Sunday, February 26, 2017

One of Peru’s More Unique Getaways

Trujillo is the 3rd largest city in Peru and is located on the coast about 300 miles north of Lima or 100 miles south of Chiclayo, from which it is a tolerable four hours away by bus. The city has malls, cines, museums, restaurants for every budget, and several major archeological sites. It’s biggest draw for us is not the city, but its neighbor to the west, Huanchaco.  Many Peruvians prefer Mancora to the north as a favorite beach town but we think Huanchaco has it beat. That is where we were for a five-day Valentine Day vacation.

We stayed at what is advertised as the Mochican Palace Hotel, however the word Mochican is being removed from signs, documents and anything else where it isn’t etched into glass or metal. When we asked why that was happening we were simply told, “it is no more.” In its heyday it must have been one fine hotel, and there are still signs that the staff are trying to keep up the image, such as the bath towel arrangement on the bed for Valentine’s Day. But alas the hotel is generally run down and would need a lot of money…probably too much, to restore it.

The hotel had, but doesn’t have a restaurant now so we went in search of one for lunch. Huanchaco is in reality a one-street town so if you walk far enough you’ll see everything the town has to offer. We saw what looked like a fine restaurant with uniformed staff and an open second story dining room overlooking the sea. The restaurant’s name is Big Ben. It’s not football season, so we’re thinking that maybe we’ll get a chance to meet Big Ben Roethlisberger; the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback. Nope. Turns out they named the restaurant after that famous tick-tock in London. We both had fish, and the quality and quantity were excellent, though I will say that it is one of the more expensive restaurants we’ve eaten at outside of Lima. But all the ladies were given a free Valentine’s Day cupcake so that counts for something.

One afternoon we visited the archaeological site of Chan Chan. We had been there six years ago but it was worth seeing again. We hired a young female guide who spoke Spanish and English and who was very knowledgeable not only about Chan Chan but about many sites in Peru. One thing I found curious was that she continually commented on the wealth of Chan Chan belonging only to the king and a few elite, while the workers who built and produced everything had nothing. Further discussion revealed that her beliefs were aligned with feminism and socialism, which she acknowledged. We agreed to stay on the subject of Chan Chan

During the heat of the day we searched out malls and cines in Trujillo for air conditioning, returning to Huanchaco to walk the beach in the late afternoon and evenings. The beach area is about as bohemian as I have seen in Peru. There you will find the 1960 Volkswagen Kombis parked with a make-shift shelters attached and young people in bib overalls selling trinkets and pot. Guys and gals with the Jamaican look will be selling trinkets, braiding hair, painting nails or singing while playing a guitar or an exotic instrument, all hoping someone will put a few coins in a hat. 

The beach pier is usually crowded unless the red flags are flying, which means the waves are too big to be on the pier or beach, though everyone ignores the flags on the beach, preferring to stand on the shore and let the crashing waves pummel them about. But whether open or not the pier area is where the action is at, especially at night.

If you’re not into action or the Jamaican scene or exotic music or shoulder to shoulder crowds on the beach, a good alternative is to observe the sunset with a glass of Cusquena beer from the sixth floor of the Mochican Palace Hotel. It worked for us.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Turn left…turn left…turn left…

Anyone familiar with a car GPS might have guessed what the title of this post is referring to. There is a mototaxi; not a car but a mototaxi that regularly patrols our neighborhood either transporting customers or looking for them, that has a GPS. Frequently during the day we hear that female voice saying in English, turn left…turn left. That’s all she says. She never says anything else, like ‘recalculating’, or ‘hey dummy you missed the turn.’ Just…turn left. Obviously there’s something wrong with that GPS, and has been for at least six months.

So why doesn’t the moto driver turn it off or remove it? Maybe it’s a status thing; he thinks potential customers will be impressed that he has a GPS…and in English yet! Maybe he doesn’t know how to turn it off or remove it. Maybe he likes the sound or her voice. What if it’s a political message? What if the driver is encouraging people who may have conservative political leanings to adopt a liberal left point of view? Especially on the heels of Trump’s election. Many Peruvians don’t like Trump, including Peru’s president. They say he is ‘malo’ (bad or evil). Venezuela’s economy is a mess. Very recently Peru approved 6,000 special visas for Venezuelans to come to Peru to work, study and receive health care. When announcing the program Peru’s president said, “Now is the time to build bridges, not walls.”  It’s pretty clear who that message was directed at.

Speaking of the liberal left, there has been a flood (no pun intended) of protests on Chiclayo’s streets and in parks lately. Some of them are in support of the LGBT movement. I admit I had to look up the meaning. Whenever I see LGBT in print my immediate thought is of a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich. Other protests call for the removal of, “…garbage on television!” I once asked a protester what qualified him to determine what is garbage television. He said he didn’t need qualifications, that it was obvious that anything that didn’t “feed or stimulate the intellect was garbage television.” I asked him if he watched The Simpsons. He said he did, and catching my meaning quickly added, “…but that is not garbage!”

Most of the protesters are very young and very exuberant. It is my impression that they are more focused on enjoying the excitement of the activity then they are on being invested in their cause.

Many years ago I interviewed a newspaper editor in his office (oddly, I don’t remember why I was interviewing him). I asked him what he looked for in hiring a reporter. He said that for a broadcast reporter he wanted a physical appearance and voice that wasn’t distracting. For both written and broadcast, good communication skills were critical. Then he added something that at the time I thought was odd and has stayed in my memory through the years. He said he favored hiring slightly older applicants who “had all of their causes behind them.” He didn’t want reporters to take a position or try to influence, but to report objectively and dispassionately. He said his job was to present the facts and let the readers/viewers draw their own conclusions.

I once had causes. The further in time I am removed from those days of naive idealism the more I forget that I too once thought it was possible to change the path of humanity to a direction that I knew was the right direction! Like those LGBT and ‘garbage’ protesters, I was positive I knew the truth! I wonder if there will come a time when the moto driver’s GPS will say, ‘turn right…turn right…


On an apolitical note, school supplies are showing up in Chiclayo’s stores. Very soon the phone calls will start coming from pronoei directors asking Promesa Peru to help them. We’re looking forward to it. We’ve had two months off and are ready to saddle up.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

The Flood’s Aftermath

I closed my last post commenting that a military truck had arrived and that perhaps the cavalry had come.

It turns out that there were many trucks that descended on the neighborhood, all filled with military personnel. I’m told the men are students at the military university. All of us were impressed with how they hit the ground running. Some of them organized into bucket brigades and sought out houses with standing water. Homes with elderly people were given priority.

A neighbor allowed me to take photos in her house as the soldiers worked. They were incredibly efficient…buckets were moving hand to hand in both directions almost as fast the eye could follow them. There were eleven men in this team. I also learned, after being hit by a pail that they were not about to let anyone, including a pseudo-journalist disrupt their rhythm. There was at least twelve inches of water in four rooms of this house. Within twenty minutes the water was gone and the men had moved on.

Other soldiers focused on sweeping water from the street into storm drains. When what they were doing became apparent, neighbors…kids, women and old men joined the effort. Peruvians are not afraid to work, especially when it helps their neighborhood.  

A lingering problem is no tap water. Two water pipes burst two nights ago. We are told we won’t have water until Tuesday. Bottled water at stores is being sold from pallets at store entrances, and you have to be fast to get some.

Hopefully this is the final photo I take of this flood. The last of the water is being pumped into a storm drain, and those neighbors not still removing water from their houses are busy gathering up the debris. Soon life will be back to normal.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Is it over?

The rain last night started shortly after 7:00 PM and stopped sometime after 3:00 AM, almost exactly matching the script of the previous two nights. The important difference is that last night’s rain was soft and gentle, the kind of rain that farmers and gardeners love.

The water has gone down about eight inches over night. It is below curb level which means that residents who still have standing water in their houses can finally remove it. Debris that had been floating for several days lies scattered on sidewalks, giving the area the appearance of an abandoned slum. Residents will deal with that quickly.

What still remains, beside the water, is something that I forgot to mention in previous posts…the problems with and odor caused by backed-up sewage pipes. I am very much aware of the odor as I type this…there is no escaping it. I don’t know what has to happen to eliminate it.

Whether the flood is over or not, this seems like the time to reflect on action taken by city authorities. Chiclayo is a large city and we know that there were areas of it that got hit harder than we did. We know that buildings collapsed and there was at least one death. It may be that the president’s visit accomplished something, and that the city responded as best they could in those areas. That didn’t happen in our neighborhood.

The help we received was six men and a pump. They disappeared after 10:00 PM last night, having accomplished nothing. I don’t know what if anything could have been done about the water, but the police could have at least closed the roads so waves from vehicles didn’t enter houses. Instead residents had to confront drivers with brooms and clubs. I’m sure that sandbags could have been provided, which could have prevented water from entering some (not all) of the houses. If nothing else, government presence would have shown residents that they weren’t alone.

Maybe it’s over, though dark clouds are present to the southwest. This isn’t the first flood this neighborhood has seen and it won’t be the last. Hopefully, as Peru slowly emerges from its third-world status there will be infrastructure in place to better respond to disasters like this.

PS…as I was about to publish this post a truck with military personnel has parked just outside our door. The men are looking over the area, for what purpose I don’t know. Maybe the cavalry has arrived.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Watching Chiclayanos deal with a flood

It’s interesting to watch how our neighbors are handling flood conditions. There is no despair, anger or anguish that I can see, even from two brothers whose house has been pretty much demolished. Everybody goes about cleaning up and preparing for the next rain with a steady resolve, as if it’s something they do every day, and often with humorous banter amongst themselves as they work. But that’s not always the case.

Two doors to the north is a single-level home constructed of adobe brick. It’s been flooded the last two nights and the family living there don’t think it will stand a third night. This morning they rented a truck, packed it with everything they own and took off for parts unknown. During the 1998 flood nearly all of the homes in this area were made of adobe, and most of them collapsed. The government replaced those houses with real brick at no cost to the owners.

Nearby Promart; the equivalent of Menards and Home Depot in the USA is doing a booming business on galvanized metal sheets, PVC tubes and concrete. The sheets are to cover leaking roofs. Tubes will be used to drain roofs as we did, and to attach to pumps to remove water from houses. The concrete will be used for 6 to 12 inch permanent water barriers in front of doors which means residents will have to remember to step over them when leaving or entering.

A city work crew arrived at 11:00 AM with a small gasoline pump, PCV tubes and soft fabric hose. The plan is to pump the water from this intersection into a canal some distance away. Incredibly, the hose running off to the left continues for about 385 meters (421 yards), more than 4 football fields. It seems to me to be asking an awful lot of that pump.

At 2:00 PM the pump began operating. It took time to set everything up but part of the delay was because the crew said they didn’t have money for gas for the pump. They asked residents to chip in but were refused. I don’t know how that was resolved. Anyway, it’s 6:50 PM and the pump is still running. After five hours, based on a benchmark I eyeballed when the process started, the water level has dropped one inch, and that could be because of evaporation. President Kuczynski, that pump is not going to get the job done.

It’s getting dark now, both because the sun has set and because dark clouds are moving in again from the southeast. We’ll see what tonight brings.

And the rain continues…

It is 6:00 am…the dawn of a new day, but a day that offers only hard work for many of Chiclayo’s residents. It rained again last night, much harder than the previous night. At 2:00 am the rain was so intense that visibility was limited. Neighbors fought to keep the rain out of their homes, but by 3:30 most of them had given up and gone to bed.

All that effort last night is why no one is on the street this morning. But soon they’ll be up and doing what they can to remove water from their houses. Yesterday the water in the street was at a mid-calf depth. This morning it is knee high.

Peru’s president flew into Chiclayo yesterday to inspect the flooded areas. He declared a state of emergency and ordered pumps to be placed where needed and any other assistance as required.

I mentioned yesterday that we had a man installing drain tubes to eliminate standing water on our roof. It worked like a charm. During the heaviest time of the rain I watched water gushing out of the tubes onto the street, and this morning our roof is dry.

Today we’re all hoping to see some of the government aid the president promised. But mostly people are hoping that there won’t be a third night of rain.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Chiclayo cleans up after a flood

For the past week much of the printed and broadcast news coming out of Lima has been about the severe flooding in the south of the country. Lima, Ica, Arequipa and other districts have seen extensive damage as rivers overflowed their banks. Houses, cars and even a hotel were shown being carried along by raging rivers flowing down what in drier times is Main Street.

Last night it was Chiclayo’s turn. It had rained the previous two nights with no accumulation, but yesterday there were ugly black clouds all day in the southeast, and older locals warned about what might happen at night. The rain started at about 7:00 pm and became more intense as time passed. By 9:00 there was several inches of water in the streets. At about 9:30 the power went off. A rumor spread that city authorities had intentionally turned off the power to prevent shorting and electrical fires. At midnight water was entering first-floor houses despite sandbags and broom brigades attempting to keep the water out. People were also on their roofs (as were we) removing any water accumulation. Roofs here are flat and any standing water tends to find its way into the structure below. At about 2:00 am the rain lessened and the water level began receding. Weary residents went to bed, knowing that they’d be faced with clean-up in the morning.

The new day, without rain and with power restored saw residents trying to remove water from their homes while at the same time trying to prevent more from entering. Passing vehicles caused waves that entered houses. Most drivers understood the situation and drove slowly. Those that did not were greeted by shouts questioning their ancestry and intelligence.

Today in our neighborhood if you want to leave your house without getting wet you need to wear boots or go barefoot in shorts. Otherwise you’ll spend some time washing and drying your clothing and shoes.

It’s not raining now but dark clouds are above and all around. It could be that tonight we’ll see a repeat of last night. It’s a helpless feeling; watching the rain increase and the water rise and trying to combat it with brooms, pails and sandbags, knowing that nature is going to win the fight. But there’s this…the rainy season will end and flooded streets will be only a memory, for a while at least.