Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Of doubtful interest

Well this blog entry is not so much about events or journeys but life as I have experienced it here in Cajamarca, Peru. It is no more than thoughts and some reflections on life observed, some of which may offer an expectation of what it may be like to live and travel in Peru. I have organised it thematically as below..

Choices for travel are varied; leaving air travel and special tours aside, there seems to be a hierarchy of long distance travel. Companies like Cruz de Sur are slick and offer a comfortable service where it is possible to cover long distances by night, both saving on hotels and waking fairly refreshed. First class cabin tends to cost about 20% more but is definitively worth it for night journeys and prices generally seem excellent value.

If traveling intermediated distances I tend to go by day and take cheaper options. A 5 hour journey may cost as little as 10 soles or £2.50. Buses often play videos which can be unsuitable for younger travelers. Usually there are stops, sometimes an hour for the driver to have lunch and quite often vendors board the bus with fruit or sweets for sale. Generally going can be slow as roads may or may not have asphalt and progress can be halted by farm animals, the fording if rivers and negotiating markets in small towns.

For shorter distances there are 3 main options, combis/buses, taxis and motos (3 wheel motorbikes). Prices tend to double up for each option, from 70 centimos to 1.50 soles to 3 soles although these vary by distance. For the latter 2 you can haggle and usually expect that drivers will try and take advantage of gringos. As market conditions change, for example in the rain, at lunch times or in the evening the price can rise and sometimes drivers will refuse a fare if they don't want to go in that direction. Buses and combis can be fun. Conductors hurry you on and off the bus with calls of sube sube and baja baja and they'll pick you up and drop you anywhere. It can be a squeeze, particularly for tall gringos but at least you don't have to haggle.

In daily life Peru doesn't really consider fairness among the sexes. There is a great deal of stereotyped work roles such as bus and taxi drivers which are all men. I haven't seen more than a couple of women cycling and men are rarely seen in caring roles, although there are quite a few pretty police women!. That said, families tend to be extended and mutually supportive, so some role segregation doesn't mean people necessarily live entirely stereotyped lives lives. There is quite a lot of humorous introspection of this in so called 'saco lagos' which offer short and funny presentations of role reversals in the home and at work with women and men playing to opposite roles to the hilarity of all.  I suppose this may just be a handy device to channel potential resentment.

Anyone with a disability has a tough time in Peru. Public services are scarce and there are few if any adaptations to the environment. Pavements are probably insurmountable for wheelchair users and hence there aren't any! Sometimes one has to cross half metre gaps in the road, or rubble is left without any safety barriers.

I have not been aware of any gay, lesbian or bisexual people in Peru. Perhaps they exist but I guess a low profile is kept except possibly in the largest cities.

Peruvians are not generally very accustomed to other races hence I am often stared at curiously, particularly by children. Occasionally one is called gringo but probably only in the same way a fat child is called gordito (little fat one) without a hint of malice. Here in Cajamarca, the Campecinos (peasants) are distinguished by their clothes, particularly the women who wear tall wide brimmed hats and full knee length skirts, carrying their things or a baby in a blanket on their back. There doesn't seem to be any racial element in their treatment although I guess structurally and economically they are disadvantaged. In Cajamarca not much Quechua is spoken but often people know some words from grandparents.  There are no signs in Quechua and only pocketed pride in this pre-columbian language. That said, here in Cajamarca one can take lessons.

Health and safety
Orthodontists seem to abound and I guess you could get very good and reasonable treatment. Lots of people, particularly Campecinos have a lot of gold in their mouths but I am unsure if this is curative or cosmetic.. I have had no cause to visit hospitals but in the past have found them surprisingly well organised and quite cheap. Glasses can also be bought cheaply if you steer away from designer stuff – so if you need a new or spare pair bring your prescription. Obesity seems to be on the increase and although quite a few young people do exercise, particularly football and volley but many don't. There is also a fair amount of drunkenness and it is not rare to find someone still sleeping it off in the gutter in the morning.

Workplace risk taking is endemic except in the large corporations and the municipalidad, few construction workers wear safety equipment. This extends to ordinary tasks where not much thought is given to working under a car supported only by a single bottle jack. You can buy fireworks without restriction and the youngest of children seem to be able to watch horror movies.

Since this is rambling on a bit, I'll break here and see if I have enough on which to reflect for a part 2 but you probably get the picture. Hopefully this doesn't come over as a rant but I guess one´s attention is more easily drawn to differences in ways of being, some of which may seem a bit negative but are amply compensated by other factors. I am happy if you leave some comments and please don´t be put off from travelling to Peru. It is a fantastic country.

1 comment:

Chris said...

Such a detailed and vibrant posting Alan, my favourite overseas correspondent. Love Chris