Tomorrow is my final day in Peru. It’s pretty hard to sum up everything , plus I sort of did a 180 at the end there, turning in my pick axe and “Buen Hecho” stickers for a laptop and a swivel chair. I suppose my time here allowed me to experience two very distinct sides of the Cusco region. On the one hand I lived in a community way out in el campo where the blip in the daily farming monotony comes when your van driver accidentally hits a crossing cow or stray sheep. The houses were mud-brick and people burned their trash because pick-up was unreliable. The kids – like all kids – latched on to us instantly and were the best at making me feel welcome in a secluded mountain town filled with rather reticent individuals. Still, united through “Inka” blood and an undying love of gelatina, my campo pals weren’t so different than their city-dwelling cousins. Cusqueñans – those actually from within the city limits – live in a place dominated by tourists for 10 months out of the year. Most seem to have a love-hate relationship with gringos: on the one hand they seem to be genuinely enchanted with me and Mads simply because we’re white, and on the other, I get the vibe that many locals are frustrated with the jetsetters who just stop through Cusco and never bother to learn or appreciate anything more cultural than what comprises a Pisco Sour and how to get to Machu Picchu.
Last week I struck up a conversation with a Californian who was sitting in Guido’s café. Excited at the chance to converse in American English I asked him the standard backpacker questions: how long have you been here, where did you go, what did you see… yadda yadda yadda. After three weeks in Peru he said he’d noticed a few cultural differences like how long it takes for your food to arrive at restaurants and how food was lacking that sugary, processed taste. Then he said I must have noticed tons of these nuances during my three months, and asked what my thoughts were. That’s when I realized I’ve been here too long, because I could hardly come up with any of these probably very obvious differences. But, having had a week to think about it, here’s what I got (in no particular order):
- Everyone you remotely care about (like draw the line at cab drivers you’ve had brief interactions with) is referred to with a term of endearment. For instance, I have been called: Katysita, cariño, princesa, gringuita bonita, hermosa, chica bonita…you get the idea. It was a bit disarming at first because I had absolutely no idea how to reciprocate or whether that was even appropriate.
- Everything Peru ever did – or will do – is spectacular, as all the men over 50 will gladly tell you. This country has the finest food, people, history, artists, authors, and anything else you can think of. Don’t fight it.
- The command form. I realize this is ubiquitous in Spanish-speaking countries, but this was my first experience grasping damelo and sientate. Once you get the hang of it, it really comes in handy with unruly children.
- The por favor inflection. When a Peruvian asks you for a favor they conjure up this sweet voice they must have stolen from high school girls, and drag out the two words while they practically bat their eyes at you. Needless to say, it works.
- If someone asks you do wait for “un ratito” or to come out for “un ratito” it’s going to be a few hours. Yes, that word means “a little while” but you might want to clear out your schedule. This coincides with the fact that “ahora” rarely means now, and just because you made plans, does not necessarily mean they will happen.
- Despite the whole cute-name-thing people are pretty conservative here and you’ll get some looks if your clothes expose anything below the neck or above the knees.
- American music is inescapable. It’s impossible to go a day without hearing Tracy Chapman, Queen or Rihanna.
- Cusqueñans are extremely generous and caring and mostly just want you to learn to love their culture.
That’s about it. Ciao Peru. Ta ta for now.