I can't just call this entry "Peru: the wrapup", because I have definite plans to return to Peru (after seeing Bolivia and northern Chile), and to do the coast from south to north. It seems that two months in Peru simply wasn't enough for me — especially when I spent almost all of that time loitering around in Cusco. Anyway, my time in Peru (and in South America!) so far has been spectabulous; and I can't wait to get back here, and to see the rest of the country. Except next time, I'm not coming to Cusco — not falling for that one again — if I go back there, I might not ever leave!
I haven't done as much adventure as I'd hoped to do by now in Peru, but what I have done so far has been incredible. The Salkantay hike was the highlight of my trip so far: apart from getting slightly ripped off, I can't begin to explain how satisfied I am with the experience that I had on that trip. The Apurímac rafting trip, also, was a total blast. Sadly, the commitments of Spanish study and volunteer work ate into my could-have-been adventure time a fair bit. But nevertheless, I don't regret the time that I devoted to these things. I am planning to make up for my lost adventure time, by doing all-out adventure for most of the rest of my trip.
My time spent studying at Amigos was not only extremely beneficial, in terms of improving my Spanish skills; it was also highly enjoyable, and it scored me a bunch of great friends. Likewise, my voluntary work on the new Hampy web site was a great experience, as well as one that benefited an organisation that both needed and deserved my time and my skills. I wasn't exactly in the mood for all this work and study — what with being on holidays and all — but it was totally worthwhile; and I'd love to do more of it (voluntary work in particular) on future trips.
I must say, I've really come to warm to the way that people live and act here in Peru. In general, the locals are friendly, sociable, helpful, and reasonably honest. Family is a very important part of life in this part of the world — much more so than back home in Australia — and you can see it by the way that families stick together and do everything together, and by the fact that children are in abundance everywhere, and are made to be a part of the bigger society in which they live.
Peru is a land of much dichotomy, because it's a place where two cultures collide. On the one hand, you have the traditional lifestyle of the highland people; and on the other hand, you have the masses of tourists that are making their mark ever more strongly in the area. However, it's both amazing and admirable that the highland way of life seems to be alive and in practice today as much as ever. The majority of people in Peru still live a very conservative life, where their entire existence is devoted to taking care of their family, producing what they can from the land, and eating, dressing, and conversing just as they have for centuries. The Western ways of the tourists are observed, and they are tolerated; but they are by no means embraced.
No raving reviews in this area, I'm afraid. As most gringos say when finishing their time in Peru: "after a while, you start to get sick of eating nothing but rice, beans, potatoes, and corn". The Peruvian highland diet is healthy, filling, and wholesome; but at the end of the day, it's pretty bland and boring. There are only so many varieties of potato you can eat (and for most people, it's less than the 3,500+ breeds that Peru offers). There are only so many visits to a polleria (BBQ chicken restaurant) that you can stomach. And there are only so many variations on "corn soup" that you can pretend to find intriguing.
After my month of food nirvana in Mexico, Peru is definitely an anticlimax. Not that much for the spice-lover around here, apart from rocoto (chopped chili, often served on the side with main dishes) and American mustard. Vegetables and salads are virtually banned nation-wide (Peruvians just don't seem to like eating their greens). And the meats aren't anything special either (gotta head south to Argentina for those legendary steaks).