Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Peru Diaries: The Pro’s and Con’s of Group Travel, Part II

Moche sculpture in Museo Larca

For the first few days we tried to focus on the positive aspects of group travel to convince ourselves we had made the right choice.

Having the hotel room ready when we arrived from the airport at 7:00 a.m. was really nice. Tour groups can arrange this; individual travelers usually cannot—unless they pay for an additional day.

We had a much easier time dealing with the group after a nap. Everyone was as upbeat and chatty as they were on ride from airport, but Rick and I were in better shape and better able to adapt.

Our guide, Marco, was excellent. One of 11 children and the first in his family to pursue formal education, Marco had a compelling personal story. Our walking tour of the Miraflores neighborhood would have been much less interesting without his running commentary on a changing neighborhood. Lima is on something of a building boom and sadly old colonial buildings are being torn down to make way for the apparently insatiable condo market.

But after an hour or so, the walking tour started to feel like a forced march. When we got tired of walking about in the hot sun, we left the group and hung out in a cafe overlooking the Pacific. This is our kind of travel—-taking it slow, building in a lot of time for leisurely people watching.

Adapting (or in our case failing to adapt) to the group was an uneven process: one step forward, two step back. The next day was a real test--a day long city tour. On the plus side: we covered much more ground on the tour bus than we could ever have on our own and saw parts of the city we might not venture into by ourselves. We went to the archaeological museum, toured the old city, saw the amazing Plaza Mayor, the cathedral, the Domincan Monastery with its colonial treasures and one of the most beautiful courtyards I’ve ever seen, had a tour of Lima’s best and worst neighborhoods and finally the recently excavated pre-Incan ruins at Pucllana.

Yet every advantage has its corresponding disadvantage--the pace was too frenetic for us. Sure we saw a lot, but we felt we experienced relatively little. True, when we have arrangements made for us, we cover more ground and benefit from the economies of scale of group travel, but the lack of freedom takes some getting used to.

On our final day in Lima we decided not to participate in group activities. I felt a little guilty about not participating in the day’s trip to Villa El Salvador, one of the shanty towns surrounding Lima. According to the tour group brochure:

What began in 1971 as a desert location for lima’s impoverished inner city residents has today expanded into a 350,000 person squatters’ community—and a Nobel Peace Prize nominee for its excellence in social work and community growth.

As someone who has been a life-long social justice activist (admittedly not consistently) I thought I should be supporting the visit to Villa El Salvador. But this was supposed to be a vacation and I wanted to see the pre-Incan treasures in Museo Larca and do things at our own pace.

Larca was a man with a mission. He dedicated his life to collecting the art of pre-Incan civilizations and was determined to prove that there were rich civilizations in Peru before the Incas.

Larca introduced me to the Moche whose amazingly life-like ceramic figures are unlike anything I’ve ever seen in Amerindian cultures. His collection of Moche erotic sculptures is one of the museum’s biggest draws with a separate building devoted to “sculptura erotica”—figures engaged in just about every conceivable sexual act.

The museum itself is a work of art, beautifully designed and with a spectacular courtyard coved with bougainvillea, geranium, as well as many tropical flowers I’d never seen before. And there’s a wonderful cafe/restaurant where we lingered for well over an hour. This was our kind of traveling--doing relatively little but doing it well. It’s not how I traveled when I was younger and was trying to pack as much as I could into a day, but it’s a style that suits my husband and me at this stage in our lives.

The next day we flew off to Cusco from which we would go to Sacred Valley of the Incas and then Machu Picchu.

Escaping from the group was not going to be so easy once we were out of the big city.
To be continued.


  1. Becoming comfortable with the ambivalence of traveling with a group is certainly a challenge. Sounds like you adopted the plan my girlfriend and I chose in New Orleans ... we'd come to eat and watch and when the touring got to be too much we left them, found a cafe, stuffed our faces and watched the world go by. We could always find them later; they were hard to miss.

  2. This plan can work well in a city. I love hanging our in cafes and watching the world go by!

    But there was no escape when we were in rural areas.

  3. This is terrific. When I read the first part, I couldn't wait for the second - now I'm eagerly awaiting the next installment.

  4. Thanks for the information on the Moche, Karen. Here's a photographic introduction to the excavations that also gives citations for the National Geographic articles:

  5. Kathy, thanks for the encouragement and Reni, thanks for link re. Moche. It was an amazing civiilzation which I had never heard of before the trip to Peru.