Friday, 30 January 2009

Anita Goulden Home for those with physical and learning needs

This blog entry is different from previous ones as I aim to reach an audience that includes some ex colleagues and specialists in special educational needs. I hope that they may be able to offer some support or advice to the home. That said, it may of interest to others and I welcome all comments.

Anita Goulden's mission was to help children with disabilities who were poorly equipped to survive in their own communities. There is a link to the Trust's website at the top of the blog and many of its donors are based in the UK.

This view of the home is impressionistic based on several visits in a voluntary capacity. I got to know staff and residents fairly well as I visited 3 times a week over a period of a month. I engaged with children and young adults in order to provide some measure of enjoyable experience to their lives. My perspective is one of a welcomed visitor but I have a background in providing services for children and young people with disabilities.

The home is located in Piura in a sub-district called Miraflores in Northern coastal Peru. Miraflores is a middle class area comprised mainly of houses and apartments in tree lined roads. It is safe and patrolled day and night by private security staff paid for by the local people. There is a small and pretty park next to the home. The climate in this part of Peru is very hot. Think of the hottest summer day you can remember and you will be close to it – we are near the equator and the sun is therefore very strong and it rarely rains, even now in the rainy season.

The atmosphere in the home is warm and welcoming. Each of the residents is individually known and loved and staff are caring and respectful. The home is clean, hygienic and the food is simple, wholesome and plentiful. Care is good and personal relations are excellent. I felt very welcomed and enjoyed my visits.

The home is comprised of 2 main floors but the ground floor is where most of the activity takes place. There is a courtyard without the benefit of much shade, some dormitories, a therapy area, kitchen, bathroom, dining room and an inside sitting area; it is quite compact. The building is modern but in need of decoration. Upstairs there are a few more bedrooms, offices and a wide passage that can serve as a meeting point. There is no lift.

The home serves the needs of a very wide range of clients ncluding children and young people aged 6–34. Many have profound and multiple learning difficulties with complicating medical conditions, but others are ambulant and have mild learning needs. There is one young adult who is able bodied but is a social care placement. There are slightly more than 20 residents. Probably about half are in wheelchairs but only 2 or 3 can use them independently. There are few private areas and generally residents inhabit the same space and live collectively.

There is an experienced and cohesive group of 20+ staff who work in shifts, but mornings are most busy when children are bathed and some receive physiotherapy from an experienced staff member. There are always 2 or 3 nurses on call; many of the residents are incontinent and need other attention their duties are continuous and demanding. One child is fed by tube and some others have a mainly liquid diet. There are 2 directors who mange the staff and administration with the assistance of an administrative assistant; there is also a social worker/family liaison officer. There are cleaning, washing and cooking staff. There is a male attendant who acts as site manager and does most of the lifting and handling. There are no hoists.

All who lives in the home is valued and loved and their different personalities are allowed to emerge. There is friendly interaction between residents and the staff who are attentive and experienced in making life as tolerable as possible.

There isn't much equipment available. Some of the wheelchairs are of good quality and some of the residents wear body braces to help them sit upright or have specially fitted shoes.There are some walking frames. One or two of the residents have severe muscular and bone problems and are unable to do very much without assistance. Occasionally some of the residents exhibit distress and ritualised behaviours. The furniture is generally old with few adaptions.

During my visit it was school vacation time so many of the younger people would have normally been in school, but some were nevertheless attending catch-up classes. A special needs teacher visits 2 or three times a week during vacations and works with the children in school during term time.

There isn't really very much to do in the home but individual attention is sometimes provided by volunteers such as myself. However, the flow of volunteer helpers is sporadic. The residents like to be taken to the park and this is a regular jaunt enjoyed by all. There is one computer available but it is upstairs. There is one small TV. There is a newish table tennis table which is used occasionally. As far as I understand there is no work/occupational programme for older residents. It is the anniversary of the death of Anita Goulden so this evening there is a mass in a local church and on Monday we'll go to the cemetery to place flowers. At the weekend there is a visit to the beach which sadly I'll miss.

The needs of the residents vary greatly. Some are ambulant and withing the normal range of ability and social skills whilst others cannot move without assistance and have extreme communication and medical needs. Some of the older residents have communication difficulties and cannot converse except by gesture and a few words or sounds. There is no use of Makaton or similar visual sign language. One child is hyperactive and 3 are entering or going through a period of adolescence.

I have tried to offer my attention as widely as possible, engaging in a friendly and stimulating way matched to the needs of one or two individuals at a time. We have had several walks in the park, I have played number games with beads and number lines, brought in plasticine, played with my compass, ipod and camera, played table tennis and joined in with mealtimes. It seems little enough but my involvement seems to be valued, mostly I feel as a distraction from the daily routine. I chat with staff and seem to have been accepted as a friend of the home.

Yesterday, I visited with my friend Juan Miguel one of the projects being established by an ONG called Solcode, Maribel, its dynamic administrator, is in the process of setting up a direct sales shop of farmer produce; this is as a way of supporting poor farming communities high in the Sierras. The idea is that some of the residents from the Anita Goulden home would be able to assist with selling produce and other work in the shop. This could be as a form of work or work experience to help promte independence and offer a wider view of the world.. This is an excellent idea and opportunity and it felt good to be the vehicle by which this partnership might be achieved. Tomorrow my friend Sebastian will visit. He is a Korean doctor and may be able to help.I will be meeting up with the chair of the management committee next week and will visit the market to order supplies.

It will be sad to leave Piura and my friends at the home. I will miss the residents and staff – they have become an important part of my brief stay here in Northern Peru. Hopefully I can stay in touch and maybe even assist their progress in the future.

Please leave comments and let me know if you can help in any way.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

The day after the night before

I had planned to visit to Chulacanos, East of Piura leaving a little earlier than 10.30 am. It is the first town before crossing the Sierras towards the interior jungle so I thought that as well as offering some contrast to larger city of Piura, I might get a change of scenery.

I left late due to the previous evening's combined effects of too many drinks and a late night. Juan had enticed me out for a drink in town and and we spent a pleasant couple of hours chatting in the bar and then there were a couple of professional singers who livened up the place. On leaving Juan suggested we check out Queens, a disco in Miraflores, near where we live; so why not?

Entrance was only 15 Soles, about $5 and included a drink. It was an extensive and buzzing venue and seemed to comprise mainly couples dancing to vibrant Latin beats. There was ample use of lasers and smoke machines and and, of course, the dancers were mainly young. Earlier, Juan had explained the difference between enamorados and novios, the latter implying a wedding in prospect, the former, something else. Difficult to tell but probably there were some hot dates hereabouts.

I suppose my inhibitions had somewhat drifted and as the occasion took hold I began to dance. Usually this is the point where my family leave the room but it couldn't have been too bad because I soon attracted a couple of partners and we continued dancing for about 15 minutes until they found something better to do. Juan left me to it and I stayed a little longer, but realising my judgment may be erring a tad I walked the short distance home arriving at about 3.30 am.

So the next day brought a fragile beginning and after some fruit for breakfast I took a taxi to the bus station and paid my 3 Soles fare to Chulacanos, a ride of about an hour. It was headlined as the Tourist Bus, but I think this is speculative because as far as I could see I was the lone tourist in Chulacanos that day. I was pleased to notice the change in the scenery and we headed out of Piura. The scrubby sandy soil gave way to a richer brown and the recent rain had given it a greener effect feeling somehow more familiar. There wasn't much to see but we passed, small buildings with different livestock and the odd grove of trees. Eventually I spotted the mountains.

On reaching Chulacanos there were an enormous number of motor taxis. I avoided them and found my way to an extensive market and I grazed on the spectacle as I walked through each section. Later I came across a row of cycle repair shops and some ceramic stores where I bought a couple of small pieces. The ceramics here are of good quality and very cheap but the problems in carrying much with you or shipping it out seemed insurmountable, at least to the vendors. Generally one cant find much of high value or the means to ship it.

I had wanted to go to Vicus where there is an archaeological site but in the Plaza I met a nice man who described himself as a journalist. He told me there really wasn't much to see as most of it was underground and there wasn't the funding to develop the site. His journalism was the production a small weekly magazine, revistilla whereby he chronicled local events and accused the mayor of corruption. He mentioned that there had been a recent medical mission from USA visiting the town offering free services to families and he enjoyed the fact that my name Alan, is the same as president Alan Garcia and was set to impress his wife that he had just been chatting to 'Alan' in the street.

Finally, before leaving I walked a little way out of town to get a photo of the mountains and stopped by a street vendor who had a little petrol generator to power up her liquidizer and was selling freshly pulped pineapple juice, delicious and refreshing!

Friday, 23 January 2009

Lomo con tres pimientos

After my Spanish lesson I stopped of at Capucino, a newly spotted cafe opposite the University. This is situated on the far North West of town in Avenida Ramon Mujica, next to Hotel Rio Verde. The two are separate and the cafe is really a restaurant, inside with fierce air conditioning and outside shaded tables text to its armed guarded car park. I entrusted my fast disintegrating bike to its care.

I ordered a beer and set about my homework, to write three paragraphs on alternative therapies. Dawdling over the beer I sensed that I unnerved the overly attentive waiters who really couldn't work out if I was just passing flotsam or I was going to stump up for a real meal. Anyway, they were too polite to bother me much and I prolonged their uncertainty by asking for some chiflas and a second beer.

I was drawn to remain a while longer by the arrival of a group comprising 2 Peruvian business women and 2 agricultural consultants from the US. Eves dropping their conversations I learned that the business was seeking to overcome various trade barriers to their entry to the US market in growing and selling avocados. Peruvian Avocados are great and seem to sell locally at about 50p a kilo. One of the consultants was on the technical side, stipulating the various processes needed against fly and fungus infestation, while the other had a more political mission, explaining the way in which such applications would proceed, albeit slowly against the undertow of regulations and bureaucracy. They reassured their clients, who were after all buying dinner, that Peruvian avocados would not threaten the home grown Californian produce but only the Mexican market where the fruit was of poorer quality.

Well I did call for the menu and the waiter seemed relieved. I try not to rave about meat dishes but I consumed the most delectable peppered steak accompanied by a gratin of potato and cheese and a glass of Chilean red. In passing I noticed a cocktail on offer called the kiss of an adolescent and wondered about its appropriateness!

I imagine that this insight into business here in Piura reveals some of the tensions with the neighbouring US. As a trading country, El Peru is an emerging force but relatively weak against the power held by its Northern partners. One forms the impression that around here the US calls most of the shots, either by stealth or power.

Exploring the hotel next door, the Rio Verde, it revealed itself as a 5 star paradise with a central concourse comprised of a beautifully presented pool and magically lit palm trees. I believe it is priced at around $100 a night but be careful that you don't get shunted to the annex next door.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Travel in Peru (particularly Piura)

I have decided that I most enjoy the observation of the familiar in unfamiliar contexts. There is much to notice here in North Peru. The night before last it rained quite hard and the next day this was the topic of everybody's conversation. People were outside their houses and businesses sweeping away the mud that had been washed through. It struck me as not dissimilar to our reaction to snow in the UK. We all know it is on the way but we act as if it is a great surprise and are rarely prepared for its consequences.

Piura is dominated by a river and 5 bridges – normally the river bed, which is some 50 metres across is nothing more than a muddy creak. However, it rains in mountains during the summer and the river fills and sometimes they close the bridges. When the effects of el nino struck in 2002 some of the bridges were washed away and this gave rise to a new form of transport, the Moto Linear. Essentially these are unlicensed motorcyclists that at the time of the flood were more able to make their way across the muddy river bed. Now they form a noticeable percentage of the transport but are sometimes poorly regarded for their safety and potential for robbery. I am looking forward to the river being full as it will wash away all the accrued rubbish.

Very few people seem to walk more than 10 minutes distance – taxi transport is a cheap option and viewed as safer than walking, especially at night, but possibly this is debatable. The most obvious form of public transport is the motor-taxi, normally a 3 wheeled Honda motor cycle with a covered canopy – it is the favourite for a short hop. Most journeys cost between 1 and 2 Soles, up to about 50p but always ask the price before you get in and be prepared to take the next one – there is always a next one! As with the taxis if you look as if you are a potential customer they will beep at you. They maneuver into impossible gaps and sometimes don't have rear view mirrors. Also it is not unusual to see them transporting all manner of goods including, as I saw yesterday, 6 metre bamboo poles!

Hereabouts the yellow taxis are most often seen; they are small and generally you will notice more taxis than private cars – the cost is a bit more than the motor taxis and can carry more people, sometimes more than you would regard as safe. There is huge competition for trade but they have integrity and won't try and grab someone else's fare.

In most cities, including Piura, there are small 15 seater vans known as combis or colectivos. They run a set route which is usually posted on the side of the bus and they are cheap with fixed and reliable prices. If like me you are around 6 feet tall you need to select your seat carefully as available leg room is for people of more restricted growth. Combis will stop to pick up and drop you wherever you want and if they see a likely customer walking across the field a 100 meters away they will call them to hurry in order to win the fare. There is no timetable for Combis or local buses but in Lima and Trujillo they were unofficially regulated by boys who received tips; they would note the time gap between different drivers on the same route and relay this information to them – the value of this was to optimise the time between the preceding transport in order to find sufficient passengers to make a profit.

Buses and motor cruisers run fixed routes, the latter often operate by night and it is worth paying an additional $5 for a first class with more comfortable and reclining seats. Arriving at a bus station early in the morning in an unfamiliar city with taxis competing for your trade can be a bit harrowing and you need your wits about you.

Other modes of local transport include bikes, sometimes 3 wheelers with carts in front, donkeys and carts and of course there are delivery trucks of all sizes and types. As a cyclist I have found that the experience isn't as dangerous as it may seem and the the attitude towards cyclists at least benign unlike the in UK . Where there are rules of the road, like traffic lights, they are studiously obeyed but few if any road users understand the concept of lane discipline. As you can see punctures cn be repaired at the side of the road.

I suppose in I am left with the conclusion that this growing economy (5% last year) is growing its transport use accordingly. The availability of cheap natural gas means that that some concessions to pollution are being made by the conversion of a few taxis. The emergence of a middle class and the now relatively common site of the Chelsea taxi means that there is a ready demand waiting to be filled and I have recently seen a Yamaha outlet selling Cuatrimotors those horrible 4 wheel drive buggys that seem to be so popular in Spain.

Que paso?

It has been a very busy fwe days, but interesting. I am settling into a sort of routine and blending in with the relaxed pace of life, enjoying the friendliness of the Piruanos and observing the many differences.

I have had my first 'helping' sessions at Hogar Anita Goulden. This is a home for children aged between 5 and 16 with physical and learning disabilities. It includes a very varied range of children from those only with only problems associated with walking to some children who are profoundly disabled both mentally and physically. There are 21 living here and 20 staff working in shifts. At the moment it is school vacations so those that would normally attend school mostly remain at the home. Everyone is very kind and the home is a caring and loving environment. Myself and 2 young volunteers from Europe take the older children for a walk in the park with their wheelchairs. The rest of the time I try and engage with the children and add some minimal distraction to their day and by now have invested in some counters and plasticine.

On returning from the home there are some neighbors in the street harvesting fruit of a Tamarind tree. This is a tropical specimen and its fruit is acidic and is used in many sauces including Worcester Sauce. They are friendly and offer to give me a bag full but I take a few to try.

Later I attend my first university session. I arrived in good time and am surprised by the scale and opulence of the site. It is very green with extensive buildings, some deer and pavos reales (peacocks). Shirley, my teacher is very nice, age 28 and 5 months pregnant – her husband also teaches on the campus. 2 other students arrive, Sebastian and Audrey – they are a couple from Korea and have been here about a year. The names are not their real ones but assumed for ease of integration. They have 2 children who speak more Spanish than Korean. Sebastian is a GP practising as a volunteer through and organisation called Koica. They seem very nice.

The next day I ride my bike back to Catacaos and on a bit further to the Pre-hispanic Tallan capital at Narihuala. This comprises a small museum and extensive adobe ruins. I think I enjoyed getting there as much as the visit but the site is interesting and the Tallan, coastal people, had their own language which possibly gives rise to the distinctive accent in Piura. It was also a Matriarchy. On the journey I stopped to talk to some rice farmers and was somewhat surprised by this form of agriculture. I seemed to be the only cyclists on the road between Piura and Catacaos and this elicited quite a bit of encouragement and friendly hand waves.

Back in Catacaos I stopped for some Chincha but was served the hard stuff so fearful of my stomach I only had a little and paid double to cover my embarrassment at leaving so quickly. In town I found a taller to check over my bike. He re-set the cotter pin, adjusted the wheel, raised the seat and oiled the chain. We had quite a chat but despite being the father of 4 he wouldn't accept any payment. This kind of kindness make up for being robbed and gives one hope. Later, I got a bit ripped off in paying for some punctures to be repaired this was at a roadside repair hut – I was surprised by the inner tube which probably had 50 or so patches already!

Enretenimiento (Entertainment)

Sitting in Plaza de Armas watching the world go by is really quite a connected activity. I am by no means the only lone person and there is a buzz about the place and obvious social functions in progress. At this time, in the early evening it is mostly families that occupy he space but several couples join me for a brief rest on my bench and I eves drop their conversations. Mostly I notice the different vending activities of the ambulentes who travel around and across the plaza. They sell different non-essentials including chicklets (chewing gum), sweets, cigarettes, candy-floss, balloons, bubble making toys and much more.

Later I am joined by Juan Miguel my Spanish friend who has been to the cine and we go to bar Marquis and indulge in cocktails. Juan reminds me of someone famous in my youth, a DJ and now sadly passed away – see if you can guess who? As the evening passes we chat a little and then enjoy the karaoke – this isn't as cheesy as it sounds as most of the singers are very tuneful and they all make a good fist what must be well established Peruvian love ballads. For me it is an excellent language learning activity as I can both listen and watch the words passing the screen. Later we are joined by a professional singer who does well at playing the crowd, engaging with and sometimes teasing her audience. I try to avoid her eye contact in case she picks on me but there is no hiding place!

The next day I head off for Anita's place for breakfast at 8. I am enjoying getting to know my bike but have discovered that it has a wonky crank. This means by right leg has to push much harder than my left and I worry that my carefully tuned physique will become unbalanced. It also has a squeaky pedal.

On the way I buy some flowers for Anita's mum which are well received. Breakfast comprises two types of tamales and a warm and vaguely sweet drink that I can't identify. They sell the tamales to neighbours from the window and our meal is interrupted a couple of times by requests for breakfast tamales – they seem to be very popular. I take some time to play chess to amuse Fabrizio, Anita's son, managing to lose convincingly to a 5 year old. We set off for Catacaos a small town 8km distant where they sell artesana.

Catacaos is a busy small rural town with an extensive market. Much of it is given over to food set out in 4 main sections of fruit and grain, vegetables, fish and meat. We look at the fish and none of it seems familiar, except the calamaris, prawns and crab. I am told by the vendor that the crab is an aphrodisiac but this doesn't encourage me to buy these half dead and quite small specimens. Anita tells me that the best fish goes to the restaurants, particularly the many cevicherias.

Passing through the various jewelery and ceramic stalls I chat with a girl from New Hampshire, she has a beautiful baby in a sling, very cute, wearing a small panama hat with curios eyes - she lives in Cuzco with her jewelery-making husband; when chatting with her I realise that this is the first English I have spoken for 3 days. After buying one or two items we aim to stop at a chincharia. I am advised to look out for its bandera blanca (white flag) and on arriving we oder a jug of chincha between us. Chincha is mildly alcoholic, made from fermented maize. Anita explained that there are 3 types depending on level of fermentation – we drink the lighter second level called claramente and is is cool and refreshing, drunk from communal bowls made from a kind of gourd. We also snack on chiflas (banana crisps) and cancha (fried corn).

Saturday, 10 January 2009

First Impressions of Piura

I have found that people in South America often exaggerate physical danger and discomfort. I have been told so many times how hot it is here in Piura and although true, I have experienced hotter in Southern Spain. I haven't felt overcome by Piura's dryish heat. The Plaza de Armas is typical, fairly family based with a friendly feel. There is some begging around the place but it is not as intrusive as in Cuzco. Around the town you notice in fairly high numbers and roughly in this order, Banks, street traders (mobile) kiosks, farmacias and boticas, restaurants and photo-copying shops.

Peru is far from emerging as a paperless economy and I was surprised to come upon a thriving market of copy typists, all men, hunting and pecking on aged manual typewriter, creating formal letters and documents which were commissioned by individuals with a particular requirement; nearby photocopying businesses complemented this trade in bureaucracy.

I was as impressed with the tourist office as I was unimpressed with the library. The latter, the second that I have visited, continued the trend of aged and very worn books, poorly presented and very little IT access. The librarians are very welcoming but library use is thin owing to the poor resources. I have yet to build up the confidence to ask why there is no fiction! But, at the tourist office I received great assistance and nothing was too much trouble – I emerged with some useful literature and a fully annotated and personalised map of the city.

As luck would have it today is the 27 anniversary of Caja Piura, a large national bank with services in all Peru's regions. I happened on a procession in preparation and became absorbed in the varying costumes depicting all the many and varied cultures. I particularly liked those of la selva reinforcing my my intention to visit - you can probably appreciate why!

I had two tasks today, firstly to confirm my place on a Spanish course beginning on Monday. It looks to be a viable group and I am looking forward to some regular study. The second was to get some keys cut – I had expected to find key cutting in a ferreteria (ironmonger), but no, it was among the photocopying shops – logical if you think about it!

I have just bought a second hand bike for 22 pounds and am looking forward to my enhanced mobility - it is a bit of a wreck but the largest I could find. The main problems seem to be a bent crank and untrue wheel but the top gear works well and as there are no hills here I doubt the need to change it. More of this anon!

Piura like the rest of Peru has all aspects of society but I suppose it is more marked by its growing middle and lower working classes. This is a cash and increasingly a credit society and everywhere you can hear people talking about the products they have bought or are going to buy. The world economic crisis does not seem to have impinged yet and maybe it won't. Luckily Peruvian's have not lost contact with their culture and although there is a growing tendency towards fast foods you can see here Anita's mum and a friend preparing a bucket of tamales. But equally there are luxurious hotels and people who live here and earn a western wages have tremendous spending power as can be evidenced by the splendid pool in a local hotel which is a hive of business rather than tourist activity.

Finally Piura

Well after 10 days I am finally in the colonial city of Piura in the Northern Peru province of the same name. Before telling you about my arrival my last day in Truillo was OK and I managed not to lose anything else! In fact it went very well, with a visit to Arco Iris the last in the Chan Chan group of monuments. This wasn't as breathtaking as the previous day's visits but I managed the transport independently by taking taxis and buses. Afterwards I hopped on a combi and headed for the beach at Huanchaco. Here I strolled and observed, taking time to enjoy the breezes and watch the surfers and other visitors. I found a restaurant with a balcony and a table overlooking the sea and dined on seafood and rice. Waiting until sunset it was one of the best I can remember and a positive note on which to leave Trujillo.

Arriving by bus in Piura at 6am I was met by Anita and a friend and transported to her house. I was pleased to be welcomed at such an early hour and as her mother, father, brother and sister made a one by one entrance from their sleep I finally met Fabriozi her 7 year old son. I immediately made a hit with him as he seemed more than pleased with the Chelsea shirt I had brought him. The family were incredibly kind and after breakfast I went to the pool with the youngster and his sister and watched his swimming lesson – this went went well and I applauded the playful instructor who worked skillfully to boost the confidence of his group. They had a lot of fun and all emerged cheerful and tired after a 2 hour session.

Piura is the 5th largest city and is about 1000km North of the capital Lima. Human activity here dates back to 1000 BC. The various cultures of the Wari and Vicus people preceded the Spanish conquerors who invaded in 1532 when Francisco Pizarro founded Piura as the first colonial city of Peru. In 1821 it was declared independent from Spain.

The region of Piura is varied including coast, desert, and mountains. It is arid and hot and subject to el nino which can create a substantial and forceful rainfall. Today it is at least 30 degrees and they have a siesta similar to southern Spain.

My accommodation plans were slightly put off course as my homestay seemed to have fallen through, but not to worry, Anita found me a hostal and arranged transport, her Brother Eric accompanying me or safety. On leaving the hostal for a stroll round the Plasa de Armas I hadn't walked far before someone shouted “Alan”. It was Juan whom I had met in Trujillo. He invited me for a drink and agreed to put me up in a spare bedroom. Que suerte!

Juan is from Madrid. He is an agronomist and works for a small NGO supporting the development of nutrition and the agricultural economy. His child and wife are in Spain as his son recovering from a successful cancer operation. I am extremely lucky to have found this accommodation and it is an ideal base for further exploration of the region.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Victimised by crime not me

It is both sad and ironic that I had my Nokia N810 was stolen during the scrum to see the priest and celebrate the procession of the 3 kings who brought gifts to baby Jesus. I had in fact watched a foul movie called Three Kings with George Clooney on the bus to Trujillo. It was about the liberation of Kuwait and was supposed to be somewhat comic but I recommend you not to see it. Possibly it was prophetic of my later troubles. I believe I have identified the exact moment of my loss – you can see the priest being chatted up by a pretty girl – another irony?

Insofar as crimes can be victimless I wasn't too bothered by the loss as I have been coveting some other stuff and will cash-in my insurance; but yes I was careless but that said the thief is to blame for his or her crime and I must move on from it.

Traveling to Trujillo I chatted with Jill from NY state, a park ranger and cyclist. She told me how to avoid confrontation with different species of bear so Paddington had better watch out! The road took us in turns through desert and fertile valleys whith much agriculture. I was forever dissuaded of the idea of cycling the Pan Americana which seemed to me both relentless and dangerous.

The next day I booked a driver and we went to some pre-hispanic sites of Huaca de la Luna and Chan Chan. These were at opposite ends of town so couldn't be reached without a driver, costing 100 Nuevo Soles – I have now used all my cheap Soles and the exchange is 4.3 = 1 pound, so about 23 pounds. I also spent 50 Soles on entrances and guides so altogether about 36 pounds but great value.

Huaca de la Luna is the larger and more restored of 2 monuments, the other being Huaca del sol. These belonged to the Moche people and there are fine buildings and an entrance that is magnificent in its scale and ornamentation – it is sad to think that the Conquistadores plundered this beautiful civilisation. There is a good website here and I will add some pics to my Flikr site for which there is a link at the side.

The other place I visited was Chan Chan, the scale of this is phenomenal and and I spent an hour and a half with my diminutive guide, Gisella. You can see more of this at the same website.

Well, this evening I head overnight for Piura where I will stay for at least a month, My friend there Ana says it is a splendid 33 degrees. I am a bit unsure about my accommodation and internet access, but hopefully all will be well. Thanks for the comments and please do leave more on the blog as it encourages me to know that it is being read.

Sunday, 4 January 2009

New Year celebrations in Miraflores

At the best of times I am not really New Year person – my parents always seemed to value the importance of being in contact at the ultimate moment of the year but maybe this is a gene I failed to inherit. Notwithstanding, I think it must be the first time I have been away from hearth and home at this time of year. In consequence I was somewhat uncomfortable with the idea of being alone. I needn't of worried as Peruvian hospitality made it a pleasurable transition to 2009, albeit 5 hours later than in UK.

Earlier in the day, after some logistical problems of connecting my PC to a power supply, I finally got it working and was able to have a skype face to face with my wife and daughter. Jennie had a Mac for Christmas and I am happy to comment that its integral camera and sound system works well and without all the gubbins of a camera and headphones. We had a nice chat and Jennie entertained us by pulling faces up close to the camera.

I spent most of the rest of the afternoon uploading my blog in Starbucks. Later I ventured out of my hostal around 10.30, heading for the centre of Miraflores, Kennedy park and where I expected celebrations to be happening. To be honest it just seemed like an ordinary evening with lots of people fast fooding and a decidedly family atmosphere. I was struck that there seemed to be absolutely no drunkenness. Venturing down to the beach area the restaurants seemed to be full with people queuing and some discotheque/bars were beginning to fill.

I had a chat with some English people and found my way back to the park where I joined a small group of Peruvians – we chatted amiably about this and that and at the turn of the hour exchanged polite and warm greetings. There were a few fireworks but not spectacular - all was good natured and genial. Somebody shared their cava with me and after a while we parted and I headed back and to the hostal and replied to happy new year emails of which their were a few.

The next morning around 6 am I was awoken by more fireworks and after breakfast had a Spanish lesson with Melanie my teacher for 8 hours over the next 4 days. I was glad that I had had a fairly restrained new year's eve and Melanie's teaching style was friendly and condident.

In the afternoon I bought El Comercio, the Lima newspaper which interestingly reprised 2009 from a local perspective. Heading for the beautiful Parque de los Olivos. set in a classy and well policed zone of Miraflores a few people wished me happy new year. So I sat on a bench to read my paper.

Noticing a small group of young people some way off, I saw that they were taking some special interest in my arrival. After a while a pretty girl of about 15 walked towards me and announced that she would like to wish me a saludos (greeting) for the new year. I happily agreed and with this she surprised me by laughing while she gave me a kiss on the cheek. I asked her if it was a bet and she agreed it was but it was an innocent game and I cannot imagine the same thing happening in London. She rejoined her friends and after a while they left. It was a nice moment. Nothing much happened the rest of the day although it was very pleasant to stroll through the streets with so little traffic.

So here I sit at the end of the first day in 2009, listening to Nelly Furtado and Mano Chau and supping the last of my very agreeable Peruvian red wine, Taberno Gran Tinto, made from Malbec and Merlot varieties. The bottle says it has a brilliant red colour and an intense and agreeable perfume, both dry and smooth. It tastes good too!

Happy new year and if you read this feel free to leave a nice comment.

Friday, 2 January 2009

Cycling in Lima, Peru

There probably isn't too much to say about cycling in Lima. Quite a few people use bikes but the traffic in the city would be too intimidating for me and one only seems to see bikes here in Miraflores which is quieter and in the parks and back streets, usually for shopping. Often they are of poor quality, probably copies of more well known brands like Trek. A lot of stuff is counterfeited here including money, books CDs and DVDs so I wouldn't be surprised. The cycling weather right now is perfect, usually 24 degrees and sunny with a light sea breeze. At the beach there is one narrow cycling path in places shared with pedestrians and a rail track seems to serve as a cycle path but I didn't see any cyclists.

On my first morning here in Miraflores I met a happy band of cyclists gathering for a ride. As you can see from the photo they probably won't be bothering the UK Olympic team this coming season! I also chatted to another young woman waiting for friend; she told me it wasn't far to the mountains but she wouldn't risk cycling during the weekdays. Traffic here is quite aggressive – cars buses and taxis drive in close formation and only slow down at the last moment before hitting you. They say if you can drive in Lima you are prepared for anything and I can believe it. Horns are in constant use warning others – I am coming through so don't you dare pull out – and they mean it.

The other day I met Ezra from Austin, Texas – he had cycled that huge distance but seemed fairly happy. His bike didn't seem very sophisticated although I noticed a Garmin. You can read his account here. Otherwise, I saw one guy flash by on a Cervello but really cycling here is of necessity rather than a sport - almost all would seem to aspire to owning a car, many of which are old and have dirty emissions, although I noticed 2 taxis converted to natural gas which is cheap and in plentiful supply here in Peru.

So, no cycling for me this week, but I have walked quite a bit and have had one 55 minute jog. It feels as if I am eating less here but maybe this is due to lack of exercise. Otherwise, I am reading an interesting book from a Scottish cyclist/traveler, Cycling to Panama (from Mexico) this is a very good read and can be obtained from Amazon. I am not sure it would be my kind of cycling but he has certainly covered some miles and experienced several countries. I emailed him recently and he has promised to come and chat to Addiscombe Cycle Club if he visits London.

Well maybe I can rent a bike when I get to Piura – we'll see. Enjoy your ride!