Karencita de Perú

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.


Yesterday I decided to treat myself to an early birthday gift.  I spent a relaxing afternoon getting a manicure followed by a trip to Starbucks.  What’s interesting about this is the relative cost of these two items here in Peru.


A basic manicure  in Lima costs S/.8 or S/.9, which is about $3.25.  For this price you can get a solid color or a french manicure.  If you want something a little fancier, like drawings or designs, it is an additional S/.5 to S/.10 soles ($2 to 4).  I once had a manicure at a hair salon that cost me S/.20; however, it did  included a special moisturizing treatment for my hands which was quite nice.

The place where I went for my manicure is called Toque-X.   The first time I went there was for my wedding manicure a few weeks ago.  This place specializes in manicures and pedicures.  There are two floors with long tables packed with girls dressed in fuchsia & black giving manicures to their clients.  Both times I have been there the place has been packed.   The basic manicure uses Color Club nail polish.  If you want OPI it is an extra S/.5.  I personally don’t see the benefit of paying the extra as Color Club has a good selection of colors and seems to last just as long as OPI.

The manicure at Toque-X is quite thorough.  You can choose to have your nailed filed redondeadas (rounded) or cuadradas (squared).   After filing and shaping your nails, they clean up your cuticles  and give a quick, but relaxing hand massage.  The manicure includes a base coat, two coats of polish and a top coat.  After that you head of to the maquinita (little machine) to dry your nails for 3 minutes with air and UV light.

A basic manicure in Vancouver costs about $25, a lot more than the $3 you pay in Lima!  At that price, how can I not afford to go every few weeks.


After the manicure, with my nails still slightly tacky, I headed over to Starbucks.  I had planned ahead, taking S/.10 out of my purse and putting it in my pocket so I wouldn’t ruin my nails when I had to pay at Starbucks.  I normally order a vanilla latte which is S/.8 ($2.90) for a tall and S/.10 ($3.60) for a grande – not that different from the prices in Canada.

As I entered the Starbucks, I noticed that they had holiday flavors.  Holiday beverages are different in Lima.  There are no peppermint, gingerbread or eggnog lattes.  (Actually, there is no eggnog here at all).  The holiday flavors are Chocolate, Toffee & Caramel, Dark Cherry Mocha and Toffee Nut.  Well, how could I not try the Chocolate, Toffee & Caramel latte?  I had my S/.10 ready and ordered a tall as I thought the special flavor would probably be a bit more than the S/.8 cost of a vanilla latte.  When the guy told me it would be S/.11.50 I was shocked!  How could it cost S/.3.5 more just for a holiday flavor??  “¡Qué locura!” I said as I gingerly tried to extract my wallet from my pocket and get more money out without ruining my freshly manicured nails.  The cashier noticed my strange maneuvering and said “Oh, you just had your nails done!”.  Well, he actually said it in Spanish but that is the rough translation.  Anyway, I paid the S/.11.50 ($4.20) for my tall chocolate, toffee & caramel latte and thought to myself “this better be worth it!”.

I have to admit it was quite tasty, but as I sat there in the Starbucks I couldn’t help marvel at the difference in the price of a manicure versus a coffee.  My manicure was less expensive than my coffee!!   The girl in the nail salon spent 45 minutes doing my manicure and earned the equivalent of $3.25 while the barista in Starbucks took 5 minutes to make my drink, for which I paid the equivalent of $4.20.     Something definitely seems wrong with this picture!

Anyway, if you ever visit Lima be sure to get a manicure and be prepared to pay relatively high prices at Starbucks!

It’s Saturday, and as usual we spent the day running errands and doing the things we don’t have time to do during the week.  We got home about 7:30pm and were cooking dinner when we heard what sounded like a car outside in the street blasting its stereo at full volume, with the bass thumping.    The car seemed to be parked as the music never stopped.  “How weird!” we said.  Why would someone park in the street and have their music so loud, for so long without someone complaining.   A little while later we hard a lot of bulla (commotion) in the street.  Cars where honking and the traffic was backed-up on our street, which usually isn’t that busy.  When we looked out the window we saw that all the traffic was stopped and people were getting out of their cars and walking around in the street.  The traffic was at a standstill and nothing was moving.  Again we said “How weird! Something must be going on”.  So, we decided to go out and investigate.

We walked down Bolívar, the street we live on, toward Larco and soon realized that the music wasn’t coming from a car at all.  There was a live DJ on Larco with a large crowd gathered around.  It was then that we realized what all the commotion was… it was We Run Lima, a 10km run something like The Sun Run in Vancouver.   We had seen them assembling stages and big screens in Parque Kennedy earlier in the day, but didn’t realize that the run was today.  The strange thing was that it was at night, in the dark!

We stood on Larco for about half an hour and watched all the runners pass-by in their bright, florescent green t-shirts.  We were situated just past the 9th kilometer mark and the runners were on the home stretch, heading toward the finish line.  The house music being played by the very cool, geisha-like DJ blared in the street.   The atmosphere was energetic and the whole scene was quite spectacular.

The stream of runner seemed endless.  We later found out that there were about 10,000 participants in the run.  Not quite the 50,000 runners that participate in The Vancouver Sun Run, but pretty good for a country which doesn’t have the same focus on fitness and exercise.

The runners finally thinned out as the last few stragglers made their way toward the finish line.  All the streets had been closed to cars, hence the traffic jam on our street.  Oddly, before the last runners finished, they began to open up the streets to cars again.  I guess the bottlenecks were so bad they couldn’t keep the streets closed any longer.

We made our way toward the finish line, which was located near Parque Kennedy.   At that moment, when we saw the thousands of people milling around the finish line, we realized how lucky we were.  The finish line was located right outside the Municipalidad de Miraflores, where we got married the previous Saturday.  If we had chosen November 6th instead of October 30th to get married, it would have been a disaster!!!

A little further along, in the Ovalo de Miraflores, there was a huge stage and screen set up.  They were announcing the men and women who finished in the top 3 places.  Not surprisingly, the man who won (finishing in just over 30 minutes) was a 23-year old from Kenya.  The top placing woman, however, was a 35-year old from Huancayo, Peru.  Huancayo is a town located in the Sierra.  The high altitude forces the people to have strong lungs so they are able to breath the thin air.  I guess that makes them good runners because the 2nd place man was also from Huancayo.

One of the things I like about Lima is that there is always something going on in the city.  Even when there are large crowds gathered, the atmosphere always seem very fun and friendly.  Unlike in Canada, people here can drink open alcohol in the streets; however, this doesn’t seem to cause any problems.   This event was sponsored by Nike, which was very obvious by the check mark logos everywhere.  The run appears to have been very well-organized and managed, even if it was delayed by 2 weeks from the originally planned date.  Congratulations Lima for a successful event!

If you are at a restaurant or cafe in Lima and someone asks you what you want to drink your choices will be very different from what you would find in Canada.  Here is a description of the most common beverages you will find in Perú.

Gaseosas – Soft Drinks

Well, this one isn’t too different from what you would find in Canada.  You can usually choose from Coca-Cola and Sprite, as well as Inca Kola.

If you can get over the ghastly yellow color, Inca Kola really isn’t that bad.  It actually tastes a lot like cream soda and it even comes in ‘light’ for those watching their sugar intake.   If you are a lover of root beer or Dr. Pepper I am afraid you are out of luck.  Other soft drinks that you can buy in the supermarket, but that aren’t usually available in restaurants are Fanta orange and Canada Dry ginger ale.

Limonada – Limeade

Old-fashion lemonade doesn’t exist in Peru.  Instead, a very common drink here is what we would call limeade in English.  It is like lemonade, only made with limes instead of lemons.  Actually, yellow lemons are not common at all in Peru and are rather difficult to find.  The limes here are the small limes that we call key limes in Canada.  To Peruvians our large, green limes are very strange.  Limes are not only used to make limonada but are also used extensively in cooking, as a garnish and in tea.

Limonada is one of my favorite beverages to order when I am eating out.   It is a little more expensive than soft drinks, but somehow seems like it must be healthier, after all it is made with fruit.  You can order your limonada ‘a tiempo’ (room temperature), ‘helado’ (cold) or ‘frozen’.  Frozen limonada is like a slushy and always costs more.  Limonada can be ordered by the glass or in a jug, which serves about 4 people.

Chicha Morada

I have mentioned Chicha Morada in a previous post.  For those of you who don’t remember, it is a beverage that originated in the Andean region of Peru and is made from purple corn.  The traditional preparation consists of boiling the purple corn in water together with pineapple, cinnamon and cloves.  Once the preparation comes to a boil it is strained and left to chill.  Finally, sugar and lime juice are added.

Chicha can be ordered everywhere either in a glass or a jug.  As with límonada, you can order your chicha helada (cold) or sin helada (not cold).

Jugos – Juices

One of the best things in Peru is the fresh fruit juices.   While a glass a freshly-squeezed orange juice is hard to come by in Canada, here in Peru a wide-variety of fruit juices are easily found in cafes and restaurants.  You can order flavors that would be fairly normal to us in Canada such as orange, strawberry, banana, peach, papaya and pineapple  juice.  However, if you want to be more adventurous and experience something different there are many options.  You can choose from exotic fruit flavors such as guanabana, granadilla, lúcma, tuna and maracuya.

Juices can normally be ordered  in one of the following ways:

  • Basicos – one flavor of fruit only
  • Surtidos – a mix of 2 or more fruits
  • Cremosos – fruit con leche (with milk)
  • Frozen – blended with ice

Prices will vary depending on the place and the type of jugo you order but range they range from S/.5.00 to S/.9.00.   Juices with mixed fruits, milk or frozen are always more expensive.

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.

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