Tuesday, December 30, 2008


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!

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