The original goal of a visit to Lima was to see the Julie Taymor version of “The Magic Flute” being offered as part of the Metropolitan Opera in HD series. It’s an abridged version of the opera, finishing in under two hours, and absolutely gorgeous, as well as having wonderful singers (Nathan Gunn, Matthew Polenzani).
We ended up tacking on an additional day and a half to accommodate doctor visits and shopping for our home redecorating project. Welcome to shopping in Lima! Here are a few thoughts.
(!) Lima traffic has always been bad–now it is worse. Traffic is rerouted from major streets for projects that do not have a projected end date. Traffic is rerouted within neighborhoods for projects to replace water lines. There is no indication of where these projects are located or how long they will last. The extensive system of one way streets guarantees that you cannot escape the long line of cars backed up to turn onto the only street going the direction you want. I brought a book.
This is the highway, not a parking lot(!). We stopped at one of the large malls (San Miguel) and I headed for Ripley, one of the largest department stores, to look at their “Beach and Terrace” section. I finally asked for directions. It was in the underground parking garage and unlike the catalogue with its sets of wicker furniture neatly arranged, there was a row of bicycles, one set of plastic wicker (too small), and two unmatched chairs. Lots of molded plastic chairs in a stack. The only beach umbrella available was part of an extensive set of loveseat, chairs, table and pillows (plastic). So much for getting a pair of wicker chairs and a beach umbrella. This scenario was repeated at the two other large stores I visited, right down to the location in the underground parking and lack of stock. On line I found a store that sells wicker furniture in Lima but it was far from any other place on our list and we ran out of time before getting there. Result: a new toaster oven. No wicker.
Here’s my shopping issue. I’m ruined for shopping in the developing world because I want to shop like I do in the US. Go someplace, find things, pay, take them home. The “finding” is the biggest job. In Peru, finding may require a lot of work, but the paying and taking home can make you want to tear your hair out.
Take the toaster oven. First the cultural issue: Most Peruvians do not have any oven. They have a range top. Thus, they do not want a toaster oven for toast, but to roast a chicken, or bake dinner for six. Sadly, we just want toast. All the toaster ovens are too big and their heating elements are in the corners to make room for the chicken. We decided to buy the smallest, only double the size of what we would buy in the US, and with heating elements somewhat closer to the center. We now needed a sales person.
The floor is teeming with sales persons. They are grouped in tight circles chatting and laughing, or they are hidden in the corners of the display areas. Their training does not seem to have included anything about sales or customer service. We break into a group and ask for help. We are referred to a young man, who seems nonplussed that he would be asked about a toaster oven. He finds a young woman. She would like to demonstrate the features of the toaster, show us how each rack is positioned and that it slides in and out. We say that we have made up our mind just need a toaster oven in a box. There are none of the one we’ve selected visible. She waves vaguely to indicate that we should go pay and she will get the toaster oven. We go stand in line to pay. We are allowed to pay with a credit card (It used to be worse. You used to have to go to a bank, pay into an account there and return to the store with the voucher for the payment). We return to the toaster zone, looking for our box. Our helper is not there.
I go looking in one direction. Jonathan goes in the other. He finds our assistant hiding in a corner playing a game on her phone. She grudgingly agrees that she will go get our toaster. We, of course, are ready to leave but must await the toaster. She leaves. We get very tired of waiting. A supervisor steps out of the circle of chatting women nearby and I ask her why we can’t get our box. I begin to wave my arms and try to describe how simple it should be to get us our toaster. The supervisor looks alarmed and leaves. A few minutes later our person returns with our toaster on a cart. She had to go to a warehouse area and there was no one there to help her. She had to open the box to make sure all the pieces were there and she had to do it all on her own. (They do this. They open every box you purchase to make sure that its sealed contents haven’t disappeared between China and the department store). Now she must accompany us downstairs before we can leave. Three young men in the next location do not want to help us, they want us to sit in a row of chairs for a while. We decline. Our assistant retapes the box and we leave. We need lunch. Or a drink.
I did find some of the things I was looking for, bedspreads, small rugs for the floor by the bed. We ended up finding chairs and lamps at a store that Jonathan passed on his way to the Surquillo market, one of the good city markets where we buy a few upscale items (baby artichokes, cheese, nuts, sushi vinegar). Whether a store is on one of our routes in and out of the city definitely shapes where we shop, which shows you how truly awful traffic is in Lima.
Last but not least was the shopping at the tourist market. We like traditional craft items, and we needed two more decorative plates to go with the others we hang in the patio. We found these without difficulty. Our final stop was the stall of the people who make finely woven floor mats from reeds. The reeds are harvested outside Huacho, less than an hour’s drive from our house in Barranca, but the sales are in Lima, so we visit the tourist market for the best selection. They have lots of colorful baskets, but no floor mats. They don’t make them for the stall any more, they are made to order. They offer to carry out the process via Whatsapp, sending photos and prices. We are thinking this over as we leave with their phone number. I think about suggesting a visit to the wicker store and decide that I would rather lie down. We return to the hotel.
The next day we visit the “Bioferia” the organic market that takes place on Saturday mornings. It is lovely, outdoors along the side of a park. We run into a friend and catch up a bit. I buy a vegan tart with whole grain crust, cashew cream filling and big berries on top. It’s actually pretty good and my day is already a success.
We get to the theater on time for the movie and find out that popcorn is not available because the opera goers as a group don’t purchase enough of it. My entreaties to the concession manager fall on deaf ears. Next time I’ll bring my own damn popcorn. The show is wonderful. We head for home. It takes forever (4+ hrs for 100 miles, you do the math). Jonathan says he is not going to Lima again, except we bought tickets for the next opera on Jan. 16.