Friday, April 9, 2010
Going to an open market can be quite an adventure. If you are queasy, avoid going to the meat and poultry section. You’ll see cuts of meat hanging in open spaces. You can even ask for your own live chicken to be butchered, feathered and cut for you. It couldn’t be fresher. You can buy fish that had been alive in the ocean hours earlier.
But if you want to be delighted with multicolored views and fragrant smells, just walk around the fruits and vegetables areas. Having such benign weather, there is plenty of fresh produce in the markets in Lima all year round. Papayas, passion fruit, mangoes, star fruits, quinces, chirimoyas and lúcumas share the space with the common bananas, oranges and apples.
Chirimoya and lúcuma are fruits native to Peru and they are used in desserts like mousses, pies and ice creams. Simply delicious.
In Lima you will find beggars everywhere, especially in the touristy areas. Shoeless mothers with babies, toothless older women sit on the sidewalks stretching their hand for anything you can give them. The saddest part is that you will see lonely children harassing you to buy some candy or chewing gum. Some of their stories are heartbreaking. Beggars are willing to do something in return for your money; they just don’t ask. They either sell something or try to entertain you. You’ll hardly find anyone asking you for “one dollar” as you may encounter in the U.S.
I have seen kids dancing on the streets, playing music with improvised instruments, doing tricks and somersaults in the middle of the roads at the red lights; even spitting fire as if they were in the circus.
Once, while in a taxi, the car stopped at the red light; a boy approached the car and started singing. The poor kid was so out of tune and right in my face. He must have been 8 years old. I asked what his name was and he said: “José.” I reached to my pocket and gave him one sol, the equivalent of thirty cents. He seemed happy despite knowing he would never be on “American Idol.”
One of the most luxurious wools is the one that comes from the alpaca, a camelid native to the South American Andes. Out of the four native camelids (the others are the llamas, vicuñas and guanacos), alpacas are the most widely known. Vicuñas are an endangered species and its wool is extremely expensive.
Baby alpaca wool is quite soft. So when shopping for Alpaca goods—scarves, hats, sweaters, ponchos, you name it—beware of the vendors who will try to convince you that their goods are “baby alpaca.”
You don’t need to be an expert to notice what is baby alpaca or not. Adult alpaca wool can be a little thicker and itchy. It also comes blended with synthetic materials, so if you see that the garment is a little shiny that means that it’s not pure alpaca wool. A textile artist told me that real alpaca feels cold when you touch it.
Once when I was shopping a vendor kept saying that his goods were baby alpaca. I responded with a smirk: “I think these are from the grandma alpaca.” Fortunately he had a good sense of humor.
When you walk around the Malecón (Boardwalk) in Miraflores you will see people paragliding over what is called the “Costa Verde,” or “Green Coast.” It has become part of the coastal landscape in this district. You can spend time enjoying the vast ocean view with these flying devices sprinkled in the sky.
For US$50 you can have your ten minutes of Icarus glory and see this coastal city from above. It is an exhilarating experience, a little steep for Peruvians but quite affordable for American standards. So far, no accidents have been reported and even an 85-year-old Peruvian grandmother “La abuela voladora” has done it (I later learned she is the mother of a college classmate.) But digging a little bit deeper, one of my students who went up in the air found out that the company who runs this activity is not registered with the city and has no insurance. Another incredible third-world story.
As a third world country, Peru has a “natural” recycling process. Glass bottles are exchanged when getting beverages (beer and soda for example), plastic containers are used as “tupperwares”, and appliances get repaired at cheaper costs. Labor is way cheaper compared to the U.S.
It’s not uncommon to see older car models, even from the sixties, running around the city. Peruvians say that “lack and adversity make people resourceful.” I completely agree with that.
In Lima we can see more shoe repair shops, tailors, car mechanics. You can find that anything can be repaired to extend its life. During my trip to Lima I took my reading glasses to be welded, and I paid 10 soles (a little bit over 3 dollars). A leather jacket was cleaned, tinted and reconditioned for 50 soles (18 dollars) a pair of jeans were hemmed for 6 soles, a little over 2 dollars. Not bad, at all.
Maids are also common in Lima and you don’t need to be rich to have a live-in maid.