Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Look of Peru

I’ve been trying to find a way to convey what this country is really like to anyone who hasn’t been to Peru. The stock images of Machu Picchu, jungle paradise, llamas and smiling natives dressed in gaily colored folk costumes offered by guide books and travel logs are real, but to the majority of Peruvians those places and things are as remote to them as they are to you. They don’t represent daily life. I know it sounds pretentious of me to want to show you the “real” Peru, at least as I see it, but that’s the task I’ve set for myself. I also know that words can’t substitute for experience, so hopefully I’ll have stirred your interest enough to prompt a visit to this beautiful country. Let’s start on a general level and work our way down to the detail of life in Chiclayo.

I explained in another post that geographically Peru is traditionally divided into three areas: coastal desert (12%), highlands including the Andes Mountains (25%), and jungle (63%). The coastal desert runs the entire length of the country and varies in width from 12 to 20 miles before transitioning to highlands. It’s a small percentage of the total land mass but 45% of Peru’s 29,180,900 people live here. Of the 15 most populous cities, 10 are located on the coast, including Lima with its 8,866,160 inhabitants. The coastal cities are essentially carbon copies of each other. Lima differs only in its size and wealthy suburbs.

Seen from the air the color of the coastal cities is brown, as you might expect of a desert region. From the ground they also appear mostly brown. This is because the buildings are primarily constructed of brick, although the larger buildings are more frequently being constructed of poured concrete. In the downtown area (centro) all four sides of a building are usually plastered and painted. In residential areas close to centro typically only the front of a building is finished.

On the fringes of the cities is where the poorer people live. Here four adobe walls with a thatch or galvanized metal roof are the norm. I will not use the word slum because that would be an insult to the pride, character and hard working nature of these people. I think it’s accurate to say that anywhere from 25 to 40% of a coastal city's population resides in these areas. I believe that’s true even of Lima. Peru is a poor country that does not offer a lot of opportunity.

The economy of these cities is mostly fish and agriculture. There is little manufacturing outside of Lima. In the north the major crops are sugar cane and rice, along with a wide variety of vegetables. Chickens are raised on both a large and small scale nearly everywhere.

One other commonality is the principal park with adjoining church. From the largest city to the smallest village each has its “Plaza de Armas” and principal church. The accompanying photo shows Lima’s main park. Many of the parks are superior to the botanical gardens I’ve seen in the States. They seem to be a source of community pride. We’ll visit many of these towns and parks in the near future.

I think that covers the general overview of the coastal region. I hope you haven’t been bored to death. In the next post we’ll start looking at Chiclayo in detail including its people.


1 comment:

  1. In the contrary. Your writing is very interesting and high fidelity about the place. It is only that you need to be longer to know it better. Arequipa by example, the second city is not ithe coast, though they do not want to be in the "sierra". it is an attractive city, different to the others. A german friend told me in 1979 that her impression was that the cities are "unfinished." It is cause of the houses and buildings in brick that are not plastered and painted. In Lima actually you hardly could finda recent house in adobe (mud bricks) to be safe on earthquakes.