Your Travel Guide Recontra-speaks


I have played the song “Cholo soy (y no me compadezcas)” before. I posted it with a photo safari type video here, and it was taken down. Then I said que el Perú es de la conchaesumare, ¡putas! And the video I wanted, returned. Most of the images are not as cheesy as the opening frames.


Effort exerted by all: A
Amount learned: B
Quality of experience: C

Life is hard unless you are rich or you are a luxury tourist, and Peru, as I have said before, appears to me to be on its last legs ecologically. This has a great impact on the quality of life for all but the very most privileged. Considerando en frío, imparcialmente, I recommend Mexico City over Lima, but I always go to Peru, because qué puedo hacer, chola soy y no me compadezcan. (Watch those videos I just linked, they are amazing – the ideal of blanqueamiento is far from dead!)


When people in Lima tell you this winter is colder than any you have experienced there before and you must bring a heavy coat, take it with a grain of salt, for they exaggerate. You do not want an overcoat but a wool sweater and a jacket, because you are looking at São Paulo levels of cold, not Santiago or Buenos Aires levels of cold. You are certainly not looking at New York levels of cold, no matter what anyone may say. And you do want to take the risk of being forced to buy a wonderful Peruvian coat, which, as I have pointed out before, are sold at very low prices.

I know these things but was nevertheless convinced to take to Peru an overcoat I only wore twice in ten weeks. Sitting with it in the airport, bound for the tropical heat of Panama and then the subtropical Houston, I noticed that although I think of it as new, my coat has bald spots in the cloth, a tear in the lining, and an incipient hole. I am glad to have noticed this, as it is not a coat for Louisiana use but rather my “Chicago coat,” by which I mean the cashmere and wool coat I wear at the MLA. I could have replaced it with a vicuña and alpaca coat of similar quality for about a quarter of what this one cost me on sale when it really was new. I also could have had it refurbished in Lima for far less than this will cost in the U.S.


You do not really get to explore this airport when you fly into it, as you walk almost directly from customs out to the parking lot: it is small enough not to need intra-airport buses, trams, or planes. In parallel fashion, to fly out you walk right in from the parking lot. This never ceases to surprise me since it belongs to such a large city and is, or was at least at one time a major transfer point. I used to experience it as a dark and faraway place, but I must have transferred that onto it from the various nighttime rides I have taken to it. It is in fact airy and nicely lit, and not at all far from recognizable parts of town. Checked luggage is now transported on carts, whereas the first time I came the bags were carried to and from the planes by workers carrying them just as bellhops do bags in upscale hotels.

This airport seems to average only two international departures per hour. All destinations I saw listed while I was there this time were in the Western Hemisphere. You have to go to Mexico or the United States to get to Canada or Europe. The first time I came, the plane next to mine was an AEROFLOT plane on its way to Havana and Moscow. This time there was not even an IBERIA plane going directly to Madrid. Was there ever? Is it just I who assume that in Spanish America there always is such a plane? I believe there used to be, but that Madrid has been replaced in Spanish America by Miami. (People in Lima call the United States “Miami” in the same way as New Yorkers call Los Angeles “California.” As in: “Seattle, what part of Miami is that in?” “It never snows in California.”)

When you go into this airport from the street, it appears that there is almost nowhere to sit before checking in. It is worth knowing that if your ticket counter isn’t open yet you can go upstairs to the restaurant/bar, the Starbuck’s (remember, though, we are boycotting them), and the shops – and the smoking lounges – located before security. In the pleasant restaurant I had papaya juice, hierba luisa infusion (with a tea bag, not fresh hierba luisa) and a tamal criollo that was not fully thawed. This cost $7 and was therefore one of the seven most expensive restaurant meals I had in over two months of existence this summer in Peru. (Compare it, though, to the $11 I spent for lunch later, in Houston, for a salad and water, and the $24 I spent at night, back home, on chirashi sushi and a glass of wine.)

Security here is not nearly as neurotic, or as humiliating as it is in the United States. Before security, shopping is light and tasteful, but after security you can do very heavy shopping if you are so inclined. The items I saw worth buying were the women’s T-shirts, good cotton and very well cut, but I was too lazy even to buy Pisco, which I regret. Pisco, tant pis. I am always amazed at duty free shops, though, because you can buy the same items in department stores for less money. I do not understand duty free shopping except perhaps if you are going to and from countries where the items sold, or substitutes for them, are not available at all.


This is an excellent experience and it saves you hundreds of dollars compared to the cost of a nonstop flight to the United States. I have never really been to Panama, but from the plane Panama City looks beachy, clean, airy, Caribbean, and beautiful. As you can imagine, the harbor has many ships, and as the plane descends you see them and their wakes, going in different directions. The Panamanians seem relaxed. Many are Black and quite dark, with Andalusian faces and figures. They look like the population I imagine for Cartagena de Indias, another place I have not been but need to go. The airport has an express line for café con leche not produced by a chain. It costs $2.

All destinations from this airport are in the Americas, but there are more of them than there are in Lima, and many departures were announced in the hour I spent waiting – during which, furthermore, I hooked into the free wi-fi (not officially offered, by the way, in Houston) and e-mailed home. Two different airlines left for Havana at the same time. I am an American, so to me the availability of direct flights to Havana is one of the ultimate signs of extreme cosmopolitanism. It is as though there were commuter flights to the moon. It also reduces the psychological distance from Havana to the size of the actual distance, which is to say, it pastes our fragmented map of the Americas back together somewhat.


The lighting is better than any I saw in Peru, including that of a rich architect’s lair in San Isidro. Both the kitchen sink and the bathroom basin have hot water faucets as well as cold. More generally, my ability to heat and cool the air and water at will in an entire building is nothing short of amazing.

Verily, all temperatures can be comfortable at all times, as can every shade and angle of light. The eyes need not flutter, nor the body congeal and struggle against the environment. I can feel my mind expand as in few places in Peru, and I understand completely my former addiction to the very pleasant campus of the PONTIFICAL CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY OF PERU, and my current one to the overly corporate Café Havanna (no relation to Havana, the city, except for the allusion to coffee). I notice the incipient return of my tendency to eat and sleep irregularly, and realize how good I was about those things in Peru: one could not control the general discomfort, but one could at least eat and sleep right, and find places to walk.

(I must remember what my card reader said about making too many sacrifices and living too much in the Third World. I should experiment with the sort of luxury to which I was once accustomed: food, sleep, exercise, study, cultural activities, beautiful natural surroundings, and comfortable temperatures all at once! I did not realize then how rare the combination was, and I did not understand when people from places like Ohio, far greater consumers and wasters than myself [but also greater sacrificers and penitents], called it “decadent.”)

I really should tile the kitchen floor. I could fix the bathroom ceiling, or I could leave the telltale signs of former flooding and say they are a work of art representing the dilapidation of buildings in Peru.


Due to retirements and hires, my mailbox has been moved one slot over. Everything in it was addressed to me except a large box of dark chocolates and truffles by Godiva, unaddressed and unsigned. Is this really for me? I asked. Do you know who it is from? Who delivered it? When did it arrive? Nobody knew, and the secretary, our leader, said it must really be mine.

I took it home on the theory that it would be a good thing to have at a fall dinner after a day spent outdoors perhaps, now in starlight. When I got home, though, I opened it, and I am glad because it is really beautiful. Perhaps it came from you.


I flew away, but the video below, made to accompany a famous waltz, chronicles the flight back (also available in karaoke version.) From the plane you see the snowy peaks, and then the city lights. When you land, you drive to Lima 1.


7 thoughts on “Your Travel Guide Recontra-speaks

  1. Welcome home!
    My entire childhood I was uncomfortable. In fact, my father in law once remarked upon my indifference to comfort. It’s a talent to be able to live with discomfort, actually, a talent I’ve largely lost.

  2. Likewise, welcome home!

    I’m also a fan of Lima airport. It’s worth mentioning that it has a full service post office, which is faster and less frustrating (probably also, more reliable) than any other post office in Lima, by a factor of 100.

  3. Gracias, y’all! Post office in the airport, I did not check it out, but I am impressed. Peruvian postal service appears to be good now – I sent books from both the Lima 1 office and the Petit Thouars office, fairly recently, and most of them turned out to fly WITH ME. I got home, and the postman arrived very shortly. Amazing.

    The talents I am retaining, so far (I actually got home a couple of days ago, many of my posts are “canned”), include working while hungry. !

  4. P.S. 1. I now think the alleged taking down of the videos is a YouTube error. 2. I said intra-airport planes, but I mean trains. 3. If you understand Spanish, you really should watch the videos to which I linked, but did not try to embed. Laura Bazzo’s TV talk show has on it a mulata mother who is freaking out because her mulata daughter wants to marry a cholo, whereas she wants to marry her to an Italian tourist – because, as the mother says directly, he is white. The show emphasizes the Peruvianness and decency of the cholo as opposed to the foreignness and flakiness of the white guy.

    AHHH it is all (point 3) at the level of RPP News, which, as we know, is the “leader in Peruvianness.”

  5. P.P.S. It is definitely a talent to deal with living in discomfort. It has its benefits, too, I think. But right now I am very much enjoying the warm weather and lack of smoke. (Really I got home a few days before this post came up and it rained and rained, so I pretended I was in Lima and hid. Now the sun has come out and this, too, is wonderful.)

  6. P.P.P.S. The music videos that were here originally have come back, and I am very happy about it.

    But Joanna, you who are reading Private Cholitude, do NOT miss those videos I’ve linked to (not embedded) – they’re from a talk show about “interracial” dating and marriage and they are beyond strange.

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