A Shih Tzu in Peru: Part One
Hey, all! Today Helen Fazio, a longtime Dogster contributor and world traveler, is sharing the first in a two-part series about her recent visit to Peru with her trusty traveling partner, Raja. Helen has a ton of experience traveling to far-off places with her dog, so if you have any questions at all about dogs and travel, please feel free to leave them in the comments! — The Editors
There are lots of dogs in Peru, but the thought of visiting the country with my Shih Tzu, Raja, was somehow more daunting than going to, say, France with him. But why should that be? Raja has traveled far and wide and had even visited Perus neighbor, Chile, on a previous trip.
Lima, a perpetually overcast capital on the Pacific Coast, would be our first destination. Lima is like all capitals — sprawling and filled with exhaust — but we were to stay in the less chaotic Miraflores district, so no problems there. Residents of Lima walk their dogs through the urban landscape with a short leash and a plastic bag in hand, occasionally.
The next destination was to be Cusco, the oldest city in the Western Hemisphere with a history that goes back 1,100 years to pre-Incan occupation. Cusco has survived the rise of the Incas, the destruction and reconstruction of the Spanish, and many, many earthquakes.
It sits up in the Andes at 12,000 feet above sea level. The air is so thin for sea-level dwellers that you have to stop and pant every five steps. Your eyes become perpetually red; you are easily dehydrated and nauseated. Guidebooks told us Cusco was filled with bands of fierce street dogs, so you can imagine my apprehension. My intrepid Shih Tzu is an expert at companionability and stoic travel — but hes a lover, not a fighter, so I could see him, red-eyed and panting, running from the yapping hordes.
Finally, we would take a train to Aguas Calientes, a country town that has grown up around the tourism of Machu Picchu, the famous Incan citadel. Aguas Calientes has the reputation of having nothing to offer except inadequate lodging and more street fighter dogs, usually rabid. But you have to be there, at least for a few hours, if you want to see Machu Picchu. (And we did, as I'll show you in part two of our journey.)
So why not just leave him at home? For us, when it comes to Raja, thats not an option. He takes his job as companion seriously. Hed be the worse for having been left, and Id be much the worse for having left him. Hes my climbing partner, my shopping buddy, and my muse. Im convinced my Shih Tzu retains his nomadism and high-altitude hardiness from his Tibetan roots. Raja will actually block the door if you try to get a suitcase out without him.
So how did it go?
Cusco is the most maligned town in the world as far as dog culture is concerned. There are thousands of dogs there. Most of them do prowl the streets, but they are dogs with owners or local caretakers. Rather than being mean, they are gentle and nonaggressive, which makes sense. Come on, would the Cusqueos actually have dogs who bite kids roaming about? The Cusqueos often put jackets on their pets in the evening to keep out the chill of the 45-degree nights. Yes, Peru is the land of the dressed-up dog! We saw several little girl dogs trotting about in dresses.
Raja was almost too popular. Residents of Cusco in folkloric regional dress would come pat and snuggle with him. They didnt even ask for permission. They just gravitated into his space. People wanted to hold him. Just like New Yorkers, they asked for his stats: "Cul es su nombre, edad, y pes, por favor?" Name, age, and weight, please.
He made friends with Pelusa (a Peke), Shadow (a Cocker mix), and Marlon Brando (a Lab) who passed the time outside his hotel. He met a Shih Tzu girl named Kiwicha, and now they are Facebook friends. (The Incas considered Cusco to be the navel of the world; modern Cusqueos dont like to miss out.) He made friends with every single schoolchild walking home in the afternoon. He made friends with the entire staff of the historic and charming Tambo del Arriero hotel in Cusco, which we highly recommend for all readers.
In Aguas Calientes, you know — the supposed town of no culture and bad dogs — Raja had a blast. Local dogs welcomed him. He met an Incan Hairless dog, Belleza, of Gringo Bills Hotel. She thought Raja was much too hairy a guy for her, but the hotel is a local maverick and if you go, you should definitely stay there.
Local dogs often dress up for the evening "passagato." People asked us why Raja didnt have a coat, wasnt he cold? We explained that he comes from a climate of hot summers and cold winters, and hes very furry. They still fretted. When he visited the local Jardin Botanico of rare, endangered Peruvian orchids, the caretaker said, Por favor, let him walk, hes nature too.
That said, two challenging things did happen on this trip:
First, Raja refused to eat the high-end canned food we had brought for him. We created a diet of local chicken or beef and, what else, the famous Peruvian potatoes. That he liked, but it was always a negotiation explaining to restaurants that we wanted to pay for human-grade meat, cooked just for him. Local dogs eat leftovers and scraps, but we had to avoid tummy troubles. Restaurants would have fed him for free, but it might not have been a mild-enough diet.
Second, taking the LAN jet back from Cusco to Lima, we encountered security staff members who insisted Raja had to fly in cargo. We had to take our vaccination papers to the main office and refer local staff to the LAN website that specifically says small dogs may fly in cabin. It was a scary moment, I admit. When you travel remotely, please know your rights and stand your ground. Provincial airline staff like the opportunity to be officious and are less-informed. Special thanks to the woman at the ticket counter who efficiently reestablished Rajas air rights.
I loved Peru, and I loved having Raja with me in Peru. The trip was better with him because, as always, he bridged the gaps of nationality, culture, and language and made many friendships for us as we journeyed with him to our intended destination, Machu Picchu. (Come back tomorrow to read about Raja's Machu Picchu adventure.)
Editor's Note: Part 2 of Raja's adventure is over here.
About the Author: Helen Fazio and her dog, Raja, blog on pet travel and related topics at www.traveldogbooks.com. In their first book, The Journey of the Shih Tzu, Raja tells the wolf-to-woof story of the development of this amazing breed. They are working on forthcoming titles.