Lunchtime in Piura, a Peruvian town of 378,000. Its major personality points are its two universities and its rising middle class.
My four-and-a-half-hour lunch period begins at a vegetarian restaurant. This place serves up delicious soy-based products that far surpass American meat substitutes and remind me of the best tofu products I ever had in China (they were terrific, if they didn’t make you sick for three days).
I climb into a moto. This automotive contraption closely resembles India’s rickshaw and is more dangerous than a Ford Pinto. He charges me two soles (less than a buck) to travel about a mile or so to the mall. This is a good price. (It’s those pesky cab drivers who cater to the University of Piura, a private university, I watch out for. They charge three times the standard rate.)
The roads are pockmarked as Swiss cheese and the moto jiggles me so hard along them that I have to brace my breasts. Momentary we arrive at Open Plaza. This is three-month old mall. On weekends it attracts families of 23 to snap shots in front of a water fountain that’s little more than ceramic blue tiles forming a rectangle around a spitting hose. The families find KFC and Pizza Hut cutting edge, though. They love to place their toddlers in shopping carts and wheel them around the two-story building.
Inside, I feel like I’ve jumped into a Surrealist film. Every interior store is darkened by a power outage. Starbucks can’t serve up a latte. Claro the telecom company cannot recharge cell phones. RadioShack cannot return useless speakers without power to their computer.
As I exit RadioShack, one of the mall’s two anchor stores, Sodimac, is illuminated. But right now I don’t need home goods from a pseudo-Home Depot. Instead it’s time for a bi-weekly grocery trip to Tottus. It too has electricity– and shoppers. Fortunately, there aren’t the throngs that appear on weekends. Tottus on a weekend makes Disneyland on the Fourth of July look like a retirement home.
A few bottles of juice and Diet Coke, four liters of water, soy milk, and a $4 bottle of Argentinian Malbec later, I’m aboard another moto on my way home. For six weeks I’ve lived with a local family in their three-story, lime green house. At less than two months old, the house already has more cracks than a my 38-year-old smoker’s face. It also has a two-year-old who cries more hours daily than I sleep. It also, however, has electricity and Internet conn–.
Shit. If only I had a battery-operated espresso machine to make a latte while waiting for the Internet to kick in again. Perhaps I’ll take join in the local custom and take a siesta.