I’ve been travelling continuously for very nearly nine months now. It’s a long time! I mean, you could grow a person in that time! Well, I couldn’t, but you could. No, not you, sir, the woman behind you. Yeah, she could.
Since I left my home in the UK in September last year, I’ve seen a lot. I’ve visited eight countries including Peru. It’s not often, though, that you get to unpack the backpack and relax in one place for more than a couple of days. Or even two or three weeks! That’s just fantastic! I took the chance to do that with family in Australia, with some friends in New Zealand and with a host ‘mum’ in Buenos Aires. Karikuy is another one of those occasions. So for the past two weeks I have made the neighbourhood of Planeta my home. It really is unlike any other I’ve lived in. It’s certainly different to my home city of Brighton, on the south coast of England. I feel like we’re getting the chance to see the real Peru, you know?
Usually as a tourist you’d stay in a hostel or hotel in a fairly wealthy area, like Miraflores in Lima for instance (incidentally it’s very nice, we visited it last weekend). That’s fine and we’ll be staying in the touristy places once again for the last month of our trip in Colombia I’m sure. But if we were staying in Miraflores there’d be no interacting with the locals. There’d be no playing basketball around the corner (sometimes being joined by some of the local kids!):
And we wouldn’t know about the Holy Trinity of Planeta Food: Hamburger Man, Churro Guy and Cake Lady (their pseudonyms have been used to protect their true identities). I should take a moment to detail the local food. Hamburger Man is the name we here at the Karikuy house have given to a street food vendor that sells… you guessed it: burgers. But these are Peruvian style! Man, they’re good. Choose your burger: beef, chicken or chorizo (pork) and they put it in a bun with chips (that’s ‘fries’ for you American readers!) and salad. Take my advice and ask for ‘todas las cremas’: all the sauces! You won’t be disappointed!
Churro Guy sells churros, of course (you see the ingenius naming system we use here at Karikuy?!). If you haven’t had one of these, they’re basically South American style donuts. They’re a long, thin donut and often they’re sold plain or rolled in cinnamon sugar. Churro Guy sells his hot and filled with manjar blanco, which is a bit like Argentinian dulce de leche or caramel. Yum! Churro Guy is often found in our street, just around the corner or in the market on the other side of the railway tracks. And Cake Lady lives the closest! I paid her a visit for the first time this week on Monday night. She has a small cabinet of tasty treats that are an absolute bargain. I tried the pie de manzana (apple pie) and chocolate cake the other night, while Julio went for the alfajores, a South American sandwich-style biscuit. Often they have dulce de leche inside. All in all, it’s a wonder that we’ve not become obese living here in Planeta!
And perhaps surprisingly, the neighborhood (‘el barrio’ en Español) has a good feel to it. I think it’s seen some tough and even dangerous times in its past. And it’s definitely still a little rough around the edges, but that’s all part of its charm. Because it’s not a touristy place, gringos are not exactly a common sight around here, but I feel pretty comfortable and welcomed. Sure, when we walk down the street the girls in our group may get whistled at – it’s annoying, but Ania and I have seen far worse ‘machismo’ (read: ‘sexism’) in South America. The Karikuy house (can we get away with ‘Karikuy Towers’?!) is in a gated street with a security guard on duty at night and of course we have Julio’s two dogs: Killer (who I wouldn’t mess with) and Pisco (who probably isn’t a threat, unless he’s hiding secret powers!). The security’s a comfort and I wouldn’t take a walk down a dark road on my own at night in Planeta, but then I probably wouldn’t in most cities in the world, some parts of London included. On one of our typical daily walks to get some food, some bottled water or visit the lavanderia (launderette), we’ll mostly encounter families with young children playing football in the street or clutching at their mothers’ skirts. The market I mentioned briefly earlier is minutes away and you can buy souvenirs, fruit and vegetables, more street food (I like the ‘papas rellenas’, a potato filled with minced meat) and all sorts of other things. We have a little corner shop seconds away from our front door too – essential for any British person – where we can buy milk, sweets and my personal favourite, Inka Cola (a South American fizzy drink):
A special mention should also go to Julio’s family, who have made us feel very welcome. Myself and the other volunteers live upstairs in the Karikuy house, but Julio’s aunt lives downstairs and we eat our breakfasts, lunches and dinners with them Monday – Saturday. Magna is a young girl who does the cleaning and cooking, making us delicious soups, stews, salads, rice and all sorts of other tasty Peruvian food. They’ve made us feel right at home and I particularly enjoy hearing from Julio’s uncle, who usually has lunch with us. He’s from Venezuela and my Spanish isn’t good enough to catch everything he says – Ania and Julio always translate for me – but he’s really friendly and enthusiastic and it’s always a good thing when you hear him bellowing, ‘HOW ARE YOU?!’ before a meal!
Having just finished my latest Perupedia article on the Alianza Lima Air Disaster, I plan to write my next one on Planeta (my preliminary searches online have found almost no mention of the neighborhood outside of Karikuy’s pages). I must speak to some of Julio’s relatives and the other residents in this underdog of a barrio. It shouldn’t be a problem, this little slice of authentic Peru is right on my doorstep.
Stuart is a blogger and researcher for the Karikuy volunteer program. Visit www.karikuy.org/volunteer for more information.