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Retiring in Peru

Retiring in Peru

I am fascinated by archaeology, I didn't anticipate the great recession, and I love my wife. All of which explains our move from our home in Michigan to Lima, Peru. I hadn't planned on retiring in 2008. But the downturn in the economy, $4 a-gallon gasoline and a sinking building-materials industry (in which I worked for 40 years) made us reconsider. My wife was born in Peru, and we decided we should spend some time there. So we sold our house and put our favorite belongings in storage, taking only two suitcases each for our adventure. We would give Peru one year; if we didn't like it, we would return to the U.S., enjoy time with our children and grandchildren, and try something else.

Retiring in Peru

Almost five years later, we are still living in, and learning about, Peru. We aren't strangers to this part of the world. After we married, we visited Peru every few years for vacations. Little known to most Americans, the country offers a wide variety of climates and landscapes: Pacific beaches, coastal desert, the Amazon jungle and the Andes. Here, you can hike the Inca Trail to the ancient city of Machu Picchu (often identified as one of the Seven Man-Made Wonders of the World) or spend a week camping beside the Amazon River (often called one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World).

Retiring in Peru

We settled in Lima because we like its oceanfront setting and because of the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru. (More on this in a moment.) Home is a three-bedroom apartment in the Miraflores neighborhood, a nice mix of parks, shops and restaurants. The weather is delightful, with temperatures rarely above the 80s in summer or below the 50s in winter. There is no ice or snow in Lima. Tornadoes and hurricanes are unheard of (though we do feel the occasional earthquake).

Retiring in Peru

Expenses are low (but climbing). We live what would be considered an upper-middle-class lifestyle for less than $4,000 a month. That covers food, utilities, housing, transportation and incidentals. Health care is adequate and inexpensive. We are too old (late 60s) to buy insurance here, so it is all cash up front: about $40 to see a doctor and just under $100 for lab work.

Retiring in Peru

We don't own a car; we walk almost everywhere—for shopping, dining out, medical care, the local beaches. For longer trips, taxis are plentiful and inexpensive. A ride downtown or to the Pontifical University is about $4.And speaking of the university…I have long had an interest in archaeology. During our early vacations to Peru, I found myself marveling at structures and sites 2,000 years old (and older) and always would make a point of talking with the archaeologist in charge at the "digs" we visited.

Retiring in Peru

At one point, a friend suggested that I contact the Pontifical University if I was serious about learning more. I submitted my college transcripts and was accepted into the school's International Exchange Program. To date, I have accumulated about 30 credit hours and continue to take one or two archaeology classes each semester. (What little Spanish I knew before moving I had picked up listening to my wife and her relatives. An intensive Spanish-language course here helped greatly, and now I enjoy the pressure of written exams, term papers and oral presentations in front of classmates and professors.)

During my first semester, I began to feel that classes alone weren't enough; I wanted to get my hands dirty! As luck would have it, Huaca Pucllana, a 1,400-year-old pyramid and active archaeological dig, is not far from our home in Lima. I work there as a volunteer—excavating artifacts, discussing elements of discovery with top specialists and helping unwrap ancient mummies.

Retiring in Peru

Of course, our lives here are more than archaeology. In the States, we always looked forward to three-day weekends; now, we take a three-day weekend every week. We visit some of the towns near Lima or spend a nice day downtown at the Plaza de Armas in front of the Presidential Palace or maybe see the Cathedral of Lima, founded in the 1540s by Francisco Pizzaro.

I also have been asked to help with medical missions in the jungle. (When younger, I served in the Army as a medic.) The Peruvian American Medical Society organizes weeklong trips to remote areas where American and Peruvian doctors, nurses and technicians donate time, equipment and medicine. Each group consists of about 30 people; on each trip, we help about 2,000 patients who otherwise would receive little if any health care.

Retiring in Peru

Peru certainly has its shortcomings. Rude drivers, with little regard for pedestrians, are a problem, as is the fact that everything here starts late (at least to our way of thinking). Some shops don't open until 11 a.m.; lunch usually goes from 1 to 4 p.m. and dinner from about 7:30 to 10. We've also noticed that people generally have no respect for waiting in line, much like in Europe.

Retiring in Peru

But so far the rewards far outweigh any headaches. We probably will return to the U.S. at some point. (The pull of family is strong.) For now, we will continue to explore this beautiful country, and get my hands as dirty as possible.


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