Tuesday, January 13, 2009


Warding Off Altitude Sickness

Everyone recommends Mate de Coca (Coca leaf tea) to help with soroche - altitude sickness.

Actually, althought we are something like 11, 000ft above sea-level in Cusco it's nowhere near as bad as in Puno (some 1600ft higher) where we all had a headache, shortness of breath and general weirdness.

Here in Cusco it's easy to get puffed walking around, but lashing of Mate de Coca seems to help. At least we don't have to chew it!

Monday, January 12, 2009


Floating Islands of Lake Titicaca

We couldn't miss the floating reed islands of Lake Titicaca. We liked it so much we even went native!


Bed Bus to Arequipa

The journey by bus cama (a 'bed bus' with reclining seats) to Arequipa from Lima takes a grueling 16 hours. It is mostly along the winding costal road which means it is at times breathtaking - quite literally (Katie!). Tito and I were right at the front, on the right of the bus, on the second floor for this journey. This meant when we woke up we got views like these! I wondered aloud how many buses plunge through the puny 30cm barriers off the cliff onto the rocks below and sink to the bottom of the ocean. "Two" said Tito. "Two? What do you mean? Has this happened?!?". "Yes, two out of three go off the cliffs ." Tito kindly reassured me...

Wednesday, January 07, 2009


I Got Laser Eye Surgery!

Just thought I´d stop by for a spot of corrective eye surgery whilst in Lima! Ok, Ok, I didn´t really take the decision so lightly - I have been researching it for over two years. When Chika came back from Japan after having had it done inexpensively I started to consider getting it done abroad. The only thing stopping me in the UK was the crazy price (as I have, no , HAD a very strong prescription it would cost over 3000 pounds!).

When we arrived in Lima over three weeks ago Tito´s cousin Julia mentioned she´d had it done, and had such a great doctor, Dr. Miguel Mendoza, that she´d recommended him to family and friends, about 8 of whom had then also gotten the surgery. The cost? About 400 pounds. Same German wavefront technology, a stylish and clean private clinic. So I signed up and got the surgery the day before yesterday. My eyesight still settling and will take a week or two to become perfect but the operation went very well - no pain - and I am able to use the computer already!

I adore Lima and want to do an update (not only here for the surgery - have also been to a water fountain park, smart Miraflores district and the Gold Museum) but don´t want to strain my eyes. We are off to Arequipa tonight on a bed bus. Will try to post more pictures there...

Tuesday, December 30, 2008


Chiclayo Street Scenes

Selling grapes outside the post office

A newpaper seller's siesta

Quail's egg trolley

Beer diaster

Aful school


Ch– Ch- Ch– Changes to Chiclayo

Chiclayo has absolutely exploded in the past four years. Incredibly, there’s no easily discernable sign of the global recession – everything here is bigger, better and more bustling than ever before. Although it is a dusty, parched costal desert city (aptly described in popular guidebooks as ‘rough and ready’) Chiclayo is a vital central trading hub for poor rural towns and villages. There is plenty of evidence of wealth: the latest 4x4s crowd the beaches and a well-heeled, cocaine-fueled crowd hangs out in casinos and nightclubs.

It is a place of contrasts. Shiny-floored new restaurants boast eclectic menus; shops are crammed with clothes, computers, mobile phones and shoes; markets are heavy with the smells of too many people, squashed fruit, animals, witches’ herbs, sewage and street-side cebiche. Street sellers crouch on the dirty curbs to sell sweets and biscuits; street children pester for small change. It’s now safer to drive with the re-surfaced roads and new traffic lights – but it’s still hair-raising amongst the moto-taxis and carts.

In the Plaza Central, in front of the vast, banana-yellow cathedral, there is a now a seasonal twinkling display of Christmas lights and gift wrapped trees sponsored by big companies and universities. It looks really cheerful and festive, and draws great gaping crowds there to mill around aimlessly - and others to persistently attempt to flog candy apples, candy floss and Winnie the Pooh dolls made of balloons to them.

I was amazed at the size of Tottus, a brand new supermarket that we visited last night. It is at least four times as big as any of the supermarkets that existed here four years ago. There are two of these huge new supermarkets on the edge of the city, surrounded by vast shopping plazas and other large hardware and electronic shops. Although these developments have brought a another dimension of shopping experience to Chiclayo – something clean, orderly, safe, as pricey as America or Europe – the chasm between the rich and poor means that the centre of town and the lively markets continue to thrive. And I am happy to say, so do the corner shops, which provide a meeting place and sense of community that I hope will never be lost.

Many restaurants seem to have been re-done, including a place where we always used to go for cheap fried yuca chips and anticuchos (skewered beef heart). It was a bit of a dive, but now by all accounts it is too big for its boots and not as tasty. There is a gigantic ‘Roky’s’ chicken restaurant with plate glass windows and comfy booths, the likes of which we had previously only seen in Lima. Half a ‘broaster’ chicken with chips and salad costs an extortionate 19 soles ($6) instead of the 14 soles next door, but the place is big, bright and has a kids’ play area resembling a castle filled with balls and slides. Move over McDonalds!

On that note, I am happy to say there is still no McDonalds, but there is a Starbucks and small branches of Pizza Hut and Kentucky Fried Chicken in the Real Plaza, so it may only be a matter of time. Let’s hope people have enough sense to stick to their homegrown, cheaper, and far superior versions of fast food! After all, Peru was the only country where another pop reigned supreme over Coca-Cola (the mighty Inka Cola)... until Coke bought it up, that is!


José Alejandro’s Baptism Shock: Vanessa Lies to a Priest!

On Saturday we became godparents for the second time, of Tito’s cousin’s adorable little boy, José Alejandro IV. Whereas Keila’s baptism took place in a large church with at least thirty children going through the ceremony at the same time, José Alejandro’s was in a tiny old sides street church, and the ceremony was shared with just one other child.

The church, ‘Capilla Centenaria – Nuestra Senora Madre de la Misericordia’ is really rather quaint. Gold paint and varnished wood features heavily in the décor and a splendid Virgin with long black curly hair loftily presides from on high. The baptism ceremony felt intimate and special and the Father addressed me directly, checking if I understood what he was saying. I did indeed!

After the ceremony we went into a tiny room to sign as godparents. “So, you are from England?” said the friendly Father with a firm handshake – “What part?”. “Do you speak Spanish? How long are you here in Chiclayo for? What parts have you visited?” he queried with a kindly smile. Then: “Of course, you are a practising Catholic?” he inquired.

Having been to the talk the night before about how only baptised Catholics could become godparents I knew there was only one answer: “Yes, of course.” I smiled.

Saturday, December 27, 2008


Peruvian Food Part One

The first time Tito ever made me breakfast at his aparto in Japan he served me: soda crackers, plump purple olives, manjarblanco caramel, butter, cheese and pieces of apple. I thought it was pretty weird at the time, but enjoyed it nonetheless. Since then I have come to realise that it was a pretty standard Peruvian breakfast (except maybe the soda crackers – here they go out to get fresh white baps most mornings). I have also come to love it, and requested mantecoso cheese (creamy, aged dairy goodness) and the salty, meaty purple olives for our second breakfast here. Together, they make a great sandwich.

After drinking half a litre of delicious creamy lucuma (a wonderful ancient fruit that I am more then slightly obsessed with) drinking yogurt and totally breaking my stomach on the first day, I have laid off the stuff. It is SO popular, with huge rows of different types of drinking yogurt dominating the supermarket aisles. I might dare to try it again soon. In the meantime, I have enjoyed lucuma ice-cream at the beach, and a lucuma chupete (homemade lolly) in town.

Of course, the national dish cebiche is ever-popular and highly celebrated. I have had a little, but would like to have lashings of the stuff. Basically, fish and seafood, raw but marinated in limon, is served with thinly sliced red onion and hot rocoto pepper. There are many variations – the picture here is of a cebiche Tito had in Lima (I didn’t dare after the yogurt fiasco) with sweet potato, corn and seaweed. It was nice, I believe, but lacked the zing of a Chiclayo cebiche. I have decided that I am going to go all out with the cebiche - possibly tomorrow for the hangover (we are becoming godparents again this afternoon) - and sod the consequences!

Friday, December 26, 2008



Happy Christmas! I am thinking about all the wonderful friends and family I have all around the world enjoying Christmas in different ways. .. have a lovely time with friends and family and I can't wait to see you soon!

I didn't post this photo of Tito enjoying the beach at Las Rocas yesterday on Christmas Day as I was exhausted after staying up until 6.30am on Christmas eve!

As is the custom, we stayed up until 12am, when Jesus is placed in the nativity. We all gave a little speech, and then sat down to turkey and garbanzos, paneton and cinnamon-infused hot chocolate. After this, the children could finally open their presents. Talk about patience!

At about 2.30am Tito and I went out to see some Cecelia and Elwin at their corner shop (it is a major social meeting point and is always open!). We crashed out when we got home, had turkey for breakfast at 12 noon and then went to the beach with my mum. It was totally packed with families celebrating Christmas. At this time of year the water is still cold, but the sun is blazing and it is so invigorating to dive under the strong waves.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


Keila's Baptism

The baptism went very well on Saturday, with the party lasting until four in the morning! We are now Keila's godparents, which is rather nice. Mostly, I am pleased to have a valid reason to spoil and generally favour her!!!

Before the event we went to a very boring, two-hour talk at the church about godparents' responsibilities, and how you have to be baptised yourself to be godparents, so I was slightly worried that someone would discover I'm not Catholic at all in any way. But absolutely everyone in Peru is Catholic, so they don't check. Phew.

After the ceremony some serious Peruvian partying ensued, with a massive sound system installed in the living room that vibrated the walls. Of course, dancing was obligatory. About 50 people came and worked their way through the ten cases of beer we got in!

Saturday, December 20, 2008


Mi Wanpi

This is my lovely doggy Wanpi. In the four years we've been away she has been very well looked after by the family. The household includes two vets - Perla and Wooloo - as well as our four little nieces - so she hasn't lacked attention!

I wasn't sure how she would react to our presence. I wasn't sure whether or not to take her out with us because we will have to leave her again so soon. But since life is lived in the moment we decided to simply enjoy her whilst we can...

Wanpi is just the same as she always was, absolutely devoted and following me from room to room. She even wants to come in the loo with me! She was waiting outside the bedroom for me yesterday when Celeste (5) tried to move her - she did not take kindly to this a gave her a nip!

Today is Keila's (10) baptism - we are going to be godparents! I am much more excited about this than I expected to be because it will give me an extra excuse to spoil her. She is a gorgeous girl, top of the class, extemely good-natured and pretty too.

I've got to go and get ready now. I am going to wear my red dress and black feathery fascinator - the likes of which may not have been seen before in Chiclayo! I fully expect to draw a crowd curious to know why on earth the gringa has a chicken on her head.

The reception will be held at the house. I've got a pink t-shirt with dimante studs and a sparkly blue collar for Wanpi to wear too. Yes, I'm insane.

Tito has just come back with the cake (it's white with a sugar church on top complete with baptism-inspired interior!) and fresh buns for breakfast so I had better go.

Thursday, December 18, 2008


It's Tito's 40th!

It's Tito 40th birthday today. I am writing this quick post whilst some family and friends sit around the table, passing a glass of Pilsen around, telling rude and deeply politically incorrect jokes about incest and homosexuality and laughing hysterically.

We are supposed to go to the church again tonight to listen to a 2-hour talk about becoming godparents. But 8 - 10pm on Tito's birthday is a bit tough. They don't take registration so I think we might have to play hooky.

Took our four nieces to the beach today. It's the beginning of summer here, so it's hot in the sun, but with a sneaky cool breeze. We squashed into the car along with my mum and drove out to Las Rocas (where we had our wedding reception). Loads of fun splashing in the bracing water and building sandcastles.


Cecelia's Suprise

My dear friend Cecelia and I have, admittedly, been very poor at keeping in touch.

She doesn't use email and my phone Spanish is shocking. And of course, writing 'letters' is just too passé.

Still, I didn't expect this!

(Not the Santa, I mean. He's to be expected. It is Christmas, after all).

Yvonne is 9 months old, enjoys milk, hanging out with Santa and has lovely long eyelashes. Cecelia and partner, El Mono (the monkey!) are besotted!

She is absolutely gorgeous.

!Qué sorpresa!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


Back in Peru!

We're back in Peru for five weeks, after almost four years absence. Can't believe it's been so long... we left in April 2005, just after our wedding. This time, we've brought my mum with us too!

Being here in Peru feels so much different this time around - I feel like I have come home. I speak the language. Tito's family is now my family - I'm a Villalobos! Tito's friends are now my friends too - we shared a lot of good times.

Four days in we are getting into the swing of things. Just about over the jet lag. In Lima we had the loudest hotel room EVER (across from a road full of 24 hour discos!). That didn't stop us sleeping after the grueling 27-hour trip from London though!

Loving the food. Drinking yogurt is popular here, and I got a delicious 'lucuma' fruit flavoured yogurt from Wong supermarket. Unfortunately, that gave me explosive diarrhoea which I managed to sort out with four different types of medicine just in the nick of time before our 14 hour bus-cama (bed-bus) trip up to Chiclayo!

We arrived just in time for breakfast with the family...

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