Sussing Out Surco: What are the Secrets?
“Do you get many tourists here?”
Sonia – the waitress at La Taverna bar – shook her head.
Only a block from the center of the suburb and no foreigners? I knew I had found the right neighborhood.
After three weeks in Ica, I had arrived back in Lima with all my worldly possessions in tow. When I was informed that the apartment in the suburb of Barranco didn’t have wi-fi I should have followed my gut and left immediately. As I see it, no wi-fi is right up there with not having electricity.
I agreed to use a Bitel USB. As near as I can figure out it was powered by a troop of hamsters on a treadmill. Then on the weekends the carers are busy downloading porn movies and the Internet screeches to a virtual halt.
Consequently, I couldn’t work properly. Skype dropped out and my frustration level went up.
Barranco is touted as being “bohemian.” Perhaps it was in the 1940s, but “bourgeois” and “boring” are more applicable to the residential area where I lived.
I spent a day in the central square. Lots of cute little cafes and bars, but it didn’t seem to have any substance. Yawn, capital-T Total Tourist.
After a couple of weeks it was a choice of escaping from Barranco or going deep and diagonal.
Moving into Marlene’s
Getting on the Internet I contacted Marlene and she had a room available. It was a touch small, but it had natural light and a desk and chair. Most importantly, however, it had strong wi-fi.
So I walked away from the rent I’d paid at the other place and moved in.
Marlene lived in the United States for 20 years and speaks English. Her 77 year old mother – who is as sweet and unobtrusive as one can be – usually stays for about three days a week.
In between there are people who come and go as Marlene has three bedrooms she rents out.
The kitchen, lounge and balcony are communal space.
And the apartment is only two blocks to the center of the neighborhood.
The Plaza de Armas
The first thing the Spaniards did when they decided on a new settlement was to build the central plaza. As well as being the administrative center, the square also housed the cathedral, the post office and the guns and ammunition. In the case of an attack, all the settlers conjugated there.
The plaza is simply delightful: grass, trees, flowers, benches, people selling street food.
Late one afternoon I was sitting there watching the world go by. I noticed a group of small, medium and big boys kicking around an empty water bottle. No coaches, no referees, no parents and no hassles.
How perfectly refreshing from the western parents who have to drive their kids to practice, watch them play and then attend the matches. Even though I’m not wild about kids, it is encouraging to know that there are still places where the “go outside and play” philosophy reigns supreme.
One evening I heard some music so I followed my ears. There is a small amphitheatre in a corner of the plaza. The employees of the municipality have an informal band and they play there a few times a week.
The dancers were in their 60s, 70s and plus. The grandchildren often hang around to watch. I noticed a lonely looking man so I left my handbag with the woman sitting next to me and asked him if he wanted to dance with me. He said he did, but that he had bad knees and couldn’t.
Not to be deterred – and I was already standing up and looking like an obvious foreigner – I just started dancing with my two left feet. People waved at me to join them.
When the band started packing up I pulled a handful of Canada flag pins out of my handbag and gave one to each of them. Next I gave some to the people I’d been dancing with.
I have a ritual of attaching the pin to the person’s shirt. When I glanced behind me, there was a line-up of people holding out their t-shirts to make it easier for me to give them a pin.
They are a popular item that I give to clerks, waiters, kids and whoever. Quite often I see them weaning them later. Others thank me again a week later. Perhaps I should apply for a Canadian senate position as an ambassador.
The usual conversation starter is “Where are you from? France or Italy?” Nobody ever thinks I’m North American and I’m not sure if it is my hair or my nose.
Now that I can chatter away in Spanish like a six or seven-year old, life is easier.
People here don’t have any inhibitions about talking with strangers, so it is easy to be included in conversations.
After only a few days I’d met a number of the locals in the plaza and in the shops and the restaurants.
Teaching English for Alcohol
One evening I’d gone to Louisa’s liquor shop to buy a bottle of wine for dinner. Her 10-year old son was at the counter and struggling with his English homework so I helped him.
I offered to tutor him a couple of times a week. At the end of the first lesson Louisa insisted on paying me. Teachers make about $10 an hour, so we settled on that.
But rather than paying me in cash I offered to take it out in trade as this is a society where goods and services can be exchanged.
Am I the first ESL teacher to work for wine? Doesn’t matter as it is a good story.
In a moment of nostalgia – or sheer stupidity – I booked into the Regina Hotel as it is the name of the capital city of Saskatchewan from hence I come. Lunahuana is about two and a half hours south of Lima and I wanted to get away for a couple of days.
There were three main features of this hotel. The first was the mosquitoes that attack from 17:00 to 20:00. Although the bites didn’t hurt at the time, the welts lasted for well over a week.
The second was the dogs. At the farm next to the hotel, they have a couple of mutts that howled all night. The third was the roosters that crowed at the crack of dawn.
Lunahuana is for tourists who want to go white-water rafting and/or roaring around on a dune-buggy. I spend some time in the square and bought some bags.
It was great to get back to Lima for some sleep.
The Year of the Rooster
As 2016 and the Year of the Monkey draws to a close, I am getting ready to head back to Medellin on January 24th. Then the Year of the Rooster – which promises to be less hectic – begins on the 28th.
My sort-of plan is to rent a furnished apartment in Boston, the barrio that has adopted me. Alvaro resigned as my social secretary. He said he was totally over people constantly asking about me and when I was returning while not being the least bit interested how he was doing.
I hope this blog finds you healthy, content and enjoying life. And all the best for 2017 and the Year of the Rooster.