Monday, October 26, 2009

The Sanctioning of a Moto Park

When Walter asked me yesterday to take photos of the inauguration of a moto park, I agreed to do it even though I didn’t understand what it was about. I figured it would just be a group of guys drinking a beer to each other’s health that would provide fodder for a humorous blog entry. How wrong I was! What took place this morning was an impressive no-nonsense official inauguration of the Las Diamelas moto park, which means that motos can do officially what they’ve been doing unofficially for years…they can park at specific intersections of Las Diamelas Avenue (the street we live on) while waiting for customers. But it’s more than that. Let me explain.

There are two schools of thought for taxi and moto drivers. One group prefers to cruise the city looking for fares, while the other believes that parking in high traffic areas and letting customers come to them is the better method. The average number of motos and/or taxis is usually 3 to 5, but at busy intersections there may be as many as 20. There is a system in these parks. The vehicle parked first in line gets the customer. Once he drives off (this is a man’s domain) all the other vehicles move up one spot. They do not mix – motos and taxies form separate lines.

The first indication I had this morning that something bigger than I expected was shaping up is when I saw a tent-like structure being erected and police rerouting traffic. When a colonel, commandant and several other ranking police officials appeared I knew it was serious.

The ceremony began with the playing of Peru’s National Anthem, followed by speeches from each of the officials. The theme as I understood it was the progress Chiclayo is making in creating a safer environment, and how commitment from people like these moto operators was contributing. There weren’t many from the neighborhood in attendance, but those who were seemed interested and supportive.

Following the speeches recognition was given to Walter, who was the organizing force behind this occasion. He was also given the official charter for the moto park, which is an important document conveying legal status to this group. Walter is a stand up guy. We know of several occasions when he organized fund raising events for neighbors in need of help.

There were 11 moto operators present. It was an impressive moment when they swore in unison with the colonel to serve the neighborhood honestly and do what they could to eliminate danger, thievery and dishonesty among their ranks.

After their oaths were taken each was given a vest with their name on it indicating they were registered and sanctioned by the police. Marcos, one of Walter’s brothers is shown receiving his vest. I watched their faces during the swearing and when receiving their vests. These men were serious, and though I think they were trying to hide it (a macho thing), I saw looks of pride in each of them.

The ceremony concluded with a champagne toast, after which pop and snacks were distributed.

Maribel and I know all of them. They’re a good group of honest, hard working guys whom we are proud to call our friends. We would not hesitate to recommend their services to any visitors.

I don’t want to get philosophical here, but I can’t help but think about what I witnessed this morning without reflecting on these people, their pride and culture. It makes me feel proud and privileged just to be allowed to observe, let alone take part in it, which happened this morning when I was made an honorary member of the moto park. I’ve said it before and will continue to say it. Peru is an incredible country.


Friday, October 23, 2009

Tourism and the Town of Pimentel

Here in the north tourist towns are not numerous. To the south of Chiclayo is Huanchaco beach near Trujillo, a distance of 250 miles. North of Chiclayo is Màncora and Punta Sal, a distance of some 200 miles. In our immediate area we’re limited to Pimentel.

Maribel and I recently participated in a week-long tourism seminar held in Chiclayo. Representatives from towns and villages throughout the Lambayeque district took part, and some from outside the district were present. One entire day was devoted to graphic presentations from each town outlining their plans to increase tourism in the coming year. Pimentel was one of the participating towns and they put on a very impressive presentation, though many of the conferees expressed the opinion that Pimentel’s plans are much too aggressive. As mentioned in other posts, Peru and Chiclayo are growing, but how much of that money will channel into tourism is debatable.

I’d like to show you Pimentel’s principal park first. Whenever I visit a town for the first time I usually start with the park because it gives me some indication of the character of the town. This park is somewhat unique in that it has no main church adjacent to it but beyond that it is typical, bordered by the government offices and small businesses, all of them attractive and well maintained.

Chiclayanos are proud of Pimentel and many of them visit the beach during the summer season. During the winter no one is there, which is a puzzle to me. The temperature difference during the day between summer and winter is barely noticeable, yet because the calendar says it’s not summer, the beach is deserted. The accompanying photo was taken this last Wednesday on a warm spring day. The pier on the left extends out almost ¼ mile and is used primarily by commercial fisherman. It is ancient and there are plans to refurbish it but at present it is simply a curiosity and in my opinion a safety hazard to tourists.

A typical street in Pimentel. Like most smaller towns, there is no business district per se, though there is a small mercado where produce and some smaller hard goods can be purchased. The little girl at right was not being noisy. She was engaged in conversation with a little boy who was also stooped over. Maybe they were telling secrets, or pledging their undying love to each other. They start young in Peru.

The boardwalk (malecòn in Spanish) is approximately 1 1/2 miles from north to south and has four distinct parts. The southern-most segment is made up of what I would term bohemian restaurants, pictured at left. The staff of these restaurants; usually young ladies are very aggressive and will approach visitors on the beach to solicit business. It is not unusual to be surrounded by 4 or 5 of them, all talking at the same time and occasionally pushing one another out of the way. It’s not anything I find objectionable but can be overwhelming to first time visitors. If you click on the photo you’ll be able to see the hostal in the distance, which begins the second segment of the boardwalk, containing more restaurants but without the bohemian flavor.

The third segment is comprised mainly of condos and apartments. Some of the buildings are fairly new while others are dilapidated with several of them literally crumbling. This is a condition I see throughout the country. I know that probably every city in the world has examples of the old and new standing side by side, but I have never seen the extremes that I have in Peru. As an example, the only legitimate hotel (pictured above) in Pimentel, the Gran Hotel located separate and south of the boardwalk was completed last year and is fairly impressive but is surrounded by squalor and poverty.

The final section of the boardwalk is relatively new and contains dozens of upscale single family homes with beautiful landscaping. It is this influx of wealthier people plus the fact that a huge new subdivision just outside of town is presently being worked on that leads me to believe Pimentel just may someday be the premier tourist town in the north.

But there is still work to do. Many areas of the beach are an eyesore. It’s going to require constant cleaning along with the placement of trash containers and the education/cooperation of the locals to use them. The deserted old houses on the boardwalk need to be dealt with. Potential tourists also have a responsibility. The town has areas of wide spread poverty. Visitors need to realize this is a developing country, and developing quite well in my opinion.

I agree with the sentiment expressed in this photo.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Let's visit the ocean.

We’re still got a lot to discuss about Chiclayo, such as earning a living, leisure activity, customs and cultures, but what would you think about taking a break and visiting one of the towns on the Pacific ocean? Where we go depends on what you’d like to see. We could go to a tourist town such as nearby Pimentel, or a fishing village like Santa Rosa, San Jose or Puerto Eten. What both have in common is, nowhere in the north will you see groomed white sand beaches with beach cabanas and uniformed staff waiting to serve your next piña colada at the snap of your fingers. Let’s visit one of the fishing towns and you’ll see what I mean.

Santa Rosa is about a 30 minute combi ride from Chiclayo. I don’t know what the population is….let’s just say it’s small. Main street boarders the beach and runs parallel to the ocean. As you would expect it’s a quiet town with people living their lives much as their ancestors did centuries ago. There are a couple of hostals and a few small restaurants, but there is no push to accommodate tourists. This town is all about fishing, and small scale fishing related industry. If you’re looking for diversion or entertainment you need to go to Chiclayo. The problem with that is public transportation between the towns stops running at about 9:00pm.

Though I frequently visit this town, I have yet to figure out the routine of the fishing boats. It seems to me like they’re always just sitting on the beach. I’ve never seen one of the bigger boats launch or dock (if that’s what it can be called). I’m told the cost of some of the larger boats in the photo is in the $150,000 range. With all that money invested, why are they sitting on the beach?

The smaller boats launch regularly, which I enjoy watching. It’s all done with muscle power. The boat is rolled to the water on logs, and then turned to face the ocean, which is no simple task. If the waves are high it takes the strength of every man to keep the boat from turning sideways and washing up on the beach. While that’s going on provisions and many sacks of salt are being loaded. The whole process takes nearly an hour. I’ve also noticed that each boat does its own thing….there is no concerted movement of “the fleet”.

And just like all Peruvians, the folks of Santa Rosa are more than willing to sit back and talk with you, even if you can’t speak Spanish. Fishermen don’t really need language. A few grunts and gestures can get across anything, including what bait you used, how deep you fished and how many you caught of each species. And of course we all take pride in displaying our catch.

As for the beaches we talked about earlier, they’re not the picture postcard beaches some guide books would have you believe. These are not Florida or California beaches. There are no waving palm trees, volley ball nets, or hundreds of beach bums and bunnies. Except for the fishermen there are seldom any people. But there is sand and blue sky, and lots of pretty colored stones, and pelicans, and the cry of seagulls and the sound of the waves breaking on the shore, and a beach all to yourself to watch the sun rise or set. What better setting to sit and reflect on this wonderful country that is Peru.


Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Gringo Price

I think anyone who travels is familiar with the term “tourist price”, or as it’s known here in Peru, the gringo price. Here’s how it works in Chiclayo. Just as in the States, the shopping malls have prices on the items and the amount you pay is not negotiable. In the small businesses in Chiclayo it is rare to have price labels on products, and negotiation is the rule.

As an example, I was tired of the center piece on our dining room table so last Wednesday we went out looking for something else. At a shop we had made purchases at in the past we spotted the collection in the photo. We continued to look around the store but I kept returning to these items, thereby breaking negotiating rule number one by showing too much interest. Repeated glances at me from Maribel confirmed my blunder. If you’re a gringo there are no other rules. The formula is (interest + gringo = mucho dinero). When Maribel, after trying to salvage the situation by looking at everything else under the sun finally asked the price, the woman replied “Only 130 soles ($45.61) but for you 120 ($42.11)”. When Maribel countered with 100 soles ($35.09) the woman stood firm. At this point you have only two options; either pay the price or play the “I’m walking away” card. We started walking, and to my surprise the woman let us go. Usually some token price reduction results from the walk-away tactic, but not this time.

I really liked that center piece collection, and Maribel, who takes it personal when not successful in the negotiating game, liked it as well. Which is why the following day she described the items to her sister Teresa, gave her 100 soles, and waited outside the store. After 10 minutes Teresa emerged carrying our items. This is what happened in the shop. When Teresa asked the price, the woman said 100 soles. Teresa countered with 80 ($28.07). The woman responded with 90. Teresa played the walk-away card. The woman caved in to 80.

For the gringo the price was firm at $42.11. For the Peruvian the cost was $28.07. I would have paid $35.09, so the woman screwed herself out of $7.02. I’m tempted to return to the shop today. I’m sure the woman would find a way to casually tell me the collection had been sold. My response would be…“Yes, I know. It looks beautiful on our table, and for only 80 soles!” But that would be petty of me, wouldn’t it?

I’ll talk with you later – I’ve got an errand to run.


Edit: Monday, November 2 – For the past few days I’ve been tempted to delete this entry, but in the interest of fair play I’ve got to take my lumps. Last week we saw the collection pictured above in the mercado modelo for 55 soles. The woman who sold it to Maribel’s sister for 80 soles still made a healthy profit of at least 25 soles. I am very glad I didn’t go back to that shop to gloat.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Health Care in Chiclayo

One of my primary concerns when deciding to move to Peru was the quality of health care. I had read and seen photos regarding the wide spread belief in shamanism and faith healers but did not expect them to be my only option. I also did not expect to find the elaborate, squeaky clean facilities I was accustomed to in the States. I was right on both counts. I want to be straight forward with you and say that probably 95% of the hospitals, clinics and private offices (consultorios) would not meet minimum standards in the States. The lighting is poor, the walls, floors and stairways are far from spotless, windows are broken, broken light fixtures dangle from the ceilings, the restrooms are not what you would expect to see in a hospital, and the ambulances resemble the 1950s in the States. The question then becomes; does the condition of the physical assets reflect the quality of health care received from medical personnel? In my opinion and experience it does not. I have been surprised and pleased with the quality of health and dental care I have gotten.

Let’s take a look at the various types of facilities. Most hospitals in Chiclayo as I understand it are privately owned by EsSalud, which is a private insurance company who provides health care under the direction of the Minister of Health. All employees in these hospitals including doctors are paid a straight salary. I can’t go into any more detail because frankly I don’t understand it. The name of the hospital above is Almanzor Aguinaga Asenjo. To my knowledge it is fully staffed and equipped to provide all necessary care including transplants. I believe its primary focus is on patients requiring overnight care.

Directly across the street from the hospital is a row of hearses and about a dozen funeral homes (funerarias). El Angel offers everything from tombs to underground burial to cremations. And as an added attraction they will sell you breakfast (desayuno), lunch (menù), and Lamborgini brand ice cream so you can discuss the disposition of your loved one with a full belly. Not to be outdone, Funeraria Campos to the right of El Angel offers 24 hour service and will recharge (recargas) your cell phone.

This is hospital Naylamp. It provides emergency and most other services but is not equipped for the more complicated operations. The more difficult problems are referred to its sister hospital Almanzor Aguinaga Asenjo. Its primary focus is out patient. Long lines and waiting times are the rule at this hospital.

All clinics are privately operated. The Clinica Del Pacifico has a reputation as one of the best in Chiclayo. As opposed to the hospitals above, you’d better have your credit card with you if you choose this facility. They want proof of your ability to pay up front. I toured this hospital recently and judged by Peruvian standards was impressed with the physical condition. The clinic is said to attract some of the better doctors in the area, and at least one of them speaks English. The clinic’s services cost sheet lists the cost of a private room with meals at $23 per day. The price of an appendectomy is $1,800.

This is hospital Regional Las Mercedes. It is a sprawling building occupying an entire block. It appears to date back to colonial times and was probably the single family hacienda of some wealthy individual. Today it serves those people lacking the ability to pay for health care.

The ambulance at left is typical. It is unusual to hear an ambulance siren. I don’t understand why and have not been able to get a good explanation. Maybe people prefer to take taxis to the emergency room. I also don’t know to what degree if any the drivers are medically trained. I’m told the fire department also has the capability to respond to emergency calls, but because the fire department is comprised of unpaid volunteers I would be reluctant to call them.

I am not in a position to comment on the qualifications, dedication or income of Chiclayo’s doctors, but I believe it would be accurate to say they don’t earn anywhere near what their counterparts in the States earn. As a result during the day most of them work for a hospital, or teach their discipline at a university, or sell pharmaceuticals, while pursuing their private practice out of their home in the evening.

My own doctors, Juan and Jessica have been taking care of this old body since I first met them in December 2005. I have complete confidence in both of them. I know both of them are dedicated to their profession and they spend considerable time with ongoing education – Juan in particular likes to research the Stanford School of Medicine database.

So how do you pay for health care? There are several private insurance companies, with Pacifico Seguro being the one most often mentioned. I’m told the premiums are at minimum 50% less than in the US. If you’re over 62 you’re out of luck. No one will sell you insurance. I don’t worry about it. What I pay for medical care per visit is less than the amount of co-payments I would make in the US. Even a catastrophic illness wouldn’t have a catastrophic cost attached to it in Chiclayo.


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Come on In!

Maribel, Brian and I welcome you to our home! No need to take off your shoes – nobody does that in Chiclayo. There are no rugs and the sand blown in by the constant wind will get your socks dirty.

As long as we’re in the dining room why don’t we sit a bit and chat about how to go about finding living quarters in Chiclayo? To my knowledge there is only one official real estate agency in Peru….a small Coldwell Banker office that never seems to have any clients. In 15 months I have seen only one of their signs on a property. There are private people with titles such as “Agencia de Servicios Varios” which means agency of various services who advertise in the newspaper regarding buying, renting or selling property, but their services are rarely sought. Peruvians don’t see the value in paying someone to do what they and their family can probably do faster and cheaper. I remember sitting in Wisconsin after selling our home thinking that our only plan to find housing in Chiclayo was to live in a hotel and pound the pavement hoping to spot a for rent or sale sign. I needn’t have worried. After our arrival Maribel described to family and friends what we were looking for and within 2 days we had more leads than we had time to follow up on. Word of mouth is by far the best way to locate housing. Enough chat - let’s see the rest of the place.

This is the kitchen. There are no outside windows but it does have a large skylight and windows to the dining room. I can’t say I’m crazy about the black tile floor, but it does serve the purpose. The refrigerator is an LG, and the stove is Indurama. I don’t know where they’re made but maybe you do. We bought them at Elektra, which is similar to American or Best Buy in the States. We’ve had no trouble with them so far. About once a month the stove will run out of gas, but a call to the gas service usually results in a new tank within 10 minutes.
This is the master bedroom. Nothing much to say about it. One complete wall has built in storage, which holds a surprising amount of clothing and other items. Behind us is a TV and chest of drawers. Brian likes to watch the Simpsons here at night.
The bathroom attached to the master bedroom is similar to 3 others in the apartment. The electric shower head is visible at top.
This is Brian’s room. He’s responsible for keeping it organized and clean. Right!
The office where the three of us fight over the computer. We really need at least one more computer. We tried a sign up list to reserve specific times, but we all cheated.

The hallway leading to the living room. The morning sun streams in from the window on the right.
The living room. This is where I spend most of my time when Maribel and Brian won’t let me use the computer. I do a lot of reading here and also watch football Americano. Patio doors open onto the balcony where I like to drink a beer while watching whatever is going on in the street. The furniture and accessories throughout the apartment are all manufactured locally, are good quality and very reasonably priced.

Well, that’s the end of the tour. Thanks for visiting our home. We’ll be talking with you soon.

Tom, Maribel and Brian

What about housing?

Housing options in Chiclayo are what you would find most anywhere. Your choices are a rented apartment, a purchased condo, or a purchased or built single family house. Most of the condos and apartments are constructed of poured concrete. Single family homes, with the exception of the more elaborate massive dwellings are built with brick. None of them contain any significant amount of wood. Though some have parquet floors, the majority have tile flooring (no carpets….too much sand and dust) with wood being limited to cabinets, doors and door frames. The absence of combustible material is why the sound of fire engines is almost never heard.

The home on the left is an example of as good as it gets in Chiclayo. It is visible from the balcony of our apartment. You may not care for the color or architecture but I believe you would find the interior to be pleasing and not that much different than what you’re accustomed to. Incidentally, the thing on the roof that looks like a flying saucer is the home’s water tank. Every building has one or more, though normally not so distinctive. Water is pumped up to the tank, but from there to your shower water pressure is a function of gravity. Speaking of shower, most homes do not have hot water heaters. If you want a hot shower you need to purchase and install an electric shower head from Sodimac. Another difference is gas. City gas has not yet reached Chiclayo, so a small tank of propane gas sits beside the cooking stove. Restaurants have larger tanks stored on the roof.

The condo pictured here was constructed in 2005. At that time the never-lived-in individual 3 bedroom/bath units were selling for $21,000. Today sellers are asking for and getting $36,000. I can’t tell you how many times I have mentally kicked myself for not buying at that time. As mentioned in an earlier post, Chiclayo is in a strong growth period and condos are continuing to spring up all over the city. Curiously, many of the condos are constructed without elevators. Accordingly the price drops as the levels go up, but so does the difficulty in reaching them. Older folks don’t look forward to 4 or 5 flights of stairs.

This is the building we live in. It was originally constructed as a single family home but was converted to a 3 level apartment. We occupy the second floor with the balcony. Houses are typically built long and narrow, so while it may not look like it, our apartment has 4 bedrooms and baths plus living room, formal dining room and kitchen with breakfast nook. It’s comfortable with plenty of private space for the three of us.

This photo depicts typical housing for at least 30% of Chiclayo’s population. Some of the houses are constructed of adobe, which is no longer a legal building material in the city proper. In 1998 El Niño caused considerable flooding in Chiclayo and over wide areas of the north. Many homes constructed of adobe simply crumbled and turned to mud. The city helped with rebuilding to a rough condition, but most Chiclayanos did not have the money to continue the job so the houses remain in various states of completion. This particular photo was taken in P.J. Muro, which not long ago was considered one of the poorer areas in Chiclayo. Since the construction of the nearby Real Plaza mall the prices of these homes have tripled to an average of probably $30,000.

In the next entry we’d like to invite you inside for a look at our apartment, but first we have to clean it up a bit. Dress is casual and no gifts are necessary.


Monday, October 12, 2009

Patience is a virtue

It feels good to be home. Yes, the chickens started crowing at 3:00am, and yes I’ve banged my head twice getting into a miniature taxi, and yes we stood in line over one hour at the bank to pay the fee to renew my permanent resident card, but it still feels good to be home.

And speaking of lines, Peru has taught me to be patient. In fact I enjoy standing in line at the banks. It’s like watching a drama/comedy series on TV. The lines usually extend several hundred feet outside the bank. Vendors of water, nuts, candy, document folders and other assorted items walk up and down the line trying to sell their wares to people who have been shuffling slowly forward for a minimum of 30 minutes and as long as 2 hours. Document folders used to cover the head from the hot sun are big sellers. Some entrepreneurs will offer to stand in line for you for a flat rate based on the length of the line. Others will offer to runs errands for you while you stand in line.

The real fun begins when people try to jump the line, which is an every minute occurrence. As the “jumper” pleads their case to the police at the door, the crowd begins to chant “A la cola!” which means “to the line.” If the jumper persists in arguing with the police, who are amazingly patient in my opinion, the chant gets louder and the crowd mood becomes threatening. Occasionally the jumper will turn and confront/challenge the crowd, which only results in a louder chant and a more hostile atmosphere. This is when it gets interesting. I have never seen it but have been told and do not doubt that crowds have attacked jumpers. I also suspect the police would delay a bit before intervening. Not that I would even consider it, but I have often wondered what would happen if I, an older gringo would try to jump the line. I tend to think the crowd would assume I had some special business and would not react at first, waiting to see what the police would do, but I’m not about to test that theory. A la Cola!


Saturday, October 10, 2009

Memory lane

I try to avoid using superlatives when describing people, places, things and activities, my philosophy being that when I encounter something really worthy of a superlative I will have used them up on ordinary events. Our recent 10 day trip to the States was far from ordinary and deserves such words as marvelous and fantastic.
The visit began with my 50th high school reunion, held at the Clarion Hotel and Conference Center in Milwaukee. I had predicted to Maribel the reunion would be a bust, probably attended by only a handful of senile old codgers. How wrong I was! From a class of 486 there were about 150 of us, many with spouses, and everyone was physically fit and mentally sharp. Most of us didn’t recognize each other so spent the first few seconds of each encounter reading name tags, followed by a smile of recognition, hugging and handshakes.

What a rush to see and again be in contact with friends I hadn’t seen in 50 years – Richard, Bonnie, Miki, Dennis, Charlotte, Delbert, Judy and many more. Sadly but to be expected a number of our classmates have passed on, including my best friend during those years and my first girlfriend. The following day we had the opportunity to walk through the high school (Pulaski).The memories of this reunion are something I will cherish for the rest of my life.

Next on our agenda was a visit to our former north woods home. The neighborhood hasn’t changed much in the past 14 months. Many of the folks we knew were not at home, though we did get to visit with our friend Shannon both at her home and later at Maribel’s “favorite restaurant in the world”, Shaffer Park Resort. I’ve been a regular at this restaurant for over 40 years and Maribel during the 2 years we lived together in the area. We both agree that nobody does chicken or fish like Shaffer’s, and that includes both the US and Peru. Give them a try if you’re in the area -

Visiting our family again (Maribel insists they’re her family too) was comforting. We based out of my (opps…our) sister’s home, which we affectionately refer to as Joyce’s Hotel and Restaurant. How she puts up with us I don’t understand. With the rest of the family we visited parks where we walked and threw a football, visited their homes, and got together at a restaurant to talk and celebrate Maribel’s birthday. It was interesting to see the change in the grandchildren. They’re growing up fast. Now if only we could get them to visit Peru!

We celebrated Maribel’s birthday in at least 4 different settings, including Shaffer Park with Shannon, TGI Friday with Joyce, the Open Flame restaurant with family, and at the home of our friends Fredy and Elaine. Also there were Michael and Maya, Dennis and Martha, and Joyce….five gringos and four Peruvians. A couple of times during the evening I found myself chuckling about needing to go to Milwaukee to visit Peruvian friends. Must have been the wine.

Somewhere around day 8 of our stay I became aware that I was having thoughts of home in Peru. I mentioned it to Joyce, who replied…”It looks like we’ve lost you.” Not correct Joyce. Wisconsin, friends and family will always be in my heart and mind. But so are the incredible (another earned superlative) people, places and things of Peru. I truly have the best of two worlds.