Posted by: mw23 | September 26, 2009

Danger Taxi

I had the pleasure of waking up my driver en route today.

I’ve become accustomed to calling Santiago (my regular driver) in the evenings to make sure he can pick me up. He often neglects to come and I end up foregoing precious minutes of my free time! Needless to say, he did not pick me up today.

I got a taxi for 10 soles which is about $3.70. I pay Santiago the same, but generally when he doesn’t pick me up I pay 12 soles (~$4.50).

Falling asleep at the wheel is not an uncommon habit of Lima’s taxi elite. Most of the taxi’s you find will be driving with music blaring and windows cracked. This is a common “stay awake” technique employed by drivers working more than they ought to (I gander I encountered one driver who worked at least an 18 hour day – he only charged a whopping 8 soles ~$3.00).

“How to taxi in Peru” Checklist

  1. Stage 1: Choose your destiny
    • You must first determine if you would like to get ripped off by a “taxi seguro” Secure Taxi or wager your life at hailing what I would like to coin, “taxi peligroso” aka Danger Taxi.
  2. Stage 2: I choose Danger Taxi (always adventurous right?)
    • For this mission you must leave the grocery lot, bus station or airport thoroughfare. You must make your way to the busy streets and avenues of Lima, ward off the insistent hails to jump on the combi’s buzzing by and find yourself a taxi worth a gamble.
  3. Stage  3: Evaluate your options:
    1. Evaluate roadworthyness of the car. (variable, start by hailing worthy candidates) Avoid taking the cheap little yellow taxi’s fueled by propane tanks in the back seat. These are likely to explode when rear ended – first casualty, yourself.
    2. Evaluate the roadworthyness of your driver (2-3 seconds) which includes, but may not be limited to:
      • Check for bloodshot eyes (aforementioned 20hr champion definitely failed this test)
      • Check for “Shady” factor – I always look them right in the eye and make a quick judge if their a swindler. This is perhaps the most important test of all.  (Express Kidnappings)
      • Check back seat and trunk space for blankets concealing wood-be assailants.
      • Personally, I avoid the taxi’s that have cages around the driver… it just feels suspicious like I couldn’t fight him off if he locked the doors and abducted me.
      • Also an important aspect in this checking phase is to keep an eye on other traffic and make sure neither you, nor your taxi get’s hit by any unruly drivers who may be swiftly whooshing by with their horns blowing. This is because your taxi is likely stopped in the middle of the street.
  4. Stage 4: Barter your trip (3-5 seconds)
    1. Establish Destination:  If the driver and car pass your quick quality check, you must now tell the driver your approximate destination.
      • It’s important here to gage your driver’s knowledge of the road, often has no no idea where you will be going.
      • If going long distances your driver may not even say anything and just drive off to leave you standing in the street.
    2. First Proposal: Allow for the driver to think and make an initial proposal (make sure to make mentionings of how fast or easy it will be to get there)
    3. Counter Offer: 9 times out of 10 the initial offer is high and the driver will try to justify it for a variety of reasons (it’s early, it’s late, there’s lots of traffic, it’s too far) often though they simply start with the Gringo-rate and you’ve got to barter them down.
      • At this stage too,  you may lose the driver who will speed out from under your nose, again leaving you standing in the street.
    4. Acceptance! If everything goes well you’ve accepted your cab and hopped in. Take note of unpleasant surprises like the pungent smell of gasoline or propane or worse, nauseating urine.
  5. Stage 5: Survive the journey to live another day (for me 25-30 min btw home and office)
    1. Stay attentive: You must keep watch for the route your driver takes and make sure he doesn’t meander down any dark alley where his friends are waiting to mug you.
    2. Weigh the pro’s and con’s: I often find myself in a dilemma of “To lock the door or not to lock the door”. Firstly, I get concerned that locking the door may actually trap me in the car, and make me prime candidate for an express kidnapping. On the other side, it’s good to lock it to prevent eager thugs from pulling you from the cab and kicking the crap out of you.
      • This too is backed by a story from Santiago where he mentioned a group of thugs surrounded the car and had attacked both him and his passenger. He mentioned he got the hell out of there, but oddly didn’t mention anything about him saving the day for his client either. I didn’t ask.
    3. Close the deal:
      • Pay with exact change, almost never use large bills.
      • Check your change, drivers often try their luck at short-changing you.
      • Check for counterfeit bills (they will always check yours – today I exchanged a 20 note for a 10, I laughed when both him and I were duly inspecting each other’s cash!)
      • Jump ship! It’s important to note, other than with Santiago – I tend to get out a block away from home. This is to avoid the dangerous habit of catching a cab who takes note of where you live and decides to make a nasty plan to ransom you off later.

And there you have it! Another colourful reason why life in Lima is just so damn AWESOME.

Posted by: mw23 | August 22, 2009

Disaster Zone

This is the scene of a Breakfast Gone Wrong

For those who don’t know, breakfast for me is a terribly crucial part of the day. A good hearty cereal, fresh cool milk (usually skim) and often a tea or a juice. This is what gives me the energy to conquer the day. Without it, I am known to be cranky, irritable and constantly complaining about my hunger!

On Wednesday of last week I ran out of milk. Crisis obverted because I had all the time and ingredients needed to make a spur of the moment Omelet, complete with ham, veggies, and Texan hot sauce… the works! That night when I got home from work, I whisked off to the Wong to do a little shopping, get some tea, lunch items and of course milk! (Thankfully my shopping was not accompanied by the ‘Happy Birthday Song’)

Sometimes I wish I had a camera with me at all times. In Peru, you have two choices usually. Do you want your non-refrigerated milk canned in a 6-pack or in a disconcerting bag? Sorry for the few who caught my ‘bag-o-milk’ status update on FB the day of, but hopefully this post provides a minute of entertainment none-the-less.

Milk is a funny thing, if you think about it too hard, it really isn’t our most appetizing tradition. But that’s why its presenation and delivery are so important. The thought using a can opener to pour milk into my cereal bowl really doesn’t float my boat. Thankfully, my aunt usually buys ‘light’ bag-o-milk packets which oddly enough taste close to normal. When I hit the milk isle in the supermarket I spent a good 10 min perusing each type available. To my dismay, I couldn’t find the kind she usually picks up!

I had to make a rash decision and I had rationalized to myself that ‘Leche Evaporada’ might actually be the closest thing to skim milk on the shelf. I was desperately trying to avoid picking up whole milk… the prospect of plopping that gulag into my cereal bowl was repulsive!

When I woke up Thursday morning and was rushing to skedaddle out of the house, I snipped the top off from the bag I had refrigerated the night before and poured it into the milk jug. My world instantly came crashing down and… it needed to be documented. The scent made me gag! It smelled like some kind of funky cheese and had a pale yellow tint to it.

Long story short, I captured my sentiment via a 5 min photo shoot which includes a note to our maid pleading for her to please purchase the milk that my aunt normally buys, culminating into frowny face. I think I should mention that amidst doing the lightning preparations for the shoot, I had started to dash through the kitchen to get my camera and I had to stop in my tracks and quickly devour a piece of bred. I’m not sure if it was the hunger or the lingering scent of the evaporated milk, but I almost had to puke in the sink…

This, unsurprisingly, was just another day in Perilous Peru.

Posted by: mw23 | August 22, 2009

¡That’s more Peruvian than a potato!

Welcome to my newest feature! The following will be the beginning of a catalog of some of Peru’s most famous and most mundane things which can only be described as, Peruvian

So you may be thinking, “Ok  Mike why is this so interesting”? And I agree, it really isn’t that interesting, but this little bag of chips was my inspiration for this story just over a month ago. I arrived early to work and had to wait for someone to get to the office to open it up. I decided to go to the gas station for a snack and Felipe arrived just in time for the photoshoot.

Living in Peru provides a constant reminder that everything is just a little different here. Right down to your potato chips. I for one, have never encountered a multi-coloured potato before. I mean I’ve seen yellow, orange and purple before but never all in the same slice!

Little did I know, after a little research, I’ve discovered a number of sources which suggest virtually all modern potatoes can be genetically traced back to one area in southern Peru. There’s even a saying, “That’s more Peruvian than a Potato”!  (Wiki for the keen)

The ancient cultures of Peru revered the potato as a vital part life and archaeologists have dated Peru’s domestication of the plant to 8000-6000 B.C. (Interesting article on how Peruvians freeze-dried toxic potatoes!) . Amazingly, it’s perhaps thanks to the post-modern Peruvians that we had potatoes to fuel working class Europe through the ages. Potatoes were brought back to Europe in the 1500’s by the South American explorers. Everything after that is history! You might even say Europe would never have survived the middle-ages or industrial revolution without a little help from the Inca! And god knows I’d never have made it through childhood without grandma’s potato perogies myself!

Today Peru produces these little tubers to the tune of 3000+ different species. This little bag of colourful chips demonstrates how really unique they are.

All that’s left to say now is: It’s Peruvian, it’s the best!

Posted by: mw23 | August 10, 2009

Would you like everything with that?

Today, my worst fear came true: I forgot to make a lunch in the morning.

Wow blog explosion!

I needed to share this because I had a very Peruvian experience just now at lunch. I left to eat Chifa today at a place Mark took me which I give 3 out of 5 stars to. It ranks at the top of the local Chifa joints.

I sat down and ordered a Limonada Helada. After the waiter confirmed with me about 4 times that I said Limonada Helada… I was able to peruse the menu. A key challenge in a Chifa restaurant is to make the correct guess as to what you’re ordering. Most of the menu items are listed in spanishs-ised chinese dish names. I decided to not gamble today… I learned not long ago gambling in Perú, sucks.

I asked the waiter, “¿Que plato tiene pollo con verduras?”. He may or may not have looked at me like I had two heads and was breathing fire from my nose… He had to ask his manager to help me.  I repeated the question. The manager said oh, ‘this one’ has chicken and vegetables in it. He pointed to option #1. I ordered it.

My frozen lemonade came and the waiter decided to get fancy while pouring the drink into my cup. He lifted the jug higher and higher away from the table until he jittered and spilled both in front of and behind the cup. I laughed, how could I not!

I sat and contemplated life a bit, and drank the lemonade, which seemed to have about a full cup of sugar in it. My meal finally arrived, complete with the usual, salty chicken egg-fried rice in one bowl and the entrée. Now when my eyes gazed on this special sight… I wasn’t sure where the chicken was but there sure was a mound of something sitting in-front of me, including every single other type of edible meat on the planet.

Let me describe this dish for you: It was complete with beef, pork, shrimp, seaweed, kelp, little hard boiled bird eggs, mystery bad tasting mushrooms, normal mushrooms, bok choy, onions, superabundantly salty sauce and yes finally I discovered the fried skinned chicken underneath the pile of other meats.

Yes, everything mentioned above was legitimately was on that plate. And yes I said bird eggs. They are small… and come not from a chicken. I might even venture to say it’s entirely possible that guinea pig also made it into this foray of protein inspired culinary excellence.

It was not appetizing, in fact I hated it. The ridiculously sugary lemonade sucked and so did the salty protein aftertaste that I had in my mouth as I walked back to work.

But the moral to the story is, life is really way too hilarious to be having these experiences alone! I wish someone else could have seen all this with me… hah!

Posted by: mw23 | August 10, 2009

Life is about mini-victories

This blogging was spured on by none other than the nasty and persistent Telemarketer (o en español, la televentadora). Yes I am at work right now, but it’s ok to take a 5 min personal victory break!

There is a long distance phone company that keeps phoning us named, Convergia. Now this week both Miguel and Mark are off to Brazil for a telecom tade show, so I’m king of Castalia Perú till friday.

My phone rang while I was skyping with BBC in London. Which in itself was a mini-victory. I called someone who usually never answers my calls, and she actually picked up! I really didn’t know what to do with myself at first! Needless to say I was trying to take advantage of the time and discuss as much as I could. That’s when the hard line rang and I just knew it would be Convergia!

I let it ring and ring until I finished with London on skype but for anyone who knows me, I have the damnedest time trying to stay on track with a conversation if there’s any kind of overbearing background noise. (phones ringing, pots and pans clinking, ambulances buzzing by… if these are going on while you and I are talking, I get completely lost!)

So I briskly finished with London and picked up the lan line and said, ‘Hola Castalia Communications’ ^_^

And she did her typical blab, “¿Hola, puedo hablar con señor Mark?”. I immediately asked her, “¿Está convergía, no?” and she said yes. I was just so annoyed at this point, you have to understand they’ve been calling for what seems to be every day for the last 2 months! So I cut her off while she started her sales pitch for the millionth time about how much money she wants to save us and I said, “Señora, por favvvvor… Dejar de llamarnos. No puede llamarnos cada dia. Es increible no?”.

She replied talking about how she sent an email to Mark and this and that, so I told her yes, we got your email and we will talk about it and WE will phone YOU or if absolutely necessary, call us on Friday and speak to Mark. She then understood I was really unimpressed with her pusshy telemarketing sales tactics and said, “Disculpe señor, disculpe. Le llamo al viernes.”

I hung up.  But I was really, really happy that I had a complete conversation with her in spanish. It was a spur of the moment type of thing and I’m happy to know that when in a crunch, I can say what needs to be said.

Poco a poco lo aprenderé! Little by little I’ll learn this thing!

Posted by: mw23 | August 10, 2009

¡Un Acuerdo!

I think I’ve consistently had lots to blog about, but I’ve just been directing my energy to some other projects as of late.

I’m going to make a schedule now and being successful with anything requires that you first set attainable goals!

With that said, I’m going to commit to blogging once a week. If I blog more, great… why not! But this way I wont feel guilty about not blogging everyday!

Stay posted! I’ll try and figure out the best ways of keeping this alive mi promeso!

Posted by: mw23 | July 7, 2009

¡Fotos!

No, you are not hallucinating. I actually posted pictures. Many have seen these already on Facebook, but for the less avid users, you can find the albums via the links below (even if you don’t use Facebook).

-M23

Downtown Lima

A day with Mark and Denise in the heart of Lima.

We also went to the up the hillside to catch the view from the top. To the SouthWest: Lima, to the NorthEast: Shanty Town.

Also, I got ripped off by the hut at the top, she gave me a warm water with a cracked seal… haha great day in Lima!

Location: Lima, Perú

Work & Home in Lima

Castalia Communications, Latin America regional distributor of BBC World News my work

and Lima my … current home.

Location: Miraflores, La Molina – Lima, Perú

Lima Fish Market

Went for a true Peruvian experience. Denise’s family invited me over and I went for an EARLY morning trip with Mark and her dad to the fish market 8AM Sunday morning.

The market it out in a shady area of town, very unique experience! Lots of commotion, and many sights, and smells to take in.

Food was fantastic, nothing like a good cook off from the sea.

Location: Lima, Perú

Hacienda de los Caballos Pasos

Los Caballos Pasos (Peruvian Paso Horses).

Known for their smooth ride, bred to be ridden for extended periods of time, these are the Peruvian Paso horses.

We went to a Hacienda south of Lima to experience the horses, the dancers, peruvian food and of course Pisco Sours… The picture of the horse head, was me while riding it lol.. it was exactly as novel as it sounds.

Location: Hacienda, South of Lima, Perú

Posted by: mw23 | July 2, 2009

Combi Mojo & Blog Backlog

Hola compañeros,

I have a bit of a backlog of things to talk about regarding the perils of transportation in Peru.

First off, for those who read my IPOD love affair, I need to let you know I consistently forgot to bring my ipod a long with me to work since I wrote that entry… until Friday that is!

Friday June 26: I must say, that combi mojo is hard to come by.  Some days I seem to full of it, every combi in the city just cant wait for me to get on their rickety bus. There are other days, like Tuesday, where I just cant seem to catch one! I stood where I usually do and tried to hail one of the 10 combi’s flying by in the morning… each one zooming on past. My combi mojo was at an all time low, but at least I remembered my ipod again! Eventually I caught one and listened to my pseudo classical playlist on the way to work. I kept my wits through Vivaldi’s four seasons but by the time Enya popped in, she put me right to sleep. I woke up in an unknown land with streets and parks I’d never seen before. I sluggishly murmured to the cobrador “Donde esta La Molina?” he replied, “Ya pasé!!” then he banged on the door and told me to jump out. I did a 360 pivot on the spot to get my barrings, I had no idea where I had ended up, only that it was 8:30 and I WOULD have been to work on time had I got off at La Molina Avenue! It worked out,  I caught another combi and got to work by 8:45.

Monday was a national holiday in Peru. I went to the coast to tour the Lacomar with my aunt. They have a sizeable robotic elephant that walks on its own for kids to try… have you ever seen something like that before, un believable! Anyhow, we had suhi and drank ample amounts of Pisco Sour.

Tuesday: There was a city wide transportation strike and there wasn’t a combi in sight in the morning. Even cabs were scarce but I managed to grab one. He charged 20 soles ($8)  to get to La Molina. I was already late so I jumped in. I ended up at work at 8:20 and José didnt get to the office until 8:45 so I had to wait outside. I opted for stretching and practicing Taekwon-Do in the park. Great stuff!

Wednesday: Took a taxi again, my combi mojo was quite weak again, and the Taxi driver (Señor Santiago) only charged 12 soles ($4.50) so I said sure. We had a healthy chat about things on the way to work and I’m beginning to get the idea my spanish is making significant improvements! I got to work at 8:20 again, and I’ve started to wonder if my overall quality of life would improve dramatically by taking a taxi every morning… spending 2.5hr every day in a Combi tends to suck the soul out of a guy. Stay posted, I may take this up as a habit. I have Santiago’s number and may schedule morning rides with him!

Thursday (Today): Opted for the combi again. And again, I passed out but to a Russian band called Notwist instead of Enya haha. I awoke to the cobrador pushing on my arm telling me to get out of the combi again. I was having a bad flashback at this point but there was something different about this time. The combi was stopped on the side of the road and he was telling everyone to get out. Did I mention that this combi was noticeably MORE decrepit than the standard issue? Seems like thursdays are bad days for my combi mojo, last thursday we had to stop every 10 min to close the back door that kept flying open while driving. Anyhow, I had heard that the combi kicks everyone out from time to time, but this was a first for me. It was fairly smooth, we all caught another combi and went back on course.

Not sure why I insist on blogging my transportation woes, but they really form a big part of a guys life… considering he spends at least 2 hours every day in transport. I need a new solution!

PS: I have some new blog-ideas in the works. A new feature called “It’s Peruvian, it’s the best” will be launched soon. AND I’ve posted pictures on facebook! Stay posted, Perilous Peru wont disappoint!

-MW23

Posted by: mw23 | June 24, 2009

Familiar Music in an Unfamiliar Place

Clearly not a peruvian side walk... but this really conveys my message

Clearly not a peruvian side walk... but this really conveys my message

Well well I’m back at it. Only a small hiatus I promise! Sometimes I still feel like I’m blogging despite not actually doing so, I actually think about things to blog about all the time… It’s mostly how I spend my combi rides.

I figured instead of ‘needing something great to blog about’ I could just post my thoughts for the day.

I’ve started to venture out into this perilous world with a good friend of mine… named Ipod, complete with the engraving “MWW 23”, a present from my mom years long gone. This piece of technological wonder has made it with around the world with me, it’s tagged along to and fro, here and there, watched me drink bottle upon bottle of wine in Italy, camped out with me in Denmark and braved all my other perilous adventures (even to the Motherland Russia!).

From sub zero during a winter skate at sylvan to ultra violet skin scorching temperature on the Spanish coast, it’s been right there happily working away. I never imagined now it would come to save the day again in a far off land, but this time mean so much more to me. I’ve at least temporarily replaced my Peruvian loathing with sounds that have gone with me everywhere. Since turing my ipod back on, I’ve gone so many places, although places I’ve already been, they’re just as good as ever before… my memories are like scenes to one grand production and no matter where I go they’ll always come along with me!

I realized today that now while I walk down the broken, pot hole filled Peruvian side walks, I can do so with a musical swagger. Deteriorated segments of the so-called concrete are just part of the big obstacle course that is every day life. Who knew listening to familiar music in an unfamiliar place would be so liberating?

-M

Posted by: mw23 | June 15, 2009

Quakes and Quaker Oatmeal

¡Hola a todos!

Housekeeping: A number of perusers of my blog have asked if there’s a way

Quakeliscious

Quakeliscious

to set up auto-notify for when new posts happen. I’m pretty sure you can do this… how, I don’t entirely know. I use Firefox and google, so as far as I can tell, while on my blog there should be an RSS feed icon in the top URL bar, where you can add this as an RSS toyour own google reader. I will look into this in more detail, please feel free to send me a note if you know a good way to help set up email notifications!

On to the fun!

Peru was perilous as ever today, this morning I woke up after a third go at hitting the snooze button and stumbled around a bit before making it to the kitchen. My aunt had wonderfully made some Quaker oatmeal this morning complete with bananas and brown sugar. I also poured a glass of pineapple juice and added a teaspoon of Maca . (español) , now that I’ve researched what Maca really is, I need to clarify that the spanish Wiki is far more pro-Maca for its nutritional benefits haha. Maca comes from a jungle root in Perú that my spanish teacher (who is from Iquitos in the Jungle) suggested I take to help battle Montezumas Revenge. Hilariously enough, the english article suggests it’s best used to increase your libido …! Anyhow, I’d like to report, I’ve won the battle with Montezuma.

Back to reality, I happily munched down the warm oats and drank my maca piña and then proceeded to make a fantastic sandwich for lunch today. I made a tuna baguette with the whole nine yards, Dijon mustard, bell peppers, onions, dill pickles, cheddar cheese, lettuce, cucumber and tuna with oregano and other spices. It was a sandwich to behold. I also eagerly put a bag of banana chips and a poweraid with the lunch. Yes, they’re exactly like potato chips, just with bananas. I like to pretend they’re healthier, but the most definitely are not…

Anyhow I finished that up, and went to brush my teeth. My aunt just got into the elevator when I noticed something funny. At first I thought I was dizzy or something but then I realized the floor was shaking all around me! I stopped brushing immediately and watched everything on the bathroom counter sway back and forth. I couldn’t believe it! My first earthquake! (4.7 Richter) My next thought was “Oh crap! Don’t get into the elevator!” But my aunt was already perilously trapped in the deathbox. She survived, and so did I. I then headed for the combi and off to work.

I forgot my sandwich, banana chips and poweraid.

~ Just another day in the danger zone

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