Thursday, March 23, 2017

And now food shortages

Four days ago in the late afternoon there was a brilliant rainbow to the east of the city. Our neighbors took it as a sign that the rain was over. So far they’ve been right. No rain for four days and most (not all) of the streets in Chiclayo are dry. We consider ourselves to be lucky. The cities to the north, east and south are still getting hammered.

Busses and trucks are not getting through from Lima. Much of the packaged food items sold in the big department stores; Tottus, Metro and Plaza Vea come from Lima. Milk and bread shelves are empty. Packaged meats sections nearly so. There are signs in some stores limiting customers to one kilo per family of several food items.

Food prices in the above mentioned stores have increased, but not nearly as much as at the farmers markets. This is not just due to transportation issues, but also because fields are flooded. Local growers are taking advantage of the reduced supply to increase prices. So far prices for local baked goods; bread, roles, cakes have not increased but probably will as the baker’s supply of sugar, flour etc. diminishes. Poultry prices have increased slightly. There are a lot of chickens and ducks raised locally so I don’t expect a supply problem, but demand will/has increased so those prices will probably rise.

The air force is still flying into and out of Chiclayo and other cities, transporting people to their homes who were stranded when the floods began.

Four houses collapsed within a two block radius of our home. Others are still not habitable and may never be. In the downtown area several business buildings collapsed.  I have no idea what the total damage figures will be. I wouldn’t be surprised if the number of homes lost in Chiclayo is in the hundreds. The washed out roads and bridges will take a while to repair. But already life is going on as usual. The street vendors are out in full force, the streets are once again open to endless lines of combis, taxis and mototaxis looking for passengers, and the mall is again home to huge crowds of people. The cinema was damaged and is still not open; the only reminder of the floods that closed the mall several times in the last month.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Statistics regarding Peru's crisis

My thanks to a reader who saw and sent us this article on UPI news.

The statistics are staggering but they don't tell the whole story. Food prices in Chiclayo and I imagine much of Peru are skyrocketing because transportation is disrupted. This morning at a small corner market a handful of broccoli that usually costs 10 cents was priced at 35 cents. The same was true for other food items.

The Peruvian air force has started flights to transport people in emergency situations to and from Trujillo, Piura, Chiclayo and Lima. The Pan American highway along the entire coast is blocked in many locations by water and or mudslides. Only a trickle of trucks and buses have somehow been able to get through to various cities. Helicopters are delivering food and water to villages that are completely cut off.

It's difficult to watch news out of Lima continuously showing the latest disasters...houses, hotels, buses, and this morning a large segment of railroad track disappear into a raging stream of mud. Many people are accusing the government of not taking enough preventive measures. I don't agree. If the government last year had not done millions of dollars of riverbed and canal dredging and adding concrete banks to waterways, this disaster could have been much worse.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

We’re not even a footnote!

Our street is flooded again this morning. It rained last night, a drizzle stopped about an hour ago, and it will rain again tonight. Compared to what is happening right now all up and down Peru’s coast the condition of our street is not even a minor inconvenience. In dozens of cities, towns and villages in a 600 mile span their streets are not only flooded…they don’t exist anymore, including sections of Lima. Instead there are 5 to 10 feet chasms filled with water rushing toward the Pacific Ocean, occasionally carrying with it a car, bus, semitrailer, house, animals and sometimes people.

All schools in the Lambayeque Region are closed and I assume other regions have done the same. The official reopening has been pushed back to April 3rd. Even if they weren’t closed there is no way we could get to the smaller villages we normally visit. We are very worried that some of the schools we’ve visited in the past may have collapsed and no longer exist. Perhaps entire villages are gone. We don’t know. The devastation happening in Peru at this moment is incredible.

I turn on the television and watch CNN or BBC. On the internet I look at Google or Yahoo news. The headlines on all four are Trump’s latest executive order; Nadal’s defeat at Indian Wells and a mail bomb in France. The situation in Peru is not mentioned…we’re not even a by-the-way. How can that be? It’s mind-boggling…just mind-boggling. 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

A storm to be remembered

We were at the mall when it hit. We shouldn’t have been there because we saw the big black storm clouds forming to the south, but even though it has rained every night for the past two weeks, the rain usually doesn’t start until after 8:00 pm. The mall is only two blocks from our house so we thought we had time. We didn’t.

This rain was much different from the others. Not only did it start earlier, but there was thunder and lightning; the first time I have seen/heard that in nine years in Chiclayo. And the rain was torrential with a wind driving it. People in the mall quickly sought shelter. Only about one-third of the mall is covered, the rest is open. We took shelter under the covered section, and really just marveled, like everyone else at the intensity of the storm. I haven’t seen anything like it since I left Wisconsin. Everyone had their cell phones out, taking photos and videos.

One half hour later the rain had not lessened. We were all of us waiting for a lull so we could leave, when a woman in a nearby store screamed. We could see that water was coming from the roof in buckets, as if the roof had collapsed. Two employees grabbed brooms and tried to sweep the water outside the store but there was no way they could keep up. Soon everyone just stood and watched…there was nothing anyone could do.

Shortly after that a woman started shouting to the crowd. I don’t know if she was frightened or just plain fed up with the weather, but she told the crowd that we had to pray; we had to ask God to stop the rain. When no one responded, I heard her softly praying/chanting, “No more rain God, please, no more rain.”

When it became apparent the rain wasn’t going to stop people started leaving as did we. We were soaked to the skin when we got home. We had left all of our windows open but we lucked out; there were only a few small puddles under two of the windows.

As I type this the mall is closed and the rain has nearly stopped, after a three-hour downpour. The streets and sidewalks are flooded. Many of our neighbors are removing water from their roofs and houses, as they’ve done for nearly every day the past two weeks. The mall will probably be closed tomorrow but if not I’ll be curious to see what damage was done. I’d be very surprised if only that one store sustained damage.

It’s been slow…

I haven’t posted often in the past five weeks, mostly because nothing of note has happened. We haven’t been anywhere or done anything of interest. It has rained every night for the past two weeks…something I have never seen before. Our streets and sidewalks are covered with water every morning, impeding vehicle and pedestrian traffic though not to the extent of the flood six weeks ago. The entire Peru coast is getting this rain. Older houses, especially adobe are collapsing in many of the coastal cities. Weeds and plants are sprouting up where none existed before. Maybe we’re transitioning from a desert to a lush rain forest.

It’s raining every night and it’s hot every day. March is the hottest month of the year and this year is no exception. This is the first time I have seriously considered buying an air conditioner. I’m talking about portable units on wheels costing from $650 to $950. We’ve done without air conditioning in the past, mostly because its only needed for six weeks or so and we don’t have a place to keep it when not in use. A couple weeks ago I decided enough is enough, so I went to Sodimac and Saga Fagabella to look at them. Both stores had only a few in stock. I couldn’t make up my mind so went home to discuss it with Maribel. We made a choice and the next day I returned to Sodimac. They were sold out. So was Saga Fagabella. Neither store has ordered more because “Fall is coming.” So we’ll suffer through it for the next four weeks like everyone else.

I came across an internet site that compares the cost of living between two different cities. According to that site it is 51% more expensive to live in Milwaukee Wisconsin than in Chiclayo Peru. I believe it…I thought it would be more. It’s been said that a person can live like a king on $1000 per month in Peru. That is certainly not true in Lima, and is stretching it a bit in the other coastal cities, but you can live very comfortably on that amount.

After thinking about cost of living comparisons I thought that maybe a cost comparison of specific, common items in Chiclayo and Milwaukee would make an interesting post. With that thought in mind I went to Plaza Vea, our nearest grocery/department store to look at prices. I looked at one item, lost interest and quit. The one item was Peter Pan crunchy peanut butter in the 16.2 oz size. Walmart in Milwaukee sells it for $2.32. In Plaza Vea it costs $5.80. But that huge difference is true of all imported items. Maybe when it cools off I’ll take up that survey again. I’ll go to the small markets and get prices on fresh fruit, vegetables, eggs, poultry and milk. I should be able to get apples-to-apples comparisons on those items.

The school term for national schools officially started on Monday. Some schools in the bigger cities did open, but in the smaller towns and villages the rain has delayed classes until who knows when. Maribel and I are ready to kick off the Promesa Peru year but so far we have no customers! When this rain stops that will change. We’re looking forward to it.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

One of Peru’s More Unique Getaways

Trujillo is the 3rd largest city in Peru and is located on the coast about 300 miles north of Lima or 100 miles south of Chiclayo, from which it is a tolerable four hours away by bus. The city has malls, cines, museums, restaurants for every budget, and several major archeological sites. It’s biggest draw for us is not the city, but its neighbor to the west, Huanchaco.  Many Peruvians prefer Mancora to the north as a favorite beach town but we think Huanchaco has it beat. That is where we were for a five-day Valentine Day vacation.

We stayed at what is advertised as the Mochican Palace Hotel, however the word Mochican is being removed from signs, documents and anything else where it isn’t etched into glass or metal. When we asked why that was happening we were simply told, “it is no more.” In its heyday it must have been one fine hotel, and there are still signs that the staff are trying to keep up the image, such as the bath towel arrangement on the bed for Valentine’s Day. But alas the hotel is generally run down and would need a lot of money…probably too much, to restore it.

The hotel had, but doesn’t have a restaurant now so we went in search of one for lunch. Huanchaco is in reality a one-street town so if you walk far enough you’ll see everything the town has to offer. We saw what looked like a fine restaurant with uniformed staff and an open second story dining room overlooking the sea. The restaurant’s name is Big Ben. It’s not football season, so we’re thinking that maybe we’ll get a chance to meet Big Ben Roethlisberger; the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback. Nope. Turns out they named the restaurant after that famous tick-tock in London. We both had fish, and the quality and quantity were excellent, though I will say that it is one of the more expensive restaurants we’ve eaten at outside of Lima. But all the ladies were given a free Valentine’s Day cupcake so that counts for something.

One afternoon we visited the archaeological site of Chan Chan. We had been there six years ago but it was worth seeing again. We hired a young female guide who spoke Spanish and English and who was very knowledgeable not only about Chan Chan but about many sites in Peru. One thing I found curious was that she continually commented on the wealth of Chan Chan belonging only to the king and a few elite, while the workers who built and produced everything had nothing. Further discussion revealed that her beliefs were aligned with feminism and socialism, which she acknowledged. We agreed to stay on the subject of Chan Chan

During the heat of the day we searched out malls and cines in Trujillo for air conditioning, returning to Huanchaco to walk the beach in the late afternoon and evenings. The beach area is about as bohemian as I have seen in Peru. There you will find the 1960 Volkswagen Kombis parked with a make-shift shelters attached and young people in bib overalls selling trinkets and pot. Guys and gals with the Jamaican look will be selling trinkets, braiding hair, painting nails or singing while playing a guitar or an exotic instrument, all hoping someone will put a few coins in a hat. 

The beach pier is usually crowded unless the red flags are flying, which means the waves are too big to be on the pier or beach, though everyone ignores the flags on the beach, preferring to stand on the shore and let the crashing waves pummel them about. But whether open or not the pier area is where the action is at, especially at night.

If you’re not into action or the Jamaican scene or exotic music or shoulder to shoulder crowds on the beach, a good alternative is to observe the sunset with a glass of Cusquena beer from the sixth floor of the Mochican Palace Hotel. It worked for us.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Turn left…turn left…turn left…

Anyone familiar with a car GPS might have guessed what the title of this post is referring to. There is a mototaxi; not a car but a mototaxi that regularly patrols our neighborhood either transporting customers or looking for them, that has a GPS. Frequently during the day we hear that female voice saying in English, turn left…turn left. That’s all she says. She never says anything else, like ‘recalculating’, or ‘hey dummy you missed the turn.’ Just…turn left. Obviously there’s something wrong with that GPS, and has been for at least six months.

So why doesn’t the moto driver turn it off or remove it? Maybe it’s a status thing; he thinks potential customers will be impressed that he has a GPS…and in English yet! Maybe he doesn’t know how to turn it off or remove it. Maybe he likes the sound or her voice. What if it’s a political message? What if the driver is encouraging people who may have conservative political leanings to adopt a liberal left point of view? Especially on the heels of Trump’s election. Many Peruvians don’t like Trump, including Peru’s president. They say he is ‘malo’ (bad or evil). Venezuela’s economy is a mess. Very recently Peru approved 6,000 special visas for Venezuelans to come to Peru to work, study and receive health care. When announcing the program Peru’s president said, “Now is the time to build bridges, not walls.”  It’s pretty clear who that message was directed at.

Speaking of the liberal left, there has been a flood (no pun intended) of protests on Chiclayo’s streets and in parks lately. Some of them are in support of the LGBT movement. I admit I had to look up the meaning. Whenever I see LGBT in print my immediate thought is of a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich. Other protests call for the removal of, “…garbage on television!” I once asked a protester what qualified him to determine what is garbage television. He said he didn’t need qualifications, that it was obvious that anything that didn’t “feed or stimulate the intellect was garbage television.” I asked him if he watched The Simpsons. He said he did, and catching my meaning quickly added, “…but that is not garbage!”

Most of the protesters are very young and very exuberant. It is my impression that they are more focused on enjoying the excitement of the activity then they are on being invested in their cause.

Many years ago I interviewed a newspaper editor in his office (oddly, I don’t remember why I was interviewing him). I asked him what he looked for in hiring a reporter. He said that for a broadcast reporter he wanted a physical appearance and voice that wasn’t distracting. For both written and broadcast, good communication skills were critical. Then he added something that at the time I thought was odd and has stayed in my memory through the years. He said he favored hiring slightly older applicants who “had all of their causes behind them.” He didn’t want reporters to take a position or try to influence, but to report objectively and dispassionately. He said his job was to present the facts and let the readers/viewers draw their own conclusions.

I once had causes. The further in time I am removed from those days of naive idealism the more I forget that I too once thought it was possible to change the path of humanity to a direction that I knew was the right direction! Like those LGBT and ‘garbage’ protesters, I was positive I knew the truth! I wonder if there will come a time when the moto driver’s GPS will say, ‘turn right…turn right…


On an apolitical note, school supplies are showing up in Chiclayo’s stores. Very soon the phone calls will start coming from pronoei directors asking Promesa Peru to help them. We’re looking forward to it. We’ve had two months off and are ready to saddle up.