The fashion show broke out as I was working on my blog post.
One minute the cabin crew were serving us food and drinks, the next, they were striding down the aisle wearing SOL Alpaca garments and accessories, striking poses akin to professional models on a catwalk. It was Peru Rail’s creative version of “Duty-Free” that you typically find in international flights.
I bought a scarf.
The five-day trip with my wife and daughter to Peru was an impromptu decision. Not a lot of research went into it. There were the travel advisories – don’t trust strangers; don’t walk alone in the night; don’t show affluence, don’t underestimate altitude sickness.
I ignored the last one.
I was sure I would be able to handle the rarified air of Cusco, a city that stood 11,150’ above the sea level. After all, I am used to playing squash without a lot of air in my lungs.
Much has been written about the tourist attractions of Peru. Machu Picchu and Inca ruins of Moray have a sense of mystery around them. They are precise, intricate, and detailed. There are many interpretations of their purpose and how they ended up as ruins.
But, nobody really knows for sure.
Then there is the Salineras de Maras, a five-hundred-year-old salt making system of ponds and channels carved into a canyon that utilizes natural salt water to produce copious amounts of salt, even today. If our server Javier at the JW Marriot, a convent converted into a hotel, were to be believed, we were being served salt from the Sacred Valley itself.
Besides the tourist attractions, there are a few things that I found distinctive to Peru.
I did not know that three of the World’s Fifty Best Restaurants are in Lima, the capital of Peru. Everyone eats ceviche and drinks pisco, the Peruvian equivalent of tequila. If you like raw-fish dishes like sushi, ceviche would appeal to you. I preferred the classic ceviche over a couple of other variations. I was told that the “tiger’s milk” in ceviches – the citrus-infused marinade – is a perfect cure for hangovers.
I didn’t get to test that theory.
I was feeling hungover without consuming alcohol. I even passed up on complimentary pisco sour cocktails offered at our hotel.
The altitude and the lack of oxygen in Cusco will do that to you.
Suffice to say that we had to bail out on our reservations to one of the restaurants featured in the world’s top fifty list. I had been really looking forward to it.
I should have invested $10 in some altitude sickness prevention pills.
Peruvian cities are clean.
There was hardly any litter on the streets and the restrooms in the tourist destinations that we visited were clean. People seemed to take pride in their country and communities. In a city like Cusco where almost 80% of the population depend on the tourism industry, there is clear recognition that killing the golden goose would not be a good idea.
For example, in stark contrast to my recent experience with Air Canada, when our flight from Lima to Cusco got cancelled, Avianca put us up at the Sheraton and covered the cost of our transportation and meals.
Towards the end of my trip, I figured out why the song “El Condor Pasa,” the song made famous by Simon & Garfunkel, was stuck in my head.
Everywhere you go, you hear strains of it. It was originally created by the Peruvian composer Daniel Alomia Robles and is easily the most known Peruvian song in the English-speaking world.
When it comes to Peru, a line from the song says it all: “I’d rather be a sparrow than a snail…”
You can see it in the people of Peru.