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?

Kuelap – 10,000 Monumental Steps!

RRtWEL4ekhQ5e9hCh89oAcmbuJtmRcHllsNmx3MxzihyObYVd_N94ag6vCdt6jzpjcwkw2ji27uG4aN_9pEBPDYs9OP-CRLE5UpOfS83hJi8lxHUu74V86wWTXqnnFeH6wZmR-nW2strbfEDb_6TIifq4QYzwR2ShwyZxZ7Zjghuwoi4S3jVfHUB52The hot spot to visit in Peru is still Machu Picchu. But, when you have done that, you might want to see the newest hot spot — Kuelap! Cuelap/Kuelap is located up near the town of Chachapoyas in a region called Amazonas, not to be confused with the Amazon river area. Kuelap is older than Machu Picchu and it’s not as majestic but it’s also got a few million fewer visitors (not that it felt that way!). Chachapoyas is up at 8,000 feet so be prepared to suffer for the view.

IMG-5725Kuelap is nearby and one can take Peru’s first cable car or “teleferico” up to the base of the archaeological site. One takes a bus to the cable car, then the 20 minute cable car ride over the ravine, then a three kilometer walk up flat stone steps. If you have good knees and are relatively fit, you can get up to the citadel and through in a bit over an hour. If you have bad knees, you can also take a horse up to the base of the citadel. If you want to walk all the way up and have bad knees… it can take two hours. There are many rest stops and nice views along the way, but it is an uphill walk. All the way.

TsvrOtm4NpTC1Dk6sFnydn1bvETgtQ6M1uFD9_HzrM-FmvxyBt4QbmarjtVBk3H6jACyyWseUH_dBN2kBa3yOGUqYFaA-AiRiRTr6sgn5wEENqmXWkxK4JxyuDGJErJIABWu5cNX83eIXxkweL3NyOoj0J8P8W0XZ6pPQsYMs01aY5rLEj6OwgVEJVA nice thing about Kuelap is that due to its cultural designation, there are scaffolds and walkways all over so that the cultural heritage won’t get rubbed away by visitors. You can’t even sit down.

IMG-5718But, at the base at the end of the cable car ride, where you buy your tickets, is a cafe, a museum, souvenirs, and lots of walls at just the right height for sitting on. The cafe may have one of the best views around but they don’t seem to advertise that.

IMG-5711There are many things to see in the Chachapoyas area including the famous Gocta Falls, but more about that another time.

 

The Blood Tree

The weather was hotter than the inside of a blister. Perfect time to go for a walk. So I went for a walk “in the jungle,” but really it was just on the outer perimeter of my lodge, in the Amazon. I was trying to be cool about the squidgy mud squelching up the side of my leather shoes, getting close to the bare skin of my ankles. I as trying to be cool. Then I got bitten by a spider. A zap of fire engulfed my ankle. I looked down. There was a tiny black dot on my ankle. Then it was gone. That’s how small it was. To my credit, I remained calm.

WHAT was I thinking?

There are times to remain calm. And then there aren’t. This wasn’t. Apparently.

IMG_1798.JPGThis I found out when I casually told our guide that I had a bite. Never have I seen anyone move that fast. I didn’t even see him move. One minute he was across a pool of mud. The next right next to me! Then he took out a small plastic bottle and rubbed my ankle. This was the sap from the “blood tree” and it’s a magical potion. My ankle no longer hurt and there was no bite. I wish I had some of that Amazonian jungle blood with me now. Then I’d have the remedy to all bites. Will a company start selling this some day? Will all the secrets go the way of the dodo?

Fine Dining at the Top of the World

“It’s mostly a flat walk and takes only three to four hours” said the manager at the eco-lodge. Beware words like those. IMG_0956

After paying a princely sum of 30 Bolivianos (it wasn’t the amount we found annoying but the constant milking as tourists — but, hey, that’s what we came for, right?), we took the ferry 30 minutes up to the north side of the island. At the north end of the Island of the Sun, Lake Titicaca, Bolivia, is where there are several Inca sites (this is where the first two Inca rose out of the lake), including a sacrificial stone slab table, a stone maze, and other sites. More about that another time. We were taking the little “walk” along the ridge of the island. Three hours, he said.

The Island of the Sun is six miles (10 kms) long. It rises about 600 feet (200 meters) of which you feel EVERY step uphill. It’s like a slow stairmaster. With all the independent entrepreneurs asking us for five Bolivianos here and five Bolivianos there, it felt a bit like that tale of Billy Goat Gruff.

It was just after 11 a.m. when we got off the ferry at the hostel infested port. We stopped to have a glass of orange juice and take a photo of the lake. After paying the site entrance fee, we started our walk along a beach, up a path, past kids racing home for lunch, and past couples toiling away in their fields, harvesting rocks. The ladies look like a breed of bird with their round bowler hats and bright red skirts.

We continued to walk uphill for another hour. When we got to one of the Inca sites, we had a Swiss tourist take a photo of us. We admired the view, and I wished that the little hut was a toilet. As we shared the view, a local runner came bounding up the rocks with two white plastic bags in his hands. From one he extracted two styrofoam containers and Powerade drinks. He handed these to the Swiss couple. It was 12:30 p.m. and it was lunch time.

We left them and continued down the vista point to the other Inca ruins. The sun was baking the landscape a dun color but we didn’t feel warm because of the jerky-making wind that sandpapered the air around us.

At every ridge on top of the 13,000 feet (4,000 meters) mountain, we kept walking uphill. It seemed impossible that we could keep walking up. Around 3 p.m. and several “rock” t(r)olls later, the ground started to level out. As in, it stopped going uphill all the time. At this point, we had a tiny bit of water left and no food. I had some nuts in a bag and I was eating them every few steps, trying to keep the hungry wolves in my belly at bay (have a nut, you ravenous carnivore! It tastes like steak, no? It’s a Macadamia!).

By the time it was 4:30 p.m. and the sun was roasting the backs of my calves (instead of the front), we were resigned to making it all the way to the south side of the island without lunch.

Then, like a mirage, I saw my friend holding up a giant water bottle, glinting aloft in the sunlight like a trophy. We had arrived at Las Nubes,  a hostel in the “clouds.”

Wide skirt and bowler hat firmly in place despite the knuckle freezing winds, the proprietress was manhandling a log for my friend to use as a stool over by the table with the view.

When I stumbled up to the shop window, I asked the lady if she had anything to eat. She said, “no, because when I do, no one comes.” Which I can believe because we had only run into about 10 other walkers, all European, hale, and lanky. In a red plastic basin on the floor, I noticed a giant gourd soaking, and as hungry as I was, I coveted it for a brief moment. But, I then focused back on what I could eat and drink. She had Pringles, Snickers, and Kitkats. I got a can of Pringles and two Snickers. It was a feast. When I got to the table with the view, my friend said that I could have shared her can of Pringles. To this I replied that I intended to eat all 2,500 calories of carbohydrates in MY can, by myself. I did give her a Snickers for dessert. IMG_0958.JPG

I asked the lady of Las Nubes for a photo and she was ready to take the photo but was surprised when I said that I wanted one with her. My Spanish only got me far enough to explain that we were happy she existed.

After the lunch of champions (electrolytes!) of sugar, salt, and fat, we still had another hour and a half to the village.

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2,500 unadulterated calories.

When we got to the village, I ordered four glasses of juice.

After eight hours getting whipped by the wind, my skin was super soft. Like I’d been at the spa.IMG_0960

Waitakere Day Tour from Auckland, New Zealand

Heartbreaking vista to eternity in New Zealand.

Yes, this is a shameless promotion of a day out with Shane of Waitakere Day Tours. Read this great review on TripAdvisor here. For $150 (New Zealand dollars), you get a great day out.

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The group will never been more than seven and you get a healthy home cooked picnic lunch. You will see so much on this day out that I cannot explain it all. Just know that if you don’t have time to go to South Island, then this tour will be great value.

Healthy slaw salads and egg pie picnic.
Silky cool soft water running through a kingdom where we roamed.

My favorite part of the day is hard to pick but it was probably when Shane said, “you can leave your shoes in the van.” This was followed by a walk on the silky cool river bed. Shane was so personable that you will want him to be your friend. And not just because he can introduce you to his ancestor trees… New Zealand is a paradise on the bottom of the world. The tourism machine of this land of Lord of the Rings, Narnia, etc. is well oiled but Shane’s family run business, eco-friendly brochure, Maori cultural insight, and price make him the ultimate tour guide. I highly recommend taking six friends and having a fantastic day out. Did I mention that the time spent in the van is never more than 45 minutes? And, take comfortable shoes for the rain forest walk.

Tell Shane that I said hi.

Trees nurtured by family placentas makes talking to ancestors easy.