Cultural Exchange

A New Year’s Reflection On My Peruvian Love Affair

 

Someone posted on an Expats in Peru group today suggesting that we end the year on a positive note and think of things we enjoy about living in Peru. (This group often seems to be used as a place to vent about what people DON’T like.) As I love living here, and people visiting always ask me what it’s like and why I love it, I figured it was time to start framing a proper response.

The first time I visited Peru, I fell in love.

I can see people nodding knowingly, anticipating the rest of that sentence… happens all the time. But no, not with a man… I fell in love with the mountains or, as we call them here in the Andes, the Apus. Here, they are sacred spirits or gods. Whether you consider them sacred or not, majestic and jaw-dropping, they most certainly are. And I fell under their spell while hiking the Inca Trail, and sleeping beneath their gaze.

 

I came back two more times that year before moving. As I came as a tourist, staying in hostals, I can’t say I really got to know what living here would be like on a day-to-day basis. But the pull was so strong that I had no doubt that whatever obstacles came up would be worth it.

Mind you, for anyone considering moving here, there for sure are obstacles. But a lot of those, as with life anywhere, lie in your own mental flexibility. I consider myself pretty low maintenance. When I came, I said to myself that as long as I had a hot shower and good coffee in the morning, that’s all I needed. Anyone already living here and reading this has a good idea of how often I’ve been challenged on both of those things. But yes, it’s still worth it to me.

It’s the flip side of a simpler life. I love that I can live cheaply here, in Cusco and the Sacred Valley. And that has had greater importance at times, especially when I moved here without much money put aside. There were days when the fact that eggs are 40 cents and bread is 20 cents kept me fed!

I love that people take the time out to sit down for lunch, often with friends and family. It was hard getting used to at first, when I was used to the American (bad) habit of working through lunch time, grabbing a sandwich at my desk.

Speaking of cheap food, I love that I can get a two to three course meal at lunch time, called a “menu” for anywhere from 4 to 12 soles. And if you try enough places, you’ll find some that have just as tasty versions of Peruvian favorites like cevichelomo saltado, aji de gallina, and arroz con pollo as the gourmet restaurants.

One of the things expats often complain about is that people live in the moment, and show up late or not at all, without warning. It can be extremely annoying, for sure. But you find your ways to keep it from interrupting the flow of your day. Like so many things here, I feel there is a happy medium between how we do things in the U.S. and how things are done in Peru. But I’d rather have people showing up late (and it being acceptable when I do) than to be rushing around everywhere. Yes, there is (in theory) a happy medium. But if I have to pick one extreme, I prefer it here!

Lower costs in general mean that, if you are self-employed as I am, with skills that are transferable and/or work that you can do virtually, it’s often possible to work part-time and have a more relaxed life-style. I haven’t seemed to be able to achieve that for long periods at a time, but that’s more down to my workaholic nature.

I love that you can still find people, at least in the countryside, that have a strong and personal connection to the Earth, Pachamama. I have a friend whose grandmother still greets the sun every morning. The Andean religion is a nature-based one, honoring and giving thanks to the earth, sun, moon, mountains, and water, amongst other elements. For followers of this tradition, everything, even (especially) the rocks, have a spirit. And whether it is the lack of industrialization and building everywhere, or that people still do care for the earth, you can feel the energy of nature here much more palpably than you can in a big city.

And the people. Just as anywhere, there are good and bad and, mostly, people who try to do good and occasionally slip up. Personally, I have found myself welcomed for the most part. Here, I have found everything from acquaintances to close friends, family, trusted business partners, teachers, and, on occasion, more. Negative interactions with locals have been few and far between. I’ve met plenty of people who willingly offer the little they have, from food to a place to stay, without expecting anything in return.

Yes, I’m still in a relationship with the mountains. The fact that I can go trek in them, sometimes as part of my work, is something I treasure. But the overall natural beauty in this country is stunning. There are so many different landscapes to choose from besides the mountains– valleys, jungles, beaches, deserts, canyons– I can’t imagine ever getting tired of it. It can take some time traveling between them, as the infrastructure outside the main tourist areas (and sometimes even there) often isn’t first-rate. But the trade-off is that you have more relatively untouched areas.

This is one love affair that is still going strong. After 9 years, literally a day has not gone by when I don’t look at my mountains in awe and appreciation. Not just for that majesty and beauty, but also for their steadiness. They are always there, and while they may change in terms of how green they are, or how much snow is covering the peaks of some, they are one constant in an ever-changing world.

People ask me if I plan on always living here. I like to say that I “never” say never or always. But for now, I can’t imagine leaving. Every day brings new opportunities for connection and to appreciate my life here– the land, the people, the food– and, of course, the Apus.

Here’s to another year… to 2018… in Peru… salud!!