It crept up on me, without me realising what had happened until it was too late. The weird and wonderful things that just two months ago had seemed so alien had suddenly become normal.
Here is a Top Ten of things that you may not know about Peru
1. Washing up liquid comes in solid form in plastic tubs. It looks like the 1kg margarine tubs that you would buy in the UK, although its green colour and very strong bubbly smell will ensure that you don’t ever mix the two up. To use, simply swipe the dish washing sponge over the green gloop and take care to rinse thoroughly or you will be tasting it for days. Fairy liquid eat your heart out – this stuff dissolves grease by the bucket load: – and fingernails.
2. Cute and tasty. Don’t be fooled by the cute little guinea-pigs which you see scampering around in their cages. Bubble, Sqeak and Gertrude are not pets. They are dinner. And they will arive at the table looking rather like their former breathing selves but undressed and sort of, well, flat. They sprawl across your plate with eyeless sockets and their itsy bitsy ears. It is as fiddly as hell to get the tiny morsels of meat off their tiny bones, but it is worth it, so swallow your inhibitions and get stuck in. Unless of course you are a vegetarian.
3. All babies and children and I mean ALL babies and children without exception in Peru are stunningly cute, adorable and basically all look as if they should star in the baby ads. They have the longest eyelashes and rarely cry or grizzle. The young ones are often plugged into a breast while mum goes about her daily business but why oh why are the new borns carried and covered under a blanket. It s hot here in the summer so why do they risk cooking their babies?
4. Driving could have a blog entry all to itself. In fact, I think it will some time in the future, but here for now, is a little something to consider. Many people will only have ten minutes behind the steering wheel of a car before being issued with a certificate so it is little wonder that the roads resemble scenes from Whacky Races. If you want to turn left, logic surely says that you should get in the left hand lane and if you want to turn to the right, stay on the right. If you are at a red stop sign there is no need to honk your horn and if I have just got out of a cab why on earth would I want to get straight into another one? I love that rules don’t count for anything here although I do wish that one-way street signs would be observed as that gets a little hairy.
5. Uncooked fish. I like my fish and meat cooked so cebiche was an unexpected hit for me. Raw chunks of fish are ‘cooked’ as they marinate in lime juice. The result is surprisingly unfishy as they explode in your mouth accompanied by a cloud of fresh citrus and finely shredded onions.
6. Walls. Walls are built for the sake of it and in the desert with no visible habitation for miles, somebody will have built a wall. Or to be more precise, four very long walls in a rectangular shape enclosing nothing but empty sand. And then people come and paint the walls white and often add some political slogans in red paint and three foot high letters. The amount of bricks in some of these walls could build a small hotel. I just don’t understand the time and effort put into the walls.
7. White dog poo . Only people over a certain age will appreciate this weird fact. White dog poo. Why is it white and why can it no longer to be found in the UK? No need to dwell any longer on this one. It’s white and on the Peruvian pavements. Fact.
8. Numbers. Shops and public spaces generally have two posters displayed. One shows where the safe area is should there be an earthquake. The other indicates the maximum number of people who should be inside the establishment although I don’t think that the two are linked. The old fashioned barber shop around the corner from me may contain five people. The supermarket several hundred. I don’t know who counts you in and out because the security guards just stroke their guns and try to look cool, but short of an earthquake I can’t think what harm cam come to person number six who decides to join the queue for the barber.
Numbers do not count at all however in cabs or combis. Basically you just keep on shoving until limbs pop out the windows and the conductor is hanging out of the door on the bottom step. Two in a front seat and two in the boot are quite normal in a cab and anything less than five on the back seat is luxury. In the country near Chiclayo people travel on the roof of combis (garishly coloured camper vans) and the man in front of us had a bag of live chickens (including a crowing cockerel) on his lap.
9. Puddles of Blood. Long distance buses will often play a film if they have televisons and decide to ring the changes from ear splitting salsa music,but there is often little concession for children. Horror films are avidly appreciated and blood and guts abound. The front pages of the newspapers usually display the previous night’s body count with little privacy afforded to the poor victims. Perhaps the idea is to shock and discourage crime but I reckon it is just an acceptance of life and death – and a love of the gruesome
10. Full volume. Life is conducted at full volume but nobody complains because nobody notices. From the marines who jog around the city centre at six thirty in the morning chanting marine chants as they stomp through the streets, to the fireworks which are set off at any time of the day or night – it is all perfectly acceptable. Somebody doesn’t answer the front door? Shout. Dogs bark and music blasts out from homes, buses and cars and from our next door neighbour’s ridiculously massive speakers which play all night. But I find the noise strangely comforting and I am learning to sleep through anything.
The above is by no means a conclusive list – I could have added the adult slush puppies, the complete unawareness of the concept of personal space or menus which just about everybody eats for lunch and cost just a pound. But after just two months here my senses have readjusted and this is the normal