Lima is like a pineapple

If you’ve been in college or the corporate world you’ve probably done the “describe yourself as a fruit” exercise, it’s commonly done as a “get to know each other” or “team building” exercise. For example:

“I’m like an apple. I don’t look very special on the outside but I’m so good for you that once you get to know me you’ll want me every day”

“I’m a lot like a grape: very versatile, mostly sweet but sometimes sour. I’m known better for my accomplishments (wine) than I am as a person.”

I was in Lima a while back and thought if Lima was a fruit, it would be a pineapple.

Step outside the Lima airport into the mess that is Lima traffic. Old buses belching smoke, scruffy looking taxis beeping their horns everywhere. Everything is dusty because Lima’s in the middle of a desert, only it’s hard to tell from within the concrete jungle that’s home to about 10 million people. The cool weather and milky-cloudy overcast don’t fit your idea of what a desert should be like anyway.

An hour in Lima traffic gets you to Miraflores, Lima’s best known tourist district. You check into your hotel tired and stressed out. After a quick nap you venture out to Parque Kennedy, nice during the day but too many hustlers at night, especially in that little “pizza street” where all the tourists go. You check out the expensive cosmopolitan shops in Larcomar – didn’t think there was so much money in a place like this. You take a walk down the Malecon (boardwalk) overlooking the Pacific Ocean and start to think, “this is nice, I could get used to this”.

The next day you take a touristy open bus tour around the city, you get glimpse of Lima’s colonial past, museums and the government district downtown. Provided you’re at least somewhat open minded, you’ll have mixed feelings about the place by this time, you can’t quite figure it out. Your hotel suggested you check out the Parque de la Reserva (Parque de los Aguas), an old park converted with beautiful fountains. The fountains are beautiful and the water is great fun in summertime but you vaguely remember reading on some blog that there are large neighborhoods on the outside of Lima without running water. You don’t want to fuss because you’re a guest here and respect the culture but everybody should have access to clean running water, no?

Unfortunately, if you’re a typical tourist this would be about all of Lima you’ll get to see. The next day another hour drive in horrible traffic back to the airport and off to Cusco you go. Your first impression of Lima will likely become your only lasting impression: traffic, dust and milky-cloudy overcast. However, if you stay a bit longer you’ll have a chance to see more.

Maybe you’re on a budget so you venture away from Parque Kennedy to have lunch at a local place. Look for the “Menu” sign which means they have daily specials, the type of place where the locals eat. You sit down and the waitress rambles of the 3 choices of the day. You have no idea what they are but look around and point at the least-unfamiliar looking plate: “I want that”. The little restaurant is full at lunchtime and a stranger sits down at your table. You realize this isn’t some hustler like the guys in Pizza street, no, he’s just another customer looking for a place to sit. You exchange niceties and as you’re eating your S/.12 (~$4) three-course meal you begin to think “why didn’t I eat here every day?” Nice people and the food is better at 1/3 the price of what you’d paid at the touristy places before. In fact, the food is great.

Later in the evening you take a trip to Barranco – your bus tour took you there but you want to check the place out for yourself. It’s a lot like Miraflores, only without the hustlers and fewer tourists. You have anticuchos at Tio Mario, someone tells you the story about the history of the place, how it was just a lady selling anticuchos on the side of the street many moons ago. You wonder why you don’t know many Tio Mario restaurants in the “land of opportunity” where you come from. Is everything supposed to be owned by corporations? You walk away fat and happy, feeling like a Lima expert, shaking your head at those poor 2-day tourists who’ll never know what they’re missing.

Next time you walk along the Malecon or Larcomar or Parque Kennedy, you’re now clever enough to avoid the hustlers and you strike up a conversation with a regular guy/gal. With all the hustlers chasing you down those first couple of days you were in town, you didn’t hardly notice the regular Limeños. Now that you’ve got the hustlers figured out you can sit down at Cafe de la Paz and have a Pisco with a regular Limeño, perhaps someone getting off from work after a 12-hour day. You might be the first foreigner they’ve ever talked to outside of their job. You might be the first person who’s ever bought them a Pisco at Parque Kennedy because many regular Limeños can hardly afford that indulgence.

People everywhere love to talk about their lives, their families, their city. So you listen to your new friend talk endlessly about the good and the bad, life in Lima. From the great food and the fun they have in summer to the hard times and the struggles of life in a developing ecomomy mega-city.

Then you realize life is so much more real here than it is back home. Lima is like a pineapple, once you get past the rough and prickly outside, nothing but sweet, juicy goodness on the inside.


Just a cute picture of my baby goose in her ballet

Fat bitch ate all the donuts

One reason I wrote this post yesterday was to set the stage for my “fat bitch ate all the donuts” story. Specifically the point about Cusquenian kids (or young people) having a more favorable opinion of American style fast-food places than people in the US or Europe. In the past few years a McDonalds, KFC and Starbucks have opened at the Plaza de Armas in Cuzco and young Cusquenians tend to like them and regard them highly, both as places to eat and as places to work.

Fair enough, I understand their sentiment. It’s something new, something worldly, not something they’ve grown up with on every street corner. And because the employees there are proud of their jobs, the service is actually quite good.

2 days in Lima

About 30% of all Peruvians live in the Lima metro area. One of the disadvantages about living in the “provinces” is that there are a number of things you just can’t do anywhere in Peru other than Lima. Embassies, corporate offices, international flights, etc. Often you have no choice but to go to Lima for things of that nature. This week I had to have a document notarized at the US Embassy, so I hopped on a flight to Lima and back. Counting airfare, hotels, taxi, embassy fees, etc, I spent around $400 to have a piece of paper notarized 😦

My Dunkin Donuts story

Next time you get on a flight from Lima to Cuzco take a look at the Peruvians around you. Chances are that you’ll see at least one or two who are carrying a box of Dunkin Donuts. The reason is simple: there’s a Dunkin Donuts at the food court at the Lima airport but none in Cuzco. Many Cusquenians will take a box of Dunkin Donuts home for the family. Again, just because it’s something worldly, something American, something we don’t have in Cuzco.


I’m terrible at buying souvenirs but I like to bring home at least something from every trip I go on. Mamacita linda likes it when I bring home a box of Dunkin Donuts. She munches on a few, takes some for her friends at work and gives the rest to her family. Tourists sometimes look at me quizzically when they see a tall gringo get on a flight to Cuzco carrying a box of donuts but I don’t care. Anything for my mamacita linda 🙂

On this trip mamacita linda asked me specifically to bring back a box of Dunkin Donuts. I managed to go through security, on my plane, fly to Cuzco, take a taxi home all without opening the box and stealing a donut for myself. I was a good papi! I arrived home just before lunchtime, happy as can be. Mamacita linda came home shortly thereafter and was happy to see her fresh yummie Dunkin Donuts that papi brought from the big city! Mami grabbed a yummie donut and munched it right down.

Famous last words

Because of mamacita’s crazy work schedule we typically eat lunch at her mom’s house. Since she doesn’t have much time, mamacita went to her mom’s house and I went to pick up our daughter at her kindergarten. Just before she walked out, mamacita grabbed another donut to eat while she walked 2 blocks to her mom’s house.

Like a big dummy I asked: “Are you sure you want to eat another one of those before eating lunch?”.

Mamacita offered me a bite of her donut and went on to her mom’s house. I walked 2 blocks the opposite way to pick up our Brianna Nayaraq from her “jardin”.

Fat bitch ate all the donuts

After picking up Brianna from her “jardin” and before going to my mother-in-law’s house, Brianna always wants to stop at our house first. She likes to drop off her backpack and get a piece of chocolate. I opened the door to our house and Brianna strolled into the kitchen to look for a piece of chocolate.

“Papi, Manchita threw the garbage on the floor.”


I usually put the garbage out of reach of the dogs when I leave the house. They are normally not bad but at the same time they’re not well-behaved either. I never had the time (or skill) to train the dogs properly when they were young. On this fateful day I had left Roxi – the older, smarter, Jack Russell looking mutt – outside in the yard and Manchita – the fat dumb Blue Pitbull – had stayed inside.

I ran into the kitchen and to my horror I found on the floor an empty Dunkin Donuts box and plastic bag. Manchita, my fat bitch, tried to look innocent like “A bunch of intruders broke into the house, I tried to fight them off but they were to many” but a speck of white powdered sugar on her nose gave her away. The fat bitch had reached up on the table, tugged at the plastic bag and once it fell on the floor she helped herself to every last donut in the box!!!

I was mad as ever. I had toted a box of Donuts for 300 miles only to have mamacita eat 2 and the dog eat 10. To put that in perspective, my fat dog weighs around 50 lbs (~25 kg). At my body weight I would have to eat 40+ donuts to equal her! In a pound-for-pound eating contest not even Sonya the Black Widow could beat my fat bitch!

Chart of the day:


Chart of the day: amount of donuts consumed by my fat dog vs everyone else.

My fat bitches:


Manchita: my fat Blue Pitbull bitch


Roxi and Manchita.

I found this supposedly official record of donut eating. Keep in mind my fat bitch stopped eating because she was out of donuts, not because she didn’t want any more 🙂

Souvenirs are overrated

I travel quite a bit and of course I have to bring home gifts from every trip I go on. Mamacita linda has even trained our 2-year old daughter to say “bring gifts” when she knows papi is ready to go on a trip. Most of the gifts I bring for our daughter get some use but the ones I get for mami usually end up collecting dust and taking up space:

  • The T-shirt I brought mami from Iceland 2 years ago? Worn once I think.
  • Necklace and earrings I bought in Cartagena? Never used.
  • The Big Ben souvenir mamacita asked me to bring from London? Stuffed in a file cabinet.
  • The cute pillow from Poland? Never used and haven’t seen it in forever.
  • The cute polar-bear hairclip I picked out at the souvenir store in Kuujjuaq, Nunavik? Mami looked at it once and said: “Cute, but you go to Canada and bring me back something made in the Philippenes??” Never been used.

I could go on. Clothes are always a bad idea. I buy something stylish and sexy and mamacita says “I can’t wear that here. It’s too cold in Cuzco to wear that.” I buy something comfy and mamacita says “Why do you buy me old lady clothes like that? Buy me something cute next time would you.”

Anyway, I’m writing this sitting in departure gate 19 of the Lima airport, waiting on a flight to Miami. I’m on my way to Kansas to pick up another new airplane from Cessna. The real reason I’m fussing and ranting about souvenirs right now is that souvenirs take up space in the airport where something useful could be, say something like FOOD!!! Airport food is never a great idea but in Lima the choices are really slim. For all the great food you can find in Peru the Lima airport is not a good place to go when you’re in a rush and haven’t eaten.

At the Lima airport there’s a food court with a McDonalds, Papa Johns and a few others. You can get a pretty good “pollo la brasa” at Manos Morenos but they give you like 6 french fries. There’s a Dunkin Donuts at the food court in the Lima airport and you can always tell the Cusquenos traveling home to Cuzco because you’ll see them carrying a dozen donuts through the Lima airport (there’s no Dunkin Donuts in Cuzco). I always feel like such a fool when other gringos in the airport stare at me walking through the airport with my Dunkin Donuts bag. They’re probably thinking something like “why would this fool come all the way down to Lima to buy a dozen donuts?”

At any rate, other than the food court there are few restaurants in the Lima airport. There are 2 restaurants in the international gate area, both ridiculously overpriced. Cheap Dutchman that I am I’ve never eaten at either of them. I just ponied up S/.26 (~$10) for a soda and sandwich at the 365 Deli by gate 19. Ten bucks for a sandwich that had like 2 slices of roast beef on it!

Peruvian food is great but forget Lima airport. The first thing I plan to do when I get to Wichita tomorrow is stuff my tummy with a big juicy steak 😉

Mean Fat Pituca

NOTE: here in Peru the word “pituco” or “pituca” is used to describe arrogant or snobbish people who flaunt their money or status.

Just this morning I was walking along Av. Aramburu in Lima, going to Av. Arequipa to catch my combi. Aramburu is the dividing line between the wealthy financial district of San Isidro and the less affluent district of Surquillo. At the busy intersection between Aramburu and the “Via Expressa”, you may find the occasional panhandlers or homeless people, as well as streetvendors selling anything from pirated movies to anticuchos.

As I was walking past the “Via Expressa” bridge, one homeless lady in the street was holding out her hand. Right in front of me a snobbish-looking middle-age fat woman reached into her pocket, pulled out a crumpled up piece of paper, and with an angry snarl she threw this piece of paper right at the poor woman’s face.

I wanted to yell at the fat pituca b*tch, but I didn’t. Maybe I didn’t feel like making a scene, maybe I didn’t want to be a hero, or maybe I was just in a hurry. I’m not sure why, but I just shook my head and kept walking.

I understand the wealthy and middle class in Lima may feel insecure or infringed on by the poor, I really do. There’s a lot of wealth in places like Miraflores and San Isidro, surrounded by a lot of poverty in places like Callao or San Juan de Miraflores. And it’s not just money, also the way of life, the history, the massive migrations to Lima, and of course crime, that have created some degree of tension and social discrimination.

I don’t know the answers, but there was just no reason for that.

Boleteros and little lies

I guess everyone tells a little white lie sometimes.

The 4 year old who asks how you liked his singing or drawing:

Answer: “I loved it sweetheart”

Someone special cooked or prepared something that maybe wasn’t your favorite:

Answer: “I loved it sweetheart”

All pretty commonplace and harmless. But I think little lies are more common in Peru than in the US, just casual observation.

When I was teaching ESL the students would constantly tell me little lies about their absences, even when it was blatantly obvious. One day there was a big Cienciano soccer game. This was a few years ago when Cienciano, the local Cusco soccer team, was pretty good in Peru. The game was at 9:00 pm. One girl came to me at the beginning of my evening class and asked for permission to leave early, around 8:45. When I asked her why, she said “eerrgh, I have to attend a meeting at 9:00”, without even making an effort to sound sincere.

I grabbed her by her shoulders and turned her towards the class…

“Hey class…
Andrea wants to leave early, around 8:45
You can all see she’s wearing a red shirt …
a red hat …
and red shoes”

Everyone laughing, red being the colors of Cienciano.

“And she said she’s going to a meeting at 9:00…”

I’m sure she hated me 🙂

Even the staff at our institute was a bit like that. For example, we had various weekend meetings and events that I often couldn’t make, because it was just a part-time, evening fun-job for me. Every time some of the other teachers suggested if I couldn’t make a meeting that I’d tell the academic director something like “I have to travel this weekend” or “The baby is sick” etc.

In my professional experience back in the US, that would be a big no-no. At GE you didn’t make up excuses, if you couldn’t be somewhere for personal reasons, you just say it’s a personal reason.

Anyway, back to the boleteros. If you’re not familiar with public transportation (buses/combis) in Lima, most buses have both a driver and a “boletero” who takes the passengers fares and yells out the bus route at each stop. For my IO-30 combi from Miraflores to Breña, it goes something like this:

“Larco, Ovalo todo Arequipa. Arequipa Arequipa todo Arequipaaaaaa”

And when the bus gets a bit further down Av. Arequipa, the boletero yells at each stop:

“Todo Arequipa. Arica Arica Duenas. Arica Arica Duenaaaas”

Keep in mind that the boletero’s job is to try and get as many people in the combi as possible. More passengers means more money. The busses get full pretty quick in many stretches, so when there are empty seats the boleteros often yell “Hay asiento” (there are seats) and when the car is practically empty, they sometimes say “Carro vacio”, meaning, empty car.

Now twice in the past week the following happened to me:

I was in a combi which was full of people leaving Miraflores, and I’m standing in the aisle. Not real comfortable for someone 6’3″, but no big deal either. As we got further down Av. Arequipa, some people jumped out at their work or school, and I found a seat. Moments later at the next stop the boletero jumps out…

“Arequipa todo Arequipa… hay asientos”

Fair enough. Another stop later:

“Arequipa todo Arequipa… hay asientos. Carro vacio, Carro vacio”

I just couldn’t help but look around and count the empty seats. There were 2, no mas. 2 out of about 20 seats are available – no exaggeration – and the guy jumps out in a street full of people and yells “empty car”, “empty car”.

This happened twice on different cars. No big deal, it just sort of reminded me that little lies are often a bit comical and seem more prevalent here in Peru than back in the US or Europe.

I was expecting boletero to offer hot meals and on-demand movies next 😉

I don’t like Miraflores

Other than the Plaza de Armas and historic downtown Lima, Miraflores is probably the best known district of Lima, and the district most visited by tourists. I’m staying in Miraflores at the moment, have stayed here several times before, but I have to admit I don’t really like Miraflores.

To be fair, Miraflores has it’s charm. It’s a beautiful seaside location, home of Parque del Amor, the Malecon verde, Larcomar, etc. In the center of Miraflores is Parque Kennedy, where you always find a mixture of arts, entertainment, restaurants and shopping.

Miraflores is also a center of business and location of the main offices for many companies – which is why I’m staying here at the moment. Miraflores is decidedly more western or cosmopolitan than most other areas of Lima and Peru.

Parque Kennedy in Miraflores, Peru

Parque Kennedy in Miraflores, Peru

So what’s not to like? It just seems like Miraflores, being the center of business and a big tourist destination, has lost some of the things I like the most about Peru. The warmth and friendliness of the people, the laidback way of life that I’ve come to expect in Peru has been lost somewhat in Miraflores to the hustle and bustle of life in the big city.

The main tourist areas around Parque Kennedy and Larcomar are also quite sleazy at night. As a middle-age white guy (the worst demographic, but that’s another story), walking around Parque Kennedy by myself I constantly get hustled for sex and drugs. Just of Parque Kennedy is so-called Pizza Alley, a little street full of pizza restaurants, bars and discos, all more sleazy than Parque Kennedy itself. Before I ever moved to Peru, a Peruvian friend of mine told me if you really want to enjoy the nightlife in Lima, go to places like Barranco or Lince instead of Miraflores and Larcomar.

There are also many beggars and homeless people in downtown Miraflores, but not really in a way that you would empathize with. That’s not to be inconsiderate, I’ve seen many poor people in different settings from Honduras to Peru to the train stations in Europe, and the truth is that places like Parque Kennedy (or the Plaza de Armas in Cusco) just seem to attract people who hustle more than someone who just happens to be down on their luck.

I’m not saying you can’t go to Miraflores and have a good time, just that you’ll be paying extra not to see what the rest of Peru really is like.

Rant over. I’m walking down the street now to have chicken wings at Hooters in Larcomar 🙂

Ahh, Holandés

Last week while I was in Lima I had breakfast a couple of times at a small, local restaurant by Benavides and Porta in Miraflores. A typical family business, there were 2 girls working in the front, a cook and his “ayudante” in the kitchen and dad keeping an eye on the place.

Since it was a local place I was usually the only gringo there, and the girls in the front started to ask me some of the typical curious questions:

Are you visiting Peru for vacation?
Where are you from?
How long are you staying?

All pretty innocent stuff.

When I told the girls I was from Belgica, they didn’t really know what to make of that, so I told them a bit about where Belgium is. “Between France, England and Germany.” After all, Belgium as we know it was created back in the day to be a buffer between those countries and keep them from going to war all the time, but that’s another story.

“Oh, Belgica. En Belgica hablas Alemán?”
“No, Holandés”
“Uuh… Holandés.”

I could tell right away the younger girl was taken back a bit and she became all quiet, while I kept eating my yummie pan con bisteck and her older sister went back to squeezing the lemons for that afternoon’s ceviche.

“So what do you think about that Holandés Joran van der Sloot?” asked the younger girl after a while, kind of embarrased and not wanting to look straight at me any more.

What could I say. I believe in “innocent until proven guilty” as much as anyone, but 2 young women are dead after they were both last seen alive with this guy. He destroyed the reputation of Aruba and now young women in Lima are on edge at the mere sight of a tall gringo.

“I guess probably not all gringos are like that…” the girl said after a while.

Joran van der Sloot in custody in Peru

Joran van der Sloot in custody in Peru

I hope the Dutch realize how much damage this guy has done to their reputation in Peru, with his picture in every tabloid newspaper until he gets convicted. Worse, since there are essentially no guards inside Peruvian prisons, a psychopath like Joran Van Der Sloot may end up thriving in that environment.

Note: check out Stuarts post on Peruvian prisons.

Bus / combi fares in Lima

Here’s a question: What are the fares I’m supposed to pay for the busses / combis in Lima?

I’ve been in Lima for a few days now, taking combis to various places, and I can’t seem to figure out the fares. I’ve been paying S/. 1.00 for almost every trip, long, short, or in between. It’s not a big issue because 1 Sol is not a lot of money (~0.35 US$), but I’m just curious.

Here’s some examples:

  • I took a combi from the “Ovalo” in Miraflores to “Naciones Unidos” @ “Zorritos” in downtown Lima, about a 45 minute trip during the day. I gave the boletero S/. 1.00 and he accepted it.
  • On the way back from “Zorritos” I took the exact same route (Arica – 28 Julio – todo Arequiiiiipaaaaa) but in a different company. Since I didn’t have S/. 1.00 on me, I gave the boletero S/. 2.00 and he gave me S/. 0.60 change I believe.
  • The next day I took a combi from the “Ovalo” again going up Arequipa, but I told the boletero that I’d be jumping out at “Javier Prado”, so this trip was less than half the distance of the previous one. Again I gave the boletero S/. 1.00 and he accepted it, no change.

On the short trips, I see many of the locals give the boletero some change that is less than S/. 1.00, but I don’t know how much. I’ve asked “cuanto?” a few times, but the boleteros just look at me confused and I end up giving them my 1 Sol as usual. I’m kind of leery to ask, because the rates that are posted inside the combis are actually much higher, usually starting at S/. 1.50 and up to S/. 2.80 or something like that. Plus, I don’t want to look the part of the dumb gringo who doesn’t know his way around.

Again, it’s just small change, but I’m just curious as to what everyone else is paying. When in Lima, I guess I like to do like the Limenians 🙂

Bus from Lima to Cusco

I recently returned from a North-Atlantic ferry flight a few days earlier than planned. When I arrived in Lima I couldn’t get a good airline ticket from Lima to Cusco, so I decided to take the bus instead.

As the crow flies, Lima to the imperial city of Qosqo is only 364 miles, but by bus the trip takes about 21-22 hours due to the traffic in Lima (2-3 hours) and the winding roads through the Andes mountains.

Taking the bus from Lima to Cusco is a bit of an adventure and a good way to see a little bit of Peru outside of the typical tourist areas. However, be warned: taking the bus from Lima to Cusco is not a good idea unless you are comfortable traveling in cars and busses over winding roads up and down steep mountains. Near Abancay for example the road goes up and back down several thousand feet. Inside the bus it can be very cold at night, so you need to take a blanket along. The restroom on the bus isn’t very clean even by Peruvian standards. Also, you never know what to expect on the grainy TV in the bus, but it probably won’t be anything you’re used to seeing on the boobtube at home.

There are many bus companies in Peru. We take the “Flores” company, which is quite nice and only costs 100 Soles (~$30) each way for the nice seats on the lower level of the bus.

Here’s a few pictures of my last trip:


Hola a todos:

Bueno por milesima vez Ward y yo viajamos a Lima para hacer no otra cosa que tramites, esperando que esta sea la ultima en la categoria “TRAMITES”. Fuimos a sacar el bendito carne de extranjeria de Ward, segun algunos conocedores del tema nos dijeron que esto no duraria mas de tres dias, al llegar a Lima nos dijeron lo contrario, todo el papeleo duraria 7 dias…pero el tiempo era muy extenso para nuestros planes ya que mi querido esposito tenia que viajar a los Estados Unidos el miercoles a las 10 am, gracias a Dios y a los poderes del mas alla su vuelo se postergo para el jueves a las 00:00 horas lo cual nos dio al menos un dia mas… tuvimos que recurrir a las oficinas pidiendoles que por favor agilizaran los papeleos porque no teniamos mucho tiempo, despues de la odisea por la que atravesamos Ward finalmente obtuvo su carne de extranjeria.

Como Ward y yo habiamos salido de Cusco el sabado, tuvimos tiempo para darnos un saltito a Ancon, este lugar que alguna vez fue el lugar favorito de la gentita cool de Lima, ahora es el lugar favorito de aquellos que no son tan cool como diriamos. Este balneario aun mantiene los condominios que albergaron y que yo supongo siguen albergando en algun momento a aquellos que convirtieron Ancon en un lugar exclusivo. Nos tomo como dos horas llegar a este lugar ya que tomamos el servicio publico el cual paraba y paraba en cada esquina y era de nunca acabar, pero al final logramos llegar a lo que se convirtio en un reto, ya que cada vez que ibamos a Lima siempre quisimos ir a Ancon pero no se daba la oportunidad.

El reencuentroWard en AnconAnconNavidad en Larcomar