A NYE’s firework standoff in Peru

 

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Mmm….the last piece of panatone. OMG! I just remembered I brought that home last night. It’s hiding in my room somewhere. Aha. Found it. Time to feast.

Blurred from late nights, restlessness, inconsistent yet heavy meals in the limbo after Christmas, I wasn’t sure I wanted to leave the house for New Years Eve.

But the mother of my girlfriend had cooked a roast pork, and I was hungry. So I was lured to the nearby grandparents’ place. I am glad I did, because it was a more sociable time than the New Years Eve before.

There was a lot better food too! There was the pork, some sort of Russian salad, bread, gravy, and rice (of course).

Five minutes before the bell tolled midnight, everyone was handed cute little bags of grapes. “How strange,” I thought, remarking on the ribbon decorating the plastic. So I opened it and began eating.

All the family stared at me and, basically, asked what I was doing. I shouldn’t have been eating the 12 grapes yet.

At midnight on every stroke you have to eat a grape, make a wish, and then eat another. You basically have to shove grapes down your throat to do it in time. I’m not sure the conditions in getting these wishes, and so nobody told me you can’t tell anybody (at least in English), so I wished for health, safety when I travel into the jungle, and happiness, and love, and comfort for my family back home. Damn, I should have asked for a second Nintendo Switch!

 

 

 

The loud banging in the video is from all the fireworks that are going off from the tops of buildings, and in the streets, around us.

And then, if this wasn’t already the strangest thing, everyone grabbed pinches of lentils and shoved them in their pocket or their wallet. It symbolises money.

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I’m unsure if this is traditional Spanish colonial tradition, a remnant from times before, or possibly from the family’s Chinese heritage.

The fireworks continued to crack on the streets and above various houses. It seems from my observations that certainly families or households stock up on their fireworks throughout the year and then, at midnight on Christmas Eve and NYE, let them crack.

 

 

 

But over the years these families have competed with each other with the longest lasting, and the best fireworks displays. Their competition has evolved into fucking mind games with each other in an effort to be the last ones burning up a strong display.

At 12.30am there were two houses in different directions clearly mindfucking with each other, because their displays were fairly quiet. Building A on the far end of the park brought out a great display of gold, blue, and green that would have suited any agricultural show back home in Australia. And then they waited. Waited. Waited for the other building close to another side of the rectangular memorial park to make its move.

They waited. They waited. Waited. Then they let off a few more fireworks, to tempt building B. It was fairly ordinary. Then waited, set off a few more fireworks, and kept quiet. It let off a generous display and then when all was quiet for a while, we retreated indoors to drink any alcohol that remained.

15 minutes later they were all fucking going for it, deafening my ears with their final annual showdown.

This might be my last blog post in a while. I’ll be backpacking through the Amazon for the next three weeks. I’m not taking my laptop and I’m unsure how the reception is going to go.

In a Peruvian country club

THERE is a suburb at the far end of the northern Peruvian city of Trujillo. It is the “posh” suburb, the one that is said with a tone of quiet respect, or with bragging, of with a way of defining someone’s measurement of success, when mentioned. This suburb is called ‘El Golf.’

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It is called ‘El Golf’ because it is built around the country club, which is called the ‘Golf y Country Club de Trujillo.’ Businesses from a 10 minute walk away are willing to label itself as ‘El Golf’ in its title, but it’s not until you get close to the club that the streets are clean and open, with the houses more spacious, neat, and tidy from the front. There are plenty of leafy parks in the side streets, and a fair imitation of architecture from the colonial Spanish days that don’t quite seem to be covered elsewhere. The buildings are built with care, unlike in many other places where there appears to be shortcuts in the incomplete works.

 

I never thought I could get into the club itself, but thanks to my girlfriend’s family I was able to do so today. It was nice! There’s a golf course but I couldn’t determine if it was nine holes or 18. There were at least six tennis courts, an indoor volleyball court, an indoor basketball court, a professional Olympic pool, an outdoor recreational pool, and a gym. There was also a karaoke bar, and several restaurants.

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I was awkward when I came through the doors, mainly because I wasn’t a member myself and I felt like I stood out (white man feeling like a minority and prepared to be challenged and turned away. That’s ironic!), and I felt so self-conscious that everyone was staring at me, more than usual. I think they were, but my girlfriend and I had a wonderful conversation with the tennis instructor (in Spanish), and exchanged a few ‘hellos’ with shy youngsters in the pool who were telling each other to talk to me.

The club has copied the westernised (and American) style very well, to the point that it’s authentic. It’s unlike anywhere else I’ve been here in Peru, but it helps me to understand some of my students that might actually belong to the club. It does feel a bit insulated, especially if they live at the club on their holidays.

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The club’s website says, after translation, “Today we are the most exclusive club in the city of Trujillo, but above all we are the second home of more than two thousand families, who come to these facilities to practice sports, share with their friends and spend unforgettable moments like a big family, the Country Club family.”

I’m extremely sunburned tonight.

Feliz Cumpleaños: The Legend of Peru

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I cannot remember the last time I’ve been so sick after a night out. My girlfriend rubbed my back or sat on the shower floor next to me in the tiny bathroom. “It’s okay,” she said, reminding me that I likely wasn’t going to die, even though it did feel like dying.

When we woke up, gradually, the following afternoon, she said, “maybe you shouldn’t have mixed your drinks.”

It’s my second birthday in Peru, and the plans were almost the same, without realising it until I checked the blog post about it: Feliz Cumpleaños. I didn’t get so sick, but it was a late night involving pisco and pizza.

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There were two observations I made this year about my birthday. The first was that everyone hugs you when they wish you well. And given that I spend my life in relative isolation with only physical touch from one or two people, away from family or the overly familiar bro culture of ‘Strayan blokes, the manly hugs from normally conservative people is actually welcoming.

The second thing I noticed was that when you turn 29, nobody is interested in the fact you have turned 29. It instead is, “wow, not long until you are 30.”

But who cares about 30? I’m 29.

I had invited a bunch of people to a favourite pizza place of mine, and after splitting the bill, most went home. A few of us continued the party at a favourite bar of mine, at the intersection next to the Plaza de Armas. I drank a Machu Picchu and because I held balloons that said ’29’ and wore a crown (corona), I caught the attention of the Spanish singer who constantly asked questions about who my girlfriend was, and where I was from. She tried to get me dancing along with the others, but I preferred to watch. But my refusal to get up and dance with my girlfriend, I sensed, drew some irritation from the crowd.

A year ago all fresh with the novelty of trying to be a new person in a new continent, I would have danced.

That night I preferred not to be the token gringo that couldn’t dance. We watched traditional dances from across the country, before moving on to a place on the other side of town we called ‘the Irish bar’. It wasn’t Irish, exactly. How could it be when the first word of its name began with ‘El’, but because it was green and had that rustic, British colonial vibe to the walls and the roof and the tables and chairs, we labelled it as such.

The night before that I had a small get-together at my girlfriend’s house. We played Jenga and ate burgers (with beetroot from Australia), and Tim-Tam Slams. For a Tim-Tam slam you need a hot chocolate and a Tim-Tam. Use the Tim-Tam as a straw and suck the hot chocolate through it until it’s about the melt and collapse in on itself.

I opened a present from my girlfriend. My favourite thing among the gifts was a shirt that looked like the cover of ‘Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild”, but had been given the Peruvian treatment. Link looked out at Machu Picchu instead of Hyrule, and the shirt said “The Legend of Peru”.

Clowns on a first date

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I HAVE a jumble of Spanish in my head and it feels worse every time I try to speak it.

“Porque, tengo, hace, pasado, fui, estuvo.” 

I feel like a bit of a joke at my place of work and everywhere else around me when I do not understand words, or cannot repeat them.

“Cuanto, mejor, vivo, Quiza, talvez.” 

It has been a busy week at work, and I had a two hour Spanish lesson just before a first date. I was frazzled and wondering how I was going to have the energy to make a good impression.

I am not so good with dates. Especially first dates. And especially in this country. But I had to pull myself together. I took a taxi so I could relax a little about not being late, and I waited at the Plaza De Armas underneath a giant and glorious statue.

And as I sat waiting for my date in my flannie shirt (which I wear when I want to make an impression), I saw a group dressed as clowns or with red noses. And one young man in the group locked eyes with me. He pointed at me and suddenly the group had a target. They had a gringo. They walked up to me with loud musical instruments and they spoke to me. And I understood them. And even if I didn’t they spoke clear English for me to fall back on.

And every time I said something to them, especially in Spanish, it was like it was the most exciting thing in the world to them. A bunch of clowns were making me feel special.

“Nombre?”

“Chris!” I said. And they all exclaimed as if it was an exotic name – which here in Peru it seems to be.

“De Donde Eres?” (Where are you from?)

“Yo Soy Australian (I am Australian).” And the clowns exclaimed again as if I had just announced I was a native of Antarctica.

“Would you like to buy a chocolate?” they asked, and it was only a sol so of course I wanted to. They were just at the point of asking me when my birthday was, when my date arrived.

“Mi compleanos es ocho Noviembre,” I said, but I don’t know if I said that right (actually, I had the number after the month the first time but they kindly corrected me).

“Feliz compleanos!” they said, and burst into excited applause as my date sat next to me with a smile to kiss me on the cheek. And then they sang me a happy birthday even though I turn 29 in eight months.

And then after the song they all took turns giving me hugs. And then when they all hugged me, they started again. I had three hugs from some of them by the time they went away.

And somehow this was the perfect way to meet someone new. The tension had broken before we had even spoke, under the shadow of a giant statue in the middle of a Peruvian square with a bunch of musical clowns wishing me a happy birthday – even though it wasn’t my birthday.

Chasing tail? Chase adventure

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ON weekend nights I was getting dressed up, pre-loading on wine and leaving the house late to try getting laid. I would swipe on Tinder but I am extremely fussy, and so, it seems, are the women around me because the matches were few.

And then I just didn’t know what to write besides a ‘hi, how are you?’ so I didn’t even try talking to the matches. I’ve never been successful on Tinder and any dates that have resulted from it don’t really count given that I have already known the women.

This only happened a few nights and it happened because, well, I was trying to escape being myself. I didn’t want to feel anxious about life. I never came to Peru to look for love or romance, but now after three months I started seeing the beauty of Peruvian women properly.

But something was getting in the way. I would always hold back at the important times, as if I didn’t want sex, or a relationship, or a connection, or whatever it was I was chasing. This had been the case my entire life. What was getting in the way? It wasn’t my looks but something to do with my personality, or my behaviour, or my reactions, or my tendency to overshare depressing crap like this, despite it being tempting to blame it on morality.

But using morality for a reason was just a shield, I realised, to hide from the truth, which is that in my heart I’m a scared, insecure man, trying to figure out what I really want as opposed to what I should have, while also being ashamed or too prideful to express it properly.

What was it I wanted? An unobtainable pedestal to preoccupy me? A challenge? A partner? A friend? Stability? Fun?  An ego boost? Connection? Social acceptance?

I wanted magic. A specific moment with someone that matched to me in every way. Our spark would connect us both to a sense of belonging, a feeling that we are perfect just the way we are.  In other words, that perfect person. It’s not exactly something I have confidence finding on Tinder or in a bar anymore. Once, yes. Not after a few years living in outback Qld.

But it took a friend’s blog about Tinder to help me see myself a little clearer. It helped remind me that gentlemen in this world are appreciated and desired, and that the intentions I was chasing, once I did gain enough confidence to properly pursue it, were going to lead me away from becoming that man. And there is no sacrifice in trying to be this man. The reward is great.

The world admires a Superman. They see the glow in the face and trust it, admire it, respect it, react to it.

Last night I went out to try meeting new friends and conversations in Trujillo. There was no agenda but the pursuit for adventure and opportunity. I went with a housemate and a guy she liked to a few bars. By midnight I was restless, listening to the band as the third wheel, but in a bubble from everyone around me.

A few colleagues were at a bar according to Facebook and it looked like they were having such a fun time, that I tried finding out where they were. One thing led to another and I ditched being a third wheel (a bit of a dick move on reflection but I don’t feel too guilty doing what I wanted) and caught up with a friend, from California, who was about to go to sleep.

We went to a cheap bar and stayed there for a while. The main highlight was some guy on the road throwing rocks or ice, or something, at the door. It nearly hit me and we retreated to another door with the rest of the crowd. Police came and arrested him and we stayed on drinking a little while until we moved onto another bar where we met another friend.

The band was incredible, the lead singer was beautiful, and it rocked out to a mix of Peruvian songs and mainstream classics such as AC/DC’s Highway to Hell. We stood at the best table drinking Budweiser on the second floor directly overlooking the stage, and I even danced Salsa as best I could. I watched the crowd beginning to pair up, the laughter, the companionship, the dance moves, the interactions, and I felt empowered, wondering how the same things I was witnessing from home seemed so inspirational to observe here.

I walked my friend back to her place and went inside to wait for my taxi, where her mother was waiting. I was sensitive to the fact that many mothers might disapprove of daughters bringing home a drunk Australian at four in the morning (even if it was in the spirit of safety and friendship, not other agendas) and so I tried to be as polite and charming as I could. But it was a drunk and clumsy charm and could not be credited for the incredible hospitality of this kind woman, who made me a cheese and ham sandwich, and poured me a few glasses of Inca Cola before the taxi arrived.

I arrived at my apartment door at 5.30am shortly after arguing with the taxi driver over the fare, because I clearly am comfortable being an arsehole. I passed out for a while, made a coffee or two, continued reading a historical book about the Spanish Conquest of Peru, before eventually leaving to buy Maccas and washing powder. I’m at the mall now, listening to Avenged Sevenfold outside a Starbucks where the coffee machine doesn’t even work.

 

 

My first pay check. And how I spent it.

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What I wanted to do most of all was to dress up nice and visit a nightclub, and dance, and have fun, and mingle with beautiful strangers. I wanted a new outfit. I wanted to enjoy myself.

Somehow I’d become too serious and wound up; tightened, tightened, tight.

On Thursday evening I received my first pay in Peru.

I went to the mall and I bought Calvin Klein cologne, and I bought an expensive shirt. It is the most comfortable shirt I have worn. It was the perfect shade of blue that I searched for – that dominant shade that exaggerate my eyes. I bought black jeans and learned my waist size had dropped from 32 to 30. And then I bought red Converse sneakers. I bought everything I wanted (which was a huge chunk of my pay which has to last a month) and dressed up and went out alone.

I only knew of one nice bar in Trujillo that I’d liked, and fortunately for me there was a nightclub next to it. As soon as I walked down the stairs to the underground room across the sticky tiles to the bar I felt like I was at home in Mount Isa. The place looked like the Rish Nightclub. It was perfect. I was used to being at clubs on my own, and I used to be uncomfortable, but to get through it I just had to walk with a swagger and a smirk and watch people, and after a while I learned to enjoy it. I was the only one in the nightclub for a while and so I kept drinking, and I forgot to eat dinner, and eventually the dance floor was packed.

I am comfortable in being alone, and the best place to be alone is in the middle of a crowd, wearing a collared shirt and a smirk.

I walked to the bar the final time for another beer. The barmaid knew my order by heart. I stood back to the bar where it was best to watch the dance floor. The skills of dancing flowed more rhythmic and less disjointed than in the typical Australian nightclub.

And then something happened. There was a girl I started watching out of the corner of my eye. I’m not quite sure how it started but it felt like she was watching me when I was looking away, and I was checking her out when she had stared away. She was tall, shapely, and wore black. She looked like Rosa in Brooklyn 99. I began to make a game of it to see how obvious I could make my glances without getting caught out. Her elbow bumped mine and soon I started mimicking her movements – just casually. I would drink when she drunk. We stood side by side watching the dance floor as my smirks became grins, and soon we looked at each other, and didn’t look away.

She spoke first. I didn’t know Spanish. She didn’t know English. My phone was flat, I didn’t know my mobile number by heart, and I had no translator (I am terrible at all this, didn’t you know?) The senorita invited me to the dance floor. Many impressions have been ruined because I danced, and this time I was surrounded by latinas. She must have known I had no rhythm. Our dances were short, but we returned constantly.

“I like it,” she wrote when I apologised for my dancing. And later she said, “I like your beard.”

I have a beard? It’s strange to think that I do.

She insisted I have water and then insisted she order me a ‘safe’ taxi. “I’m not drunk,” I thought, but the number of beers had stacked up. We arranged to meet for another dance and she was dropped off at her house.

I passed out in the taxi on the way home (I know. She was wise ordering the trusted taxi) and walked into the apartment at 5am. I woke at midday with a splitting headache and a grin on my face.

Trujillo

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Photo: Adriaan Bornman.

My friends and I arrived in Trujillo by bus early this morning. The principal of the school we aim to work at greeted us at the bus station and took us to our hotel.

I’m feeling good after the 12 hour trip (or however long it was). I brought sleeping pills. I popped in one of those babies when the TV was loud (in Spanish) and went to la la land. And when I woke up I was….let’s just say, relaxed.

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Connected to the internet and already blogging! Photo: Lutie Van Den Berg. 

We are in the central business district, and as we arrived I saw the sign directing to the Chan Chan – an ancient city that is world heritage listed. There’s old churches and fountains, and probably museums.

 

I was excited when I passed a book store, and I couldn’t get it out of my head. I had to leave the others when we gravitated by a McDonalds (in two hours time the lunch menu will be available) because I needed books! Books! They called to me.

All the books called to me in Spanish, it seems. My heart broke a little, just a little, as I stood in that dusty book store with the covers all illegible to me. I shouldn’t have been surprised, and I wasn’t really, but I stood there, and among these books, in this store with that slight book smell, I could close my eyes, breathe in, and smile.

….

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Don’t judge us! But then we gorged on McDonalds. And it tasted like home, mostly. I had a double quarter pounder and the buns tasted different, and the meat had a slightly different aftertaste, but it was the little things that were perfect. The pickles and the sauce and the flavour were good.

I even was able to replace the coke with Inca Kola. I wish we had Inca Kola at home. It’s even better than Mountain Dew and since that’s my favourite drink I don’t make the claim lightly.

I know it seems wrong in a way to come here and eat McDonalds. Yet McDonalds is much a part of this culture as it might be in ours. Sometimes you miss the details of home and need that crutch.