Category Archives: #Peru

Arequipa Perú in Pocas Palabras

Our adventure in Arequipa, Perú, has ended, and so I would like to sum up our experience there in a few words (pocas palabras).

Rocoto Relleno — Possibly the most common dish in Arequipa, this spicy stuffed pepper is delicious.

San Camino Market — The largest market in the center of town is a great place to find bargains and cheap produce.

Purple Corn Juice (Chicha) — Served everywhere.

Alpaca Yarn — Perú is famous for this soft yarn.

Ceviche — Though Arequipa is two hours from the coast, this fresh fish that is marinated (or “cooked”) in lemon and/or lime juice is a staple.

Traffic — Arequipa has grown rapidly in the last 10 years, and the roads are not well equiped to handle the increase in traffic.

Papaya and Mango — My two favorite local fruits, and I will miss them.

Sun — Shines virtually every day this time of year.

Cheese Ice Cream — Yum!

Inka Terraces — Farming the Inka way is still commonly done thanks to the many terraces left behind by this native community.

Potatoes — There are seemingly dozens of varities.

Combis — Vans and buses packed with commuters that clog the streets.

Aji — The national spice of Perú, and in different varieties.

Plaza de Armas — The central square and park.

Drinkable Yogurt — Many varieties and in large containers, however low-fat and low-sugar versions are scarce.

Walking — Without exaggeration I walked well more than 100 miles a month while there.

Menu del Día — The daily lunch menu of soup, entre, and beverage, all for as little as $2.

Vicuñas — The smallest of the camel family, these beautiful animals yield the most expensive yarn in the world.

Inka Cola — It’s yellow and tastes like cream soda, but it’s the most popular soda in Arequipa.

Catholic Church Buildings — They are all over town, including monasteries, parishes, and the grand cathedral that anchors the central square.

Bottled Water — That’s all I drank for two months after my early bought with Montezuma’s Revenge.

Pigeons — All over town.

Vea — Kind of like a mini Walmart, and my favorite grocery store.

Taxis — They dominate the streets.

Cheese — Several local and tasty varieties.

Slow Internet — Enough said.

Cornbread — Deliciosa!

Narrow Sidewalks — Always an adventure, but I won’t miss them.

Maca — This root vegetable that may only be found in Perú is purported to be a wonder food.

Club International — This sporting and exercise facility close to the center of town sits on about 5 acres right next to the river and it has just about everything you can imagine.

Coca — The leaves from which cocaine is made is all over town and used in teas, snacks, etc. … I would have loved to try it, but didn’t want to risk failing a job-related drug test back home.

Misti — One of the volcanoes that tower over Arequipa, it is your constant companion while there.

Buñuelos — A Peruvian donut drizzled in honey, need I say more?

Also posted in #Spanish

My Birthday Buddy Rodrigo

Today I went to Characato with a fellow English teacher and one of my adult students.  Characato is a small village and farming community on the outskirts of Arequipa, and it took about 40 minutes to get there travelling by two separate “combis.”
Combis are the public transportation system here in Arequipa and in many other Spanish American cities, although these vehicles have different names in different places.  A combi can be any vehicle that ranges in size from a small van to a bus, but all of them have many seats intalled in them.  And although it seems that anyone with a vehicle with seats in it can call themselves a combi and start transporting people around the city, I am told that the system is somewhat regulated and that combis are assigned to various routes and even have schedules (although I find that a bit hard to believe).  Today when our combi arrived at the same location at the same time as another combi, there was a shouting match between the two drivers and between the two driver helpers.  Our combi was evidently the offending party, and so the other combi blocked for a few minutes our progress forward, and also created a traffic jam in the process which illicited lots of honking from the cars and other vehicles behind us.  Eventually, the other combi wedged its way into trafffic as the light turned red, and we were left behind to wait for the light to turn green again.
In any case, the combis all have their route name listed in the front windshield, and as the combi rolls into a stop zone the driver helper hangs out the side of the combi calling out their route name in order to attract as many passengers as possible.  You can also get a combi to stop for you virtually anywhere by sticking your arm straight out toward the street.  Most of the time when you get in a combi it is already packed with people like sardines in a can, so you have to stand up and grab a bar or a seat or another passenger or whatever you can find to grab, and then hold on for dear life.  Also, the drivers don´t look back to see if everyone is seated before darting forward, as I was reminded today while I was in the process of entering a seat to share with an elderly man … the combi darted forward before I was seated, and I landed in the lap of the elderly man.  When you exit the combi, or should I say squeeze out of the combi, you pay the combi driver helper 80 Peruvian centavos (which is about 25 U.S. cents).
Characato was literally a breath of fresh air.  After a month spent in a fairly busy part of town where there are dozens of black-smoke-belching combis, tour buses, cars, etc., passing by all day long, it was nice to get out of town for the day and smell cow and sheep manure instead.  (It seems odd to say that I welcomed the smell of shit).  Nonetheless, we walked along the country roads and enjoyed the beautiful views of farmland that reaches all the way to the mountains, and those same mountains provide the melting snow that waters the entire area through an irrigation system that was built thousands of years ago by early inhabitants.  All around us we could see tier upon tier upon tier of growing plots that cascade up the mountains.
When we got back to the town of Characato we had the good fortune of finding a food fair being held on the central plaza, and we shared 3 plates of local “typical” dishes such as stuffed spicy peppers, seasoned rice with duck, cheesy scalloped potatoes, yummy potato fritters made with spinach and onion, 3 glasses of red corn juice, and the pastry that Characato is famous for– buñuelo, a kind of donut with honey drizzled on top.
On the way back to Arequipa a woman got in our combi with her grandson in tow, and since there were no more available seats she sat down next to me on the center console of the combi.  We were indeed packed in that combi like sardines, and since me and grandma were practically sitting on each others laps, I just put my arm around the lady in order to better brace her and me from all the jostling in the combi as we sped down the bumpy roads while swaying from side to side as the combi turned and dipped and swerved and whatnot.  When the grandson saw me put my arm around his grandma, he piled into her lap right beside me and gave me a big smile.  I heard him say the word “English,” and so I asked him in English if he knew how to speak English.  Well, as it turns out this 9 year-old only knew only a few English words, so I started chatting with him in Spanish while asking him all the normal things — what´s your name?, how old are you?, etc., all while grandma sat beside me smiling broadly.  So then I asked my little buddy Rodrigo his birthday, and it was great fun to discover that we were both born on December 20.  Everyone around us was enjoying seeing us two chat and become fast friends, but soon it was time to get off the combi.  Grandma and Rodrigo got off at the same stop, but alas our next combi was different than the one they were waiting for, and as we drove off we could see Rodrigo waving vigorously at us from the curb, so we jumped out of our seats and waved back at him out the back window of our combi.  If I experienced nothing else interesting for the rest of my time here in Arequipa, that chance encounter with my Birthday Buddy Rodrigo already makes the whole trip worthwhile.  Here is a picture of me with Rodrigo and his grandma.


El Peluquero – The Barber

My Dad will be 84 years old in a few months, and as far as I know he still cuts hair occasionally … which means that he has been a barber for close to 60 years.
Obviously, I didn´t have to pay for a haircut until after I left home at age 18 to go to college, but even then I timed my trips home for a few years to save some money by getting my hair cut while I was in Toledo.  Nonetheless, my trips back to Toledo soon became infrequent, and as I moved from Ohio to Tennessee to Texas while completing my college and graduate studies, I would always look for the cheapest haircut I could find.
In 1987 about halfway through my studies in Abilene, Texas, I found a barber who cut my hair for $4.  That old feller was 90 years old if he was a day, and I don´t really know if he only charged me $4 because his hands shook so bad or because he had not raised his rates in quite awhile.  In any case, he hacked me up pretty bad.  It just so happened that I was in Toledo not long after getting that haircut, and my Dad took one look at me and said, “How much did you pay for that haircut?”  And after I told him that I only paid $4, he said “Well you paid $4 too much!”  So then my Dad kindly fixed my haircut at no charge.
That $4 haircut remained my king of cheap haircuts for a long time, and as time passed by it looked like it would never be beaten and remain the all-time cheapest haircut … until I got my haircut today in Perú.  Today I got my haircut near the central market for only 4 Peruvian soles, which on the exchange means that I paid about $1.43.  Now that´s what I´m talking about!
I may have received a comparably priced haircut about 3 years ago while in Guatemala, but as I recall it was about $2.50 on the exchange.  But from now on, $1.43 for a haircut is the new benchmark and it will be tough to beat, and my Peruvian haircut was a full professional haircut that included whitewalls and a shaved neck with a brand new blade.  The barber shop, or peluquería, looked like a space that had been carved out of the side of a building, but who cares!  The peluquería had two barber chairs, and even some seating for those waiting for a haircut, and there was also barber-shop-like banter going on between the other peluquero and his client.
Of course, if I had paid for the amount of hair he cut off, I probably would have paid more.  When I sat down in the chair the peluquero asked me (as all good barbers do) how I would like my hair cut, and I told him “solo un poco” … which to me meant I wanted only a little taken off.  But evidently he thought that I meant “leave only a little” because he kept cutting and cutting and cutting.  At one point I could feel myself tense up while thinking, “Please stop snipping,” but I quickly realized that there was nothing I could do at that point, so I relaxed and I resigned myself to fate.  When he was done I gave him a 50% tip, which means I paid him 6 Peruvian soles which still is only $2.14 on the exchange.
Before I left I whipped out my camera and I held it at arm´s length to take a photo of me with my Peruvian Peluquero.  Unfortunately, I forgot to ask him his name, but he will forever be remembered by me as the provider of the cheapest haircut I ever had … at least the cheapest I can remember having to pay for.  I hope that my Dad does not have to fix it.  

Montezuma´s Revenge

Montezuma was Emperor of the Aztec Empire in modern day Mexico from 1502 to 1520, and he was in power when the Spanish began their conquest of the Aztec lands. And since no one likes to see their country overrun by foreign invaders, evidently Montezuma is committed to forever seeking revenge on us foreigners who invade or just VISIT what was once Aztecan.

Moreover, he seems to have extended his “revenge zone” throughout all of Mexico, Central America, and South America … and I expect that this revenge zone could also include states (or parts of states) that were once part of Mexico, including the entire states California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, as well as parts of Wyoming, Colorado, Oklahoma and Kansas.

That´s a wide swath of land!

So I´m not sure what I did to trigger Montezuma´s wrath all the way down here in Arequipa, Perú, which is at least 3000 miles away from where Montezuma reigned, but evidently I did something to really piss him off.

But I´m here to tell you that you don´t have to take it without putting up a fight … that you don´t have to take it sitting down … that though you may have been caught with your pants down, you don´t have to stay there … that you can turn a lemon into lemonade … that you can find rainbows in the clouds … and that ultimately you can send that negative, ahem, stuff right back where it came from.

I have done SO MUCH reading this week on the can. I´ve read an entire Spanish-language National Geographic Magazine … I can tell you about recently discovered secrets of the Mayas, about the life of a lion in Tanzania, and about the rise of the sugar industry throughout the world. I´ve read backwards and forwards the brochure on Arequipa´s Cathedral Museum. I´ve read the bulletin from last Sunday´s Catholic mass at least 3 times. I´ve listened to audiobooks on my iPod, and I´ve even prepared English lesson plans. This has been a very productive week, and all this reading is really strange for me because I have not been a voracious reader like my lovely wife, but for the past week I would say that my reading prowess has been on par with the best of them.

The other thing is that this cataclysm has been great for my diet. A few years ago I finally lost the extra 15-20 lbs that I had been carrying around for several years, but before coming to Peru I was inching back toward the 180s. Not to worry … my buddy Montezuma came to the rescue (or revenge). I didn´t even want to look at food for about 3 days, and when I dared to put even a few morsels into the system, I gurgled like a bowling pot overflowing on the stove … I bubbled like lava bubbling up from a hot crater … I rumbled like a locomotive trying to cross a mountain vertically … I growled like a tiger who hasn´t eaten in a week. I was afraid that I might wake up the neighborhood! Not only did I gurgle and bubble and rumble and growl, but I gave it all I had! If there was anything in me, it´s now long gone! I probably could have walked into a colonoscopy clinic and convinced them to give me the procedure on-the-spot. Surely I weigh less now than when I arrived 3 weeks ago, and I´d like to thank my buddy Montezuma for all his help.

Okay, Montezuma, you´ve had your revenge on me … in spite of the fact that I never did anything to you … please note that I am just down here teaching English, that I´m trying to HELP PEOPLE, and also doing a little exploring … and I might suggest that this little game of revenge you´ve been playing for God-knows-how-many-centuries is getting a little old … and I´d like to mention that there´s a little thing called karma, you know … that perhaps it´s time for you to start collecting a few reading materials yourself, eh? … and even though you may not want to hear this, I think that you´ve been looking a little pudgy around the waistline lately … so it is high time that you shave off a few of those donuts … how ´bout a little of your own medicine? … and we´ll just see if you TOO can keep a positive attitude while walking through the fire … so whatchu think of that _ _ _ _ , Big Boy?

P.S. Here´s a few photos from Perú,, and you know where you can stick them!

My Journey to Peru

My journey to Peru started on Thursday night when Maple and I left Prescott to travel to Phoenix in order to spend the night with family.  Sheri was in Orlando on business travel.  The next morning Maple stayed in Phoenix, and I drove our car to the airport and parked it in long-term parking where Sheri retrieved it later that day when she arrived from Florida.  During the day my Sweetie and I were in the air at the same time, but alas in different airplanes.

I flew from Phoenix to Houston, and then from Houston to Lima, Peru.  When I arrive on an international flight in a foreign country, it feels like I am in a funnel because I feel compelled to follow the crowd toward the immigration and customs offices, especially if I have a connecting flight to catch. However, on this day I arrived late at night in Lima, and my next flight was not until the next morning.  Even so, I followed the funnel into the line at passport check-in which leads to immigration.

The immigration line at Lima was a bit of a cluster – you never know what you will find when you arrive in country at immigration. Sometimes the signage is excellent and the lines are organized, and you can pick which line you enter in the hope that you pick a fast line.  Other times the whole crowd enters one line that snakes back and forth interminably until you finally get to pick a line.  What makes it even more fun is when 2 or 3 international flights arrive at the same time, and then all of us foreigners try to get in the snake line at the same time, and at some point (sometimes, but not always) the immigration security personnel notice the traveler overload and start breaking the snake line at various places in order to create shortcuts.  At that point some people in the back of the snake line who arrived last will sprint to the open shortcut lines, and it becomes sort of a free-for-all.  At some point you find yourself in a line with some idea of how many people are in front of you.  I always have my iPod in my pocket during this process so that I can tune-out and remain tranquil as possible, especially if I have chosen a line with an immigration officer that appears to be eating a snack, brushing his teeth, checking email, or whatever, in between processing the next traveler in line.  I just listen to my iPod, and before I know it I am next in line.  It took me about 40 minutes to get through immigration at Lima.

After passing through immigration, my journey through the customs area was a breeze … I walked up to a security checkpoint and put my bag through the screening machine, and, after they looked me over, I was on my way.  At that point I looked for the airport lounges I had discovered online while still in Arizona, which sounded really nice because for about $30 you could get access to a secured area where you could use a computer on the internet, lay on a couch and rest, and one of the lounges even had a shower you could use. However, after passing through immigration and customs, I discovered that the lounges were INSIDE the terminal I had just left … that is, if such lounges do exist.  And the problem I had was that I did not have a boarding pass for my next flight, from Lima to Arequipa on Peruvian Airlines … this airline requires international passengers to check-in at their desk in the main lobby in order to get a boarding pass.  It was now about 11:30 PM, my flight was not until 6:00 AM the next morning, and the Peruvian Airlines check-in desk would not be opening again until 4:00 AM. Moreover, without a boarding pass I could not get back into the terminal I had just left in order to lounge at one of the lounges in a soft and comfy lounge chair.  Fortunately, the airport at Lima is not a desolate and dark place during the night, for there were several 24-hour stores including McDonalds, Papa John`s, Radio Shack, jewelry stores, various cafes, and other stores.  There were plenty of people and plenty of activity all night long, including entire families with small children hanging out in the food court.  At about 1:00 AM (way past my bedtime) I finally laid down on the tile floor right beside the chapel figuring that if someone wanted to mess with me they would have to do in front of GOD, not to mention in front of all the security personnel that frequent the hallways all night.  I kind of fastened my bag to my person, and then laid my head down on the bag, and I slept for about an hour until the cold tile floor woke me up at about 2:00 AM.  I wandered around the airport until 3:45 AM, and then got in line for the Peruvian Airlines check-in desk … I was about 10th in line.  Finally, I got my boarding pass, and then went through Security again in order to get back into the terminal … and I headed immediately to my gate. I was so weary at that point that I forgot to investigate whether those lounges do exist, those with the comfy lounge chairs, and my flight to Arequipa left on time at 6:00 AM.

The ticket agent had given me seat 1A on Peruvian Airlines, and I assumed that he had put me in first class because I took the time to speak to him in Spanish, ask him about his work and family, etc.  But what I discovered is that first class does not exist on Peruvian Airlines, and I found myself at the head of the class sitting almost in the flight attendant chambers.  I had the opportunity to be the first passenger to greet every other passenger who boarded the plane.  It was wonderful.  We arrived in Arequipa, Peru, and we descended the staircase onto the tarmac just like we used to do in the olden days.  It was a beautiful, sunny day and I was struck by the site of the volcanoes nearby that overlook the city, so I stopped on the tarmac to pull out my camera in order to take pictures.  After snapping some photos, most of the other passengers had passed by me in order to enter the terminal (which looked like it was once a large factory or something), and suddenly I could feel eyes on me.  I looked over and, sure enough, security guards standing on the tarmac were staring at me as if to say, ¨What the________ is that Americano doing?”  So I quickly put away my camera and scurried toward the terminal.  At the entrance to the terminal there was a security guard who was handling an adorable golden retriever … and I thought to myself, “What a cute dog they have to check for drugs.”  So I smiled at the guard and also at the dog, but before I could walk past them the cute doggie buried its snout in my groin area … and I froze.  When I travel internationally I travel light, with a backpack on my back and a fanny pack around my waste.  Whereas I would normally have the fanny pack behind me at my waste, when I am in a crowd I move it around to the front of me to discourage any potential pick-pockets from trying to sneak open one of the zippers on the fanny pack.  So the cute doggie had buried its nose into my fanny pack that was in front of me at my waste, and the security guard said to me, “Tiene fruta?” (Do you have fruit?). I said “No,” and then he beckoned me to follow him to the Security desk.  The two guards seated at the desk asked me the same question, and then asked me to open my fanny pack.  I pulled out the red and orange bell peppers that I had been snacking on while travelling, as well as my Costco Korean Barbecue-flavored Pork Jerky, and I said something like “Puedo dejar estascosas aquí” (I can leave these things here). They looked at my food and said, “Está bien” (It`s OK), and then let me leave the terminal.  Fortunately, the cute doggie and its handler had returned to their station because no doubt what the doggie smelled was the dried mango I still had in my fanny pack … honest to Goodness, I had forgotten that I still had some of that mango in my fanny pack.  Outside after I discovered that I still had mango I briefly thought about going back in, but then thought I had better not do that. Many countries forbid foreign fruits, vegetables, plants, and seeds from entering the country to prevent contamination of the existing environment with non-native plants.  Nonetheless, I did enjoy the rest of my contraband mango.

In contrast to Spain where no one was waiting for me at the airport and I had to wander into the city`s transportation system without knowing where to go exactly, in Arequipa the English Center´s academic coordinator was waiting for me outside the terminal.  After waiting for another English teacher who arrived on the next flight, we grabbed a taxi and we were on our way to the rental house where I had a room waiting for me.  “Grabbed a taxi” is not really an accurate way to say what happened, for it was more like one of the dozens of waiting taxi drivers grabbed us … in the 45 minutes we waited for the next flight to arrive, I must have been approached by at least 7 taxi drivers looking to take me anywhere.  I am renting a bedroom witha private bath in a home with about 6 or 7 such bedrooms, and the monthly rate is around $200.  As I understand it, the owner is a somewhat well-known historian and musician who has written about 25 books and also does singing engagements … one of my fellow teachers described him as a Peruvian Frank Sinatra.  After doing some shopping and wandering around town, I went back to my room and fell fast asleep at about 3:00 in the afternoon … I woke up again at 11:00 PM, and fortunately after being up for about an hour or two, I fell back asleep again until about 8:00 AM the next day.

I will conclude with just a little bit about my first week of classes, which was not without excitement.  Monday through Friday I am teaching an advanced English class from 7:00 AM until 9:00 AM, and then I have a beginner class from 3:00 PM until 5:00 PM (and when I say¨beginner” I mean beginner, we started with the letters of the alphabet), and finally I have an upper intermediate class from 5:00 PM until 7:00 PM.  To start in a new English teaching system is fairly involved because you are required not only to know and follow the various rules and regulations of the school, but you also have to figure out how to use all the materials that they dump in your lap. During my first week in class I went home immediately after the last class to have dinner before going to bed early, and I was up early every day to prepare for my 7:00 AM class.  Then I did some exploring, shopping, etc, before returning to school about 1:00 PM or so to prepare for my two afternoon classes.  Honestly, I was hoping that they would not give me a fourth class, which would be a class with small children or teenagers on Saturday from 9:00 AM until 11:30AM … if the class did not fill by 9:00 PM on Friday with at least 4 students, it would be cancelled.  But alas, I found out late Friday that the Saturday class had been filled, so at that point I received another stack of class materials to prepare for the next morning.  I was really tired Friday night, so I arose early on Saturday to prepare my lesson plan … and about 5 minutes into my class on Saturday I discovered that the course materials they gave me the night before were not the correct course materials for this class, so after scrambling around for awhile I was given the correct materials and I just kind of winged it that first day with a group of 5 very energetic, distracted, fanatically texting, teenagers … the kind of kids that I thoroughly enjoy.  I had them spell-bound with the past progressive tense, the conditional perfect tense, and about 8 other English tenses … but not too spell-bound, for I discovered that these almost-teens are pretty sharp.  It should be fun.

That´s all for now … espero que todo esté bien en su vida (I hope that all is well in your life).