Costa, Sierra y Selva

Omna Peru in Tres Partes Divisa Est

Omna Peru in Tres Partes Divisa Est

Excuse the schoolboy Latin, but Peru, like Gaul, is divided into three parts: the coast, the mountains, and the jungle. In Spanish, that comes out as the Peruvian schoolkid mantra costa, sierra y selva. As you can see from the above map, the narrow coastal strip is the smallest of the three—and by far the most populated. It contains the largest cities, including the capital Lima. It is also the driest, being a northern extension of the Atacama Desert, where rainfall does not, for all practical purposes, ever occur.

When we think of Peru, we generally think of the Andes, which takes up the second largest chunk of Peruvian territory. Here are the tourist meccas of Cusco, Machu Picchu, and Lake Titicaca, as well as several isolated mountain metropolises like Arequipa, Huancayo, and Ayacucho. The locals here speak mostly Quechua and Aymara. This is the second most populated region.

Finally, there is the jungle. The mighty Amazon has its source in rivers flowing into the Marañon and Ucayali River systems from various parts of Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia. Here is two-thirds of the total land area of Peru, but only 11% of its population. Culturally, it is one of the most interesting parts of the country, but many (including myself) are deterred by Yellow Fever, Malaria, Dengue, and a whole host of tropical diseases.

If I went to Peru, I would concentrate on Lima and the high country between Lake Titicaca and Machu Picchu. (That is, if I don’t develop severe soroche. If I do, I might take a side trip to Northern Chile via Tacna and Arica.)

The Phantom Lands of Eastern Europe

Map of Galicia

If you’ve read any of the literature of Eastern Europe, you will see names of provinces and whole countries that you have difficulty in locating on a map. Names like Galicia (not to be confused with the Galicia region of Northwest Spain), Bukovina, Volhynia, Moldavia, Moldova (this one’s currently a country in its own right), Wallachia, and Silesia—just to name a few.

Most are pawns in the endless historical struggles between Russia, Poland, Germany, the old Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the Balkans. Most of the time, they were absorbed into an adjoining larger country (such as Wallachia into Romania), or split between countries (such as Galicia going to Poland, Russia, Austria, or the Ukraine). Only Moldova, the former Moldovan SSR ( Soviet Socialist Republic), is an independent nation today—at least for the time being.

Much of the problem is in the shifting borders affected by the partitions of Poland and the vagaries of fortune of the Ukraine, which was in recent history a political football between Poland, Germany, and Russia.

When one thinks about it, there are only a relatively few countries in the area that have maintained their independence, albeit with constantly shifting borders and political affiliations, over the centuries. Germany and Russia are two examples of relative stability, with just about everyone else being stretched, shrunk, or absorbed multiple times.

Much of the Eastern European emigration to the United States, Canada, and other Western countries is a result of this constant instability. It would be difficult for me to walk down certain streets in Los Angeles without encountering the children of immigrants from these phantom lands of Eastern Europe.