I promised blogposts from my travels, and blogposts from my travels you shall have.
You know when you travel and for a while you forget you’ve gone somewhere new until you hit that one detail that shakes you fundamentally? If not, it exists, trust me.
In Peru, that detail wasn’t the fact that you can’t flush toilet paper, or that you can’t drink the water, or that all the drivers seem to be operating under different laws of physics than the rest of us, for me it was the ubiquity of dogs. (I still want “ubiquitousness” to be a word. It sounded better.)
That first night was strange, don’t get me wrong. Our late night arrival in the terminal, weaving our way through a sea of aggressively friendly would-be taxi drivers, finally into a car where I dozed off to the sounds of “We Are the Champions” by Queen. It was a bizarre haze.
But it wasn’t a bizarre Peruvian haze until we hit Cusco and the dogs. The first one startled me. There in the middle of a bustling and beautiful city, was a dog, walking as if he owned the place. Tail up like a banner, tongue lolling. No collar, no owner in sight. And no passerby giving him a second glance. Except for me.
It didn’t take long for me to overcome my initial surprise and to partake of my favorite past-time: attempting to befriend stray dogs. It’s a wonder I don’t have fleas and rabies by now.
Here’s the thing about dogs in Cusco, though, and dogs in Peru in general: they don’t particularly care about you. They aren’t unfriendly or shy, none of the ones I encountered were the least bit aggressive, but they were, in a strange and undoglike fashion, apathetic. They reminded me in fact of very small cows.
It surprised me, so I continued to watch them, and I discovered through my study much more about the country than I might have otherwise. The good thing about dogs is that they don’t much mind if you stare at them for extended periods of time. People seem to mind that. Not to mention I don’t ever want to continue exercising my white-person gaze. So, I looked at dogs.
The dogs of Peru don’t dislike you nor do they particularly like you, they are simply surviving. The dogs of Peru speak Spanish. The dogs of Peru occasionally get in fights, particularly regarding the female dogs of Peru. The dogs of Peru go where they like. The dogs of Peru love their leisure time. The dogs of Peru know the best places to nap. The dogs of Peru do not get hit by cars or moto-taxis though it is not from lack of trying. The dogs of Peru have very distinct socioeconomic status ranging from the bourgie tourist dogs of Aguas Calientes to the scrappy skin-and-bones dogs of Puerto Miguel. The dogs of Peru are dogs.
I wanted to make all sorts of ham-handed metaphors about the dogs of Peru. How, like their human counterparts, they are equal parts friendly and reserved, their Catholic faith clashing and combining with their indigenous roots, how sometimes people put them in weird shorts and shirts etc. etc. I won’t. I’ll just let you do that on your own.
As I always find in traveling, I am both surprised and gratified to see how the more different people are, the more their fundamental desires remain the same. And this held true, too, for the dogs of Peru: most of them were just looking for a nice nap, a good meal, and a friend at the end of the day.
More cliched Peru posts to come.