What is it like? Expat Life in Peru? First I didn’t want to use the word expat, but I do spend four or five months a year in Peru and most of the rest of the time traveling. My situation may be a bit different than others because I am more mobile than fixed, but if an expat is someone who lives mostly outside the US, for now that includes me. I started to write about what life is like and ended up with a long laundry list of what is good about it and what isn’t. Instead I’m going to post a positive story and a less positive story every day or two for a while.
I didn’t specifically choose to live outside the US. I am now spending four to six months each year in Peru because it is pleasant and we have a wonderful house here, not because Peru has an especially strong pull on my affections. I have neighbors I am fond of and who I look forward to chatting with. At the same time, I have no plans to apply for residency here, and in the long run, whether in two years or ten, I plan to relocate to the US.
Accepting that I am in my present location in a kind of coincidence, what makes it worth staying for? Location, location, location. I live across the street from the Pacific Ocean, and we are in Peru during the Austral Summer, November-April, when the temperatures reach just over 80º F and the breeze keeps us cool. It’s not always cool, the humidity is often high and you can feel sticky. That’s usually just enough of a push to get me to go in the ocean.
The Pacific is cold here, with the Peru/Humboldt current just offshore coming from Antarctica. In December, my first dip of the season lasted about a minute, most of it spent slowly, slowly wading into the frigid water and feeling my legs go to sleep. I ducked under and rushed out. By mid-January, the temperature has moderated enough that everyone agrees that the water is “refreshing”. I usually wear a cap sleeve, legless wet suit and that makes it just comfortable enough to stay in for a little while. I always take my bodyboard (We don’t call them boogie boards anymore) and I ride waves in to shore. I probably don’t every go even as far as 100 yards on my longest ride, but you get the same rush from riding on a body board that you get from pushing off at the top of a ski slope, and it’s easier on the knees. I am the oldest person with a board by about 50 years, looked at as an amusing quirky figure on the beach. Sometimes being a foreigner lets you do things that others don’t. I keep waiting for others to join me.
Between Christmas and the first of March, a number of neighbors spend part of every day on the beach. With or without umbrellas, people emerge around 11 am and leave when it is time to have lunch, somewhere between 2 and 4 pm. I can sit down and chat with whoever is out for as long as I want before or after my swim. My pattern diverges from the general one because I often work on an archaeological report in the morning and go out to swim at midday. I don’t spend as much time on the beach as some people do. I get pretty tan, but I don’t want to get any more sun than I already do.
Totally unrelated to the wonderful beach but crucial to living in a developing country like Peru is access to the internet, which we obtain through the phone company, Telefonica. This is my not-so-wonderful story. Telefonica is a big Spanish company and has provided our fixed phone and our wifi since we arrived. Wifi has been available for more than ten years and was a BIG help during the research project because everyone wanted to read their mail in the evening and we only had two desktops with cable internet. Further, people used to download all sorts of files with viruses attached. We had to have a technician come in once a month to clean off the unwanted programs. Good thing ransom-ware hadn’t been invented back then. Our service is generally good, but when we have problems, it is a struggle to get someone to come and fix it. Occasionally, the problems we have with internet, like getting dumped off the connection every five minutes, seem like a technique of Telefonica to reduce the number of simultaneous users. Now that everyone has a cell phone and access to the internet the system is easily overloaded. By shaking everyone off every few minutes, people are discouraged from whatever they are doing and free up some space. Thus, all users have the sense that they have service, though it may be for just a few minutes. Some days when we make a skype call to family members, we say goodbye first so that when we’re cut off we don’t have to call back to say goodbye because that can take another 15 minutes.
Weird local observation of the day: The garbage truck slowly moves down the street honking its horn to remind people to bring out their trash. Jonathan points to the back and says, “Look at that!”. I look at the back and see…..a full grown dead sea lion lying in the back of the garbage truck. I don’t even know how they got it in, it must weigh 500 lbs and there are only two skinny guys who collect the bags. Hmmm.