One of my reasons for travelling is to try and understand a little about other cultures and societies, through spending time with locals and reading as much as I can about the counties visited. Spending a month in Peru and Bolivia gave me some insights into these fascinating countries.
Insights common to Peru and Bolivia
They both love football, almost every reasonable size settlement has a covered football pitch. They’re of a standard design which suggests some government funding at some stage to build them across the countries.
They have some of the best soups in the world, often containing quinoa. Amazingly quinoa grows in near desert conditions (on the edge of the Atacama Desert for example, the driest place on earth) but is labour intensive to harvest. Bolivia and Peru are two of the largest quinoa exporters in the world, providing a welcome boast for marginal rural communities.
There are a lot of dogs around that look like strays but are actually owned, just allowed to wander the streets during the day. This is thing I least liked about these counties, particularly in places like Potosí where I was chased and nearly attacked several times by packs of dogs. They also made a huge mess of the place, you need to watch your step in Cusco. It also prevented (along with the altitude) going for a run. From experience dogs and runners aren’t a good combination.
Almost no one smokes, quite unusual in developing countries and very welcome.
Peru specific insights
It’s a understandably popular place with tourists, with around 3.5 million visitors this year and government targets to grow further. As an example Intrepid Travel has about 100 guides in Peru (65 in Cusco), whereas there are only 10 in Bolivia. There are well traveled tourist routes, particularly Cusco to Manchu Picchu, and it can be hard to avoid the tour groups.
Manchu Picchu is super busy, allowing in up to 2,500 people each morning and afternoon. I visited in the shoulder season of mid October and even with less than a thousand people at the site it was a pretty uncomfortable experience at times. They authorities manage it relatively well, but the sheer mass of people at certain bottleneck points turn an incredible place into an average visitor experience.
There is much more to Peru than the Inca. The last civilisation before the Spanish arrived are deservedly famous, but built on (often literally) the foundations of many previous civilisations. Museo Larco and the National Archaeology Museum in Lima gives a good overview of the other civilisations achievements.
Guinea pig is quite tasty but very difficult to eat due to the huge number of bones and small size. There are three ways to try it, as the meat in a dish, a whole guinea pig cut up, or a whole guinea pig on a spit. I went for the second option which was fine other than the head (particularly the teeth) which was somewhat off-putting…
Bolivia specific insights
There was almost no traffic on the roads despite subsidised fuel. Almost all the vehicles seen driving between La Paz and Tiwanaku, La Paz and Uyuni, Uyuni and Potosí, and Potosí and Sucre, were public buses and trucks, very few private cars, and little traffic outside of cities.
A large, and incredibly scenic part of the Atacama Desert known as Los Lípez is in Bolivia, south of the epic salt flats of Salar de Uyuni. I always associated the Atacama Desert with Chile, so it came as a welcome surprise to see things like this in Bolivia.
Unexpectedly basketball is second most popular sport in Bolivia, after football.
La Paz has the longest cable car system in the world, with over 10km of network, though it is expensive for locals to use, twice the price of local buses.