Saturday, December 24, 2011

Meet Pit Stop Willie

Willie’s day begins at about 6:00am in the Moshoqueque market. I don’t know why Moshoqueque has its own name…its part of Chiclayo, but that’s what everyone calls it. It’s a farmer’s market. Local farmers start converging on the area at 4:00am with fresh vegetables and fruits. Buyers like Willie are mostly small resellers from Chiclayo and towns as far as 30 miles distant. Prices are very inexpensive, making it cost effective for resellers to sell at a price that covers transportation and still make an acceptable profit.

Prices fluctuate daily so on any given day Willie will buy whatever he feels he can sell the most of at the highest price. For example, at Moshoqueque he can buy bananas for about $1.85 per 100. On the street he’ll sell them at 5 for 37 cents or $7.40 for the hundred. Not a bad profit. The box mounted on his tricycle normally contains bananas, watermelon, pineapples, mangoes, apples, grapes and oranges.

Willie doesn’t ride his tricycle. He pushes it with one hand while announcing his wares through a bullhorn in the other hand. His territory includes the urbanizations of Santa Victoria, Villarreal and Café Peru; about a 5 square mile area. He’s got a distinctive sound…a gentle yet strong voice with sort of a melodic chant. Maribel and I often smile to each other upon hearing his voice off in the distance when walking in his territory. He covers the entire area 3 to 4 times during the course of his 6:00am to 7:00pm day. I couldn’t hazard a guess at how many miles he walks in that time.

What I am sure of is that at least once during the day while selling on our street he will stop momentarily at a small vacant lot near our apartment to heed the call of nature. Which is why we call him Pit Stop Willie.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Las Colmenas Chocolatada was just plain fun!

Despite the rain…yes, we were rained on for almost the entire party, and despite Kokoroco the Clown having to deal with a balky sound system, kids and adults alike had a great time yesterday. There were games, music (sometimes), entertainment, toys for the kids and lots of food and candy for everyone.

For the kids and the community of Las Colmenas this Chocolatada is their Christmas. The parents and kids told us by word and actions it will be one to remember. A big thanks from us and the town to those who helped make it possible. If you’d like to see photos and read more about it please visit the Promesa Peru web page.


Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Total Package

I was talking with my friend Lucho the other day. Lucho is a wedding photographer and he was lamenting about how crowded and competitive his occupational field has become. He mentioned marriage proposals as an example. He says that the videoing of marriage proposals has become a mega production, even in Chiclayo. These days proposal packages routinely include fireworks, choreographed singers and dancers, a mariachi band, and a cameo appearance from a minor celebrity who is either up-and-coming or on the way down. You can even rent a ring, and if you want, dozens of ‘friends’ to witness the happy occasion. Lucho says it’s becoming harder to come up with new offerings to stay ahead of the competition.

But he’s working on a plan. Every photographer offers proposal and wedding packages, but nobody does them at the same time. Lucho figures he can not only offer his customers a lower price, but can save them time by filming the two events back-to-back. All the principals have to do is change clothes – he into a rental tux and she into a rental wedding dress. One of the rented friends becomes a preacher and viola!…instant wedding! I can see the possibilities and was congratulating Lucho on his cleverness when he stopped me short by saying - “You haven’t heard anything yet!” I could see he was just warming up.

“Tom…” he said to me, “it’s a sad fact that the majority of the marriages I film will end in divorce. Though we may not like it, if we know it’s going to happen why not film all three – proposal, marriage and divorce at the same time? The rented friends from the proposal segment become judges, lawyers, bailiffs and character witnesses for each of the principles, who again only have to change clothes”. I pointed out that they would also have to act sad rather than happy, but Lucho waived that off as trivial.

I have to admit I was impressed and told him so. Chiclayanos are nothing if not practical and would see the logic, and of course will jump at the chance to save money. When he asked if I thought his ‘total package’ plan could succeed, I told him it would succeed without question and that for six months to one year he’d be king of the hill…until his competition caught up, then he would be in the same position he is now. I saw the gleam in his eye and knew something else was coming.

“Tom, when I said I wanted to offer the ‘total package’, that’s exactly what I meant. I have an idea in the works for another offering, to be filmed all in the same morning with the proposal, wedding and divorce segments. I call it the R.I.P. option.”

It could work.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A message to Promesa Peru donors

In checking our Promesa Peru Paypal account for donations to the upcoming chocolatada we found donations dating as far back as last February from four different donors. We were not aware of these donations as they were not listed with others in Paypal reports. We have no explanation as to how this happened. To Deborah Martin, Jim Glen, Jackie Rodriguez and Pauline, all we can do is apologize and say thank you.

If your intent was to donate to a medical campaign or school supplies activity, please send an email to me and we will hold your donation for the next occurrence of one of those events. If we don’t hear from you we’ll assume you approve of spending the money for the Las Colmenas chocolatada.

Thanks again for your donations.

Promesa Peru board members

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Village of Las Colmenas

The first hour of the hour and ten minute drive to the village of Las Colmenas is a pleasant and relaxing ride. The entire road from Chiclayo to Las Colmenas and beyond to Chongoyape has recently been repaved, so the potholes that in the past made that journey literally a pain in the gluteus maximus have been eliminated. Once past the sugar cane towns of Pomalca, Tuman and Patapo the scenery changes to mountains on the immediate left and a lush green agricultural valley about one mile wide on the right. Rice and sugar cane dominate, but banana plantations and vineyards have a significant presence.

Las Colmenas isn’t located directly on the highway. You need to get off the combi at the Tocmoche intersection about a mile before reaching Chongoyape. There, if you’re lucky, a moto taxi will be waiting to take you to Las Colmenas and school I.E. 11249, which is where we were going at the invitation of Juan Garcia Posada, the school’s director. During the ten minute ride the moto taxi struggles mightily to first climb and then descend hills, all the while navigating through rocks the size of soccer balls, plus fording a wide but shallow stream. Cows share the road with moto taxis – neither seeming to mind the occasional bumping into each other.

This is main street. The gate to the school is on the right. The town looks to be about ¼ mile in length. I didn’t see any cross streets so I assume main street is probably the only street. It’s difficult to imagine riding this road for another three hours to the village of Tocmoche.

The school has three classrooms plus an administration office/textbook storage room. There are 44 students between the ages of 6 and 12 attending primary classes from 8:00am to 1:00pm. Students graduating from primary have to go to Chongoyape for the secondary level. There are 20 students attending kinder from 9am to 12pm in a separate building constructed two years ago with donations from a charity located in Spain.

Many of these kids are from the immediate area though some walk an hour each way to and from school. Their parents are engaged in subsistence agriculture, and following school each day the kids will probably be in the fields or tending farm animals and poultry. None of them have school uniforms and most of them don’t have shoes, wearing instead the plastic clogs generally prohibited by school policies. Adults in the photo (l-r) are Yayny who is in charge of the vaso de leche program, teacher Isabel, and director Juan. They have been associated with the school for many years.

We were invited to the school because Juan had heard of the activities of Promesa Peru. He asked if it would be possible to provide a Christmas party (Chocolatada) for the kids, as neither the school nor the community has ever been able to afford one. Our visit yesterday convinced us that this community is deserving. Our goal is to provide hot chocolate, Paneton, a clown and music for entertainment and some modest toys for each kid on Tuesday December 20th. If you’d like to help us please visit the Promesa Peru webpage.


Wednesday, November 30, 2011

How to teach a rooster not to crow at 4:00am

Chiclayo is a modern city by Peruvian standards. Burro and horse carts are no longer encountered on city streets, nor are sheep, cows or goats seen in yards or on roof tops (actually cows were never seen on roof tops for obvious reasons. Goats, being much lighter in weight were in the past observed on concrete roofs, but never on thatch roofs, as you can well understand). However the transition from farm to city is not yet complete. With the exception of the very center of the city, the sound of Peruvian songbirds – chickens, ducks and turkeys fills the air.

This is a rooster. He has a harem of about twenty hens all to himself on his roof-top kingdom. He is apparently a very happy rooster. The rooster expresses his happiness by crowing, starting with his greeting each new day at about 4:00am. The rooster does not care one iota that my bedroom is on the other side of the window lower-left. The rooster’s owner is also not concerned about the rooster/bedroom proximity. Two separate discussions with the man had resulted in his essentially saying, “This is Peru. If I want chickens on my roof I’ll have chickens on my roof.”

It is not an exaggeration to state that each and every morning at 4:00am when I opened my eyes in response to Mr. Barnyard Bigmouth’s serenade I fully expected to see him perched on the foot of my bed. His crowing is that loud. This was not a satisfactory situation, so to remedy the problem I did what any reasonable adult would do.

Rummaging through my odds-and-ends tool box I found what I was looking for… a piece of PVC tubing with a ½ inch inside diameter. This would serve well as a ‘blow gun barrel.’ Next I needed to find the ammunition. I considered purchasing ball-bearings at Sodimac but decided against it both because of the expense and the possibility of actually harming the rooster. After all, my intent was not to kill him; simply to modify his behavior via negative reinforcement. A solution for the ammunition was inadvertently stumbled upon during a walk in the neighborhood when Maribel spotted seed pods littering the ground at the base of a tree. The pods are oval, moderately hard, and best of all average about 7/16 inch in diameter. Brian and Maribel soon stopped scoffing when I demonstrated that at about 20 feet I could consistently hit a 4 inch target, accompanied by a satisfying ‘whap!’ sound.

This is Mr. Barnyard Bigmouth a split-second after being hit in the chest with a hard seed pod shot from our dining room window. I hit him on the second attempt…the first just missing his head, causing him to do that stupid head up and down dance that chickens always do when they sense something is not quite right. He didn’t stop crowing immediately after that first hit, but he no longer brazenly jumped up on the wall. I would first see his head nervously appear, looking to see if the coast was clear.

I am happy to report that after taking several direct hits Mr. Barnyard Bigmouth no longer crows from the wall. He continues to crow, but from behind the wall, which reduces the sound to an acceptable level. He still perches on the wall but he doesn’t crow while there. Sometimes when I see him sitting on the wall I open the dining room window and point the tube at him just to let him know that I’m on the alert because after all, chickens are so immature.


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Nothing to do in Peru?

Recently during a conversation with a visiting American I was asked how I occupy my time. The gist of the discussion was that he had formed the opinion that retirement in Peru would be boring for him. And it probably would be…for him. Enjoyment anywhere in the world is dependent on individual interests and preferences. I can understand for instance how someone whose life is socially focused could be bored in Peru. We don’t have much in the way of live entertainment theater or lounges, golf courses, or country clubs. Those fraternal organizations that do exist are not very active. I can also understand how someone who is locked into a particular lifestyle would find it difficult here. Peru and countries like it are certainly not for everyone.

That’s not to say that Peru is a total cultural void. Last week a group known as the GRIPS (Gringos Residing In Peru) and their wives the CHESGRI (translates to Chiclayo spouses of gringos) met for Thanksgiving at the Pimentel home of one of the member couples.

For me personally I don’t think I could live long enough to be bored in Peru. I enjoy traveling. Within an hour’s time by road I can be in the foothills of the Andes or strolling an ocean beach in any number of coastal towns. By air travel, in addition to the Andes and ocean beaches that same hour can include the Amazon rain forest and the metropolis of Lima. Probably the majority of our traveling is short day trips to different towns. There are still many towns in the area I haven’t seen and nearly all of them have something to offer in the way of a festival, specific object such as the cross at Motupe, or even a unique individual to talk with. There is always a ‘highlight’ to each town that makes the visit worthwhile.

I enjoy history of all eras and subjects. In the Lambayeque and other nearby regions I have at my doorstep the history of the Inca Empire, pre-Inca cultures, and the Spanish conquest – all brought to life in hundreds of archeological sites.

Even though Peru’s economy has shown steady growth during the past six years there is still abject poverty in much of the north. For several years we’ve been involved in charity work, primarily focused on Christmas parties and helping provide the means for kids to attend school in remote villages. It takes time to organize these activities but the reward far outweighs the effort.

Traveling, Peruvian history and charity work are only a few of the activities I enjoy that are unique to Peru. With the advent of the internet several of my major interests are not limited by geographical location. Genealogy is a good example.

I spend several hours on the computer every day chasing ancestors. I am part of the 2% of the population who are not bored to death by family history. When, after weeks or months (sometimes years) of searching I finally discover the identity of an earlier generation in someplace like Bridgewater Pennsylvania in 1785 it is one hell of a thrill…even better than a Green Bay Packer win. Which brings me to another interest provided for by the internet.

Peruvians generally couldn’t care less about American football. Sunday and Monday night NFL games are broadcast on television here unless they are preempted for a soccer game, but on the internet there are ‘feeds’ that allow me to watch on my computer just about any college or pro football game I want to see. During the football season I usually watch 2 – 3 games per week.

Writing is another pleasure the internet helps me with. I enjoy writing. This blog and several other outlets, plus a book I’ve been working on sporadically for several years but will never finish consume chunks of my time each week.

One of my favorite activities not dependant on Peru or the internet is reading. I enjoy reading and normally curl up on the sofa with a book for an hour or two before going to bed each night. I can borrow books from an English language institute here in Chiclayo or can buy used paperbacks inexpensively at local book stores, although there is not a lot of choice in subject matter. I suspect most of the books were left behind by traveling missionaries. I also have books sent to me and load up when I visit the US. I haven’t graduated yet to the electronic book readers and probably won’t do so. For me each book has a unique soul and individuality. I would rather turn pages than push buttons.

As to what we will do on any given day; that is usually determined over coffee in the morning. There is no need to plan unless we’re considering an overnight activity. And we don’t feel compelled to do anything if we’re feeling lazy. There are some days when I don’t leave the house except for a brief walk in the neighborhood… and even then I usually see something of interest.

And that’s how I occupy my time. We have no schedules, plenty of enjoyable activities to do, and all the time in the world to do them. What could be better than that?


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Illimo has a Birthday

Illimo (E-yee-moe) is one of those long and narrow small towns straddling a major highway in northern Peru. Most of these ‘whistle-stop’ towns are nondescript, uninteresting, dirty and generally not worth a visit, so when we saw advertisements distributed in Chiclayo this week regarding a celebration of Illimo’s 106th anniversary we didn’t decide to go until over coffee this morning when we couldn’t come up with anything better to do. We’re glad we did.

Illimo is a 45 minute bus combi ride from Chiclayo. One of the first things we noticed upon entering the town was how clean it was. Typically there is a lot of trash in the streets of towns like this, but not here. Streets off the highway are also wider than normal and the homes and businesses are well maintained.

The celebration activities are scheduled for four days starting today and are staged in the principal park. Illimo’s economy is mostly agricultural but they also produce a significant amount of honey for the Lambayeque Region, so today’s headline event was a bee-beard contest. Unfortunately I lost the majority of photos I took today, but what happened is that men skilled in bee handling allowed themselves to be covered with bees. To do this a queen bee is placed on the individual and the bees swarm to the area she was placed. Helpers with smudge pots continually apply smoke to the bees to keep them tranquil. When the contest is over the queen is returned to the hive, hopefully to be followed by her swarm.

I say hopefully because there were a lot of bees who didn’t seem interested in reentering the hives. When a group of young bee handlers challenged me to sit next to a hive, I fully expected to be stung but it didn’t happen even though many of them landed on me.

Daniel, who won second place and 200 soles for his effort was completely covered with bees (one of the photos I lost). He was stung once in the belly but shrugged it off. His mother was rightly proud of her son.

We bought several products from one of the many kiosks surrounding the park. This one is operated by Daniel’s uncle.

Illimo has a good feel to it. Though it’s a city and not a tiny village, you can walk the streets in relative quiet on wide sidewalks without the constant din of motos and taxies or the crush of people. It also appears to be a safe town, as attested to by several citizens we talked with. And there’s the cleanliness.

Monday the celebration focuses on music, with several name entertainers from Lima including Cachay and Jackie Castañeda. We might go back. We’d like to try more of the local food, plus it would give me the chance to reshoot the lost photos.


Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Port City of Paita Peru

Paita is not just another fishing village, though fishing is its major economy as evidenced by hundreds of fishing boats clogging the port, and several modern fish processing plants on the southern edge of town. These companies also process shrimp, clams, scallops and octopus. Paita also serves as Peru’s fifth busiest port, receiving cargo ships from Columbia, Ecuador and many other countries. Ships from the United States unload rolls of paper produced in various paper mills, and leave with bales of Peru cotton and other products including seafood. Still, in appearance it has that same slow sleepy look and feel as do most other coastal towns we’ve seen.

The waterfront area is remarkably clean for a fishing town. There is a lengthy boulevard (Malecòn) that skirts an attractive ocean beach offering a good view of the town and waterfront activities, and also a number of quality tourist restaurants…with inflated tourist prices. There are no standard tourist attractions. A man in the tourist information office who tried hard to answer questions but has little knowledge or information about Paita past or present, indicated the boulevard and an old building serving as the port customs administration as the only points of interest.

The town is not laid out in the typical block grid pattern. Streets are narrow, winding and rarely level, obviously following the contours and dictates of the towering bluffs that pin the village to the ocean. Spanish colonial influence is very evident throughout the town.

We had been told that Paita is a worthwhile ½ day stop and it is, but we had another reason for visiting. We had come to see the port where a ship from a bygone era had docked and provisioned nearly 200 years ago, and from here had gone on to disaster.

On August 12 1819 the whale ship Essex (painting by artist A. D. Blake) left the port of Nantucket Massachusetts with a crew of 20 bound for whaling grounds in the Pacific off the shores of Chile and Peru, a voyage typically lasting from two to three years. The ship made a provisioning stop at Paita in the summer of 1820 to take on vegetables and probably pigs before going on to the Galapagos Islands and then far out to sea.

On February 20 1820 the ship was rammed head-on not once but twice by a solitary bull sperm whale estimated at 85’ and weighing 80 tons. The 87’ ship weighing 238 tons was holed and actually driven backwards. It turned on its side and filled with water within 10 minutes, leaving the crew stranded in three 25’ whale boats one thousand miles from the nearest land. Ultimately only eight men were rescued; five of them by resorting to cannibalism.

Paita today is of course not as Captain Pollard and his Essex crew saw it, but perhaps not too different. They would have recognized this view of the bluffs; semi-white sand beach, and a few buildings not very different in appearance from those in 1820. Had they known what was in store for them they may have chosen to stay.


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Starbucks... meet Maribel!

In the US while shopping at a mall we would frequently stop for a break at Starbucks for coffee and a muffin. We enjoyed the atmosphere; the coffee was good and the muffins tasty. It’s a different story at Starbucks in Chiclayo’s Real Plaza.

This Starbucks opened about two years ago. We visited it shortly after the grand opening and were disappointed with both the coffee and muffins. Thinking that maybe they needed time to get their act together we didn’t visit again for many months. The second experience was no different. We left believing that we probably wouldn’t return.

Yesterday, for absolutely no good reason we once again found ourselves in Starbucks. And once again were disappointed. The coffee continues to taste bitter, and the muffins we ordered tasted as you would expect a dry, stale, reheated muffin would taste. I once again vowed never to return. Maribel took it farther than that. She put her mostly uneaten muffin in her purse, brought it home, took a photo of it with the receipt and sent an email to Starbucks along with the photo, lamenting more so than complaining about the sad state of affairs concerning Starbucks in Chiclayo. This morning she received a reply offering a refund. I don’t think that’s what she’s after. She’s on a mission to help Starbucks help themselves!

On a different but somewhat related matter, last week while wondering through the dairy products section of a nearby Metro food store we were momentarily stunned to see a large selection of brick cheeses from Crystal Farms located in Lake Mills, Wisconsin. An employee told us they had been offering the brand for two months. We bought the remaining five bricks of mild Cheddar along with several bricks of Monterey Jack and Marble Cheddar. At $4.40 per 8oz brick the cheese is a bit pricy, but damn!... it’s Wisconsin cheese! Now if only the importer; E. Wong SA would add Redwood Creek Pinot Noir to their imports life would be complete!

As I was about to publish this, Maribel received an email from a Starbuck’s representative in Lima offering to meet with us for coffee in the Chiclayo location to discuss our views. Frankly, because of different suppliers and other concerns I don’t think they have the ability, nor do we expect them to be able to replicate conditions in the US, but we’re both impressed with their handling of the issue so far. We will meet with them and report back on what transpires.

Monday, October 31, 2011

A County Fair Peruvian Style

Yesterday the 12th annual Feria Ganadera (livestock show) began a six-day run on the grounds of the Livestock Growers Association near Chiclayo’s airport.

Even without the attraction of a fair the enclosed area itself is worth seeing. At any given time it is home to upwards of 300 beef and dairy cattle. The dairy cows are there primarily to supply milk for the government’s ‘Vaso de Leche’ (glass of milk) program for poor kids in the Lambayeque Region. The beef cattle are sold to local restaurants. There are a surprising number of breeds in the pens. Of the dairy cows the Holstein prevails. I recognized Charolais among the many breeds of beef cows.

As for the fair, though the promotional material bills it as a livestock show it has all the ingredients of county fairs in the US plus some things you don’t see in Wisconsin, including a bullfight.

One of the first events was a dog show. The gentleman in the photo showed this Rottweiler and a German Shepherd. He did not win a prize. Those who did received 16, 8 or 4 kilos of dog food for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place respectively. Most of the dogs on the streets of Chiclayo are mutts, but of the rapidly growing number of house dogs (and resultant pet salons!) Rottweilers and Pit Bulls seem to be prevalent.

A display of horsemanship was put on by the police department. Peruvians seem to appreciate equestrian skills almost as much as they enjoy watching the marinara danced.

Strolling the midway one could see kiosks on both sides selling crafts, natural medicines, clothing, and all sorts of candy including the familiar fluffy pink cotton candy. There were live and stuffed animals to have your photo taken with. What were missing were the games of chance - throwing darts at balloons, or balls at milk bottles to win a prize.

In Chiclayo all festivities include lots of food. Dozens of food vendors were offering chicharrón con mote (fried pork chunks served with boiled corn and onions), cuy con papas (fried guinea pig with boiled potatoes) and carne con papas (fried beef with boiled potatoes). And with all that salt, beer stands were doing a brisk business.

As we were leaving a huge bandstand was being erected as evidenced by the half-dozen refrigerator sized speakers being placed on it. I didn’t mind not being there for the music. Before I left the US my doctor cautioned me to never subject myself to the sounds of 300 bawling cattle combined with a billion decibels of mind numbing, organ shifting Latin music.


Friday, October 28, 2011

A Whirlwind Sampling of Peru

The last two weeks are a blur for the three of us. Maybe with a few days to recover we’ll better appreciate our experiences but for now we’re in a much needed rest mode.

It began when Maribel and I met my sister Joyce in Lima Wednesday the 26th. Our plan was to spend two days trying to give Joyce a feel for Lima before flying on to Iquitos for Joyce’s first jungle experience, and then finishing up with six days in Chiclayo. We stuck to our timetable but had planned so many activities into the schedule that it often felt as if we were running a marathon.

Lima is a big city. Selecting activities to present a picture of the city in just two days was a challenge but we think we succeeded. We began our tour at what seemed to me to be the natural starting place…the Plaza de Armas. We timed it to catch the changing of the guard at noon at the Government Palace. Following a delicious lunch including Pisco sours with friends at Maury’s Hotel/Restaurant we toured historic San Francisco church. Then it was on to the Museum of Inquisition and Congress. Late afternoon found us back in Miraflores watching the sun set in Parque Del Amor. That evening we were too tired to go out so stayed in the apartment and ate Wisconsin cheddar cheese on crackers with wine.

The next morning found us at the Larco Museum in Pueblo Libre. What a beautiful and informative museum! The displays focus on cultural history, and we were surprised to see a large section devoted to the Moche culture from our neck of the woods in the Lambayeque Region. It is not a large museum but we spent over two hours wondering among the displays and on the grounds which are beautifully landscaped.

After the museum we traveled to Congress hoping to take a tour of the building and perhaps see congress in action, but at the entrance we were told visiting was restricted because a festival was being held on the grounds of the building. Perhaps it was the sad and disappointed expressions on our faces, but as we were about to leave an officious looking man motioned to us to follow him. He led us inside the building; gave us passes and arranged for a guide. It was an interesting tour and we were introduced to several members of Congress. A taxi took us back to Miraflores and Parque Kennedy where we had an early dinner. In the evening we window shopped at the Larco Mar Mall, and then it was early to bed as we had to be at the airport early the next morning.

The weather in Lima during our visit was cloudy, cool and damp. We actually wore light jackets in the apartment at night. The weather in Iquitos is not cloudy, cool and damp. We wore as little as possible and still had to stop frequently to rest and drink liquids. We ran the air conditioner in the apartment at maximum all night. It is hot in Iquitos.

Beside just enjoying the feeling of bring in a remote town on the edge of the Amazon River and rainforest there is a lot to see and do in Iquitos. Some of our activities included visiting a small cultural museum, the Manatee Rescue Center, the Amazon Golf Course, Quistococha Zoological Park, Pilpintuwasi Butterfly Farm and a Serpentarium on the Nanay River where Joyce was able to touch and hold a variety of native animals including a sloth and snakes. We spent time looking for pink dolphins on a commercial riverboat tour.

We visited two ‘native’ villages where we took part in dances, jungle walks and were taught to use a blowgun. In my view for the most part these are awkwardly staged theatrical productions designed to soften up the tourist for the trinket sale onslaught that follows the show, but there is enough entertainment to justify the time spent.

One of the highlights of our Iquitos visit was fishing for piranhas on the Amazon River. Given everything I’ve heard and read about piranhas I expected them to be jumping into the boat trying to tear us to shreds. Instead they proved to be sneaky sophisticated bait-stealers. Because there were witnesses I am forced to be completely honest here. Three of us fished… two of us caught fish. This was very damaging to my male ego.

Our four days in Iquitos went quickly and we left with mixed feelings – sorry to leave this beautiful setting but glad to escape the heat.

Chiclayo was the last and most laid-back of our locations, though we still kept busy. We revisited the Lord of Sipan museum and pyramids; walked the beach and saw the old train station at Puerto Eten; visited the villages of Eten, Boro and Cayalti, and spent a day in the historic town of Zaña. Joyce also had time to get reacquainted with friends and family members she hadn’t seen in a year.

And now it’s over. Joyce is back in the US and Maribel and I have already begun to plan for next year’s visit. A combination of Machu Picchu, Cajamarca and Tarapoto sounds promising.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Thirteen Holy Souls

Not sure anyone knows how 13 skulls came to be placed in this unmarked modest adobe structure in central Chiclayo. One story tells of how a bus accident killed over 50 people and the skulls were a result of that accident. Another account says that a flood destroyed over 90% of the area and that weeks later the 13 skulls were found clustered about a large wooden cross. However it happened, the skulls have reportedly been in this structure for over 100 years, and are visited daily by hundreds of people in need of help.

There is a mystical feeling to the tiny room where often people are standing shoulder to shoulder in silent prayer. There is a traditional oration to be offered to the souls, ending with the promise to recite 13 times daily Ave Maria and Our Father for 13 days. An important part of the ritual is the burning of a single white candle, which can be purchased in a small side room. One source claims that 3,000 candles are offered daily.

Over time more skulls and other objects of a religious nature have been added to the collection, apparently offered as thanks for miracles received. Every inch of wall space is covered with plaques placed there by individuals who are absolutely certain the 13 souls answered their call for help. Most of the plaques simply read… “Gracias por el milagro concedido” (Thank you for the miracle granted), though other more elaborate plaques include a description of the miracle granted. And it is not just Chiclayanos who visit the 13 souls. Many of the plaques have city names from locations all over Peru.

It is my understanding that Catholic Church authorities in Peru neither condone nor condemn the practice of visiting and praying to the 13 souls, though it is likely that an official church position either way would have no effect on the many believers.


Friday, October 21, 2011

A Forgotten Train Station

In the mid 1850s Puerto Eten was a bustling fishing and shipping port, supplying goods and food products including fish and sugar cane to much of the Lambayeque Region. The demand for transportation to towns in the region was such that in 1867 it was decided to locate a major train station in the town for the transport of products and people.

By 1875 the station was the hub of a far reaching network to a host of towns including Pimentel, Chiclayo, Lambayeque and Zaña. Puerto Eten retained its position of prominence into the 1920s at which time for a variety of reasons it began to decline into the all but forgotten village it is today.

Behind the village’s municipal buildings is what remains of the once-grand train station complex that stopped operating in 1968. The rusting remains of six engines occupy one of seven buildings still standing. Their boilers have been stripped of many parts but beyond that they appear pretty much as if they had been parked in anticipation of returning to service.

A machine shop looks as if it too is waiting to be put back in action. The manufacturer information is still visible on many of the machines. All of the machinery is from several manufactures in Manchester and other cities in England, and all are date stamped 1870.

These passenger cars have been patiently waiting for more than forty years to once again hear…”All aboard!” That’s not going to happen, nor will the engines ever again have their boilers fired, but there is hope that they will no longer continue to sit neglected and unnoticed. Puerto Eten has a plan to turn the entire complex into a tourist attraction with the help of foreign investors. We hope those plans are realized…these grand old trains and the town deserve a better fate.


Monday, October 3, 2011

The Mayor died last night

I don’t even know his name. Most people in the neighborhood simply referred to him as the Mayor. He lived within sight of our apartment and up until a few months ago could be seen most days sitting on a chair outside of his house where he would happily engage in small talk with neighbors and passersby.

Sometimes he would decide to walk to the corner and read or ‘hold court’ while sitting on the street marker. He was not in good physical condition and it was apparent that the walk was painful for him. Sometimes I’d watch his slow progress from our balcony, all the while hoping he wouldn’t fall. Occasionally he’d stumble and catch himself against the wall of a house, but I never saw him turn back.

Whenever I’d leave our apartment I could count on his checking me out to see that I was properly dressed. In the summer if I was not wearing a hat he’d call out, “Senor, el sol es caliente.” In the winter it would be, “Senor, que es frio y ventoso.” He was one of those people you looked forward to seeing and spending a few minutes with…his cheery presence seeming to signify that at least for the moment all was well with the world.

Descansa en paz, señor alcalde.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

“Fresh of the moment”

I opened our freezer out of curiosity the other day and found nothing but ice cube trays. No ice cubes…just trays. The refrigerator below it wasn’t much different, having only butter, milk and eggs as its tenants. I don’t know why the eggs are in there – they’re not sold refrigerated. Eggs here are big and brown and have shells akin to an armored truck. It takes a real effort to crack them, and when you do you’re greeted with a slight musty odor that carries through to the taste. You can buy white eggs at three times the cost of the brown but almost no one does. Keeping eggs in the refrigerator is probably just a habit Maribel picked up in the US.

In the US our refrigerator/freezer had lots of tenants. In the freezer you’d find a variety of pizzas, frozen dinners, turkey slices, fish, ground chuck, ice cream, and of course several packages of Johnsonville Brats. I maintain that if you die without having eaten a brat, your life was not worth living.
The same can be said for cheddar cheese produced in Wisconsin, which brings us to the refrigerator. Our refrigerator was always full, mostly with cheeses, fruit, sandwich foods and left-overs plus the usual assortment of odds and ends.

Our pantry had a wide variety of canned goods including vegetables, fruit, beans, etc. The pantry also had potatoes, onions, sliced bread and hard rolls. To me sandwich and hard roll are inseparable whether we’re talking hamburger or baloney. If it’s not on a hard roll, I don’t want it. Anyway, the point to all of this is that in the US when I was hungry, anything I wanted was probably in the house. We would do the shopping for the week on Tuesday (for no particular reason) and maybe go into town twice per week for milk and bread.

It’s different here. People are obsessed with “fresh of the moment.” You buy only enough for the upcoming meal and only from a trusted vendor because you don’t want to buy anything left over from yesterday, which is why most Chiclayo women prefer to shop at street markets rather than the large chain stores. While at the market in the morning you may decide to purchase food for dinner tonight, but that’s a stretch. And you never buy anything for tomorrow.

The bigger stores like Tottus, Metro and Plaza Vea do have frozen food sections and canned goods, but they’re miniscule compared to those in the US. Of the canned goods, peaches and tuna are big sellers, though I’m not sure why. Frozen food cases have mostly ice cream, with a smattering of vegetables and turkey burger patties. The fresh food sections have a good variety of fruits, vegetables and meats displayed attractively but I’ll bet the markets just outside sell ten times as much, again because many women are skeptical of how fresh the food really is, plus prices are generally lower.

Personally I would rather take my chances on wrapped meat, fish and poultry in refrigerated cases in the supermarkets rather than the stuff I see hanging from hooks in the sun having flies shooed off of it, but that’s not how Maribel sees it. She’s been shopping this same market and from many of the same vendors long before the supermarkets showed up and I don’t see that changing, though she will acknowledge that sometimes (she insisted I add sometimes) meat purchased from the street market versus Tottus is “muy duro” (very tough).

I enjoy eating most Peruvian dishes and Maribel is a good cook, but there are times when I’d love to open the freezer and take out one of those greasy Hungry Man chicken dinners or Tombstone pizza. Oh well…next trip to the States.


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Boro has got some problems

During a previous visit to the village of Boro we learned that the village does not have municipal water and that the wells are contaminated - not an unusual condition for many small desert communities. During a recent visit we became aware of an equally important problem, which also explained the piles of bricks laying throughout the village. In March of this year local authorities prohibited new and in progress construction because of the archeological ruins in the nearby mountains. The villagers claim this is a reversal of a decision made over ten years ago when authorities granted permission to farm and build houses on lots where clear evidence of title existed.

As mentioned in an earlier blog (August 8), Boro is a fairly recent community comprised of immigrants from the highlands. Many of them have constructed squatter shacks with the intent of first manufacturing their own bricks at no cost and then constructing houses. Many families were in the process of building their houses when the government edict preventing construction was issued.

Maria Bazan is the grandmother to these five kids. They have been living in these conditions for several years, always with the hope of someday living in a brick house which now is very much in doubt. Four of the kids attend the village school. Much of the family’s nourishment comes from the “vaso de leche” program and a free noon meal from government donated food. Maria’s son…the father of the kids works in Trujillo and returns on weekends. We’re not clear as to where their mother is.

We don’t know if there’s anything we can do to help these people but we’re going to try. Salomon Morante Velasquez (on the left in the photo) who is an attorney and Promesa Peru board member will represent the village in discussion with local authorities in an attempt to find a solution to the building problem.

On Sunday, October 9th Promesa Peru will sponsor a medical campaign at the Boro school as we did at Collique Alto last July. We’ve been told to expect 100 adults and 50 children. We already have the commitment of several doctors and nurses, and have approximately ¼ of the medicine we’ll need. If possible we’d also like to give some inexpensive toys to the kids. It was sad to learn that the only toys the Bazan family has are the make-believe horses the boys were ‘riding.’

We expect it will take another $300 over what we have now to finance the Boro medical campaign. We could sure use some help. If you or anyone you know would be interested in contributing please visit the Promesa Peru web page.

We and the people of Boro would appreciate it.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Sugar Cane Towns

To my knowledge there are five sugar cane factories in the Lambayeque Region. Four of them are cooperatives located in Cayalti, Pomalca, Pucula and Tuman. The fifth is privately owned by Azucarera Del Norte SAC and is located on the route between Chiclayo and Ferreñafe.

Sugar cane towns share a common appearance and purpose. Those we’ve visited resemble raw frontier towns that exist solely to support the factory by providing labor and whatever else is needed. There are no malls, cinemas, chain stores or other niceties. Thick dust on dirt streets is constantly kept airborne by trucks hauling cane to the factories. There is usually no attempt at esthetics either collectively or individually, as if surrender to the desert’s constant onslaught had taken place long ago. An exception we saw yesterday is the town of Pucula.

The center of Pucula adjacent to the factory is as described above, but on the fringe where houses abruptly end and cane fields begin we saw an orderliness and cleanliness lacking in the city center and other towns. There is no liter in the streets. Many of the houses are freshly painted. Beautiful flower gardens butt up against attractive verandas. In talking with some of the residents we found there is a feeling of individual and neighborhood pride.

One woman we spoke with said she had lived in the same house for 49 years and that she and her neighbors have always tried to keep their area “limpio y tranquilo” (clean and quiet). She said that in December they erect a nativity scene in a small square surrounded by their houses and invited us to come back to see it.

We have no idea why these pockets of neighborhood pride exist in Pucula and not in the other towns. It’s not likely that these folks are better off financially. Perhaps we can learn more when we return in December.