martes, 29 de mayo de 2012

Muses on Travel and Latin America

I´m taking the next step of my journey- Traveling Peru. Really traveling. Aside from my two week vacation in Nicaragua, I haven´t had that experience yet. And from what I´ve heard and read about, it seems as if I could travel Peru forever.

It´s become very clear to me that traveling can take infinite shapes and forms. Is traveling challenging? Uncomfortable? Does it push your comfort zone? It completely depends on where you are and how you do it. Right now, I’m riding the very cheapest bus possible from Pisco to Lima (I have to make a stop in Lima before continuing on to Huaraz) - 15 soles for the 4 hour ride. That’s about 6 bucks. I would have probably paid about 2 dollars in Nicaragua, but the experience is incomparable.

 Traveling around Nicaragua, although very safe, is a wild adventure. Chicken busses, four to a seat and pigs in the isle, chaotic bus stations with zero organization… As I write, I am gliding along a quiet, smooth, open desert road, dull rainy light softly illuminating my page through the wide, clean windows. I’m sharing the long plush back seat with Ed and Sarah, but we all have room to stretch and the other two are almost laying down sleeping. It´s quiet; I´m comfortable and snuggled up in a warm fleece; Cast Away is playing on the 3 TVs lining the center isle. Let me say it again: This is the cheapest, crappiest bus option from Pisco to Lima. Yeah.

Peru is much more comfortable than Nicaragua was. Its far more expensive, expensive, but its easier to travel in; it´s easier to enjoy. Sometimes it´s almost been too comfortable, too familiar. Makes me want to break out a tent and rough it. (Which I will be doing quite soon)

In Nicaragua, you actually have to work hard to spend a lot of money. It’s the poorest country in continental America, after Haiti. Traveling, 10 dollars a day is probably max. I spent about a thousand in three months. All this comes with its sacrifices though. There was a point in Nicaragua when I really wanted to go home. My capacity for adventure, the new, the chaotic, was filled. The poverty, rough living, lack of creature comforts, extreme contrast to home and everything that I´m used to, used up far more energy than being in Peru has. Actually, being here has reinvigorated my excitement for travel and adventure.

Nicaragua’s color and intensity, its vivacity and chaos and energetic, revolutionary spirit is crammed into a small country walled in by the Pacific and Atlantic on either side; it’s bursting at the seams. Most travelers I´ve met move overland from one country to its neighbor; they ease into the next scene. Jumping from one spot to the next is like entering a completely different world. The parts of Peru I´ve seen so far have felt more familiar than Nicaragua did- Perhaps it´s the wide open spaces, misty skies and sheer granite cliffs sprayed by the freezing pacific…  Nicaragua felt imaginary, like a dreamland an artist painted done day with a pallet of the brightest primary shades.

At the same time, I wouldn’t trade my Nicaragua experience for anything. It was insane but I grew and built confidence, overcame obstacles and was challenged in ways that can only build character. All of that is probably part of the reason Peru feels so comfortable and easy. In Peru, there are so many first world perks, there is so much geological and natural diversity, so much land to cover, it seems harder to tire of the country.

I never imagined that Peru and Nicaragua could both be in Latin America and yet still be so different. There are so many shades to Latin American culture. What is Latin American culture?? It´s a question I thought I would find the answer to here.  Instead, I find myself straying farther and farther from the answer. Passion and flair, salsa, color… Those aspects of the culture are also the most commercialized and romanticized. From talking to travelers, I think that stereotype may be most true in Brazil, where they don´t even speak Spanish, and every other joe is white.

Each country within Latin America is infinitely different. Okay, Nicaragua may be culturally and geographically similar to Honduras, or El Salvador, but each is fiercely independent from the other. The contrasts are made sharper by the unique indigenous cultures in each area. Mayan influence isn’t overly dominant in Nicaragua, but it´s there, and it is hugely different from Incan and Andean cultures.

 I have never been to Bolivia, but I´ve been told that the Incan and Andean cultures are very prominent there. In fact, Andean culture appears to be almost the opposite of the steamy, flamboyant, expressive stereotype of Latin America many have swimming in their heads. The short, quiet, indigenous mountain people are reserved and stoic. I hear that in Bolivia, the locals are completely uninterested in tourists. They don’t talk to the gringos much, if it were up to Bolivians, herds of tourists wouldn’t flock across the border to gawk at their bright weavings and artisan crafts the country is known for. Actually, that´s a reason so many white folk love Bolivia. Not necessarily because the locals couldn’t care less whether you exist, but because they aren´t about to sell their cultural soul to mimic the US or Europe.

In Pisco, young Peruvian children tell me constantly that they want to be white. How lucky I am to be white. Inca heritage is celebrated here, but the reality is Peru is moving rapidly towards Westernization. I feel less of a sense of unity here than Nicaragua; most likely it has to do with the size of the country and the many pockets of indigenous peoples and cultures in the valleys and snowy mountain passes, between the sand dunes or buried deep in the Amazon rainforest.

For me, Huaraz´s obvious draw is its surrounding mountains. But I´m also looking forward to get a peek at how Peru´s indigenous mountain peoples live. In Huaraz, and especially its surrounding communities, the indigenous language Quechua is widely spoken, often as the first language. It will be a completely new cultural experience. It will be a new Latin America.

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