Hello Lima!

Another flashback to about a month ago, where we pick up the tale of our travels. We had arrived in Cali, Colombia where a new credit card was awaiting us. We picked it up, spent one night in Cali, the hopped on the plane to Lima, Peru…

On arrival, we checked into our awesome Airbnb apartment. While we typically skip a lot of the really touristy things in the cities we visit, we decided that a open-top bus tour of Lima would be fun and a good way to begin to get a sense of the city and how it is laid out. So, we took an Uber to Larcomar, a beautiful, upscale shopping center built into a cliff on the edge of the Miraflores neighborhood. In addition to being a beautiful spot with great shopping and dining, this is where you can catch the tour bus. Here’s a video that sets the general scene. The round glass towers on the right side at the end of the video are part of Larcomar. You can’t see most of it as it is built into the cliffs below.

Did you know that Lima had beaches and surfing? I didn’t!

Anyway, the bus tour was pretty good. At least it gave us a peek at the old, downtown neighborhoods of Lima, and a very good taste of the crazy Lima traffic. We stopped and had short walking tours of a couple historic plazas, popular neighborhoods, and some creepy catacombs.

Bus tour of Lima

Bus tour of Lima

Giant ant sculpture in Barranco

Giant ant sculpture in Barranco park

Going through downtown Lima

Going through downtown Lima

Tour group in the plaza

Tour group in the plaza

Grand colonial architecture

Grand colonial architecture

Policeman boots us from the plaza in anticipation of protests.

Policeman boots us from the plaza in anticipation of protests.

Cartwheel above the catacombs

Cartwheel above the catacombs

Mila snuck a photo in the catacombs. Naughty!

Mila snuck a photo in the catacombs. Naughty! They estimate that there are 30,000 people buried in the catacombs. Talk about creepy…

The bus sat in traffic for about an hour and made it back to Larcomar about the time the sun was going down.

View from Larcomar

View from Larcomar

Like Bogota and Medellin, the climate in Lima is near perfect. You don’t need air conditioning or heat. The sun is warm and intense, but it is cool in the shade. The average daily highs and lows vary only about 10 degrees and rarely get below 60 or above 80 any time of year. Amazing.

Lima Average Temps

Oddly, it is a desert, in the mountains, on the ocean. This makes for a very distinctive climate. In addition to the perfect temperatures, it is very dry in terms of precipitation, but fog is common. In fact the city has been blanketed with fog almost every morning we’ve been here.

The negative is the air quality. The air pollution is horrible. This is a city of 10 million people and what seems like 100 million cars, trucks and busses belching smoke. Yuck. Fog and smog, smog, smog.

Culture in LIma, and Peru in general, was very different than Colombia. People were friendly, but less so than in Colombia. People were not nearly as polite. In Colombia when you said, “Gracias” people would always respond, “Con gusto!” with a smile. That didn’t happen much at all in Peru. Little things like how place settings were laid out in restaurants, even simple restaurants, made Colombia feel more refined.

Simple things like walking down the sidewalk or trying to cross the street in Peru were hilariously maddening. Clearly the Peruvian sense of personal space, courtesy, and right-of-way are very different than our own.

Walking on a sidewalk or in a shopping mall, you can fully expect that other people will walk right into you or shove their way between you if you are walking with someone.  As you are walking, people will step out of doorways right into you. Groups will spread out across the whole sidewalk and force you into the street. Sidewalks and staircases were constantly blocked by groups of people chatting, looking at their phones, or simply taking up space. People would congregate at the top and bottom of escalators. On a couple of occasions, adults physically shoved Jette aside or cut in front of her in lines at shops and in Cusco a man pushed her off the sidewalk and into the street. He’s very, very lucky that I didn’t see this and only learned about it from Jette after the fact.

On an airplane, we had a woman shove her way between Jette and me as we were exiting the plane. She shoved me multiple times, and tried to push past me. Impossible in the narrow, crowded  aisle. When she couldn’t push past me, she began to push up against me continuously, as if she was trying to push me and everyone in front of me off the plane! I turned around and told her in no uncertain terms, “DO NOT TOUCH ME!” It had little effect, and ultimately the point of my umbrella sent the message effectively and she backed off.

Drivers in Peru are among the worst we’ve seen anywhere in the world. In many countries, road “rules” are taken as mere suggestions. This is certainly true in Peru. Lane markings, traffic signals, and stop signs mean nothing. The design of the traffic infrastructure is almost identical to the US. The road look the same. Same lane markings, same crosswalks, same everything. It is just the behavior that is different. There is absolutely no accommodation made or right-of-way given for pedestrians. Most drivers will not yield for pedestrians crossing the street in a marked crosswalk. I did a Google search for “pedestrians in peru” and of the first results was an abstract from a medical journal:

Reducing pedestrian deaths and injuries due to road traffic injuries in Peru: interventions that can work

Pedestrians in Peru are the victims of the greatest proportion of road traffic fatalities in the world. In 2009, pedestrians were involved in 27% of road traffic incidents in Peru. This is a significant public health problem in Peru and it has important economic effects as well…

Beyond the massive numbers of pedestrians maimed and killed by negligent drivers, the traffic congestion is horrible. In Lima major intersections were blocked with huge jams of honking drivers, all ignoring any notions of lanes or right-of-way. Roundabouts that would function smoothly anywhere else in the world were constantly jammed in Lima. I’d say it was worse than Indonesia or India. It was almost like watching America’s Funniest Home Videos – you could just see the consequences of bad decisions happening everywhere you looked.

Traffic police. This has to be one of the biggest jokes in Peru. There are traffic police everywhere. They are standing at every major intersection dressed in their fancy costumes, often with white patent leather holsters and goofy little helmets. Sometimes they have little orange wands which they wiggle back and forth, regardless of what traffic is doing. On the highways in Lima, there is typically one of these guys/gals standing on the side of the road at every exit and overpass. They don’t ever seem to do anything other than stand next to their motorcycles and look at their phones. On one occasion we passed a disabled vehicle. On another, a crash scene. In both cases there were traffic police just standing at their posts by the highway exit or overpass, not helping in any way, just surfing facebook on their phones and collecting a salary. The Peruvian National Police force employs 140,000 and is notoriously corrupt (second only to the judicial system). Many of the traffic police are now women, because there is a popular notion that women are less likely to be corrupt.

Car alarms. The car alarm is the Peruvian national anthem. It is played at all hours of the day and night, everywhere you go. You would think that Peruvians are very patriotic since it is played 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, but they always seem to ignore it.

All of these gripes aside, we enjoyed Lima. Jette enjoyed cooking in the apartment kitchen, but we also enjoyed so great meals out. The apartment was close to Pasteleria San Antonio, a very popular bakery and cafe where we enjoyed some delicious salads. We made multiple trips to La Lucha, a super yummy sandwich shop with great sandwiches, frites, and chocolate shakes.

Salads make me smile

Salads make me smile

Yummy La Lucha

Yummy La Lucha

Yummy chicken sandwich

Classic combo of chicharron, camote, and salsa criolla.

Sorry Philly, you lose to these guys.

Sorry Philly, you lose to these guys.

The bread they use is really good.

The bread they use is really good.

Delicious fries

Delicious fries

Jette was excited to find bubble tea.

Jette was excited to find bubble tea.

Lunch in old downtown Lima

Lunch in old downtown Lima

Beyond the delicious lunches, we had fun exploring Lima. We went down to the beach, caught a nighttime fountain show, and generally just enjoyed slowing down and being in one place for a while.

Local color

Local color

Mila getting her shoes fixed

Mila getting her shoes fixed

JFK Park is full of cats.

JFK Park is full of cats.

Miraflores park on the top of the cliff.

Miraflores park on the top of the cliff.

The path down to the beach

The path down to the beach

The cliff from which the paragliders take off.

The cliff from which the paragliders take off.

Classic surf van. Lots of old VWs here.

Classic surf van. Lots of old VWs here.

Handstand on the rocky beach.

Handstand on the rocky beach.

Ready for the show.

Ready for the show.

Fountain hugs.

Fountain hugs.

Fountain gymnastics.

Fountain gymnastics.

In terms of her studies, Jette finished her last math workbook. Yay!

DONE!

DONE!

She’s almost finished with the second of the three Story of the World books. Each book is designed to provide material for a full school year, but Jette’s goal is to finish all three this year. We’ve sent the physical workbooks home, so she is no longer doing the map work. She’s reading, writing a complete summary of each chapter, and we’re discussing it. She’s doing fantastic.

After a week or so enjoying Lima, we boarded a flight to the mountain town of Cusco, the jumping off point for Machu Picchu…

Boarding the flight to Cusco.

Boarding the flight to Cusco.

Volcano Sinabung Erupts

Sinabung Eruption

We awoke this morning to news that the Indonesian volcano Gunung Sinabung has again erupted. As you may recall, it was just a few months ago that we were in Berastagi, Sumatra, Indonesia climbing Gunung Sibayak. Each morning and evening while we were in Berastagi would would climb to the roof of the home we were staying in and watch the smoke coming from Sinabung.

Climbing to the roof to look at Sinabung

Climbing to the roof to look at Sinabung

Sinabung smoking on the horizon

Sinabung smoking on the horizon

Talking about the last eruption...and the present danger.

Talking about the last eruption…and the present danger.

The husband of the family we were staying with had an extensive album of photos he had taken in 2010, the last major eruption of Sinabung. The photos were a strong reminder of nature’s power – flowing lava, billowing smoke, dozens of charred bodies, horribly burned survivors with skin baked and peeling, everything covered in snow-like ash… A nightmarish scene.

And yet people choose to live and work all around the volcano. The land is fertile, the climate friendly. The area is Sumatra’s “bread basket.” The family we stayed with was convinced that it was totally safe.

Lush fields in our "back yard"

Lush fields in our “backyard”

A house in Berastagi

A house in Berastagi

To put the locations in perspective, here is a map that shows Sinabung, Sibayak and the house where we stayed:

The red circle is Sinabung (just erupted), the green circle is Sibayak (the one we climbed), and the blue circle is the house where we stayed.

The red circle is Sinabung (just erupted), the green circle is Sibayak (the one we climbed), and the blue circle is the house where we stayed. The map scale is about 1 inch = 5 miles.

Sinabung smoulders at sunset

Sinabung smoulders at sunset

A sulphurous lump on the side of the volcano

A sulphurous lump on the side of the volcano

Not hot lava

Not hot lava

Local kids at work

Local kids at work

We hope our friends there are safe, and continue to be so…

From Colombia to Peru

Let’s go back in time about a month. If you’ll recall, we had a great time in the beautiful Paisa town of Jardin in Colombia, then felt the earthquake in Pereira. We spent about a week in Pereira, a small city that was quite nice. It was bustling with commercial activity and seemed to have quite a good standard of living and growing middle class. Tucked into the foothills of the Andes in Colombia’s coffee country, it was also a good base for exploring the area. As with everywhere we went in Colombia, the weather was perfect.

With perfect weather, even the food court at the local mall is open air.

With perfect weather, even the food court at the local mall is open air.

But the hotel bathroom left a little to be desired, at least for me…

Can I get a little leg room please?

Can I get a little leg room please?

From Pereira we did a day trip to the very touristy town of Salento. It was cute, but so touristy we were glad we weren’t staying. While we were there we walked around town and did some horseback riding. The town square was closed to vehicles and there were lots of kids out having fun. Oddly though, they had huge speakers set up playing really weird techno music. Here’s a video showing what it sounded like (I have NOT added a soundtrack, this is really the music they were blasting!!!)

Despite the crazy music, it was a fun scene with all the kids playing. Jette did some cartwheels and handstands, and a little boy on roller blades came over to chat. He was a sweet little guy and we had fun talking with him and just watching all the action in the square.

Handstand in Salento, Colombia

Handstand in Salento, Colombia

The horseback riding was nice. It took us down to the Quindio River and the scenery was beautiful.

One of our friends in Salento

One of our friends in Salento

The other day trip we took from Pereira was to Panaca. This is how Wikipedia describes Panaca:

PANACA is a farming theme park that promotes contact between humans and nature, intended for those who live in the city and to create awareness about nature.

Their tagline is, “Sin campo no hay ciudad” (Without fields there is no city). There are thousands of animals and they grow a variety of crops in display gardens. There are animal shows, exhibits, and even a zip line above it all.

Jette and the Panaca Mascot

Jette and the Panaca Mascot

It was FANTASTIC. We spent the whole day wandering the theme park, and I think we were the only gringos there. The park, the exhibits and the animal shows were great. I wish we had something like this in the U.S. Jette had a great time interacting with all the animals, especially the chickens, rabbits and pigs. As for me, I was shamed in front of a large crowd when I lost a cow milking contest!

 

From Pereira, we made a quick trip to Cali, Colombia. Cali wasn’t originally on our agenda, but when I received an email from my bank notifying me that they were cancelling both my credit and my debit cards (the bank was switching from MasterCard to Visa and there was no way to postpone the switch!), We needed a reliable place to have them sent and given where we were in Colombia, an international hotel in Cali seemed like the best bet. So we spent one night in the Hampton Inn in Cali. It was actually a really nice hotel and my new credit card was waiting patiently for us, safely tucked inside a FedEx envelope at the front desk.

Hampton Inn Cali Colombia

Hampton Inn Cali Colombia

From Cali, we caught a flight to Lima, Peru. On the airplane we read about far off lands…

Where is this fabled place called "Dallas"?

Where is this fabled place called “Dallas”?

Overall, Colombia was fantastic. It is a beautiful country – an amazing landscape, with an amazing climate and a proud, friendly people. With its history of conflict and crime it has been off the mainstream tourist circuit for years. It still has some healing to do, but wow, what a great country. We’ll be coming back again, I’m sure.

Counterfeit Money in Peru!

After a great couple of weeks exploring Peru – Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca, etc. – we’re back in Lima. As we slow down for a few days I thought I’d get a quick and easy blog post up. More detailed posts about our recent adventures are in the works and coming soon!

Counterfeit currency is everywhere here and I thought it would be fun to show you one of the counterfeit bills we’ve received and how to identify them.

We haven’t been checking notes we receive very closely, so we got suckered! We received this counterfeit 20 Sole note somewhere along the way, either as change from a purchase, or possibly from an ATM. Since the counterfeit notes can be purchased for 25% of face value, the crooked businesses that buy them and pass them off to unsuspecting tourists as change have quite a high profit margin – if they don’t get caught! We first realized that we had a counterfeit when we tried to buy lunch and the shop rejected the note. Bummer!

Here’s another video about a counterfeiting “bust” in Lima:

And a Guardian story about counterfeiting in Peru.

Here’s a video about the security features in U.S. currency:

 

Earthquake!

Have you ever been sitting in a movie theater on the 4th floor of a giant shopping mall and felt the whole building shake? We hadn’t either, until tonight!

We went to the 6:20 feature of The Jungle Book at the Victoria Mall in Pereira, Colombia. About 30 minutes into the movie we felt the whole building shake. It was a weird sliding motion, not too extreme, but enough to really feel. At first I think we all thought it was an effect or trick of the senses from the 3D movie. When we realized that the whole building was moving, we got up and headed straight for the emergency exit.

About a quarter of the theater had the same idea, but people were so casual about the whole thing it was weird and frightening. They were moving very, very slowly, many of them just standing around in the stairwell and blocking the exits. As we were making our way out of the theater the lights came on. No one was panicked and people didn’t even seem to be talking about it. There were no announcements and no visible security or direction from staff. We got out of the theater and into the main part of the mall. There it was as if nothing had happened. Nonetheless, we got down to the ground level as quickly as we could and went outside, straight to the middle of a large plaza on one side of the mall. We wanted to be somewhere safe if another, stronger shock hit and buildings collapsed.

No one else seemed the least bit concerned, or seemed to be doing anything at all. Apparently we were overreacting by local standards. Hey, better safe than sorry as far as I’m concerned! How could we know if that was it or just a small tremor kicking off a much bigger series of shocks?!

Once again, our superfriend Anita gave us instant access to global quake data!

Once again, our superfriend Anita gave us instant access to global quake data!

Apparently what we felt were shocks from a 7.8 earthquake centered in Ecuador. The news is currently reporting 28 dead there and a tsunami warning. This is what it looked like in Ecuador:

We’re getting ready for bed, and while it seems highly unlikely that we’ll have a dangerous quake here, we have an exit plan worked out should we be surprised with another set of tremors overnight. Sweet dreams!