Back in the USSA, you dunno how lucky you are, boy, a friend told me, to miss the news of the past two weeks when the Greedy Old Peckers took over the last branch of USSA government to give them the economic security to hang on to their riches in a nation headed for moral bankruptcy. Sort of like what they said about the path that guy in Europe took to keep the trains running on time -– even though they didn’t always go where the riders wanted them to go.
But let’s get back to where we’ve been visiting the past two weeks. That’s where the Really Greedy Old Peckers showed what a combination of religion, horses, armor and avarice could do to people who stood between them and the gold. Let’s start with Lima, Peru. Back in 1535, Francisco Pizarro founded the city where he would be murdered by folks even more greedy than he was.
Today, it’s a city that houses 10 million of the 30 million in Peru, mostly in apartments. Our excellent Alexander & Roberts guide, Sheila, explained that Pizarro came from Andalusia in Spain and styled his city after what was built there – walled houses with courtyards. After independence in 1821 and a flush of railroad money, the buildings took on the look of French architecture. Today, many of the older, bigger homes have been taken over to be used for businesses and embassies.
Lima is divided into 43 neighborhoods, six with ocean views. Each neighborhood has its own mayor, and there is one for the entire city. With 25 political parties in Peru, getting signs up for all 43 mayoral candidates plus the Big Enchilada took over most of the billboard and empty wall space in the city for the elections on October 7. There is a $30 fine for those who don’t vote, applicable to anyone between the ages of 18 and 70. After that Golden Age, citizens can “volunteer” to vote.
The rate of illiteracy in Peru, says Sheila, is 8 to 13 percent of the population; the government clings to the 8 percent figure. There are 143 universities in Peru, and Sheila graduated from one of them with a degree in tourism. All guides are required to have a degree, which was very apparent in the breadth and depth of knowledge our guides had in Peru and Ecuador in everything from how people lived to archeology, architecture and politics.
The security in the city was not terribly noticeable, but it was there, as Sheila pointed out. The increased security was the Peruvian answer to the Sendero Luminoso, the Shining Path, a Maoist terrorist group that made this a dangerous place to visit – or live – in the 1980s and ’90s.
“The Sendero Luminoso took advantage of the poor people,” she said, “forcing them to join or be killed.”
She seemed quite proud that the country did not compromise with the terrorists or accept any of their reforms (as Colombia did with FARC, she pointed out). Peru captured the groups’ leaders, threw them in jail on life sentences and installed heavy security. She pointed to the lighted cross erected to mark the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1985 and 1988 (81 percent Catholic, says the CIA Factbook, the best thing that organization ever did. And more on religion in a later post). The cross shines out over the city from a hill in the harbor, which Pizarro chose to ship gold he stole from the Incas. The cross was built from electrical transformer parts blown up by the Sendero Luminoso. So this cross has become a sign of peace rather than the banner under which the Spaniards slaughtered and conquered the Incas.
Sheila told us the main industry of the country is still mining and then agriculture. The minimum wage is $300 a month, with $500 a month being the average. Food is still affordable (and quite good), but transportation costs are expensive – and roads are hugely congested with people taking two to three hours each way to get from homes to work (sounds like Seattle). On the way to the airport, we hit the road around 6 in the morning to escape from buses, trucks and thousands of cars. Not entirely successful, but we did make it on time for our flight to Cusco.