Here are some more of my musings on the variety that is South America. Read about the street food, the security and the wheelbarrow boys in this, the second in my series of Funky Facts.
1. Wheelbarrow boys
At the local market there is no need to lug heavy bags home or look super-weird trailing one of those granny trolleys behind you. Here you just need to hire a wheelbarrow boy. They will follow you around for a small fee, collecting your bags of dirt cheap fruit and veg and then come to the edge of the market where you hail a cab and load everything into the back. Seemingly hundreds of them scoot about the market at top speed in their welly boots, yelling at you to get out of their way. They come in all age and sizes so you can pick one to suit – just make sure that you keep clear as they come barging through.
2. Quails Eggs
One of my favourite breakfasts on the walk to work is quails eggs. Ladies sit at their carts with hot water in a pan and peel, peel, peel. For one sol (23p) they will pop six eggs into a tiny plastic bag, squirt in some eye-watering aji (chilli) sauce and hand them over to you with a cocktail stick. Totally scrummy. And guaranteed to make passers-by chuckle as you splutter on the sauce
3. Personal Space
There is a complete lack of awareness of personal space. People will crash into you on the sidewalk (OMG, I have been around Americans too long; I typed that without even thinking of the word pavement), they will stop dead and have a conversation whilst blocking your way or taxis will stop right bang alongside you on the kerb and let passengers out rather than drive on an extra metre. On buses there is no backing off to allow someone space to breathe. People are packed in, groins thrust in faces and I have even had my bottom stroked for the entirety of one journey – although that was less about personal space as somebody having a bit of illicit fun. Children and teenagers drape around each other in bundles, in classrooms they sit as close as possible and nearly everybody greets and leaves each other with a kiss on the cheek and a hug. I like it.
At traffic junctions there are no annoying people waiting to pounce with their buckets of bubbles and squeegee mops. In Peru we have jugglers and break-dancers. I have even seen a little ten year old stand and sing although quite how he expected to be heard above the incessant horns I don’t know. People are very generous and many will give a coin or two before the lights change. Jugglers and dancers at traffic lights are good.
5. My most favourite fast food EVER
I have fallen head over heels in love with Papa Rellanas. These deep fried potato treats are sold on the street for a sol or two. Sometimes they are filled with a little bit of minced meat, occasionally fish and usually with a smattering of chopped boiled egg or some shredded cabbage and an olive inside. Handed out on a tiny tray with a side of shredded white cabbage and of course the ubiquitous aji I could eat these forever and forever. You can keep your McDonalds or KFC – a papa rellana is all that I need for complete food happiness
They are everywhere. Security guards in the parks have them. Cops fondle theirs lovingly. And they all have belts of shiny bullets to go with them. You kind of get used to them although one day that I walked past the bank was rather unnerving. I had hoped to call at the ATM for some cash but a massive armoured truck was parked outside; presumably there was a cash delivery or collection in progress. There were guards everywhere and not just eyeballing the street for threats. No, these were pacing, guns drawn, fingers on triggers, daring anybody to have a go. I decided not to queue for the ATM. Not because I was scared of being accidentally shot but of looking like a complete idiot. If a passing car had backfired as often happened, I would have hit the deck. And as usual there were about thirty people in the queue for the bank along the railings by the ATM – all just waiting and watching for me to dive quivering to the floor. I walked on by that time,
I have already mentioned the quails eggs and papa rellana but everywhere you look in Peru there is an enterprising vendor with a little cart, a supermarket shopping trolley or simply a cool box selling food or drink. Raspidillas – shaved ice coated in sickly sweet yummy fruit syrups drip tantilisingly coldly and attract wasps, and the similar cremoladas – slush puppies for grown ups flavoured with fruit juice are everywhere. Frozen fruit juices and fruit squash are sold in twists of plastic bags for just a few centimos to cool people down and of course melons, pineapples and mame are piled high ready to be chopped and sliced for you.
Rice puddings and jellies gleam jewel like in the sunshine, slices of pigs hearts barbeque smokily on skewers on street corners and milk sits in churns – to be ladled into plastic bags whilst people everywhere are juicing fresh fruits.
Corner shops or bodegas have metal grills across them. Rap on the iron with a coin and the shop keeper may or may not bother to come out from their house behind. If you don’t know the word for what you want point, but even something simple like water is a pantomime. You can’t go in and browse, but need to know the correct brand, size and whether you want it chilled or not. I bought a greetings card once. They were displayed in a nice carousel at the back of the shop. I could see the carousel. Would the shop keeper bring the carousel to me? Of course not! I had to tell her what I wanted the card for and she chose for me!!!! She brought me three different cards making three different trips to the back of the shop. I gave up in the end and just bought the third one regardless.
I can tolerate spiders, snakes and beetles. I don’t mind flies or bees but I detest cockroaches. And the volunteer house was alive with them despite regular dousing with roach killer. Ceckeroches as pronounced in Spanish would jump out of a saucepan as you pulled it from the cupboard or dive at your feet as you lifted the rubbish out to the bins. Monsters would cruise along the skirting boards and baby ones would run around the bookshelf. They no longer make me scream, just shudder.
10. Wolf whistles
I remember being mortified when I had to walk past builders or the mechanics in the garage during the ‘70s and being subjected to wolf whistles or cat calls from the men. Here in Peru, the audible appreciation of the opposite sex is alive and well – some car horns have even been adapted to produce a whistle as drivers pass girls in the street. Hissing and kissing sounds are common and nobody is exempt. It is just a fact of life here. Just don’t react. Walk with your head high and do not twitch jump or snarl.
There are few rules regarding health and safety and few security issues, however you have to jump through hoops to send a parcel abroad. I needed to supply a photocopy of my passport and my fingerprints, as well as a full description of what was in my parcel. I later discovered that I wasn’t supposed to seal the parcel until the lady behind the desk had verified the contents. A shop opposite the Post Office in Trujillo does a roaring trade in passport photocopies and a kiosk inside will sell sellotape and glue so that you can reseal your package. There is a desk where you can ask somebody to sew your parcel securely inside what appears to be a pillow case – your stamps and the address are stuck on the outside of the cotton and this apparently renders your parcel tamper free. Inside the Post Office in Trujillo a lovely brass lion’s head constitutes the post box – with letters and cards deposited through his mouth and then taking four to six weeks to reach Europe
Everything travels by bus. From the large, rather posh luxury coaches with their full cama beds in which you can recline almost horizontally and which have individual TV screens set into the seat-back in front of you, down through the local town buses with their pumping salsa music, holes in the floor and screwdrivers jamming the gearstick into place; to the micros or combis – think a beaten up camper van which is painted in garish colours and with a conductor who hangs out of the side door calling for more passengers even when there is nowhere to physically squash anybody else, buses are the life blood of the South American transport system.
I mentioned the postal system earlier in this article, but many people use the buses to transport goods and important documents. The better bus companies will accept a document or a parcel and for a nominal fee will transport it in the belly of the bus or balance it on the roof of the combi, to be collected the other end by a nominated person.
- Papa is Spanish for potato
- Rellana is pronounced ray-anna
- Cockroaches are truly the most disgusting beasts on the planet