We recently toured Peru. Yes, there are many poor Peruvians, much poorer than any Americans. But I’m always energized seeing a people like this, so manifestly striving to raise themselves and their nation – by producing things that improve the lives of others too. That Peru is bustling with economic vitality was very evident. One of its main industries is tourism.
On our first day we were driven out of Cusco with a lunch stop in Urubamba. When our van turned at a nondescript little restaurant sign and pulled into a barely passable dirt road, I wasn’t expecting much. But the restaurant (Tunupa) was beautiful and faced out on a fantastic vista of a steep mountainside festooned with mountain goats like trimmings on a Christmas tree. The meal was a buffet, and among the best I’ve ever had, every dish unusually delicious; the exquisite desserts were to die for. And as I was tucking in, a musician was playing Pachelbel’s canon on Andean pipes. Altogether a peak experience that literally brought tears to my eyes and my wife’s.
I’m relating this because I honor the efforts of all the Peruvians who worked to make it happen.* They did it for profit, yes. I don’t hold this a dirty word. Great numbers of Peruvians made great efforts to give my family an enjoyable tour, thereby enriching us as well as themselves. Take profit, and the seeking of it, out of the world, and you won’t like the result.
Another thing Peruvians do to rise up is educating themselves. Our tour guide mentioned that 85% of Peruvian kids now finish high school (it’s required).** The American figure is far lower. In a world where a country like Peru is achieving 85%, how does America imagine it somehow deserves to maintain leadership with a graduation rate down in the 60s? (Quality of education is an issue, and America does still lead in higher education. But that doesn’t help the third of Americans who drop out of high school.)
And here’s something else I love seeing in foreign countries: electioneering. Peru was terrific for this. They paint candidates’ names in big letters on walls and the sides of their houses, and these daubings were still seen everywhere after the recent national elections – their proliferation showing how very much Peruvians celebrate their democratic choices.
Mostly they paint only the candidates’ first names. At one spot my wife pointed with a laugh to a big “Elvis” painted on a wall, but it soon became evident that Elvis was indeed the first name of a local candidate. (Another, perhaps oddly in such a Catholic nation, was Darwin.) I mentioned to my wife that in the presidential race a multiplicity of candidates had gone to a run-off between the top two, and unfortunately the best candidate had placed third. “Exactamente,” our tour guide chimed in.
The winner was Ollanta Humala; a former army officer, he had lost the previous election campaigning as a left wing clone of Hugo Chavez. This time he moved to the center and in office has proven to be a nonideological pragmatist, running the economy in a responsible way to boost growth. A major issue is a mining project with a lot of nimby opposition; Humala is pushing it forward. That such a politician would see such a path as the way to go is highly encouraging.
* Our tour was booked with Sunnyland Tours; locally in Peru, via Fiesta Tours. We were extremely satisfied with how they treated us. With LAN Airlines, not so much. Details: http://www.fsrcoin.com/lanairlinesbadservice.htm
** I couldn’t confirm this by googling, but from other numbers I saw, it seems in the ballpark.