Wednesday, November 27, 2013

If at First You Don’t Succeed…..

This post is a continuation of our last post concerning a neighborhood mystery, but more than that it presents a segment of life dealing with the judicial system, attitudes and behaviors in Peru that the passing tourist would be oblivious to. If you’re going to continue reading this post you really need to go back to the previous post first to make sense of this one. Go ahead…we’ll wait.

It’s Wednesday morning; the day after the walls came down for the second time and once again neighborhood opinion is divided as to what will happen next. Will there be a third attempt to erect walls? We still don’t know which of the litigants is paying for the work. It could be the old man, the new buyer or the ‘real’ owner. The answer regarding what’s next was not long in coming.

At 8:00am this morning a dump truck pulled up and a different work crew began clean-up of the crumbled walls. Shortly after the truck arrived a second vehicle dropped off rebar and wood planks used to construct forms. There will indeed be a third attempt to build another wall; only this time no bricks…they’re going to pour concrete! Ya gotta admire the tenaciousness of whoever is doing this. He/she is spending a lot of money to erect walls around vacant lots. But maybe this is no longer about property. Maybe it’s about two opposing wills – one who says THERE WILL BE  WALLS!, and one who says THERE WILL NOT!

Would this drama be happening if the judge had rendered his verdict? Probably not but who knows? A more interesting question is what are the people who destroyed the brick walls thinking right now? There is no doubt they already know what is taking place on these lots. Will they attempt to demolish steel-reinforced concrete walls? Or perhaps they have already devised a completely differently strategy that will shock and amaze us with its creativity. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

And the Walls Came Tumbling Down…Again!

This isn’t Jericho and there are no indications that Joshua or ram’s horns were involved but one thing is certain – last night between 12:30am and 7:00am this morning the walls did indeed come tumbling down. And not for the first time. But let me start at the beginning.

I’ve written several posts recently about new housing construction in Chiclayo. In conjunction with that activity is the buying, selling and leasing of existing housing. ‘For sale’ and ‘for rent’ signs in windows are a common sight these days. This is a fairly recent phenomenon. It used to be that if you were looking for a home or apartment, word of mouth is how you found it. Realtors do exist in Chiclayo but they are not nearly as visible as those in the USA, nor do Chiclayanos utilize their services, viewing a middle-man as money spent for nothing.

Occasionally a ‘for sale’ sign will include this verbiage – ‘this property is in litigation.’ That could mean that there are back taxes owed or there is some other problem with the city, but more likely it means that the property ownership is in dispute.  Such is the case with a property in our neighborhood.

The most common version of the story circulating is that an old man who does not own the property but through some shenanigan managed to get his name registered as the owner sold the property to an unsuspecting buyer. When the new owner attempted to physically secure the property the real owner found out and filed suit. A judge arrived at a decision and appointed a specific day to announce his verdict.  In situations like this it is customary for the judge to announce his decision at the site of the dispute with all interested parties present, including a number of police to protect the judge in the event that the loser takes violent exception to the verdict.

One morning several months ago the litigants assembled outside the property. These things tend to take on a festive atmosphere and a crowd of neighbors, mototaxi drivers and others had assembled, along with street vendors hoping to take advantage of the situation. Several hours later the crowd dispersed after word was received that the judge had postponed his decision indefinitely because of a missing document.

Last week one of the parties – we don’t know who, had two brick walls constructed to close off the property which consists of three lots. The middle lot has a small unoccupied house on it so the walls were constructed on the two outside lots to match the height of the house. A two-man crew accomplished the work in one day. That night a person or persons unknown demolished the walls, providing a topic of much conversation the next day. Neighbors could not agree on who might have done it, with opinions ranging from one of the litigants to a random act of vandalism to the work crew itself hoping for another payday. The crew did return the next day and rebuilt the walls. Two days later the walls were painted yellow to match the house. We assumed that was the end of that issue.

This is the sight that greeted our neighborhood this morning. The house is standing; the walls are not. No one saw or heard anything. Not even a ram’s horn. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

No Signs of an Economic Slowdown in Chiclayo

Recent financial figures indicate that the impressive growth Peru has experienced over the past six or more years is starting to decline. For the fifth consecutive month Peru’s growth has been under 5%. The numbers are still respectable but are not the heady 8 – 10% seen in the recent past. In fact this last Monday the Peruvian government sold $230 million US dollars in an effort to prop up the Nuevo sole which has gone from a ratio of 2.55 to the dollar some months ago to the present 2.8. Should this downward trend continue it would be expected that consumer spending and new construction would show signs of slowing but that hasn’t happened yet in Chiclayo. Casual observation indicates a flourishing economy.

Probably the most visible sign of continuing growth is the construction taking place at Chiclayo’s Real Plaza Mall, which opened its doors just eight years ago in 2005. Last year Promart; a home improvement center became Real Plaza’s latest tenant and above it was constructed a six-level parking ramp. At the time many people questioned the need for such a large parking facility, until recently when the outside parking area was cordoned off and construction began that will double the available retail space of the mall. And while that construction is going on the food court has seen the addition of Chili’s restaurant, with a Popeyes restaurant soon to follow. And Pardo’s Chicken, one of the original restaurants in the food court has temporarily closed to remodel and expand.

But it’s not just retail construction taking place. This recently completed condo is one of dozens that are in various stages of construction in a relatively small area of the city, and it seems that every day new signs are appearing on vacant lots indicating that another four to five floor condo will soon be ready for occupancy. And many owners of existing housing are remodeling and expanding upward.

This salon and spa complex is one of several to open recently in Chiclayo featuring 20+ chairs, uniformed staff and multiple rooms for various treatments. Obviously beauty shops have existed in Chiclayo for some time, but they are much smaller and ‘rustic’ in their furnishings and equipment.

The Garza Hotel, previously one of Chiclayo’s ‘big four’ hotels is no more. In its place is the completely remodeled and expanded Win Meier hotel and Casino. A delegation from Columbia is there now while taking part in the Bolivarian Games being held in Chiclayo and elsewhere in Peru. Meals in the Win Meier restaurant are not inexpensive but Chiclayanos are eating there, and shopping at the mall, and getting their hair done at the salons, and buying new cars at one of several newly opened car dealerships. One wonders if an upper-middle class is just emerging as a result of the booming economy the past few years, or have they always been here with no place to spend their money? Not that Peruvians are into conspicuous consumption or display of wealth. The opposite is true…they tend to be very unpretentious.  Well, that is unless you consider the designer dog breeds showing up as being pretentious, and the pet salons opening on every other corner to care for the dog’s needs including designer leashes and pet clothing.   

New construction is largely limited to retail and housing…there is no money being spent on new manufacturing facilities. In fact there is very little manufacturing remaining in Chiclayo.  There was a time when Chiclayo could boast of many factories producing everything from noodles to car parts. Several bottling companies produced beer, soft drinks and rum, and food processing plants packaged tons of rice, sugar and other food products. A huge Nestle plant that employed hundreds existed on the spot the Real Plaza Mall now occupies. All are gone now, most swallowed up by that behemoth Lima to the south. What remains are a few huge empty lots where the factories once stood, and it is likely that even these reminders of the past will soon be occupied by a new condo complex or retail outlet.

The face of Chiclayo is changing, probably more rapidly than many older residents would like to see. Whether that change persists if the national economy continues to slow remains to be seen.

One construction project that hasn’t begun is the new house in La Raya for Luzmila and her girls. We’ve got $210 toward our goal of $1500. We need your help. Please visit the Promesa Peru web page to donate. 

Saturday, November 2, 2013

About Bakeries and Baking in Chiclayo

Small neighborhood bakeries in Chiclayo, which are mostly what this post is about, typically fire up their wood or gas ovens at 4:00am. They open their doors at 6:00 and stay open until they’re sold out, somewhere between 10:30 and 11:00am. The cycle repeats later in the day, opening between 4:00 and 5:00 in the afternoon and closing somewhere around 7:30pm. These bakeries are numerous. It’s nearly impossible to walk in any neighborhood without being tempted by the aroma of fresh, just-out-of-the- oven bakery. Maribel and I often succumb and enjoy a snack while walking.

This internet photo is very close to what a neighborhood bakery in Chiclayo looks like. Though small in size, these bakeries offer a surprising variety of products. Some of the more popular varieties of bread include French, coliza, de yema, integral, marraqueta and mica. My favorite is ciabatta.

These bakeries also make sweets. In this category would be empanadas, conitos, alfajores and many types of cookies. Of the sweets I like biscochos. Bakery doesn’t cost much in Peru. For example, eight ciabattas cost 35 cents. Biscochos are 35 cents each, sometimes less. You can walk out of a bakery with a large bag in each arm for less than two dollars. All of these products are slightly different from bakery to bakery in size, shape and flavor but are essentially the same. 

I enjoy all of the bread type products, and many of the sweets. I am less enthusiastic about cakes and torts. Most neighborhood bakeries don’t offer cakes. You need to go to the specialty bakeries; the bakery department of the large chain stores, or to “…the woman down the street” who makes cakes in her home.  

But whether from a specialty bakery or a chain store, to my taste most cakes are coarse, dry and lacking in flavor. Some I equate to chewing a mouthful of cardboard. And I have yet to taste a good cake from “…the woman down the street”. I don’t care for most cake frosting. They’re either a bland paste with a cool whip consistency or are similar to a piece of rubber that I (and I’ve noticed some Peruvians also) peel off and leave on the plate. Examples of popular Peruvian cakes would be chocolate con manjarblanco, chantilly, pionono and probably the most popular, tres leches. Pies are scarce and pretty much limited to lemon meringue or apple. Some are okay; some not.

It was an urge for a slice of German chocolate cake that had us returning to La Casona De La Abuelita, a restaurant that was the subject of an earlier post. To our disappointment, Bill had sold out the German cake earlier in the day. During our walk home Maribel, who is a good cook but doesn’t have a lot of baking experience casually said that we’d have German chocolate cake tomorrow because she was going to bake one.

The next morning she sat at the computer and watched and re-watched and watched again a Betty Crocker video. Next she went shopping and returned with all the ingredients including the hardware…baking pans, wax paper, etc. I expected her first attempt to be a flop. I don’t know what she was expecting but it turned out great. This was a cake that any bakery or restaurant in the United States would be proud to offer. Maribel wasn’t satisfied. She tweaked the recipe and made another one. It was even better… the chocolate flavor more subtle and the texture a bit finer but firm. Now she says she’s ready for a new challenge and I intend to give her one.

My mother was a good baker. When she baked bread she made three loaves. One loaf would disappear in five minutes. We’d sit at the kitchen table and butter a slice as fast as she could cut them until the loaf was gone. She baked excellent coffee cakes, torts and cakes. Of all the delicious things she baked, my absolute favorite was cherry nut cake. Maribel has promised to try it. Maybe she’ll become“…the woman down the street” who makes cakes in her home.

On a more serious matter, as of this writing we have received $210 in donations for a new home for Luzmila Valdera and her girls. That is 12% of our $1500 goal. This family needs your help. Please visit the Promesa Peru web page to donate. Thank you.