Friday, April 21, 2017

Peruvian first impressions in the capital

Even more than the blaring horns and screaming sirens of New York, Lima is loud. For years I have discounted the noise factor in Asia by remembering the Rudyard Kipling quote, "With Asian indifference to mere noise." Although it doesn't apply to either Japan or Bhutan, almost all the rest of Asia can be deafening. Then New York surprised me with the fact that even on the 14th floor you can't continue a conversation when emergency vehicles are in the vicinity. Now that's loud!

BUT downtown Lima is like living inside the battle of the sounds zone: traffic, music from car stereos, loud conversations, music from cafes and restaurants, megaphones, whistles, music from unknown sources and constant horn blasts compete to drown each other out and most continue to 2 or 3 in the morning and start up again at about 8am. Auditory overload is new to me and it's impossible to meditate. 

Unlike the developed world where we have spent most of our time since leaving Bhutan, Peru immediately comes across as life on the edge. The cars are old or beaten up or both. In the capital the traffic is at dead stop or like a car chase. The stunning beaux-arte buildings are restored to their former glory or mere facades gutted and used as car parks or decaying and so dilapidated that they pose a threat to public safety. 

Street vendors some with only a few items clutched in plastic bags sell snacks, hand squeezed fruit juices, batteries, pens, garbage bags, paper products, key rings, cigarettes, bling, drinks, and a million other things. Baskets of odd items are toted about and a game of cat and mice is played by those without appropriate permits, to avoid the police. Unfortunately children also join the ranks of street sellers mostly after dark and sometimes still in school uniforms. All this reminds me of an Asian scene from decades ago. 

The cuisine has been surprisingly good, if somewhat a game of lucky dip with our lack of Spanish leaving us at the mercy of whatever the waiter decides after our plaintive cries “vegetarianio” or pointing at dishes other customers are eating. Nonetheless people come to rescue and everyone tries to make it work. We were expecting lots of beans and rice but there is oh so much more on offer and an incredible array of desserts, cakes and baked goods. Though, we are rarely tempted by sweet dishes, we have definitely eaten more desserts in the last 4 days than the previous four months.

The spectacle of the changing of the guards at the Presidential Palace was reminiscent of a bygone era. With a full brass band playing and marching the compound while vast numbers of the guards were goose-stepping and parading with flags, swords and batons. It involved a great deal of pomp and ceremony. I thoroughly enjoyed the performance and was somewhat taken back by the young girl inside the palace taking selfies and watching through the open doors. The president’s daughter perhaps?


You get the feeling Lima is alive. It's kicking, struggling, and fighting but surviving and loudly. Few people appear wealthy and there appears to be a vast middle class, who is comfortably well off and enjoying life. Too many of those visible on the streets are poor beyond belief but they are not begging. They are doing whatever they can to get by and much of it right on the crowded pavements. 

Modern shopping malls, fast food super chains and the latest electronics also abound but to me they haven't taken over the culture they have just joined the chaos of it all. 

Peru has begun with a bang and Lima may not be indicative of what is to follow but I can't wait to see more of the rural areas beyond the capital.

Friday, April 14, 2017


Visiting Toronto was a decision fuelled by the desire to see Niagara Falls up close, but the city has so much more to offer than I expected. 

It's huge by anyone's standards and it comes with a plethora of glass and steel skyscrapers as well as historic Georgian and Victorian buildings, row houses and terraces as well as single storey dwellings. Despite its size and population of over 6 million, according to our Air BnB hosts, it manages to convey a friendly, down to earth quality. People seem strongly connected to and proud of the communities in which they live and work- cosmopolitan without pretension and patriotic without paranoia, Toronto or T.O. is lively and yet just a little grubby and untidy with it. 

The homeless problem parallels the situation in New York and is visible and confronting in most of the popular downtown areas. It's a growing concern globally and to my dismay younger and younger people are joining the ranks of those sleeping rough. It is made worse in cities that freeze in winter, but the impacts on mental health are heartbreakingly obvious and there doesn't seem to be a solution in sight. 

Ethic diversity has created culinary delights and abominations!! Poutine -a dish we elected to avoid, was comically advertised in one outlet's window as "clogging arteries since 2008" and why wouldn't it with gravy covered deep fried chips topped with ground beef and melted cheese. Other equally carnivorous options for toppings were also available. However pockets of exquisite and much more upmarket eating options abound. Burgers with ingredients that are sustainably sourced, organic, fair trade and chic, as well as vegan, vegetarian and halal choices exist along side Portuguese, Greek, Ethiopian, Korean, French and just about any other country's fine fare. We simply didn't have enough days to try it all. 

For Niagara Falls we opted for a day trip and were more than pleased with the inclusions. Three hours at the falls enabled us to take the boat ride out to the sheer wall of water and get drenched in the mist and spray, with plenty of time left wander around admiring the spectacular views of both the Canadian and American falls from the pavement perspective. We were not tempted by the tacky town itself and enjoyed snacks in Niagara on the Lake in a much more picturesque setting. A wine tasting, which of course led to purchasing a couple bottles rounded out the day nicely and we snoozed our way back to Toronto, marvelling about how much a single day can cost even when you are frugal. 

St Lawrence Market and High Park were real highlights. 

Canadian friends sent us advice and suggestions from various points around the world and it was an absolute joy to catch up with old mates Nick and Keira. Shared experience in Bhutan certainly makes for lifelong connections and it was fabulous to see these two young educators making their mark in schools in Toronto. Non- stop conversations catching up on all that has transpired since we last saw them in 2011 filled several hours and introduced us to the cider-drinking penchant of Canucks. 

Although affordable transport options abound, walking was our modus operandi for the most part. We clocked up close to 20 kilometres most days and it served to keep us warm as well as ensuring we got the regular workout we want to arrive in the best shape to face the Machu Pitchu challenge in a little over a week. We totally lucked out with the weather and had sunny, if windy days and were even able to leave without the winter jackets on a couple of occasions.

We did take two short rides on the old style streetcars, which took our fancy from day one. In order to meet up with our old BCF mates and get home safely after our introduction to cider we were more than glad to avail of a ride across town for a mere $3.25. 

AGO (Art Gallery of Ontario) provided a basic introduction to the work of the Group of 7 Canadian artists, who reshaped the way Canadians, saw themselves and allowed patriotism to flourish.

The diversity of bird life we saw daily even from the downtown area, speaks volumes for the health of the environment. It was no surprise that Canadians are both outdoorsy and environmentally concerned and it shows. Within High Park we saw huge numbers of birds and on our day trip out to Niagara and again returning to NYC on Greyhound, we saw hawks, falcons, turkey vultures and of course Canadian geese in vast numbers, in the skies above us. The V-shaped flying formations and happy honking of the geese is almost comical.

St Lawrence Market was sensational. We have always loved a good market and were thrilled to be able to actually make purchases for our return bus journey to NYC. No Burger King, Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts outlets for us!! Gourmet picnic style food for our 13-hour trip and we were the envy of the other pizza slice and burger buying passengers. Kensington Market and Chinatown were also great areas to stroll and people watch.

Although it is the expansive great outdoors and stunning scenery for which Canada is famous, our brief time in Toronto has certainly whetted our appetite for more and we hope to return.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Snapshots and snippets of NYC

Some random faces of New York City interspersed with anecdotes of our trip, snippets of overheard conversations and public announcements.  

In the Subway station when offered a proselytising leaflet:
Me: “No Thanks.”
Man: “Don't thank me for rejecting God.” 

I have received comments and compliments on my hair almost daily, more when the weather was really dreary and almost always from young African American women who usually address me as sister. 

At The American Museum of Natural History:
Dad: “Come over here and look at this.”
Son: “I don't wannnnnna seeeee anything else! Enough already.”

In the Port Authority bus terminal a kind, helpful ticket seller at Greyhound printed out extra information about the bus and stopping points on the journey and hand wrote a list of her own recommendations of what to do in Niagara Falls based on her trip there 10 years ago. Taking time and providing extra service for us because as she said, “With some customers I just feel a connection.” 

Acrobatic performer, who was part of a dynamic 3-man team of physical theatre performers, busking in Time Square, to the mother whose son they just selected from the audience to be part of their show, “Don't worry nothing will happen. If it does we help you make another one. ALL of us”

While walking along Broadway:
Mum: “….. Because I told you to!”
Son: “When I get arrested you are going to have to pay the bail.”

New Yorkers keep New York safe.
If you see something! Say something.

I got a free battery replacement and the assistant, who did it, also buffed the face of my watch in the Swatch Watch Store in Times Square. 

“Stand clear of the closing doors please.”

On the subway: “OK we can do this. We will make it. As soon as the doors open start running. It's only 10 blocks.”

At The American Museum of Natural History: “Grandma I can read too.”

We've seen some amazing parenting in public and the standouts are black dads, who speak quietly and ask questions to engage their children in museum exhibits and everyday events in the streets. It's inspiring. 

A eager young squirrel in Central Park holding down a daffodil bud by the leaves as though it had just hunted it down and captured it and then voraciously eating the as yet unopened flower.

Two men at a street stall - a vendor and a passerby in heated discussion. As we approached the vendor shouts, “Don't STAARRT anything.” With the emphasis on start... does that mean finishing it is OK??

Young kid on the Highline to mum: “OK so we've done this now. There's a really cool playground......”

In the Palace Theatre waiting for "Sunset Boulevard" to start,
“This is like a serious theatre goers dream....... I saw Al Pacino play in Mid Summer Night's Dream in Central Park.” 

Just as the D Train pulled out of the 145th Street Station this morning two young guys threw down their bags and started removing their hoodies. As one paced up and down shouting,  “We are here to entertain not cause pain,” the other set up a portable speaker and connected to a mini iPad. By the time we reached 125th Street Station they were set to go. The longest run on this express train is from that point to 59th Street. For that run they alternated tossing the hat in the air and keeping it off the ground with various body parts and then the wearer took centre stage, fist bumping, dancing and pole dancing! But the real show was the pole acrobatics: swing from them, climbing up them, spinning round them upside and suspended from them by elbows, knees, legs and arms as well as climbing with feet and hands and utilizing the ceiling without once connecting with a seated passenger. Despite the announcements not to give to vagrants on the subway, when the hat came round the passengers and both of us tossed in the dollars and some even asked for change. As the woman seated near me said directly to me, “That was a real New York experience.”

The same woman who turned out to be an attorney returning from a courthouse in the Bronx to her office in Brooklyn struck up a conversation with me and asked rounds of questions which involved how long we had been here, how we could get such long vacation, what we did and what our plans for the future were. After hearing about Bhutan and Cambodia she responded, “So there are still idealists left in the world!”  I guess that’s me and that too was a real ‘Noo Yawk’ experience.

A simple observation – I have never seen fewer rats in the subway system or more homeless in the streets! A strange truth comparing 5 visits from 1987 to 2017!

“There is a Brooklyn bound local train now arriving on the upper level.”

The nosey doorman to the Hillview Towers, “Are you guys still here?”