Category Archives: Barranco

Seven Things I’ll Miss about Life Abroad


As the days and hours fall away until repatriation, it’s time to take stock of what I’ll miss about life abroad.


No where else in the world makes me as happy with its use of color as an adornment as India. The people possess no fears whatsoever of color. Color is painted on their foreheads in the form of bindis or tikkas, their hands during wedding season in the form of henna tattoos, their clothing, said to be most brilliant in Rajasthan, though I was already swimming as if in a Chagall painting. Then there’s the color of Lima. More a spectrum of jewel tones the color of the locals’ clothing, food, landscape, and architecture quickly won me over. Nowhere had the landscape colors of Shenzhen, though. Truly one of the best landscaped cities of the world, the city rarely let its 15 million inhabitants forget that nature came before cement and skyscrapers.


A building in Barranco, Lima’s bohemian district


Watching– and listening to– the peacocks on the University of Piura campus has filled me with hours of entertainment and awe. I’ve watched them go through their annual cycle from when their babies were just born and through to the mating ritual. Throughout the year I love to hear the males calling out to the others as they all prepare to bed down at night. From November through January it was the men howling out for mates. They were loud enough to interrupt my classes with a noise somewhere between a cat being strangled and a man being castrated. Now, after mating season, the peahens are doing most of the screaming. I like to imagine they’re yelling at the men to hurry up and feed the kids.



Lack of Vanity

In no other culture have I witnessed a prevalence of unadulterated vanity. Sure there are symptoms of its creeping, especially in certain districts of Lima where the newness of local plastic surgery leads some people to look more like lizards, less like humans, but overall there isn’t a high concern for bleached teeth, self-mutilating starvation, excessively expensive brand names, overly made-up faces. People in the East, and especially in South America, are far more modest and far more respectful of the physical variety that nature intended. That leads to a tremendous acceptance and lack of judgment of others.


Not Carrying Car Keys

I loved driving in the US, but living abroad meant no parking hassles. It meant hailing a cab rather than calling. It meant no insurance policies to pay for, no gas prices to bemoan. No maintenance or car washes. No accident worries. No depreciation concerns. No speeding tickets (which I used to get a lot of in the US, what with my lead foot) and never, never, never a question of driving after I’d had one too many. I have no idea what’s in store for my life in Arizona but I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I can use public transit and/or a Vespa.

South China had the ultra fast, ultra efficient, and generally clean Metro. India had ricks, taxis, and a train that seemed to come from two centuries before– all of which I enjoyed. Hong Kong has fantastic trains, the fairy, and buses. Lima had taxis, combis and buses, and now a train. And how could I not miss the motos (like India’s rickshaws) of Piura?

Suresh's rickshaw

Rickshaw of a driver I befriend in India, also a demonstration of India’s abundance of color



Easterners are a more reserved lot, of course, but once the Chinese get to know you they’ll invite you to meet their family and take trips with them. Such was the case with my ESL students and the architect I worked for in Shenzhen. Latinos are immensely warm. They’ll drop everything to help with a simple task, to talk, to share a meal, to go on day-trips. Event the baristas at Starbucks give me hugs and make me feel like Norm on Cheers. Indians? Well, my three months in Mumbai weren’t exactly stable, and I found the people to be quite distrusting, but once they open up, a handful of Indians helped me with I was cash-strapped, when I needed work, when I needed shelter, when I needed to learn the shopping customs. Amit, Asad, Guarav, and a smattering of others helped in ways too great and varied to list in this post but in ways that I will forever sustain those loving feelings I have for the country.



Fiorella, one of my favorite baristas at Piura’s one and only Starbucks

Speaking Another Language

I attempted to learn Mandarin when I first moved to China, but didn’t do anything more than learn to parrot a few essential phrases during my two years there. What a bloody tough language! It is delightful, though, to even exchange a few well-wishing sentences with people such as the women who worked in the convenience store in my apartment building.

I moved on to Hindi toward my latter days in China, knowing that someday I’d live in India, my favorite country. Because it wasn’t necessary, it proved more fun. Then my teacher got romantic notions, Indian turmoil ensued around us, and the whole thing turned into a big mess. Fortunately I did move to India shortly after that. And I did use the Hindi I learned. “Bharat mataji!” or, Mother India.

Finally it was on to Peru. My dad always tells  people I’m fluent but I’m certainly not. If I were I’d be able to talk about existentialism and the constellations. I can get by, though. Easily enough to travel throughout the country without a hitch. It’s a lot different speaking an intermediate level of this language than speaking a modicum of Mandarin. In China the language was easy to tune out; in Peru, I’ve heard and understood random snippets of conversation that left me as perplexed as a right-winger hearing bits of Hedwig and the Angry Inch.



Ethnic Clothes

I started wearing bindis more than a decade ago, and salwar kameezes became a part of my wardrobe after my first trip to India. But how lucky am I to have the ability whilst abroad to shopping local markets for these things? One of the most amazing clothing experiences was going with two new friends to have quipaos made in Shenzhen. These didn’t look like they’d just come off an assembly line. These traditional Chinese dresses were hand crafted silk radiance, but bloody hell they cannot be worn in temperatures past 20 degrees Celsius. It’s been an interesting lesson to notice how greatly I favor Indian or Indian-inspired clothing though. I’ve purchased paisley and salwar kameezes and bangles in every country I’ve lived in, and I’ll keep doing so. Though lately a streak of Mexicanista has entered my life, which looks as foreign to the locals here in Peru as do my Indian clothes.


What do you miss about your travels upon returning home?


Historic Preservation Prevails


Recent social networking has helped me to delve deeper into the world of historic preservation in architecture. It’s one particular discussion thread that has me thinking. It seems that preservation isn’t always about architectural history in America, Britain, and Canada; sometimes it provides poignant reminders of zeitgeist.

Such is the case for David Rotenstein, a consulting historian. Rotenstein found his work on a residential project facilitated significantly when a bevy of previous residents and neighbors helped him climb deeper and deeper into the home’s 1930s roots. The owner of a neighboring house was particularly thrilled to talk to Rotenstein about the original community, going back to when it consisted of only two houses. Her story reminds us of history’s gravity.


Images Courtesy of David Rotenstein

Images Courtesy of David Rotenstein, consultant in historic preservation


In this case, the story of a subdivision outside Atlanta, Georgia meant looking at race relations. When she was a little girl, Sandra’s parents had an African American maid. The maid once babysat her not in her own house, as was their custom, but in her house, or what she called a ‘little shack’. Spending the night with the maid in a segregated neighborhood introduced the little girl to a whole different type of residence. It wasn’t exactly the white, upper-middle class life she led.

‘Nostalgia and memory play critical roles in transforming the past into history,’ Rotenstein wrote. Indeed.

An interlocutor from the UK exemplified that point.

‘We had some (deeds) written in olde English (very difficult to read until you got into the swing of it) on goat-skin with very impressive seals,’ she wrote.

That reminds me of an American tradition. Builders, at least in the old days, and perhaps some today with a penchant for traditions, had a habit of burying something like newspapers within the walls of new construction. (Or in Mafia flicks, they’d be corpses of someone like John Gotti.) Imagine doing major renovations of the dining room in the pre-War house you just moved into. You’re knocking down a wall, only to find a pair of shoes—which was a superstitious tradition in New England—or a newspaper or mementos. What would it tell you about your home’s history? How would that affect your life there? Could it even affect the renovation and new design?




Another, final tidbit of appeal from this online discussion came to us from Canada. One member discusses his experience working with the Parkwood Estate, a national historic site in Oshawa, Ontario. Meeting family members and former household staff members of a historic estate finally revealed the answer to a story that had plagued many who worked at and visited the estate. A daughter of the autobaron who owned it helped solve the mystery of a curiously shaped hem of trees on the estate: a small plane crashed into one of the gardens in 1930.

If you’re interested in more stories of historic preservation read my article about a couple of houses in Lima, Peru. You’ll read about an Italian missionary restores a house built in 1900 with the historical assistance of two elderly sisters who’d lived there in the early 20th century, all the while discovering that it had been the residence of a group of hari krishnas, and the house of Victor Delfín, one of Peru’s most famous artists.

What makes you interested in historic preservation? The stories or the historical values of design and vernacular?


Sandra’s parents


A version of this story originally ran in Hong Kong-based Perspective magazine.

Lima Nightlife: Start Your Peru Trip Right


The district known as Barranco is the place to start your search for Lima nightlife. It offers some of the city’s most relaxed, picturesque nightlife. It begins at the Puente de los Suspiros, or the Bridge of Sighs.

On this historic bridge, the inspiration for many a Peruvian folk song, couples kiss, unaware of the locals and fellow travelers meeting up around them before continuing on their way on the Bajada de Baños. The bajada is a historic, wide, paved path extending relatively steeply about half a mile to the ocean. It’s flanked by a bevy of restaurants that will take you into the world of Peruvian cocktails and comida, or food. Choose flights at FromAtoB take you there.

Start exploring the Lima nightlife in Barranco


As you sip a cocktail such as a pisco maracuya (pisco with a local fruit juice) from the balcony of one of the restaurants you stare out at the gentle sunset over the ocean, ambient music plays softly enough for conversation.

Afterward, continue your descent down the bajada. Head all the way down to a small promenade overlooking the Pacific. Here you can buy a trinket from jewelry makers or other  artisans. From here you can go further still down a flight of steep steps to cross a fast and busy street before arriving on Playa Barranco, or Barranco Beach. Otherwise, relax on a bench and enjoy the sound of the waves lapping the shore below.


On your way back up, lollygag over the ornate decor of the Spanish architecture along the pathway. Then hit up another restaurant for a light snack. Most have indoor and outdoor space and tranquil, private tables for two from which to breathe in the cool, moist air. Many offer a free pisco sour. While not quite regulation size they are enough to wet your whistle and peruse a menu. Consider trying local fare: anticuchos (rich beef hearts on skewers), ceviche (marinated fish with onions and sweet potatoes), or perhaps some picarones (a doughnut-like dessert made with sweet potato and pumpkin and covered with a sweet syrup).

Beware: The quiet part of Lima nightlife turns toward the raucous side around 10 pm.