Peru- a colorful, cultural, lively, and friendly place that is full of curiousity of the world around it. I went to Peru for many reasons, one of the main ones for dental anthropological research to investigate wear patterns of teeth at an archaeological site located in Marcajirca, north of Huari. This project was mainly for my senior thesis and consisted the use of vinyl poly-soloxene to create dental impressions of over sixty individuals at the site. These dental impressions will be further investigated in the EMS lab under electron microscopy at New Mexico State University. The other reasons were mainly for the experience of travel, as it was my first time out of the United States and I am always thirsty for an adventure as it is. I certainly received such an adventure.
For this blog post, I will go ahead and admit that I have been thinking over and over again as to what to exactly blog about. Usually blogs are stating what one goes through and rant on about a clichéd event, and I did not want to fall into that category. I decided to wait until I returned from my trip with the full knowledge of my experience and what it entailed for me as an anthropologist to be still an anthropologist despite being a bit of a tourist and researcher. People focus on experiences without realizing how important an interaction can be and how we relate to each other as a people. I find that this is something worth mentioning and will do my best, for you as a reader, to portray this, firstly in Lima, and then later I will write on about the more rural parts of Peru.
When I realized I was going to Peru, it never really hit me at how different of a society it is. I never received a large culture shock, possibly because New Mexico is full of Spanglish as it is and I grew up hearing a lot of Spanish being spoken around me. A lot of people warned me about the dangers of Peru as well, and I made sure to keep common sense with me. Stories of Peruvians being so rude and taking advantage of you were on my mind, yet I never had a problem in general with the locals, and I wish to refine these views that many may have while traveling.
With that in mind, I watched the people, in Lima, in Huaraz, and in Huari. I observed the locals, their actions towards me and the rest of the group that was taking part in the same field school I was in. I observed us as well, for it is somewhat fascinating as how anthropologists with Osteological knowledge can interact and feel that finally someone can understand their bone jokes. The best bottom line I found however is that we all got along, the locals and us as a large group, and no one was let down by others, they just moved on- something I feel isn’t very common in many parts of our own society. It was comforting really. In Lima, my first experience was when a couple of the girls and myself, meeting for the first time in the airport, rode in a taxi to get to the hostel in Lima. I sat in the front with the cab driver that didn’t speak English and I quickly realized how slow I was recalling my Spanish. Yet, a smiling face can go a long way, and as I was remembering words, I realized that the cab driver was describing places to visit; what beach was good to go to and which one to avoid. He helped with our bags up a long flight of stairs, which he didn’t need to do at all.
The main thing I noticed is that we were stared at, and we did stand out as a trio (at first, and then more so as our group increased gradually as others for the field school arrived to meet up in Lima before heading off to Huaraz). One of the girls had blonde hair, and was stared at the most I felt. We had a couple cars of people stop by us as we walked around the downtown area trying to talk to us, asking where we were from. We quickly answered and kept walking, intent on seeing the catacombs in Lima.
When we were at the catacombs, lots of schoolchildren where on tour and whispered to each other pointing at our English speaking tour group that we had joined. Soon they were coming up to us with paper and pens, signaling that they wanted our autographs. We were surprised really, as we were swarmed for a few minutes by a group of twenty children handing up papers. They kids then turned to follow their teacher saying a quick “gracias” and “ciao!”. It somewhat brightened my day, and confused me too as to why schoolchildren were so curious and acted as if they have never seen gringos before. Perhaps they never did and it was their one chance to prove to each other that they met other people from somewhere else away from what they know.
Later that same day we went to go find a place to eat for dinner, and after finding another one of the girls for the field school, we headed off in search of food. Lima at night is certainly a lively place still. People danced in the parks, artisans sold their goods in open marketplaces, and waiters with menus constantly going up to you, eager to get your business. Once we have decided a place to eat, we received great service, and a couple of musicians came in and played us music while we ate ceviche (raw fish with Limón and spices served with white rice). After the meal we walked down the strip with all of these restaurants and people constantly calling out to us to get our attention and have our business. Again, common sense is definitely something to have with you in your own pocket, and we headed back to the hostel to see if more of the group for the field school had arrived.
The next day ran similarly, as our group grew into a large size. Traveling as a large group can be difficult too, as we often had to run across streets and redo head counts to keep track of everyone. As we arrived to take the metro, we gathered up our change to pay our way as a group onto our metrocard. When we put our change into the machine, we took our card out not knowing that it did not load and we had to repay. One of the metro guards came up to us as we ran into confusion as to why the card did not work to let us thru to the station. He tried to explain to us what happened, giving us a receipt to get our money back, and we were a bit dumbfounded as to what to do, since we did not have much change left on us to pay for both a way there and back to downtown. As we were trying to communicate, a local lady came up to us, speaking a little bit of English, and offered to pay for our group, a good twenty soles, to get onto the metro. We gave her the receipt to be fair, but it was such a kind thing that she did for we would not have made it to the downtown area if it were not for her!
Overall, before we all headed off to get the bus to Huaraz, I feel that Lima was full of people wanting to help as long as you were sincere in needing help. A “por favor” and “gracias” goes a long way, and even as an intimidating group of obviously non-locals, we were treated kindly by businesses serving us and people giving us directions, and even by simple folk asking where we were from and how we enjoyed Peru. Sure we were stared at a bit, and it may be possible that many thought that as tourists we had a bit of money to spare. Yet personally, I found that kindness, along with curiousity, allowed for us to get around Lima without much trouble. Now Lima was a bit different from Huaraz and Huari simply because it is a larger and much more diverse place. There were many tourists around, and so it was more common to see lighter skin people with backpacks in the area. When we arrived to the more rural places, the treatment was a bit different, and I will go through in explaining that in my next post.
Despite cultural views and different treatments, or possible similar if you are willing to be open minded about where you are, really creates a perspective on the dynamics of people, and I find that being part of this dynamic in traveling makes for a more wholesome experience.