Seven days ago, I left home (New Zealand) and set off with a girlfriend to see Peru. Our first brief stop was in Buenos Aries for the night then flying on to Santa Cruz to stay with my relatives. My family convinced me that this was a good idea, as I personally had no interest in Bolivia. The theory was, that perhaps the culture shock of arriving into a third world country would not be as great if we were among friends.
They may have been right. For the first few days I felt like I was watching a movie. My Uncle was driving us around in his Jeep Cherokee with air conditioning and leather upholstery and we were watching the poverty on the sides of the road. After two days of this I had to get away from the house. It was driving me mad, being protected from the things I had come to experience.
So I went for a walk down the road. There are so many beautiful homes there. They all had barbed wire or spikes along the top edge of very high walls. Our house had a guard out side from six at night until six in the morning. Yet only 500m or so down the road, was absolute poverty. At the end of the street, children were begging, living and some dumping rubbish on the side of the road from horse and cart. There was rubbish everywhere. The pockets of beautiful homes that were scattered around the city I felt were just a blatant display of wealth that was almost uncomfortable. But in reality I liked having the maid take away my laundry every day and preparing lunch. I couldn’t have imagined a more unusual introduction to a third world country.
On my way way back to the house I thought I’d buy my first Bolivian Coca Cola so I could keep the bottle (Coke Fan). Well that was harder than I thought. The owner tried to pour the coke into a plastic bag and insert a straw, when I stopped her doing that and paid for the bottle and the coke she was laughing at me and called me a stupid American.
Over the next few days we visited the enormous black market, where anything and everything was for sale. People would come up to you, yelling their sales pitch. If you replied or said anything they would hang around longer. The best way was to totally ignore them. That is so hard for me to do. It seems really bad mannered.
Later we visited the smaller Ramada Markets where the smell was so bad it was hard to breathe. They sold dried baby llamas, coca leaves, all sorts of herbs as well as the usual imported junk. I had hoped it would have handicrafts but we never found any. By NZ standards the prices were quite cheap. When we got home from that outing the cab driver took off with our change. We should had known. A cheap lesson.
The next day we took another cab to a town called Samipata where they have a huge Inca ruins site. It takes about 2 and a half hours to town, then the taxi doubles back a few kms then heads up a windy road for about 4kms. It takes about half an hour and all your effort to keep your lunch down. Don’t organise a tour in town like we did. They are too expensive, unreliable and only provide the cab and a guide. English speaking guides are available at the site, which has an entrance fee of 20b’s (about US$3.50). The site is a huge rock with window and door carvings in it. It had ceremonial purposes and many houses around it. Our journey in the taxis that day were frightening. Learn how to say “slow down”.
We visited a few upmarket restaurants in Santa Cruz. The first was quite unusual. La Swiss. A beautiful chalet style building where all the waitresses wore Swiss costumes, which was OK except they were Bolivian women. Another was the Brasargent. Here you filled your plate with salads, fried bananas, and veggies then as you ate the staff came out to your table with huge skewers of meat which they cut portions off onto your side plate. They would continue to offer meat every few minutes. There was beef, pork, and chicken including sausages, steaks, heart, entrails and cow udder.
At a local Bolivian style restaurant they were offering garlic snails, which weren’t too bad until I knew what they were. There are many food venders that line the sides of the dirt roads. Some sell rotisserie chickens that get coated with a layer of dust on every turn. Meat and fish venders also sell their products on the side of the road, raw and unrefridgerated. I am surprised any of their patrons survive the summer.
We are in Lima now, staying with a friend of my uncles. Once again we are treated with a maid every few days, access to phones and computers and safe beautiful lodgings. We will be leaving in a few days and from there we have to say in the usual budget cold shower accommodations that most backpackers are used to.