The Literal and Metaphorical Clouds of Lima

Samantha Matta is a student at Arizona State University and an ISA Featured Blogger. She is studying abroad with ISA in Lima, Peru.

Anyone know where I can find some Vitamin D supplements? I have been in Lima for a short time, but as an Arizona native I am already longing for the sun. Peru’s capital is overcast and humid, starkly different from my bright, dry heat. I have seen the sun but twice, aside from our trip to Cusco where the constant sunshine reinvigorated me. As a biochemistry major, the analytical part of my mind mused: What is the cause of this constant drape of gloom? Why is this foreign sun still painting my cheeks red with burn, yet never showing its face? It was time to do some research.

Peru is a coastal desert of many micro-climates, hugged by the Andes Mountain Range and the Pacific Ocean. Winds blow from east to west over the Andes, offering snow and rain to the eastern side of the mountain range but leaving a dry, gloomy drape over the western side. The Humboldt current, or Peru current, does not provide moisture either, leaving one explanation for the hair-frizzing, bone-chilling humidity—the Garúa. The Garúa is a sheet of clouds that make their appearance in the wintertime, shielding the glow of the sun while still allowing the strong UV rays to pass through. Pack your sunscreen!


Certain troubles of the country parallel the dismal atmosphere. From what I have witnessed so far, the darkest cloud currently looms over the education system. In both Cusco and Lima, we observed strikes of hundreds of teachers that have been ongoing for over 60 days. In total, over 20,000 teachers are involved in the movement. The effort is valiant—yet the government is reluctant to comply, and students are out of school. The result is a senseless stand-still in both the schools and the system.

This crisis is not just limited to Cusco and Lima. We met Roy in Ollantaytambo, the historic rest point between Cusco and Machu Picchu. Dressed in the traditional red clothing of his village, he offered to sing us songs in Quechua, an indigenous Peruvian language. He then spoke to us in both English and Spanish about his town and what he was doing. We were thrilled! But we soon learned that this trilingual student was there with us at that moment because he had been out of school for weeks.

Despite this crisis, hope is strong among the loving and good-spirited Peruvian people. Our tour guide Valentín offered Roy un sol for singing, and told him “Compra un libro” (buy a book). I asked Valentín if he thought he actually would and he was surprised by my question. He said of course—their town was one of honor and respect. Peru has so much good—gorgeous and diverse landscapes, an abundance of natural resources, delicious cuisine and kind people. Yes, every country has their flaws, and definitely, some are worse than others. But no matter how overcast the sky is, the sun comes out no matter what.

The winter sunset in Lima, Peru.

The world awaits…discover it.

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