A Bit Pisco Sour

We passed an interesting, enjoyable, if rather hot, long weekend in Pisco at the end of November. Some 300km south of Lima, Pisco has 3 main claims to fame: the Peruvian national drink is a cocktail named Pisco Sour; Pisco was a site of importance in the fight for independence from Spanish colonial rule in the early 1820’s; and sadly, more recently it was the town worst hit by a magnitude 8 earthquake that hit off the coast of central Peru on 15 August 2007 around 6.40pm, from which it has yet to fully recover. The pics below (click to expand) were taken in the vicinity of Ave San Martin, on the 20minute walk from Pisco’s Plaza Mayor to the seafront, the closer to the sea, the greater the damage and the larger the areas yet to be rebuilt or fully repaired. Peru of course sits squarely on the Pacific Rim of Fire!

This earthquake, and the subsequent mini-tsunami that rolled into a part of the coast, destroyed or severely damaged some 75+% of Pisco’s buildings, hundreds died & many more were injured. (See more info and maps). The initial relief effort was chaotic & poorly organised. Written reports acknowledge this, and we soon realised from locals’ comments that they believed some sectors of local society had benefited more than others from the reconstruction, and that the working class/indigenous people were left to make do. Indeed it has become apparent that the majority of Peruvians see their society as utterly corrupt, from the top politicians & big business down to the local motorbike cops who’ll take a bribe to ignore a minor traffic infringement.

The centre of Pisco around the Plaza Mayor has been largely rebuilt/repaired where necessary. The cathedral, that overlooks the Plaza, and which collapsed at the time of the earthquake (killing over a dozen & injuring some 150 who were inside), has of course been built anew. The better & more structurally sound properties suffered the least. But the typical 1 or 2 storey home, usually with just single brick walls (at best!), and roofs made of poles/matting/adobe or mortar (it never rains here), didn’t stand a chance. Many of Pisco’s 20,000+ population still live in falling down homes or shacks made of matting & metal sheets. To us it seemed many people remained sad and have not fully recovered (not surprisingly!), but have a resigned acceptance to their fate. Perhaps many suffer PTSD still?

Notwithstanding all this, Pisco was a fairly busy, and friendly town, with some lively street-life especially in the evenings when street food-stalls get busy & the kids and youth wander about. We were told most people have some work, and there is a fair bit of industry outside the town near the windy & dusty coast. We saw only a handful of other gringo tourists, as nearly all make for the more expensive urbanisation ‘resort’ of Paracas 20km south, but people paid us little attention, and we were polite & respectful when we could interact. We found an excellent, great value hostel near the main plaza, with cool rooms, a shaded patio garden, shared kitchen area and fine breakfasts. Staff were friendly, helpful and all female.

Pisco’s history & role in Peruvian independence was also intriguing. The Argentinian, General San Martin, who invaded from Chile, landed his forces just outside Pisco. The actual Declaration of Independence was made in the city of Ica, an hour away (and still the main grape growing region). Martin eventually met up with the Venezualan General Bolivar, who’d invaded from the north, near Lima. However their idea of independence meant control passed from the Spanish Empire, to the ‘creoles’ – the sons of Spanish migrants & soldiers of fortune. The majority indigenous people had no say, and not a lot has changed since – that struggle continues, slowly. Pisco’s still damaged seafront/promenade is littered with statues of key military figures from independence through the various wars fought in the 19th century with other recently independent countries like Ecuador & Chile.

So if you go south of Lima do go to Pisco and spend your money there! There is plenty to do in & around the area, the seafront is worth a visit with good walks to the north, and there are plenty of affordable hostels, bars, shops and eateries in town – even the vegetarians will find something!

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