Sunday, May 5, 2013

Perú, Perú!

Sometimes, delayed gratification is a good thing.

It took me close to 20 years to come to this mystic land of llamas and icy peaks that hem in the land, of soft-spoken people so very proud of their Inca ancestry; of food so varied, so fine, flavor so delicate, the only thing that comes close to it is
the genteel demeanor of the people.

This country of foggy coastland, of gigantic volcanoes as alive today as when the Inca believed them to be breathing gods of sizzling tempers that required the ultimate sacrifice to be appeased, of green mountains and forest so high above sea level coca tea is the only way to keep from passing out.

And, in the west, the obscene fertility of the Amazon rainforest.

Perú reminds me of México in a dèja vu so violent it might give me vertigo if it weren't so pleasant.

There's the obvious ways: the people--the amabilidad, the attitude towards service, the discreet efficiency, the respectfulness.

The variety of the food. Ingredients are different, as are the end results (there's no anticuchos in México, or quínua, and Perú doesn't use tortillas or other products of maíz nixtamalizado), but the similarity is in the style. The use of sauces, for example.

Anticuchos. Note the yellow sauce on the right?
That's huancaína, and it's de-li-cious.
The use of chile--and, although Peruvians have different names for their chile, I'm pretty sure they're, at most, varieties of the same ones we use in México. Very few countries in South America--or anywhere else, for that matter--use chile like México. Colombia, for example, doesn't use it at all. Venezuela uses a mild variety, and only in a separate sauce meant to be added in very small amounts to certain kinds of food. Perú is the only one I know that uses it in the Mexican way--for flavor.

The variety in climate and regions is another obvious similarity: few countries have the range of climates Mexico has--from unblemished Caribbean beaches of powder-fine sand to high plateaus to forests to rainforest to deserts and dry-as-dust sierras. Well, Perú has them all--except the Caribbean beaches, but I hear the ones in the north might give Aruba a run for her money.

Cañon del Colca: a single location, three (sometimes four)
different climates.
But the main similarity I find, the one that might perhaps not be so obvious--not to the non-Mexican traveler--is the way of life. Social idiosyncrasy in Perú is so like the Mexican mindset that it blows my... well, mind. I think it stems from the unique circumstances surrounding the coming of the Spanish to both Mexico and Perú.

Both countries had a sophisticated culture thriving at the time of the Spanish arrival, which--in both cases--the Spanish sought to eradicate. They murdered the royalty and religious leaders, the scribes, the elite that held the keys to the culture's knowledge accrued over centuries, and they enslaved the rest under the guise of catechism. This segment of the population survived because they were quick to understand life depended on obedience, on--at least the appearance of--submission.

Quipú, the Inca writing system. First on the Spanish
murdering agenda: kill the scribes, the only ones that
could interpret them.
That submission, and its psychological consequences, has defined the Mexican soul for five centuries. The proud Mexica had to bow their heads, acknowledge themselves as inferior, at the mercy of what they considered barbarians. The result is a complex idiosyncrasy of a sort of guilty pride, a stubborn sense that the shame we feel for the native blood in our veins is wrong--and yet we do, we feel ashamed. Mexican social and political conflict, at its root, comes from this.

And I found it in Perú as well. Though Perú seems to be handling it much, much better. The economy is solid, social conscience is strong, national identity--thanks in perhaps large, perhaps small, part to Gastón Acurio and his cuisine magic--seems on the rise, but at the same time I perceived a strong sense of tolerance towards diversity. That is crucial in countries like Perú and México, where the endemic population is so incredibly diverse.

There's a sense of mystery to Perú that enchants. A feeling of magic that seeps under your skin. I know some people who've been to Perú and fallen in love--now I understand why.


  1. Thank you for sharing, I hope I'm able to visit Peru some day, sounds like an amazing place.

    1. Thank *you* for visiting, Evalina. Perú is totally amazing, and I do hope you get to see it for yourself :)

  2. We have friends who visited Peru last year, and they had nothing but fantastic things to say about the country and people there. We also have a Peruvian restaurant that opened near our house recently, and we've certainly been enjoying the cuisine--and the pisco sours as well. :D

    Hope I can visit in person some day, you've definitely convinced me to put it on my travel 'must' list.

    1. Oh man, yes! Perú is DA place. Seriously. A week back and I'm still under its spell. Go easy on the pisco sours, friend--they're deadly :D

  3. Hey! It's been a while since I've dropped by. Glad I did. Your perspective is always worth reading. And now I need to do some research on that Inca writing system. It is giving me chills just looking at that gorgeous piece of art.

    1. Glad you did, too! The quipú are definitely worth researching. Let me know if you find something interesting about them, and especially about any advances in breaking their code. They need a Rosetta stone :(

  4. Peru sounds lovely! I'll definitely share this with my dad. He'll love seeing all of your photos.

    1. Glad to hear it, Cindy! Would love to hear your Dad's take. Maybe he'd be willing to let me interview him for the blog? I'm planning a few more posts on Perú, and it'd be great to have a different perspective--you know, to sort of keep things objective ;)

  5. Your love for Peru shows so well in this post, Guilie. I can almost see a smile on your face as you recall the moments spent in the land of 'amabilidad,' especially since it reminds you of Mexico and home. By association, Peru is like a little piece of home, I assume, and I know the feeling. Not so much from visiting places, but from happening upon people from a certain part of the world, or a restaurant, a familiar dish.

    Beautifully written. I enjoyed the pictures and your take on the splendid country and its people.

  6. Hey G! Are you still here in Peru? I AM sales rep here now, coming e very 2 werks! I agree with all here! Ser ya

  7. I've never visited anywhere in South America, but by gosh I'd love to someday! Perú sounds (and looks...and no doubt tastes) like an amazing place!

  8. Peru sounds magical! Thanks for sharing your experience and the pictures.

  9. It sounds amazing! Love the pictures, especially the anticuchos - if it tastes as good as it looks, I could easily fall in love with the food. :-)
    I've nominated you for a little award today. If you'd like to accept it, you can pick it up from my blog.
    Just Ermie


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