Rachel has lived in 8 different countries on 4 different continents. Growing up in the US, she often dreamed of traveling and pursued a career in international business, specifically emerging markets. After extensive traveling around the world and moving to many major US cities while working in the US, she moved back to South America. Rachel loves trying new foods and wines, studying languages, sailing, water skiing, photography, running, and horseback riding. Her goals are to be trilingual or a millionaire. Having achieved the latter (in Colombian pesos), she is now actively pursuing the former.
Lima, Peru – gastronomy capital of South America, jumping off point to Machu Picchu, and where I lived for most of August. Unlike the typical tourist which arrives in Lima, stays a day and quickly departs to Machu Picchu, I was the odd person who actually lived in Lima, watching others come and go discussing the wonder. While others awed over breathtaking views of ruins, I spent my time searching for a job, price comparing coffee makers, negotiating phone contracts, and normal day-to-day boring stuff. I admit, I indulged in a 12-step, 3-hour tasting menu at Astrid y Gastón as well as consuming massive amounts of choripan, camote frito, churros, and pisco in the name of experiencing culture through food.
Besides memorable eating experiences, what I’ll take away most from living in Lima is the amazing memories of hanging out with my friends Kelly & Christian. The one thing I wanted but didn’t take though was 5 soles, the rough equivalent of $1.81.
Those who know me well know that I collect money and always have ideas on how to make money, but ironically have little of it. The money collecting started around age 8 when I saw a feather penny and for some reason I can’t remember now, thought it was really cool. The next step was spending hours examining rolls of pennies that my dad would bring me from the bank to go through so that I could find the shiniest 1973c penny there was. Logically, as I grew older, I graduated in to nickels, dimes, quarters, cash, and my current specialty, foreign currency. I had a profitable scheme going on for a while. My sister: “Rachel, someone tipped me with this old $20 bill, you want it?” “Sure, I’ll take that off your hands.” A friend coming back from a trip to Italy, “I have a bunch of lira I don’t have anything to do with, you want it?” “No problem.”
It all went well until my little brother decided that he wanted to collect money too and my supply was drastically cut in half. Of course, I found a way around this being the third daughter who had received a lot of hand-me-down items but no one to dump them on since a boy came next. I put all my girly crap in one large pile, threw in 2 things I knew my brother really wanted, and offered him the whole pile, all or nothing, for the buffalo head nickel he’d been given which should have been rightfully mine. Triumphant with a cleaner room, a buffalo head nickel, and the satisfaction of outsmarting a sibling, I used this tactic to continually increase my collection. Years later when my brother asked for his buffalo head nickel back, I wasn’t sure what he was talking about… I guess he meant the one that’s currently in my safe deposit box.
So fast forward to Lima, Peru where I was just living for almost a month with Kelly and Christian. A serial traveler / nomad / mover, I hadn’t even bothered to look up Peru’s currency before arriving. I incorrectly assumed pesos, a stereotypical guess which I shouldn’t have made, only to find out my first day that everything was priced in Nuevos Soles (shown below from my collection).
I had some issues with money in Peru, not the normal issues that people have like overspending or incorrect budgeting, but there were two things that didn’t work out for me which normally work out for me elsewhere in the world when it comes to money. The first was the ATM. Peru allows you to withdraw USD or Nuevos Soles at the ATM. This is the only place in the world I’ve ever seen this happen and was excited to be able to pay my rent in USD. Kelly drove me to the ATM to get my rent money and watched me for safety’s sake since it was at night and not the best neighborhood. Normal procedure: enter vestibule, insert card, enter PIN, take money, take receipt, take card, exit vestibule. Simple, right? Except I always check to make sure my wallet is safely closed with all items. While keeping my eyes on the strangers outside the vestibule, securely gripping my wallet, I threw open the glass ATM vestibule door, looked down to check my wallet, and back up to have the glass door slam me in my forehead. I was so busy protecting my money, I forgot to protect myself. Misplaced priorities. As expected, minor bruising ensued and I employed the same tactic I had used when I lived in Barcelona and walked in to a glass door. Then, I told everyone my friend Kerry had punched me. In Lima, I fortunately had my new friend / scapegoat conveniently named Kelly. It worked out well as I repeated the same story and barely had to change the name.
My second money related issue was in exiting the country. I always keep one coin of each kind and one piece of cash of each kind up to a value of 5 USD. Somehow I always manage to do this perfectly. To be honest, I think it always only works because I hoard money on the last day and spend whatever I don’t need on candy. Yes, that’s my definition of it working out “perfectly.” Leaving Peru, I had everything I needed but the 5 soles coin. In excess, I had a 10 soles cash note. Kelly was going to take me to the airport and the initial plan was to offer Kelly the 10 soles cash I didn’t need for the 5 soles coin. Kelly is a shrewd business woman so I posed the question of the existence of a 5 soles coin cautiously for fear that she might catch on and I would pay 20 soles plus fees via Paypal for 5 soles. Unfortunately, after searching the car, a 5 soles coin wasn’t lying around. I was going to go on to Colombia without my coin.
Arriving at the airport, we parked next to a storm grate, and a shiny 5 soles caught my eye in the grate amidst trash. As I watched disgustedly, Kelly lifted up the grate with her bare hands, dug through the trash, grabbed the 5 soles coin, and victoriously declared with arms outstretched, “Here’s your 5 soles coin! I want a hug!” “NO!” I screamed withdrawing in horror. Kelly got about 10 sprays of Burt’s Bees Aloe & Witch Hazel hand sanitizer, the ability to keep the 5 soles coin, and the standard Peruvian kiss on the check as a reward for her efforts.
As the plane took off from Lima to Medellin, the loneliness I had evaded since arriving in South America began to take hold of my emotions. I missed my new friend. Before the 5 soles incident, I had thought our friendship made a lot of sense. Kelly spoke English. I spoke English. Neither of us were confident when speaking Spanish. A perfect formula for friendship for a month in Peru. What started as a simple friendship of common interests in the beginning, evolved over a month of shared experiences exploring Lima, and I realized I had made the rare type of friend willing to dig through the trash to get me a coin worth less than 2 USD just because I wanted it. Not to mention, she let me pretend like she had punched me in an animated story that really involved me walking in to a glass door at the ATM. I no longer wanted the coin, all I wanted was to go back to dark, cold Lima, and give Kelly a hug, rather than moving on to the warmth and “eternal Spring” of Medellin. While eager to experience Colombia, I was sad that once again moving means leaving friends behind. I might have screwed my little brother out of a buffalo head nickel in my youth, but as a supposedly wiser, older version of myself, a coin seemed less important than the great friends and memories I had in Peru. I’m in Medellin now, but I’ll be back in Lima someday to first hug Kelly and then, of course, collect a 5 soles coin which will mean something different than its value.
Posted on March 1, 2012, in Guest blog, Triptrotting Stories and tagged Collect, Culture, Explore, food, friends, Friendship, language, Lima, Money, Peru, Soles, travel. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.