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?

If It Looks Like a Taxi; Then It’s A Bus

Here in Santo Domingo, the traffic is hellish. That seems to be the collective consensus. I still think Dhaka wins. It’s true that there are many cars on the road here and traffic lights and lanes are mere suggestions, but, the sewers are underground here…

Back to the subject of the taxi. The sedan cars that look like a beat up taxi are actually not a taxi. Even if it has the little trapezoid perched on top with the word, “taxi” written on it. It’s a bus of sorts. It will drive a fixed route, usually up and down a straight stretch of road, picking up and disgorging as many people as can mush themselves into the car — like those clown cars from the circus.

Phap_KIZU_ktdsCEThVlkA7qMXAwEM8H35aJSxt4rqDuAPZ8WouB5_9ELSuGyuOVHClWBxHj0jCmz_-N9gh9a0RA_66jXn3c7Tr-7dAGtovhCfaiWzPkzsMxh-LaOHoJayYyPnSSUnw8v1kiTb1V6J2A4n5NlSK01z46hPV-rnJ9_ICvzhzelZdQO8The taxis here are fairly invisible like Uber or Lyft in the U.S. They have Uber here and that seems to be the most popular. They even have Uber Moto here… Another popular taxi service is Apolo taxi. Every ride seems to only cost between 180-300 pesos (3.8-6 bucks) which is much cheaper than many other chauffeur services. Apolo taxi has an app but when I ordered via phone, they even understand MY Spanish. The dispatcher will tell you how many minutes before the ride arrives, the color, make, and a four digit driver number (not the license plate number). I also ask how much it will cost.

The drivers usually only speak Spanish and I even had a semi-intelligent conversation with one, even though he called me a “pendeja” which I pretended not to understand since I assume he meant it in a nice way…

A City of Villages – New York City

Colombian food in Brooklyn.
Colombian food in Brooklyn.

While many people visit New York City for the shopping, the sites, the entertainment, I like New York for its villages. It seems like every few streets, New York changes nationality, from Chinatown, Little Italy, Jamaica, and all the other little villages that make up the great world of New York City. Every neighborhood is distinct and many New Yorkers never leave their neighborhoods.

Seafood dumpling soup in Chinatown, NYC.
Seafood dumpling soup in Chinatown, NYC.

Usually, when I take a taxi, I chat with the taxi drivers. Taxi drivers are often immigrants and many have interesting stories to tell. On this trip, my first taxi driver shared with me where to get the best Pakistani food in New York and in Washington, DC. But then suddenly, he asked about my marital status. I was a little taken aback because I had forgotten, after a few months in politically correct DC, that this is considered a polite question in some cultures.

A few days later, my second taxi driver, an Ecuadorian, patiently let me practice my Spanish with him (gracias, and I appreciated your philosophical stance on bilingual education). My third cabbie was a Miami Cuban taxi driver. I considered trying to practice Spanish on him but his delightfully colloquial rapid fire English and his story about his epiphany about happiness, on 9/11, made me keep quiet.

A farmers' market in New York City.
A farmers’ market in New York City.