Lessons Learned in Peru

1. Alpaca Seduction

At tourist attractions, alpacas and llamas are everywhere and they’re always way too cute. They’re fluffy and young and full of beans. And for us, it usually becomes a priority to cuddle and befriend one. Close up, alpacas have strange and unpredictable behaviour. Their big doe-eyes blink at you and they make a guttural groaning sound that can be intimidating as they step slowly towards you.

The best practice is to put some green grass in your hand as a form of temptation to bring the alpaca within reach. While the alpaca munches on the grass, you can quickly brush your hand through its fleecy wool before retreating to a safe distance.

And this is the art of alpaca seduction.

Seducing alpacas can be both an intimidating and adorable experience

2. Patience

The food has been incredible in Peru – vegetable soups, trout, rice, and potatoes are commonplace in the Lake Titicaca region including some ‘international’ options like pizza and pasta. The only negative that we can pinpoint in the Peruvian restaurant system is the speed of the service. The servers have been endlessly friendly but the timing at which our food arrives tests our patience.

After a full day of hiking or visiting Inca ruins, we are usually famished and hungry enough to eat our left arm. We will order, wait, and soon four people’s meals will come, but one will be omitted. After the excluded person reluctantly insists that the others start, she will sit there drooling, eyes fixed on the kitchen door, waiting bated breath for her meal. Once the others have finished and her meal has still not appeared, we will inquire about the meal’s whereabouts and the waiter will be apologetic. “Oh you ordered the tiramisu? We are out of tiramisu”. This has been a trend among the restaurants we’ve visited and it often tests our blood sugar-reduced patience with our genuine, smiling servers.

Waiting for food is a big part of the Peruvian restaurant experience

3. Coca

Before arriving in Peru, we had heard from fellow travelers about the importance of chewing coca leaves to reduce the impact of the high Peruvian altitudes. Arriving in Peru for the first time, we were tentatively excited to get our hands on the notorious leaf. We thought we might have to acquire the leaf in dark, back alleys from sketchy characters with whispered instructions. We were surprised and relieved when we saw coca leaves on our breakfast table at our first hostel in Cusco.

We added our coca leaves to some hot water and quickly learned the affects and benefits of coca tea. After three cups, the feeling is a buzz similar to coffee. The taste is “leaves in hot water” so it’s necessary to add some sugar to make it more enjoyable. We skipped the sugar and added flavor by including a cinnamon teabag to the leaves and the effect was tasty.

Chewing coca was a whole other experience and we waited for a native Peruvian to show us the ropes. Coca leaves on their own will do nothing for you. A catalyst is required to activate the ‘helpful’ aspects of the leaves. The catalyst could be baking soda, but we were introduced to chewing with ‘llipta’, a mound of black plant ash that activates by changing the PH level of the leaf. You roll a rice-sized piece of llipta in three coca leaves and stick it between your cheek and teeth. You don’t actually chew, but add more leaves to the wad as needed and let the coca do its magic.

Coca tea that we combined with cinnamon tea for a tasty experience

4. Polite Refusal

Many Peruvians have found their niche in the tourist market. On the street they hawk everything from chocolate, to Alpaca hats, to playing cards, and Inca Kola. There is nothing that you can’t find at Peruvian tourist attractions. Items for purchase are often thrust into your hands and you are forced to look down into the earnest eyes of a 6-year-old girl selling you homemade bracelets for the equivalent of $0.35. In the beginning you oblige, but there are only so many purchases you can make and must learn to politely say “no thank-you”.

It starts with “no gracias”, but eventually evolves into more creative refusals: “mi amor, no tengo más dinero” (my love, I don’t have anymore money), or “es muy bonito, ¿lo hacen?” (it’s very pretty, did you make it?). No matter what you say, you often get a teary-eyed stare, but she’ll appreciate your courtesy and will move on to the next hiking-boot wearing tourist.

At this Inca temple, the salesgirls we particularly aggressive

5. Fitness

There are two directions in Peru: up and down. The air is thin and the hiking is plentiful. We have definitely tested our lung capacity and fitness levels hiking between 3000m and 4200m above sea level. I think when we finally make it back to sea level, we’re going to be choking on the great abundance of oxygen.

The Inca Trail definitely tested and pushed our fitness levels