So far, Peru is a paradox. It is both one of the quietest countries I’ve ever been in, and one of the loudest. In Lima, for every kind, welcoming smile we see, there is another passing in the street, filled with anger and resentment, or perhaps worse, total dejection. We’ve somehow found ourselves staying in an area on the outskirts of Callao, where Martial Law has just been extended. Having spent most of our flight reading up on the information that Passport Health provided us, and our government’s state department warnings, we were feeling more than nervous. In fact, we were thinking of changing our plans and skipping Peru. For a honeymoon, it was beginning to feel like too much hassle having to be on guard all the time, and according to the sources, to have to fear for our life.
We decided to take things one step at a time. We know from other travel that what you read in the news or warnings on websites don’t always correlate. For instance, there are many warnings about Costa Rica, and if you read up on the country enough, I’d probably choose to skip it. And yet, Costa Rica is one of our favorite countries where we’ve felt safer than some US destinations. Bearing this in mind, we left the plane, guarded, but with hope. We felt a rush of relief when we found out our taxi driver also works in personal security. We kept his number swearing we were willing to pay anything to get to Cusco with his guardianship versus riding the legendary night bus, that according to the aforementioned ;sources, could be held up at gun point.
Our accommodations were intimidating at first. The area is made up of tightly packed cinder block, cement, and brick domiciles, most unfinished. Each home is like a fortress with a small cut out for the entrance blended into the garage. Many people were out walking, but the city was quiet. We were warmly welcomed by a relative of our host, Maria. She took us up to the third floor where we were surprised at the size of our private apartment. It was secure, clean, and our own space in this unknown country. As we settled in, Niels found an article about Callao’s recent Martial Law extension. He handed me the phone, “just so you know…this is where we are.” My throat tightened. What did this mean? Could we go outside? Was there a curfew we had to follow? Would we wake to the sound of gunfire?
Desperate for food, we Whatsapped our host Maria who was at work until 10pm. She gave us a number of recommendations and insisted that her aunt could take us. When we went downstairs, we met a young girl and a toddler. The girl hoisted the toddler onto her hip and insisted on walking with us to the restaurant. Did martial law mean that we needed an escort? Once in the park a few blocks away, she pointed the rest of the way. It turned out she was just trying to be a good host and make sure that we didn’t get lost. Niels asked about a curfew, and she seemed surprised and perhaps a bit embarrassed that we knew about the current political environment. She assured us there was no curfew and was adamant that we could come and go as we pleased.
We didn’t wake to gunfire, but we were jolted from sleep by the sound of a man’s voice booming over a loud speaker. It reminded me of the sounds of a call to prayer in Islamic countries, or perhaps of a dictator’s voice being broadcast. I froze in fear. Surely this must be what it is to live under martial law. The army was driving around announcing an evacuation in a language I couldn’t fully understand. Suddenly, Niels’ laughter warmed the room. He looked at me smiling and asked, “do you know what he is saying?” Perhaps his laughter was from disbelief. I braced myself, “no.” “Dude has a sweet deal on some delicious Pineapples!”
The next 2 days we found that life wasn’t very different in Callao under martial law. Our hosts continued to go out of their way to make us feel safe and welcome. We walked to a restaurant near our apartment and were greeted energetically by a man singing local tunes. He told the restaurant that we were visiting from California, and thanked us for our tourism. I can’t remember ever being directly thanked for putting money into another country’s economy, but I was grateful for that response because at times on the street, I just felt out of place.
After a delicious meal of tipico (typical) food, the singer grabbed my hand and brought me to the front of the restaurant to dance. It occurred to us that at our age, one usually only dances in public at a club with drink in hand. Here, in this restaurant thousands of miles away from home, it felt easy to just let go and have fun. I felt as uninhibited as a child, plus, we couldn’t disappoint the man who had just devoted the song to the “guests from California.” So, I lip-synced Stevie Wonder’s “I Just Called to Say I Love You”, and laughed as I told him it was our honeymoon. His face lit up with excitement and he insisted Niels get up and dance while the waitress filmed us. Though Peru didn’t seem like an obvious honeymoon destination, we were starting to feel grateful for our non-traditional decision.
As we stepped outside, I wasn’t thinking about martial law, the gray weather, or the dusty streets. I was thinking about the kindness of strangers, and the warmth and welcome of the Peruanos. We walked back to our apartment, hand in hand, no longer with the intention of changing our trip, but ready to experience our next adventure in Peru and grateful for the reminder to keep our hearts and minds open, and always look for the kindness!
Couple a Wanderers, Camille y Niels