I've fallen in love with Peru. It seems like everywhere you look there is another glacier capped peak or an ancient Incan ruin casually on the side of the road, a cosmopolitan city or a charming village, amazing surf, climbing, biking, geological phenomenons and really good cheap food everywhere.
The people of Peru are quiet, humble, gentle, generous and kind. They work extremely hard but will share whatever they have without expectation of any return. They use terms of endearment with one another and complete strangers alike, which could come across as being overly friendly but I sense a genuine curiosity and openness instead.
The first three pillars of the Incan symbol stand for love, knowledge and work. I can't think of any three tenets of society more noble than that. Peruvians are the antithesis of helicopter parents which has bred generations of self sufficient, hard working people. One day walking through a village I saw a girl of no more than three years old doing laundry by hand. She wasn't crying about it, as I would be. I've seen groups of kids roaming the streets, entertaining themselves with simple toys and the company of one another, or selling trinkets for their families. Yes, there is poverty in Peru and crime as well (although I did not experience any) but there is a sense of responsibility and creating one's own fate.
Last night, just when I thought I was seeing a nastier side of Peru, I had a little encounter that changed my attitude. I landed in the Lima airport and had a reservation at a cheap hotel close to the airport for my flight to Costa Rica this morning. I got in a taxi which should have been a 10 minute drive, but the driver didn't want to pay the fee to leave through the normal entrance, so he took the roundabout way. We ended up sitting in traffic for an hour and a half and I arrived at a rather dingy hotel in an undesirable part of town cranky and hungry.
After fighting with the receptionist that yes, I had a reservation and it was paid for (gracias adios that I had it printed out... thanks mom), they allowed me to check into my cubicle of a room. After killing all the mosquitos I could find I set out for some food. The neighborhood around the airport is quite shit to be frank, and being used to touristy places where everybody smiles at foreigners and tries to sell them stuff, I was taken aback at being essentially ignored.
I walked to a restaurant where they accepted credit cards (had to save my last soles for the taxi the next morning), and had to flag down a waiter to get a menu. Nobody seemed particularly interested in serving me, but finally a guy came up to take my order. I drank a beer and ate alone, thinking that I was absolutely ready to get out of the country, when one of the waiters stopped by my table to ask me where I was from. We started to chat and he asked if he could sit down and talk, as he loves to learn about people from other countries. I was happy to chat and we ended up having a nice conversation. He works 7 days a week to save money for school and hopes to travel outside Peru one day. At one point a lady walked through the restaurant selling arroz con leche and he bought one for each of us because he wanted to be sure I tasted a typical dessert of Peru before I left. Maybe I'm a push over, but considering how hard he works for how little he makes, I thought it was a very sweet gesture.
I'm now at the Lima airport waiting to board my flight to San Jose, Costa Rica. I spent 3 weeks in Costa Rica 12 years ago and have heard the country has been Americanized and is expensive, but I'm still traveling solo so wanted to go somewhere on the beaten path for a surf adventure. Chicken, I know. I've made friends who live in Costa Rica that I'm looking forward to meeting up with, as well as my friend Kera who is flying down to meet me in a few days to surf surf surf, so the adventure continues. I'll keep you posted.