I can’t tell you how often people in Australia ask me this. It’s not an easy question to answer. I have been meaning to write a blog to try and answer this question for some time, and have decided the easiest way to tackle it is by breaking it down into obvious questions and interviewing myself – so here goes!
KS – What’s it like living in Peru?
KS – The first thing you have to realise is that it’s different in different places. Life on the coast is warm, and tends to be very beach focussed. Life in the jungle is stinking hot with the focus on doing everything before 9am, when it gets too hot to go outside. Life here in Cusco, a big city in the Andean sierra, is different to country life in the sierra. One thing that everywhere in Peru has in common is an obsession with food in general and local specialities in particular.
KS – OK fine, what’s it like living in Cusco?
KS – This is still too much of a general question. My life, as a business-owning single mother in the tourism industry, is surely very different to that of an 18 year old boy who collects bus fares, or a stay at home mother of 10.
However, not to be too annoying, I’ll tell you a bit about my life. One of my favourite things about my life here in Cusco is my house. For the same money as it previously cost me to rent a small flat, I now have a huuuuuge house, with two massive bedrooms, an office in a tower, and a lounge room the size of a church hall. It’s part of an old hacienda - a farmhouse that was the centre of a massive quinua farm hundreds of years ago when the suburb where I live, 10 minutes from central Cusco, was still countryside. I believe the reason I can rent such a large and characterful place so cheap is that local people have different values about houses – for them, the cold, dusty impracticality of living in what’s almost a medieval castle outweighs the charm of all that history and space. Not for me though! I remember every day that nowhere else in the world would I be able to afford live in a magnificent space like this, and I feel very lucky.
KS –What are the best things about living in Cusco?
KS– My house. Eating local food in the South Valley or at picanterias in town. Mountain biking or hiking down from an Andean pass to my front door. The flat, sunny, tree- and park-lined streets of the suburb where I live, full of children and friendly dogs. Plasticos 2000, the most bizarre and amazing shop in the world. Corner shops one every corner. Eating soup at the start of every meal. Super-elaborate play equipment in parks. The view from my office window.
KS – What is the worst thing about living in Cusco?
KS – Bureaucracy! This is a problem in all of Peru. Anything requiring any sort of red tape, like registering a car, or opening a bank account, or setting up a company, or enrolling a child in childcare, or employing someone, or even joining the supermarket coupon scheme or changing your mobile phone plan, requires pages and pages of filling in forms, multiple visits to the agency in question, and often one or more trip to the notary. It’s often said that corruption in government holds this country back – personally I feel stifling bureaucracy at all levels of government and business is an even worse problem.
KS –What is the biggest difference between life in Peru and life in Australia?
KS - There are many possible responses to that, but one thing that has really struck me is that in Australia, technology is cheap and labour is expensive. Here it’s the other way around and it has quite an effect on life. For example, here in Peru everything from laptops and smartphones to cars and paragliders are many times more expensive than they are in Australia, so I lack many of the conveniences my friends in Australia now consider indispensable – yet I can afford to employ a full-time, well-qualified nanny to look after my daughter.
KS – What changes have you noticed in your nine years living in Cusco?
KS – I always tell people that when I first ever came to Cusco, as a backpacker in 1996, there was only one espresso machine in the whole town. Now there are more than you can count. I see this as a very important and revealing indicator! Peru has been experiencing a minerals boom, and Cusco a tourism boom, and the improvement in standard of living has been very marked over my time here. It’s great to see people starting to enjoy some disposable income, and to see what they like to spend it on - again, food is a big focus and good restaurants proliferate more and more in Cusco, as does good coffee. This place no longer feels like the third world and is getting more expensive by the day. I would strongly encourage anyone who has Peru on their bucket list to come sooner rather than later, because prices of everything are only going to rise.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the level of, for want of a better term, ‘living culture’ in Peru. That is, every village and valley has its own baile tipico – a dance with its own accompanying music, narrative and very elaborate costume. Everyone from the tiniest village in the highlands to the ritziest suburbs of Lima takes part in these dances, first as schoolkids where it’s simply part of the curriculum, and later voluntarily as adults. Dances are the most obvious manifestation of a culture and folklore that, for all the much-criticised inroads of Starbucks and McDonalds into the Peruvian highlands, don’t seem to be going anywhere. I’ve never been anywhere else where ancient and modern cultures coexist so comfortably.
KS – Well thanks, you’re by far the most interesting person I’ve ever interviewed, it’s been an absolute pleasure.
KS – De nada!