Similar to other countries we visited on our trip, we would like to share some thoughts and observations on Peru. This is by no means an academic essay but rather our own personal summary…
The exclusive history focus on the Inkas is not understandable
What historic culture do you think about when you hear the word “Peru”? Let us guess… it will be the Incas. Given the Incas were only in power for less than 100 years, this is actually quite odd. Furthermore, the term “Inca” only refers to the emperor, the people were actually the “Quechua”.
The Inca Empire was definitely very impressive, no doubt. It is also understandable that Machu Picchu and all the stories about the empire are an easy sell to tourists. However, the pure focus on this one culture neglects the incredible history of pre-Inca times when countless different cultures occupied the Andean region and developed a distinct Andean culture and belief system. As we explained in our blog post about the northern part of Peru, a lot of the pre-Inca history can be discovered there. Developing an understanding of the cultures that lived in Peru before the Incas also helps a great deal to analyze and understand them since they built a lot of their own culture and belief system on what was already there.
Some Peruvians seem to have a weird work ethic
All the owners and staff of the hospedajes (homestays) and hostels we stayed in were super nice, friendly and helpful and seemed to work really hard for their business. However, we met many other people, especially in sales-related jobs, who were quite the opposite. Quite often when we wanted to buy something or asked for some information, we had the feeling the person on the other side of the counter was not listening and also did not want to listen or care if you bought something. The few times somebody actually efficiently answered our questions and sold us something with a bit of energy we were actually a bit surprised. It seems that these people had absolutely no interest in their work and were really simply waiting for their shift to be over. It is never easy to make general statements about people from a whole country or region but during our six months trip through Asia we hardly met anyone with such an attitude in a service job.
Similarly, a few of our several tour guides just did not particularly care to do a good job. This was despite the fact that they clearly knew a lot and seemed like knowledgeable guides. One guide for example left us mid-visit in the Ruins of Ollantaytambo, shook a few hands goodbye and practically ran out. The other one actually abandoned our group at the bottom of a Canyon to go to a fiesta in the next village and only came back the following morning. Both were called Carlos by the way, maybe it was the name… 🙂
People in the Andes are more reserved than we expected
Our impression was that indigenous people of the Andes do not smile or joke around all the time. They also seem to be a bit reserved towards foreigners. Contrary to nearly all our experiences in Asia for example, people furthermore do not like to be photographed. When we asked them if we could take a picture the answer nearly always was no. Obviously this is 100% ok, it is simply something we have observed here and found worth noting.
One explanation we heard for the reserved behavior of indigenous people is the repeated suppression they historically experienced, first by the Incas, then by the Spanish. We also heard that this possibly suppresses a culture of innovation as well since they were always told what to do – pursuing your own ideas was never tolerated or even promoted.
Regional identity seems very important in Peru
Peruvians seem to identify a lot with their region. Since Peru is so geographically and ethnically diverse, people seem rather proud of their regional identity. This is especially true in Arequipa, which tried to revolt 57 times against the central administration in Lima. The locals there adamantly told us they were Arequipeños rather than Peruvian. This goes so far that you can even buy an Arequipa passport in souvenir stores that had been in use for a short while during the Salpeter War with Chile.
In this context, clothing plays a huge role. The pretty embroidered dresses and decorated hats in different shapes people wear show which village they belong to. Often the entire village or family wears the same clothes. Like a uniform it shows where people belong to. Women in the Sierra can be seen carrying babies or goods around in brightly coloured textiles wrapped around their back. Men also carry this type of Andean backpack.
Peru is a very Catholic country
More than 90% of Peruvians are Christian and the majority of them are Catholic. As a visitor to Peru this is hard to miss since there are churches everywhere… What is really interesting though is how pre-Spanish beliefs were mixed with Catholicism. One good example for this is the local belief in Pachamama or mother earth. She is considered the highest deity in Andean religion and she represents among other themes fertility, harvest and the female. One way to combine Pachamama with Catholicism was simply to worship her through Virgin Mary.
We experienced the role religion still plays nowadays when we were lucky enough to observe a Corpus Christi procession in Cusco, see image below. The whole Plaza Mayor was packed with people, something we have never seen back home…