Karencita de Perú

Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

This is a continuation of my recent post https://karencitadeperu.wordpress.com/2011/04/02/the-life-of-the-rich-and-not-famous/.   The first part explained why I had the good fortune to live the “life of the rich” for a weekend and focused on the Miraflores Park Hotel.  However, also included in my prize from Groupon were 2 dinners and a lunch in some of Lima’s finest restaurants.

The first night we went to La Rosa Nautica.   This restaurant is consistently ranked among the top choices for fine dining in Lima and I have wanted to go there since my first visit to Peru.  I have heard many differing opinions about the place from people who have been there, but I wanted to form my own opinion.

The evening started with getting picked up at the hotel and being driven to the restaurant, along with our personal photographer.  Before we even entered the restaurant there were a ton of great photo opportunities.  The location and architecture of La Rosa Nautica is one of the most charming things about it.  It is a Victorian-style building located at the end of a pier above the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean.   To get to the entrance of the restaurant you walk along a lovely pier, which is adorned with gazebos and shops.

When we arrived at the restaurant, to my surprise, we were ushered to a private room, with a single table just for us!  The room was nicely decorated with windows that open to the ocean below.  We had two waiters just to serve us.  If we even looked in their direction they asked us if there was something we needed.  Needless to say, the service was outstanding; however, my experience doesn’t really allow me to judge the service under normal circumstance, when we aren’t being treated like “VIPs”.

Of course, the most important thing about a restaurant is the food.   To start, we had a seafood platter that included parmesan scallops and ceviche – two of my favorite seafood dishes in Peru.  It was delicious.  For the main course, I had chicken in an ‘agridulce salsa de sauco‘ (sweet & sour elderberry sauce) served with puré (mashed potatoes).  Luis had a white fish (can’t remember the name) served with roasted baby potatoes and vegetables.  For dessert we tried the creme bruleé and lucuma-mousse filled crepe with chocolate sauce.  The food was nicely presented and pleasing, although I have to honestly say it was not the best meal I have had in my life.

What made La Rosa Nautica special for me was the ambiance and the service and that alone is enough to go back for.

The next day, after our private half-day city tour, we were taken to Brujas de Cachiche for lunch.  This was my second visit to this restaurant.  The restaurant is located in Miraflores on the Ovalo Bolognesi in an interesting, old wooden building.  What’s interesting about the architecture of the building is that it has a peaked roof, something that is very rare in Lima, where the majority of roof-tops are flat.  We didn’t have a private room this time and were seated in the main dining area, which is glassed-in patio that has been added to the main structure.  It is bright and airy, with an elegant yet casual feel.  Apart from the main dining area where we ate, there are other rooms for private parties and the AQUELARRE Bar.  Attached to Brujas de Cachiche is the popular Bar Huaringas.

The service in Brujas de Cachiche is very good, but it couldn’t compare to our personalized service the night before.   However, where Brujas stands out is in its food.  The menu is vast and offers an abundance of typical dishes from all regions of Peru.   I started with Tuna Causa and Luis had Anticuchos.  For the main course, I had one of my favorite Peruvian dishes, Ají de Gallina.  However, my favorite part of the meal was the dessert… Suspiro a la Limeña.   This is a traditional Peruvian dessert which is basically a base of manjar blanco (otherwise known as dulce de leche) topped with meringue.    Warning:  this dessert is extremely sweet and rich, so it may not be to ‘ taste, but I love it!!

Our last meal was a dinner show at Junius in the Double Tree Hotel in Miraflores.  The dinner consisted of a buffet of typical Peruvian dishes.   The food was good and there was a nice selection of cold dishes, hot dishes and desserts.  However, the real reason to go to Junius is for the live folklore dance show.  The show begins at 8pm, and features traditional dances from all regions of Peru, the Coast, the Sierra and the Selva.  The costumes are colorful, the music is excellent and the dancing is fantastic.  The show demonstrates the profound depth of Peruvian culture with its Incan, Spanish and African influences.

For me, the outstanding performance of the night was the Scissor Dance.    This dance comes from the South Andes region of Peru.  It features male dancers who hold two loose scissor shears in their hands which clash together in a hypnotic rhythm while they are dancing.  The dancers, accompanied by melodies of violin and harp, dance in turns in a sort of competition.  When it is the turn of the dancer, he tries to outdo the steps of the previous dancer.  As the dance progresses, the difficulty increases with each “round” as the dancers display their strength, acrobatics, flexibility and imagination.   It is definitely something that all visitors to Peru should see.

Christmas will soon be here and I am excited about spending my first one in Peru.  It has been interesting to observe how the city has been transformed leading up to this important holiday.  I was surprised when Christmas decorations started showing up in the stores and it wasn’t even Halloween yet.  I thought starting to promote Christmas spending that early was only a North American thing, but it happens here as well.

The stores are filled with ornaments of every color and style, although a silver-colored Christmas tree skirt has alluded me.  As I didn’t have any Christmas ornaments I got to start from scratch and design my Christmas tree in whatever color scheme I wanted.  I choose silver and purple.   After a bit of trauma trying to find white lights that didn’t blink, we finally got the tree decorated and it turned out quite nicely.

In public spaces throughout the city elaborate Christmas displays have been appearing over the past few weeks.  One of the most prominent ones in Miraflores is the large Christmas tree in the middle of Ovalo Miraflores, in front of the department store Saga Falabella.  They spent several days assembling the tree and last Saturday as we were walking by we saw that they had all the streets around the Ovalo blocked off and were setting up chairs in the street.  We asked what was going on and they said it was for the lighting of the Christmas tree.  The whole event appeared to be sponsored by Saga Falabella.  The strange thing is that I don’t think the tree actually has lights so I am not sure what they actually meant by “lighting the Christmas tree”.

Another place that is nicely decorated is the touristy mall Larcomar.   Close to our house, the Atlantic City Casino has transformed the outside of the building into a quaint Christmas village complete with snowmen and fake cotton snow!

I have been a bit surprised at how commercial Christmas is here in Peru and how many of the customs and symbols of Christmas from Europe and North America they have adopted.  In Plaza Norte, the largest mall in Lima, they actually had a Santa Claus for the children to visit.   This is not a typical Peruvian tradition and has been copied from the North American custom.

There is one very strong Christmas tradition here that we don’t celebrate to the same degree in North America which is the Nativity Scene.  Almost every home and business has a Nativity Scene here.  They come in a variety of different sizes and styles and, in addition to the human figures, usually include a number of animal figure.  In some homes the tradition is to wait until midnight on Christmas Eve to place baby Jesus in the manger.

It’s a bit strange not to have cold, snowy weather yet to see all the traditional symbols of Christmas everywhere.   However, even with the warm, sunny weather there is the feeling of Christmas spirit in the city and I am glad to have the opportunity to experience different Christmas traditions with new family and friends.

Last night we went to a birthday party for Luis’ sister.   Well, as Luis kept telling me it wasn’t una fiesta (party) it was una reunion (gathering or get together).  Whatever you want to call it, there are some differences here in how birthdays are celebrated.

Like with weddings, things get started rather late.  The party, I mean gathering, was at Luis’ parent’s house where Kelly (his sister) and her husband live on the second floor.  The guests, Kelly’s friends, started arriving about 9:00pm.

Everyone was seated around the living room drinking Gran Borgoña, a type of sweet wine that is produced here in Peru, and eating piqueos (appetizers).  Music was playing and people were chatting.  As time went on and more wine was consumed the conversations became louder, along with the music.  Eventually, a few people started to dance.  Dancing at home during social gatherings is very common here.  It is a big part of the culture.

Eventually, at midnight dinner was served.  We ate pollo a la brasa (roasted chicken), arroz a la jardin (rice with little bits of carrots, corn and peas) and ensalada (salad).   Something I have noticed here is that people often don’t use knives when they eat, just forks.  For me, this makes things, like a chicken breast, somewhat difficult to eat… especially with my plate on my lap instead on a table.  People here are used to it and have developed refined skills in eating without  a knife.   I need more practice!

After eating a round of Pisco Sours was served and finally the cake arrived!  As in Canada, the tradition is to light the candles on the cake, dim the lights and sing happy birthday to the birthday person.  Interestingly, they always start by singing Happy Birthday in English (even if a person doesn’t speak English they seem to know the words to Happy Birthday) followed by a version in Spanish.  The Spanish version is to the same tune and goes like this…

Feliz Cumpleaños a ti, Feliz Cumpleaños a ti, Feliz Cumpleaños (name of birthday person), Feliz Cumpleaños a ti.

Cumpleaños feliz, te deseamos a tí, Cumpleaños felices, te deseamos a tí

After the candles were blown out, the birthday girl gave a little speech thanking everyone for attending and sharing this special day with here.  Then there was more drinking, chatting and dancing until about 3:30am when things finally wind down and people head home.

One other different thing is how gifts are handled.  In Canada people normally open their presents with all the guests there so that everyone can see what the birthday person got and the birthday person can thank the guests for the gifts.  Here presents never seem to get opened.  For me it is kind of strange.


I’m going to take a break from writing about our trip to Cusco and Machu Picchu and write about the process of getting married in Lima.

Getting married in Peru is not easy.  There are way more requirements than getting married in Canada and each province or district has its own rules.  Before we decided on which district of Lima to get married in we looked at the requirements for practically all the districts.  There was always something slightly different for each one.  In the end, we decided to get married in the district of Miraflores where we live.

The requirements for a Peruvian to get married in Miraflores are as follows:

  • original birth certificate that has been issued within the last 3 months
  • Medical Exam
  • D.N.I (national identity card) – original and copy
  • Sworn affidavit of marital status and residence

The fact that I am a foreigner and divorced complicated matters even further.  My requirements as a foreigner are as follows:

  • Original birth certificate that has been legalized by the Peruvian consulate in the jurisdiction in which it was issued, then legalized here in Lima by the Ministry of Foreign Relations and then translated by an official translator
  • Passport – original and notarized copy
  • Medical Exam
  • Divorce order that has been legalized by the Peruvian consulate in the jurisdiction in which it was issued, then legalized here in Lima by the Ministry of Foreign Relations and then translated by an official translator
  • Sworn affidavit of marital status
  • Pregnancy test (because I have been divorced for less than 300 days)

So, what steps did we have to take to gather all these requirements?

  1. When I was in Canada I had to get a new birth certificate because my original one was too old.  I ordered it online from vital statistics in BC and they mailed it to my before I moved to Peru.
  2. I had to get my divorce order from the Court registry in Vancouver and have it notarized there.  Then I had to take it to Victoria to have it authenticate by the Ministry of the Attorney General of BC.
  3. I took both the birth certificate and divorce order to the Peruvian Consulate in Vancouver and had them legalized.  Luckily I was in Canada and could take the document to the Consulate personally.  I have read stories of people who want to get married here that have to courier their documents back to the Consulate in their home jurisdiction to get them legalized there and then have them shipped back to Lima.  That would even be a bigger hassle!
  4. Once in Lima we took my birth certificate and divorce order too an official translator.  This translator works with someone who took the documents to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for us to have them legalized.  You can do this yourself but it involves traveling there, waiting in line, leaving the documents and returning the next day to pick them up. It was much easier to have it down by someone on our behalf.  Once the document were legalized, the translator translated them and affixed his official seal.   At this point the documents look somewhat like a decorated Christmas tree as they have stamps and seals and official signature from a least three different places.
  5. Then we had to go to the Ministerio de Salud at Av. Enrique Palacios Nº 938 to get my pregnancy test.  Rather than being the usual urine test it was a blood test.  They took my blood one day and I had to return the next day to pick up the results.  Of course, the result was negative!
  6. Next, we had to take my passport and the two affidavits of marital status to the notary.  As with the pregnancy test, we dropped them off one day and picked them up the next day.
  7. Luis had to get a new birth certificate as the requirement says it has to have been issued within the past 3 months.  It took us a while to figure out where we had to go to get this as you have to get it from the district in which you are born.  Luis was born in La Victoria so we made a trip there to get the birth certificate.  Thankfully it was available right away and we didn’t have to return the next day.
  8. Finally, the last step was to get our medical exams.  We had to go to a specific  Centro Médico Municipal for this located at Mariano Melgar Nº 247 Santa Cruz Miraflores.  We went in the morning and got another blood test (this time for HIV) and a very brief medical consultation.  The medical exam was really something of a joke.  The doctor asked a few questions about if I have any illnesses, looked in my eyes, listened to my breathing and that was it.  They didn’t even take our blood pressure or anything.  Anyway, of course, we had to return the next day to pick up the results.

Once all this was completed we finally had everything ready to take to the Municipality to get our Expediente Matrimonial. This “Expediente Matrimonial” sounds pretty formal but to be honest its just a blue file folder.  They open a file, put your name on it, take all your documents, put them in the file and enter some data into the computer.  However, in order to get the Expediente Matrimonial you have to go with your documents and two witnesses.  We were delayed a little because Angel, Luis’ cousin who was supposed to be his witness, got sick with pneumonia and was  in the hospital so we had to find another witness.  My witness was Luis’ sister and his witness ended up being his brother-in-law.   The witnesses are not allowed to be family, but they don’t seem to check this very closely.

Finally, I thought we were going to be able to select the date… but oh no, not yet.  We had to take this document with all our information on it to a place to have the Editco Matrimonial published.  The Editco Matrimonial is the equivalent of banns in Canada and is usually a requirement of the church, not the state.  It was published in a newspaper called La Razón (The Reason) on Saturday and we had to make sure we bought a copy of the paper (we bought 2 just in case!) because on Monday we had to take the entire page with the announcement back to the Municipality to FINALLY be able to choose our date.

Our wedding will take place on Saturday October 30th at 6pm at the Concejillo in the Municipalidad de Miraflores.

So, how much did all this bureaucracy cost:

  • S/. 75 ($27) – new birth certificate for Karen
  • S/. 84 ($30) – authentication of divorce order
  • S/. 193 ($69) – $34.50 x 2 for legalization of birth cert and divorce order by Peruvian Consulate in Vancouver
  • S/. 83 ($30) – legalization by Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Peru
  • S/. 95 ($34) – translation of birth cert and divorce order
  • S/. 28 ($10)– notary fees
  • S/. 15 ($5.35)– new birth certificate for Luis
  • S/. 15 ($5.35) – pregnancy test
  • S/. 78 ($27.85) – S/. 39 x 2 for medical exams
  • S/. 48 ($17) – expediente matrimonial
  • S/. 35 ($12.50) – edicto matrimonial

For a grand total of S/. 749 ($267), just so we can could get to the point where we were able to choose a date and start planning the actual wedding.  The cost for the use of the Concejillo, where the ceremony will be, is another S/.570 ($204) and then there is the reception, dress, rings, flowers, photographer, decoration, etc.  Stay tuned for more details!

Machu Picchu is an amazing place that everyone should try to visit at least once in their life.   Even with the multitude of tourists it still has a very tranquil and peaceful atmosphere.

Getting to Machu Picchu takes a bit of work.  From Lima you first have to fly to Cuzco.  At this time there are no direct international flights to Cuzco although they are building a new International airport there which will eventually have direct flights from the U.S.  The flight from Lima to Cuzco is only about 1 hour.   The next step is to get from Cusco to Aguas Calientes, the closest town to the ruins.  The most common and advisable way to get to Aguas Calientes is by train.  There is apparently a road that eventually gets there but it involves a number of buses and other modes of transport and is not very safe.  There are two rail companies – PeruRail and Inca Rail.  PeruRail is the most well-known and is the one we took.  The train leaves from either Poroy or Ollantaytambo.  Poroy is about a 30 minute drive by taxi from Cuzco and Ollantaytambo is an hour and a half by bus.  We left from Poroy and returned to Ollantaytambo.  The first train leaves from Poroy at about 6:45am which means a very early morning to get to the station on time from Cuzco.  Once in Auguas Calientes you have to take a bus up the mountain to the ruins.  They run very frequently and it takes less than a half and hour.

Machu Picchu is very large and there are lots of things to see and learn.  You can choose to “do-it-yourself” and explore the ruins at your own pace or, if you prefer something more organized, there are lots of guides at the entrance offering guided tours.  We opted for the guided tour which lasted about 2.5 hours.  It was not expensive and worth it as they explain a lot about the history, architecture and culture of Machu Picchu.

When you enter the site you start by climbing up a set of stairs until you reach the first point where you catch a view of the historic city of Machu Picchu.  It is truly amazing and takes your breath away.

Exploring Machu Picchu involves a lot of climbing up and down stairs, some of which are quite narrow and steep.  The Inca liked to build their cities as close to the sun as possible so they are often located high up on the steep mountain side.  If you want to climb even more you can make the trek up to Huayna Picchu, the tall peak the stands out above the city, where the Temple of the Moon is located.  The trail gets crowded quickly and is limited to 400 people per day so you have to start quite early.   The view from the peak is apparently amazing!  We didn’t do it as we didn’t have time.  Another hike that is popular is to climb up to Intipunku, also known as the Sun Gate.  This is where the Inca Trail ends and enters Machu Piccu.

Machu Picchu was built around between 1400 and 1450 at the height of the Inca Empire.  It was abandoned just over 100 years later in 1572 at the time of the Spanish Conquest of the Inca Empire.  The site was re-discovered in late 1800’s and brought to the attention of the work in 1911 by American historian Hiram Bingham.   The site received significant publicity after the National Geographic Society devoted their entire April 1913 issue to Machu Picchu.  In 1983 Machu Picchu was declared a “World Heritage Site” by UNESCO and is one of the most treasured historical sites in Peru.

Even with its international importance Machu Picchu is on the watch  list the 100 Most Endangered Site because of environmental degradation resulting from the impact of tourism and uncontrolled development in the nearby town of Aguas Calientes.  There are a number of rules that visitors are supposed to follow while in the site such as no food and water in non-disposable bottles only, but these rules are not strictly enforced or followed.

Next time I will talk more about the buildings and the details of the site.

As the former capital of the Inca Empire, the population of Cusco today is largely indigenous.  In many areas both Spanish and Quechua are spoken.  Quechua is the language that was spoken in the Andes at the time of the Inca and today there are still some people in the region who only speak Quechua and not Spanish.

The indigenous people of Cusco maintain their traditional style of dress, which is very colorful and charming.  Skirts are commonly worn by the woman and they have their hair in long braids topped with a bowler hat, a tradition that began in the 1920’s.  Clothing is made from cotton and wool of alpaca and llama.  The tradition styles of dance and music continue to be very important parts of the culture in Cusco.   A lot of Andean music uses the panflute, which is made from aquatic reeds found in many lakes in the region.

The primary industries in Cusco are agriculture and tourism.

In the Andean zone, they cultivate potatoes, maiz (corn), Quinua, Cañihua, Kiwicha (types of grains) and Olluco ( a root vegetable like a potato) .  In the valley, where the climate is warmer, they cultivate fruits, alfalfa and eucalyptus. In the high and low forests, they cultivate bananas, yuca, coca, sugar canes, coffee and cacao.  Along with agriculture there is a lot of livestock including cattle, sheep, goats, llamas and alpacas.

Cusco is a very touristy place as anyone going to Machu Picchu has to pass through the city.  There are numerous hotels, hostels, restaurants, tourists agencies and souvenir shops in Cusco. Many elders and children from the rural areas come into the city with their llamas or baby lambs and try to make money by having their photos taken with tourists.   It costs one sol to have your photo taken with them.  There are also people on the street trying to sell hats, sunglasses, purses and bags, water-bottle holders and a variety of other tourist-oriented merchandise.

Some of the local cuisine in Cusco includes cuy (guinea pig) and alpaca.  I tried both when I was there, although it was Luis that ordered these dishes.  Cuy actually tastes quite good, but there are a lot of little bones which makes it kind of tedious to eat.  Also, the fact the it comes served with the head and legs still attached makes it a little off-putting.   Surprisingly, cuy is quite expensive compared to other types of meats.  The alpaca was tender and tasted neither like chicken nor beef.  It was also quite good.  Below is the cuy and alpaca that we enjoyed while in Cusco.  I have a picture that shows a close-up of the head of the guinea pig where you can actually see the little teeth and whiskers, but I will spare you the graphic details.

Something that stood out to me in Cusco was the number of dogs.  There seems to be an unusually high dog population in the city.  No matter where you are you will see dogs strolling down the street or sleeping in the sun.  They also like to chase the cars as they drive by.  I couldn’t really tell if the dogs belong to people as pets or if there are just a lot of strays.  I suspect it is a little of both.  In the hills outside the city there are sheep farms and the dogs are used to help herd the sheep.  Interestingly, I didn’t see one cat in Cusco!  The little puppy on the right was playing with another older dog and was very cute.   The dog on the left was enjoying the early morning sun at the foot of the stair leading up to the cathedral in the Plaza de Armas.

On Sunday we went to a place called Chosica to visit some relatives of Luis.  It is actually a district of Lima called Lurigancho-Chosica and it’s located about 2 hours from where we live in Miraflores (where the ‘X’ is on the map).  Lurigancho-Chosica is one of the biggest districts of Lima, however, it is much more rural than the districts closer to the city center.

The weather and climate are very different in Chosica.  It is much less humid and there is more sun.  Because of the good weather, a lot of people from Lima go to Chosica on the weekends to relax and get away from the city.  Chosica is known for its recreation areas.  There are a number of parks and camping centers where you can go to relax and have some fun.  They have swimming pools, volleyball courts, soccer pitches and games for the kids.  In addition, you can rent parrillas (grills) and have a BBQ.    You can also camp overnight in tents.  We are going to plan another trip to Chosica one weekend for a little R&R.

On this occasion, however, we went with Luis’ mom and sister to visit his aunt and uncle.  Well actually, it isn’t really his aunt and uncle, I think it is his mom’s cousin and her husband but Luis calls them his tios (aunt & uncle).  They live on the side of a hill and we had to hike up a ways from where the taxi dropped us off.  This is a picture of Luis with him mom and sister.

A great thing about the people of Peru is that they are very hospitable.  They welcome you into their home with open and arms and always want to feed you a lot of food!  We had lunch at the home of tio Elias and tia Dionysia.   Gelatina (jello) is eaten a lot here, but rather than being served as a dessert it is often served first, before starting the meal.  We started with some pineapple jello.  Then we had an entrada of tamalTamal is a tradition food of Peru consisting of a mixture of boiled corn with meat or cheese, all wrapped in a banana leaf.  It’s usually eaten for breakfast or as an entree with lunch.  It’s served with onion sauce –  a mixture of onion, yellow pepper, vegetable oil, lime  juice, salt, pepper and cilantro.

For the plato de fondo (main course) we had Pollo a la Estufa, which is chicken in a sauce with vegetables served, of course, with potato and rice.  The food was delicious and we enjoyed it with a some red wine.  Here is everyone giving a toast before eating our tamal.

After the meal, tio Elias played some traditional musica criolla on his guitar which was very lovely.  Luis’ mom loves this kind of music and Luis’ remembers as a child that this his uncle would always play the guitar in the evenings when he lived with them for a time.

As I mentioned, their house is located on a hill.  When you exit the back door you can climb straight up the side of the mountain.  After lunch we took a little hike up the cerro (hill).  Lima, while subtropical, is actually located in a desert and the hills are pure rock with very little vegetation.  This has the unfortunate effect of creating a lot of dust.

The view from the hill was nice, although there was a bit of mist in the air so it wasn’t completely clear.   However, it was nice to see the sunshine for a while as it is a very rare occurrence these days in Miraflores!

It was a very enjoyable day and I had the opportunity to see an area of Lima very different from where we live in Miraflores.  The lifestyle of the people who live outside the city is more tranquil and there are not a lot of luxuries, but the people seem happy which is really what matters most!


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