It’s been a year since I arrived to Peru and in that time I’ve lived in three of this country’s major cities, getting to know each one of their own unique qualities.
The first Peruvian city I called home after arriving last January was the northern coastal capital of La Libertad: Trujillo. Technically, I lived just outside of the city in the small beach town of Huanchaco, with its culture and traditions living in harmony with the modern Peruvian boom.
In Huanchaco I learned about the Mochica/Chimú cultures– the pre-Columbian civilization that, for a time, successfully defended itself from the wave of Incan domination that swept the Andean region before the arrival of the Spanish in the 15th century.
I visited the local holy temples like Huaca del Sol and Huaca de la Luna, and on many evenings I would jog from the beaches of Huanchaco to Chan Chan, the ancient Chimú city and the largest adobe archaeological site ever discovered.
Trujillo is called the city of eternal spring and in my six months there I learned why. The temperature was always perfect and it rained only twice. The first time it rained, the city practically shut down: businesses didn’t open, the parade of buses that was always buzzing around the road that connects the beach town to the downtown Trujillo ceased to run, and, at the summer school program where I was volunteering, only one kid showed up to class.
The rain was such a rarity to the modern residents of Huanchaco that many homes still do not have full roofs and even the classroom of the summer school was missing a part of the roof. But the spirit if Huanchaqueros is one of perseverance as was evident when the one student who did show up grabbed a broom and helped us teachers sweep the rain out of that classroom.
I’ll remember Huanchaco and Trujillo for its beaches. On those beaches, tourists from around the world share the ocean with families of fishermen, who weave small boats called “caballitos de totora,” which they use to paddle out into the sea to catch food to feed their families.
To this day, locals and tourists alike enjoy the fishermen’s bounty.
Huanchaco has found a great balance between preserving its traditions and embracing modernity.
Once my volunteer work ended in Huanchaco, I traveled around Peru. I visited Pucallpa, Arequipa, and Puno before settling in Cusco for the second half of the year.
I passed my time in Cusco, the “cultural capital of Peru,” by teaching English at a small private institute. At the institute I met scores of young Cusqueñans determined to learn English. The English language market is thriving in Cusco because on a scale unlike in any other location in Peru, the tourism industry there is king.
I’ve heard people say that Cusco has changed a great deal in the last two decades. One observer called it the "Disneyland" of Incan culture because of what he described as an anesthetized way of packaging the culture for tourists to consume.
But from my perspective, Cusco is a city impassioned to step out of the shadow of its big brother, Lima. I saw a city and a people who wanted to expand their way of thinking, and a people who have a unique perspective, molded from what remains of Incan values and forged by the diversity and variety of its visitors.
It is no coincidence that so many people come to Cusco as tourists, only to fall in love with it and stay for years.
Beyond the stones that make the sacred sites like Machu Picchu and Sacsayhuamán, the fortress above the city, are the people who centuries ago built those ancient temples and the contemporary Cusqueñans, the pillars who today share that history with the world.
Now, I’m in Lima, the capital of this “lion of South America.” This is the hub of this cosmopolitan country, which has an energy that makes it eager to grow. Lima has a culture that’s characterized by enterprise, independence and progress. Lima is special because it’s the catalyst – the instigator – that pushes this country forward.
I’ve only recently arrived here and there are many secrets and surprises that I have yet to discover, but I know that the more I learn about Lima, the more I’ll fall for her. It’ll be impossible not to, because you feel that life and energy on the busy streets every morning and around every flourishing district each night.
A first-hand account of living in three different cities in Peru.