Saturday, June 25, 2016

Getting to know Huaraz

Huaraz is a small town in Peru (120,000 people) about 250 miles northeast of Lima that lies at 10,000 feet in the tropical zone (10 degrees south of the ecuator) -- probably one of the few places where you find palm trees growing at this altitude!  It starts to get cold as soon as the sun sets, down to about 40 degrees in the middle of the night, but then warms up quickly after the sun comes up, to a little over 70 degrees.  And the sun is intense at this altitude, so it feels much hotter than 70.  If you need to go out early, you put on a couple of extra layers and then pull them off within an hour or two.  White skinned folks like me have to wear sunscreen when I'm outside for long periods of time.

We're in the dry season now, which lasts roughly from April to November.  It's just a few degrees colder than the rainy season, and the town is full of tourists interested in hiking or mountain climbing.  During the rest of the year, it's sunny in the morning and rains for a few hours in the afternoon, sometimes intensely.  The average daily rainfall during that season is about a quarter of an inch.  The mountains, which are now a dull light brown, will become a lively green, with flowers blooming everywhere.

We've been walking around several neighborhoods, looking for a house or apartment and asking friends for any leads that they have.  There are a couple of places in the center of town where people pay to place notices -- about cars for sale, houses or apartments for sale or rent, etc. -- but for the most part the only way to find places for rent is to walk the streets and look for notices posted on buildings, or ask people who live in the area.  We plan to rent for several months until we get to know the area and find a place that we want to buy.  There are plenty of places for rent, but most are on the second or third floor -- not good for Sonia -- and are not furnished.  We have to go back to Lima on Monday to continue the immigration process for me and Marcos, and we'll probably make one more "short" trip here before we move here for good.

Plaza de Armas (main square)

A woman selling freshly squeezed orange juice near the plaza.  She's peeling each orange first in order to be able to squeeze more juice from it.

Typical adobe houses in Yarush, a community just above Huaraz

Marcos's favorite playground near our hotel

Huascarán, the tallest peak in Peru, as the sun is about to set behind me

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Travelling to Huaraz

The trip to Huaraz is long, but comfortable on the Cruz del Sur bus that has reclining seats with plenty of leg room.

At $26 per person for an 8 1/2 hour trip, it's about the price we would have paid for the three of us to take a taxi to the airport from our house in Indianpolis.

The first two hours of the trip follow the coastline, with enormous eroded sand dunes on the east side of the road that look like they could come sliding down at any minute.

(Yes, that's Jesus waving at us from the back of the truck.  You see a lot of religious imagery everywhere in a country that is officially Catholic.)

We pass the Hari Krishna complex just before the road turns eastward and we start climbing through the high desert.

We occasionally pass an enormous chicken farm or a settlement of families living in makeshift houses (who probably work at the chicken farms).  We see foot trails in the sand where people have walked long distances over the dunes, and "private property" signs placed by mining companies to mark their claims.  There's no vegetation at all as far as the eye can see.

As we begin to follow the course of one of the rivers that flows down from the mountains, we see lots of greenery in the river bed, but the rest of the land remains barren.  Where the river valley is flatter and wider, there are large plantations of sugar cane.

We see many places where corn -- yellow, orange or purple -- is being dried by the side of the road, spread out directly on the rocky terrain.

As we proceed further east, we make the transition from desert to forest.  The hills are still barren at the top, but we see more and more plant life -- first grasses, then bushes and trees.  The last part of the trip proceeds much more slowly, averaging 20 or 30 miles per hour, as we wind our way into the Andes mountains.  The bus driver pauses and honks at each curve of the switchbacks to alert other vehicles that he's about to make a wide turn into the oncoming lane in order to navigate the curve.  

When we're just an hour away, we pass through the high plains where the hills are completely covered with grass -- dead grass since we're in the season when there's almost no rain.  The snow-capped peaks of the highest mountains come into view. 

The bus has arrived on time, and it's just getting dark.  The hotel has sent a taxi to pick us up, and Solano, the taxi driver, greets us with a sign on which he's written my name.  We'll spend the next week deciding whether this will be our new home.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Retiring in Peru

After a long pause -- 7 years! -- I'm finally blogging again.  I retired in May after working as an IT contractor at Eli Lilly for 28 years.  I had been pretty sure since 2005 that I wanted to retire in Peru, for reasons that you'll find in my other posts.  We started planning the move last year, and bought one-way tickets to Lima for May 24 to give us a firm date to work toward.  We put our house on the market in February and found a buyer within 10 days who was willing to let us stay in the house until our departure.

When we decided to make the move, we were most concerned about finding a good school for Marcos, who just finished kindergarten.  So we did a lot of research and found an alternative school in Huaraz that was founded by an American and a Belgian woman, and follows a Waldorf style of "active education".  (More about this school in another post.)

If we like the school and the climate in Huaraz, we'll move there.  We've already reserved a spot for Marcos at the school because we were so impressed by the information that we found on their Facebook page (Semillas de Vida).  But there are a few other schools in other parts of the country that we've identified as possibilities.

The only thing we're absolutely sure about is that we don't want to live in Lima.  It's grown to about 10 million people (the second largest in South America), and the traffic, pollution, and crime have all steadily gotten worse.  Since it's built on a desert and receives less than an inch of rainfall each year, it's been projected to be the first Latin American city that will run out of water.  Public schools were ranked in last place in an evaluation of 63 countries.  Quality private schools cost almost as much as in the U.S., and only exist in areas where housing costs as much or more than in the U.S.

We're staying temporarily at Sonia's mother's house in Lima, while we jump through all of the hoops that are necessary for Marcos and me to obtain permanent residency.  We plan to take a bus to Huaraz (about 8 hours) tomorrow to check out the school and (if it meets our expectations) start looking for a place to live -- initially a temporary place that we will rent while deciding where we want to live permanently.