Travel Planning, the Schengen area, and Coronavirus

We begin planning our travels for the coming year just after we land in the US at the end of September. By the time we’ve hashed out where exactly we’d like to spend the following April-September, it’s some time in October and Jonathan begins scouring the Airbnb listings.

The Schengen area

This year we ran into a problem before Coronavirus spread into our consciousness. When we left Sicily at the end of September, 2017, we had been in Italy for five and a half months. When we went to make our European plans for 2020 we found the rules have changed! The Schengen area, 26 countries that include most of Europe apart from Ireland, the UK, and some of the former Yugoslavia have made it nearly impossible for US citizens, among others, to stay longer than 90 days. Though visitors are still allowed to stay for 180 days per year, each 90 day visit must be followed by 90 days outside the region. Should we want to spend more than three months in Europe, we would have to visit in two rounds separated by three months. While that would allow us to visit during lovely times of year, say March-May and September-November, skipping the hot and crowded months of June-August, it would require us to make two round trips to Europe rather than one. If you tack on the question of where we would live June-August, when our Peru house is in the depths of cold, misty, humid winter, you begin to see that the new rules have struck at the heart of our travel strategy.

Winter on the coast of Peru, gray skies, mist, cold (no central heating).

The rule is so new that our travel agent wasn’t aware of it, and sold us tickets for five months stay in the Schengen Zone. When we discovered the tourist visa problem and complained, she countered that a discussion of the Schengen rules came up at almost every weekly meeting in her office. They are still feeling their way. She rearranged our flights and waived her fee.

Phase 1 of packing–throw things on bed.

What we decided to do was to explore more of the UK after our three months in Europe are up, giving us time to spend the month of July near Penzance in Cornwall, way down near Land’s End. There are gorgeous walks and lots to see. It’s hardly a sacrifice to give up Denmark for England. The following month we’ll be in Wales, another green and lovely region that probably will not be roasting during August. We would have liked to visit Sweden, but that will have to wait.

In September, we’ll try Croatia, a country that is trying to get into the Schengen group but won’t succeed until at least 2021 because of political infighting with member countries. That means we are eligible to stay in Croatia for 90 days without regard to where else we’ve been all summer. We reserved properties for each month, made our travel arrangements, rented cars and booked flights. Everything was in order.

Until Coronavirus.

Every day we hear of new infections, there are new cases in more countries, and the culmination was last week’s huge drop in the US stock market. We went out and bought paper masks and a bottle of hand santizer, having read that stores in the US and Amazon are already out. Peru isn’t worried and we got both.

Now we’re ready.

We aren’t changing any of our plans. Jonathan has been tracking the number of new cases of the virus, the total number of cases, and the death rates rather closely. What the graphs show as of today is that the Coronavirus is spreading much more slowly than it was a week ago. New cases world wide may level off this week and even start to decline. Though he has to track a few more days to see where the trends are going, unless something changes drastically, the outbreak is not a pandemic and won’t become one. By the time the virus has been tracked for six weeks, it will be tapering off. We are keeping all our plans in place, reasonably confident that by the date of our planned departure for Athens on April 1, 2020, air travel and tourism will be largely back to normal. Jonathan’s close following of the statistics has made the difference for us. Though the data is pretty scanty and models of disease transmission are surprisingly scarce (have these been supressed?) the trends right now suggest the virus is on its way out.

Let’s hope we’re right.


Climate Change in my Neighborhood

One of the reasons people have had trouble believing in man-made climate change has been the lack of symptoms. Things have changed, or we’ve passed a tipping point, because now everyone sees climate change around them. Summer in Europe turns Florence into an oven, while winter in some parts of the US doesn’t bring enough cold to kill the cockroaches.

This month, climate change is front and center on the beach. Where we spend Nov.-March in Peru there are two seasons. Cool (50s-60s) and humid winter weather runs from June-October, and sunny, hot (80s) summer from December-April. May and November are transitions from one season to the next. According to this scheme, February is mid-summer. If there is coastal mist in the morning it burns off by about 10 am, and doesn’t return until 4:30 pm. When we were here in early 2018, we agreed to buy a room air conditioner for the study if the weather continued to be so hot during the day. At night we were sleeping with two fans going.

We haven’t bought the air conditioner.

Most of February has been unusually misty, with coastal fog lasting all day as it does in the heart of winter, or breaking for an hour at midday. Even stranger are the days when the mist hangs along the coast until mid-afternoon, clearing from 3-4pm. The sun has been coming out just when beachgoers are heading home for a meal after hours spent on the beach (prime beach time is 11 am-3 pm). It has become impossible to predict when it’s time to go to the beach. In a beach community, this is an issue.

The people who rent umbrellas and beach chairs set up their first chairs and stake out their stretch of sand by 9 am, but there are days when no one comes to occupy their chairs until well into the afternoon. I like to go for a swim when the sun is out, yet some days the sun is back under the clouds by the time I get suited up, or worse, I give up on the idea of having a dip and then the sun comes out and roasts me wherever I am in the house. If I change my mind the sun will have disappeared again before I’m out the door.

I was on the beach waiting for a bit more sun before going into the water. I sat chatting with my neighbors who have a regular outpost of umbrellas and towels. I can tell where everyone is sitting even without my glasses. “Where’s the sun?!” I complained. “Right there,” a friend pointed upward. I looked, and there was a pale lemon colored dot in the sky. The sun was out, but heavily veiled by mist. We all noticed there was a halo around the sun, a large white circle with a hint of rainbow colors at the edges. Later, I read these are caused by high cirrus clouds between us and the sun, and the refraction of ice crystals in those clouds.

Every day is not cooler than normal, and the mist evaporates completely on many days, the sun comes out, and the day heats up, but the overall pattern is different than usual.

Most of my readers are in the depths of winter right now. Do you notice anything different from other years?

Fiesta Weekend, Feb. 7-12, 2020

This was the weekend of the annual fiesta in our neighborhood. The Virgin of Lourdes is the patroness of our area. A tiny chapel sits up on the hillside, and the larger chapel is at the end of our block. Every year a local resident sponsors the festival and organizes a weekend of activities.

This year the actual feast day of Our Lady of Lourdes is Feb. 11, but the event is held on a weekend to accommodate those who come from elsewhere. The weekend has become a homecoming for Chorrillanos (people who live on Chorrillos Beach), wherever they are.

There are religious observances, a novena the week preceding the festival, and various Masses dedicated to the Virgin celebrated in front of the chapel, followed by a procession with the statue through the neighborhood.

Events are designed to draw in neighbors and members of the larger Barranca community. Friday night was bingo under a canopy outside the chapel. The mountain of prizes took many games, lasting from about 7:30 pm until almost 11. I won a coffee maker! (Jonathan left after the first few games.) Other players won sets of glasses, dishes, and first class amenity kits courtesy of our friend who works at Iberia Airlines. One of the young men won a pink handbag with a kitty cat face on the front that was good for a lot of laughs from the crowd.

Saturday morning began with a walk from the chapel at our end of the beach to the top of the hill at the opposite end of the beach where a very tall statue of Christ the Redeemer overlooks the bay. It took a while for the group to gather, but this is the beach in summertime. The walk was lovely and many walkers commented on how long it had been since they had been up to see the view.

There were sports events including soccer and volleyball tournaments, though most people headed for the beach, especially visitors who live elsewhere and return to Barranca for a beach reunion, who wanted to make the most of their weekend. Our neighbor Miguel opened his beer and snacks kiosk, a most welcome addition to our end of the beach. The causa bites by Romina were delicious.

Activity picked up in the evening, when Mass was followed by the procession, then the chocolatada. As the name suggests, hot chocolate and sweet bread are distributed. This is a real favorite with children, and for many adults brings back memories of childhood when chocolate was a very special occasion treat.

The stage that had been sitting idle for the afternoon was now bustling with people setting up waaay too many amps, each about the size of a refrigerator, with cables and music stands. The next hour was entertainment by the local youth choir and orchestra. Though they deserved their moment in the spotlight, it might have been better for the young performers to appear at sunset, rather than later. The overall plan was to keep everyone awake until the fireworks at midnight and for that we needed some adult music. Sometime after 10 pm, music for dancing started up, and the neighborhood began to swing. By 12:30 or 1 am when the fireworks went off, only neighbors were left dancing, until sometime after 3 am when the music ended. We didn’t make it past the early evening, but we’re assured that there was dancing all night both at the stage, and up at the Hotel Chavin, where some neighbors danced and sang karaoke until very late.

The fireworks used for the fiesta are a “castillo” or castle, a tower of bamboo strapped with about forty different spinning or exploding elements. Once the castle is rigged on the sandy beach, it is set off piece by piece with a grand finale of twirling, fizzing, hissing pieces that makes an impressive display.

Saturday night went out with a bang, and Sunday came all too soon. We got a leisurely start, taking our walk along the beach when it was still largely empty, just the vendors and umbrella rental folks getting in position.

The Feast of the Virgin has often seemed like the hottest day of the summer, and this year was no exception. Though it has been overcast lately, the sun was bright and by mid-day there were flocks of people on the beach. At the same time, Sunday traditionally includes a demonstration of caballos de paso, and around 1 pm people migrated toward the chapel where the demonstration was to take place. Caballo de paso have a particular gait, or way of stepping, that is very smooth. A century ago, one version of the folkdance of the coast, “La Marinera,” has the lady dancing with the caballo de paso. Part of the fiesta has always been a demonstration of horsemanship, dancers doing the Marinera, and the dance of the lady and the horse. This year was no exception. Our neighbor Maria Luisa did the honors dancing with the caballo.

The greatest novelty of the riders this year was the presence of a woman among the group.

Once the dancing and horsemanship was complete, people returned to the beach, stopping at the kermes, food stalls that are usually part of the Sunday events. There was a long line for tacu tacu, the local specialty of rice and beans that often accompanies seafood.

Music throbs among several clubs on Sunday afternoons in the summer. Their parties run from about 3-10 pm, and the music booms over and over until evening and this Sunday was no exception. When we get tired of the noise we sit in the back yard enjoying the sun and the diminished hubbub.

The fiesta continued on Monday, because the actual feast day is Jan. 11, Tuesday. There was another mass, more hot chocolate, and a traditional serenade, with more planned for midnight. On Tuesday, the farewell mass was followed by a procession under the hot sun, before the statue of the Virgin returns to her chapel high on the hillside until next year.

Friends and family who have arrived from as far away as the US and Europe will generally stay for a while, enjoying their time catching up with those they haven’t seen in the past year. This is the height of summer vacation, and many of our neighbors who live in Lima are here for the month. Those who work try to stay an extra day when they can, and come out on the weekends. The result is a neighborhood of friendly faces, another reason we like it here during the summer.

Enjoying the Slow Lane

We walk to the opposite end of the beach and back almost every day. We walk down on the sidewalk by the seawall, and back on the beach. You’d think we’d get tired of the up and down, but we always find new things to look at. By taking the same route every day, we notice tiny changes. Ask anyone who walks the same route regularly and they will tell you about small changes they notice (We do not look at our phones while we walk…).

First one direction
Then the other direction

Monday is always quiet, the beach empty except for the few men who fish from shore every day. They spend hours casting into the surf, and we don’t see a lot of fish, but there they are every day. Every Monday is a new season, a fresh start, and the beach seems expectant, waiting.

Then the hardest-working men in Barranca come by, their truck lumbering down the street, honking, honking, honking to remind people to bring out their trash, and the spell is totally broken. Monday is the day with the most/messiest garbage. This is a beach community, and in the summer, Sundays have the most visitors, and the most people likely to leave styrofoam containers of leftover chicken bones and cold french fries on the beach for stray dogs to tear apart. Best not to look down on Mondays. Fortunately, there is a new environmental awareness. These signs appeared on the beach right where the most people pass by. “To enjoy the beach is to keep it clean,” “Take your backpack, your phone, your trash,” “Thank your for visiting my beach. Keep it clean.”…

I’m happy that people are becoming more aware of how quickly trash ends up in the ocean. It will take time to educate people, and to reinforce new habits.

During the week, the beach is often quiet all morning, a perfect time for a walk. Over the years, we notice more people walking their dogs on a leash, more joggers, more people doing exercise on the beach. There are soccer training groups who meet, running around lines of cones, jumping over strings, working on drills. There are a number of surfing and body boarding classes, too.

I watch construction projects: a new story is added next door, and down the street an old house was torn down to be replaced with apartments. Bricks, sand, and cement sit in piles on the street one day, and are gone the next. Hammering begins at 8 am Monday and continues off and on until Saturday noon, when the work week officially ends. It’s common for people to leave rebar pointing skyward, waiting for funds to build another story. I am waiting to see whether the current projects will get completed before we leave in March. Farther down the street, a homeowner added the first wall of a third story room and then stopped, tiled the facade, and now the single brick stub is a reminder of what may be coming.

More charming than brick walls are many tiny bright spots. The city installed streetside planters a few years ago. Most have not survived, though a few benefit from tending by the residents. This one broke recently, and I wondered what would happen to the lovely flowers planted by our neighbor who lives opposite. I was astonished to find a huge and brightly colored new planter delivered on Saturday, and even more surprised to find it newly painted and replanted on Monday.

The next day we saw another miracle of the beach. A San Pedro cactus that has been growing in the sand sent out a gorgeous bloom. These last only a day. Most of the time, these cactus are easily overlooked, and this one on the beach didn’t look like a candidate for long term survival. Someone has been watering it, because it is even sprouting a new branch. The flower is lovely and so fleeting.

I’m not sure who decided that putting an old tire around the base of a tree planted on the beach would protect them, but the city planted coconut palms all along the beach this year and came by the next day to ring them all with old tires. The day after that, word went around that the city would be unable to water the trees regularly and was counting on the neighbors to take care of them. A brief discussion among homeowners and caretakers divvied up the trees so that each homeowner knows which one is “theirs” to water. If they survive, they will be lovely, and give a tropical fringe to the beach. In the past, there have been efforts by the city and by homeowners to plant palms along the shore, and only a few have survived. This is the first time for coco palms, and we are all hopeful.

Friday afternoon is the beginning of the weekend, and the noise level rises. More restaurants are open, and each one seems to need to play music–often pretty loud music. We have tried to convince the restaurant that is beside us that when people eat out, they want to have a conversation, and this is impossible if the music is very loud. It’s a tough sell. Fortunately, they close at 6 pm, just when we emerge to set up chairs for watching the sunset.

There are drumming groups (bateristas) that practice several days each week, and then spend all day Saturday and all day Sunday drumming their way up and down the beach. Combined with the restaurant music, music from private cars with their doors open, the honking of mototaxis in search of passengers, the bateristas can be the last straw, turning the atmosphere into a wall of sound. There is a “minimalist” piece by the composer John Cage called 4’33” during which the piano soloist sits at the piano but does not play for just over four and a half minutes. The idea is to get people to listen to what is around them. (At its inaugural performance, a lot of the audience left.) Here in Barranca, 4’33” would be a riot of music, drumming, car horns, and crashing waves, possibly with a few squealing children. It’s summer, people are on vacation, and that’s the soundtrack to living on the beach.

Every week we see new things, and say hello to almost everyone we pass, whether we know them or not. Some are people we know well, others are people we see regularly…nodding acquaintances, and others may just be visiting for the day.

Our biggest adventure lately has been dealing with a vicious dog that attacks our dog, and now us, every day. We get one attack as we go down the sidewalk, and another on the way home. In Peru, dogs are not regulated, and it is permissible for an owner to let a dog go free all day.* The only recourse neighbors have is to go to court–rather extreme. We have tried to think of ways to deter this dog. It’s a bit unnerving to be rushed by a dog with bared fangs twice a day.

We finally found the solution, a giant squirt gun. Yes, there’s something new every day.

What will we see tomorrow?

*We take one dog for a walk on her leash every day. We have another dog who has lost or gotten rid of every collar we’ve ever put on him. Though we try to keep him in the yard, Ruffo escapes as often as he can, and he cannot be caught. We’ve tried. He’s fast, and wily. When he’s ready to come back, he comes to one of the doors and paws it. Before then, no inducement works–Ruffo is well known along the beach. I may not be a fan of the Peruvian system that lets dogs run wild, but I have a dog that participates.

January Celebration

Jonathan’s birthday is Jan. 24, and as we chatted with neighbors on the beach, we found three others with birthdays on the same day, one the day before, one the week before, one the week after. We decided that a celebration was in order, and began our planning.

Our first issue was when to have the get together. The 24th itself seemed like a good date, but then we thought some people might not come out from Lima until the weekend. Would it be better to have the party on Saturday? We’d forgotten that the Peruvian special election of new congressmen is on Sunday, January 26. Voting is mandatory, and people must vote where they are registered. Most of our friends would be expected to go to Lima for voting. That might mean that friends from Lima wouldn’t bother coming out on the weekend of the 24th in order to be able to vote. We chatted with friends who said they weren’t planning to vote because the fine was so small, less than US $30. Another friend had quoted us a higher penalty, but that is for individuals who are scheduled to work in a voting station. Rather than make people choose our party or voting, we returned to the original plan of having a barbecue on the afternoon of Jan. 24.

We spread the word to friends and found that a quorum would be around and ready for festivities. Jonathan then got busy with his favorite part of party planning—the menu. He asked a fish vendor to save him a large flounder for ceviche and reserved a pig to barbecue. The flounder ended up weighing 5 kg! He swapped all our empty quart beer bottles for new cases of beer.

Peru has ancient customs that revolve around sharing drinks going back long before the Inca. Back when people brewed their own corn beer, or chicha, a gourd bowl of the brew was passed around friends sitting in a circle, perhaps around a fire. Anthropologists have written books about the use of drinking as a method of fostering, celebrating, and cementing relationships. There’s a scholarly article about how women influence politics by being the one handed the full bowl of chicha after the leader has taken the first drink. Protocol demands that the next most important person be handed the bowl, but the woman who takes the bowl from the leader and hands it to the next person has power to change the pecking order. It would be impossible to take the bowl away from someone who has it in their hands. Thus, it’s actually the leader’s wife who selects the next most important person. Lore associated with drinking chicha, sharing drinks, and sharing beer, is present everywhere.

In recent times, it has been customary to buy beer in quart bottles and share it among several glasses. Individual beer bottles have arrived but are still not as popular as the bigger bottles. I like the sharing implicit in the big bottles. We’ll make sure everyone has beer and raise a toast to all the birthday persons. There will probably be some pisco, too.

Friends will bring appetizers to share. They have a good name, “piqueos” something to pick at while you are sipping your beer. Many of our neighbor are creative in the kitchen, so there will be tasty snacks to try as the pig cooks. Maria-Luisa works for Iberia Airlines, and brings delicious Spanish chorizo.

Ceviche is one of the most important beach dishes, central to our family parties. Though Jonathan is adept at filleting fish and making ceviche, we had the chance to get our neighbor Teresa to make the ceviche, using her many, many years of experience… The freshest fish you can get is mixed with finely sliced arnaucho hot chili peppers, fresh lime juice and accompanied by pieces of Peruvian corn on the cob, or choclo. It’s not what Americans would recognize as corn on the cob, the kernels are large and white, and the flavor is not sweet. Ceviche also comes with pieces of sweet potato, boiled, then cooled. Lots of finely sliced raw onion (soaked in salted water) completes the dish.

Jonathan’s reserved pig didn’t come through, so he found someone who would sell him two baby pigs, butcher them on the spot and have them ready in time for the grill. He built up the fire and put both pigs on side-by-side for a few hours. This gave people time to arrive and enjoy a few appetizers, a drink, and a chat with friends. We all took a look at the grilling pigs from time to time. Back in the kitchen, work continued, as barbecued pork requires side dishes of potatoes, rice, or both, We have a friend who makes delicious beans, often with beans grown on the farm he manages. The middle of summer may not be the best moment for beans, but if they appeared, people would eat them. There could be a plate of sliced tomato, or avocado, but fresh vegetables aren’t a necessity. In the end, we stuck to eating the choclo and sweet potato left over from the ceviche.

Where are the men? Behind the cameras.

There is no rush to sit down and eat, there doesn’t even have to be a specific moment when the meal is called to order. As food appears, people taste what they like and chat with friends, spending the afternoon together. A few people may go out to the beach for a swim. Teenagers may arrive and leave depending on who is on the beach of their friends. Someone must mind the front door or it will be left open and the dogs would both escape. We shut Orca in the back alley by the laundry. She was unhappy to be left out of the fun, but we have friends who are very uncomfortable around dogs, especially big ones. Rufo slunk in and out, but he is wily and unobtrusive. He was barely noticed, and he’s difficult to corner and put on a leash. His wiles won out.

The ceviche was cheered and eaten, then we remembered to bring out the causa, a Peruvian layered appetizer of mashed potato, fish salad and egg salad. The first pig appeared, then diminished. Teresa took over the serving of portions after Jonathan divided it into large pieces. Everyone was becoming content, the snacks and sides put to use, and when the second pig arrived there was just enough enthusiasm left to polish it off right down to the head. Many toasts were made, and lots of photos taken. Dining tapered off, and plates were taken to the kitchen.

Archival photo: Kissing the cake.

The next group moment is the cutting of the cake. The birthday song is sung, there is much clapping and joke-telling, and the cake is cut and passed around. One year Jonathan was told to “kiss” the cake, and a friend added a little push.

This year the cake cutting was less raucous. The three birthday persons are on left, Mariana, Pedro, and Jonathan, singing birthday songs.

Slices of cake were small because by this point everyone has eaten as much as they want. The cake is particularly important because it is made by Dona Berta, the best cake-maker in all of Barranca. If you order the good chocolate cake at the Hotel Chavin when you’re driving through town, you may get a piece of Dona Berta’s work, if you are lucky. All the best parties commission her to make the cake, and we tried to do the same. She wouldn’t hear of it being a commission, but Jonathan’s birthday gift from her and her family. This is a very generous gift.

Once cake is handed around and enjoyed, the party is officially at an end. The young people can bail for the beach or the seawall, though many stayed to throw darts. The balloons around the dartboard were popped, and they all moved off, happy.

Everyone is free to stay and chat or go where their schedule and interests dictate. There was almost nothing left to clean up, some bones for the dogs, but little else. This simplified cleanup, and we didn’t have to press leftovers on departing guests. Eventually, people think about a late afternoon nap or a dip in the ocean, while others sit in clusters and chat and sip. Sometime late in the afternoon, the front door closes, we decide to put away the chairs tomorrow, and thank Dalmira and Jenny for doing the dishes. It was a well-celebrated birthday afternoon.

A wall decal

Our neighbor, Toto, has just built a new guest house and put some really nice decals on the walls. It’s a nice way to add decoration when you don’t want to use up a lot of space. When I asked where he got his decals, he offered to get me the contact information. A couple of days later, he came over with a big roll of paper. It was a wall-sized decal of a tree and birds, and another of a branch with more birds!

At the end of last week, I consulted with Fernando, our caretaker, about the wall I wanted to put the decal on. He recommended painting it with enamel first, so he did. We ran the fans for about 14 hours to help it dry and diminish the smell. Today the wall was ready. I started at the top of the baseboard molding and worked my way up the tree, sticking on the picture and peeling back the base layer of paper. As I don’t have six arms, I recruited some help from Carlos when he wasn’t out running errands, and we were able to get all the branches stuck to the wall.

I spent most of the afternoon burnishing the decal in hopes of being able to peel it off easily. This is a large decal, and I went slowly in removing the top layer. Every now and then I’d find a piece that wouldn’t stick properly to the wall, so I used a paintbrush and some white glue and water to glue down the gaps. It took a while to get all the layers peeled off. When the decal was up, I could add some of the birds that came with it. The end result is lovely, and I even found a little wooden bird to hang in the middle.

Family Visit

We had the best holiday in a long time, with all our girls coming to Peru. Lillian and Neil came from Champaign, IL, Lyra from Los Angeles, and Amanda and Jim from Los Angeles. It wasn’t as logistically awful as it could have been, with one group arriving on the Friday night before Christmas and the others the next evening. It was the same with their eventual departures, one group leaving at midnight, the other at noon the next day, a couple of days after New Years.

We promised not to make plans and that turned out to be a wise decision. All five have jobs that keep them busy, they would quickly have been exhausted by spending their vacation traveling and sightseeing. We kept the visit local, starting with a visit to the Barranca market for pre-Christmas food shopping. Everyone got to request their favorite Peruvian foods to build menus. We had baby pig on Christmas Eve, beef filet on Christmas Day, and in the following days we ate a big flounder, duck breast, and home made tacu tacu.

Our visitors went out for lunch to taste ceviche up and down the beach, agreeing that El Cangrejo at the far end of the beach had the best. There wasn’t time to visit all the restaurants, during the summer there are a dozen places that open up.

Every day we stroll to the opposite end of the beach and back, taking the dog if there aren’t big crowds, and often one or more of our group would accompany us. It’s a chance to stretch, admire the waves, and chat. A relaxing part of the morning.

Every member of the group cooks, and each one contributed to the menu. In the evenings, all five guests took turns as sous chef with Jonathan, peeling, chopping, and making sauces. On Christmas and New Years some personal specialties emerged, like Lillian’s buche de noel, Neil’s caramelized onions, and Jim’s Vietnamese sauce for pork. When we asked for help making snacks for our New Years Eve gathering on the front porch, Amanda and Lillian made pate a choux (mini creampuffs), and filled some with a savory filling (cream cheese and those caramelized onions) and others with a sweet filling (chocolate mousse). Lyra made way for the others, claiming that despite being an excellent cook (oh, those cupcakes!) in this crowd she was the third-best baker. Jonathan, as the fourth best baker, or maybe the fifth, made pannetone, the best I’ve every eaten, with bits of his home made candied orange peel, dried blueberries and cranberries plumped in rum.

Food wasn’t the only theme, there was the beach and ocean. Some days we set up beach umbrellas and chairs right in front of the house. Other days, just a beach blanket for towels and sandals. Those in the mood would walk straight out to the water. The boogie boards got good use.

We took two field trips to visit other beaches. The Albufera de Medio Mundo is a coastal lagoon less than and hour’s drive south of us that we have visited with the girls regularly since we first discovered it more than ten years ago. Coastal lagoons are uncommon in our area, filled with brackish water, they are home to a variety of shorebirds and are visited by migrating birds all year long. Reeds that grow around the edge of the lagoon are harvested to make mats and baskets, a craft that is at least 5000 years old in this region. The strip of dunes and beach that separates the lagoon from the ocean is where many shorebirds nest. There is often good beach combing along the ocean side of Medio Mundo, too, and we set up our umbrellas and chairs overlooking the ocean. A long stroll in one direction or the other is always a pleasure. Eventually, though, the heat and sun drive us back to the car and home.

The furthest we got from our base in Barranca was Tuquillo Beach, a lovely spot north of Huarmey. It was almost two hours of driving, but the Panamerican highway is relatively empty north of Barranca. Anyone who tolerates reading in the car, or napping, passed the time easily.

Tuquillo is a place where two small bays sit side by side, like two U’s joined in the middle. The car park is in the center. We chose the slightly more exposed, less crowded side, and enjoyed the water and walking along the shore. A spur of headland separates the two bays so Amanda and Jim went off to see what kind of marine creatures could be found sticking to the rocks. When they eventually returned, she brought news that there was an area of beach glass in the gravelly inlets on the edge of the hill. We all went to have a look and each returned with a small handful of beach glass. Most of it ended up in my jewelry workshop.

Amanda surprised me even more when we went to the north end of our beach to look at the sea creatures on the rocks. Not only did we find a lot of sea stars and other critters, we found beach glass. This is just a few hundred yards from home! I realize that I rarely walk that far down the beach onto the rocks. Now I’ll have to make it a regular stop, just to keep up with what has washed up. I found a small piece of blue glass, one of the uncommon colors.

During the times of day we were avoiding the sun everyone had time to read, rest, stretch on the impromptu yoga mats (blankets), or work on a jigsaw puzzle. Amanda received a puzzle of a Frank Stella painting that she and Neil put together in a matter of days. I happened to have a second puzzle that had been sitting around for a long time, probably because it was 2000 pieces. Everyone worked on this big one, and by the time we left for Lima on the homeward trip, there were only a handful of pieces missing. I finished it off the day we returned from sending them off.

Everyone brought their skills to the party, too. Jim nailed the fabric backing onto the loveseat where the tacking was giving out. Neil consulted on the wifi system, though it doesn’t look like we would benefit from a mesh upgrade. Lillian reset our connection to the printer, and fixed Jim’s constant resetting after a messed up update. She also made the Christmas squid. Amanda spent her down time knitting, turning out half a hat while she was with us. Jonathan ordered a pair of throwing axes after seeing pictures of an axe throwing adventure and set up an axe-throwing target in the back yard. Lyra threw axes most every day. The group enjoyed trying it out, but Lyra became a pro.

We found a few other games to try. Beach paddle ball suffered from a dead tennis ball and we’ve yet to replace it. Darts had its moment, though its a good thing the shafts and feathers are easily replaceable. We had a rip roaring game of Yahtzee. It’s become something of a family tradition, full of shouts encouragement and chants of “Yaht-zee, Yaht-zee” on that last roll.

We watched the sunset from the front porch most nights, each person adding a chair as they emerged from the house. Jonathan and I play gin, and we played round robin with each new challenger playing the winner of the previous hand. Neighbors sometimes stopped to say hello and many, many pictures of the sunset were taken.

New Years Eve and New Years Day (see previous post) were followed by one last relaxing day with no new plans or destinations. We left for Lima in two vehicles, loading the luggage in our car with a few passengers and the rest in another car that we rented. We arrived in Lima without trouble and proceeded to the craft market to let the group complete their gift shopping. On the way to the hotel we stopped at the grocery store for candy for office candy dishes, and a few odds and ends.

Jonathan planned a big ending to the visit by booking us a table at Maido, one of Lima’s best restaurants. Our group of seven had to have a private room and we missed the people watching that good restaurants provide, but the food was excellent, start to finish. We began at 7:30pm and might have gone on for dessert had it not been time for Lillian and Neil to head to the airport at 10:00. At least they didn’t need airline food on their overnight flight to Houston.

The next morning, Lyra, Amanda and Jim set off for the airport at 9:00 am, arrived around ten, and by the time they stood in all the lines, they managed to squeeze in five minutes of shopping to use up their last soles before filing right onto the plane to LA. By the end of Saturday, all of our five were home again. (We miss them.) It was a wonderful holiday.

A New Years Day at the beach

Half the world celebrates Christmas and the New Year in the summer, right after the longest day of the year. Here in Barranca, we’re close enough to the equator that the longest day is only about 30 minutes longer than the shortest, and we still celebrate, watching the sunset from the front porch, enjoying the afterglow on the clouds.

Christmas consists of a few decorations and a family dinner, usually timed to allow the family as much time as possible on the beach. Gift-giving is private, and not nearly as extensive or elaborate as in the US. Our great gift was having our children with us. We tried to stick to a humorous gift and a few stocking stuffers. We all had packages to open.

We shared a few Christmas cookies with our neighbors and enjoyed delicious home made peanut butter made by a young relative of our neighbor. We hope she goes into business because we would be regulars. We tasted Spanish wine from our friend who works for Iberia Airlines.

We planned a get together with neighbors on our adjacent front porches and invited everyone we ran into. Not a big party, but fun, a chance to catch up with those recently returned to their summer places as the weather has made the beach attractive.

When we first spent New Year’s Eve in Peru, in 2006, we discovered that most people stay at home until midnight when they step outdoors to light fireworks and start dinner. After that, young people go partying until morning. We prefer to celebrate while trying to stay awake until midnight. This year it was easy, surrounded by family and neighbors. The young boys present had various glowing things, like bracelets, gloves, and sticks. Sparklers came out just before midnight and then fireworks started going off all along the beach.

There was a big investment in fireworks, and full size twirling and booming fireworks went off overhead for at least ten minutes. It was a lot of fun to see, first one group, then the next exploding. A champagne toast circulated, we shared good wishes, and by the time the fireworks ended there was nothing left but a few olives and rapidly deflating yellow balloons. Yellow is the color of good luck and the New Year in Peru. We all went home happy and content with the friendship of our neighbors.

A certain amount of noise comes with beachfront living, and though we enjoyed the fireworks on New Year’s Eve, the most sleep-deprived night was Dec. 30, apparently designated Late Party Night. After the fireworks at midnight, the music continued until 6 am, punctuated by the smell of wood smoke from the campfires of those camping on the beach. Neither the camping nor fires are allowed, but the authorities were focused elsewhere, and fortunately for us, most campers were packed up and gone by breakfast time on January first.

Tiny girl fascinated by drummers.

New Year’s morning was a big surprise. We went for a walk just to gawk at the crowds. The beach was more crowded than we’ve ever seen, with every beach umbrella and beach chair that could be packed onto the beach. There were hundreds of umbrellas, right down to the water line and I wondered where everyone would go when the tide came in. People stood in the shallows or swam in the waves. As usual, half the children squealed with delight while the other half tried to stay as far from the water as possible, clinging to their parents to avoid getting dipped.

Hot dogs (perros calientes), food truck, bar, something for everyone.

Every restaurant along the beach was packed, and a few spontaneous storefront dining rooms opened for the day. Traffic was so heavy that turning the street one way wasn’t enough, and the traffic police spent the day sweating under their black uniforms trying to get cars to move. There was nowhere left to park and I was grateful that we didn’t need to go anywhere, since our driveway was blocked by visitors from early morning to evening.

We know there are thousands of people on the beach for New Year’s Day in Lima. Every year it’s on the front page of El Comercio on Jan. 2. We didn’t expect the crowds to grow so big in Barranca. Maybe that’s progress. The trash collectors, street cleaners, and beach cleaners are the unsung heroes of the holidays, making it safe to return to the beach the day after. The cleaners were on duty before dawn on Jan. 1, and spent a long time cleaning up the mess left by revelers, who were busy making a mess all over again by the time the last of the previous day’s leftovers were being swept up.

While all the New Year’s Day beach fun was taking place, we mostly retreated to our patio,

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heading out long enough for a swim, but also sleeping off our late night, playing darts, throwing axes,

and working on the 2000 piece jigsaw puzzle that is virtually complete after this crowd worked it over. I put in the final 30 pieces or so after we returned from dropping our visitors at the airport..

It was quite a holiday.

Holiday Time at the beach

It’s almost Christmas and we’ve been watching the neighborhood get ready for the holidays. Decorations are not that extensive, though the city has installed a tableau including Santa along one street, and there’s a Christmas tree on the beach. Until the last weekend before Christmas there wasn’t much decoration. On the weekend, though, booths selling toys, panettone, and fruit wine set up along a long stretch of downtown street. On the Monday before Christmas the stalls were in high gear offering everything pink, everything dinosaur and superhero themed. The food market was crowded and the grocery store was mobbed.

Outside the main food market, holiday specialties were on offer, including live guinea pigs, and turkeys, killed and plucked while you wait. We watched a young man try to get a live turkey to stand on a scale so that he could calculate the price (it was 8 kilos at s/. 12 per kilo). The turkey didn’t pay any attention to his entreaties to hold still….

We did our last shopping on the 23rd, enjoying the guy singing in the market, the stalls selling decorations, and the “fair” selling all kinds of toys.

We are enjoying the holiday now that our family has arrived. Yesterday they all went out to eat ceviche at El Cangrejo restaurant, where they found a lady Santa and a Santa Crab. Why not!

It is a lot of fun to have our children around. They are helping make all kinds of delicious things to eat, like the buche de noel that Lillian and I made.

Jonathan baked his own panettone. Though these yeast breads originated in Italy, they are extremely popular in Peru and we have never much liked the flavors. This year Jonathan decided to bake his own and on Christmas Eve we’ll find out whether we like it.

Where to buy the stable for all your Christmas figurines.

I’ve accumulated a lot of Christmas figurines. Technically, these are part of a “nacimiento” or creche, or Nativity scene. I like all the animals, and this year decided to go all out and get a stable to stage my scene. At this time of year there are stores that stock the prefab stables, so I picked out a good one and filled it up right away.

Our family Christmas scene

We bought a Norfolk pine for a Christmas tree because we have two of these in the back yard already. After the holidays we will plant it. It’s on the skinny side, and doesn’t matter very much that decorations are scanty.

We are ready for the holidays! Happy Winter Solstice, Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, Happy New Year!

Change is coming to the Beach

Christmas is not just a major holiday in Peru, it kicks off the summer vacation season. Schools let out the week before Christmas and stay closed until March first. Families take beach holidays. Seaside businesses make most of their annual income between Christmas and Easter. This week we started to see the build-up in expectation of holiday visitors. The weather is gradually changing too, with more days of blue sky and bright sun.

No one starts preparing for the holidays too soon. The city is repainting the lines along streets and sidewalks. They repainted one of the big streetside flower pots, too, with just a bit of over-spraying. The city is rebuilding the sidewalk around a small park at the end of the street. I should be happy that it is being done, but of all the civic projects I could think of, this one is at the bottom of my list.

One problem is that all of the houses on the right side of the street are abandoned. Maybe this will encourage someone to buy the vacant properties and redevelop them.

Vendors have started to set up every weekend. This couple has been awaiting visitors every Thursday through Sunday since early November. He tells me they have a business renting small carnival rides to local fairs during the winter (April-November). Business hasn’t been very good, so they decided to come to the beach early.

We are looking forward to the new restaurant that is scheduled to open soon. Since the Las Gaviotas restaurant adjacent to our house closed two years ago, we’ve been waiting for something new. There are lots of restaurants along the beach, but none of them has taken the place of Gaviotas. The new one (no name as of yet) is on the terrace and in the lobby area of what was the Hostal Casa Blanca. The lodging closed a couple of years ago when the city tightened oversight and the owners received a long list of repairs and changes required to be recertified as a hotel. They decided it wasn’t worth the cost. The new restaurant could revive the property.

From this post you can see that we are involved in small town life in our corner of the beach. Neighbors are building new apartments next door, and all along the beach people are cleaning up, replacing the woven mats that are used in sun shades, and painting facades and walls along the street. By the time Christmas arrives, the beach will be looking its best, waiting for visitors to celebrate the holidays.

Other changes are afoot that will take a bit longer to be completed. Some properties are for sale, waiting to be taken over and repurposed like this failed dance hall.

Two houses down from us is an old house, designed and built in the 1940s by an agronomist as the summer house for his family, while he worked on a sugar hacienda in one of the nearby valleys. The family moved to Lima after land reform in the 1960s ended the hacienda system, but they kept the house for the summers. Many years later, the family has decided to sell the property. There is a large undeveloped area behind the existing house and the banner proposes sixteen luxury condominiums, pool, garages, and green space. I will be very interested to see this development take shape, though I’ll miss the distinctive facade of the old house. It’s one of the last of the old houses to come down. Our house is nearly the last one left.

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