there in person, and you have to arrive from the Gate of the Sun to do the place justice.

We didn’t only see Machu Picchu from the Gate of the Sun but also from Huayna Picchu, the ragged mountain peak you usually see as backdrop in photographs. It’s a heart-thumping climb, after which we sprawled like lizards on huge rocks to see Machu Picchu through intermittent clearings from above the clouds.

We hiked across the Andes, visited a tiny, isolated, remote village way up in the mountains, went to a school where children walk for hours in the dark of pre-dawn for the privilege of attending a class. After all this I can tell you, Peru is safe. The people are beautiful, generous, shy and quick to smile. Tourism is in its infancy, as the country had been held hostage by an infamous terrorist group with a poetic, terrible name: El Sendero Luminoso (The Shining Path), and has only recently been a viable place for foreigners (for less than 15 years).

Peru is now ready for you. Ready to astound you with the remains of a civilization that is more than two thousand years old and yet is still alive today. Ready to surprise you with its improbable mix of Inca and European, with its colonial buildings set on stone foundations built one thousand years ago. It's ready to feed you new flavors, ready to clothe you with the softest Alpaca wool, ready to decorate you with the world's most beautiful jewelry.

You must visit Peru. It will be your favorite place on Earth, maybe only after wherever it is you call home.

7 comments:

Carol Miller said...

Over nearly half a century I have been ten, yes 10, times to this wonderful country, I've seen most of it, and adore everyplace we've ever been, including the ruins of the REALLY old cultures along the north coast, through the even older cultures in the Central Andes (like Chavin de Huántar), and the canyons they inhabited,teached by roads that look like ribbons unfurled through snow-capped peaks, among the volcanoes bordering the high plateau, the road into Colca Canyon-- supposedly the world's deepest. A hiker's dream. Peru has it all: Cloud forest, rain forest, the world's dryest desert, the world's wettest jungles, sensational food and delightful people. I can't imagine anyone wanting to go anywhere else in South America, but then, the other day a "friend" said she couldn't imagine going to a place that has culture. She would be bored. So be it. I hope your marvelous trip will be only one of many.

Miguel Cane said...

Dear Dushka:

Welcome back!
So glad you enjoyed your trip and that it was an enlightening experience in every sense of the word.

I am very pleased!

It seems tempting... I've got a friend in Peru (a well-known entertainer), and he's asked me over lots of times.

Perhaps soon I will cave in.

Much love @ both of you.

You were MISSED!
So much has CHANGED!!!!

Love,

M

Luca said...

It's great to be back. For photos of the trip you can check

http://www.flickr.com/photos/penati/sets/72157601843234665/

ana obregon said...

Bienvenidos!
Excelentes fotos, gracias por compartirlas.

tonya said...

Dear Dushka and Luca,
Glad to hear that Peru was as wonderful as you had hoped. It sounds beautiful! I will have to put that on my "must see" place to visit!
Tonya

Anonymous said...

Hola Dushka-- Estoy planeando ir al Peru y me gustaria alguna informacion o recomendaciones que me puedas dar. Hoteles, tours y lugares. Te lo apreciaria mucho. Gracias. Micaela

Dushka said...

Micaela, es un pais increible. Te va a encantar. Nosotros fuimos con
www.backroads.com - en su itinerario de Peru podras ver hoteles, lugares y todo con detalle.