During my week layover in Lima, I discover that my Spanish is now good enough for basic 10 minute conversations with locals in the park–although it doesn’t stop me from being flagged down by eager tour guides. I’m able to talk to people about their Quechua roots, exchange Quechua words, and laugh about regional dialects. All of us mourn the loss of the mountain ice. I even go surfing for the first time, but I have to pretend to know less Spanish than I do, because my instructor keeps flirting with me.
These experiences feel very capstone-y, like Lima is my way of merging back into real life, with the recognition that I came, saw, and learned. The city reminds me of Ann Arbor (except in Spanish). It stands in stark contrast to life in the rural Andes, and that is what people resent most. When tourists think of Peru, they think of ponchos and llamas and, well, Quechua life. Modern Peru just isn’t like that–it is a paradox of the Andean struggle. While tourism is attracted to the Andean vision, none of its prosperity has touched the Andes, and so the culture that is most sought after is not found, and, because of the vast amounts of money poured into seeking it, Lima and modern Peru become ever more disparate from the very image that made them wealthy. The same paradox could, I think, apply to the tribes and villages of Southern Peru in the Amazon.
I don’t know what to do about this, except maybe to warn people that Peru, like any place, has so much more nuance than the paragraph of history on your tourism pamphlet. And, while Machu Picchu is nice, it is founded on a paradox–so watch your step.