Lima Peru is one of my favorite international cities. Yes, it’s large and congested, but the atmosphere is relaxed, people are friendly, the food is amazing and there is loads of culture around every corner.
But of course, like most of Latin America, there is also crippling poverty. To me at least, poverty is especially heartbreaking when it impacts children.
However, in all my travels, even in brutally poor areas, I’ve found that the youngest children do seem outwardly happy, even in what we in the developed world consider mind-numbing poverty.
They are born incredibly resilient and their needs are pretty simple. Something as simple as a bag on a string or a discarded roller blade, can serve as a distraction.
But as they get older, the temptations in poor areas are intense as the reality of their situation begins to dawn.
There are estimated 120 million children living on the streets around the world with almost half estimated to be living in South America.
Young boys (typically ages 5-17) in particular are drawn to gangs, violence and drugs. Many, for whatever reason, either run away or are abandoned by their parents and become street children, forced to try to get along with their peers on the harsh streets of Lima Peru. They are young, vulnerable to abuse and scared.
Many of Lima’s street children live along the Rimac River. In 1999 a young French student traveler got to know some of these children and decided to do something about their situation. He created the Ninos Del Rio (Children of the River) organization in 2000.
Today, years later this Paris & Lima based non-profit association continues to works with street children, establishing trust, providing food, shelter and mental counseling and when the time is right, promoting their return to their own home or reintegration into another home.
They also work with the children currently on the streets in the district of San Juan de Miraflores, and help provide these kids an afternoon or so of diversion, where the kids can be kids.
We were able to stop by and meet some of the kids at the shelter, local staff and (mostly) French volunteers during our final day filming in Lima. I’m used to seeing young children in various situations in my travels, but I was surprised at moved I was by meeting these adolescent, teen boys.
Despite their harsh situation and past, I could literally feel their need for love. It was a similar feeling I’d had when visiting the really young Restavek (Child Slaves) at Freedom House in Haiti.
Kids need food, shelter, medical care, structure, discipline…. yes, but mostly they need love. Without it, their future is bleak. With it, their lives can completely change to a future capable of anything.
Ninos del Rio is a non-profit so they rely on donations and volunteers.
If you’d like to volunteer or donate please visit HERE. (Their web site is in Spanish but Google Translate can translate to English for you).
I’ve seen first hand the good work the folks at Ninos Del Rio are doing. I can tell you that I don’t think you’ll regret helping.
I know I don’t regret visiting, and I hope I can come back soon and spend more time with these brave kids and the big hearted staff and volunteers.
Look for our “Give Back” segment on Ninos Del Rio coming up in our Lovable Lima episode set to premiere in the USA in May 2017.
A little update from our DIY Voluntourism segment in Peru.
For those of you who so generously donated to our fundraiser for school supplies for the elementary school 1.5 hours outside of Pisco, Peru, yesterday was a big day when the supplies were delivered.
Most of the kids were off on summer vacation, but some came in anyway along with some very dedicated teachers to get their gifts. Each and every student will begin school next month with pens, pencils, paper and other basic school supplies thanks to you.
This special “Give Back” segment will be part of Raw Travel – “Peru’s Southern Coast” episode which is going to kick off our 5th Season (Yep, can’t believe it either) 9/30/17.
In the meantime, enjoy the photos and if you weren’t able to donate, don’t worry, your support and encouragement helps us keep doing what we’re doing, so feel good about yourself, you deserve it!
And besides, you’ll get another chance to make a difference, I promise.
Big Mil Gracias to Sascha Rossaint who took these photos and to his wife and her friends, who coordinated this effort. Giving Back is not as easy as it sounds sometimes, but I think the smiles on these faces are worth it don’t you?
Visit HERE for more photos and how you can help these kids.
Surprisingly Lovable Lima
Lima, Peru – After living abroad in Latin America off and on for almost a year, I’ve come to expect the unexpected, both good and bad. I was not prepared, however, to fall in love with Lima, especially in the middle of their cold, damp and grey winter when the sun rarely if ever makes an appearance.
In fact, my eyes are super sensitive to sunlight so when out doors I almost always wear my sunglasses but in two weeks while in Lima, I never once wore them .
Lima, Peru is a huge city and if you are visiting Peru, chances are you are at least stopping through this city of 8 million souls. Most travelers will spend 1 or maybe 2 nights here.
If you’ve done the Machu Picchu thing, you already know that while it’s stunning it’s also a little like visiting Disneyworld, albeit more beautiful, natural and spiritual. When I was there in 2007, I couldn’t escape the feeling I was trampling on something sacred.
At the time there were almost 1 million visitors per year and geologists, archeologists and even the U.N. were calling for limiting the number of visitors for fear of doing irreparable damage. Since then, I’ve heard that some steps have been taken to limit the number of visitors to Machu Picchu.
Luckily for Peru, there is so much more to this incredible country than Cusco and Machu Picchu and that includes the capital city of Lima.
This was my first time to spend a significant amount of time in Lima, so I wanted to live as much like a local as possible. After staying a few days in a hotel, I secured a small apartment in the somewhat upscale and modern neighborhood of Miraflores.
Miraflores is where many tourists end up and I heard English being spoken almost as much as Spanish. Normally in such circumstances, I’d flee another direction, but after so many months of basic, survival conversations in Spanish (ordering food, securing a room, etc.) I was ready for just a touch of English and yes, even some Gringo culture.
Miraflores and nearby neighborhoods like San Isidro are so modern, clean and full of high rises, it’s easy to forget you’re in a third world country.
In Miraflores life seems to revolve around Parque Kennedy, a beautiful park dedicated to the slain U.S. President. The park is surrounded by restaurants, hotels and hostels with tourists seamlessly mixing in with the locals.
Just off Parque Kennedy is Calle Pizza (Pizza Street) which is named after the inordinate amount of pizza restaurants. It could be renamed to Calle Tout, as a lone traveler this was really the only place I felt pressured and slightly harassed to buy stuff (legal or otherwise). Overall, I’ve seen much worse in my travels abroad and most travelers can freely roam around Miraflores without too much unwanted attention.
If you want souvenirs in a hassle free environment, at night vendors come from all over to the center of the park to ply their wares. Or try the massive Inca Market, just a few blocks away.
I think the thing I welcomed most about being in Lima was the wide variety of restaurants. I probably appreciated it more after spending so much time in Medellin, Colombia, where the local cuisine is awesome but can be a little redundant after a few weeks.
Of course I sampled the ceviche and sushi, which I had been craving for months, but I also tried some pretty good Middle Eastern food, vegetarian cuisine and of course street food, which in my case was a pavo (turkey) sandwich that was cheap and out of this world good (and cheap).
I also tried a longstanding, favorite restaurant for locals and travelers alike called Manolo’s, which is pretty legendary for their over sized deli sandwiches and churros, a common South American pastry that you can get filled with chocolate, dulce (caramel) and other flavors.
In addition to the wide variety of food and accommodations, Lima has a decent amount of sites and cultural activities that could keep a traveler busy for a solid week or more.
In El Central, the downtown area of Lima, there is the beautiful and picturesque area of San Martin that is also a good spot to sample a bit more authentic Lima nightlife. I was able to check out the area with some local residents who took me down a couple of side streets to see the El Averno Cultural Center, an important and very colorful cultural center well known in the Lima underground scene.
Like most downtown areas in major cities, you want to be a little careful with your belongings and follow precautions like taking taxis and trying not to wander the streets alone at night.
Also near San Martin is the famous Magic Circuit of the Water in the Parque de la Reserva, which is reportedly one of the biggest outdoor water/light shows in the world. I’m disappointed to say that as close as I was, due to time constraints, I was unable to get by there and take this in, but I hear it is the thing to do.
And if you are in the mood for ruins and don’t feel like paying the exorbitant fees to assist in the trampling of Cusco and Machu Picchu, then check out the Huaca Pucclana ruins located right in the middle of the city on the outskirts of Miraflores.
The Huaca Pucclana ruins were settled sometime around 500 AD by the Lima Indians as a temple to worship the sea. The ruins are still being excavated and archeologists are still discovering fascinating details of what life was like for the Lima Indians every year.
I’ve seen a lot of ruins over the years (including the aforementioned Machu Picchu) and let me tell you I found Huaca Pucclana to be fascinating. Tours are provided in Spanish and English and last for about 45 minutes. Admission is only 10 soles (about $3.50 U.S.) and in my opinion that was money well spent.
In addition to ruins, they also raise animals that would have been typical during the time of the Lima Indians. These include llamas, alpacas, cuy (guinea pigs) as well as a hairless Peruvian dog that the Lima Indians bred and while nothing beautiful to look at, petting him was highly addictive.
His body temperature was so warm (evidently to compensate for lack of hair) and his hide felt a little like maybe a really warm elephant might feel. He enjoys being petted so much that he barks loudly when people stop, so the guy is a little spoiled and perhaps explains what I understood his name to be “Shout”.
According to our tour guide, this breed of dog was almost extinct just a few years ago, so the Peruvian government has taken steps to save the dogs, including making them the official dog of Peru. On the day I was at the ruins, there were folkloric dancers as well.
Now if you’re an adrenaline enthusiast, then just head to the Malecon overlooking the beach area of Miraflores. There are professional Parasailers that jump off the cliffs and travelers can either watch (like me) or for around a $50 U.S. fee, take a dive with the pros. Finding the parasailers is easy, just head to the hard to miss Parque del Amor (Park of Love) statues and look up or out to sea. Chances are you’ll see one flying by.
As I said, in Lima in winter, the sun does not shine much. In fact, it can be a bit gloomy and depressing with the heavy clouds and fog on a daily basis. But maybe because I found Lima to be such an international city with restaurants, nightlife and friendly but not overbearing locals I was really glad to be there.
After so much time in Latin America, I found Lima to be a good transitional city for me to ease the culture shock of returning back in the U.S. Overall, it’s a good city for any city slicker traveler who’d like to experience authentic culture without missing some creature comforts.
So next time you’re in Peru, be sure and allocate a couple extra days to take in the sights, sounds and tastes of Lima and if you happen to visit outside of winter bring your sunglasses. I hear you’ll need them!
Mancora, Peru – Not Your Average Beach Town
The beach town of Mancora, Peru is as rowdy and boisterous as nearby Vichayito was quiet and tranquil. Mancora doesn’t have a particularly pretty beach either, but then again, people don’t flock from all over the world for the picturesque beaches (though there are plenty very nearby) . They come for the surfing and nightlife.
Here, in Mancora surrounded by desert on one side and a beach on the other, it’s easy to feel both cold and hot at the same time, at least this time of year (Peru’s winter). The sun beams down and trust me, will burn you, yet there is always a brisk, cool breeze blowing. Indeed, after attempting to surf my 1st day here, I never got 100% warm again.
I stayed at the beautiful if rustic Kon Tiki bungalows, which sits high on the hill with an incredible view of the town and beach below. To get to town and the main beach area from Kona Tiki you must walk down a twisting and turning (and if you happen to be very intoxicated or really clumsy, potentially perilous) path of steps and dirt until you get to the bottom. About a 2 minute hike down.
Once at the bottom you navigate through a narrow alley, which in the almost pitch black darkness of night, could feel intimidating for 1st time visitors, but is completely safe, as families live all along the alley.
The biggest danger was the unpredictable, small and old dog who couldn’t figure out if he liked me or hated me. Half the time he growled, barked and acted like he wanted to rip my face off and the rest of the time he seemed to forget the previous incident and completely ignored me as if I never existed. To steady my nerves each time it was time to pass the old guy, I made a game out of it trying to predict what his response would be. Though I had a 50/50 shot of getting it right, I rarely was. By the end of the trip I had figured out he was harmless.
Of course climbing back up the Kon Tiki is not as much fun as going down and even a seasoned runner like me was a little winded when arriving at the top, but it was good exercise. Sort of like living at the top of a 5 story walk up in New York City, without all those silly handrails to hold on to.
Besides the surf and partying, the locals here are perhaps another draw. While not aggressively friendly, they are not overly pushy either. A simple “no gracias” is all it takes for someone to stop offering to sell you something.
I also couldn’t sense any of that awkward tourist vs. local vibe you get in some heavily traveled areas. The locals are laid back and very non aggressive and the tourist, which consist largely of young backpackers, hippies, surfers and the occasional older tourists from around the world, seemed for the most part respectful in return.
Speaking of hippies, I discovered a lovely Vegetarian restaurant called Angela’s and it became my top stop for almost all my meals while in Mancora. They had a good vibe and killer Wi-Fi but the main draw was the food which is healthy and like most things in this town, very reasonably priced. Their vegan sandwiches were as big as a plate and cost about $3.50. Maybe I’m making up for lost time after so many months of struggling to eat healthy in Latin America but I do believe I’d never eat meat again if I could simply take the chef/cook from Angela’s back to the U.S. with me.
On the weekend I was there, I was approached by a trio of Argentine teen girls from Cordoba who were selling “happy cookies” to make some travel money. If you don’t know what makes cookies happy I won’t spoil the surprise. The girls seemed to be traveling with a larger group of gypsy like Argentines who were performing music, comedy, fire dancing and more for tips. A traveling motley crew of Argentine circus performers if you will. The entertainment was actually pretty good and well worth the $2 soles (about 66 cents) I provided as a tip.
Mancora was pretty much in a party mood every night of the week that I was there (Thursday-Monday) and if you’re not, well tough luck. Try though I tried I could not get away from the discos throbbing beats and incredibly annoying music (all music is annoying when you’re trying for some shuteye no?) no matter where I went. The noise traveled so well up the hill to Kon Tiki that some nights I literally felt I was in the disco. Ear plugs, especially purchased for the occasion, did little to stop the assault of cheesy electronica and reggaeton beats vibrating the walls.
Now it may be that most of the townspeople don’t mind this assault on the senses in the middle of the night EVERY night. Maybe they’ve built up a tolerance to the noise by now or maybe they see it as a tradeoff for the tourism dollars that float Mancora’s way. But I couldn’t help but feeling the whole town of a few thousand was held hostage to a few people (maybe a hundred?) who wanted to party the night away listening to God awful music turned up to well beyond necessary volume. Mancora’s mostly bamboo structures do a poor job of keeping noise out (or in, if you’re the disco in question) and you’d think there would be some kind of town ordinance to control the sound at least a little.
What Mancora has going for it, besides its surf and party vibe is its size. It’s big enough to offer almost anything a traveler can want… a bus station with frequent service, cheap moto taxis to get to surrounding sites (isolated beaches, thermal mud baths, etc), good restaurants, regrettably the aforementioned disco row and even a small gym where I had a decent workout. Yet it’s small enough that if you stick around for more than a couple of days, you’re going to make friends with some locals for sure and you can get from one side of town to the next by foot.
As a result, Mancora feels really safe and what parts aren’t safe for tourist (isolated beaches on the fringes of town), the police warn you away from. They even have one poor soul who patrols that part of the beach to warn unsuspecting, wandering travelers like me away and back to my assigned beach area.
Yes, Mancora has a lot to offer but quiet and tranquility on the weekends (or possibly any time) isn’t one of them. But if your easily bored by endless stretches of isolated beaches and crave things like fast Wi-Fi, excellent food choices and a pretty iron clad guarantee of a party going on no matter the time of year, then Mancora is your spot. Just remember to bring your earplugs!
Vichayito- Hard to spell… easy to love.
Northern Peru’s Coastal Gem!
Last night I fell asleep to the sound of surf in my ears without another bit of noise within earshot. I slept almost 10 straight hours, uninterrupted. I can’t recall the last time that happened. I’m visiting the Marcilia Beach Bungalows in Vichayito on the north coast of Peru just 20 minutes by moto-taxi from the party/surf haven of Mancora and about an hour from the nearest airport, Talara, where I had hailed from.
Marcial, the owner and host, greeted me when I got out of the moto-taxi , camera in hand. He had been filming the whales jumping in the ocean amid a perfect, bright orange sunset.
I remember living and working in New York City when so often it felt things were going comically wrong (i.e. late for the airport, just missed a free taxi and it started raining the moment I was leaving, etc.) and I would wonder if God wasn’t messing with me, conspiring against me. Getting some laughs at my expense perhaps? Yes, a bit self important I’ll admit, but I also admit I wasn’t thinking rationally.
I’d try to tell myself there were no coincidences and that perhaps it was my guardian angel working overtime to possibly save my life or for some other greater societal good. Maybe had I actually caught that taxi there would have been a horrible accident or maybe the flight was doomed to crash, etc. but deep down I didn’t believe that stuff. It was just a run of bad luck and I was pissed off about it.
Well, last night, after a journey that began in Lima, Peru at noon, with me once again almost missing my flight, but eventually arriving at Marciela at the pitch perfect time, I was wondering if God was conspiring FOR me (as I’m sure he has done many a time just to have me not notice). Well this time, God, I noticed.
I could not have arrived at a more picturesque moment and a more perfect spot. Backpack in hand, watching the whales jump at what seemed just a few hundred feet away and hardly any other souls around, I knew I was in the right place at the right time and there was for once, nowhere else, I craved to be. No other person I craved to be with. No what ifs… just a sunset, a beautiful beach, jumping whales and good energy all around.
I only booked one night at the Marcilia, once again by accident. My accommodations in Mancora had been booked up for my first evening so I needed another cheap spot to spend the night. I had assumed that Marcilia was within walking distance of Mancora and… it is if walking an hour one way is your idea of walking distance!
What a happy accident! The hosts, Marceil and Cecilia (hence the name Marcilia) both hail from the cruise ship industry and it shows in their hospitality. They could not have been nicer or more attentive. The food was excellent and the accommodations immaculate, especially for bamboo beach bungalows (and especially for around $15 U.S. per night).
I thought I was the only guest until a young, traveling couple from the north of England bounded up from the romantic bungalow just below mine (right on the beach) the following morning. They had already edited together a nice little video of the whales from the evening before. They, like another British couple I had “coincidentally” met on the way from the airport were raving about their previous trip to Bolivia? Hmm.. 2 young British couples in a row raving about the same spot? Is God telling me to go to England or Bolivia? I’m confused.
Shortly after my arrival and subsequent sunset I ran on the beach for 40 or so minutes. I could have gone for much longer but my tender bare feet were getting sore from the course sand. Towards the end I was no longer jogging, I was sprinting but I swear I wasn’t even breathing hard and it was so mild and cool that there was no sweat coming out of my pores whatsoever. The stars were bright and beautiful and everywhere! I felt really strong, healthy and full of vigor.
There was not another soul around, I couldn’t help but do the “Rocky… getting stronger” dance.. and while I didn’t scream “Adrian, Adrian!” I felt like screaming “I’m free. I’m free!” The joys of travel have never felt more tangible than this night.
Today I head to Mancora. A totally different vibe, an actual town full of surfers, partiers and hippies with restaurants, bars and ATM machines. That’s cool too. But if it gets too noisy or touristy or bad energy I’ll head back to Marciella’s in Vichayito in a heartbeat.
I have a feeling I’m going to be revisiting the place many times in the years to come, either physically or in my mind for sure. Especially when God inevitably starts to mess with me again!