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Our First Day: Lima, Peru

Monday, October 07, 2013

I promise I won't give you a full account of each day in Peru! But this first day was so special. Tomorrow I'll blog on the hike.

Because of our weird arrival time, we arrived in Lima the day before everyone else in our group. So before we left the US I found a day tour that we were interested in. If you ever want to research a tour or good restaurant in a city you've never been to, I really suggest checking out www.tripadvisor.com . We've always had good experiences with anything we've done that was recommended on that site!

Anyway, a local tour group, Haku Tours, had absolutely stellar ratings, and their most popular excursion was touring one of the Shantytowns. I made arrangements by email, and we were ready to go!

A driver met us at our airport hotel and took us 30 miles into Lima to meet the guide and the other 3 participants on the tour.

First, the market. Wouldn't you LOVE to have such an array of fresh fruits available? We got to taste some of them. Delish!

And how about vegetables, peppers, and homemade sauces?

The fresh produce was everywhere!

How about beans, peas, and seeds? Did you know Quinoa originated in Peru?

OK, yuck! These chickens were butchered that morning, but I still can't see myself doing anything more than taking my chicken out of the package!

Lots and lots and lots of markets like this, not only in Peru, but in China, Vietnam, Cambodia and probably every third world country:

So off to Shantytown. Lima has 10 million people and two million of them live in Shantytowns.

This is our guide, Omar. Guides in Peru must have FIVE YEARS of college.

The higher the home, the poorer the residents (complete opposite of the US). So being on the top of this hill in Shantytown makes these people very, very poor indeed. Of course none of them have cars and must walk several miles to the nearest bus stop.

We start to walk around, and the children come running! These steps? They are new within the last 10 years. Before the stairs, people just trudged up the hills.

Shacks next to brick houses. Everyone makes their home out of whatever they can afford or salvage. Neighbors help neighbors.

In the course making arrangements for the tour via email, I asked if we could bring candy for the children. I was told it wasn't a good idea because of non-existent oral hygiene. I was so ashamed not to have thought of that! Talk about being well-meaning but wrong-headed. The woman suggested we bring toothbrushes and toothpaste. TC didn't want to give out toothbrushes so we compromised on colored pencils. Omar bought fruit in the market to pass out. No wonder the kids come running!

Of course, the more stuff we gave out, the more children showed up! It was definitely an effective communication system, whatever it was! This is me and my "no more pencils" shrug. We gave out over 50.

One little boy gave TC a full body hug and said something in Spanish. Omar translated, "He says you remind him of his grandfather, who recently died." It was so touching! I wish I had a picture of that.

Omar, as well as a few accompanying mothers, made sure that the children all said "thank you" and shook our hands. They were great about taking pictures. I don't know who enjoyed it more, the children or us!

One of the neat things about this tour company, Haku Tours, is that they have PERMISSION from the community leaders of Shantytown to bring in small groups. As Omar said, "You don't come as a tourist, you are invited as a friend." It was an attitude we were to see over and over again in Peru.

In return for allowing people to visit, part of the tour money is used to fund community projects. Omar was very proud of this preschool that the company bought the materials to build, and which was built by the local people. The preschool allows mothers to work.

And here's the latest project, a dining hall, where children can get breakfast and a hot lunch.

These buildings were points of pride in this very large, but very poor community.

And I also can't resist telling you that Peru has free health care. FOR EVERYONE! No screaming about it bankrupting the country. If you have money, you can pay for your own doctors and health care, the best that money can buy. But if you are poor, you still are covered by the government.

Food for thought, isn't it?
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