Sensing Peru

If Comas, Peru, were a person, I’d give him (or her) a drink of water.

Homes on the hill.

Homes on the hill.

It’s a sprawling district of Lima, with nearly 500,000 inhabitants. Although it is just a few miles from the Pacific ocean, this mountainous area is dry and arid – averaging less than an inch of rain per year. That would appear to be inhospitable to someone looking to establish a residence, but the place is actually growing. Many who are born there, remain there, but refugees are coming from the jungles with the hopes of making a living.

Dust is everywhere in Comas. It covers everything and reminded me of the images of Manhattan after 9/11. Plants and tree leaves look grey, not green. Dust, although thick in the air, is not the only thing floating around.

Sounds and Driving

Sounds are plentiful in Comas. People talking and laughing, music on the radio and bands playing, barking dogs and roosters crowing are all part of it, but the prevailing sound is vehicle related. Revving engines, squeaky breaks and honking horns are constant. The streets of Comas is where old, old Chevy Impalas and Dodge pick-ups went to live in retirement. Three wheeled cabs and packed busses endlessly drive the avenues, streets and alley ways – and they all have a working horn. In fact, honking is a language all it’s own and I never picked up on the finer points of it. If you go in reverse, you honk. If you come to a stop, you honk. If you pass a pretty girl, you honk. If have air in your lungs, you honk.

Changing lanes is communicated by a honk as well. For example, if you’re driving in the far left lane and need to turn right at the next block, it appears that all you do is honk and turn. As unsetting as that was to me, you learn to live with it. What was harder for me to accept was vehicle spacing while on the move. I learned to drive using the rule of two second spacing at a minimum, between my car and the car in front of me. In Peru, it’s more like two feet of space at – 40 mph – between you and whatever is in front of you. If I had to drive here, I wouldn’t.

Our "home" with bars and a 3 wheeled cab passing by.

Our “home” with bars and a 3 wheeled cab passing by.


Much like the driving, the homes have an older look and appear to need some maintenance. They are built in dusty rows, with heavy iron and steal bars protecting the doors and windows. The roof tops are flat with rebar protruding from each corner, giving the home an unfinished look. The roof is used for catching any water that falls from the sky, pets, drying laundry and expansion; when you need more room, you add a floor.

If you live in the city, the inside of the homes I saw were modern looking and clean. Most city structures are painted concrete or brick, but as you go up the hill and away from the center of town, concrete eventually gives way to smaller wooden dwellings, thatch homes and finally homes made of wood scraps and card board. In the homes on the hill side, floors were often dirt. Electricity and water could be found, but not always. If you had electric power, I got the feeling that it depended on how good you are at splicing live electric wires. I also got the feeling that the electric power board, and water department for that matter, were not monitoring use.

Food and Beverage

There are lots of restaurants and street vendors in Comas, but we were advised to only eat pre-packaged food, or what the host church served us. We ate a lot of tasty rice, potatoes, chicken, steak and bread, with some vegetables in the mix. The drinks of choice were CocaCola and Inka Cola, which based on it’s Mt. Dew-like appearance, doesn’t taste like you think it should.

Many people prepare food in outdoor kitchens or on the street, so there is always smoke from cooking mixed in the air with everything else. The aroma is interesting and complex. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it seems to be equal parts burned wood, rubber, auto exhaust, diesel fuel, brake fluid, chicken, animal and human waste (did you know you don’t flush toilet paper in Peru?) and onions.

Sometimes, the aroma mix overwhelms the senses and you lose your appetite.

Other times it makes you hungry for more.

Leave a comment


  1. Sheila

     /  July 9, 2015

    Loved every word of how your senses experienced this journey- what a great way to make your readers relate. Can’t wait to read the next installment!

  2. Catherine

     /  July 10, 2015

    You are such a great writer! Hope there’s more to come.

  3. Gabriel Aviles

     /  July 20, 2015

    hmmm…so you loved it??!!??


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