From the Sea to the Mountains, Paracas to Ayacucho

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We have wanted to visit Ayacucho for a long time and finally left Lima headed south. It’s a very long drive and we decided to break our trip in Pisco. We couldn’t find any reasonable hotels. We tried Paracas where there are two categories of hotel, cement box and deluxe resort. Taking advantage of the Doubletree Hilton Paracas resort was easy. I swam in the pool, sat in the hot tub, and we had our welcome pisco sours on the patio outside our room. Dinner in the restaurant was very good. The next morning we headed back to Pisco and up into the Andes for the 5-6 hour drive to Ayacucho.

Along the way it started to rain, something very unusual for us in Peru. I heard thunder and it took me a minute to figure out what it was.We stopped to take pictures at one point where Peru looks just like Ireland.Ayacucho was founded on a small level area in a steep-sided valley. To enter the city, we descended a road sandwiched between a cliff and the abyss. Our hotel is near the Plaza de Armas and the city was just winding up Carnival celebrations and all the streets were blocked off. Jonathan pulled over two blocks from the hotel and I walked over to explain the situation. A staff member came with me and showed us where to park, which we would never have found on our own. We immediately lay down to counteract the effects of altitude. Though its only about 9000 ft in Ayacucho, we crossed a pass at 15,400 ft earlier in the day. I took Diamox as recommended and so far don’t have either the headache or nausea associated with altitude sickness.

Welcome to Ayacucho!

Fiesta Weekend 2018

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This year the Fiesta of the Virgin of Lourdes is once again the biggest weekend of the summer. People return to Barranca from all over the world to visit family. I’ve met people who live in Austria, Israel and the US all back to visit and enjoy the summer and participate in the festival. There are two statues of the Virgin, one from France whose purchase was organized by the mother of Jorge Marquez, who formerly owned our house. A newer statue was made by an Italian craftsman more recently and presides over the tiny chapel.

This year the day was sunny but not too hot and the dancers put on their best performance ever. The marinera, traditional Peruvian dance typical of the coast, was beautiful to watch with the ocean in the background.

The festival includes a novena and concludes with Sunday mass, though many more people come to see the dancers and the fireworks. Saturday evening was the yunza, an Andean tradition of erecting a tree that is decorated with prizes. A traditional band plays as neighbors take turns hacking at the trunk. Beer is distributed as the singing, dancing and clapping continue. The yunza is not supposed to be quick, and many people whack at random places on the trunk to prolong the process. After about an hour and a half, the final blow comes and everyone grabs for one of the prize bags. It shows we never entirely grow up. People are as enthusiastic about a bag of Skittles as any of their kids. Besides, the kids had their own yunza Saturday morning. The person who delivered the final blow that downed the tree is the patron, responsible for the tree, gifts, band and beer next year.

One of the only good things you can say about machismo is that the men aren’t afraid to dance.

 

The women are always beautiful.

 

 

 

 

Jonathan loves hosting the dancers on our patio where there is shade and room to prepare.

 

 

Nor can he resist getting in on the action.

 

 

 

Nothing says “I ♥ Our Lady of Lourdes” like giant spinning fireworks.

Good Neighbors

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Good neighbors are a treasure. First Berta comes by with a box of fresh strawberries. These are always perfect, because they are from her daughter and son in law who are growers. They were delicious with brown sugar and lime juice.

The doorbell rings and Leila comes in, holding a beautiful straw hat painted with flowers. She says, “This is for you, you wear big hats.” Yes, I do, and thanks!  It’s perfect for summer in Peru, with a big brim and those great flowers. Leila even added the band and matching pompoms at the back. I couldn’t find a hat like this if I looked everywhere.

Days like this are why I always say that what is best about Peru is my wonderful neighbors.

Sometimes there’s a chance to chip in a little, like lending a plastic table and chairs for a few days, or cutting some parsley from the garden.

We had a get-together for Maria-Louisa and her sisters and their families. Many years ago, the sisters spent part of their summers in the house that is now ours. Having dinner together was a lot of fun and the sisters reminisced about what it was like when they spent the summer. The oldest sister remembers when their family owned a neighboring house, but that was when she was an only child……The children were only moderately interested in the fact that their mothers, aunts and grandmothers used to live here, but the adults enjoyed it thoroughly.

 

 

A Week of Whimbrels

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There is always something new on the beach. I’ll post weekly with what’s been going on. This week we determined that there are at least two whimbrels on the beach, and possibly four, two pairs. These fanciful birds are long-beaked shore birds, a bit smaller than their cousins, the curlew. Bird guides list them as uncommon in our area, but every year we seem to have a few that visit. (Internet photo of bird)

 

Saturday was Jonathan’s birthday pig barbecue. All our friends and neighbors who were at the beach for the weekend came by to help celebrate. Jonathan inaugurated his new barbecue patio and Dona Berta brought one of her magnificent cakes. Pablo (R in photo), visiting from Cusco, said that in Cusco one kisses the cake and when Jonathan leaned over to comply his head was dunked in the whipped cream to roaring laughter.

The cake is vanilla layers filled with manjar blanco, (caramel), canned peaches and fresh strawberries. It is frosted lavishly with whipped cream and topped with fresh berries. Not a crumb was left over.

Sunday–For a few days an algae bloom washed in, turning the waves red-brown and leaving foam on the shore. Not pleasant for swimming, but the foam made patterns on the sand.

Monday–Today the San Pedro cactus down the street bloomed. The flowers come out about every second year and last only a few days.

 

Tuesday–Thick, thick mist that dissipated only for a couple of hours in the afternoon. Orca was so anxious to go on her walk that she tried to drag Jonathan to the sidewalk.

 

Thursday–The tide is as low as I’ve ever seen it, thanks to the Blue Super Moon predawn on the 31st. The water is also even colder than usual, 63°F, I’d guess. Even with sleeves and a short wet suit my swim was brief.

Friday–Nothing day. We both ended up with stomach pains and spent the day resting and eating crackers. It’s not always paradise.

Beach Days

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Even when the day dawns bright and the mist burns off rapidly, the hot sun on the wet sand produces billows of mist all morning. People are setting up their umbrella while big puffs of fog roll by like ghost tumbleweeds.

Once the sun comes out, all kinds of people come to the beach. Some don’t plan on swimming, while others just can’t wait to get wet.

 

There is less emphasis on wearing a bathing suit into the water than in the US. Children react very differently to the ocean. Some are terrified of the water, others can’t wait to get in. Adults, too.

 

Some beach activities are timeless.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday Afternoon……………………………………………….Monday Morning

How to Make Paella

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The main event at a recent housewarming was paella made by two Spaniards. These are experienced paella-makers, and they came prepared.They used a portable gas burner with three concentric rings of flame, perfect for a paella pan.

 

Sauteeing the initial vegetables and seasonings in the big paella pan.

At subsequent points, more liquid was added and then the pork, sausages and chicken.

Once those were started, the rice was added in a big star shape across the surface of the pan. This seems like a good idea as well as nice showmanship, because it limits stirring needed to evenly distribute the rice.

The dish simmered for a while as everyone chatted.

The final touch was to add pimentos. All the Peruvians pointed out that the peppers were grown in Peru, processed in Spain and exported back to Peru where they cost plenty. They were delicious, too.

I had never eaten paella without seafood and was skeptical (I kept my doubts to myself). It was delicious, really delicious. We benefited from our cooks, who were said to have made paella for 400 people on occasion. For them, this was a lark, easy to whip up as a housewarming gift for a friend. All you need are the ingredients and an audience–and some wine.

New on the Street

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My horizons are a bit smaller in Barranca than elsewhere, since my universe is my neighborhood. It was pretty exciting to have a new food truck cafe. A pleasant Colombian couple is selling coffee drinks and the back of their van has two beautiful old-fashioned looking expresso machines. The two wear traditional Colombian outfits and look dazzing compared to the rest of us.There is only one tiny down side. I was envisioning my cappucino after a morning walk, but our new coffee purveyors said they set up around 1 pm. Maybe they’ll eventually try a morning shift.

A person can dream.

Bringing In 2018

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We had a wonderful New Year’s Eve considering that at noon on Dec. 31 we had no idea what would happen. A couple of conversations later and a quick trip to the store we were set. (Jonathan shopped while I stood in the long line. Serendipity smiled, and he turned up just as I got to the head of the line.)

We strolled the beach in the afternoon. There are a lot of tents this year, pitched by people who want to celebrate on the beach.Food trucks are getting into competition with traditional street-side vendors.

I was fascinated by a group jumping rope on the beach, especially since they were mostly men. I’m used to jump rope being for girls. At one point all three men managed to get in and get jumping.

Teresa hates to have her picture taken. Leila doesn’t mind.

After harvesting some salad ingredients in the garden and a bit of cooking we were ready for guests.

We had a simple goal, make it to midnight. The  tradition in Peru is to start the evening at midnight, celebrating at home over a dinner at the start of the New Year, then going off to clubs or parties. Our group was willing to have dinner earlier, in hopes of making it to midnight.

We suggested guests arrive at 8 pm and we started with a range of beverages from homemade eggnog to wine and scotch. We were happy to chat and sip, with just a few peanuts to keep us going. There was a long discussion of how early was too early for dinner. Waiting until midnight was out of the question, but if we ate at nine, would we be asleep by 11? There was also an important rehash of the year’s news, politics and neighborhood gossip. That took us until almost ten, and we finally decided that the right moment had arrived.

It was a delicious dinner, with steak, pasta salad and green salad. We enjoyed ourselves thoroughly, but even so the party unraveled after 11.

Jonathan and I decided to put chairs on the front porch and await the midnight fireworks that are a cherished custom in Peru. Who can sleep through an extended spate of fireworks? We decided we might as well see them. The fireworks were impressive considering that they are all privately purchased and set off. At one point, there were fireworks at three or four places along the beach and three sites above us in town. The displays went on for more than 15 minutes, a great end to the evening.The view down the beach.

Smoke and fireworks over our house.

If this is any indication, it should be a good year.

Transitions

It’s time again for resolutions that we would like to keep, those we might keep, and a few that we keep making even though know we will never keep them. Hope is boundless, so let’s all put a big scoop of it in our resolutions and head on in to the New Year.

Our holiday decor is very hopeful, including elements of as many belief systems as we could gather. A Chancay figurine wears a hand of Fatima, the creche rubs shoulders with a couple from Ayacucho riding an elephant, and all the stockings show how Christmas is perceived by designers in China. There is a piece of whale bone in the non-functioning fireplace. At least Santa doesn’t get burned on a real fire when he comes down the chimney.

Meanwhile, transitions are taking place all around us as summer takes hold in Peru. The thick coastal mist that characterizes not-summer is giving way to the quickly evaporating mist that is gone by 10 am with hot days to follow. There are flocks of seabirds on the beach every day. They will seek less crowded shores as soon as summer vacationers arrive in slightly greater numbers. The flocks of gulls are punctuated by the occasional tern or oystercatcher and the rare whimbrel or two. I love seeing the whimbrels, they have such a fanciful name. Their long curved beak and nervous cheeping makes them look like an uncomfortable accountant who has lost his eyeglasses, perennially flying just over the water looking for his specs.

There are some local transitions that stand out because we’ve been away since April. Last year we had restaurants on either side of our house, both are gone. The newcomer just south of us didn’t have enough business, we hear, and gave up before his lease ended. Las Gaviotas, forty-year landmark of the neighborhood, aged out of business. The owners had passed the running of the restaurant to their son, our good friend Gaim. When Gaim was diagnosed with leukemia three years ago, we all believed that he was a bone marrow transplant away from recovery, and one of his siblings was a match. He died two years ago from a form of MRSA that he contracted in the hospital, never well enough to undergo the transplant. The cruelty of his death affected us all, but his parents couldn’t face returning to the daily grind of the restaurant, itself a reminder of their missing son. The signs are down and painted over, and they have resisted offers to rent the restaurant space to others. Las Gaviotas is closed.

Not all is gloomy. A few doors down is a brand new beach house just completed by a friend who has wanted to have her own place on Chorrillos Beach for many years. We met when she stopped by to tell us stories of staying in the house that is now ours when she was a child. Maria Luisa’s new house is lovely, with a generous porch overlooking the beach, large living/dining area decorated with Spanish tiles collected on visits to Spain through her work with Iberia airlines. There’s a large interior patio with a grassy plot in the center and two bedrooms at the back, sure to be quiet. We are looking forward to her vacation days in the neighborhood.

Up and down the beach we see people putting up new woven sun shades over their front porches and painting their facades, getting ready for the season. One disco has a new name and a restaurant has added rooms to rent.  Two small hotels no longer advertise rooms, though I understand that both intend to rent rooms informally. Inspections by the civil defense authorities revealed costly upgrades that both–in older buildings–decided they couldn’t afford.

One tiny new bar has emerged along a stretch that appeared to be completely built up. Mackey’s Bunker is just over one parking space wide. That’s pretty narrow, but they’ve managed to squeeze in three tables. I wish them luck.

The beach is the same as ever. Some years the sand washes in and the beach expands. Other years the sand washes out and people worry that the seawall will be undermined. It hasn’t happened yet. The beach has not been maintained recently because of a strike by sanitation workers  and the high tide line has a lot of unsavory junk–wrappers, plastic, halves of limes, the occasional onion. When we arrived there was a dead seal on the beach and we wondered whether it would be left to ferment. Just as the smell became really noticeable on our daily walk down the beach, the carcass disappeared. I guess the city fathers realized that it might put a damper on Christmas. Even the dogs wouldn’t touch it.  Workers settled the strike yesterday and today, finally, the beach was clean.

The seawall is painted most years by a commercial sponsor. This year the repair and painting is underway with one section bright orange and the next section green. The logos should get stenciled on by New Year’s Eve. Or the week after. Perhaps.

The ebb and flow of life in a small beach community is unchanged. The taxi driver who parks at the bottom of the hill up to town is still there. Jonathan wished him a Feliz Navidad and shook his hand. The old man with a terribly bent back still sits on the seawall doing his Sudoku, and three generations from nearby–mother, daughter, granddaughter–walk up and down past the house. This year the youngest is pushing her doll in a carriage, not riding in a stroller herself. They wave as they go by.

We are creatures of habit here, too. We set a table and chairs on the front porch to have our lunch. At six pm we set out two easy chairs and a small table to watch the sunset. Anyone who wants to say hello or confer knows when to find us. The sunset is different every day. We have so many sunset photos that we try not to take any more, but sometimes we can’t help ourselves. It’s part of the rhythm of the neighborhood.

 

Farewell to Illinois and Hello, Summer!

Our extended stay in Illinois wasn’t all we might have hoped for, after all, it included a hospital stay for Jonathan (only overnight). After all the waiting for tests, the surgery itself went smoothly and he was home and sore the next day. Now, a week later, he is largely back to normal.

 

We were able to take advantage of the last week of our stay to see the Illuminations at Morton Arboretum, an event where sections of trees at the arboretum are lit with lights that change color, move, even flash to the beat of music.

Some of the intense colors were beautiful, and my favorite area was where selections from The Nutcracker Suite played while lights flashed in time to the music across the trees. The night was cold but not frigid and though many people said it would be prettier with snow, I was happy without it.

This was our last winter event. We took off early Monday morning for Lima and arrived ahead of schedule (!), at 9:25 pm. We stayed overnight at the Hotel Senorial, where we’ve been staying on our trips to Lima for the past 20 years. After some shopping and the annual handicrafts fair, Ruraq Maki, at the National Museum, we headed for Barranca. We watched the sunset on the longest night of the year. It wasn’t much of a sunset, but the furthest south that the sun will set for us.