Fall Break Trip to Peru: Things I Observed

During my fall break, I had the privilege of visiting Peru (many thanks to my study-abroad sister’s traveling skills). I’ve had the time of my life this week, experiencing so many new things alongside my cousin and twin sister, so I’d like to share my experiences.

1. “You learn the lessons of life” 

An Italian traveler remarked this when we told her we were skipping some class to see Machu Picchu. Peru itself was nothing short of amazing; every restaurant I ate in provided a new experience, its mountainous and forested scenery was stunning, and visits to old colonial churches inspired awe in my Catholic-raised heart. Chewing coca leaves for the first time, experiencing altitude sickness, and seeing a llama up close for the first time - also learning the hard way that “you don’t approach people’s animals” as they are their source of income from tourism - are just some of the lessons I never would’ve learned in the classroom. 

2. Language barrier

This isn’t a “I forgot my immigrant mother’s language essay”, so to keep it short, being in Peru greatly reminded me of my limitations in comprehending the Spanish language. My interactions with many cuscueños also reminded of my American privilege, as so many Latines have to learn English to move forward in the world while I can barely get by in my Spanish class. Peruvians who work in the tourism industry are incredibly skilled at communicating in several different languages - the national Spanish language, tourists’ English and Chinese languages, and the indigenous language of Quechua. That being said, Peruvian Spanish is pretty different from how Central Americans speak, as evident when cousin and sister, both fluent in Spanish, experienced communication blocks. Funnily enough, when my cousin ordered in Spanish a waiter retorted “Oh, so you speak a little Spanish” after she mentioned she was from Nicaragua.

3. Being immersed in a Latin American country 

After studying abroad in Chile for awhile, my sister told me how different it was to go from a city where Latinos are the minority, to one where we are the majority. I got to experience this firsthand where almost everywhere I visited was populated by brown and Spanish-speaking people, and the only other white people were other tourists.  Another pleasant surprise was the wide availability of recycling, as well as a cultural insistence on throwing away toilet paper to save water as well as preserve pipes. I got to witness firsthand how many Latin American countries are the ones fighting the hardest against climate change. 

4. Peruvians are really friendly

Although it was anxiety-inducing to interact with desperate street vendors and shop owners to get anywhere in Cuzco, I found a much better sense of friendliness among workers in the hospitality industry, compared to the tourism of my native New Orleans (although being visibly Latinx might’ve had something to do with it). Taxi drivers were generally pretty chill, and several were even willing to wait as we took peeks at landmarks and scenery. Some of the interactions I had with women shop owners didn’t feel so different than the awkward but warm reunions I had with Nicaraguan relatives on my day in Miami. 

5. How to not view the third world

One of my fondest trip memories was when indigenous Quechua women gave a traditional weaving demonstration. One of them held up a tool and proclaimed, “This is the bone of a tourist who didn’t buy anything”. While she was obviously joking, this made me briefly consider what experiences “locals” have with tourism. Many college stories about visiting Latin America begin with their “surprise” (or rather, disgust) at the supposed “shacks” and squalor of their own country's neighbors. As someone with family from Nicaragua, mission trip stories to my motherland often communicate the idea that my people are inferior, deprived, backwards, and in need of saving and I doubt my experience is hardly unique among first-or-second-generation immigrant. This “white savior” complex is particularly hypocritical coming from Tulane students, as we study in a state where one in three children live in poverty.

I don’t mean to guilt people from traveling; it’s just that, aside from general courtesy, it’s important not to look down on people and their cultures just because they inhabit an impoverished nation. Yes, people in third-world countries CAN be happy. They might even have it better than you in some ways you don’t realize.

Peru reminded me that every place has its own beauty and strife and that some destinations can greatly enrich you if you strive to keep an open and respectful mindset.