Peru has captivated us so much that we used a full 90 days, which we were allowed to stay here by the border officer who gave us stamp in our passports when we came here from Ecuador. The country has charmed us with an incredible variety of landscapes, rich culture, abundance of ruins … If time and budget allow us to do so with great pleasure we would spend twice as much time exploring even more magical places. However, unfortunately, we have to leave.
As it turns out, however, we are definitely not the only Polish enchanted by the magical atmosphere of Peru. Already in 1852 a prominent Polish engineer Ernest Malinowski came here. He built in Peru the highest located railway in the world. He is indeed one of the most famous Poles in Peru, but definitely not the only one who contributed to the development of the country. Alexander Miecznikowski who distinguished himself as a builder of the first surfaced road in Peru leading from the port of Callao to Lima, also worked with Malinowski. Our other compatriot – Edward Habich was the organizer of the first university in the South American continent.
Polish diaspora also currently lives in Peru and is quite active there. In Lima since 1983 the Polish House operates, which seeks to promote Polish culture and customs. They organize the celebration of Christmas and Easter, and St. Andrew’s, Thanksgiving, Day of the Child and Polish national holidays. They regularly issue “Gazetka”, which some numbers can also be found on the internet. There is about 150 Poles and people of Polish origin registered in the Polish House
In Peru, unfortunately, we failed to meet with Polish Ambassador, because at the time we stayed in Lima, she just went to Quito. However, quite by accident, while we were coming on top of one of the pre-Inca pyramids in Lima we met a representative of the local Polish community. Although he was born already in Peru, he speaks Polish fluently and without an accent. He was just giving a tour around Lima to some Poles. In addition, it turned out that he knew quite well with my husband’s sister, who works as a tour guide to South America, and he met my cousin who lived temporarily in Lima. It seems that Poles community in Peru is not too large…
In contrast to Colombia and Ecuador, where we did not met too many Polish tourists in Peru we began meeting them in quite large quantities. Here, however, I must mention the clear division of the country into non-visited by tourists North very touristy South. While in the north, despite the incredible monuments, tourists still constituted a local attraction (for example, every now and then people asked us to a picture with us), whereas in the south of the country we were just one of the many ‘gringos’ who come here. More or less the situation with Polish tourists here looked the same. Approximately from Lima we started meeting not just random people from Poland, but also our friends who just stayed in Peru, or just arrived here. And so we met up with my cousin mentioned earlier and my husband’s sister, a friend from Poland, we met in London before or long lost friend from high school. Also in the south, we came across a wave of Poles from “the promotion”. It turned out that the Brazilian airlines had a promotion on flights to Lima in May, from which many Poles benefited.
As you can see the Poles like to Peru. They started coming here in the nineteenth century and continue to come, this time with slightly different purposes. But what about our country and what Peruvians know about it? As the variety of landscapes in Peru, so the knowledge of the people of Poland is extremely different. Let’s start with your guide at the port of Callao. When she heard that we were from Poland she was terribly pleased, saying that he had never met anyone from our country. Therefore, she had plenty of questions ranging from where Poland is located and what kind of language we use there (if by chance it is not French?), to the more detailed questions about what Polish landscape etc. The question about our landscape very often arises in discussions with the Peruvians. There was curious of our country 10-year-old girl from a small village that we visited while trekking to Machu Picchu. Particularly she was fascinated by the snow, which she had never seen close, even though in the distance you could see the snowy peaks of the surrounding mountains.
We also met a boy who had heard that Polish girls are very nice and really wants to visit our country and perhaps find there a girlfriend / wife. However we were the most surprised by the old man we met accidently in market in Arequipa, who when he heard that we are from Poland, greeted us with thunderous cheers as he loves the Poles, because we are a nation of fighters and besides, we have the same colours in flag as Peru! When we asked how he knew the history of Poland he answered that he studied history at the university, and the history of our country particularly fascinated him. A big surprise was also a lady selling tickets to the observation tower at the Nasca lines. When asked what we will see she responded to us in broken Polish: “Tree, hands and broken lizard”.
Peruvians also really love our Pope – John Paul II. His paintings can be found in many churches and his visits in Peru are still well remembered. In the room of one of our hosts was a poster with the visit of Pope John Paul II in Cusco. A lady selling cakes at one of the churches in Cusco mentioned her participation in that pilgrimage. The same lady told us that John Paul II should be saint for a long time now ashe was a good man.
And as for our achievements in Peru: some Peruvians know that a Pole – Malinowski built the Andean railway. From one of our friends here we learned that in Peru there is the Malinowski River. It flows through Puerto Maldonado, where we did not have enough time to get. Malinowski’s railway now is only a tourist attraction. Trains run there extremely rare and are horribly expensive. From time to time you can only see a freight train driving here like a ghost.
There is another Polish achievement in Peru which I have not mentioned yet: kayak crossing of the Colca Canyon. For the first time this has been done by a Polish team composed of Andrzej Piętowski (expedition leader) and Piotr Chmieliński – kayakers, Grzegorz Majcherczyk – dinghy captain, Stefan Danielski and Krzysztof Kraśniewski – crew dinghy, Jacek Bogucki – filmmaker Zbigniew Bzdak – photographer from Krakow AGH canoe club “Bystrze”. Piotr Chmieliński also led an expedition in 1985 to the source of the Amazon, which is located in Peru. For both of these expeditions he and his colleagues were awarded the Guinness Prize. Knowing about all the achievements of Poles in Peru, with high hopes we were going into the Colca Canyon. We hoped to meet Peruvians who would know about “our” achievements. Unfortunately, in this respect, visit there was quite disappointing. None of the inhabitants of Peru we met, heard about the expedition, and Polish names did not tell them anything at all.
In a few days we leave Peru, this very diverse country. We met many amazing people here; we saw a vibrant place and tried unusual dishes. We will certainly return once again to try a rich Inca culture one more time.
Our blog: Poriomaniacy
Photo © Justyna Kloc