Good morning folks. I trust you had a superb weekend & that this finds you in tiptop form.
A bit of a diversion from my usual weekly round-up this week! Rather than my random ramblings, here is an A-to-Z of what I have learnt so far from life in Lima. The good, the bad & the ugly.
Life is never dull here in sunny Lima!
The main reason for most of my decisions in life. I always ask myself. “Will it be interesting/exciting/different?” Now any kind of adventure can fall into a rut if it becomes routine same-old-same-old. It´s a case of constantly looking for new things, new ways, new experiences, to stop falling into that rut (or to get out of it!)
My favourite fruit/food. Available in 27000 different varieties here. Big, small, yellow, green (don´t fall into the colourblind trap that I plunged into, these need to be cooked!) Generally carted around on the backs of ancient vans, with knackered suspensions, or on a modified moto-trike, by a guy who can barely see over the top of his bulky load, always in plentiful supply.
There may be other more exotic fruits, but “el platano” will always be my favourite
It was inevitable! I came here with no concrete plans to get a Clunk. I’d said a sad farewell to my trusty C90 on New Year´s Day 2015 & thought that the next time I’d be back on two wheels would be when I returned to Blighty. That lasted about a week!
Due to the heinous amount of traffic, a Clunk is the fastest way to get from A to B (often via many other letters of the alphabet en-route). I think I looked at 14 different bikes in varying states of disrepair, until time constraints made me buy “Fighting Red” (that is the colour Honda gave it!) A 6 year old Honda XR125 dirt bike with questionable mileage, (the speedo doesn´t work & the odometer is on 0000:0). Within 4 months it needed a top-end engine rebuild & a whole load of other new shiny bits too.
It had been a victim of poor (zero) maintenance, but it is a bike with a lot of character & as it has a Honda badge, so it is super-reliable. It´s taken some pounding but it´s never let me down & even running on half a piston up in the montañas, it kept on going!
It is my main source of adventure, be it battling the traffic on my daily commute, a Sunday hop-skip+jump to my favourite cafe in Cieneguilla or an escape into yonder mountains. I love my Clunk
Punters, criminals & parts of town. It is a fact that there are lowlifes everywhere on this planet. I always remember an article in the Wetherby News “Purse snatched in Boston Spa“.
This is probably happening every single second here in Lima (the purse being snatched, not making the news though). Lima has more than its fair share of tea-leafs. You need eyes like a hawk & to keep your eyes wide open at all times. I´ve only once had my knapsack nabbed & it was entirely my own fault for letting my guard down (& ironically whilst giving advice to friends to “be cautious, but not paranoid“.
Lima has boomed in the last 10 years & with the extra money, folk are splashing the cash more & more. Whereas in the past one would send a text from an old Nokia hidden inside your bag, nowadays it´s all smartphones & i-pads, (I still have my Nokia!) The crooks are increasingly intelligent. I once saw a hand-written sign in a bus station “Pickpockets operate in this area”. What is the first thing you do upon seeing such a sign? Check your wallet. Whilst a would-be-robber is clocking which pocket you have stashed your readies!
After a (thankfully failed) attempt at the Clunk being wheeled away to a new owner I have invested in a BIG heavy chain…
E- El Niño:
What a mischievous boy he is as well. Not talking about Fernando Torres, but a weather phenomenon that causes havoc here (& elsewhere too).
In a nutshell, the prevailing trade winds that blow towards Indonesia relax mid-Pacific & cause the normally cool water to warm up. This spells bad news for anchovies (& anchovy fishermen. Peru is one of the biggest exporters of Fishmeal, but no anchovies=no fishmeal!) As the Pacific’s warmest water spreads eastward, the hot humid air which fuels thunderstorms moves with it. El Niño alters the position of the jet stream, winds which affect the weather not only in North and South America, but as far away as Africa and Antarctica. ‘Oop north & darn sarf (in Peru) this can mean catastrophic flooding, whereas in Lima it normally means a mild winter followed by a l-o-n-g summer. Which sounds ace, but add to that fact the incredible humidity (caused by the Humboldt current, I am now becoming a weather bore), it makes for a very, very sticky, sweaty time. Fine if you are relaxing at the beach with a plate of Ceviche & an ice-cold bottle of Cristal, not so fine if you´re sat in a traffic jam, sweating cobs!
Possibly Peru´s crowning glory. It is certainly gaining more & more international attention, with the likes of Chef Magician Gaston Acurio opening restaurants in London (& not forgetting Newcastle´s favourite Latino son, Nobby Solano, who has also opened up his own place in the Toon! Food is starting to be seen more as an art & “Fusion” food is becoming increasingly popular. Not the same as “Nouvelle Cuisine”, there is actually a meal behind the art in Fusion.
Food is a source of natural pride & one of the easiest things to start up a conversation about. There are more national dishes than there are days of the year, with each region having its own specialities. Even people who have just finished a huge meal will then start talking about food! Dinner/lunch is the big event of the day. Most companies give their employees one hour (minimum) for lunch & working through lunch is simply unthinkable!
Eating out is well priced, and often it is cheaper to buy a “Menu” (set meal) than try to cook it yourself. For somebody who has eaten more ready meals than he cares to declare & more supernoodles than is good for him, cooking from scratch can be a bit of a chore, but to be honest it is much, much better for you (& at least you know what has gone into it!) Eating out at fancy restaurants can be a bit more pricey (& not something that a Northern skinflint like me does anyway/anywhere), but in comparison to a swanky restaurant in Blighty, pricewise it is probably more affordable here.
In short, the food is good, very good!
(I do miss my pies though…)
G – Gracias!
There are a lot of people I’d like to thank, not in an Oscar speech way, but just to say a genuine Gracias to some special friends I have (made) out here. Sadly time is in limited supply here, so any meet-ups are precious. I don’t have a lot of friends here, but I have some really good friends.
To my good mate Lloyd, we’ve been in this together since the beginning amigo. How are both still (semi) sane?
All my Colleagues at Camacho Britanico; Mamita & Co, you rock!
James & Erika, you rock too! You’re a big part of the reason we’re here.
James B & the Britanico boys. A massive thanks for the bungee straps mate, it was extremely kind of you. When’s the next night out
And finally, to my ever-patient missus, Lina. I moan & groan & complain, but it was my idea to come here!
Thanks for putting up with me.
(Pronounced “Gree-pai“): I used to suffer from Hay Fever back in Blighty. Most summers I would scratch my eyes out until they were red raw. Here it seems that everybody (always) has some kind of cold, varying from “resfriado” (a sniffle) to full blown “Gripe” (a kind of flu). Due to the quantity/density of punters in Lima, personal space does not exist. On a bus/combi it sometimes feels like a sweaty mobile game of Twister (with complete strangers). If one person sneezes (& nobody covers their mouth here), everybody is going to cop for a mouthful!
People blame it on the infamous “cambio de clima”. When the temperature fluctuates more than a few degrees here, locals believe that it does all kind of terrible things, bringing with it terrible illnesses (as well as the wind, watch out for the lurgey-laden winds!) The fact is that Lima is in a desert (by the ocean) & hemmed in on 2 sides by big dusty mountains, so it is always mega-dusty, which makes people sneeze.
At the first tingling of a nose running, people sprint to “la Farmacia” to get dosed up on “Antigripales“. Now these aren´t just lockets or Lemsip, it´s a pill that would make an Olympic sprinter get banned. A cocktail of chemicals that normally make a poorly person forget their cold, as basically they´re enjoying a few Amphetamines!
Unless you are deaf, there is barely a second of the day/night when you will not hear somebody “tocando su claxon” (touching their horn, or honking their horn). At first glance watching the traffic (more about that later under “trafico“) here one would presume that everybody is blind or drunk (or blind drunk). A horn is the Lima motorist´s main weapon (& if it doesn´t work, you will see drivers banging their door with their hand, which is also quite effective at close quarters!)
Lack of logic! It´s either not in the dictionary, or wasn´t covered at school here! It is baffling at times, infuriating at others. Many things are done the way they are done, because that´s the way they´ve always been done (often with a less than satisfactory end result). Countless times I´ve suggested other ways, alternatives to back-breaking or uber time consuming tasks, only to be seen as a trouble causer!
Latin America is absolutely infamous for its rules & laws. Why are there so many? I do not know. Many of them are simply pointless or without reason (& most people ignore them anyway). It does mean that anything & everything takes t-i-m-e (more of this in “Red Tape”).
How on Earth do you pack your life (work, home, outdoors, sports & otherwise) into a 23kg duffel bag!
This was a great source of frustration, confusion, arguments, misinformation & ultimately, panic, on the days leading up to 2nd January 2015…
I had bought the flights online from a broker. Completely swayed by price, I’d gone for the cheapest. It was a familiar scenario of trying to book online, website crashing, prices rising, retrying, website crashing again, prices rising again & then a painfully long, drawn-out & expensive phone call. Baggage was high on our list of priorities, but the person I spoke to was so clueless & the fact that our flights were bought via a Broker, for an airline using another airline!
I booked the flights in June & even going to the airport (despite countless fruitless phone calls & emails, everyone was passing the buck), we still were not 100% sure how much weight we were allowed.
Did we have 1x23kg each & 2x23kg each? Was the Nipper entitled to any luggage? Would she have to prove that she had packed it herself?
Take too much & you´ll pay through the nose (with one or both kidneys), take too little & you´ll be wishing you´d brought more!
The smiling BA lady at Terminal 5 was very friendly & didn´t completely empty my wallet.
From past experience I knew that it was impossible for me to buy shoes out here. Camping goods are sparse & as I didn´t originally plan on riding/buying a Clunk (a special THANK YOU to my mate Matthew here, for bringing out my bulky Triumph jacket (& tea), you are a lifesaver mate!) I didn´t have any bike gear at all.
I really only had a bare bones amount. It is impossible to pack for every eventuality & despite packing, repacking & repacking many, many times, we simply ran out of time in the end. We did consider shipping, but with past (bad) experiences of the post & Customs (see “Red Tape”), we figured that taking as much as possible with us, was our best bet! (I do still daydream about a lightweight summer bike jacket though. If I walked into Get Geared right now, I’d walk right up to the Held Tropic…)
This has been a bigger problem than I thought.
I first came here in 2004 with a handful of phrases; please, thank you, the bill please, where is the toilet & a beer please! This was enough for the first 30 minutes & then I was lacking! I had a naive idea that it would just go into my head (via osmosis or magic), I was surrounded by people speaking it, and surely it would just “click”!
It didn´t & it was a struggle, but after 4 months it started to make sense & until the Wee One came along, Lina & I used to speak mainly in Spanish, so what has gone wrong?
Well, the fact that as I Clunk or walk to work means that I am no longer taking 16 Combis per day. Plus the fact that all my compañeros all speak such amazing English (& my Gaffer has asked me to speak in English in the staffroom), and that I speak to the Nipper in English (& Lina & I never really have time to speak, in any language) all mean that my exposure to speaking Spanish is limited. Listening, no problem, but my pronunciation (& daredevil/cavalier attitude to the lingo) is bad & getting worse.
At times one does feel saturated & you just want to switch off. Unfortunately I never had the sense to take any formal classes, so my foundations are very shaky indeed. A bit like the one of the Three Little Pigs, I have built my house from straw (& was too busy dancing/playing the tin whistle, when I should have been grafting!)
M- MONDAY MORNING MONGOLIANDO.COM BLOG!
Exactly what you are reading now!
The blog has been my salvation (of sanity) & a big focus for me here in Lima. Whilst there is very little that you can set your watch by here, at least I know that come Monday morning (even if it takes me until 2am to finish), there will be a Monday morning blog out!
I did keep a daily diary on my first 2 trips here to Peru. My handwriting is illegible (at the best of times) & they languish in a box somewhere…
Now Facebook is great & it is a fantastic way to keep in touch with people, however not everyone is on it.
E-mail is a great option, but my original Yahoo email (that I have had since 1997) got blocked the day I arrived. Also I find that mass/group emails can be a bit impersonal. I wanted something that people could dip in/out of, if/as/when they liked. A blog was the answer!
My website magician, Roberto & my Design Wizard brother, Danny had created a superb website for our Mongol Rally trip, this was then tinkered & tailored with, until we got the current blog. Monday morning seemed a good time, as everybody likes a reason to have one more brew & put off work for 5 minutes more. Weekly seemed to be a good frequency (my memory doesn´t stretch beyond that) & so the Monday morning Mongoliando.com blog was born!
Now, the thing is that Mongoliando.com grew up as a website (& FB page) for our rally, it served its purpose well. Now however, we´re a long way from Mongolia (just short of 10000 miles in fact) & many things have changed. There are lots of mini-adventures (microadventures) within the big adventure, but (for) now they are more Latino-related. Watch this space…
If you enjoy the blog, please tell me. If you don´t enjoy the blog, also please tell me. If there is more/less of something you´d like, please tell me
The Wee One. The little bundle of mischief brought by the Storks after our Romania trip! She is now 2 years old & developing into a very funny (& sometimes dramatic) character. She is currently at the stage of copying/imitating everything & everyone, she is full-time entertainment. Of the 3 of us she adapted to Lima the quickest of all: Sleeping from Taddy to London, playing all the way from Heathrow to Madrid & sleeping from Madrid to Lima, waking up in a very different World…
She is one of the reasons that we thought about trying it out here. It was an opportunity to “give it a go”, before she needs to go to school. It remains to be seen where we end up. Here, Blighty or elsewhere. Until I went full-time at work, I was at home most of the day with the Nipper, but since the New Year, I´ve seen less of her (due to my hours). People say that “they grow up fast” & by ´eck, they do!
Her Spanish is coming on much quicker than her English, mainly due to the fact that I am outnumbered by Spanish speakers so much here, but slowly/surely we are learning every single episode of Peppa Pig by heart!
O- On your marks!
When I first came to Peru in 2004 I was pretty fit. I’d trained really hard for a lot of years, but wanted to take a break from competition.
When I used to go out for a run, I wouldn´t see another runner, (apart from the one time I got involved in a sprint battle with the Police Academy! I’d already done about 6 miles & they were just starting. It was a case of not losing face against a hairy, lanky scruffy git jogging along the prom!) I did compete in one event. “The Lima Energym Treadmill Mile”, but it was a disaster…
Fast forward to 2016 & it seems that EVERYBODY is out running &/or doing exercise. In some of the more upmarket districts there are even jogging/cycling lanes, in Miraflores they shut down the main avenue to traffic on Sundays for cyclists & at “El Pentagonito” (a secret government building surrounded by a park) there is a measured 4km circuit, with runners, joggers & power-walkers/rangers at all hours.
The gyms are full & sportswear is everywhere.
After the Nipper was born my running took a back seat, priorities change. It went from the back seat, into the boot & then disappeared!
In April 2015 I set myself a challenge, get fit for the Lima Marathon in 6 weeks. Running every single day & clocking a knee-crunching 85 miles one week, I got to the start line semi-fit & lurched round in 3hrs 5mins, on a bloomin´red hot day. Then running stopped & never started again. My old trick of buying some new shoes didn´t work & with my work schedule as it is (excuses, excuses), I´m not sure when I’ll get going again. In a nutshell, I have become a lazy layabout, who needs a kick up the backside! Running has always been a big part of my life. Hopefully I’ll get back into it again one day…
Hmmm, what to say? The Police here are very different to those in England.
One of the largest Police Forces in Latin America (140,000), but less than the 207,140 (2015 figure) in the UK. Most of them here seem to be on their phones, or waving a fluorescent baton at the traffic lights (going against the lights & generally preventing any kind of movement whatsoever).
“Its mission is to preserve domestic order, public order, and national security, in order to enforce the law and protect the people of Peru. ”
A recent report stated the following: “Many police are eager to serve but do not have the training and equipment necessary to do so effectively. Morale is poor, pay is low, and corruption is rampant, which has created an overall negative image of the police in the minds of the populace. Police have been known to either solicit bribes in order to supplement their salaries or may readily accept bribes when offered. Police response to reported crimes is notoriously slow and in many cases, largely ineffective.”
In short, it´s not great & one is best avoiding the Bobbies at all costs.
It still riles me that they seem to do so little (& it shouldn´t do, but it does), or that whatever they do, they seem to not actually help situations. Take the Traffic Cop, who shot across 4 lanes of traffic (going in the wrong direction) to stop a Mini-van, who seemed to be doing nothing out of the ordinary. Meanwhile the whole 4-lane carriageway was brought grinding to a halt.
Part of me does think that maybe they do have bigger fish to fry.
I don´t know, it´s easy for me to criticize, and the entire population seems to think that they are useless, but like so many things here, with some changes, they could be infinitely better!
Not a chance in Hull! No way will you find any kind of P&Q, serenity or tranquility in this noisy madhouse. Traffic, people & music all have their volume knobs turned up to 11 (& snapped off). There is never, ever any kind of thought/consideration for others. Parties start late (midnight) & have speakers that would be too loud for most nightclubs, cars/buses/taxis blare their horns at all hours & punters shout, rather than talk. Workmen start digging at 7:30am & drilling well into the night. Neighbours are generally from Hell (mine are) & doors are SLAMMED all day & all of the night. It means that if you live in a block of flats, you´ll never ever get any sleep.
In a nutshell, if there is one thing that I fear will tip me over the edge here, it will be the noise! Give me a foggy, deserted Ilkley Moor baht´at any day of the week ?
R- Red tape:
Along with corruption, Red Tape is the foundation of Latin America!
A damning sentence if ever there was one, but sadly true. In a recent survey 72% of those surveyed said that corruption was an acceptable part of life in Peru. “Corruption oils the wheels” a friend once said. No corruption=no oil=no movement!
Red tape in almost everything means that menial, trivial or what one would (wrongly) imagine to be a simple task, is in fact an epic in paperwork & patience.
Suddenly you´re not going for a stroll up Catbells, but you´re actually soloing the North Face of the Eiger!
There is generally no way round it (unless you revert to the big “C” word mentioned a few sentences back. A bribe, a tip, a “present” or something to sweeten the transaction. Not my scene. Woe betide the punter who loses their ID, bank cards, (in a city where purses/wallets/bags are nabbed for fun!)
S- Shopping Centres:
Forget The White Rose, Meadowhall & even the Trafford Centre, they are small fry compared to the shopping city that is “Jockey Plaza” (located next to the Racecourse, 99% of punters don´t know what “Jockey” means). In my Junior classes students always vote it as No.1 attraction for young people, (families & all manner of eager consumers). The economic boom from overseas mining investment has changed things here. Whereas credit was hard to come by in the past, now the Banks are throwing it at you! (Warning bells ringing). An old lad selling sweets on the bridge can now get credit to buy a telly. The scandalous interest rates mean that he will pay off his TV 25 times over, but he can get a telly!
This means that there is a HUGE shopping centre on every corner. It puzzles me how they all survive (& they are rammed at all hours, always). Most have a cinema & restaurants & the same shops (all part of a big chain, especially the giant supermercados & DIY places).
Even the Nipper woke up one morning saying “Vamos!”
Where to I said?
“Jockey!” she replied…
I do confess to having overcooked this topic to the point of going insane, so I will keep it brief…
Lima is notoriously infamous for the limping, chaotic monster that is the traffic. It has to be seen to be believed & unless you work from home/never leave the house/own a helicopter, it affects EVERYONE! Rush hour can sometimes last all day, from 6am until midnight. It is beyond belief & the main reason that I know it so intimately is that I am part of it, every day.
I have analyzed it so much & can conclude that it is a sluggish mix of the three following ingredients:
Punters who have a “Me first, you, I don´t give a monkeys about you” attitude. Not everyone, but probably 99.9%. The fear of yielding one inch of space to another road user is unthinkable, therefore it seems/feels like a war, every day. Along with a complete lack of anticipation by everybody (I´m turning right, but I’ll stay in this far-left lane. At best drivers are erratic, but generally they are kamikazes, in a bubble.
On 2 wheels is possible to be assertive, but not aggressive (there´s only going to be one winner & it´s not the bloke wearing the helmet). It is hard work, emotional & absolutely draining. Every single day I think about selling the Clunk & getting back on the Combis, but on two wheels it is simply the quickest way to get about. Combis & taxis are a biker´s main enemy, but to be honest, everybody is out to kill you.
2) Design of roads:
It would appear that the streets were designed by a madman, after an Absinthe session, as an afterthought & generally suitable for a few horse & carts.
You will frequently (always) find a 10 yard slip road, on a corner/blind spot, next to a bus stop, sharing an entry with the exit. Confusing? Yes, in a violent way. Imagine trying to get on a moving Waltzer, whilst others are desperately trying to get off, you get the picture. Suddenly a 4-lane carriageway will go to 2 lanes with no warning. Vehicles are so ancient & knackered that people are always breaking down & blocking the road.
3) Volume of traffic:
Other cities have more traffic, London, Paris, Rome, etc…
However, at least the traffic moves there. Here is just doesn´t & often because the Traffic Police are working against the lights, trying to stop any kind of flow. Due to the economic boom, car ownership has grown tremendously & there are thousands & thousands more Taxis on the road. A vicious circle: People take a cab because the traffic is bad, the traffic is more than 50% taxis!(Driving extra aberrantly, all of them).
Add the Combis, buses, Coasters, trucks, vans & cars, then you´ve got a problem that is only going to get worse & worse, unless one of these 3 factors is tackled head-on.
In Colombia for example, registration plates ending in even numbers are allowed in the cities one day & odd numbers the other day. People here would just have two different plates (or buy a second car!)
The whole city is slowly but surely grinding to a halt…
When I first came here it was hard seeing all the abject poverty. Something that you never get used to. Seeing the same kids selling sweets on the buses day-in-day-out, you know that their life is going nowhere. No education leads to no proper job, leads to a serious social vicious cycle. Many people flocked to Lima when TV was introduced in the Highlands.
“The streets are paved with gold in Lima”, “Everybody has a Porsche & a pool in Lima”…
The truth is a long way from that! Nowadays the rich are richer & the poor are even poorer. It is a huge contrast & sometimes hard to swallow. The contrast is grimly & very publicly displayed in an area called “Las Casuarinas”.
A big mountain, with a towering wall. Huge mansions on one side, a ramshackle “Barrio” on the other. House values $5million on one side, $300 on the other. Two very different neighbourhoods sharing the same mountain. If you look in the streets you will see Porsches, Audis & Mercs, plus scores of big 4x4s, doing battle with Ticos & Mototaxis. A contrast, a very big contrast indeed.
On FULL, always! (See also “Quiet”)…
A positive point (at last!) I found a job very quickly, within 2 days in fact & from there I found a better job, in a place that I like. Nowadays it is essential to have a decent level of English to enter Universities, &/or to get a decent job. For this reason, English Teachers are in demand (especially Native Speakers & if you have any quallies, even better!)
The company I work for look after their staff, they throw 2 big parties every year (free bar!) You get a cracking Christmas Hamper & a few other little perks too.
The downside is the hours. It´s definitely not a 9-5. I start early & finish late, so I´m constantly frazzled/run down/sick, but it pays the bills, although you´ll never be a Millionaire, on a good day, it is the best job in the World!
I have awesome colleagues, great students, a good gaffer & work for a company that really look after you. It is a top place to work
(It could only be that or X-ray or Xanadu really!). The Nipper has a canny little xylophone (or is it a Glockenspiel?) which she loves hammering. Is she going to take after her musically ambitious (but hopelessly untalented) Old Man?
Also known as Cassava, a Manioc Tuber (!) One of many different types of vegetables/fruits/plants that I´ve never seen anywhere else. Yucca is especially good at sorting out dodgy guts!
Have you dropped off yet? Sleep? Here in Lima? Forget it!
So, that´s your A-to-Z of what I have learned so far in Lima. Some positive, some negative, nowhere is Paradise, but Lima is just a part of Peru & the rest of the country is very, very beautiful.
The big city has changed & I´ve changed. We´re both different to what we were in the heady days of 2004…
One day I might even get to escape Lima & see some of it, (& No, embarrassingly, I still haven´t been to Machu Pichu!)
Normal blog business will be resumed next Monday!
Have an awesome week.
Johnny, Lina & the Nipper