This past weekend I want on a trip with the rest of the students in my IFSA group to a small town called El Carmen, in the region of Chincha. This area is regarded as the cradle of afro-peruvian culture (even though the largest afro-peruvian community is in the north, a little outside of Piura) and is well-known for its distinctive cuisine, music and dance styles. It was incredibly fascinating to see a side of Perú that is terribly underrepresented but has been extremely influential in the development of Peruvian culture.
Travelling to cities outside of Lima by bus is always fascinating, as the changes in landscape happen directly in front of your eyes. Almost as soon as you get to the city limits, the environment changes to a crazy desert that almost makes you feel as if you are on the moon. As one travels through this area, the vegetation and sign of habitation get smaller and smaller, and eventually there is nothing but sandy dirt and mountains.
On our trip to El Carmen, my view consisted of this for the majority of the trip, but as we started to get farther south there began to be more signs of life and agriculture, as this is the reason that produces the majority of the grapes for Perú’s growing wine industry and famous pisco products.
El Carmen is incredibly small, but the central plaza is very pretty, filled with palm trees and watched over by a beautiful church. That said, except during a few well-known festivals there is not much going on in this town, I went into the center on both Friday and Saturday night and there was almost no one around, during the day the only people to be found were vendors selling wine and absurd souvenirs representing gross stereotypes of afro-peruvian culture and a few Peruvian tourists taking pictures with the ridiculously offensive woven rush statues painted dark black and with ludicrous exaggerated features.
The morning after our arrival we attended a talk concerning the development of afro-peruvian culture, which was incredibly fascinating, however the rest of the day was even better as we attended a workshop to learn how to play traditional percussion instruments of the region, a zapatero (a type of tap dancing) class, and another traditional dance class.
That night we went into town to watch a dance rehearsal for one of the upcoming festivals, and also were treated to a private concert in the house of the Ballumbrosio family, one of the most well-known musical dynasties in Perú.
The food in the region is superb, and afro-peruvian cuisine such as aji de gallina and sopa seca have become dominant in the food culture of most of the coastal areas of Perú. Most of these dishes originated due to the creativity that existed among the enslaved population during this era; they were forced to make due with whatever scraps they were given, and necessity combined with knowledge and memories from Africa combined to create a delicious blend of textures and flavours. In fact, apparently visitors from Africa to this region often comment on how similar the two styles of cooking are!
On our last day we visited an Incan huaca (monument) that incorporates walls from an earlier Ica-Chincha culture and demonstrated just how far and wide the empire of the Inca reached. However, it was very difficult for me to see that amount of vandalism and graffiti that had covered parts of the site; numerous examples of ancient pictographs were obscured by meaningless scrawls.