How (And Where) to Buy a Camera Lens in Lima, Peru

Camera equipment in Peru is expensive and challenging to find. Save yourself the hassle and buy all the equipment you need in the U.S. BUT, if you’re stuck in a bind, check out these options:

You can buy basic lenses at the chain stores Saga, Ripley and Hiraoka. There’s also Media Solutions Peru, Roditec and ZF Store. Everything at these chains will be pricey because of Peru’s import taxes. Your best bet is to buy something used.

To find quality used equipment, try surfing Mercardo Libre or—the Peruvian equivalents of EBay. Visit Calle Porta in Miraflores, which is a street lined with (mostly) reputable camera shops. Or frequent CompuPalace on a regular basis. They often have great deals on used glass.

If you’re really desperate visit Polvos Azules, Lima’s go-to for every pirated DVD and computer game ever. They’ll also have what you’re looking for—just be suspect of the quality.

In preparation for a last-minute trip to Argentina, I purchased a “lente gran angular” from a camera seller I found on I managed to get him down 100 soles, but it was a good deal for both of us. He had a quality lens, which I needed quickly and couldn’t afford to buy new, and I paid in cash. Everyone loves cash!

Now, I’m no expert on buying used cameras, but here’s a check list I threw together from reading hours of Internet forums:

How to Check a Used Camera Lens

    • Check the outside of the lens. Scratches are OK. Dents mean the lens could’ve been dropped. Walk away.

Same goes for fungus. If you suspect a lens has fungus inside (which is pretty common in Lima), do NOT put it on your camera body. Run far, run fast.

  • Lens creep: point the lens up to the sky and down at the ground. Does the lens “creep” aka slide forward or backward?
  • Look through the lens like a telescope
  • Is the mount clean?
  • Check autofocus speed
  • Check manual focus
  • Smell it: If the person was a smoker, you’ll know it. Not necessarily a deal-breaker, but good to know.
  • Use a bright light and shine it inside the lens to look for scratches that will reduce quality. Don’t worry too too much about dust.
  • Rotate lens and listen for loose material moving around
  • Zoom in and out while listening for loose material or grating sounds
  • Make sure the lens hood stays locked
  • Check weather sealing
  • Make sure the filter screws on and off easily
  • Take a picture all the way open
  • Take a picture all the way closed
  • Check for center defects
  • Turn on and off IS
  • Take a picture of a newspaper to check clarity
  • (I recently learned this!) If a lens isn’t used for a long time, you can get oil marks inside. Check for the oil marks using preview.
  • Take photos using autofocus in single AND continuous mode
  • Take photos in light setting AND dark settings
  • Is there a warranty?
  • Check for centering defects
  • Take a picture of a pattern and check to see if there’s distortion
  • Bring your laptop and take a look at 50-100 photos on your laptop.
  • Enjoy your new lens!


colombia, bogota, gold museum, jewelry, penis

OK, I Admit It, I Have Penis Envy

I’ve always had a teensy bit of penis envy.

It’s not that I don’t value my chromosomes. Estrogen has its perks—amiright, ladies? And who wants to clutch their crotches in fear every time a baseball hurtles by? or deal with embarrassing teenage erections? Ew.

But the lack of certain equipment makes my XX world more challenging.

Stake outs, for one thing. I want the stuff of ’80s cop shows, Lifetime movies and bad paperback mystery novels. I want—more than anything else—to ‘case the joint’ while huddled in a station wagon, it’s brown, stained interior peeling and musty. I want to stay up all night getting buzzed on the marriage of blue Gatorade and Twizzlers. I want to have a puppy-like sidekick who will do most of the work but get little of the glory.

Sadly, it’s not to be. All that liquid blue sugar has to go somewhere, and peeing in a bottle is every woman’s nightmare.

Writing my name in the snow. OK, to be honest, I’ve never actually had the urge to try this, but after further consideration, it seems vital. What if I was stuck on a mountain, at the precipice of death, and my last chance to communicate with the world before succumbing to the elements was snow writing? A dude could urinate something pithy. My last words would be a puddle—how very profound.

Then there’s hiking. If a bear poops in the woods, so can I, and squatting behind a tree is par for the course when you’re an outdoorsy gal. But I’m in the Peruvian Andes, and there aren’t any trees of substantial size. I have to hike far off the path to find a safe hiding spot—nobody wants to see my moon hit the sky. Ew.

Weekend hikes throughout Peru have become female map-making expeditions. For my testosterone-filled Significant Other, gorgeous outcroppings of rock are just landforms. For me, they’re the perfect bathroom. For him, the uncharacteristically fat eucalyptus we just passed is a curious anomaly. For me, it’s an emergency latrine.

And despite my constant vigilance, I usually don’t get lucky. Most of the time, when nature calls, Mother Nature doesn’t provide (for shame, woman!), and I end up playing Twister with a bunch of prickly bushes.

Women need backgrounds in espionage and circus acrobatics just to relieve themselves.

For several years, I’d heard of companies like SheWeepStyle and Go Girl, which attempt to solve this problem for the female adventurer. #innovation But using appliances that are little more than glorified funnels painted feminine hues seems, I don’t know, icky.

It wasn’t until last month that I decided to man up and try them out. Peeing standing up can’t be more difficult than the alternative. Because even if I find a hidden place to pee; even if I manage to avoid the jagged rocks, curious bugs and unfortunately placed cacti, I still—invariably—run the risk of peeing on my shoes. Ew.

So I ordered a couple products and read the instruction manuals front to back. I’m only two steps in, and I figure I’m already way ahead of any dude. Now, I just have to find a suitable place to give it a go.

Anybody up for a stakeout?

UPDATE: After trying out a few models and doing LOTS of Internet research, Freshette is the best. Check it out.

huacachina, peru, sandboarding, desert

Pro Tip: Close Your Mouth

My elementary school bus driver didn’t speak Spanish, but the few phrases she’d memorized were scary as mierda.

¡Cállate! ¡Silencio! ¡Sentarse sin hablando! She’d sweep the back of the bus with her omnipotent glare and scowl into the rearview mirror. If she made eye contact, you were as good as muerto.

I grew up in a farming community where half of us rooted for Mexico and rest backed Italy. The gringos jóvenes had no clue what she was saying, but her threat—however foreign—scared the bejeezus out of us all. If you didn’t shuttheHwordupRIGHTNOW then you’d have to sit at the front of the bus with *gasp* the nerds.

Sitting up front was worse than getting a yellow card. It meant you’d miss out on everything. Maybe Suzette would finally kiss Jose. Maybe you’d barter your chips for a Lunchable. Maybe Antonio would stick his hand out the window again, and it’d get knocked off by a tree branch. He was a brave, but dumb, boy (weren’t they all?), and we were easily entertained.

To sit up front meant you’d lose your front-row seat to all the action and, thus, your social standing for days, if not weeks. The horror.

I was a regular at the front of the bus (shocker). With horrible motion sickness, my hour in that yellow tank was hell. I passed the time talking to the bad kids (re: cool kids) who really didn’t want to sit next to the chick in penny loafers with her eye on the vomit bucket.

But I won them over with my charm. Or they were bored. Either way, I spent a great deal of time chatting. They didn’t adopt my sense of style, but I was quick to mimic their behavior. From first grade all the way into middle school I never, ever ¡Cierras la boca!

That poor bus driver.

huacachina, peru, sandboarding, desert

(The Significant Other killin’ it on the sand slopes!)

Apparently I haven’t changed much since third grade because my bus driver’s warnings still fall on deaf ears. A few weeks ago, I found myself standing at the top of a HUGE sand dune in the Peruvian desert, clutching a sandboard in shaky hands.

Sandboarding is kind of like snowboarding but not. The Huacachina desert is far more gorgeous than a snowy mountain. However, face-planting in sand is a lot less thrilling than belly-flopping into a snow drift.

huacachina, peru, sandboarding, desert

While our tour guide mechanically waxed my sandboard, he waxed poetic about the many ways white people have screwed up this sport—enough to land themselves en el hospital. Muy peligroso. He laid out his list of do’s and don’ts in perfect Spanglish: Don’t lean forward. Never hold your hands out in front of you. Always keep your torso curved upward.

But his main advice? ¡Cierras la boca!

*sigh* I never listen.

huacachina, peru, sandboarding, desert(I’m smiling here, but that’s because there’s so much sand in my teeth that shutting my mouth feels like licking a lumberjack’s face.)

Everyone Else is Doing It (NYE Resolutions)

My mom loves me (I’ve fact-checked).

This poor woman sat through every single one of my school plays, pretended to enjoy my band concerts and put up with my (very brief and pathetic) teenage emo phase. If that’s not love, I don’t know what is.

Even though she’s my biggest supporter, sometimes I’m sure that having a globe-trotter for a daughter can be rather trying. So after accomplishing BOTH my life goals in just a year—moving to Peru and reporting from Antarctica—the female parental unit was understandably worried.

I could see the words written in her frown: What is this offspring of mine going to tackle next?

Well, Ma, since you asked. Life Goals 2.0!

Write for NYT: Alright, I ADMIT IT, I haven’t written for The Gray Lady. Now, that’s never been my scene, but in high school I was voted “Most Likely to Write for the NYT” (“Most Likely to Nerd Out Over Stargate Atlantis” was already taken. Damn you, Jessica!), and I’d like to make it happen. #letsdothis

Study physics: I took chemistry instead of physics because I heard we’d get to blow stuff up. Unfortunately, our class watched “Fat Man, Little Boy” a couple times, and that was about as close as I ever got to actual chemistry. </regret> Unfortunately, this didn’t pick up a physics book until much later in life. And, GUYS, physics is SO COOL.

Learn hip hop: I don’t like dancing. Unless someone is blasting Journey or Fleetwood Mac, you can count me out. But I suppose I’m still too young to say “screw it,” order Chinese food and watch Golden Girl reruns on late-night TV while lounging in a sports bra and underwear. So I suppose I should learn polish my skills with something other than YouTube videos. This. Will. Happen.

Now where’s the takeout menu?

Be less judgey: I hold myself to impossibly high standards (which is something I’m working on, too) and naturally that bleeds into my perceptions of others. BUT what’s best for me, obviously isn’t necessarily what’s best for others. I have to learn to cut people some slack and let them be them. It’s a process!

Read one non-science book every week: For years I haven’t read anything but science-related books, and hot damn, have I been missing out! I asked all you brilliant peeps for recommendations back in October, and so far I’ve read ~a story a week. I feel more fulfilled, smarter, richer, happier, all the awesomes are belongs to me.

Visit NYC at least 4x per year: I haven’t seen a rat in 365 days; I can barely recall the smell of subway urine (public restrooms just aren’t the same!); and I now (*gulp) own a bed bigger than my last apartment. How I miss La Ciudad!

Broaden my understanding of philosophy: Freshman year of college, I was super-duper stoked!!!1 (17-year-old me’s words and punctuation, not mine) for Philosophy 101. But my professor spoke like The Dude, and after three hours listening to teenagers argue about whether black widow spiders had souls, I was ready bang my head on a desk that may or may not have existed. I dropped the class. Of course, I’ve studied philosophy in other courses, but there’s so much more to explore!!!1

Attempt taxidermy: I lurk on this FB group for taxidermy enthusiasts. It’s a private group (yeah, I’m cool *shoulder brush*) or I’d paste the link here for peeps to follow. Taxidermists are just ridiculously awesome and creative. But since I’m a chronic lurker, I feel like it’s time to put up. Sadly, I missed the Valentine’s Day Rat Taxidermy seminar, but there’s always the Anthropomorphic Mouse Taxidermy (One or Two Headed!) class. I’m not sure how that works anatomically, but I’m pretty stoked to find out. Plus, I’m pretty sure this is a tax write-off. It’s basically career advancement. If I decide to leave journalism, I’ll have a similarly lucrative profession to fall back on. </sarcasm>

Play fútbol: I played soccer for, jeeze, 12 years? 13 years? anyway, a long time. Then I stopped. For no good reason. When I was working in the rainforest, the guides and researchers played pickup games every afternoon on the beach. I tagged along, and it turns out I’m kind of a soccer god. (Or, at least, I can hold my own.)

Read “The Listserve” every day: It is amazing and brings me down to earth. Check it out.

Rewatch the TV series Just Shoot Me: Everyone needs easy life goals. Don’t judge me.

Be more thoughtful: Most people aren’t bad, they’re just super unthoughtful. Hold the elevator door. Write an honest-to-god PAPER thank-you note. Don’t bail on friends. Think before hitting send. <–I talk the talk. Now I want to make a concerted effort to walk the walk.

Learn rock climbing: Anything perched higher than my nose scares the crap out of me, and I’m a firm believer that in order to grow as a person you have to conquer your fears. Plus, rock climbing is great exercise, and once you get good enough, gives you access to parts of the world untouched by guard rails and pedestrian walkways.

This is a list in progress. I’m thinking of adding more camping, taking an improv class, writing more often about fungus, taking a glass blowing class, completing a javascript-filled data project, and, well, we’ll see!