Friday, August 28, 2009

Ways To Make It Rain (in Peru)

As some of the dotcomrades have learned by now, I've spent a little bit of time recently in Lima, Peru. And by a little bit of time, of course, I mean more time than you coulp probably ever imagine. So needless to say, I... ummm... have some pretty interesting stories.

But those particular stories are not the reason for this particular post. The idea behind this entry is to reach out to all of those venture capitalists who are looking for can't-miss investment opportunities in developing Latin-American countries, in the hopes that the strategic influx of capital might enhance my personal ejoyment during future stays in that great country.

So without further ado, here are the Top-3 Investment Opportunities currently available in Lima, Peru.

1 - An All-Sports Television Station showing sports that are NOT Soccer.

There are 4 all-sports television stations available for viewing in Lima: 3 of those stations show soccer 24-hours a day; the fourth shows soccer 22-hours a day.

I really wish I was kidding.

I can't tell you how many times I've been laying in bed, looking for some kind of relief from Los Simpson en espanol, hoping to catch five minutes of ANY baseball, basketball, or football game, and come across nothing but an endless barrage of futbol highlights... on EVERY station. It's almost enough to make you long for the sweet sounds of the Swirsk.

Needless to say, with nothing but soccer flooding the airwaves, there is plenty of room to bring in a station that focuses on other means of athletic competition.

Exhibit A is the fact that the last time I was in Peru, there was some kind of a women's volleyball tournament going on. The fact that this event could be found on television at all was surprising to me, but to actually supplant soccer as the most rivetting sports related plot-line for a period of two weeks was beyond anything I could have ever fathomed. Honestly, if you'd given me a thousand opportunities to guess which sport would surpass soccer in popularity (even if only for a matter of days), I would have never guessed women's volleyball... And I mean, literally: I would have never guessed women's volleyball. I'm telling you, it seemed as though every single person in Lima was tuned in to these matches. You'd walk past a store selling illegally bootlegged DVDs at 9:30 at night, and the entire storefront would be crammed with middle-aged men cheering wildly for every spike and set. It was one of the strangest things I'd ever witnessed, because, again: we're talking about women's volleyball.

So basically what I'm saying is that if a country can get behind a women's volleyball tournament with the kind of passion and fervour customarily reserved for political revolutions and The Wolrd Cup, isn't it a pretty safe bet that they'd be able to get behind other sports? You know, like sports that are actually interesting to watch? Baseball, basketball, American football, and hockey... I'm looking at you.

And to take this idea a step further, if struggling leagues are looking for somewhere to expand, how about looking south of the equator? I'm telling you, put a couple of NHL franchises (or, judging by the success of women's volleyball: WNBA franchises!) in Lima (a city with a population of more than 8 million), and I can pretty well guarantee a sellout for every home date.

In fact, the more I think about it, the more I realize that the problem with Gary Betman's expansion strategy was not that he went too far south; it's that he didn't go far enough. I'm telling you, the Miraflores Moose and the El Centro Incas would be model franchises in the NHL if given the chance. The NHL won't let Jim Balsillie go to Hamilton? Let's see them try to keep him out of Lima.

2 - A World Class Amusement Park

So, it was a Sunday night in Lima, and we were looking for something to do. Someone mentioned that Lima's version of the CNE might be a good place to check out (the park is only open for a month or so per year). Despite my skepticism regarding the safety regulations on Limean carnival rides, I decided that it would be interesting to check it out.

So, we piled into a cab and took the 15 minute ride to the park. From outside the gates, the park looked decemt enough. No real roller coasters, but an assortment of Zipper-like rides, a variety of spinning rides that would probably make you puke, bumper cars, merry-go-rounds, cotton candy, games of skill and chance, big-ass prizes... It was essentially your everyday, small-town carnival fare.

But when we enterred the park, I realized all at once that this wasn't just your everyday, small-town carnival; at least not to the people of Peru.

Without exaggeration, the lines for these rides ranged anywhere from 2.5 hours long to the type of wait that would invariably cause me to commit a random and senseless capital offense. I'd never seen anything like it.

Two thoughts immediately enterred my mind. The first was that I needed to get the hell out of there before being talked into waiting in one of those obscene lines. And the second was that, if I ever had money to invest, a world class Amusement Park in the heart of Lima would undoubtedly be the way to go. Because if Limeans were willing to wait in those kinds of lines for those kinds of rides, how ridiculously popular would a theme park be that offered something like this:

Lima clearly needs it's own version of Canada's Wonderland. Call it Peruvian Wonderland, or The Incan Adventure, but just open it soon, and be prepared to start counting your Soles.

3 - A Radio Station that plays Quality Rock and Roll Music

This one might just be the kiss of death, which probably makes it my most likely foray into the world of dubious South American investment opportunities.

Here's the thing: the things I enjoy the most in this world invariably seem to go out of business, get taken over by multi-national corporations, or just plain fall off the face of the earth. Whether it be great Italian hole-in-the-wall restaurants, back alley BYOB jazz clubs, ultra-hip-fair-trade-shade-grown cafes, or yes, fantastically ecclectic independent radio stations; all of the things which I hold in the highest regard tend to disappear. I chalk it up in part to the fact that most of what makes those particular things great is that nobody else seems to know about them (great for the coolness effect; not so much for the bottom line), and in part due to the truth found in the lines of The Band's Ophelia, which rhetorically asks: "Why do the best things always disappear?"
But it cannot be denied that the radio stations in Peru that advertise tu musica en ingles! are nothing if not Gawd-awful. They basically have a 10-song rotation that includes The Ting Tings That's Not My Name, Lady GaGa's Poker Face, Green Day's Know Your Enemy (remember when Green Day used to be a good rock band? That seems like another lifetime ago), Rihana's Don't Stop The Music, anything released by the Killers in the past 3 years (how is it possible for a band to suck this much?), The All American Rejects Gives You Hell, Akon's Right Now, and Colbie Caillat's Realize...

As you might well imagine, this selection on a constant repeat is enough to drive an indie rock lover with multiple man-crushes on the great songwriters of our age absolutely batty.

So this is what I propose: take your money, do whatever it takes to land yourself a radio station in Lima with a decent enough bandwidth, and... are you ready for the million dollar idea? Play decent music. Honestly, it doesn't even have to be good music or hip music or cutting edge or avant garde or anything. It just needs to be decent. (By the way, this idea would also work in the Toronto market, if anyone is interested)

There are enough people in Lima with sufficiently decent taste that they would be able to appreciate things beyond the scope of the absurdly awful, industry fed Top-40. I'm telling you, take this playlist; mix it with this playlist; and add in a little bit of this playlist... Put it on the air in Lima, and at the very least, you will have the kind of radio station that people won't contemplate killing themselves for having listened to it for more than an hour.

There has to be some kind of value in that, doesn't there?


Despite the fact that some of the Limean entertainment could use some upgrading, there are a few key areas where they absolutely dominate North American society; areas in which any investor would have to be a fool to try to compete.

So again, as a public service announcement to the good venture capitalist dotcomrades out there, here are the Top-3 Worst Investment Opportunities currently available in Lima, Peru.

1 - Video Rental Establishment

I hate Blockbuster Video. There's a long-standing feud between that particular conglomerate and myself, going back to a misguided time in my life where I once rented Moulin Rouge and allowed my dad watch it after I went back to University at the end of the weekend. He mistakenly returned it to the other Blockbuster Video in my hometown, and it wasn't until 17 days later that either one of the establishments thought to inform us about this understandable error. They boldly proclaimed that I owed them $97.75 ($5.75 x 17) for that particular rental, stating in no uncertain terms that they would be unwilling to budge on this figure. This of course led to a rather heated discussion between me and the manager that eventually resulted in my cutting up my membership card at the counter and throwing the shards of plastic in his face, vowing to never step foot in one of those un-Godly establishments ever again.

So it is with great pleasure that I walk the streets of Lima and am able to purchase; not rent; every conceivable movie that any cinephile could ever dream of, for approximately $1.00.

I'm telling you, every single storefront seems to have a wall of titles listing every movie currently screening in theatres. And I'm not talking about the kind of Chinatown bootlegging quality DVDs you customarily get here where you're watching the movie someone else has filmed from inside the theatre, and kids are throwing shit at the screen; I'm talking about the same DVD you would buy at Future Shop, complete with all of the language and subtitle options, outtakes, and deleted scenes... For $1.00! (3 Soles is basically $1 USD.)

They even have a gigantic marketplace where you can buy knockoff...everything... in which there is an entire floor dedicated to bootleg movies. I spent an entire afternoon there loading up on titles for my parents: Que Paso Ayer (The Hangover); Te Amo, Brother (I Love You, Man); Marley y Yo (Marley and Me); the entire Back To the Future trilogy... It was one of the proudest days of my life.

So word to the wise: stay away from the movie renting business in Lima. You don't stand a chance.

2 - Drive a Taxi

In Toronto, when you jump into a cab, they start the meter at $4.00. They then clock you in at $1.60 per km. This fee can add up in a hurry, as evidenced by my taxi ride from one wedding to another three weeks ago (the trip from Oakville to Toronto cost me $87.00). Unless you land a cabbie who is thoroughly unsatisfied with his employer and you can convince him to turn off the meter and pay him the way Randy Moss pays the NFL, these rates are non-negotiable. And they are incredibly steep.

Things are a little different in Lima. You basically flag down a cab at any given time of the day (every second car in Lima is a Taxi, official or otherwise), and negotiate a rate. With Gringos like me, the cabbies usually have a field day. They will probably charge you triple what they might charge a local, but it still costs far less than what you might expect to pay at home for the same ride. But if you're lucky enough to have a beautiful Limean girl to show you the ropes, the amount it can cost to take a taxi anywhere in Lima is almost laughable.

For example, last month I took a taxi to the airport. It was a 45 minute ride, and basically took me halfway across one of the most sprawling cities in the world. The ride cost me 25 Soles... Which is less than $9.00.


3 - Open a Beer Store

I remember I once had a buddy from New Jersey up for a night. He was playing a gig in town and needed somewhere to crash. Before the show, we decided to grab some liquid provisions, so I suggested we take a walk over to The Beer Store. "Good call", he said. When we arrived at the establishment, his reaction was basically: "Holy Shit... This is actually called The Beer Store! I thought that was just what you called the place where you buy your beer!"

Alas, if you grew up in the Province of Ontario, for the duration of your alcohol drinking life (in all likelihood, since the age of 14), you have been subjected to the confounding reality that all alcohol must be purchased at a Government-run establishment. Of course, The Beer Store does have some advantages. There are literally hundreds of different beers available, and the sauce is always ice cold. But these glorious establishments are few and far between, and the product is almost always offensively overpriced.

The way it works in Peru (and in most of the rest of the world, for that matter) is that every single little tienda and bodega sells beer and hard liquor, and they sell it dirt cheap.

Where I stay in Lima, there are literally 5 places within a 45 second walk, where you can buy 4 650ml bottles of Brahma for 12 Soles. When you convert the size of the beers and do the exchange on the dollar, that works out to approximately $0.50 per beer... For Brahma! That's basically 1/4 the price of what it costs to buy lo mismo cantidad de cerveza here in Ontario.

As is the case with most things Peruvian, the beer is best enjoyed exactly the way it is now.


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