The Best Things About Expat Life in Lima – Or, It’s Always Avocado Season

In celebration of Peru’s independence days, “fiestas patrias,” (July 28 is independence day and July 29 is a holiday for the armed forces and police), here is my posting about what I think is great about living in Lima. As I did for some of the other places I have lived, I have already written about what I don’t like about living in Lima. Before living in Lima, I had visited more than five times as a tourist. The first time was immortalized in this blog posting. Now that I’ve been here for more than a food-frenzied weekend, the following things are what I like about living here.

The food scene: The restaurants. It seems like every week, there is a new restaurant opening, and thanks in great part to Gaston Acurio, the culinary scene has become part of the national identity. There are fancy-foamy-intellectual dining establishments, fast food franchises, family-run restaurants, neighborhood favorites, and hole-in-the-wall secrets.

The immigrants: This is one of the reasons that the food scene in Lima is great. Thanks to the Chinese (Chifa is a normal word here for a Chinese food and restaurant, and it is as ingrained in the local food choices as hamburgers), the Japanese (Nikkei is the word used for both the food style and the Japanese Peruvians — this month celebrating 120 years in Peru), the Italians, the Lebanese, and all the other immigrants who have been been contributing to the deliciousness in Lima. Thank you to the newest (those two Thai restaurant owners, those Pakistani and Indian guys, that American with the chocolate shop, and those three Swedish ladies, that Mexican guy, and the Venezuelans, and all of those others whom I have yet to discover… I’m looking at you, shawarma palace!). Plus, many of the Peruvians are domestic immigrants — from somewhere else in the country (bringing things like their delicious cheeses… which I’m told is called “country cheese”).

The Palta Fuerte (the palta fuerte is too delicate and buttery to be exported, I’m guessing): It is always avocado season. When buying an avocado, the vendor will ask the day and time that you plan to eat it so that they can sell you one that will be ripe at the precise moment that you plan to enjoy it. “Palta” is the word for avocado in Peruvian Spanish. No one in Peru says “aquacate” even if they may know what you are talking about. At a restaurant, you can ask for a side of palta and it’s totally normal, like asking for butter (but better).

The juice (plus fruit and produce in general): the lemonade (they offer it made with pureed lemongrass at most places), the passion fruit, the orange juice, the blackberry juice. Plus, the pineapples are delicious and the mangoes have a season (like Edwardian socialites). The Edward mango is especially yummy as it has fewer fibers.

The chocolate: Go to El Cacaotal. That is my one must-do for visitors, for newbies, for chocolate haters… now serving hot chocolate and coffee!

The cultural offerings and activities: cooking classes, chocolate tasting lessons, Cordon Bleu courses, surfing classes, dance schools, wine tasting lessons, the circus, theater productions, gyms, yoga, concerts, archery sessions, wine and paint classes, museums, open studio nights, expos, marathons, fairs, farmers markets, and almost any other activity that you can imagine in a metropolis (there is always something to do). Even comicon.

The walkability: they even have ciclovia. Yes, you can walk here. There are sidewalks, parks, and hiking trails.

The neighborhoods: I like that there are actual neighborhoods, farmers markets, barrios, districts, parks, malls (mega ultra modern and local “centro commerciales”), and the coast (its own microcosm).

The positive attitude toward expats/foreigners: Generally, as a foreigner, I don’t feel hate or suspicion from the locals. The Peruvians are,  generally, pro-American culture, and certainly pro-European culture. While most Peruvians don’t approach/talk to foreigners, they also don’t harass them and follow them around (as would happen in other countries where I have lived)… It’s funny, the little things one appreciates. As a foreigner, one can have a life here without being a circus act.

The security: I am completely amazed to see people out jogging, with headphones on, at night. Granted this is along the more patrolled streets but I am still amazed. Utterly. Amazed. Every. Single. Day. Really. Still. Ah-maze-ed.

The view of the ocean: Yes. It’s amazing. Beaches too. If one likes sand.

The public toilets: Almost all grocery stores and malls have public toilets. One has to remember to not flush the toilet paper, but, at least they have toilet paper, although, not always in the actual stall — so get it beforehand.

Delivery: Like in Bogota, almost anything can be delivered.

The taxi prices: $2 for a basic short ride of a few miles. Sometimes $7 for an hour’s ride.

Help: there is always someone to carry the groceries, the taxi drivers help with luggage, the doormen help with stuff, and domestic help is a normal part of life here. I’ll write more about that in a separate posting. Aside from the domestic cleaners, there are nannies, gardeners, drivers, porters, dog walkers, DJs, caterers, dishwashers, movers… you name it. I have an “event tech” whom I hire for parties. I may change that title to “event engineer” as engineer seems to be the new generic term for “trained” (I was chatting with a taxi driver who told me that he used to be a “production engineer” — he potted yogurt in a lab. He chose to drive a taxi because the yogurt potting only paid $670 per month, double the minimum wage, but he makes double that as a taxi driver, even though he works double the hours. But, at least, he is his own boss).

The prices for dental care: as with most things, one can pay lots of money for dental care, but one can also get good dental care for $17 (cleaning and checkup). But, if one wants to pay $170, one can. Many of the dentists have trained in other countries and their certifications in those countries may not be valid here.

The prices in general: from picture framing to groceries, to clothing alterations, to the above mentioned items.

And, did I mention the palta?

Whatsapp – Graffiti Painted Bike

Sometimes communication requires a different form of “technology” language… when I was getting a custom paint job on my bicycle in Bogota, it wasn’t just that I had to learn more Spanish, but I found that it was easiest to communicate with the store manager via Whatsapp. Acquiring a product like a painted bike requires ceaseless vigilance and dogged constant contact… hence Whatsapp messages, and then magically, two months later, a reality in my possession.

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An example of some of the graffiti one can see in Bogota

Yup, I did find it sort of strange but eventually, I gave in… what’s that? Yes, I got my bike painted in a graffiti style as a homage to Bogota. Not in time to use it on Ciclovia, and just in time to pack with my belongings when I moved from Colombia. So, my advice is that if you plan to get anything custom made in Bogota, work on 12 months before you depart.

120 Kilometers of Ciclovia

I did it! 120 kilometers of Bogota’s Ciclovia. Okay, almost all of it. The city continues to change the map. So I did what I could on the 2015 map.

The end, the end, the end, the end.
The end, the end, the end, the end.

Sometimes, I’d get to a part that seemed like a simple “stay straight” and follow the signs. Not so. I would get to a part of the marked route, and then nothing. The route would simply end like an appendix (in the body; not in a book). No real purpose (why do we have one?) and no reason for it to end. I’d go down and suddenly it would end. Then I’d have to turn around and go back on the same route I’d just biked down.

Stop.
Stop.

Having now spent many days on Ciclovia, I have three wishes:

  1. Provide toilets
  2. Provide opportunities for massages (along with the food stalls, bike repair stalls, brain exercise stalls, and entertainment pit stops)
  3. Make the Ciclovia employees have maps or at least know where they are…
  4. (okay, four) Make the roads connect!

My favorite parts have been down south. Much more to explore. Better prices.

Ciclovia, Every Sunday and Holiday From 7 – 2

Ciclovia blocking access to Septima, the main road of Bogota.
Ciclovia on Septima, the main road of Bogota.

Every Sunday and holiday, in Bogota, 120 kilometers (74 miles) of streets are closed to motor vehicles. It’s called Ciclovia and although there are now Ciclovias all over the world, it was invented here in Colombia in 1974.

There are lots of signs with advice.
There are lots of signs with advice.

Bogotanos love to exercise.  Every day, the weather is always 65 F here, so every Sunday is a great day to get outside and exercise. Ciclovia starts at 7 a.m. and ends at 2 p.m. There are bikes for rent, food stands, bike repair stands, and a vast array of non-motorized conveyances. Hundreds of staff work as crossing guards, counters (I don’t know exactly if that’s what they are doign but that’s my guess), and sign-movers.

All forms of non-motorized transport are welcome - like these bouncy things.
All forms of non-motorized transport are welcome – like these bouncy things.

I’ve seen more kinds of wheeled vehicles here than I knew existed. Tricycles, scooters, duo-scooters, skateboards, inline skateboards, bikes, trikes, unicycles, tandem bikes, quatro-bikes, strollers, and a reclining wheeled things (I don’t know what it’s called). Some people even transport their own stereos in their bike basket.

Is it a street luge?
Is it a street luge?

Not everyone uses wheels. There are joggers, walkers, dog walkers, and bouncers (shoes with bouncy springs). There are people of all ages and all shapes. Even some with parasols.

A worker at an intersection and various types bikes behind her. The green one is a four person bike.
A worker at an intersection and various types bikes behind her. The green one is a four person bike.

And lots of dogs.

A duo-scooter? This is the first I've ever seen. Where can I buy one?
A duo-scooter? This is the first I’ve ever seen. Where can I buy one?