Thursday, December 18, 2008

La Trattoria di Mambrino

This has been one of our favorite restaurants for years now. I did a review on their Bodega restaurant in January. It received an almost perfect score. La Trattoira di Mambrino, Ugo and Sandra's first restaurant, is even better. You can find both of them from time to time making the rounds at the restaurants. They stop to greet most of the tables personally.

We recently visited on a weekday night. It was our first time that we've been able to sit in the back area (only a year or so old) near the wine cellar. We've previously sat at the bar (fantastic drinks!) and in the main room a number of times.

The service, as expected, was fantastic. The waiter knew every detail about every dish and certainly appeared as if he had sampled them all! This sort of knowledge is extremely rare in Peru (where many waiters don't get to eat any of the food at the restaurant). His descriptions and recommendations were right on!

The environment was relaxing and comfortable. There was music in the background sung by Italian artists (in Spanish) like Laura Pausini, Tiziano Ferro, and Eros Ramazzotti. We weren't far from the brick oven where they were preparing fresh breads. The aroma was great!

The big surprise for us was that the menu had changed. They have added many new seafood dishes. The most exciting new additions include Peruvian octopus. La Trattoria has had an octopus appetizer for years. It was always great, but left you wanting more. The problem was that there were not enough selections of main dishes that included octopus or seafood.

Our appetizer was a new grilled octopus skewer with pallar sauce that was extremely tender (melts in your mouth) and tasty. For main dishes, we had:

Mashed potatoes with a center of grilled octopus and portobello mushrooms. The presentation was great and the taste was even better! All 3 of the flavors combined well and I was extremely happy with my selection.

Fettuccine with octopus, capers, olive oil, and olives. There were some other flavorful touches, but those are the standouts. The octopus was very tender and had an amazing flavor. The whole thing worked together well and my wife was in heaven.

Finally we had Seared Tuna with an arugula salad in dijon sauce. The tuna was top quality and seared perfectly. The flavor was exactly what I was craving (yes, I stole a good portion from our guest). The salad was a perfect match. The dish was light yet extremely satisfying. Almost every trip to Lima we search out a really good Tuna dish. We are very pleased to say that one can now be found at La Trattoria.

This has been our location for numerous Valentine's, birthday, and other special events. It has never dissappointed. Highly recommended to anyone who enjoys fine cuisine. I would even say that it is a 'must visit' location for any trip to Lima.

Quality: 10
Flavor: 10
Presentation: 10
Selection: 10
Value: 9
Environment: 10
Bathrooms: 10
Overall: 10

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Back in Arequipa: Greeted by a 12 hour power outage

Well I've been out of town for a bit lately for business. Now I've only been back in Arequipa for about 5 days and there has already been another power outage. This one was scheduled for 5am until noon on Sunday the 14th. But for an unknown reason, the power did not come back on until after 5:30pm on Sunday. We made about 40 calls to the electric company and none of them were answered. I'm not sure what areas were effected by the outage, but certainly Cayma was among them.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) now in Peru

The financial leaders and political heads of state of 21 pacific countries are in Peru now. This includes George W. Bush. To reduce the congestion and possibility of riots or strikes, the government has given all state employees, in Lima, vacation during the conference (Nov 20-23rd).

There are numerous articles about this event and how it has effected Peru on the Living in Peru site. Of course this event may have some effect on the US as well and you might want to search some US news sites for information about that. I know that Bush has planned to seek some support from the group to stimulate global economies and reduce the 'crisis'.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Cayma power problems

There was a brief power outage yesterday that lasted about 30 minutes here in Cayma (a 'county' of Arequipa). Luckily the power came back on quickly.

Now today the power has gone out again, during the middle of the work day (~10:10am). This outage lasted about 20 minutes and we now have power yet again.

Thank goodness I have a UPS system.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Arequipa without water!

So we found out today that the water tank for the building was low. The landlord said there was no water to fill the tanks in the whole neighborhood. But when asked what the problem was or how long it would last, he had no idea. He said that no warning or information was sent out before the shut down.

We found out just a couple hours ago that some other family on the other side of town has also been without water for 6+ hours. I searched Google in English and Spanish to try to find information, but no current information was available.

We called the water company here in Arequipa and they didn't have any information, but gave us 3 other numbers to call. All 3 of those phone numbers were either constantly busy or not answered.

I just heard on the local news (TV Peru) that 80% of Arequipa (a city of about 1 million people) is currently without water. They said that a pipe broke (and apparently has no backup) and needs to be repaired. The state run water company (SEDAPAL) has just started setting up to perform repairs. They hope to be able to fix the problem by the morning.

Edit #2:
Thank god they did get it fixed last night. We had water again around 4am. That meant no hot water this morning, but at least we did have drinkable running water. So in the end it was just over 12 hours without water, but the water tank lasted for about 4-6 of those 12 hours. In the end, not all that bad, but I'm certainly glad it wasn't worse.

South Park vs Peru

South Park recently aired 2 episodes based on Peruvian Pan Flute bands and an invasion of the US by a certain group of Peruvians. The first episode can be found here and the second here. It is extremely funny though some may find it startling and even furry.

For those who do not know, these are adult cartoons and are not meant for young children.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Customer Service, the great unknown.

Being a typical gringo from the US, I expect and demand a certain level of customer service in most all business interactions. Even in the US, there are many examples of bad customer service. But after living in Peru for 3 years, you start to wonder if perhaps Customer Service is only a North American concept. In some tourist establishments, you can find it here in Peru, but these are normally owned and run by North American or European investors/citizens/migrants.

Lately I am seeing repeatedly reinforced examples of how Customer Service is not considered or even known here in Peru. The focus is all on how to get the customer's money and repeat customers seem almost undesirable or unneeded. Here are some recent examples:

1) La Italiana restaurant in Arequipa - We ordered pulpo de olivo and specifically requested the version that comes cold with yellow potatoes and olive oil. When the order arrived at our house 45 minutes later, we found that it was incorrect. The Octopus (pulpo) was hot and contained no olive oil. Instead it had some hot soupy broth, olives, carrots, etc.

We called the restaurant to let them know that we had been very specific in our order (it was exactly what was on the menu, but they have different versions available) and that what arrived was incorrect. The lady on the phone immediately told us that we were wrong and that we had received the correct dish. Then she asked if we had eaten any of it. We told her 'no'. Then she tried to convince us to eat it rather than wait for them to send the correct dish. Then we got put on hold for about 5 minutes.

Her tone basically suggested that we were trying to steal from the restaurant by eating part of the meal and then sending it back to get more. Finally she agreed to send the correct dish and told us to have the hot dish ready and untouched so that we could give it to the delivery man. I guess she wanted to make sure that it got thrown in the trash rather than us getting 2 dishes for the price of one. I certainly hope they didn't plan to serve it to another customer. At no point did she appologize for sending us the wrong dish. At no point did she offer us any kind of gift certificate, refund, or anything else to try to correct her mistake.

So in the end, they screwed up our order, accused us of fraud, and then sent the correct dish 45 m later with no appology or attempt to remedy the situation.

2) Sur Motors/Login Store - I've already posted at length about this topic. But I've seen this behavior at so many places lately. You walk up to a cashier or service desk, say hello or good afternoon. Then they just ignore you and don't even say hello, one second, I'll be right with you, or anything at all. They aren't on the phone or anything. They generally just stare at their computers for a while. Then after a minute or two of standing there having them ignore you, you have to say something more forceful to get their attention. Sometimes even that doesn't work.

3) House/Apartment Rentals - Peruvian rental law, like most rental laws around the world, require that the owner of the property provide some sort of maintenance. This includes repairing pipes, water heaters, walls, floors, and other appliances that are included in the rental property. This comes at the owner's expense if it is a problem caused by normal usage. But the client's expense if it comes as a result of misuse, abuse, etc.

We've had numerous experiences over the last few years where we've run into problems with pipes breaking (and flooding our house), faucets leaking water, etc. Almost every time the landlord has asked us to pay for these repairs. He claims that since the house was new when we moved in, there is no way that anything could possibly break from normal use (even after 3 years). I recently had a talk with them about this, after they tried to get us to pay them monthly fees for security guards for the neighborhood. They fully believe that any problem with the house requires the client to pay, no matter what the cause. They claim that the houses were new and perfect. They do not acknowledge that things need repairs over time. I pointed out the rental law of Peru to them, but they didn't seem to be aware of the law or interested in what the law said at all.

Customer protection laws exist here, but have almost no teeth. They are also subject to the Peruvian Judicial System which is a complete mess. Simple cases can be drawn out over numerous years. This includes eviction proceedings... meaning if you want to kick someone out of your rental property, it could take you years of court proceedings before this can be completed. The whole time this renter may not be paying at all.

The main purpose of business in Peru is to take someone else's money. Being able to do it more than once to the same person is not a concern. Having that person being happy that you are taking their money is not a concern. Having that person come back unhappy and complaining about what they received, again, not a concern.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

More business issues in Peru, this time Punto Celeste
Lince, Peru

We contracted them to print up and design all of our invitations. We worked with them for about 3 weeks to finalize the design. It was something new (based on US versions) but they said that they could do it. It took many weeks and many test prints and examples until things were finally ready.

Then once we had finalized the design we took a look at the final example. There one a small issue with those prints, but Catherine told us that would be adjusted for the final design. We approved this design and just had to finish our messages.

During the couple weeks it took us to finalize the messages, send them to Punto Celeste, receive the demo prints, repeat, etc. Catherine was sent into the 'field' rather than working in the office. So we suddenly stopped getting replies to our emails and requests for help from Punto Celeste. After a number of phone calls and a lot of confusion, we found out that the lady we had worked with for over 2 months was no longer going to be helping us at all. We also found out that her replacement had no idea who we were or what we wanted. Apparently Catherine had not written everything down and did not pass any of it on to her replacement.

It took a couple days more for her to setup a meeting with her replacement and transfer some of the knowledge. We had wanted the printing to start about a week before this but we could not contact anyone who knew what we needed. So an additional couple days of delays was a big problem, but we had no choice. We were flying to the US in July and had planned to send many of the invitations from the US, but because of Punto Celeste delays this wasn't able to happen. This will end up costing us an additional $100-300 in shipping.

Finally after we talked to the new girl and re-explained every single thing to her again (a couple more multi-hour visits to the office), they finally started printing up the invitations. We had initially been told it would take about 7-10 days, but it ended up taking about 3 weeks to complete.

Then when we finally got the invitations, they (reception, wedding, rehearsal dinner invites) were incorrect. Apparently Catherine had forgotten to tell the new girl about some of the details and there was a missing step in the printing process.

We spent many hours working on these invitations with them over the period of 3 months or so. But Punto Celeste messed them up and now we don't have time for them to reprint everything because they have already delayed so much. They have offered us 100 free Thank You notes, but we haven't been able to go take a look at samples of those yet.

The missing and incorrect parts of the invitations cost us over $330. So hopefully these Thank You notes are very nice.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Final Sur Motors Update

Well I gave them a call again as it has been about 25 working days since they told me the parts were ordered to be imported. Apparently Señor Jose Luis Romero (Jefe de Taller) no longer works for Sur Motors. No idea if he was fired for hiring incompetent idiots to work the desk, or multiple complaints about delays and problems in the taller, or if he just quit for some reason. But he's gone now and we spoke with the new Jefe de Taller, Michael Zegarra.

He said that he just took the job recently (within a few days, maybe even today!) and doesn't know what's going on. He said he will look into what's happening with our car and try to have an idea for tomorrow. He asked us to call back at 9am tomorrow.


So the new guy actually called back (first time Sur Motors has actually called us when they said they would). He said that the cables had arrived. Why didn't they ever call to notify us??! He said that the car still would not start, the battery or alternator must be dead. I was pretty upset by this because there was no way that I was going to replace the alternator for no reason. I asked that they do the electrical tests and let them know that I would need to see them myself if the alternator needed replacement.

We called them back a day later and we weren't able to get a hold of anyone in the Taller who we could talk to. The next day we called again and finally got a hold of Sr Zegarra. He said that the alternator was fine but the battery was dead and would not take a charge. He said they could install a new battery for S/. 240 (Etna brand, 11 plates, 1-2 year guarantee). I was a bit surprised by this price, so I told him I'd call back later to confirm. I did some research online and found that ETNA batteries are a really good brand here in Peru and that the price wasn't too bad. So I called and asked him to install the new battery. I also asked about a discount if I left my old battery with them to recycle, but he said that they don't do that and I would have to pay full and take my old battery with me.

So the next day I called back in the afternoon and he said that the battery was installed and I could pick up the car on Wednesday. I was busy all day Wednesday, so we had to wait until Thursday (today) to pick it up.

We had already settled all the bills in July for the transmission, brake cleaning, pressure system tests, etc. We also payed 50% of the spark plug cable costs. In total we had to pay around $400. So this time we should just have to pay the other 50% of the spark plug cables (S/. 80 or so) and then the S/. 240 for the new battery. We called this morning to check on the price just to be safe/sure about it.

He told us that we needed to pay S/. 3,300+!!!!!!!!!!

I've got no idea what all of these charges are. So I am going to call him back now and find out what the charges are for and explain that we've already paid for everything but the cables and battery.


So we just got back from Sur Motors. Most of the employees there are new now as they have fired many of the previous incompetent idiots. There is also tons of construction still going on for their expansion next door.

First we talked to the parts people and payed the last 50% of the spark plug cables. Kind of a pain to talk to them, then run across the place to the caja (kind of like a cash register), then run back again and give them the proof that we paid. Typical Peruvian thing.

Then we talked to Sr. Zegarra. I guess Sr. Romero had previously forgotten to charge us the fee for fixing the transmission in Lima (Gildemeister). So we had only paid for the local repairs and installation/removal. I had thought that getting my transmission rebuilt for $130 was way too cheap. So the fee from Gildemeister was around $900. Then there were the normal fees for the battery and the labor to install the battery and the new cables.

The only major issue we had this time was the following:
We had spoken on the phone and agreed to an ETNA battery with 11 plates. When I had him open up the car so that I could take a look, it was some sort of battery that looked like it was made with some super cheap generic plastic and no real branding. The only things on it were really cheap looking stickers. It looked like some kind of fake battery they make from recycled crap. The guy assured me that it was ALFA Record brand and that the battery shop he went to said it was the 'best' battery available (better than ETNA). I didn't want to leave the car there for more time while I did some research on ALFA Record batteries, so I made a deal with the guy. I took the car now, but said that I was going to check into Record batteries. If they weren't any good, I'd bring it back and he would swap it with a new ETNA battery for free.

So in the end I guess we paid about what you'd expect. But the work took about a month longer than we expected (if not more). I certainly hope to never have to take my car to the shop in Arequipa again.


Well I couldn't find much online about ALFA Record Batteries. It looks like 'Record' batteries either sold or went out of business due to various issues (some including lead poisoning neighborhoods by their factory in El Salvador). ALFA Record appears to be a new company or a new name for the same company. Their yellow pages add in Peru shows a battery that does look exactly like the one I have now. So I have a good idea that it is actually from that company and not just from some guy's garage where he made it himself.

Anyhow, none of the car websites in Spanish or anything else that I could find mention batteries from ALFA Record. I'm not real happy to keep this one, instead of a brand that I know from reviews is solid and will last. But I do not want to take my car back to Sur Motors and have to deal with them again. So I guess I'll just use this battery and see how long it lasts.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Interested in staying alive? Don't take the bus.

90 percent of Peru bus accidents caused by human error

Living in Peru
Israel J. Ruiz

According to Peru's Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MTC), 90 percent of the country's accidents are caused by human error.

Juan Tapia Grillo, head of the transport investigation center is suspicious of this figure, however, stating that it is almost always the driver's fault.

With bus drivers in Peru being accused of everything from driving over 15 hours non-stop and even driving drunk, serious concern has been raised and the government is slowly taking action.

While the Ministry of Transportation has announced that it is being more severe with sanctions and inspections are taking place all over the country, only two charges have been brought to the country's judicial power.

Peru's Public Ministry is pressing charges against Sol Andino Bus Company and Libertadores Bus Company for irregularities in Desaguadero and La Oroya.

Other than these two cases, there are several dozen "pending" or still being investigated by the country's national police.

Another problem is the amount of drivers bus companies hire. According to Jorge Villasante, the vice minister of transportation, bus companies should have at least two drivers per bus.

Turismo Libertadores has a fleet of 19 buses with only 14 workers on its payroll. Transportes Caplina is reported to have 34 buses and only 48 workers while Expreso Huamanga has six workers for 34 buses.

Another factor in almost daily bus accidents is how old the vehicles are. Buses in Mexico cannot be more than ten years old while in Peru there are buses over 30 years old on the highway.

For instance, 58 percent of the 65 buses run by Tepsa Bus Company were built between 1977 and 1978.

Five hundred people have been killed in 170 highway accidents over the past thirteen months in Peru.


Bus companies and drivers should be checked when leaving every major city (not just Lima). If there are serious violations, the company should be servery punished. If there are large numbers of fatalities caused by unlicensed drivers, the company should be shut down (Civa, etc) and the owners should be imprisoned.

I've had many buses pass trucks or other buses while I was in the oncoming lane and they did not have room or speed to pass. They just bully their way down the road flashing their lights and honking at oncoming traffic in the same lane, forcing it to swerve dangerously off of the road to avoid the bus. There are almost no police on the highways and most of them are only parked in small towns taking naps. The few that I see on the actual highway driving are usually going about 30-40 Kph because their vehicles cannot drive any faster and are about to break down.

If you are planning to travel to Peru, it is highly recommended that you avoid long distance bus travel. There have been many major crashes lately and even with the current push for more enforcement, the fatalities continue to climb.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Alaska tourist hacked to death in Guatemala

Daily News staff and wire reports

Robbers armed with machetes hacked an Alaska tourist to death and seriously wounded his wife in an attack aboard the couple's sailboat in northeastern Guatemala, the woman told The Associated Press on Sunday.

In a telephone interview from her hospital bed, Nancy Dryden, 67, said her husband, Daniel Perry Dryden, 66, was killed by four men who boarded their boat late Saturday while it was anchored in Lake Izabal.

The couple, who are retired, live in the Sutton area of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough.

"They poked us and stabbed us with the machetes, and they were asking for money, specifically dollars," said Dryden, who was listed in stable condition at a hospital in the lakeside town of Morales.

The thieves were apparently unhappy with the take. "We had a few quetzales (Guatemala's currency), but we had no dollars with us on the boat," Dryden recounted.

The Drydens had bought the boat in February. They were equipping the vessel in preparation for a voyage into the Caribbean and eventually to the eastern coast of the United States.

Dryden said the four assailants may have reached the boat by swimming from shore and brandished long machetes that "seemed liked curved swords."

After assaulting the couple, the men demanded she hand over the keys to the vessel, which has an auxiliary motor. When she didn't - she was unable to tell whether they wanted the keys to the boat, or a small dinghy the couple used to get to shore - the men left, also apparently by swimming.

Dryden struggled over to the boat's radio and sent out a distress call. "I said we need help ... I said my husband was not moving," Dryden recalled.

She said she expects her children to arrive in Guatemala today and plans to be transferred to the United States for medical care.

In Alaska, family friend Dee Woods said the Drydens were experienced sailors. They owned a boat in the 1960s and '70s and sailed to England and in the Pacific Ocean.

"They were real trusting and loving and outright, but they were aware that stuff happens. This is just a freak thing," Woods said. The couple's two grown children, a son and a daughter, live in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough. Woods said the daughter had called Sunday morning with the news and asked that friends be notified.

Woods said the couple had planned to build a home in Mexico but while visiting friends in Guatemala, they found the sailboat for sale and bought it.

Woods said recent emails between he and his wife, Mat-Su Borough Assemblywoman Lynne Woods, and Nancy Dryden indicate the couple was waiting out bad weather before embarking on their journey.

"Nancy and Dan were really having a good time," Woods said. "They were really getting into the arts and crafts of Guatemala.

Woods said the Drydens moved to Sutton in the late 1970s, where both couples were members of a small community of friends who spent holidays and birthdays together. Dan drove truck during the pipeline days and went on to work as a private contractor around the area. Recently, he did dirt work on a salmon habitat restoration program on Moose Creek near Sutton.

Nancy recently retired from the state where she worked as a physical therapist.

In Guatemala City, Assistant Police Commissioner Luis Say said the attack is being investigated.

Located near Guatemala's Caribbean coast, Lake Izabal is popular among tourists for its jungle scenery and wildlife.

In March, protesting farmers briefly kidnapped four Belgian tourists at Lake Izabal to press for the release of a jailed activist. They were released unharmed.

This story was reported by the Associated Press from Guatemala City and the Daily News' Rindi White in Palmer.

After traveling to Guatemala and visiting this lake and Rio Dulce just a couple years ago... this story is a bit startling. But certainly from our experience there, it is nothing unbelievable. Everything we experienced and saw indicated that Guatemala was more or less a lawless country. There has been some calming down since the civil wars and rebel fighting, but it still remains highly corrupt and employs an inadequate police force. Highway robberies and murders are still fairly common.

Some other stories from Guatemala are equally startling. One described prisons which were run by the prisoners and the guards just made sure that no one got into the prison. It was used for drug growing, production, drug shipments, blackmail, etc. The guards took payoffs from the prisoners. This wasn't closed down until 2007.

Another story listed the sad figures for solved cases of murders. Numerous articles and stories list the following: "Murder rates in Guatemala are among the world's highest." "There are over 5000 murders in Guatemala per year. Only about 2% of them result in an arrest."

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Sur Motors update #2

So we went to pick up the car from Sur Motors on Tuesday, July 22nd. They said that it would be ready by 4pm. We got there and they were still working on it. But Jose gave me the bill and said that I could pay that while I waited. It was surprising! The $1000 estimate turned out to be very cautious. The final bill was only $130. Apparently only a few plastic parts in the transmission had to be replaced (imported too). The largest cost was the removal and reinstallation of the transmission. We happily paid this sum and headed back over to the garage.

They had been revving the engine a bit before we went to pay and when we returned they were still doing it to test something. This had me a bit worried that something wasn't quite working right. After a bit of a wait, they called us back into the garage to take a look. Jose explained that the problem was that the car did not idle well and would sputter out. He showed me the spark plug cables and they rubber coating on most of them had been melted (little bubbles and holes). They tested with another pair of spark plug cables (from some other car I believe) and the engine idled with no problems. So we needed to replace the 4 spark plug cables.

That sounds really simply right? Well, we're in Peru. Nothing is simple here. It turns out that not only do they not keep these in stock in Arequipa, but Lima is also sold out of them. So we had to goto the parts office and wait for the guy to get a quote and estimate. It turns out that they will cost around $55 for the full set of 4 and it will take about 25 working days to import them!

So as of tomorrow the car will have been in the shop unable to drive for a month now and is expected to be out of commission sitting in the garage for over a month more. Ugh! I am certainly getting an education on cars lately. I thought that I had replaced most of the important parts already. But I've learned that you need to check/replace the transmission oil after (or before) buying a used car and replace the spark plug cables after 50-100k miles).

It would have been nice if they had noticed this spark plug cable problem before I was set to drive the car out of the shop, but I guess that's just how it goes in Peru.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Sur Motors Update

So we went down and found the manager of service (Jose Luis Romero) for Sur Motors in person today. Since we had been trying for so long on the phone and it went no where. Anyhow, he let us know that the 2 people who ran the office/phones/desk for service had been fired. He didn't go into details about it. But it may have had something to do with them taking Friday off when the boss wasn't around and me making the front desk operator go back and check on them. It likely also was because these sorts of problems were common when they worked there and many other people were unhappy.

So he called Hildemeister in Lima on the spot. They said that they may be able to send it to Arequipa tomorrow. So we're supposed to call him again tomorrow to confirm that it was sent from Lima. They are hoping that everything will be fixed by Tuesday. Either way we've bought our tickets to leave Tuesday night. So if it is late, it will have to sit in the shop for a few more weeks. We told him about this today and he said no problem, they have lots of room and the place is safe. He also assured us that there would be no charge for that.

I'm still not letting him off the hook completely. Just because those other 2 people (Jose Peraltilla and a woman secretary) were idiots doesn't excuse him. He is still the boss and has the responsibility for hiring them.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Problems With Sur Motors In Arequipa

So I took my car into the shop on June 23rd to have it looked at. I went to Sur Motors which is a well known shop in Arequipa and was supposedly professional. It also is affiliated with Mapfre Insurance. They tell me that they will call when the diagnostic is done and before doing any major repairs to get my approval.

After a few days, they still hasn't called me. So I had to call them. They asked that I come into the shop. They didn't want to tell me any information or what the problem was over the phone. Very confusing and strange. So I take a cab and go all the way across town to meet them. They explain that the pressure test on the cooling system went well (no problems) and that the brakes have been cleaned (no major work, just stop the squeaking). Then they explain that the reverse doesn't work and it is a transmission problem. But since I have an automatic transmission, they have to send it to Lima (Hildemeister) to have it repaired and then sent back to Arequipa where they can reinstall it. They quoted me $1000 for this work (shipping, fixing, returning, etc). They also said that it would take 10 days to have the car ready to go once we gave them the OK to do it. I asked about just buying a new transmission and they quoted me a price of $3000. So the choice was fairly simple.

10 days wouldn't be so bad. I had guests coming to visit, but we could do without the car for a bit. After those 10 days there still was one weekend when they would be in town, so we could take a road trip or something. We agreed to the 10 days and $1000 fix it in Lima solution on June 27th.

10 days later, July 7th, we called to see how things were going. But they told us that the transmission was still in Lima and they didn't know anything about it. They said they would call Lima and see what was going on, then call us back. July 8th passed and they never called us.

July 9th comes and we call them again. They tell us that the transmission will be shipped to Arequipa on Thursday July 10th and then installed in the car on July 11th. They say that we should be able to pick up the car on Monday July 14th. So there goes our weekend road trip plans.

We call on Thursday July 10th for an update, but they won't let us talk to any one in charge of service. They tell us that they will have someone give us a call in a few minutes. No one ever called.

Friday July 11th rolls around and we call them again to see if the transmission arrived and if it is in the process of being installed like they said. The reception lady answers and then transfers us to service. This happens 10 times, each time I sit on the phone for 3-5 minutes with no answer. I spent over 30 minutes calling them and not being able to speak to anyone in service. I finally call back and tell the lady that I keep getting hung up on and that I need to talk to someone in service but no one is answering the phone. It's Friday at 3-4pm so it's right in the middle of operating business hours. I ask to talk to the manager/boss of Sur Motors and she tells me that he's on vacation until Monday. Finally the reception lady leaves her desk and goes into the garage to talk to someone herself. She comes back and tells me that the transmission hasn't arrived yet and it should arrive on Monday July 14th and then be ready for me to pick up the car on Tuesday July 15th.

Tuesday July 15th rolls around and we call back again. We ask to talk to the manager of the service, but they tell us that he's out on medical leave. They tell us that the transmission hasn't arrived yet and it should get there on Thursday. I can pick up the car on Friday July 18th.

We call today Friday July 18th (3 weeks after agreeing to $1000 and 10 days to fix the transmission). We ask for the manager of service again (Jose Luis Romero) but we're told that he's in a meeting. So we ask for the manager of Sur Motors (Brian Chavez), but we are told that he has a different schedule and doesn't come in until 3pm. Finally we ask the guy at the service desk about an update on the car. He says that the transmission won't be shipped back to Arequipa until Thursday July 24th and that we might be able to pick the car up on Friday July 25th!!!

So our 10 day estimate is now at minimum a month wait. At no point in the process did they ever inform us of what was really happening. They just made up things hoping that Hildermeister in Lima would get done and ship back the transmission soon. They never called us at all, after promising to over 3 times. We always had to call them and then were often not allowed to talk to people and given bad information. They always had an excuse for not letting us talk to someone in charge.


In 12 years of car ownership in various parts of the US and Peru, I have never seen a less professional mechanic shop than Sur Motors in Arequipa, Peru. I've never felt so jerked around, deceived, and lied to by a car dealership and service department. They make a bad name for Hyundai.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Ordering A Dell Desktop In Peru, Beware!

I just went through yet another horrible experience here in Peru.

I've been shopping for a good new computer for a couple years now. I wasn't able to find a price I liked or a company that I was confident with. So I never made a purchase.

Recently Dell opened a Peruvian version of their website which allows many of their computers and monitors to be purchased in Peru (but not accessories). I was really excited by this as I had used Dell in the past (in the US) with good results. So I got my computer setup with their website and all the parts and options I wanted no problem. There weren't any warnings and everything looked good. The price ended up being around $2500 and $2700 after 'Shipping and Handling'. Great, so I sent off the order.

Everything in the US worked well and the machine was built, tested, and sent out on time. The estimated delivery date was June 6th after ordering on May 15th.

Problems started once the machine got to US customs. Dell used DHL as their carrier and that was a major mistake. Dell also did not provide me or DHL with the proper customs documents (In Spanish). And it took a week to get Dell to provide them.

But most of the real problems came from DHL. They stalled and bumbled almost every step. They asked for me to fill out 4 documents, then after days passed, I had to fill out more documents, then it just continued. They didn't seem to know anything about dealing with Peruvian customs. I had to fill out over 15 different documents, many of them multiple times because DHL did not provide any sort of instructions. In the most extreme case, DHL rejected my document because it had the word 'monitor' in it. They claimed that this was not in Spanish and told me to resubmit the document in all Spanish. Of course 'monitor' is a valid Spanish word and DHL just failed high school. This sort of thing happened repeatedly over more than a month. If I requested an update or information about how things were going, I often didn't receive a reply or only got it after a delay of 2-3 days.

I had worked with FedEx on various occasions in the past. I always had to fill out paperwork and such, but they always sent me the entire set of documents on the first try. Not like DHL sending a couple documents every few days for weeks on end. Also DHL often wasn't clear about what they wanted and when I asked if they were waiting for me to provide more info or more documents, I often didn't get a response as days passed.

Then came the money issue. I had already paid Dell $190 in 'shipping and handling'. Dell's documents and website indicated that I would have to pay 'customs duties' and nothing else. But then DHL demanded that I pay them over $1000 for customs. Only $600 of this was for the real Peruvian customs. $150 was a 'commission' paid to DHL. Another $250 was shipping, storage, paperwork fees, and 'general expenses'. I complained to DHL about it and they didn't have anything to say. I called Dell about the problem and they told me that their computer system was down 'all day' and that I would have to call back later.

I finally paid the outrageous and poorly explained fee. This could only be done in BCP and when I asked about paying by credit card they only replied to me with their bank account # and bank name. With FedEx I was able to just pay by credit card over the phone, simple.

It took another 2 weeks for them to finally get the machine through customs. Then one day DHL called me and said that I needed to pay an additional $800 in expenses beyond what I had paid before. I asked why and they just said that I could read the paperwork when they brought it to the house. They said they would deliver everything in the morning of that same day (call was at 8am). Their driver didn't show up until after 2pm.

Then the paperwork was just a huge mess of multiple documents with different charges and no where to really see it all in one place. So I had to sort through it all, standing outside my house for an hour. Finally after multiple calls to the Arequipa office for explanations and reviewing the documents, I figured everything out. They were charging me ANOTHER $150 'commission' without explanation. They were also charging me more shipping, storage, and 'general expenses'. When asked why, they just said 'more expenses beyond what we charged before' pretty much no explanation at all. I finally just paid the fee just to get things over with and get my damn computer that they had been holding hostage for over a month. The final delivery day was June 22nd, almost a month late.

I had to pay the driver for DHL in the street the last $800. He could barely do the basic math needed to make change (took over 20m). He also could not provide a proper receipt so I had to make due with him signing and dating a piece of paper with a pen.

I contacted Dell Support about these problems and they just said that they didn't know anything about it. They said they would 'take my comments into consideration in the future' but that was it. They didn't offer to help with the problem or remedy it in any way.

So anyhow, I unpack everything and get the computer setup. The monitor and desktop work great. But I'm careful to check the voltage requirements on all parts. This is when I find that the speakers only support 110 V. Why would they send me brand new 110 V speakers to Peru? They should know that Peru only uses 220 V.

So I contact Dell support again. This time they tell me to talk to tech support. So I contact tech support, after a few exchanges they tell me that they cannot do anything and I need to go back to Support. I contact support again (getting upset), and they tell me to just get a converter from 220 V to 110 V. I say that this is their mistake and that they should have to at least pay for my converter, but they reject that. They say that Dell does not carry any 220 V speakers at all, for any country. So I ask them to make a big warning on their website so that this doesn't happen to more people and suggest that they start to find some 220 V speakers as Peru is 220 V only. They say they will 'take my comments into consideration'.

So yet another problem with Dell that they cannot resolve. I know that they just entered into the Peruvian market, but I still expected them to do things correctly and not fuck everything up like a Peruvian company.

I will never again use DHL and certainly will never use Dell International sales again. The whole process was a massive frustration and was full of over $1800 in 'hidden charges'. If it isn't fraudulent, it's about as close as you can get. If anyone has a lawyer who is experienced in Peruvian customs and shipping laws, I am looking for one to investigate DHL's 'hidden charges'.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

DHL Lima, perhaps the most stupid group of people in the business?

Here's one portion of an exchange with DHL that has gone over the last 3 weeks. At every turn they demonstrate complete incompetence and ineptitude. I've never worked with a company that is less capable of doing their job. A process that should have taken no more than a week has taken 3 weeks and still shows no real signs of ever being completed if DHL has their way.

From DHL Lima:

"Estimado señor una traducción es para colocar los nombres comerciales en español, usted esta colocando los mismos nombres. Por favor enviar correcto. Muchas gracias"


Sir a translation is to put the commercial names in Spanish, you put the same names (in English). Please sent the correct information. Thanks a lot.

From me to DHL:

Que nombres no esta en Español??? (What names are not in Spanish???)

Reply from DHL:

Estimado señor El item 1 es un ¿monitor ?


Sir item 1 is a 'monitor'??

From me to DHL (after I almost went to DHL's office and started smashing their heads with a Spanish dictionary):


4 Aparato que transforma en imágenes las señales eléctricas codificadas generadas por una cámara o reproductor de video, un sintonizador de televisión, una computadora, etc.: me compré un monitor de 17 pulgadas para la computadora.

Esta es la definicion de 'monitor' en ESPAÑOL.

If you somehow missed the idea here... the word 'monitor' is the same in both Spanish and English. Anyone who does not know this word in 2008 must not have finished elementary school or is over 90 years old! This is just one exchange in three weeks of pure stupidity and incompetence.

Here are the details of this person and company which I certainly hope to never ever use again:

Martha Moreno
Import Assistant

Calle Uno, Manzana "A", Lote 6 , Primera Etapa,
Habilitacion Industrial Fundo Bocanegra Alto
Callao - PERU

Teléfono +51(1) 517-2500
Fax +51(1) 574-9073"

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Video of Peru's Beaches and waves.

I found this on YouTube today and thought I'd share it. I can't wait for summer to come again!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

O’Neill Launches Surf Peru Campaign

Peruvian surfing continues to be 'in style'. O'Neill has announced a new add campaign that promotes Peruvian surfing throughout Europe.

More details in Spanish here. Click the photos above to zoom in.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Riding the Waves of Peru - New York Times

Original article, pictures, and slide show found here:

The New York Times
May 4, 2008
Riding the Waves of Peru

IT was high tide on a scorching Tuesday, and the choppy beaches around Lima, Peru, were crawling with surfers. There were teenagers in ratty flip-flops carrying short boards patched with duct tape, and bronzed women in wet suits paddling out into the shimmering blue waves. There was even a businessman in his 30s, who climbed out of a black-tinted S.U.V. in nothing but shorts, as a muscular chauffeur handed him a freshly waxed board, a bottle of water and a dab of sunscreen.

The only thing missing, it seemed, were tourists. Despite having monster swells on par with those that hit Hawaii's legendary northern shores, Peru isn't known as a surfing destination, except perhaps by a small band of jet-setting surfers for whom no wave is beyond reach.

That is, unless you happen to be one of the approximately 28 million inhabitants of Peru, South America's third-largest country in area. Then you know very well that surfing has swept the nation recently in a pop cultural frenzy. On the wide boulevards of Lima, billboards are
covered with the fresh-faced ranks of Peruvian surfers endorsing cellphones, beer and soft drinks. Surfing contests are all the rage. And to the south, where the waves are even bigger, physical attributes like pumped-up lungs, buff shoulders and sun-bleached hair seem to be bred into the local DNA.

And now, as Peru rides a tourism wave propelled by a strong economy and favorable exchange rates for bargain-minded Americans, it is poised to become the new "it" spot on the international surfing circuit. After all, Peru has 1,500 miles of rugged coastline dotted with countless breakers, from pristine beaches tucked around Lima to unexplored pockets up north where some waves are said to last more than a mile. And unlike Malibu, Hawaii's northern shores and other well-known places, many of Peru's best surfing spots are often nearly empty.

With so much to explore, surfing has muscled in on soccer and the culinary arts to become an unlikely symbol of national hope. Much of the current craze can be traced back to 24-year-old Sofía Mulanovich, a Peruvian who won the World Surfing Championship title in Hawaii in 2004 — a contest dominated by Australians and Americans. And if the ranks of teenagers who frolic their spare hours away in the swell have any say, surfing in Peru will only get bigger.

That's true up and down Peru's coast, whether it's a small town like Chicama in the country's north, famous for its super-long waves, or around the busy capital of Lima, where the sometimes polluted breaks are teeming with surfers from dusk till dawn. But the epicenter of the neo-surf scene is undoubtedly in Punta Hermosa, a summer beach community about 30 miles south of Lima, where surfing is virtually a religion.

The hourlong drive to Punta Hermosa provides a sobering look at the arid and impoverished landscape in this part of the country: brown hills devoid of vegetation and pocked with sad clusters of wooden shanties. The town itself doesn't look like much — dusty concrete houses painted in bright greens, blues and reds in the hills below the four-lane Pan-American Highway. But the fuss is clear when you finally arrive at the beach: curling waves fan out in all directions like Neptune's block party.

Each break point presents a different challenge. There's Kon Tiki, which offers untamed waves so massive that it takes a strong arm even to paddle out to it; La Isla, where homegrown pros like Ms. Mulanovich and Gabriel Villarán can often be found; and Pico Alto, a brawny break with swells that can range up to 25 feet high.

ON a recent Saturday afternoon, the Copa Barena Professional Circuit surf competition was taking place in Punta Rocas, one of the most popular beaches in the area. The scene at the amateur competition resembled a South American version of Malibu, but wilder. Barena, a
Honduran beer being introduced in Peru, had erected giant inflatable bottles that were flapping like Michelin men in the wind. A stoner reggae band drowned out the announcers. And waiters in baseball hats weaved through an obstacle course of sun chairs with plates of calamari and cans of Inca Kola, a yellow soda spiked with caffeine-laden guaraná fruit.

The surf champ Ms. Mulanovich, who is known as "la gringa" because of her fair skin and blond streaked hair, sat with an entourage near the judge's perch as she watched her younger brother, Matias, whiz over the lip and down the face of a meaty charging barrel.

"Peru is the best preparation for a pro surfer because there are so many different varieties of breaks and conditions," said Ms. Mulanovich, who grew up in Punta Hermosa and recently bought a rock-star grade condo nearby with panoramic views of five surf breaks. "It's much less crowded than in Hawaii and California, and even on the smallest day of the year it's never flat."

When her brother paddled in, the group piled into a caravan of S.U.V.'s and drove five minutes down the highway to San Bartolo for a teenage girl competition. It was sponsored by the cellphone company Movistar. "It's like this all summer," Ms. Mulanovich said. "Everybody wants to be a surf star now."

But despite the surf fever, Punta Hermosa remains off the radar for most tourists, probably because there's little reason to come unless you're really into surfing. There are no surf shops — boards and gear must be rented or bought in Lima — and only a handful of hotels like Luisfer's, a no-frills hostel where surfers bunk up, five to a room. Between sessions, guests can be seen doing yoga atop their board bags in the courtyard.

Dining options are limited, too. The sidewalks are lined with cheerful stands that serve ceviche and seafood carpaccios that look amazing, but are far from stomach friendly. Ms. Mulanovich's boyfriend, a surfer named Scott from Los Angeles, had been holed up in her condo for weeks after getting salmonella poisoning from bad mayonnaise.

The enterprising and friendly locals, however, make up for the lack of infrastructure. The town's surf museum, for example, is actually the private home of an old-school surfer, José A. Schiaffino. I stumbled upon the 1950s surf shack one afternoon while walking back from the
beach. Mr. Schiaffino wasn't home, which was too bad because I had heard he mixes a mean pisco sour, but his caretaker let me look around.

The living room wall was plastered with archival photos of the Waikiki Surf Club and the ceiling was covered with colorful boards donated by big name riders like Nat Young, Mark Foo and Ms. Mulanovich — a makeshift hall of fame.

Peru's love affair with surfing actually dates back to the 1940s, when the playboy socialite Carlos Dogny returned from Hawaii with a shiny wooden board given to him by Duke Kahanamoku, considered the godfather of modern surfing. In 1942, Mr. Dogny founded the elite Waikiki Surf Club in Miraflores, a ritzy suburb on the southern outskirts of Lima, where Peru's ruling families rode the swells and got tipsy in the clubhouse on pisco sours. (The club still employs "board boys" who rush to the water's edge to carry and wax members' boards when they're done with a session.)

The club placed Peru firmly on the international surf map and played host to the World Surfing Championships, which was won by a local big-wave rider, Felipe Pomar, in the 1960s. But by the 1970s, the sport's reputation sagged as it became associated with dropouts and druggies, and surfing largely lost it cachet.

About the same time, the country became marred by economic woes, political repression and terrorism. Between 1980 and the early '90s, the Maoist guerrilla group Shining Path waged war against Peruvian society, killing tens of thousands of peasants and small-town leaders, and turning Lima into a fiery battleground.

"Back then there was a curfew at 1 a.m.," said José de Col, a pro surfer who quit the sport in the '80s to become an architect because there was little sponsorship money in Peru. "We couldn't have parties. Blackouts and bombs were part of daily life."

Things began turning around and, in the last few years, Peru seems to have planted a 180-degree aerial. The country has stabilized politically under the new president, Alan García, though soaring food prices have driven his popularity down. Despite high rates of poverty (almost half the nation lives below the poverty line), Peru's economy has grown steadily, providing a much-needed morale booster and, for surfers, an excuse to get back into the water.

After spending a day playing sand bunny in Punta Hermosa, and watching the competitions from the safety of my towel, I was itching for my own adrenaline rush. So the next morning, I hired a taxi and set out on an hourlong journey to Cerro Azul, a mellow break immortalized in a line from the Beach Boys' 1962 anthem, "Surfin' Safari."

After maneuvering through four police checkpoints (shakedowns are common along the Pan-American Highway), we pulled up on a dirt road to the port town. Cerro Azul felt abandoned, like a Western ghost town, except for a few shiny condos and the lazy sounds of salsa lulling through the hot dusty air. The shoreline, however, buzzed with anticipation. True to its reputation, the break had a mellow but perky wave that rippled around a jagged point as though made in a water-park wave pool. I paddled out, staked my spot among the teens, moms and old
timers, and caught a few rides before moving on to the next break down the coast.

As much as I liked paddling along southern Peru, the word on the shore was that any surf safari must also include a visit to Máncora, a small fishing village in northern Peru near Ecuador. It enjoys an almost mythic reputation among surfers for its balmy water, endless sunshine and crowd-free breaks. "Una paradiso!" my new friends would say between sets.

But it didn't seem that way at first. I flew on Aerocondor, onboard a clunky plane that still had ashtrays in the arm rests, and landed in Talara, an industrial port city whose airport is now temporarily closed. The region, with a brown dirt terrain as monotonous as a broken record, is the center of Peru's oil industry. Giant rigs scar the landscape like mechanical mosquitoes and perfume the air with the fetid scent of raw petroleum.

After an hourlong taxi ride, I arrived in Máncora, which looked like a blink-of-an-eye frontier town until I wandered out to the beach. Nubile surfers in string bikinis lounged under palm trees sipping coconuts, taking turns paddling out into the crystal blue ocean. It felt like that secret spot in "The Beach," the 2000 movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio, except it was not quite a secret.

Máncora has been transformed in recent years from a sleepy fishing village into a busy, international backpacker hub. After dark, the town's sole street turns into a total party, with flotillas of surfers, weekenders from Ecuador and girls in slinky tank tops getting tipsy at bars like Iguanas and Chill Out. There are also several amazing restaurants in town, serving the nouvelle Asian-Peruvian fusion known as novoandia. La Sirena, run by Juan Seminario Garay, a
28-year-old local surfer who studied at Le Cordon Bleu in Lima, serves dishes like causa maki, dollops of mashed potatoes filled with scallops mixed in a red and yellow pepper sauce.

In the morning, the action moved to the beach, especially at the main surf break in front of the Hotel del Wawa, a small hotel and restaurant owned by the hunky surf pro Fernando Paraud, who is known simply as Wawa. "Every day is like a weekend," said Wawa, who was holding court at his usual table. "Except weekends are more crowded."

STILL, the restaurant was packed wall-to-wall on a recent Thursday afternoon with surfers waiting out the high-noon sun and low tides. Over delicate plates of smoked carpaccio and seared tuna steaks, they traded gossip on the day's best swells and near collisions in the lineup. Then, when the tide finally broke around 4 p.m., everyone put down their forks, grabbed their surfboards and headed back to the water in choreographed unison.

It felt like a scene from a Broadway musical, especially when cheers of "Oy!" "Va!" "Ey!" would wash over the crowd like the chorus of a reggaetón song.

I followed them in. The waves were as gentle and as well-formed as the famously friendly breaks at San Onofre or Waikiki. And almost as jammed. Luckily there was a chain of hidden beaches just a hop away.

After bumming around Wawa for a couple of days, I hired a local surf guide nicknamed Pulpo to show me around. He drove me 10 miles in his teal-blue van to Los Organos, an abandoned oil town with a couple of new beachside hostels.

There were no more than a dozen other riders on the surf. I took my board into the water and waited for my wave. It didn't take long before I caught one that was head high with a defined peak that tapered off to the right into a long shoulder — perfect for cutting and carving long arcs.

Pulpo seemed impressed because he took me 45 minutes farther south to Lobitos, a hard-to-find break tucked at the end of a ragged dirt road. There were oil pumps, rusty pipelines and crumbling military barracks, some of which had been taken over by squatters and turned into surfing hostels decorated with bumper stickers. I poked my head inside one: several blond French girls were having lunch with their dreadlocked Chilean boyfriends.

Eating would have to wait. We pulled up over the dirt and parked alongside the deserted beach. I pulled out my chunky 7-foot-6-inch rental board with trepidation. The beach looked like a small swatch of an industrial wasteland: a couple of oil barrels with flames flickering on top, and a few giant rigs on the horizon. But the waves, it turned out, had a perky, fun shape. Really fun, in fact. And the water was a seductive clear blue. Pulpo smiled. He had promised me a crowd-free break that was off the grid, and here it was.

I rode the swells for several hours, forgetting about the ominous oil barrels and, apparently, the time. Pulpo called me in. There was another spot up the road that was even better.



Several airlines including Continental, American and LAN Airlines fly direct from New York area airports to Lima, starting at about $650 for travel next month, according to a recent online search. To get to Máncora in the north of Peru, fly from Lima to Piura on Aerocondor (; 51-1-614-6014; $244 round trip), and then take a two-and-a-half-hour taxi ride to Máncora (about $50).

Punta Hermosa


Casa Barco (Avenida Punta Hermosa, 340; 51-1-230-7081; is a modern but charming 25-room hotel with a swimming pool and views of the surf breaks. Doubles from $55.

Hard-core surf safarians bunk up at the no-frills hostel Luisfer Surf Camp (a block off the main beach, Calle 1 — look for the concrete wall with the giant wave mural; 51-1-230-7280), which offers Polynesian-style décor and meal times based on the tides. Bunk rates are $16 a night and include three meals a day.


A lively evening scene can be found at Donde Luis (Frente la Playa Punta Hermosa), an Argentine-run cafe filled with antique furniture and surfers dressed up in their best flip-flops. Dinner, including delicious pizzas, salads and wine, about 50 sols (about $18.20 at 2.75 sols to the dollar).

El Piloto (Panamerica Sur, Kilometer 138, San Luis; 51-1-284-4114) is a classic 1940s roadside restaurant with murals of bullfighters, bamboo ceilings and long tables of families and truck drivers sharing ceviche (55 sols) and the spicy river shrimp (also 55 sols.)

The Kon-Tiki Surfboards Museum on the main beach in Punta Hermosa doubles as the private home of the surfer José A. Schiaffino. There's an impressive collection of vintage surfboards, archival photos and other memorabilia.

There are no surf shops in Punta Hermosa, so if you need gear try Klimax in Miraflores (José Gonzales, 488; 51-1-447-1685; It offers a good selection of locally made Boz wet suits and surfboards, including short boards designed by the champion surfer Gabriel Villarán, starting at 542 sols.



The epicenter of the local surf scene is Del Wawa (Avenida Piura, Frente al Point;, a small hotel with an excellent beachside fusion restaurant and lots of hammocks. Surf lessons are $15 an hour or board rentals $5 an hour. Doubles start at $25.

An upscale alternative is the Sunset Hotel (Avenida Antigua Panamericana Norte, 196;, a boutique hotel with six suites, a secluded beach and a romantic restaurant perched on a cliff. Doubles start at $73.


La Sirena (Panamericana Norte, 316: 51-19-9811-5737) serves exquisite nouvelle Asian-Peruvian fusion, known as novoandia, in a little garden off the main drag. Dinner for two with wine, 108 sols.

El Tuno (Panamerica Norte, 233; 51-19-9408-2410) is a bright orange Peruvian-Italian restaurant that features an accordion player and specialties like tuna tartare with shaved avocado and mango salsa (50 sols).

Soledad Surf Shop (Avenida Piura, 316) sells a full range of gear for men and women such as rash guards, flip-flops and waterproof sun block.


In the north of Peru, try booking Octopus Surf Tours based in Máncora (51-19-9400-5518; Marco (Pulpo) Antonio Ravizza knows all the secret breaks and cevicherias: $895 for the week, including lodging, three meals a day and all gear.

For lessons and guides in the south, near Lima and Punta, call the former national surf champion Luis Miguel (Magoo) de la Rosa (; 51-19-9810-1988), who has the insider tips and water smarts.

JULIA CHAPLIN is a frequent contributor to the Travel section.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Advice: Friend's X

This is a new feature that I'm going to try out. It's basically just where I will be grabbing random advice out of daily life and mentioning it here. It's something that I've thought about doing for a number of years, but didn't have a good forum for it until now.

This first one was spurred by an episode of CSI: Miami. This applies mostly to high school/college, but does have some carry over beyond that as well.

If you are dating someone and you break up or are having a hard time. If your friend asks you if it's OK for him to date her... NEVER say yes. Nothing good can come of it.

If your friend was dating someone and they broke up. NEVER ask your friend if it's OK if you start dating their X. They might do something stupid and actually give you the OK. Don't believe it, because it's not OK.

Monday, March 24, 2008

My experience with the Panamericana Sur in Lima, Peru.

Well this summer we stayed in a beach apartment in Punta Hermosa (43 km south of Lima). This meant that I was constantly driving into Lima for various events, dinners, and errands. These are some of my observations and comments about that experience.

Closest supermarket -
E-Wong Caminos del Inca. Asia would seem like the obvious choice when staying on the beach, but it's actually closer (35 km, S/. 3 toll) and faster to head back towards Lima than to go down to Asia (45 km, S/. 11 toll).

Toll booths -
Don't believe the lights. Half the time there are large green lights right behind signs that show the lane to be closed (you can see the light from a much greater distance). The people who work them generally seem efficient and nice enough. Overall the lines always moved quickly (nothing even close to the horrible lines in Mass or NY) and there were never any major delays.

Sundays -
On this day everything gets crazy (at least during the summer). The morning commute is changed to include the entire Panamericana Sur going south out of Lima. Anyone who wants to go to the north to Lima, has to take the Antigua Panamericana Sur. The Antigua is in total disrepair and doesn't look like it has had any real work done in years. Many areas along the road are extremely dangerous and the road has almost no signs telling you how to get to Lima or how to stay on the Antigua Panamericana Sur. Generally there are a good deal of Police in the area so you can ask them where to go.

The Antigua Panamericana Sur has one lane in each direction. So passing is possible, but extremely difficult on Sundays due to the high traffic. If you leave Lima in the afternoon and go to the south, you need to take the Antigua Panamericana Sur because the real Panamericana Sur is changed to have all lanes going North! For the Antigua Panamericana Sur, going south and going north have completely different routes. Going from Lima to the south on the Antigua Panamericana Sur is by far much more dangerous (not to mention it is afternoon/night). The roads going to the south are full of huge holes and many of them are unpaved. It goes right through some of the poorest and most dangerous shanty towns in Lima (Villa Maria, Villa El Salvador). Going to the south, it's much longer and much harder to find Police. There are almost no signs that indicate how to get to the south.

If you are a weekend traveler coming from Lima, this is great. You can quickly get down to the beach in the morning and make it back into town the same night. This is especially popular with the working class who work Mon-Sat in Peru. Many of the visitors to the beach on this day are maids, taxi drivers, bus drivers, factory workers, etc. I believe all lanes are open to the South from 7am until noon. Then I believe that all lanes are open to the North from 2pm until 7pm. These times change often and are not consistent, but they give a general idea.

In the end, this restricted a lot of my activities on Sundays. This meant that driving into Lima on a Sunday was a massive pain in the ass. The commute time getting there goes from 30-45 minutes up to 1.5 hours. The commute time getting back goes from 40-50 minutes to 2 hours. Sunday is a good day for resting and, for me, driving almost 4 hours is not resting. Staying at the beach also is not a great idea for Sundays. It's crowded, noisy, and the waves are too crowded to surf safely.

Road crossings -
%&@*%@^(%*^! It's extremely dangerous just to drive on the roads. The speed limits range from 80 Kph to 100 Kph. This means that the drivers go between 100-150+ Kph. The highway changes from 4-5 lanes on each side down to 2 on each side. It only changes to 1 lane per side when you get down past Asia. There are stairways and bridges for crossing the road every Km (half mile) or so. People are constantly complaining in both the newspaper and the radio about how there are not enough of these bridges. But the people seem to rarely use them. I've seen people carrying 100 lb sacks of rice across 4+ lanes of highway only 20 yards from a pedestrian bridge. Every day there are news stories about people dying when they try to cross the highway and don't use the bridge.

My main concern has been that at night time there is little lightning past Chorillos and Villa El Salvador. There are also a lot of trees and fences. This means that it's hard to see people in the dark and often they can be hidden behind obstructions. Often they don't look carefully with crossing. You can obviously avoid a lot of them, but if you hit just one, what happens? They are breaking an 'unenforced law' by crossing the street, jumping the fences, and not using the pedestrian bridges. Also they are not crossing at any kind of crosswalk. From the lawyers I have spoken with so far (none specialized in these cases), they seem to consider it the driver's fault no matter what. There is some belief here that it is the people's native right to cross the road when they want to and that 'western laws' don't apply to people who have 'different beliefs'.

I'm still investigating this as I just can't understand that logic or how it could possibly work in a city of almost 8 million people. A few lawyers that I've spoken with have told me that as a gringo, it would be best if I left the country and never came back if I was to kill someone accidentally on the highway. They believe that I would be put into an overcrowded Peruvian jail even if I was innocent. The jails here currently hold 44,000 people and were built to house 23,000 people. Obviously conditions are on the edge of humans rights abuse. So going to jail in Peru is a major concern. So what should someone do? Most commutes to the south are around 30-90 minutes. You could go way under the speed limit just to be safe (but get harassed by people honking at you as they fly by at twice the limit) and double your travel time. But going 'slow enough' to be safe from people crossing the road from behind trees and such causes a dangerous situation with other drivers who are going twice the speed limit. They aren't ready for a car going so slow and could possibly collide with you.

Really as far as I can tell at the moment there is no good solution. The government certainly hasn't done enough to help the situation. People crossing the road 'illegally' are almost never punished or even warned (they do it right in front of police). Some areas lack enough bridges. Speeding is not enforced by the police (I've seen cars go past parked police vehicles at over 200 Kph). Most of the police vehicles on the highway aren't highway ready and could not maintain a pursuit. Many of them are just parked there but barely run at all. I've seen many on the shoulder of the road motoring along at max speed of 40 Kph. If they can't even keep their trucks running, do you think they have speed radars? No!

It's the wild wild west of highways. Cuidao!

I'll add some more to this as I get time. I also plan to post an entry for 'Experiences Living in Punta Hermosa'.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Jellyfish invade San Bartolo!

Well I had been surfing at San Bartolo for a couple of weeks with no real problems. I found it to be my favorite beach in the area. I'd see a jellyfish or two every day, but mostly in the calmer waters that weren't used for surfing.

Then all the sudden last weekend the jellyfish showed up in force! There were tons of them all over the place, near the shore, along the jetties, in the surf, etc. Earlier this week, I went out to try to surf with just some board shorts and a rash vest. I could barely look at the incoming waves because I was surrounded by huge (~2 foot diameter w/ 4 tentacles about 1 meter each) jellyfish (malaguas, aguamalas, yellyfish, medusas)! I asked some of the locals in the water about the sting and I was told that it hurt badly. Every time I looked for a wave and then looked back around my board, I'd have a jellyfish only 1-3 feet away from me. When I'd finish a wave, I'd always end up right next to more jellyfish.

I decided to leave the water early and come back next time with a full wet suit. But that night I read all kinds of stories about how people had duck dived waves and ended up with jellyfish stings on their faces and eyes! Some people's eyes swelled up so big that their forehead connected to their cheek bones. Others have vision loss...

The next day I headed back to San Bartolo with my full wet suit to see how things were going. There were even more jellyfish than the day before. Just from the jetty, I could see at least 30 large jellyfish. At this point some of them had started to wash up on the beaches and the rocks. So they are slowly being ripped apart and dying, but I just checked again today and there are plenty still in the water. It's not safe for people swimming because so many are in the waves breaking onto the beach.

In my research, I found that Australia has jellyfish problems in January (sometimes they come in late December, like 2006). I imagine the same applies to South America. It looks like they are a little late this year due to La Niña keeping the water temps down (showing up in early February 2008). Many public beaches in Australia have surface nets setup just to catch jellyfish so that they won't wash up on shore. This is because Australia has the most deadly and painful species (Man 'o War/Blue Bottle and Box Jellyfish). I guess that sea turtles and sun fish eat jellyfish, but I'm not sure what else does. The ones washed up on shore don't seem to get much attention from the birds or the flies. Some Chinese (and other Asian) foods include parts of the jellyfish.

From what I've been reading, they should die off in a couple of weeks and no longer be a problem. But it stinks waiting for them to die, many of the locals don't seem to care and the lineup still seems to be busy. But I've also seen a number of locals with some pretty big scars on their chests and backs, not sure if they are from jellyfish though. The water is crystal clear and the waves are great! Die jellyfish die!

If anyone knows the species or has information on the jellyfish in these photos (have you been stung by one?), please let me know!

Monday, January 28, 2008

National Surfing Tour - San Bartolo - Finals

The finals for the Peruvian Surfing National in San Bartolo completed this Sunday. I made it down to check things out and get a few pictures (better action shots in the link above). It was a beautiful sunny day and the waves were perfect most all day.

Looking down on the competition.

Public beach to the south totally packed.

The main platform with Caballitos de Totora.

Part of the Longboard semi-finals.

Boys Sub-12 year old finals.

Boys Sub-16 Final.

Gabriel Villaran in Men's Open semi-final.

Wayo Whilar talking to Gabrien Villaran after semi-final heat.

Sebastián Alarcón Mens Open Winner
(2007 National Champion).

Magoo de la Rosa taking photos.
Sofia Mulanovich
(far left) resting on the sand with friends.

Gabriel Villaran (left) and Sofia Mulanovich (top right) watching the finals.

2008 National Surfing Events Poster and competition dates.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

2nd National Surfing Tour Event - San Bartolo

The first day of the Nationals in San Bartolo was Friday. I made it down there to check things out around 8:30am. The event started a bit late (8:45am or so) and things seemed to be getting setup still during the first hour of the event. It looked like the municipal workers slept in a bit as the trash cans showed up and public bathroom was unlocked around 9:30am. It was a beautiful sunny day and the waves were perfect (5-6 ft w/ light offshore wind).

I only saw the sub-16 boys though as I had to head back to work. Hopefully I can catch some of the longboard and master's events on Sunday.

Friday, January 18, 2008

La Bodega de la Trattoria

We've been to the La Trattoria di Mambrino many times in the past and have enjoyed every visit. This review covers our first visit to the Bodega which is located near Huaca Pucllana. It was a weekday night around 6pm.

There is an outdoor patio which has a nice view of the huaca and a grassy park area. It's a quiet area and feels a bit like a European cafe. They have magazines to look at while you wait and there is a cafe display for desserts and pastries. There was a dimly lit back dinning room that was very elegant looking, but we decided to enjoy the nice day on the patio.

We started out with a piadina completo which comes topped with 2 sections; sun dried tomato and Ugo's pesto. Each piece had a nice piece of tasty piquillo pepper. It was an amazing appetizer and we would have gladly ordered seconds.

For the main course, I had a tiradito of lenguado and my wife had a tartar of salmon and tuna. The tiradito was pretty much perfection in the mix of the spices and flavors. I personally like it a little spicier though. The meat was thinly sliced, carpaccio style, perfectly Italian but not very filling. The tartar had a touch of spice to it. Both the salmon and the tuna were fantastic and had strong flavors. My wife was very happy with it (the only better tartar that we've had was of scallops at the Observatory in the Miraflores Park Hotel).

For dessert, we had a vanilla cheesecake with a raspberry sauce. I'm a very big critic of cheesecake as I've tried them all over Peru and have almost always been disappointed. Many of them don't even use cream cheese. The bodega was an exception. The cheesecake was perfect and extremely satisfying. There was a good flavor of cream cheese that I really enjoyed.

The bathrooms were well stocked and clean, but a little cramped. The prices were reasonable and certainly were exceeded by the extremely high quality of the food. The service was good overall, but the waiters were a bit busy (most of the tables were filled).

Quality: 10
Flavor: 10
Presentation: 10
Selection: 9
Value: 9
Environment: 10
Bathrooms: 8
Overall: 10

Vivaldi, San Isidro

We've been to Vivaldi on Camino Real a few times now. This is the review of our latest visit. It was a weekday night around 8pm.

The menu selection is huge with a mixture of Peruvian and international dishes. It's hard to decide what you want to try. The environment is comfortable, but feels a bit dated (as if the restaurant was a big hit and brand new looking about 10 years ago). The service was pretty bad as the waiter forgot to bring my water for about 20 minutes and I was unable to flag him down to remind him. Also it took about 10 minutes to get his attention for the check, which he forgot, and then took another 30 minutes to finally get it. Much of our total time in the restaurant was spent trying to get the waiter's attention. The restaurant had some sort of small party going on in the central room, but the restaurant was not full and there seemed to be plenty of wait staff working.

We started off by splitting a chef's salad that was supposed to be topped with quail eggs. But when it was brought out, there was only a small piece of sliced chicken egg. The quail eggs give a distinct flavor (in addition to being more healthy) and were one of the main ingredients listed in the menu. I was a bit upset that they didn't even mention the problem before brining out the salad (as if I wouldn't notice). After I brought it up to the waiter, he explained that they were out of quail eggs and he brought me a whole hard boiled chicken egg.

I had a ceviche of white scallops (conchas) and my guest had a tiradito of lenguado. The tiradito didn't quite melt in your mouth and the flavor was a bit off. The conchas were huge, but tasted like they were too old or bad in some way, they didn't have the normal sweet flavor.

The poor quality of the food and the service had us leaving very unsatisfied and unhappy. It's possible to find much better seafood in a normal (cheaper) cevicheria. While Vivaldi may serve a large menu of different foods, seafood certainly doesn't appear to be their specialty.

The bathrooms are nice, clean, comfortable and well stocked.

Quality: 7
Flavor: 6
Presentation: 6
Selection: 10
Value: 7
Environment: 7
Bathrooms: 8
Overall: 6

Magma, Costa Verde

We've been to the Magma just off Larco Ave in Miraflores a couple times. This was our first visit to the Magma that's connected to Costa Verde restaurant.

We started off with soups, Shitake and Miso. Both soups were good and served promptly. The table was a bit annoying though as it would almost tip over with the slightest lean on one side.

We had come really wanting to have some tuna. My wife ordered the Mango Maguro (only warm tuna dish), but after a few minutes was told that the tuna in stock was a bit small so it might be better to get some Salmon or Lenguado (sole/flounder). We really wanted the tuna and in the end they were able to make it happen. The dish turned out to be pretty good, but more of a Japanese style (small thin cuts) than we were hoping for (something more like a braised tuna steak).

We also had some lenguado in a Japanese wine sauce (mirim) and BBQ'd octopus in a sweet and sour sauce. The lenguado was good sized and the flavor was quite good, but there were some bones. The octopus was incredibly tender and tasty! The only complaint was that it was only 1 tentacle of a medium octopus, so slightly less meat that I would have liked. This was remedied though by the rice. The dishes came with Thai rice (peppers, green bean pods, etc) and Magma rice (salty w/ pecans). The Thai rice was really tasty. The Magma rice was good, but much too salty. They were both extremely heavy (thick and sticky to be eaten with chopsticks) and filling.

Unfortunately, they had run out of green tea (which seems really bad for a sushi / Japanese place). It was pretty disappointing. We ended up having some maracuya (passion friut) juice and lemonade, both were good. My wife had a Chardonnay, Navarro Correas (Argentina), while it was served cold, the wine itself wasn't anything special.

The bathrooms had a fancy fountain type sink that was pretty nice to use, but they had completely run out of paper towels (in both men's and women's) and there was no other way to dry your hands (wife had to use toilet paper). This was during prime dinner time (9-10pm) on a Thursday night.

Back on the positive side, they have a really nice saltwater fish tank that separates the bar and the dinning area. They have 4 colorful and interesting fish (3 of them the same). It's a nice touch but certainly not anything exciting to real saltwater tank enthusiasts.

The music was electronic and really had a good fun vibe going the whole time we were there. We didn't use the lounges (some nice red and black leather couches) but they looked quite nice for getting together with friends for drinks. Good environment for the late 20s - 40's crowd, but not a family oriented place. Many of the tables offer a nice view of the Costa Verde (towards Miraflores/San Isidro). Service was not outstanding, but it was certainly was good.

Quality: 9
Flavor: 7
Presentation: 9
Selection: 6
Value: 8
Environment: 9
Bathrooms: 6
Overall: 8

Cafe Del Mar (CDM), Asia

We've been to the CDM in Lima a couple times, but every time we've tried to goto CDM Asia over the last couple years it has been closed. We finally found it open this last Friday night. Apparently their hours are 9pm-closing only for Friday and Saturday. We showed up at 8:45pm or so and they were kind enough to seat us a few minutes early, but only after we asked if they were open. The door was open but as we approached people to be seated they seemed to just walk away and ignore us. We got to see some of their setup work, preparing for Blueberry and Claro events.

EXPOSURF and a Fashion Show were both happening in Asia this weekend so we expected possible crowds. But it turns out that Friday night was fairly slow. After our dinner (almost 11pm) there still were not many people around or in CDM (3 other couples).

The menu had good variety and really interesting dishes, but the prices seemed at the top end of expectations. We started things out with a salad with bbq'd octopus. It was fantastic. I ordered the Tuna 'a la brasa' and it did not disappoint at all. The price was high but the product was of equal quality. It literally melted in our mouthes and the accompanying pesto sauce was a nice tough. The presentation was great.

My wife ordered an interesting personal thin crust pizza. It came with Japanese style smoked salmon, capers, sour cream, and raw sliced white onion over a white sauce. The price for the personal pizza was reasonable and the product itself was good, but not amazing. I didn't mind the raw onions, but my wife wasn't real happy about them being raw.

The service was very good. They had about 8-10 waiters for 2-3 couples though the night, so many of them were helping out with each table. The bar looked quite well stocked, but I wasn't pleased to find that they did not have Coke Zero. My wife's white wine was really good. While we weren't fully satisfied after the meal, we decided to find dessert somewhere else due to the high prices.

I've decided to add a new rating to my reviews, bathrooms. This isn't a big deal in the US, but in Peru it has proven to be something that is very often overlooked in public restaurants. In this specific case, the bathrooms looked a bit fancy like you might find in NY (co-ed with the glass that 'fogs up' when you close the door). But this was the budget version of that, the glass stayed 'fogged' at all times and there was only one hand soap dispenser for the entire co-ed sink. Also though I didn't need it, I was disappointed to see such a high end restaurant that did not have toilet seats. My wife's bathroom did have a seat, but mine did not.

Quality: 9
Flavor: 9
Presentation: 10
Selection: 10
Value: 6
Environment: 9
Bathrooms: 5
Overall: 8