The Coast of Peru

My last post encompassed the general happenings of my plane ride and first night in Peru, but there is so much to say and discuss about the trip in its entirety. Our group spent time in the three regions of Peru: the coast, the mountains, and the jungle, so I’ll discuss each region in a separate post.

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THE COAST

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For the first seven days of the trip, we stayed with host families in a wealthy district of Lima called Miraflores. The climate of Lima was relatively dry and cool, it was always cloudy (at least, it was when we were there), and there were hardly any bugs. For me, this was the most pleasant climate of the three regions, and I truly enjoyed every day in Miraflores. But after finishing the trip, I’ve realized that it’s almost silly to say that I enjoyed Miraflores. It’s almost like saying that I enjoy being safe and comfortable and having a full belly… who doesn’t? Miraflores is very safe, well-maintained, and much more politically, economically, and socially stable than much of the rest of the country, so it’s hard not to love it. I was not forced to adapt to anything strenuous or radically different.

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Miraflores sits right against the coast of the beautiful Pacific Ocean, so while the district itself is beautiful and bustling, there is also much to do at the ocean (swimming, surfing, or paragliding, for instance). It’s a gorgeous place, and I felt very secure and tranquil there, but as I said, it’s hard not to. My roommate (Hoai) and I had a generous host family that took good care of us, fed us well, and made sure that we could find our way around Lima with the help of taxis.

Each day, we’d wake up around 7:00 to eat breakfast and hail a taxi for our 9:00 class, and at breakfast I immediately noticed how fresh and delicious all of the food was, specifically the fruit, but that was no surprise to me. Interestingly, I always felt refreshed and clear-headed when I awoke, even if I’d only slept for a few hours. Perhaps this was due to the nice weather?

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This was our host family! Pictured from left to right are Andrea (host sister), Esther (host sister), Hoai (my roommate), me, María-Esther (host mom), and Alfredo (María-Esther’s novio). They were absolutely wonderful and so generous to us. This photo was taken after they invited us to a good-bye dinner.

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This was a typical breakfast with our host family. Pictured is oatmeal with apple slices and coconut shavings, herbal tea, and fresh papaya juice.
This was a typical breakfast with our host family. Pictured is oatmeal with apple slices and coconut shavings, herbal tea, and fresh papaya juice.

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When we didn’t have a group activity, we spent a lot of time exploring Lima, trying interesting desserts, and asking Peruvians for help with directions (we got to practice our basic Spanish skills!) Generally, people dressed nicely in Lima. Women often wore heels and dress pants or skirts, and men wore button-down shirts and nice shoes. The atmosphere was one of dignity and pride, and I appreciated it.

Because we were on the coast, seafood dishes were especially popular, and I made sure to try as many as I could. We don’t eat a lot of raw fish in Oklahoma (besides sushi rolls, which are delicious), so I wanted to indulge as much as I could. Below is an extremely popular seafood dish called ‘ceviche.’

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Ceviche is typically made with raw fish cured in citrus juices, corn, sweet potato, onions, and a little garnish (lettuce, in this case). I absolutely loved it and ended up ordering it several times in Miraflores.

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This is a beautiful sundae that I got at Pastelería San Antonio, a very popular eatery in Lima.

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The district of Miraflores was absolutely beautiful. The climate, the buildings, the activities, the restaurants, and the people were all incredible, and I loved being there. It was easy to find fun things to do, like searching for cool stones along the beach or exploring the bustling districts nearby. The problem was that Miraflores is very comparable to Los Angeles, so I didn’t feel as “out of the country” as I could have.

This feeling changed, however, when we boarded a bus and traveled the three or so hours to Canto Grande.

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I took this photo at the top of a hill in Canto Grande.
I took this photo at the top of a hill in Canto Grande.

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We arrived in a district of Lima called San Juan de Lurigancho. Within that district, there are several poor, urban areas, one of which is called Canto Grande. Marginalized and more neglected by the Peruvian government, Canto Grande struggles to maintain public sanitation, political and social stability, and the general functions of a healthy community. Transitioning from Miraflores to Canto Grande was the most sobering experience that I have ever had.

We boarded a bus in Miraflores, and I remember that as the hours ticked by and the bus passed houses, businesses, and restaurants, the quality of what I was seeing diminished. Little by little, the roads dissolved from hard and well-paved to gravelly and dirty. The buildings that were once gated and well-groomed became smaller, shabbier, and less guarded. The traffic (mostly buses) was congested, the vehicles worn down and outdated.

I felt very strange while I watched this gradual evolution in scenery, almost as though I was sinking into despair along with my surroundings. This was the kind of place that the government had largely turned its back on. The streets (purely dirt) were littered with garbage, emaciated and sickly dogs slept in alleyways and in front of stores, and everything looked like it was about to fall apart.

I didn’t take pictures of these things, because it seemed inappropriate. There I was, comfortable and safe, taking a little vacation into this community to gawk at the relative poverty before returning home to more materialistic comforts. I didn’t like that.

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This is the monastery where we stayed for three days. It was completely enclosed with a brick wall and barbed wire.
This is the monastery where we stayed for three days. It was completely enclosed with a brick wall and barbed wire.

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We stayed in a monastery where we ate meals together, played sports together (soccer, volleyball, and basketball), and essentially lived as a mini community. We did service projects, which included spending time with children at a school called Fe y Alegría, helping at a disabled children’s school, working at a medical clinic, and constructing/painting small houses for families in the area. I worked with the disabled children and helped with the home construction, both of which were incredibly eye-opening and fulfilling. As for my feelings, there were many. I was pleased to see a community that was trying to improve itself. People ran their own businesses, there were many vendors on the sidewalks (this is true for most areas of Peru), and after visiting the schools, I understood the pride that the people of Canto Grande had. They did not wish to be seen as marginalized and poor, rather, they were hardworking Peruvian citizens who were fighting for visibility and rights from their government.

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The monastery was built into a hill, and this is a photo that I took overlooking the basketball/soccer field as well as the rest of the monastery and the hills beyond. This was my favorite spot to visit early in the morning, as it was very quiet and peaceful, and I felt overwhelmed with thought and emotion at the time.
The monastery was built into a hill, and this is a photo that I took overlooking the basketball/soccer field as well as the rest of the monastery and the hills beyond. This was my favorite spot to visit early in the morning, as it was very quiet and peaceful, allowing my mind to overflow with thought and emotion.

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I said this already, but being in Canto Grande was the most life-changing experience that I had ever had. Up until then, I was quick to believe that I understood the world and its socioeconomic tiers. I thought that browsing Google Images, reading a short article from The Economist, and discussing other parts of the world was sufficient, but I was so wrong.

Being in Canto Grande, physically and emotionally, humbled me and altered my perspectives completely. Amidst all of my thoughts and feelings surrounding this particular place, one idea stood out several times. It was the idea that I should use my privileges (my ability to get an education, my connections to people, my health, and my future career) to do good things wherever I go. I realized that I must endeavor to be informed, kind, and helpful, and that I must do my best to be an informed global citizen.

Experiencing Lima, Peru, was personally transformative, and the lessons that I learned will never be lost on me.

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