Dance Saya!

At my tender age it’s just not going to happen anymore but one of the things I wanted to do when I first came to Cuzco was to be part of a Saya dance group. I have work and kids, I don’t have time or style, so being a “Sayero” (that’s probably not a real word) is probably not going to happen for me in this life.

There are many traditional dances in Peru but here in Cuzco the “Saya” dance is by far the most common. I wanted to say “the Saya dance is the most popular” but I hesitate because there’s this odd love-hate thing between Cusqueños and Saya. In festivals and celebrations, parades and school dances, you see more Saya then any other traditional dances. We have several friends who belonged to Saya dance troupes that go to the Virgen de Candelaria festival in Puna every year.

Despite the fact you see more Saya in Cuzco than any other dance, many Cusqueños dislike Saya with a passion. They fuss and complain, why do we have to see more Saya? Why can’t we dance something different? Fuss fuss, on and on. Ostensibly the reason Cusqueños dislike Saya is – are you ready for it? – that the Sayeras show their bottoms when they dance and twirl their skirts and kick their legs up high. The Cusquenian middle class fusses that the “real” Sayeras wore shorts or under-skirts so as not to show their bottom when they twirl or kick their legs up high.

Type “baile saya” in Google images and you’ll see the supposed problem: the Sayeras typically wear these grandma-style black lycra bikini bottoms that wouldn’t excite anyone this side of the Iron Curtain but in traditionally prude Cuzco, that is still a problem.

There’s probably some truth to that, a bit of jealousy maybe on the part of jeans-wearing Cusqueñas (they all wear jeans all the time when they’re not dancing Saya or wearing their work/school uniforms) but I think the real reason Saya is disliked in Cuzco is that it is originally a dance from the Altiplano region of Puno and there’s a traditional jealousy between Cuzco and Puno. In fact there are many ethnic or regional distinctions in Peru: the Limenians don’t particularly like the Serranos, Arequipa is considered almost a country in it’s own, there’s a distinct Afro-Peruvian culture, the Serrano women think all the women of the jungle are horny and of loose morals, etc etc.

Of all the ethnic/regional distinctions in Peru, one of the most noticeable is toward the Puno region. Puno is very traditional Aymara/Quechua and is the region bordering Bolivia. Peruvians still have some resentment towards Bolivia because Bolivia supposedly got Peru involved in the War of the Pacific in the 19th century. In practical terms, Puno is cold as a witch’s boob and many Punenians have moved to nearby parts of Peru such as Cuzco, Arequipa and also to Lima. Punenians are some of the hardest working people you’ll meet but they are not interested in living a fancy pretentious lifestyle. Personally I think this is where some of the dislike of Punenians comes from: good old fashioned jealousy of the middle-class Cusquenians, who wear nice clothes and send their kids to private schools but at the end of the day live from paycheck to paycheck (kind of like, you know, the supposed middle class in the other 250 something countries in the world). Those middle-class Cusquenians grumble at the Punenian entrepreneur who has a little store in one of the “Altiplano” markets in Cuzco, lives in a very unpretentious manner but has $100,000 in the Caja Municipal (and gets 10% interest on his savings).

Anyway, it’s all petty harmless jealousy, I just wish I could be a Sayero!

ready to dance saya

Ready to dance Saya

dancing saya morena

Dancing Saya Morena

Inca Water Engineering – not what it once was

Ever wonder why some countries were historically known for one thing but now are nothing like that any more?

  • Australia as we know it was founded as a British penal colony, a big prison. Now nothing but friendly people – yes you know who you are 😉
  • Greece pioneered democracy and responsible government. Nowadays not so much. Sadly, I’ve personally spoken to more than one Greek citizen who wants to leave their beautiful country because they are so fed up with the incompetent and corrupt politicians.
  • Julius Cesar wrote that of all the tribes he conquered, the area that is now Belgium put up the fiercest resistance due to “being the most distant from civilization and therefor the most barbaric”. (and you thought I remembered nothing from high school) Nowadays Belgium is home to the EU, NATO, you can’t find a Flemish person in Brussels. Belgium is now an institutional center.

And last but not least:

In the time of the Inca, Peru was known for its architecture, civil engineering and water works. Nowadays, you really really don’t want to know. But I’ll tell you anyway.

Disclaimer: wise man told me you can’t come down to Peru and just expect to take the good without the bad and he’s absolutely right. However, sometimes you just have to get it off your chest so to speak.

This was what our floor looked like on Friday morning, courtesy of a simple “repair” at our next door neighbor:

hardwood floor water damage

Our living room last Friday

Long story short our neighbor decided to “fix” the gutters on their house. The drain from the gutter used to be on the North side of their house, draining into the sewer system. There is a small porch on that side, so instead of fixing the existing drain, the workers decided it would be easier to move the drain to the South side of the house, into a low-lying grassy area, with no runoff at all. The drain ended up literally 10cm (4″) from our house, which happens to be about 1.5 meters (5′) below the neighbors house.

It is now rain season in Cuzco and after a long night of rain we woke up to bulging hardwood floors. Tomorrow we’ll be in the third day of repairs. The neighbors, the owner of our house, ourselves, all combined we have a good bit of time, money and grief over just one day of lousy workmanship. A nice, 40-year old floor scr***d up in less than 48 hours.

Unfortunately that type of thing is not unusual here.

I hate to fuss but picture yourself in this. Our daughter woke up Saturday with bad tonsilitis, I have a lot of year-end work to do that other people’s bonuses depend on, mamacita linda is expecting to give birth to our next princesita any day now. Not the time we want to have to deal with dumbass-induced headache.

But we’ll deal with this and as Bruce says: “Someday we’ll look back on this and it will all seem funny”

* * *

Next time you’re in Cuzco and have a craving for junk food, you should skip Mc Donald’s and head to Bembos across the Plaza de Armas. Food and all is the same but last time we were there we noticed Bembos had hired a young man with Down Syndrome to help with some cleaning and miscellaneous work. I know they’re legally obligated and all but you don’t see that very often. Maybe the young man won’t be there any more, I know these things aren’t easy but I appreciate that they extended the opportunity.

* * *

Maybe I’ll name our next baby goose “Rosalita” in honor of this incident. Or go all Hollywood and name her “Purple Rain”. What do you think?

Watch all the way to the end.

Yes I did have 2 glasses of Argentine Malbec before writing this. I needed it 🙂

Morning Walk

I think the rains in Cuzco are starting early this year. We’ve had occasional rain for the past month or so. This morning I woke up to a fabulous view over the mountains to the South.

I snapped a few pictures while walking the dogs this morning. The pictures don’t do justice but the view was wonderful with some of the mountains shrouded in clouds and a good bit of snow on the higher peaks. All of the snow was gone by mid day, here in Peru you have to go really high to find perpetual snow.

morning walk after a rainy night in Cuzco Peru

View towards the “Valley of the South”. The snow on the mountain was gone by mid day.

Mariscal Gamarra Cuzco

Looking down over Mariscal Gamarra in the direction of the Cuzco airport.

Park in Marsical Gamarra Cuzco

Overlooking the park in Mariscal Gamarra, Cuzco.

In the distance (click on the picture to see full size) you can see a number of houses on the far slopes of the mountains. Cuzco is beginning to have a very serious problem with ugly expansion. I think most of those houses are considered “illegal” (no building permit, no land title, lack of utilities). One of these days when I have more time I want to do a post on Cuzco’s ugly expansion – which is a colossal failure of the local authorities. I don’t want to be judgmental to the people who live there (everybody needs a place to live) but the next big earthquake that hits Cuzco will be an unmitigated disaster due to the substandard/illegal construction on the sides of the mountains surrounding the city.

Roxi and Manchita after their morning walk

Ready for breakfast after our morning walk

* * *

Don’t believe everything you read on the internet:

Since we’re sort of on the subject of dogs, kind reader Carrie sent me a message a while ago that somebody had stolen a picture of our dog Manchita off this very blog and used it in on a fake Facebook “Pitbull rescue site”. The site has since been taken down but I managed to save a screenshot. This person was using pictures of dogs they found online, inventing names and stories and soliciting donations for their “rescue” of course.

stolen picture of my dog Manchita

A picture of my dog that was put on a fake Facebook Pitbull rescue site.

Yo Soy comes to Cuzco

“Yo Soy” is a popular TV show in Peru now. It’s a talent show, you know the routine: a bunch of hopefuls who try not to get voted off, a 3-judge panel consisting of an eccentric guy, a record exec and a girl who used to be famous. I think “Yo Soy” exists in Europe as “I am …”.

I’ve been told the demographic and voting viewers of all these shows are teenage girls, so the winners are typically young guys with guitars. Season 1 of “Yo Soy” (Peru) was won by Kurt Cobain (Ramiro Saavedra), he is really good:

After the end of season 1 the “Yo Soy” finalists performed live in a tour around Peru and they made a stop in Cuzco as well. We decided to go to the show: Patricia, her mom, our 3-year old and myself. The show was great. Cuzco doesn’t have any good concert facilities and the production wasn’t great but some of the artists were great live performers.

The show lasted over 4 hours and taking a 3-year old to a live concert isn’t nearly as good an idea as it sounds at first. After about the first half an hour our baby goose fell asleep, when she woke up she got cranky and decided that going outside to ride the fair was more fun. There just happens to be a fair out by the Colliseo Cerrado where the “Yo Soy” live concert was held:

Yo Soy Peru - Amy Winehouse (Ani Rodriguez)

Yo Soy Peru – Amy Winehouse (Ani Rodriguez)

Brianna riding the fair outside of the Colliseo Cerrado in Cuzco

Brianna riding the fair outside of the Colliseo Cerrado in Cuzco

I don’t have much time to watch TV but when our baby Brianna is at her grandmother’s house in the afternoons they typically watch “Yo Soy” whenever it’s on.

A few days after the concert we took a trip out to the Sacred Valley of the Inca. Patricia, her mom, our baby goose and myself were on the way back from the Sacred Valley. When we crossed the last mountain before going into the city a Nirvana song came on in the bus. My mother-in-law and my 3-year old daughter both jumped in their seats.

“Kurt Cobain!!!”

A 3-year old and her grandmother on top of a mountain in Peru, totally completely giddy-excited over a Nirvana song. I know Kurt Cobain had issues in this world – perhaps all of us do at times – but I hope he’s had a chance to make his peace.

I hope Kurt Cobain looked down and smiled.

Happy Father’s Day

Happy Father’s Day to all you fathers. If Father’s Day is on a different date in your part of the world, we still wish you a happy Father’s Day whenever it may be 🙂

Here’s Brianna’s dance for Father’s Day at her jardin “Mi Segunda Casita” in Cuzco. I used to think Latinos were born knowing how to dance, now that I have a little goose growing up here in Cuzco I realize that Latinos are born knowing how to dance and they get better after that by practicing all the time.

They knocked down the palais in Cuzco

Alternate title 1: Invest in Cuzco real estate.
Alternate title 2: Please tell the friggin’ bankers in your part of the world to raise interest rates already!

They knocked down the palais. I didn’t cry, just took a picture:


A new office building is going up where the palais used to stand 😦

This building used to be restaurant / dance hall that catered to events like birthdays and quince años parties. We had Brianna’s first birthday party there. The place was always busy, at least 3 or 4 parties per week, we reserved something like a month in advance for Brianna’s party.

Real estate in Peru has been going gangbusters for years now and the building was on the corner of the Plaza Tupac Amaru, a prime location in Cuzco. I imagine the land where the building sat is worth between $500 to $1,000 per square meter. The building just recently got knocked down and a new office tower is going up where the local palais used to stand. Hundreds of Quinceañeras will cry 😦

Real estate in many areas of Peru is very expensive. Here in Cuzco a nice 100 square meter (~1,000 sq. feet) apartment costs around $100,000 nowadays. I know a man who bought an apartment in Lima some years ago and after owning it for only a few years he sold his apartment at a profit that allowed him to pay off the mortgage and buy a nearly-new Cessna 182 with the money left over.

Cuzco isn’t Shanghai but everywhere you look new apartment or office buildings are going up. It’s hard to say if we’re in a bubble yet (and how close we are to the end of it). As much as real estate prices have gone up in Peru you would think it is a bubble, but the demographics disagree. Mortgage interest rates are high (9-11% last I checked) and banks require 10-20% downpayments for a mortgage in Peru. My guess is that the price appreciation will likely slow down in the future but I don’t see a big deflation like in real estate in the US. The prices here have been rising mostly due to high demand (demographics), limited availability of land (geography) and high interest rates.

This dumbass kept interest rates in the US so low for so long that investing in the industrialized countries made no sense any more. Hence there have been large capital inflows in so-called developing economies like Peru where returns on investment were higher (think large sovereign wealth funds and the like looking for fixed income investments or countries like China looking for hard assets like minerals). To prevent “overheating” of the economies the central banks in countries like Peru raise interest rates, which might help slow the domestic growth but only exacerbates the inflows of foreign capital.

Bottom line tell the friggin’ bankers to stop worrying about Greece (look at Argentina now) and raise interest rates instead. Of course the bankers are afraid to slow down so-called economic growth at home or hurt real estate values in the US/Europe in the near term but all that will sort itself out. The bigger problem is that by keeping interest rates effectively at zero the big bankers are destroying the entire concept of future value (meaning, a dollar today is supposed to be worth more than a dollar tomorrow, but now it isn’t, it’s the same). No one has a real clue where all this is going but by keeping interest rates so low the bankers may be causing the one problem that they are desperate to avoid: deflation. I’m not saying you can’t have a society where interest rates don’t exist (look at banks in the Muslim world) only that our society and our financial system is based on the idea of future value and you work with what you have.

Rant over. Here are the Kinks:

The day they knocked down the Palais
My sister stood and cried
The day they knocked down the Palais
Part of my childhood died, just died
birthday party at the palais

Brianna’s first birthday party was at the palais on Plaza Tupac Amaru, which is now no longer there

come dancing...

Come dancing…

You should ask only in the hospital

Mother's day dance at Brianna's kindergarden

Mother’s day dance at Brianna’s kindergarden


My first parade at the Plaza de Armas

One of the things I like about living in Cuzco is that life is so full of social events, friends, family, there is always something other than work and money. Last week Brianna had her first Mother’s Day dance in her kindergarden, papi was so proud I almost cried! We also got together with Patricia’s family on Mother’s Day and just yesterday Brianna had a parade down Cuzco’s Plaza de Armas (main square) as part of the “day of private education”, or something. As the only gringo dad in Brianna’s kindergarden I got volunteered to walk in the parade 😉

In between all this we also went to the baptism of a friend’s son. Little Ares Joaquin is about a year-and-a-half old and already a good little playmate for Brianna. After the baptism we went to Ares’ house, ate, drank and socialized with the family. After the dinner Ares’ dad was serving beer and asked me if I wanted a drink.

Before I could reply one of Ares’ uncles answered for me:

“You should ask only in the hospital” This was directed at Ares’ dad who was serving. The implication is that if a person is in the hospital you should ask if it’s OK to serve them alcohol, make sure the doctor says it’s OK. But if you’re not in the hospital, there should be no reason to ask, you just serve!

I like that. Ask only in the hospital 🙂

Cuzco taxi fake money switcheroo scam

In my previous post I said I’ve only heard once of a person getting robbed in a taxi in Cuzco but then I remembered another incident. This one I know to be true because it involved my mamacita linda. It’s one of these things where you think “How on earth could this happen” but at the same time “I can see how it could happen to me.”

To understand the “I could see how it could happen to me” part, you have to keep in mind that Peru is the counterfeit money capital of the world (heads up via IKN). You commonly see fake money in Peru, mostly bills but also coins. It’s hard to imagine how making fake coins is worth the effort, but apparently to some in Peru it is. Any time a Peruvian accepts cash from another person, be it at a store, in a taxi, where ever, the person who accepts the cash always does at least a cursory inspection of the money. I’ve personally seen store clerks refuse counterfeit cash on a few occasions.

Counterfeit money switcheroo scam:

A few weeks ago mamacita linda took a taxi to work. In the center of Cuzco, taxis are S/.3 (~$1) about everywhere you go. If you want to go to some areas on the outskirts of the city like Larapa or San Sebastian the fare may be 5 to 8 Soles. On this fateful day the taxi driver asked mamacita linda for his fare a bit before they arrived at her work. Normally you pay as you get out of the taxi. Mamacita linda gave the driver S/.3 but he gave her back one of the coins (S/.2) saying it was a fake coin. Mamacita linda gave him another coin. The driver said that one was fake as well. Mamacita linda said she had no other coins and gave the driver a 20 Soles bill. The driver gave her back change for 10 Soles. Mamacita linda said “I gave you 20 Soles.” But the driver replied she only gave him 10.

All this is happening as the taxi is arriving in front of mamacita linda’s work – on a very busy street with no room for the cars to pass. Mamacita linda is upset but doesn’t want the hassle so she gets out and the taxi disappears in busy city traffic.

I’m not sure if my account of the story is exact to every detail. All in all mamacita linda estimated losing about 15 Soles to the unscrupulous taxi driver. He gave her change for S/.10 instead of S/.20 and probably held on to some of the coins that mamacita linda had originally given him as well.

You can easily think “How is that possible” but you have to keep in mind people in Cuzco take taxis practically on a daily basis. You have work and family and what not on your mind, you don’t exactly keep your guard up every time you hand a taxi driver his fare. Fake coins are common but the driver just used that as a distraction, while mamacita linda was trying to figure out her not-fake coins, the driver scammed her out of her change.

Mamacita linda was mad for the rest of the afternoon but we believe people get what they deserve in the end.


Con mi mamacita linda!

Calling a taxi in Cuzco

I hardly ever call for a taxi in Cuzco. Peruvian city streets are flooded with taxis and you can simply wave your hand to hail a cab most anytime anywhere. Occasionally you want to call a cab, maybe you’re in a really quiet residential area where there are few taxis, or perhaps it’s late at night. The taxis you call from a central dispatch are supposed to be legal and safe, not some guy with a car moonlighting. Calling a cab from a central dispatch is considered safer than hailing a cab in the street but only once I’ve heard of a girl getting robbed in a taxi in Cuzco – and I’m not quite sure what to believe of her story.

The other day I had to be at the airport early for a flight to Lima and I decided to call a taxi to our apartment. I figured it would be quicker than to go out in the street and hail a cab at that early hour. The dispatcher told me my taxi would arrive in 6 minutes, which was about right. I hopped in and we were on the way to the airport.

While riding in the back of the cab I could listen to the dispatcher call her drivers over the radio. It was quite entertaining. The dispatcher would talk sweet and funny as long as she was getting her way with the drivers but change in an instant to a condenscending angry tone when she didn’t get her way. She complained to 2 drivers that they took too long to get where they were going, she fussed at another for going to the wrong apartment building and at one point she yelled at driver “If you don’t want to work then don’t come to work!” I think she’s good at her job but probably doesn’t have a boyfriend.

We got closer to the airport and as we were about to turn into the airport parking my driver reached up and pealed the “TAXI” sticker off from his windshield. From our house to the airport taxis are about S/.5 (~$2) but calling one to the house is a few Soles extra. The driver said 8 Soles, which is about right. I gave him 10 Soles (you’re not expected to tip taxi drivers in Cuzco). The driver fumbled around his center console and said “No change”. He was pretending not to have any change. It worked, I said thanks and got out. I didn’t want to bother and I figured S/.2 extra was a pittance for this poor driver having to listen to mean dispatcher girl all night long 🙂

I called to get a licensed taxi but instead I got overcharged and the guy was moonlighting. Oh well. Then I checked in for my flight to Lima… Yippie, center seat! That’s okay, for my next flight I’ll have the left front seat.


I miss my baby goose while I'm away on a trip to deliver airplanes.

What expats in Cuzco talk about

The other night I went out with a couple of fellow expats in Cuzco. Lori is a software/marketing executive turned English teacher and Mark runs “Machu Pizza” here in Cuzco. Lori has spent most of the past 10 years or so here in Cuzco, having moved here from California. Mark has been in Cuzco for about 3 years. Mark’s Peruvian girlfriend was also with us.

Living in Peru has given me a new point of view about minorities. I am a minority now for the first time in my life. No matter how much I like Peru and how friendly Peruvian people are to foreigners, there is some level of comfort in being with people who are like you, and like most expats I know, I get together or spend time regularly with other expats. There’s another perspective to this as well: Mark, Lori and myself are very different by the traditional “classifications” that we try to apply in the US. Lori is an African-American woman, I’m a middle-age white guy. In the US we’d be lumped in entirely different “categories”, but here in Peru we’re the same category (GRINGO). While we may have different ethnicity, our backgrounds and life experiences are similar. Diversity is more than checking off a box on an HR form.

At any rate, the four of us devoured one of Mark’s pizzas and shared a bottle of cheap Peruvian wine. Bad for the waist but good for the soul. Here’s some of the things we talked about:


We fussed about how Peruvian pizza isn’t that great. Mark is planning to overhaul the entire pizza scene here in Cuzco with his “Machu Pizza” restaurant and little pizzas sold from “Machu Pizza” carts outside schools and markets. Here in Peru this sort of “informal economy” is very common, there are street vendors selling candy, snacks, drinks on practically every street corner. Mark is planning to become the mogul of street corner pizza vendors 🙂

Peruvian workmanship and reliability

As a kid I remember going to my grandmother’s house one day while she was preparing food to cook. My grandmother was using a little knife to cut some food and she complained that her knife “was a Spaniard”. I didn’t get it at first (I was only 5 or 6 at the time) and she had to explain to me what she meant was that the knife was doing work of inferior quality – it was not sharp at all.

I sort of took offense to my grandmother’s comment at the time because I loved Spain, it’s where we went on family vacations. But my grandmother had a point: in the late 70s (not that long after the Franco era in Spain) when northern Europeans like us would go on summer holiday in Spain we found that quality of workmanship was not nearly as good as in the more industrialized countries in northern Europe. You can love a place while still being realistic about strengths and weaknesses in an economic or practical sense (*).

During our conversation Mark told us he bought a welding machine and is building his own mobile pizza ovens for his streetvendor carts. He tried to have one oven built by a local mechanic or contractor, but never got it done. One part of the job was done well and on time but then the job never got finished. After much delay and promises of “tomorrow” Mark eventually retrieved his partly-built oven and finished it himself. I fussed about the 2-year old park in my neighborhood that’s already falling apart, Lori complained about some of the sub-standard workmanship on her house that she is building. These are very typical gripes of expats. I love Peru but it’s not a place to go for high-quality workmanship and reliability in an industrial sense.

Peruvian web sites are really bad

Mark mentioned something about a web site he’s had in the works for 6 months now, still not ready. Most Peruvian websites are terrible quality. I think it has to do with the education at the universities and higher-education institutes. The quality of education in IT seems really bad and not practical.

Why Peruvian kids love to work at McDonalds

Mark told us he’s having trouble getting reliable help for his restaurant, not uncommon in his business I’m sure. Several of the young people who had worked for him have gone on to work at fast-food restaurants here in Cuzco. We have 1 each of McDonalds, Bembos, KFC and Starbucks in Cuzco and many kids look at them as cool or great places to work. We amazed how fast-food jobs – at least with the big multi nationals – are regarded highly here in Cuzco, unlike back home.

* * *

So it would be a fair question to ask, after all that fussing, why don’t we just go back to our own countries?

Truth is, we discussed that. Despite our typical belly-aching we agreed that we like living in Peru better than in our home countries. There’s a certain quality of life that has nothing to do with mundane considerations like taste of pizza or quality of websites. Here in Peru there is more social interaction than back home, life revolves a bit less around work and money, people don’t take themselves as seriously as in the industrialized countries. And of course as expats every day is a bit of an adventure, maybe that’s not for everybody, but I like broadening my horizons by living in a different culture.

And finally, other than pizza, Peruvian food really is better than the rest 😉


I delivered a small Cessna 172 from the factory in Kansas to Lima last month. Here I am on final approach for landing in Piura.

(*) If the EU people had been more realistic about the strengths and weaknesses of the various economies throughout the Euro-zone they might not be in the predicament they are now.