Wednesday, January 12, 2005
My Adventures in Peru: Chapter Two
One of the things about that Peru that amazed me almost as much as the mountains was the poverty of many of the people. The house above would be classifed as a mansion by a lot of people we saw, many of whom lived in mud houses (sun-dried adobe, if you want to be fancy) with dirt floors and small muddy courtyards. Most of the houses had windows and doors, but some didn't. We passed one so dilapidated that I assumed no one could possibly live there. And a woman stepped through the doorway. I'm sure there are people living in those places who've never known what it means to be warm and comfortable, at least not by the standards I usually apply.
On the way to Nasca, we passed places in the desert that seemed to be nothing more than four walls of mats made of leaves. We thought they might be some kind of animal pens. No, the guide said, people live there, squatters who've come down from the mountains. They have no running water and no electricity, but if they live there for a certain period of time (five or six years, he wasn't sure), they'll have free claim to the land. Someone checks on them now and then to be sure they're actually living there. For some of us, it was like looking out at the landscape of Mars.
One of the most poignant sights I saw in all of Peru was from the window of the train to Machu Picchu as we were leaving Cusco. We passed adobe house after adobe house, and in some of the windows we could see things like a plant or a teddy bear. But in one of them there was a picture of Britney Spears. I wondered how whoever lived in that room could ever have heard of her, much less obtained a picture. To someone living in that house, Britney Spears must seem as far away as the moons of Jupiter.