It has been twenty years since I returned to my native land. I decided to go back to Peru to explore the cultural and historical places that were unknown to me. Three years ago I took an anthropology class about the people from South America at Idaho State University and since then my desire to go back to my country has grown strong. For the first time I was able to visit Cusco, where the Inca Empire flourished. I spent three wonderful weeks exploring places that I was unable to see while I lived in Peru. Most of the knowledge I had about my history and culture came from books. During the 20 years I lived in Lima I did not have the curiosity to explore my own country. My trip to Peru gave me the opportunity to learn more about the people of the Andes, Ica and Lima. It also gave me the opportunity to visit many archeological sites and increase my knowledge about the history of the pre-Inca and Inca Culture.

Peru is divided into 24 departments and one constitutional city called El Callao. Lima is the capital of Peru. Each department is unique in its customs, landscaping, traditions, food and dances. Spanish is the main language. The native of the Andes and the Jungle speak their own languages called Quechua and Jarabi. In the Andes, the people speak several dialects of Quechua. In the Jungle, many tribes speak in different dialects also. Peru is very unique because it offers a variety of attractions to please just about every tourist’s dream. My first tour started in Lima.

Lima used to be known as La ciudad de los Reyes (City of the Kings). Francisco Pizarro, the conqueror of Peru founded the city of Lima in 1535. If somebody wants to visit the colonial Lima must go to the old downtown. To see the modern Lima, one must go to Miraflores, Chorrillos and other districts. Modern buildings and casinos are located in these areas. I liked visiting the Old Lima because I love colonial architecture. The buildings are more elaborate and fine craftsmanship was put into them to achieve details that you cannot see in the architecture of today. The President’s Palace, the Cathedral and the Municipal building are works of art. The Arab’s and Mores’ influence on the Spanish architecture is manifested on many of the buildings built after Pizarro’s arrival. The Plaza de Armas (the square) is a beautiful park where all the important buildings are located. The President’s Palace looks similar to the Palace of Buckingham in England. The European influence is very visible in these areas. If you go for a walk into the streets around the Plaza, you can find more colonial buildings, churches and houses that have the look and feel of another century. The district of Rimac is next to the old downtown area.

Rimac is like a museum of colonial architecture. You can walked the streets and observe that most buildings are from the late 1500s. Some of them have deteriorated because of time. Yet the parks still maintain their beauty and their own identity from a period of time that is part of Peruvian History. As a child I frequently visited these parks. I did not know the story behind their making or why their names were chosen. When I took the tour of the city I visited some of these parks and I was very fascinated to learn the stories behind the parks. El Paseo de los Descalzos (the walk of the bare feet) is a park in front of the Convent of the Franciscan Priests. It is said that the Franciscans used to take walks in this park. They wore sandals that had such a thin sole that they looked as if they were bare foot. The park was named after them.

Not very far from this park, there is another one called El Paseo de Aguas. The story said that the Virrey Amatt and Juliet built this park for his lover named the Perricholi. This personage was considered the most beautiful woman of her time. She asked the Virrey to grant her one wish, that if he could bring the moon to her feet, she would marry him. The Virrey, a man of a great imagination built the park with pools of water. At one end of the park, he built a beautiful arch with a big pool. When the full moon appeared in the sky, the image of the moon reflected on the water. On one of those special nights, the Virrey took the Perricholi for a walk in the park. Then, in front of the pool the Virrey asked his lover to deep her feet into the water. The Perricholi was impressed and agreed to marry him. Many songs were composed in her name and the people of today still sing or play songs about her during social events. No one knows what this woman looked like because no portraits of her were ever found. Perhaps the story of the Perricholi is a myth.

Another interesting place to visit is the Holy Inquisition. This place is in old downtown Lima. It is not very far from the Plaza de Armas. This building is a reminder of a dark period of history that Spaniards and Peruvians would prefer to forget. When the Spanish kings took Peru as one of their colonies, they imposed a cruel judicial system with the support of the Catholic Church. People accused of certain crimes were brought to the Holly Inquisition to be tortured until they confessed their crimes, even though they may have been innocent. The Spaniards were cruel and submitted their victims to the most horrible kinds of torture. If an individual died while being tortured and later was found innocent, the authorities put the victim on the back of a white donkey and paraded him around the streets of Lima. This was their way to restoring the innocence of the victim. Many Indians died because they could not speak Spanish and did not have access to a defender. The Spaniards escaped justice for the crimes they committed against the Indians. The Holy Inquisition was one of the most unjust criminal systems brought by the colonizers.

Peru gained its independence from Spain on July 28, 1831. The Peruvian culture was strongly influenced by their conquerors specially Lima’s population. After the Spanish left Peru, immigrants from countries like Germany, Italy, Japan, China and the Jewish Nation came and formed their own communities. Most of them married only among their own group. The people from Lima incorporated some of the new food and traditions from these groups into their new culture. For instance, the Paneton, an Italian bread that is similar to the fruitcake except that it is very light, tall and soft has become a Peruvian tradition for special occasions such Independence Day, Easter, Christmas and New Years. The people from Lima have been also influenced by the western cultures more than the other departments. When I talked to my cousins about the economy, education, politics and the United States I sensed their attraction for the American lifestyle. The poor economy of Peru has played an important role as to why the Peruvians find other countries more appealing than their own country. Peruvians view the United States as a country with possibilities to succeed. They want to achieve the American dream and the opportunity to live in a free society.

Most young people in Lima enroll in a technical or academic institution after graduating from High School. In Lima there are a lot of private universities. Academies that teach English are very popular. Some private schools include English in their curriculum from the first grade. I noticed that the middle class seeks more education than the poor class. In the past, people of all classes tried to pursue education as a means to obtain financial progress. Today the middle class is still hopeful that the economy will change for the best, so they continue to prepare for the future. In general, the poor do not share the same ideals because they must work unlimited hours to survive. The middle class also postpones marriage until they have the means to support a family. Most of them pass their thirties before considering marriage. If they choose to marry, family planning is an important aspect of their life. In this group, most people choose to have one or two children.

The poor class is 70% of the population and cannot afford contraceptives for family planning. They have big families and live in poor conditions. The poor class is divided in two kinds: The poor and the very poor. The very poor cannot afford the basic necessities such clothing, a housing and food. On one occasion while watching the news I heard that the middle class was disappearing because of high taxes. They carry the burden of an economy in crisis.

Most middle class people are giving up marriage. My cousins are a good example of this trend. Some of them are past their thirties and forties and do not want to get married because they feel that they do not make enough money to support a family. They also have higher expectations so they are forced to choose between family and education. Most poor people prefer living together because they do not want to commit to marriage. The problem with this is that the number of single mothers has increased among this group. I heard in the news that a young mother was sentenced to 30 years in prison for killing her newborn child. She told the authorities that her boyfriend left her when she was pregnant and she had to kill her baby because she could not afford milk for her infant. I asked myself, how a woman could take the life of her own baby. I believe that desperation and hopelessness can make any human being do unthinkable things. Perhaps if conditions had been better she would not have felt that she needed to take this extreme measure.

The rich class is 14% of the Peruvian population. If there is a raise of taxes, this group does not seem to be as affected as the rest of the citizens. Most of them come from families that built solid financial stability before the 80’s. They send their children to the Unites States and other countries to be educated in prestigious universities. During the 80’s people from the middle class could move to the rich class if they were educated and could secure good paid jobs. My uncle Arturo earned his PhD in Electrical Engineering from the University of Utah. He was not born into a rich family but he was able to move up in social class because of his achievements. He secured a prestigious job because of his extensive education achieved in Germany and in the United States. Today the differences of social classes are more defined and for the most, the poor has extremely limited possibilities to improve their condition.

During my visits to several areas of Lima I notice that there were hardly any beggars on the streets. I lived in New York City for three years and I used to be disturbed by the presence of so many beggars in Central Station. The people of Lima are very creative and some of them work independently. The high unemployment has forced the poor people to create ways to make money. One time as I walked on the streets of old downtown I notice a blind man without legs in a wheelchair. He was not asking for money from the pedestrians. He had a scale that people could use for a small fee. There are many street venders that sell food, candy and basic items such watches, film, etc. Selling goods on the streets is sometimes family business. At an early age children start to work with their parents. These families develop a sense of responsibility and independence. Unfortunately a safe environment does not always exist for the children. In the news I heard that a 6 years old girl was raped and killed while waiting for her mother to finish her work. Apparently, the little girl wandered off while her mother was busy working. The mother did not notice that she was gone. Her body was found a few blocks from her mom’s work stand. It is sad that poor children cannot have what would be considered a normal childhood. I am certain that most parents would not make their children work unless it was absolutely needed. I do not feel pity for the poor people, I admire them because they work very hard to survive in a country governed by leaders that do not care about them. They do not expect anything from the government; they rely on their own resources and adjust to the conditions around them.

Out of Lima things are a little different. We took the Panamericana del Sur (freeway) to Ica, another department in the Coast. There are beautiful beaches for many miles. On my way to see the Nasca Lines and to visit the Paracas National Reserve located in Ica, I stopped at different towns to learn something about the people, their culture and points of interest. For instance, Mala town, a farming community is known for growing corn, bananas and pigs. The best Chicharron is made here (steam-fry pork). Cañete produces Peru’s finest cotton. Chincha produces Peru’s finest wine. In this town there is a black community called “El Carmen.” This people are descendants from the slaves brought by Spain in the late 1500s. They are known for their dances, food and religion. “El Festejo” an African dance created by them is part of the Peruvian Culture. Palma produces oranges. Pisco produces different varieties of olives. My aunt Nelly knows these towns very well. I was fascinated to hear some myths from these towns. For instance: In Pisco, the myth of the woman’s ghost that enters into the drivers’ cars at 1a.m. while driving on the highway is very popular. The ghost rides with them from for a while and then disappears. Wherever you go in Peru, you will find stories that people have incorporated into their culture.

Ica is known for its deserts, products and archeological sites. The Nasca Lines is one of the most intriguing architectural sites in Ica. Some people believe that aliens made these low relief designs on the ground. Supposedly this area was used as a landing area for aircrafts. Maria Reiche has spent more than 50 years studying, measuring and preserving of what she considered to be the biggest astronomical calendar of the world. You cannot observe the designs from the ground; they have to be viewed from above.

The Paracas National Reserve is a territory by the ocean. It hosts a variety of sea fauna that consists of more than 60 types of birds, great quantities of fish, mammals and a unique and spectacular geography. The sea lions, penguins, seals, Humboldt penguins and birds were beautiful. I took a boat to the Ballestas Islands to observe these creatures in their natural habitat.

The people from Ica are friendly. I stopped at two restaurants that were not fancy but their food was excellent and delicious. I noticed an interesting and popular vehicle called the Mototaxi. It is a motorcycle that was converted into a taxi. They are cheap to ride and are everywhere. These vehicles make the streets look like an entertainment park. Peruvians have unusually creative minds.

The people from Cusco still live by the customs and traditions of their ancestors. They have incorporated the advantages of new technology for commercial tourism only. Most natives from Cusco spoke English or other popular foreign languages. They have adjusted well and handle visitors from all over the world with much charisma. The tour guides are very eloquent and fluent in several languages. At the crafts market, most salespersons speak English, French, as well as other languages. I asked a woman that sold textiles how she learned French; she said that she learned French in an institute and by dealing with them on daily basics.

Cusco was better than I expected. It was the beginning of winter but still warm during the day. The mountains looked majestically inspiring. Some of them were still growing the latest harvest of potatoes. The Plaza de Armas del Cusco (the square) is very much alike as the plazas found in Lima and in other departments. Colonial buildings, the Cathedral of Cusco, a small church, businesses and restaurants surround the plaza. Cusco has about 150 churches altogether. All the streets are connected to the plaza. They are narrow and paved with stones and cement. Transportation is available 24 hours a day and the people are friendly. There are plenty hotels to accommodate all budgets. Some old, restored buildings are used as hotels and they offer all the commodities of a modern hotel, plus the atmosphere of the colonial times.

Not very far from the plaza, there are modern neighborhoods, designed with simple architecture where most of the city people live. The rural areas begin about 20 miles out of the city. Each town has many communities. In the rural areas people still wear their traditional clothing and live in adobe houses. They make their own clothes. Men and women learn the art of farming, working with clay and weaving from their parents. For the most part, they rely on what they can produce to support themselves. The tour guide explained that each community produces a different commodity. For instance, the town of Pisac has 11 communities and is by the Urubamba River. This river begins in Puno-Bolivia. It is about 8,500 kilometers and goes into the Amazonas River. Most of the land is used for raising crops and grazing livestock. The llamas are raised for food, clothing and to transport goods. These communities produce maize, dry meat, passion fruit and beautiful pottery.

I had the opportunity to observe the farmers at different times of the day. They work from morning to dawn. The children help their parents in the farm. Some parents cannot afford to send their children to school so they work in the farm and continue to do so after they start their own families. During my tour to the Inti Raymi I met an 85years old woman and had a short interview with her. She told me that she has always worked in the Chacra (farm) and never went to school. She said that she had nine children and that she lives with one of them. I wanted her to tell me stories, myths or memories from her childhood but her Spanish was not good enough to answer more questions. She looked happy and very healthy for her age. I was touched by her kindness to share her humble lunch of potatoes with me.

In the train ride to Machu Picchu a tour guide from the Chinese group sat next to me. We became friends and talked about different subjects. Ariana is about 38 years old and was born in Cusco. I asked her how many languages she spoke and how she learned them. She responded that she spoke 4 languages and learned them at a Private Institute in Cusco and from dealing with foreign tourist. She has two children and works while her children go to school. Her husband is a student at the University of Cusco and works also. She spoke about her family life and her desire for her children to pursue higher education. I asked if she teaches her children other languages. She responded “yes” and added that her duty as a mother was to instruct her kids and give them opportunities to succeed. She said that her husband helps with the care of the children and he always been supportive of her desire to get an education. She told me that in one occasion she was invited to Japan for three weeks. At first she did not want to go because she was not sure about leaving her family at this particular time. Her husband convinced her to go and assured her that every thing was going to be fine. She went to Japan and learned about that culture which was very helpful for her job.

Carlos, another tour guide joined the conversation and had interesting things to say. He asked questions about the American lifestyle and work. After I gave him a brief summary of what society is about in the United States, he said that he likes his native land and only would like travel occasionally. He added that he loves his job but that he did earn enough money to raise a family. He joked about being too old to get married. Ariana commented that his last statement was an excuse to avoid marriage. He laughed at her and replied that he has not found the woman of his dreams yet. Ariana told me that she got married after her thirties. She said that she waited longer than most women because she wanted to find a good man to share her goals and dreams with for the rest of her life. Carlos and Ariana spoke with warm feelings about their native land and their people. After our conversation I concluded that the educated woman and men in Peru have broken the traditional roles that I was familiar with from 20 years ago.

The way to Machu Picchu was very pleasant and the landscaping was a treat to the eye. Along the railroad tracks I could observe the mountains, rivers, terraces, valleys. Because the imperial city is between the Sierra and the Jungle, I experienced the change of temperature as we traveled. We left the city at 5:30 a.m. and as we crossed the planes I could see the frost still on the grass. Some mountains were covered with snow. Veronica Pick can be spotted from many miles. As the temperature got warmer, the landscape changed. I could see forests thick with trees and abundant tropical vegetation. Before we arrived to Aguas Calientes (Hot Waters) or the actual city of Machu Picchu, the tour guide told me that the city was named Hot Waters because there was a lot of hot springs in the area. There are a lot of cactuses and a variety of trees such as pines and eucalyptus. After we arrived at the train station we boarded a tour bus that took us to the ancient city. After 20 minutes, we arrived at this magnificent archeological site. I was amazed to see people from all over the world, waiting for their tour guides to hike up to the ruins.

Machu Picchu is about 10,000 above sea level. Historians described it as the stone city built by the Indians for the Inca, his family and his servants. When the Spaniards arrived at Cusco they did not come to this site. There is no evidence of their presence because the buildings shown no signs of colonial interference. After lying hidden under dense undergrowth for about 400 years, Machu Picchu was discovered in1911 by a North American explorer, Hiram Bingham. Stone stairways connect the terraces on which the Incas built their houses, temples, storerooms, gardens and fountains. From the lowest level to the highest there are more than three thousand steps. Some of the stairs are in the open while others lead through dark passageways. One stairway took us to a sundial carved out of a huge rock. Another one took us to an Observatory. The Incas had a vast knowledge of Astronomy. The servants planted crops on the terraces. They irrigate their crops with water from the mountains streams. They also learned which crops would grow in the Andes. The Incas were remarkable engineers and builders. Some of the stones blocks they used in the buildings weigh fifty tons. It is still a mystery of how they were able to move these boulders and fit them together so perfectly. The Inca architecture is notorious because of the trapezoid style used on the buildings, doors and windows. Machu Picchu is a monument to the past of a rich civilization that achieved advanced technology for its time.

In addition to the stone city, there are other monumental archeological sites such the Fortress of Saqsaywuaman. Only 40% of this building was built when the Spaniards arrived. The temple of the God Huiracocha was here. The Inti Raymi, a ritualistic celebration, in which a black llama is sacrificed to the gods, is performed here. The Inti Raymi is reenacted annually on June 24th. Thousand of tourists come to Cusco to watch this performance. It starts on the Plaza de Armas del Cusco and the actual sacrifice takes place in Saqsaywuaman. A lot of native dancers and actors participate in this event. They dress with beautiful outfits from different communities and dance to the tune of the Andean music. The Inca performer is actually a descendant of the Inca Sinchi Roca. I was impressed by the respect and the seriousness that the natives showed towards this ancient ceremony. When the Inca addresses to the crowd, they listen and at times they shout; “ Viva el Inca”. At this time, the Inca express his wishes on behalf of his people to the Mayor of the City. I consider this ceremony a pledge of the natives to the culture and traditions of their ancestors. I enjoyed visiting with the people of Cusco, the ancient Inca structures and learning much more about my own culture.

Upon my return to Lima I went to explore other ancient cities. Lurin is a town 15 miles away from the city. Here I explored the remains of a Pre-Inca culture. Most of the buildings were made in adobe and were similar to the Inca Architecture. It is believed that the people from this city were fishermen because of their proximity to the ocean. Pottery, textiles and food found at the burial sites indicated that they also had access to products from other regions. This was a short tour but as interesting as the others.

In three weeks I was able to learn so much about my own history, my culture, my people and their places. Peru is truly a land of wonders. The Peruvian people for the most are like other nations. They are proud of their heritage and want to achieve progress like everybody else. Peru is the land of the Incas, a constant reminder of an ancient civilization that ruled South America with efficiency and greatness. If we could rediscover the knowledge of such great people, we could learn so much more about ourselves.