“There Are Going to be a Lot of Surprises This Weekend”

“There Are Going to be a Lot of Surprises This Weekend”

¨How do you manage to do it?” June asked when I told her that Ana and David had invited me to go to their ocean-front house for the weekend. “You move around all over the world and always meet such interesting people.”

“We still talk about your friends in Casablanca,’ she continued.

The Cook family – June, her late husband George, daughter Nancy, son-in-law Nelson and grandson John – visited me in Casablanca in 2010.

John, Nancy, Nelson, George, June, J
John, Nancy, Nelson, George, June, J

As I lived in Derb Omar in the old part of the city, we were well off the tourist trail.

“Remember when your friend invited us to her villa? We couldn’t believe the opulence – the massive furniture, the plush rugs and the family portraits. Then the maid served the most delicious sweets. And the tea-pouring ceremony was a work of art.”

Naima pouring tea.
Naima pouring tea.

I smiled as I remembered the afternoon when Hadjia Naima invited us to visit. That evening I took the entourage to the Churchill Club where they were impressed with Judge Bouchid and Jalil.

The Churchill Club in Casablanca
The Churchill Club in Casablanca







Yes, I do manage to find spectacular people.

The invitation

“Ana is a friend of Alvaro’s – even though he hasn’t seen her in 40 years — so he gave me her phone number. She is a very talented artist and we collaborated on an article.”

Ana’s email instructed me to meet them at La Baguette in Miraflores at 10:30 on Saturday morning. Vale. Details like where we were going or how long we would be gone weren’t important.

Over breakfast at the restaurant I asked Ana about our destination and she shook her head.

“That is still a secret, but there will be a lot of surprises this weekend.”

“Fantastic. Count me in.”

The surprises start

The first one likely wasn’t on the list.  David got behind the wheel and we headed out of the city. He drove well and confidently.

After the kamikazes and Formula One bus drivers of Medellin, it was a delight to just sink back in the seat without being bounced around to the point of acquiring bruises.

We stopped at a market in Mala, a small town on the way to their house. Shades of Placita de Florez. I trailed after Ana as she bought fish, vegetables and flowers.

Ana picking out the fresh fish she wants.
Ana picking out the fresh fish she wants.


The bustle and life of markets is the pulse of the country. Fresh, cheap, in-season and where the real people shop. Supermarkets are sterile, non-interactive and dull. Spare me. img_0003





Just before we arrived there were two tunnels cut through the underside of the mountains.

Cut through the rock.
Cut through the rock.

My first experience in raw boulders.  Much more beautiful and rustic than the cement covered versions as it lets people see exactly how much work it was to create the passage.




The house

Then we arrived at their house. Mansion might be more descriptive as it sleeps up to 14 people. It was huge and filled with Ana’s art. And it opened onto the beach. I breathed in the sea air and slid into relax mode.

The house/mansion.
The house/mansion.


A lounge to sink into.
A lounge to sink into.






An hour or so after we arrived, David and Ana went for a swim. img_0008Temperature wimp that I am, I managed to get my ankles wet. It was relaxing and reflective to stroll along the beach and dig my toes into the sand at sunset.

The food

Ana organized the food she had bought and prepared a gourmet fish dinner. Not exactly a surprise, as I suspected she was adapt in the kitchen.

Ana pouring rose. Note the table and chairs she designed.
Ana pouring rose. Note the table and chairs she designed.

While the quality of her meals was well out of my league – hey, I do a great boiled egg – I am an appreciative eater. I would have asked for her recipe for preparing fish that is similar to ceviche, but different, except that the chances of me getting it right are limited.

Hand-painted plates.
Hand-painted plates.






Both Ana and David are polyglots and worldly. They met when Ana was studying in Paris and David was working in Germany. About 20 years ago they moved to Lima. So we talked about art, world affairs and whatever other topics that wove themselves into our conversation.

Conversation over diner and a bottle of rose was delightful. While I have met friendly people in Peru, intellectual isn’t exactly an adjective that springs to mind for the locals at the Plaza de Armas in Surco.

Ana and David at lunch.
Ana and David


J and Ana
J and Ana






The ambience

The sound of the waves rolling in was hypnotic.

View from the front door.
View from the front door.
A selfie on the beach.
A selfie on the beach.







The quiet, the peace and the calm wrapped around me like a cocoon. So by about 21:30 I started to yawn.

Early to bed meant an early to rise at about 04:30. I wandered out to look at the ocean. There was a light on the fishing boats pulled up on the shore. Beautiful.

At 06:30 I walked on the beach. Just me and the seagulls. img_0002

After an hour on the shore I curled up on the terrace and surprised myself by finishing transferring Spanish verbs from one book to another. This had been a drag-on project that seemed to go on forever, so it was liberating to get it done.

The unexpected

Having kicked back into totally relaxed mode, I didn’t pay attention to the cupboard next to the bedroom door. So with Spanish books in hand, I whacked my head on the side of it. I must have hit a vein as the blood started to pour down my face. More drama than injury.

I wet my karma – never underestimate the uses of those Cambodian scarves – and David gave me a chunk of ice. Medical incident solved. Note to self: pay attention to space and distance.

The return

After another of David and Ana’s gourmet meals we packed up and headed back to Lima.


As fresh and as tropical as it gets.
Fresh and tropical.

Less traffic, an enjoyable trip.

While it wasn’t unexpected as I knew it would be enjoyable, my weekend at the ocean has been the highlight of my time in Peru.

Intelligent company, gourmet food and all sorts of surprises. Really, does it get any better?


Sussing Out Surco: What are the Secrets?

“Do you get many tourists here?”

Sonia – the waitress at La Taverna bar – shook her head.

Only a block from the center of the suburb and no foreigners? I knew I had found the right neighborhood.

The local where the wine is good.
The local where the wine is good.
At Las Taverna.
At La Taverna.






Escaping Barranco

After three weeks in Ica, I had arrived back in Lima with all my worldly possessions in tow. When I was informed that the apartment in the suburb of Barranco didn’t have wi-fi I should have followed my gut and left immediately. As I see it, no wi-fi is right up there with not having electricity.

I agreed to use a Bitel USB. As near as I can figure out it was powered by a troop of hamsters on a treadmill. Then on the weekends the carers are busy downloading porn movies and the Internet screeches to a virtual halt.

Consequently, I couldn’t work properly. Skype dropped out and my frustration level went up.

 Barranco is touted as being “bohemian.” Perhaps it was in the 1940s, but “bourgeois” and “boring” are more applicable to the residential area where I lived.

Barranco's claim to being bohemian.
Barranco’s claim to being bohemian.

I spent a day in the central square. Lots of cute little cafes and bars, but it didn’t seem to have any substance. Yawn, capital-T Total Tourist.

After a couple of weeks it was a choice of escaping from Barranco or going deep and diagonal.



Moving into Marlene’s

Getting on the Internet I contacted Marlene and she had a room available. It was a touch small, but it had natural light and a desk and chair. Most importantly, however, it had strong wi-fi.

So I walked away from the rent I’d paid at the other place and moved in.

Marlene lived in the United States for 20 years and speaks English. Her 77 year old mother – who is as sweet and unobtrusive as one can be – usually stays for about three days a week.

Marlene and Senora Marina.
Marlene and Senora Marina.

In between there are people who come and go as Marlene has three bedrooms she rents out.

The condo.
The condo.
A comfortable bed to sleep in . . .
and a comfortable bed to sleep in . . .

The kitchen, lounge and balcony are communal space.



space to work . . . and wifi.
Space to work . . . and wifi

And the apartment is only two blocks to the center of the neighborhood.



The Plaza de Armas

The first thing the Spaniards did when they decided on a new settlement was to build the central plaza. As well as being the administrative center, the square also housed the cathedral, the post office and the guns and ammunition. In the case of an attack, all the settlers conjugated there.

The plaza is simply delightful: grass, trees, flowers, benches, people selling street food.


Late one afternoon I was sitting there watching the world go by. I noticed a group of small, medium and big boys kicking around an empty water bottle. No coaches, no referees, no parents and no hassles.

How perfectly refreshing from the western parents who have to drive their kids to practice, watch them play and then attend the matches. Even though I’m not wild about kids, it is encouraging to know that there are still places where the “go outside and play” philosophy reigns supreme.


One evening I heard some music so I followed my ears. There is a small amphitheatre in a corner of the plaza. The employees of the municipality have an informal band and they play there a few times a week.

The dancers were in their 60s, 70s and plus. The grandchildren often hang around to watch. I noticed a lonely looking man so I left my handbag with the woman sitting next to me and asked him if he wanted to dance with me. He said he did, but that he had bad knees and couldn’t.

Not to be deterred – and I was already standing up and looking like an obvious foreigner – I just started dancing with my two left feet. People waved at me to join them.

When the band started packing up I pulled a handful of Canada flag pins out of my handbag and gave one to each of them. Next I gave some to the people I’d been dancing with.

I have a ritual of attaching the pin to the person’s shirt. When I glanced behind me, there was a line-up of people holding out their t-shirts to make it easier for me to give them a pin.

They are a popular item that I give to clerks, waiters, kids and whoever. Quite often I see them weaning them later. Others thank me again a week later. Perhaps I should apply for a Canadian senate position as an ambassador.

The Locals

The usual conversation starter is “Where are you from? France or Italy?” Nobody ever thinks I’m North American and I’m not sure if it is my hair or my nose.

Now that I can chatter away in Spanish like a six or seven-year old, life is easier.

People here don’t have any inhibitions about talking with strangers, so it is easy to be included in conversations.

After only a few days I’d met a number of the locals in the plaza and in the shops and the restaurants.

Teaching English for Alcohol

One evening I’d gone to Louisa’s liquor shop to buy a bottle of wine for dinner. Her 10-year old son was at the counter and struggling with his English homework so I helped him.

I offered to tutor him a couple of times a week. At the end of the first lesson Louisa insisted on paying me. Teachers make about $10 an hour, so we settled on that.

Edwardo and Louisa.
Edwardo and Louisa.

But rather than paying me in cash I offered to take it out in trade as this is a society where goods and services can be exchanged.

Am I the first ESL teacher to work for wine? Doesn’t matter as it is a good story.



In a moment of nostalgia – or sheer stupidity – I booked into the Regina Hotel as it is the name of the capital city of Saskatchewan from hence I come. Lunahuana is about two and a half hours south of Lima and I wanted to get away for a couple of days.

A balcony with a view of the flowering trees and the sand mountains.
A balcony with a view of the flowering trees and the sand mountains.

There were three main features of this hotel. The first was the mosquitoes that attack from 17:00 to 20:00. Although the bites didn’t hurt at the time, the welts lasted for well over a week.

The second was the dogs. At the farm next to the hotel, they have a couple of mutts that howled all night. The third was the roosters that crowed at the crack of dawn.

Lunahuana is for tourists who want to go white-water rafting and/or roaring around on a dune-buggy. I spend some time in the square and bought some bags.

Additions to my bag-lady collection.
Additions to my bag-lady collection.

It was great to get back to Lima for some sleep.

The Year of the Rooster

As 2016 and the Year of the Monkey draws to a close, I am getting ready to head back to Medellin on January 24th. Then the Year of the Rooster – which promises to be less hectic – begins on the 28th.

My sort-of plan is to rent a furnished apartment in Boston, the barrio that has adopted me. Alvaro resigned as my social secretary. He said he was totally over people constantly asking about me and when I was returning while not being the least bit interested how he was doing.

I hope this blog finds you healthy, content and enjoying life. And all the best for 2017 and the Year of the Rooster.