Spending Time with our Peruvian Friends

Nido Casuarinas, LimaOn Friday we got up around 10 am, determined to get out into the city a bit earlier than we had the day before. We got into a taxi around 11:30 am and headed for the place where Ana Maria works. She is the director of a chain of preschools, called Nido Casuarinas, where children learn in both English and Spanish and are encouraged to do a lot of learning and exploration. Our destination this morning was the preschool’s main location.

Once we got there, it took a bit of doing to locate Ana Maria. She was in a meeting, so she asked one of the staff members to give us a tour of the preschool. It was absolutely darling and it is amazing what they are able to get such small children to do and learn.

After that, we went across the street to Colegio Casuarinas, the bilingual K-12 school where my friend Marisa works. She is the director of the primary grades. It took a while to locate her, and she was also in a meeting, so another staff member was given the task to give us a tour of the Colegio. It was actually quite funny, because the first question she asked was how old our child is. I explained that no, we weren’t parents interested in the school, but friends of Marisa from the U.S. who were visiting.

It was lunchtime, so there were kids everywhere. There was a very cute playground in the primary area that was set up to be a town with different kinds of shops/buildings. There was also a small stadium where kids were playing soccer. In the high school area was a snack bar as well as a cafeteria. There were some boys on the basketball court playing soccer. We got to see some of the classrooms, including the art room and the chemistry lab.

We then went back to look for Marisa, and were ultimately taken to the cafeteria to wait for her there. It seems that the cafeteria is for both students and faculty, giving the students an opportunity to talk to the teachers and adminstrators if they want to. The lunch was delicious – soup, salad with chicken on top, and even dessert. It was nice to spend some time sitting quietly and visiting with Marisa. Marisa is completely fluent in English, so it was a relief for Dave to have a conversation where he could fully participate.

After lunch, Marisa had a full schedule, so she left us back at the school office, where they called a taxi for us. We waited in the courtyard enjoying a bit of sunshine and watching the schoolchildren play on the soccer field.

Museo de OroOur next stop was the Museo de Oro (Gold Museum) which also included the Museo de Armas del Mundo (Museum of Weapons of the World). The entrance fee was $10 (30 soles) each, which was the largest amount (at that point) we’d had to pay for anything so far in Peru. But, we didn’t have other plans, so we paid the entrance fee and walked in. The grounds were very nice – it was a cute park with various tourist shops where you can buy jewelry, clothing made from alpaca wool, and folk arts and crafts.

We headed into the museum, where the Gold Museum was actually in the basement below the Weapons Museum. We spent an hour or so wandering around the museum, looking at various pre-Columbian artifacts such as arrowheads and jewelry, reproductions of gold artifacts that the Incas and the pre-Incan people had typically made, as well as some mummies that had been found in the mountains. There wasn’t much explanation of the various displays (in Spanish or in English) and we felt like we didn’t have enough context to appreciate their importance. We had a guide book that had suggested first visiting the Museo de la Nacion (Museum of the Nation) before seeing the Museo de Oro, because the former gives more information about the history of the region and the peoples who have lived there. Ana Maria had been very keen on us going to Gold Museum, and it wasn’t far from the school, so this had turned out to be a more convenient plan.

We poked around the Weapons Museum for a just a bit, but we were starting to get very tired. We poked around in the shops just to see what was there and what the prices were like (which was: very high – of course, because this is a particularly touristy spot). Finally we headed back to the front gate and the man there called one of the taxis that was waiting there.

We told him to take us to Colegio Casuarinas, which he was able to locate relatively easily. We got to the front of the school and asked him how much we owed. It was 8 soles, so we gave him a bill for 10 soles. He took it, then asked us if we had something bigger – maybe 20 soles? We should have realized how strange that was, but we took the 10 back and gave him 20 soles. Then he said that this one looked like it had gotten wet – could we give him another one? We shook our heads in disbelief and exasperation and gave him another 20 soles, and he started to give us change back. Then he said that this one seemed to be a bit ripped – did we have another bill? I said, that’s it! And we got out of the car. He had already given us change so it seemed stupid for him to keep asking for different bills.

We walked over to the preschool and located Ana Maria. She had a bit of business to take care of, so we waited in her office, checking our e-mail and the World Cup scores. It was nice to sit still for a bit. Then she took us over to the Colegio, which was very peaceful now that the students had all left for the day. We walked around and Dave was able to take some photos. Ana Maria got a call from her boss on her Nextel, so she had to go talk to her for a while, and we were left to our own devices. We found Marisa in her office, talking on the phone to a young boy who had decided not to come to school that day because he was ashamed of a lie he told about a friend the day before. It was precious.

Marisa took charge of making our plans for the rest of our evening, and then she called Ana Maria to let her know that we were with her. We got in her car and drove away.

She took us to a mall called Jockey Mall, which was a huge American-style mall with many American stores in it. We did some shopping at the large department stores (Ripley and Saga Falabella, which I believe are both Chilean). The prices were great and the clothes were good quality – Peru is known for its textiles. Unfortunately I couldn’t find any pants that fit well. Dave pondered buying a jersey from the Peruvian national soccer team, but we could only find jerseys for the teams favored to be in the World Cup finals – England, Germany, etc.

After walking around for a while, we went to Starbucks – yes we did! – and bought cafe mochas that were expensive by Peruvian standards (8 soles) but cheap compared to what we pay in America (only about $2.50 each!). When we handed our 20 soles bill to the guy behind the counter, he looked closely at it, and told us he couldn’t take it, since it was fake. We were shocked! We realized quickly that this is what the taxi driver had been doing – exchanging our real bills for fake bills. I asked the Starbucks guy to show me how you could tell the difference, and what he showed me was quite apparent. We gave him a new, authentic bill and then sat down with our coffee. Dave was quite pissed off that we had been taken advantage of by a taxi driver in Lima. I told him not to worry too much about it – it’s part of the adventure and it could have been much worse.

Before we left the mall I bought a small box of alfajores (a treat I had grown to love in Argentina) to share for dessert, and then we went outside to wait for Marisa. It was perfect timing because she had just arrived. We paid for parking and then headed out of the mall parking lot and toward her home.

Marisa lives in a neighborhood called Surco, not too far from the school where she works. It is a very quiet and residential neighborhood, not nearly as busy as San Isidro where Ana Maria’s family lives. Like many homes in Peru, the view from the street is a large wall, but once you get through the gate, you see a very lovely home. In front of the home, behind the wall, is a small courtyard and pathway leading up to the front door. We didn’t spend much time inside the house, but we saw a bit of the living room, dining room, and family room – all very comfortable.

When we arrived we met Marisa’s husband and her son, both named Ricardo. We told them all our story about the money, and showed them the bills to see if they could tell. We compared them to legitimate bills and it was very obvious. One of the fake bills was copied so badly that the drawings on the back were blurry! It took Dave a couple of beers to calm down from being so mad about it. We had ended up with 50 soles in fake money – not quite $20. Marisa made us feel better by telling the story of how the same thing had happened to her and Ana Maria in Buenos Aires once.

At our friend's house for dinnerIn the corner of their backyard, Marisa’s husband had designed and constructed a barbecue (in South America called a parillada) complete with cabinets, counters, and a bar with bar stools. I think I even saw a sink with running water. Ricardo already had the grill fired up, and when we got there he put 2-3 whole chickens to roast, and also cooked up some sausages.

Marisa’s son went out with a friend who had recently returned from the University of Oregon, and we met her daughter only briefly before she also went out. Ana Maria joined us along with her son Ricky, and the five of us had a lovely time visiting and having a few drinks.

The food was amazing. In addition to the meat that Ricardo grilled, we also ate mashed potatoes combined with cheese and spinach (delicious – but eat it while it’s hot or the cheese coagulates); yuca that had been boiled, then frozen, then baked; tomatoes with mozzarella; and I don’t know what else. It was a lot of food and it was absolutely delicious.

We couldn’t hang out for too long because Ana Maria had to go back to the house to pick up Mariana. Since it was Mariana’s birthday, she wanted to go out to a club to celebrate. She encouraged Dave and me to come along, but we were very tired, had to get up at a decent hour the next day to go to Cusco, and aren’t big on clubs anyway. But we got in the car with Ana Maria and Ricky and went back to the house to pick up Mariana, and then drove to Barranco to drop her off. It was a very busy spot – obviously this is where the nightlife is. The streets were filled with people waiting to go into bars, restaurants, and clubs. It made me tired just watching it.

When we got home, Dave downloaded the photos off his camera and burned them to a CD to make room for more photos before we headed off on the next leg of our trip, to Cusco. We also showed Ricky some of the other photos on our website. We showed him a photo of my 18 year old sister and he commented that she looked like she was 26.

We finally tore ourselves away from the computer and went to bed around 1 am.

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