Monday, December 26, 2016

The Salsa Carollers (for a Peruvian Christmas)

26 December 2016

It's always interesting to experience a holiday in another country.
 
So, Christmas in Lima.  We missed all of this last year, because we flew to Santiago, Chile.  Didn't know that Christmas in Lima is a blast.  Literally!

On Christmas Eve day, our hostale manager invited us to dinner that evening.  She said there would be other guests there, they had a big turkey, and it would be fun.  Things got started a bit after 9 PM, with a gathering of other people staying here - the group was mostly people from Colombia and Brazil, and a few people spoke some English.  So we had some conversations in English and Spanish, while music played in the background.  (I recognized one piece which we danced the merengue to in our ballroom dancing class!)

Of course, we wanted to bring a gift for our hostess, so we picked up a paneton (the Spanish word for panettone, the Italian Christmas bread) after sampling this brand at the supermarket.  (And it was served for breakfast this morning, the day after Christmas.)

Anyway, dinner was served maybe around 9:30-10 PM, with wonderful turkey, rice pilaf with raisins, and a tasty potato salad.  Red wine, and dessert was a cheesecake with sort of a blueberry topping.  
Then people got up and danced to the music - I'm guessing it would qualify as salsa dancing, but like tango, there's the North American version and the South American version.  So not exactly (or much like) what I know, but still lively and fun.  Not that Richard and I danced, but I watched for a while.

We went back up to our room - and there were occasional firecrackers, Roman candles, bottle rockets, and even huge fireworks going off.  A few right outside our window, so we could see the flashing and exploding colors.  Others down the street, loud enough to hear but not close enough to see.

Until midnight!  At midnight, the festivities absolutely erupted!  Huge fireworks, tons of firecrackers, things flashing and banging and booming and exploding all around us!  I love fireworks, so we ran downstairs to see what was happening - though everyone else was still dancing and/or hugging each other and wishes everyone Feliz Navidad.  I was grabbed for a few hugs, gave my own Feliz Navidads, and headed down the street - and there were actual huge exploding fireworks going off randomly all around the sky!  Some we could see, some were reflected in apartment windows.  Like a chaotic New Year's Eve but for Christmas!!!!!  How exciting!!!!

Things continued for a while, with people running around setting off strings of firecrackers on the street, but it was quieter by about 2 AM, so I finally went to sleep. 

Christmas started out fairly normal, with things quiet and slow.  Breakfast at the hostale.  Back to our room to check email and figure out what we wanted to do - and then we could hear a small brass band playing Christmas carols, getting closer and closer!

They came wandering down our street, about five or six men wearing Santa hats, with a saxophone, a trumpet or two, a couple of drums - playing music and holding out baseball caps for monetary donations!  They played "Feliz Navidad" and a couple of carols like "Joy to the World" - all with a very salsa beat in their style!  

I stood at our window and took some photos, but didn't have any change to toss down to them.  (And I know, from Myanmar, that bills thrown out of windows tend to waft and not go directly to people.)

It was just a very funny way of carolling, to come walking from house to house with this little salsa band!

This is one of the things we've noticed in travelling around South and Central America:  things seem familiar, because these are western cultures, and predominantly Christian (usually Catholic), and so it feels somewhat similar to the US, where we grew up.  The culture doesn't immediately come across as so very different and foreign, the way all of Asia and many of the Pacific islands felt - when we not only didn't know the language or culture, but we often couldn't even read the signs on buildings or streets.

But Central and South America really are very different from North America, and we feel that every time we come to something like a celebration of a holiday.  When was the last time you had fireworks for Christmas?  (I've never seen this, ever - though I don't celebrate Christmas.  But have you ever seen fireworks anywhere in the USA for Christmas?  And isn't it a fun idea?)

So even though the culture feels familiar and similar, then there are these startling differences that make us think, "Toto, we're not in Kansas anymore."

Sandwiches.  You'd think sandwiches would be, well, sandwiches.  And yes, there are some vaguely familiar sandwiches.

But most sandwiches are presented in a triple - which is pronounced TREEP-lay.  Yes, this is a triple-decker sandwich.  Four levels of bread, three different fillings.  Always served only a half at a time, because you really are getting two slices of bread, and a half portion of three fillings.

My favorite are the tuna salad-egg salad-tomato triple.  Then there's the egg-tomato-avocado triple.  A mixto (pronounced MEEX-to) is pretty much always ham and cheese, and is often served either as a double-decker sandwich, or on a croissant.  Plus almost always heated so the cheese is a bit melty.

We've also seen seven layer sandwiches, some a work of art.  Really, picture seven different fillings, lots of vegs in there with the cheese, egg, ham, or chicken.  Each layer of filling a different color.  No idea how someone opens their mouth big enough to take a bite.  

And the money!  I love the bills!  You know how in most of the world, paper currency usually has a picture of a famous person on one side of the bill.  The other side usually features an historic building.  Right?

So this is Peru.  And what is the single most famous historic building in Peru?  Okay, not one individual building, think group of buildings, or archaeological site.  Of course, Machu Picchu.  So the ten soles bill features Machu Picchu on the back!!!!  With some pre-Columbian artifacts as well.  How cool is that???  I absolutely love it!

The twenty features a wall of the ancient city of Chan Chan, which is up north near the modern city of Trujillo.  This city flourished in the period between about 850 to 1470 CE and was the capital of the Chimu civilization.  This civilization lost influence after the Inca gained power.

On the back of the fifty, there's the New Temple of Chavin de Huantar, another archaeological complex north of Lima (and at an elevation of over 9000 ft).  This temple was built by the Chavin culture in (approximately) 1200 BCE, so it's some 3000 years old!!!

Finally, the back of the 100 sol bill features the Gran Pajaten, located in the northern Amazonian region.  This is an archaeological complex that goes back to about 200 BCE, built by the Chachapoyas civilization.  It also is possibly the city thought to be El Dorado, the city of gold, which the Spanish conquistadors sought.

Who knew money could be a mini art history lesson?

If you want more information, I found this great website:  http://www.limaeasy.com/peruvian-money-currency-guide/current-peruvian-banknotes

We're still enjoying our time in Lima - it's a great little city.  We visit the kitty park, visit our neighborhood caf├ęs, eat takeaway meals in the park, and spend a little time in our nearby casinos.  (Where we were served the holiday snack of hot chocolate and a small slice of paneton one afternoon!)  

We now have our Brazilian visas in our passports, so we're good on that.

Richard still has a bit more dental work to finish up - his dentist is on a holiday break, so we're just waiting until he's back and things can get finalized.

Once we know when we can leave, we'll figure out where we want to go.  We have a plan that begins in early February, but that leaves part of January to maybe visit another country.

We'll keep everyone posted!


Monday, December 19, 2016

Return to the Kitty Park

19 December 2016

We came to Lima for two main reasons - Richard needed some dental work, and he likes a dentist here in Lima; and we need to get visas for Brazil.

Yes, there are Brazilian consulates scattered around the US.  The closest one to Bellingham, WA, is in San Francisco, roughly 1000-plus miles away.  The usual practice is to contact a visa service company in Seattle, submit the application forms, photos, support material, and the visa fee as well as the service charge - and the company sends all of that, with your passport, to the regional consulate.

We called in early September.  And were told that the visa applications couldn't be submitted to the San Francisco office until December, at the earliest.  

Additionally, we were told that all the Brazilian consulate staff were on strike.  ALL of them.  So nothing could be done until some unspecified time in the future.

A Brazilian friend of ours helped by contacting a friend of his in another regional Brazilian consulate, who offered to expedite our visa paperwork.  However, just sending everything off to some person we didn't know, in a place we weren't in, seemed, well, unsettling at best.  Potentially problematic.

So we came to Lima, and settled into our usual and favorite friendly hostal.  Sort of a cross between a hotel, B&B, and a hostel.  Or as another guest called it, a "poshtel."  As in a posh hostel.

Anyway, the Brazilian embassy and consular office is just around the corner and up two blocks.  Easy.  We visited and got all the info - we were told to go to their website, they have the application forms in English, we just fill out all the information and bring it back with a photo, the money, and the support information.  And it would only take five days.

It took a while to navigate their site, of course: because this is the Brazilian embassy in Peru, the website is in either Portuguese or Spanish, your choice.  

We managed to find the section on visas, and once there we found the button to turn that into English.  Attached our digital photos, scanned driver's license as well as the passport (personal info page only), our signatures.  Turned out the support documentation was proof of finances, as in three months of bank statements, so we printed that out.  Oh, and either a plane ticket or an itinerary, so we included that.

And submitted all that information.  (The guy at the desk was happy to see we had old and expired Brazilian visas.  They used to be for five years - the new visas will be for ten years!)  We had to go across the street to a bank and pay the visa fee, and return with a receipt which was attached to our application.

And that was it.  Well, accomplishing all of that was a bit more complicated, with a few visits to the one English-speaking guy at the embassy office to double-check we had the right website.  Plus more navigating around trying to figure out if we had the right form, and forever to download the bank statements.

We've checked their website, and we were approved to get our visas within two days!  Now we just have to wait until they say the passports with new visas attached are ready for pickup.  YAY!!!

Between all of that, Richard has had some of his dental work done - I won't go into all the details, but it was a little complicated and not a quick fix.

Fortunately for me, his dentist's office is up by Parque Kennedy, known to us as the kitty park.  This is where people used to abandon their cats, and a cat community sprang up.  For over 20 years, the cats have been cared for by the "Feline Defense Volunteer Group for Kennedy Park Kittens."  They make sure the cats and kittens are vaccinated, checked by vets periodically, fed, and hopefully adopted.  

Their little kitty info house has a sign saying that they've sponsored over 1,200 cat adoptions since they began.  They host adoption campaigns every weekend.  However, they caution that they only allow adoptions after a serious scrutiny of the people adopting a cat, including home visits.  They want to make sure the cats will be well taken care of and loved, as they deserve.  (And, like many animal shelter agencies, they require that the adoptions include sterilization of the animal if it hasn't already been done.)

Their info says that cats have been living in this park for over 25 years, and there are actually two distinct communities of cats.  Of course, we envision the Sharks and the Jets and kitty rumbles - but we haven't seen any kitty fights.  Maybe just a little alpha male posturing.

We've been through the park three times already, and the cats and kitties are as wonderful as always.  During the middle of the day, the cats nap among the flowers, or check out if someone having lunch in the park might be willing to share.  By late afternoon, people begin to gather in the tiny amphitheatre (which I call the kitty colosseum), talking, playing music, and of course visiting with the kitties.  And friendlier kitties find willing laps to sleep on.

In the evening, the nocturnal cats are more active, and they come out of hiding to wander around, find their feeding stations, and see what's happening.  Often there are impromptu music gatherings.  And this time of year, there are small craft markets for tourists and locals to buy gifts and food items for the holidays.

There's even a life-size Nativity scene set up - though no cat had yet found the crib, or at least wasn't sleeping there when I looked.  No, just visitors taking selfies in front of it.

Plus we're doing the normal things we do while travelling long-term - sitting in parks and enjoying the flowers, since this is late spring early summer here.  Getting haircuts, always fun to explain in a foreign language.  I usually resort to drawing a sketch of how I need to get my hair cut.  And a pedicure, my new indulgence.  Not so easy to explain that I have tender toes so don't over scrub, or that my white hair streak has a cowlick, or that my hair is a bit crazy in humidity.  But always an adventure to do these perfectly normal kinds of things!

We've also booked another adventure for February and most of March - but I'm going to leave that for later, closer to when we get to those dates.  However, it means we need to maybe get a few clothing items to be ready - some adventures require special clothing or toiletries, so we're trying to all of that in order.

We found a great burger restaurant for Richard's birthday, since that's something that we can't always locate.  Turned out that the restaurant gives a brownie sundae to guests with birthdays, so I managed to alert our wait staff and they brought this over at the end of the meal, complete with a candle that wouldn't go out!  And two young waiters singing in English and then Spanish, much hand-clapping, and of course an embarrassed Richard and me giggling uncontrollably.  Great fun!

One of our former hangout spots in Lima was a little cafe up the main street from our hostal, and we got to know the two young men who worked there.  One spoke English very well, the other not so much - but that made it easy for us to talk with them.  We hung out there, chatted, found out more about Peru, shared our views about our travels and where we've been, all that.  So we went back, and there's a whole new staff, and our friends nowhere in sight!  Finally, one day the English-speaking guy was there, and of course we had big hugs all around - he's starting a new job, his buddy has another job, and this was his last day.  But it was wonderful to see him, and get caught up again.  And he'll check the blog so we can stay in touch better.

I think this is one of our favorite things about travelling the way we do - yes, we go around and visit the famous sites and sights in the countries we visit.  But because we travel slowly, we don't need to rush.  We have days where we just LIVE in the location we happen to be in on any given day.  We don't have limits or constraints on our time, nor an itinerary.  We can sit in a cafe and chat with someone for an hour or two, and go back there over a couple of weeks.  Or we can chat with someone in a park, and see them again, and become more than just acquaintances. 

And with the wonders of the web, we can stay in touch.  We actually have stayed in contact with people we met in New Zealand, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, Chile - we're in touch on Facebook, or email back and forth.

It amazes me how easily this happens, and how easy it is to maintain a friendship in this internet age.  Even though we see people everywhere with their faces glued to their handhelds, seemingly isolated and barricaded from the outside world, that same technology also connects all of us if we choose to use it this way.

So hi to all of our friends and family who follow our blog.  Hi to all of our new friends who we've met along the way.  

(And hi to the 600 or so hits the blog received in one week from Russia!  I occasionally wonder if these are serious people looking at a travel blog, or if they think they can hack in and do something else.  But hi to you - and yes, this is just a simple travel blog.)



Sunday, December 4, 2016

It's Cold and We're Out Of Here!!!!

4 December 2016

We ended up hanging out in Bellingham way longer than we had hoped.  And it has gotten WAY too cold!  There's snow in the forecast tonight and early tomorrow morning - AGH!

But we stayed in Bellingham for medical stuff.  Richard had a second round of meds for his hitchhikers, who seem to have permanently left the building and are no longer trespassing in his stomach.  At least we're hopeful.

Plus I had that scare that perhaps things were wonky with my heart.  According to the cardiologist, they found the beginnings of some things that could be problematic in ten or twenty years, so I'm on a few new medications.  It also seems that, with exertion, I don't breathe out all the carbon dioxide or something - so I have a new and slightly weird way of breathing to experiment with, and thus far it actually seems to be helping.  (I have to breathe out as if I'm whistling when I walk.  Yeah, you can imagine how odd it looks.)  Anyway, it appears that there isn't any damage to my heart, which is the good news.  I'll take extra meds and breathing in a funny way over having any kind of permanent damage.

So we're heading out tomorrow morning.  For Lima, Peru.  Because we liked it, our favorite hostal in near the Brazilian consulate, and Richard needs to visit his dentist again.  I know, who has a dentist in Peru?  But, well, why not?  Besides, I can visit the cat park!

This trip, we noticed that a number of businesses in Bellingham had a flag, green and blue with some white symbols.  I finally asked about it, and it turns out that the Downtown Bellingham Partnership wanted a flag that would be symbolic of the city and locale.  

The winning design was created by Brad Lockhart of Lariat Creative.  And it's really a very interesting design that incorporates the history of the town as well as the environment and geography of this area.

The blue field represents Bellingham Bay.  The two white stars symbolize the two Coastal Salish tribes of the region, the Lummi and the Nooksack nations.  The three wavy lines represent the translation of Whatcom, for Chief Whatcom of the Lummi people - "Whatcom" means "noisy waters" but is also the name of the country, a creek, and the waterfall in town.  And finally, the four green stripes are for the four original towns that merged - Whatcom, Fairhaven, Sehome, and Bellingham.

Plus if the flag is hung vertically, the three wavy white lines really look like the waterfall!

The flag hasn't quite been officially adopted by the city or council or whatever agency would do that.  But numerous businesses have adopted this design and integrated it into their brand, proudly flying the flag or adding it to stickers, badges, mugs, whatever.

I like the fact that the downtown community has embraced this emblem of the town, however unofficial it might be.  There's a certain vaguely renegade feel to it, adopting an unofficial flag and flying it proudly.  Sort of the Cascadia mindset that pervades this part of the country.

Anyway, that's the unofficially official flag of Bellingham.

I should add that the photos are from online, not my photos.

We're both ready for some warmer weather, and will be back here in about seven or eight months.