Lately, many of us have been culling our list of countries to visit. Many nations carry warnings because of civil strife, ubiquitous explosions or just random violence. Too bad for those of us who like to travel and see new things. Too bad also for nations for whom tourism is a key income source. Yet, here is some good news for a change: Visit Peru!
I just returned from a visit there, invited by the University Ricardo Palma for lectures. With lots of travel under my belt, I was impressed by Peru and recommend a visit. The Lima airport is large, transparent and well organized. No moment of mutual distrust at customs. You push a button and get a randomized response: Red –they’ll want to see your luggage, green you go on. Luggage carts are available and free (unlike in Washington D.C.’s Reagan Airport where you have to pay three dollars). The hotels are very nice, friendly, and, unlike in Paris, with free internet access as a basic service. Given the high altitude, reduced oxygen can result in a breathing problem. That is
why many locations offer complimentary coca tea or mate de coca, which, due is
the local remedy for fatigue and pain.
Traffic was heavy, but drivers skillfully negotiated the roads (though they did use every available inch of room). Parking is difficult – you’re better off to be driven. Sure they have earthquakes, but so does Washington D.C. There is good logistical thinking for troublesome times. When flooding had torn away part of a highway, a detour parallel to the road is rough but the re-routing takes only 10 minutes.
People are very kind and welcoming. When they say ‘mi casa es su casa’ they really want you to feel at home. They immediately provide appetizers or tea. Employees are empowered: At lunch at my hotel I told my visitors how hammering in the room next to us had awakened us. The lunch manager overheard our conversation, expressed his apology, and resolutely refused any payment for lunch for all four of us (including our two outside guests).
All University events we attended were accompanied by music, poetry, flowers, dance and song. There was ongoing reference to the need for balance in life. Work has to be within a context of enjoyment. What an inspiring idea!
The country’s mountain city of Machu Picchu reflects Inca history, capability and determination. It also shows an extraordinary clash of cultural values in the 16th century. The Inca used gold for wallpaper on rocks, to reflect the much revered Sun. The invading Spaniards saw gold as treasure, and wanted lots of it. The Inca complied by filling rooms with treasure (or wall paper) only to be murdered in appreciation. It turned out to be beneficial for Spain not to keep any gold artifacts, but to melt them
all down and re-issue them as coins of the realm. That way, nothing had to be returned to Peru. But even today, Peru continues to be a leading producer of many valuable commodities, among them silver, gold, and copper.
Peru and Peruvians like to be part of the world. For example, there are at least 8 towns and villages in the United States carrying the name of Peru. The government has initiated contact with all of them, with a particular focus on Peru, Nebraska in order to build relationships. Peru’s athletes are quite successful, with women world champions in both featherweight boxing and ocean surfing. Peruvian chefs have opened highly rated restaurants, both in Lima as well as in New York.
The minister of the economy (U.S. educated at Johns Hopkins) discusses, with help of many precise power point slides, how the gap between poor and rich can be bridged. There is little talk about socialism, but much about how to boost simultaneously the economic performance in the Peruvian beach areas, the mountains, as well as the desert. Foreign investment is welcome and sought after. There are many ideas floating about how to serve clients better, and make investment opportunities more attractive in order to achieve a minimum annual growth rate of six percent.
Here are my lessons learned for take away: 1.when it comes to narrow, dusty and curvy roads, Mercedes busses seem to have it made. So if you have some really heavy duty motoring tasks, you know what to do. 2. You can hike the Inca trails to Machu Picchu for four days and three nights to get to the top – a memorable achievement. 3. Don’t
underestimate the train getting you there from Cusco in 90 minutes. Its design is
modern with a crew offering fashion shows of desirable Peruvian products. It runs on time every half hour, and affords spectacular views. 4. Tourists have to pay more for services than locals. Discriminatory, yes, but fair when looking at income levels. 5. The favorite local alcohol is the pisco, a brandy made from grapes. Combined with egg whites, lime juice and bitters it becomes pisco sour, deserving of a global reputation.
There remains much to be discovered. Peru wants to be friends – even with Spain. Hundreds of years of overgrowth has lead to jungles and ingrown mountain sides which still hide many mysterious artifices. Peru and the Andean area have already saved the world from starvation due to presenting us with potatoes and corn. The future may bring more benefits as well.
Prof. Michael Czinkota