Cultural Notes

Music Review: Panal by Camila Moreno

High praise from a lowly Spanish language blog will not likely get Camila Moreno the recognition she deserves for unleashing probably the most inspired album to ever come out of South America. But I will at least try to contribute to her success by posting this review

I know this is a Spanish language learning blog, but once in a while I feel compelled to share a music or movie review, as long as it involves Spanish.

As for my credentials in reviewing music, I used to: write record reviews for magazines in the 90′s, book and promote concerts, tour all over the USA with my band and a few others, own a record company, and participate in the production of over 300 recordings. Oh, and there’s that worthless degree in music composition collecting dust. So my taste in music is rather well-defined and particular to me.

I realize everybody’s taste in music is different. But I feel I would be doing a disservice to some, if I didn’t write something about the new recording by Camila Moreno from Chile. Her 2nd full release, Panal, is far and beyond anything that I’ve heard from anywhere in Latin America, in terms of production, creativity, and originality.

My problem with so much of Latin pop music has always been that it often tries too hard to sound like American / English music and ends up sounding like cheap, silly faux rock. I’ve found a few exceptions to this disappointing trend, most notably Gustavo Cerati’s (Argentina) solo work, the music of Aterciopelados (after their 1st release) and Los Bunkers’ (Chile) more recent recordings.

These artists have blended their musical heritage of their own country and culture with American / English influences to create a more adventurous hybrid of sounds. Maybe it’s the melting pot American that I am that appreciates that merging of musical influences, and probably why I’ve always liked Beck’s music.

Camila Moreno’s first album made a big splash within Chile and throughout Latin America with her wonderful and powerful single Milliones which combines traditional Chilean instruments and rhythms with an acoustic folk rock sound.

The rest of that album is really stripped down and bare, almost like a demo. There are some beyond beautiful songs on it that really don’t require any embellishment that a larger studio can offer.

By comparison, her new album is a full-on studio production that doesn’t hold back anything. It is the type of recording best enjoyed with headphones so you can enjoy all the nuances of the studio tricks.

The first song, a “rockero” as they call the more rock-like songs in Spanish, is a great kick-off for the album, but it is actually my least favorite track. Although it has a great arrangement and it’s fun to listen to, the songwriting is a little too predictable. The entire album treats you to a variety of sounds, textures, colors and styles, from upbeat pop, edgy indie-emo, slow thoughtful reflections, melancholy melodies, dark lyrics, striking vocal harmonies, unexpected chord changes, a variety of instruments (piano, trumpets, trombones, ukeleles, lots of percussion, traditional Chilean instruments, and unidentifiable noises). Listening from beginning to end is the best audio journey I’ve had in a long time.

I have to admit that I have been somewhat detached from the current music (indie rock, alternative, pop) coming out over the last 10 years in the USA. Anything after Blur, Radiohead, Beck that I hear just sounds like the over-inflated self-importance of uninspired soulless fakers trying to convince others that they are making legitimate art. It’s hard to believe people fall for this watered-down drivel.

Hearing something new that is edgy, challenging, powerful, and just plain bad ass is SO refreshing! Camila Moreno is like this little magical musical elfin ninja who doesn’t have to make any effort to prove she is the real deal.

Another interesting thing about Panal is that it was partially funded by crowd funding. This is where people, artists, or upstarts solicit investment capital to help with the realization of a project.

It will be interesting to observe if Camila Moreno gets any recognition outside of Latin America for her talent and the masterpiece she has shared with us by baring her soul. What a gift to the world!

This is a beautiful song from Camila Moreno’s CD Almismotiempo

The first official video from the new CD Panal.

Camila Moreno is interviewed about her new CD Panal.


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El Norte – Movie Review

El Norte – Movie Review

El Norte chronicles the hardships of a brother and sister from an indigenous community in Guatemala who decide to flee the oppression of their local police state after their parents are murdered. They decide to travel across Mexico and try their luck crossing the border into the United States. Despite their plight and a series of setbacks, they continue to have hope until it is shattered by the hard reality of life in the U.S.A. as illegal immigrants.

I first saw El Norte as a teenager in the 1980′s shortly after it was released. I remained depressed for several weeks after. Fortunately I recently found it online and viewed it again. It really humanizes the illegal immigrants (for those who are unable to humanize them) who are usually portrayed in the media and in our society as either a burden or necessary slave labor. The immigration issue is complex and is currently being used by politicians to polarize the populace. Perhaps one solution to discourage illegals from entering the country would be simply to show them this movie.

Besides getting a glimpse of the immigration problem, watching El Norte is great for practicing Spanish. You can hear the Guatemalan dialect and pick up some funny Mexican slang and swear words. There are several scenes where the indigenous Mayan dialect is spoken as well.

Below is a trailer on YouTube. You can find the full-length movie on Amazon.

Posted by Rachel Shell in Cultural Notes, 0 comments

Slang from Peru (Peruvian colloquialisms)

Slang from Peru (Peruvian colloquialisms)

As any student of Spanish soon realizes, there can be a variety of words for the same object in various Spanish speaking countries. Likewise, the slang and colloquialisms vary from country to country. Some of the slang from Mexico is more likely to reach other parts of Latin America, due to the Mexican entertainment industry being far more reaching. Furthermore many of the English movies are overdubbed with Mexican Spanish.

To learn the slang from other countries, you basically have to spend time there. This blog post is a list of Peruvian slang that I have “collected” from my time spent in Peru. It is hardly exhaustive, and I doubt it is 100% accurate. Please feel free to suggest corrections, clarifications, or add to the list by posting your comment below.

I am also sure that some of these slang words aren’t exclusive to Peru, but I am told that many of them are.

WARNING: The R-rated slang is towards the bottom of the list.

First off, the word for slang in Spanish is jerga, which also means “jargon”.

La chacra

This means farm. They don’t use granja here, which is the word for farm that I was taught.

De chacra a olla
This is a little phrase for farmer’s market, which are becoming more and more popular in Peru. The phrase literally means, from the farm to the frying pan. In other words, no middle man.

Nos vidrios

This is a play on the phrase “nos vemos”, or “See ya later”.

This is a fried rice dish that is on the menu of any Chifa restaurant. First off, Chifa is a Chinese/Peruvian fusion that is very popular in Peru. There are Chifa restaurants practically everywhere in the larger cities. The fried rice dish called “chalfa” sounds like the common slang for goodbye throughout Latin America, “chau”, which comes from Italian. So for fun, people say “chalfa” to mean “chau” or “goodbye”. When a gringo says it, for some reason it is especially funny!

Paltearse = To be confused

Looks like compadre but used for someone you don’t know well, or someone who is trying, or has tried, to rip you off.

This is a slang word for beer. If you want to impress the locals, use this word instead of “cerveza”.

This is the verb form for drinking beer.

This is the verb to push, but in this reflexive sense, it means to stuff food down your mouth, like you are pushing it down. “Me empujé tres” (I ate three, or stuffed three down my mouth.)

Jamear = To eat

This is a word for “house”, more used, I am told, in Lima. If you fall asleep at home, instead of going out, you would tell your friends “me quedé jato”.

This is an older school word for “awesome”, “rad”.

This is the newer school version of “awesome”. Maybe it would be the equivalent of “sick”!

Another term for “awesome” which comes from the phrase “a su madre” which also means “wow, awesome”. Asu is a shortened version of that phrase.

En caleta
When you want to do something in secret, like sneak out to meet your special friend without your parents knowing, you would do it “en caleta”, in secret.

Es zanahoria
It’s carrot! This means cool, in the laid back sense, equivalent to tranquilo and used to describe a thing or event. You can use this to describe another person not present but only with someone you are really close to. You wouldn’t however use it in response to “How are you?”. Tranquilo is a better response to that question.

Flaco, Flaca
This is slang for “novio” or “novia” which means boyfriend/girlfriend. It is common to call your boyfriend/girlfriend, “mi flaco/flaca”. This term also implies affection for the person. It’s not an insult in the sense of calling someone skinny, weak or lazy, which is what the word means in normal Spanish.

This is a common word for “mujer”. Mujer, the word for lady, is used throughout Latin America, as a replacement for wife. A man will commonly refer to his wife (or partner, whether married or not) as “mi mujer”. However, a woman never refers to her husband as “mi hombre” for some reason. So “germa” is used in this sense, when a man refers to his wife or partner. It is not affectionate or a term of endearment.

Un choque y fuga
Choque is a crash, and fuga comes from the verb fugar, which means to fly or run away. This phrase is slang for a one-night stand. It can refer to the stand itself or the person with whom the stand was stood.

Estar hasta el queso
To be up to the cheese! This means to be overwhelmed by life, work, family, stressed out, maxed out of energy, etc. It’s a negative reply to “How’s it going?”


So like most Spanish speaking countries, there are lots of slang expressions revolving around “poop”. Here are the ones that, I have been told, are common in Peru.

cagar = to shit (this is an official Spanish word, not slang)

From cagar comes these phrases, not all of which are vulgar:
Me voy a meter una cagada = I’m going to take a shit
¡Me cagaste! = You’re shitting me!
¿Me cagas? = Do you understand me?
¿Me estás cagando? = Are you listening to me?
Me estás cagando. = You’re screwing around with me.
¡Qué cagada! = How fucked up!

Another slang for excellent or awesome, which may be a little on the vulgar side:
De la puta madre, or for short, de la p.m.

Well, that’s all I have for now. I’m sure I will be adding more and updating this list as time goes on. If you are planning to come to Peru, now you will be prepared to fit in and mingle with the locals.

Here’s a link to another nice article on the Peruvian slang.


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Shopping In The Markets In Peru

One of my favorite things to do in Peru is visit the markets. It seems like each city has a main market where the locals do their shopping. There really isn’t anything like it in the United States. Maybe farmer’s markets or flea markets come close. The markets in Peru are open every day. They are comprised of stands (or puestos) that individual vendors rent. It is typical to barter with the vendors for a lower price.

Not sure what I’m doing here. Maybe examining the durability of the plastic bag?

Most of these markets have an area where you can buy meals, with little sit down areas. The food here is really cheap and mostly locals eat here when eating out. Another popular stand sells “Batidas” which are like blended fruit drinks. Usually there is a long row of batida stands with their blenders ready to whip up a fruity frothy refreshment. It is pretty rare to see tourists or “gringos” in some of the markets I’ve been to. But if you need to find something, this is the place to go. You can pretty much find anything you are looking for, including medicinal herbs, fresh fish, clothes, arts and crafts, nuts, live animals (for pets), flowers, and of course lots of seasonal fruits.

In my travels in Peru, I have visited markets in Lima, Miraflores, Iquitos (Belén), Chiclayo, Huaraz, Cusco, Cajamarca, Arequipa, and a few smaller lesser known towns. Here is a little review of each.

The market in Central Lima

is a few blocks from the Plaza de Armas. It is inside what looks like a parking garage, with wide ramps that take you to the different levels. It takes up a whole city block. It is bustling with activity, and if you are of European descent, you will stand out, as this is off the tourist – backpacker path. When I needed bubble wrap, and couldn’t find any in the city, this is where I found some.

The impressive market in central Lima.

The market in Miraflores

is not that impressive. I guess since it is such a touristy and upscale area of Lima, they have more competition. There is also a weekly Saturday market in the park which only sells organic produce. The times I went to the Miraflores market it was sadly empty of customers.

The market in Chiclayo

is full of hustle and bustle. They have an area that is called the Shaman’s Market, which is somewhat reputable for medicinal plants and herbal remedies. The market is sprawling, partially covered, mostly outdoors and really impressive.

The market in the Belén neighborhood in Iquitos

is simultaneously famous and infamous. It is a huge outdoor market where you can find anything. Batida vendor stands line one street, fish vendors line another. The place is packed early any morning of the week with locals doing their shopping. Don’t go with any valuables.

The market in Huaraz

is a street market. When I was there a few years ago, the farmers set up their produce on the streets three times a week. They cover several blocks and sit on the sidewalks. It is quite impressive.

The market in Cajamarca

is indoors and sprawling. I don’t remember any distinguishing features about it, other than it was typical of all the markets I have seen.

The market in Arequipa

is probably the most impressive one I’ve been to. It’s definitely the cleanest, with wide aisles, great stands, and the most impressive fruit section I have seen. I have been told that there is a 2nd market in Arequipa that is supposedly even more impressive, which is an outdoor market. As of this writing I have yet to visit that market.

I really enjoy going to the markets in the smaller towns. There is a more relaxed feel to them and it’s easier to mingle with the people and the vendors.

I imagine there are markets like these in all the countries throughout Latin America. (I’ve only been to Peru.) For those of us who grew up in the United States, where the only option is shopping at the supermarket, these types of markets that I am describing are definitely a novelty. For the people who live here, it’s just normal.

My friend Jeffrey was passing through Lima and I gave him a tour of the markets. On the left we are enjoying lúcuma near the Plaza de Armas in Central Lima. On the right we are enjoying kiwichi balls in a little park near the Miraflores market. Kiwichi is a grain similar to quinoa, but smaller. More like amaranth. The balls are baked kiwichi with honey, kind of like popcorn balls, but healthier!

Bartering is normal and expected in Latin American markets. And if you are obviously a foreigner, you are not a human being, you are a walking cash machine. So the vendors usually start out at a higher price than normal, hoping that the foreigner won’t be interested in bartering for a lower price, or maybe just doesn’t speak Spanish well enough to barter. Personally, I usually don’t like bartering. It just feels weird to me to haggle over 20 or 30 cents. But if you want to save money, I recommend shopping with a local friend who can do the haggling for you. The vendor may not appreciate it, but oh well!

If you are concerned about safety visiting these markets, then don’t go! If you carry yourself well, and live without fear, then you have absolutely nothing to fear going to these markets. I highly recommend visiting the main markets in Peru to get a feel for the local lifestyle and for doing your shopping. It will be one of the highlights of your trip.



Posted by Rachel Shell in Cultural Notes, 0 comments

Exotic Vegetarian and Vegan Food in Perú

Exotic Vegetarian and Vegan Food in Perú

Perú is divided into 3 regions, the jungle, the sierra (Andes) and the coast (Pacific coast). Each region is distinguished by its own unique climate, and as a result, its own unique food.

I have spent a total of 9 months in Perú on three separate trips. Each time I come here I discover more food items that I didn’t know about before. Unfortunately, I am not always carrying a pen and paper with me, so my descriptions are often without a name. To the best of my knowledge, I will describe in which of the regions you can find these foods as well as the season.

I only eat vegetarian food, so I cannot offer any advice on eating animals. There are plenty of opportunities to do this in Perú as most Peruvians are omnivores. But even if you are, I encourage you to try these vegetarian oddities.


Chirimoya (often misspelled Cherimoya)


This is a sweet delicious fruit that tastes something like a vanilla apple. It has about 60 inedible, black seeds the size of a small almond. The fruit is white on the inside, and the skin is greenish brown, thin and soft. You basically pull it apart by hand, and then slurp away, spitting out the seeds. The chirimoya is native the Andes region.

There are a few different types of chirimoyas, or fruits that are very similar in taste or appearance. One is called Guanábana, which looks exactly like the chirimoya. I have been told that it is a little less sweet, but more medicinal with anti-cancerous properties.

Another fruit from the chirimoya family is called the anoná, or ananá, which is bigger and with a yellow skin. This fruit is found in the jungle. There is a similar looking fruit with a green skin that is known as Green ananá, but I have also had fruit vendors tell me it was a chirimoya. This green chirimoya is available in the Andes region.


Another must-try fruit if you go to Perú is lúcuma (sometimes misprounouced in English lucúma). Lúcuma is supposedly the most popular desert flavor in Peru, more popular than chocolate and vanilla. You can find lúcuma ice cream everywhere. The fruit grows in the Andes region. It has a soft and paper thing green skin, with orange fruit inside. The fruit has a slightly chalky texture and not too many people eat it straight. I find the texture to be bready, like bread pudding. There is very little water/juice content, and it is a little dense and fatty. It contains a lot of vitamin C and beta-carotene. If you get one that smells like alcohol, then it’s bad.

You are not allowed to export lúcuma fruit, so it’s not found outside of Perú. However, you can buy lúcuma powder on specialty health stores. The only other time I have found lúcuma in the states is at a tiny Peruvian-owned corner store in Chicago that sold a variety of Peruvian products. There I found frozen lúcuma.


If you happen to find yourself in the jungle in the month of March, consider yourself the luckiest person in the world. For it is there during that one month that the most delicious fruit I have ever tasted can be found. It is called Sapote (sometimes spelled with a Z). There are a few varieties of sapote that can be found in other geographies, including México, and Florida even. And they are known by their colors. The GREEN sapote in the Amazon is the only one I have had, but I’m willing to say it’s the best. I can’t imagine a more amazing tasting fruit. During the month of February, I was eating about 4 a day. I was in taste bud heaven. When you get them just right, they taste like a honey-sweetened vanilla mango. They have a hard brown shell that you need to knife through. It is divided into 5 pods. You basically cut it into 5 sections and eat around the pods.

Granadilla is known in English as passion fruit. It grows in the jungle and can be found in some of the bigger cities. This lemon-sized treat has an orange skin that covers a non-edible white fibrous texture. Soft and easily peeled and removed, this white inside covers a conglomeration of seeds covered in a glob of gelatanous goo. It looks like a mini-brain. The way to eat it is to slurp out the goo, or use a spoon if there is one available. The goo is super sweet and delicious, and the seed are crunchy, but not terribly hard or difficult to chew. I had the pleasure of eating these right off the tree in the Amazon!

In this video, you can see how a granadilla is eaten, as well as some of the other foods I mention below in this article: macamba, dale dale, ananá.

When I tried this fruit, I flipped out. It tastes just like durian! It is the jungle durian but without the overbearing odor. The fruit is found only in the Amazon and is harvested when it falls to the ground from large trees. The fruit is orange inside and covers layers of flat seeds the diameter of a quarter. These seeds are considered highly medicinal and usually pulverized into a powder. The seeds are also slightly grilled and sold on the streets as a tasty cracker-like snack. The seeds are also tasty raw after you slurp off the fruit and peel off a fine skin with your teeth. The fruit is actually fattier than a durian and you don’t get large chunks of flesh like you do with a durian. But the taste is incredibly similar.


These delicious orange fruits are the size of a cherry tomato that grows inside a square cocoon of thin paper-like material. They grow like weeds in the Andes, and were largely ignored by Peruvians until their health benefits were discovered. Over the past few years they have been sold in the West as Incan Berries. These are simply sundried aguaymanto fruits. They taste tart but have a great nutritional profile. Now you can find aguaymantos sold in bags at the Lima grocery stores in the produce section.

If you are an avocado lover, you will be in heaven in Perú. Here you will find a variety of types of avocado other than Hass, that come in several sizes and flavors. There is one that tastes like bacon, and one that tastes like lemon! Avocados are readily available in all regions of Peru year round, and very affordable as well.

In Perú, and Chile, avocados are called paltas. A typical Peruvian dish is called palta rellena, which is a stuffed avocado. This is almost always a vegetarian dish.



Choclo is the name for Andean corn which has larger kernels than what we normally think of as corn. The kernels are very hard and require about a half hour of boiling. You can find choclo in some of the supermarkets in Lima, and sold on the street as a snack. It is most common to find it in the Andes.

Enjoying boiled choclo from a street vendor in central Lima
Choclo con queso

Choclo is often sold on the streets with a side of cheese. Most all of the cheese in Perú is not aged very long. Because it is fresh, it doesn’t have much flavor. So if you like your cheese aged, the white cheese in Peru that is common may disappoint you.

Pastel de choclo
Many restaurants and bakeries in Lima and throughout the Andes sell this corn cake. It’s basically like a corn-bread muffin. It isn’t bad, but it usually isn’t incredibly exciting.

Botija Olives

These succulent purple olives are cultivated along the region of Perú’s southern coast. The saltiness comes from the salt solution they are cured in. They are a part of many dishes throughout Peru’s coast and in the Andes. You can see from the photo above, they are super cheap. (Each sole is about 40 cents, and a kilo is 2.2 lbs.) If you get a chance, look for them sun-dried. They are amazing this way!

Yuca is incredibly popular with the natives in the jungle. It is a root vegetable that is made into a variety of things. They can be boiled or fried. Fried yuca is so delicious and sometimes restaurants in Lima sell it as a side. The best fried Yuca I had was in a restaurant in Iquitos. Yuca is also made into a beverage and sold on the streets. It is considered a healthy refreshment and judging by the people always hovering around the stands that sell it, it’s a very popular beverage. I even had a bread-like patty made with fresh yuca by an indigenous woman from the Bora-bora tribe. It was very starchy. Yuca grows abundantly and cheaply, and it provides sustenance for a great many people in the Amazon region of Peru.

Dale Dale
These are little fingerling potatoes that are boiled and sold on the streets in the Amazon. They usually sell them by the bag with about 8-10 per bag. When you eat them, you peel the skin right off.

Boiled corn

I came across this in a small jungle town market. I forget what it is called, but it’s freshly boiled corn that’s been removed from the cob and blended with other flavors. They were selling it on the street and served it from a big bowl and put into plastic storage bags for take away. It was a delicious treat. The corn kernels are smaller, not the choclo Andean corn variety.


Quinoa is an ancient grain that has become hugely popular as an export item to the United States, not only in Perú, but Bolivia. The grain was “discovered” by a United States couple working in the Peace Corps. They decided to set up an export/import company and make it more widely available in the United States. The first store to carry it was Whole Foods.

Because of quinoa’s sudden rise in popularity, local prices have gone up, and people seem to eat less of it. I’ve never seen it served like rice, as it is often served in the United States. It is common in a soup sold on the streets in Lima with a variety of other ingredients. It actually tastes like an apple cider soup with some bits of quinoa in in. I forget the name, but it is vegan and quite delicious.


Usually you can only find the above items in the medicinal herb stands at the main market, but here is an impressive selection of health food in the grocery store in health-conscious Arequipa. Besides cañihuaca, there is sesame flour, flaxseed meal, wheat germ, soy flour, sacha inchi powder and other cereal grains

Cañihuaca is another ancient grain that is similar to quinoa, and rivals it in terms of nutrition and protein. It grows in the area around Lake Titicaca, but it is barely known outside of Perú. Cañihuaca can be found in the health food aisle of many grocery stores as a flour. This flour is added to cereals, yogurts, smoothies, etc. It has a rich nutty flavor and is a great source of protein.

Kiwichi Balls

Kiwichi is another grain similar to quinoa, but smaller. In the Andes you can find kiwichi balls, which remind me of popcorn balls that I used to have as a kid. The kiwichi is sweetened with honey then baked into a ball shape. They are sweet crunchy treats that are delicious. Although scarcer to find outside the Andes, I found some in the market in Miraflores.

Sacha Inchi

The unshelled sacha inchi nuts are brown, and the roasted nuts are white

Sacha Inchi is a nut that grows in the jungle. It is incredibly high in omega 3 fatty acids. They are difficult to find. You need to seek them out in the herbal medicine stands at the market.

The raw nut is not very appetizing and has a chalky texture. It is usually eaten roasted. After peeling the skin off, you soak the nuts in salt water for about an hour, then roast them for about 5-10 minutes. They burn rather easily and it is best to heat them a the lowest temperature possible. Once slightly roasted, they taste somewhat like peanuts. Surprisingly, I found roasted sacha inchi nuts for sale at the market in Arequipa.

If you want a real treat, try to find the sacha inchi oil which is bottled like olive oil. It has a clear color, and a very subtle flavor. Sacha inchi oil is rare and expensive in the United States, so if you have room in your suitcase, I recommend bringing home a few bottles. I only found it for sale in the grocery stores in Lima.

And here is an in-depth article about the health benefits of sacha inchi oil.


Queso Helado

If you ever make it to Arequipa, they have a specialty food called queso helado that you can only find there. This translates as Cheese Ice Cream, which sounds pretty gross. Actually there is no cheese in it. Instead there is whipped milk, coconut, sugar and cinnamon. You can see the queso helado being made by hand, being stirred by a wooden spoon. Supposedly the best queso helado is made by Señora Rosa, who sells it fresh every day in the 2nd level of the market. You have to get it before 11am, as it sells out within an hour. She has been making it for 25 years. The other good source is a little shop right off the Plaza de Armas.

Pastel de Acelga

Pastel de Acelga is a delightful vegetarian treat. Acelga is chard. So chard cake. Doesn’t sound all that great but it’s really like a quiche. It has eggs, cheese, bread and chard. If you do a google search for images of pastel de acelga, you will see an amazing variety of it. You can find pastel de acelga in the larger cities of Perú.

Torrejitas de calabaza
If you go to a restaurant that isn’t geared for tourists, you may not have many vegetarian options. If your Spanish is good enough, you can ask the waitstaff for a recommendation, and if you are lucky you will be offered torrejitas de calabaza, which may also be called torrejas or tortillas. In Spain, this might be considered an omellete, but what I had was like a large fritter of fried corn meal filled with grilled veggies inside. Probably not the healthiest vegetarian thing to eat because it is probably deep-fried. But these really are tasty.


The potato originated in the area of Perú and Bolivia, and there are literally thousands of varieties that still persist in the Andes. A mainstay of any Peruvian restaurant is the Papa rellena (stuffed potato), the Papa a la Huancaina (potato with a mayonaise sauce), and causas (a mashed potato dish usually featuring other meat ingredients). All of these can easily be ordered vegetarian, if not already on the menu as such.


Jugo de Caña
Fresh-pressed sugar cane juice is certainly not exclusive to Perú. It is very common in the jungle region, but once in a while you can also find it along the coast or in the mountains. It is the most refreshing drink on a hot day, filled with live enzymes, vitamins and minerals.

If sugar cane juice sits for very long, it starts to ferment. It will also have a molasses flavor to it. It is ideal to eat it fresh. The sugar canes are usually pressed with a machine right in front of you. Then you drink it on the spot. In Huáraz, there was a woman who sold it from a wheeled cart that had a manual press!

In the jungle, along the highway that connects Iguitos to Nauta, vendors sell fresh sugar cane juice in re-cycled soda bottles to people going back and forth on the busses or taxis.

Chicha morada
Chicha morada is a popular beverage in Lima, along the coast, and in the Andes. It is a delicious drink made from blue corn, and sweetened with sugar. Most restaurants sell it by the pitcher for all to share. And you can even buy it bottled in grocery stores.

As you can see, adhering to a vegetarian or vegan diet is not only super easy, but incredibly exciting! You get to try all sorts of new flavor sensations, stay healthy, and feel good about supporting local farmers.


Shopping In the Markets In Perú

Vegetarian and Vegan Diet Concerns While Traveling In Perú

Posted by Rachel Shell in Cultural Notes, 0 comments

Women’s Rights and Gender Equality In Latin America

Women’s Rights and Gender Equality In Latin America

Although sexual inequality and violence against women is more prevalent in Latin America than in the United States / Canada / Europe / Australia, the awareness of women’s rights is gradually starting to gain ground. There are more and more organizations promoting gender equality, but changing attitudes and cultural prejudices takes time, especially ones steeped in machismo.

I am hardly an expert on this topic, so I will refer you to an excellent article, although from 2009, that goes into some statistics and details, by country, on the issue of women’s rights.

The Struggle For Women’s Equality in Latin America

I recently found out about a new project in Guatemala which is working on a very grassroots level to change attitudes. It’s a volunteer program based in a remote area of Guatemala called Las Cruces. One of their goals is to help women in the area and to educate about women’s rights.

The project is called, simply, Volunteer in Las Cruces, Guatemala. And rather than write too much about them, especially because I don’t have first hand experience, I will refer you to their website. It looks like a great volunteer opportunity for those who are interested in going somewhere remote and away from other tourists.

Probably one of the best ways to finally see sexual equality in the world, is to instill the awareness of it to children, before they adopt the prejudices of their culture. That seems to be the most effective way to end any kind of discrimination. Forcing adults to take on a belief system that contradicts their cultural upbringing, is not that effective, no matter the culture, or the prejudice.

One of my favorite Latin American musical groups is Aterciopelados from Colombia. The lead singer of the group, Andrea Echeverri, has been stepping up her advocacy of women’s rights lately. Her 3rd solo album, Ruiseñora, which has yet to be released outside of Colombia, has songs addressing gender equality. I think she only worked with female musicians on the recording. Here are some videos. The first song is called “Florence”. It is an homage to the feminist activist and writer Florence Thomas (who also makes a cameo in the video).

Here is a wonderful version of “Florence” performed by a group of women singers and musicians.

This song, Ruiseñora, has a stunning vocal melody, and a charming arrangement of out-of-tune guitars and instruments.

Soy de lavar y planchar, yo soy la mejor juglar
me dicen todo terreno pues todo me suena bueno
Canción protesta o champeta logro que en tu cabeza se meta
Innovadora es mi trova, no me repito soy pajarito
Adelantada a mi tiempo, conmigo no hay aburrimiento
Hago ingertos hago inventos, te sorprendo y te pongo contentoY cuando me suena la flauta, en la música floto como un astronauta
Cuando me suena la flauta, en la música floto como un astronauta
Como Neruda yo rimo, como Pavarotti afino, y añeja como el vino
Ruiseñora soy y trino, remolino torbellino a toditos cautivo
Ruiseñora soy y trino, remolino torbellino a toditos cautivo

Mi talento es natural fluye como un manantial
Sin mascaras ni disfraces que en este oficio son gajes
Sin lentejuelas ni maquillaje, buscando un nuevo lenguaje

Para mover esqueleto yo tengo todos los secretos
Y para conseguir novio, mis discos son obligatorios
Filtros limpias curaciones todo cantando canciones

Cuando me suena la flauta, en la música floto como un astronauta
Cuando me suena la flauta, en la música floto como un astronauta
Como Neruda yo rimo, como Pavarotti afino, y añeja como el vino
Ruiseñora soy y trino, remolino torbellino a toditos cautivo
Ruiseñora soy y trino, remolino torbellino a toditos cautivo

Soy terca como una mula y canto como ninguna
Soy terca como una mula y canto como ninguna
Soy terca como una mula y canto como ninguna

And here is an interview with Andrea Echeverri speaking about women’s inequality in Latin America, as well as her new album.

And finally, if you know of any women’s rights organization in Latin America, please let me know about them in the comment box below.

Discovering New Latin Music

Non-Profit Organizations Directory

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Impressions of Guayaquil, Ecuador

Impressions of Guayaquil, Ecuador


Malecón 2000 Guayaquil Ecuador

This is my first time in Ecuador, and I’ve spent the past 4 nights in Guayaquil. Until recently, I thought that Quito, being the capital city, was the largest city in Ecuador. Now I know it’s Guayaquil, which serves as the commercial hub of the country.

Guayaquil gained this growth by being situated on the Pacific where it was one of the earliest and most important port cities of South America. Now the population is about 3 million people, which doesn’t feel too big for a large city. (I spent most of my life in Chicago, and more recently Los Angeles and Lima, so Guayaquil feels small by comparison.)

In recent years, Guayaquil has taken initiatives to turn their city into a more tourist-friendly attraction. One way they have done this is with the construction of a massive new bus station, known as the Terminal Terrestre. This is a massive structure which is also like a large shopping mall. It’s very similar to the modern airports that have a shopping mall feel to them in some cities in the United States. I took an international bus from Lima to get to Guayaquil. And there are domestic buses to Quito as well as other cities throughout the country.

Another impressive initiative is called the Malecón 2000. Malecón is Spanish for pier, or boardwalk. The total length of the Malecón 2000 is officially 1.5 miles, but it feels longer.



According to Wikipedia:
Several of the greatest historical monuments in the history of Guayaquil can be seen along its length, as well as museums, gardens, fountains, shopping malls, restaurants, bars, food courts, the first IMAX theater in South America, as well as boarding docks where several embarkations offer both daytime and nighttime tours up and down the Guayas River. It is one of the largest works realized in Guayaquil and it is considered a model of urban regeneration by global standards, having been declared a healthy public space by the Pan-American Organization of Health (POH) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

The Malecón 2000 is really quite impressive, and it reminds me of Navy Pier / Millennium Park in Chicago. To the attractions listed above, I would also add that there is a go-kart track for the kids, an old school playground, a museum of archaeology, a McDonald’s, KFC, a dinosaur theme park (paid admission), and a complete air-conditioned shopping mall which runs underneath a long stretch of the boardwalk. There’s also an underground parking area as well as FREE! public bathrooms (not very common in Latin America).

A scene from one of the lookout platforms that rise about 3 stories.

A couple of scenes from one of the lookout platforms that rise about 3 stories.

Malecón 2000 Guayaquil Ecuador

And then there are lots and lots of people. Throughout the day and into the evening, especially on weekends, families of all sizes and ages come here to pass the time. Lots of hand-holding couples, toddlers, teenagers, elderly, pretty much everyone. And lots of benches for them to sit and enjoy the day or the people and river passing by. Hmm, it occurs to me that I haven’t seen any dogs.

This ship is much bigger than it appears in the picture.

This ship is much bigger than it appears in the picture.

This is just a small portion of the extensive outdoor food court.

This is just a small portion of the extensive outdoor food court.

The one thing that I didn’t see much of were tourists. There was one large group of Germans I saw, but other than that, I was the only gringo walking around for the most part. Maybe it’s not tourist season, but it appears that Guayaquil is yet to be much of a tourist attraction. I can help change that by saying to the single male readers out there that in the short time I have been here, I have seen so many beautiful girls. And they aren’t shy at being caught looking at you, like I’ve noticed in Peru. Anyway, as a single male myself, I can definitely sum up the girls in Guayaquil with a simple mono-syllabic palindrome: wow!

Sorry guys, no pictures! Use your imagination!

They encourage recycling along the Malecón.

They encourage recycling along the Malecón.

I stayed in a lovely boutique eco-conscious hotel right across the street from the Malecón called el Mansa. It was especially convenient because the restaurant that they have served amazing organic food. There is also a fruit juice stand next door which also served fruit batidas (milk shakes). Extra large drinks for under $2.

The friendly owner of el Mansa.

The friendly owner of el Mansa.

I liked to work on my laptop in this little nook.

I liked to work on my laptop in this little nook.

A view of el Mansa Hotel from the outside.

A view of el Mansa Hotel from the outside.

The weirdest thing about Ecuador is that for currency they use the U.S. dollar. The only other country that does that, to my knowledge, is Pánama. Do you ever wonder what happens to all the dollar coins that get made throughout the years? It appears they end up in Ecuador. I have yet to see a single dollar bill.

An example of the wonderful art throughout the Mansa Hotel. This mosaic is in a small bathroom, and there's no way to take a picture of it with me in the shot.

An example of the wonderful art throughout the Mansa Hotel. This mosaic is in a small bathroom, and there’s no way to take a picture of it without me in the shot.

From what I can tell, the prices here are more expensive than in Lima, which I am surprised by. Of course, I am staying in the nicest part of Guayaquil, I think. And I know how to get around cheaply in Lima. But the cabs are more expensive than Lima, and the foods seems to be too. If I were living in the other parts of the city, and shopping at the local market, it would definitely be cheaper of course.

One of the many fountains along the Malecón. This one is at the south end.

One of the many fountains along the Malecón. This one is at the south end.

Speaking of the other parts of the city, I only saw them from the back seat of a taxi. Most people have told me it’s dangerous for tourists to venture out on there own. And I wasn’t really interested in proving them right or wrong.

In conclusion, I’d say my first impressions of Guayaquil and Ecuador are really positive. It seems like it would be a neat place to live. The city isn’t too big or too small. Well, for me it’s too big, but for most people, I think it would strike a good balance.

This is an evil clown. It tricks kids into feeling they can trust him into eating non-nutritive junk food and laughs as they get unhealthy and overweight. Shame on you McDonald's.

This is an evil clown. It tricks kids into feeling they can trust him into eating non-nutritive junk food and laughs as they get unhealthy and overweight. Shame on you McDonald’s.


Exotic Vegetarian and Vegan Food In Perú

Shopping in the Markets in Perú

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Impressions Of Ecuador

Impressions Of Ecuador

So I just completed an 8 week stay in Ecuador. While my poor American friends were freezing their nads off, I was on the beach enjoying summer. I’m very fortunate to have been able to get to experience that. I have some video footage of the beach which I will be posting on YouTube soon.

The only other Latin American country I’ve been to, besides a few day trips to Mexican border towns, is Perú. So my impressions of Ecuador are somewhat made in comparison to Perú, which I’ve spent a total of about a year in.

The first thing about Ecuador that I found unusual is that they are on the U.S. dollar. About 10 years ago, they converted from the Ecuadorian currency. There was a bit of protest at the time it happened, and most people noticed that the prices of things increased. But it appears the population has finally gotten used to using the U.S. dollar and prices have stabilized.

Did you ever wonder what happened to all those dollar coins that the Federal Reserve has imposed on the reluctant U.S. populace? Well, I can testify, that these coins are sent to Ecuador. In fact, I didn’t see a single dollar bill. All the dollars were coins. They not only use actual U.S. coins for the dollar, quarters, dimes and nickels, but they also print their own version of a 50 cent piece, as well as dimes and nickels. Maybe quarters too, I can’t remember.

Gas in Ecuador is only about $1.20 a gallon. They also use gallons for measuring gasoline, whereas Perú uses the metric system.

Driving a car in Ecuador, even in Guayaquil, seems like it would be a lot easier than in Perú. In Ecuador, there are fewer people. And it seems like there are more people with their own cars, and fewer percentage of vehicles are taxis than in Perú.

From what I can tell, the prices in Perú are generally cheaper across the board, for lodging, food, and transportation. I’m not sure about gas prices.

When taking the bus from Perú to Ecuador, it is interesting to note the sudden change from a desert climate to a tropical one. Northern Perú along the coast is dry, and then suddenly you cross the border and everything is lush. The southern Ecuadorian highway crosses thousands of acres of banana trees.

Guayaquil is the largest city in Ecuador (under 3 million) and is located on a bay off the Pacific Ocean. The city doesn’t feel all that overcrowded. Having spent a lot of time in Lima, Chicago and Los Angeles, I think Guayaquil is pretty mellow by comparison. It’s pretty humid though. If I had to live in a large city, I could probably enjoy living in Guayaquil.

The 6th largest city in Ecuador is Portoviejo.

The 6th largest city in Ecuador is Portoviejo.

The bus ride north of Guayaquil is interesting. On my route I passed through a city of 200,000 called Portoviejo. Recently the government financed a new highway project which is providing beautiful new roads along the entire coastal region of Ecuador. There is very little traffic, and wide lanes which would make it ideal for biking, if one were inclined to bike. I’m actually thinking about doing that next time so I can stop in the smaller towns at my leisure.

The thing though that really stood out to me is that the entire bus ride from Guayaquil along this route, if you look out the windows you see garbage everywhere. I’m not exaggerating. For over 100 miles you see huge amounts of garbage along this brand new highway. It’s disgusting and an embarrassment to the country. I don’t understand the type of attitude someone would have for their own living conditions, not to mention the planet and the ecosystem, that would not only compel them to pollute, but to not DO anything about it and just let it pile up. It really makes me think about human nature.
garbage 1

I have no idea what it’s like along the roads in the mountain leading up to Quito, but I imagine it is much nicer. The garbage south of Guayaquil down to the Peruvian border is minimal, as it is in Perú. These are “third world” countries, so a little garbage is to be expected, and especially in the bigger cities outside of the tourist areas. But having garbage lining the streets for 150 miles out in the countryside is mind boggling.
garbage 2

I filmed some of this from my bus window, and I’m going to put together a video soon. Maybe if I write about this publicly and show it on YouTube, someone will take some initiative to address this problem.

I know garbage collection and disposal is a problem everywhere, and just having clean public areas doesn’t necessarily mean the garbage problem doesn’t exist. But it’s at least something. Actually, all along the beach I was staying at, which was quite expansive, wide and long, there was lots of garbage that had accumulated at the edge of the high tide. It’s really disheartening.

garbage 3
So my highlights in Ecuador. Nothing outrageous, as I’m not exactly the adventurous type. I enjoyed a few bike rides out in the country. I used to be a serious bike commuter in Chicago and Los Angeles, so it was nice to get out on the streets again. And the Ecuadorian country streets are nice and wide with very little traffic. So it was great fun and exercise. On one bike trip with an Ecuadorian friend, we rode out to his farmland which required traveling down some dirt roads and through some rural neighborhoods with street cows and donkeys. I’m sure I was the only gringo to ever be seen in some of those parts!

New Year’s Eve In Ecuador

New Year Effigies - Before

New Year Effigies – Before

Another highlight was New Year’s Eve in Bahía de Caráquez. This is the closest city to where I was at, with a population of about 20,000. It’s a beautiful city in a bay. New year’s in Ecuador is celebrated with lots of fireworks, after all it’s summer time. There are also a couple of interesting traditions. One is, people create paper machete effigies which are painted and stuffed with things that people want to say goodbye to with the old year. They also add fireworks to them, then light them on fire. So after midnight, there are all these small fires burning everywhere, which randomly start getting further blown up when the fireworks inside them ignite.

New Year Effigies - After

New Year Effigies – After

You also see lots of small children blowing up fireworks! Bizarre. At midnight, there was a big gathering in the town square, and people were dancing in an enclosed area. Overall it wasn’t rowdy. Just families and people hanging out along the ocean. There aren’t any clubs or discos apparently in Bahía.

Another Ecuadorian tradition is the widows dress up and try to make people laugh for donations. So lots of people are giving a few dollars to the widows hanging out on the streets after midnight, who, from what I’m told, make quite a bit of money, as long as they are funny.

Although I am glad I spent some time in Ecuador, I’m actually happy to be back in Perú. It definitely feels more like home to me.

Spanish Phrases I Picked Up

Sometimes you just pick up cool little things that other people use.

Ya regreso = I’ll be right back!
Eso, no más. = That’s all.
Huele a quemado. = It smells like something is burning.
Maní molido = Peanut butter. I tried to get ground peanuts, which is sold in little plastic bags, but the street vendor gave me peanut butter, which is also sold in little plastic bags!

Some Fun Food Items

There is a spicy ground peanut blend that is also sold in little plastic bags, which you can add to dishes to give them a little kick. This particular item, which I never learned by name, is recommended for patacones.

Food in Ecuador PataconesPatacones are little fritters made with plantains and served as a side to many meals. To me they are really dry and pretty boring in taste, so the spicy peanut blend is a welcome addition.

Food In Ecuador BotonesBolones
Bolones are also made with plantains and served at breakfast time. They are big round balls of plantain and cheese. I found them to be too dry and heavy sitting in the stomach. In general bananas and plantains feel like they just sit in the stomach and cause bloating. But hey, to each their own.

Tostadas in Ecuador are not to be confused with the tostadas of México. The tostadas of Ecuador more closely resemble a cheese sandwich. Two slices of bread have cheese placed in between, or cheese with sliced veggies, then grilled. The grills they use effectively seal the edges of the bread and create a crease down the middle. So they are like little enclosed cheese sandwiches. They are usually a breakfast item.

The cheese that was available where I was staying was made from happy cows that graze on grass in neighboring pastures. It is fresh cheese, meaning there is little flavor. I normally don’t eat dairy products, but this was an enjoyable exception. I really enjoyed vegetarian pizzas and tostadas.

coconut manThe coconut man came by the hostel I was at and sold me fresh coconuts everyday. I took the blender jar out to his cart, and he filled it with fresh coconut water and chopped the coconut shell in half. Inside there is the coconut meat which I blended with the water to make coconut milk. Usually this meat was soft, meaning the coconut was young. As the coconut ages, the meat grows thicker and more fibrous. In that case, I took a knife and drew a grid into the meat, then scooped it out with a spoon. This coconut meat is a delicious treat. Well, it doesn’t taste like much really, but it is fun to eat.

With it I made coconut ceviche. Ceviche is usually a raw seafood dish that is popular along the coast of Ecuador and Perú. It is served with onion, tomato and lime. Coconut meat ceviche is the same thing but suitable for vegetarians. I also added my spicy peanut blend, when I had it. Sometimes the coconut meat was enjoyed in salads and other times with some squirts of lime juice.

This is the main reason to come to Ecuador - Fresh Coconuts!

This is the main reason to come to Ecuador – Fresh Coconuts!

Back to my coconut milk drink. There was a little store next to the hostel, which in this town means a shack, where I purchased panela, which is molasses derived brown sugar sold in the shape of flying saucers. This was used to sweeten the drink. And then a squirt of lime and deliciousness ensues. Coconut water is incredibly nutritive and full of natural electrolytic minerals. It is very hydrating to the body and an incredible thing to be able to enjoy fresh and daily.

One day I discovered lots of chard growing in the corner of the hostel property. So we made chard soup! Here is a picture of the meal prepared by Jenny.
chard soup copy
The soup had all sorts of veggies in it. That’s the locally grown cheese, as well as local eggs from the neighbors chickens who run around the neighborhood all day. I made the papaya juice with the help of a blender.

And here is a picture of Jenny.

Props to Jenny!

Props to Jenny!

Chocolate Fruit in EcuadorDid you ever wonder where chocolate comes from? It comes from this fruit, called cacao. The seeds of the fruit are removed from the gooey white fruit and then dried and processed into chocolate. As you may know, for several years I have been consuming raw organic cacao as part of my staple diet. And I work at a chocolate factory on and off where we import the raw materials from Ecuador. But I had never been this close to the source of cacao or eaten it raw like this. The raw cacao beans definitely have the flavor of chocolate (bitter chocolate without any sweetener), but not as flavorful as the drying process brings out the flavor. The goopy fruit is not that flavorful, but not bad tasting by any means.

The hairstyle peinado that I am sporting here is known as el científico loco (the mad scientist), which is quite the rage with the Ecuadorian locals. It is characterized by one half of the head in a fro, the other half combed back, and a curl lock bucle down the middle.

Inside of the cacao fruit

Inside of the cacao fruit

A few other treats that were new to me:
Ovos are small oval shape fruits bigger than a grape and smaller than a roma tomato. They have an orangish red skin and orange fruit on the inside with a fairly big seed, relative to the size of the fruit. It tastes like a sour mango.

Camote is sweet potato, which is not technically a potato, but a root vegetable. There are over 5000 different types of camote. The one I had in Ecuador was purple skinned and purple on the inside. It tasted sweet like a sweet potato. Delicious!

The purple sweet potato known as camote

The purple sweet potato known as camote

What would I do differently?

I would NOT commit to staying at one place long term in advance. It’s nice to have something lined up for the arrival into a new town. But there’s no way to know if you will like that situation until you get there and check it out. My new strategy is to book a night or two, and then from there, go and look at other options in person.

Would I return to Ecuador? Sure, why not? I would like to explore some of the other areas, especially in the mountains and the southern part of the country. I’d like to see Quito, and the Galápagos. I would have loved to see the Galápagos this time, but I had limited funds. One of my favorite books is called Galápagos by Kurt Vonnegut, which I read 3 or 4 times. So actually seeing it some day would really be enjoyable for me.

Next time, I would possibly look into biking along the coast as well, just because the roads are more suited for biking. I think it would be great to somehow initiate or be involved in the cleaning up of that messy part of the highway. I’m not sure how to go about doing that, but it would be a worthwhile project.

Impressions of Guayaquil, Ecuador

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