Category Archives: Peru

You know what’s REALLY ugly?

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There’s a blog on Tumblr that I’ve noticed called K-Pop Meets Black Women. I liked it for reasons that I’ll get into in a minute, but today someone posted a really upsetting and quite shocking account about how she as a Black K-Pop fan has been treated by other fans. I mean, obviously I knew that Black K-Pop fans get a certain scrutiny that others do not, but WOW.

The whole underlying message is “You don’t belong here,” which (PSA time!) I hope everyone realizes is straight-up bullshit. I guess the little fig leaf for people pulling this kind of shit is that they think it’s not them being racist assholes, it’s Super Junior (or whatever K-Pop group that really didn’t ask to get dragged into this) being racist assholes. I’m sure they even delude themselves into thinking that they’re actually doing Black K-Pop fans–not to mention Koreans!–a favor by explaining that ALL Koreans are backwards horrible hate-filled racist douchebags who have never seen a Black person before in all their lives and will automatically react to Black fans with revulsion and disgust.

They’re very Up With People, you can tell.

I don’t recall seeing any disgust or revulsion at the two Block B concerts I was at, but maybe I’m just not sensitive enough.

Or maybe those people are full of shit.

I do think that part of the motivation is the whole weird crazy fangirl thing of attacking absolutely anyone who could possibly be “competition” for “their” idol. It’s this kind of thing, sent even further ’round the bend with the addition of a large helping of racism. And I’m sure just like with Infinite and the cougar, there’s that fear that if an idol likes a woman who doesn’t look like a particular fangirl, then he won’t like that fangirl.

Which he won’t, but that’s because she’s hateful and insecure, and anyone with a lick of sense avoids her like the plague.

Like they say: Beauty is only skin deep, but ugly goes straight to the bone.

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Anyway, back in a more innocent phase of my life–i.e. yesterday, or even this morning–I was liking that blog because I felt like it served as a counter to another set of dubious and offensive assumptions: Namely, that if you interact with foreigners, they will do horrible, horrible things to you.

You see that all kinds of places. For example, before I went to Peru, I went poking around the U.S. State Department’s Web site looking for things to frighten me into staying home.

That wasn’t actually why I was there, but that was the effect of reading it–honestly, I think the State Department’s secret mission is to encourage domestic tourism by informing Americans that if they go elsewhere, they will die horribly.

I was getting nervous (I had my elderly mother to think of!), but eventually I came across an “advisory” about how some people went on a boat tour of the Amazon River, and their boat was boarded and held up by a group of gunmen. So, the State Department told me, if I chose to go on a boat tour of the Amazon, I should try to make sure that gunmen didn’t board and rob it.

For the record, I live in a state with very lax gun laws, in the United States, a country with very lax gun laws. You know where I’m most likely to get held up by gunmen? IN MY OWN HOME.

Screw it, I decided. If I’m going to be held up by gunmen, I’m at least going to do it someplace cool.

And lo and behold, Peru was fine! It’s not like every last person was OK, but the percentage of people who were not OK there was certainly no higher there than it is here.

This kind of FUD gets thrown about with particular enthusiasm toward women. Don’t go here! They treat women like crap! Don’t go there! They’ll rape you! Stay at home, where that kind of thing never happens!

They’ll even tell women to not go hiking and camping! Why not? Because (get this) BEARS will be attracted to your menses and EAT YOU.

Of course. Because when there are no foreigners handy to threaten you with, there are always BEARS.

Do you know how I spent my teen years? Menstruating about BEAR COUNTRY with my sister and mother. Did we see many bears? Yes. Did they eat us? Strangely enough, no.

Maybe they just didn’t like white women. Maybe they were racist, foreign BEARS.

The Dogs of Peru

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My mother and I encountered our first dog of Peru in the Lima airport as we were waiting for our bags. He was a charming little beagle. We assumed he was a drug dog, and since we were not drug smugglers, we ignored him.

He was not a drug dog. We would see the drug dogs in the international departure lounge of the Lima airport. They were a lot bigger, and not nearly as cute.

The adorable petite beagle was, we were to discover, a fruit dog. A very good fruit dog. So good that he could smell the juice from the watermelon we had eaten as a snack on the plane through a bag and a sealed Tupperware container.

You are not supposed to bring fresh fruit into Peru, because it might contain exotic pests. Between our insufficient Spanish and the fruit guard’s insufficient English (and the fact that, no, we did not have fruit with us, because we had eaten it all), it took a while to sort out the situation. Eventually everything was cleared up, and we told the fruit dog that he was a good dog, because it’s not like you can blame the dog for doing his job and doing it well.

(And it gave us an instant story to tell our guide: “Sorry we’re late! We set off the fruit dog!”)

When we were touring Lima, I saw in a courtyard a bunch of dogs off leash with no collars.

“How sad,” I thought. “Strays. It is a shame that there is such poverty.”

Except a thought occurred to me–for miserable, impoverished strays, the dogs we kept encountering looked…pretty damned good.

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Life on the mean streets of Lima.

And they were…awfully well-socialized.

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Hi there! I’m one of the famous Peruvian hairless dogs from the north coast. Won’t you pet me? I’m a tourist attraction!

Eventually I realized something–the collarless dogs we kept encountering at places of business were not strays.

What I had taken as evidence of Peruvian poverty (and there is poverty in Peru; it just doesn’t take the form of roaming packs of strays everywhere) was actually evidence of a very different culture of dog ownership. Most Peruvians don’t leash or collar their dogs, and perhaps as a result, most Peruvians dogs don’t need a leash or collar.

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Even the puppies heel like a boss!

That guy works in one of the north coast digs, and his puppy comes to work with him. That’s what dogs in Peru do–they come to work with their owners. They don’t usually get to go inside, of course–instead they meet up with the dogs of the other people who work in the area, and they hang out. We witnessed any number of human commutes/joyful dog reunions in Peru–they were very cute.

We paid a lot of attention to the dogs.

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Dogs on the north coast look like this.

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Dogs in the Andes look like that.

I finally started making jokes about it, because it seemed like we were always doing this:

GUIDE: Here is this amazing piece of miraculously preserved pre-Columbian architecture, the likes of which you will never see anywhere else!

GROUP: OH MY GOD A PUPPY!!!!

Finally one of the guys in the group came up with a theory: Dogs are familiar. Maybe your Spanish sucks and you don’t know how anyone finds their way around, but dogs–dogs you know.

Going to Peru

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In September of last year, I and my mother took a trip to Peru. Seeing Machu Picchu was a bucket-list request of my mother’s, who is having problems with memory loss. I myself am not an experienced international traveler. So it was kind of a daunting proposition to me, but on the other hand I had seen the Lord of Sipan exhibit when I lived in New York, and I was really excited about seeing not just Machu Picchu but (if I could) the many other Mesoamerican ruins in Peru.

Under the circumstances, we were definitely going to go with a tour. But my feeling is that, if you just want to go see Machu Picchu (and you should; it is amazing), you can do it fine on your own–but I’ll talk more on that further down.

Anyway, we did this tour with Road Scholar, and they were excellent. They really do try to make the trip as educational as possible (and that tour might as well be called Archaeology Nerds Visit Peru, so that was a good thing).

We started out in Lima. I have friend who is a tall, red-headed, white Midwestern man and who visited Machu Picchu a few years ago, and he had a horrible time in Lima–he was on his own and everyone assumed he wanted cocaine, hookers, or some combination of the two (and it didn’t matter where he was or if there were small children nearby). I was with a tour group of older people, so I had a wonderful time in Lima–we saw some very cool museums (the quality of the artifacts are just much higher than what you’ll see in the U.S.) and cathedrals, and we never got hassled.

So I do think Lima is worth spending some time in, but you’ll definitely want to arrange for a driver and a guide (the city is HUGE and pretty hard to get around in) or maybe hook up with a tour for that part of your visit.

Then we flew up to the north coast of Peru, which is just studded with ruins. It has the same magical combination as Egypt: A dry-as-dust desert where everything is preserved, combined with large rivers coming off the Andes that allow for some very productive irrigated agriculture.

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The Brujo Complex is in the background–the ground is so dry it looks like the moon, and the woman buried in there was so perfectly preserved that her tattoos are still visible. In the foreground is a freakin’ SUGAR CANE field. The other big crop is freakin’ RICE. (If you don’t know anything about agriculture, those are two of the most water-intensive crops around.)

You MUST have a guide to go to most of these ruins. Don’t screw around with that–Peru is sick and tired of having its treasures looted, and Americans with bad attitudes are not looked upon with favor. Before you buy any ceramics in the north coast, check to make sure there is some kind of stamp on the bottom to indicate that they are of modern manufacture–they go through all your luggage when you fly out of there, and if you’ve got something questionable, you’re going to be missing your flight and spending some quality time in a room explaining to the nice men there that you are not a smuggler.

(I should also note that they do NOT mess around when it comes to objects in your carry-ons that might be used as weapons–tiny scissors, crochet hooks, you name it. They are much more diligent about this than in the United States.)

So, was it cool?

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Yes, it was very cool. Our guides were great. It’s not like there’s tons of signs around explaining every last thing, so having an informed guide is really key. Ours had some kind of license/seal of approval to indicate that they actually knew what they were talking about. Unfortunately I don’t know what that’s called or what to look for, but if you’re on your own down there, maybe talk to one of the museums and see who they recommend? Like nerds everywhere, Peruvian Archaeology Nerds all seem to know each other, and you definitely want one as your guide.

Then we went to

MACHU PICCHU!

Why bold? Because Machu Picchu is awesome.

Beautiful country:

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Impressive buildings:

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And the Incas’ genius for combining the two:

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When you go to Machu Picchu, look out the windows and into the caves–there is all kinds of awesomeness to be discovered.

We spent two days there, and I could have happily spent many more. Our first day there we spent with the group and a guide, which was a nice introduction to the site. (Our tour group provided our guide, but they are available on site as well.) The second day was a free day, so my mom and just went poking around the site, as you are free to do (within limits).

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Hi Mom!

Machu Picchu is totally the kind of place where you could just go there on your own and pick up a guide or explore on your own as you see fit. Just be aware that it’s popular (the U.S. summer is the high season), so you usually need to get tickets in advance. If you want to go off the main site to, say, check out Huayna Picchu (we didn’t have the time, but I would love to in the future), you need a ticket for that, too. Also, it’s pretty rugged, so dress appropriately.

The main thing you need to be very, very aware of when you go to the Andean region of Peru is

THE ALTITUDE.

The altitude is NOT to be trifled with. When we went to the region, we flew into Cusco (11,000 feet) and spent the first night in the Sacred Valley of the Inca (9,000 feet). People in our party immediately got sick, and they were sick for days. Thankfully my mother and I were fine (we had planned ahead and spent some time at high altitudes in the U.S.), but “fine” is a relative term–we didn’t need a doctor, but we were staying on the second floor of the hotel, and climbing up that one flight of stairs was just excruciating.

I do hope to go back to Machu Picchu one day, and here’s how I would do it.

1. Fly into Lima. Sea level.

2. Fly to Cusco. 11,000 feet.

3. Immediately flee Cusco for Machu Picchu Pueblo (the town at the base of the ridge Machu Picchu is on). 7,000 feet.

4. Spend a leisurely day recovering from all that travel and acclimating in Machu Picchu Pueblo, which is a very pretty little resort town. 7,000 feet.

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Seriously, people bitch and moan about this place like it was the Seventh Circle of Hell. “The shopping sucks!” “It’s expensive!” Get a grip–it’s delightful!

5. The next day, start visiting Machu Picchu itself. 8,000 feet.

Only after gorging myself on the glory that is Machu Picchu would I move on to the Sacred Valley of the Inca and up to places like Chinchero (12,500 feet!!!) and Cusco. Those places are well worth a visit, but oh my God are they high, and you will feel it no matter how fit you are.

What about coca-leaf tea?

Go ahead and drink it–it contains so little cocaine that you would have to drink it by the gallon to get any effect. Green tea is more stimulating. I drank coca-leaf tea in the morning and still had to drink as much coffee as I usually do. People drank it, got on the bus, and fell right asleep.

Is it some kind of miracle cure for altitude sickness? My mom would say yes–she felt much better after drinking it. I’m going to point out, though, that one of the main causes of altitude sickness is dehydration–that’s why you’re supposed to start drinking a lot of water in the two weeks before you go to the Peruvian Andes, and why you’re supposed to really guzzle water on the flight there. My mom didn’t do any of that, because drinking a lot of water means that you always have to pee. I drank a lot of water, plus I drank a lot of coca tea (because I wanted to encourage my mom to drink something), and I didn’t feel like coca tea did anything special. (It may have helped, but I didn’t feel some instantaneous or dramatic benefit.)