Peru is full of little white vans.
Some of them are collectivos--communal taxis that Peruvians share for short hops from town to town, convenient local shuttle buses.
And some are not. Throughout the county, huge fleets of pearly white tourists vans ship travellers from famous location to famous location. How much you rely on these buses (usually attached to tour agencies) is up to you, though it's unlikely you'll be able to escape spending at least some time in one. And even if you do, you'll find the vans cluttered around all the county's most postcard-worthy landmarks.
Recently, the Peruvian president announced plans to double the country's tourist intake over the next five years. It's a move that makes sense--like Chile's mining and Bolivia's... less profitable mining... tourism is at the core of Peru's economy. A developing country with so many natural beauties can't afford to keep them tucked away, especially when much of the country's northern regions remain open to exploit.
Yet I'm reminded of something my guide said, during the Colca Canyon trek--lamenting the bygone days when tourists had to gather their own firewood to make camp on the hike, before there was proper accommodation for them to stop at.
"It was more adventure then," he said, "though it is still adventure now."
Peru is still adventure, bursting with natural wonders, historical treasures and challenging hikes. It's probably the easiest county in the world to pretend you're Indiana Jones in; vast, dramatic, and thick with the leftovers of mysterious bygone civilisations.
But for better or worse, it's not quite as adventurous as it used to be.
And it will be less so in the future.
> Prior to leaving Peru, I stopped off in the city of Pisco. Once a bustling tourist destination, it was devastated by an earthquake in 2007. It's infrastructure still hasn't recovered, with broken buildings and piles of rubble marring sooty streets. Most of its tourist services are gone now, having fled to nearby Paracas.
I was there for the pun--the chance to drink pisco in Pisco--and I found it, improbably, in a barber shop. Lured in by the promise of a cheap haircut, I let the barber hack away at my hair while taking swigs from an old coke bottle filled with clear liquid. When he shared a shot-glass of this liquid with me, I realised it was pisco.
It's the little experiences like this that I'll remember; backstreets and cities and the Peruvian people themselves. There was the lawyer I lived with in Cusco, who practiced law all day and played basketball all night. There was the dancing I did with a family in Paracas, who invited me to join a raucous birthday party. There were so many locals who showed me their towns, from paid guides to friendly strangers on the street.
Peru's natural wonders are incredible, not to mention numerous. But in the end, it isn't the white vans that will stick with me.
It's the people they drove past.