Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Visiting Chiclayo: A happy accident

Chiclayo is one of the most interesting cities in Peru that you have never heard about. Chiclayo is a relatively small city (but the 4th largest in the country) with a population of more than half a million. It is a coastal city in the far north of the country.

Chiclayo is a relatively calm city. It has a notable downtown and amusement park. People here are very friendly and treat tourists well. The city is famous for its food, particularly is duck with fried rice. The famous ruins of Sipán are also nearby.

You can visit Chiclayo in bus (approximately 12-15 hours) or fly a domestic airline (1.5 hours) from Lima

I had the unique experience of flying into Chiclayo on an international flight, although the city does not have an international airport.
I was on a flight from Miami to Lima. Our plane had serious mechanical trouble (they say we lost an engine) so we all got a two day vacation in Chiclayo. 
They could not give us our luggage as Chiclayo did not have a customs agent (the government had to bring in a special immigration officer to process our entry into the country) so we spent our layover buying T-shirts and pants and underwear at the open market. 

Every trip is a learning experience.  Chiclayo is definitely not on the Gringo Trail but worth seeing if you have the time. Take a spare change of clothes...just in case.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Plastic Bottles & Street People

It seems as though I am surrounded by a sea of plastic bottles everywhere I turn in Lima.

Everyone recommends I buy bottled water (unless I boil the tap water first) which comes in plastic bottles. Soft drinks and many juices also come in plastic bottles.

I feel like I am using too many plastic bottles here in Lima. I try to reuse the bottles as much as I can.

I have asked several different folks how I can recycle...and everyone seems to have the same answer. I am supposed to put the bottles in the trash and let the street people collect them for resell. Maybe I will put them in a separate container and make it easier for them. I wonder what the neighbors would think.

-- Desde Mi iPhone

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Carné de Extranjería in Peru: My Personal Experience

Today I became a resident of Perú. I received my carné de extranjería or my residency ID card to live in Peru.

The process was long and time consuming and I do not really like the photo, but I sure am glad to finally have my card. The carné (also called carnet) allows you to open a bank account, obtain credit cards/mortgages, and purchase cell phone service. It essentially affords you the right to live a complete life while in Peru. The most common ways to obtain one are through employment or marriage.
I began the process in June (with the attorney and staff at my employer) which included filling out and notarizing several documents. Then eventually I received a stamp in my passport that allowed me to sign contracts.

We filled out more forms and paid many types of processing fees along the way. There was also a lot of hurry up and wait. Sometimes I would wait for weeks at a time with no news. Then I went to Interpol (I thought this was the most complex and form-filled part of the process) and they sent off a background check to the FBI in the US.

After about three and a half months in the process I was allowed to go to a very non-descript government building and fill out more papers and pay more transactions but I left with my shiny new ID card.

The website Expat Peru has a very good explanation of the process at the following link.

I do not pretend to be an expert and I did have a lot of help. I can only convey my personal experiences.
I am very pleased to finally have all my documentation and my residency ID card. 

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Visiting Machu Picchu: Travel Tips

My friend Krissy Morrow recently visited me from Austin, Texas. She took a trip to Machu Picchu and has some really good tips for visiting the sacred city of the Incas.

Getting to Machu Picchu
Traveling to Machu Picchu will require at minimum
  1. One hour plane ride or 24 hour bus ride to Cuscu 
  2. 3 hour train ride to Aguascalientes/ or 1.5 hour ride in colectivo (minibus) and 1.5 hour train ride
  3. 30 minute bus or 1 hour walk up mountain to Machu Picchu.  

Option 1:  You have a ton of money.   Get the tour package.   Everything will be handled for you.   Make sure hotel is nice and has heat in Cusco and is not near center of town in Aguascalientes  (it’s loud there)
Option 2: cheaper option.    Use tour agencies to buy air tickets, train tickets from ollantaybayo, and tickets to machu picchu with tour (the latter two you only need to buy in advance during busy season). You will need to buy on your own: transport from airport to cusco (take a bus), hotel in cusco  (or ollantaybayo), colectivo  (minivan) to ollantaybayo and back, bus ticket up machu picchu  (unless you want to walk up and down),    hotel for the way back (in cusco if you have an early flight back.
Option 3:  If you have lots of time and are on a budget, there is a 24 hour bus ride to Cuzco.   You save about half on airfare.   Take only the luxury bus- it has reclining seats. Follow option 2 for everything else.

At the park of Machu Picchu
  1.   Water.  They say you can’t bring it in.   You can.   Bring a reusable bottle to be safe.   However, keep in mind, that they charge to use the bathroom and you have to go all the way back to the park entrance.  The best method is to hydrate well the day before, DO NOT GO OUT DRINKING the night before, and drink  little water throughout the day.
  2. Food. The café charges $5 for a hot dog and it’s a nasty hot dog, and you have to go all the back to the entrance to get it.  Bring food that does not make you thirsty (i.e. no salt crackers, but fruit is great).   You can buy both food and water at bus station in aguacalientes- there is a market that opens early.   Whatever they charge you is will be less than half of what machu picchu café charges.
  3.  Layered clothing. Don’t bring a heavy jacket.   You will take if off by 8am and be stuck with it all day.   Wear at least three layers of clothing.   I was down to a tank top by noon (it was sunny when I went- I understand it can be cooler). If it’s cloudy, consider gloves/hat and 4-5 layers.
  4. Walking/hiking shoes.  No flip flops!
  5. They say insect repellant and sunscreen .   I was ok without it.
  6. A camera!  Make sure battery is charged (or you have extra batteries) and you have lots of room for pictures!
  7. You can leave you luggage at hotel, even if you are checking out. 
  8.  Hat and sunglasses for sunny days
  9. Passport. They do require ID.   Investigate if they will take a copy of passport and a driver’s license because it’s risky to travel with a passport.
  10. Money.  In case the $5 dry, flavorless hot dog appeals to you.   DO NOT BUY souvenirs there.   Everything is available at a fraction of the cost in Aguascalientes or Cusco (cheaper).

 Arrive at bus station at about 6 am in order to make it to machu picchu park by about 7:10 and see sunrise (this time varies).  During high season you will wait at bus station about 15 minutes and to get in park about 30 minutes.   If you do this option, you will have to walk down about 10 flights of stairs to go back to the park entrance to meet your tour guide.  Recommended if you really like sunrises  (see below)
Leave about 7am to get to park at 7:45 to meet your tour guide.   Don’t wait in line at all.   Sleep in and get to park whenever (maybe go to hot springs at Aguascalientes).  Get a private tour guide at entrance.  This may work if you have a late train back or you are staying the night in Aguascalientes. You must pick a hotel with thick walls because everyone will be up early anyway, waking you up.   Not recommended.

A note about Aguascalientes:
This is a SUPER tourist driven town. They will try to scam you at every corner.  Here at some tricks.  Many restaurants add a “tax” of about 6 soles to every bill.  They will claim drinks are 4X1, give you small drinks, then point to a sign that says happy hour is 20 soles  (when one drink is 10 soles on the menu) and charge you 26 soles  (20 happy hour +6 tax).   My suggestion is to order, then ask to see the bill before they bring you anything   (“Quiero ver la cuenta antes de que nos traiga las bebidas y la comida).  You may not understand the waiters response but just keep repeating that phrase.
The market by the train station is overpriced.  The market by the bus station is a little more reasonable.  Cusco is much more reasonable.  Lima is even more reasonable.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Magical Water Tour: Lima Shines

Lights, water and action. Ok so maybe that is not the way you heard it before, but it is definitely the way you should visualize it.

 It is the way you will see the water show here at Parque la Reserva near central Lima. The park is called the Circuito Magico de Agau or Magical Water Tour.

The park entry costs 4 soles and it is worth the trip. I admit I was hesitant but after hearing several stories about the park I decided to check it out.

The park really consists of two locations connected by an underground tunnel. My pictures of the tunnel did not turn out so great. However, the tunnel itself is really interesting as it is a museum to water and the patch you follow is an illustration of the river Rimac which flows through western Peru.

If you visit the park in the winter (northern summer) remember to bundle up. It gets cold here.

Take your camera and enjoy the show!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Mistura Part 2: More From Peru's Food Festival

The most important culinary event in Peru continues to make headlines and thrill those of us (like me) who love Peruvian food. This is my second blog post about Mistura 2011. It is just that good that it deserves another post. I even got to take a pic with  a hot coke model. 

Old fashioned snow cones are also up for sale here. The vendors use old technology to make one of the best snow cones you will ever taste. They have coconut, tamarind, passion fruit, and many other tropical delights.

Going from cold to a warm drink (which you need in this cold climate) I will share my favorite warm drink.. It was a boiled tea with the types of fruit cooking in the tea water. 

The event continues until September 18, 2011. Entry costs 20 Soles but tickets are sold out. Remember to buy tickets from a “legitimate-looking scalper” and just make you do not pay more than 10 soles above the regular entry price. I asked one of the local police officers to look at my tickets before I purchased them to make sure they were ok. He was nice enough to do so.You have to buy tickets for food products which generally run between 2-12 soles. For reference, a dollar is worth about 2.75 soles at the current exchange rate.

¡Buen provecho!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Mistura 2011: The best cuisine in Peru

Mistura 2011. This is the place to be if you like food…Peruvian food to be exact. This annual food festival takes the best restaurants and chefs from the around country to exhibit, compete and sell their cuisine.

Peru is a country that is gaining prominence for its cuisine. Peruvian restaurants around the world are opening up to introduce Peruvian food to the world.

Some of the more famous (and to some people more tasty) dishes are the famous anticuchos (cow hearts on a skewer) and grilled chicken hearts.

I personally prefer the tiraditos or raw fish with various sauces. This is much like the better known ceviche (or cebiche) but with a slightly different taste.

Stands line the area at the “Parque de la Exposición" in downtown Lima. I strongly recommend you visit Mistura if you are in Lima. The event is from Septmeber 9-18, 2011. 

Entry costs 20 Soles but they are sold out. You can still buy from a scalper just make sure they are legitimate tickets and do not pay more than 10 soles above the regular entry price. You have to buy tickets for food products which generally run between 2-12 soles. For reference, a dollar is worth about 2.75 soles at the current exchange rate.

 If you can’t go to Mistura, I still hope you can seek out some tasty Peruvian food to try for yourself.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Home Shopping: Peruvian Style

Today I attended a home show in Plaza San Miguel here in Lima. I am trying to decide if I want to eventually buy an apartment here. The expo was held in a nice shopping center in the working class neighborhood of San Miguel.

It was pretty much what I expected from a home show anywhere but with a little more shtick. Sexy girls in tight pants and costumed animal critters passed out brochures and balloons to folks as they talked to vendors.

There were even some demos set up to give you a feeling that you were in the apartment.

There were (mostly) apartments with some condos and stand-alone housing in neighborhoods from all around Lima. Most of the sellers seemed to focus on apartments in the $50,000-$100,000 dollar price range, that is to say lower middle class to middle class range for the most part.

What might surprise many people is that most pre-sells are much cheaper but you must purchase very far in advance. For example, most apartments now in pre-sell will not be move-in ready until the September-December 2012 time period. Something else interesting to note is that in Peru if you buy an apartment or rent an unfurnished one you will generally not have any appliances not even a stove. Everything comes separately.

I don’t know if I will ever purchase property but looking for a home in a new country is always an experience.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Magdalena del Mar: Quiet District on the Sea

Its name is officially Magdalena del Mar, but folks just call it Magdalena. You don’t hear much about the small and quiet seaside district of Magdalena in western Lima. It is overshadowed by the wealthy San Isidro to the south and the chaotic and often-cited dangerous Callao to the north.

This district is known as a working-class neighborhood where kids play in the park and families gather along the seawall. When I ask about what type of neighborhood it is people often say it hasn’t been a place they recommended in the past but new construction is changing that attitude. There are nice and even relatively high-end apartment buildings going up along the seawall here.

According to the district’s website listed below the Spanish began building a church here in 1535 and the area officially became incorporated into the city of Lima in 1920.

I personally think Magdalena is a pretty district with a really nice location on the sea. I am glad I got to know it.