Thursday, July 29, 2004
El Señor de Sipán
Finally made it to two places I've been wanting to go to for ages - and both on the same day! The museum Tumbas Reales de Sipán
is in Lambayeque city, only 10 minutes down the road, yet we somehow hadn't been able to make it there before now. (It's funny how you take things on your doorstep for granted.) The museum is excellent - very modern, and was constructed to display the many treasures found during the recent excavation of the tomb of the Lord of Sipán, and other tombs, on the very same site. The tomb itself is reconstructed within the museum, and you can even see the 1500 year old bodies. Unfortunately, despite the dry conditions of the area, the remains are not in very good nick due to weighty ornamentation which was piled upon them and crushed their bones. El Señor de Sipán himself was a revered king with a godlike status, who lived and died in the Moche period (400 to 600 A.D.) The Moches, like the Egyptians, believed that earthy riches are still required after death... not to mention the four wives, child, watchman, army commander, bodyguard, llama, dog and snake that the Lord graciously took with him on his journey to the afterlife. The tombs were built on many different levels, and the occupants were absolutely heaped with jewellery, much of which consists of tiny beads of gold, turquoise and shell, which all required piecing together again into their original, and rather magnificent, forms. The results are awe-inspiring, and along with other well-preserved Moche items such as clay pots containing food provisions for the afterlife, they really build a image of what life was like at that time. The pots contained preserved samples of traditional foods of Perú, which, interestingly, are still staples today.
Well, after all that culture we needed to unwind. So, without further ado, we headed to a local wine bar I have been hankering to investigate. Peruvian wine is very sweet, and lacks any discernible body, thus we usually drink beer. But we found the bar had a reasonable stock of imported wines, and were well suited with the Argentinean red we selected. The bar played a pleasing and eclectic mix of those 90's anthems you would never play at home, but are secretly thrilled to hear (ie. Wonderwall, Bitter Sweet Symphony, Zombie), especially when drinking very, very far from home. The seats were comfortable, and there was a random life-sized Yoda in the corner. Superb! Another excellent find!
Monday, July 26, 2004
South American Moment
I just had a South American Moment. 'Moments' come upon you unexpectedly and must be, I reckon, the major reason why people travel. You can have Asian Moments or Italian Moments or Manchester Moments, according where you are at any given time. Naturally, I had a South American Moment, or, more specifically, a Peruvian One. I was walking down Balta Avenue, and I could see the banana yellow of the central cathedral contrasting strikingly with the deep blue sky. The sun was shining through the tall dusty palms that line the avenue. I looked between two ramshackle buildings and saw a beautifully tiled shady colonial passageway. And then I had it... that feeling when you just totally catch the vibe of a place, and really see it's true charm. Although these feelings are fleeting, they give you an insight which is not easily forgotten. I find 'moments' also give you a lasting sensation of attachment to a place, which beats the culture shock into submission. You've got to wait for them to settle on you though; whether you are sitting at a bustling street cafe, lying on the beach, trudging through freezing rain, speeding through busy streets in a tuk-tuk, or sharing a laugh with a local - you can never tell when you'll have a 'moment'. But once I've had one, I always try to keep the memory close at hand for solace in those more difficult times when I want to throttle the local post office staff.
Friday, July 23, 2004
Something I hadn't realised before I came to Peru is that in the winter it really is chilly. And the winter is now, unfortunately. I tend to think of South America as being hot all the time, and I did most of my packing with that thought in mind. Luckily, I knew it could get cold at Cuzco and Micchu Picchu, so I threw in some warmer stuff for our planned visits to that region. It's a good job, as my summertime assortment of flimsy silk skirts and flip-flops are just not cutting it anymore. Fortunately, I personally do not have to find suitable vegetation for my llamas under 10 inches of snow, but it is nonetheless rather nippy in the evenings. Although, confusingly, it is also extremely roasting in the direct midday sun, due to Peru's proximity to the equator. It's quite difficult to know what to wear, but as a Brit I am managing quite nicely with the advice I was brought up on... the key word here is LAYERS. Think British summertime!
Wednesday, July 21, 2004
Peña from Hell
Peñas are a typically Peruvian way to spend an evening, and entail a three or four person group playing lively traditional music and singing. They seem to attract plenty of people. They do not, however, attract me in anyway whatsoever, since my first, and hopefully last, peña experience way back in February. I meant to write about it at the time, but it has been too painful to recall... until now. It was Valentine's Day evening, and we had been in Peru for all of nine days. Perla and Wooloo suggested that Tito and I go out with them to a peña in the Grand Hotel, where they would meet a bunch of friends. It sounded quite interesting, so we went along. As soon as we walked in the door of the posh function room where it was being held I knew we'd made a mistake. Two hundred pairs of eyes turned to see who was arriving so late... and watched us as we made our self-concious way to our table, which was right at the very front of the room, in front of the band. We sat down hastily and tried to relax. I modelled my face into an 'I'm watching live music and enjoying it' look and took large gulps of cold Pisco Sour. But I had not escaped the notice of the band (which consisted of two blokes with guitars, and one sat on a big wooden box, which he thumped like a drum). "Where are you from?" asked the lead singer, not very privately I might add, seeing as he was using the microphone. As I didn't yet understand any Spanish, Tito replied for me. I smiled pleasantly at the band, and at the public whose eyes were once again upon me. It had started. From then on, between each and every song, the singer took the opportunity to quiz me in front of a live audience of 200 strangers. When he felt he'd gotten to know me sufficiently, he demanded a song. Yes, the crowd agreed, let's hear the gringa sing. No chance... what could I possibly sing that could be accompanied by two moustachioed men on acoustic guitars and one on a thumpy box? Radiohead? Britney Spears? God Save the Queen? There was no way I was going to make a tit out of myself in that way. "NO WAY, JOSÉ!" I said, shaking my head vigorously in total refusal. Nevertheless, the singer continued to hassle me. I was beginning to feel extremely victimized, and thus was suitably pleased when a brassy middle-aged woman appeared with a microphone and began to belt out some distracting crowd-pleasers. I was quite upset and needed to be out of the spotlight for a minute. Unfortunately, the crowd was pleased so very much that they decided to dance. Fast as greased lightening, a woman from our party whisked Tito from under my nose and onto the dance floor. I was left sitting by myself and tears filled my eyes. I looked up to a proferred hand - it is not done to refuse a dance in Peru - so this bloke was baffled when I did just that very thing. Then I dashed out of the room to the safety of the toilets, where I began to sob hysterically (I blame it on culture shock). Tito's voice came from outside, "Let's go somewhere else" he said. "But everyone will know that I couldn't hack it" I sniffed. "Who cares? You'll probably never see any of them again in your life." So off we went. We bought some beer from an off-licence and proceeded to get drunk on a bench. Classy - and without an audience!
Monday, July 19, 2004
This morning, as I walked along San Jose Avenue to the internet cafe, I was handed a flyer for a restaurant that offers an interesting house special: 'Caldo de Gallina - Viagra 25mg'. Upon further investigation I was shown the little blue pill of Viagra that is actually added to the steaming Hen Stew. Fabulous! This is just what the men of Chiclayo need. NOT!
Saturday, July 17, 2004
One thing that Peru is definitely not lacking is children. They are underfoot absolutely everywhere you go, and every single woman you come across seems to be holding, dragging or nursing a child (or several). I have never before in my life seen so many pregnant women. Everyone wants to know when Tito and I will be having babies, and seem aghast when we assure them it won't be anytime soon. I find this attitude mind-boggling... we live with his parents, are yet unmarried, and have absolutely no money whatsoever - why on earth would we have children now? But somehow, in South America, our attitude seems selfish. Why should we want more stability for ourselves when God's will is that we should struggle to raise as many little nippers as He blesses us with? Finances, marital status, and living conditions seem to be completely irrelevant in the equation. Last night I watched a heart-rending news report about Peruvians in the mountainous areas who are experiencing one of the worse winters on record. They clear deep snow (to find vegetation for their starving llamas) with gloveless hands; their feet are raw and chapped in their woefully inadequate rubber sandles (the Peruvians, not the llamas). They have little food, even less fuel, and are virtually cut off from the rest of the world. Guess what they do have oodles of, though? Babies! Plenty of tiny, red-faced babies clamped to nipples and school-age kids wrapped in every spare piece of clothing trudging to freezing school houses. It is so sad that they, the women especially, have no chance to do anything with their lives other than reproduce. And it the same here in the city, people seem to have no idea that children are expensive, and the more you have, the poorer you get. It's not that I think money is the only factor here - repeated pregnancies, with poor nutrition and basically no healthcare, must be terribly hard on these women, tough though they are. Yet, I must remind myself, most women in the world live like this. Females with choices, education, careers, travel, and entertaining gadgets to satisfyingly fill our childless years are still very, very much in the minority. Think on, post-feminists...
Thursday, July 15, 2004
It's interesting how living in this very poor country has changed my perspective on money. I looked in my purse today and was chuffed to discover a 20 soles note. This will buy me: four taxi journeys into town, five hours in an Internet cafe, three cheeseburgers and an ice cream, should I so desire. 20 soles is only about three pounds, so this value for money is not to be sneezed at! It's a good job, too, because when we have no money here we are really, seriously, flat broke. I have never before in my adult life been without credit of any kind. It does make life simpler, all I have to do in terms of budgeting is look in my purse. If there is money inside I can buy another beer, if there isn't, then I can't. None of this 'Oooo, well, if I buy four drinks which come to over 10 quid I can use my switch' business. Indeed, no visa, no mastercard, no overdraft. It's oddly refreshing.
Tuesday, July 13, 2004
Everyone's gone football crazy. My classes on Friday evening insisted that we watch the Peru-Venezuela game rather than have an English lesson. I though 'OK, fine, it's Friday, and they don't want to concentrate anyway'. Little did I suspect than Peru would win, and that on Monday would be another unmissable game. Yep, we had to watch the Peru-Colombia game yesterday, too. It was the whole class chanting "FOOTBALL, FOOTBALL" and looking at me with those big brown eyes that did it. It's the mid-term exam today, I hope the manipulative little buggers don't fail!
Saturday, July 10, 2004
I am thrilled to bits to say that my seven am class has now been cancelled. Having to get up before six, and then not getting home until past 10pm, meant that teaching was taking over my life in a way I had not intended. Furthermore, being at such an unseemly hour, the attendance of my morning class was extremely patchy, and students were usually more than 30 minutes late. This meant that I was usually more than slighty infuriated by the time I finally got to start the class, which was supposed to be 'intensive'. The final straw came on Wednesday, when I had just two students, and neither of them seemed to have any desire to participate whatsoever. Teaching can be bizarrely alienating sometimes, you do feel somewhat taken aback when you are addressing the only two people in the room, yet they are both pretending not to hear you/that you are talking to someone else. I can't imagine any situation, other than teaching, when this would occur. As we drove home after class I was tickled to see this attitude perfectly summed-up in words. A man lounging by the side of the road was sporting a faded t-shirt that said: 'I'm out of bed. What more do you want?' Nowt, mate. You just carry on...
Thursday, July 08, 2004
I never fail to become totally infuriated at the post office, and today was no exception. I have a massive grudge against SerPost Peru since they soaked a batch of about 20 postcards I sent out, rendering them virtually impossible to read. That’s according to the reports I received from England, Canada, and Japan – so I can be certain it happened in Peru, if I had had any doubts. It was ridiculously expensive to post them, and I am sure some never even reached their final destination. Anyway, today as I was jostled about in the queue for the only open counter I was twice queue jumped by little old ladies (it’s the same the world over). I was repeatedly hassled by little urchin beggars, and was finally losing my temper with an old bugger who, upon spying my blond hair, had made a special stop in the post office to incessantly whinge at me for money. Don’t get me wrong – I would cut out my heart with a spoon if it would help ease these people’s poverty, but I can’t understand why they are allowed to beg aggressively inside government buildings as their hapless victims wait in line. Besides, I doubt he had change for a 20, and neither did I. “Where are you from?” came a voice from behind. I turned around to a man grasping a package addressed to Spain. “England.” I replied politely. “Ahh. This is Peru.” he said. Oh thank you, Señor Peru! Should the name of the country in which I presently reside ever slip my mind, I hope you will be there for me once more with your wonderful words of wisdom. Maybe then I will give you the knuckle sandwich you so desperately deserve.
Monday, July 05, 2004
Slept most of the weekend, I was absolutely exhaused after my first three days of teaching. Normally, teachers are scheduled for three or four classes, one or two of which get cancelled. I was, thus, surprised to find that all four of my classes have sufficient students and will not be cancelled. This means I will be teaching for six and a half hours a day, which is quite a lot, considering marking and preparation as well. I also have a buggerous split-shift of seven to nine in the morning and then four to nine in the evening which completely screws up my day. Anyway, I did manage to make it out of bed on Sunday to attend Tito’s cousin’s birthday party. He is a very nice bloke, but unfortuanately one cannot avoid the use of the term ‘bible-basher’ when describing his personality. I was dismayed to find that, accordingly, all of the cousin’s five siblings could be grouped under the same heading. Talk about inquisitions! “Are you Catholic?” they demanded... “Will you be having a Catholic wedding?” Not on your Nelly, said I (or words to that effect). “But, Tito, you’re Catholic, aren’t you?” “Mmm...” said Tito “my family are of the Catholic tradition”. Not that I don’t enjoy conversing on the topic of religion, but I prefer to do it with people who haven’t already decided that I am wrong, and thus going to hell, before we even start. It’s interesting, isn’t it, that people who are the most committed to their religion find it necessary to challenge and condemn people with more open minds than themselves?