Notes on Peru

I spent 11 days in Peru with two friends in the Spring of 2021, during which time we visited Lima, Paracas, Ica, Huacachina, Cusco, and a few other minor towns. The following is a summary of some notes I took during the trip. As with my Notes on Spain, I’ll try to keep my accounts brief and to stay away from ordinary travel blogging observations.

Pandemic Panic

Peru takes the COVID-19 pandemic very, very seriously.

When I went to Peru in mid-Spring, I would summarize the common anti-COVID practices in the United States as:

  • Masks are almost always worn indoors in public places, except while dining
  • Masks are usually worn outdoors, though less so around friends or in private places, and less so as time goes on
  • Many public locations have special rules around limiting physical contact with tables, chairs, etc.
  • Many restaurants take temperatures and hand out disinfectant
  • Everyone is extra-cautious around elderly people

(As of publishing this piece in June, vaccines are near-universal, so all of these points have relaxed, and we are now in a limbo phase where many people don’t observe lockdown protocols at all, though plenty still do.)

The following is what I observed in Peru:

  • My friends and I were required to get COVID tested within three days of our flight to Peru. After arrival, we had to get another COVID test or quarantine for 14 (?) days. Two of us were already vaccinated.
  • On the flight from the US to Peru, three times my friend fell asleep and his mask fell below his nose. All three times, the Peruvian person next to him shoved him awake and told him to put it back on.
  • In Peru, 100% of people wear masks indoors unless they are eating or drinking.
  • I’d say 99% of people wear masks outdoors, unless they are homeless or something.
  • It is fairly common to see people wearing double-masks, triple-masks, or face shields outside (maybe 30-50% of pedestrians at any given moment).
  • Nearly all restaurants, stores, and public buildings require the use of hand sanitizer, and many require people to step on a disinfectant mat to clean the bottom of their feet. I guess they think the virus falls out of people’s mouths, lands on the ground, gets stepped on, sticks to the shoe, gets walked inside a building, falls off, and somehow gets back on a different person’s body…?
  • The airports in Peru require wearing masks and face shields at all times in the airport and on the planes.
  • In the terminals of Peruvian airports, every other seat is blocked off so no one can sit next to each other. Yes, the airport stops people from sitting next to each other in the terminal before they sit next to each other for hours on a plane.
  • At Peruvian train stations, guys walk around with spray bottles of disinfectant and randomly spray people’s luggage. They don’t spray in any comprehensive manner, they just give it a few squirts and move on.
  • In Machu Pichu, there are about five guys standing around the ruins who watch for people not wearing masks and yell at them. People are not allowed to take masks off for pictures.
  • At the entrance to Machu Pichu, there is a wooden fence between a waiting area and a cliff. At one point, I saw a guy wearing what looked like a hazmat suit; he forced everyone off the fence, and then he used what looked like some sort of crop dusting device to spray it down with disinfectant. One of my friends thought the guy looked like a Ghostbuster. I have no idea why they thought this one particular fence was so prone to COVID.
  • Some stores will spray down money with disinfectant before giving it to you (as change for a payment). I remember one time a guy sprayed a few Peruvian bills so thoroughly that they were sopping wet, and I had to walk around with them in my hands for minutes before they were dry enough to put in my wallet.
  • My friends and I were required to wear masks while wearing helmets while driving ATVs in the middle of the desert.
  • On Sundays, the entire country shuts down. Or almost the entire country. It’s not clear what should and shouldn’t be open, but 99% of shops and restaurants are closed (the open ones might be bribing the police). We didn’t know about the Sunday shutdown and it created a logistical emergency for us – we were supposed to take a three hour taxi from Huacachina to Lima for a flight to Cusco, but we were informed by a hostel owner the night before that no taxis would drive on Sundays. We asked if we could pay extra for a taxi, and the hostel owner said no taxis would take the money because cops patrol the streets and would arrest them. We ended up getting a taxi at 5AM, allegedly before the police were awake.
  • I’m not 100% sure this is COVID-related, but in multiple cities, we saw the police patrolling the streets in groups with assault rifles and/or riot shields.

Coca and Cocaine

Cocaine is a derivate of coca, a leafy plant that naturally grows in cool, high-altitude regions of South America. In 11 days in Peru, my friends and I (three white guys) were approached by drug dealers approximately twenty times. Sometimes they’d walk right up to us and ask if we wanted “weed, blow, shrooms, girls, anything you want,” and sometimes they’d try to sell us a painting or some other knickknack thing before pushing their highest-margin items.

The relationship between Peru and cocaine is complicated. Cocaine is a notorious narcotic in the rest of the world, but in Peru it’s basically the more extreme version of a local plant the Natives have been using for a wide variety of medical and recreational purposes for thousands of years. With this traditional/cultural connection, and thus far a lack of homegrown narcotics empires the likes of which plagued Colombia, Mexico, and other South American countries, many Peruvian people still seem not quite sure whether cocaine is a blessing or a curse for the country.

According to a tour guide, some people see cocaine as the white gold, a path to prosperity for one of the poorest nations in South America. This is actually a relatively new development. Colombia is most famously associated with cocaine due to Pablo Escobar and the narcotics empires, but supposedly the Andes mountains produce higher quality coca leaves for cocaine manufacturing. For reasons unknown (maybe government-related or logistical), South American cocaine production has only recently begun to shift in large part from Colombia to Peru. The business end is still largely handled by Colombians, but supply is being outsourced to Peruvians.

This has provided enormous opportunities for entrepreneurial Peruvians. The easiest way to get linked into the drug trade and make bank is to raise some money, go to a coca farm in the middle of nowhere, and make a deal with the farmers to buy up all their crops at bulk pricing. Then, the Peruvian needs to find an outdoor spot far away from law enforcement for the manufacturing process, which consists of grounding up the coca leaves, and throwing them and a whole bunch of chemicals into a giant pit or vat for a month. This manufacturing spot doesn’t need to be expensive or sophisticated, just private. And fortunately for the manufacturers, Peru has plenty of remote jungle.

The same tour guide told us that a friend of his from school had gone through this process. They both grew up in the Andes as dirt-poor farmers, but the friend returned to their village one day driving an Audi and decked out with gold jewelry. The tour guide knew what the friend had been up to before he said a word. Over drinks, the friend asked him to work with him – he promised that one month in the jungle would secure him financially for the rest of his life.

But then of course there’s the other side of the cocaine trade… the risk. Our tour guide ultimately turned down the offer because he didn’t want to end up in jail. I’m not sure how much crime has changed since the rise of Peruvian cocaine, but the police seem vigilant. We had a remarkable number of encounters with them in eleven days: once our taxi was pulled over, once we were stopped while walking around Cusco, and once our tour bus was stopped. In the last case, the police asked if we had cocaine on us (we didn’t). I’m sure part of the enhanced police presence was COVID-related, but not all of it. We were told by multiple people that the police are not to be fucked with, and though they seem primarily motivated by bribes, that is apparently an effective enforcement mechanism.

Oddly enough, small scale possession of cocaine is theoretically legal in Peru. Individuals are permitted to hold up to two grams for personal use, and based on my limited understanding, that’s more than enough to have a good time for a night. The relevant law, Article 299, was passed all the way back in 2003.

However, this law seems to be either largely unknown or unenforced in Peru. The drug dealers who approached us were fairly brazen in their offerings, but spoke in whispers and kept inviting us to alleyways and shady bars to conduct business. One tourist site says that regardless of the law, ordinary Peruvian police will arrest and even target tourists for drug use, mostly to extract bribes.

We didn’t risk indulging in cocaine, but we had plenty of coca in the forms of tea, candy, powder, and raw leaves, all of which is sold at convenience stores, cafes, etc. The basic effect of coca is that of a stimulant, not too dissimilar from caffeine. The tea tastes good and has a nice kick to it, and the candy is a sort of taffy which likewise has a bit of a stimulating effect. The coca powder was added to coffee for the extra jolt.

The raw stuff was the most exciting. You take 20-30 of these small, dried leaves, crumple them up, put them in your mouth, bite off a piece of baking soda (helps with digestion), and then you suck the juices out of the leaves for 30+ minutes. At first it’s uncomfortable, because, ya know, you’re chewing on leaves. But eventually the leaves crumple into a wet ball in your mouth, and you start to feel the stimulating effect. After about ten minutes, your mouth will start to go numb, especially if you stuff the leaf-mass into one of the lower corners of your mouth like you’re supposed to. After about fifteen minutes, you’ll feel energetic, wired, and slightly high.

It’s a pleasant sensation, but no big deal. Effects peak after 30 minutes and then wind down, and then you spit the leaves out. I’d say the main drawback is my mouth was always left with mild cuts from the leaves which I didn’t feel due to the numbing effects.

Beauty

Of the thirty-something countries I’ve been to, I’m going to pronounce Peru to be in the S-tier of natural beauty. It might be tied for first with Iceland. If you take the entire country into account, Iceland wins hands-down, but if I’m just considering the Andes and sections of desert, Peru is easily one of the most beautiful countries on earth.

There’s no point in describing what you can Google or see in my pictures, but I’ll suffice to say that the Andes are spectacular. It looks like the land of the gods. It’s primordial. You have towering mountains topped with glaciers which descend into green valleys dotted with clear blue lakes. You have endless space where a shining sun makes it 90 degrees, and a single cloud plummets it to 40 degrees, and yet the land itself is so beautiful that you don’t even care. Hiking around the Andes was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever done. Highly recommended.

Weight

This is not meant to offend any Peruvians or be mean or anything, and it’s not like the US is any better, but… you cannot travel to Peru and not notice how chunky people are. Pretty much everyone has a belly. Adults, children, men, women, hot people, ugly people, they all have at least a little something extra around the waist.

Our tour guide in the Andes was a beast. He was in his early 30s, he had walked literally thousands of long-distance hikes through the mountains, and at our prompting, he did 60 push-ups in a row while at high altitude. For five days, we watched him calmly walk up mountains without breaking a sweat while three Americans (two of whom were in great shape) huffed and puffed and asked for breaks every 50 steps.

And yet even our tour guide had a beer gut. I don’t know how, I don’t know why. Somehow his daily meals of millet and coca leaves caused him to gain fat at a faster rate than daily high-altitude strenuous physical activity could burn it off.

Wikipedia only puts Peru at 109 on the list of fattest countries in the world, which doesn’t seem right. But livinginperu.com says 70% of Peruvians are overweight.

While Googling this, I found the wikipedia page for “Pishtacos,” a hoax wherein Peruvian criminals were supposedly murdering people to harvest their fat to sell to European cosmetics companies, kind of like in Fight Club. A bunch of gang members were arrested, and even though the police knew it was nonsense, they kept the hoax going for some vague political reason, but eventually the chief of police revealed it was a hoax… I don’t know. Sounds like a movie waiting to be made.

Altitude

I’ve been at high altitudes before, but prior to Peru, I had never done five days of hiking with backpacks in the Andes. If I have a takeaway from the experience, besides the immense beauty of Peru, it’s – don’t mess with altitude sickness.

You breathe air into your body. At sea-level, the air will be 20.9% oxygen. These oxygen molecules will be picked up by blood pumping through your body, and be delivered to cells to fuel the energy production process that lets you move and live. Simple enough.

But as you move farther from sea-level and gain altitude, there is less oxygen in the air. Cusco, the former capital of the Incan Empire, sits at over 11,000 feet (3,300 meters), where the air is around 14% oxygen. You’ll feel that 25% reduction when you’re walking up one of Cusco’s many hills, or god-forbid, if you idiotically sprint up one to test the altitude. You’ll run, you’ll get tired sooner than expected, you’ll stop, you’ll bend over and suck air, and you’ll wonder why the pain in your chest won’t go away. It will go away eventually, but there will be a good 30 seconds where something doesn’t compute… you’re breathing in air, but it doesn’t feel like you are.

As you might guess, hiking through the Andes requires a lot of ups and downs. After Cusco, we went to a starting point at about 13,000 feet and peaked at 17,000 feet, where the air contains 11% oxygen, almost half of sea-level. Walking uphill when every breath draws only half as much energy as it should is not fun. During the toughest parts, my friends and I were taking breaks every 50 steps of incline. You walk, you feel fine, you have energy, and then somehow after 10 steps you start to feel tired, and after 30 steps, it becomes unbearable. If, again for some god-forsaken reason, you think it will be fun to sprint up the final 50 feet to the peak of your current mountain pass, you will then lay on your back on the ground and gasp for air for two minutes while that horrible feeling of breathlessness hangs in your chest no matter what you do.

Hiking uphill in low altitude is exhausting and often painful, but it’s also amazing. Every step feels earned, every vista is beautiful, and when you do get to the top of a peak and lay down on the ground and gasp for breath, you even kind of feel euphoric. It could be the endorphins from the movement, or getting mildly high from the lack of oxygen. Either way, it’s great.

Or rather, it’s great if your body is at least somewhat acclimatized. The three of us spent two days in Cusco before starting the hike to get used to the altitude. The guide recommended three days to a week, but we were confident on the lower bound because the guide assured us that he had access to a full-proof method of combatting altitude sickness – coca leaves. On top of the stimulating effects and numbness and mild euphoria, coca leaves have been used for centuries by Natives to help climb up and down the Andes. And our guide brought a ton of them.

I also had a backup plan for the altitude sickness… an epileptic relative let me have some of his diamox. I have no idea what this stuff does on a biological level, but it’s supposed to be the best altitude sickness treatment available, especially for rapid ascent. On the advice of random Googling, I began taking it three days before arriving in Cusco. The pill has a strange but pleasurable effect; it creates focus and high energy, kind of like a stimulant, but with a noticeable tingling in the fingertips. After a few days of use, I began to feel tingling throughout the lower half of my face. I didn’t know this was a symptom of diamox at first, so Googling had me worried I might have face tumors, diabetes, heavy metal poisoning, vitamin deficiencies, alcoholism, bell’s palsy, lupus, leprosy, multiple sclerosis, transient ischemic attacks, fibromyalgia, or Epstein-Barr virus, but it was fine.

I took the diamox. My friends didn’t (I offered, they refused). Ten hours into the hike they realized their mistake. Despite easily being in the worst shape of the group, I hiked faster and more consistently than my friends. It was tough, but they huffed-and-puffed in my dust as a man who spends 10 hours+ per day on the computer outpaced two gym rats. It was awesome.

But the worst for them was yet to come. The real peril of altitude sickness isn’t the acute exhaustion, it’s the long-term exposure. We camped our first night beside a scenic lake at around 15,000 feet. My friends were already lightheaded when they laid down for the night, but they woke up the next morning with crushing headaches. We informed the guide, and he said they had altitude sickness alright. But a headache was normal. It would go away.

After about five hours of hiking uphill on the second day, one friend, who is in better shape than anyone I know and has sustained more injuries and surgeries than I can count, said he was in the worst pain he had ever felt in his entire life. He clarified that this was not an exaggeration. He said it was like there were two drills driving into his skull and neither blocking light, sound, or anything else brought the slightest relief. He came very, very close to asking the guide to take him back down the mountain. The other friend felt nauseous and had a migraine, but wasn’t in as bad of shape. The slight consolation to both of them was that they felt slightly high all the time. I felt mostly normal, just unusually tired.

On advice of the guide, we chewed our coca leaves, and they worked, but only acutely. The effects wore off, and the exhaustion and headaches returned. We took a lot, but our guide told us not to take too much, though he didn’t explain why (tolerance buildup?).

On that second night, we asked our guide about the worst accidents and injuries throughout his journeys with dumb tourists like us. He told us about a woman who bled from her eyes due to an altitude sickness-induced brain edema, where the brain swells and presses against the skull. Another guy’s eyes turned blue and he started coughing up blood due to a lung edema. In both cases, the individuals easily and rapidly recovered merely by lowering their altitudes. But then there was the guy who eventually collapsed and died in front of his wife and two kids because he didn’t want the shame of turning back after suffering from early altitude sickness symptoms. My friends did not like that story.

(Fun detail from my guide – in his experience, Germans were the best hikers and were unaffected by altitude sickness. Indians, Chinese, and Japanese were the worst on both counts.)

Fortunately, the second day was the worst of it for my friends. They both took some of my diamox, chewed more coca leaves, drank more water, and their symptoms settled into decent-strength headaches. For the following three days of hiking, we were basically fine. I tragically lost my edge in speed and endurance, and became the slowest of the pack.

My take-away is to take altitude seriously. I am incredibly grateful to happen to get a tip about a seizure medication which did god-knows-what to my body and caused my face to tingle for days but spared me from excruciating pain. If you’re suddenly going up a mountain, take your diamox.

Exotic Meat

I’m not generally a fan of cuisine and food, but I love meats, and I’m childish enough to love the idea of eating exotic animals. In Peru I ate:

Alpaca. Highly recommended, better than I expected. Tastes a lot like beef, but lighter and juicier. The color is a bit greyer and texture a bit less tender. My opinion of alpaca has been raised now that I know they are both adorable and delicious.

Guinea Pig. I had to try it, though I didn’t bother with a full meal. I ate a little bit of it on a meat platter and it wasn’t good. It’s hard to describe the taste… kind of like dried chicken with a pork aftertaste?

I’m not usually squeamish about these things, but I have to admit that I didn’t love the concept of eating guinea pig, and that may have made it taste worst, especially when I saw how the sausage was made. Outside a market in Cusco, there was a row of Peruvian women sitting against a wall with bags of cooked guinea pigs, which look like… exactly what you’d imagine.

And when I was hiking in the Andes, our group came across two kids, maybe 10 or 12 years old. They were brothers tasked with watching their family’s alpaca herd. One kid had a burlap sack. He said (via our guide) that he had dinner in the bag, and then he showed us. We glanced inside and saw two guinea pigs looking no different from the ones you’d find in a pet store. They began squeaking furiously. Poor little guys.

Toilets

Peruvian toilets aren’t quite up to Western (let alone Japanese) standards. You’re not supposed to flush toilet paper because it can jam up the pipes, so you have to wipe and then toss the paper into a small nearby garbage can. It’s not pleasant, but that’s the norm for developing countries.

What isn’t the norm is the odd tendency for Peruvian toilets to not have toilet seats. I don’t know why, but in maybe one third to one half of the public toilets (either in restaurants, stores, or general public use facilities), there were no seats. So if you’re planning on shitting, you either have to take a wide stance and brave the disgusting bottom seat, or you better hope you have some strong thigh muscles for a squat.

Why are Peruvian toilets like this? A theory offered by one friend is that they want to discourage shitting, possibly to spare the pipes both from the shit itself and the toilet paper flushed by oblivious tourists. Sounds plausible.

Peruvian Politics, Fujimori, and the 2020 Election

I first heard about the 2021 Peruvian presidential election before going to Peru through this informative graphic:

The following is my very layman’s outsider perspective on the contemporary political history of Peru based on talking to Peruvians, Wikipedia, and random articles:

Peru has been your typical South American basket case since its independence in the early 1800s. In the 20th century, the government swung back and forth between (surprisingly expansionist) military juntas and fragile leftist-leaning democracies. The last full-fledged military regime ended in 1975, and then Peru was ruled by a succession of moderate leftists who faced insurrections from militant extremist leftists, most notably the Maoist Shining Path, who terrorized the countryside and took de facto control over huge swaths of the country. Due to the fighting, corruption, and general mismanagement, Peru’s economy went into a free-fall in the 1980s.

In 1990, Peru elected Alberto Fujimori to the presidency. Fujimori is 100% ethnic Japanese, and I’ve heard Peruvians refer to him as “our Japanese president.” There is some controversy over whether Fujimori was actually born in Japan, and therefore legally barred from holding the Peruvian presidency, but pro-Fujimori forces claim this is a baseless conspiracy.

Fujimori is a really interesting guy. By my best assessment, he ruled as a pragmatic, authoritarian technocrat, economic neoliberal, and power-consolidating strongman. He is sometimes considered a Peruvian Pinochet, both for good and ill, and allegedly he enjoyed the comparison.

(I’ll say upfront that I am not pro or anti Fujimori. I am geographically and temporally removed enough from his reign to view it like I would any other random piece of history. Evaluating him as a net-good or bad leader, especially by the standard of South American authoritarians, is way beyond my paygrade.)

Like Pinochet, Fujimori took control of an ailing South American country and arguably saved its economy through free market reforms (awesomely known as the Fujishock). He ended price controls, slashed government subsidies for businesses, slashed unemployment benefits, massively reduced restrictions on foreign capital, and worked with the International Monetary Fund to stabilize the government’s budget and combat the near-hyperinflation. On the non-free market side, he quadrupled the minimum wage and set up a giant poverty relief slush fund. By 1994, the downward spiral of the Peruvian economy was over, and GDP grew by over 13% in a single year, possibly the fastest growth rate of any country in the world in 1994.

Fujimori’s other big claim to fame was dealing with the insurgents. Even more so than the economic reversal, Fujimori’s record here is highly contentious. Pro-Fujimori people say that the Peruvian military and police had been fighting with one hand behind their backs for decades, possibly due to leftist sympathies from factions within the government, and possibly due to not wanting to piss off the West with human rights abuses. Fujimori more-or-less gave government forces a blank check to root out the rebels regardless of secondary effects. The result was mass arrests, death squads, and brutal anti-guerrilla campaigns, but it proved remarkably effective. The Shining Path was finished by the mid-1990s and other militant leftist groups petered out at the end of the decade.

Thus there is the other half of the Pinochet comparison. Fujimori probably oversaw the extrajudicial arrests and killings of thousands of Peruvians. Data and records are sketchy of course, but there are plenty of well-known isolated incidents of government forces executing rebels or shooting first and asking questions later. A significant portion of the dead were probably insurgents, but many weren’t.

But more unique to Fujimori is the charge of mass sterilization. Allegedly, Fujimori covertly sterilized hundreds of thousands of Native Peruvians (akin to Native Americans) under the guise of poverty relief programs. I didn’t dive deep into these claims, but they seem so extreme that I have wonder why they aren’t more widely known (which is not to say I think they’re false).

Fujimori’s rule proved divisive, but he had plenty of fans. The backbone of his popular support came from moderate and conservative Peruvians who were thankful for the economic revival, the end of the insurgencies, and the first signs of stability in decades. Fujimori capitalized on the achievements to build a cult of personality and consolidate power.

In 1992, Fujimori carried out what Wikipedia calls a self-coup, wherein the military ostensibly overthrew the government, but elevated Fujimori to emergency powers. He used the classic dictator’s justification that the democratic government was being pulled in too many directions by too many interests and needed a unified voice. Despite international condemnation, most Peruvians seemed to approve, and Fujimori’s Constitutional reforms were ratified by popular referendum the following year in an apparently free and fair election.

Fujimori held onto control of Peru for a decade with a mixture of charisma, luck, brutality, and political savvy. He fought off a coup, had a messy public divorce, very narrowly won a second term, and allegedly oversaw the killing of 3,000 political opponents by the police.

In 2000, he ran for a third term despite it being illegal under his own coup-formed Constitution. He narrowly won the election, but this time it was clearly dirty, and it seemed to be too much for the Peruvian people. They could tolerate a technocratic authoritarian for a while, but not one so naked in his ambitions. Lima filled with protestors, the administration began to leak, a video showing a Fujimori lieutenant bribing a Congressman was released by the press, and even Fujimori himself saw the end was near. He agreed to step down from office and hold new elections without him.

Despite all the turmoil brewing, Fujimori flew to Brunei for state business. The situation grew even more chaotic while he was away as the tide continued to turn against his rule. Mass resignations broke out in his cabinet. Even the new elections couldn’t come soon enough, everyone wanted Fujimori out. Eventually, Fujimori gave up. He flew from Brunei to Japan, announced that he would live there in exile, and then I’m pretty sure he became the first head of state to ever resign from office via fax machine.

This was not enough for the Peruvian people. The succeeding government issued warrants for Fujimori’s arrest, but due to his heritage and some ample goodwill bought by dealing with a Japanese Embassy hostage crisis during his reign, Japan refused to extradite Fujimori to Peru. Japan even gave Fujimori Japanese citizenship, a notoriously rare prize for foreigners.

For years, Fujimori lived in Japan but attempted comebacks in Peru. He organized his supporters back home, formed his own political party, and even tried to run for president, though his efforts were largely blocked by the Peruvian government. In 2005, Fujimori announced he was running for Peruvian Congress and took a very stupid gamble by flying to Chile to organize his campaign. He was swiftly arrested and turned over to Peru by a government which was no longer a fan of Pinochets. Peru charged Fujimori with numerous human rights abuses and sentenced him to 25 years in prison.

Why is all of this relevant to Peru’s 2021 election? Because of Keiko Fujimori, Alberto Fujimori’s daughter, who is running for president.

It’s hard not to read Keiko as being the more conniving and underhanded of the father-daughter duo. She came onto the scene during her father’s reign in the mid-90s when she was appointed First Lady after the very messy divorce of her parents. This immediately earned her the malice of many Peruvians who considered her to have stabbed her mother in the back. But a few years later, she then stabbed her father in the back by publicly opposing his third presidential run, but then kinda flip-flopped and worked on his campaign anyway. Maybe it was all staged by the Fujimoris for convoluted PR purposes, who knows?

Either way, once a warrant had been issued for her father’s arrest, Keiko had to flee presidential palace where she lived. Supposedly, her estranged mother (then a Peruvian Congressman) offered her protection, but Keiko fled and went to her father in Japan instead. Though with him in exile I guess there wasn’t much for her to do politically, so she took a break from politics to get a degree from Columbia University and get married.

In 2006, after her father’s arrest, Keiko returned to Peru to rally pro-Fujimori forces, both the remnants of his popular support and his direct lieutenants who (politically) survived the fall of his regime. She took over the party her father had formed while in exile, and successfully ran for Congress, proving the old president and whatever misshapen ideology he crafted still had support in Peru. She ran for president in 2011 and 2016, and made decent showings both times, but could never quite rebuild her father’s support and win office.

And so we come to 2021. Keiko Fujimori had more support than ever despite her father’s legacy and numerous corruption charges, including a brief stint in prison for money laundering. To her supporters, she’s a bulwark against the leftism and Marxism entrenched across South America and Peru. To her opponents, she’s an authoritarian wannabe dictator who worships her father,  the brutal, racist, Pinochet-tier terror.

A big part of Keiko’s support seemed to come from sheer aversion to her opponent, Pedro Castillo, a former teacher and union leader. Wikipedia describes him as an “agrarianist,” “ethnonationalist,” and “socialist,” though he explicitly states he isn’t a communist. He is, however, stridently traditional, and opposes “legalization of abortion, same-sex marriage, or euthanasia” and the “gender equality approach” in education. He is also probably a former member of the civilian offshoot of Shining Path, the jungle-dwelling revolutionary Marxists who slaughtered tens of thousands of Peruvians over decades until Fujimori put a stop to them.

As of editing this piece in June, Castillo has won the election by a razor-thin 44,000 votes, and of course Fujimori is contesting the election. I have no idea where it will go from here.

Miscellaneous

  • In 11 days in Peru, I was asked if I was married and if I have kids more than I have throughout the rest of my entire life.
  • Both from my experiences and from talking to the locals, Peruivans tend to be socially cold compared to other Latin Americans. Of course this is a generalization and doesn’t apply to all Peruvians, etc., but they were not as open and friendly with strangers as say… the Spanish or Brazilians. I’m told that Chileans are similar to Peruvians.
  • Clothing made of Alpaca is sold everywhere. Surprisingly, 100% alpaca clothing tends to be rougher and more fragile than alpaca blended with synthetic material, despite costing 3-5X. I bought 50% alpaca socks, a hat, a bag, and two sweaters.
  • While walking through the Andes, we’d occasionally pass through a farm, and without fail, the owners would come to us and try to get money from our tour guide for passing through their property. And our tour guide would explain that the land was owned by the government and merely leased to the family, and that the tour company had already paid for the license and therefore we could walk wherever we wanted. It was uncomfortable… especially after the tenth time.
  • I couldn’t find any lama meat. It’s out there, but it’s considered inferior to alpaca meat in taste and texture, so it’s mostly eaten in rural areas.
  • I saw wild chinchillas darting between rocks in the Andes. That’s definitely not an animal I thought I’d ever see outside a pet store.

7 thoughts on “Notes on Peru

  1. Was the outdoor mask mandate strongly enforced in cities by the police? Or was it primarily voluntary compliance? I’ve seen similar levels of outdoor masking in the US even though no one ever enforced it. Curious to see what the situation was in Peru.

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