The Peruvian dream / Expat in Huaraz (part 6)

According to I.N.E.I. statistics, 10,247 foreigners entered Peru in 2010 and stayed for over a year. Maybe they were looking for the Peruvian dream, or maybe just hanging out as tourists while visiting some of the wonders of Peru. The Free Dictionary describes the American dream as: “the notion that the American social, economic, and political system makes success possible for every individual”. The Huaraz Telegraph is wondering whether the Peruvian dream exists and if so, how to reach for those ideals on the Latin American continent being an expat? 

When walking along the street it´s easy to spot the difference between a tourist and an expat. Whereas most tourists wear their tiny day backpacks, zip-off pants and have a camera around their neck, most of the time the expat walks at a faster pace from A to B. When I travelled the world I always wondered (I still do) how it would be being a foreigner in a country like Cambodia, Egypt or Bolivia. Why would you want to live there in the first place? Well, expats might have their stories and reasons I guess. This is why in every edition of the Huaraz Telegraph, we´re interviewing an expat living in Huaraz. Ever wondered how it would be to leave your friends, family and belongings behind and move to Huaraz? First a small insight into the numbers and stats before we head to the interview.

I know a lot of the foreigners living in Huaraz but not all and, therefore, I doubted they would be registered; resulting in skewed stats. To be completely honest, I was wondering whether there would be any stats at all. I went to the I.N.E.I (National Institute of Statistics and Computer science) in Huaraz and asked them the simple question: How many gringos are living in Huaraz or Ancash? The answer was as interesting as the question. After signing up and explaining the purpose of my visit, I was shown a couple of statistical books and told I should be able to find the answer there. Well, after half an hour of searching …nothing!

How about the number of foreigners in Peru and the number of immigrants every year? That was a little easier to find. On the I.N.E.I website there are loads of stats on Peruvian emigration as well as Peruvian immigration between 1990 and 2011. Not bad, still up-to-date and even easily accessible. All stats mentioned in chapter IV on page 73 are for Foreign Residential Immigrants in Peru, concerning foreigners that have arrived to Peru between 1994 and 2010 and have NOT left the country after less than a year. This means that, even though Peru has a law that visitors may only stay up to a maximum of 183 days a year, ´gringos´ are, after one year, considered immigrants in the Republic of Peru.

Between 1994 and 2010, 63,316 foreigners were considered residents of Peru without any migration movement noticed crossing borders to leave the country. Between 1994 and 2003, the number of foreigners entering Peru was never higher than 2,500 individuals. However, between 2004 and 2006, the number of immigrants reached up to almost 4,000 people with 6,000 in 2007. The latest stats show that in 2010 at least 10,247 foreigners stayed in Peru longer than one year and are considered as immigrants. This study also notes that the number of immigrants has increased in the last few years. Between 2005 and 2010, the number of immigrants was 39,576, representing a 62.5% of the total registered between 1994 and 2010. The period between 1999 and 2004 represents an increase of 14,707 ´nuevos gringos´ signifying 23.2% of the total.

Another interesting graph in the document shows that 59% of the immigrants are between 20 and 49 years of age. Immigrants younger than 19 years of age represent 9.7% of the immigrant population, 16.2% are 60 or older representing 10,257 people. When we look at the gender of the immigrants there is an interesting chart showing us that 39.8% of the immigrants are women whereas 60.2% are men representing a total of 63,316 immigrants (38,145 males to 25,171 females). Their marital status shows that 26,813 (45.5%) of the settlers are married and 19,635 are single. A total of 12,526 people are either divorced, widowed or didn’t want to specify.

Just before the document starts to talk about the country of origin, it mentions that 50,950 people have come to Peru by air, entering the country at Jorge Chavez National Airport. A small 5.9% entered from the south in Tacna (Santa Rosa), 3.3% from Bolivia (Desaguadero) and a 2.5% came from the north crossing the border from Ecuador at Aguas Verdes. A total of 1,389 arrived at the harbour of Callao (probably shipwrecked and unable to return home).

The author of the stats declares that there exists a strong concentration of regional immigrants referring to 33.3% of foreigners coming from Latin American countries such as Argentina, Bolivia and Chile. Leaving the continent, surprisingly to me, the Europeans form 27.6% of the newcomers whereas the North American continent only accounts for 17.8%. Asian countries, mainly China and Japan, are good for 16.7% where Mexico helps Central America with 3.5%. Oceania and Africa have the least immigrants with respectively 0.7% and 0.5%. As you just have read, to qualify for the status of immigrant you will need to stay in Peru for over a year. This is also the condition for our interview and in this last edition of 2013, we conducted the interview with the lady who wrote the often and by many appauded tourist information pages of the printed version of the Huaraz Telegraph.

1. Who are you?

My name is Marie Timmermans. I am from Belgium.

2. How old are you and what’s your profession?

I am 37 years old. I run the travel agency QUECHUANDES with my husband, David Lazo. We organise treks, mountaineering expeditions, rock-climbing trips, day hikes, as well as sightseeing tours.

3. How long have you been living in Huaraz?

I have been living in Huaraz since May 2010.

4 What brought you to Huaraz?

I came to Huaraz for the first time in August 2009. I love trekking and I was looking for a summer trip; the Huayhuash trek was the perfect choice. David, now my husband, was the assistant guide. We obviously got on very well during the trek, so much so that I decided to come back to Huaraz at the end of my trip to see him again, and climb Mount Pisco. I had previously travelled extensively in Asia but it was my first trip to South America. I certainly didn’t expect to end up getting married to a Peruvian and settling down in Huaraz! At the time, after 15 years of living in London, I was tired of the big city and thought the Peruvian Andes offered a good change. So I packed my bags and eight months later I was off to Peru to see what life could be like. Given that I am still here three years later, it obviously worked out!

5. How has your life changed over the years?

My life has changed drastically since I moved to Peru, and for the better! First of all, life is much more chilled out, not as stressful as in Europe. I work very hard and earn a lot less than back home, but having my own business means that I also get freedom, which is priceless. There is nothing quite like being your own boss, and I do a job that I love. The climate here is much nicer than in grey London and Belgium. Nothing beats the daily Andean sun and blue sky! And not having to plan things out in advance is a treat; it’s great to be spontaneous!

6. What are your favourite hangout spots in Huaraz?

I enjoy dining out in several restaurants especially the pizza at El Horno. I also love the fresh fruit juices at the Fruti Frutita juice bar, the caldo de gallina at Teo’s and Margarita’s picarones in La Soledad. I don’t go out that much, but when I do, I like going to the 13 Buhos Café.

7. What is it you miss the most from back home, and how often do you go back?

I do not miss much from home, having left Belgium when I was 18 years old, but when I go back to Europe once a year, I enjoy eating tons of chocolate and patisserie treats in Belgium, and curries in London.

8. What is it you like most about Huaraz?

I love leaving my house in the morning, turning the corner and enjoying the fantastic views of the Cordillera Blanca. After three years I haven’t yet tired of this morning treat! I also love being able to walk to work, not having a fixed schedule, and not having to rush constantly. A stress-free life is brilliant and makes up largely for all the small inconveniences that life in Peru may bring. Huaraz is not a pretty town at first glance, but it is very much alive. I like the fact that you see traditionally dressed people walking side by side with tourists on the street. Huaraz has pretty much all the facilities that one may need and is neither too big, nor too small. Being situated at the foot of the Cordillera Blanca, access to the mountains is quick and easy and the best thing about living in Huaraz is that you can be at the foot of a glacier in a couple of hours! I go to the mountains as often as possible, with clients or family.

9. What’s your opinion of the tourist business in Huaraz?

The tourist industry in Huaraz is very disappointing and plagued with problems. Lack of organisation, corruption, exploitation of people and animals, abuse of the environment, mistreatment of the tourists are just a few examples that are unfortunately very common here. These issues are not the fault of any particular individual, but rather the result of many factors. The government can be blamed with regard to the lack of regulation and the incidence of corruption, which are unfortunately far too common all over Peru and not just in Huaraz. When it comes to exploitation of people and animals (and abuse of the environment) things get a little more complex.

It is very easy to blame the agencies for these issues, and obviously they are very much to blame, but tourists also play a significant role in this. It is no secret that responsible tourism always involves not paying rock-bottom prices; because in order to pay a fair wage to their staff, agencies need more money and the same goes for not overloading the animals, which means using more of them, which of course is costly. And as far as the environment is concerned, picking up your rubbish takes time and effort and carrying toilet tents adds weight to the donkeys’ load.

The situation in Huaraz is very interesting. Although the cost of living increases yearly, some agencies manage to lower their prices (don’t forget that these prices are extremely low to start with) and this to please some tourists who are endlessly hunting for the lowest possible fare. It seems that a large proportion of the tourists coming to Huaraz is more concerned about paying little money for a trip rather than travelling responsibly. That is a shame.

The problems run quite deep. In Peru, people don’t speak out about problems; it seems that everyone prefers to ignore them. Many people think that I’m very dramatic when I talk about the state of the tourist industry; few are the ones who acknowledge the problems, and fewer still who want to do something about them. Well, I will carry on speaking out about these issues, because in order to change things, one must first acknowledge the problem. And I hope I can convince some people working in the tourist industry to treat their staff, pack animals and tourists with more respect. Some tourists do go the responsible way and try to put an end to human and animal exploitation in the Huaraz tourist industry, as well as preserving the beautiful mountains that they so enjoy.

10. What sites or activities do you recommend (or not) to our readers?

There are so many fantastic sites around Huaraz, that it is difficult to just recommend a few. If you like trekking, the Huayhuash trek is a must. For day hikers, Lake 69 is fantastic. The summit views from Mount Pisco are hard to beat. Seeing the extraordinary Puya Raimondii plant is another one of the region’s highlights. The little-explored Conchucos Valley is full of cultural, archaeological and natural treasures, yet very few people know about it. For those with a sense of adventure, plenty of time and a love of being off-the-beaten track, this is the place to be. And little Lake Wilcacocha is a real gem, offering some of the most impressive panoramic views of the Cordillera Blanca.

11. If you were to become the Mayor of Huaraz one day, what would you do or change?

Many things can be done to improve the town. I would build enclosures to put the rubbish in, that would prevent dogs from making such a mess; sort out the dog problem (too many stray dogs); plant more trees (there is too much concrete in the town); employ qualified and motivated people at the municipality instead of relatives and friends (which should make things far more efficient); stop corruption (although this is much easier said than done as corruption is so engrained in all levels of Peruvian society); stop annoying people trying to go about their business and concentrate on catching the real criminals; fix the roads (a lot has been done, but much work remains). I would also support initiatives such as rock-climbing competitions; Huaraz is Peru’s adventure capital, yet no one in town wants to support events like these!

12. Are you living the Peruvian dream (explain)?

I am not sure the Peruvian dream really exists. In some ways I guess it does, living on the doorstep of one of the world’s most magnificent mountain range is definitely something special, especially since access to the mountains is quick and easy, within an hour you are already there! That makes Huaraz a very attractive place. The chilled, less hurried pace of life is also a bonus, and the fact that you can just meet friends on the street and don’t have to plan meetings months in advance! I like the fact that life is spontaneous here. Having my own business is a luxury that I probably could not have if I lived in Europe. On the downside, life in Peru is by no means easy. Corruption, inefficiency, lack of infrastructures are making life difficult sometimes. When you have a business which relies so heavily on other people (guides, cooks, muleteers, porters, drivers) it is incredibly difficult to run it consistently in a professional manner. It is not impossible, I believe we manage very well despite the circumstances, but it certainly is incredibly hard work.

Work ethics here are very different from Europe, things generally do not run smoothly, but I guess that when you manage to succeed you can be proud of yourself, because you certainly do not get help from anyone here. Some people in Huaraz, especially in the tourist business, are remarkably selfish, short sighted and ignorant. But I guess I can say that overall living in Peru is more “dreamy” than “hellish”, the pros by far outweigh the cons, otherwise I wouldn’t live here! The fact that people in general are less materialistic than in Europe and live a more simple life is very good and important to me. Every time I go back to Europe I am saddened to see how reliant on and obsessed by material things people are. Being close to nature is extremely good for the soul!

13. How do you see your future in Huaraz?

I am 100% happy to live in Huaraz and so I plan to live here for a very long time.

Thanks for your time

Are you an expat living in Huaraz? Contact us for an interview and be the first in our 2014 edition!

Also: read our previous expat in Huaraz interviews:

  • Part 5 with Mario Holenstein from Switzerland
  • Part 4 with Diana Morris from Canada
  • Part 3 with Danaan Lahey from the States
  • Part 2 with Patrick Bertrand from France
  • Part 1 with Sabine Honig from the Netherlands



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