Category Archives: Immigration

A Peruvian in Australia: Work (or the lack of it)

Finding work was one of my main concerns before coming over to Oz. My student visa allows me only 20 hours of work per week which is alright but my main worry was the fact that I was going to start all over again. Whereas in Peru I had been a successful tour leader with excellent job opportunities I decided to quit all that. I knew I would have to work as a waiter, cleaner, or any of the jobs usually no else wants. My friend Johan, also from Peru and a guide there as well, has found this new beginning quite difficult in Australia. Here he works cleaning and that change meant an obvious punch to his self-esteem. I have been feeling a bit like that, back home I was the man with the knowledge  and the know-how. Here I’m another immigrant without a clue, and I feel so minuscule when I have to pull out my map to find my way around.

But still, the possibilities to find a good job are always there. Always positive, right?  I was aiming at finding something in the tourism industry where I have been working for the past 8 years. I contacted my previous employer in Peru and they offered me a job, it was perfect! I was going to be selling and advising on how to sell South America. Sadly the chance fell over when I learnt that they needed a full-time person with the proper visa. Pretty soon it dawned on me that it was going to be impossible to find something in the tourism industry so soon. I then decided to leave that for later and meanwhile dedicate my time to learn how things work here and to know the history and facts and practical info that I will be needing in a hopefully not too far future. As part of that masterplan I have enroled myself in studies for a 6 month Tourism course focused on the retail industry. There I will learn the tools to create and sell product and the software-knowledge to work at a travel agency.

You know what it feels like...

Money has been an issue though as it is not flowing in as I would like it to. I am amazed at how much I have been able to stretch my savings. Of course I have an advantage that many immigrants don’t: my partner. Mel is been crucial in understanding this whole situation and more than once lending money for what I need. Luckily we foresaw all this and since the early days when we met in Peru she said to me ‘look, I don’t need a provider man, I need a man that loves me, so I’m happy to help you now’. I’m thankful for that and aware that when the table turns I want to be ready for it. Even though it has been a bit of an issue for me. You see, I was raised in a traditional Catholic,Latin American, struggling, middle-class family. Whether I like it or not, there is some macho training in me, and having less money is not the comfort zone of your typical latino male. Of course there’s a lot of bloodsuckers out there who make a living like that, and I don’t mean only latinos, but that’s a whole other animal. For my own peace of mind I have had to find a job, at least a little one that helped.

Family is always a blessing in difficult situations and it was through my uncle Alex and his wife Cecilia that I was referred to an events company. They hired me right away and after investing my last bucks on my uniform I was ready to get my first cheque and cash-in. Weddings, graduations, special events, functions for companies, etc. I’ve been working as a waiter and a bar helper at these and the job has been going great, very fast-paced and surrounded by good people. The hours went by quickly until 2 am every weekend. Until Christmas came…

I missed my last day of work because of playing football (soccer). I did not warm-up or stretch and I forgot I’m not the guide who climbs mountains every weekend or goes on treks every other day. At the end of the game my back was killing me and my leg was limping. Oh dear, welcome to the 30’s! And then Christmas came and everyone went on holidays. In Peru we call it ‘the January steep-climb’. Everything slows down, people are still on holiday, the new year has just begun, people are relaxed, others try not to spend anything because the holidays left them indebted…and there’s no work.

So back to the work chase, printing CV’s, posting adds on the web, walking around with resumes at hand and a pretty smile. This chase can be depressing. Some of my school mates can’t believe that I find it so hard to find a job. Maybe I am being too picky? But I am looking for all sorts of jobs: waiter, barista, cleaner, Spanish teacher, writer, nature conservation volunteer, translator, guide. I’ve had a couple of funny anecdotes looking for a job too. I went to see a bar where they needed a manager. That’s a fun job, I used to run a bar some years ago and it was fun and active. But this was not the case. I learnt what the word ‘bogan’ (Aussie redneck) means when I saw the clientele. To describe the place may I use the words of the owner ‘we don’t warm up partygoers, this is where they come after the party’. Then I went to see an Italian restaurant where they needed a waiter. The owner asks me how to carry 3 dishes and I show him how. He says that’s not the way to do it and I ask him to show me how and he says ‘you are supposed to know that, i’m not telling you…’ I’m still wondering what secret way that is because where I work now I carry 3 dishes and they tend to stay on my hand.

I’ve tried to keep a balance between jobs I have to take and anything I really want to do. Recently I came up with a couple of ideas, one for a tour where I could be the guide and another one for a radio show where I’d be the announcer. Both are doable projects but they need a lot of input and with lots of luck they will pay little or not too often. I need to tell myself the quest is hard ’cause it must have a good surprise for me later on and difficult times create character. I’m lucky to have a supporting partner and to be very stubborn. But I knew this about the world of the immigrants, work (or the lack of it) is an essential part of it. It has made me remember when I used to work and live in the USA with Mexican illegal immigrants, or when I lived in Europe and performed all sort of jobs to get by. It is when I look back at my path that I find the strength and trust in myself to know that I will make it, it’s just a matter of patience. And a little of good luck too.

4 Comments

Filed under Australia, Cultural Differences, Cultural Immersion, Immigration, Living Abroad, Peru, Travel, Travel Stories, Travel Writing, Work

A Peruvian in Australia: Navidad!

Christmas in a foreign country. That could be the definition of nostalgia for some. I had a great time spending Christmas with Melissa and her family in Ballarat. In fact I found out it’s not so different from Christmas in Peru. We got together, cooked, ate lots of yummy food. I prepared a Peruvian dish and brought panetone, known as Italian Christmas cake, something we also have in Peru thanks to migrant Italians who are also abundant around Australia. We had it with hot chocolate and that to me is like a photograph of Christmas back home.

Entrees

With the firecrackers and fireworks it is a little different because in Australia people actually respect the rules and rules are abundant here. I only saw one firework rocket sent from across the street. We were wondering if it was an ‘authorised’ launch or not since you need a permit from the local government to do so (You need a permit to build a tree house in your backyard here! but that’s another story…). This is ridiculous compared to all disasters that have happened in Peru because of the abuse of fireworks even though the government tries to control the powder flowing through the markets at Christmas-time. And then it looks great in the night sky but it’s also the wave of noise, the terrible powder smell and all the poor dogs that have to be sedated or that just go crazy behind the couch or below the bed. Somewhere in the middle perhaps? I’ll let you know what it´s like in New Zealand when I go there…

With Mel, I walked around the block to see the lights the other homes had set in their front yard. In past years, she told me, there would be buses with tourists coming to see the light display. This year the show was a bit more humble and except for the house that had a ‘snow machine’ (just foam really, but don’t tell the kids) the others were pretty standard lights and nothing Santa would have disapproved of.

Rudolph leading...

Speaking of Santa, he got me some Peruvian Pisco and running shoes (no relation there). I’m really happy with my gifts and have to admit I was a bit embarrassed not to have been able to buy any because money is still not running in as much as I’d like, though I have a little job that has been very helpful. But Melissa had a bright idea when one day she got home and said ‘We are gonna make our own cards!’ So we spent 2 whole afternoons making cards like little children in school, with the glue, the scissors, the shiny paper, the snowflake paper-cutter, the buttons, the bells, etc. That makes me feel a bit better, that I didn’t just write Merry Christmas on my ‘wall’ or send a forward (which is alright too and which I also did) but I actually made some cards with my hands!

Cards

With the holidays here it’s hard not to look back at 2011 and think of all that’s been accomplished, started, left undone or even thought of. If the holidays didn’t do that then it must have been that I went to the movies to watch Melancholia on the 21st of December. How’s that for coincidence, a movie about the end of the world exactly one year from what so many are sure will be the last day on Earth. This year has been an amazing year! Whether it’s the one before the last or not. Things have certainly accelerated and every year it’s clearer to me that wherever I aim I actually hit the spot.

This year I met Mel, I traveled so much, I returned to my studies, I started seriously writing this blog, made new friends and saw old friends, said goodbye to relatives and some said goodbye to me but we all know love is in between to keep us close. This year I started again, at 32, just when I was getting comfortable. That should prove if I am brave and clever enough or the opposite, but wherever the next Christmas (or the ‘end of the world’) finds me I’m sure I will be able to say I had not a boring moment and I learnt a lot. I may have left my home in Peru, but I have found one here with Mel and her family and I’ve also been reminded of my extended, larger home… this beautiful place called Earth.

This year I wanted to come to Australia and here I am finding my way around and writing my last blog of the 2011. I hope it finds you well and I hope you continue reading next year. I wish you all a very happy Christmas and an excellent 2012.

'til 2012...

2 Comments

Filed under Australia, Cultural Differences, Cultural Immersion, Immigration, Living Abroad, Peru, Travel, Travel Stories, Travel Writing

A Peruvian in Australia: other Peruvians…

One of my main concerns when going to Melbourne was how much I would miss Perú and how difficult would it be to find things from home there, not to mention other Peruvians. Beforehand I knew I had a cousin in Melbourne living with his Peruvian wife and their 2 children. That was a start. But us Peruvians are famous for, among other things, finding it difficult to adapt to other places abroad. Though once we do we adapt totally and we even change our accent and forget many traditions. I didn’t all that to happen to me. Twice.

I think one of the main things we miss from home if the food. Peruvian cuisine it not yet so renowned around the world and so it’s not easy to find our dishes abroad. I don’t know why being so vast (we have more than 400 national dishes!) it’s not yet widespread. I guess precisely because of what I meantioned earlier: we adapt to other cultures. I guess we also stop cooking our dishes.

I packed 3 different sauces in my handbag before flying out of Peru. They wouldn’t last forever but at least they would during the transition period. I also packed a bottle of our national liquor: Pisco. My mum promised to send me food recipes and I was a bit concerned about my cooking abilities. Having lived a traveling life eating out was the most common thing and when I was home my dear mother would pamper me every time not letting me cook a single meal. If anything I was the King of Pasta.

The 3 sauces did not only not last forever but were never opened indeed as they were confiscated at airport  security (you kidding right, a spicy sauce seen as a weapon is either too much paranoia or a good laugh. What’s wrong with the rules!!!). This meant the Pisco was drank at generous gulps between Mel and myself. I was left thinking I should’ve brought 2 bottles.  Anyhow, I did find more Pisco in the bottleshops around Melbourne, mostly Chilean Pisco (if you can call that Pisco) and some Peruvian. The problem was the price, while in Perú a bottle of that brand was 10 dollars here it was 65! And that’s just a decent brand, nothing like the one I brought. So now I rely on anyone coming from Peru to bring some of that devilish liquor to this far land.

As for food, there’s not much Peruvian offer except for Nobu Restaurant which offers Anticuchos (Beef heart skewers) and Tiradito (Peruvian-like sushi), the others are different types of food. Not to mention that the prices of restaurants are quite high, as most things in Melbourne are. Why is it that cities that have a ‘vibrant’ economy are expensive? Because of all this I am surprising myself by turning into a quite accomplished cook. Mel is my fan number one and we have already enjoyed Papas a la Huancaína (boiled potatoes in creamy chili sauce), Arroz Chaufa (Chinese-Peruvian Rice), Tallarines Verdes (Pasta in Peruvian Pesto sauce), Lomo Saltado (Peruvian Stir fry), Quinoa and other yummy things.

Rocotos rellenos

Papas a la Huancaína

I’ve been glad to find Quinoa, perhaps the healthiest cereal on Earth, in Australia. In fact it’s becoming quite trendy and well-known. The other day I found a Quinoa dish in a pub in Brunswick! Also Stevia is available. For those who don’t know Stevia is a South American plant that replaces sugar without the effects of sugar, being ideal for diabetics or people on a diet.  Both very healthy items. One unhealthy one that I miss a lot is Inca Kola, Peru’s most popular soda that (according to most people tastes like bubblegum) almost impossible to find here. But luckily there is Cream Soda, which looks different but tastes just the same!

Stevia sweetener at the market

As for other Peruvians I’m glad that I have found a few. At school I looked at the student list and found about 5. I made friends with 2 of them: Pedro and Johan. But most South American students from my school are Colombian or Brazilian. We get together every Thursday after class to drink beer and talk in Spanish about our impressions of Melbourne and to feel less lonely on this business of immigrating to other countries. Johan for example has a very similar situation to mine, living with his Australian Girlfriend and being from Cusco where he was a guide. In Pedro´s case it is his sister who is with an Australian and he came here to look for opportunities instead of the UK. I’ve met other Peruvians too at work, where my manager and her husband are from Lima. It’s very interesting to hear their own impressions and how they go through the ‘cultural shock’ that supposes to be here.

In general Perú is pretty popular in Melbourne. On the mX (a freely distributed magazine) I’ve read a couple articles on Machu Picchu and at travel agencies they usually offer talk on the Incan city that has become a major attraction here too. A few weeks ago on SBS channel there was a show with Bruce Parry visiting the Peruvian Amazon. And just the other day I went to St Andrews market, a hippy like market where everything organic and cool and environmentally responsible is welcome, and there was a kid playing charango (Andean guitar) and zampoña (Andean panflute) and asking for coins to go on a musical journey to South America.

After visiting the Immigration Museum I learnt that Peruvian migration has not been as big as others in South America (Chile, Colombia, Argentina, Brazil) to Australia. But I am glad that I can meet other  countryfellows here. I’m starting to think that us Peruvians are like the Irish of SA and you can find us anywhere.

3 Comments

Filed under Australia, Cultural Differences, Cultural Immersion, Immigration, Living Abroad, Peru, Travel, Travel Stories, Travel Writing

A Peruvian in Australia: Getting Around (part 1)

A few days ago a friend of Melissa was asking her where has she showed me around. We were impressed of how much we´ve seen in such a short period of time. First we visited Healesville and Marysville, two villages not far from Melbourne. The first maintains an animal Sanctuary focused on Australian wildlife. Here I saw my first live Kangaroos and Koalas. Also venomous snakes, many possums, Tasmanian devils, Dingos, Wallabies and some of the strangest animals I have ever seen. Even Platypuses, they are all here present, alive and seemingly happy.  We even had the chance to see a Wombat being cared for by a nurse who told us he was an orphan. For the birds they had large aviaries that represented their habitats. We had a chance to see Helmeted Honeyeaters, of which is said only 80 pairs remain in the wild, not far from the Sanctuary.

They also had a show where trainers ‘introduced’ parrots and prey birds to the audience while the birds performed their acrobatics barely above our heads. I didn’t know that Australia is considered the ‘country of parrots’ with 56 species present. We met a few Cockatoos that were trained to talk and were quite funny, and Parrots of gorgeous colours.  This was very unusual ‘cause in Peru green is the main colour of most of our parrots since 60% of my country is Amazonian evergreen rainforest that makes a lot of sense, but here there is gray, vibrant red, bright pink, creamy yellow. The reason is not the of the landscape but the lack of large mammal predators that threaten the parrots.

Barking Owl

Black-breasted Buzzard

The prey birds were incredible. An owl was sent by the trainer to catch his ‘prey’ among the sitting crowd. He proved his point. The Barking Owl made no noise and was so accurate when moving between our heads that it was both scary and impressive. A falcon showed us how he uses a rock to break the hard shelled eggs he likes to eat. The ‘wham’ that he produced every time he hit the egg was so loud it might as well had been thrown by an adult person. And he wouldn’t miss! On the third try the egg was broken and the falcon got his prize. But the most impressive was a massive Wedge-Tailed Eagle, the largest prey bird in this country.

We then went to Marysville following a beautiful winding road in the middle of a forest that had noticeably been damaged by a fire. Mel told me that Marysville had been practically wiped out of the map by a fire just recently. She wasn’t joking. The town, though peaceful and pretty, was in honest reconstruction and everywhere there were bulldozers and trucks and signs offering houses. She told me that some inhabitants didn’t want to leave their houses and they died in them. It was treated as a national tragedy by the media. I had heard about the fires in Australia but this was my first time looking at an area that had been badly hit by them. I was shocked.

Burned forest near Marysville

A bit further up on the road we stopped at a waterfall. Mel was so shocked to see that all the forest around the creek was just recovering yet it was far from the dense vegetation that once kept this place secret. But people were still visiting and if no more fires showed up maybe the forest will recover in just a few more years.

Great Ocean Road came after. Perhaps this is the most popular visit to do when in Melbourne. Most travel agencies will offer this tour that takes busloads of Asian visitors to see the 12 Apostles, a spectacular series of rock formations on the wild southern Australian shores. Eroded by rain and wind, the 12 Apostles are no longer 12 and someday will be none but meanwhile it’s quite a sight. Though a couple Brazilians at school told me later that any road in Brazil is like that and they were not impressed, and I found it similar to Paracas National Reserve in Peru, Great Ocean Road and the 12 Apostles are a beautiful scenary, specially under sunny weather, which we luckily had.

12 Apostles

12 Apostles

In truth 12 Apostles is the end of the road. On the way there the ‘road’ goes through gorgeous little town like Lorne and Apollo Bay where Melbournians come to spend the summer days. On the way, a famous surfing spot is Bell’s Beach, where the movie Break Point was shot. I am in fact tempted to go back there to camp and swim a little. But I must confess that I’m a bit concerned about my safety in the Australian waters since as soon as I got here I heard of 3 mortal shark attacks. People will say ‘keep between the flags’ but who´s telling the sharks that!?

We rented a lovely cabin at Apollo Bay and Lily had lots of room to go around and run free. Oh, I didn’t mention, on this trip we decided to bring Mel’s Golden Retriever Lily.  Should someone had told her that there were sharks in the water I don’t think she would have minded. What a big mess Lily did in the car: sand, water and golden hairs all over the place! But we were one happy family on the way back.

La playa with Lily

2 Comments

Filed under Alternative tourism, Australia, Birdwatching, Cultural Immersion, Immigration, Living Abroad, Travel, Travel Stories, Travel Writing

A Peruvian in Australia: First Impressions of Melbourne

I hadn’t done much research on Melbourne. I had heard from everyone I asked that it was a very lively and pretty city. In fact just days before I arrived it was named ‘Most Liveable City In the World’. The virtual guide during the flight from Auckland called it the “Paris of the Southern Hemisphere”. I was certainly excited about my new hometown.

Melissa took me on a tour of the city centre on my first weekend. This time the guide was being guided. So many new things to get used to. Another tricky one was to get used to cross streets looking first to the right because in Australia people drive on the left, as in England. Hadn’t been for Mel I think I would have been run over that very weekend by a tram. Melbourne loves its trams but pedestrians not so much. Though useful, accidents happen all the time either cause tram stops are in the middle of the street and a passenger descending gets run. In fact this is the only city where cars have to do ‘hook turns’ in orders for trams to pass, so if you thought driving on the left was complicated enough think again. I can’t wait to get my driver’s license!

We visited Eureka Tower, the highest building in Melbourne. We took the ‘lifts’ to the observatory on level 88. The elevators are proud to take you up there in 30 seconds! From up there I could see the city’s highlights: ‘Jeff´s Shed’ or the Melbourne Exhibition Center, Etihad stadium, the Yarra River, the Aquarium, the Bolte bridge, Flinders Street train station, the Pacific Ocean and the docklands a bit further…Melbourne is Australia’s 2nd largest city with around 4 million people and the city is a combination of old and new. Old being around the 1850’s and new being very modern. Some of the first settlers came during the Gold Rush of the 1850’s from all over the world. In fact Eureka Tower’s top floors are covered in a golden layer made of actual gold.

Eureka Tower with its gold layer top floors with the Yarra River before.

St Paul's and Flinders Street train station.

I had a free week before starting school and I dedicated it to walking around the CBD (City Bussiness Centre), as locals call it. Melbourne Museum was a highlight. The museum shows you the history of the city as well as a collection of stuffed animals which makes a good introduction to the odd fauna of this continental island: kangaroos, wallabies, echidnas, koalas, platypuses, Tasmanian devils as well as other animals now extinct. Funnily, on my way to the museum I chatted for a little bit with a volunteer from a conservation NGO who told me that Australia is the country in the world that has had more animal extinctions. A shame when you realize that all the wildlife is so different here.

Butterfly collection at Melbourne Museum

One of the permanent shows at the Melbourne Museum is on Aboriginal culture, a people that I am fascinated with. Art, History, tales and video installations where Aboriginal people talk of their life style are in place. This subject is particularly delicate in Australian history.  In states like Victoria Aboriginals were pretty much vanished and most of their culture disappeared with them. In the rest of the country, from what I’ve heard, their numbers are still small (especially if compared to the past) and they face trouble such as alcoholism, unemployment, many are in jail, racism, languages dissapearing. Sounds a lot like what happened to the Native Americans in the US. I’m afraid I will have to search hard to actually be able to know them little. On the streets I have not been able to see someone who looks Aboriginal, so my guess is that they are segregated and live on the countryside.

Still, Melbourne is a pot of multi-culture and a very cosmopolitan city. Walking on the city centre one can see Asian girls dressed on miniskirts and Siberian-like boots (at the same time), muslim women wearing the ‘bourka’ or the whole tunic that only shows their eyes at supermarkets,  men speaking Hindi,  a Chinatown, a Greek precint, Italian restaurants everywhere (and I wouldn’t be surprised an arm of the mafia too), an Irish St Paul’s church. How not to feel home in such a foreign playground?

Passport collage at Immigration Museum

But Australia wasn’t always like this. A visit to the Immigration Museum (this was love at first sight for me, a city that has a museum dedicated to immigration!, think about it…) teaches us about the people that came to Melbourne, the Gold Rush, the ‘white Australia policy’, the thick aussie accent, and how today this country is one that greets people and refugees from all over the world. In fact a few countries have their second largest population in Australia and not within their territories.

But Melbournians, wherever they are from, are always talking about one thing: the weather. It’s reputation as a city with highly variable weather is famous. The band Crowded House has a song named ‘Four Seasons in One Day’ which is a game of words that makes reference to the weather here. It’s also a pretty cool song. I think being the weather forecaster in this city must be one of the most difficult jobs in the world, mostly because it’s impressive to me how much people rely on it here. In Lima, Perú we don’t bother though there is such a thing as the weather forecast. In fact Melbourne’s weather is not that different from Lima, if anything a little colder and less humid.

While walking around one day I found myself in the middle of a parade. I remember Melissa had told me “our parades are nothing like yours”. I was about to witness one of the true passions of Victorians: the grand-final-of-footy-parade. ‘Footy’ is how they call ‘fútbol’ or football here. But this is not American football or what others call soccer. Footy is Australian football or AFL (Australian Football League) and is massive here. A mix of rugby and American football (though not as boring), aussie football once again steals a name that does not correspond to a sport where hands are essential to the game. The final match was all over the news and the players of the 2 teams that reached it were about to wave hello to thousands of fans wearing the colours of their teams. Not only that, after the final there was a gala night were prizes to the ‘Best of the Year’ were awarded and, judging by the media coverage it was like the Champions League final for Europeans or the Copa Libertadores final for South Americans. I was even invited to a grill-party to watch the game! I was not gonna discuss there that a sport named football involves a foot and a ball, but I was glad to be invited and mingle among the aussies. However, I had noticed a few symptoms of homesickness…

1 Comment

Filed under Australia, Cultural Differences, Cultural Immersion, Immigration, Living Abroad, Travel, Travel Stories, Travel Writing

A Peruvian in Australia: The Trip Begins…

Santiago Arturo Merino International

I’m at Santiago airport. Been here for 12 hours already. And I have 20 more to look forward to, at least. No, I’m not trying to break a record. I’m just stranded here ´cause someone pushed the wrong button. It’s funny how the things we deem so high, such as technology, can sometimes turn a simple plane connection into a nightmare. I’m trying to get to Melbourne, Australia. Melissa is waiting for me there. We haven’t seen each other in about 3 months. Just last night we were saying “only a few more hours darling…”

It happened that the person who checked me in in Lima checked my bags only until Auckland, New Zealand – not to my final destination in Melbourne. So when I arrived in Santiago and I went to check in, first they tell me that I’m late even though I was at the gate at boarding time. But I was supposed to go to another counter when I arrived, if only there had been someone to tell me that or a good sign. And though I walked the whole airport during my 7 hour-stopover, I never ran into a single person of LAN Airlines to give information.

So when I had finally checked in and all was ready for me to go aboard they realised that my bags were checked to Auckland, then they tell me I can’t board. Why? Because I have no visa to New Zealand. Seems complicated, doesn’t it? Well, it isn’t! Please read it again and tell me if the airline logic makes any sense to you.

This means the solution for LAN was that I had to leave the plane at Auckland and go get my bags and then check in again. Impossible without a visa. And I wonder how difficult this is to sort out without me getting down the plane in the era of communications? Well, it made me lose my flight, so I’m guessing it’s a very difficult issue.I guess I just don’t understand the rules of civil aviation these days.

So now I’m stranded at Santiago airport. It’s 4.11am. I have slept 3 hours. Not tonight but last night. I’m on my 3rd beer after 5 coffees (at least). I can’t go downtown Santiago cause it’s too late and there’s no public transport  because it’s national holiday and most stores are closed. And I’m would have to pay 50$ for a cab. I have my bags with me, 46 kilos of what is now ALL of my stuff. I would’ve left them in a locker but I’m don’t want anything else going wrong now.I’m waiting for the airline people to show up to claim some kind of help from them. At least a hotel room will do but they don’t seem to be very helpful around here.

This is how a simple air transfer turns into a nightmare. With all the expectations high, my girlfriend waiting for me, dinner reservations having been made….But we can see the funny side. In fact that’s why I write this. Can’t you see it? I guess one day I will laugh about it. All I can do now is grin and think that this kind of incident, let’s name it  ‘ The airline new guy factor’, is the type of thing that happens,  it’s why people love and hate South America. Sure, big cliche. The lady next to me on the counter had the same problem, but she got in the plane.

Moral of the story  would be something out of Murphy’s law: whatever can go wrong will go wrong when you least expect it. Take it easy, try to laugh about it, after all, drama and comedy are just one step away from each other. Oh, and don’t choose LAN to fly if you have another  choice, please.

Grumpy and sleepy

Melissa called me with good news around noon: she had booked a room at the Holiday Inn right next to the airport. I headed straight there with my 46kilo-trolley and my I-haven’t-slept-in-2-days-face. The room was beautiful, with a massive TV and a lovely shower. It seemed bigger than the time I was gonna spend there so I tried to make use of all the facilities, toiletries, etc. I headed back to the airport after a failed attempt to nap a couple hours. I had to know when was I flying to Melbourne. The people who wouldn’t let me onboard said there was a flight the next day (today). Once again it was not easy to find a LAN person. When I found one the bad news was that there is no flight until tomorrow. The good news was that my place was being ‘protected’. At least I knew I was on a flight out of Santiago and that was something. Now my mission was to go and claim a decent treat. I decided to file a complaint.

Amazingly modern airports such as Santiago’s can be very pretty and efficient but when it comes to people helping people I had the impression I  was witnessing a bunch of monkeys trying to drive a car. No kindness or good advice. First I tried Taca Airlines to pay for my hotel, after all it was one of their employees who messed up my bags. They refused. They said all they could do was to offer meal coupons to eat at the airport. A small victory. With LAN it was even less encouraging. To find a way to actually complain at that airport would be the equivalent to finding a needle in a gigantic hay stack. Their customer service office seemed perversely designed not to be found. But I complained with LAN and with the airport authorities as well. I heard back from one of them, I will let you guess who did not.

Finally I went to bed after a short swim at the hotel’s pool and a relaxing moment at the hydro massage. Now this was decent treat! I was exhausted but happy that the next day I would finally (and hopefully) be on a plane to Australia.

After check out I headed to LAN to check in my bags at the Frequent Flyer counter. No problem with that after a little explanation to the person there. It seemed I was on my way. Without the bags I set on to do a few errands around the airport: send postcards, get a plug adaptor for Australia, buy locks for my bags (I wasn’t gonna take ANY more risks). I was so bored of the sameness of the place that I was starting to feel like that character in the Tom Hanks movie who lives in an airport.

But I got in the plane and the plane took off and I slept like a baby and I landed in Auckland 13 hours after. I couldn’t believe it. This time the first thing I did was find the counter of my connection flight to Melbourne. Once again I had to explain what had happened and judging by the expression on the face of woman behind the counter, it was trouble. She put me on the phone with another guy and I had to explain it one more time. This time the man on the other side of the line asked “you say this happened with LAN?…yeah, this happens all the time; no worries mate, you will fly today”. If I understood well this was a pretty common happening. Just to be sure I asked the woman behind the counter. “You’d be amazed” was her reply. May a word suffice to the wise.

I made it on that plane too. After 2 days stuck on an airport and a 13 hour flight, going from Auckland to Melbourne felt like a short domestic flight. All the rugby fans going to see the world cup stayed at Auckland and by the time I arrived in Melbourne the queues to be checked at customs were massive. That just made me remember how my trip began in Lima with my 3 spicy sauce jars being confiscated because they were too large to be carried on the plane (to think that THAT made me mad then!). Melissa had warned me about Australian customs, she thought THAT was gonna be the reason why I was going to be delayed, ha! Behind me on the queue there was a girl on a connecting flight and she was worried she was going to miss it. I offered her to go ahead of me, after all I had 46 kilos to be checked. Lucky or not, I went after and all I had to do was answer a couple questions and I was in. My heart was racing, nervous from head to toe, I couldn’t believe the new stamp on my passport and less could I conceive Melissa was waiting outside the room for me. When I came out of the (wrong) door there she was, standing in a flower dress, beautiful, with a balloon that read ‘welcome home’.  Together at last.

Leave a comment

Filed under Australia, Immigration, Travel, Travel Stories, Travel Writing

A Peruvian in Australia: Preparations for a Long Journey

If you ask me now when I decided to move to Australia I can’t tell you the exact moment. It could be when I ran up path to the Sun Gate to reach Mel as she was arriving there via the Inca Trail to view Machu Picchu for the first time; after 3 days of being apart I realised I wanted to follow her. I suspect though, as everything else in life, it was a process. And like almost everything else in MY life, a very intense and quick process.

I remember when Melissa left the first time, I really really missed her. When she left the second time, I just wanted her back. So yeah, that had to do with it. Oh, I know what you are thinking now: ‘romantic fella’.  I won’t disagree with you, that description suits me. And I won’t try to list all the other ‘reasons’ that I invented to feel less stupid and fragile about leaving my relatives and my home country. So yes, I am that silly guy who goes to the other side of the Pacific to give love a chance. And trust me, at 32 I am well aware of the dangers of doing  stuff like this. So let’s just say that I feel more comfortable when the odds are against me and, whatever happens, Australia is too much of an attractive destination to think about it twice.

To make me feel more comfortable I quickly learnt that I had relatives where I was heading: Melbourne. Also, because I had been working with an Australian company in Peru, I met many aussies whom I had lead on trips around Peru, some of them from Melbourne. After posting on Facebook where my next adventure would take me I started receiving  invitations and hoorays. The gut started twisting but the feeling was right.

The first step was to start gathering the necessary documents that the visa required. This subject was particularly scary for me. Though I have been an immigrant a good amount of my life, it has never been easy and it has always been quite anecdotic to go places with my Peruvian passport. This is not the blog to discuss what I think of immigration but I’ll simply say that immigration needs to be seen as anything but a problem for the world. In this sense I was happy to be heading to a country that prides itself on a multicultural society.

After looking into the possibilities, Mel and I decided that the best shot was to ask for a student visa. The process was long and tedious but little by little we got the papers and requirements in order, I contacted an immigration agent who counseled me on schools and visa protocols and pretty soon I was sealing the envelope that would go to the nearest Australian embassy in Santiago. The waiting had begun.

Meanwhile I was learning how to use Skype  while I was still working and traveling around Peru leading groups. I would tell them that maybe soon I would be in Oz and they would wish me luck. They told me stories of places and got me prepared for what awaited me. Every single one of them said Melbourne was a beautiful place to go. In my free time I dreamed about all I could do down under, all the new bird species I’d be able to watch, if i should be really concerned about swimming or surfing  in the oceans with all the sharks and crocs they have,  all the music festivals I’d be able to go. But there was also the flipside: would I be able to find Peruvian food, Pisco, spicy sauce? I was gonna miss out on the Ornithological Congress in Cusco. And mostly the doubt that can always haunt you when you are about to make such a big decision: am I making a smart move here? However I formulated this question I was not ready for the answer. It would not hit me until a little later. Things started feeling as if I was leaning over a huge abyss and I was about to jump. I had my parachute but I hadn’t heard the weather forecast.

The waiting took on a dramatic charm when the embassy called regarding my visa precisely when I was of of reach at the Bolivian high plateau. It got worse when my visa tramit was delayed due to the plane crash of a Chilean plane that killed a locally famous TV host and his crew, producing so much social upset that the president declared a 2 day holiday in Chile. If it wasn’t for the era of information (read: Internet) I would have thought the embassy was shut or that I had missed my chance to get a visa. It was around this point that my mother told me that it was ok to get more than 5 meters away from the phone and that my immigration agent recommended I stop calling the embassy 10 times every day asking for news.

After 3 long months of gathering documents, getting them stamped, photocopied, notified, legalised, filled out, emailed, scanned, etc, I got the visa and things started going very fast. Had to buy a plane ticket, go to the bank to sort out my accounts, visit friends and family members whom I sadly suspected I would never see again due to their advanced age, pack my bags and leave all my other stuff in storage and amid all this try to enjoy my nearest family members. I think I managed pretty well while I was busy doing all this, but it still hadn’t dawned on me the big emotional charge all this meant. Mel would tell me while chatting that she couldn’t believe how brave I was and I didn’t really understand what she meant then. To me it was an exciting next step; a whole new and gigantic country to explore with some of the strangest wildlife in the world. Goin’ to Australia offered the possibillity of goin’ further to even more exotic places such as Asia and Africa. And I had family members to meet and friends to see again, not to mention the woman I love! I felt like I had won the lottery and was on my way to claim my prize.

4 Comments

Filed under Australia, Cultural Differences, Cultural Immersion, Immigration, Living Abroad, Travel, Travel Stories, Travel Writing

Peru’s North-Eastern Route: Alto Mayo

Alto Mayo is one of my favourite places to birdwatch. The cloudforest has spectacular views from a road that twists and turns through it, the Fernando Belaunde Terry highway, finished  during the late 70’s to finally reach the jungle of Northern Peru. The place where I was going was the campsite of one of the many fronts of workers who I’m sure must have suffered to build a road over these mountains. In fact the camp’s name, Venceremos (“We will win”), gives an idea of the epic struggle it must have been, but also offers a perception of the purpose nature serves around here: to extract, defeat and tame.

Fernando Belaunde Terry highway

My friend Marco Leon works in the area studying orchids but also his NGO, INIBICO, recently received a fund to create an interpretation center right at Venceremos, so now the campsite is no longer abandoned. I have worked with Marco in the past and this time I went there to do some birding and give him the lists of what birds I found to add some value to his project.

Interpretation center at Venceremos

I was at Venceremos one year ago and I must say that the work they have done there has produced an amazing change in the aspect of the campsite! Now it looks like a place to visit, with a building where the proper interpretation center will be, with explanations and photographs of the Alto Mayo Protected Area. On the building next door the park guards live and they have their kitchen, toilet facilities and rooms. I’m happy for this means that protection will be enabled though this is too positive for an area that faces extremely difficult conditions to manage.

Alto Mayo extends over cloudforest, a delicate and relatively small habitat, yet a very rich and biodiverse one; in fact the most biodiverse habitat in relation to its size in Peru. This diversity has attracted people from far places such as Cajamarca and Chiclayo, cities where opportunities are less and poverty abounds. They come here and claim a piece of land as theirs.  With no law enforcement from the authorities (many times authorities themselves are involved in “land trafficking”),  they start practicing the Andean way of agriculture: slash and burn, a technique that makes no sense in such poor soils as those of cloudforest. The steep hills are ideal for coffee. We are losing our forests to give coffee to a world already too hyperactive. That and cows, and what once was a beautiful forest full of ferns, moss, epyphites and bromeliads is now grazing green grass for cows. Of course, on the way to deforestation all the wood is taken care of and the hunger of the world for cedar will soon realize there’s no more of it.

It’s hard to be positive when one looks at the reality of things for the local people. I haven’t even listed all of the problems of the Alto Mayo. But we try to do something. I think the simple fact that truckdrivers see me looking for birds on the side of the road can at least raise the question of ‘what the hell is that gringo doing by the side of the road?’, and maybe the spontaneous answer will come too ‘oh, he’s watching birds and nature….maybe then I won’t throw my thrash out the window’. If all drivers would think that, because the amounts of thrash I saw on the side of the road are a shame. Even the bus companies throw their rubbish from the meals they give their passengers off the window!

But Alto Mayo remains beautiful and biodiverse nevermind all the trouble closing in around it. I dedicated my second day there to walk the side of the road until the afternoon and saw amazing birds: my first ever Blackburnian Warbler, a tiny bird that migrates from North America. Also a female Royal Sunangel, a hummingbird endemic of Peru.

Flame-faced Tanager

Cinnamon Flycatcher

In the afternoon we drove to the other side of the high pass to a village named Buenos Aires. There Marco works with Doroteo Valle, a man with a passion for orchids who is growing hybrids on his greenhouse. The pressure for orchids is great here and is common to see locals picking them up on the side of the road to

sell them to drivers passing by for ridiculously low prices.  That’s how Mr. Kovach got a flower of Phragmipedium kovachii, he bought it illegally for a few soles and took it (illegally) to the US where he quickly published the new species description getting ahead of a team of Peruvians who were doing just the same. He even put his name on the scientific name of the flower (kovachii). And though Mr. Kovac is in jail now, most people don’t run that luck and they get away with it.  The orchids of Alto Mayo are beautiful and abundant but some of them are extremely rare, like Phragmipedium kovachii which only grows in Alto Mayo. We must be able to reproduce it so that it doesn’t have to be extracted from its natural places and that’s what Marco wants too. Not only he works with Doroteo but with many other locals who have their green houses next to the road giving them assistance in how to reproduce the orchids so they don’t have to go and extract more from the wild.

Phragmipedium kovachii

Doroteo

Next day is long with some birding in the morning and a lot of driving to return to Tarapoto. On the way we visit a huge plantation of Stevia, a plant that replaces sugar, especially recommended for diabetics ‘cause it doesn’t contain any glucose.

 

 

There are good things happening out there, we just need to find them.

5 Comments

Filed under Alternative tourism, Birdwatching, Conservation, Immigration, North of Peru, Peru, Travel, Travel Stories, Travel Writing, Trekking

Peru´s North-Eastern Route: Rodriguez de Mendoza.

The road to get to Rodriguez de Mendoza goes over spectacular landscapes of mountains, rivers, cloudforests, the palm tree forest of Ocol, and finally the Valley of the Huayabamba River, where Mendoza lies, at 1600 meters.

Rodriguez de Mendoza

We had heard that the people from this area were very kind but what we experienced on the bus was unbelievable. At first everyone seemed stranged that 3 gringos were on the bus. Not a lot of tourists go to Mendoza. At halfway we had already been invited to Longar, a nearby village, on Saturday for a local carnival party and a concert of famous cumbia band Los Caribeños; and we had found a guide for the route from Mendoza to Rioja, an ancient Inka Trail that the Spaniards themselves crossed on their way to Moyobamba. We plan to do the same to get there, otherwise we’d have to go back to Chachapoyas and catch a bus to Moyobamba.

We had heard something else about the people from this area: that the women here are the most beautiful in Peru. A high claim you might think but in fact, if you ask a Peruvian where the most beautiful women are in the country, chances are he or she will respond “in the North”. If you go North and ask the same question, people will say “go to Rodriguez de Mendoza”. And once we arrived here we asked and people answered “go to Limabamba”. We might be doing that in the next few days. Women here are definitely beautiful and my 2 gringo friends are already thinking on getting married with a local. But there is an explanation for this beauty. When locals are asked they say that it comes from the Spaniards who settled here on their way to Moyobamba, the first Spanish-founded city in the Peruvian jungle. But also there’s the legendary saying that the Chachapoyans were ‘white and blonde’. Fact is people here are blonde in a much larger amount that anywhere else I’ve seen in Peru. They call themselves Huayachos and if I say I am from here, people believes me. I´m sure that gives you an idea. There were also some German settlers in the area that came in the 1800’s, and the isolated this valley has been for 4 centuries have contributed to this local mix of beauty.

We checked in at Hostal Paraiso, next to the police station. We figured it would be the safest place to rest but truly we have nothing to worry about as everyone here has been very kind and helpful. Even the locals will say “people don’t steal here”. The terrace of the hostal has quickly become a favourite place to watch the surroundings and wash our clothes. The balcony is the perfect spot for my preferred urban hobby: people watching, and since we are right next to the market too, ours is a busy street.

The morning after we arrived I went up to the ‘chacra’ (field) of Alfonso Saldaña, a local elder who is a guide and offered me his services. He wanted me to admire the view from his property and show me his ‘sacha inchi’ plantation. I’ve learned that this area grows lots of sacha inchi, a phenomenal pod that produces a kind of peanut with high level of Omega 3 and Omega 6, the healthiest natural fat. Also coffee and sugar cane are popular plantations in the surroundings. There are still some sugar “moliendas” or “trapiches”, the old mills moved by a horse to get the cane’s juice and turn it into honey or into ‘guarapo’, a typical strong liquor. As for coffee we visited the local cooperative where they have excellent coffee that they export. We have also chosen a little spot for breakfasts based on “humitas” (corn tamales), fried bananas, good local coffee and juice. Also the owner, Elisa is charming and, you guessed, beautiful.

I have run several times with Don Alfonso on the streets in the last couple days. Just the other day he was at the main square with his friends and I joined them for a chat. I asked them how come that Mendoza has an airport and they told me that actually the airport came first, back in 1945, and it remained the only major way of communication until the road to Chachapoyas was finished in 1968. They mentioned the current mayor wants to revive the airport, something that would be great for the area since the Chachapoyas airport is too dangerous and has remained shut since 2003. With an active airport Mendoza would become the entrance to this part of the jungle. I can only hope this great place never gets spoiled by being exposed, knowing that the cause of its charisma is precisely its isolation.

I also asked them about how was life in the days of terrorism back in the 80’s and they seemed to have skipped most of the horror of those days. Nevertheless there were, and apparently still are, poppy plantations in the area that go to the drug-trafficking business.

Don Alfonso encouraged me to go to Huamanpata with him by showing me a document where lists of birds and other fauna and flora. The area is very promising for bird watching and presents many endemics. But this time I’m avoiding tough walks as the one to Huamanpata, a beautiful seasonal lagoon next to primary forests. It will have to be next time for me to go to this new protected area.

Thursdays and Sundays are market days, so today we visited the market. Yuca (cassava), peanuts, sacha inchi, bananas, sugar cane, guava, cane honey, potatoes, fish, etc. were all offered by the women in loud voice. A seller called me “gringo aleman” (German gringo) as if I was from Limabamba, a nearby village where the blonder people from this area come from. They must have German blood there I guess. I am intrigued so I have decided to go there tomorrow with Erick and Matt and check out the town and some waterfalls nearby.

This Thursday was a very hot day and asking around we learned that there is a pool in the town so we headed there. It’s a huge water reservoir used as a pool. The water comes from a natural spring and it’s fresh.  Local kids go there to play and impress the young girls. It was so hot today you could see kids with balloons filled with water playing carnival on the streets.

As for the food today the best surprise was breakfast on the Restaurant Tivoli, across the street from our hostal, where I asked for a coffee (already a pleasant custom here) and a Juane. I suspected Juanes could be different here but I never expected them to be so different. This dish has a sort of evolution as one goes along North-East Peru. In Chachapoyas for example they make it with yuca and chorizo (sausage), while in Mendoza is made with rice and yuca and is fried not boiled; whereas in Tarapoto and Moyobamba is prepared with boiled rice and cilantro (coriander). I can safely say that this morning’s  Juane has been the best I’ve had ever and I can’t wait for tomorrow’s breakfast to go across the street and ask for another.

3 Comments

Filed under Alternative tourism, Backpacking, Birdwatching, Cultural Differences, Food, Immigration, Peru, Travel, Travel Stories, Travel Writing, Trekking