Peculiarities of life in Peru – what will be of interest to tourists and lovers of learning new things

10 peculiarities of life in Peru which make visitors simply throw up their hands

Many people associate Peru primarily with the high spurs of the Andes, the ancient city of Machu Picchu and snow-white alpacas. But it is not these glorious things that usually baffle travelers who make their way to this country. Some household peculiarities which seem quite usual for the Peruvians are a real discovery for the inhabitants of other lands.

In Peru, it is not customary to hang heavy objects above the bed or to put bulky things on top of shelves

Peruvian housing varies greatly from region to region. In the mountains houses are traditionally built of stone, in the jungle – of wood, and in the cities – of bricks or blocks. Earthquakes also make their own adjustments. The country is located in the infamous Pacific volcanic ring of fire. Most of the time this natural disaster goes almost unnoticed. But sometimes the magnitude of the tremors can be more than impressive.

Therefore, when choosing a future home it is carefully checked for compliance with all state codes. In Peru, it is not customary to hang mirrors over the bed, because they can fall and injure someone during earthquakes. For the same reason, heavy shelves, bulky paintings and other objects are not placed over beds, chairs and sofas. And in the house always keep a flashlight, a battery-powered radio, a supply of canned food, water, and necessary medications.

When they leave home, they try to take toilet paper with them.

Peruvian toilet culture is a special case. Because of the nature of the sewage system here it is strictly forbidden to throw toilet paper down the toilet. Otherwise a clog is guaranteed. In most public places, paper is hard to find. Somewhere install vending machines for the sale of this material. But the farther the toilet is from the city center, the less chance to meet this object of hygiene. Therefore, all travelers are recommended to carry a roll with them. In many toilets, toilets do not have the usual seat. The reason for this puzzling phenomenon is simple: it is almost impossible to buy a seat separately from the faience base. If the part breaks, the toilet bowl is left without this element.

Some homes do not have plumbing

Lima, the capital of Peru, is one of the most populous cities in South and North America. Although the metropolis is located on the coast of the Pacific Ocean, the problem of public access to water here is acute. Nearly 1.5 million residents have limited access to this resource. In some areas, homes are not connected to the city’s water system. The necessary liquid is delivered here in special cisterns. The inexorable melting of glaciers in the Andes (and since the 1970s their area has shrunk by 40%) leads to a decrease in water resources, as well as to the contamination of sources with metals. It is not recommended to drink tap water in Peru. Although it can be used for household purposes.

It is not difficult to rent a suitable home in Peru. Usually one looks for an apartment or house on special websites. Or simply wander around the neighborhoods you like. If the property is for sale or for rent, on the windows hang a phone number. In the center of the capital apartment with 2 bedrooms is about $ 1,000. In more modest areas you can find a home for $ 300-600. In the cheapest options sometimes there is no hot water, internet and other necessities. In addition, the tenant often bears not only the cost of utilities, but also the maintenance of the property. It is worth stipulating all these points with the landlord in advance.

If the building is not connected to the water supply, it is difficult to organize a normal bathroom in it. That is why dry toilets are very popular in Peru now. Their waste is separated and no liquid is used for draining.

Politeness is paramount here

Peruvians are very friendly and sociable, especially in the big cities. It is easy to have an unpretentious conversation even with a stranger. However, there are certain rules that must be followed. Personal space is treated somewhat differently than we are used to. In the process of conversation, a person can get too close and even touch the other person. No matter how uncomfortable it may be, to move away under no circumstances – this is a real insult to the interlocutor.

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If the party is set for 7:00 p.m., no one expects guests before 7:30. Even at weddings, invitees may be late by entering the church after the ceremony has begun. But you should be on time for a celebratory dinner or a business meeting. Peruvians do not like to refuse a request or help. Therefore, they may agree to a meeting and then not come to it without warning. Or tell you the wrong direction.

There are no lines as such. The only time you might see them is at the bank. When meeting even strangers, such as waiters or cab drivers, be sure to say hello. Say good-bye when parting. A kiss on the cheek is a proper gesture. But one should always lean to the left to avoid an awkward bump of the forehead. Questions that we tend to classify as personal, such as marital status or the presence of children, here are discussed at the first meeting. Don’t be offended by that.

Peruvians are very serious about their appearance

The people of Peru like to follow a very strict dress code. At work they still show up in ties and business suits. T-shirts, shorts and flip-flops are only appropriate attire for a beach party. You should not come to the party dressed like that. Before you come to a wedding or other event, it is worth to clarify the acceptable form of clothing. Otherwise, you may inadvertently offend those present. For example, dressed up too magnificent or, conversely, too modest.

Conductors in buses not only charge for travel

In Peru’s capital the most popular form of public transport is buses. Trip on them can be a real test for the nervous system of unprepared people. There are a lot of routes, and serve them with large cars, medium-sized and minibuses. The latter are famous for their liveliness and dashing on the road. The main streets and avenues passed by the vehicle are usually written on the side of the car. And the number consists of a combination of letters and numbers.

As the bus travels down the street, the conductor at the door calls out to passengers. He can also tell travelers the exact route. Ticket is bought from him. It is advisable to pay in small bills, without change. Earlier buses stopped on demand. The passenger had to shout loudly enough that he wanted to get off at a particular place. Now that technique doesn’t work everywhere. Transportation fleets still mostly consist of old and not very comfortable cars.

Cash is preferred for payment in Peru

Many Peruvian establishments accept not only local currency, but also dollars. Foreign bills are subject to certain requirements: no chips, scuffs, dents or tears. Otherwise the money will simply not be accepted. Another common problem is the circulation of counterfeit banknotes. This is usually encountered by tourists or people who have recently moved to Peru. Real bills are easy to identify to the touch – they are made of cotton. The watermarks and serial number should be clearly visible, and the color should change when the paper is twisted in your hands. It is possible to pay for services in cash or by bank card. But the first method is preferred. It is always better to have change, because not every institution can change a large bill.

To drive a car on local roads, you need to have nerves of iron

Driving on the roads here is a special kind of art. Big cities suffer from traffic jams, and in the countryside the quality of the roads can be frustrating. In the nation’s capital, residents sometimes have to get up before dawn to get to work on time. Otherwise, one may get stuck in a real traffic jam. Not everyone uses turn signals. If someone is planning to change lanes, he usually indicates the direction by sticking his hand out the window.

Behind the wheel, you need to stay calm and composed. Most drivers, regardless of gender and age love to play catch-up and try their best to slip ahead in all situations. Both motorists and pedestrians are advised to be careful when the traffic signal starts flashing. This is perceived as a call to increase speed, not to slow down. The concept of one-way traffic is usually simply ignored. If one lives on that street, one will not circle around the neighborhood to follow the traffic signs.

Peruvians have their own favorite kind of cola

The nation’s favorite drink is Inca Kola. The lemonade tastes like chewing gum and is drunk by everyone, from small to large, which does not make the local dentists too happy. Visitors are advised not to speak ill of the local cola: it may greatly offend the Peruvians. The country is famous for its varied and interesting cuisine. And not all dishes here are spicy. But aji sauce is really a tear-jerker, it should be added to food with caution. The most famous dish, ceviche, can be an appetizer as well as a main course. It is slices of raw fish soaked in a lemon sauce. It is better to eat ceviche at trusted restaurants because the marinade does not kill all the bacteria.

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Groceries are inexpensive. 1 kg of fresh shrimp will cost about $10. The bill for lunch at a sidewalk café is $3, and to eat at a decent restaurant for more than $50 would be a challenge. It is quite safe to eat in street establishments. The main thing is to avoid mayonnaise-based sauces if possible, as they can go bad. Peruvians are proud of their culinary traditions. That is why it is hard to find restaurants that specialize in Western cuisine. There are several international chains, such as Pizza Hut and KFC. But they are not particularly popular.

In some hotels it is easier to find an oxygen tank than a hairdryer or an alarm clock

Peru has a peculiar system of dividing hotels into different types. Hotels are usually referred to as expensive and fashionable establishments. Some are part of international chains. Simpler and private pensions are referred to as hostels. Do not confuse them with the usual hostels. Budget options offer a fairly high level of service. Moreover, the owners of such places try to do everything possible to make their guests happy staying at their hotel.

Expensive hotels sometimes add not only 10% service charge to the total bill but also a special tax equal to 19% of the cost. People residing outside of Peru do not have to pay the latter. In some hotel rooms in Peru, oxygen cylinders are mandatory for guests. They are needed to combat altitude sickness. Such additions can be found in hotels in Cusco. But an alarm clock or hair dryer is a luxury that not every hotel has.

How Peruvians live and what you can learn from them (and what you shouldn’t)

Photo: collage: Valeria Snoz

Journalist Anastasia Polosina, who moved to Chile, talks about neighboring Peru. In the homeland of the Incas, which is almost unspoiled by civilization, the ancient heritage gets along with tourist attractions, and haute cuisine – with gastronomic extremes.

A girl of about seven with a goat in her arms approaches the table on the terrace of a cafe in the Sacred Valley. She is wearing a bright embroidered pink cardigan, a wide skirt, and a bulky hat that resembles a lamp floor lamp. The fringe of the hat flutters in time with the girl’s movements. The white goat, which looks like a live toy, is drowned in motley wool pompoms. The girl offers the visitors of the cafe souvenirs. On being refused, she shrugs her shoulders indifferently and disappears into the crowd of tourists.

In the highland villages across the country live people whose way of life has changed little since the days of the Inca Empire, which stretched across most of Peru, except that there is electricity, and children play soccer balls on the dusty roads.

Cusco, Peru

To this day, the country has a huge number of Quechuas, direct descendants of the Incas, who had black tarred hair, broad cheekbones, and an eagle’s profile. They settled in high mountain regions with difficult living conditions, which isolated this Andean people from the rest of the region for a long time.

The Quechua carry their children and belongings in woolen stoles behind their backs, as their ancestors did hundreds of years ago. They also carry goods for sale in the cities – those who are poorer go down to sell roasted maize, the sack with which they place directly on the sidewalk, and knit on the ground while waiting for customers.

Photo: Anastasia Polosina

Photo: Anastasia Polosina

Photo: Anastasia Polosina

Tiny cholitas, carrying bulky bales on their backs, are an impressively archaic phenomenon. Civilization has come, with its imaginary benefits, Starbucks and messengers, and nothing has changed for these women with long braids. Neither under the Inca Empire, nor under the Kingdom of Peru, nor under the Republic of Peru. Except that there was a new niche for making money – selling souvenirs and knitwear to tourists, or gringos. And posing in dressy costumes with a llama on a string. For many highland families this is an important source of income.

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The superstitious beliefs of the Quechua Indians are also strong. The roofs of houses in the Sacred Valley are still decorated with statues of two clay bulls, symbolizing the balance of bad and good spirits – they protect the inhabitants.

Paradoxically, the Inca language was only recognized as an official language along with Spanish forty years ago. Although it is the second most popular language in Peru, it is spoken by 18% of the population. Peru has 47 languages, including those spoken by a maximum of forty people. Such vitality of a thousand-year-old culture, which has been frozen for centuries and against all odds, is impressive.

Time to pick up the stones, or Betting on tourism

When you say Peru, you think of Machu Picchu. The Inca citadel, which was never reached by the determined conquistadors, is now being stormed by equally determined tourists. The Incas left the place long before the conqueror Francisco Pissaro came to Peru. Machu Picchu had been peacefully crumbling and overgrown with vines for five hundred years until the Englishman Hiram Bingham set foot there in 1911. He saw piles of stone blocks, which he wrote about in his books.

Machu Picchu

The Peruvians figured it was time to pick up the stones, literally. They restored the fortress and brought it to its present instagram look. The wise decision took the country’s tourism to a new level. Today, Machu Picchu welcomes no more than 5,940 people a day, as befits royalty. And how many unawakened citadels still lurk in the surrounding mountains.

Another attraction of the region is the blocks of granite boulders, matched to each other without any mortar, and so tightly that even a blade would not fit through. There are more mysteries around the ancient walls than answers; some historians believe that they were erected by a culture more advanced and ancient than the Incas. Today, these blocks of stone rise up narrow roads to Cuzco and give the city the appearance of an Inca abode. But this was not always the case.

Photo: Anastasia Polosina

The conquistadors built houses and cathedrals on the sturdy foundations of Inca buildings, among which were many temples and palaces. Frequent earthquakes destroyed Spanish buildings, and Inca masonry came to light from under their remains. In the twentieth century, Peruvians decided to pay homage to their cultural heritage and cleared away the granite blocks of their distant ancestors from the sediment.

The former residences of prominent colonial figures and monasteries are now home to five-star hotels. It’s hard not to see the irony and new historical priorities of Peruvians in these changes. After all, it is not only the cultural heritage of the nation, but also a gold mine.

Photo: Anastasia Polosina

Cheerful road chaos.

A nimble tuk-tuk undercuts the crowd, the flow of cars is echoed by the roll call of klaxons, the red signal at a traffic light is like a “Look out for the car!” sign for a pedestrian.

On Peruvian roads there is a kind of Asian chaos in a softened version. The cacophony of sound is its soundtrack, the suffocating gassiness an omen.

Cusco, Peru

The love of Peruvians for specific car tuning is also noticeable. Neon lights of acid shades shimmer in the headlights and in the interior like a store sign at night. Peruvian-style afterburner.

Driving a car in this country is stressful. Being a passenger is no less of a challenge to one’s sanity. And a pedestrian would do well to forget everything he knows about pedestrian rights and turn on level ten discretion.

Cusco, Peru

Segregation in society according to skin color and social origin is ubiquitous in Latin America, as a tribute to the colonial past. The higher the percentage of the population in a country in which indigenous blood has not been diluted by conquistadors and then by other European immigrants, the greater the hierarchy and division into subgroups.

In Peru there are more than enough descendants of Indians, and therefore the division into classes is very clear. Self-made stories are rare, and the social elevators are creaking. One glance is enough for a Peruvian to determine a person’s status by his or her manner and appearance.

Wealthy Peruvians are a closed society – they live in strictly defined neighborhoods, in a tight circle. It is no coincidence that many of them are tall, bright-eyed, and radiant – marriages are strictly with their own kind.

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The middle class has been growing numerically in recent years. The Peruvian is a classic mestizo, where indigenous and Spanish genes are intertwined in different proportions. A separate backbone at the bottom of the social ladder are the Quechua and other Amerindian groups. As a rule, they are the poorest strata of the population.

Photo: Anastasia Polosina

The foreigner from the Western countries will always remain a mysterious object for the locals, the name of which is gringo. Initially, the term was used to refer to Americans on vacation in the textbook image – with burnt faces, khaki shorts, and panama hats. Gradually, the term was applied to all Western visitors, that is, pampered rich people from what Peruvians consider prosperous countries. And it is not just about appearance – a Peruvian from a high social class may be fair-faced, may not differ at all from a Spanish from the northern provinces, while a visiting gringo may be swarthy and stunted. But there is a gulf between them. The gringo knows nothing of the hardships of real life, so he must be treated with leniency.

Peruvians rarely think about the fact that in every country of the world there are poor and rich, the division into socio-economic groups. After all, if it is not “written on one’s face,” how can one understand it? What traits do you use to “scan” your interlocutor?

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“Do you accept MasterCards?” “Of course, we accept all cards,” the hotel receptionist reassures me. The assurance is false, and at checkout I run all over town looking for the only ATM where I ran out of cash on Monday morning and it’s Wednesday.

Getting specifics out of my interlocutor in Peru is sometimes a challenge. According to the logic of the locals, there is a palette of shades between “yes” and “no”, and everyone can find one to their liking. Why limit yourself?

Photo: Anastasia Polosina

Complicating your life with extra responsibility and obligations is the choice of the strong of spirit, and they are hard to find. To live in peace and harmony among Peruvians, you must maneuver through the chaos of unpunctuality, cultivate Christian humility, and accept the fact that many promises will not be kept and deadlines will not be met. May you take solace in the fact that this is not willful bad faith, but natural simplicity. A business dialogue with a Peruvian is sometimes tedious and ineffective, and only practice will help one navigate what is good and what is, by local standards, rather bad.

Universal advice for traveling to this South American country is to allow extra time for all travel and important events.

Peruvians will not let you doubt this and will help you regain your faith in humanity. Any problem will be discussed with a stranger in detail, will help with advice as best they can, will lead by the hand to the right crossroads. If they don’t help, they will at least sympathize, sparing no kind words and exclamations.

Peruvians are not shy about openly expressing their emotions and showing tears of grief or joy. They are not taught from childhood that boys do not cry and girls are always princesses, so they remain direct all their lives.

Lima, Peru

When communicating with Peruvians, you must also remember ceremonial – forget about harsh tone and straightforwardness and do not skimp on smiles and words of gratitude, even on trivial occasions. Otherwise, the interlocutor can be called an ill-mannered rude man. However, young people, especially in the capital, refer to the rules of communication a little easier – affecting the globalization.

Remember, you always have a topic of conversation. It is enough to mention that you are from Russia, and a Peruvian will puzzle you with a heap of questions. About the weather, the winter, the president, and now about the last World Cup. 22 thousand Peruvian fans came to Russia, and it seems that they took with them only fond memories of our country.

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To the resounding tones of the Cusco Cathedral’s bells, I study the menu of the day. I reach the “ceviche” section. There’s only one item on the list that looks at me. Puzzled. “Where’s the mixto ceviche? Where’s the ceviche de camaron? How about ceviche con leche de tigre?” – “They serve one kind of ceviche in Cuzco: river trout,” the waitress says with emphatic politeness. What can I, an uninitiated gringo, take from the mysteries of Peruvian cuisine? Especially at 3400 meters above sea level.

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My sophisticated curiosity is a matter of habit – in neighboring Chile, where I live, there are hundreds of Peruvian restaurants. And everything in them, from the menu, to the chef, to the waiters, to the design, is Peruvian. Peruvians are more proud of their ceviche than Machu Picchu. Barely recognizing your name, a Peruvian will ask if you’ve tried it. Did you like it? Don’t even think of answering in the negative if you want to continue the conversation.

Ceviche is not just a dish of raw fish marinated in lemon juice, with a scattering of red onion rings and a generous portion of cilantro. By the way, it is always served with a side dish of boiled yams, corn kernels, fried maize grains, and nothing else.

Ceviche is a source of pride, the identity of a nation. The dish is officially recognized as the country’s cultural heritage, has become a symbol of the renaissance of Peruvian cuisine, has taken cities and continents by storm, and seamlessly fits into the menus of expensive restaurants all over the world – from Moscow to New York. And Lima got a ringing status of the gastronomic capital of Latin America.

Peruvian Ceviche

Peruvian cuisine is built on the principle of local and seasonal, as befits a country with a wide range of climatic zones. It is not a fad, but a harsh necessity. The highlands of the Andes, where people live above 3,000 meters, do not indulge in a variety of foods. That is why the ceviche uses trout from the surrounding rivers rather than fish from the ocean depths, because it is almost a thousand kilometers away from the coast.

The main ingredients in the Andes are quinoa grits, maize, llama and alpaca meat, and potatoes. Peru is probably the world champion in the number of varieties of potatoes. Corn from orange to lilac in color with giant kernels is also impressive. Quechua women boil the cobs in a pot right outside. And cups of roasted kernels are sold at every turn in Cusco. Black corn is used to make a sweet drink called chicha morada, while regular corn is used to make chicha beer.

The vegetable rows are dotted with bundles of hot peppers: yellow ahi limo, orange ahi amarillo, and scarlet rocoto, which resemble sweet bell peppers, but appearances are deceptive. The rocoto is baked and stuffed with quinoa.

The region’s main gastronomic attraction is fried guinea pig kui. It’s not a swear word, all within the bounds of propriety and in accordance with the rules of Spanish transcription.

Photo: Anastasia Polosina

In the city market of San Pedro once saw a picture, after which I soon converted to vegetarianism. The vendor was holding a sack with a dozen fried carcasses sticking out, frozen in their final agony. The guinea pigs in the bag were like a bouquet of roses in a bag. Passersby came up and stared at the merchandise, which from a distance-and unknowingly-could have been mistaken for rats.

If the kui didn’t satisfy the gastronomic curiosity of a foreign visitor, the locals would offer an alpaca steak. Yes, yes, Peruvians not only knit from the valuable wool of the alpaca, but also eat its meat with pleasure. Waste-free production in the mountains is also a necessity.

By the way, you can’t find all these dishes in Lima. After all, the alpaca pastures are miles away from the capital, and the ocean is right there, wrapping up with a breeze, just stretching out your hand. Geography and seasons in Peru dictate the menu, which gives each region a gastronomic identity.

Fusion on a plate

New Peruvian cuisine as a gastronomic phenomenon is on the lips of many. But what about Japanese-Peruvian nikkei cuisine? On such a menu sake is combined with pisco (a type of grape vodka – RBK Style commentary), sushi and sashimi with ceviche, seaweed with quinoa. Two cuisines in one menu united not only the love for seafood, but also the history of Japanese immigrants in Peru. The word “nikkei” in Japan refers to those who went to live in a foreign land.

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The main feature of this menu is the juxtaposition of South American and Asian cuisine, located on opposite ends of the world, but sharing a culinary approach to raw fish. Why not use similar notes, thought the resourceful chefs of the new wave, and turned the nikey into their religion, the name of which is Peruvian gastronomy.

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