Thursday, December 31

Arriving in an Andean paradise

Finally, after an eight-hour bus ride overnight, we arrived in Huaraz at 6 am. I hardly slept because the road from Lima to here was so rough. Several times, the bus had to stop completely to wiggle itself out of a pothole.

But it all became worth it when I saw the white-capped Andes that encircle Huaraz.

At an elevation of 10, 170 feet, the city is flanked to the east by the unforgiving Cordillera Blanca (White Range). Towering over Huaraz are white-capped, rugged mountains, all higher than 19,600 feet. To the west, the north-south Huaylas valley in which Huaraz sits is contained by steep hills, surely reaching 13-14,000 feet in elevation. Some people say this is the prettiest part of the Peruvian Andes.

The city itself is a mix between an Andean pueblo, a mining town and a tourism hub for Europeans and other foreigners with the guts to climb the Cordillera's mountains.

Actually, David and his girlfriend are among the many Peruvians in Huaraz who came to work for the surrounding mines. David came all the way from Arequipa to work for Ferreyros, a Caterpillar branch in Peru, inspecting mining machinery. Caterpillar provides equipment for the Pierina gold mine near Huaraz. His girlfriend, Juliana, came from the northern province of Piura to work for a mining safety company.

David and Juliana, with their blackberries and brand-name clothing, wind the streets alongside many traditionally-dressed Quechuas, both dodging sunburned tourists like me who are trying to follow the guidebook and walk at the same time.

After walking the whole city to get my clogs which I had left in the bus (they're ugly enough that no one thought to steal them), Sergio and I ate breakfast with David and Juliana and their friend Luz.

David, el sureño, and Juliana, la norteña, are quite the star-crossed couple. Or at least they joke that they are. Arequipeños are known for their hot tempers, hard-working attitudes and overflowing pride. Norteños are known for their beach-like, laid back attitudes and hot foods. But the two of them seem to get along fine.

Before we finally rested for the evening in our $10 per night hotel, we caught a glimpse of the New Year's Eve sunset against the Huaylas valley.

A perfect ending to 2009.

Wednesday, December 30

A day in Lima

After making it safely to Lima around 11:30 am, the next bus for Huaraz didn't leave for another eight hours. We took the opportunity to explore the capital city's downtown and catch up with one of Sergio's cousins.

Lima is a sore on the eyes, for the most part. A gray cloud (a mix of ocean fog and trapped pollution) hangs over the city. Author Mario Vargas Llosa once called Lima's sky la panza del burro or the mule's belly. Lima is a desert surrounded by desert hills, and supported only by the Rimac river that passes through it. Francisco Pizarro first called this capital he founded La Ciudad de los Reyes (The City of Kings). Looking at it's environment, I really can't imagine why.

Actually, at the height of Spanish colonization, Lima was the center of the Spanish Viceroyalty in the Americas. Then, when Peru won independence in 1821, it became the country's capital. The city maintained a colonial beauty renowed across South America until an earthquake in 1940 destroyed a large part of it and pollution and congestion started to clog it.

Today, the city is home to 8 million people, 30 percent of Peru's population. Most of the city's inhabitants came in waves of internal immigration from the highlands. Driving into the bus terminal, we saw the outer suburbs, most of them once pueblos jovenes (shantytowns) that have now been officially incorporated. Even further outside of that is a ring of shantytowns, houses made with spare tires, plywood and fenced in by a square of small rocks.

I spent one day in Lima on my arrival to Peru, but I only visited the nice coastal parks. This time, we went to the central plaza. While downtown was definitely more orderly than the city's outskirts, I could see a contrast between the Spanish legacy and globalization's influence.

A few blocks away from the plaza we found this giant supermarket...
...and just caddycorner from it, a worn-down colonial-style building.
On the east side of the Plaza de Armas itself is executive building, La Casa de Pizarro, where President Alan Garcia watches over his country.We took a rest downtown at a pollo a la brasa chain called Norky's. Peruvians love their chicken with french fries, as Norky's industrial kitchen shows:After lunch, we caught up with Sergio's cousin Yanira and followed her to Callao, another important area of Lima. Originally, it was the city's port and a wealthy area. Some parts of Callao are still nice, but like many port towns, not all of it is safe. Yanira told us that a few years ago, no one went to Callao because the drug-related crime was rampant on the streets.

Just before getting on the bus at 10 pm, Yanira took us to see the movie Avatar for $1.30 each at a pretty nice theatre--a tenth of what most Americans surely paid to see a huge box office hit. To be fair, though, I watched it in Spanish without subtitles.

We'll be back to Lima on Friday, January 9, to pick up my mom and head back to Arequipa. In the meantime, though, I was happy to get out from under the mule's belly and into the fresh mountain air of Huaraz.

Tuesday, December 29

Out the door and on the bus!

Sergio and I decided to join the crowds of Peruvians traveling for the New Year, and visit his brother David in Huaraz, a small Andean city located north of Lima.

But what we did not realize until today was that buses don't go to Huaraz on New Year's Eve. So hurriedly, we are throwing some warm clothes in two backpacks and going down to the bus terminal to travel overnight to Lima, then to Huaraz for the holiday.

16 hours in the bus on the Panamerican highway before we arrive in Lima! Wish us luck!

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Monday, December 28

Year in Review: Obama and Latin America

As 2009 ends, what has President Obama's impact been in Latin America? 

Before Obama
When Obama took office last January, he inherited a neglected and outdated relationship with Latin America. While he initially expressed intentions to focus on the region, former President Bush focus was quickly turned towards another important region and global terrorist threat. Latin America relations then stalled. The neighboring region began to look for economic and political relationships with other world powers including Russia, China and the European Union. 

The little North American influence that Latin America saw--support for an attempted coup in Bolivia and various controversial free trade agreements--fueled the flames of anti-Americanism in the region. 

Good intentions
As Obama's administration took charge, there was a mutual hope for a closer, more modern relationship, one that left behind the Cold War framework. During his campaign, candidate Obama expressed his interest in lifting the embargo on Cuba, a constant sticking point in relations across the region. He wanted to recognize Latin America as "a mutual partner, not as a junior partner" in facing terrorism and building a strong global economy. Obama directly admitted that the region had been ignored during the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

A hopeful start
1) At the start, things were looking up. General support for the United States among Latin America, from 39% in 2008 to 51% in 2009 (see Gallup Poll from Dec. 1) . In El Salvador, where the support for the new American president was highest, 84% of Salvadoreans had a positive image of President Obama.

2) At the Summit of the Americas in April, Obama appeared to be, as The Nation called him, "a good student" learning about the current Latin situation. He accepted a book from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, took notes during a speech by Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and concluded that many countries don't like the "rigid application of a free market doctrine" by Washington.

3) Beyond mere words and poll results, Obama did take some positive action. He took a posture of friendship towards the leader of Latin American anti-Americanism--President Chavez. As for Cuba, the Obama administration immediately lifted the ban on travel for Cubans and allowed for money to be sent and received between Cuba and the United States. He voted for Cuba to be included again in the Organization of American States. He also ordered his State Department team to start working on free trade agreements with Panama and Colombia.

Regional missteps
But only a year into his term, Obama has also taken some wrong turns in the path to better relations with the Western hemisphere.

1) Mexico, the United States' next-door neighbor, finds itself in a violent and costly internal conflict with powerful drug traffickers. But Obama visited Canada first in February, then, finally in April, made a quick stopover in Mexico before the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago. Especially because the United States is largely responsible for the drug consumption that fuels Mexico's cartels, Mexico should feel like a mutual partner encountering a problem that affects both countries. Instead, this diplomatic move and a lack of other support for Mexico's war on the drug cartels doesn't bode well for the Obama administration so far. 

2) Actually, the U.S. war on drugs has cost $7 billion. Colombia's cocaine production has doubled since 1996. The U.S.-led effort has been called a "complete failure" by various former presidents in the region. Yet, instead of reevaluating the drug strategy, Obama has instead invested more money and military resources in the Colombian conflict. 

3) On top of that, the Obama administration failed to effectively communicate to South American leaders when it decided to use Colombian military bases for activities not related to the drug war. The move broadly renewed Cold War fears of American military intervention, and gave more ammunition for Chavist anti-Americanism.

4) But the misstep that will most affect relations with Latin American is recognizing the legitimacy of the Honduras elections in November, instead of ensuring the reinstatement of sacked Honduran President Manuel Zelaya (see TIME Magazine article). While Secretary Clinton was sent to negotiate a power-sharing agreement, hurried efforts left a loop-hole through which the Honduran Congress didn't have to reinstate Zelaya for the few months left in his term. 

Then, Obama was forced to choose between angering the majority of Latin American leaders and elites who opposed any solution other than Zelaya's return to the presidency, or angering a few U.S. Senate conservatives who promised to block his State Department nominations until the Honduran elections were recognized. Unsurprisingly, international relations came in second to domestic political pressures. 

The decision could have regional consequences; first, it gave cover for Panama to also support the elections, which has created discord among the Central American countries. The failed U.S.-led negotiations--and the United States' subsequent unilateral position in support for Honduras' elections--left a bad taste in Latin America's mouth. Latin American leaders wonder if unilateral decision-making and support for undemocratic regime change is the precedent for a new administration's relations: 

Why is Latin America important?
As The Nation puts it succinctly:
Except for civil war in Colombia and drug violence in Mexico, Latin America is at peace; nuclear weapons are not a concern; most countries are led by democratically elected presidents committed to a progressive hemispheric agenda that would downplay terrorism and put top priority on alleviating poverty, inequality, crime and environmental problems. 
The United States has the opportunity to create a regional partner to defend it's mutual interests.  Of course, not everyone agrees that Latin America is just a good opportunity. Some experts think Venezuela and Brazil's welcoming relationships with Iranian president Ahmadinejad means Obama should not be so naive as to think that all Latin American countries are friendlies.

Ideas for 2010
Here's a few ideas for the Obama administration to solidify this important partnership:

1) A new and effective U.S.-led regional anti-drug strategy would be a good start, including clear public support for Mexico's drug war and clear communication with South America on U.S. intentions in Colombia.

2) His administration also needs to assure that, as it pursues economic agreements with more Latin countries, the negative social consequences of free trade be minimized by strict provisions protecting labor and the environment. 

3) Diplomatic missions to various Latin American countries by Secretary of State Clinton would put action behind the rhetoric.

But while the U.S. has been focused on other issues, Latin America has increased economic and political relations with Asia, the Middle East and the European Union. China, for example, just signed a free trade agreement with Peru.  

More that diplomatic gestures, the Obama administration needs to be offering a unequivocally more attractive political and economic relationship than China or the EU is offering if it wants the United States to maintain its dominant influence in the Western hemisphere. 

Sunday, December 27

Bush in a poncho? Bike-powered washers?

Christmas presents and greeting cards have drained me of my creative energy. Luckily, Peruvians don't seem to be lacking in that area, so I have something to blog about tonight!

Trend Hunter magazine published an online slideshow of "11 Peruvian Innovations," ideas that break the mold or set a new trend.  

I knew that Peruvians ate guinea pig--I've tried it and it tastes like chicken--but I wasn't aware that they used the rodents to model clothing.

Somehow, Peru was able to get former Prez W. into a poncho when he came down for the APEC summit. Wish I would have thought of that.

And as you can guess from my previous post, I actually wish I had a bicycle-powered washing machine or bicilavadora:

Saturday, December 26

Falling Buses & Exchange Rates

Not everyone had a nice Christmas this year.

1) Peru has one of the highest highway accident rates in Latin America, partly because of the poor condition of the roads in Peru's treacherous terrain and partly because of the lack of enforcement of driving regulations in the country. 

Tragically, this Christmas Eve many families personally felt it. Traveling from Arequipa back to their hometown of Santo Tomas, 40 people died when their bus plunged into a ravine.  BBC News and CBS News both have the international reports on the incident.

2) Only days before Christmas, the Minister of Economy and Finance Luis Carranza resigned and immediately the Peruvian sol (S/.) fell slightly in relation to the dollar. Many people who had their money in soles, not dollars, lost a bit right before the holiday. Why? 

Luis Carranza, a former executive at a multinational Spanish banking group and consultant for the Inter-American Development Bank, was well-respected for the successful economic reforms he carried out during his first term from July 2006-July 2008. He again took the post in the aftermath of the economic crisis in January 2009. 

President Garcia claims that Carranza promised to serve only for one year, and that term has now been filled. But some critics have another perspective. 2010 will be a pre-election year for Peru, and with economist Carranza in charge, politics could not interfere in the "movement" of money, say toward a campaign. But Garcia, and his party APRA, need someone who might understand that, and bow to it. The minister replacing Carranza will be Mercedes Araoz, who has allegedly played a more political role in the past as Minister of Production.

In any case, confidence in the Peruvian economy was shaken a bit on Tuesday. Peruvians and investors worry what this change will mean for the next two years.

Welcome Party for Baby Jesus

Overnight, this desert city melting in the heat of summer transformed into a Christmas wonderland. 

Suddenly, on the afternoon on the 24th, twinkling lights appeared in everyone's windows, panetones rushed out bakery door and last-minute present buyers saturated the downtown's main avenues. 

On Christmas Eve, an informal street mall formed. All the ambulantes, or street vendors, filled up the sidewalks with food, decorations, lights, presents and firecrackers. Buyers looking for gifts and Christmas dinner items packed the streets! 

I was shocked! Everyone in the States had been in their warm home since sunset, escaping the winter cold. But on the streets of Peru, there was a veritable holiday mob! 

I asked Sergio why, and his explanation was interesting. Many people save centavos all month until, at the last possible moment, they buy what they can for Christmas dinner and gifts. He added that it might also do with the Peruvian "I'll do it mañana" policy.

Sergio, his parents, a friend from the bakery and I ate Christmas eve dinner at 11:30 p.m. On the menu were turkey (head and feet included), mashed potatoes and five different salads. 

The salads are a traditional part of the meal. From the photo below, 1) the purple salad= beats; 2) orange= mango, carrots and chicken; 3) green= broccoli and orange in a sweet sauce; 4) rainbow= marshmallows and grapes; and 5) my favorite= green bean salad with bacon and raisins! The other plate is sweet potato!

Halfway through dinner, we heard booms outside. It was midnight, we realized, as we ran upstairs to see how Arequipa welcomed in Christmas Day, and the birth of their savior:

These fireworks went on for 15 minutes across town. We woke up to a few booms in the morning too.

After dinner, we tried to eat some panetón and hot chocolate, but we were all very tired and full. Sergio's dad must have pushed down four full plates at least!

But we stuck it out to open a few presents after 2 a.m. I guess the gift exchange is not a big tradition with Sergio's family, but he wanted to share an American tradition he had brought back. I'm sure it was partly for me, too.

Sergio's dad, who can be a curmudgeon, got the nickname Grinch for most of the night. But his heart grew a few sizes when he opened up a framed photo of his three sons who, until this past August, had not been together for five years. A few tears escaped him.

And even though she could barely keep her eyes open from an exhausting day of work, Sergio's mom reacted equally to her framed photo. "Oh, mis hijitos! Chanchitos! Bebitos!" ("Oh, my little boys! Little piggies! Little babies!")

As for me and my first Christmas away from my family and snowy Colorado, it couldn't have been more memorable.

Wednesday, December 23

Christmas is here!

The Christmas tree in front of the Cathedral in Arequipa's main plaza.
The elves are getting ready to sing.
Christmas has arrived, even at the Cathedral itself.
I decided this should be the bakery's Christmas ad, featuring Santa Sergio.
Merry Christmas from Peru to you.

Tuesday, December 22

Peruvian Pirates, Ar Ar

They're pirates alright, except they traded in the eyepatch for a nice big copy machine. 

One victim of these pirates who spoke out angrily last week is Alfredo Bryce Echenique, 2002 winner of the Spanish literary award Premio Planeta. He is known worldwide for his novel "Un mundo para Julius (A World for Julius)" that exposes classist Peru. 

This week, Bryce has been throwing fireballs at Indecopi. 

Indecopi, short for the "National Institute of Defense of Competition and the Protection of Intellectual Property," is the government agency charged with "the mission of watching over the loyal and honest competition in Peru."


Before we continue, let me interject my relevant personal observations:

Indecopi's mission statement? Ironic at best. Without fail, every Indecopi employee must pass at least one store openly selling pirated intellectual property before arriving at work every morning. 

Peruvian pirates own the books, music and DVD market here. After one week here, I was desperate for a movie. I learned that the black market is the only option. Own four DVDs for $3.30.

You might have more luck finding a legitimate book store than a movie store, but you won't find a good price. It's like the cell phone thing (see previous post)--it doesn't make economic sense to buy the real thing for three times as much, no matter how ethical you are.

It's not like these shady businesses operate undercover either. There are whole streets, whole markets purely dedicated to pirated books, music or DVDs.


But back to Indecopi vs. Bryce:

Indecopi recently charged Bryce with 16 separate counts of plagiarism. His fine? $20,000. 

It's true. More recently, Bryce has become notorious for plagiarizing articles by journalists, authors and diplomats and publishing them widely.

But obviously, Bryce agrees with me that the agency charging him is a sham. He published an opinion piece in the Peruvian magazine Caretas accusing Indecopi of being responsible for the robbery of at least one million dollars in pirated copies of his novels. He relates his experience of a book fair signing at which a number of fans brought pirated copies for him to sign.

Bryce doesn't deny plagiarizing. Instead, he proposes a deal for Indecopi. 

He'll drop their debt to him down to $300,000 dollars instead of a million, and he'll subtract the $20,ooo for his plagiarism penalty. That way Indecopi only has to pay him $280,000. 

The irony of this whole situation Bryce sums up in one line: "Why and how did I become, more than anything, the only pirate that has existed in the history of Peru?" 

He's right: how is it that the world famous novelist gets the plank while the real pirates are banking on his literary genius? 

Sorry Bryce. Looks like it's only Christmas for the pirates. Arrr.

Monday, December 21

Bin Laden for Christmas?

How would you like it if someone gave you "Bin Laden" for Christmas? Maybe a lot. Maybe in a box otherwise known as a coffin. Maybe in a uncomfortable and dark jail cell.

In Peru, you can actually "give" Bin Laden as a gift. On Christmas eve here, people wait until midnight and then join their neighbors in the streets to shoot off fireworks.  The brand names of two of the biggest fireworks sold in Peru are "Rata Blanca" (Black Rat) and "Bin Laden." 

When I first heard that, I wondered if I should be offended.

But then I thought about the joy I would have in shooting Bin Laden into the air and watching him blow into bits in the wee hours of Christmas morning. I felt better.

Turns out they've also had Bin Laden Champagne in Peru for Christmas.

Saturday, December 19

I must be really thirsty.

Or I just inherited a keen interest in water from my Colorado family. Anyway, I found this interesting article on MSNBC's World Blog about the shrinking sources of water in Peru. 

I thought Arequipa's blueouts were bad, but this piece revealed some disturbing facts about Peru's capital:

1) Lima is the second largest city, after Cairo, located in a desert.
2) Two million of Lima's eight million people don't have access to running water.

They've got some ideas to solve this water shortage, including a joint dam project (see The Economist) between Cuzco and Puno in the Peruvian jungle.

There's just one problem. The dam's reservoir would flood 120 kms of a new interstate highway between Brazil and Peru that's already under construction. A little interagency miscommunication makes for a big water problem.

P.S. It's still hasn't rained. That brings the count to 123 days without a drop.

Friday, December 18

The (Customs) Grinch That Stole Christmas

This will be my first Christmas without my family, and without a big pile of gifts. 

Knowing this, my wonderful grandparents (see previous awesome g'rents mention) decided to make me feel more at home. They sent me a box of presents, wrapping each individual item separately to make my present volume appear greater. As you can see, our coffee table is now overflowing with Christmas cheer! 

But the customs grinch stole a large part of the excitement. 

Apparently, Peruvian customs randomly selects a group of packages from abroad for inspection. In other words, they go through each one and make sure neither the content nor the recipient is suspicious. 

Guess who's package was selected. Yep. I got a letter saying I needed to go down to the post office's special customs service with my passport and two copies between the hours of 8:30-10 am and 2-3 p.m. 

This morning, I waited one hour. As if that wasn't grinchy enough, once I sat in front of the customs inspector, he asked me to open the box. He then proceeded to open every single Christmas present in front of me. I screamed for help! 

"He's torturing me! He's ruining my Christmas!"

But my cries were only heard by other postal employees, and by their reactions, I wouldn't be surprised if "going postal" was also a problem in Peru. 

Okay, I really didn't say that. But I did try to politely ask, "Excuse me, sir, will we be opening every single gift?" 

He let off a little bit, and left me the biggest and nicest-wrapped present for me to open later. 

I decided not to mention that if any of these gifts were drugs, that one probably would have been about the right size. I didn't want my only Christmas surprise left to be ruined, after all. 

SerPost Peru, you stole my Christmas! 

Thursday, December 17

Real music

This song "Strong Peru" gives a glimpse into 
the Peruvian experience, and the pride many who've 
left still have for their country.

Peru Bravo
[Acoustic] Es el flow de peruanos, estilo de limeños, 
It's the flow of Peruvians, the style of Limenians, 
vamos que romperla así
we're gonna break it like this.

[Sola] Mi tierra, mi sangre, mi paz y mi guerra
My land, my blood, my peace and my war
Los tantos recuerdos que queman 
The many memories that burn
Quisiera contarte mi amor y mis penas 
I would like to tell you my love and my sorrows
Y lo que el viento no se lleva
And what the wind doesn't take with it.

[Youngsta] Crecí en un barrio humilde así como otro cualquiera
I grew up in a humble neighborhood like any other person
Desde chico supelo que es ectaxis marihuana era 
As a boy I knew what ecstasy and marijuana were
Cemento roto cuando caminaba por la acera 
Broken cement as I walked on the sidewalk
Siempre ambulantes ocupando la cuadra entera
Ambulances always occupying the whole block
Los crimenes en mi distrito eran algo diario 
Crime in my district was a daily thing
Y en mi vecindario las madres rezan rosarios
And in my neighborhood the mothers pray with rosaries.
Encomendándoles sus hijos al señor para no verlos en cárcel 
Entrusting their sons to God so they wouldn't see them in jail 
acusados por sicarios
assaulted by hit men

La pobreza el símbolo de hambre y tristeza
Poverty, the symbol of hunger and sadness
Sinónimo de no tener un pan sobre la mesa 
Synonymous of not having bread on the table
Por eso hay varones que prefieren el robo porque  
That's why there's guys that prefer to rob because
no encuentran trabajo
they can't find work,
Y mendigar es para bobos 
And begging is for fools.

Puedes encontrar paredes pintadas de amenazas 
You can find walls painted with threats
Doctores e ingenieros manejando taxi en plazas 
Doctors and engineers driving taxis in the plazas.
Debido al sistema todo el mundo está en la ñuña 
Thanks to the system everyone is in the ______?
Por eso lloro cuando soplo mi zampoña 
That's why I cry when I blow my zampoña (flute)
Pero por más problemas que mi patria siempre tenga
But for all the problems that my country always has
Yo represento Lima
I represent Lima
venga lo que venga
come what may.

Mi historia es mucho más que corrupciones gobernamentales 
My history is much more than government corruption
Mas que exportación de coca dentro de tamales
More than coca exported inside tamales
Está basada en riquezas naturales, musica criolla, carnavales
It's based in natural wealth, Criolle music and Carnaval
En Costa, Sierra y Selva y bellezas naturales 
The coast, the highlands and jungle and natural beauty
Como el Macchupicchu centro del Tahuantinsuyo
Like Machu Picchu centered in Tawantinsuyu,
Imperio de los Incas y lo digo con orgullo 
the Incan Empire, and I say with pride,
Casa de Tupac Amaru, el quechua y el aymara 
the home of Tupac Amaru, Quechua and Aymara

Y estos hechos dieron fuerzas para que yo hasta cantara 
And these facts give me strength enough to sing
Y empezara mis huellas dejara, fronteras pasara 
And start to leave my footprints through borders
Con Sola y Fakta cantara, mi patria representara 
With Sola and Fakta singing, my country represents
Peruanos con sabiduría real y fulgor 
Peruvians with real wisdom and brilliance
Te sigo Peru bravo en la alegría y el dolor
I follow you strong Peru through the happiness and the pain
Por siempre, tu sabes, te sigo Peru bravo en la alegría y el dolor
Forever, you know, I follow you strong Peru in happiness & pain

[Sola] Mi tierra, mi sangre, mi paz y mi guerra
My land, my blood, my peace and my war
Los tantos recuerdos que queman 
The many memories that burn
Quisiera contarte mi amor y mis penas 
I would like to tell you my love and my sorrows
Y lo que el viento no se lleva
And what the wind doesn't take with it.
Flor de la Canela, sabor del manjar
The "Flor de la Canela," the flavor of caramel
El tiempo pasa más lento en mi hogar
The time passes slower in my home 
Calores más libres, susurro del mar 
Freer warmth, the whisper of the ocean
Las luces de la avenida Petit Thouars
The lights on Petit Thouars avenue

I didn't translate the last verse because it's the "shout out" 
to themselves part of the song and was harder to translate, 
but you get the idea.

Wednesday, December 16

The worst hit song ever

The music video was the most popular of 2009--83 million views.  I bet that at least 63 million of those views were in Latin America. 

I hear Pitbull's "I Know You Want Me" about four times a day. I hear it in restaurants, blaring from trucks selling propane and digitized in cell phone rings; this song is a big hit. 

The beat is annoying and the lyrics lack, oh, I don't know, class? It's also shockingly misogynistic. You can get the idea from the English lyrics, but the Spanish chorus is the worst part of the song:
Si es verdad que tu eres guapa
Yeah, it's true that you're sexy.
Yo te voy a poner gozar
I going to make you enjoy it.
Tu tienes la boca grande
You have a big mouth,
Dale, ponte a jugar
So, do it, let's start to play. 

Tuesday, December 15

Nap for lunch, bread for dinner

We eat a lot of bread here. And not just because we live at the bakery. 

Breakfast is bread with cheese or butter and tea or coffee. Dinner is more like a late-night snack. Around 7 or 8, we usually have a few slices of--guess what--bread and tea.

I like bread, so I'm not bothered by it. In fact, I sleep better at night not having just chowed down a huge steak hours before bedtime. 

But what is new for me is how important lunch is in Peru. Lunch is when you get your nutrients for the day. Lunch is when you socialize with your family. Lunch is when you take a nap, to recover from eating so much! 

Many stores close or run on low staff from the hours of 1-4 p.m. It's easy to see why, when the food is so good!

Here is a good picture of a traditional lunch:

First, comes your soup. Then your segundo, or main dish, which in this case in caigua rellena. Usually everyone orders a liter of soda to share. I guess we bought some Fanta for the house. 

Caigua (kai-wa) is a vine fruit, says Wikipedia, but I sure thought it was a veggie. Anyway, they boil the caiguas, then stuff them with ground beef, raisins, olives, hard boiled eggs and pecans, if they can find some. Then, with a little bit of tomato sauce and some rice, the dish comes out looking good. 

This picture gives a glimpse of the stuffing:

While you're eating your sandwich and bag of raisins and running back to work, think of me. I'll be bloated and napping.

Monday, December 14

Give me my yapa!

If you order a drink or food, don't forget to ask for your yapa.  

Dame la yapa por favor (Please give me my extra).  
Tendrías algo de yapa para dar? (Would you have a little extra to give?)
La yapa, por fa. (My gift, please)

You hear these phrases a lot, especially with the emoliente vendors. These folks have a little stand on the corner where they mix for you a special herb tea. Usually it's about 30 cents for a glass. But all the customers expect to receive their yapa, a whole glass extra. 

But yesterday I got my yapa in the form of alcohol! Sergio ordered leche de tigre, or tiger's milk, a drink made from the juice from ceviche. I ordered a pisco sour, a mixed drink with egg, rum (pisco), sugar and lemon juice.  

It took about 20 minutes for our drink order to be served, which wasn't a big deal because we were watching soccer. But when the waiter apologized for it taking so long, Sergio said, "Well, how 'bout the yapa?" To appease us customers, the waiter gave me a whole second glass of pisco sour! 

At the bakery too, most fresh breads sell for at least five per sol (30 cents). Often times, though, people ask for their yapa. The clerk will throw in another piece for free.

The yapa, of course, doesn't apply when you go to buy shoes. They don't throw in another pair. I think the yapa tradition comes with food or drink. 

Because I'm a foodie, gee, do I like this special custom! Maybe I'll be asking for my yapa at McDonald's when I get back. Think they would give me a few extra fries?

Sunday, December 13

Election season in the Andes

Last Sunday, I wrote about the Bolivian elections and the shoe-in second term of Evo Morales. This Sunday, we move to the south for more political decisions. 

Today, Chileans will decide between Sebastian Piñera, a center-right billionaire (that's in U.S. greenbacks, my friend) businessman, and Eduardo Frei, a former president who represents the leftist coalition party, Concertación, of Michelle Bachelet. 

The polls say today Piñera will take the presidency, but 16% of those polled are undecided, a percentage that could tip of the scales for Frei. 

Half of Chileans are registered to vote (8 out of 16.6 million), the same as in the United States. But what's interesting, as this New York Times article on young Chilean voters points out, is that once you sign up, you have to vote or face a large fine.

During the 70s and 80s, dictator Augusto Pinochet rewrote the Constitution and many laws in Chile. While in 1988, the country returned to democracy, Pinochet's legal legacy, including voting regulations an his Constitution, remains largely intact. 

Pinochet also smartly reworked the Congressional system, gerrymandering many districts to ensure right representation. All of the diputados in Chile's "House" will be up for reelection today, as well as about half of its Senate.

It doesn't look like any of the candidates will be making any dramatic economic reforms, which is good news because Chile's stable economy has been the envy of Latin American for a few decades. However, should Piñera win, he would be the first rightist candidate to be elected post-Pinochet--a curious change after leftist Bachelet was the most popular president in Chilean history.

What might explain the fact that Bachelet's popularity doesn't seem to be helping Frei, her party's candidate, is the emergence of Marco Enríquez-Ominami, a leftist candidate representing an off-shoot of the Concertacíon. The Wall Street Journal reported that, as of October, he was running neck and neck with Frei. 

Enríquez-Ominami's numbers, from what I can see, have gone down, but his popularity represents a challenge for the leftist coalition party that has represented the left and successfully won the presidency for two decades.

Saturday, December 12

Friday, December 11

Our house, in the middle of our street!

It's on the north side of "Pro Hogar" street, which is actually mislabeled here. It should say Tarapacá! You're busted, Google Maps!

Anyway, in the middle of the block, you can see an L-shaped house. That's us! 

Behind the house on our block is a school with trees and a green canopy for shade. Thanks to them, I wake up to the Peruvian national anthem every Monday!

I think if you want to zoom back out and check out the neighborhood, you can! Just click on the link "View larger map."

Thursday, December 10

Mmm, smells like panetones!

For me, the smell of Christmas was always a combination of pine needles, nutmeg and soggy snow boots. But here in the bakery, and all around Peru, the smell of panetones is one way to know that the holiday season has arrived.

In the States, the fruit cake is a dreaded Christmas gift, one we might give as a good joke. Here, the fruit cake, or panetón, IS Christmas.
While it's already December 10th,  it's hard for me to feel that the Christmas season is really upon us. There is definitely no snow--it's summer here. So far, the panetones, the panetones commercials and a few felt trees here and there are the only difference I've seen.

A small confession to add: I don't like paneton. Maybe it's the American in me who has heard tale after tale of bad fruit cakes. Or maybe I just prefer to have chocolate or raisins in my bread. Already, I can tell that this is going to become a problem when I have to eat four or five of these darn cakes. 

Wednesday, December 9

Surviving the soccer gangs

Luckily, everyone made it out of the stadium alive and without major injuries after yesterday's game between the U and Alianza. The barras bravas make it hard to get out of the stadium with your cell phone and money, much less without scars or bruises. 

Organized gangs of soccer fans, otherwise known as barras bravas, support a certain team. They stand throughout the whole game, shout organized chants and wear team gear. 

A few of them even have websites, including the Barra U Oriente and Comando Sur.

But they are also known for taking advantage of the large crowds at soccer games to steal in an organized fashion and create general chaos. Most games, spectators stampede out of the stadium to escape the barras bravas

A few months after I arrived, a young accounting student named Paola was killed trying to escape from the barras bravas. On the bus, she was suddenly surrounded by a group of guys from one of these soccer gangs returning from a game. Trying to escape, she jumped from the bus and was ran over. 

After the media coverage surrounding her death, the problem of the barras bravas escalated up to where finally Peru's president, Alan Garcia, responded to the incident.  Now, Paola's Facebook page has 64,600 friends in support of pursuing justice after her death.

The name barras bravas actually has it's origin in Argentina in the 50s and 60s. This article by GlobalPost shows how this organized crime has escalated to the point of stabbings and other violent acts at many Argentinian soccer games.

I was all excited to go to a game, after catching a bit of yesterday's Clasico, but I think I need to have all the stadium exits memorized before I go.

Tuesday, December 8

The day Lima stops in it's tracks... today. 

It's actually a national holiday recognizing the Catholic day of Immaculate Conception. Today, Catholics acknowledge Mary as being born without sin. All the stores are closed. University classes are cancelled. There are parades in the streets of Lima. 

But that's not why the city comes to a halt. 

It's because today everyone will watch the most important soccer game in Peru, the U vs. Alianza. These two club teams generate the most polarizing rivalry in the country and play a few times each year in what is called "El Clasico" or the Classic match. 

There will be lots of beer, lots of chicharrones and no work today. Everyone is staying at home to watch the game this afternoon. 

As for me, I might have to pick my team today. 

Sunday, December 6

Neighboring Bolivia's Presidential Election Today

Evo Morales, the country's first indigenous president, is posed to be reelected today in a landslide. 

When Evo closed his campaign on Friday, polls reported that he had 55% of the vote, compared to 18% garnered by right candidate Reyes Villa and 15% by center candidate 10%. 

He wouldn't even be running for a second term, but in 2008, through referendum, Evo Morales created a new constitution that, among other reforms, allowed him to run for another five year term. 

The New York Times published an article about the elections yesterday, and explained a bit about the Evo controversy:

“Evo himself,” said Mr. Calla, the anthropologist, “could be considered the authoritarian left.” Contributing to this classification, he argued, was Mr. Morales’s resistance to cooperating with other parties, threats to jail opponents and the celebration of his administration in government-paid advertising. Mr. Calla called the government’s exuberance over Mr. Morales’s achievements “a cult of personality” in the making.

Cambio, a state-controlled daily newspaper à la Granma in Cuba, created by Mr. Morales this year, offers an example of this fanfare. Its lead article last Sunday described Puerto Evo Morales, a pioneer settlement in the north. A comic-book insert, “Evo: From the People for the People,” championed Mr. Morales’s rise from poverty.

There are concrete reasons for Mr. Morales’s popularity. The foremost may be the sustained growth of Bolivia’s landlocked economy, drawing plaudits from economists impressed with its accumulation of more than $7 billion in hard-currency reserves, even though the country is still plagued by persistent levels of extreme poverty.

Despite the financial crisis and a drop in natural gas export revenues, Bolivia’s economy is estimated to have grown as much as 4 percent this year, one of the highest rates in the region, helped by stimulus spending on welfare programs for children, pregnant women and the elderly.

“Even the I.M.F. is happy with Bolivia’s economy; imagine the irony of that,” said Gonzalo Chávez, a Harvard-educated economist here, referring to Mr. Morales’s often pointed criticism of Washington’s multilateral institutions, like the International Monetary Fund.

As for me, I won't be going to Bolivia anytime soon. He charges all Americans an entry fee of $130. Compared to entering Peru--where I supposedly should have been charged $20 upon entry but wasn't--that's a big sum of money. 

Plus, the U.S. Ambassador to Bolivia was recently kicked out and Evo has accused the U.S. anti-drug forces of conspiring against him. Let's just say it's not the best time for me to take a Bolivian vacation.

One last note: If you're the video type, AFP put out a short 2-minute clip on the elections this week.