Saturday #22: The Peruvian Top 20 List

Saturday #22 was spent on the Dragoman truck, traveling about 450 km between Miranda and Parady, Brazil. I had intended to write a detailed account of what happened throughout the day, just as I did the previous Saturday when we had an 800 km drive, but in the interest of protecting several innocent parties – and avoiding an almost certain lawsuit – I will refrain from providing a blow-by-blow account. Instead, here’s another Top 20 pictorial list. This week we’re looking at the Top 20 things about Peru that struck me as being different, confusing, surprising, vaguely appealing, a brilliant idea, or just plain weird.
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#20 – Fenced in Farms
We passed hundreds of fruit and vegetable farms as we drove along the Pacific coast south of Lima. Most farms were surrounded by two and three-meter high brick walls and some even had razor wire on top and guard towers at the corners of the property, presumably to protect the produce from thieves.
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#19 – Coca Gum
The Andean people drink coca tea and chew coca leaves like the French consume wine or Americans drink soda. Coca is an acquired taste so I can see why many tourists opt for a slightly more palatable alternative like hard coca candies or even the Keshua brand of Coca-Libre chewing gum that one of my bus mates purchased in Chivay. On the back of the package, in very small type, it said: “Made in Canada for GNP Nature Products.”

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#18 – Massive Beer Bottles
Beer sold in Peruvian bars, restaurants, and grocery stores comes in 600ml bottles. You see a lot of litter in rural Peru but you’ll be hard pressed to find an errant beer bottle since the deposit on these huge bottles is twice or three times that of a regular beer bottle.
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#17 – Coke, Coke and more Coke
Perhaps it’s because Coca-Cola once contained a derivative of the coca plant, but Coca Cola products are sold everywhere in Peru! Most waiters will ask if you want Coke, Fanta, Sprite as soon as you are seated in even a high-end restaurant. The local Coca-Cola bottler also produces the popular Inca Cola which is yellow and doesn’t really resemble cola at all. You’ll see 20 Coke logos for every Pepsi logo in Peru and no matter how decrepit the building, Coke will happily slap a sign on it.

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#16 – Gas Stations Without Pumps
These low-tech stations are probably a welcome sight when you run out of gas. I suppose they are better than no station and they certainly don’t take a lot of capital to open.

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#15 – Rainbow Flags
My Cusco hostel flew the rainbow flag over the front door. There was a single flagpole in Cusco’s main square and it flew the rainbow flag. Many people painted the stone walls surrounding their property in the familiar seven stripes. What a nice welcome, I thought. Later when I noticed that a small store had hundreds if not thousands of rainbow flags in stock, I did some research and learned that the rainbow flag is the official flag of the City/Region of Cusco as well as Tawantin Suyu, or the entire Inca territory.

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#14 – Election Signs
Unlike Canada where there are laws governing when election signs can be erected and when they must come down, election signs in Peru are painted on walls and buildings and remain there indefinitely. If an incumbent runs in the next election, no new signs are required. Due to the low literacy level in Peru, most election signs indicate the candidate’s name as well as a symbol identifying the party. I’ve seen symbols depicting a bull, faucet, flower, pair of flip-flops, Inca warrior, mother and child, sombrero, star, tree, wheat sheaf, etc.
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#13 – Election Ephemera
Voting is mandatory in Peru and citizens between 18 and 70 face a stiff fine if they don’t vote. • Voting Day is also “Old Home Day” as people must vote in the region in which they pay their taxes. Many people who move from the countryside to the city – where taxes are much higher – still claim the rural property as their home and thus must return to that region to vote once every four years. • Municipal, provincial and federal elections are held simultaneously. • An armed police officer or member of the military is on duty at every polling station. Anyone attempting to steal a ballot box will be shot. • Alcohol is not sold in bars, restaurants of stores within 48 hours of an election. • One of the candidates in Lima was behind bars on corruption charges yet he was allowed to stand for re-election. He won.
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#12 – Quilted Mats on Dashboards
I asked several taxi drivers why they had custom-fitted quilted or furry mats on their dashboards. I never did get an answer that I could understand.
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#11 – Dogs
Dogs probably don’t outnumber humans in Peru but it’s close and they will at some point if this is left unchecked. Some of the dogs you see on the street are wild while others roam freely by day and go home at night. I didn’t see any dogs being aggressive to each other or to humans. Most dogs will wag their tale if you so much as glance in their direction.

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#10 – Scotiabank
There are several big banks in Peru but by far the most prevalent was Scotiabank. I never did get their ATMs to work, unlike their Peruvian-owned competitors who gave me as much cash as I asked for. A $100 weekly withdrawal goes a long way in Peru.
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#9 – Smart Stoplights
Traffic signals in even the hickest of towns have a function that displays the seconds remaining on the particular light. Pedestrians know not to start crossing when the clock is under 10 seconds as they WILL be caught in the intersection. And the best part is that people actually obey these signs. But don’t get me started on drivers in Bolivia and Argentina.
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#8 – Old Dodge Trucks
I’m not sure if Dodge built circa 1965 model trucks for many years or if they shipped thousands of 1965 model trucks to Peru, but that’s about all you see in many rural areas. Almost all of these trucks are blue. (In Argentina you see many Ford Falcons that appear to be from the mid-60s. A local explained to me that the dictatorship bought the rights to produce the 1964 model at a government-controlled plant right up until the 1980s.)
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#7 – Toilet Paper in Wastebaskets
Signs in all bathrooms ask that you place soiled toilet paper in the wastebasket and not down the toilet. The plumbing infrastructure in Peru simply won’t handle it. Of course this went without saying at the toilets that lacked running water (jugs of water are provided from a nearby well.)

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#6 – Unfinished Buildings
Most buildings that have been built in the last 20 years appear to be unfinished. They’re often built in a ‘post and beam’ style with the posts being poured concrete and the ‘in-fill’ being hollow clay bricks. Virtually every building of this style has re-bar sticking out of the roof, suggesting that another level may be added in the future. I learned that buildings in Peru are taxed at a much lower rate while they are under construction. Anyone wanting to build a 2-storey structure will simply apply for a building permit for a 3-storey structure, complete two levels and simply rough-in the third level. Of course these buildings will never be completed. As a result, even decent neighbourhoods look like slums.
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#5 – American Cigarettes
Street vendors in Peru carry all the usual American brands plus one that I had never heard of.

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#4 – Coffee with Rufus & Diana
There aren’t many Starbucks locations in Peru but there was one near my hostel in both Lima and Cusco. I’d rather patronize a ‘mom and pop’ café but when they don’t have toilet seats or toilet paper, much less seating with access to a power outlet (to recharge a camera battery) it’s hard to bypass the familiar comforts of a Starbucks. The fact that Canadian artists Rufus Wainwright and Diana Krall play almost constantly in Peruvian Starbucks cafes could be considered a welcome taste of home or an evil curse depending on your tastes in music.
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#3 – McChicken?
McDonalds locations in Peru have Big Macs, Quarter Pounders, fries, shakes, and… fried chicken served on a plate with boiled peas and mashed potatoes. About a third of the customers I observed at the Cusco location were ordering the chicken dinner.
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#2 – Calorie Counting Made Easy
Chain restaurants and grocery stores must clearly display the calories in a single serving of everything they sell. I know this is the law in New York and possibly some other locales but I didn’t expect it in Peru.
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#1 – Nice Buses
Long distance buses are much nicer in Peru than they are in, oh, say, Canada. Many are two levels and only three seats wide (double-aisle-single configuration) and most have wi-fi and power outlets at every seat, GPS tracking and speed monitoring by head office, 2 drivers, and large leather seats that recline 150 degrees. Some even have bunk beds, berths with privacy curtains, and a TV at every seat. And did I mention that all this luxury can be had for about a quarter of the price that a trip of a similar distance would cost in Canada?

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