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Day 21 – Everything Peru

October 31, 2010

Location: Lima, Peru

Date: Sunday, October 31, 2010

Peru is a diverse country. During the colonial period, Lima, its capital, served as the center of all sanctioned Spanish trade (much to the chagrin of Buenos Aires and Argentina). People were drawn to it for its vast natural resources both mineral and agricultural. The country was also home to the largest, most sophisticated indigenous empire in the Americas. How diverse is Peru? It once had a Japanese president. An Asian isn’t getting near the White House any time soon; maybe for a long time considering how the currently tinted president is polling. All’s to say is that this is a rich culture.

Today I was lucky enough to run the gamut of some of those riches. In one 20-hour period I experienced the three “F’s” of Peru.

The First “F” – Food

Surprise! Yeah, Doug, Karem, and I ate again today. I’ll spare you too many of the details and let the pics talk. I’ll say, though, that it’s not just us three here that are obsessed with the stuff. It’s the country itself. There are restaurants everywhere with every kind of food imaginable. People eat here at all hours (e.g. Tio Mario’s, the anticucheria didn’t get busy until 10 p.m.) and they eat well (Doug pointed out most people aren’t fat, but everyone has a belly). They live life well.

Recently, I got into a cab and the driver said he was starving because he’d been up since 5 am. I asked if he’d had breakfast. He said, “Yes, but I ate it too quickly. You need to eat slowly to enjoy and feel full.” The man was preaching to the choir.








[The Second “F” – Futbol

In a fit of passion—and because I liked the shirt– I bought a “La U” warm up jersey. Little did I know I’d chosen a team for life. Karem and Doug’s family are “U” fans (pronounced: “oo” and short for “Universitario”) so I’ve become one, as well. Helps I like the red team color and the “La Crema” nickname.

I’m far from unique, however. Peru has 32 top tier football (Yankee soccer) teams in the country. Twenty-two of them are in Lima. There are multiple daily papers whose sole coverage is various futbol leagues, anywhere from in the city to in Europe (no MLS here, though). There is no equivalent to this level obsession back home. The country is united.

Appropriately enough, I played in a futbol game here in Lima with Karem’s dad and his friends. This worked out for Doug and I since we lack skill but the rest of the guys were old. We played like the team of our own country: little ball handling or shot ability, but with more energy and physicality than any of the other players on the concrete field.




At today’s game, I learned that I am Chinese. Everyone has a nickname at the game. Mine: chinito or little Chinese (they already had a Peruvian guy who they called chino. He is not Chinese or even Asian.)

I suck at futbol but it was fun. Especially since men around the world are all the same. Even old men argue about fouls and trash talk and swear. I didn’t understand the exact words, but I knew exactly what each argument was about and each retort. Sport rage is universal.

The Third “F” – Fiesta

Fiesta means “party” in Spanish and a party ain’t a Peruvian party unless the guests try to light each other on fire. More on this in a second.


Tonight we went to hang out with the other side of Karem’s family at her uncle’s 70th birthday party. We took a secure taxi ride through a grittier part of town and rode an elevator to the top of a large, block apartment building. There we found all manner of Peruvians chatting and drinking. After an hour, a surprise band showed up, serenaded the guest of honor at the door, then set up shop inside. Then the party began in earnest. Classic Latin song after classic Latin song emerged from a speaker the size of half the room. In the criollo tradition, the band would use a box drum with a tapered interior and a sound hole in the back. It looks like a box because back in the day, it was—slaves weren’t allowed to have instruments and were forced to improvise.

There was the salsa, the mambo, and a host of others I didn’t realize. I danced my own way.


At one point the tempo picked up and people were chasing women around with lighters. Some of the dancers had napkins hanging off the back of their dresses. The point: if you didn’t shake your ass enough, the person with the lighter to your tush would be able to light the napkin on fire. Now that’s a party. Karem’s aunt danced with the best of them despite the fact she recently had back surgery. Major operations don’t stop a Peruvian party.

Near the end of the evening, the birthday boy had his cake, then a slow dance with his bride of 40+ years. Standing in the dark, watching the couple sway to crooning Spanish was serene—it was the kind of intimacy you hope you might someday have for yourself.




As the band packed up, plates of food flowed out of the apartment’s small kitchen. Olluquito, traditional dish named after a tuber. In it, the root–sliced julienne and reminiscent of noodles—is accompanied by beef, aji panca (there’s that Peruvian pepper again), with rice and boiled sweet potato.

Perish the thought of Peruvians partying without food.

As we left, the fiesta stayed strong, now mostly handed off to the younger set with the older adults clapping and pressing on their younger counterparts to the sounds of a portable sound system. The morning was still young. The Peruvian night still had more life to offer.

GALLERY: Click through to see bonus party pics.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Doug permalink
    November 9, 2010 5:41 am

    As I was reading this with Luna on my lap, she called you by your other nickname, Macock. Or however you spell it. What an epic day!

    • November 10, 2010 2:09 pm

      It was thanks to you guys.

      Tell Luna and Karem that Mah Caw says high. Also, ask Luna how she spells it.

  2. Doris permalink
    November 9, 2010 6:25 pm

    The quinessential day in Lima – you did all the best things.

    I have to say, our dances never sounded weird to me until I hear about them through you.

    Also, is that tamal homemade? If so, you got soooo lucky!!

    • November 10, 2010 2:13 pm

      The dancing was awesome. The light someone on fire thing was the best.

      The tamale was not home made. It was from a restaurant in the market next to the apartment.

  3. November 9, 2010 11:32 pm

    Will you still be down south at Christmas-time?

    If so (at least in Venezuela) they serve a very special tamale called an “hallaca” (check it out here: with olives, raisins, and all sorts of special stuff that’s to die for!! Plus tamale dulce…. If you can still schedule – try to be in Venezuela during the holiday season!

    Oh yum….there go the salivary glands again!!

    • November 10, 2010 2:15 pm

      I’ll probably be in Patagonia come Christmas time. Perhaps on the Chile side. I will have to keep an eye out for this. I love special holiday food. I also love all food, so I guess that’s not that surprising.

  4. Michelle permalink
    November 10, 2010 7:02 am

    Of course you were called chinito! Thanks for this mervyn – great to see Peru again through your experience, & wishing I could go back again.

    • November 10, 2010 2:17 pm

      I wanted to start calling them all “Mexicanos” for fun, but thought it might be rude.

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