Arriba o Abajo?

When you’re standing on the North Pole, any direction you take is due South. You and your best friend can be standing back to back on the North Pole, step away in opposite directions and both of you will be walking due South. I recommend doing this in the summer. The same is true if you’re standing on the South Pole, any direction you step away from the Pole is due North.

In a city like Cusco, high up in the Andes mountains, the locals have the same kind of directional system. Everything is either up or down. Arriba o Abajo? The only variations are if some place is way up or way down from where you’re at than it’s Arriiiiiiba o Abaaaaaajjo?

The other day Mamacita Linda was going to the market to buy fresh groceries. I ask “which market”.

“The one arriiiiiba”

There’s about 4 or 5 markets “arriba” from us but since she said “arriiiiiiba” that narrowed it down to either the main market in downtown Cusco or the Huancaro market.

A while back we took the kids to a birthday party at a friend’s house. I’d never been to the house before so I ask where it is.

“Abaaaaaaaaaajo todavia”

That describes an area of probably 100,000 people, maybe more.

Sometimes you don’t know if they mean “arriba/abajo” in the immediate sense or in the long run. For example, the main avenue coming into Cusco, Avenida Cultura, generally slopes up towards the city center and down towards the outlying areas of San Jeronimo and Saylla, but there are a few stretches where the slope is opposite. Whenever we’re out and about I’d give my earthly kingdom for some left/right directions once in a while!!

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The farthest North I’ve been is Qikiqtarjuaq, 68 degrees North latitude.

Runway at Qikiqtarjuaq CYVM

The runway at Qikiqtarjuaq (CYVM) is marked to TRUE North, not magnetic North.

Mooney Acclaim on ramp at Qikiqtarjuaq (CYVM) airport.

Mooney Acclaim on ramp at Qikiqtarjuaq (CYVM) airport.

The stunning Brexit vote

Is only stunning if you know nothing about European history and culture.

I’m already wore out from seeing stunning Brexit news everywhere. All the talking heads telling you how stunning this is and what it means to you (hint: nothing)

While it may be stunning how wrong the pollsters were and how badly the Remain camp miscalculated their political moves, the actual outcome should come as no surprise to anyone who knows European history.

Since when do the Brits consider themselves an integral part of Europe?

They never have and probably never will, and that’s perfectly well and within their right.

* * *

Peace in Colombia. Largely overlooked amid all the Brexit noise is the great news out of Cuba that the Colombian government is now formally at peace with the FARC rebels. Real news that affects real lives.

To be a fly on Mrs. PPK’s cellphone

In a stunning electoral comeback it’s now virtually assured that Pedro Pablo Kuczynski Godard or “PPK” will be the next President of Peru.

We already knew the next “first spouse” of Peru would be an American, since both PPK and his opponent Keiko Fujimori are married to US citizens. I know the US well and I can just imagine some of the conversations Mrs. PPK must be having with old friends:

Friend 1: “You’re gonna be a First Lady!!! Is that true? How exciting!!!!”
Mrs. PPK: “Isn’t it great?! I’m so proud of Pedro! OXOXOXO”

Friend 2: “Now, is Peru like a real country?”
Friend 2: “Where is Peru at? Is it like by Belize? ‘caus I went there on a cruise last year.”
Mrs. PPK: ………

Friend 1: “Is Peruvian hard to learn? Is that what they speak there?”
Mrs. PPK: ………
Friend 1: “Oh, so Spanish and, how do you say the other, Quechua?”
Friend 1: “Is the food a lot like Mexican food then? I just love the enchiladas from that little Mexican place downtown.”
Mrs. PPK: ………

Friend 3: “So are you gonna live in their Whi…”
Friend 3: “Wait? Do they have their own White House? Is it white like ours?”
Mrs. PPK: ………

Friend 2: “Do they celebrate the 4th of July in Peru?”
Mrs. PPK: ………
Friend 2: “OK, so the 4th of July is on the 28th of July in Peru?”

Friend 3: “Do I need a passport to come and visit you guys?”
Friend 3: “A Peruvian passport or my American passport?”
Mrs. PPK: ………

Before my American friends get all offended, I like how main street America is very unpretentious, not like Europe for example. I’ve known quite a few Americans who’d never left their home state and had no problem telling you that. They’ll ask simple questions because they don’t know the rest of the world but when they meet a foreigner they are curious, they want to learn. On the other hand many Europeans think they’re so worldly because they’ve stayed at a few 4-star resorts around the world. Knowing what you don’t know isn’t ignorance, when you think you know more than you really do, that’s ignorance.

Having said that, when you live in the US you do live in a very USA-centric world and talking to an American about other parts of the world can be pretty comical.

Come on Mrs. PPK, if you have a sense of humor please share some screenshots. Pretty please!

What a Keiko Fujimori presidency means for Peru

Keiko Fujimori is favored to be elected President of Peru this Sunday June 5. Peruvian presidential elections are notoriously fickle and an 11th hour momentum swing is not impossible, but it doesn’t look likely.

In my opinion her opponent in the runoff election, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski or “PPK”, hasn’t run a very strong campaign but I don’t think it would have mattered. When Keiko Fujimori wins the election it will be largely for 3 reasons:

She represents change in the minds of the voters.

Since Keiko Fujimori’s father, Alberto Fujimori, got run out of the country 15+ years ago, Peru has had typically center-right, business friendly government and conservative fiscal policy. While macro indicators are generally good, a significant portion of the electorate feels sidelined, they feel that the government cares only for the business/political establishment. Peru isn’t the only place in the world with this sentiment, look at Scotland, the Brexit, the US elections, Dilma’s impeachment in Brazil, it’s a global trend. People want change and here in Peru, Keiko Fujimori represents change from the status quo.

People believe she will get things done.

Peruvians remember the era of Keiko’s father more nuanced than what is reported in English language media. For some background, read Colin’s article on Fujimorismo in Peru. Bottom line: Peruvians feel that under Alberto Fujimori the State did function but in the years since then essential government services have been entirely inefficient, paralyzed by political infighting, corruption and incompetence. Peruvians appear to be willing to accept a degree of autocracy (considering Keiko Fujimori has an absolute majority in parliament) in return for basic government services.

Keiko Fujimori and her inner circle relate well to all Peruvians, including the urban poor and the rural populations.

Although the latter may be in appearance only, appearances matter. PPK seems to relate well to all Peruvians but his team clearly is most comfortable in the business/political establishment of Lima. PPK’s people are not the type of people who would appear comfortable eating cuy in Pampa Wasi. Peruvians feel that Alberto Fujimori’s regime – for better or worse – was a government for all of Peru but the governments since then have been largely a government of wealthy districts in Lima and other big cities.

Barring a last minute PPK comeback, what does a Keiko Fujimori presidency mean for Peru?

In the short term you’re likely to see stronger government and more efficient public institutions. Crime will go down and critical infrastructure projects will advance. Some levels of bureaucracy will get cut and political infighting will end. Tourists won’t notice any significant differences.

However there’s a flip side: Keiko Fujimori has been working methodically since the end of her father’s regime to restore her father’s movement, rebuild her congressional delegation and gain strength in local/regional government. All of this support comes at a cost, especially in a country like Peru where political support is historically based on a direct “quid pro quo”. For example: when you support a local mayoral candidate, it means you’ll get a job in his or her administration when they are elected. There is a “civil service” system in Peru but it’s relatively minor, a very large degree of public employment is politically motivated, as are government contracts.

In a Keiko Fujimori government, anything from justice to building permits will be issued based on who you are (or not) in the regime. Business owners, local and regional government officials will be richly rewarded for their support with contracts, kickbacks, personal favors, etc. Infrastructure projects will advance but they’ll be executed by regime loyalists with generous “extra” compensations and tailored to the needs of government supporters.

Government will be tough on small criminals but big drug traffic rings and other criminal mafias will be allowed to operate within certain confines. Crime is likely to go down nationally but those who support Fujimorismo will have free reign in things like illegal mining, illegal logging, land invasion, etc.

For big foreign investors little will change. However, you’ll have to make that decision as to what legal and ethical confines you’re willing to work in. No matter how many layers you put between yourself and your operation on the ground, you have to be able to sleep at night.

It will be interesting to see how Keiko Fujimori will handle big mining investments, her rhetoric to foreign investors and to her local supporters is somewhat conflicted. While I don’t think she will substantially restrict foreign mining investment, it will be difficult to reconcile the formal mining industry with giving carte blanche to informal miners. Also, expect any big mining project to pay dearly for the approval of the local authorities. Whenever a big mining project comes to town, you can rest assured the local powers that be will come to Keiko looking for their reward for past support.

You could argue none of this is limited to Fujimorismo and I would agree to an extent. All of these issues are part of the culture and only the complete disregard of past governments for the needs and sentiment of ordinary Peruvians have made a return to Fujimorismo possible.

I’d like to believe that government is a noble enterprise, public institutions serve the greater good but sadly I think that’s naive here in Peru, and it’s only going to get worse. Just like I used to think of middle class in a noble kind of way, nurses, teachers, police officers, etc. Upper middle class maybe a doctor or an honest judge. You want to know who’s upper middle class in Peru nowadays? Corrupt mayors, illegal miners, illegal loggers, land invadors, illegal construction etc. Just look for any Toyota Hilux with a Keiko bumper sticker.

I’m the biggest idiot I know

I looked up an old high school buddy last month, hadn’t talked to him in over 20 years but he was a big Prince fan and collector so I decided to check up on him after the news of Prince’s death. I was glad to find him OK but then I started thinking about my high school days.

The worst thing about my high school is that I went to an elite high school where we were all told how very smart we were. Young and impressionable, I believed that utter nonsense. Now don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of stuff I know: I speak 3 languages fluently, I’ve flown very old airplanes and brand new ones, I can navigate the Atlantic ocean with a watch and a compass. I’ve built jet engines and repaired radial engines. I know at least a half a dozen programming languages and I can make computers do stuff that matters to real people in real life.

The problem with my old high school is they taught me everything I was already good at and left out anything I wasn’t good at. I left there with a good bit of intellectual knowledge, the maturity of a 12 year old and the emotional intelligence of a frog. Most importantly, I didn’t know how much I didn’t know.

Even strictly in terms of intelligence, you can’t rate someone by how smart they are, like being good on IQ tests. It should be more like in politics, where you have favorable and unfavorable ratings. When it comes to high IQ, able to solve complicated and logical problems, I’m up there. But when it comes to doing stupid stuff, I’m really up there!

Just the other day I blew up one of our production servers because I accidentally wrote a database query that performed 180 million unnecessary calculations. I made the change directly on a production server – which you should never do – because it was such I trivial change, or so I thought. And I’m supposed to be a database expert.

A few weeks back a number of our web applications ran slow and unresponsive because a hacker brute forced an empty server node and used it for a denial-of-service attack, thereby hogging all the bandwidth allocated to the entire network. Because it was an empty server node I hadn’t bothered to take any basic security precautions and it cost us.

I’ve done so much stupid stuff in my life. When I was a teenager a French girl who would stay the summer at my cousins liked me but of course I was completely enamored with another girl in town who didn’t know of my existence. What an idiot I was. The only satisfaction I get out of that is anytime my old work buddies in the US would talk about just how nasty French women are I would ask kindly, “so you’ve dated many French girls then?”

My penchant for doing stupid stuff goes way back: my younger brother was severely disabled but my father could do anything around the house. He grew up on a farm and he’s got the greatest technical skills of anyone I know. My dad installed a chain hoist in the bathroom so my mom could easily lift my younger brother into the bathtub on a homemade type strecher. It worked perfectly. One day my older brother and I decided to rig up the chain hoist to the door handle to open the bathroom door.

See the problem yet?

The hoist pulls up but the door handle is supposed to go down. After my younger brother passed away my dad left that twisted door handle in place for probably 20 years, I don’t think he could get himself to change it out.

I’m the biggest idiot I know because I’m the only person who knows every stupid thing I’ve done, dumb idea I’ve had and silly things I’ve said. Trust me, we don’t have time to go over all of them. My good fortune however, was that after high school I left that world of academic self-indulgence and got to know a bit of the real world and a lot of people with common sense, emotional intelligence, maturity, compassion, creativity, and many more things I never knew I was missing.

Sure I learned a few things from classic literature in school but I learned more from a Kalinago Indian girl in Dominica, from the Inuit in the Artic, from visiting a slum in Nairobi. I learned about flying from flying old airplanes and flying with even older pilots. I set out into the world mostly independently, no guided tours, no 4-star hotels. Then I started a family and learned it’s at once the most difficult and the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.

For every place I visited I realized just how many misconceptions people in the so called “developed world” have about the rest of the world. You want economics: talk to a taxi driver in Greece. Want to learn something about Muslims? Talk to some Muslims. Peru isn’t anything like I imagined before I first visited the country, for that matter neither were Poland, Belarus, Hungary, Colombia and a host of other places I went to.

If you want to understand the challenges Europe is facing today – and I don’t mean the changes, change is the only constant in this world, but Europe’s reaction to the changes – consider that many of Europe’s leaders went to the same type of elite high schools like I did. Only, most of them never left that bubble, never set foot outside of their own comfort zone. Cushy public jobs and executive appointments, 4-star hotels, diplomatic missions, corporate boardrooms, armored limousines. Unlike me I’m not sure they realize there’s so much they don’t know, or have a desire to know what they don’t know.

* * *

This is one of my favorite Prince videos: he was such a guitar virtuoso, blended different styles effortlessly, he could do other people’s music so well, it didn’t always have to be just about him. Watch the expression on Dhani Harrison’s face about 3 minutes in, he knows something good is fixing to happen.

How (not) to get stuff done – married life edition

I’ve been home alone with the 2 little ones for a couple of days, Mamacita Linda is in Lima with our oldest to get her a shiny new biometric passport and do a little sightseeing. While they’re out of town I’ve been amazed at how much stuff I’ve been getting done. I remarked to my mother-in-law yesterday how much stuff I was getting done and she asked “Why? Why are you getting more stuff done without the 2 of them here?”

I have to admit I was bothered by that myself, after all, Brianna is going on 7 years old now and is pretty “low maintenance”, so why am I getting more stuff done with one less adult in the house while I still have the 2 little ones?

Then I thought about the first thing I did yesterday: I took the car to the shop to have a sensor replaced. Here’s how it went:

(7:50)
Me: “De-li-ta, I’m taking the car to the shop”
Delia (our maid): “OK”

(8:05) Car is at the shop.
(8:20) Papi’s back home.

Now if I had done the same thing while Mamacita Linda was home, here’s hypothetically how it would all go down:

(7:50)
Me: “Mamacita, I’m taking the car to the shop”
Mamacita: “Why don’t you wait half an hour so you can give me a ride to the gym on your way to drop off the car at the shop.”

(8:30)
Me: “Mamacita, you ready?”
Mamacita: “Si, vamos!”

But of course when mamacita says “vamos” that doesn’t really mean “let’s go”, it means, “let me check my phone, watch a little TV, do something with my makeup or hair, change a shirt or something, and then go”.

(8:55) On our way to the gym!
(9:05) We pull into the mall parking lot (the gym is at the mall).

Mamacita: “While we’re here, I want to go pay the credit cards.”
Me: “Ergh, OK”
Mamacita: “But I don’t have any money!”

We keep separate checking accounts, that’s another whole story. First day of the month we’re all happy, then mamacita pays some bills and runs out of money. Then I pay the rest of the bills and run out of money. The last week of every month we live of our credit card, then it starts over again the next month.

(9:06) Car is parked.
(9:20) Money taken out of one bank and credit card paid at another bank.

Me: “Hey, while we’re here, let’s have a coffee at Starbucks!”
Mamacita: “Ergh, OK”

(9:30) “2 Mocha Frappuccinos® please!”

(9:50)
Me: “Well, it’s too late to take the car to the shop now, I think I’ll just walk home so you can drive back when you leave the gym.”
Mamacita: “OK, but buy some meat at Plaza Vea while you’re here so Delia has something to cook for lunch.”

(10:40)
Me: “Here you go Delita, steak and chicken, cook whatever you want. Don’t tell Sra. Patricia I bought more wine and chocolates too, OK? Thanks!”

baby crawls

I don’t know where I’m going. I’m on my way I’m taking my time. But I don’t know where….

Papi’s international cooking guide

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day in much of the world, that special day when we honor mothers everywhere by uploading the cutest picture of ourselves and our beloved at the most expensive restaurant in town. LOVE YOU MOM!!! XOXOXO :):)

If you’re old fashioned like me maybe you’d like to invite the family over to the house and cook. I’m no chef but I won’t go hungry either. On the other hand some of these modern mamacitas here in Peru can’t cook a hard boiled egg to save their lives! My problem is I’m set in my ways, there’s a few things I really like to cook and I’m pretty good at, a bunch more I’m OK at but I don’t venture too far outside of my comfort zone.

Then I thought, I’ve been around a bit, even if I’m no chef I can cook my favorite food and turn it into international cuisine using nothing but my travel experiences and a few extra ingredients:

1) Mexican food. An easy one for starters: cook your favorite food, add cheese and wrap in flour tortillas.

2) Oriental food: Cook your favorite food, add snow peas and soy sauce.

3) French haute cuisine: Cook your favorite food, reduce portions by 70%. Serve on a big fancy plate with a side of duck liver pâté. Also, charge 170€ per plate and feign indignation when the customer goes to McDonalds afterwards to fill their tummy.

4) Middle Eastern food: Cook your favorite food and serve in 20 similar but different sized stone pots. Add couscous. If you don’t have any mysterious Middle Eastern music to accompany your feast just play psychedelic tunes from the Stones or Led Zep, when your friends are sufficiently inebriated they won’t know the difference.

5) German food: Cook your favorite food, add beer and bratwurst.

6) Chilean food: Cook German food.

7) Peruvian food: Cook your favorite food, have a Pisco Sour for appetizer and serve with Inca Kola (the drink, not the blog) or chicha morada.

8) Colombian food: Cook anything not very yummie. Invite 50 of your best friends and/or total strangers to drink beer and aguardiente on the sidewalk in front of your house. Hire Afro-Colombian dance/music entertainment. Everybody will have the time of their lives and nobody will remember the not-so-great food. Am I right Colin?

9) Belgian food: Try cooking French “haute cuisine” but fail. Eat French Fries instead. Serve chocolates and pastries for desert and everything is forgiven.

10) Kenyan food: What little I remember, everything was good and even better with a Tusker or two.

11) Canadian Arctic: Whatever you do, don’t tell the bartender in Kuujjuaq that you’ve never eaten moose steak!

12) Greenland: I’ve never stayed long enough to eat anything other than airport food but that place is beautiful. I wish I had time and money to really go see it.

In all seriousness I’m very fortunate and grateful for the many places I’ve seen. I try to see the positives everywhere I go. The hospitality I’ve received everywhere has always been wonderful, even in places that you might think aren’t very nice if all you watch is English language news.

* * *

I wish in our modern world we would still respect and honor a mother just for being a mother. Dedicated to both my grandmothers, Mama Vicky, Brenda Rosenberry and all the other great mothers who aren’t here with us any more.

Piles of cash

Spend 10 minutes inside any Peruvian bank branch and you’ll probably see several customers walk in or out with piles of cash and tellers everywhere counting 3″ stacks of bills. Most of the time the piles of cash will be Peruvian Nuevos Soles (PEN) but it’s not unusual to see customers carry $10,000 US either.

Some “up North” might think those Nuevos Soles are just “funny money” but the exchange rate of PEN to USD has been reasonably steady between 2.50 – 3.50 to 1 for at least 10 years now, so a fist full of cash is not a trivial amount, whether in USD or PEN.

Practically everything is done in cash here: pay rent, pay tuition, buy a car, buy a house, all in cash. The other day a lady at the teller window next to me was withdrawing S/.67,000 (~$20,000) in cash. A friend of ours used to work at an NGO that was supposed to help poor women in the country, part of her job was to take US$40,000 cash from the city of Cusco to various offices in small towns around Cusco every week. And yes, before you ask, she was supposed to travel in “combi” (public transportation) with no security.

This past weekend we were at an event with friends. One of our friends works for a multi-national bank with offices here in Cusco. He’d gotten permission to take the morning off from work – banks here are usually open Saturday until noon – but he was on the phone regularly with his office. Not that I was eavesdropping all the time but I did overhear one specific issue my friend was working on: one of his customers had called him and needed to withdraw US$100,000 in cash and my friend was trying to make sure the bank had that much paper money available in the office Saturday morning.

Cash is king here in Peru. Sorry if I’ve been fussing a lot lately about the elections and institutional weakness in Peru but how a supposedly investment grade economy can run largely on all cash – off the books – transactions is beyond me. At every election cycle the politicos talk about formalizing the informal economy but instead of worrying about taxing ice cream vendors they ought to be looking at the big picture.