Thursday, June 26, 2014

A Visitor’s Guide to Nothing in Particular

I’ve been to the first seven of the top ten Peruvian cities ranked by population. They are in order: Lima, Arequipa, Trujillo, Chiclayo, Piura, Iquitos and Cusco. Of the remaining three, Huancayo (8) and Pucallpa (10) are on my ‘to do’ list. There are a lot of things to see in Huancayo but I’m a little concerned because of the elevation (10,700 ft). I struggled with the altitude in Cusco and recently in Arequipa, though curiously I had no problem in Cajamarca although that was several years ago and maybe something in me has changed…besides age that is. Pucallpa interests me because it’s a ‘jungle’ town. I have a fascination with those towns – the ambiance and lifestyles that seem to me to be different from the costal and mountain towns. One of Maribel’s sisters lived in Pucallpa for several years and insists that there is nothing to see there but it’s been my experience that every city, town and village I’ve visited has one or several unique things worth seeing. Chimbote (9) may be the exception.

I’ve ridden through Chimbote on a bus probably a half-dozen times. The first time I saw it I thought to myself, “This is one ugly city!” That impression has not changed. I’ve done internet searches and talked to friends in an attempt to find something to justify a visit but have come up empty.  One friend remarked, “If you like the smell of rotting fish, Chimbote is the place for you!” That may be an exaggeration. Probably what I’ll do is try to locate a decent hotel (I’m told there are none) and schedule a visit as sort of a quest to find some redeeming quality in that town. It’s got a population of 320,000…there’s got to be something!

LAN Peru airlines will fly you from Lima to fourteen of the top thirty cities.  I’ve flown to nine of those destinations. One of those I haven’t been to is Puerto Maldonado (ranked 30). It’s a jungle town located at the confluence of the Tambopata and Madre de Dios Rivers. It is said that remnants of the Shining Path – a terrorist group is still active in and around the town though they concern themselves these days with illegal drugs rather than blowing up buildings and people. I don’t know how true that is. Puerto Maldonado has some good hotels and eco-river lodges. Pristine nature is the main attraction.

The remaining three cities with airports are Tacna (11), Puno (20), and Tumbes (23). A visit to Puno could be in my future. It’s got Lake Titicaca and several other attractions going for it. But there’s also the altitude factor. As for visiting Tacna and Tumbes…maybe, maybe not. I haven’t heard anything bad about those towns, but I haven’t heard anything good either.

What I like to do when first arriving in a town is to find a shaded bench in the principal park (not easy to do) and simply sit and observe. You can learn an awful lot about a town from that bench. The first over-all impression is that it looks like every other town. I’m talking about the towns of comparable size. For example, to me at first glance there wasn’t a dime’s worth of difference between Cusco and Arequipa. Same goes for Lima, though of course everything there is on a grander scale. It’s only after I settle in and start looking at detail that I notice the slight differences in building architecture and color. Each city seems to have its own color preferences. The businesses will offer different products and services depending on the local economy. Clothing will be different, determined by climate and culture. Mannerisms and speech will be different; sometimes dramatically so…people in Iquitos and Tingo Maria sometimes sound like they’re singing rather than talking.

Taking in the sights and attractions is enjoyable, but for me discovering the differences…digging under the skin to find out what this town and its people are about is my motivation. Pucallpa and Puerto Maldonado are jungle towns, and when I finally do visit them they will at first look like Iquitos and Tarapoto, until I narrow my focus and start seeing and enjoying the uniqueness.

Okay…gotta go. I want to start planning a trip to Chimbote. There’s got to be something…..

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

A Visit to Arequipa

Arequipa has the nickname White City because either a few, most, or all of its buildings (depending on which source you read) are built of sillar; a white volcanic rock, however viewed from a window of a LAN Airbus 320 the city of Arequipa looks like any other major Peruvian city, with a central core of fairly attractive multi-level buildings surrounded by large areas of raw, brown dwellings typical of the residences of the poorer members of a community.

With a population of 860,000 Arequipa is Peru’s second largest city. Founded in 1540 the city from its very beginnings has attitudinally walked a different path, with its residents maintaining a somewhat aloof posture toward other Peruvians. Tourist shops sell diplomatic passports issued by the “Independent Republic of Arequipa.”  The same shops sell t-shirts that read (in Spanish), “Peruvian?...ha ha ha - No, I am Arequipeño.” And it’s not just a tourist thing. Though I don’t know how deep or widespread it is, we actually saw and experienced a display of Arequipeño ‘superiority.’

A visit to Arequipa should start in the main park, which has a well deserved reputation as one of the most beautiful in Peru. The park is surrounded by multi-level buildings containing many varieties of service and retail businesses and restaurants. It reminded me very much of Cusco’s main park. Having arrived at dinner time we were hungry and asked two members of the tourist police for suggestions on a good restaurant. They recommended El Gaucho, and we're glad they did. Maribel ordered Picaña (top sirloin) while I went overboard on a 19oz Certified Angus Beef t-bone steak. I ordered it medium rare – it was served medium well but that’s okay… the flavor and texture was out of this world.

There are a variety of hotels in various price ranges to choose from. We stayed at the Hotel Arequipa Center located on Ave. Alvarez Thomas two blocks from the main park. For $29 per night including a decent continental breakfast it was okay. Though the bedroom and bathroom were small as is usual for all but the four star hotels in Peru, everything worked and it was quiet and comfortable. The staff were friendly and attentive.

On our first full day we visited in the morning with a former classmate of Maribel’s who has lived in Arequipa for the past twelve years, and then took a four hour city bus tour that included stops at the Carmen Alto and Yanahuara overlooks; the Incalpaca TPX clothing factory; a very nice tourist restaurant for lunch (cost not included), and the historic Sabandia Mill which we did not tour but instead rode horses at the site (again cost not included). The photo was taken at the Carmen Alto overlook. In the background is the famous Misty volcano, which is visible from almost everywhere in and out of the city.

The tour service we used for the city tour and the Colca Canyon tour the next day was Tours Panoràmico Servicio VIP. We were happy with them…their vehicles were modern and comfortable, and they delivered everything they promised. They have an office across from the main park as do dozens of other tour operators. Beware the ‘casual’ tour operator whose office is a park bench or a restaurant. Their prices are lower but you may not see them again after they’ve got your money.

The Colca Canyon tour started at our hotel door where we were picked up at 3:00am. At 6:30 as the sun was just starting to touch the mountain tops we were eating breakfast at a restaurant in the village of Chivay. The temperature in that restaurant was about 40F and even those who had been smart enough to bring ski parkas shivered as they ate. Later in the day on our return we ate lunch at that same restaurant and it was still cold. Anyone taking the early morning Colca Canyon tour would be well advised to overdress. Coats, hats and backpacks can be safely kept on the tour bus during mid day when not needed.

There are several stops made on the tour but the main attraction is the Cross of the Condor, which overlooks the deepest part of Colca Canyon and is where the Andean Condors can be seen. It was still cold when we arrived, but we and the one or two hundred other tourists were there in time to view the early morning flights of dozens of condors along with several eagles.

Peruvians feel a special attachment to Colca Canyon and Andean condors. Maribel took photo after photo of these magnificent birds flying either above, level with or below us. This one is her favorite. It was taken at about 8:30am with the moon still visible.

During our return to Arequipa we stopped several times to watch herds of wild Alpacas, Llamas and Vicuñas. This herd has all three types. They didn’t seem too concerned about our presence but ran when we tried to get off the bus to take photos.

When we returned to the city we found that the streets surrounding the main park had been closed to traffic to allow various groups of people to produce art celebrating the annual Corpus Christi competition of carpet flowers. By noon of the next day everything was gone and cars once again ruled the streets.

And speaking of streets, in my opinion Arequipa's streets are not pedestrian friendly. There are traffic lights in only one corner of the main park. Trying to cross at one of the other three corners is an adventure, and the same can be said for any corner within ten blocks of the main park. 

Probably our most enjoyable experience was walking around and exploring the city by ourselves. There are many churches and mansions worth looking at; some free and others for a small fee. There are four or five museums open Monday through Saturday. One of those museums… the one I was looking forward to most turned out to be a major disappointment. The Andean Sanctuaries Museum of the Santa Maria Catholic University is the home of Mummy Juanita, also known as the Inca Ice Maiden. Before entering you need to check your camera and cell phone. The price of admission is $7.20 and for that you are shown three small rooms very dimly lit where a guide talks about a hand full of artifacts associated with Juanita. The third room contains the body of Juanita. She is in some sort of refrigerated transparent container that is so cloudy and dimly lit that if you were not told, you would not know what you were looking at. There is literally only a very vague outline of some ‘thing’ with absolutely no detail visible. Save your money for….. 

…..the Santa Catalina Monastery which was by far the highlight of our visit. It will cost you $12.58 to get in and an optional guide will add $5.38 per person but it is well worth it. A guided tour takes about an hour. We used the map provided to guide ourselves and spent three enjoyable hours touring every nook and cranny of the entire site. The monastery was a self-contained city, and one can almost feel what life was like for the nuns who lived there as you view their bedrooms (referred to as “cells”), kitchens, laundries, bathing facilities and communal halls. The artwork on the walls and ceilings; the immaculately maintained grounds plus the antique furniture commands your attention. This is an attraction I could visit again and again.

Part of our four and one-half day visit was spent with Maribel’s former Chiclayo classmate Edinson who was celebrating his 50th birthday and the baptism of his children on the same day. We attended church in the morning and then went to a restaurant where the second floor had been reserved for the party. Dinner consisted of a choice of beef, pork or chicken with salad and French fries. Seconds and thirds could be had for the asking. Following dinner there was live music and dancing, and the wine flowed freely. Edinson, his family and friends are quality people and some of the finest I have met in Peru.

We enjoyed our visit to Arequipa. We both had head colds prior to arriving and that combined with the altitude had us wheezing with every step but it was bearable. There are some museums we didn’t get to see and a large portion of the city remains for us unexplored, but there’s always next time.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The High School in San Miguel will have a Library

It’s going to happen…there will be a school library at I.E. #11520 in the village of San Miguel (see the May 28 post to learn how this project started). Parent’s association members we are told are continuing to clean and paint; broken windows are being replaced and furniture will be delivered within the next two weeks. In addition to providing replacement glass and window protectors Promesa Peru is supplying 4 tables, 16 chairs and 2 book shelves.

Tomàs is a carpenter in the city of Picsi who has a reputation for quality work delivered on-time and will be constructing the library furniture. He was also the most reasonably priced of the 3 we talked with. The high school director Guadalupe and kinder director Yolanda accompanied us. It was interesting looking at his shop and the others we visited. There were no power tools that I saw and Tomàs confirmed that almost all the work is done by hand. Personally I would be lost amidst all that clutter but I’m sure he knows where everything is.

So hopefully around the end of June we’ll have a squeaky clean and well furnished library. What will be missing are books.

We know there are Peruvian expats in California, Florida, New Jersey and in many cities in many other countries reading this blog. To those readers and to Peruvians here in Peru (and anyone else for that matter), we’d like to ask this question: what book(s) did you read in primary or secondary that influenced you…that maybe inspired you to read further about a career, or some historical event or figure, or the fields of science, art or literature? Chances are that those students in I.E. #11520 would like that same opportunity. Seriously, we and the school staff would very much appreciate suggestions for book titles that can be found here in Peru. If you can afford to donate the money to buy the book, that would be a great help. Or if you’d like to mail a book directly to the school let us know at and we’ll get the address for you.

School director Guadalupe Gallardo is contacting alumni for book donations. Maribel’s son Brian during vacation this July is planning to head up a ‘book drive’ at the University of Piura in Piura and among his friends here in Chiclayo. We’ll be keeping our eyes open at Chiclayo’s new and used book stores looking for anything appropriate and in good condition.

“Education is the key” is a phrase that’s been parroted thousands, maybe millions of times but that doesn’t make it any less true. What better way to break the cycle of poverty than by keeping kids in school, and while there providing books to stimulate their minds and interests? Please help us. If you have book suggestions you can post them in ‘comments’ or contact us at If you’d like to donate money for a book you can do that at the Promesa Peru webpage. Thank you.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Uniforms for Eureka

They were waiting for us when we arrived this morning. It was five weeks ago that we first visited the kinder school in Eureka and decided that we would try to raise the money to provide uniforms for all 56 students and school supply kits for 11 students who were without the basic supplies. Thanks to several donors including Chris R for his continuing support, and to the friends and family of the Alice Cool Foundation who contributed the lion’s share, we were able to accomplish our goal. With an enrollment of 56 students this is by far the largest project we’ve ever taken on; the cost of the uniforms and school supplies exceeding $1000. But to put it in perspective, the kinder school in Eureka is serving students from a large surrounding area, so we’re actually positively impacting the lives of families in many villages.

Our visit began with a welcoming speech by this young girl, who actually did a pretty good job of it. I think a career in the entertainment industry could be in her future. When she finished speaking several groups of kids sang songs and danced. 

With the welcoming ceremony concluded it was time to hand out the uniforms. These four were the first to get theirs. Notice how large the uniforms are on these kids. When I first noticed it I thought something had gone terribly wrong. We were given the sizes for each student (6, 8 and 10) so I thought that the manufacturer had screwed up, but it turns out the mothers had deliberately asked for one or two sizes larger so the uniforms can be worn for several years. None of us thought to ask one of the kids to open their jacket so we could see the yellow t-shirt underneath. They look good…all yellow with green trim on the collar and sleeves.

Maria was one of the 11 students without school supplies. The bag she is displaying contains everything she needs. Now she and the other 10 kids don’t have to borrow or go without anymore. I’ve taken a liking to Maria. She is one of the kids who walks 30+ minutes to school every morning. She’s an orphan – we don’t know what happened to her parents. We do know that her home circumstances are not great. We put a couple of blouses inside her school bag. We were also able to give several articles of used clothing to a woman who has a child in the kinder and is in extreme poverty.

And here they are…all 56 students in uniform. The kids didn’t seem to be all that impressed with their new uniforms and school supplies…they may have been wondering where the toys were. The teachers were happy and so were the moms. Hopefully what we’ve done today will keep the kids out of the fields and in the classroom. Our thanks again to everyone who made this day possible including Marcos and Saida.Your assistance is greatly appreciated.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

A proud moment for Promesa Peru

We were recently invited to visit the offices of the Gerrencia Regional de Educacion (Regional Office of Education) which we did this morning, and while there met with Julio Enrique Vasquez Peralta, the Director of Education for the entire Lambayeque Region. He thanked us for our assistance to the schools and students in the poor areas, and encouraged us to continue with our efforts. He asked us to keep him informed of our activities, and also offered a ‘letter of introduction’ explaining who we are, what we do, and that we’re functioning with the knowledge of the Regional Office of Education. The letter will help us to smooth the way on those occasions when we need to deal with municipal authorities.

Praise is not what we’re about but it does feel good to know that the help we’re giving is recognized and appreciated. As always, thanks to our donors for providing the means to continue our work.