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PERU —THE LAND OF MANY CONTRASTS...

Where in the World is Peru?

Peru is twice the size of Texas, the third largest country in South America. It borders five countries: Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil, Bolivia, and Chile. The country is divided into three distinct geographical regions: costa, sierra, and selva. The costa is a narrow strip of desert bordered on the west by the Pacific Ocean and on the east by the Andes mountains. It extends from Tumbes in the north to Tacna in the south. The sierra is the Andes mountain chain with a dozen peaks above 20,000 ft. At 22,205 ft., Mount. Huascarán is the highest mountain in Peru. The selva is the rainforest located in the Amazon Basin. Together with the rainforest of the neighboring countries, the Amazon rainforest is considered the largest in the world.

Lima, the capital, is situated 12 degrees south of the Equator. It has a mild year round climate, and does not receive rain falls. The cold Humboldt Current that flows from south to north along the Pacific Coast of South America creates a mist, which hangs over Lima and the desert, cooling the air and giving the region a temperate climate. It is only when you travel to the jungle that you realize that Peru is in the tropics. Peruvian time is the same as U.S. Eastern Standard time the year around.

 

How Do You Reach Peru?

Today you can travel to Peru from anywhere in the world by plane, by ship or, if you are adventurous, by car, driving from the US on the Pan American Highway.

The Spanish conquerors reached South America in the 16th century, travelling in sailing ships across the Atlantic. In 1513 Balboa discovered that the distance from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean was not very far across the Isthmus of Panama. The Spanish built a stone road across Panama that opened the way for the first conquerors, missionaries, colonists, and others who began to arrive around 1530.Travel from Europe and other countries was much easier after the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914.

 

Did You Know?

More indigenous/native people live in Peru than in all the other South American countries combined: nearly 12 million. They make up an estimated 49 to 54 percent of Peru's population of approximately 24 million. Less than 8 percent is of unmixed white, mostly Spanish ancestry. Nearly 40 percent are mestizos, people of mixed Spanish and native blood. Another 2 percent is comprised of people from the Orient and of African descent.

Beautiful examples of Spanish colonial architecture in the cities of Lima, Cuzco, Ayacucho, and Arequipa contrast with fascinating archeological ruins from ancient native civilizations. The Chavín civilization dates back to at least 900 B.C. The ancient Lost City of the Incas, Machu Picchu, located near Cuzco, is considered South America’s most spectacular archeological site.
Fifty-four rivers flow from the high western slopes of the Andes to the Pacific coast where the inhabitants and their agriculture depend on them for their water supply. Lima's nearly 8 million inhabitants receive water primarily from the Rimac River. Rivers also flow from the eastern slopes to the jungle, feeding the river systems of the lowlands. The jungle rivers are important avenues of transportation. They eventually empty into the great Amazon River which flows another 4,000 miles before it pours into the Atlantic Ocean in Brazil.
Built in 1870, the Central Railway of Peru is the world's highest narrow gauge railroad. From Lima to Huancayo, after climbing by a series of switchbacks and tunnels, it reaches its highest point of 15,606 feet at Ticlio.

 

Discovering Peru

Discovery is finding out what is already in existence. Thus the Spaniard Pizarro and his 200 men in 1532 began to find out many details about Peru, its land, people, and cultures that remained unknown to Europeans until that time. In the same way, at an unknown point in time, the Incas discovered the people groups that lived on the coast and in the jungle. No one really knows who were the first to arrive in the different parts of Peru or when. Ancient ruins and artifacts are still being found in the coastal and highland areas today, some dating back thousands of years. What has been discovered indicates early peoples who were artistic, resourceful, and ingenious in their own distinctive ways.

Spain's control over Peru lasted from 1532 to 1824. These were years of exploitation of the land and native people. Forced labor of the native people in mines, haciendas, plantations, combined with the many epidemics which accompanied the white man's presence, accounted for over 10 million deaths in the Highland and Coastal areas. Many years later, jungle native populations were decimated from the brutal treatment and epidemic diseases they suffered during the infamous "rubber boom" in the Amazon River Basin from 1880 to 1912.

The independence that Peru gained from Spain in 1824 did little to improve the lot of the native people because the roots of colonial society remained. Although many Spaniards and Catholic Church leaders spoke out against the mistreatment of the native people and laws were passed to improve their condition, these remained in the archives. They were seldom carried out.
From 1980-1993 two subversive anti-government groups --the Shining Path and the Tupac Amaru Movement (MRTA) --wrought havoc throughout the country. The Shining Path alone accounted for more than 25,000 deaths and is active still in isolated areas. But today there is hope in the emerging church and community leadership. Since the 1940s the government and the general public has become aware of the importance of the native communities, both of their needs and their contribution to the nation of Peru.

Although Spanish became the official language of Peru, it never became the heart language of the Quechua, Aymara and the Jungle people. At present the Aymara population in Peru is estimated at 1 1/2 million and the Quechua population 10 million. The Quechua people (including some groups in the lowlands) are speaking over 20 variations of Quechua, many of them different enough to be considered different languages. There are over 300,000 jungle dwellers speaking nearly 60 different languages. This makes the jungle the most culturally and linguistically diverse region in Peru.

The real riches of Peru are not to be found in its mineral resources, oil, exotic wood, furs or other products. Rather they are found in its people. In the past (and in some places still today), the native people were despised because of their "inferior" heritage. With the analysis of their languages, recording their oral history folklore, studying their customs, teaching them to read and write, and translating the Word of God into their mother tongue, their self esteem is being restored and they become equipped to participate in the affairs of their local and regional governments. Even more importantly they are understanding that in the eyes of God they have value as individuals.

-Margerethe Chavez (People of Peru, 1995)

Statistics

National name: República del Perú
President: Alejandro Toledo (2001)
Prime Minister: Luis Solari (2002)
Area: 496,223 sq mi (1,285,220 sq km)
Population (2003 est.): 28,409,897
Capital and largest city (2000 est.): Lima, 7,450,000 (metro. area)
Monetary unit: Nuevo sol (1991)
Languages: Spanish and Quéchua (both official), 103 distinct languages listed in the Ethnologue.
Ethnicity/race: Indian 45%, mestizo (mixed Indian and European ancestry) 37%, white 15%, black, Japanese, Chinese, and other 3%
Religion: Roman Catholic (90%)
Literacy rate: 85% (1990)
Government: Constitutional republic.