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.)

cactus, peru, hiking, flowers

The Cactus and Me

This cactus was grand

Bright green, blushing red

It burst forth from the sand

Prickles spewed from its head

So out popped my camera, a DSLR

I’d photograph this cactus, I’d make it a star


I was soon enthralled

This plant was so pretty

Then nature called

So I had to get busy

But when I squatted down to pee

My friend, the cactus, wasn’t nice to me…

That Time I Walked Home in a Sports Bra

Walking home in a sports bra probably wasn’t a good idea.

If it had been night and if I had been walking alone, it would’ve been a very bad idea. But it was noon on a highly trafficked thoroughfare so I figured *shrug.

In this order, the men of Lima bestowed upon me: 1 proposition, 2 whistles, 1 kissy noise, 3 honks. All in the timespan of about 10 minutes.

When I stepped out of the shower at the gym, I realized I’d forgotten my shirt. En serio? Ugh. And though I’ve squatted in forests and taken weekend hikes without bathing, the thought of getting back into that grimy shirt made my skin crawl.

Growing up, my aunt used to quip, “Horses sweat. Men perspire. Women glisten.” My sudoriferous glands beg to differ. After getting off a treadmill, I could wring out my T-shirt and provide water for the entire drought-stricken West Coast. I sweat like a Coke bottle at an August barbecue. Like a turkey on Thanksgiving. Like Chuck Norris on his way… wait a second, Chuck Norris has never sweated a day in his life. #nevermind

In other words, I’m a beast.

So no way in hell was I getting back into my dirty clothes. Thus, the probablywasntagood idea was born. I guess I should’ve expected the unwanted attention. I guess I’ve learned my lesson?

Or, here’s a thought, all the jerks out there could stop being such big pendejos and leave a dama alone. She forgot her shirt and just wants to walk home in a sports bra.

That Time I Tried Salsa Dancing

I didn’t know my hips existed until I took a Zumba/salsa class in Peru.

I mean, I guess I had an inkling that they were there. I’m a pretty clumsy person so as long as I don’t fall down a flight of stairs, I figure everything is doing its job and leave well enough alone. But hips exist in a BIG way here, and when you wiggle ’em a little to the left everything looks just right.

I woke up early for the class and made it to the gym in time to claim a chunk of floor space in an inconspicuous corner—right behind the mirror so I wouldn’t trip but right in front of the weights so I wouldn’t trip anyone else. The dancing started off easy enough, in that there wasn’t any dancing. We stretched for about five minutes.

Needless to say, I was a pro. *shoulder brush*

Then our instructor turned on the music, cranking up the volume until the melody was so loud it hurt. He spun around to face his eager disciples, and his pelvis popped in a way that put Patrick Swayze to shame.

If you’ve ever missed your exit because you were staring at the larger-than-life abs of a hunk selling NEWEST GADGET while zooming down the highway or found your eyes lingering on the cover of a trashy romance novel while you were justlookingforthesciencesectionJEEZE, then you’ve seen my instructor. That man was able to get a whole room of women to twirl and high kick and do bendy things with the flick of a wrist. It was impressive.

Salsa is such a gorgeous, fluid dance, and the people in my class are good-good. I’m not a fan of stereotyping, but I’m pretty sure there’s something in the water here because, dang, all these gals can move!

Needless to say, it was the perfect Latin American cliché.

Then there was me—the perfect norteamericana. I’m a head taller than anyone else in the room. Suddenly, I’m very, very conscious of my sickly pallor. I’ve always made fun of my own whiteness, but dayum! It’s like Captain Crunch and the Trix Bunny decided to get it on, and snap, crackle, POP—a gringa was born.

Then there’s this thing called “undulating.” I won a writing award by using the word in sixth grade. Low bar for success, I know, but I’ve been oh-so proud of my mad skillz ever since. Unfortunately, in Latin America “undulating” isn’t word, it’s a concept, and knowing the definition in my head was NOT helping when it came to my hips.

Needless to say, white girl CAN’T dance.

Then a miracle happened. My dance instructor hunkered down over the playlist for a tad longer than normal. When he stepped away, I recognized the song. All those late nights practicing in front of the mirror came right back to me.

Soulja Boy exploded from the speakers, and I killed it for three, glorious, glorious minutes. While these brilliant dancers balked at hopping around on one foot and waving their hands in the air, I had already mastered what every frat boy can do in a drunken stupor. (Thanks WikiHow!) It was amazing.

Needless to say, I’m going back again next week!