Trips

Fiestas Patrias del Peru – Peru’s National Independence Day

July 28th commemorates the liberation of Peru from Spain by José de San Martin, the most famous liberator of Latin America aside from the Liberator himself, Simón Bolívar.  At dawn on the 28th a 21 cannon salute begins flag-raising ceremonies as Peru remembers the anniversary of its birth. During the whole month of July, homes, office buildings, public and private institutions, schools, and restaurants display the national flag. It is obligatory and it is rare to see any of these places without a flag.The following day, July 29th, celebrates establishment of the Republic of Perú. Together these two days are called Las Fiestas Patrias, and are by far the most important national holidays in Peru. In every city around Peru, the Plaza de Armas will be full of festivities. The night before the big day, streets will be filled with criolla music and small parties.  In Lima, the official celebration starts before the Independence Day and takes place in Parque de la Muralla, where a huge variety of Peruvian music and dances, from traditional folkloricos and afro-peruvian songs to modern rock and reggaeton will be played.

I was lucky to visit Peru last month and found it to be a fascinating country with a deep history, ancient traditions and lovely welcoming people. On our trip we visited Lima, Cusco, Machu Picchu, The Sacred Valley, The Colca Canyon, Lake Titicaca with the floating island of Uros and Taquile and Arequipa. So I thought I would compile a list of interesting facts about this marvellous place.

LAND OF THE INCAS

Peru is famously known as the Land of the Incas. They came from the Peruvian highlands in the early 1200s and ruled for over 300 years until the Spanish conquered them in 1572. At its peak, the Inca Empire was one of the largest in the world, covering modern day Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina and Chile.

Cusco was the most important city in this massive empire and Quechua was the main language spoken within this ancient civilisation.

The influence of the Incas is still prominent today. As well as the potato, Quechua is still spoken by almost 5 million Peruvians, and of course they left behind spectacular world wonders like Machu Picchu. The first census was created by Ancient Incas. They had no formal system of writing, and so developed a system of record-keeping using knots called “quipus” made from wool or cotton strings fastened at one end to a cross cord. Each quipus was different in size or color to represent details like crop measures, thefts, debts, and other events. They were the only ancient culture in the world to define constellations of both dark and light. Some of the main streets in Cuzco are designed to align with the stars at certain points of the year.  At Machu Picchu, each sun temple and ritual stone lines up perfectly with the sun for their assigned solstice.

THE POTATO

The potato originated in Peru and today, there are over 3,000 varieties grown in the country. Peruvians like to say “Soy mas Peruano que la papa” which means “I am more Peruvian than the potato.”

CUY : ROASTED GUINEA PIG!

Roasted guinea pig – Cuy – is the national dish of Peru. It is served whole – head and feet intact!  Guinea pigs (cuy or cuyes for plural) used to be considered an important food source in ancient Peru, well before the Incas arrived in the 1200s. This tradition has survived and today in most rural Andean households across Peru, families will keep tens and hundreds of cuyes scurrying around their kitchen floor. It’s estimated that Peruvians consume around 65 million cuyes oer year.  Shocked?  You shouldn’t be: keeping them as pets only happened over the last few centuries. When the Spanish arrived in the 1500s and brought a few cuy back with them, instead of eating them, they fell in love with them so much that they have since been domesticated as pets.

ALPACA

Three-quarters of the world’s alpaca population lives in Peru. The national animal is the vicuña, a small camel like animal similar to the alpaca. It comes in 22 natural colors and its wool is considered the world’s most luxurious fabric. The vicuña only produces about 0.5 kg  of wool a year, and gathering it requires a certain process. During the time of the Incas, vicuña wool was gathered by means of communal efforts called chacu, in which multitudes of people herded hundreds of thousands of vicuña into previously laid funnel traps. The animals were shorn and then released; this was only done once every four years. The vicuña was believed to be the reincarnation of a beautiful young maiden who received a coat of pure gold once she consented to the advances of an old, ugly king. Because of this, it was against the law  for anyone to kill a vicuña or wear its fleece, except for Inca Royalty.

CANTUTA

The cantua is the national flower of Peru and found at elevations of over 1,200 metres (4,000 feet) in the Andes. They are white, yellow, pink or red in colour and are elongated and bell-shaped. It was a popular ceremonial flower during the Incan Empire because they dedicated it to Inti, the sun god. This is why it is also known as the Flower of the Incas. 

COLCA CANYON

The Colca Canyon in southern Peru’s Arequipa region is an area of astounding scenic beauty. It is best known as one of the world’s deepest canyons,  nearly twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in the U. S. A,  reaching a depth of 4,160 metres. The depth can most easily be appreciated from the Cruz del Condor, a viewpoint where Andean Condors can be seen most days throughout the year. We saw about 15 the day we visited.

PISCO SOUR

The Pisco Sour is the famous Peruvian cocktail.  We enjoyed many many Pisco Sours whilst in Peru in its birth place. This cocktail of Pisco (a grape brandy) mixed with lime juice, egg whites and syrup was invented in the early 1920s at Morris Bar by its owner, Victor Vaughen Morris in Central Lima. It became so popular that it even has its own National Pisco Sour Day: the Dia Nacional del Pisco Sour is celebrated on the first Saturday of February. 

PASTUSO: AKA PADDINGTON BEAR

Pastuso is the Peruvian name of Paddington Bear, the  well loved children’s favourite character. The story goes he was sent to London from Peru by his Aunt Lucy who could no longer look after him as she had to live in the Home for Retired Bears in Lima. He was found by the Brown family at Paddington railway station , wearing a name label saying “Please look after this bear. Thank you”. As his Peruvian name Pastuso was too difficult for them to pronounce, they instead named him after the rail station they found him.  We visited his statue in Lima at the Salazar Park in Miraflores, near the Larcomar Mall.

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