Terraces for crops? An amphitheater? The ruins are totally unmarked and locals told us they are not well studied. In addition to the construction pictured, there were dozens upon dozens of stone huts spread out over a mile of rocky oceanic bluffs, with front openings about three feet high and insides perhaps eight feet in diameter. Scattered around them were collections of seashells, shards of pottery and often even human bones. We found part of a skull, several vertebrae, fingers and a tibia. The structures were built by the Wari–a civilization that covered much of the Peruvian coast from about 500 to 900 AD–and were perhaps used by the Incas as well.
From the bathroom of the guesthouse at the farm. When we first arrived I wondered if Alvaro—our dreadlocked, solitary, intellectual and wonderfully accepting host—intended the empty space as some sort of statement. No, he said, a previous volunteer broke the mirror while trying to clean it. But after two weeks of relaxed work in the mornings followed by hearty meals, reading on the beach, afternoon hikes, and games and stories shared by night, I thought the framed nothingness was a nice reflection on the farm’s hermetic lifestyle. As if to say: “Neither vanity or insecurity here.”
Earlier this month, Gustav, Sean, and I spent two weeks on a farm on Peru’s southern coast through WWOOF. We spent our time digging a hole for an outhouse, collecting rocks to build an outhouse, and collecting more rocks to repair a wall that was destroyed by a 7.0 magnitude earthquake the week before we arrived. During that time we compiled lists of Most Famous Rocks In World History and Best Songs About Rocks.
Most Famous Rocks In World History
Best Songs About Rocks:
Any city of 10 million is bound to be hectic but Lima moves with a unique fervor, at least among places I’ve visited. In recent decades, Peruvians have flocked to the city to escape an economically neglected and war-torn countryside. Lima had half a million residents in 1940, 3.5 million in 1981 and has 10 million today, faster growth than any government could ever hope to order or control.
As such, life in Lima is frenetic and spontaneous. Bus drivers race from stop to stop, literally competing with each other for riders. Many neighborhoods were originally built by squatters in what 30 years ago was desert. Residents who can’t find work make their own; vendors peddle everything from candy to self-help tapes to UV lights that identify counterfeit money. Everywhere is crowded: sidewalks, parks, stores, vehicles, and especially roads. In one taxi ride our driver, caught in a traffic jam, blasted onto a 100-yard stretch of empty pedestrian promenade to bypass the stopped vehicles and then veered back into the road at the front of the pack. “It’s Lima, everything is possible,” he said.
Perhaps all the raw energy results from everyone trying to get a leg up at the same time. Peru’s economy is growing steadily but the nation’s export-led, laissez-faire economic development model doesn’t organize how the wealth is distributed, so Peruvians are left to carve out their own spot.
For better or worse, the entire world is urbanizing at a similar rate. In Lima, call it a work in progress. Entire swaths of the capital lack plumbing, clean water, or trash removal, and the city’s streets have the most crashes of any in South America. The organized chaos also boasts results, though. Peru has cut its poverty rate in half, from 54.4 percent in 1991 to 25.8 percent last year. But questions remain: can the same economic policies uplift that last quarter? How long will it take? Are there other development strategies that would work better, or is the messy Peruvian way the only way?
The view from our apartment roof (click to enlarge)
Francisco Pizarro’s “City of Kings,” founded in 1535, Lima was built specifically to conquer. The city was established as a coastal base of operations for the conquest and subjugation of the mysterious empire—the Incas—rumored to be based in the continent’s mountainous interior. I’ve got reservations about the power dynamics involved in this trip, so Lima as jumpoff point makes for a bit of uncomfortable symbolism.
But politics aside, we have been less on edge in the city than we expected to be. Pre-trip advice we got basically amounted to being ready for war: don’t drink the water, carry your passport everywhere, keep an eye on your pockets, lie to customs about your travel plans, don’t eat lettuce, watch out for counterfeit money, and don’t walk around practically anywhere alone.
We are breaking some of these rules and following others but as a whole we are comfortable, not at odds with the city around us. We walk the streets carefully but calmly and we are moderately adventurous with our food choices. It helps also to have a beautiful rented apartment and a very welcoming set of new friends with plenty of tips to share.
Another highlight of these first few days is the unity of purpose I feel here. I struggle to articulate exactly why I quit my job and bought a one-way plane ticket to South America, but my life hasn’t felt this coherent for quite awhile. Pushups, morning jogs, reading books, walking the streets, taking photos, practicing Spanish, meeting locals, writing blog posts: each act is another brick for the “South America Trip” house that I’m building.
Hopefully the soft landing and the mental clarity will be enough to prepare us for life outside the capital where—in many of the places we’re going—the culture is likely to be less international and the amenities much more basic.
I’ve always been a big picture kinda guy, I guess. Some vexing questions that I will be thinking about on my upcoming trip to South America:
Why are some countries rich and others poor? What is the most effective way to change this?
Is there any hope of a world that is both free from poverty and environmentally sustainable?
What lessons can Americans learn from Andean cultures? In what areas might we have insights to share? Read More