city slicker Lima

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The Independent Culture
Friday is Independence Day in Peru. Here's your survival pack when out on the streets of the capital

Don't mention: Ecuador. The two countries are still contesting a border war. But what's a few deaths and a few million hectares of virgin forest compared to football? Peru was dumped out of the Copa America last week, losing 2-1 in the group matches to... Ecuador.

Man most likely to see: President Alberto Fujimori is everywhere. Recently re-elected after amending the constitution to allow himself to run for office for a second time, his popularity grows by the day, and no-one can explain why. Currently filing for divorce from wife Susana who accused him of corruption in the run-up to the elections. Fujimori responded by welding her into her room in the presidential palace, instantly earning the respect of macho voters across the land.

Man most unlikely to see: The mysterious Vladimir Montesinos, head of the Peruvian secret service and President Fujimori's "adviser". There are only two known photographs of him in existence - if sighted, whip out your Pentax and earn yourself a small fortune.

Money: the sol is stable after years of rampant inflation (2,500 per cent between 1985 and 1990) during which supermarket prices rose on the hour every hour - picking the wrong checkout queue was an expensive business. The dollar is in fact the real currency. These get changed on street corners and may or may not be false. Do not make the mistake an American tourist made which was to change $1,000 into outdated, and hence worthless, currency.

Will I get shot/blown up?: increasingly difficult - stand next to an armed guard outside a small bank near a shanty town and you may get caught in some crossfire. Bomb blasts in Lima are, for the most part, a thing of the past, though dog bombs (in which explosives are strapped to a stray mongrel in a crowded marketplace) are reported to be making a comeback.

Will I get cholera?: not unless you're partial to a drop of murky river water.

Delicacies: cuy (roast guinea pig) is a favourite, though not easy to find in Lima - impress the hell out of the locals by sucking out the tasty bits behind the ears. Try El Rinconcito Arequipeno on block 15 of Jose Galvez in Lince where they present a range of splayed guinea pigs on sticks for you to select.

Drink: pisco must be treated with caution. A white grape brandy, it has a powerful hallucinogenic effect when drunk with egg white, cinnamon and lime juice. Or drink Cristal, a beer treated with such veneration they christened their top football team after it. Or, to wash down the guinea pig, chicha de jora, an evil, swirling maize beer, to be drunk in Lima but not in the Andes, where they may or may not stick to the traditional recipe involving human spittle.

The next morning: the only thing a Peruvian hangover will respond to is cebiche. A volatile cocktail of fish marinaded in lime juice and chilli, its consumption induces total sensory deprivation, bringing on a numb skull and successfully incapacitating the hangover. Kingsley Amis swears by vigorous early-morning love-making to shake off a sore head, but you'll find that most people would opt for a vat of raw fish and chilli over a shag with Sir Kingsley. Crawl to El Cebiche del Rey, Av Aramburu 975, San Isidro, or Latin Brothers, Canevaro 1390, Lince, which also houses a seething salsa dancefloor with live music.

Most likely headlines: "Bus falls into ravine killing 50", "Government has no money till 1997", "RIP Peruvian Football".


Additional research by

Giancarlo Moyoli Popolizio