The journalist and former politician Matthew Parris has enjoyed a long love affair with Peru, and in this interview with Jennie Carr on The Wireless’ Silver Travel Show, he explains what it is that makes the place so special and why he keeps going back for more.
While in his 20s, after a 'few beers too many' with a friend, Matthew Parris was 'bounced' into a trip to Peru. He loved South America from the moment he landed and has been back several times since that first expedition in the 80s.
He gives talks on the country, and his book Inca Cola is regarded as one of the seminal travel tales about the country. It’s very funny as well as brilliantly descriptive.
He even keeps llamas at his home in France - what further proof is needed of his devotion to this South American republic?
'It’s particularly the landscapes for me', says Matthew in response to being asked about what he likes so much about the location. He describes the 'bright blue skies' over the Atacama Desert, 'smoking volcanos', 'high Altiplano', 'snow-cloud mountains' and the 'sparkling blue, crystal waters' of Lake Titicaca.
When Matthew talks about Peru, he's most certainly light years away from being cloistered in the chamber at Westminster. He loves to get out into the untamed regions and explore, relishing the freedom and magnificent scenery.
Listen to the full interview with Matthew Parris
Explore everything from one country
One of the most extraordinary aspects of South America is that you can explore all of these wonderfully diverse environments from within a few hundred miles of most locations. You don't have to travel to multiple places.
'You could just take Peru, or just take Bolivia, and you would have there the Amazon Jungle and cloud forest', he says.
Matthew's particularly fond of the mystical cloud forest which hovers over the Andes: 'To me one of the most exciting things is cloud forest, where the Andes drop and the great, green cloud curtains down into the Amazon Jungle.'
The area is so steep and the vegetation so thick that there are mountainsides where no human has ever walked. He tells the story of finding an Andean bear paw print but never finding the bear. Perhaps this is an ancient Peruvian myth.
Matthew's belief that you don't have to travel great distances to enjoy Peru also applies to exploring the Amazon. He questions the value of weeks on weeks on a cruise, arguing that you're better off flying in or going by motorboat to an encampment, which will probably be very simple, then taking hikes in the forest with local guides to see its utterly remarkable vegetation and wildlife.
He says: 'Don’t think that by going all the way down the Amazon you’re ever going to see anything but two rather distant, rather low, green shorelines, which you never actually visit.'
He also highlights the damage done to these shores by logging and gold prospecting, pointing out that you need to get '20 or 30 miles up the tributaries to actually see anything'.
Lima is no longer 'the pits'
Lima, the capital and largest city of Peru, has suffered a poor reputation in the past, but Matthew defends it: 'Lima was never really very scary, but it was the pits. It was a mess.'
He describes how the drains didn't work, the buildings leaked and the cars looked as if they'd been salvaged from the scrapyard. 'It really did have a rather depressing atmosphere in the 80s and 90s; the economy was in a mess and inflation was about 1000%.'
'All that's changed', he argues. He talks of its fine restaurants, interesting museums and good range of accommodation at different prices.
'It’s still not a great world city - you won’t see buildings like you’ll see in London or Florence - but it’s a perfectly nice place to start your trip or to end your trip.'
His view is that while travellers have been worried about safety and security, there's no need for excessive concern. The precautions needed are those sensibly taken in any capital city.
Matthew has lost count of the number of times he's visited Peru, and he'll keep returning. 'I still don’t think I’ve seen a quarter of the place.'
The whole of the Andes are open to anybody who can walk, even with a stick
Maybe one day after a few beers, high in the mountains, Matthew will spot that Andean bear and fulfil a Peruvian legend.
There are of course many stunning, unique and world-famous sites to enjoy alongside the geographical intensity - Machu Picchu, Sacsahuaman, Pisac, Moray and Cusco, the heart of the Inca Empire, for starters.
Matthew hopes to inspire people to believe that the Andes are accessible: 'The whole of the Andes are open to anybody who can walk, even with a stick; and you won’t be robbed, you won’t be murdered. And you may occasionally find things a little bit uncomfortable, but it’s all open to you. Go there. It’s amazing.'
This article is brought to you by Silver Travel Advisor.
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