Eating in Peru

Purple corn is popular here, and often made into a drink. It’s not called Maize (southern US) or Elote (Mexico). Here it is Choclo (also referred to as Peruvian corn or Cuzco corn) is a large-kernel variety of field corn from the Andes.
In Peru, choclo is commonly served as an accompaniment to dishes such as ceviche, and its toasted, salted form, similar to corn nuts, are customarily given free to restaurant patrons upon being seated. Full ears of choclo are also a popular street food in Peru and other Andean countries, typically served with a slice of cheese as choclo con queso.

I’ve officially tried the top two dishes in Peru: ceviche (fish “cooked” in lemon or lime juice. Also spelled cebiche here since the v and b sounds are the same and, hence, interchangeable) and lomo saltado (stir fried beef with french fries). I like them both and I can buy them at the grocery’s prepared foods section. Other delicacies I can buy there include Rocoto Relleno (Stuffed Spicy Peppers), Pollo a la Brasa (Roasted Chicken) and Causa (a type of Potato Casserole). Remember this is the land of potatoes, so they are served with everything (much as when I was growing up!).

I took this photo at the grocery store, but didn’t buy the item. According to Wikipedia, Chuño is a freeze-dried potato product traditionally made by Quechua and Aymara communities of Bolivia and Peru, and is known in various countries of South America, including Argentina, Bolivia, Chile and Peru. It is a five-day process, obtained by exposing a frost-resistant variety of potatoes to the very low night temperatures of the Andean Altiplano, freezing them, and subsequently exposing them to the intense sunlight of the day (this being the traditional process). The word comes from Quechua ch’uñu, meaning ‘frozen potato.’

I don’t really eat out that often. I buy prepared foods at the grocery and rely on fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, tuna and crackers in my room. I’ve got access to an extremely ill-equipped kitchen (for example, we have 2 forks, 2 plates, one glass and about 2 dozen coffee mugs), so I mostly use the fridge for yogurt, take out food, cheese and hard boiled eggs (which I boil in my electric kettle). I only got out to eat about once a week or less. Remember, I’m a poor teacher trying to live within my means! But even a trip to the grocery or a walk down the street in Arequipa can be a cultural experience. These are just a few food related photos I’ve not posted.

This is better known as passion fruit. I didn’t buy this, but bought a similar fruit…..
This is granadilla another type of passion fruit. It is native to southern Brazil through Paraguay to northern Argentina.
Here’s the granadilla after I got them home. The outside “shell” is hard.
…and this is the inside. It was sweet and the seeds are edible, but it’s never going to be one of my favorite fruits. It is cultivated commercially in tropical and subtropical areas for its sweet, seedy fruit. The passion fruit is a pepo, a type of berry, round to oval, either yellow or dark purple at maturity, with a soft to firm, juicy interior filled with numerous seeds. The fruit is both eaten and juiced; passion fruit juice is often added to other fruit juices to enhance aroma.
Aguaymanto: The plant and its fruit are most commonly known as Cape gooseberry, a member of the nightshade family. It’s quite tart. I liked it, but it won’t be one of my all time favorites. The fruit is indigenous to western South America, but has been cultivated in England since the late 18th century.
Physalis peruviana is closely related to the tomatillo and to the Chinese lantern–and all have a distinctive, papery covering on the mature fruit. Aquaymanto it is distantly related to a large number of edible plants, including tomato, eggplant, potato and other members of the nightshades.
Aji is a pepper and the one used here is a spicy yellow pepper. This sauce, cream of pepper, is common here. The fruit is very pungent and hot, 30,000 to 50,000 on the Scoville Heat Unit scale. The variety here is the Ají amarillo, also called amarillo chili and ají escabeche. Originally, I mistook the word “aji” for “ajo” and was quite surprised. Ajo is garlic, not pepper!
Traditional foods here don’t use onions or garlic, though they’ve been widely adopted, especially in the Pervuian/Chinese fusion dishes, known as chifa and so common here. In traditional dishes, peppers and herbs add the flavor.
There isn’t much street food here, but queso helado, a traditional ice cream, is an exception. It’s usually served by attractive young woman in traditional dress, from big buckets like this. Despite the very sunny skies, it’s quite cool in the shade here, rarely getting above 75F, so the ice cream doesn’t melt quickly.
Queso Helado translates as “iced cheese” but it’s really great. It tastes like creme brulee, but frozen. I’m glad they only serve it in tiny cups, so I don’t eat more. It’s topped with cinnamon.
These are some sweets I found at a temporary market, set up in a park at the foot of Puente Grau. On the left are overly sweet lemon candies. I thought the coating was white chocolate, but it didn’t taste like it. The cake is actually called King Kong cake! I couldn’t believe my ears and had the vendors write it down for me. It’s just a layered cake, but filling between the layers are a sticky caramel (called manjarblanco), pineapple (pina) and mani (peanut butter).
According to wikipedia: Manjar blanco, also known as manjar de leche or simply manjar, is a term used to refer to a variety of related delicacies in the Spanish-speaking world, all milk-based. In Spain the term refers to blancmange, a European delicacy found in various parts of the continent as well as the United Kingdom. In the Americas (South America primarily) it refers to a sweet, white spread or pastry filling made with milk. This term is sometimes used interchangeably with dulce de leche or cajeta (as in Mexico) in Latin America. According to Google Translate, Manjar means “delicacy.”

Horseback riding in the desert and farms outside Arequipa

This was taken after the ride and I’m not looking my very best. It was a nice morning, though Anibal, my guide, was way too forward for me.


This morning I went horseback riding. As a tour goes, I was not the best organized. Somehow I ended up paying for my own taxi home, after walking more than a mile to a place were we could even get a taxi. By that point, I was just ready to go.

But it was an “interesting” excursion, though not for the usual reasons. I was the only rider and Anibal was my guide. His family owns the farm and horses, though he is now living in Germany and only here on vacation. He was a funny guy, but a bit… “charming” ….for my tastes. When I asked the name of his horse, he said, “Nacho. Yo soy macho. El es Nacho.” (Nacho. I am macho. He is Nacho.) He also used the word “stallion” to describe himself, adding some very unambiguous body language, leaving nothing to the imagination. I did get a lot of Spanish practice today. Particularly, I got a lot of practice telling him NO. Fortunately the word is the same in English and Spanish and is recognized in most of the world as a negative response. Not so with Anibal! “Puedes venir a mi casa? Quieres venir a mi cama?” (Can you come to my house? Do you want to come to my bed?) While this is the best offer (of that sort) I’ve had in quite some time, I declined. Repeatedly. He’s a decade younger than I am, so my ego was slightly stroked. Though at the time I was far more wary that he wanted to stroke me!

I did get a free salsa lesson, Though if he stood any closer to me, he’d be behind me.  At my age, you’d think I’d not see this behavior anymore. I, sadly, look a bit matronly. Certainly, not sexy. It was somehow frightening, insulting and nice. Odd.

Honestly, the farm needed some attention. There was a lot of trash about and with all the animals, the smell was strong in places. These silos look like they’ve not been used in years.
The farm also has cows, but it must be a boring life for them in a dry pen. These are mostly steers, ready for market, so perhaps boring is better than what they are facing.

Nacho, saddled and ready to go.
Pedro gets saddled up. He isn’t tall, but I still needed a bench to help me get up. Guess my strength isn’t what it used to be. Or maybe it’s my girth, which is so much more than it used to be? Of course Anibal offered to help push me up from behind. No, thank you.
My horse, Pedro.
Dry. REALLY, really dry. Most of the 2 hour ride, I got to practice my Spanish with Anibal. I’d say a phrase first in English then try to repeat it in Spanish. Of course, I got a lot of correction, but it was a nice additional lesson. I was even serenaded in Spanish.
You can easily see which field is under irrigation and which is not. Anibal rides in front. My horse, Pedro, was 25 years old and only interested in following. He slipped MANY times. Possibly he didn’t enjoy carrying this fat American? While Anibal conceded that Pedro was old, he called his own horse “very young” at 6 years old and gave this as the reason he was so temperamental. Both horses are “castrado,” a new Spanish word for me.

A reservoir in the mid-ground and irrigation channel along the road.
We passed a group of bicyclists, too. The road looks like asphalt, but in this area it’s hard packed dirt and lots of dust. I was covered in it by the time I finished.
Dry. I have never lived anywhere that was so dry. Arid. Desert. Scrub land. D-R-Y
Here, you see one of the irrigation channels running between fields. In the distance are the Chachani mountains.
This is an old rock quarry. Arequipa is called “the white city” mostly because of sillar, the volcanic rock mined here. Most of the farms have stone walls, sometimes 10 feet high, surrounding their property, as well as short walls dividing fields.
Misti volcano, which hasn’t erupted in a few hundred years. Occasionally, you can see smoke from it, however.
The stone wall is made of sillar, a volcanic rock. (pronounced: see YAR)
The only reason that field on the left is green is because of the irrigation channel along the side of the road. I saw a little corn and sorghum (most volunteer), but mostly green peas and alfalfa growing. It’s spring here. I don’t know when they plant crops, nor what types.
Misti Volcano in the distance.
Did I mention it’s dry?
Anibal with Nacho, a 6yo who was very reluctant to go on the ride. Several times the horses were skiddish, but never over the things I thought would bother them. Cars, barking dogs, running children were no issue. Empty houses really bothered them, though, and it was difficult to keep them moving forward.
The horses got a much needed drink after the ride. There was a “problem” with my return transportation which was never quite explained. First we “waited” for my driver to come for about an hour. In the meantime, Anibal gave me a salsa lesson (man, does that guy dance CLOSE). Then he “let” me water and brush down the three horses for the next group of riders in the afternoon. I was covered in horse hair as these had not been properly brushed in a long time.
Pedro, my horse. You can just see to the left, Anibal walking away. He’s words to me were, “You stay. I pee.”
The farm has horses, cows and they grow alfalfa and a few other crops. There’s little pasture land here, because there’s no rain for grass to grow.

In the end, my driver never came. Anibal offered to take me into the house. I was fairly sure I didn’t want to do that. He walked me to the edge of town and offered to take me to lunch. No, really, I was done being asked to come to his bed. It was hilarious the first time, but really annoying by the 12th. So he helped me get a cab (which I paid for, though transportation was supposed to be part of my tour).

August in Arequipa

I never tire of this site as I cross the Chili River on the Puente Grau. The mountains int he background are the Chachani range.


Still evaluating the school, but I continue to be disappointed in how LATE information comes. Honestly, if you’re going to cancel a class, give me 24 hours’ notice, or pay me. I’ve probably already spent time preparing a lesson plan, so it’s only fair. If you’re going to open a new class, give me time to prepare a lesson plan. 16-18 hours before–just as I’m beginning to teach a 4-6hr block of classes–really isn’t fair. The Saturday 9am classes were announced at 7pm Friday. I worked until  9pm. I’ve been feeling uneasy about the school from the first day, but it seems to me that timely communication shows respect for my time and demonstrates your commitment to having teachers come to class prepared. I’m not seeing that.

Also, we are having intermittent email connectivity here at the boarding house. If the school sends information by email late is doubly bad because I may not get it before the event. The internet at the school isn’t anymore reliable.

I’ve been told the last two days that they will put new bulbs in my light fixtures. Three of four are burned out and the room is DARK. Today, they decided it was easier to make me move my classroom than fix the problem. (I later found out that this is a long term problem. Jeeze folks! Change the bulbs, add additional light or don’t schedule classes in this room at night!)

Maybe all private schools like this. <SIGH>

Ok, Let’s try to focus on the positive……..soon. Very soon.

The temple of Saint Augustine, located in the old town, near the Plaza de Armas.
The temple of Saint Augustine


When you work 6 days a week, you spend your Sundays cleaning, shopping and preparing for the week. It really sucks the joy out of your day. I could have (should have) been more productive after my classes ended at noon Saturday (yesterday), but honestly, my feet HURT! Lots of walking on cobblestones. Six straight hours of classes, standing on tile, and the “rule” is that you can’t sit down. That’ll teach me to gain weight!

I’m really struggling in Spanish class—I understand the written material—on the board and in the handout we got Friday. But I simply suck at listening. The teacher talks fast and uses vocabulary I just don’t know yet. I’ll stick it out for the month, but I’m not sure if this will help or not. Total immersion sounds so good, but it may not work if you’re…<ahem>…“past a certain age.”

I find that I’m just not “getting over” my distrust of the school, particularly manager, Lilian. I’m getting quite testy about being lied to by schools. This is my 6th school, not my first, so I’ve lost my “sense of adventure” and naiveté. I’ve tried to talk with her in her office, but she always acts stressed and busy and seems to just want me out of her office. I’m sure she is busy. It’s a big school and since teachers don’t stay long, she’s constantly recruiting. BUT, my issues are important too. An adult conversation in person is not working. Emails aren’t fairing better, however. She always answers them, which is something, but she never answers fully. She dashes off the least amount of information and is done with the problem.

Classes can start up to 5 days late, but the end date stays the same. I can understand making up 2 days, but 5 seems like too much to try to cover in the reduced time. (And this month we have a holiday, so that adds another day.) Lillian and Emma say I should “make up” the classes–find a time my students will come to class, outside their regular hours, and schedule classes to teach them the materials they missed. Most students aren’t able to come at another time to make up sessions. Heck, I have a hard enough time getting them to show up to regular classes on time! I have little time to do this, as well. And if I hold make up classes and only half the students attend, I’m setting the other half up to fail.

On Saturdays I have a Speaking and Writing class. There’s no text. You have to find topics for them to read, based on what they vote for. Classes take about 1 hour of preparation for each hour in class. There is very little in the share folder to help you prepare. I’m not paid well for my in class time. I’m not paid at all for prep time. Saturday class is six 15yos. It’s really hard to like a 15yo that isn’t yours. These are no exception. I’ll be glad when the class is over. I just hope I don’t lose my mind.

In short, I’m angry with the school. It’s an exercise in futility to continue to try to work with someone you know will lie to you or just dismisses you. So I’m toying with the idea of working the August and September sessions, then taking the first three week in October (before my visa runs out) and touring Peru. Of course, if I leave early, I have to make a plan for after that. Wonder what I’d do? I don’t know yet. But in the meantime, I’m going to try to do a better job of enjoying myself. I’m going to book tours for Sundays and spend less time on lesson planning.

The is the sidewalk along the edge of a park. It is seriously dry here. While it sounds nice to say “300+ sunny days a year” what that means is, this is a dessert. To keep the park green, water is diverted into the channel along the side of the park, flooding the grass. The park workers flood each section about once a week.
Here’s a flooded section of the park. The water won’t stand long. These plants need a drink.


I wasn’t raised with wifi but I sure have come to count on it. The struggles here with internet access seem to be getting worse. I don’t know if it is the internet provider, the ancient router, or if something is happening downstairs to cause this. I only know that until the workers were painting and cleaning downstairs, I didn’t have any trouble. Now, it’s constant. I no longer can access the fourth floor, because Leo and Trista just moved to that floor, so I can’t reset it myself. I have to knock on their door or text them. But that only works if they are home, which they aren’t during the day, as I am. I really don’t want to move to a new flat over this, but I need internet. I depend heavily on it to prepare lesson plans, communicate, keep up with my blog, get directions and plan for travel. Not to mention, entertainment.

Another frustration, as well. I tried booking day tours for my free Sundays last night (when the internet was working). I couldn’t. It took me awhile to figure out what the issue was. They are mostly private tours and they won’t book a single person. Maybe I can find another person to tour with me? Maybe if I go in person to some of the tour agencies in Plaza de Armas, I can find a tour to join?

I’m really relaxing into the idea of just working 2 only months here. I’m a little ashamed of myself for how much I’m enjoying the idea of telling the school I’m leaving. It’s pretty childish of me and this is just a stupid fantasy. I’d never tell them off. This school is no worse than any other I’ve worked at. But that doesn’t mean I have to stay.

One of the parks at the foot of the Puente Grau had a market this week.
Inside the market set up in the park. I bought some sweets, but had a little stomach upset the next day–the price of the adventurer. Notice how the dog just wanders through. There are many wild dogs, but so far, none have been a problem for me.


It’s not even 1pm and my day is looking very successful! All my lesson plans are ready—and I got my planning down to about 2hs for 6 hours of class. That’s probably still too much for the amount I’m paid, but I’m never going to come to class unprepared. Then I headed out of my apartment, first printing my school materials, then off to Plaza de Armas. I found a cash machine. Leo “neglected” to mention the damage deposit to the room, though I asked about it twice. Paying it means I’m low on cash, since I’ve not gotten my first paycheck yet. (Nice guy, but a bad communicator) Next, I found a tour agency and booked two half day tours. One is a Saturday after my classes, a Hop on/Hop off bus tour (for two weeks from now). The other is a Sunday morning horse ride in the dry lands around the city. Should be interesting. And I even have social plans for the weekend! This Friday night, Amy has organized a small group to go get a beer after work. Saturday evening, the owners Chris and Sandy have invited everyone over to their house for a BBQ. I almost feel I have a social life!

This is a huge protest about low wages for teachers. It was supported by groups of doctors and nurses as well. More than a thousand marched and it was loud! Many of the signs said, “We are not terrorists!” There were many police surrounding the event and I moved away, just in case violence broke out.


Emma unexpectedly dropped in on my class today. She gave me a good review of my class and seemed pleased at my teaching. I told her I didn’t think I’d stay at the school for the 6 months I’d originally planned. Her first response was that I “should take that up with Lilian.” I found this both disappointing and reassuring.  There are only two senior staff members. She’s one of them. Getting “blown off” is a major frustration here.

I’m done.

SO: I’ve made up my mind to teaching only two months at ELC, instead of 6. I was always uncomfortable about working on a tourist visa and it’s clear that you won’t get a work visa here. The school said it has an “agreement” with the local police department about foreign English speaking teachers working on a tourist visa. Maybe that’s true. Maybe it isn’t. But up to this point I still don’t have a contract and I’ve worked over a week. In fact, I’ve not even seen a copy of it so I could read it over. (Eventually I did get to see a contract. They don’t even call us teachers, but “interns.” We are NOT working, according to the contract. We are learning. No. Just NO.) And tourist visas are precarious for another reason. I’ve only got a 90 visa to stay in Peru. In order to stay, I have to make a 6-hour bus ride to Chile, probably overnight, cross the border. Stand in line. Hope that the border agent will give me enough time on a visa to complete my time here. And then I have to wait for another bus and travel 6 more hours back to Arequipa. It sounds exhausting, not to mention the monetary cost, or the fact that I can’t get the school to tell me the session schedule so that I can schedule it between sessions!

It’s only worth this kind of trouble for a school that’s lived up to their promises and gives me reasonable assistance and information in a timely manner. This one hasn’t. If you’re interested, here are the reasons. If not, just skip ahead. It’s all negative stuff.

  • The school didn’t pick me up at the airport as promised. Didn’t get an apology, either. When I asked, the response from Lilian was, “I’m really busy and I don’t feel well.” Let’s diplomatically say that this did not make me feel welcome.
  • During my Skype interview, I asked if she would help me if I needed assistance. I asked, for example, if they’d help if I had trouble getting a SIM card. Lilian said that, yes, she would come with me or send someone with me if this occurred. It did. I asked. She didn’t.
  • During my interview, Lilian said that there was little lesson planning time because they have “complete” lesson plans. While there are good outlines, they aren’t complete. The outlines tell you what pages to cover and suggest textbook exercises for the central topic part of the class—roughly 25 minutes of a two hour class. The rest is activities and those aren’t planned. In most cases there isn’t even a suggestion of what to do. There are some activities on the Google Share Drive that you can dig through, but not nearly enough. You’ll have to search, invent and borrow. That takes time. I have a lot of existing activities and I am still spending an hour preparing for each 2-hour class. And that’s all unpaid, BTW.
  • I made two small requests of Lilian that I felt were easy ones. She didn’t follow through. First, since our schedule was coming much later than we’d been promised, I asked Lilian if she could tell me the current classes she had for me on the schedule for (understanding that these could change). She said yes and that those classes were unlikely to change. The schedule was open in her computer and she could have read it to me, but said she’d email it. I felt that she just wanted me out of her office. I left. She didn’t email the information. Second, I emailed a request for the upcoming class session dates for the next few months, so that I could plan events between sessions. I used as an example that I’d need to do a border run before my visa expired around October 24th. She only sent the October session dates, not even the date I’d have to be back to begin the November session. If you want me to work for you, tell me WHEN.
  • We were only given our teaching materials at 5pm the day before classes started. First classes are at 7am. It’s hard to believe the school cares about lesson planning if they won’t give you the tools in a timely manner.
  • Schedules and schedule changes come LATE. The “open” schedule was emailed less than 11 hours classes started on Wednesday! We’d gotten a tentative schedule the Sunday evening before. But the night before the session started, I found out that of the 33 hours I “thought” I was working, only 20 hours of classes had enough students to hold the class. Eventually, they did open up, but, again, with little notice. For example, my 9am Saturday class opened up at 7pm Friday, the night before. And since I was teaching until 9pm and the school’s internet wasn’t working, I didn’t know until I got home at 9:30p. The wifi at my boarding house has been intermittent, too, so it’s possible I could have missed the notice altogether.
  • I complained that there isn’t enough light in my classroom. Three of four bulbs are burned out. Instead of replacing the lightbulbs, I have to move my classroom. Today, I find out it’s been this way for months.
  • I’ve been here two weeks. I arrived a week before classes, so I could settle in (after paying for the flight myself and spending 27 hours in transit). I rented a flat and paid a damage deposit. I also attended a teacher’s meeting and new teacher orientation (both without pay). In short, I’ve invested a lot of time/money/energy into this job. Now I’ve been working over a week and still don’t have a contract. I haven’t even seen a copy, though I asked for one before I came.
  • In orientation, we were warned, strongly, to check-in using the finger print system or we wouldn’t be paid. However, the system wasn’t shown to us. Turns out it doesn’t work. We were also told there was a “break schedule.” There isn’t. I seriously wonder if I’ll be paid the actual hours I worked.
  • Another mitigating circumstances: I’ll have to move from this boarding house before the rainy season since my room clearly floods during heavy downpour. I can see that the bottom of the drywall has been wet and all the trim removed. The owner confirmed my suspicions. Yet, nothing has been done to change it.
This is the craft beer bar we had a drink at. The staff spoke some English and the owner is from Portland. Nice place. A tad pricey on a teacher’s salary, but charming.
There’s very little street food here, which I really miss. There are these small, portable stalls that have candy, magazines and snacks. Everything is sold by the piece, so you can buy one stick of gum, for example.


Amy invited a few of us out for a beer last night and I’m glad I went. There’s a good group of teachers here and we went to a craft brew spot with local beers. I had a really great time, though I was pretty short on sleep this morning for my class. Turns out she could sleep in. She told the school she didn’t want to work Saturdays. I seriously should have tried that! Saturday is my least favorite class: a room of six 15-year-olds. I spend half of the class time policing them. They like to kick, punch, call each other names, speak in Spanish and use their phones instead of listen. I will not miss these kids.

As I write this, there’s a karaoke singer whose voice is wafting over the valley. I can barely hear the music, but I can certainly hear him. He should not give up his day job. There is not enough beer to make him sound good!

Later: I’m just back from a cookout at the owner’s home. It was a nice event, though I didn’t stay long. Great burgers and guacamole! It was hard finding the place and I had to use my Spanish skills on the street to ask directions. (Again, would it be so difficult for the school to give some information, like WHERE the place was?) I’m lucky than Juanita and her boyfriend saw me from their taxi and rescued me.

Amy and I decided to check out the nearby park, Selva Alegre, the happy forest. It’s a large park, but was closing when we arrived around 5pm. The nice guard at the gate told us we could run in for a few minutes while he waited for the other visitor to leave. There’s a large duck pond where you can rent boats, a children’s play areas, lots of flowers and the sidewalk is quite decorative. It was too dark to take photos by then and we just had a few minutes to explore.

Walking back, we took a new route. We found a place that rents bicycles and organizes tours. I’m quite envious of Amy’s superior Spanish skills as she asked questions! We also found some much more reasonably priced stores for buying Peruvian gifts. The stores I’ve seen near Plaza de Armas are too expensive. I got a bag for my upcoming tour of Peru, and I’ve got my eye on a scarf. We ran into another teacher who just happened to be standing outside the hostel she lives and works at. She showed us around. It looks like a good place to book adventure tours and the bar had reasonably priced drinks, too. We also found the Plaza San Francisco, so far, my favorite plaza. (That was the name of my favorite plaza in San Luis Potosi, Mexico, too) I finally left Amy in the downtown area and walked home, even though it was only 8pm by the time I got back to my room. My feet were done for the day! Amy got to sleep late this morning and rest. I got up early (short a couple hours of sleep), taught a 3-hour class, did some grocery shopping, washed clothes (by hand, we have no washer), then walked to the cookout. I think it’s all the standing on tile floors and walking on cobblestones.

(Another day while I walked through the plaza, I was looking at some lovely jewelry. The owner tried to offer me a piece. I said that it was beautiful, but I didn’t need anything (“Es muy hermosa, pero no necesito nada, gracias.”). He then offered me an older gentleman. Do you need a man? (“Necesitas un hombre?”) I faked a swoon and smiled.

Humita is a Native American dish from pre-Hispanic times, and a traditional food in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador and Peru, although their origin is unclear. It consists of masa harina and corn, slowly steamed or boiled in a pot of water. They look like tamales, but the corn husks are removed when they are sold to you.
Watercolor artists at the Plaza de Armas. Beautiful, but another reason it’s almost impossible to use the sidewalk.
A vegetable market off Avenida Ejercito.
more of he vegetable market. I bought nothing, though the produce looked really good. They sold in bulk and the smallest quality was a kilo.

Working on new adventures

This is the second branch of the school I work at. It’s actually quite near the main branch. The school has a LOT of students and classes, so it’s really thriving. Hence, they need native English speaking teachers constantly. Unfortunately, in my interview, the manager just told me what she felt I wanted to hear. “Sure, getting a work visa is possible. Of course we’ll pick you up at the airport. Certainly, we have complete lesson plans….” Not true.

I was only able to get a 90-day visa for Peru and the school isn’t going to help me get a work visa. I hate teaching on a tourist visa. The school had implied it would help me get one, but I should not have fallen for that. To stay, I’d have to make a border run to renew my visa and hope I can get another 90 days. Frankly, the school just isn’t worth the trouble. They are no worse than any other, but no better, either. Peru is amazing. I love Arequipa. My students are great–but I’m just not going to go to that much trouble for a school that won’t even tell me the dates of the upcoming sessions! AND there’s no guarantee I can even get another visa, or one for long enough. While most tourists are allowed back in, if the border guides decide to suddenly follow the letter of the law, I can’t return. One day, the country will crack down, my luck will run out, and I could get stuck in Chile without my stuff and no way to get back. I’m not doing it.

So here’s my new plan:

  • I’ll teach here in Arequipa, Peru until the end of September.
  • October 2-16 I have a tour of Peru, that includes Machu Picchu.
  • October 18-19 I’ll fly to Huntsville, AL
  • I’ll stay with my dear friend Jeannie until November 4, then fly out of Huntsville
  • I’m doing a hike of Nepal–the Annapurna circuit.
  • I’ll arrive back in the states at the Indianapolis Airport where (I hope) one of my brothers will agree to pick me up. I will miss Thanksgiving, but be able to spend some time with my family for a week or two after.
  • Still working on Christmas plans.
  • I have a lead on a job in Ecuador for the first of the year. Still working on this, too.

My life is messy, but it’s not boring!

Why is it every time I go to the Plaza de Armas, there’s a protest? AGAIN the church and museum were closed. I’ve attempted to come here 4+ times! But this protest was about low wages and benefits for teachers, nurses and doctors. At least it’s a cause near to my heart. This was just the start of the protest. There were more than a thousand people marching.
One of many statues on the boulevard of Avenida Ejercito (Army Avenue).

My first few days in Arequipa, including my first classes

It’s a Catholic country, so you expect to see religious statues and murals. This one is outside a religious school.


So far, so good. The school’s teacher meeting yesterday was informative–and I find it pretty great that they actually HAVE meetings and try to do a small amount of training for teachers. It bodes well! It’s a 10-15 minute walk from my house and the second location is 15-20minutes. As per usual, the teachers are all 20-somethings, so they probably won’t want to hang out with me, but maybe I’ll luck out. There are a lot of teachers–maybe 2 dozen or more! This is clearly a bigger school than I’ve worked at since Turkey.

Have not found a gym, but with all the hills, and the 9 flights of stairs (I’m on the 5th floor!) I’ll have to climb a few times a day, I may not need one. I may just have to figure out something for core strength and upper arms. Of course, the hard part is making myself DO them.

Just got back from 4 hours of walking in the city. (I’ve already posted these photos) I’m learning my way around, finding the things I need.

The boarding house is just functional–the biggest draw is the private bath. I have plenty of closet/drawer space, but not a single side table. I’ve already thrown a scarf over my suitcase (which I still have to replace) to serve as a bedside table and will probably find a sturdy cardboard box for another. I think the place will be OK, mostly because I have low standards and think that forcing myself to climb stairs a few times a day will be good for me. (Not fun, but good for my health) One drawback: By August 1, I’ll be the only teacher living here. Others have come but moved on. I hope I won’t have to do the same for such a short time–and it would have been nice to hook up with some other teachers for friends. To mitigate the situation, I paid a month’s rent, but haven’t paid a damage deposit because 1) The owner didn’t tell me there was one, even though I asked twice. 2) The kitchen isn’t as he’d promised. I’d been told that the “new” kitchen (on my floor) would be done before I arrived. It’s not even been started–not that I’m surprised. And it won’t be new, either. August 1, Leo says the stove and fridge on the fourth level will be moved to my level. There’s just a sink on the 5th so far. He promises it will all be functional by August 8th. But a week with no kitchen? And that is of course assuming it will only be a week–things don’t happen on schedule here. This doesn’t sound positive. I asked if at least the fridge could be working. He said he “thought so.”  I won’t cook much anyway because it’s clear that others have lower cleanliness standards than I I do. When I cook, I usually heating up prepared food, boiling eggs or making a stir-fry. The kitchen here is very basic–only one burner on the stove works, an oven that won’t reach high temperatures, no microwave and the barest of essentials in terms of mis-matched flatware, pots and pans, dishes, cups and glasses. Perhaps some of the other residents have items in their room, but there really isn’t much to speak of if you want to cook. But there’s a small coffee pot (with the same coffee in it since I arrived), an ancient electric kettle and a wine opener. I guess that’s something.

The view of Misti, from the highest point in the city of Arequipa.

I grocery shopped yesterday. But today I found some home basics to help me get organized. I bought my own coffee mug today–for traveling to school and back. I also found an inexpensive and lightweight “hot pot” type water heater. I think it will do for instant coffee and tea in my room. Also, clothespins. I mostly keep fresh fruit, nuts, tuna, wine, whole grain breads/crackers in my room, but I do need a fridge for cheese, hard boiled eggs, veggies and meat. There are far fewer restaurants near my house than I had in Mexico and NO street food at all. Surprising!

I’ve taken a shower after my long walkabout. I’m now resting, since I’m having my “I’ve over-done it” diarrhea. It’s inevitable in every trip. Nothing serious. But I’m probably down for the day. Or not. We will see.

People are always saying I’m so tough. Well, don’t be so sure! Today, in the shower, I noticed a half dozen bruises on my legs and arms, the result of traveling. I was very sore in all my joints for the first two days. I still feel a little beat up, in fact. I think it’s official–I’m too old for very low cost travel! Besides, I ended up having to pay extra for my checked luggage, not once but THREE times, since they considered all my flights “separate.” So I really didn’t save as much money as I’d hoped. And they weren’t nice at all. You couldn’t even get a glass of water without paying. The planes were 6 seats across and there were only 2 bathrooms. I’m surprised we didn’t have to pay to go! Never again! MY ADVICE: NEVER FLY SPIRIT. NEVER.

The Yuanahuara church, which I ended up seeing again the next day on my day tour. Then it wasn’t open….
….but this day there was a wedding! It’s a bad photo, but a lovely church. Iglesia de San Juan Bautista de Yanahuara.

The weather is amazing–highs rarely get over 72F and lows rarely drop below 40F. We are coming into Spring, too.  But dry. Current relative humidity is 19%.

The Spanish here doesn’t sound the same at all, but some fellow teachers told me not to worry about “vosotros.” While they do use “usted” that’s about as formal as they get. (In Mexico, everyone said “tu.”) If you go to Spain, though, you’ll have to learn it.”


From the looks of the 4th floor this morning, the roomies—Santi and Juanita–moved out overnight. I had seen them packing and knew they were leaving, but they still had a couple days before they had to be gone. Maybe that will stop the jam sessions? Santi is part of a band and they used the 4th floor (just below me) as a practice area. Good music; too loud. The good news is that they actually cleaned (some) before they left! Even did the dishes, though based on what I saw, they need more soap and more hot water. It has made it possible to do a rough count of the kitchen items. Only 2 forks, 2 plates and 1 glass. Lots of mugs, though. Just one burner works on the stove, there’s no microwave and the oven won’t get to high heat. Not going to do any fancy cooking here! I have been snooping around the empty bedrooms and baths. I notice one room is piled high with stuff—including kitchenware like plates, pots, pans and flatware. Once the kitchen is moved up to my floor, I may see if I can confiscate some of those items and move them to the kitchen.

There may only be one other tenant here, except for Leo (owner) and Trista (his US girlfriend). But I’m not really sure since I’ve yet to see another person. The place needs a lot of work if they want more tenants—like the shared bath on my floor has no shower. (There were workers here for the next 4 days–very messy, but they got both public baths mostly working and set up three rooms). I become more grateful for my private bath each day! And they need a housekeeper to clean the public areas at least once a week. Now, they depend on the tenants, which is a very bad plan–and since there’s no broom or mop or cleaning rags–impossible. This isn’t a long term stay, so I’ll probably make it work. At least it’s safe and I can keep my area clean. Still, all the other teachers have moved out–most to a place called “Soul House.” It was listed as one of the places I could board, but they didn’t respond to my request for weeks–until I’d already made arrangements to live here.

This is the Plaza de Yanahuara, just up the mountain from my boarding house. You can see the arches of the mirador (look out point). I love the palm trees, though they are not native.
The plaza is also lined with cactus, taller than my head.

Being on the fifth floor is daunting–9 flights of steps!!!–but I’ve decided to trade that for a gym membership. I’ll be doing a LOT of hill walking here just to get around. I’ll figure out some upper body exercise I can do in the room and save the $$$ from a gym membership. There are two branches at this school. One is 3/4 of a mile away and the other a mile. The “good” grocery is a mile and a half. Downtown is 2 miles.

Today, I have a city tour starting at 2pm, starting in the town square. I should learn a lot. Yesterday I walked to the highest point of the city–I’m getting in a long walk each day before school starts–at least 2 hours. One day was over 4. And it’s not so much hills as mountains! Today, I’m likely to get in a lot of miles on the tour. Plus it’s almost 2 miles just to the meeting point. There are lots of taxis and they are probably cheap, but I need the exercise. Feeling stronger each day–I was quite beat up from the trip here.

So, I’m beginning to think I’m a bad tourist for most countries. I went to Japan, 4 days later a huge earthquake/tsunami. Egypt visit, within 2 months the Arab Spring starts. I was in Russia, now the diplomats need to leave. Turkey, Erdogan pretty much takes over as dictator. Wonder what will happen to Mexico? A wall, maybe?


I took a city tour yesterday. The guide was young and inexperienced. She clearly wasn’t as prepared as she should have been so two of the churches was closed (I had already seen both, but she didn’t know that) and the Monastery was jam packed. She didn’t have money to get in and didn’t know how to bypass the line. It took 4-5 phone calls to her boss. Sweet kid, though. She’ll learn, but she needs to work on her English. It turned out to be a private tour, just for me. That was special. So many cobblestone streets—my feet kept me awake early in the night.

Tomorrow is orientation at the school. So far, the school seems fair, better than the others, but that’s a pretty low bar. On the plus side, they do a training/information meeting monthly and teachers have an orientation. They also have lesson plans for each day already made up. (it turned out to be a “scaffold plan–so maybe half the lesson plan is done for you.) On the negative side, they didn’t pick me up at the airport and we just got the schedule very late last night for classes that begin in a day and a half. I have all evening classes—6 straight hours—at the main branch. That’s three, 2-hour classes from 4-9p. Also, Spanish class on M-W-F at 3pm. And kids’ classes on Saturday, 2.5 hours. It’s an enviable schedule—not a split shift, enough hours to cover my expenses and maybe enough to save a bit. And I have mornings off.

I have dinner plans with three other new teachers. We are trying Chicha, a restaurant suggested to me yesterday by my tour guide. (We ended up going to Arthur’s instead) Should be a good chance to try some new food.

The drink is a pisco sour–THE Peruvian drink. The meal is ceviche (fish “cooked” with lime juice) with onions and sweet potato and roasted corn.
A poplular drink, Chicha morada is a sweet Peruvian beverage made from purple corn, a variant of Zea mays native to the Mesoamerica, and spices. Non-alcoholic, it is a type of chicha usually made by boiling the corn with pineapple, cinnamon, clove and sugar. Que delicioso!
A bad photo, but this is practically the national dish of Peru, lomo saltado. It’s a stir fry, influenced by Chinese cuisine, that typically combines marinated strips of sirloin with onions, tomatoes, french fries, and other ingredients.

Two young men just moved in: Jamal (who I met at the teacher’s meeting) and Jim (who was probably there, too, but I don’t remember). Both have been living at the “TEFL House” which is just a few minutes from here, I guess. They’ve just completed their TEFL course. But things here are not really organized for them. The kitchen hasn’t been moved from the 4th to the 5th (that starts tomorrow) and—worst of all—their shared bathroom doesn’t appear to be functional. No shower. I just hope the sink and toilet works. They can use the one on 4th, but it is completely filthy. I can’t believe anyone took a shower there before. Not me! And Leo doesn’t even have keys for them. They had to borrow mine for the 4th floor.

Just invited Jim and Jamal to the dinner tonight. Jim (who mentioned he was traveling the world “one drug at a time”) said he has plans with his church tonight. Jamal (who mentioned he was more of a “weed guy”) may come, but wanted to make sure he was done by 9:30. Other plans? Early to bed? In the end, he chose marijuana. He was smoking heavily and I was glad when he said he was “too high” to come to dinner. I don’t need to babysit.

I always try local foods, but for the UN-adventurous, start with the sweets, like these. It’s a “cone” of pastry filled with sweet caramel. According to Google (so you know it’s true!) the word “manjar” translates as “delicacy.”
And this is what they look like close up.


It’s one of those good news/bad news sort of days.

Good news:

  • Had a great dinner with new teachers last night. We went to the restaurant, Arthur’s, where they also teach cooking classes. I may take a few! The food and the company was great, though I stayed out later than I should have. Attending: Alina (birthday girl), Drew, Amy and Rebecca.
  • I really like the location of Alina and Drew’s boarding house—on the other side of the bridge from the school, but close. And they are near Plaza de Armas, but not right in the middle of it. They have much better restaurant choices, too. Though the location isn’t ideal, I like my room and private bath better than theirs.
  • Orientation at 9am went well. It was almost three hours, a bit long, but very full of information. The school is pretty organized. I was promised existing lesson plans, but that’s not the truth. They do have lesson plan templates, which is a good start—telling you what pages you need to cover and recommending exercises in the book. I’ll need to add a lot of activities. I’ve checked the share drive and don’t see nearly enough there, so it’s good that I have done this before.
  • Showed Amy the rooms here at my boarding house. She is in a hostel at the moment, and that’s not a great long-term living situation. She is concerned about the price, 500/soles for a room with a shared bath, but she’s looking at her options. (She found a room somewhere else with no kitchen, but a private bath)
  • The kitchen mostly got moved today. The gas stove appears to have four working burners (only one worked before). The fridge is a bit small for three (soon to be four) people to share. And it’s only three sides and a roof, so dust will be a huge issue.
  • I managed to get a SIM card for my phone and now have a working Peruvian number. Big Progress! (Note to self: it is called a “chip” in Peru. Pronounced CHEEP) I had to go to four separate places, stand in line a lot, but finally got it.

Bad News: 

  • Someone stole my empanadas out of the fridge today. I suspect one of my two, new roommates. This does not bode well.
  • Jamal, one of the new roommates, is a heavy pot smoker and I hate the smell of it. (As an aside, in orientation, he showed up 20 minutes late and he was almost completely unable to read two English sentences, out loud. I wonder what kind of teacher he will make? Or maybe I don’t wonder.)
  • The new kitchen is already dirty, filthy actually. Looks like I can only cook if I’m willing to clean up first. It’s clear that Jamal left the mess. I suddenly don’t feel sorry that the shower is still not fixed, nor that it’s only cold water.
  • At 5pm I walked back to the school and got my teaching materials. That’s less than 24 hours before my first class, which indicates they expect little class planning. I spent the next 3 hours working on the first three days of lesson plans for my 4pm class. Shortly after 8pm we were sent the “open” class list—which indicates that the schedule I was given Sunday night was tentative. QUITE tentative. My 4pm class doesn’t have enough students, so it won’t start tomorrow. In fact, it may not happen at all. Basically, the work I did was a waste of my time. And I still have two, 2-hour classes to prepare for tomorrow.
  • It appears I don’t have the book for the Saturday kids class. (It turned out there is no book. Oh joy.) Of course, at this moment, that class ALSO doesn’t have enough students, so it could be a moot point.
  • If neither of these classes make, I go from 33 teaching hours a week (a tad more than I want) to 20 (less than I need to pay rent/food). I guess we will see how this goes. It’s a good thing I have money back home.
  • After reviewing the entry visa on my passport today with the staff at school (I just couldn’t figure out how to read it without assistance) it turns out that I was only given 90 days in Peru. When asked how long I wanted to be in Peru by the woman at custom, I said that I wanted to stay 6 mouths, she smiled and said “OK” and stamped and scribbled in my passport. I thought “OK” meant I had that time. Probably she gives everyone 90 days. But, I’d planned to stay here 6 months. That means a border run–which is expensive. It’s suggested that I take an overnight bus to Chile. Clearly, I need more details and will have to work out a time to take care of this. Life is messy. And, frankly, I’ll have to see if it’s worth it to me to stay longer.
Plaza de Armas, the central fountain.
Surrounded by the Cathedral and various portals, the Plaza de Armas has a beautiful bronze fountain of three plates crowned with the figure of a soldier of the sixteenth century. The figure is locally called the “Tuturutu“, and considered a symbol of the city.


I survived the first day of classes. As usual, the entire day was all about preparing for and delivering classes. Didn’t really do much else. But I had to make my lesson plans for four hours of class, figure out how to use the copier, printer and CD player. Even finding my classroom took time—it’s in another building! But I think it was pretty successful and I believe I’m building a good rapport with my new students. At least, I’m off to a good start. My thoughts:

  • The existing lesson plans are really “scaffolds.” They do an excellent job of portioning out the pages per day and suggesting exercises to do. But half the class is exercises and you have to figure those out. I found I couldn’t deliver the “lesson” portion in the 20 minutes, so prepared too much material. I love the overall layout for class pacing: prepare board, warm up, presentation, practice…… I’ve followed it instinctively without their plan. BUT, yesterday I couldn’t cover each part in the time period. Yes, it would help if students showed up on time (or, heaven forbid, EARLY). Probably it will be better on subsequent days? However, it’s always better to be over-prepared than under. And I may use some of yesterday’s skipped material in today’s class to make planning easier.
  • I had both of my 2-hour classes last night. My first group is mostly young, 20yo or less, taking the Progressive 3 level. They are very verbal, strong speakers. The second group is an Advanced 3 group—very nearly completing the 21-month course. They are generally older, less verbal in English and some seem to be placed above their abilities.
  • All the students are polite. Most were paying attention–only one person with his head in his cell phone. I called on him a LOT. LOL! They seemed surprised that I would occasionally hand out candy—most notably for correcting ME when I’m wrong. Honest, I want to encourage questioning dialogue when something doesn’t make sense. I’m not perfect, particularly with spelling! Good questions means they understand.
  • While this is the most organized school I’ve taught at yet, I’m still evaluating it. I know I hold a grudge, but they didn’t pick me up at the airport as promised, and didn’t even apologize for it. I’ve talked with two others who were picked up, but only after waiting 2 hours and calling the school. I was also promised help with getting a SIM card for my phone. No dice. I asked a very small request–send me my current schedule, even if it will change. I was promised it. I didn’t get it. Obviously, these are situations that I can, and DID, manage myself, but, to me, it’s an indication that I can’t count on their promises–and so far it’s entirely the promises of the manager. It doesn’t help that my schedule dropped from 33 to 20 hours per week 11 hours before classes started at 7am. I may not be able to cover my daily living expenses on this—and there’s no possibility of covering my travel expenses and insurance. I’ll be dipping into savings again.
  • As it stands, I only have a 90-day visa. To stay, I must do a border run (leave the country and come back) to renew, probably for another 90 days. Most teachers are in the same situation. If I don’t have enough hours, or I can’t trust the manager’s word, it’s not worth the cost of this.
  • I’ve emailed my concerns—in a polite, adult manner—to Lilian, the manager. She basically replied with two things: 1). “Kids classes (3 hrs a week) ALWAYS make.” She just doesn’t post them until the day before. This strikes me, at worst, as dishonest or, a least, a total lack of concern for class prep. 2). “Don’t worry, it will all work out.” She mentioned private classes (which I have found unreliable and mostly a waste of my time). She also said that “when” a class starts late, you can “make up” the class with the students. This seems HIGHLY unlikely to me. Basically, I only have 1-3pm on Tues and Thursday available to make up my 3pm class. Good luck with that, IF the students can come.

In short, I’m pleasantly surprised with the students and materials. I’m still evaluating the school. It may all work out. Based on my history of working with schools, however, it may also crash and burn. I’m considering this another lesson in trusting in my ability to work things out, another opportunity to live in uncertainty and relax into it. I hate this much uncertainty, but this is life. You may think it’s only because I travel so much, but no one can trust completely in their future. Control is an illusion. You do the best you can and what happens is what happens. But mostly, I hate that I have not been able to trust the word of those I work with, but this is also the reality. It’s always better to face reality. And it looks like this is another school that lies to teachers.

I also survived my first day of Spanish class. It’s one hour, three days a week. There’s only three students and the teacher completely speaks in Spanish. Completely! Fortunately for me, she wrote much of the material on the board (not the explanation), and was covering things I mostly already knew. Listening comprehension is my worst skill, so I hope I can keep up. I understood the gist of what she was saying, but had to ask her to slow down and repeat several times. Unfortunately, Spanish just can’t be spoken slowly. AND she speaks in a Peruvian accent, not the Mexican accent I’ve been hearing for the last year. I may have only understood 60% of the words she used. Maybe. It’s just going to be tough, but there is no other way to learn, I fear. I have sufficient vocabulary, but I can barely use it or hear it. I hope soon that I will. Amy didn’t show for class yesterday, but Jayson (who turns out to be married to Lilian, the school manager) speaks VERY well. He doesn’t have any grammar lessons behind him. He’s learned entirely from listening. His speaking and vocabulary are excellent. He just needs some rules. I’m completely intimidated.

Cathedral of Arequipa, Plaza de Armas. When the city was founded on August 15, 1540 in the Chili River valley as “Villa de la Asunción de Nuestra Señora del Valle Hermoso de Arequipa” the city was begun and with it the square.