EAT, SMILE, EAT, REPEAT:
The New York Times said it a bunch of times. Other newspapers and magazines have been saying it. And a gazillion trillion others have continued to echo it: Peru has the best cuisine in the world! But don’t listen to any of them. What do they know? Listen to me. It’s true! I may not be able to cook a lick, but I know food that goes beyond the ordinary when I see and taste it. I have not had one bad meal in Peru. You just have to know where to look, but you don’t have to look very hard or even far. Just about anywhere you turn in Peru, you will bump into great cooking. People who know a great deal more about food than I do credit Peru’s diverse cultures that have borrowed from each other – a spice or two here, a cooking method there – to create unique dishes and presentations. So Europe meets Africa meets Asia meet Indigenous meet in Peru! And Le Cordon Bleu Peru continues to crank out skilled chefs in the great tradition of the acclaimed Gaston Acurio. I had the pleasure of dining at two of Acurio’s restaurants – Tanta in Lima and ChiCha in Cuzco – and it made me happier than a fat kid in a bakery. The dishes were a burst of flavors. At ChiCha where I struggled to get a table, I had a seafood risotto that was killer. I ate every grain and wanted more. And just as ChiCha, I found Tanta purely by accident: I was walking around looking for a place to eat and noticed the crowds. If you don’t take my word for it, listen to the New York Times and the gazillion trillions. And the other newspapers and magazines that have continued to extoll Peru as a gastronomic powerhouse. It truly is.
WITHOUT ME YOU ARE NOTHING!:
Peru has a race and class problem that has led to a bit of an identity crisis. You see, white, wealthier Peruvians tend to look down at the Afro-Peruvian and indigenous populations. They don’t value them. If anything, they treat them as a thing to be scorned. Of course I’m not talking about all Euro-Peruvians, those with Spanish backgrounds. Just some. It’s not talked about much. But ask any Peruvian about it and they will open up about it. A great deal of this disdain is reserved for the indigenous population. You hear the word “cholo” directed at the indigenous population and you know it’s not exactly a compliment. This has lead to young descendants of the Incas denying their heritage. Some refuse to learn or speak Quechua. They are conflicted about who they are. They want to be identified as anything but from indigenous stock. And yet, were it not for their culture and the heritage that their ancestors built, Peru would lose a huge chunk of its tourism. You think the tourists are coming to see white Euro-Peruvians dressed in their suits and ties? No, they want to take home photos posing with indigenous people in Machu Picchu. Snap your finger and rid yourselves of the indigenous populations and Peru would be just another mediocre country known for not very much. Well, except it’s good eats J Anyway. It’s time the indigenous populations of Peru – Cuzco, by the way, is somewhat of an exception – start fully embracing who they are and that white Peruvians stop painting them as low class nothings.
THAT’S SO RUDE!:
Okay, so I completely understand that what works for the United States and other supposed “civilized” and “refined” countries doesn’t necessarily work in other countries where chaos is somewhat of a norm. But rude to me is rude. If I’m standing in a crowd watching a parade and you come along and shove me aside to get a view of the parade with not an “excuse me” or “sorry” you are rude! rude! rude! Pushing and shoving people to take their spot was a daily occurrence in Cuzco. I thought at first it was an individual and isolated thing but it just kept happening. So I asked several Peruvians from Cuzco about it and they all said the same thing. That they were aware of this rude behavior and that it was due in part to people simply not being taught manners at home. It’s accepted behavior. Other outsiders – i.e. visitors – experienced this and also wondered about it. Sorry to say this behavior was largely in the indigenous population, i.e., poor and largely un- or miseducated. Now, I’m taller than most in Peru, so being shoved to the back didn’t trouble me much. I could still get a good view over the people in front of me. But still, manners, manners!
THE PRICE IS WRONG!:
Cuzco is so expensive it has priced out even Peruvians. Many Peruvians are poor and can’t afford to travel beyond their borders. But I found it interesting that many Peruvians can’t afford to visit Machu Picchu and never have. The entrance fee, the transportation and other related costs put Machu Picchu and other Inca sites out of reach. I understand that governments try to squeeze every dollar or euro out of tourists, but they some seriously need to evaluate the money they ask their citizens to pay. This is especially true of Peru. One of the employees at my hotel said he had been to Machu Picchu only because someone else paid the costs, but his wife – a Peruvian born and raised in Cuzco – had never been to the site. They simply could not afford it. Just about every South American country has two or three different prices – one higher price for tourists, one for citizens of the country and one for locals. Galapagos, for instance, has such a system in which locals pay no entry fees or very little. Peru, it’s time you get a clue.
WARTS AND ALL:
With all its faults, Peru is magical, breathtaking, beautiful, fun, and rich in Pre-Columbian and colonial history. And the civilization that the Incas built is everywhere, not just Machu Picchu. I loved Peru!