I’m back in Haiti, and because I didn’t have enough time to post or write while I was gone, I’m posting all of this after the fact. I hope you enjoy reading!
I’m writing this more as a travel journal for myself because, wow, we did a ton yesterday! I know if I don’t get it all down while it’s fresh in my mind, by the time I get home I won’t remember half of the details. That said, I hope you enjoy getting a peek into life here in Lima!
I was awake around 6:30 am, which in and of itself is a bit of a miracle considering I went to sleep close to 3 am. Good grief. Just reading that makes me feel tired. I think my body is just so trained that it’s hard to break that cycle.
Things don’t get moving around here until 10 am. As in, banks don’t open until 10 and some major businesses don’t open until 10. That meant that we could have a lazy morning. I was able to catch up on email and talk to Chris over Skype. I can’t tell you how much I love technology right now. To be sitting in South America and talking to my husband in the Caribbean for free – priceless. Forget Mastercard. This morning I got to talk to Olivia before she went to school and then Alex over video chat after they got back from the school drive. It was so fun to see his face light up when he saw mine :)
Okay… so a typical Peruvian breakfast is coffee (most prefer instant, but Carmen and I are coffee snobs so only French press will do), some kind of bread, deli ham, deli sliced cheese, yogurt, fruit and jam/butter. There’s a bakery just down the street where Carmen’s family get all their bread from. After travelling to Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and now here, this kind of breakfast is a very Latin American thing and I love it. It’s like the best combination of everything :)
After we finished up we headed out and changed money a few blocks away. Money changers here sit outside a business, usually 2-3 on a corner. They all have to register with the city and have a permit to change money, and all have a little stamp. When you change money, after everyone confirms the amount is right, they use their little stamp to stamp every bill they give you. This stops people from moving counter-fit currency. If you get a fake bill you can turn it in and report where you got it. They can check their files and see which stamp is on it then know which money changer gave out the bill. Ingenious!
From there we walked to a nearby Hyundai dealership. This is probably a good place to touch on just how “cosmopolitan” Lima is. Or developed? The city is huge. Carmen said it can take 2 hours to drive from one end to another, and the population is over 13 million people. But, that said, it doesn’t feel congested and crazy. There is traffic, but it’s constantly moving, and they have a law in place that fines you for using your horn. We were laughing about the fact that we wouldn’t be able to drive in Haiti without a horn. Streets are pretty well designed from the areas that I’ve seen so far, and traffic just flows. Stop lights, over passes, pedestrian crossings… everything. There’s everything from McDonald’s (which apparently delivers, as does Burger King, but not Chinese or pizza?!?!) to every kind of car dealership you can name. Starbucks are all over the place, malls, casino’s, movie theaters, shopping districts with names like Hilfiger… you name it, it’s probably here.
So we went to the Hyundai dealership. Weird stop on a vacation and tour of the city, I know, but it was for me. See, when you live outside of North America, the vehicles you have are often made for the specific markets of the countries or regions that you live in. We have a Hyundai Santa Fe, but it’s not the same as a Canadian or American Santa Fe. Ours is diesel, a model they don’t make for North America. This means that any specific engine parts can only be bought in places where they sell the same type of model that we have. We’re still having problems with our alternator, so Chris asked if we could check in to see if a) they sold a Santa Fe here in Peru, b) if they did, if it’s the same kind that we have back home, and c) if it is a diesel automatic transmission, to see what the cost was on an alternator here compared to Haiti and buy it if it’s a match and not crazy expensive.
We checked in there, had to go to the main branch where they had the service department, and they needed the VIN on the car so they could check specs in the system. To do that we needed to get to a wi-fi connection so I could call Chris on Skype and get it from him. So we hopped in a taxi and went to Starbucks. For the record, Starbucks is Starbucks is Starbucks. The only difference was that everything was in Spanish, and they sell carbonated bottled water as well as regular. Got something to drink, got the VIN, emailed it to the dealership and then went on our merry way.
We took a taxi to another neighborhood so I could get my haircut. The salon looked like anything from back home. Another for the record moment – sometimes I cut my own hair in Haiti because I just get done with it. I did that back in October/November and cut off at least 8 inches. I *may* have cried the next morning, but then cleaned it up a bit and as people started seeing me they kept telling me how great the short hair was. I actually liked it more as it grew just a bit and relaxed into itself. I just needed a trim and a clean up. The guy cutting it said I had actually done a pretty good job on things. Except thinning. Apparently I shouldn’t thin it myself :) I realized as I showered this morning that he didn’t put an ounce of product in it when he was styling it, and considering the fact that Lima is moderately humid the fact that my hair was still in a sleek bob this morning made me understand why women get a professional “blow out”. It could have stayed that way for several days, I’m sure. Maybe one of the best hair cuts I’ve ever had, and we were joking around about me having to come back in 6 months so he could do my hair again since no one in Haiti knows how to do white girl hair.
After the hair, we walked a couple doors down and had a small lunch. Carmen and I shared a tamale and a meat filled potato fritter (can’t remember the name) that gets deep fried. I had something similar in the Dominican Republic. Carmen was telling me about how much the cuisine changes depending on where you are. In the city you can literally get any kind of food you want, and there are restaurants here that are well known in the food world. In Lima it’s normal to get a sort of pickled onion “salsa” with lime and cilantro or parsley and a bit of chopped peppers. It’s not spicy as much as it is fresh. You put a little on your fork and then fork a bite of food. We also shared a pork sandwich. Lunch is the big meal of the day and while they don’t do siesta anymore in the city, people might still take a few hours off for lunch. The evening is more “small” food and nibbling on things. Inca Kola is the national pop/soda. It’s yellow and has a cream soda feel to it, but actually tasted almost exactly like Couronne, a pop/soda made in Haiti, but it was less sweet which I liked. Couronne is like drinking syrup.
After lunch we hopped on a bus. There are a ton of private cars, but a lot of people use public transit. Taxis are everywhere. There are vans, which are a small bus, medium sized buses, and big buses. The routes are always painted on the side, and in the vans and medium sized buses there are people calling out to people where the bus is going and taking care of ticketing/payment. On the larger buses you either pay the driver and get your ticket, or there’s a guy walking through the bus to take money and give ticket stubs.
We got on a large bus and went over to a more touristy area of town – Minaflores. Carmen said that when things were really politically unstable about 25-30 years back the city decided to focus on one part of town and develop it and have high security so they could still have a tourism trade in the midst of everything. Now that everything has stabilized and the economy is experiencing a major upswing, other areas have and are being reconditioned and beautified. There were cobblestone streets, lots of shops and restaurants and lots of trees and plants along the sidewalks. Peru has a big garment industry and apparently it’s very normal practice for big brand buyers to go through a box of t-shirts, for example, piece by piece, and if they see one small flaw on ONE shirt, the whole box gets rejected. The rejected apparel then gets sold at discounted prices in small shops around the city. I picked up a bunch of Old Navy t-shirts for about $5/each. They’re made from pima cotton, which is really soft and really light – perfect for Haiti. I grabbed a couple for Chris too knowing how hard it is to find light comfortable t-shirts.
We wandered over to John F. Kennedy Park, which has a fun little “feature”…
Did you see it? No? Look again.
If you said “cats”, you win!
Back in “the day” there was a rat problem in the park, so someone got the fabulous idea to introduce a few cats to the area, which did in fact clean up the rat problem. The only oversight was that the cats weren’t spayed or neutered before they were introduced. And, well, cats know when they have a good thing. The park is now full of domesticated cats that just hang out in the park and play with visitors. There is an adopt a cat program run by the city, and people put out water and food for them. As we were walking to a different area a woman in front of us just reached down and scooped up a cat sitting on a park bench, and cradled it in her arms and petted it as she continued to stroll. See, these are the things you don’t learn from the guidebooks!
To finish off the day we headed down to Barranco, and older part of town known for being an access point to the beaches back in the day. It’s slowly being restored and boasts little eateries and bars mixed in the midst of old architecture.
Can I just take a second to mention how FUN it is to have a camera that takes great pictures. Most of these night shots are SOC (straight out of camera – no editing)! I was like a giddy school girl.