Bitten by the travel bug since wondering the cities of Japan and having finally completed my university degree, I was persuaded by a high school friend to trek to the lost city of Machu Picchu as a ritual to bid farewell to university life.
The only thing I knew about Peru was that it was a third world country, aka, it wouldn’t be as luxurious and comfortable a trip as Japan ( oh was this an underestimation). The flight tickets and trek tour were purchased months in advanced ( even before I went to Japan) and the itinerary mostly planned out by my friends, I did not really do much research about Peru until the week before leaving Australia. Having never really done any trekking in my entire life, I spent around $700 on a bag, hiking pants, jacket and hiking boots from Macpac and downloaded a few ebooks on basic Spanish before leaving.
TLDR; By the end of the trip, I was in absolute despair and regret, wondering why I ever decided to fork out half my savings to suffer for 3 weeks in a third world country (where expenses were on par with a first world country). However, its been about 8 months since the trip and everytime I look at my battle scars in the mirror ( mosquito bite marks running across the back of my arms which has yet to fade after 8 months) I can’t help but smile a bit, knowing that I managed to survive in a country whereby things that I would call basic necessities, would be considered a luxury in parts of Peru; and feel fortunate enough to go to a place where many of my Asian peers may never visit in their entire lives. For the rest of you who wants to continue reading…
My story begins in the sea side capital city of Lima, the grey city. After multiple flights, me and my companions unloaded our belongings at our hostel before having a a delicious meal at the local food franchise Pardo’s Chicken. It was my first time tasting beef heart skewers paired with Aji sauce and it was amazing as the tender meat, rich with spices combined meticulously with the dressing. The fried chicken was also a delight and as I found later, much better than the local KFC.
Our flight to Cusco was several days later, so with little to do, we spent our time roaming around. Our very first destination was Plaza San Martin which was a massive town square with fabulous European styled buildings, this type of architecture and town layout was very new to me as it isn’t found in Australia thus I found it quite fascinating.
With intentions of seeing the real side of Peru and not only the fancy tourist areas, we travelled via taxi to the slums, walking passed many vibrant coloured buildings, spotting vehicles that I have never seen in Australia, finally into one of the local indoor street markets. Walking through the various stalls and stands, some selling vegetables, some meat, some spices; my first impressions was of the putrid smell in the air. At first I wasn’t too sure what it was, but as my friends and I moved closer to a meat stall with slabs of meat and half dissected chickens hanging on display, its innards still filled with organs and prematured sacks of eggs, flies flying about, it became apparent what we were smelling.
With little money left ( Peruvian sols are only used within Peru and we only exchanged abit of our US money at the airport because of horrible exchange rates), we decided to pay Chinatown a visit, hoping to find a local Chinese who would be able to help us out, and try to out some of the many local Chinese restaurants ( Chifa ). As much as I would have liked to call it Chinatown, it was oddly strange when not a single person in sight was Chinese, though we did spot a few Peruvians with some chinese facial features. My friends and I were the only Chinese people walking about thus we attracted alot of stares. After walking for a while with little luck spotting anyone who seemed like they would speak any Chinese ( Spanish is the native language and English isnt particularly popular in the non-tourist locations) we managed to find the most Chinese looking restaurant to eat. Despite having a menu filled with dishes I am familiar with, it was quite interesting how different(badly) it tasted. I think I have to attribute this to the lower quality food used, the noodles were rough and non-chewy, and strangely, each wonton I tried tasted different to each other although I only ordered a pork wonton noodle soup. So having learnt that Chinese food probably isn’t the best cuisine to eat ( it is Peru after all) we decided to stick to other cuisines.
The following days we bummed about Miraflores( the tourist side of Lima), dined at the fanciest restaurant by the sea side, San Rosa Nautica, which probably has the best food in all of Lima, visited the shopping mall built on the side of a mountain by the sea,Larcomar, and tried deep fried guinea pig (quite frankly tasted like pigeon in chinese restaurants), nothing particularly interesting.
The highlight of our stay in Lima would have to be our visit to the Huaca Pucllana Ruins, which I do highly recommend if ever visiting Lima.Walking around the sandy ruins did give a feel of being in one of Indiana Jones’ movies whilst admiring the minecraft-like architecture and learning fun facts along the way. It was very interesting to learn how short Peruvians were in the past and how it was a common ritual to sacrifice a mother and its new born baby because it was believed that the new born baby, having just passed from the other side of life, would be able to lead the dead to the afterlife.