I’d like to store this letter here as a reminder of reality when I’ll be speechless while dreamily looking at snowy Andean peaks. I’d like to tell you something and you won’t like it.
If we didn’t look forward so much to seeing your natural wonders, we’d be gone long time ago. Because as a country you pisses us off terribly.
It’s not our first day in Latin America. In November it will be two years since we crossed the border to Mexico. But so many yells of “gringo” as here, we’ve never experienced. Let me tell you, Peru, gringo as a nationality or race, doesn’t exist. Who is that? Which country does he come from? White person? How would you like it, dear Peruvians, if I instead of greeting you Buenos dias, yelled Negro! Not very pleasant, is it? In the normal world people greet themselves Hello, Good afternoon… Here they yell Gringo or just whistle at you like we do at our doggies…
We’ve been in your country, dear Peru, a week only and already rescued stray kitten while Peruvians didn’t give a s… Few days ago we spotted two incredibly skinny young dogs at one house. On short ropes, barbecuing under 40 degree sun, you could see every bone on the one with short hair. No water, no food, no shadow. They started barking and two little girls came out of the house. We asked them to call their mother but nobody came out. After we gave water and food to the pups, Tom had to almost enter the house to speak to the girls’ mother. Señora finally came out, smiled vacantly, absolutely wasn’t grasping the fact that her or the kids wouldn’t like to stay on direct sun all day. And that the dogs will die if she leaves them suffering like they do now. The older girl was clearly more reasonable than her mother and we managed to explain to them they had to move the dogs to the shade (and we did that together while also a third pup appeared), they had to feed them more and always allow access to water. We showed Phoebe and Lolo to the girls to emphasize how the healthy dog looks like. We can only hope they got the message and will take better care of them.
Farm animals don’t have better life either, even though many readers probably imagine heavenly life on the countryside. Pigs tied on a short rope at the roadside or in the sheds 1,5×1,5m. Pigs that are really friendly and social animals but because they’re only food and profit, they’re slaughtered and cut apart right there on the ground at that roadside. Donkey with one of his legs tied to his neck with short rope. He can’t put his head up. When I note to the older woman that’s walking with him that he can’t move properly, what a poor treatment, she responds: “No importa.” It doesn’t matter. I was told once by Argentinian cyclist in Ecuador still that it’s a culture here. Animal abuse is not a culture, my friend, but its exact opposite. “Tradition” of bull and cock fights. I’m sick of this “culture”.
Trash everywhere, even at 4200 masl. Many times we witnessed how people throw rubbish from the cars and buses. Maybe we’re too sensitive but since Costa Rica already we’ve been travelling through relatively clean countries. Rivers that we call washing machine water. Used nappies. Tires. Again people burn trash. Little boy at school in La Galgada warned us, not to drink water there at all cost because it’s contaminated. “With what?” I asked, imagining those heavy metals in the mining area. “Poop,” he responded.
With the beauty of Peruvian mountains come the mining. The mountains are shaved and dissected. For gold, silver, copper, zinc, tin, iron, lead… We’re constantly warned not to drink even treated water in the mining areas, but what about your people, Peru? The ones who live there their whole lives. We’re only passing, if we drink it from time to time, I don’t think something horrible happens but what about those kids that have no other choice but to drink this shit every day?
Inescapable noise. I really thought that after Mexico and Central America I can’t possibly be surprised by noise levels. But your mototaxis and most importantly constant honking on the road makes me loose my mind. It is NOT friendly touch to the horn, it’s that type of honking warning you to immediately get out of the road. We have to regularly escape to 3000 – 4000 metres altitude where we can find at least some peace. On the roads cyclist has got tough life, we thought US was the top of arrogant drivers but Peru is somewhere else. Before crossing the border we read on the website of Slovak Foreign Ministry that the traffic rules do exist but nobody cares and people often do not have licences. Well, I think that person must have been here or what :).
A little bit of politeness, a little bit of respect. I miss it so much. People are talking about you behind your backs because demented gringos can’t possibly understand Spanish, can they? Men piss wherever they please and who cares there’s a woman standing right next to them. Sexist advertisements for car repair shops and car washes with half naked girls. This is your catholic country? Phoebe is bitten by a dog who runs out of the house. Old Quechua woman owner instead of apologising starts accusing us of being on her property. Even though we were just passing by on the road. She swears in Quechua, we swear in Slovak. Along the warm temperatures also the smiles disappear. Everybody is gloomy.
The rules are here only for foreigners. National Park Huascarán charges 30 soles entrance fee but only for foreigners. If you’re Peruvian, you can use the road going through the park without paying, no matter if you’re actually going to hike in the park or not. The doggies run next to us on the leashes when a guy comes out of the bus. He starts pointing with his finger at the dogs, signalling they can’t be here. Prohibido! We haven’t seen a single sign with this. Furthermore we just passed a sign “Habitat de aves” – bird habitat, full of grazing cows. Going back we take another road and its sides are covered in cow shit. Whole valley is brownish, grass grazed and the soil packed hard. This is a national park? You can’t see those 30 soles anywhere. No info boards, no maps, no shelter, no infrastructure. Where is the money going?
In Caráz it took us two hours to find a hotel where they accepted us with the dogs. At the end we stayed at the overpriced horrible one but we didn’t have other option. On the last day of our stay we’re walking past the mother of the owner. She spits out that the dogs are prohibited and how it’s possible they’re here. All in Spanish, with the obligatory “gringo” as if we weren’t there. I’m going off the deep end.
You’ve got beautiful mountains, Peru! Originally we thought we may need to prolong our whole journey because of them, to satisfy the craving. But all the rest I talked about ought not to have existed for that to happen. We have no reason to stay here longer than necessary and support local “culture”.
Of course, we’ve met also nice and kind people. Jet and her family, Clotilde and Clemente close to Kuelap, Milton the cyclist… But those memories are just not enough to balance the sick feeling we’ve got in Peru. People say that cyclists either love or hate Peru. I never ever would have imagined we’ll be in the second group.
PS: If you’ve got a bitter feeling in your mouth and around the heart after reading this letter, I managed to express our feelings.
So which country do we recommend most so far in South America? This one!
I’ve been thinking if I should add this epilogue but after reading some of your comments, I’ve decided to do it. Two days after publishing this article we met a mountain guide in Huaraz who helped us with delivering a package. He doesn’t know us and he doesn’t know about this blog. After a short conversation out of nowhere he started mentioning points from this article that kept bothering him on Peru, too. We stared at him with open mouths. Has this 60 year old Peruvian read this? Of course not! So either we’re these privileged travellers who should sit on their asses at home or we just have very good observation skills. But one thing surprised us. Latin America is know for very close family relations, at least from outside. He said it’s just a cover. Families live together out of economical reasons but they don’t really relate to each other. He said he would never trust his family in any important matter. That hurt…
Gosh what a story! Thank you. Why is the human race so cruel and yet can be so incredibly kind. Cannot wait for your next story of your adventures.
It’s probably impossible to answer this… We don’t want to share negativity but I hope on those examples I illustrated why we feel this way and at the end it makes us very angry within ourselves. Almost every day…
Oh gosh I know how you feel! We are in Albania now and the way they treat their ‘pets’ is AWFUL. Very sad for animal lovers like us. Hence the reason I don’t want to come here ever again, even though I really like the beautiful nature here.
I’m so sorry, Zuzka :(.
You are privileged. You get to cycle around the world and complain about other cultures that don’t fit your ideal. Instead of complaining… Do something about it. Ive been to northern Peru, I agree, animal cruelty and environmental disregard is common. But there is a larger issue here, bigger than your western judgements. Think about it. I love your stories but I think you need to also respect other cultures backgrounds and offer solutions, that is what will ultimately helpy feel better. All respect but I needed to speak up.
I was waiting for the “privileged” word to come. And I agree we are. But why should I shut up for that reason? Am I making something up to throw bad light at this country? You’re saying do something about that. You can see examples in THAT exact article you’ve just reacted to. We care about animals a lot so we do things about animals primarily. We talk to children at schools showing them Phoebe and Lolo, two well behaved dogs who come from the street as any Peruvian dog. Any Peruvian dog can be like that if people cared enough and didn’t throw stones, took a bit of time to train them etc. We stopped at that house with two pups in the sun and spent there an hour, talking to the family, explaining. I’m very sorry but how many people would? We picked up Bici at the roadside, even though we already cycle with two dogs and cycled with her for two weeks, looking for family. We break that secret of protein being in plants to people every day that they don’t have to eat meat every day to be strong. That would solve a lot of animal suffering, especially while Peru offers so many nutritious, good quality and cheap plant choices. To me, these are the small everyday things we can do from our perspective. But you can’t expect us to suggest systematic changes to the government of a foreign country from a position of a passing cycle tourist. You may be interested that we spoke to a 60yr old Peruvian mountain bike guide this evening and out of nowhere, he started mentioning things that bother him here. Disrespect, mistrust among Peruvians, trash, honking, pissing on the street,… We were like – has this guy read that article? Of course not, he didn’t have a clue. It only proved to us that what we sensed in this culture within the past 1,5 months is sensed by a local person, too. That talk was so interesting, I’ll probably add it to this article later.
I agree Scott. Having bike toured from Cairo to Capetown, through every country in SE Asia, I’ve seen my share of countries with a myriad of problems, environmental and social. I think most bike tourers (and I put myself in this category) are privledged and we have an expectation that Third World countries need to be more like our countries. One has to look at how poor these countries are and where they stand in terms of historical context to our countries. If one would look at the US 60-70 years ago, our country was no better than what Peru is today and I would include China in that time frame as well. People who travel from the Western countries have expectations that every country around the world have the same thoughts and attitudes toward animals and the environment. My country (US) was no better than Peru 50+ years ago.
Ok if you want to talk history… Let’s talk about troubled Colombian history and why these people are COMPLETELY different than Peruvians? Kind and warm and helpful. Any explanation for this?
The article is unfortunately very unreflected. And contributes little to an understanding. It seems you are approaching all topics only from your own point of view. Probably (or hopefully) you would not call people foreigners, blacks, etc. at home (in Europe). You come from a country where there are public debates about racism. You have certainly enjoyed a good education. The term Gringo / Gringa or Gringito / Gringita (the cuter version) may be unreflective, but not negative. At least that’s what we experienced and read about. There is a racism problem in Peru. However, indigenous and colored people in particular experience discrimination here. Sorry, but you make such a big issue out of your little problem. Why not write about those who really suffer discrimination in Peru? Your text turns all Peruvians into uncivilized backhanded assholes. Do people enjoy polluting rivers? Or maybe they wash their laundry in the river, because so many have no water connection. Is the garbage burned or thrown away for fun? Or is there no system for waste disposal … What about education? Many things go wrong in Peru, that’s right. But it does not help anyone to look at all these things without seeing the context (history, corruption, education, influence of foreign politics / economy, gender images also through the influence of the church, etc.). Simply writing about how stupid the people are does not bring anything. Except that we feel empowered in our superiority. We should strive for new insights instead of creating stereotypes. And no, there are not only cyclists who hate or love Peru. We do not belong in any of the categories. We have met a lot of friendly, open and interested people in this country with all its problems. And yes, some of them called us Gringos …
Hello Hanna, we’re not journalists, this a personal website, so if we’re approaching topics from our own point of view, please forgive us. I think many countries of Latin America are at the same level of education, corruption, gender images… and yet we’ve had this experience only in Peru (and we were not alone with this feeling). Don’t let me start on throwing garbage out of the public transport windows etc and waste disposal service is MUCH better than for example in Mexico. If I wanted to write a politically correct text, I’d approach it like you suggested. But excuse me, I only wanted to write about our experiences, through the examples make the reader feel and see the same what we did. I’d also suggest you read the epilogue. Have a good day!