LIMA, Peru - The coastal Peruvian capital of Lima is home to a third of the country's population and most live in dusty barrios on a coastal desert where it never rains. The traffic is chaotic, the food is world-famous. Attractions include colonial and neocolonial architecture from the city's three centuries as the seat of the Spanish viceroy as well as pre-Columbian sites. The city is dotted with ancient mounds known as "huacas," which charge nominal fees, and the Pachacamac ruins just south of Lima are well worth the trip but also charge for admission. But there are plenty of things to do and see around Lima for free, from parks to plazas, starting with the Pacific Ocean.
COSTA VERDE Lima's walkable and bikeable coast spans four districts, each with its own character. Grassy parks and a bike path separate a coastal bluff from the "Malecon" road in San Isidro and Miraflores, the wealthiest districts. Gaze at the paragliders, partake of the skate park, join the lovers at "Parque del Amor." Or take the steps down in Miraflores to Waikiki beach and watch the wetsuit-clad surfers.
The more bohemian Barranco district, studded with cafes, bars and art galleries, has more modest parks on its bluff. Its cobbled walk down to the beach from the "Puente de Suspiros," or bridge of sighs, is a nice stroll.
Working-class Chorrillos' coastal attraction is down at the water: The "Mercado de Pescadores Artesanales." It's the fish market where the independent fishermen sell their catch.
PARQUE KENNEDY At the heart of Miraflores' commercial district, probably Lima's best people-watching venue. It is lined by cafes, restaurants, bookstores, and the Virgen Milagrosa church, a magnet for stray cats. The municipal government organizes free music, dance and theater performances evenings Three blocks north of the park on Av. Petit Thouars is the folk art "artesania" market. The website blogs.miraflores.gob.pe/larco400 has a park performance schedule in Spanish.
PLAZA DE ARMAS, PRESIDENTIAL PALACE One of Latin America's most charming central squares, the Plaza de Armas in the downtown Lima district is intoxicating at night, particularly the Archbishop's Palace. See the changing of the guard at 1 p.m. every day but Sunday at the Presidential Palace. The palace is open for free tours on Saturday mornings, including in English. For reservations call 3113908 by the previous Thursday.
FREE MUSEUMS Also downtown, on the Plaza Bolivar, is the Spanish Inquisition museum. Yes, they tortured heretics in Lima, too. Coin buffs will like the Museo Numismatico of the central bank; also downtown is the Afro-Peruvian museum. A haunting must-see exhibit for students of recent Latin American history: At the Museo de La Nacion, created by Peru's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, is a tribute to nearly 70,000 victims of the country's 1980-2000 internal conflict, located on Javier Prado in San Borja district.
PARQUE EL OLIVAR Some 1,500 olive trees dating from saplings first planted in the 16th century by the Spanish in a peaceful residential section of the San Isidro district. Walk a few blocks west, crossing the busy Camino Real, to the pre-Incan Huaca Huallamarca burial mound.
Too many travelers land in Peru with only one thing on their mind: Machu Picchu. If you've come to the country with the sole purpose of crossing the Lost City of the Incas off your bucket list, then do what you must. But if you're at all interested in Peru's diverse and rich culture, don't skip out on some other once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Base your trip around the exploits below and you'll have real bragging rights when you return home.
Visit an Indigenous Community: La Tierra de los Yachaqs (The land of the Wise), a community-based tourism project, can connect visitors with people who knit Peru's distinctive fabrics (pictured above), harvest food using traditional tools, create belts and wallets out of plants, or make cuisine based on ancient practices. Through the program, there's also an opportunity to spend six hours walking a route between two Andean communities, the Amaru and Chumpe. Programs are offered both as daytime activities and as overnight homestays, and most communities are located just one hour from Cusco.
Eat Like a Local: From food-on-a-stick snagged at street stalls to culinary masterpieces presented on white plates, Peru's culinary scene is full of flavor. Dining at local restaurants is not only affordable, but can open your eyes to varieties of quinoa, corn and potatoes that you never knew existed. If you're daring, you might even find you like cultural delicacies such as alpaca steak or roasted guinea pig.
Explore Peru's Markets: Peru's artisanal and food markets are filled to the brim with great buys. At artisanal markets – including the enormous market in Cusco – you'll find high quality handicrafts like scarves, pullovers, tapestries, sculptures, carvings, jewelry, musical instruments, purses and more. Buying these handicrafts not only supports the use of traditional skills, but it also helps families gain what is most likely a modest income. Produce and food markets such as Lima's crowded Mercado Central (Central Market), walking distance from the central Plaza Mayor and adjacent to Chinatown, offer a taste of what life is like for locals. Take in the sites and smells, chat with a vendor or crack open an exotic fruit such as the delicious cherimoya, which tastes like a mix between pear and pineapple.
Plan Your Trip Around a Holiday or Festival: If you're looking to experience something truly novel, plan your trip to Peru around Corpus Christi (Body of Christ) or Inti Raymi (Festival of the Sun). Both holidays mix pre-Columbian and colonial traditions, such as the carrying of saints and virgins on platforms at Corpus Christi, a tradition born out of the ancient ritual of bolstering mummies in a similar fashion at festivals. Inti Raymi, once the most important Inca celebration, involves a procession and ritual reenactments (plus colorful costumes, music, food and plenty of dancing). Although both of these are celebrated throughout the country, particularly in the Andean highlands, Cusco is known for having some of the best festivities.
Celebrate Peruvian Traditions: Beyond festivals, there are several other ways to become immersed in Peru's cultural traditions. The family-owned Sumaq Hotel, located in Aguas Calientes (the stepping off point for Machu Picchu), offers an emblematic culinary tradition called pachamanca, meaning "earthen pot," that dates back to the time of the Incas. Meat, potatoes, beans, yams and corn are marinated in special spices and then placed on hot stones and covered with earth for 2-3 hours. At the hotel, visitors can also take advantage of a local shaman, who can read your fortune from coca leaves or ask pachamama to make your deepest wishes come true in a mystical ceremony. The shaman, whose name is Wilco, is also available if visitors would like to become spiritually married (or have a spiritual vow renewal ceremony).
Take a History or Culture Tour: Making sense of large cities like Lima or deciphering the meaning behind Inca ruins is far from easy. To make sure you don't miss anything, particularly if you don't have a whole lot of time on the ground, consider hiring a guide. These experts can ensure you don't stare at a pile of rocks with a blank look on your face, and instead understand the various meanings behind the structures. Guides tend to be flexible and open to any questions you might have, and in many cases are willing to cater tours based on your interests. From guided airport transfers to eight-day excursions, companies such as Gray Line employ locals and do all the planning for you, making it a less confusing and more educational experience.
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A unique response to the challenge of global warming is happening in rural areas of Peru, where a network of indigenous elders is working out how to adjust weather forecasts in the light of climate change, while taking measures to safeguard their crops.
“Before, things happened at the right time. Now, strange things are going on with the climate.”
This is the kind of comment that is heard frequently in dozens of rural communities throughout the departments (provinces) of Puno, Cuzco and Apurímac in the country’s southern Andean highlands.
Campesinos (small farmers) in these highland areas, where the vast majority of the population is indigenous, are increasingly concerned about the sudden changes in weather that affect traditional crops like potato, maize or quinoa.
“People are clearly aware that the rains arrive early or late, the wells dry out quickly, frosts come at any time, the soil is more compacted due to the heat and because water does not infiltrate into the soil to the same extent,” sociologist Ricardo Claverías, with the Centre for Research, Education and Development (CIED), told Inter Press Service (IPS).
Since the 1980s the CIED has worked to protect and preserve the traditional knowledge of campesinos in a score of communities in Puno.
“We know the climate is changing by looking at nature. For example, up until 10 years ago, that apu [mountain peak] had snow on its crest all year round,” Valentín Ccahuana, leader of the Ccasacancha community in Apurímac, told representatives of the United Nations Joint Programme on Climate Change in Cuzco.
But indigenous campesinos in the highlands have developed a wealth of traditional knowledge over generations from observation of bioindicators, like the behavior of plants and animals.
“Their accumulated experience gives them an edge on dealing with the challenges posed by climate change today,” Edwin Mansilla, head of the environmental management division of the Cuzco regional government, told IPS.
Some elders have developed expertise in climate forecasting. In Puno they are between the ages of 60 and 75, according to research undertaken by Claverías.
In Cuzco, too, discerning weather trends tend to be a function of older members of the community, although some of the local forecasters are as young as 30 years old.
“If the community elects them, young people can take on this role,” Flora Salas, a leader of the Cuzco village of Huañaccahua, told IPS.
The traditional weather forecasters are known as arariwa in Quechua, translated as “guardian of the fields.”
A village of 100 to 150 families in Puno may have 20 arariwa, according to Claverías. They share information with their counterparts in other communities, and thus build up a network.
The exchange of information traverses the Andes mountain chain. Claverías states that campesinos working as seasonal agricultural laborers in the Pacific coastal region of the country make a point of returning to their communities to share their weather observations.
The wise elders hold meetings and keep formal minutes of their predictions and their recommendations for which crops should be sown in the coming months. On the basis of these pronouncements, the community organizes itself and reaches decisions that everyone must respect.
An arariwa reads the signs that are written in nature. If a wild cactus species with edible fruit, called sancayo, produces abundant flowers in August, it is a sign the potato harvest will be good. And if the qanlla plant grows densely in November, there will be plenty of quinoa and cañihua—protein-rich grains—in April or May.
If certain birds build their nests high up on the floating reed islands on Lake Titicaca (on the border with Bolivia), there will be plenty of rain, but if they nest low down on the islands, there will be drought. And when seagulls can be heard, a storm is coming, and people run for shelter.
Although traditional wisdom is mentioned as a factor in Peru’s national strategy on climate change, the government lacks a specific policy to incorporate it. However, some regional authorities and especially municipal authorities do work with local campesinos on this problem, several sources told IPS.
The aim of Claverías’s study, “Conocimientos de los campesinos andinos sobre los predictores climáticos: Elementos para su verificación” (Andean Peasant Knowledge of Climate Predictors: Foundations for Verification), was to salvage and systematize knowledge that “is being lost,” recognize its importance and “identify gaps, weaknesses and inconsistencies” in an attempt to “validate, improve and develop it by means of modern science.”
Claverías describes the indicators used by Puno campesino communities to predict the weather in the 1989-90 agricultural season, when there was a severe drought, and in 1997-98, when there was a major El Niño event—a cyclical climate phenomenon characterized by unusual warming of the waters of the Pacific Ocean, which impacts weather over many areas of the globe.
Then he compares the margin of error of the arariwas’s predictions with those of scientists and official bodies. He found that in most cases, the traditional elders’ forecasts were accurate.
However, Claverías warns that “the degree of accuracy of traditional knowledge is declining” for a number of reasons. One is climate change itself and other environmental transformations, which, in turn, bring about changes “in the behavior of wild fauna and flora, and these synergistic changes cannot yet be interpreted by the campesinos.”
A similar disruption of traditional knowledge can be observed in indigenous communities in other countries, like Colombia.
In addition, the poverty in these communities means that their members have to do different types of work in order to survive—in cities, or as seasonal farm workers in other regions—which is distancing them from contact with nature. And their predictions “are interpretations limited to a single eco-region and cannot be generalized to a wider area,” the study says.
In response to these limitations, several arariwas “are fine-tuning their observations and discovering new bioindicators to be taken into account,” as well as further prevention measures, said Mansilla, the Cuzco government official.
Campesinos are developing adaptation methods, such as planting earlier or later to match the rain patterns of recent years, growing crops in different ecological niches to test their resistance, and diversifying the crops they cultivate.
“Many agricultural experts used to ask small farmers to plant monocultures [of a single species], but now we realize they were right, and we believe it is best to plant multiple varieties, as a better means of managing risk,” Mansilla told IPS.
In Huañaccahua the community decided to plant two crops of potato at different times, based on the rainfall pattern over the last three years.
“And it has worked well,” the 39-year-old community leader, Salas, told IPS.
Traveling in rural areas, IPS found that campesinos blame climate change on the neglect of cultural practices, such as ceremonial payments to Pachamama (Mother Earth), or on the environmental damage that human beings have caused.
“Young people nowadays do not respect Pachamama, and do not give her thanks for everything she gives us. It is time to reflect on how to help the Earth, and how to help human beings continue to live in harmony with nature,” Ccahuana said.
But although people are nostalgic about the old ways, the campesinos are nevertheless entering the market system, through improved crops with increased yields, or by manufacturing and selling dairy products, so that their families are not dependent solely on what their small farms produce, Claverías said.
In his study he recommends “uniting both cultures [science and ancestral knowledge] to predict the climate with greater accuracy” and to achieve “more consistent and apposite proposals for rural development.”
“Climate change is both a challenge and an opportunity,” he concluded.