Friday, July 31, 2015

¡El Impuesto Gringo! (The Gringo Tax)

There sure is a lot of financial fun down here in Peru.
For instance, one of our missionaries was transferred to Hu├ínuco, a city of about 200,000 at about 6,275 feet, right in the climatic "sweet spot."  Being from Ecuador, he wasn't aware of the local slang, including the idea that "luca china" meant 1.5 Peruvian soles.  When he and his companion hailed a local moto taxi and asked the driver the cost to go to ____, the driver answered "luca china."
"No!" stomped the missionary, "I'm not paying more than two soles!!"
"Uh, OK," said the bemused driver, "You win."
If you thought the lines at your bank made you tired of waiting, you ain't seen nothing like the ones down here.  
Because of a lot of counterfeiting, every person accepting money knows to check about eight things that tip them off to the fake stuff.
There is also an unofficial, but always-present Gringo Tax, which is gleefully collected by any and all Peruvians.  And I don't think that they report it to anyone.  I don't think...
For instance, if the usual fare for the taxi from the office to the house is four soles; when you add the Gringo Tax, that's five or six soles.
When you want to buy raspberries at the market, they are 5 soles, UNLESS you are obviously a North American, in which case, ¡ching! a 5 soles Gringo Tax is applied. And probably not reported.
With individual missionary interviews for four days this week in Huanuco, Paula would walk a block down to get a bottle of water.  The first day, it was one sol.
However, Oooops!  The proprietor had forgotten to add the PFS (Peruvian Foreigner Surcharge)! She did so the next day, with nary a word of explanation.  When Paula questioned the 50% rise in price in 24 hours, she received a Duh! look.  It was the Gringo Tax, fool!  
We hope that in whatever country you reside, the Impuesto Gringo is not excessive.
Dave & Paula

PS  So, like, how do they know I'm a Gringo?  Huh?

Sunday, July 19, 2015

She drops like a rock!

One of the principal towns in our Mission is Tarma, "The Pearl of the Andes." It sits at about 9,600 feet in a deep valley, and has three Branches of the Church.  We visit or pass through it frequently.
Occasionally, there are temporary roadblocks.
Tarma lies to the right of the Carreterra Central, or central highway of the region, and is connected to it by two roads, one leading in the direction of Huancayo, and the other toward Cerro de Pasco and beyond.  For our first 18 months, the second was pure "trocha," or dirt, with potholes, dust, and construction. It is now one of the best roads in the Mission.  
Route 228 looks so peaceful on the roadmap, no?  
OK, perhaps a bit less idyllic when you put in the mountains, and there are tons.
The road winds from 9,600 feet in Tarma to 13,100 at its highest point, and there are literally no points where it levels out or goes down.  None.
So of course you have to ride your bicycle up.  Duh.
We dropped Elder Waddell at Jauja International Airport (see previous post) with the bikes in the back of the car, and headed for Tarma.  He only slightly raised his eyebrows, but congratulated us for taking a rare "Preparation Day," which we are supposed to do weekly, but rarely have the time.
The next morning was clear and cool, and we set off from the hotel.
It soon became clear how they had accomplished the difference in elevation between the bottom and the top.
However, Paula showed the stern stuff from which she is made, and kept climbing. 
That's the next stretch of road to the left, and just for encouragement, the next killer switchback could usually be seen in advance.
Some of the views were nothing short of spectacular, and yes that's the road we had been coming up.  Fake smile, by the way.
"La Cumbre" means "The Peak," and it came none too soon.
Even though the climb up was pretty warm from the sun and exertion, we were still above 13 grand, so on with the arm-warmers and tights.  Isn't she cute?
There are no actual photos taken during the descent.  Frankly, I was too busy with my death grip on the handlebars trying to keep up with Paula, who is a fearless descender, and giving her notice of overtaking cars, of which there were very few.  At one point, she passed a semi going too slow for her taste.  This is an actual, unretouched, simulated photo of our descent.
When we finally and quickly, thanks to Paula, reached the hotel, I asked how many times she had actually applied the brakes.  "A few," was all she would admit.  I reminded her that they had been placed on her bicycle for a purpose.  "Gallina,"* was all she said.
Anyway, one of the best rides ever, towards the top of the Top Ten List.
We hope that your wife doesn't scare you descending, and that your brakes indeed work well.
Dave & The Demon Descender

*Gallina = Chicken (female chicken even)

Saturday, July 11, 2015

The Visit of Elder Waddell

About once a year, we are visited by a General Authority of the Church, who makes a tour of the mission, interviewing and teaching the missionaries and the members. General Authorities are those leaders called to be assigned anywhere in the world, as opposed to the Area and local authorities.
Elder W. Christopher Waddell came to our mission last week from Lima where he is serving in the Area presidency.
Such visits can of course can cause some degree of tension for the mission president himself, who naturally beforehand can see every fault of himself and the mission.
However, as is typical of such men, Elder Waddell was kind and considerate, though very clear.  His instruction was inspired, right on the money for what we need to do. Those who were fortunate enough to be interviewed individually spoke warmly of the experience.
Because of the limited time we had, the size of the Mission and the number of meetings, early morning starts were typical, as were late evenings. 
Elder Waddell spoke with all the missionaries in three large meetings, in Huanuco, Huancayo and La Merced in the jungle.  (Note: the tall fellow - 6'5"- to my right is him.)
Elder Waddell's wife, who became friends with Paula during a 3-hour immigration processing wait in Lima, slipped her an e-mail telling us that Sunday would be his birthday.  
Our office Elders where all over it, having a maracuya/tres leches cake made especially for him.
Paula enthusiastically thanked him for his help in her obtaining a real oven! instead of the E-Z Bake that had originally been spec'd.  By the way, she's not that short.
In all, it was truly an inspiring visit, one which made me thankful once again for good, kind and straightforward leaders in the Church.
We hope that your visits from General Authorities also turn out to be not scary.
Dave & Paula

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Fun With Photoshop!

You know, I'm just sick and tired of it, that's all.  In a recent blog post, I included the following picture of myself, Paula, my brother Mark and his wife Amy, and Winston Trice, our long-time friend from medical school.  It represented a group shot during our climb up to the glacier on Huaytapallana, an 18,000+ foot mountain behind Huancayo.
However, many of you have commented that I look like a large Hershey Kiss, and not the extreme-o, macho guy that I am.  Photoshop came to my rescue.
 How's this for macho, eh?  Who's laughing now?!
Or how about this?  I mean, that thing has got to weigh 100, no 200 pounds.  Only a real man, not a Hershey's kiss, could carry that to 16,000 feet.
Next one who laughs has to deal with THIS guy.
Or the Nature Man of the Andes!
Rats.  Paula just said, "Put it away.  Put away that Photoshop thing NOW!"  While she was out of the room, I made sure I no longer looked like a pointy piece of chocolate.
Anyway, I hope your pictures of cool, real man-type activities come out better than mine did.