My favourite thing about traveling to a new country is being able compare their culture to my own. I’d done this for Trinidad in 2020, and now I’m doing the same for Peru. This time, I decided to compile a list of nine ways in which Peru reminded me of Jamaica (and five differences). This lighthearted post is written from my own observations after a week in Peru, so I hope not to offend anyone. Despite the negative features this post may highlight, I must say that I truly enjoyed my time in Peru and I appreciated the genuine warmth, curiosity and love that the Peruvian people expressed for Jamaica.
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What’s In This Article?
- Their Driving Skills
- Annoying Vendors
- Friendly People
- Splats Everywhere
- Strong Chinese Presence
- Tropical Fruits
- Street Dogs
- Street Art
- Five Big Differences
Their Driving Skills
Jamaican motorists, in particular taxi and public bus drivers, are notorious for being aggressive. The road code seems to contain suggestions rather than rules. They’ll swerve in front of you without an indicator, or they’ll be in the middle of the road then switch lanes and make a left turn. Of course, this inconsiderate and impatient driving causes many road traffic accidents and even fatalities in Jamaica each year. Imagine how shocked I was to discover on day one in Peru that the driving skills were just as frightening. Also, the motorcycle riders (bike men) are just as reckless– especially the food delivery ones.
On a similar note, the pedestrians aren’t much better than the motorists. Peru has crosswalks for pedestrians, and the stoplights even indicate the number of seconds a pedestrian has to cross the roadway. However, don’t be surprised to find Peruvians running across the road once they gauge that the oncoming vehicle is far enough. They probably won’t walk to the crosswalk either. I’ve seen Peruvians cross wherever they please but don’t expect the motorists to slow down for pedestrians. They’ll either keep the same speed or speed up! The only time I’ve seen a car slow down or stop to allow a pedestrian to cross is if it’s a taxi that’s soliciting passengers. If they realize that the pedestrian isn’t interested, they’ll speed up again. If a taxi flashes its lights, it’s to check if you want a taxi, not to allow you to cross the road. They don’t give blys in Perú (bly is a Jamaican term for a chance e.g. stopping to allow a pedestrian to cross). This pedestrian behaviour isn’t very different from in Jamaica.
Jamaican vendors, street-hawkers and peddlers are often described as being overly persistent and crafty in their attempts to make a sale, to the point where it may be labelled harassment. As a local, I seldom experience this harassment, plus we’ll spot the hiked-up prices from a mile away. Well, I got a taste of that harassment in Peru. In Cusco, I lost count after 10 vendors tried selling me souvenirs within 5 minutes. If we stopped to check the map, it got even worse. To make matters worse, it was often the same vendor trying his luck a third or fourth or even FIFTH time. As the only Black people we spotted in Cusco, I’m sure they didn’t forget that we had already said ‘no, thanks’. They’re just that annoying and persistent. In Lima, one went as far as to grab my wrist and quickly slip on a bracelet before I could stop him. He kept complimenting the bracelet on my hand and refusing to take it back– until he realized I was not gonna pay for it, at which point he took it back then slunk away to find another victim.
On a positive note, the Peruvian people are warm, friendly and helpful. My boyfriend and I have modest Spanish-speaking abilities from our high school Spanish, but there are several times where we would either not understand or be understood. This was the point where we’d ask ¿Habla ingles? to which we often got noes in the rural areas. They’d follow up by apologizing and I’d feel so horrible about it. No one should be apologizing for not speaking a foreign language! If anyone should be apologizing, it should be me for visiting their country and not improving my Spanish first. Anyway, they were always really eager to help with directions, suggestions etc. We got asked about our nationality a lot and then there were a lot of excited faces and questions about Jamaica. A bartender in Barranco even showed us his red, green and gold armband, a symbol of his love for reggae music and Jamaica. It warmed my heart to see how far reaching our culture and music is, and the warmth of the Peruvian people reminded me of my own.
I’m not proud of this nasty element of our Jamaican culture but you’ll find that some men won’t hold their wee until they get to a restroom. They’ll turn any corner or wall into a urinal which leaves behind a foul smell of ammonia or as we say in Jamaica, a ‘renk‘ or ‘renkin‘ smell. I noticed this familiar but unpleasant smell while walking through Lima. I also had to skip over spittle on the sidewalks in Peru. As disturbed as I was by this, it reminded me of Jamaica.
Strong Chinese Presence
Chinese Peruvians, also known as tusán, are Peruvian citizens whose ancestors came from China. The Chinese ethnic group makes up less than 1% of the Peruvian population, however it is estimated that 5% (1.2 million) of Peruvians have Chinese ancestry. This can be traced back to the 19th century arrival of 100,000 Chinese immigrants as unskilled labourers. The Chinese influence is most tangible in the culinary scene, where Chinese and Asian fusion restaurants can be found on nearly every block. This is similar to Jamaica where Chinese indentured labourers were also imported in the 1800s after the abolition of slavery. Chinese Jamaicans only constitute 0.2% of the population, however there’s a strong Chinese presence in our culture, and on the Jamaican restaurant and culinary scene.
Like Jamaica, Peru has a wide abundance of fresh tropical fruits and markets. Fruits such as naseberries (sapodillas), passionfruit (maracuyas), sweetsops and papayas which are labelled as ‘exotic’ in some parts of the world are plentiful and easy to find in Peru. I loved having familiar fruits for breakfast each morning such as watermelon, pineapple and papaya.
I couldn’t find statistics on the number of stray dogs in Jamaica, but it only takes one visit to the island to know we have a problem. Jamaica has hundreds of stray terriers, colloquially called mongrel dogs, which roam the street and rely on scraps from passersby or rummaging through garbage for food. A walk through the streets of Cusco or surrounding villages was equally as frightening. The Peru Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) estimates the number of stray dogs in Cusco at 14,000, but other figures suggest that it could be as high as 40,000. However, I must say that these strays looked better fed than the ones in Jamaica. It seems as if some owners allow their pets to roam free. There are no robust veterinary or neutering services available in the rural areas where the problem with strays is estimated to be three times worse.
Kingston is home to dozens of murals, and Fleet Street in Downtown, Kingston is often dubbed as Jamaica’s Wynwood Walls. I found a similar street art culture in the capital city of Lima, more specifically in the art district of Barranco. I plan to do a full article on Barranco soon because truly, I was impressed. Also impressive were the murals which led down to the beach in Miraflores, Peru.
Five Big Differences
Now that I’ve highlighted the good and not-so-good similarities between Peru and Jamaica, let’s highlight five interesting differences I noted. These are not as obvious as the fact that Peru is Spanish-speaking and drives on the ‘other‘ side of the road.
- Peruvian cars are fueled by LPG instead of gasoline. Imagine my shock when the taxi pulled into a gas station and the station attendant lifted the car bonnet instead of just unscrewing the refueling port on the side. Even the fuel nozzle was shaped differently, and in Peru it’s customary for motorists and passengers to exit the vehicle during refueling.
- Peruvians preserve historical gems well. Buildings from Incan or colonial heritage are often protected by law, which means that they cannot be demolished for the construction of newer buildings. Instead, they are either preserved or new storeys are added on top of original structures. Cobblestone streets often look exactly as they did centuries ago. This gives their cities a quaint charming feel.
- Beef is king. Chicken dishes are often more expensive than dishes containing beef or pork, as these meats are more commonly consumed. The reverse is true in Jamaica. Other popular meats include fish and alpaca meat, while cuy (guinea pig) is a delicacy.
- Coca leaf, the raw material for the manufacture of cocaine, is legal. The cultivation, sale and possession of unprocessed coca leaf is legal in Peru, Bolivia, Chile and parts of Argentina. That’s because coca is cultural. It has been grown in the Andes mountains for centuries and featured in Incan feasts and religious rituals. Chewing the leaves or making a tea from them is a popular remedy for altitude sickness. Thankfully when consumed in its natural form, coca leaf does not induce psychosis or dependence but its metabolites may give a false positive result for cocaine up to 18 hours after consumption on a urine toxicology screen. Nonetheless, you’ll be offered coca leaf tea everywhere in Cusco.
- Roman Catholicism is the predominant faith, although religious practices have a high degree of syncretism with indigenous religions. 76% of the population identify as Catholic and Roman Catholicism is mandatory in all state schools. On the other hand, about 70% of Jamaicans are Protestants while Roman Catholics comprise just 2% of Jamaica’s population.
I hope you enjoyed my analysis and comparison of life in Peru and Jamaica. Peru is a lovely country and visa-free for Jamaicans. Therefore, I hope more Jamaicans will consider visiting this country. Check out my itinerary and travel costs here.
Look out for more Peru posts later this month, and SUBSCRIBE to get notifications when new posts are published. Tell a friend and pin this post to your Pinterest boards.
‘Til next time.