Who does it belong to?



Throughout Peru, as in many other countries across the globe, stray animals are the norm. Dogs and cats wander the streets, sleep in parks and creep along the sidewalks constantly. I wasn’t accustomed to this when I traveled to Peru. In the US, almost every animal wandering around has a warm place to call home, a family to give it a collar and a cutesy name like “Princess”. It was shocking, and a little jolting, at first to have large dogs walk towards me without collars or someone chasing after them. It was even slightly unnerving, not knowing how these animals normally behave or what kind of diseases they may have had. DOGS

But, of course, being vegan and a crazy animal lover, I would pet them anyways. Some of them would come and press their bodies right up against mine, especially the big dogs, nearly collapsing on me. All of the dogs in Peru just seemed to want love and attention, some of them denying food and water, vying for a nice head scratch.

There was even a place in Lima that my classmates and I came to call “cat park”, as I’m sure many before us have. Actually named Kennedy Park, the cats were endless; sulking from trees, creeping on people with papas fritas in hand, hoping for a bite of the grub, or begging for attention. These cats can be taken to the local vet, where they will be cleaned up and ready for adoption.

Yet, it was nice to see them have the freedom to run around, not locked inside. I’ve always been sad to think of animals who don’t find homes, but that’s because in the US, they’re locked up forever or are put down if not. In peru, this isn’t the case, and it’s a nice thought that they can retain their freedom if they never find anyone to take them in.


Getting lost in Lima


A view from El Malecon.

That 87 percent humidity as the sun beat down on my neck, ahhhh. My feet hit the ground hard as I ran toward the ocean, turning the corner and feeling the sea breeze hit my lungs.

The pollution in Lima is suffocating at times, but hitting that wall of ocean air was so refreshing. My sweat was falling in beads and people were staring at the only person running on el Malecon, a pathway along the Lima cliffs. But it felt freeing, so my feet kept moving.

They kept moving so much that I lost where I was, but I didn’t worry. My feet took me along the highway and through Lima neighborhoods where people continued to stare and the humidity continued to stick to my body and my hair and my clothes.


My journey took me on an hour and a half run through the city, ending in, “Por favor, donde esta Kennedy Park?” I got a lot of puzzled looks and a lot of confused points in random direction, sending me in circles around the city, until one concerned 75-year-old woman walked me back, rapidly speaking spanish and waving her arms in a frenzy.

I eventually made it back, but had I not had work to do for class, I would have kept running. Running through Lima is a learning experience, an opportunity to people-watch and observe the culture, running past stray dogs, women with babies slung over their shoulders in colorful scarves, businessmen in suits on lunch break and flowers bursting out of every arch, gate and wild gardens.

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This is the real Peru


The beach of San Bartolo

Driving outside to the outskirts of Lima in a huge, attention-seeking van with some of my classmates, I couldn’t help but stare, wide-eyed out the window as we made our way down the highway and out of the city.

Bikini-clad under shorts and tank tops, on our way to the beach in San Bartolo, about 30 minutes south of Miraflores, we made our way past houses stacked atop other houses, crumbling and decrepit. Being in the middle of Lima’s bubble for a week had given me only a tiny glimpse of this developing country, with its pristine sidewalks, Spanish architecture and lush gardens.


Street view of Barranco, a wealthier Lima district.

Within the wealthier neighborhoods of Lima, such as Barranco and Miraflores, where we stayed for the last 10 days, street vendors ask for money by selling bracelets, popsicles, soda and other cheap items, but traveling outside of the city’s boundaries spoke to the magnitude of the difference in prosperity here. From the highway, the slums look like a pile-up of materials thrown together for shelter, compact yet sprawling.

In San Bartolo, stray dogs run through their fresh produce and meat market, surrounded by street vendors selling garments of bright hues, maracas carved from wood, small ceramic llamas and other trinkets. While the people walk with pride, their eyes look tired and they walk slowly. Time moves at sleepy, worn-down pace.

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Gracias, Senora Visnick

RIng girl


Yipes, those awkward moments when Spanish is flying at you and you just stare, deer in the headlights, “No entiendo, lo siento!” That’s what every day feels like here in Lima.


Being a journalist, my world revolves around words. Not only because it has to, but also because I love making connections with people. Being in Peru, where Spanish is flying back and forth constantly, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the language barrier.


My first day here, my walls were up. My defense mechanism for avoiding awkward situations was asking, “habla ingles?” to everyone I had to talk to. But after being here for a few days, I’m starting to feel comfortable saying, “hola, buenos dias,” and at least trying to have a conversation. The moments when I am able to understand and communicate with someone here in Spanish are absolutely priceless. Even today, I was able to have a quick conversation about Niagara Falls with a group of people lounging at a restaurant. It was bumpy, but we were eventually laughing together.


My Spanish is very, very rusty, but little by little, through forced, confusing situations, my high school classes are coming back to me. I just want to thank my 4th, 5th and 11th grade Spanish teacher, Senora Visnick, for her passion for this beautiful language. I don’t think I fully understood her love of Spanish before I came to Peru, and I wish I would have kept up with it more. But her excitement always drew me in and now, looking back on that classroom in Willoughby South High School, I have an even greater appreciation for Senora Visnick and her love of Spanish.

little ladies

The Colors of Peru

Painting_PeruFrom the shocking oranges, purples and reds of the houses and churches to the bright brown eyes and warm smiles of the passing Peruvians, Lima is a startlingly colorful city. My eyes are constantly drawn from one building to the next, one face to the next.

The hospitality of the people in this city is matched by their laid-back, pleasurable demeanors, up for anything at any time of the day or night. The children can find fun in anything, from chasing pigeons to playing tag in one of the city’s many squares, their laughter echoing through the sunshine-sodden air, as their parents sit back and watch, enjoying the warmth and the rest.


Meeting people my age is easy here, whether they speak English or not. Everyone is willing to try to communicate, whether through gestures or laughter. “Mi espanol es muy malo,” I explain. They say their English is rough, as well. But everyone tries, wanting so hard to get to know one another.

When I close my eyes every night, the colors of Peru are what shine the brightest in my memory of the days here.

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Habla ingles, por favor?

“So, I found this blog post called ‘how to pack like a travel ninja’. That’s me. Imma travel ninja.” Trying to calm myself, I giggled at my own text, but the butterflies in my stomach didn’t go away.

My nerves were getting the best of me. Two weeks with new classmates I barely knew in Peru, oh my. Even later that day, as I watched my luggage roll around the corner at O’hare National Airport, I had the creeping feeling I would not be seeing it in Peru. So far, on my third day in the beautiful city of Lima, my prediction has come true. And I’m getting smelly. But it’s worth it.

When I arrived in Lima at 10 pm, I watched bag after bag pass by me, swept off the conveyor belt by some lucky traveler. I was not one of them. As I wandered around the airport trying to find help, I realized how nonexistent my spanish skills had become. “Habla ingles?” I asked anyone who would listen. All of the workers in the bright yellow vests were busy with other customers, so I kept turning in circle, trying to find help. Over an hour later, after I found the line and held back sleepy overreaction tears, I was able to speak to a worker who informed me that my bags had been shipped to Orlando, Florida. Lima… Orlando. OK. “Cuando…When will my bags arrive?” No more than 24 hours, she said with a wide, reassuring smile.

Whew. OK, I could do that. After I filled out paperwork, I went to look for my classmates, who had told me they were waiting for more of their friends to arrive. More circles, I was getting dizzier. I couldn’t find them, so I walked to the exiting security gate, where beagle and golden retriever drug dogs pranced around the airport. As I made my way  out of the sliding doors and not seeing a taxi driver with my name, unsure if the hostel had actually sent one, I remembered my teacher telling us to look for a “green taxi” sign.

More circling and a bit of panicking later, I heard, “Taxi! Taxi, miss?” A man in a suit was shouting at me. “Si, si! I am going to Pariwana hostel.” My pronunciation must have been horrendous. His face scrunched and he put his index finger and thumb up to his mouth and said, “marijuana?” No, no, no, Pariwana, the hostel, I laughed. I think he was messing with me, but it made me relax.


Taxi in downtown Lima.

As he brought me over to a desk , he told me it would cost me 140 soles, 50 US dollars. What?!!! “Why so much?” I said as my eyes widened. “Because it is very far, it’s a good price.” I knew it wasn’t. I knew that. But the butterflies were coming back and I just wanted to get to the hostel. OK.

Mistake number two. Mistake number one was not locking my suitcase with my Nikon camera and extra cash, a lesson my mom made sure I learned on Skype that night.I make a lot of mistakes. So it didn’t surprise me that I made so many as soon as I was left alone in a foreign country. And I’m sure that in the next few weeks in Peru, I will continue to make mistakes. But I don’t regret them. They are all wonderful learning experiences and this group of people, my classmates, teachers, and new Peruvian acquaintances, are a group of people I don’t mind mistakes around because they laugh it off with you and tell you when your clothes start to stink.

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I can’t wait for all of the mistakes to come. Imma be a travel ninja.