Monthly Archives: September 2011

Peru: Know Your Currency – Part Two

Day 005 – July 27, 2011

Following up on my previous post regarding Peruvian currency, here’s a look at two other bills.

Below is a picture of the obverse and reverse of Peru’s 20 soles note…

Picture of the Peruvian 20 soles note

Currently worth about $7.30 USD

The stately gentleman pictured on the obverse of this piece of currency is Raúl Porras Barrenechea (1897 – 1960). The Wikipedia entry that I link to above describes him as a historian, diplomat, and politician.

Señor Porras wrote Pizarro, a history book about the Spanish conquistador, which was published after Porras’s death. Other works by this gentleman include Los Cronistas del Perú (1962) and El Inca Garcilaso de la Vega (1539-1616) (1946) The Wikipedia link lists all of his works.

In addition, Señor Porras was a Senator from Lima and served as the Minister of Foreign Relations, akin to the United States Secretary of State.

It is Porras’s job as the head diplomat that lets one understand why Peru’s monetary designers placed the building they did on the reverse of the 20 soles bill. This edifice is Palacio de Torre Tagle and it is the current home of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

A historian, a diplomat, and a politician, eh? I can’t think of one American who fits that triple threat of public service. If you know of anyone from the past of present that actually has this resume, please let me know. While I know that the current Secretary of State is 2-for-3 on the above score, I don’t think she has written a book of history. Then again, Raúl Porras Barrenechea never won a Grammy.

Multiplying Señor Porras by 5 takes us to the 100 soles note, where we find this stoic gentleman and impressive building…

Picture of Peru's 100 soles note

The pen mark on the forehead was there when I got this bill

Pictured on this bill is Jorge Basadre Grohmann (1903 – 1980). Wikipedia describes him as…

…a Peruvian historian known for his extensive publications about the independent history of his country. He served during two different administrations as Minister of Education and was also director of the Peruvian National Library.

Just like the 20 soles note above, Señor Basadre’s position of director of the Peruvian National Library explains the building on the reverse. It is the Biblioteca Nacional, the national library of Peru.

So to recap from the four bills that I have talked about both earlier and now (the 10, 20, 50, and 100), three of them (the 20, 50, and 100) have pictures on them of men who are famous for their ability to write. Do you get the feeling that this country of Peru is rather proud of those people who can wield a pen artfully?

I’ll finish off with a picture I alluded to in my previous posting about the 10 soles bill as I found an image of an older note with the upside-down plane. Enjoy.

Reverse of an older 10 soles note from Peru

Please do not adjust your monitor

Rumor (and Wikipedia) has it that there is a 200 soles bill. When I find one, I’ll let you know.

Hacking Away

Day 005 – July 27, 2011

I may have mentioned once or twice in these ramblings that the driving situation in Lima, Peru, is unlike anything seen in the States. Line markings on the road are merely suggestions. We have seen cars make left-hand turns from the right-hand lane of a three-lane street. The roads are swarming with privately owned “buses”,  nicknamed “combis”, that start, stop, swerve, and generally act like they operate solely on the principle of Brownian motion (although there are those who enjoy their charm).

Picture of a "combi" bus in Lima, Peru

An omnipresent sight in the streets of Lima

For myself and the family, our method of transportation around Lima is the taxi. When I say “taxi”, you may be thinking of those yellow four-door sedans that ply the asphalt canyons of New York City. Erase that image from your mind right now. Taxis in Lima, Peru, come in all shapes, styles, colors, and physical condition. It is a Dr. Seussian plethora of taxis…

Un cab, dos cab, gris cab, tos cab
negra cab, malva cab, vieja cab, nueva cab

While many taxis are independently owned and operated, we use one of the many cab companies in the city. It’s a simple process where you call a phone number, tell the dispatcher where you are and where you want to go, and then they tell you how long to wait. Well, at least it’s easy for my wife to call a cab because she speaks the language. Whereas I have to have the dispatcher repeat everything for me twice because I can never be sure if the person on the other end of the phone has asked me for my address or is trying to sell me a puma.

When I mentioned that cabs here come in a variety of styles, I should have been more specific because one style that they definitely do not come in is van-sized. We’re a family of five and when ever we go anywhere in a taxi, our youngest child (who is 7), has to ride on my lovely wife’s lap in the back seat.

(Yes, I can hear all the safety-obssessed parents, which is redundant, cringing at the thought of a seven-year old riding around without a seat belt, and trust me, I share your cringing, but we’re not in Kansas anymore.)

Another oddity that I have found when employing our dispatched taxi of choice is that the driver never knows where we are going when he arrives. We always have to tell the driver our destination. It’s as if the dispatcher neglects to tell the driver where the fare is headed.

Peru Travel Tip #005: Peruvian taxis are not metered. Therefore, before entering the taxi and going on your merry chauffeured way, always ALWAYS ask the driver what the fare will be. Haggling is permitted, but not extensive haggling.

Since our car is not here yet from the States and since I am in no hurry to attempt to navigate the chaotic Lima streets, I am more than content to continue to hack away with Peru’s taxis.

Day 004 Randomocity

Day 004 – July 26, 2011

Random Observations

SIM City

Yesterday, I fell off that metaphorical bicycle called “communication” and today I hopped right back on as I went back to the telecommunications kiosk by our local grocery store to purchase a SIM card for my mobile phone.

I was confident. I was poised. I was determined.

I was also only still speaking English and simple Spanish. So while I was able to purchase the requested bit of hardware (yeah me!), I was not able to have the woman at the kiosk (even through gestures and drawing doodles on nearby paper) tell me how to put money on the SIM card.

Well, actually, let’s be fair here. She probably was telling me how to add money to my card, but I couldn’t understand her.

One step at a time, I guess.

That Which is Not Prohibited is Mandatory

We live on one side of a mountain that separates us from downtown Lima proper. To travel into the City of Kings, we need to cross over this mountain. However, to do this, the pass that the city engineers have…um…engineered is as crazy, convoluted, and twisted as a bobsled run. Here’s a clip from Google Maps of the road of which I speak…

Google Maps image of twisty road in Lima, Peru

Not a map of your lower intestine

What the map above fails to convey is that at the 180-degree turn, the slope of the road is somewhere between 10 and 15 percent. This may not seem like a lot, but it is quite unnerving to be taking that turn and that slope in a taxi that is also a Chevy Chevette that may or may not have had its brakes checked at any time in this century.

In my trip today down this meandering road, I came to realize that this stretch of asphalt is so steep and twisty that someone must have tried to skateboard down this calle at one time. It is the only reason that this roadside sign exists…

Sign prohibiting skateboarding down SkateboardHill

Spanish translation is "Don't Even Think About It"

For the same reason that warning labels exist telling people not to iron a shirt while still wearing it or to not place your cell phone in a microwave to dry it, those “Don’t” signs exist because someone in the past has done it…and usually with disastrous results.

It’s a good thing that today some Tony Hawk-wannabe didn’t press his luck and fail while I was on this twisty, bendy road, since I wouldn’t have been able to call for help because my phone doesn’t work.

And with that, Day 004 was finished.

Why Would I Cancel My Order?

Day 004 – July 26, 2011

George Bernard Shaw (BTW, whose 155th birthday is being celebrated today on this my 4th day here in Peru) is given credit for saying that…

England and America are two countries separated by a common language.

I can personally vouch for Shaw’s sentiment, as I beg your indulgence as I digress to a time gone past, to that day of yesteryear, to an epoch known as the 20th century…to when I was in high school.

One of my classmates in English class during my junior year hailed from the country of England (or Great Britian…or the United Kingdom…I can never keep them straight). She sat next to me so I was in a perfect place to hear one day in class as she turned to the boy behind her and politely asked, “Do you have a spare rubber I can use?” The boy was dumbfounded by this quite forward remark and my all-too-innocent ears were also quite shocked by this request…

…until I found out later that in England, a “rubber” is of these things (and that makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?)

Back to Peru and Siglo XXI (21st Century) where on this Tuesday in July it was time for dinner and Shaw’s observation was about to be on the menu. Having heard so much about one particular chicken place in our brief stay so far, we decided to order in from Pardo’s Chicken. From the get-go, I knew I was going to like this place. First off, the reputation of Peruvian chicken precedes itself as it has a big name and a following in the States. Secondly, any business named after one of my favorite announcers, Don Pardo, is aces in my book. (Yes, I have favorites announcers…the other two are Gary Owens and Johnny Olson.)

When my lovely wife used our corded phone to call Pardo’s, all was going according to the usual ordering-in script until it wasn’t.

She told the person on the other end of the phone which promotional meal we wanted and the Pardo’s order-taker told her what the total would be. It was the next question that threw my wife. She kept asking the person to repeat the question and then she looked at me with a perplexed look as she said, “They’re asking me how I want to cancel my order. Why would I cancel my order?”

Now, my lovely wife speaks and understands Spanish flawlessly so there was no issue concerning the language barrier here (as, frustratingly, is the case with me as read previously on Sin Polaris). There was something in what the Pardo’s representative was saying that was causing a mix-up.

What the woman on the other end of the line was asking was ¿Como va a cancelar?, which does literally translate to “How will you cancel?” (translation provided by Google Translate). With this question being posed to my order-placing wife, you can see her dilemma.

This is where using the past as a guide would have come in handy. In only a quartet of days, we had come across a few examples of Spanish words that Peruvians use to describe things that are different from the Spanish words my family and I are used to. Just for appetizers, the name of the langauge itself is different. We call it Español, but in Peru, they speak Castellano. Moving on to the salad course, we call an avocado aguacate, but in Peru it is known as palta. Here at the main course, a waiter in Peru is known as mozo, but we know it as mesero. Finishing up with the dessert course on this linguistic menu, we have discovered that a peach is called melocotón in Lima, where we know it as durazno.

This concept of a shared language dividing two people was hitting our little tableaux. As my lovely wife tried to understand what the Pardo’s woman was saying, the order-taker asked in a tone and style similar to explaining math to a first-grader, ¿Como va a pagar?, which comes out to be “How will you pay?”

Peru Travel Tip #004: When ordering over the phone, the phrase ¿Como va a cancelar? means (roughly), “How will you be paying your bill?”. The company wants to know what type of bills you will be paying with so they know how much change to send along with the driver.

Once my wife told the woman that we would paying with two 50 soles notes, all was well. The food arrived earlier than expected, the chicken skin was crispy y muy rico, the French fries came with aji sauce, and the salad even had aguacate palta on it.

At the end of the day, it was good to know that I was not alone in the frustration of trying to navigate the linguistic landscape of a new country.

The Pre-Iceman Cometh

Day 004 – July 26, 2011

For the second day in a row, the doorbell rang.

At the door were two men, neither of whom I was expecting. Following my protocol from yesterday, these gentlemen were not coming into the house, so through the partially opened door I asked them in my halting Spanish how I could help them.

Despite Hombre#1 speaking slowly, I could not quite make out why he and his compatriot were here. They both were wearing uniforms (dark blue shirts) that had the logo of “Sedapal”, but this meant nada to me.

Hombre#2 was standing in my driveway over what looked like a service panel (hmmm…how long has that been there?) while Hombre#1 was showing me a device that looked like this…

Picture of a Sedapal water meter

The Mystery Device in Question

…and using words that I did manage to recognize such as “antigua” (old) and “nueva” (new). Through gestures, I took this afternoon visit to mean that these gentlemen were here to fix/replace/destroy something near/in/under my driveway, but as long as they did it from the comfort of not-in-my-house, I was fine. So, with a jaunty “Esta bien” (It’s OK), I closed the door and let them be on with their work.

Later that day, I emerged from my home and saw that the service panel in the cobblestones of my driveway had dirt all around it. The Encyclopedia Brown part of me deduced that this telltale sign meant that the gentlemen had indeed replaced something under the panel with whatever device Hombre#1 showed me.

I’m guessing I have basic cable now.



Sedapal is Peru’s state-owned water utility and these gentlemen were installing new water meters. On August 19, there was a story in one of the local newspapers (Correro) touting how many meters had been replaced in the first half of 2011 (280,858 for those of you keeping score). See below:

Article about water meter replacement

At 281,000, prizes would have been awarded

Only 513,818 more to go and I was one of those on a late July morning.

Just so you think that I erred in being overly cautious in not letting in Hombre#1 and Hombre#2 despite the official-looking uniforms, I offer this.

Street Bust

Day 004 – July 26, 2011

From our house to our closest shopping area, we have to cross a four-lane road that can be fairly busy at times. While a post about the joys (and terror) of ambulating from one side of the road to another is in the future, this post is about the place where we rest in the middle of the road.

Thankfully, I and the family do not have to cross all four lanes in one go. We can cross two of the lanes and then we can stop on one of the many traffic islands that dot our area of Lima, Peru. One particular spot that I like to wade across our sea of asphalt is where there is a bust of the man to whom the street which we cross is named after.

Traffic island on Raul Ferrero

Our Oasis

Bust of Raúl Ferrero Rebagliati

The Head Man

This plaque below tells you about this gentleman…

Plaque for Raúl Ferrero Rebagliati

Nasty plaque buildup

…but since a) you probably don’t understand Spanish and/or b) the wording is so faded that you can’t read it anyway (or c) the picture is so bad, you couldn’t read the words had they been engraved today), I can tell you that this gentleman is Raúl Ferrero Rebagliati, who is so popular that he has his own Facebook page.

According to the Wikipedia page that I link to, Señor Ferrero served as…
…Dean of the Faculty of Law at the Catholic University of Peru;
…Dean of Colegio de Abogados de Lima; and
…a member of the Permanent Court of Arbitration of the Hague

In addition, from 1967 to 1968 he was Prime Minister of Peru for the Christian Democrat Party and later served as the country’s Minister of Foreign Affairs.

For all this, he had a street named after him.


Today (yes, this actual day) marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Raul Ferrero. In honor of his birthday centennial, the city officials have decided to spruce up the bust and surrounding area that you see in the pictures above. Here is where things stands today…

Construction around bust of Raul Ferrero

Keeping it under wraps

Looking forward to the unveiling and spending more time with Señor Ferrero as we wait to cross the busy streets.

Necessary Things Come in Small Pouches

Day 004 – July 26, 2011

When last we left our hero, the phone was out. This morning, it was working again. With that problem dutifully resolved by ignoring it, it was time to do the laundry.

The process in your house may vary slightly, but here in our casa, I separate the dirty clothes into three piles: whites, grays (or light colors), and dark colors. Whites go in hot water, grays in warm, and darks in cold. It’s an easy system to remember and all should go well.

However, this wouldn’t be much of a story if all went according to plan.

Whites were first up on the menu and, following my normal process, I turned the water selection knob to “hot” (and, yes, the labels on our washing machine and dryer are all in English, as opposed to our microwave…go figure) and…

Picture of Glacier Bay

What our washer thinks is hot water

…nothing but cold water came out.

It appears that our issue with the showers has made its way to our washing machine. However, before I threw up my hands in frustration, I decided to experiment. I turned the water selection from “hot” to “cold”, and lo and behold,…

Picture of boiling water

What "cold" means to our washer...minus the pasta

…hot water came out. Yes, it appears that the hoses of our washing machine have been crossed. Now, if I had any handyman-blood in me, I would fix this discrepancy with my complete set of tools. However, since I don’t, I simply remember to turn the knob to the opposite of what I want. Thankfully, “warm” is still “warm”.

Another item I had become accustomed to is how laundry detergent is bought. In the States, I am used to buying detergent that is either liquid or powder. In either form, my clothes-cleaner of choice comes in giant, ridiculously large sizes.

Here in Peru, detergent is sold in pouches in powder form. Yes, little tiny bags of detergent. The sizes that we have been buying are 720 grams (25 ounces) in weight. That gives us about 12 loads of wash.

Guess what else come in pouches?

Pouches of milk

In a pinch, these can be used in lieu of water balloons

That’s right…milk. This beverage of choice comes in squishy pouches that can be difficult to keep a hold of. Besides transporting them, these pouches provide another issue that needs to be dealt with. With gallon jugs of milk, any used portion can simply be left in the container and stopped up. That cannot be used here as once a pouch is opened, there is no way (short of tape, I suppose) to close it up. However, where these is a problem (unless it involves switching the pipes of a washing machine), my lovely wife has the solution.

Picture of pouches of milk and a carafe

Carafe - French for "problem solver"

A simple one-liter carafe solves the issue. We open the pouch of milk and pour the contents inside the carafe.

Other things that come in pouches include ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, toothpaste, salsa, and dish soap.

The Pouch Manufacturers Association must wield some heavy clout here in Peru.

Day 003 Randomocity

Day 003 – July 25, 2011

Random Observations

Would You Like Some Meal With Your Fat?

Took the kids out to lunch today. Yes, it would have been lovely had I stayed home and cooked up a healthy nutritious afternoon meal for my brood, but it’s also nice to leave the house, stretch the legs, and see what serendipity has to offer outside your front door.

Un arbol

Can you find the metal pole?

Don’t buy any of the previous paragraph, because, in truth, I was lazy and it’s easier to have someone else do the cooking.

That’s how found ourself at KFC.

Point of order here: I am of an age where I remember when the name of Colonel Sanders’s business was Kentucky Fried Chicken and regardless of why the name was changed, I shall always know this establishment by its longer, original appellation. It is this strange compulsion that forces me to ignore the names of Willis Tower, Qualcomm Stadium, and President’s Day and call these items by their rightful names of Sears Tower, Jack Murphy Stadium, and George Washington’s Birthday.

Back at KFC Kentucky Fried Chicken and the only reason I bring it up is due to the large banner attached to the side of the restaurant.

Picture of a Double Down banner for KFC

Bread? We don't need no stinking bread!

There have been earlier news reports in the States about the Double Down sandwich so the fact that there exists a food product consisting of cheese and bacon sandwiched between two fried pieces of chicken is nothing new.

What was new to me was the fact that I had never seen this item advertised so publicly at any Kentucky Fried Chicken store.

By the way, (see Disclaimer No. 2) the translation of the banner reads “Listen to the voice of your hunger.” It should read “Listen to the sound of your heart clogging.”

Double by the way…no one in the family ordered it.

You Can’t Hear Me Now

Speaking of serendipity (about nine paragraphs ago), our quartet of an outing saw this sight…

A phone booth

Along with the typewriter, another thing my kids can't identify

The next five minutes were then spent in a lesson on history and technology as their old wise father told them about the days of yore when people had their telephonic communications while outside their house by using these devices called “pay phones” where you had to drop in a dime to make your call.

My kids listen patiently and try to avoid rolling their eyes just as they do when I regale them with tales about mimeographs, record players, and Adam West’s portrayal of Batman.

However, laugh all I want about the fact that there are pay phones out on the streets of Peru, we almost would have been forced to use one because during the night, our landline phone service abruptly cut out. The helpful recorded message informed us that our bill had not been paid.

And with that, Day 003 was finished.

First Contacts

Day 003 – July 25, 2011

It had to happen sooner or later and today was that day.

Living in a country where I am not fluent in the local language is eased by the fact that my lovely wife speaks Spanish. Over the past weekend, she took the lead in any interactions with the non-English speaking population for the same reason that I handle all the problems and issues regarding computers – we speak the same language and culture.

This Monday, with her at work, would see the end of that support for me as I would have to linguistically fend for myself.

Around 10:00am, the doorbell rang. I went to the door and met a gentleman in a T-shirt and jeans. There was a van in our driveway which appeared to be holding vast amounts of bottled water. As best as I could understand from this individual, he was here to deliver the bottled water to our residence.

As fate would have it, just last night I read a “Welcome to Peru” booklet provided by my wife’s employer and in the section on Safety, it advised the reader to never, NEVER allow in any unscheduled delivery person. So, there was no way in Hades that this individual and his companion in the van were coming in, not by the hair of my chinny-chin-chin. Using my awesome command of Spanish, I told him in no uncertain terms that I was not accepting any bottled water and that he was not coming in.

Actually, what I did was just say “No” many times with a few repetitions of “Lo siento, no entendio” (I’m sorry, I don’t understand.).

Not the most satisfying of first attempts of using the local language to communicate, but my needs were met in that he did not come in to the house.

Frustration and unmet needs would come with the next interaction.

Later in the afternoon, I took the kids shopping at the local grocery store. Near the entrance was a kiosk for one of the telecommunications companies that provide cellular phone services. I had a cell phone, but for it work down here in Peru, it needed a SIM card.

I approached the kiosk and stated “Quiero un SIM card” (I want a SIM card). The response that came back from the red-uniformed woman was such a staccato volley of Spanish that I lost her at “Buenas tardes”.

This is a large issue with me when attempting to communicate in Spanish. I know the basics and can make simple requests. It is when the conversation is elevated to a more complicated level, that I become lost and frustrated. For example, I can ask for a chicken sandwich at KFC, but when I am then asked if I would like either dsghjkff fdjshf uu hsahufda y asda9vdsa, well…you can see my confusion.

This woman had no issue handing me a SIM card, but I had other questions, such as how do I know how much money was left on the SIM card and how do I put more money on the card. Try as I might, I could not get the words out in Spanish. I even forgot how to say the word for “When?” (which is cuando, by the way).

My Spanish was so horrendous at that kiosk that my children were offering their services to translate for me. Such is the wonderment of youth that they felt that they could rescue me and such is the folly of non-youth that I told them that I was fine and could do this myself.

After fifteen minutes of futilely searching the air for words that wouldn’t come, of drawing, and of pantomime, I left without the SIM card.

More than not obtaining what I wanted, the biggest frustration for me in these interactions is that I know what I wanted to say, but I was helpless. The concepts that I wanted to impart to the woman in the kiosk were in my head, but that’s where they stayed. Try as I might, I could not make her understand me, and the fault lay completely with me. I am a gentleman with (IMHO) above-average intelligence, two college degrees, and a deep appreciation for the works of William Shakespeare, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, and George Carlin.

Yet all the woman in the kiosk saw was a babbling, blundering, mildly incoherent man with the vocabulary of a six-year old.

In only four days, I had gone from a man who could pontificate and communicate on all manner of subjects vegetable, animal, and mineral…to a person who appeared to the world to be suffering from aphasia.

A tiny bit humbling.

Where Fans Truly Light Up

Day 003 – July 25, 2011

Saw an item in the Peruvian newspaper, El Comercio, about the renovations done to a major stadium in Lima called Estadio Nacional.

As part of the renovations, lights were installed on the outside facade of the building. I have no pictures, but these other websites (here and here) have good examples of the illumination of which I speak.

What makes these lights special, according to the article, is that they flash, flicker, and change colors depending on the mood of the fans. There are numerous sensors located throughout the stadium (e.g., pressure sensors in seats, motion sensors in the roof) that can detect whether fans are standing, sitting, or jumping around wildly in their seats. Based on this input, the lights on the outside will change color and location so that anyone passing by the stadium would be able to tell what is happening on the inside.

Way cool.

I wonder if the designers of that system received their inspiration from this concert held at Wyoming’s Devils Tower in 1977.