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Impressions from Peru, One

They don’t seem to like windows. In all the houses and hotels I saw in Lima (including my apartment in Lima), Paracas, Huacachina and Arequipa, and also in the hacienda we visited in the country side, there are only two windows with a view onto the street. All the other rooms open up on a central corridor or courtyard and receive light from windows placed up higher on the ceiling. It must be because it's so hot during the day and so cold at night. I find this claustrophobic. I really miss looking out of a window.

It’s prohibited to drink in public. Maybe this is why there are very few terraces and tables out on the sidewalk. That is a marked difference from Europe, where you get the feeling that everyone is drinking from dawn till dusk.

Arequipa has kept the medieval tradition of single-ware streets. The quantity of shops selling eyeglasses is mind-boggling. Never have you seen meter after meter of eye wear shops one after the other, street after street. There aren’t enough Arequipans to buy so many eye/sunglasses/lenses. And most Arequipans I see seem to have great eye sight and no need for sunglasses. They are totally eyeglass-free. And then there are the orange-sellers. How on earth will they sell all these oranges before they all rot? My hotel is on the water-heater street. Shop after shop of water heaters (to heat the water of the whole house). Then there are the shoe-sellers, the cheap clothes-sellers (all made in India and Bangladesh). And, of course, the baby Alpaca shops. The sweaters are all gorgeous, but they all carry the same design. And the same price tag. But still, I think I'll have to buy one. No, that would be ridiculous, with the mother I have!

In Lima, most people smell good. Either like soap or good perfume. But sometimes, especially if you’re having lunch, it can be a bit overwhelming.

I already wrote about kissy-feely Limeans, all in love and in heat and not shy about showing it in public. And about sport Limeans, all doing yoga and group sports, or jogging in the parks. Clean Limeans, picking up their dog’s poo. Female street sweepers with golden earrings and huge face masks – they’re here, in Arequipa, too and the streets are also very clean.

There are (as yet) no tourist traps like the Rue de Bouchers in Brussels. Even on the Plaza de Armas in Lima and Arequipa, most places are full of Peruvians, they’re not too trendy, and keep their fluorescent lights (yaaayy... hmmm...) and cheap prices. Mostly.

Why do Peruvians eat so much rice? Even for breakfast? Do they grow rice?* I can’t take it anymore. But bring on the lime on everything. I don’t think I’ll ever get sick of that. But I am tired of all the sugar in all my drinks. Though I love, love their lemonade culture (more lime, and if you add mint, it's a "lemonade arabe"), I am tired of sugar. Which means I am tired of Pisco Sours (sob) (it won't last) (I hope). I am a bit sick of chicken. And I saw how they breed them. In long, kilometric series of tight little cages, underneath a textile ceiling, no walls. I saw these by the ocean. At least they were outside and had a nice view. Not all must be so lucky. Well, in Arequipa there is more choice about how to get your proteins – you can eat guinea pig, alpaca or have a frog shake. Serious. They put the frog in the milk shake. But I don't think this is very wide-spread.

Not really an observation -- one of my favorite lunches ever until now was an avocado, tomato and cucumber sandwich, by the lake in the oasis. Oh, OK, I can tie this up with an observation: Peruvians don't care too much for vegetables. Th other day I got 2 string beans, cut in two and put on the 4 corners of my plate and danced for joy at seeing something green. So the avocado sandwich is manna from heaven. Today, in my five star Chupe de camarones (Shrimp-and-Corn Chowder) there were a few Lima beans, some cabbage and corn. They also love eggs. Eggs everywhere, including in this soup, but it was tasteless so I could eat it (yes, come on, they even put eggs in their cocktails -- what do you expect?). Maybe all this protein is needed because of the high altitude.

Peruvians don’t seem to have breakfast. But they don’t really like coffee either (well, they drink nescafé). What they do in the morning remains a mystery for me. This morning I had breakfast: tortilla (yummy), extremely salty tomatoes and salad, french fries and rice. Very curious. And papaya juice. Yes, there is fresh, affordable fruit juice everywhere. Orange, papaya, maracuya, pineapple. How I will miss this!

Tomorrow, for breakfast, I’m going to have crêpes at the café of the Alliance française! But they’re Peruvian crêpes, with quinoa and other indigenous things.

When in Ica or Arequipa, even if it’s swelteringly hot outside when you leave in the morning, take a jacket, better yet, a down jacket, hat and gloves (ha ha) if you’re going to stay out after sunset. I didn’t, today, and froze in my skimpy T-shirt.

I am sure I’ll come up with more later. Let this be called “Impressions from Peru, One.”

* About rice: OMG! Yes! They produce rice!!! Read this:

Rice crops are an important component of the agricultural sector, making up 9.4% of the gross value of national agricultural production and occupying 18.3% of the total cultivated area. Rice is a major source of rural employment; 1.5% of the economically active population works in the rice subsector. The consumer price index is highly dependent on rice prices.

Rice is a staple food in Peru and in some regions is even more important than potato in the diet; together, potato and rice have the most extensive cropping area in the country. Rice is also used for feeding livestock and making alcohol, acetic acid, acetone, oil, pharmaceutical products, fuel, and compost. Rice consumption in Peru is the third highest of South America after Guyana and Suriname, with 48.7 kg per capita per year in 2009.

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