Category Archives: Peru

The Russian Miracle

INTRO.

 

Tonight is the night. Tonight, at 2am AEST, Peru will play its first football match at the World Cup since 1982. I was 3 years old in 1982. Tonight is huge.

 

I understand a lot of people won’t get it. A lot, including my partner, wonder why this is such a big deal to me. I will try to explain it here.

It’s not just about football, it’s really a bunch of things. It’s the journey here, it’s a mirror image of what it means to be Peruvian. I honestly can’t wait.

The South American qualifier is the longest of all. After Russia 2018 the teams in South America will start playing each other in 2019 to qualify for Qatar 2022. It takes almost 3 years of home and away matches against each of the countries in the confederation. A mammoth 18 matches in what is described by many as the most difficult and strategically complex of all qualifiers.

When Peru’s national male team started the campaign, it wasn’t looking promising at all.

Halfway through the qualifiers Peru sat on 8 points from 9 matches. Expectations were the usual: pretty low.

It wasn’t very long ago that it still looked pretty incredible we would return to the World Cup.

 

You need to understand what 36 years without qualifying is. But not only that, ending each campaign either at the bottom or 1 spot away from qualifying is a massive heartbreak for the fans. There isn’t a more loyal fan than the Peruvians.

If the relation of Peru fans and their team was a love relationship, it would be described at a toxic one. Why keep loving someone that hurts you and disappoints you every time?

 

HISTORICAL CONTEXT.

 

In 1985 we needed a win to qualify to Mexico 1986. It was Argentina who, then like now, weren’t assured of a spot. Peru’s was up 2-1 with minutes left on the clock. Pasarella got a pass and received it with the chest, squared to the muddy area and the ball is missed by the keeper, hits the post, 2 defenders rushing can’t clear it and Gareca pushes it over the line where it was waiting. It doesn’t get more dramatic than that. Except it does.

 

Gareca, today our coach, wasn’t picked for selection by Bilardo. Therefore, the man who gave the Argentina of Maradona the chance to be a part of the tournament where they would become World Champions for the second time, was not selected to go to Mexico. That has to mark you somehow.

 

After 1985 Peru was in the dark alley of a civil war and football was no one’s priority. Back then our team became well acquainted with the bottom of the table and the sporting joys of the country were given to us by the Olympic female volleyball team, who won silver at the Seoul 1988 Olympics.

 

Our next close call was in 1997 on the qualifier for France. The coach was Oblitas, one of Peru’s great players who was in fact part of the team that tied with Argentina 2-2 in 1985 and almost went to Mexico.

Peru was again fighting for the last spot as was the Chile of Marcelo Salas and Ivan Zamorano. We were fourth and needed a tie in Santiago’s Estadio Nacional to qualify.

 

In Peru’s football folklore this is often referred to as sad day in the same terms that an economist refers to the 1930’s Great Depression. Chile organised a very aggressive welcome to our team, who had beat them 2-1 in Lima. Chile was coming from 2 defeats against Uruguay and Argentina and were 5th, behind us but with a chance to qualify.

Our intimidated team lost 4-0 and Salas scored 3 goals. Our self-esteem was nowhere to be found and we missed the chance to qualify again to the WC. Chile tied in points with us but had a better goal difference. We still managed to beat Paraguay at home but Chile defeated Bolivia 3-0 and went to France.

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PRESENT.

It would be Bolivia and Chile in fact, who would play a significant role in our current WC presence. In typical Peruvian fashion, a lot of luck, anxiety and suffering was required.

 

On Matchdays 7 back in September 2016 we visited Bolivia and lost 2-0. On Matchday 8 Chile tied 0-0 with Bolivia and later they complained to CONMEBOL because Bolivia fielded an ineligible player (Paraguayan in fact). Pero jumped on the bandwagon and complained too. Chile was awarded a 3-0 victory as was Peru. Chile got 2 extra points out of it. We got 3. That would prove decisive because in their attempt to make the most of a situation Chile did us a massive favour. We qualified ahead of the champions of America on goal difference (2 goals better) and finally set the record straight for the 1997 debacle.

 

But that wasn’t everything. Because we qualified on the pitch and not on the table.

On the last matchday of the qualifier five teams had a chance to go to Russia:

 

4th Colombia ( 26 points)

5th Chile (26 points)

6th Peru (25 points)

7th Argentina (24 points)

8th Paraguay (24 points).

 

We played against Colombia at home. It wasn’t looking good for our nervous team. 55 minutes in James scores and the nerves were palpable for 40 thousand at the Estadio Nacional plus so many others on their TV’s (including myself, pretending to work).

 

On the minute 75 the ref whistled a foul from Fabra on Corzo just outside the area. Guerrero and Cueva are next to the ball and Guerrero hasn’t realised the ref lifted his hand, indicating it’s an indirect kick. He takes impulse and goes for the goal. Obviously if he scored it wouldn’t count as it was indirect.

 

And then the miracle: Ospina, in the strangest fashion, touches the ball in the air right above the line as it goes in sending it to the side of the net inside of the goal. It was the Rapture. Babies must have been conceived at that moment. It’s the kind of moment people get tattoos of.

 

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The tie took Peru to 5th on goal difference and to the playoff against New Zealand. Colombia was through too. Paraguay, inexplicably, lost at home to Bolivia on the 85th minute and Brazil ruined Chile’s goal difference with 3 goals. You know what Messi did for Argentina in Quito after going 1 goal down.

 

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I won’t spend any time talking about Guerrero and his ordeal to play at a World Cup he totally deserves to be in and the miracles that had to happen for that to take place.

You can read more about it below:

 

https://www.bbc.com/sport/football/44415647

 

 

PERU 2018

 

So people have started believing again. We are no longer looking at other teams from the wrong end of the points table. We can now be proud again of our football, as much as we are of our food, our diversity of wildlife, our rich culture.

It’s as if this qualification has done heaps for the collective consciousness. And that may sound silly but football is a reflection of a nation and when there were dark times in our country our football was rubbish and when our federation was corrupt so was our team.

I’m not saying it’s all fine and dandy but it is a good sign.

 

Perhaps now we can focus on paying more attention to the female football teams that have been getting great results and be proud of them too. Perhaps we can put the stigma in the bin that we aren’t good for some things and perhaps this can help to make Peru a more fair place for those that don’t have a TV to watch the World Cup and work as hard as our team did to qualify. Because at the end of the day the team is not 11 players, it’s 32 million if us.

 

Buena suerte Peru!

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Filed under 2018 FIFA World Cup, Football, Peru, Sports

A Peruvian in Australia: One Year Abroad.

On September 22nd it was a year since that eventful arrival of mine to the land of sun and kangaroos. One year! I could hardly believe the time had gone so fast! Yet again, when I looked back and I saw all that I have accomplished it would actually seem longer than a year. That, by the way, makes me happy. To know that my time here has so far been put to good use.

So, how can I start explaining how I feel after a year in Oz? Mel was asking me the other day what were the things I like about Melbourne. I normally tell the things I don´t like. I’m a bit critical like that. It’s a sign of my personality. I don’t do it to be mean. I fear if I’m not I’d become used to things and take them for granted. I’m more worried about not criticising enough than about being critical.

Which brings me to my subject: things I like and things I don’t like about living in Melbourne.  So, let´s get on with the bad news first. Have I complained enough about the public transport system?  I don´t think I could possibly have. But yeah, it is publicly known that Melbourne has unreliable public transport. The trams and buses work alright as far as I have seen. The trains is what sort of bothered me at first. I have to say, they seem to have improved in the last couple of months (or I have gotten more used to it).

You see, in Peru the problem for me was that public transport was ‘too reliable’, meaning there was an extra offer of buses and taxis, producing chaos and speeding. But when one is in a hurry no one complains. Here, things are much more civilised. And sometimes TOO civilised. At first that transition wasn’t easy. But patience is a muscle and mine has grown and extended.

Wanna drive in Lima? Go for it…

I do love that in Melbourne people are good drivers and respect the other drivers and the rules. People are polite and patient generally speaking. Of course, taxi drivers are and will be taxi drivers anywhere in the world. If you have been to Peru you will understand what I am talking about. Driving is insane there! Always defensively, noisy, and unsafe. I am driving a little every week around my suburb now that I have a License and I feel really safe.

One thing I miss from Peru is the human contact, the Latin spark. A few days ago an older fella was making conversation with me on the train. He first tried the guy next to him but the young fella didn’t even bother answering. With the woman across seating in front he didn’t even try. I chatted with him for a couple minutes before he left. He quickly commented that ‘nobody ever talks on the trains these days’ and I couldn’t help but agree. I look at the trains and all I see is people looking at their phones, plugged in earphones of different calibers, newspaper, book, waving their eyes aimlessly trying to avoid contact with another pair of eyes. All of which is fine, I do it myself. But I do get the feeling people on the train (particularly on the train) are extremely against the idea of simply talking to a stranger. I get that this is a sign of ‘everyone minds its own bussiness’ but it seems to me that it breaks a little with the whole idea of community. But I understand that there’s just too many of us like to say ‘good morning’ when you walk aboard the traincar.

You probably won’t meet the love of your life on a train, but a little chat to a stranger doesn’t hurt.

People are busy in modern life. And modern city life is even busier. A little bit of sympathy from a stranger couldn’t hurt though. But the way things are these days, if I went around just making conversation I have the feeling I would be tagged as a weirdo or an offender of some sort.

In this respect I have usually found myself closer to the people of country-side Victoria than to the people of the city. The man from the train was from the country. People in the city can be ‘too cool’ and sometimes they seem really snobby. Even the homeless people are a bit snobby sometimes. The other day one of them wouldn’t receive food saying ‘not another muffin, thanx!’ A Peruvian homeless person would love to have such luck. Still I wouldn’t dare to generalise people in this city. I guess those are some of the symptoms of a country doing well economically. But there are doubts and fears rising as to for how much longer the economy will keep up the good mood. Will people still be indifferent when hard times come?

I’m not saying in Peru everyone talks to everyone. There are people glued to their smart-phones and earphones just as well. That’s global stuff. But it seems somewhat more ‘friendly’. I wonder if I am being biased and I am romancing my country in my memories. I know that happens when one leaves home. Maybe I need to go back and see it again with my new ‘foreign’ eyes. I do have plans to go back in 2013. Then I will be able to tell for sure.

All of this doesn’t mean that Aussies aren’t friendly. They are and very. They also respect very much other people’s business. That’s part of the Melbourne spirit, they are proud of being relaxed. For a city I guess they are, though other Australians claim their parts of the country are more chilled, like Perth or Brisbane.

Wangetti Beach, near Cairns. That’s my kind of weather. Photo: Andrew Watson.

Nevertheless, I can see myself living here for some time. Both Mel and I want more country-side and warmer weather though. A little more on the jungle like side of things: exuberant vegetation, lots of Vitamin D and tropical fruits. We really liked Cairns and Brisbane. The weather is one of Melbourne’s infamous features. If it was just a bit more predictable and less all seasons in one day.

The food is been a great experience in Melbourne. From our first date at Maha to our last outing at Chin Chin. From fancy places that cook fusion food to popular spots that prepare traditional Asian cuisine.  I’ve found Peruvian dishes at Nobu and tasted Thai food for the first time here. Greek is also popular and Mel loves it. Public BBQ’s are everywhere and during summer it’s common to walk around the parks and smell a grill cooking. While here I’ve re-valued sushi and got to like it after thinking that all there was to it was raw fish. Pizza is good because of the number of Italians that have settled in Melbourne. We often get it from Fabio’s. And when I miss Peruvian food too much, there are the things that my mum sends on the post to make my day. So really, I can’t complain in that department.

Melbourne’s alleys and cool cafes and restaurants are abundant.

I also like the people are big sports fans here. So much so that it can be annoying. I don’t think I can get used to the office people running around Melbourne’s CBD during lunchtime. One of these days I’m gonna trip into one of them casually. On the other hand, it’s nice that the city has so many bike paths, running lanes, exercise grounds on parks, public pools, etc. Personally I’ve started doing a lot more sports than I used to. Not just chin-ups and biking here and there but going out for a run once or twice a week makes me feel quite healthy.

Sports Precinct: Rod Laver Arena, AAMI Park and the Yarra River on the side.

All in all Melbourne is a cool city. The availability of culture, the fashion (though I’m tired of seeing every possible combination of Ugg boots (furry boots) with tight pants on the streets. THAT IS WRONG!), the bar scene, the music shows. There’s a little bit of everything and a little for everyone. People from all over the world in an ordered place. Sometimes too expensive but a nice place indeed. I can see why they named it the Most Liveable City in The World for 2 years in a row. Melbourne is beautiful and I still have much to discover. Plans for the future are go and see a game of the Australian Open of tennis, go to the MCG (the largest stadium in Australia) to watch the cricket, go to the horse races during Melbourne Cup…

Now summer is coming and cool things like cinema in the open park, or the night markets will take place. People say this will be a hot summer because winter was ‘pretty cold’. They expect days of above 40C. Last time that happened, the Melbourne wheel of fortune, a local shot at the London Eye, melted. You read right, the huge iron structure melted. So now it sits there, being slowly rebuilt, watching Melbourne watching it. That’s one attraction I’m not riding on.

Melbourne Wheel

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

A Peruvian in Australia: Football?

Last weekend I went to the stadium to see a game of football. Or should I say ‘footy’. What people call football here is quite different from what football is in Peru. I have tried to explain to locals, for the sake of naming things right, that, as the name suggests, football is something that requires foot (or feet) and a ball. But that won’t do, they love this sport to death, which is to say the exact same way I love football (the one that requires only foot and a ball).

Especially in Melbourne, where most teams that play in the AFL come from, footy is hugely popular. It’s on the headlines every day since the season began and at the end of it there is a parade where the champions can be seen driving around the city centre. When I arrived last year it was the time of the finals. My first ‘social presentation’ in Melbourne was a BBQ party at one of Mel’s friends’ places to watch the final. There I learnt some of the rules and enjoyed a great game between Geelong and Collingwood.

Australian Football seems to me as a hybrid between Rugby and the other football (soccer). According to Wikipedia, it is related to Gaellic (Irish) football, which would be little surprise considering it dates back from the 1850’s when many Irish, among other nationalities, came to Melbourne to work in the nearby gold mines. I have heard from locals that ‘footy’ started as a way of using the cricket fields the ‘other’ half of the year they were not used–in winter. But also to keep cricketeers fit. You see, cricket is a sport that requires good weather as games can go on for days (that’s right, DAYS…and they call soccer boring?!), so the cricket season takes place during the best time of the year, summer. While ‘footy’ can be played in the same ground (an oval) as a cricket game and weather is not such a big deal for it since players are constantly running. They in fact run an average 17Km per game.
It is played with an oval ball in an oval field, of which there are plenty distributed around the city. There is one just a block from my place and many others not far. You have 2 teams, each with 18 players and each team has a goal, like that of rugby, with 4 long posts standing, the 2 middle ones longer. If the ball passes through the center is a 6 point goal and if it bounces through the sides is a 1 point goal. To carry the ball there the players can run with it, but they must bounce it every few steps. Or they may kick it or send it with their hand by hitting the bottom of the ball held on the opposite hand. It requires a lot of strategy and speed to get to the other goal, and while some games can be fast and exciting, others might be slow and boring.

On Saturday my friend Julio, also from Peru, asked me to go with him to see a game and though hesitant at first I decided to join him. What better way to spend the weekend and get to see an important aspect of life in Melbourne? As another friend of mine,Henry, who used to be a guide in Peru used to say “when visiting a place make sure you go to the market, the church and the main square to learn the different aspects of local life” and he was right but the rules are different here where there are no main squares (not in the sense they are in Latin America) and religion is much less popular. I would in fact replace religion for footy here in my friend’s formula, which sounds also appropriate for Latin America where people approach both in a very similar way: fanatically.

The clash on Saturday was a fun, fast-paced game between Saint Kilda Saints and Sydney Swans, two of the oldest teams in the league. It took place in a packed Etihad Stadium, with capacity for 55 thousand people; very pretty stadium I must say. I’m not sure what would happen if stadiums in Peru had sliding doors and TV monitors all around. I say that because in my country football is usually associated with the lower demographic and it is quite common to hear of riots and hooligan confrontations. Many end in deaths, like the case of a young man who was thrown off a box earlier this year.

Etihad Stadium

Surprisingly, in Melbourne the association is the same and it is just very funny to me to see these different societies tagging themselves in the same way. If an Aussie ‘bogan’ met a Peruvian ‘barrista’ (hooligan) what would they say to each other? Of course this is just a portion of the people who attend the stadium, and, like everywhere else, parents go with their kids, so I don’t mean to generalise, just to play with the clichés.
Julio, who has been living in Australia longer than I, was explaining further to me the rules and I think I get it now, I think I am a fan of footy. He was supporting the Swans since he lives in Sydney, and I was supporting St Kilda. How funny is that? Two foreigners choosing their teams of ‘footy’, is that assimilated enough for you? I might have become a fan of footy but I refuse to call it ‘football’.

And yet what I saw was families together, friends drinking beers, people screaming, supporting their team and enjoying their sport just as passionately as we enjoy ‘our’ football. And then it dawned on me that this must be a big and important part of Victorian, if not Australian, life. I have been to concerts, clubs, events and never people seemed as excited to me as they seemed that Saturday at the stadium. They were spontaneously enjoying the game. It seemed to me like I had noticed an important part of being aussie. And it´s exactly what football, or footy, our football, or fútbol, or soccer, does to people– it brings them together. That’s the beauty of it, you forget where you come from, where you are, and just enjoy the sport.

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

A Peruvian in Australia: Gigs

I am a big fan of music. I consider myself a frustrated musician, which, as bad as it sounds, seems better than being a struggling musician (I trust all the women who have dated one will understand what I mean…). Sometimes I still play my ‘air-drums’, an imaginary set of drums where I ‘follow’ the percussion of whatever my ipod is playing – people freak out when they see me on the train! And yes, when I was little I did build a drumset out of pots and pans driving my mum to insanity as she begged for silence. She is my biggest critic. Phrases such as ‘How can you listen to music all day?’ are well engraved in my memory.
Having proved that I AM a big fan of music, I’ll proceed with my story. I grew up in Peru in the 90’s and nobody went to Peru during that time. We had a sort-of-civil-war where a terrorist group named Shining Path would place car bombs all over Lima and that meant enough of a threat for any band to skip our country. And the few opportunities we Peruvians had had of seing any ‘big’ artist often resulted in mischance. I remember when my dad told me he had tickets to see Santana in Lima back in 1971 at the peak of his popularity, having just recently played Woodstock. At the time we had a military leftist government (you thought you’d heard it all ah!), and General Velasco, who led the Revolutionary Government, forbid Santana to play in Peru calling him an ‘imperialist hippie’. Poor Santana, I don’t think he saw much of Lima other than the airport. Luckily he came back in 2006 to close open wounds.

The first big band I remember that came to Peru was pop duo Roxette,  back in 1993. I was a fan of Roxette at the time and I was mad that my mum had decided we had to move to Mexico just a couple months before their concert in Lima. Some of my friends did go and said it was great. On the flipside, Mexico had become a must for bands to tour, so I finally found a place where I could go to live concerts. But I didn’t. Not the massive ones at least. Several friends were starting in music at the time; I remember everyone wanted to play guitar, there was a lack of bass and drum players. Some of these friends formed bands and I used to go watch them play. The circuit for school and local bands was quite healthy in Mexico back then. There was a rebirth of rock in Spanish and a lot of creativity around; it was a great time to go to gigs. When I moved to Mexico City I befriended people from ‘Los Musicos de Jose’ and used to go to their gigs everytime. Those were the only gigs I could afford. My first big concert had Bush and Delinquent Habits as headliners (?!?) with  a bunch of Mexican bands at Palacio de los Deportes.  I saw Jamiroquai at Auditorio Nacional ’cause my then girlfriend had been given tickets. But I always missed the biggest ones: Rolling Stones, U2, Rage Against The Machine, McCartney, etc.

While living in the US my biggest problem was not having a car, since public transport is non-existent and I was living in the suburbs of Cincinatti. There, I missed more bands. I must hold the record for having missed the same artist over and over again. That’s Manu Chao, a legend in Latin countries, whom I have missed in Lima, Mexico City, Barcelona, LA and Sydney by a matter of weeks.

Now that I live in Australia I am starting to taste  the joy of gigs and concerts. This last month I have been to two: Yann Tiersen and Mark Lanegan. The first is the composer of the music for the French film Amelie, which I love. I showed the movie to Mel and she really liked it too. I thought it’d be a great idea to listen to him live so I got us tickets. The venue was the Melbourne Recital Centre, a beautiful wooden concert hall ideal for small orchestras and classical music, and since the concert was being promoted as ‘the composer of Amelie’ I thought that he would play some of those songs. But I was wrong. Yann Tiersen has a big repertoire and he was travelling with a new album under his wing so it shouldn’t have been a surprise that he played none of the songs that brought him international attention. Not only that, but he was far from THAT kind of music. He played some violin but most songs were rock with synthetisers and a full band accompanying him. It was very good, but I am sure it caught more than one audience member surprised.

Mark Lanegan was another story. I heard his last record and loved it inmediately. I bought tickets to his concert on my own. I had come to The Forum just weeks before to see Mark Watson’s comedy stand-up show as part of the Comedy Festival, but the hall was different. While outside The Forum looks like an arabesque architecture building, inside it’s all red carpeted and decored with Greek imitation statues and the ceiling lights are bright blue as if it was night. With this description you might be thinking ‘What a horrible combination!’ and you could be right, it’s a daring combination but it doesn’t reach a kitsch or bad taste level. Either that or the love that locals have for The Forum lead me to believe that.

The Forum from the ACMI

The friend of a friend, Tom, was going too so we ended up going for a couple pints before the concert. There we ran into another friend of his. All together headed to The Forum, an old cinema dating back from the 1920’s. Back then it was the largest cinema in all of Australia. Today it was the perfect spot to see Lanegan: not a very large venue with capacity for maybe a couple thousand, some tables at the back and standing room right in front of the stage. Two bars on the sides and one more upstairs keep the thirsty ones apeased.

Foyer at The Forum

While discussing how to get through the crowd Tom’s friend decided she knew how to do it without the need of pushing or squeezing amongst the crowd. Turned out she found a perfect spot, we were not only 3 metres from Mark Lanegan but at the best angle and right next to the speakers. When ‘The Gravediggers Song’ started I trembled in surprise. It was not just loud, but fucking awesome sound!

But it was going to take more than fucking awesome sound to get the aussie crowd moving. In the words of my friend Julio, who went to see Manu Chao in Sydney just recently, Manu had to play his fastest ska to get some nodding from the crowd. Tom told me that Melbourne audiences are demanding, probably because this is the capital of music in the country. Certainly the range of music on offer is astounding. If I could I would have spent all my money on going to gigs this summer! The Pogues, Elbow, Electrelane, Radiohead, Prince, Soundgarden…
When I went to see Portishead and The National at the Harvest Festival last year it was my first taste of that attitude. It was Portishead’s first Australian gig in 10 years or so, and I am aware that their music is not precisely dancing music but rather hypnotic, yet the crowd, though cheerful, remained rather quiet, something to which I am not quite used to. Later I read in a magazine that for that critic it had been the best gig of the year in Melbourne. I guess I need to see what a bad gig is like to compare. Mel tells me that another feature of gigs here is the ‘Circle of Death’ that sometimes exists between a (usually unknown) band and the first people of the crowd: nobody wants to be in the front.

The National at Harvest Festival
I think now I begin to understand why so many bands speak of the ‘warmth’ of Latin audiences. When I went to see James or The Killers back in Lima I couldn’t stop dancing and jumping, whether it was the excitement to see a ‘big’ band or the effect of the music itself. When I went to see Calle 13, a Puerto Rican hip hop band, it was a massive party!
Can’t have it all I guess. Meanwhile I am planning my next gig, maybe The Black Keys, maybe The Shins, whose last album is going straight to my favourites of the year so far. Perhaps Jack White and hope he plays some White Stripes while he is at it. But definitely I will go and see the band of my work mate Will – Big Words. They play hip hop and he says they are pretty good. I’m sure there won’t be a ‘circle of death’ there!

Portishead at Harvest Festival 2011

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

A Peruvian in Australia: Getting Around (Part 2)

The Grampians

The Grampians must be one of the classic family holiday spots for Victorians. It definitely seemed very popular when we went camping there in November last year. We chose a campground at the heart of the Grampians: Hall’s Gap, a little village with a few restaurants, bungalow facilities, a nice museum of aboriginal history, an information centre, petrol station, etc. From here most hikes or roads leave from into the Grampians National Park. Mel was a bit curious and concerned about the accessibility, as in early 2011 this area had suffered from floods and mudslides and fires. We realised that one of the main roads was still under repair and to get to one of the main spots we would need to make a huge loop by car on what otherwise would be a 5km drive from Hall’s Gap.

The Grampians and Hall’s Gap down in the valley

But the weather was lovely, the people were happy and as soon as we set up our camp we were out looking for hikes. First we walked to a lookout point up on a mountain from where we could see massive flocks of Cockatoos flying across the valley, filling it with their loud calls that reminds me of those from macaws. The kangaroos were there too, in large groups, not shy at all, grazing next to the paths where people walked.

A Mob Of Kangaroos

But the highlight was definitely the circuit we did on day 2, when we walked for most of the day, to The Pinnacle, a lookout point at aprox.1200meters , and a circuit of beautiful avenues carved in ancient rocks where once water must have flown. I don’t want to seem rude but it is funny how when aussies refer to the Grampians they refer to them as ‘high’ mountains. You need to have in mind that the highest point in this big island is Mt. Kosciuszko at 2228 meters. So for me, having grown up in Cusco at 3400masl, surrounded by ranges well above 5 or 6 thousand, that was a bit…well, no disrespect at all, it’s just a simple way of saying how context is such a big thing in our lives.

The Pinnacle

We were able to witness the damage made by last years natural disasters when we walked by forest that had been burned. It’s very clear how the fires are such a big part of nature’s cycles here. The winds are strong and the heat is too, the land is flat and when all of these factors conspire, fires are the result.

Ballarat

Ballarat is one of Australia’s 20 largest cities and it only has 90 thousand people. It’s only an hour and a half drive from Melbourne, a reason why many of its inhabitants move to the bigger city looking for better opportunities. But there was a time when Ballarat possessed the bigger opportunities and attracted people from all over the world because of the gold that was found there. Nowadays the most popular attraction in Ballarat is Sovereign Hill, where a gold processing facility has been kept and well maintained. Visitors get to be dressed in the old fashion, just like we do in Peru with the visitors to Lake Titicaca. If you are thinking that it sounds like an amusement park where you get to see how the miners lived, you are right. If you think it’s boring, you’re wrong. Every detail is been taken care of and walking into Sovereign Hill seems like a passage back in time, to the 1830’s, when immigrants from all over the world were coming to this new continent in search of wealth and fortune. If it wasn’t for all the visitors…we did go on what probably is the busiest day in the year, but still managed to enjoy it!

Old shop in Sovereign Hill

Demonstrations on how lollies were made the old fashioned way (with the old-fashioned machinery and tools and all!) were so inspiring – we still have lollies from that visit a few months on! Another show on how a gold bar is melted and poured was particularly beautiful and entertaining. They had a whole foundry still working and it’s so impressive to see that machinery not only working but to imagine all the effort it actually took to make it and all the thought put into it. That’s one thing I love about old machines, they actually look clever. Modern stuff just looks pretty and disposable, utterly incapable of being appreciated for its charm. Just mass production.

And as you walk by you discover the whole village: the bar, the bakery, the mechanic that repaired the trolleys, the bowling saloon, the school, the Chinese neighbourhood (someday a whole district), the gold-wash area. We actually walked down into a mine. I couldn’t but sigh at the light years between this, still a working small mine, and the mines that I saw in Potosí, Bolivia, where the health and safety conditions are non-existent and when you sign the waiver it says clearly that there’s a chance you will die buried in the tunnel!

Chinese shop

So far I think Ballarat has given me that sharpest impression of what Australia used to be when it was founded. It reminds me what a young nation this one is and how fast it has gotten to where it is now.

Brisbane

Mel had to work in Sydney and Brisbane and I decided to tag along. I had miles on my account so I traded them to do my first domestic flight in Australia. Besides, Brisbane has a reputation for sunny weather and chilled out people and is close to some of the biggest tourist destinations in the whole country: Gold Coast and Noosa.
I had contacted my friend Renata on e-mail and we were plotting a visit to a nearby beach. She, a marine biologist, and her boyfriend Nick also a biologist and a surf enthusiast, named a few amazing sites nearby that were ideal for camping, hiking, surfing and just relaxing. I was reassured by Renata that sharks don’t eat people and that it is easier to die in a car accident and that’s all it took to sell me.

Mt. Glorious forest

I purchased a train ticket online to go from the Brisbane airport to the city, and in Melbourne I got a bus ticket to the airport. It is quite surprising how the second largest city in Australia (and the current most liveable city in the world) has such a weak and inefficient public transport system. There is no train to the airport. If you don’t have a car you have to go to the city centre and grab a bus from there that costs AUD$17 and takes 45 minutes with some traffic (not talking peak time). In comparison, Brisbane has a train that takes you straight to the city centre in 20min and costs AUD$14.

When I arrived at the airport I hesitated about where to go. The domestic area had only computerised check in and a few attendants. This is funny about Australia, everything is automated: when you go to the supermarket you weigh and pay for your products at automated check out machines. The idea is the same at airports, and since pretty much everyone has a frequent flyer number or a reservation code, there is really no need to hire staff to check people in. But I didn’t know how to use it, and also I was travelling on miles so I thought it better to contact a real person to help me out. I wondered though how these systems would fare in Peru. My first response is that in such a corrupted society as ours they would probably not do well, but then again, why think so bad of my own people?

The weather forecast (yes, I now use the forecast – I have an app on my Iphone that I check every morning) was not kind on Brisbane: showers for most of the weekend. Ironically that would turn out to be the last super hot weekend in Melbourne with temperatures of 38C! With Mel and I both recovering from a flu, the Brisbane weather was no real help to improve. But a new city it was and it needed to be discovered, so rain or shine, out on the streets I went, to the CBD, the Royal Botanic gardens, Southbank, the Gallery of Modern Art. Brisbane seems like a smaller, tropical, more relaxed Melbourne. I liked it lots on first impression. With Renata and Nick we went to The Joint Pub to get a glimpse of the night scene. We also drove to Mt. Glorious for some hiking and birdwatching in the beautiful rainforest. Mel and I visited the West End and dined at a Greek restaurant in a popular part of town. Not soon after we were considering the idea of moving to Brisbane someday to get more sunshine (I know, right!) and outdoors.

City contrasts

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

A Peruvian in Australia: Friends Found Faraway.

I have friends that I made a long time ago. I even say these days that my best friends are those I haven’t seen in ages. Just the other day I was talking to one of them: Fufo, who lives in Sweden. It was the first time we had talked on Skype. We haven’t seen each other’s faces for, like, 7 years, at least. Now he is married to his long-time girlfriend, Nancy, whom we used to hang out with back in the days of Mexico.
It is hard not to be melancholic when one is away from home. Friends from a distant memory, far from home like me (or at home this time) is all it takes to feel better. They have seen me in other places and situations and know me better than almost anyone in Melbourne. They are friends, new friends, becoming friends, whatever you wanna call them.
I have had the luck to meet with several people I met over in Peru as far back as 2004. This happened with Catherine D, whom I met during my days as a bartender at the Flying Dog Bar in Lima. She showed me a cool pub in Melbourne’s CBD that I would have never discovered on my own, nevermind it being so close to my prior school! And where does one begin to resume 7 years of life and how on Earth one got here? We tried and promised a BBQ soon to meet our significant others.
I’ve also met with a couple of people from my tour leader days. It’s funny to see them in their country, doing what they do and telling them my stories as a tourist here. We have switched roles now and meeting with them actually brings lots of perspective to my life. That’s what happened with Catherine S, with whom I went for a drink and caught up in Fitzroy, one of the liveliest neighbourhoods of Melbourne. We had dinner at a super busy and popular veggie restaurant there and shared a couple of beers. Melbourne is becoming a mecca for small breweries and artisanal, organic beers. I don’t think I’ve been so happy beerwise since my days in Belgium! It was weird at first to meet. We hadn’t seen each other in at least 2 years, when she was in Peru and we walked the Lares trekk together. But it was great to see her and know she is well and nearby, so next time I promised to pay her a visit and go surfing together.
With Shalla I also went to Fitzroy while she was visiting Melbourne, something she luckily does frequently. She is somewhat of a music guru to me and we always talk about music and share new bands. We still have a pending date to go to a gig together. But we did go to a rooftop bar and talked for hours and hours reminiscing of the days when we got stranded in Aguascalientes due to a strike or a mudslide (whichever happens more often in Peru) a couple years ago. How time does fly! She gave me some clues about how to become a radio announcer, one of my long-time procrastinated dream-jobs.
Meeting these friends has brought me perspective. Not only perspective, but help. Zoe, with whom I struck a friendship after chatting at Positive Bar (best pub in Puno, Peru) recently contacted me. She is running a café here in Melbourne, Per Diem Café in Richmond (excellent coffee by the way) and she needed staff. I was in need of a job because the starting months of the year are really slow in the Hospitality bussiness, where I have my other job. She remembered something I didn’t: when we were in Peru I sort of organised a trip for her and her mum, who were traveling independently with little knowledge of the places. I guess I helped them out by just doing what I always do. Now I have a job in a cafe! How’s that for good karma ?
Life takes interesting turns. It’s like 6 degrees of separation all the time with me. And I love it. The idea of people traveling over the world, settling in places or just venturing to exotic places, meeting others, sometimes friends, sometimes lovers and then moving on, yet carrying all that memory. To me that’s the clearest way of expressing what interests me the most in this world: chance, coincidence, the unknown, love, choice.
So now, I’m about to catch a plane to Brisbane for my first aussie domestic adventure. Mel is going there for work and I decided to join her. I have traded my miles flown with LAN and so the trip is free. But there is another reason that I’m exited about going to Brisbane: I’m gonna get to meet with my friend Renata, whom I haven’t seen in what must be around 15 years at least! We were friends back in the days when I was studying secondary school in Cuernavaca, Mexico. Then I moved to Mexico City and I lost track of her. It was a few years after, with the marvel of email, chat and later Facebook that I started contacting a lot of friends whom I never got a chance to keep in touch with. Renata was one of them. We have continued our friendship ‘virtually’ all these years. And in a couple days we will meet. How will we recognise each other after all these years?
Well, the good news is that we did recognise each other! She came along with her partner Nick and we headed to a cool pub in Brisbane (The Joint) on one of those fews nights when the gods decided it was time to rain, and rain it did for all of the day and all of the night. Under a ceiling that cared little about doing its job, we begun to catch up and all of a sudden I was telling stories of my time in Europe, of when I left Mexico, of my journey to the jungle of Peru, of how I got to Oz…
She and Nick are both biologists and while she studies the ocean and its inhabitants, he studies birds. Together with Mel we visited Mt. Glorious the next day, and though it was still rainy, the forest was beautiful and with Nick´s help, I had the luck to spot a couple of never before seen birds. At one point, while driving back to Brisbane, I started sharing a story with everyone of how we used to hop in the back of a friend’s truck with buckets filled with cold water. We would drive to a nearby posh club and just splash the hell out of the people queing at the entrance! I had forgotten that Renata was there on that truck! Suddenly, as if a plug was removed, memories started pouring in. It is true what they say about memory: it is a muscle and it does need exercise. But how to remember so many things, so many wonderful things!? And what an amazing thing memory is that it can take you back so long ago!

Mt Glorious eerie forest

I am so happy to see someone that I enjoyed talking to so much when I was younger and how she has grown and how our paths have crossed again. It makes me happy and makes me feel lucky to witness that. Normally people meet again after so long when they are 45 or something like that and cliché says they are usually dissapointed and end up depressed of the meeting. I don’t like judging people but I like seeing the people I care for well and happy. In my case meeting all of these friends is a proof of the magic of travel and life.

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Filed under Alternative tourism, Australia, Birdwatching, Cultural Differences, Cultural Immersion, Education Abroad, Immigration, Living Abroad, Peru, Travel, Travel Stories, Travel Writing, Work

A Peruvian in Australia: Schooling

I came to Australia on a Student Visa. I came to study English. Quite a few people were surprised by that but I was actually interested in studying English at an Academic level. The whole idea was always to study to pass the IELTS test. IELTS is an organization that certifies your level of English and together with the TOEFL are the most accepted English language certificates over the world. My immigration agent had recommended a school and the pictures of it and its location had seemed promising since before leaving Peru.

I have now spent 4 months studying English; the last 2 months specifically studying for the IELTS test. The first 2 I was placed by my institute in the Advanced level class. I also spent 2 weeks in Business class between Advanced and IELTS. I was back in class at 32! This was not an easy task but definitely an interesting one. It felt like it must have felt for Dave Grohl to play drums on the Nirvana Unplugged album. If I remember well his words – he said it was like ‘playing inside a crystal cage’ that he could break at any moment so he had to be real delicate at not smashing his drums. Yeah, it kinda felt like that.

The transition involved taking the train every morning and discovering the world of one of the most hated public companies for Melbournians: the train company. Stopping at 10 stations in about 35 minutes to reach the CBD (you should know what the CBD is for Melbourne if you read this blog somewhat frequently; if you don’t, please refer to the post named ‘…First Impressions of Melbourne’), I then walked two blocks everyday to get to school on the corner of Swanston and Flinders Street.

The location is one of the liveliest and more emblematic corners of the city: Flinders Street Station, St Paul’s Cathedral, Federation Square, the City square are all in the vicinity. One of the first things I looked for on the student roll was for other Peruvians. I met a few. But most of the students coming from South America came from Brazil or Colombia. Most others were from South Korea or Japan, perhaps China, and more from Eastern Europe and Spain. But whatever nationality, school was a boiling pot of different cultures and young people looking for a chance in another country, adapting, learning, looking for a job, renewing their visas, having a good time. People like myself, missing home, looking ahead, with someone else back at home or here at a new home. I miss school mostly because of those people, travelers like me. Other than that it’s been very interesting realizing that I am still the same kid I’ve always been in class! It’s incredible how little one changes from the essential self one was at 8 years old until one is an adult! I should thank my teachers for having the patience with me as I kept interrupting their class,tryng to entertain everyone by being the tour leader/storyteller that I used to be back in Peru.

My English course wasn’t cheap but it was the best way to get back together with Melissa. The price has meant that I have appreciated it and was more critical too. That was a new experience for me because my previous studies during high school and my degree were at public schools, and though before that I was at a private school I was too little to care about the money. It also made me realise that in Peru we have a very good level of English and that our education is not as bad as everyone would think. Or, to say it differently, that education abroad is not necessarily light years ahead of ours.

Since we are on the subject of schools, let me give you an idea of how important International students, as we are called here, are to Melbourne’s economic health. The industry of Education produces around AUD$ 4.5 billion every year only from international students and is Victoria’s first export and at one point just a couple years ago there were 400,000 students in Victoria alone. A year of study in one of the most reputed universities in the city is a little more than 30 thousand US$. Certainly Aussies have  more benefits compared to International students, yet this is not always the case from what I’ve heard them say. And Melbourne seems to be a mecca for people of all over the world that come here to study. You see it on the streets, on the news, everywhere. Some critics of education in Victoria mention that this bussiness dependency is what has damaged the image of the Victorian educational system.

Nevertheless the laws are changing, accordingly. Australia has a very agile legislation that covers a wide set of areas. And though they can’t stop the influx of foreigners without damaging the economy, they are controlling it pretty well. As an immigraton lawyer was explaining to me a few days ago, a lot of students come here not to study really but as a way to stay in the country. Because of this the government recently introduced a rule where one needs to demonstrate to them the ´genuineness´ of one’s intentions to study here. If they see that a doctor is applying for a hairdressing course, they most probably will refuse that visa.

A few days ago I learnt my results from the IELTS and I was gladly surprised with an 8 out of 9. The IELTS is not just any English test. They want to see a certain structure in the writing, they use different accents in the listening section, they like you using idioms in the conversation, and the articles they give you to read have complex academic style. You can have a perfectly operational grasp of the English language and still fail the test (though technically you can’t not pass the test, but of course as the test is a requirement for visas or uni enrolments, certain scores are requested by these institutions). And then there’s all the hype around it. I gave my test at a conference room with other 600 students. The organization was massive, you could smell the stress in the room and it was such a serious bussiness that there were vigilantes checking passports on the tables every 15 minutes (people have in fact gone to jail for trying to impersonate a student at the IELTS). And it’s not cheap either, 330AU$ are invested in it, so not reaching the score you want can be a high price for a student. I would like to thank my teacher Ruby Brunton who taught the structure that the test required and with her help I’ve improved my writing enormously. Thanx Ruby!!!

Now that I’ve got this first chapter closed my next step here is to renew my student Visa to study a Certificate III in Retail Tourism for 6 months at a local college. I’m sure that could be a very interesting experience. Back at uni! The last time I went to a university class was around 10years ago in Mexico when I was studying Journalism. I went to my orientation a few days ago and the University campus is pretty, similar, though much smaller, to that of my uni in Mexico City. My aim is to learn at this course how to create a tourism product and learn how to use the software that is necessary at a travel agency. In the future I would like, with these tools, to create my own travel agency or, more modestly, work in one.

Hopefully I will get myvisa renewed and then you can continue reading this blog entries as a Peruvian in Australia, cause a Peruvian back in Peru doesn’t seem like a very exciting title!

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