Peru: The First Three Weeks

Hey again.

It’s been a while. I started this blog in 2014 as a way for people to keep up with my travel adventures in New Zealand and Australia, and then completely neglected it for three years. In those three years, I went to Mexico (multiple times), Tanzania, Palm Springs and the UK. And didn’t write about any of it! Whoops. So, here I am, three weeks into a ~6 week Peru trip, and I’ve decided to reverse this trend. Enjoy.

Trip overview

So, Peru. Why Peru? The opportunity came up for me to join up with a “digital nomad”-style tech group in Lima for 5 weeks, and since I’d (a) just quit my job and (b) never been to South America, it seemed like a good idea at the time. I figured I’d be kept on track for continuing to develop my career, and would still have the opportunity to explore the country (and hike through Machu Picchu, a long-time bucket list item).

The group I’m with is called Hacker Paradise. It’s a small-ish group of about 40 people who are mostly all working in tech, and working remotely. Some are self-employed, some are working full-time for companies located elsewhere, and some are students/working on side projects/etc. You pay the group, and they cover accommodations, co-working space fees, and some extras. It’s been a really interesting arrangement, and it’s been good for me – it’s nice to “work” seriously alongside other people who are doing the same thing, and it provides a handy group of friendly, interesting travelers to hang out with and go on short trips with. You may recall that one of the issues I had in NZ was that since I was travelling alone, I had a hard time getting on some tours. HP is in Lima until the first week in May, and then their next trip is to Palermo, Italy – hmmm…. 🙂

I’m with the group until the end of the month (which is already coming up so fast!), and then I’m heading off to Machu Picchu with a National Geographic tour. I’ve already had the opportunity to do many cool things in and around Lima and Peru, both with HP and on my own, and it’s been a great experience so far. Compared to my 8 month solo remote work NZ trip, it’s definitely nice to meet people for the long term and potentially keep working/travelling with them rather than never really getting to know people and feeling alone.

First Impressions

So far, I’m really enjoying my time in Lima. We’re staying in the safest district, Miraflores, which is upscale and pretty cosmopolitan. It reminds me a lot of Auckland. The streets are clean, people are driving nice cars, and good restaurants/bars are everywhere. Barranco, the next district over, is similarly trendy. Think Hintonburg/Westboro for those in Ottawa (maybe Kensington for those in Calgary).

Lima proper, the downtown and historic districts, are more noticeably run-down, but it’s still a bustling centre of commerce and activity. Of the districts mentioned as more unsafe, i.e. Callao (the airport district) and Rimac, I’ve only seen them from a distance.

Traffic here is pretty crazy – everyone uses their horns to communicate, and only the traffic lights are really obeyed (and even that is at about a 75% rate). Lane markings are treated as “guidelines”. Crossing the road can be a heart-stopping proposition! The nice thing about their crosswalks though is that they have both a “don’t walk” and “walk” countdown, so you know exactly how long you’re going to be waiting for the light to change.

Pollution is a problem in the city – probably more so as you get closer to downtown. It’s not as bad as many Asian cities, but a layer of smog settles on everything – buildings, your floors, you. My allergies were pretty aggravated when I first got here, due to the dust and whatever else in the air. You walk across a freshly cleaned floor 10 minutes later, and your feet get dirty. But overall the city “feels” clean, which is a bit misleading.

The weather has been consistently on the hot end of the scale (for a Canadian, anyway), pretty close to +30C during the day and +22 during the nights. There is no AC, almost anywhere. Many people in my building seem to have purchased fans for their bedrooms. I’ve just been leaving the window open during the day and letting it cool down naturally at night. It did take a while to acclimatize though, especially since I came from -10C and snow in Ottawa!

The local currency is the New Peruvian Sole (PEN), and it’s accepted everywhere. It’s not like Mexico or Tanzania where they prefer USD – I’ve really only been using USD for tipping tour guides. The exchange is roughly 1 CAD = 2 PEN, so that’s easy to do the mental exchanging (1:3.1 for the USD though!). There are official moneychangers on almost every street corner in Miraflores. I haven’t used one yet, but I may need to do some conversion soon – I definitely brought too much USD. I’ve been exchanging with some people in Hacker Paradise as they’ve been going back to the States or to other places which do take USD, so that has been helpful as well. The currency’s lowest bill denominator is 10 PEN – everything below that is in coins, including 5 PEN, 2 PEN, 1 PEN, .50 PEN, and .20 PEN. They round pennies. It’s not uncommon to be walking around with 50 and 100 Soles bills, although not everyone takes them (apparently forgeries are common).

Prices here (in Miraflores) have been more or less on par with what I’d expect to pay for similar goods and services in Canada. Most establishments also add their IGV/salestax of 10% into the final price, which is convenient when paying cash. A lot of places also take Visa (but not Mastercard, oddly). Fancy restaurants and tourist destinations take all cards. There are many banks here, including Scotiabank, which has been convenient.

Obviously, the language of the country is Spanish. It seems to be closer to “standard” Spanish than some other South American countries (i.e. Argentina), but still has some quirks. Also, people speak very quickly. Although my ear is slowly getting attuned to the quick Spanish, I’ve definitely had a LOT of “deer in the headlights” moments. Not everyone speaks English, either – most people seem to have a few words, but the ones who will switch to English completely when you look at them blankly are those dealing with tourists or in a tourist-heavy establishment. I’ve been doing my best to speak in Spanish as much as I can when at restaurants, bars, etc., and I’m pleased with how far I’ve come in just three weeks. (Hacker Paradise also pays for group classes, which I’ve been doing). I’ve still got a long way to go with Spanish, but I feel hopeful with the progress I’ve been making so that, at the very least, the next time my family and I go to Mexico and get mistaken for locals, I can possibly respond.

I’m going to stop here for now, but I’ve got much more coming. Stay tuned!

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