Friday, August 26, 2011

Getting To Know Barranco: Ocean, Hipsters & Colonial Buildings

Barranco is one of the most picturesque and interesting neighhboods in Lima. It is nice and safe but chic and grungy at the same time. Barranco is located between the neighborhoods of Chorrillos to the south and Miraflores in the north.

The district of Barranco dates back to the 1800s but there was settlement here along the coast as early as the 1500s. Barranco is at the same time historic and gentrified and young and vibrant.

I always think that Barranco reminds me of the East Village in New York City or East Berlin. The people here in Lima say Barranco is very bohemian. If you come here looking for a place to live know that bohemian does not mean cheap. Barranco is known to be a semi-pricey place to live in Lima.

Some of the more famous sites include the puente de suspiros (bridge of sighs), bajada de los baños, and the main plaza with the church.

Many of the streets have are lined with graffiti and the streets are filled with kids riding skateborads. The attitude here is young and hip. Have a coffee and enjoy. This is the place to watch the sea, enjoy the hipsters and chill out.

A good Spanish-language resource for Barranco is the following: 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Earthquake in Peru: My first sismo en Lima

Today the ground moved, literally when an earthquake struck Peru (sismo). It happened just before 1pm Peruvian time (1pm CST). 

The earth moved once while I was at my desk talking to one of the administrative assistants. She asked, ¨Was that an earthquake?¨ I responded, ¨I think it is¨ and at that time another tremor struck. We could feel the ground shaking beneath our feet and chairs and the desks and furniture in the office moved.

We all followed quickly and efficiently the predetermined evacuation route. Luckily for me, (not for them) Peruvians are used to tremors and quakes. I have experienced a couple of earthquakes in Costa Rica but this was my first one while living in Peru. We all evacuated to the main plaza on campus (USIL) where you see the large ¨S¨that stands for zona segura or safe zone.

We in Lima were quite distance away from the epicenter of the quake in Pucallpa which is located along the Peru/Brazil border. But we still felt the tremors. The phone lines were overwhelmed for a few minutes. The best way to send and receive information was via facebook and twitter. Social media proved to be invaluable to both find out and convey information. 

The experience was a shock but a good learning experience for what to expect the next time we experience a quake here in Peru.

Monday, August 22, 2011

College Filmmakers Screen In Lima, Peru.

Tonight I was invited to a very important film screening. This was the National Short Film Festival for university students in Peru. 

Of the five finalists…one of them, “Morgana”, was produced by students from my university the USIL (Universidad San Ignacio de Loyola). It tells the story of a pregnant woman who is abandoned by her boyfriend. Her daughter has medical problems and Morgana is forced to become a hired assassin to pay for her daughter’s healthcare.

Tonight’s event, the second annual competition, took place in the very luxurious UVK Larcomar cinema in Miraflores.

 The voting took place online and a jury of filmmakers selected the prizewinning short. The winners took home 10,000 Soles and a new Sony camera.

You can view the five finalists and other student films in the competition by clinking on the link below.

The winning film was “Culpas” the story of domestic and sexual abuse in the shantytowns of Lima.  All of the films conveyed real experiences and emotions as seen through the eyes of the student filmmakers.

I was pleased and honored to have been a part of this experience. It is possible I was sitting among the next generation of great Peruvian filmmakers. I encourage you to take a look at each of these films.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Lost City Of Machu Picchu: 100 Years Later

Peru is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the discovery of Machu Picchu this year. It seems strange to celebrate the 100th anniversary of pre-Columbian ruins but we have to keep in mind it is the rediscovery by Yale University’s Hiram Bingham. The ruins of the city stand at just under 8000 feet above sea level in a tropical mountain forest. I visited the majestic city of the Incas two years ago.

The ruins are impressive. They are breathtaking. Overwhelming. Words really do not describe the feelings the structure evoke in a person.

Experts debate what purpose the buildings served. Many claim they served as a retreat and sanctuary away from the capital city of Cusco. You can read Bingham’s work  “Explorations in the Highlands of Peru” as a free download from Project Gutenberg (
Most people daytrip from Cusco (as opposed to the nearby Aguas Calientes or the extremely, extremely expensive hotel on the sanctuary). It is a three hour trip each way from Cusco on the train and later a short bus ride. Some people hike the 43 kilometer Inca trail from the Sacred Valley to Machu Picchu. I did not. The train is an incredible experience. You are descending from the nauseatingly (in my opinion) high altitude of Cusco.

I believe that Machu Picchu is a once in a lifetime experience. It is something you will never forget. It is expensive. From Lima you should plan on spending $500 per person for transportation and hotel. This does not include food, additional tours in the valley or additional excursions.

An interesting note: The Spanish conquerors never found Machu Picchu; so Spanish writing never mention the site. You will never forget a visit to the overwhelming and breathtaking ruins of the Incas. It almost sounds trite to say this, but it is true: This is one of the most mystical and intriguing places on the planet.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

A Visit To Cusco: Capital of the Incas

Just the name Cusco conjures up images of mysticism and unknown wonders. Cusco was the capital of the Incan Empire when the Spanish arrived in the 1500s. You can see buildings which were constructed by the Incan Empire and the built upon by the Spanish. Very often in Latin America the Spanish conquerors would merely take a local building or site and make it their own. That is why you can literally see colonial buildings on top of indigenous construction.

From Lima to Cusco roundtrip airfaire costs about $200. You can travel slightly cheaper on a bus but it takes about 24 hours each way. Cusco is known as an expensive city in Peru. Tourism brings higher prices.
According to Cusco’s elevation is at 3,400 meters (11, 200 feet). Let me tell you from personal experience…I felt every bit of the altitude. That is why locals will offer you coca leaves to chew or in a tea to drink. This is a local remedy to help with altitude sickness.

I was dizzy for a couple of days but then my body rebounded. There is so much to see in Cusco and the surrounding Sacred Valley. You will find most tourists and tourist-oriented business in the Plaza de Armas and central part of Cusco.

This is a great city for walking but it is steep and many of the streets are made of stones. So, walking can be a little difficult. Many local residents will pose for photos but you will be expected to tip them. 

Tourism is the driving force behind the economy here and Cusco will not let you forget it. I mean this in both positive and negative aspects. For better or for worse you will also feel like a tourist and often in prepackaged experiences manufactured for you.

Cusco is also the starting point for a trek (3 days on foot or 3 hours on a train/bus combo) to Machu Picchu. Cusco lived up to its storybook images. It is difficult and expensive but worth the visit.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Design For Social Change

I believe in social change through communication, design and art. That is why I want to use my small place on the web to help some friends who are developing Peru´s first International Art & Design Graphic Conference with the focus that design can be an agent of change. These folks are my friends and colleagues at the Universidad San Ignacio in La Molina, Lima. 

Not only do I want to help publicize something for my friends, I would like to help promote art and design as ways in which we can change the world for the better.
The department head of Art & Graphic Design, Rita Vida, and the department´s program coordinator, Rafael Vivanco, have teamed up to bring together artists and designers from 9 countries(ranging from Lebanon to Germany to Brasil)  to provide seminars and workshops on the topic in the Lima suburb of La Molina on the USIL campus.

All the events take place September 14-16, 2011. If you are interested in attending the symposiums or any of the workshops you can check them out online at or call (in Peru) 317-1000 extension 3250 or 3251. Prices for the workshops start at 30 soles.

I am not very gifted as an artist, but I do appreciate the communicative power of artistic work. I plan to stop by and take part if they will let me. If you don´t speak Spanish don´t worry many of the organizers and participants speak English and other languages.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Polvos Azules: If you want it they got it

Polvos Azules roughly translate as blue dust o blue powder. I don’t know why it has that name and I don’t care. This place rocks…trust me. I don't like to shop but shopping here is fun...and slightly sketchy. You feel like you are in one of those movies where some kid comes up to you saying "Mister I got what you want" He has no idea what you want but he does probably have it.

You will think you have died and gone to counterfeit heaven. It is the market in Lima where anything is possible. My favorite items to purchase in the market are CDs, movies and TV shows. The prices are cheap and the selection is wide. 

You can buy a CD with 200 plus songs in MP3 format for $0.90 and each Movie or TV Show will cost slightly more than $1 per disc (A season of a TV show will have multiple discs). They really do have almost everything. I have very rarely asked for an artist or show that they don’t have. If they don’t have it…they will find it for you.

You can buy “designer” clothes and handbags and name brand shoes that cost a fraction of the price of the real thing.

I do warn you about the video games and the Rosetta Stone programs…so far no luck in making those work. It is a shame too…as you can buy all five levels of a language in Rosetta Stone for 30 soles (about $11). I will keep asking about those programs.
Here you can also buy computer equipment, fix a watch or unlock a cellphone. You can really get almost anything in this market.
Some people will tell you that Polvos Azules is dangerous. I would not say that. I do think you should watch your valuables and not flash your money or phones.

The market is on the Via Expresa near downtown Lima. All the taxi drivers know how to get there. 

Good luck and happy shopping!