Varying Landscapes of Peru

Peru is a varied and diverse place, whether you’re talking in terms of cultures and linguistics diversity, biodiversity, or the landscapes themselves.

To set the mood with a story, I’ll begin with a bit of food (as is my habit)…

IMG_0625To the left, you will notice something green and slimy on the tip of my finger. I understand your concern, yes, but this indeed is a bit of algae that grows on the rocks surrounding Taquile Island in Lake Titicaca, Peru. It can in fact be made into a soup that the locals have told me is delicious. Regretfully I have never tried it, but if I return after the program someday, perhaps I will!




While we were on the island for three nights, one evening my host family prepared me a stellar meal of trucha, a local fish that was recently introduced to the lake and has since taken over; beets and carrots, my contribution to the family from a market in Cuzco; and potatoes, one of the few agricultural products that are capable of growing on the island. The lake itself is nearly 4,000 meters off the ground, making it the highest navigable lake in the world. The lake, along with many other landscapes, are part of the enormous diversity that Peru holds within its borders.

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A view into the Colca Canyon
A view into the Colca Canyon—and my friend’s shoe

So then, let’s start with la sierra, the mountain ranges—an area of Peru that I’m most familiar with. Together with mountains and valleys, there are canyons(characterized by having a depth deeper than the horizontal distance between mountains), volcanoes, and glaciers. Peru is home to 70% of the world’s tropical glaciers, which are highly esteemed in Andean spirituality as apus, and whose seasonal freezing and melting feeds lakes such as Titicaca and many smaller lakes, rivers such as the Madre de Dios, or perhaps more conocido (familiar) to some reading this, the Amazon.

Condors in the Colca Canyon
Condors in the Colca Canyon
Misti Volcano, one of many in the Arequipa region
Misti Volcano, one of many in the Arequipa region










That  brings me to my next bit, la selva, the jungle. Peru’s selva region is home to the vast majority of linguistic groups and distinct cultures of the country, making up some 60% of its geographical area. It is extremely rich in biodiversity and home to an enormous number of medicinal plants used by the native peoples, whose effects have yet to be studied thoroughly by western science.



IMG_0315While I am on this note, I think it’s worthwhile to mention that some 30% of Peru’s glaciers have disappeared in the past several decades due to a process we refer to in Spanish as calentamiento mundial (global warming). Considering the role that these glaciers play in the life of South America’s ecosystem, the day they outright disappear will be extremely destructive for the region’s people and biodiversity. In many ways, flooding caused by global warming has  already affected people greatly.

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Offshore island in Lima
Offshore island in Lima

Finally, we have la costa, including a long stretch of coast to the west of the Andes, which is primarily desert. Lima, which holds a third of the country’s population and is the second-largest city in South America, after São Paulo in Brazil, is located in a desert. Following the coast further south, one finds the beginnings of the Atacama, which is the driest desert in the world (and conveniently a favorable testing-ground for NASA Mars missions).


Peru is a ridiculously beautiful country with all there is to see. Granted, most anywhere in the world is, and the opportunity to go out and see it all is one that I would never counsel against!


¿Eres francés? and other ironies

Well then! Here’s my food for the post, known colloquially in Quechua as lawa wallpa chaki, and in English as the exquisite Chicken foot soup.


Okay, so I told a white lie. Rather than soup, it was perhaps more akin to couscous, which my host family served to me cooked with the foot of a chicken to give it some flavor. While my host sister nibbled into it with enthusiasm, I was admittedly a little taken aback by the appendage’s presence, especially this being my first formal meal with the family, and decided instead to pick around it at the rest of the bowl’s contents. Still. Good story!

My experience away from the classroom doing my sociolinguistics ISP (independent study) has been pretty fun this far! I’ve eaten plenty of good food—I had a fried egg sandwich for breakfast yesterday morning, and I’m expecting to help out soon with some beans that I bought for the family in the market. I also made a purchase of lentils, which were cooked into a stew with Alpaca meat—a combination of Indian and Andean cuisine that most people don’t think about on a day-to-day basis 🙂

Now before I get too ahead of myself, the title does beg another question: who is French?

Well, glad you asked! 😉 During the first three days of my ISP—note that this had never happened with such frequency before—three distinct individuals, in three distinct contexts, from three different places, asked me if I was, of all nationalities, French. While it’s certainly true that I speak French and feel solidarity with French culture, I wasn’t speaking it at all during either occasion, nor do I have an ounce of French blood in my body. Now hold onto your seat; this is going to get crazy.

The first took place in a shop on Saturday the 30th while I was buying a bottle of water and having an extended conversation with the shopkeepers. A foreign couple walked up to me, and upon finishing my conversation in Spanish, asked me in English, “Are you French?” Not having a clue why they would think that or why they asked, let alone asked in English, I listened for their accent—some language that included plenty of trills. Not French. More likely something Slavic or an Eastern Romance language. There’s the linguist in me.

While I thought this was nice, I didn’t think much of it. On Sunday the 1st of May I went to Catholic Mass with my Q’ero family, and was asked by a priest, “¿Eres francés?” He spoke fluent Spanish but was not Peruvian himself, or French for that matter. He was Italian. By this point I was wondering. I examined my outfits—chompa y casaca cusqueña. Not French.

The next day, Monday, without thinking I put on my Tignes – Alpes Françaises t-shirt and began to walk around the city. This shirt, gifted to me by an French exchange student who visited me in high school, and written at least partly in French, would surely raise some suspicion! And yet, a foreign man passed by me while I was headed to lunch that day and, misreading what the shirt said, exclaimed, “Go Tigers!”

He then proceeded to ask me if I was from Detroit—which in all irony is not just the correct country and state, but yes, I am from its suburbs!—and I responded to him, “actually, this is Tignes [insert French accent], in the French Alps.” After telling him how odd and amazing it was that he guessed where I came from, and not that I was French, he informed me that he was from Grand Rapids, literally half an hour away from where whoever is reading this blog in all likelihood is sitting, or was sitting a week ago. Fun story! But that’s not all.

I then proceeded to put on a jacket, for it was getting cold, and had a quick lunch. On the bus back home, little did I expect, a Peruvian man approached me after I had said “desculpe”—”excuse me”—and hardly anything more, with a question at which I could hardly refrain from cackling: “¿eres francés?”

I had just covered the Tignes shirt an hour earlier with my cusqueño sweater.

Apparently, with all the effort that I have put forward as of late to hide my American accent, the tone I use, according to this man, is more akin to what they would expect of someone from France. What I mean is that I raise the pitch at the end of sentences, probably out of an effort to be polite more than anything, and this is interpreted as a French accent.
Or maybe it’s the moustache and hat.

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Well, what can you say? I’m astounded, and this has been one of the best experiences of my entire time abroad.



Going bananas; a little experience starting the ISP

While perhaps I haven’t been the best at posting regularly, that will certainly change! Here’s some background information: SIT Abroad has a policy to include a course called “ISP,” or the Independent Study Project of the semester. The ISP follows introductory coursework meant to prepare the students for a topic of their choice, mine being sociolinguistics in a migrant community to Cuzco. About a week ago, we finished up with the majority of our coursework (13 credit hours worth) after two and a half months of study; from there, we turned in our project proposals, were each given a check to live off of for a month in a community of our general choosing, and were sent off to start researching!

This is, of course, assuming your proposal was accepted. Mine was not immediately; and as an incentive to revise it quickly and get going, I was not given my check until I was given the green light, or as we colloquially say here, luz verde.

Therefore! I figured it only appropriate to include as my food for this post, a picture of a humble banana peel.

The humble banana peel, taken on a bus back to Q'eros in San Miguel
The humble banana peel

Why? you may ask. How could this possibly be appropriate?

Well, my friend, let me enlighten you. When you’re in a fix; when you don’t have much money and must navigate a developing country in the tropics without becoming sick from street food, the banana is by all means your best bet. First of all, plenty of carbs. Second, the peel, which is a convenient guard against any and all invading sicknesses. Third, I got three of these things for 15 US cents. Now that’s a deal!

That all being said, no, I wasn’t quite left in the dark until I turned in my assignment. The school was actually quite friendly and lent me a small sum to get by for a couple days in case I needed it, and beyond that, I could have easily withdrawn some cash, although generally I like to keep my spending, outside of budgeted spending perhaps, to a strict minimum.

As to my site for the ISP, I am staying in the barrio or neighborhood of San Miguel with migrants from a community that calls itself Q’eros: these are Quechua-speaking people who were isolated in a region called Paucartambo until the 1950’s, and have been since known as continuing to carry the torch of relatively pure Inca traditions. In the past week, San Miguel has held two celebrations; one for the anniversary barrio itself, and the other a local Catholic holiday in Cuzco called Qoyllorit’i, in honor of the Santísima Cruz and the Señor de Qoyllorit’i. If you want to read more about this latter one, wikipedia does have a page 😉

To end this post, here’s just a couple pictures of the community, its view of Cuzco, and the celebrations that have been held.

La Santísima Cruz
La Santísima Cruz
A banner for Qoyllorit'i
A banner for Qoyllorit’i
Bailes por el aniversario de San Miguel
Bailes por el aniversario de San Miguel
La vista de Cuzco desde San Miguel
La vista de Cuzco desde San Miguel






Hope all is well—and assuming you’re currently north of the equator, have an awesome summer!


Touchdown! As in… on an airplane in Cuzco! The past few weeks have been filled with travel, climbing hills, picking some fruit here and there, and meeting lots of new people. A week and a half ago my study abroad program officially started in Lima, Peru, and for the past several days I have been taking coursework in Cuzco over research methods, Spanish, Quechua, and Peruvian/Spanish/indigenous history. Then today I left from Cuzco for a brief weekend visit to rural areas and certain archeological sites, including Ollanta and the Valle Sagrado.

But just a moment! Before I dive headfirst into my blogging career, I thought I would break the ice with a little food. Because after all, who doesn’t like food?

When I was in Chile, I found this gem...
When I was in Chile, I found this gem…

To the right, therefore, you can see our esteemed and exotic lemon pepper, whose flavor is slightly more tart than most. The locals consumed it with much frequency—albeit in its less slender variety—and primarily because we had a lot of them. Why is this important? First, because I hoped a chuckle would emerge from you, and second, because I spent three weeks of my month’s stay in Chile working on a lemon farm, none other! Many of the lemons—or limones, as we called them in Chilean Spanish—came in unique shapes and sizes, from the tamaño of a golf-ball to what could be mistaken for a small melon with fingers. It was a blast picking them, to say the least.


Beyond lemonade at just about every meal, these limones came in handy when preparing the national beverage, called Pisco Sour. A mix of lemon, eggwhite, sugar, and liquor, the drink also sparks a subtle rivalry, so I learned, as neighboring Peru claims it equally as its own!

Food on the lemon farm. And yes: there were definitely puppies.

As to a quick summary, my three-week’s stay in Chile was ironically filled with lots of Europeans, Australians, and Americans, who cooked their own usually veggie dishes. I would contrast that to my experience so far in Peru where there are far fewer veggie options, and a lot more of the animal is consumed, moreover, from heart to stomach to feet.

Ceviche mixto, complete with mystery fish, and what we reasoned was squid, octopus, and a mollusk.
Ceviche mixto, complete with mystery fish and what we reasoned was squid, octopus, and a mollusk of sorts.

Ceviche too, raw fish soaked (and in this way “cooked” without heat) in a citrus mixture, is a Peruvian favorite. On my first try, I mistakenly ordered the “ceviche mixto”, which is to say that I had the pleasure of taking a stab (yes, pun intended) at octopus, squid, and a certain mollusk for the first time as well, raw in a ceviche bowl. Yum yum!

More food on the farm
Another day on the farm…

Pictures of what I eat will become a habit of mine to place in each blog going forward. Some will be more exotic than others, some may be main courses and others drinks or desserts, but regardless, my hope is to give a more personal feel to my stories; and hey, if you want to, these could always become ideas for your own kitchen! 😉

All that said, here I am, and here begins a great semester of study! Before I call it quits, wherever in the world I may be, I Hope you know the Flying Dutchmen are still first and foremost in my heart! Or to say the least, an eerily similar anchor can be found just off San Cristobal Hill in Santiago, and I saw it as the perfect opportunity:

The anchor makes its appearance on the other side of the world—captured just after climbing San Cristobal Hill in Santiago.
The anchor makes its appearance on the other side of the world!

On that note, stay tuned; much more to come!