Saturday, December 29, 2012

About Owning a Car

So, you’re thinking about relocating to Chiclayo or some other Peruvian northern coastal town and wondering if you’re going to need a car. Here are some things you may want to consider before plunking down your nuevo sols.

At least 90% of the collisions I’ve seen involve a private car. Commercial drivers… taxi, mototaxi, colectivo, combi and trucks drive in pretty much the same rhythm and know what to expect from each other in the semi-controlled chaos that are Chiclayo streets. For example, Commercial drivers (and native pedestrians) know to look both ways when crossing a one way street. They know that the taxi or combi or mototaxi ahead of them will suddenly swerve left or right or come to a dead stop, because they do it themselves and are prepared to deal with it. Private car owners are on a different rhythm – slower, indecisive and much more cautious. And they do the unexpected, like slowing down before turning and not ‘shooting the gap’ between oncoming vehicles, and stopping on a yellow light. And so they get hit or hit somebody.

Driving isn’t the only drawback. Parking is a bitch. There is no difference between trying to find a parking spot in downtown Chicago or in Chiclayo. And unless you have a private and secure place to keep your car, especially overnight but also during daytime, chances are good that when you next visit your car you’ll be missing your side view mirrors (a favorite ‘midnight auto sales’ item) and whatever else the thieves were able to remove. There are parking garages scattered throughout the city, but unless you know they’re there they are difficult to recognize and are not convenient to get in or out of.

There’s the cost of gas, which right now is on a par with USA gas prices. In Chiclayo for $1.20 you can go to pretty much anywhere you want to go by taxi and even less in a mototaxi, and you don’t have to drive in what always resembles a demolition derby, or worry about a parking spot and if your car will be there in whole or in part when you get back. That same $1.20 will get you to most surrounding towns like Lambayeque and Pimentel, albeit in a combi, which is sometimes not the most comfortable mode of transportation if it’s an older model.

And there’s the expense of auto insurance which is mandatory, though most incidents are minor and unless injuries are involved amount to nothing more that shouting and exchanging insults with each other before driving off as if the whole thing never happened.

Despite the above, there are advantages to having your own car.

Going somewhere at night on a combi or collectivo is a pain because of limited hours, and the often unsafe areas where they are boarded. Taxis are the only other option, and at night they are both expensive and dangerous if the driver has a second occupation as a thief. Secondly, a car is more convenient for long trips, where the only public transportation is by bus and you have to travel on their schedule….not yours. Peruvians have no trouble traveling on a bus from Chiclayo to Lima (12 hours) or to Cajamarca (6 hours), but my restless leg syndrome kicks in at about the 3 hour mark and if I can’t pull over and walk a bit the remainder of the trip is torture.

Still think you may want to buy a car? Okay, let’s look at your options.

If it’s a new car you’re thinking about there are a handful of new car dealers in Chiclayo with modern facilities and showrooms. The Maquinarias dealership offers Nissan and Renault.  Other dealers handle Honda, Toyota, JMC, Daewoo, Hyundai, Volkswagen and Suzuki. To my knowledge the only General Motors brand available in northern Peru is Chevrolet. The Chevy offerings from several dealers include the Sail ($11,500) and Spark ($8,000), as well as a van and SUV. I don’t know the model names of the last two. A new Chevy van at the Real Plaza Mall dealership has a sticker price of $10,500. I have been told that almost all of the new cars sold in Peru are built/assembled in Brazil or some other South American country.

There are several ‘pre-owned’ car lots in or near Chiclayo. I have not visited them so am not familiar with their offerings or operation. Most used cars are bought and sold through either word of mouth or seeing a for sale sign on the streets. It is my understanding that this 1981 Buick Skylark with automatic transmission seen in the photo was owned by a sweet little old lady who only drove it to church on Sunday. The Ford Escort parked in front of the Buick is also for sale.

If you’re going to own a car you’ll also need to maintain it. New car dealers have complete service facilities but are regarded as expensive, probably because they’ve adopted the ‘replace’ philosophy of US car maintenance facilities. Peruvians don’t like to ‘replace’ anything unless it is absolutely necessary…they repair. An old radiator, brake shoe, generator, window crank handle, shock absorber, etc isn’t replaced, it’s repaired. It’s a marvel to me how these mechanics can keep 30, 40 and 50 year old cars on the road. Their repairs won’t last forever but no matter – they’ll repair it again and again until there is nothing left to repair, and then they’ll come up with some other exotic solution.

Repair shops come in many flavors ranging from a complete facility at a new car dealer to somebody’s back yard. Jam Motors is one of the newer and more modern. Several of their mechanics were wearing coveralls with “certified GM mechanic” embroidered on the back. They were working on three Chevy Spark taxis parked on the street when this photo was taken.

The majority of auto repair shops in Chiclayo look like this one. Most of them have been around for a long time and are trusted by locals. Their hours of operation are iffy and they may not be able to accept your job immediately and it will probably seem to take forever to get your car back, but the job will get done and at a cost that will be laughably low.

There is one remaining item ahead of you...and it’s a huge one. Three years ago the then President Alan Garcia signed legislation making the attendance of a driver training school mandatory to obtain a first-time driver license. There are several “Escuela De Conductores” that will be happy to teach the rules of the road during a three-month course at a cost of $785. When you’ve completed the course your next stop is at the Department of Transportation where you will undergo a physical examination and then be required to pass a written and road test. This at an additional cost of $392. It’s hard for me to believe that this system is enforced as stated…the average Peruvian would not be able to afford it, but true or not there is probably a substantial amount of time, money and red-tape involved.

Are you really sure you want a car?

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Graduation Night

For Young people in Peru there are several milestones that are major league activities. For a girl, the biggest single event in her young life is her 15th birthday. It’s her ‘coming out’. It’s a formal dress; rent a hall and band; take a ride in a horse drawn white carriage in Parque Las Muses; invite 150 guests at $12 per plate; let the liquor flow; party all night and bankrupt your parents type event. Parents start saving and planning 3 years in advance. For a boy it’s his 18th birthday and pretty much follows the same script, except now he’s legal age and can drink with the rest of the ‘adults.’

Lesser events but still up there on the importance scale are school graduations. Peruvians celebrate graduations with an impressive display of pomp and circumstance at four levels…kinder, primary, secondary and university. Common to all of them is a ceremony in a hall or some other suitable facility that has been tastefully decorated. In the larger cities and for wealthier families the graduates, parents and guests will be dressed to the nines. In small villages the kids will be dressed in the best clothing their parents can afford, which is often hand-me-downs from older siblings; borrowed from a neighbor or relative, or sew by mom or some other family member.  There will be formal introductions as each graduate with escort enters the hall individually and circles the standing/applauding attendees before coming to a halt at a prescribed location. It’s heartwarming to watch kinder graduates of five and six years old trying to act just as officious as university graduates. After several speeches by faculty and parents the graduates and their escorts will dance center stage, to be followed by dancing with parents and finally the other guests. Following several hours of dancing, food will be served followed by more speeches and the cutting of the graduation cake(s). These activities last to the wee hours and often see the sun rise.

The graduation Maribel and I recently attended in Puerto Arturo for primary students in the 11 to 13 age range was different in that there were just four graduates. And these are poor people…there were no 3-button suits, evening gowns or horse-drawn white carriages. Still, the formal ceremony as outlined above was followed to the letter.

The four graduates are in this photo, taken on our first visit to the school in October. Can you can identify them from the following photo?

They clean up pretty well, don’t they? Jaime Diaz (left) intends to study mechanical engineering. Next to Jamie is Luis Diego Fernandez who wants a future as a medical doctor. Their teacher Ninfa Milian apologized during her speech for sometimes “being too hard on you.” To Ninfa’s left, Cintya Cotrina has her sights set on being a policewoman, and Eliana Castrejon wants a nursing career. They will be going on to secondary school in Reque when school begins again next March. They are personable and intelligent kids. Maribel and I were proud to be their Padrinos de Promociòn (graduation Godparents).

The event was still going on at midnight when Maribel and I and three others opted to leave. We walked about a mile through quiet village streets to the highway where we lucked out and stopped a passing taxi that was returning ti Chiclayo from Puerto Eten. We were home at 1:00am, feeling good about the evening and happy for the kids.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Makings of a Chocolatada

A typical Chocolatada/ Christmas party lasts from 2 to 2½ hours. Preparation time is considerably longer. The following is a laundry list of things that need to be accomplished, and is applicable to all Chocolatadas we’ve sponsored.

The process begins with a visit to schools that have requested our help. We normally receive 3 or 4 requests every year beginning in September. The first consideration during our visit is to try to gauge the financial condition of the school/community. Would there be no Chocolatada without assistance, or are they just looking for a free ride (it happens)?

When need is established the next issue is transportation. What we’re looking at is how far and how difficult is it to reach this community. In October we were invited to a beautiful little village located in an isolated mountain valley where we would have loved to sponsor a Chocolatada but the location made it a practical impossibility.  We were able to locate only one man with a suitable vehicle who would take us there but he wanted $315 round trip, which was not unreasonable given the distance and terrain but that was nearly our entire budget.

How much we have to transport and how many people are going determines the mode of transportation. Often we’ve needed to charter a combi (van), which gets expensive and depending on distance and total time can cost from $50 to $75. For the just concluded Puerto Arturo Chocolatada this truck was our transportation. Maribel and I rode up front with the driver. Milkito the Clown rode in the open back with the food, toys and other gear. He didn’t mind, and it saved us the cost of a second or larger vehicle. The driver…a friend of a friend charged us $27 for the 30 mile round-trip plus the 2 ½ hours wait time. That’s a pretty good price; better than other offers we received. I still hold out the hope that someday someone will offer to transport us for the cost of the gas alone.

If transportation looks doable we look next at the number of students enrolled including ages and sex. This information tells us how much food we’ll need and what kind and numbers of toys to purchase. Toys are usually the biggest budget item. We know that a school with over 60 or so students will be beyond our financial means. Purchasing toys is also the biggest time consuming activity. Big department stores such as Tottus and Plaza Vea are avoided as they tend to carry the larger, bulkier and more expensive toys. Our toys are purchased at very small family owned stores clustered just outside of central Chiclayo. They don’t have large inventories so it’s a case of buying 2 or 3 toys at this store, perhaps 5 at the next, and so on. It’s also the custom to negotiate at these stores. Maribel is a fierce negotiator and will get the best price possible.

The food items…paneton, chocolate, milk, sugar and candy are bought from whoever is offering the best price at the moment. Empanadas are ordered two days in advance from a small neighborhood bakery and picked up the morning of the Chocolatada.

A clown is standard, and finding one is not always easy. There are lots of activities going on in December and good clowns are booked far in advance. We’ve been fortunate so far in finding reliable clowns. The going rate for an experienced clown is about $70.

And finally, there are the on-site logistics to deal with. Does the school have an outside area sheltered from the sun to stage the Chocolatada? If not is there a large enough classroom? Will there be enough chairs for the students, and tables for food and gifts? Who is preparing the chocolate milk and will it be ready when food is distributed? Is there a CD player, speakers and microphone for the clown, and someone who knows how to operate it? I’ve noticed that clowns tend to get very temperamental when their act is disrupted by missed music cues. Do all the teachers and students know a Chocolatada is taking place on this date at this time (it’s surprising how often someone doesn’t get the word)? These are just a few of the picky details that need to be addressed to insure a successful Chocolatada.

Like all organized activities, whether it’s a college reunion in New York USA or a Chocolatada in Puerto Arturo Peru, a lot of up-front time and effort is required. For us 99% of that time and effort falls on Maribel. She does all the purchasing; makes all the arrangements and coordinates and oversees everyone’s efforts including those at the school, and when we’re on site she’s in the thick of things, handing out toys, serving food and doing whatever else needs to be done. I know it’s cliché but without Maribel there would be no Chocolatadas or medical campaigns or donated school supplies. 

When Maribel got into the truck to return home after the Puerto Arturo Chocolatada she said “mission accomplished.” She looked tired but there was a big, proud smile on her face. Later that evening she fell asleep at the theater during El Hobbit.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Mission Accomplished

“Mission accomplished”…those were Maribel’s words as we drove away from school I.E. 10043 in Puerto Arturo this morning at the conclusion of a fun Christmas party. We had arrived at 10:00am and by 12:30 it was all over.

As always, the clown was the featured attraction. The voices of 40 excited kids inside a classroom responding to the antics of ‘Milkito the Clown’ were deafening. Milkito did a good job of involving the kids and teachers in his portion of the activities. An outbreak of measles prevented 23 kids from attending. We left presents and food to be taken to them later.

After the kids had burned off some energy they were ready for the paneton, empanadas, candy and hot chocolate that are part of every Christmas party. They were also ready for the toys they knew were coming. It is always a pleasure to watch their eyes light up and see that initial burst of excitement when toys are handed out.

The faculty at I.E. 10043 are probably the most enthusiastic and friendly group of educators we’ve dealt with. They obviously have a good repoire with the kids, and certainly made us feel welcome and part of the family. Pictured left to right are Zenaida, Isabel, me, Maribel, Joselito (the school’s director) and Ninfa.

This is the 5th chocolatada Promesa Peru has sponsored, but it came very close to not happening. It was generous donations at the last moment from the Wednesday Morning Riversbend Golf Gals (thanks for coming through for us again, ladies) and the Greendale Monday Morning Weight Watchers Group that allowed us to go forward. A big thanks from us and the kids! 

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Welcome to Puerto Arturo

Puerto Arturo is a small village located within walking distance of the town of Reque, which straddles the Pan-American highway about 15 miles south of Chiclayo. Like many of Peru’s older remote desert villages, Puerto Arturo presents the over-all appearance of a deteriorating, tired town. There are many old crumbling residences and the town’s park has gone to seed. One feels that if there ever was a sense of community it was lost to the past long ago. Part of the explanation for the abandoned buildings and lack of vibrancy in the community is that many younger families have moved to larger cities where opportunities to earn a living are better, leaving behind the older folks with their memories. The young people who do remain are either subsistence farming or working during the day in one of the nearby cities.

One institution that is alive and well in Puerto Arturo is the school. I.E.N 10043 has been educating kids ages 4 through 13 for many years before sending them off to high school in Reque. Present enrollment is about 50 kids, though that number can fluctuate wildly day-to-day depending on if the kid’s help is needed in the fields or at home.

Zenaida Guevara has been teaching 1st and 2nd grade kids for 27 years at this school. She likes kids and enjoys her job. She says that after 27 years every day is still a little different. She took pride in showing us “things that cost nothing”… bottle caps, old tires and plastic bottles filled with sand that are used effectively for physical exercise and games for the kids.

Ninfa Milian is a 22 year veteran at I.E.N 10043. She teaches the 5th and 6th grades. Besides the basics she enjoys getting the kids interested in art and literature to “make them aware of their creative abilities.”

Malu Julca is an unpaid teaching assistant working with the younger kids. She is majoring in education at Pedro Ruiz Gallo University in Lambayeque. She loves working with kids and they obviously love her.

The woman in this photo (she asked that her name not be used) lives at the school in a small unused classroom.  She does the cooking for the kids, cleans the classrooms, and is responsible for security. Today she is cooking rice pudding as part of the government’s “Vaso de Leche” program (daily glass of milk) for poor school kids. Besides milk, government donated food for qualifying poor schools includes rice, flour and bread supplied by contract with local vendors.

We were at the school at the invitation of Isabel Paredes who teaches the middle grades and is presently acting director. Isabel was the assistant director of the school in Las Colmenas where we sponsored a chocolatada last December and has asked if we could do the same for the Puerto Arturo school.

We were impressed with the attitude of the teachers and kids and think this school is deserving, but if they are going to have a Christmas party this year we need help. Peru’s economy continues to grow rapidly – although outlying areas have yet to see any benefit, and with it has come rising inflation. Prices for many of the items needed for a chocolatada… chocolate milk, paneton, toys and services have risen by as much as 20% over last year, while the dollar has dropped to a low of 2.58 soles. It is becoming more difficult for us to sponsor these activities. We need contributions if we are to continue our efforts. If you would like to help sponsor a Christmas chocolatada in Puerto Arturo next month please visit the Promesa Peru website. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

An Oasis in the Desert

It’s quiz time! You are in northern Peru walking in a serene algarroba forest; some areas with large expanses of manicured grass, others raw desert. In a branch overhead a four-foot long iguana is peering down at you. The silence is occasionally interrupted by bird calls and the piercing cry of a male peacock with full plumage extended, perhaps warning off other males or simply strutting to impress his harem. A fox crosses your path, showing no concern over your presence. He may be hunting squirrels seen in the treetops. In the distance are three deer, laying in shade to escape the mid-day heat. You are not in a nature reserve. Where are you? Not sure? Here are a few more hints.

The path you’re walking, which seems to go on forever is squeaky-clean tile and concrete, with modern light pole fixtures. In addition to the animals, scattered in the forest are modern large buildings, also squeaky-clean and tastefully designed. The intent was obviously to blend buildings and forest to create a single entity. You are less than three minutes from the congested hustle and bustle of a major city. You are not in a zoo….so where are you?

The answer is you are walking in the walled-in 320 acre campus of the University of Piura in Piura Peru. Founded in 1969 this university, also located in Lima is ranked among the top 10 universities in Peru. It offers undergraduate degrees in educational sciences, economics and business, communication, law, humanities and engineering. It also boasts of a language center where English is taught, and a Confucius Institute that works in cooperation with the Capital Normal University in Beijing.” Post graduate courses are offered for some of the schools.

Attending the University of Piura – often referred to as UDEP is not inexpensive by Peruvian standards for the upwards of 4000 students enrolled. Financial aid can be applied for, but without it tuition for the school of economics and business for example is $1,160 per month, or $9280 per year for the 8 months of classes. For comparison, the annual tuition cost for the University of Wisconsin – Madison is $10,378. Room and board for out of area students, which are private homes located off campus contracted with by UDEP adds another $350 per month.

Most private universities in northern Peru cost considerably less, and the national universities 80% less than the expense of attending UDEP. Does the reputation and beautiful campus translate into a better education?  In the absence of information regarding faculty qualifications, graduation rates, campus recruiting and job placement one can only speculate, but the fact that many prominent Peruvian families have sent/are sending their children to attend would suggest that it’s a good bet.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Chocolate Journey

In Milwaukee’s Brookfield Square Mall there is a chocolate shop. Its name is Maroon Bells. They offer a wide variety of attractively displayed chocolates. At the door of the shop is a table containing free samples. The intent is clear…one sample = one sale. It is a very effective strategy. This is the story of how a box of chocolates made a journey of some 3,500 miles from Milwaukee to a remote village in northern Peru. But first a bit about chocolates in general.

Chocolates don’t need a visa or passport. They don’t go through immigration. They don’t go through security as you and I do. They don’t have to bother removing their shoes, belt, watches or “other metal objects.” They also don’t have to be scanned nude at security, which is good because as everyone knows, chocolates are painfully shy and not given to exhibitionism.  They are required to pass through customs with their guardians but in this instance they were lucky and got the green light at the Lima airport.

They travel well. They don’t delay fellow passengers by trying to force their impossibly oversized carry-on into the overhead bin during the boarding process. They don’t need to be entertained; their ears don’t pop at altitude; they don’t experience restless leg syndrome; they never pace the aisle waiting for the “occupied” light to go out, and they don’t have to decide between “chicken or pasta”

For all their positive attributes chocolates are not very bright. No chocolate has ever won a Nobel Prize nor contributed anything meaningful to the advancement of humanity. But their claims to fame…appearance and flavor have endeared them for thousands of years to the gods and we mere mortals. They know they’re desirable and for many, irresistible yet they remain humble which only adds to their attractiveness. Anyway, let’s return to this particular box of chocolates.

As we have learned, they began their journey at the Brookfield Square Mall. From there they were gently and securely placed in a virgin piece of Nautica luggage which their guardians had purchased both because it was needed and because of the distinctive yellow stripe for recognition purposes at the airport carousal (imagine the look of surprise on the guardian’s faces when they saw a man with identical luggage at the Lima airport!). Next they were driven to the Milwaukee airport where they boarded a plane to Atlanta. After changing planes in Atlanta they flew to Lima. Following a six hour lay-over (chocolates never complain about lay-overs) they were winging their way to Chiclayo.  In Chiclayo they were repacked and taken to a bus station to begin a seven hour ride to Jaèn, where they were picked up by a man who drove them into the Andes Mountains and after crossing one river by barge and fording another arrived in the village of Zapotal.
Mountains, palm trees and jungle foliage indicated to the chocolates that they were definitely not in Brookfield Square. But no matter…they took comfort from the smiling face of the little girl who had been eagerly waiting for them. Claudia Joyce in Zapotal knew that her Godmother Joyce in Milwaukee would not forget her. 

Monday, October 1, 2012

Construction Workers Massacred!!!

Chiclayo Peru (AP) All of Chiclayo is reeling with shock and disbelief this morning over the ruthless massacre of eight city construction workers on Chinchaysuyo Ave yesterday afternoon. According to a police department spokesperson, the workers were apparently forced to line up against a wall and were then savagely gunned down.

Asked if there were any leads as to the murderer’s identities, the spokesperson said, “…we know who is responsible. It’s a rival gang of construction workers from neighboring La Victoria. For months now they have been stealing sand and gravel from our project site late at night. Two days ago we placed night security guards on the site to stop the thieves. We never imagined they would resort to an act this desperate and despicable over a few shovels full of sand and gravel.”

When asked what happens next, the spokesperson replied, “First we will mourn for our brave fallen workers. Then, when they least expect it, La Victoria will experience a defeat so crushing they will never be able to bother anyone again! Vengeance will be ours!!”

Okay…you’ve probably guessed the above was written tongue-in-cheek – that there was no massacre. But the thing is I actually thought something was drastically wrong when I initially saw bodies sprawled on the sidewalk, looking as if they’d been placed there for collection. And there were several more groups just like them over the next three blocks. They laid there as if they were dead while passersby had to walk in the street to get around them. I’m not being critical because this is Peru and customs are different here. It’s just that I can’t imagine seeing anything like that in the USA. Sure, city workers take breaks, but they and their bosses are aware that tax payers are looking at them so are a little more discrete about their image.


The Class of 1980

Chiclayo’s Karl Weiss school recently celebrated its 51st anniversary with a parade and other activities over a four day span. The parade is an annual event that is held in the downtown area. One of the classes participating in all the activities is Maribel’s class of 1980.

The class is probably typical of an organization with people in that age group. Its members include a judge, a police comandante and several police officers, taxi and moto taxi drivers, a doctor, vehicle mechanics, teachers, self employed business people and, unfortunately, an alcoholic or two who can’t seem to get their lives in order but are still treated with respect by classmates.

Every year the class seems to have less members participating in the anniversary celebration, not because they’ve departed the planet, though there are a couple of those, but because they’re scattered around the country. I am no longer surprised when Maribel unexpectedly meets a classmate in Lima, Trujillo, or as has recently happened, a moto taxi driver in Jaèn. Still, there is a fair amount of communication between many of them who are separated by distance.

The celebration this year was special, because soon every single building on the school grounds will be demolished, to be replaced by modern construction. Karl Weiss as the class of 80 knew it will be no more. The sadness was evident as some of the former students drank a last toast at the door of their beloved classroom 15.

‘Toasting’ continued on the school grounds later that evening, where there were at least 1,000 people in attendance. There was dancing to a live band, food was available, and enough beer was sold and consumed to float Noah’s ark. Proceeds from the admission fee, food and beer sales will be used to fund the celebration next year.

Several days ago it was learned that a classmate has severe anemia and is in financial trouble. Within hours 20 – 25 classmates were in communication with each other and it was agreed to hold a benefit dinner. Maribel, as is almost always the case was ‘elected’ to organize the event. Contributions have been received from classmates in far away places. Others who could not attend the dinner have contributed to a piggy bank circulated by Maribel. And a respectable amount of money was raised at the dinner.

It’s heartwarming to see the attachment these folks have for their school and each other. 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Are You ready for some Football?!!! Part Two

An agreement was reached last night between the National Football League and referees union that will put real, professional referees back on the field for tonight’s game and the full slate of contests this weekend. Both sides denied that last Monday night’s debacle in Seattle that cost the Green Bay Packers a victory was the stimulus that ended the standoff that has lasted for months, but sources for both groups acknowledged that it created a sense of urgency.

A statement made exclusively to My Slice of Peru by a highly placed source within the National Football League and speaking on the condition of anonymity said:

“The league was prepared to wait out the firestorm of protests from all directions caused by the Packer’s loss Monday night. We were ready to gamble that all the furor would blow over in several weeks, but after reading in My Slice of Peru about how disappointed the Chiclayo Peru chapter of the Green Bay Packers Fan Club was with the dismal performance of the replacement referees and seeing the expressions of sadness, disbelief and anger on their faces, we realized that we had to bring an end to the situation.”

The entire sporting world is feeling a sense of joy and relief with news of the new contract. Lost amidst the jubilation is the fact that the Packer’s record will remain at 1 win and 2 losses instead of the reverse. For the city of Green Bay…known in the National Football League as “Title Town” there will be no celebrating.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Are You Ready for some Football?!!!

The Chiclayo Peru chapter of the Green Bay Packers fan club was ready last night. We had plenty of beer, pizza and snacks and were geared up to celebrate the Pack’s victory over the Seahawks. And the Packers did win, but unfortunately the replacement referees, continuing their ongoing on-field imitation of a Three Stooges comedy skit as they have done throughout this young football season, gave the game to the Seahawks. To my knowledge the Seahawk quarterback is the first quarterback in NFL history to throw a game-winning interception.  

The furor being expressed today by players, coaches, television commentators, sports writers and everyone else knowledgeable about football (with the exception of Seahawk players and fans of course) will probably have no effect. The proper thing to do would be to declare the game a Packer win, or at least proclaim the game null and void and reschedule it.  Neither will happen. Instead a statement will be issued by the league office couched in hollow sounding weasel words about the “replay being unclear”…”possible dual possession”…”replacement referees are trying hard”…etc. Yeah.

To NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and the referees union, we football fans in Chiclayo have a message for you……..

                 GET YOUR ACT TOGETHER!!!!!!!!!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Plain of the Bull

Pampa del Toro (Plain of the Bull) is one of many villages on the outskirts of the city of Tuman. The name dates back several hundred years when the area was a vast plain populated by domestic bulls. No more. The plain was long ago replaced by sugar cane fields, and the bulls by cows, burros, chickens, pigs and people. Pampa del Toro is not a pretty village, nor are its neighbors Miraflores and Acapulco. As is the case with most sugar cane villages, poverty is extreme and life is a struggle.

We were at Pampa del Toro this morning at the invitation of Cristina Cabrales(center right) and her daughter-in-law Rosani Delgado. Cristina is the ‘Mother Teresa’ of several villages. She acts as an intermediary between the villagers and authorities in Tuman; she mediates minor disputes, and every Monday she and friends walk through the villages inquiring about conditions and reading the bible with those who request it.

Cristina had assembled a large group of women in her home, many with children, to meet with us and tell us what life is like in Pampa del Toro. Each of them had a story to tell. Maribel filled many pages in her notebook, and later commented to me that she became depressed listening to some of these women and the conditions they’re facing. After general discussion a large group of women took us on a walking tour of their neighborhoods.

A typical Pampa del Toro street scene. Kids playing at the door (until we got too close and then they would run inside) and mothers peeking out from Windows. I never have understood why or how the men manage to disappear.

This is Nelly Herrera with her children inside their one-room home. Nelly has a job sweeping streets in Tuman. Her husband, like most husbands does not have a steady job. Steady jobs don’t exist in Peru…not in the outlands at least. A man earns a living by cutting sugar cane today, perhaps working on a construction project tomorrow, and maybe doing odd jobs the next day….if he’s lucky. That’s life in these villages…it’s day-to-day.

This is Jessica Saavedra in front of her home with her son Eduardo and daughter Olenka. Eduardo is epileptic and has recently been diagnosed with skin cancer. Olenka has an eye condition and is unable to attend school because of it. Health problems run rampant in settings like these. Often it’s the kids who are sick, and often nothing is being done about it. It’s not that these parents don’t love their kids…they do. The problem is they don’t see a solution, or don’t know how to look for a solution, or don’t have the resources for treatment so they do nothing. They often need someone like Cristina to take them by the hand and guide them.

Here is certainly one of the causes of health problem . This well and others like it are scattered throughout the communities. They are the only source of water. We were told that municipal water will soon be available after main connections are completed. That doesn’t mean that connections to the homes, which are the home owner’s responsibility will be made any time soon.

We had an unusual incident occur during our walking tour. I had noticed that a police vehicle had been following us wherever we went. Shortly after I entered Nelly's home to take photos, the truck pulled up in front of the house and one of the officers got out; approached the house and asked what we were doing. Cristina and Maribel were explaining when I asked if there was a problem. The officer said, “No, there is no problem, but we are very concerned about you (me) walking in this area, and especially showing your camera.” He went on to say, “There is much crime and drugs in this area, and too many young men with nothing to do.” Informed of our plans, he said he and the other officer would feel more comfortable if we would ride in the police vehicle while completing our tour.

And that’s what happened. A bunch of kids piled into the bed of the truck while Maribel and I road in the rear seat. Afterwards the officers drove us back to Christina’s home, and suggested that we call them if we return so they can escort us to insure our safety. Their action speaks well for the police. Unfortunately it doesn’t speak well for a segment of the community.

We do want to return to Pampa del Toro. We want to sponsor a medical campaign to help with the health issues, and would like to give the kids a Chocolatada (Christmas party) in December. Any donations to help us accomplish these goals would be appreciated. Please visit the Promesa Peru webpage if you are able to assist us with a donation. 

Monday, September 3, 2012

A Neighborhood Street Fair

Diego Ferre is one of many small communities that in total make up the city of Chiclayo. It is bordered to the east by Chiclayo’s airport and to the northwest by the Real Plaza Mall. At some point in its early life each community is given a certificate indicating its legitimacy as an administrative unit and date of recognition. Many of these communities hold an annual street fair to celebrate their anniversary. The purpose beyond celebrating is to raise money for the community, which usually includes the neighborhood church. Diego Ferre celebrated this past weekend.

Diego Ferre’s church celebrated its thirty-seventh anniversary this year. We’ve attended two weddings, a baptism and a funeral service in this church. The church was built mostly from local residents donating to a ‘buy a brick’ program. Much of the proceeds realized from fair sales go toward maintenance of the church.  

A typical street fair lasts from two to four days. It starts with setting up portable kiosks in the street surrounding the neighborhood’s principal park. The kiosks are used to prepare and sell food, house games and hold raffle prizes. Prizes are either purchased from small sums donated or are provided by merchants.

One of the kiosks is used as a jail. For 50 cents you can have the jailer arrest anyone you choose and have them incarcerated. I took advantage of the opportunity. I reminded Maribel that she had forgotten to buy coffee that day and had her thrown in the ‘slammer’.

What I enjoy most about these fairs is the feeling of camaraderie. The people working the kiosks are all local volunteers. Most are long-time residents who take pride in their church and community. Fair visitors not from the neighborhood are treated cordially but reservedly as is common with most Peruvians when dealing with ‘strangers’.  If the stranger wants to, all that’s necessary to break the ice is to make a friendly comment during or after purchasing and consuming some delicious anticuchos and picarones. Voicing the traditional - “barriga llena… corazòn contento” (belly is full, heart is content) will always trigger a flood of smiles, questions and comments faster than the no-longer-a-stranger can reply to.

And returning to the neighborhood days and even weeks after the fair has ended is sure to get you smiles and waves. You may not be a local, but you’ve been accepted and will be remembered and welcomed. That’s one of the qualities I like about Peruvians.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Changes Keep Coming

In the movie - The Naked Gun: From the Files of the Police Squad!, Lt Frank Drebin says,

“Jane, since I've met you, I've noticed things that I never knew were there before... birds singing, dew glistening on a newly formed leaf, stoplights.”

If Lt. Drebin (I miss the deadpan humor of Leslie Nielsen) were in Chiclayo these past few months, and especially at the intersection of the Pan American Highway and Chinchaysuyo Avenue he would definitely notice stoplights. This intersection (and many more like it) is the reason I swore I would never drive in Chiclayo. Traffic from seven different directions (five lawful and two otherwise) converge on this uncontrolled intersection. I have often sat in a small corner park watching as moto taxis, taxies, combis, busses of all sizes, private cars, sugar cane trucks and other vehicles all somehow managed to avoid each other amidst the sounds of honking horns and screeching brakes. Though I never saw a major collision, there were occasional fender-benders followed by an entertaining exchange of insults. All of that has changed now.

Lt. Drebin…behold the stoplights!  Readers may be wondering why I’m making a big deal about stoplights. The reason is that stoplights are (were?) not the rule in Chiclayo. Most intersections are uncontrolled. There are stop signs in some places but these are universally ignored – that, or they are stolen for the metal. Add to that the fact that motor vehicles have the right-of-way and you can begin to see why pedestrians feel a great sense of accomplishment in having successfully crossed a street. But as I said, that is changing. Regions in Peru are receiving substantial amounts of money from the central government in Lima, and much of that money, at least in Chiclayo is being spent on infrastructure. It isn’t just this one intersection with new stoplights – they are being installed in many locations throughout the city. And in addition to stoplights large scale civic improvements are taking place. It’s as if the city has launched a modernization/beautification program.

Along with the physical changes there are indications that another change is taking place…this one cultural. Most people still throw trash in the streets but a growing number of them are using recently installed trash receptacles. Another example…last week Maribel and I saw a woman walking a dog. Nothing unusual about that. The dog did his thing on a sidewalk – again nothing unusual...a common hazard pedestrians face is avoiding dog droppings on sidewalks. But after the dog made his deposit, the woman did the plastic bag thing and picked it up! We never expected to see that in Chiclayo Peru. Never! I imagine that local passersby were even more amazed than we were. To a Chiclayano, the only sane explanation for doing that is that the woman has discovered a monetary value for dog droppings.

These are interesting times. I wonder if modernization will have an impact on traditions and customs, for instance regulating street vendors, or other customs that may be viewed as being not in tune with a modern city. I also wonder if older residents view these changes as good or bad. Probably a little of both.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Restaurant review

Roky’s is a large restaurant chain with many locations across Peru. There has been a Roky’s restaurant in Chiclayo on Balta Avenue for about two years. I like this restaurant. It opens early and offers a good breakfast menu including an American breakfast. It also offers broasted chicken (which I prefer) along with the ubiquitous pollo a la brasa served at all pollerias (chicken joints). When we learned that Roky’s had taken over the site two blocks from our apartment of the failed restaurant Chifa Antai, which closed after just six months of operation and a heavy financial investment we were eager for it to open.

Roky’s on Santa Victoria opened for business about two weeks ago. Our first experience with it was disappointing when we walked there for breakfast only to discover they don’t offer breakfast. Their hours are 12:00 noon to 2:00am. Our second experience was last night when we wanted broasted chicken. There is no broasted chicken listed on the menu so we settled for pollo a la brasa.

When Roky’s remodeled they added a children’s play area and party room on the second floor. Good for business…bad for a relaxing dining experience. But it wasn’t the kids shrill screaming or the competing traffic noise from the open front door that torpedoed our attempts at conversation, though they certainly made it difficult. That honor goes to Billy Ocean’s ‘Caribbean Queen’ blasting from speakers in all four restaurant corners (it wasn’t until very recently I learned that the words he was singing are Caribbean Queen. I thought the words were ‘Carrie, you twit’. The next time you listen to that song see if you don’t agree).

And then we saw a waitress delivering to a nearby table what appeared to be broasted chicken.  We called our waitress to our table and asked if broasted chicken was available. She said it was, and in response to my question regarding why it isn’t listed on the menu, she replied, “Everyone knows we have broasted chicken so we don’t put it on the menu.” I started to say, “and everyone knows you have pollo a la brasa yet it’s plastered all over the menu” but thought better of it. It wouldn’t prove or change anything.  

The food and service are okay, and of course the facility is shiny new. Prices per menu item appear to be two to four soles more than similar restaurants including the Roky’s on Balta (???). Though disappointed at the lack of a breakfast opportunity, I might go back to try the broasted chicken…unless I hear the lilting strains of ‘Carrie you twit’ upon my approach.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Impressions of Loja and Cuenca Ecuador

Other than a vague plan of ‘going to Loja’ we had no agenda or timetable in mind when we boarded the bus in Chiclayo at 9:00am for the three hour ride to Piura at $5.75 per passenger. It’s a boring ride through barren desert with nothing to see, which is good because the bus company Linea has replaced transparent windows with thick screen windows, obscuring any clear view to the outside. I wonder how many complaints they have had from disappointed Nikon-bearing tourists.

Once in Piura we learned that travel options to Loja are limited to two bus companies. Cooperative Loja offers departure times of 9:30am, 1:00pm and 11:00pm. We and a handful of other passengers boarded the 1:00pm bus ($10.00 per passenger) for what is advertised as an eight hour ride to Loja. The bus has transparent windows which is good because the scenery improves a bit but not a whole lot. There was a “For sale” sign in the front window. That, and having to stop twice to adjust the right rear wheel brake didn’t do much for my confidence. The lavatory door on the bus has the sign, “Solo por urine.” The door is locked so you must see the attendant to unlock it. I wonder how many complaints they have had from uncomfortable tourists who ate and drank freely in Piura. Fortunately it’s only a three hour ride to the border town of Macarà.

Many gringos in northern Peru are familiar with Macarâ. This is where they do the border jump to get their visa renewed. The border crossing process is simple but can be time consuming if there are many tourists. The first step is to visit the Peruvian Immigration office to get an Andean immigration form. You fill out the form and take it across the road to the Peruvian police station. Assuming all goes well at the police station you return to the immigration office with the completed form and passport in hand. After the immigration officer stamps your passport you walk across the international bridge to the Ecuadorian immigration office, where you get and fill out their version of the immigration form. After the immigration officer stamps your passport you are free to take photos; board your bus and be on your way for the five to six hour ride to Loja. As the crow flies it is 93 km from Macarâ to Loja. Traveling the winding mountain road the distance is 197 km. There are times when I enjoy the scenery and almost constant up and down hair-pin turns through the Andes. There are other times when I feel…okay, enough already, let’s get there. We were glad and relieved to finally arrive in Loja at 10:30pm.

We checked in at the Grand Hotel Loja, where a triple room for me, Maribel and Brian cost $85 including breakfast. It’s a good hotel – fairly modern, clean, good service and a good restaurant. We would stay there again (as we unintentionally did).

It’s a new day. We’ve slept well and had a good breakfast. Now what to do? Almost every sizeable town occupied by the Spanish during the colonial period offers and features in their ‘what to do and see’ literature historic churches, colonial districts and parks. These are a given. For me the question then becomes…what beyond the standard does the town offer? Loja offers several interesting attractions. Without going into detail, we enjoyed the City Gate Monument, Reinaldo Espinosa Botanical Garden, La Banda Park encompassing the Loja Zoo, and the Museum of Loja.

Of all the attractions we agreed that our favorite was the 25 acre Jipiro Park. We walked through the entire park – much of it tree shaded and cool – all of it beautiful. Throughout the park are scale reproductions of various historic and cultural monuments. There is a wealth of information and photos on the internet about Jipiro Park. We rented a paddle boat and ate snacks on the shore of the lagoon. What particularly impressed me was the huge and elaborate skateboard facility in the park. I would think that this facility would be the dream-come-true of every skateboarder. If Chiclayo had something like that perhaps the monuments and the tiled pathways in parks would not be constantly damaged.

In total Loja offered enough to fill two days for us. If I can digress a bit, mountain towns like Loja and Cuenca also offer something the costal desert cities do not have… clean, cool and wholesome air. Part of that is due to the altitude, but trees and other greenery also play a role. I especially like the trees. My favorite tree in Wisconsin is the white oak. In Peru it’s the ceibo…a tree native to the dryer regions of Ecuador and Peru. It doesn’t grow to great heights but the bright green color and the width of the trunk and lower branches are impressive. There are two of them in the village of Tumàn near Chiclayo with diameters of fifteen feet. What struck me about the ciebos on the stretch of road between Macarà and Loja in Ecuador is their sheer numbers. There are dozens of them clustered together on mountainsides, bringing to mind Tolkein’s army of angry Ents descending on Isengard.  A majestic ceibo in a Loja park bears the sign, “I am your lungs. Do not cut me – do not burn me.” I like that. 

There are two modes of transportation from Loja to Cuenca. You can ride a bus for five hours at a cost of $10, or you can travel in a seven-passenger van for three hours for $12. We chose the van and departed for Cuenca at 9:30am. During this portion of the journey I mulled over the philosophical question of what constitutes being a ‘good driver.’ I decided that, if being in complete control of the vehicle plus being able to react instantly defines a good driver, then our chauffer was a good driver. On the other hand, if you factor in passenger comfort and passenger sense of well-being, then our driver sucked. We were stopped at a police checkpoint about halfway through our trip. The officer knew when the van left Loja so he knew the guy was driving the winding mountain road at breakneck speed. His words to the driver were this…”You are endangering the lives of your passengers. If you cannot be a better driver you will go to jail for three days.” After leaving the checkpoint the driver resumed his petal-to-the-metal driving (several days later as we were returning to Loja from Cuenca in the van of a different company, a woman actually shouted to the driver, “Sir!,..I want to get to Loja alive!).

I doubt if there is anything I could say about Cuenca that hasn’t already been written. It is a popular tourist destination with a huge expat population. In fact the central downtown area is sometimes referred to as ‘gringo land.’ I can understand why gringos would retire to Cuenca. Despite not being much different architecturally from other major cities in South America, it has a definite western look and feel to it, and I think the customs also reflect western practices. The two malls near our hotel opened at 9:00am and closed at 8:00pm, unlike Peru when hours would be something like 10:00am to 11:00pm. We heard no loud, raucous music during our stay (nor barking dogs or crowing chickens) and the streets are clean and most buildings well maintained. We noticed that many restaurants in both Loja and Cuenca closed as early as 9:00pm. We had been told that it was less expensive to live in Ecuador than Peru, but with some few exceptions we found that prices for hotels, restaurants and supermarket items were equal or higher than in Chiclayo. 

We stayed in Cuenca for two days. We visited the Central Bank museum, a church museum across from the principal park (I’ve forgotten the name), and did a lot of walking and looking. We also played mini-golf. Edgar is the owner of the golf course. He and his wife bought the property and constructed the 18 hole course plus driving range about two years ago. Edgar is a good guy. He gave free lessons to Brian and Maribel. And when we were done playing he drove us back to our hotel; a ride of 30 minutes. The ride to his property via taxi cost $10. Distance is one of the problems Edgar is having – that, and he could use a better sign at the highway turn-off leading to his property. If you live in or are visiting Cuenca you might enjoy a few hours at Edgar’s place. His website is:

One other Cuenca activity we did was a two-hour bus tour. It was well worthwhile and identified places we wanted to return to later. It also pointed out how congested traffic can become. At 3:00pm all of the tour bus passengers got off six blocks from our starting point at the principal park when we realized it would probably take 30 minutes for the bus to reach it.

When it was time to leave Cuenca we discussed where to go next. We considered Guayaquil but decided we were close to burn-out so opted to retrace our route back to Chiclayo. Upon reaching Loja we were unable to get bus tickets to Piura so enjoyed another good meal at Mama Lola’s Restaurant and another night at the Grand Hotel Loja before returning to Chiclayo the following day.