Karencita de Perú

Archive for the ‘Lima’ Category

As I walk around the streets of Lima one of the most obvious differences from what I had grown accustomed to in Vancouver is the architecture and the way buildings are constructed.  Apart from the fact that Lima is a much more historic city than Vancouver and many of the buildings are hundreds of years older, there are two principal differences that stand out to me.  As well, there are a few other interesting things that aren’t commonly seen in Canada.

First, the majority of the buildings in Lima have flat roofs as opposed to peaked roofs, as is common in Vancouver and most other parts of Canada.  This is because having a sloped roof to ensure that the snow and rain-water run off  isn’t a concern in Lima.  Lima is in the midst of a coastal desert and gets an average of 13mm of rain per year.  Vancouver has an average annual rainfall of 1117 mm!!

Another reason that homes in Lima are built with flat roofs is that they are often added on to after the original construction.  As children grow up and start to have families of their own, it is common to expand the family home so that the new couple can live with the parents, but have their own space in the house.   Lima is densely populated and there is no room to build to the side, front or back of the house, so they build up, adding subsequent floors as more space is needed.  This practice of adding additional floors to a house leads to one of the things that isn’t often seen in Canada which is that a lot of houses appear unfinished.  They commonly have pieces of re-bar sticking out of the roof  in preparation for the future construction.

The other major difference is in the construction materials used.  In Lima buildings are constructed with concrete, cinder block, brick and re-bar.  In Western Canada the most common building material for individual homes is wood.  Again, this is due to geographic location.  In Western Canada there is an abundance of wood so lumber construction makes sense.  Conversely, there are no forests immediately surrounding Lima and no lumber industry to speak of in Peru.

In a country where central heating and air conditioning are very rare, concrete construction has the benefit of good insulation.  In Canada apartment building are often constructed on the outside with concrete but the inner walls are still made of lumber and dry wall.  In Peru, even the inner walls are concrete.  This is good for sound proofing, but it does make hanging pictures a bit of a challenge.

Apart from the differences in architecture and building materials, I have seen some other things that have caught my attention.   One of those is the electrical wires in the street.  Lima has very few underground cables.  The majority are  above ground, attached to poles, as is common in the older neighborhoods of Vancouver.   However, what you won’t often see in Vancouver is the tangles mess or archaic cables that you will find here.  It is really quite a frightening sight.

Another thing that is more commonly seen here than in Vancouver is abandoned buildings or buildings where the construction has never been completed.  In some cases these partially constructed buildings sit empty, deteriorating from disuse.  But there is one building which always makes me wonder how it is possible that people can be living there.  It is in the heart of Miraflores, one of the nicest districts in Lima, on Avenida Benavides, a main street.  The building is obviously unfinished yet it is inhabited by many people.  Imagine trying to get an occupancy permit in a building like this in Canada!

The final thing that I have seen numerous times that always grabs my attention is a difference in construction techniques.  It is common to see wooden poles used as supports during the construction process.  In Canada supports are generally made of metal so the image of what looks like a bunch of sticks holding up pounds of heavy concrete somehow doesn’t seem very safe to me, although I’m sure they know what they are doing!


After a lengthy absence  from writing my blog, I am back.  Thanks to all my friends and family who have told me they miss reading my blog posts and that they find them interesting.  It’s nice to hear positive feedback.

Now, on to today’s post.  I recently had the very good fortune to win a contest here in Peru.  Many of you have probably heard of Groupon and may have even used it in your own cities.  I have been using Groupon for a while here in Lima and have gotten some great deals on restaurant meals, massages and even a Brazilian hair straightening treatment.  A few months ago I entered the “Verano Groupon” contest on-line (verano means summer in Spanish) and then promptly forgot about it until I received a phone call one day from someone saying they were calling from Groupon and that I had won a prize.  I was at first skeptical as there are a lot of scams in Peru, but after I did a little bit of investigation it turned out to be legit.   So I went down to the Groupon offices here in Lima to collect my prize… an all expenses-paid, luxury weekend for two in Lima.  Given that I already live in Lima it wasn’t as if I had won a luxury vacation to some exotic destination, but it did include 2 nights at the best hotel in town, meals at some of the finest restaurants, a private city tour, entry to 2 discotheques and a personal photographer to accompany us during all the planned outings.  Needless to say, I was very excited.

Last weekend we enjoyed our prize.  It started by getting picked up at home, which is only about 8 blocks from the hotel, and being driven to the Miraflores Park Hotel.  This is the best hotel in Lima and is part of the prestigious Orient-Express hotel chain.  From the moment I arrived it was very obvious why this is a 5-star hotel.  The facilities are lovely and the service is outstanding.  I often complain that it is hard to get good customer service in Lima, but I guess if you are willing to pay enough you can find it.

Apart from its luxury and good service, one of the most outstanding features of the Miraflores Park Hotel is its location.  As the name implies, it is located in the Miraflores district of Lima beside a park located on the Malecón de la Reserva.  The views from the 11th floor, where the pool and buffet breakfast are located, are fantastic on a clear day.  It’s a shame that Miraflores is often engulfed in a heavy fog or mist; however,  we were lucky enough to catch a few rays of sunshine lounging by the pool during our stay.

One of the things I liked most about the hotel was the lobby.  It is very large, with an extremely high ceiling and when you enter you are greeting by the most pleasant scent.  The Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde cocktail bar, found in the lobby, is very quaint.  If you want to enjoy a drink or just relax in a more spacious environment, there is a lovely seating area in the lobby which is richly decorated with books and interesting pieces of art.

I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to stay in such a luxurious hotel.  However, given the exorbitant prices of the rooms, I don’t think I’ll be staying at the Miraflores Park Hotel again anytime soon, as much as I would love to be able to.

Next time I’ll talk about the 3 restaurants we visited: La Rosa Nautica, Brujas de Cachiche and Junius.

Today was election day in Perú.  The elections are for the alcaldes (mayors) of each district as well the alcalde de La Provincia de Lima.   In each district, only the people who live in that district can vote for their local candidate.   However, everyone that lives in the Province of Lima votes for the Mayor of Lima.  The Mayor of Lima is the second most important person in government after The President, Alan Garcia.

The current Mayor of Lima is Luis Castañeda Lossio.  He is not running for re-election as he has already served two terms.  One of his greatest achievements is the completion of the Metropolitano transit system.

Interestingly, the top two candidates for the Mayor of Lima in this election are both women.  Lourdes Flores is the candidate for the Partido Popular Cristiano, which is a conservative Christian party and Susana Villarán is the candidate for Fuerza Social, a left-wing party.  Lourdes Flores had a large lead early in the campaign, but a couple of weeks ago she was involved in a wire-tap scandal that hurt her in the polls.  She gained back some ground this last week and the race is extremely close.

Unlike in Canada the elections here are held on a Sunday.  The polls open at 8am and close at 4pm.  Normally, the results are known by 7 or 8pm, but because the race is so close, as of 9pm tonight the results for the Mayor of Lima have still not been confirmed.

In addition to voting for their local district mayor and the Provincial Mayor, Peruvians are also voting on a referendum in this election.  The referendum is over a proposed bill to return Fonavi (Fondo Nacional de Vivienda) funds to the workers who contributed to it.  Fonavi was a national housing and infrastructure fund to which worker’s contributed from 1979 to 1998 but from which they never received any benefits.  The national government has indicated that if the bill passes they will raise taxes to pay for the program.  The big question is what happened to the funds they originally deducted from the workers!  With a sales tax that is already a whopping 19%, it seems insane that they are considering raising it as high as 22%.

Leaving aside the politics of the election, what I have found more interesting is the electoral process.   All Peruvians over the age of 18 years are obligated to vote.  Voting is mandatory and if you don’t vote you are fined.  Even if you are traveling abroad at the time of an election you are required to go to the nearest Peruvian Embassy to vote.  There are, however, some Peruvians who still do not vote and pay the fine, especially if they are not near the district in which they reside or a Peruvian Embassy at the time of the election.  Luis received a fine for not voting while he lived in Russia.

It is also mandatory to serve as a Miembro de Mesa (Member of the Table)  if you are selected.  The Miembros de Mesa are the people who work at the polls.  They check people’s identity, give them their ballots and then take finger prints after the ballots are deposited in the box as proof that the person voted.  After the polls close they are responsible for counting the votes.  As with voting, people are also required to pay a fine for not serving as a Miembro de Mesa if they have been chosen.  Unfortunately, Luis was selected when he was in Russia and was fined for that as well.

Finally, the strangest thing about elections in Peru is something called La Ley Seca (The Dry Law).  The law states that no alcohol can be served or sold in public places starting on the Friday prior to the election.   So the restaurants and bars are prohibited from serving alcohol and you can’t buy alcohol in any stores.   I can’t quite understand why it is necessary to stop people from drinking two days prior to voting, but someone must have had a reason for it.

Even with La Ley Seca in place, alcohol can still be found relatively easily.  On Friday night we took a stroll down La Calle de Las Pizzas, a pedestrian walkway flanked with bars and restaurants.  Some were abiding by the law, but a number were calling to customers telling them they could get drinks on the second floor.  We ended up going to Shehadi, a popular restaurant/bar across from Parque Kennedy on Avenida Diagonal.  We asked if they were serving alcohol, more out of curiosity than anything, and they said yes.  The waitress said it was worth it for them to pay the fine because of the business they would generate.  Also, the owner is American and apparently didn’t see the need to comply with the law.  So, we happily stopped for a drink with a few friends.   The surprise came when we received the bill.  They charges each person a S/.7 cover charge.  So in essence, we were the ones paying the fine, not the owner!

Rímac is one of the oldest districts in Lima and is part of the historical city center.   It is located north of the Cercado de Lima, across the River Rímac.  The district is accessed by a series of bridges, one of which is the oldest bridge in Lima, the Puente de Pierda, constructed in 1608. The Puente de Pierda joins the Jirón de le Unión pedestrian walkway located in the Cercado de Lima with the Jirón Trujillo, a similar pedestrian walkway in the Rímac district.

Today the Rímac district is one of the poorest areas of Lima.  It is run down and it can be dangerous.  However, due to its long-standing history there are many interesting and important historical sites to see in Rímac.

Along the Jíron de Trujillo, you will find the smallest church in Lima called San Jose del Puente.  In the 17th century it was an Inn, it later became a chapel and was finally converted into its present status of a church.  The church is bright pink on the outside and continues its brightly colored, ornate decor inside.

At the end of Jirón you will find the Iglesia de San Lázaro. It was originally constructed as a hospital and leper colony in 1562.  Throughout the years the small building was expanded and eventually became a church.

Rímac also used to be the home of the Backus company’s main brewery, which produces Cristal, one of Perú’s top two beers.  However, the operation was moved to Ate in 1990.

After winding your way through a number of not so pleasant streets, you will arrive at the Alameda de Los Descalzos (The Boulevard of the Barefooted).  The Alameda is well-known for its mention in the song “La Flor de La Canela” by famous Peruvian singer Chabuca Granda.  The Alameda de Los Descalzos is a World Heritage Site which has be reconstructed to its original design of 1856.

As you walk north along the Alameda you have a good view of the Cerro San Cristobal on your right.  The walkway is lined by a number of marble statues, many of which, unfortunately, have suffered from time, neglect and vandalism.

Two more historic churches flank the Alameda.  The Iglesia de Santa Liberata and the Convento Del Patrocinio.

At the end of the Alameda de Los Descalzos you end up at the Convent de Los Descalzos, after which the walkway was named.  The convent was constructed between 1595-1596 as a retirement home the Franciscan Order of monks.   The convent is now a museum which houses some 300 precious paintings of the Lima, Cusco and Quito Schools.    Guided tours are offered in Spanish & English and give you the opportunity to see, among other things, the cells of the monks, the dining room, the infirmary, the pharmacy, the bodega, and two old chapels.

Two other prominent structures in the Rímac district are the Paseo de Aguas and the Plaza de Acho.

The Paseo de Aguas was built by the Spanish viceroy Manuel de Amat between 1770 and 1776, in honor of his beloved Perricholi, famous Peruvian entertainer Micaela Villegas.  Today the structure actually doesn’t contain any water due to the shortage of water in Lima.

The Plaza de Torros de Acho is the bull fighting ring in Lima.  It is the oldest in the Americas  and the second-oldest in the world after La Maestranza in Spain.  The structure is composed of wood and adobe and has a seating capacity of 17,000.  Bull fighting season is in October and November in Lima during which time some of the world’s best bull fighters come to compete in the annual festival.

In the 5 months I have lived in Lima one of the things I have been very bad at is socializing.  Actually, other than through Luis, I hadn’t met any new people until this weekend.   However, I finally got the opportunity and took the initiative to make some acquaintances, which will hopefully grow into new friendships.

Friday night I went to a Women with Wine event.   As the website says, it is an informal group of women, mostly foreigners, that get together once a month at someone’s house to talk and drink wine.  I had found out about this group prior to leaving Vancouver and signed up on the website to receive information but didn’t hear anything until August.   They had an event in August but I couldn’t go as we already had plans for that night.  So, when I received the notice of the next event on September 24th, I made sure I was able to go.

The event was at a house not too far from where I live. Luis walked me there and picked me up afterward.   Each person brings a snack and a bottle of wine to the event, so there is lots of drinking and eating.  I made peanut butter cookies which where a great success.  Peanut butter is expensive and not very good here so there aren’t a whole lot of peanut butter cookies being baked in the kitchens of Peru.

In total there were about 25 women at the event from the U.S., Canada, England, Australia and even one girl from Taiwan.  The age range was from mid-20’s to mid-50’s with the average age being 30-something.  The length of time people have lived in Peru varied from as recent as 2 weeks up to 5 years.

It was so interesting to hear everyone’s story about why they are living in Peru, what kind of work they do here and their experiences living in what is considered a Developing Country.  The two main reason why most of the women are living in Peru are for work or for a relationship.   A lot of the girls have Peruvian boyfriends or husbands and the most common occupation is teaching English.  However, most people supplement their income doing other jobs.

Everyone was extremely friendly and willing to share their experience, knowledge and advise on any topic.  One lady, who has been here two months, told me about two very interesting organizations that she joined to help meet new people in Lima.

The first is called Lima Walks.  It is run by a man from Holland who has been in Lima for 2 years.  He gives guided walking tour of various districts around Lima.  The walks are on Saturday and/or Sunday and usually last 2 to 3 hours.  Each walk costs $10 USD.

I joined two of the ladies from Women with Wine to do the Saturday morning walk in the Rimac district.   I really enjoyed the walk and learned about a place I would have never ventured into on my own.  I also met some other foreigners who are living here in Lima.  Lima Walks is a great way to meet new people and learn about the city at the same time.  I plan to attend more walks in the future!

The other organization that my new friend told me about is called South American Explorers Club.  They have a clubhouse in Lima which, apart from providing travel information and advice, has weekly social activities.  I plan to attend an English/Spanish language exchange on Wednesday evening.

I don’t think I realized how much I missed socializing with people until I got a taste of it again.   If anyone ever moves to a new country, my first piece of advice would be to not wait so long to find groups and organization to join to meet new people.  Do it right away because it is important to be able to talk with people who are also foreigners in the same country and can understand what you are going through.

It must be a sign that Spring will soon arrive in Lima!  There is a flower and plant festival on this week in Parque Kennedy.  It is called la Tercera Feria Internacional “Perú Flora 2010: Flores y Plantas”. I went to check it out this afternoon.

The festival is a display of everything to do with flowers and plants.  You can buy plants and fresh-cut flowers, there are accessories and tools for gardening, home decor related to flowers and even books on plants and gardening.   In addition to the displays from the participating vendors there are a number of other beautiful floral arrangements on display.

On the main concourse in front of the Municipalidad (where we are going to get married) , there is an artistic display made of colorful flower petals.

Further along, in front of  La Iglesia de la Virgen Milagrosa, there are a number of interesting floral displays mounted on the lamp posts.

Next, you arrive at the main pavilion which has a mirrored front that provides an interesting reflection of la Municipalidad and la Iglesia.

Inside the pavilion you will find booths of floral displays, flowers and plants for sale,  patio furniture and gardening equipment, along with more floral artwork.

The remainder of the participants are located in booths spread throughout the park.  Like with most events in Lima there is a strong security presence in the park and as always they are working to ensure that the park is kept clean.

You can find a wide variety of plants and flowers on display including species from the desert, orchids and colorful hydrangeas.  Here are some of my favorite images from the feria.

Of course, not everyone is enjoying the flower festival in the park.  The cats have been quite disrupted, but they seem to be taking it in stride, especially when they get fed!

Mistura is an International Food Festival that took place in Lima from September 7 to 12.   This was the 3rd year of the festival, which began in 2008.   The festival features Perú’s top chefs and cuisine along with international guests.  This year’s guest country was Spain.

There was a lot of publicity and hype about Mistura here in Lima and, never having experienced it before, I thought it would be a good idea to go.  The tickets to enter cost S/.15 if you bought them ahead of time or S/.20 on the day of the event.  About a week and a half in advance we checked on-line but all the pre-sale tickets were sold out.  So, that meant we would have to buy tickets the day we went, which was last Saturday.

The festival was held in Parque de la Exposición, a large park in the center of Lima.  Tickets could be purchased starting at 10am on the day of the event at Centro Civico, a large mall near the park .  Luis works Saturday mornings so we didn’t arrive until 1:00pm.  When we got there I couldn’t believe it, the line to buy tickets was enormous.  It spanned about three blocks.    Had I known how long it was going to take I probably wouldn’t have waited, but after waiting for 2 hours I wasn’t about to give up and leave empty-handed.  In the end, we waited for 4 hours just to buy tickets to enter.  There were a lot of people selling reventas (scalped tickets) for S/.35 but Luis said they were not very nice people and that  we couldn’t be sure if the tickets were real… so we waited.

There were a few incidents in the line as the people became restless and the scalpers tried to enter multiple times to buy more tickets.  Finally they instituted a system of giving everyone in line a piece of pink paper that you had to show in order to enter to buy the tickets.  The crazy part was that they only had two cashiers selling the tickets.  This is one of the area where Peru really needs to improve… organization.  They are not very good at implementing systems and handling logistics.  There is no way that people should have had to wait in line for 4 hours to buy tickets for this event.  Hopefully next year they will make improvements to the system.

Anyway, after we finally bought our entrance tickets, we hopped on a shuttle bus that took us to the entrance.  We entered at about 5:30pm.  When we entered we could hardly move as there were so many people.  We had a map of the grounds and were trying to figure out where to go.  Food could be purchased in stalls, kind of like at the PNE, or in “restaurants”.  The food in stalls included Tradiciones (traditional food) and Cocinas Rústicas (Rustic Cuisine).   Rustic cuisine is cooked using a variety of methods such as Barril Cooking,  Caja China, Pachmanca and Pork on the Stake, as shown in the photo.

The restaurants weren’t really like sit-down restaurants but rather food provided by some of the top restaurants from around Peru, but still from a stall.  All the restaurants were located in two rows some distance away from the entrance so we decided to check it out in the hopes that it would be less crowded.

Now we waited in more lines.  First, we had to buy tickets to use to purchase food.  Tickets could be bought for S/.3, S/.6 and S/.12 and the price of food varied at each restaurant.  A full meal was S/.12, a half order, appetizer or dessert was S/.6 and drinks were S/.3.   This method of selling tickets in one place was probably a good idea so that each vendor didn’t have to deal with cash.  The line-up top buy the tickets actually wasn’t that bad.

The line-ups for the restaurants varied.  Luis was very hungry so we started out by going to the place that seemed to have the shortest line.  It was called El Tarwi and served food from the Andes region.  We ordered chicharrón (fried pork) which was served with camote (sweet potato), mote (large, whitish-colored corn), humita (a type of sweet tamale), canchita (crunchy Peruvian ‘unpopped’ popcorn) and cebolla con ají (onions with ají)  It was pretty good, but we were still hungry.

Next, we went to the place with the longest line-up.  It was called El Grifo and the people said that it was one of the best restaurants there.  We ordered Fettuccinis a la Huancaina con Lomo and Cheesecake de Toblerone.  We had to wait for about an hour but it was worth the wait.  The food was really good.  A very unique Peruvian style fettuccine and one of the best desserts I have had here in Peru.   While we were waiting in line we took the opportunity to try a Pisco Sour from Huaringas Bar.  They are supposedly famous for their drinks, each of which cost S/.12, a little expensive, but we got souvenir cups to take home.  The drink was really good and helped us relax after a long day of standing in lines.

By this point we were getting a little full but we still had a few tickets left to use up.  So, we ordered a Causa from La Preferida and Suspiro de Chocolate from La Huaca Pucllana (the restaurant where we got engaged).  We also tried a few more pisco sours in the Rincón de Pisco.

Apart from the Rincón de Pisco, there was the Rincón de Cafe and the Rincón de Chocolate.  These were pavilions that you entered and could try free tasters and buy various products.  In addition to selling all types of food and food products at the festival there were also demonstrations and shows at various times throughout the day.  We didn’t get to see any of those as we arrived late and spent the entire time either in a line to get food, drinking or eating!

Mistura is an interesting experience and a good way to try a variety of cuisines at a price this is less expensive than you would normally pay in a lot of the participating restaurants.  However, I definitely recommend you plan ahead, buy tickets in advance and be prepared to wait for your food and drinks!

Keeping my friends, family and co-workers up to date on my life and adventures in Perú!

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Miraflores in Lima Perú