Friday, February 27, 2015

This Town is a Losin’ Town…..

…it’s a miserable town and a nowhere town and I am leaving this town.” Those are some of the lyrics from an old Frank Sinatra song that were going through my mind as we walked the main street of this Morrope District village. The village straddles one of the busiest roads in the district, which could excuse some of the paper, plastic bags, banana peels and other trash lining the street, but not the fish intestines and other garbage that had been thrown into the road from the houses, or the rubble that seemed to have been randomly dumped and become part of the landscape in front of many buildings. 

Morrope is one of the poorest districts in the Lambayeque Region and is statistically categorized as being in extreme poverty. We can understand private property not being in like-new condition, but being poor doesn’t need to equate to being slovenly. We have seen many poor villages where individual and community pride is evident…where streets and public and private property are free of trash, and are maintained to the best of the owners ability. That’s not the case in this village, where to an outside observer it almost appears that the community is deliberately making the statement …”we don’t give a damn.”

This is one of two primary schools in the village. A kinder occupies the far end. The remainder of the building has classrooms for first and second grades.  The building has been freshly painted, but don’t credit the community for that initiative. The Minister of Education in the Lambayeque Region has mandated and provided the money to paint every public kinder, primary and secondary school in the region. And they must be painted pink as opposed to the historic maroon.  

Out of view behind the kinder is a pile of adobe bricks. Several years ago the school director asked for a wall to be built to prevent the younger kids from playing in the road. Some of the families donated bricks that are now slowly disappearing and disintegrating because, at least in the opinion of one man, the director and parent’s association don’t care enough to get the wall built.

There was no staff present on this day at either of the primary schools which is a little unusual given that schools officially open March 2nd, but in fairness we should say that while peering into a school window we saw chairs and tables neatly stacked, and storage cabinets that seemed to be well stocked and organized. What did seem strange was that villagers on the street didn’t seem to know much about the schools or the staff. In most villages we’ve visited the school and staff plays a central role in community life.

Perhaps it was the two days of rain that dampened people's spirits, but the usual small village friendliness we'd come to expect wasn't there. For the most part we were ignored, except by the woman who apparently assumed I had come to the village for the express purpose of posing for a gringo souvenir photo with every single member of her family. It took about an hour for that smile to disappear.

We’ve just started to check out the Morrope District and are really hoping that this village isn’t indicative of what we’ll be seeing. When we’re asked to get involved with a school or community one of the things we look for is people trying to help themselves. We don’t see that here. Thankfully the village has not asked for our help, saving us from having to refuse. It may be that we’ll be passing through Losin’ Town again as we tour the district but it’s not likely that we’ll be stopping.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

It’s that time of year….

School officially begins Monday, March 2nd in all national schools across Peru. In the small coastal villages and in the mountains what that date really means is that classrooms will be in various stages of readiness, and a few kids will show up for a brief time that first day just to see what’s happening, but settling into the school routine is a gradual process that won’t be in full swing until at least mid-month if that. It’s a busy time of year in the rice paddies and sometimes the kids are needed to help with the harvesting or to watch their younger siblings while the parents are in the fields.  Another reason kids may not be in school is the lack of school supplies. Which is why we revisited the Pinglo Santa Maria family this morning in San Bernardino. 

Every year the Minister of Education publishes a list of required school supplies for each student in kinder, primary and secondary. The list doesn’t change much from year to year. Some of the basic items we took to San Bernardino this morning are shown in the photo. When we donate school supplies we include a bag to carry the items in.

Janina is 3 and will start kinder this year. Everything she will need in class…pencils, paper, scissors, erasers, notebooks etc are in that bag. Incidentally, if you noticed the mud on the kids feet don’t think these are ‘dirty’ people. It rained hard this morning and San Bernardino’s dirt streets turned into a quagmire, and that mud gets carried onto the dirt floors of the houses which makes more mud. The sun will soon appear drying the streets and floors, the mud will be washed off and things will be back to normal.

Maritza is 6 and starts primary school this month. We absolutely love her smile and the way she rushes to hug Maribel whenever we visit. She too has everything she will need for school in that bag as do her sisters Maria 13, and Daisy 12 who both attend primary school.

When we think of school supplies we don’t normally focus on individual families but instead look at entire classrooms. In the case of the Pinglo Santa Maria family school supplies were in addition to other assistance to the family. In the typical pronoei or primary class with an average of 22 students, all of them are needy. We don’t distinguish between the 2 or 3 students whose families may be able to afford school supplies and the remainder of the kids.

We have already begun visiting villages and schools and our experience tells us that we'll be discovering communities that need our help. A donation of $15 will supply a preschooler with everything they need. $7 will provide the basics for a primary grade student. Please help us to keep kids like the Pinglo Santa Marias in the schoolroom. You can do that at the Promesa Peru webpage. Thank you.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Hey!...this isn’t Barrio Nuevo!

Yesterday Maribel and I spent the afternoon in the village of Annape. It is a small village in the district of Morrope. We didn’t plan to do that. We didn’t even know the village of Annape existed. In the city of Morrope we told the mototaxi driver we wanted to go to Barrio Nuevo. He said the cost would be 3 soles. That sounded about right so we got in and off we went. I knew we were going in the right general direction but was a little surprised when after only 10 minutes we pulled into a village and the driver said we were there.  We got out, paid him and began walking toward what looked to be a school and small government building a short distance away. The building was a medical clinic with the word Annape above the door. That's usually where the village name is placed. On the opposite corner is a primary school. It too had the word Annape above the door. When a woman came out of the clinic and sat on a bench, we already knew what her answer would be when we asked if this was the village of Barrio Nuevo. I prefer to believe that the mototaxi driver made a mistake or misunderstood us…that he didn’t deliberately drop us off two-thirds short of our destination.

Sarah (seated) is 38 with 6 kids. The oldest is 17. Like most of the village men her husband works on a farm. She doesn’t like the heat. And she doesn’t like the inflammation in her leg. That’s why she was at the clinic. The technician told her to return tomorrow when a doctor would be there. After a few more minutes of conversation Sarah slowly walked off into the distance, muttering about the heat and doctors who always seem to "be here tomorrow”.

The medical technician told us that the school director had been here earlier but had gone back to her home in Chiclayo for the remainder of the day. This information left me muttering about the heat and school directors who always seem to have "been here earlier”. I realize the director wasn't expecting us, but it's hard to remember something like that when the desert heat is sucking out your life forces. Maribel gave her phone number to the technician and asked her to have the school director phone us. If she phones, and depending on what she says about any needs of the school or students we may be making a return trip.

We began walking back toward Morrope hoping that a mototaxi or burro cart would suddenly materialize and save us the dusty, hot two mile walk back when we passed a house with a gathering in front of it. We exchanged hellos and were invited to sit and enjoy a drink of chicha. As always happens, before long we were bosom friends and were being told the history of the Ventura family. Today’s gathering was to observe the one year passing of their father. There are eight siblings plus other relatives who came for the occasion. We were told that the father was the founder of Annape and had helped to construct the school. They also said I was not the first Americano to visit Annape. Some years ago members of the United States Army had constructed a water tower and maintenance building in the village. Both look to be well maintained.

A few minutes later we got lucky. A mototaxi appeared with a driver who was a friend of the Ventura family and had come to pay his respects. After a drink of chicha he offered to take us to Morrope. As we were getting in I asked if he knew where Barrio Nuevo was. He said he did and asked if we wanted to go there. We both said no.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

I call it “El Bistro”

After 8 years of apartment living we decided it was time to do something different. What we did was build a second floor condo. Like many buildings in Chiclayo the first floor structure is long and narrow, and it basically dictated the design we built to…also long and narrow. The shape and size is less than we would have liked, but after decorating and furnishing it we’re happy and comfortable with the finished product.

Our only problem was what to do with that little space next to the office area shaped like an isosceles right triangle. It was too small for any practical use. We talked about closing it off for storage use but it’s a bright, cheery corner with a window overlooking an intersection. It seemed a shame not to be able to enjoy that space somehow.

I was looking at that corner for the umpteeneth time one morning when the light bulb went on. Why not turn it into a bistro of sorts? There was enough room for a shelf/bar and three bar stools. Maribel was initially less than enthused about the idea (I seem to remember words like 'crackpot idea' being tossed about) but her son Brian saw the possibilities immediately, saying he knew where we could buy “the perfect bar stools.” I was skeptical, thinking we’d have to go to Lima for what I envisioned but he was right.

El Bistro has become our favorite location in the house. In the early morning it serves as a breakfast nook until the morning sun becomes too bright. In the afternoon we often eat lunch there. There is always something to see…it’s a busy intersection with constant vehicle and people traffic. There are street vendors throughout the day offering their products. A portion of the airport is in view. We can see the planes taxiing on the runways, and watch them take off over the buildings.  The air force has some Russian MiG 29s stationed there and when they take off the sound rattles the windows but we enjoy watching them.

My favorite time in El Bistro is at night. There are candle sconces on each side of the window and when lit they create a pleasing, almost sensual ambiance. Add some soft background music and a piña colada or glass of wine with cheese and crackers and the time passes very pleasantly. Night time in El Bistro is also a good for pondering questions like..."Where would I be tonight and what would I be doing if I hadn't turned left on 3rd street that day 50 years ago?"

We’re not quite done with El Bistro yet. I have this image of beaded curtains hanging from the ceiling as sort of a door that I can’t get out of my mind. Brian says he’s located “the perfect curtains” made by artisans in the town of Catacaos…about 5 hours by bus and combi from Chiclayo. He insists that I should go to look at them. He was right about the bar stools, so maybe he's found the curtains too. 

There’s space for a small wine rack on the wall behind the clock that is definitely on my to-do list. I’m having trouble selling to both Maribel and Brian the idea of “El Bistro” spelled out in big pink neon lights hanging on that wall opposite the window. But perhaps that is a bit much.

Monday, February 9, 2015

A Visitor’s Guide to Chiclayo

Over the past five year and 285 post life-time of this blog I've written about transportation, hotels, restaurants, attractions both on and off the beaten path, security, economy, medical services, culture and customs and a ton of other things that might be of interest to a visitor, but I don't think I ever put it all together in one form. Or maybe I did but I can’t find it. 

I don't put a lot of faith in visitor's guides. They're obsolete the day after they come off the press, especially in developing countries where hotels, restaurants and points of interest open and close regularly. And except for internationally recognized attractions, for example Machu Picchu, other recommendations are biased toward the writers/reviewers preferences. Having said that, here is my version of a visitors guide to Chiclayo. Take it for what it's worth. The basic outline I followed is:

When to come
What to bring
How to get here
Where to stay
Where to eat
What to see

But first a bit about history and facts. Chiclayo was founded in 1560 by a Spanish priest on the site of an Indian village that had probably existed for hundreds of years. It is located 425 miles north of Lima and 125 miles south of the border with Ecuador. The Pacific Ocean is 12 miles to the west. The population is about 560,000. It is the Capital of the Lambayeque Region. In the early 1800s it was given the title ‘City of Friendship.’ I don’t know why.  That’s all I’m going to say about history. After all, you’re visiting Chiclayo in the present, not the past. Okay, here we go.  

When to come - Chiclayo is about 465 miles from the equator. That means that hours of daylight vary only by 20 minutes during the year. Temperature variation is even less, being a ‘shirt sleeve’ climate year round.  We’re part of the coastal desert so rain is not a factor. Essentially there is no best or worst time to visit weather-wise, although it can get uncomfortably hot during the day from mid-December through mid-April. During the other months many Chiclayanos wear a light jacket in the evening.

Many cities and regions celebrate various festivals during the year, with some of the more noteworthy being in Lima, Arequipa and Cusco. Planning a visit around those activities is common, however Chiclayo and the surrounding area doesn’t offer anything comparable. Well, that’s not quite true. Nearby Monsefù has their ‘Fexticum’ festival every July and that’s kind of a big deal for our area.  

What to bring – There is nothing unique to Chiclayo and the surrounding area. Bring whatever you would take to any warm weather, sunny destination including sun block, sun glasses, hand sanitizer, pre-moistened hand wipes and headgear. Packing formal clothing is a waste of luggage space. Hiking shoes and light-weight pants and top are recommended for visiting villages and archeological sites outside of Chiclayo. Do bring a small backpack (or buy one here). They are useful for carrying toilet paper, hand sanitizer, wipes, cameras, bottled water, sun block, and any souvenirs you may pick up. Did I mention toilet paper? Don’t laugh…you’ll need it. Many restrooms, even in Chiclayo will not have toilet paper, or if they do it will not be located in the stall, but in a dispenser on a wall. That’s not a good thing to discover too late. And most restrooms will not have soap or drying towels.  

Ladies, do not carry a purse. That is what the backpack is for. You will either forget the purse somewhere in your travels (remember, everything is new to you…you're distracted and not in your normal routine) or someone will relieve you of it. And either wear the backpack or carry it very, very securely.

How to get here - Assuming you don’t have a private car you’re going to arrive in Chiclayo by plane or bus. If you fly, you’re coming from Lima. There is no other option. There are four flights daily on LAN Airlines from Lima to Chiclayo and return. You can reach Chiclayo directly by bus from all Peruvian coastal cities north of and including Lima, and from many cities in the Andes such as Cajamarca and Tarapoto. Several major cities in Ecuador also offer direct service. By direct I mean no bus changes.

Let’s say you arrived at the airport. Now what do you do? If you’ve booked one of the major hotels, after you’ve gotten your luggage and exited the building look for the hotel van and/or the driver holding a sign. Don’t worry; you can’t miss them and they won’t miss you. If you haven’t booked at a hotel with pickup service, you’ll need to take a taxi. Again, don’t worry; the taxi drivers (they are registered with the airport) will be at your elbow the second you leave the building. If you speak Spanish, just tell them where you want to go. There are published rates on a sign outside the airport, but if you have that…"I'm a tourist and have no idea what I'm doing" look you’ll probably get charged a little more. Welcome to Chiclayo. If you don’t speak Spanish, you will have been smart enough to write the name of the hotel and address on a slip of paper that you can show to the taxi driver. If he can’t read he’ll ask another driver for help. If you don’t know where you want to go (adventuress…aren’t you!), open your laptop (the airport has Wi-Fi) and send an email to me. If I happen to be home I’ll come rescue you.

If you arrived by bus it’s a little different deal. To my knowledge hotels don’t pick up at bus terminals. You may want to inquire about that when making reservations. If your hotel doesn’t pick up, everything in the preceding paragraph regarding taxies applies, except that the taxi drivers are not registered, which introduces a small element of risk into the process. The vast majority of them are honest. My advice is to choose an older guy with an older taxi. He’s less likely to take you somewhere where a gang will rob you. Don’t let that comment deter you from coming here…just be aware that it does happen.

Where to stay – In my opinion the ‘big three’ hotels in Chiclayo are Casa Andina, WinMeier, and Costa Del Sol. There are several more right behind them. Some of the staff at each hotel are bilingual. Lots of business travelers and tourists stay at these hotels. Each has a first class restaurant and casino. At present a standard room goes for about $110. There are many smaller hotels scattered around the city for $35 and up that are safe, clean and comfortable. There are also hostals in Chiclayo for as little as $10 that are perfectly suitable for a night’s sleep. My only concern with them is location. You’ll need to do some searching. A good place to start might be this link.

Where to eat – If your hotel has a restaurant, why not have your first meal there? And then ask at the desk for recommendations for quality, nearby restaurants. They will help you. If you’re going to search the internet for restaurants, don't rely on TripAdvisor.  I did a recent search, and three of their top 10 are closed. Of the remaining seven only three are descent though not Chiclayo’s best. And the number one rated restaurant - Brother’s Burger and BBQ was (it’s closed) a tiny carry-out hamburger stand. 

The following is a brief list in no specific order of restaurants I have eaten at; that have been around for years and can reasonably be expected to still exist when you get here. One caution...some of them have very limited hours, for example lunch or dinner only. Many restaurants in Chiclayo don't open until 7:00 PM. 

Americas - across from the principal park 

Trebolacross from the principal park

Hebron - Av Balta

Venecia Pizza - there are three - two on Av on Av Santa Victoria

Marakos - there are two close to each other on Av Elvira Garcia - best ribs in town

Pardos Chicken - in the Real Plaza Mall - serves more than chicken- ribs are good

Rustica in the Real Plaza Mall - pricey but worth it with probably the best mixed drinks in town

Joshe Grill - my favorite restaurant - open at 7:00 PM - intersection of Avs Grau and Pacasmayo

To find others walk around the downtown area. You’ll pass dozens of good restaurants. If it looks clean and organized it’s probably okay. Unfortunately those criteria will cause you to miss some good meals/experiences at smaller mom and pop restaurants off the beaten path, but such is life.

Don’t worry too much about getting traveler’s disease. That’s not likely to happen. Eat at established restaurants, avoid buying food from street vendors, drink only bottled water and you’ll be fine. Buy the water from reputable chain stores such as Tottus, Plaza Vea and Metro. Despite these precautions, should you happen to contract traveler’s disease you can buy the antibiotic ciprofloxacin, which is what a doctor would prescribe, without a prescription at any pharmacy. The pharmacist will tell you how to use it. Be prepared to spend the next 24 hours in your room. I hope you brought a good book.

What to see – Chiclayo and most of the Lambayeque Region is a desert. You won’t find waterfalls, forests or wildlife to photograph. There are sand dunes, sandstone bluffs and the sea shore close by, but that’s about it for natural attractions. There are other things of interest. A visit to the tourist information center at the intersection of  Calle 7 de enero and Maria Izaga is a good place for information about attractions as well as hotels, restaurants, transportation, medical services and tour companies. My list of suggestions for attractions in Chiclayo include:

The Principal Park – It’s an attractive park located in central Chiclayo but that’s really all you can say about it. Across the street is City Hall, which is open to the public and occasionally has photo, art and other types of exhibits. Also across the street is the Santa Maria Cathedral, completed in 1863. It is typical of the huge colonial churches throughout South America. From this location walk a few blocks north on Balta Av to the…

Mercado Modelo – which is reputedly the largest collection of merchants under one roof in all Peru. Everything under the sun is sold here including food, clothing, pots and pans, and witches brews. The aisles are narrow and filled with shoppers. It is easy to get disoriented here. If you’re alone it doesn’t matter. Wander freely, enjoy and sooner or later you’ll come out somewhere. If with someone you need to walk aggressively and sometimes forcibly (manners don’t count here) to stay together or you will get separated. When that happens have a plan to meet somewhere. From the Mercado walk back to the principal park, and from there walk one-half mile south on Balta Av to…

Paseo de las Musas – a beautiful park that was a gift from several foreign nations. It is well maintained with a wide variety of shrubbery and Greek themed statues. This is a favorite place for families, especially on Sunday. From Paseo de las Musas walk east on Av Garcillaazo De La Vega to the…

Real Plaza Shopping Mall- The mall was completed in 2005 and expanded to double its floor space in 2012. Occupancy is 100% with merchants waiting to step in when someone closes. There are sections of Chiclayo that are still primitive looking. The mall is not one of them. A visitor peering into the entrance of Saga Falabella or Oechsle would be hard pressed to tell the difference between them and the Macy’s store in Miami’s Dadeland Mall. Like any modern mall Real Plaza has shops selling clothing, shoes, eyeglasses and other items. The food court has the familiar Starbucks, Chili's, Popeyes, McDonald's, Pizza Hut and KFC alongside Peruvian restaurants. And of course there is a cinema. Approximately one-half mile to the south is…

Av Chinchaysuyo – This is an attraction in progress. A few years ago it was a strip of land with a forest of sorts. Very gradually an impressive boardwalk of nearly one mile in length is taking shape. The statues are incredible in their detail, and the murals between Avs Santa Victoria and Grau are to me awesome. They tell a story both mythical and actual about the history of the area. The best time to walk this (and Paseo De Las Musas) is early morning or late afternoon. There are benches to rest on but shade is scarce. One more park worth seeing is the…

Parque Infantil – It’s located one-half mile west of the Principal Park, and across the street from the Casa Andina hotel. It is a botanical park with both native and foreign trees and shrubbery. It also has an extensive kid’s playground, thus its name. Perhaps it’s the trees that block traffic noise, but for whatever reason it is the most peaceful outdoor place to relax in Chiclayo. 

That’s about it for attractions in Chiclayo proper. All of them are within walking distance of each other and from downtown. An alternative to walking would be a taxi or mototaxi, though mototaxies are prohibited from the Principal Park area.

There are major attractions not far outside of Chiclayo.

The city of Lambayeque with its two excellent museums should not be missed. A day in Lambayeque could begin with a visit to the Bruning museum. Of the two this is my favorite. After the Bruning museum a good change of pace is a visit to the Montjoy House. It is a colonial mansion and was a meeting place for patriots planning independence from Spain. As of this writing it is undergoing renovation. When you’ve finished go to El Pacifico for lunch, which in the opinion of many including me is the best restaurant in Lambayeque. After lunch visit the Museo Tumbas Reales De Sipan. This is the showcase museum of northern Peru and well worth the visit but be prepared. We have seen tourists take offense at the security procedures. Cameras, cell phones, backpacks and just about anything else you may be carrying are prohibited and must be checked before entering. Don’t try to hide anything…you’ll be ‘wanded’ by security personnel.

As with Chiclayo, all of the Lambayeque attractions including the El Pacifico restaurant are within a few blocks of each other. You don’t need transportation and walking will show you more of the town. But you have to get to Lambayeque first. Here’s how you do that.

If you’re comfortable with it, a combi from Chiclayo is the cheapest (50 cents USD) and most entertaining way to travel. You’ll need to take a taxi or mototaxi to the combi station. Once on the combi tell the cobrador (the guy who collects the money) to drop you off at “museo Bruning”. He’ll understand. If you’re not comfortable with a combi, a taxi will take you from your hotel door to the Bruning Museum. The hotel clerk will flag a taxi for you; explain to the driver where you want to go and negotiate the price. Don’t pay more than 20 soles ($6.75 USD). To return to Chiclayo go to the Panamericana Norte road…you crossed it several times if you followed my agenda. There you either flag a taxi or listen for a combi cobrador shouting…”Chiclayooo!” The rest is up to you.

Perhaps the two museums in Lambayeque were enough for you, but if not there's another impressive museum, Museo Nacional de la Cultura Sican in nearby Ferrenafe. This one is off the path in a quiet setting. It doesn't take much time to walk through it, and it has some impressive exhibits not seen in the Lambayeque museums.

The Tomb of the Lord of Sipan near the village of Sipan is something you should see even if you’re not interested in history or archeology. Do some reading about it first, and go through the site museum before visiting the tombs so you’ll know what you’re looking at.  Getting there (and back) is a little tricky. You need to get to a specific transportation terminal in Chiclayo; Terminal Epsel where you can board a custer (pronounced cooster) to Sipan. The terminal is a congested place with a hundred vehicles going to many destinations. If you get confused go to someone who looks like they work there and say…Seepan? They’ll know what you want. They don’t have regular schedules and won’t leave until full so plan on waiting awhile. But there’s lots happening so look and learn. You’ll see bags of live piglets and other livestock being lashed to the tops of vehicles, and perhaps a woman with a live turkey or an old man with a broken window frame will take the seat next to you. The 18 mile trip can take an hour depending on number of stops. Coming back to Chiclayo you need to wait on the side of a lonely dirt road for a returning custer. That can take a long time, and often they will pass you full, but eventually you’ll get back. If you don’t speak Spanish and aren’t the adventuress type probably a tour company from Chiclayo would be the better route to go.

Ventarron is another archeological site worth seeing. It’s close to Chiclayo. You can get there by taxi or take a combi to Pomalca and from there a mototaxi to Ventarron. Tell the mototaxi driver to wait for you while you explore the site. It won’t cost much and mototaxies returning to Pomalca can be scarce. A guided tour (Spanish only at present) is mandatory. The site is actively being excavated so you can see archeologists at work. Last time there we saw an arm bone being slowly unearthed.  

Pimentel is the most popular beach town with tourists, though not with me as you can see if you clicked on the hyperlink. But you probably should go there. I mean, how would you feel if when you got back home your neighbor said…”Peru, huh? Did you get to Pimentel?” You would have to say no, but if you heeded my advice you could say, with a condescending expression and dismissive tone of voice..."Of course not...I went to Puerto Eten instead."

Okay, you’ve seen and done everything we talked about and you still have one day remaining. What do you do with it?  If you’d like to just chill out, you can do that pool side at some pretty impressive water theme parks close to Chiclayo. One is the Aqua Park. Another is El Mirador, but it’s only open on weekends. There’s a post about it somewhere in my blog but I can’t find it. If relaxing is not what you’re looking for let me make an off-the-wall suggestion.

Take a taxi or mototaxi to the Tùcume combi station. In 45 minutes you’ll be in Tùcume. Tell the nearest mototaxi driver that you want to go to the pueblo San Bernardino, or El Pavo or Payesa. It will only take 15 minutes to arrive at any of those villages, and yet when you get there you’ll think you entered another world. And you did. The tourist attractions you saw in and around Chiclayo are certainly one aspect of Peru, but to two-thirds of Peru’s people the village you are standing in is the real world. It doesn’t matter if you can’t talk with them…just walk up slowly to the first villager brave enough to step out of their house, say hello with a smile and watch what happens. Before long you will be surrounded by kids and adults eager to see and speak with you. And at the close of your visit if you’ve been genuine and sincere you’re going to be hugged as you leave and asked to return. I will bet that when you’ve returned home and are talking to your friends about your trip to Peru, the visit to that village is what you will talk about first and most passionately. Hopefully you’ll be able to convey to your friends the sights, sounds, and feelings you experienced and the friendships you formed.

I think I’ve covered the basics. Now let’s talk about precautions. My number one concern for visitors is their safety. Walking is the best way to see Chiclayo, the area and attractions, but it can also be hazardous.

Sidewalks, when they exist are narrow, have gaping holes, and pavement of different heights. When gringos stumble the standard joke is…”You’re not Peruvian, are you.” But even Peruvians stumble and fall. It’s difficult to remember to check the surface in front of you when trying to look at other things or being elbow-to-elbow with other people. It’s a given…come to Chiclayo, walk the streets and you will stumble and possibly fall. Hopefully you won’t sprain or break anything. 

Vehicles and pedestrians in Chiclayo have the same relationship as the protagonists in the Running of the Bulls in Spain. As a pedestrian you never have the right of way. A taxi turning at an intersection, or crossing a sidewalk to pull into a gas station will not even slow down, let alone give you preference. They may blow their horn, but that’s all the warning you’ll get.    

Street dogs can be a problem. Chiclayanos and dogs share sidewalks and roads but they ignore each other. It’s common to have dogs walk past and even brush you on the street. That’s not an issue. The problem comes when a tourist stops; bends over saying “oooo so ceuuuut” and attempts to pet fido. Fido is not accustomed to that and will think he’s being attacked. At best he will bark and run; at worst he’ll attack. If you’re visiting Chiclayo with children, you’d better tell them that. 

Thieves – Pickpockets and grab-and-run thieves are everywhere in Chiclayo and Peru. When walking the streets you will be evaluated many times as a potential target. Give these thieves the slightest opportunity and they will take it. The good news is there are things you can do to make yourself theft-proof. Yes, I said theft-proof. 

1) Don’t wear or carry anything you don’t need. If you must wear jewelry including earrings and sunglasses, be sure they're inexpensive. Thieves have an appraising eye and will not bother with costume jewelry. My street watch is a $20 Timex. I don't carry a wallet. If I'm just out walking I don't have more than 10 soles with me. If I have my camera it's in a deep front pocket of my jeans. If I'm taking a photo the heavy-duty strap is wrapped around my wrist. And don’t ever…ever carry a camera, cell phone or whatever on your belt. It will be gone before you know it. Just ask me! 

2) If possible avoid bulges in pockets. You’d be surprised how up-close these thieves can get to you, especially on the crowded streets. 

3) I know you want to take photos, but take them with a pocket camera and carry it in a backpack or a front pocket. That big DSL strapped around your neck is too tempting. If you insist on bringing it, also bring (or buy here) a travel vest to zip over your camera when not in use. 

4) Thieves aren’t good at stealing backpacks (too many thick straps to cut). Wear or carry yours securely and there will be no problem. Just don’t get careless with it in a restaurant, vehicle, park bench etc. 

The majority of the people I know in Chiclayo; Gringos and Peruvians alike have been robbed and some multiple times. Strong arm robbery is very, very rare. It's almost all grab and run theft involving cell phones, purses and cameras. Follow the precautions above and you will not be included on that victim list.

Customs and culture - I'm a little reluctant to add this last caution but it may prevent a misunderstanding that could detract from your visit and color your perception. 

There are too many Chiclayanos in too little space. The concept of 'personal space' does not exist here. When walking downtown or in any busy area you will be bumped into and sometime violently. When looking into a store window, if you leave more than 12 inches between you and the window a Chiclayano will step into that space. A Chiclayano's arm will brush your nose as they reach for something on a store shelf in front of your face. A Chiclayano will not yield to you if you are both entering a building at the same time. When you're talking with a store clerk or waitress a Chiclayano will interrupt. Tourists not familiar with this behavior judge it to be deliberately rude and sometimes react angrily. They are not being rude. It is their culture. That's how they were raised. It's what they do. They would not understand if you were to take offense at their actions. That's hard to remember when it happens to you but you need to try not to take it personally. I used to go ballistic when it happened to me. Now I quietly mutter to myself...'this is Peru; this is Peru; this is.....' 

One of the biggest mistakes you could make if you come to Chiclayo is to think I’m exaggerating about these issues.

Okay...let's deal with some general issues that may be on your mind.

Chiclayo nightlife - I'm tempted to write that there is no nightlife and let it go at that. There is no live theater; no auditoriums with live 'name' entertainment, nothing like that. There are three disco/karaoke establishments geared to the young crowd that occasionally feature live bands from Lima or the surrounding area. Chiclayo does have an old stage theater, Teatro Dos de Mayo that has been being renovated forever as a performing arts center. Until the theater is finished night life in Chiclayo is limited to a walk in the downtown park, a disco, a movie at the cinema in the mall, or a late dinner at a restaurant.  

Currency - Many larger, restaurants and stores will accept credit and debit cards and US dollars. I don't know about euros. The problem is that they will give you a lower exchange rate, and they can be very fussy about the physical condition of the bills. Torn, smudged or written-on bills are usually not accepted. It is better to use Peruvian currency. All guide books I have read advise you to change money at a bank or government approved kiosk. I change money on the street with a favorite cambista (money changer) because they offer the highest exchange rate. They will show you what the rate is on their calculator. There are at least 50 of them on Av Balta just south of the principal park. All of them are registered and honest, but be sure to count your money because they do make mistakes. A sample transaction might look like this... today's exchange rate (3.07) times the $200 you gave him equals 614 soles he owes you. Some will offer a slightly higher or lower rate but all will be within a few pennies of each other. Don't blame them - they work for a boss who tells them what rate they can use. They too are fussy about the condition of your bills. If you withdraw money from an ATM, take US dollars and exchange with a cambista. You'll save yourself about $10 on a $500 transaction. That $10 will buy you a fine dinner at a good restaurant. Ask for your soles in lower denominations. Taxi drivers and small businesses don't have change for large bills. Bills of 10 and 20 soles are most common.

Laundry - The big hotels have laundry service or facilities for guest use. To my knowledge there are no do-it-yourself laundromats in Chiclayo. Presto operates several dry-cleaning locations in Chiclayo - one in the mall. They charge by the piece and are very expensive. A better option is one of the many small 'lavanderieas' scattered around the city. They do a decent job and will wash your laundry for about 4 soles per kilo (60 cents USD per lb). They are all two-day service so plan in advance.

I can't think of anything else to mention so my final piece of advice is this. Peru is a third-world country. It's infrastructure...and by that I mean the condition of streets, sidewalks, transportation systems and information technology systems, even in Lima still have a way to go to meet western standards. Some local customs and culture especially in the more remote locations to westerners appear to be 'quaint', meaning primitive. Put those thoughts aside during your visit. Don’t compare or judge. You knew this wasn't New York or London when you got off the plane. Instead look, learn, understand and appreciate Chiclayo and its people for what they are. I hope you enjoy your visit.


If there's any interest I may try to keep this guide current so would appreciate feedback pro or con. Did I miss anything? Is anything unclear? Are there links that no longer work? Thanks.


Saturday, February 7, 2015

This time of year they appear almost every day…

…those big cumulonimbus clouds with their fluffy mushroom shaped tops and dark ominous base. They’re on the eastern horizon and depending on how tall they are they could be as close as Cayalti, some 25 miles distant or as far away as Cajamarca, about 100 miles as the crow flies. Wherever they are they’re dumping rain…lots of rain. Frequent news reports on television are showing flooding in mountain villages. 

November through February is generally considered the rainy season, though Peru’s northern coast receives very little and for the past three years almost none. Occasionally the clouds will reach Chiclayo before dissipating, but by then their moisture has already been discharged, leaving only a sparse drizzle to dirty our windows.  Agriculture, mostly in the form of sugar cane and rice is sustained by a network of canals designed to capture the runoff from the mountains, though the system is limited to river valleys and cannot compensate for the lack of rain.

One such canal enters Chiclayo from the northeast. At this sluice gate it is channeled into two separate canals…that on the right passes through Paseo de las Musas Park, the other parallels Av Chinchaysuyo. The water level is high now. Normally there is only a few inches if that. And with the water comes fish. They’re not big, averaging less than two inches in length but there are thousands of them. I’m curious to know from where and how far that water has brought them. The snowy egrets and other birds that gather to eat them probably don’t wonder about things like that.

The water isn’t used for agriculture in the city but it doesn’t get a free pass. City water trucks fill their tanks from the canals and use it to water shrubbery in the parks and on boulevards. Builders fill their tanks for transport to construction sites for mixing concrete. Taxi and mototaxies are frequently seen washing their vehicles next to a canal. Years ago, before the canals were surfaced with concrete and, according to some when the water was cleaner people would wash themselves and their clothing in the canals. No one does that these days.

The canals lead to the city of Pimentel seven mile to the southwest, where they join together again before emptying their contents into the Pacific Ocean, though by that time the water volume is much less.  It seems curious that, given the needs of the costal desert any water at all would be allowed to escape into the ocean. It’s probably the case that during the rainy season there is more water than is needed or perhaps can be handled by the irrigation system.

There doesn’t seem to be a direct relationship between the rainy season and the price of agricultural products. Local wisdom has it that any increase in supply is offset by the difficulty of harvesting and transporting caused by the rain.