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.